Archives For March 2014

Bidding Lucille Goodbye

March 25, 2014 — 2 Comments

I was organizing a file drawer the other day. calaIn the process I ran across a photo of someone who played a key role during a very difficult time in my life, nearly twenty years ago. Although Lucille and I hadn’t known each other very long and weren’t too well acquainted, she stepped up the moment I indicated I needed help. She was old enough to be my mother, and admittedly, that made it easier to let her nurture me.

More importantly, there was something about her that let me know she’d been there, and I needed someone who could relate to my trouble. As I described the thicket that had me hemmed in on all sides, she calmly and gently guided me with some of the simplest and most profound wisdom I’d ever received. Then she prayed with me. Her advice was 24-carat; her willingness to support me through the difficulty, priceless.

We hadn’t been in touch for years, but, as looked at her picture, I decided to let her know how much her being there for me had meant. I’d send her a letter. Since I knew her husband’s name and her town, I figured it’d be pretty easy to find her in the online White Pages. One click led to another, and next thing I knew I was reading her obituary. The pang of regret was immediate. Why hadn’t I bothered to express my sentiments before now?

I wish this was the first bout I’ve lost in this arena. But I got body slammed several years ago, during the course of a conversation with an old friend. She said her mother had suffered significant memory loss due to Alzheimer’s. The list of people who spoke words of affirmation to me during my youth isn’t terribly long, unfortunately. But this woman’s name was definitely on it. I had always meant to let her know that her kind and thoughtful words were a critical lifeline to me as I floundered in a sea of adolescent self doubt. Now she wouldn’t even remember who I was.

But Lucille was younger. I still had time, right?

Wrong.

The window of opportunity can, and does, close without notice.

Ordinarily, I’d wait to post this. I’d time it to appear seasonally, right before Mother’s Day. I’d urge us all to remember those women who served as de facto mothers. I’d say some things about how important it is to let them know that their words were life-giving.

But waiting has bitten me twice now.

I don’t want it to bite anyone else.

So, if you have someone — anyone — who has been pure oxygen to your flagging spirits, who gave you a fresh look at who you really were, and who inspired you to believe you could become that person*…

Contact them now.

As powerful as their words and support were to you will be your confirmation back to them, assuring them that they had a positive impact on your life.

And isn’t that something we yearn for? To be significant? To know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life?

Fufill their yearning. Let them know.

You know who they are. Find the phone number. Look up the school address where he or she may still be teaching. Ferret out whatever it is you need to relay your gratitude and appreciation to this person.

It will do something wonderful and real inside you, but I promise it will do something deep in them, too.

I challenge you…

Don’t put it off. Just do it.

Today.

Because you really don’t want to wait until you’re reading an obituary.

[*Mr. Rogers expresses this beautifully in his acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1997 Emmy’s.] 

 

 

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Established fact: I am a city girl.angus

Knowing (and even understanding) this fact has never kept me from succumbing intermittently to fantasies about country living and its imagined simplicity, or peace and quiet. But my reveries inevitably give way to the realities country living would necessarily entail, at which point I circle back to square one: I’m not particularly suited for country life. I guess I’ve spent too many years learning how to thrive while living “amongst”, rather than “dispersed”.

My two-year stint of quasi-rural life in the northern Great Plains during the mid-70’s only reinforced what I had already figured out. We lived in a town of about 10,000, which was the fourth largest town in the entire state. When you drove beyond the city limits in any direction, you had to drive at least fifteen miles before reaching the nearest town. The surrounding towns were s – m – a – double – l, as in fewer than 300 residents. To dine at a restaurant a step up from the local Country Kitchen required a sixty mile drive; a shopping mall, twice that distance. Such realities clashed with my more urban sensibilities. It seemed entirely possible that civilization could be spread too thin. I just wasn’t cut out for living in a rural context.

But living in the country and visiting the country are two very different things. I have discovered that I’m quite well suited for visiting the country.

My very first visit was in early adolescence. My parents had joined a church to which several farm families also belonged. A couple of these families had girls very close to my age with whom I became friends. When summer rolled around, I was invited to spend a week at a time on their farms. This could have put me in hog heaven, but alas, they raised Angus and Holstein.

I swapped out the more typical camp experience for these wonderful visits. While I may not have slept in bunks in a cabin, learned archery/water sports/campfire songs, or pulled pranks on the counselor, thanks to my country friends, I could anticipate an annual week or two of farm festivities, right up to the time I left home. And I rather preferred the enrichment of these excursions into country life.

After all, a city girl could learn a lot on a farm. Such as:

1. Sheets hung out on the line in the country smell incredible. Our family’s laundry was regularly hung on the line to dry, but when I made the beds at night, our sheets didn’t smell nearly as good as the country sheets.

2. Though you will see lots of cats, you are unlikely to make contact with even one of them. Since my mom insisted that all things feline remain outdoors, any mice we encountered were dealt with by mousetrap. Which meant that these farm visits were my introduction to a) the idea of “cats as mousers”, b) the need to keep the rodent population at bay in barns, and c) the benefit of having a sizable cat population. (The central theme of all those Tom and Jerry cartoons must have gone right over my head.)

While I understood their personal mission statements incorporated “Devour rodents in barn”, I couldn’t get my mind around these farm cats being completely indifferent to my presence. I think I took it personally.

3. 4-H is way cool. From time to time, my visits would coincide with 4-H functions and I would get to tag along. I was always amazed by the achievements, accomplishments and accolades of my rural age peers. Since I, too, had an interest in sewing and dressmaking, some of the intricate projects these kids undertook pretty much knocked my socks off.

4. It’s imperative to watch where you’re stepping. Enough said?

5. A calf’s tongue = sandpaper. I was startled the first time one poked her head through a fence and latched onto my finger. My utter deficit of farm critter savvy meant I would mindlessly allow this scenario to occur more than once. (Get it?…utter/udder…heh heh.)

6. Putting up hay = boys. Since the farm families I knew had mostly girls (only one son among a combined total of ten children!), they hired local teenage boys to help with the mowing, baling, and storing of the hay. My friends tried to time my visits during the hay season. (Good friends, indeed.) Sometimes I got to ride shotgun on the tractor fender while one of my friends drove the Deere, other times I helped get meals ready. After a long and sweltering Midwest summer’s day spent man handling hay bales, everyone headed for the pond to cool off, which took some of the sting out of the mandatory sunburn.

7. You will never get your swimsuit looking clean again after swimming in the pond. Period.

8. Homemade ice cream is fantastic. Where had it been all my life? This farm-fresh, frozen wonderfulness was the perfect finale to a day of putting up hay. The bale-toting guys each took a turn at hand cranking the ice cream freezer until cranking the dasher reached the desired level of difficulty, at which point the contraption yielded it’s extraordinarily delicious contents.

Curious, but this was the only time the cats actually came around…

9. Having a 500-gallon gasoline tank on your property and being able to fill your car for free is great. Okay, so the gas isn’t exactly free, but that’s how it seemed to me at the time, given the absence of a commercial gas pump clicking off the gallons by tenths, along with the corresponding price in dollars. No driving out of your way to find a service station, no jockeying for an open pump, no waiting in line to pay — opulence befitting a sultan, I’d say.

10. The night sky in the country is dazzling. The ambient light of the city ruled out such splendor, but away from the city — the stars, the moonlight… amazingly brilliant against the inky blackness. Now, a girl could get used to that.

Okay, so here’s what I didn’t tell you about the engagement ring last time (Box Office Blues):

Shopping for the ring was a genu-ine adventure.

When my husband moved to Seattle, he got acquainted with a college friend’s dad who purchased cosmetics and jewelry for a large drug store chain in the Northwest. When he learned that Art was about to pop the big question and was in the market for a ring, he wrote down the name of one of his wholesale connections, along with the phone number and address of his business. Apparently, this man could hook you up.

I flew up for semester break and learned we’d be buying rings from this guy downtown who was supposed to be giving us a really good deal. Okay, I thought, whatever works. We found the correct block, parked, and fed the meter. The address we were looking for was in the middle of the block, but it was just a door. We walked in and proceeded down a slightly dim, narrow hallway.

This is sorta weird. So, where’s the jewelry showroom?  

I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I imagined we were going to a Zale’s or something. Shows you how much I understood about “wholesale”. We spotted the door with the jeweler’s name on it. A short, bespectacled man with a slight paunch and thinning hair answered the door.

“Hello. My name is Art, and this is Linda, my fiancée. Bob said you might be able to help us — we’re looking to buy wedding rings.”

“Oh, right! Come on in.” We entered the smallish office. Not a piece of jewelry anywhere in sight.

“Give me a minute to wrap up some paperwork and I’ll be right with you.” Before long, he grabbed some keys and headed for the door.

“Come with me.”

He led us back out into the hallway, locking the office door behind him. We followed him on down the hall to a freight elevator. The three of us rode it to another floor — another new experience for me. Then down another hallway to a nondescript door. He unlocked it. The room was filled with safes, one of which he opened, then lifted out several large oblong trays. He stacked them on a counter, and placed one directly in front of us, removing  the lid.

I tried hard not to gasp audibly. Inside that tray were more diamonds and gold than I’d ever seen in one place in my entire life! This explains why all the keys and safes! l stood there, just staring like a fool at q dazzling array of brilliant and fiery gems, exquisitely highlighted by the black velvet inside the tray.

“See anything you like?”

Ha! He’s kidding, right? They’re ALL gorgeous! 

Our host must have noticed my head spinning. He helped out by selecting several individual rings, placing them on the lid of the tray. Then he handed me one. I gingerly took it from him.

“Wow, that’s nice,” I murmured, as I held the diamond solitaire up to my hand. He repeated this gesture several more times, and as I put each one to my finger, it scored a perfect 10. Realizing we would be there quite a while at this rate, my husband thought of a way to narrow the search.

“How much is that one?”

The man turned over a tiny tag on the ring to get a look, then quoted a price that reflected his 50% wholesale discount, which was still about twice as much as we could afford. We spelled out our price range, and he went for a different tray. (This is hard to believe now, but my husband’s starting training salary in 1969 was a whopping $500 a month.)

Again, he lifted the lid, revealing more stunning rings — more modest*, but dazzling in their own right. We’re talking diamonds here. I continued with the selection process until he handed me one that especially caught my fancy.

Oooo, I really like that one.” My sweetheart agreed.

“It does have a lot of fire,” the man pointed out. Indeed, it did. We then asked him his opinion regarding the ring’s design. What he said in reply has since become a favorite and oft-used line in our family:

“If you like it, it’s niiice.”

Sold to the young, mildly impoverished suitor from Kent! He lifted the matching wedding band from the tray, replaced the lid, and returned all the trays to the safe. Back down in his office, he boxed the rings and wrote up the ticket. Having completed the transaction, we thanked the helpful wholesale merchant and waltzed out of his establishment and back out into the fresh air. Did we really just get my rings?!!

[Insert Bond movie here.]

A few days later, I would find myself back in my dorm in southern California — in bed with the flu, in fact. My appetite was gone, but attentive roommates insisted on keeping me supplied with fresh hand-squeezed orange juice and grapefruits from the dining hall. Another friend brought fresh-squeezed tomato juice. (This was, after all, southern Cal, and the food at our school was exceptionally high quality.) I consumed all offerings, hoping to stay hydrated. I had just slid back into bed after downing some o.j. when, about ten minutes later, I started to feel tingly.

Hmmm. That’s strange…

Moments later, the tingling morphed into itching. I mean, serious itching. And I felt flushed. I headed for the medicine cabinet mirror. The visage staring back at me was horrifying: my face was covered with welts! I glanced down — my arms were covered, too. I lifted my pajama top — Aack!! they were even on my tummy. The welts grew larger and larger as I watched. I stumbled down the hall in search of someone — anyone! — to help me.

I spotted a girl at her desk. She took one look and emphatically declared, “I’m calling the infirmary right now! You go lay back down!” I did. But lying there alone, my thoughts spun out of control. What dreadful disease had I caught in Seattle? How serious will it be? A couple minutes later, she came to my room.

“The nurse said it sounds like hives.”

Never heard of them. Can’t be good…

“She doesn’t think they’re serious and they’ll probably clear up in a little while, but meanwhile, we’re supposed to get you into a warm bath and dump some baking soda in it.”

The bath solution immediately soothed the itching. I relaxed in the therapeutic waters for about fifteen minutes, at which point the hives had nearly disappeared. So I got out of the tub, wrapped my robe around me, and headed back to bed. The last thing I remember seeing was a girl sitting cross-legged on the floor, visiting with one of my roommates.

When I came to, I was staring up into a cluster of faces. Apparently, I had gotten out of the tub too quickly, so the blood rushed from my head. Naturally, when I fainted, everyone came running. And now all of them were hovering over me, peering at my now hive-less face.

“Are you okay?!”

It took a moment to get oriented. They quickly filled me in on the sequence of events and why I was flat on my back in the hallway. I made a move to get back up, but the visiting girl stopped me.

“I think you need to stay here a little longer. We don’t need you fainting again.” I obediently put my head back down.

“What’s this?” she asked, holding up my newly ring-clad hand.

A roommate gave her the scoop. “She flew up to Seattle and got engaged over the break.”

“So, that’s it!” Moving her head closer to mine, she quipped, “You’re allergic to this ring! I think you should give it to me — I’ll hang onto it for you, heh heh.” Everyone thought this was just a riot. Unfortunately, I was too woozy to join in the hilarity. Laughter trailed down the hall as two of the girls escorted me back to bed.

I recall the incident being retold often that semester and every time feeling silly for having created such a commotion in our dorm by overdosing on vitamin C and triggering an allergic reaction.

And just for the record: I was really glad it was the citrus, and not the ring.

ring2

From our wedding album, 6-11-72.

[* A couple of years ago, a student worker in our office asked me, “You got married young, didn’t you?” I told her yes, as a matter of fact, I did. “I knew it,” she replied. “I guess based on the size of the diamond — young couples are usually pretty broke.” Nailed it, she did.]

Box office blues

March 7, 2014 — 2 Comments

What kid doesn’t like going to the movies? Whether it was mom taking us downtown on the bus to see a matinee — mostly animated Disney films — or the whole family piling into the car with our picnic basket to see a family friendly show at the drive-in, I loved it.

As a young girl, I only remember going once to a theater with just friends. Toby Tyler, Disney’s hot new release, was showing and a classmate invited me to come. I cried when Mr. Stubbs got shot (Toby’s chimpanzee companion), and then became overjoyed to find out he survived. But I also remember the popcorn smelled awesome that day and the chocolate covered raisins were particularly tempting. In addition, the theater was air conditioned. In the middle of the summer? Sheer luxury.

melvin

By the time I was junior high age and we’d moved to the South Grand area of St. Louis, there were several movie theaters within walking distance of where we lived. As I recall, the one we frequented most often was the Melvin Theater on Chippewa Street, several blocks east of Grand Avenue. This theater was popular with our family because they played second run movies and admission was only  fifty cents. This appealed to my dad, who shelled out the dough for all of us to get in. The Melvin was about ten blocks from our house, so on nice evenings the whole gang would walk there and back, stopping for Velvet Freeze ice cream cones on the way home.

ritzAnother one was the Ritz Theater on Grand at Arsenal Street. I walked past the Ritz often, on my way home from school, because it was in the same block as the Woolworth’s dime store (where my friend and her sticky fingers exited the store with that stolen notebook). I studied the movie posters in the glass cases outside the theater, but most of the time I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, so I was mostly just window shopping.

I remember seeing posters featuring some pretty big names: child star Haley Mills had been wildly successful in both Pollyanna and The Parent Trap in the early 60’s, and by the time I was strolling South Grand, she was releasing The Moonspinners and That Darn Cat. I can’t begin to t ell you how much I adored Haley Mills. I think if I could have waved a magic wand to change myself into her, I surely would have done it. (Fortunately, I was constrained to remain myself.)

The ever popular Elvis had some releases during that period, notably Viva Las Vegas, Fun in Acapulco and Kissin’ Cousins. Being a little too young to have caught the Elvis wave, I thought these movie posters were interesting, but not nearly as compelling as the…

Beatles’ movies! Oh my, I got lightheaded when Hard Day’s Night came to the Ritz. To say that I wanted to see that movie would be a gross understatement. But, as luck would have it, their music was verboten in our household, meaning I would not be buying a ticket to see it. Nor Help! And not Yellow Submarine, either. My dad had made a very big point of the utter uselessness of the British Invasion. Which left me to my reveries while poring over posters of the Lads from Liverpool. But even more sinister than British rock leaping across the Pond, was the…

Bond genre. By the time I was strolling by the Ritz after school, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger were mega blockbusters, raking in a whopping $78 million and $124 million, respectively, in worldwide box office receipts. Connery was 007 back in the day, and he projected an edgy, cool, swaggering playboy persona. I’m confidant I would have gotten off easier had I been caught sneaking off to see a Beatles movie than one of the Bond films. They were sooo off limits for Burns kids. Which explains why I was flabberghasted several years later when a certain brand new fiancé of mine suggested we see the hot new release…

Diamonds Are Forever.

Recently graduated from college, he had moved to Seattle six months earlier. I flew up from Southern California for a visit during the semester break. We had just walked out of the downtown store where we purchased my engagement ring and there, across the street, was a theater marquee emblazoned with the latest Bond flick.

“Hey, wanna go to a movie?”

“Which one?”

“Turn around and see.”

A Bond movie? Whoa, he’s not kidding. But I’ve never even seen one. And what would Dad think? Wait… Dad’s not here. And didn’t I just get… engaged? Perhaps I’m an… adult.

He had just slipped a solitaire on my finger, and I was loath to deny this simple request to take in a matinee. Plus giddy over being newly betrothed. Though contemplating such racy behavior felt strange, it didn’t keep me from taking his arm and sachaying across that street and into the theater.

And to my surprise, I enjoyed the movie. Now, I don’t think Bond movies will ever be my favorites — you know, the sheer number of things that get blown up, and all. But if you stop and think about it, it was kind of poetic that we sealed the deal that day with a movie entitled diamonds are forever. That ring sits on my hand even now, next to a wedding band. Barring its loss, the ring will likely outlive us both: an enduring symbol of our grand love affair — one that will transcend our finite existence in a legacy bequeathed to our children, grandchildren and beyond.

Nice flick pick, Sweetie.

seattle

He snapped this photo of me on the sidewalk outside the store, right after we bought the rings.