Archives For October 2013

[Alert: the following post contains ridiculous levels of groan-worthy one-liners. Proceed at your own risk.]

The other night I was riding in the car with my husband and No. 2 Son. I was planning to write when I got home, so the topic of Tuesday’s post was on my mind.

“Crime and Punishment is the title of the Dostoyevsky novel, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” came their answer, in unison.

“I thought so. Thanks.”

“Why? You gonna blog about it?”

And before I could either confirm or deny, they were off and running.

“I suppose you could call a post on “Crime and Punishment” a flog blog, huh?” The two of them burst into guffaws that reverberated in the car. And when the laughter ebbed slightly, the other shot back.

“And I suppose if you asked a Muppet to guest post then that might be a Kermit the Frog blog.” More hilarity. At a high volume.

“And if you write while drinking a holiday beverage, I guess that would be an eggnog blog!” Like a couple of fools at a slot machine, they kept dropping in coins and spitting out silly rhymes. (This is but a sample of the kind of support I receive as a blogger from my immediate family…) 

“Wait, wait… how ’bout this one?” they continued. “If you post about plumbing problems, could it be called a clog blog?

There was no stopping them — I would just have to hunker down and wait it out. Eventually they would run out of steam, right? Somewhere amidst the knee-slapping ruckus, I think I made a half-baked threat that though they might be yucking it up at the moment, they would pay for all the fun they were having at my expense.

When I got home I knocked out a post and pasted the title “Crime and Punishment” on it. Then at work the next day I was grousing, tongue-in-cheek, to my writing buddy, Mark.

“Ya just can’t count on family for no kind of support, can ya?”

Tell me about it.”

“Those two just couldn’t seem to stop poking fun at me and my blog.”

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“Gonna out ’em in a post?”

“I could. I told ’em I’d get ’em back eventually.” I rattled off the list of corny one-liners I’d heard in the car. And to my surprise, my buddy caught the wave.

“No, no… Linda…if you post during the holidays, you’d have to call it a yule blog!” Sigh. Et tu, Mark?

Soooooo….

In that same spirit of jocularity and mirth, I shall share a few of my own, and then bid you, my good-natured and amenable readers, to add to the list throughout the day. (Don’t let me down, here, okay?)

Game on.

  1. A post written in a trench coat: a London Fog blog.
  2. A post written while traveling in the Czech Republic: a Prague blog.

 

It’s not necessarily the things you might imagine that would make me feel proud of my parents when I was a kid. The accolades that might turn heads in society had no real meaning for me. Earning promotions, being respected by colleagues, being at the top of one’s professional game — what does any of these mean to a five year old? This point is driven home by celebrities who share with interviewers that their young children are completely unfazed by their block busting box office successes and such. It would be later, after venturing further into the world, that I would have a basis for comparison and come to truly appreciate my parents’ gifts.

Even when I did recognize their talents, abilities or skills, I often imagined that everyone’s parents could do these things, and consequently deemed these outstanding capabilities to be commonplace. For instance, my mom had a dressmaking and alterations business that she operated from the mud-room-turned-sewing-shop behind our kitchen. Customers would come and go, quite pleased with services rendered, but I was somehow nonplussed. That she could create a very authentic Superman cape (for my brother) without so much as a pattern was just another run-of-the-mill, every day occurrence – no biggie. It was just what she did.

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An autograph booklet Dad made for me to take to Brownie camp.

That my dad was able to do things like cut glass and mirrors and install these items for a plate glass company was just ho-hum. That he did precision barbering, could pen calligraphy, or was able to make his own fishing lures and lead sinkers – no biggie. I came to expect him to be able to craft things, repair things and remodel things. It’s just what he did.

Despite my handicapped perception, I was nonetheless proud of my parents. It boiled down to those things that were tangible and concrete, meaning that some rather unlikely things caused me to be impressed. For instance, the fact that my mom could draw a face on her index finger, then pull a hankie out of her purse, wrap it around that finger and do a little puppet show for us kids while we were waiting in the car with her – now THAT was captivating. Or that she could sketch a portrait of my dad reading a book while sitting across the dining table from him and wind up with a very close likeness – now THAT was dazzling.

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Mom’s sketch. Pretty cool, huh?

I mentioned in an earlier post (“Hey, Mr. Snyder, about those pants”) that I was proud of the fact that my dad was the president of the PTA when I was in first grade, and also of my parents’ performance in several skits in a comedy revue that year. This might have been the early stages of my seeing them in a larger context, noticing how other adults regarded them. That they were involved at my school and that teachers and other parents thought well of them – now THAT was appealing.

In addition, there were the cool smoke rings that my dad could blow, which flat out mesmerized me as a kid. Impressive. But at the very top of my list, Numero Uno, was the fact that my dad was trained as a…

Civil defense police officer. 

For some reason, his role in this capacity absolutely intrigued me. He had been issued a navy blue wool uniform, complete with brass buttons, epaulets, hat, shiny badge, whistle and night stick. The ensemble hung in the hall closet in a dry cleaners bag, and every so often I would open the closet door and just look at it. And my heart would swell. While I never actually got to see him function in his role — he would leave the house fully dressed to perhaps go help manage heavy traffic following some big event downtown or provide crowd control at a parade — for some reason, his service in this capacity seemed very important to me. My dad was a policeman; I was proud.

One day my first grade teacher asked us to let our parents know she would like volunteers to come talk to the class about their profession or occupation. Well, this was her lucky day! She needn’t look any further! My hand shot up like a rocket.

“Yes, Linda, what is it?”

“My dad’ll come to school and talk to our class. He’s a police officer.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“But don’t you want to ask him first?”

“Okay. But he’ll come. He has a uniform and everything.”

I trotted home and announced at the dinner table that I had volunteered him to show up at my classroom in full regalia and talk about being a policeman. I remember being surprised by the momentary, but somewhat stunned, look on his face.

“You said what?”

“I said you would come talk to our class about being a policeman.”

“You did, did you?”

“Uh huh.”

I’m guessing he subsequently called Miss Young to explain that he functioned in the role of a volunteer civil defense officer, not a regular on the Indianapolis police force. But she welcomed him to come anyway. And so, several weeks later, he did show up right before lunch, all decked out. And I liked to pop. My. Buttons.

My dad stood at the front of the classroom and told the students all about his uniform and its components, then described his duties and the types of things he might be called upon to do. At the conclusion of his talk, he welcomed questions from the class. For the life of me I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I raised my hand and fired off a question. I sort of recall — but my recollection is pretty hazy on this — that my question was a direct attempt to ferret out some drama. You know… had he actually popped anyone with the night stick or anything like that. His expression at that moment may have contained a hint of eye-rolling, but hey, this was my hour and I was committed to living it to the full.

About the time one of the kids asked him whether he thought Hawaii was really going to become the fiftieth state, Dad said something about having exhausted his usefulness to the class for the day, and then bid us all adieu. He departed the classroom with as much aplomb as he had arrived, and I sat at my desk basking in the afterglow.

I wish I could say that that was the last time I ever put him on the spot by volunteering him for things. But, unfortunately, I proceeded to drag him over a barrel several more times before I got all grown up. But, in true form, he would come through for me and never once hassled me about speaking on his behalf without checking first.

Oh yeah, and I’m proud of my parents for remaining so patient with me…

[I describe what my dad’s civil defense training enabled him to do late one summer morning in my post “The day critical need and a cool head converged“.]

Crime and punishment

October 29, 2013 — 2 Comments

Benjamin Spock’s classic The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care hit book shelves in 1946. Before Dr. Spock’s death, a half a century later, over fifty million copies of the book had been sold, making it the most popular book of the twentieth century in America, second to the Bible. His approach was lauded for validating parents in their use of common sense, for promoting flexibility over the more rigid approach that had previously been in vogue, and for encouraging parents to demonstrably express their affection to their children. To make the book accessible to the average household, this new parent handbook was priced at a whopping $.25 per copy.

My mom says she never had a copy of the book. She and my dad parented all five of us children without the assistance of a pediatrician-psychiatrist to affirm them in their common sense. They just went about their business, calling upon resources already at their disposal. Not that they didn’t encounter the occasional challenging situation from time to time, but for the most part, we pitched garden variety fits, engaged in garden variety sibling rivalry, and waged garden variety warfare on proscribed routines, directives and ethics.

It hadn’t previously occurred to me to comment on my folks’ methods of keeping their brood in line, but as I was musing on the most memorable events of my youngest years, one of their favored ways of impressing upon us the gravity of our misbehavior was…

Washing mouths out with soap.

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Ivory bar soap, circa 1954

Honestly, I can’t remember whether any of my siblings ever got the Ivory Treatment — I only remember the couple of times I found myself on the receiving end of this teaching stratagem. This infrequently used device was reserved for the perpetration of falsehood, duplicity, and other highly fraudulent behaviors. It could just as easily be applied when foul language or outrageous name calling came into play. I wish I could report to you just what it was that I said to warrant punishment on this order, but my selective memory has effectively blocked all recollection of any specific trespasses. Rest assured that I was guilty as charged, as my parents were quite careful to ensure that our every encounter with the Long Arm of Justice would have been duly preceded by ample instruction as to the expected, upstanding behavior.

The sudsy sentence was always executed with great dispatch. The guilty party would be escorted to the nearest sink, instructed to open his or her mouth, and a swift swipe of the soap bar across the tongue was administered. A new take on “belly up to the bar”.

I hated this punishment with a passion. Do they really think that putting that stupid soap in my mouth will stop me from thinking what I was thinking before I said what I said?!! Besides, my tongue doesn’t have any dirt on it, so washing it like dirty hands doesn’t even make any sense.

In all my childish indignance, my parents’ point was somewhat lost. Yet on some level, I think I realized that this negative consequence for children’s use of the tongue in an untoward manner was was chosen precisely for its metaphoric value, but was at the same time a highly effective deterrent. I, for one, immediately applied a neon Post-It to my brain that read: MUST NOT REPEAT THIS INCIDENT. EVER. After enduring a penalty “cleansing”, I would conscientiously eradicate lying and being ugly with my words from my agenda for a long, long while. I may have resorted to other naughty stuff, but definitely not that.

Another extremely effective tactic to curtail inappropriate behaviors, at least in dealing with my gregarious disposition, was to banish me to the bedroom during the middle of play. All the other kids would be outside whooping it up, and there I would be — imprisoned in a second floor cell with no one to talk to, be entertained by, or otherwise engage in shenanigans. I probably only spent a half hour to an hour in solitary confinement at any given time, but the duration seemed interminable. I’m sure I thoroughly contemplated my errant ways while alone and isolated, and no doubt vociferously pledged to do much better to the jailer when she came to fetch me at the end of my stint.

And finally… the dreaded paddle. My folks took one of those little light weight paddle ball paddles and removed the rubber ball and string. My dad even penned on the front of it: For Bad Burns’ Bottoms. The paddle’s assigned place was atop the refrigerator. It didn’t come down all that often, but when it did, we always knew which direct parental instruction we had violated. In all my childhood, I can only recall once when I felt I got a swat for something I didn’t understand was wrong. A commendable record on my parents’ part, all things considered.

Now lest you suspect my parents to be calloused or brutish in their methodology, bear in mind that virtually every household and classroom of the period was outfitted with a paddle. A kid could get a spanking from the principal at school and likely receive a second one for the same offense upon arriving at home. Attitudes and behaviors go in and out of fashion, and I believe the trend away from corporal punishment is a welcome one. I for one, don’t miss it, especially given the inherent potential for abuse.

But more important than the actual methods used, I suspect, are the motive and intent behind these methods. I know people who received physical abuse as children and have undergone countless hours of therapy to undo this damage. And I also know parents who would never lift so much as an aggressive pinkie finger, yet speak to their children with disdain and disrespect. Children who experience such verbal battering have the same need for assistance in overcoming debilitating feelings of unworthiness and shame. Both of these parenting modes are highly destructive and are to be eliminated from parental tool kits everywhere.

So perhaps Dr. Spock was onto something after all: use common sense in the care of babies and children. Firmly and lovingly communicate and adhere to appropriate boundaries, and generously administer affection and respect.

But maybe leave the Ivory out of the equation…?

The porch, then and now

October 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

It extended across the entire front of the grey frame craftsman style duplex that I grew up in. Only three items sat on it: a white glider with thick cushions covered in a dark green and white print, a square metal milk box that would magically spawn half gallon bottles of Borden milk overnight, and a sturdy recycled rubber welcome mat. The porch was where I hung out for at least eight months out of the year, spending countless hours doing all kinds of kid stuff. I loved that brick and concrete porch.

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Reading a comic book, with a stack of library books waiting on the glider arm.

It was a de facto, open air play room where we staged Monopoly marathons, battled each other in War, devoured the latest comic books (the “Archies” were my favorite – I coveted Veronica’s hair), vied to outscore one another at jacks, crammed our mouths with Bazooka Joe bubble gum to blow the ultimate bubble, split Hostess Twinkies between us (and yes, we scooped the cream out with our fingers), and a host of other sedentary pastimes. Boisterous activities involving running, jumping, throwing things, catching things, or riding things were relegated to  locations away from the house – and out of Mom’s earshot.

During the Dog Days of summer the porch served as a retreat from the brunt of the noonday sun. But its deep eaves also created a fine shelter from which to observe fat summer raindrops as they danced on the sidewalk and street. The comfy glider beckoned me to settle in with a good book, or a tablet and pencil to draw pictures, or dolls to dress and undress and dress again, or pocket knives for whittling. It was where we would examine rocks, bottle caps, old coins, supersonic code rings from the Cheerios box, grasshoppers, small toads, and other fascinating things that one could count on the boys to produce from their jeans pockets. (They told me they couldn’t understand how in the world I got along without pockets in so many of the outfits I wore…)

It also served as a viewing gallery as we watched the traffic up and down our street. Seated on the banisters or steps, we counted cars, watched delivery trucks unload at the corner delicatessen, waved at the neighbors as they strolled past our house, and generally connected with the folks who made up our community.

Every so often, mom would transform the porch into a 50’s version of a mini water park. She grabbed a broom and pulled the hose to the front of the house and proceeded to give the porch a thorough cleaning, most likely because of all the accumulated grasshopper guts, Twinkie cream, wood shavings from our whittling, and what-not. We had more fun than penguins on an ice floe once she cranked that nozzle to full force. The best part was not knowing exactly when she would suddenly divert the hose’s aim from the concrete to give one of us a quick blast on the tummy or tush. All the kids got in on the frolicking and squeals and giggles could be heard clear to the next block. Afterwards I couldn’t wait to play on the freshly scrubbed porch – but only after changing out of the soggy duds.

I especially loved the porch after dark. The street lights would cast a warm glow on the sidewalk, the street, and the other houses. Evening was when Dad would have time to sit with me on the glider. It was so relaxing to listen to one of his stories, watch the boys play hide and seek — with the telephone pole in front of our house being home base, or sit and listen to a chorus of crickets. One evening, I took advantage of this special quiet time I was having alone with Dad, and the porch became the setting for the New Smoker’s Lab, which story I tell in an earlier post, Warning – Smoking Can Cause

Fast forward fifty years or so and I’m still hanging out on the porch. About ten years ago my husband and I bought an old craftsman style house – grey frame, at that – with a brick and concrete porch that extends across the entire front of the house. Who says you can’t go home? And just like before, we enjoy our porch about eight months out of the year.

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My porch today.

It’s where you’ll often find us reading a good book, or maybe the Sunday comics, munching snacks (but probably not Twinkies, these days), enjoying conversation, playing games or furthering some aspect of a home improvement project (which explains the paint spatters, saw dust and random bits of drywall also found on the porch. Quick! Someone grab the hose and a broom!  We take refuge from the noonday sun, watch the raindrops hit the pavement during a summer downpour from beneath the wide eaves, and listen to crickets chirp in the evenings. We greet neighbors as they stroll by, wave at friends as they slow down and holler out the car window, watch delivery trucks and city buses, and generally connect with the folks who make up our neighborhood.

I still love my porch.

lego-wedding-cake-toppersBeing a part of someone’s wedding is such a splendid thing: it causes yours and another’s lives to become intertwined by sharing in this rhapsodic and romantic life event.You get to wear fancy costumes, learn special lines and choreography, carry props, get recorded and photographed (is it just me, or does this sound a lot like theater?) Plus there are gorgeous flowers, gorgeous music, gorgeous guests and delicious food and drink, to boot.

A little over three years ago I was delighted to be, for the very first time, Mother of the Groom. It would be Son II’s wedding. Then just two months later, I got to reprise this role in Son III’s wedding — how cool is that? And then, about a year and a half ago, I performed my third swirling pirouette as MOTG. What a wonderful role to play! Fewer expectations and so much less stress than the bride’s mother, yet all the fun of being at the 50 yard line for one of your offspring’s nuptials. Each of these three weddings was as unique and memorable as the individual couples who planned them, yet are equally sublime occasions in my life as a parent. (I know, I know — my fourth being a daughter, that whole high-expectation-high-stress MOTB experience awaits…)

Before any these lovely affairs, though, I was thrice a bridesmaid. The first time was when I stood up with a college friend whose groom was my husband’s very best friend. The next time, I stood beside my older brother’s bride — oh, how incredibly happy I was for them! And then a few years later, it would be my little sister at the altar. I admit that I couldn’t quite get through that one without tearing up… no one had given me a heads up on how that would hit me.

Of course, I was once the Bride, as well, and that day was a most singular experience. I was primed to be the center of attention for a day, relishing the flow of joyous felicitations from family, friends and guests, allowing their joining with us in celebration to launch us over the threshold and into our desired and chosen future. It wasn’t that our wedding was more elegant or stately or chic or distinctive than any of the countless other weddings that took place in the world on that June weekend in 1972 — it was just that it was ours.

But none of these wedding experiences was actually my first. No, my career as a Member of the Wedding Party commenced much, much earlier than any of these fine and fabulous occasions. I, in fact, debuted as a MOTWP when I was five. That’s right — I got to be a Flower Girl.

Words might fail to express the rapture I felt when my aunt asked me to do the honors. Actually, delirium would come close. This would surely be the zenith of my young life and I was determined to make everyone sooooo proud of me, especially my aunt and her fiance. My soon-to-be uncle’s young neice had also been asked to share the role, so I had the comfort of knowing I wouldn’t have to stride solo down the carpeted aisle.

My mom performed seamstress duties for both the bridesmaids and flower girls dresses, so people came and went at various intervals for fittings. I loved watching the garments come together — gorgeous pink shantung princess style dresses with matching boleros. And our flower girl garb was to-die-for: dresses that echoed the styling of the bridesmaids, the shoes and anklets, the gloves, the hair accessories — we would be the toast of the town.

The big weekend finally arrived and Flower Girl II and I found ourselves on tap at the wedding rehearsal. We were duly instructed as to how to carry out our unique responsibilities, which didn’t seem all that complicated to me: wait until the Matron of honor reaches the altar, then take a little step, pause, take another step, pause, strew the carpet with fragrant pink rose petals, smile, take another little step, pause, strew, smile, ad infinitum — I mean, how hard could this be?

Before I knew it, it was Show Time and I was standing in the foyer, fully garbed, ready to execute the plan. Oh my, no one told me about the butterflies. I pretended they weren’t anything to be concerned about. FG II seemed to be holding up okay, and since my aunt had entrusted me with this weighty responsibility, I just needed to buck up and fulfill my commitment. The pianist played, the church pews filled with guests, and suddenly someone signaled for the attendants to begin their procession. And that’s when things began to unravel.

I watched as the bridesmaid glided down the aisle. Elegantly. Beautifully. The matron of honor followed suit. As she neared the altar, the reality of what I had originally thought to be such a grand idea hit me like a Mack truck. What was I thinking? Why did I ever say yes? If I run out that door behind me could I ever show my face again? Why does every stinkin’ person in this church have their eyes locked on us? Am I going to barf?

The jumble of thoughts and feelings inside my head made me a little dizzy, but when the maid of honor got to the altar and turned to face me and FG II, somehow — and I can’t exactly explain how — I overcame the inertia and my feet began to move. One and then the other. Wait, was it step, pause, petals, smile? Or step, pause, smile, petals? And why hadn’t I thought to ask before now how long our strides should be? And just how many petals we should strew at a time?

The confusion grew worse until the little hard drive in my brain froze up, at which point some kind of autopilot kicked in and I watched myself lurch robot-like down that pristine white runner in an out-of-body-like experience. The aisle must have been at least a mile long and I feared collapse before reaching the end. About half way to our destination, I glanced to my left and realized that my partner in this little drama had frozen face syndrome, too. Guests could just forget right then and there thinking they’d see as much as a hint of a smile from either one of us. I saw her shaky little hand reach into her basket and grab a big old gob of petals and release the clump right next to the basket, so they landed on her poufy dress, and not onto the carpet, to prepare the way for the bride. Oh great, they gave us ONE thing to do and here we are screwing it up! I concluded that our mechanical and somber performance was a fiasco that everyone would be disappointed. I dreaded the comments that would no doubt follow the ceremony.

Well, knock me over with a feather! — the wedding guests had nary a negative thing to say. In fact, they gushed stuff about us being charming or cute or adorable — whatever. I thought these people were a either a little daft, hadn’t had a good view of the center aisle, or just wanted to make two little girls forget a spectacularly miserable performance. But I didn’t fret about it very long, since this was turning into an unexpected reprieve, and I would very likely be able to show my face again. Exhale. Where’s the cake?

By the end of the day, I had made a couple of observations: just because you want something so bad you can taste it doesn’t necessarily mean it will turn out to be quite as wonderful in real life as it is in your fantasies. And also, when you wipe out, there will be people who will cut you slack, allow you be human, and accept you anyway.

And you will love them for it.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, the swiftest soapbox in the derby, or the brightest bulb in the four-pack, but I managed to learn a few lessons when I was a kid. I may have learned them the hard way, but learn them, I did. So, in the spirit of sparing others the pain, the aggravation, and the embarrassment I experienced, I share the following list of life lessons, in no particular order:

1. If you ride a bicycle in flip-flops, you jeopardize the integrity of your big toes. I spent entire summers with the skin scrubbed off the tips of theseimg-thing toes by concrete sidewalks and curbs — sorta makes you wonder why I didn’t just switch to wearing sneakers.

2. If you drape a bathrobe over a lamp to fashion a makeshift night light because your sleepover friend is scared of the dark, you can end up scorching holes in both the lampshade and the bathrobe. And you could come dangerously close to burning down the house.

3. The same dog that will steal the toast and jelly you accidentally dropped at breakfast will also eat the bread crust you don’t want from your sandwich at lunch if you hold it under the table. That there’s a two-way street.

4. There was a reason why my mom instructed me to use the toilet, wash my hands, and brush my teeth before heading back to school after lunch, in that order.

golf-ball5. If you find a golf ball and then cut the dimpled outer covering off of it and then start unraveling the very long rubber string that is wound tightly around the core, you will eventually get to a solid rubber center, at which point you could realize you have just ruined a perfectly good golf ball that you could have sold back to a golfer.

6. If you tie one end of a long string around your loose tooth and the other end to a door knob and then slam the door, it will still hurt, even if someone assures you it won’t. But it does end the loose tooth drama much more quickly than wiggling it forever.

7. Say NO if your brother, or any other boy, asks you if you want an Indian Sunburn. Trust me on this.

8. Parents and teachers who pin notes to the collar of your clothing do not trust you to deliver written messages to the other. Nor do they care how silly you look wearing mail.

6a00d8341c77ee53ef0147e388c51a970b-800wi9. If you feed raisins to your two and a half month old sibling because you just wanted to share your snack with the baby and then proudly tell your mom how generous you were, you will get an immediate reaction. And not necessarily the one you were expecting.

10. If for some unknown reason the neighborhood boys become interested in one of your girls’ games — let’s just say, hopscotch — and you actually teach it to them, your beloved game is liable to morph into some jet-propelled galactic version of its former self, taking on such gargantuan proportions that the final mutation could become virtually unrecognizable to you.

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11. You can — you really can — chew too many pieces of Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum at one time. The size of the bubble this much gum will allow you to make is on par with a basketball. Clean-up… will take… a minute… or two.

12. Never — I repeat, NEVER — bite into an unripe persimmon. To find out if the persimmon is ripe, ask an adult. Because you just can’t trust an older kid to deliver accurate information on persimmons.

13. You can get a balloon to stick to your sweater if you rub it on your hair. You don’t want to try this on the dog.

monopoly14. Sometimes you just have to end a game of Monopoly when nobody’s winning. It’s just not as much fun on the third morning.

15. If an older kid tells you he’ll trade you his nickel for your dime and that you are getting a good deal because it’s a “bigger” coin and all, you are not getting a good deal.

16. If you let a cat play with the hot water bottle, you can end up with a soggy bed.

705_product_slinky17. Be careful who you let play with your Slinky. Once it is sprung, it’s dead.

18. You will not, in fact, break your mother’s back if you step on a sidewalk crack.

19. There is a reason your parents tell you not to stick your fingers, or any other object, in an electrical outlet.

20. You can fall asleep in the car on the way home from a visit at your grandparents’ and the next thing you know you are magically waking up in your bed in the morning.

514-EhffLfL._SY355_A couple of weeks ago I read a person’s comments about the experience of keeping a childhood diary. The woman related that she had recently presented a new diary to her young daughter who had just turned the same age that she herself had been when she began to keep a diary. Her hope was that re-reading her childhood entries in synchrony with her daughter’s developmental stages would provide insight into her child’s inner world. I was so jealous. Not only had she actually kept her diaries, but she had also kept a diary.

On more than one occasion when I was a girl, I would get a diary as a gift. It would generally have a leather-look cover, the words “My Diary” embossed on the front, and a tab closure with a small lock and key (which was rendered utterly meaningless by my habit of storing the key right next to the diary). Upon receiving these gifts, I would assign them some special place in my bedroom and imagine them filling up with adventures and escapades over the course of the next several months.

While I loved the idea of keeping a diary, what actually took place was a far cry from my fanciful notions. Here’s how things really went: I’d take the new diary down from its perch on a closet shelf, plop down on my bed with a writing implement, open it to the first page, enter the date and write “Dear Diary,” on the top line, and then…

My mind would go blank. Every single time. I mean, I had no trouble remembering the things that had happened earlier that day, but figuring out what parts of my mundane existence were significant enough to record on those pristine pages was another matter. I found myself staring at the page, wracking my brain as to what to say and how to say it, and then after a while, when nothing came to mind, I’d close the book, place it back on the shelf, and scamper off to play. This scenario looped daily for about a week after receiving the new diary, and then losing interest altogether, I’d abandon it to the journal writer’s morgue.

The ramification of my aborted attempts to journal: I would have the opportunity to synchronously re-read zilch when my daughter got to the age when I floundered as a diarist. I suppose that’s probably just as well, since she didn’t turn out to be a slow-down-and-contemplate-life type kid and, quite likely, would have resisted any efforts on my part to get her to do so.

Nevertheless, the idea of having a box of diaries saved from my childhood is very appealing. Taking the little keys in hand, I would unlock the small volumes and revisit thoughts and feelings of an earlier, more carefree time as I leafed through their pages. I would be amused by the crude penmanship, spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar, and misconceptions. Perhaps one of the entries might read something like this:

October 23, 1959

Dear Diary,

Mom put honey on my oatmeal today because we ran out of brown shugar. I like brown shugar a lot better. Joe* stole my toast and jelly when it fell on the floor. Stupid dog.

I scraped my knee on the sidewalk cause I tried to jump two many hopscotch squares. It bled but I didn’t cry. Mom cleaned it up and put a Band-Aid on it.

Jimmy cried when Mrs. Fisher sent him to the principal’s office. He knew he shouldn’t bring his dad’s lighter to school.  

We’re going to Grandpa’s house tomorrow. I want to swing on the grapevine in the woods again. Maybe this time the mean bull won’t be in the field so we can cross over to the creek and catch crawdads. 

Good night,

Linda K. Burns

Oh wait, what am I thinking?  These things were recorded… and stored away in endless dog-eared files in the memory vault… in full color, with sound tracks, scents, and flavors attached… plus names, places, back stories and feelings. I’ve been leafing through them for weeks now in the process of transcribing them into text.

But this time around, I not only have a sense of what’s significant in these daily happenings, I have Spell Check.

(* Joe was the family daschund.)

The King of Jokes

October 22, 2013 — 5 Comments

My dad was a true extrovert: I don’t think he ever met a stranger. Upon making someone’s acquaintance, he would immediately seek opportunity to amuse or cheer the person. To accomplish this he would resort to resources he had on hand, such as several good impersonations in his repertoire: Fred Flintstone, Mr. Magoo, and Yogi Bear, to name just a few. These Hannah-Barbera and UPA feature cartoons were very popular with both adults and children in the 60’s, so dad’s renditions could be counted on to evoke smiles. (He could also re-enact the entire pool hall speil by Harold Hill in The Music Man — flawlessly — but that wasn’t one you’d whip out on a first encounter with someone.)

He also stockpiled Laffy Taffy caliber puns that would elicit either grins or groans. (Unfortunately, when I got to my teenage years, I took to groaning.*) He had one-liners that were designed to catch people off guard and amuse, such as his compulsory after-dinner quip to dinner guests, “Well, don’t leave hungry… just leave!” at which point he would begin laughing, completely caught up in the humor and scandal of it all.

He could blow smoke rings, often to the oohs and aahs of observers. He could simulate a person with his dentures out by manipulating his lips (which was sure would get giggles from kids), as well as the classic, “Pull my finger” ploy. He wasn’t averse to sporting his hat or cap at a funny angle, creating impromptu zany mustaches with whatever props might be on hand (think soda straws and other restaurant paraphernalia), or other silly antics to get a reaction from folks — especially young people.

IMG_0014a_002a

Entertaining two grandaughters with a Play Doh mustache,
circa early 80’s

I grew accustomed to him being Johnny on the Spot with little gags and rib-ticklers, but one that stands head and shoulders above the rest was when he master-minded a caper to pull off during the next card party he and my mom would host.

To execute the prank, he would first need a drinking glass. The one he selected may very well have been “borrowed” from my mom’s stash. It was made of clear glass, was about eight or ten ounces in volume, and was weighted by a thick glass base — your standard issue beverage glass. Next he would need a drill and a bit. Back in the day, drills in our household weren’t fitted with electrical cords, but were powered manually. So with his very own hands, Dad drilled a very small hole in the bottom of the glass. Afterward, he rewashed the glass and positioned it at the very front of the other glasses in the cupboard, situated so that a person would naturally grab that one first. End of preparation. Ready for Show Time.

When the card friends arrived, Dad could barely conceal his excitement over the practical joke which was sure to play out at some point during the evening. And, as expected, one of the men asked if he could have a drink of water.

“Sure. Help yourself,” he replied. “The glasses are in the cupboard above the kitchen sink.” Then he sat back and waited. Of course, when the hapless fellow re-entered the room with tell-tale drips of water from the “dribble glass” all over the front of his shirt, Dad busted a gut.

Now, all the while Dad was planning his little gag, I wasn’t all that sure it was such a good idea. I mean, I sure wouldn’t want to go to someone’s house and have water dribble down the front of my outfit while getting a drink. But then again, I was a six or seven-year-old who was prone to miss the subtleties and nuances of adult interactions, communication, and humor. Dad’s buddies, on the other hand, were highly amused by his stunt and may have even borrowed the cup for a lark of their own.

Score one more for the King of Jokes.

(*When I got older, I became an inveterate punster myself, which means I’m either a chip off the old block, or a product of “A Child Learns What He Lives”. You pick.)

Neighborliness 101

October 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

My husband and I rented a split foyer house in New Jersey during the late 80’s and early 90’s. One day I answered a knock at the door. There on the stoop was a young couple I’d never seen before. They were dressed in very casual summer attire, so this obviously wasn’t a business call. I was definitely curious.

“Hello. You don’t know me,” the young woman began, “but I grew up in this house. We’ve been here in Jersey on vacation, visiting relatives, and I just wanted to show my new husband the house I lived in when I was a little girl before we head back to Florida. I was just wondering who lived here now.”

“Would you like to come in?” I asked.

“Oh, yes! Could we? I didn’t want to be forward, but I was hoping you would ask,” she responded with glee.

I said they were to just feel at home and explore whichever rooms they liked, but that I wasn’t going to apologize for the state of the housekeeping. As they went from room to room, she described the house’s features and original furnishings to her husband, with much animation. I vicariously enjoyed their little adventure, and I might have been just a teensy weensy bit jealous that she had “gone home” again.

When they got to the end of the hall she asked him to guess which bedroom was hers. “Remember, I was the little sister,” she hinted. Then they turned left and entered the smallest bedroom in the house. “Oh, my,” she exclaimed, “I remembered it being much bigger than this!”

Their visit inspired me. The next time we took vacation and drove through Indianapolis on our way to back to the Midwest to visit our families, we got off I-70 and drove by the house of my childhood. (I didn’t have the nerve to knock on the door.) The yards, the houses, and even the entire block, all appeared much smaller than I had remembered.

Given these close quarters and the fact that everyone spent a fair amount of time on our front porches, it was pretty easy to get acquainted with our neighbors growing up. One of my very favorite neighbors showed up in this old photograph my mom shared with me recently.

Copy of Aug 1957 Evelyn pipe Ella porch

In the foreground is our next door neighbor, Evelyn. She was mugging for the camera with one of either my dad’s or her husband’s pipes. Beside her is the youngest of her four sons. Standing on the next porch over: my older brother, me, and Ella Chambers.

Ella lived alone, in very close proximity to a whole slew of little kids — most of them in our duplex, to the one side of her bungalo, and one more little kid on the opposite side. As noisy, boisterous, mad cap and full of mischief as we could be, this woman never, ever said one cross word to us. (She even let us come into her yard to fetch foul balls, and out of respect, we were very careful not to trample anything in the process.) I mean, if you type “define kindness” into a Google search box, the first result would be: Ella. To say that I loved this lady wouldn’t adequately convey my full range of feelings for her.

My most favorite thing about Ella Chambers, besides her incredible patience and gentleness with us kids, was how generous she was with her wealth: the woman’s fenced back yard was a veritable botanical garden. And every once in a while — but not so often as to become something we’d take for granted — she’d invite us into her yard to pick bouquets to give to our mothers. Well poke me with a fork, I was done.

As she’d open the gate, garden shears in hand and wearing an apron, I always felt as if I were entering a parallel universe of some kind, despite the fact that we lived right next door. Along both sides of the walkway were endless flowers in a stunning array of colors and varieties.

“These are snap dragons,” she’d say, supplying all the names of the various sections in her symphony of fragrance and loveliness. “Those over there are irises. They’d be nice in a bouquet — they’ll stay fresh for a long time.” She would take time to demonstrate how to snip long stems, for vases, rather than just plucking blooms off their stems, as kids are wont to do.

Although I never let on, I always wished I could have at least one of every flower she had. However, I figured that saying so would seem greedy, and I never wanted to do anything that might jeopardize future forays into Eden. So mostly I just let Ella suggest and select, nodding my assent whenever she asked if I liked a particular flower. Of course I like that one — I like ALL of them!

Before long, she would have amassed a plump bouquet of assorted blossoms, at which point she would wrap several layers of moist paper towels around the stems and carefully place the bunch in my hands. I was instructed to carry it right home so my mother could get it into some water as soon as possible. After I left, she’d go about getting the boys’ bouquets “presentation ready”.

Striding into our house bearing one of Ella’s gorgeous bouquets, for the sole purpose of presenting the gift in royal tribute to the lady of the house, always made me feel like a regular little duchess. This wonderful neighbor’s open-heartedness made quite an impression on my young heart. I believe I would have walked over hot coals for this woman.

Ella Chambers: advocate of young children, cheerer of busy young moms, admirer and cultivator of beautiful floral gardens, benevolent neighborhood purveyor of love and well-being.

When I enter the word “birthday” in the search engine in my mind, memories start popping like Orville Redenbacher in a microwave. I guess birthday experiences are so laden with emotional markers, they really stand out.

happy-birthday-cake-picI mean, people are actually likely to say very nice things to you on your birthday — well, except for when they’re teasing you about how you’ll need to call the fire department to help you extinguish all the candles on your cake, etc. And usually your favorite people are likely to join you in celebrating your big day, adding to the merriment. These same people might even surprise you with a party or a gift you’d never expect. Business establishments even get on board, sending coupons for free and discounted purchases in honor of your special day. You can bank on having some very tasty eats, AND you get to watch your life odometer turn over to start a fresh new year. What’s not to love?

One of my very first birthday related memories is of my mom telling me that I shared my birth date with an aunt. Wow, I was born on her birthday?!

[Riiiinnnng… riiiinnnng.]  “Hello?”

“Hey there, Bob, it’s Dick. I’m calling from the hospital — your little sister just had a baby girl!”

“No kidding! Congratulations! That’s just great. …Hey, Honey — Dick’s on the phone. They just had their baby. It’s a girl!… What time was she born?”

“About an hour ago. We’re naming her Linda Kay.”

“Wow. We had just sung “Happy Birthday” when you called; Kathy was blowing out the candles on her cake. What a nice birthday treat! Thanks for calling, Dick. Give Mary Anne our love.”

While I was growing up, I loved being able to be around my aunt, and I always had a particular fondness for her. After all, we were Birthday Buddies. Once, when I was about four, I was visiting her house by myself and she lifted me up to sit on her kitchen counter so we could have a conversation face-to-face — la-dee-da! Oh my, how endearing was that? Off and on, throughout the years, we exchanged birthday greetings across the miles. I wish I could tell her how special she always made me feel.

$(KGrHqZ,!roFHloEbw+BBR+WmTYYww~~48_35The next special birthday memory was the Gerber Baby doll that arrived in the mail for me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I loved that doll. Nor can I begin to tell you how many baby food labels my parents must have collected to be able to send off for it!

The Bridesmaid

Another wonderful birthday memory was being able to be the bridesmaid in my brother’s wedding on my 19th birthday. We were both living in southern California, I in college, he newly graduated and working for an insurance company. It was an enchanting and lovely occasion, but somewhat surreal, in that my brother was now to be a husband. Overall, it was win-win: I inherited another sister AND their anniversary is very easy for me to remember.

More recently, I had a week long celebration for my 50th birthday — Linda’s Grand Jubilee. But that’s a topic for a future post…

To better understand the significance of the next special birthday memory, I should explain that I’ve been a cake decorator for over thirty years, mostly in a labor-of-love capacity, except for the year and a half I was the cake decorator at a Baskin Robbins. (I wish I’d have taken pictures of some of the cakes I did while working there. One of the craziest cakes I designed was a wrecked motorcycle — it was for a guy who was celebrating the fact that his buddy survived an accident virtually unscathed.) Consequently, my family looks to me to decorate cakes for special occasions and have never really baked for me. So when a couple of years ago, my daughter baked and decorated the cake for my birthday, it was so special. I was really touched.

And then last year, my newest daughter-in-law planned a bash for my 60th. She pulled out the stops and ushered me into this new decade in grand style. Friends and family gathered in my honor and my very musical offspring put together the family band and performed my special requests. They even brought in — be still my heart! — steel pans!!

Addressing the son who would be bringing the steel pans about two months before the big day: “Do you think it would be dorky to have ‘I Feel Good’ at my sixtieth birthday party?”

“Not really.”

“Well, I intend to have a lot of fun and I love me some James Brown,” at which point I started to move my feet and bust a line of the chorus. “Do you think I could get away with singing it?”

“Sure. It’s your birthday and you can sing whatever you want, Mom.”60th bday

So, it’s my party and I’ll jive if I wanna, jive if I wanna, jive if I wanna… You would jive too…

Oh wait, different song. At any rate, I got my wish. I sang several songs with them backing me up: Linda Rondstadt’s “That’ll Be the Day”, James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, and Carlos Santana’s “You Are My Kind”. The absolute best Kodak moment was when I got the crowd to sing along with “I Feel Good”, a conga line formed, then I looked over and saw my 85-year-old mom clapping her hands and singing to James Brown. Fun, indeed.

And shortly after that party, I started thinking I needed to launch this blog.

THE END

[That is, until Monday…]