Ghostly Memories of Thanksgiving Past

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A writing prompt group I belong to threw out a suggestion about the aromas we remember from previous Thanksgivings. Perhaps it was from the fumes of paint stripper as I worked on a new writing desk that made me grab onto the subject and take time to ponder my response. After doing so, other memories from decades past bubbled to the surface and a face came into focus of one I hadn’t really thought of for a long, long time…perhaps too long.

As l remember, her salt and pepper hair was always pulled back in tightly pinned bun. After all, she lived on a farm and wearing one’s hair down just wasn’t done. It wasn’t practical and if my grandmother was anything, she was definitely practical. Every black and white Polaroid showed a taciturn woman, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles perched on a less than feminine  nose, wearing a plain, cotton house dress typical of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s that ended mid-calf and covered a thick pair of stockings rolled to just below her knees. The only words to describe the shoes she always wore are black, blocky and durable. I believe they were called “Cuban” shoes but definitely capable of trudging through the muck typical of a working farm. To complete the ensemble, Grandmother always wore a top to bottom apron, a virtual necessity of that era, which covered a range of duties from holding freshly laid eggs to protecting her frock from flour during bread making. Most importantly, the apron covered her ample bosom.

Legend has it, my grandmother’s ample girth and bosum hid untold treasures which was later confirmed by my older sister many years later. As the story goes, there lived a woman on the outskirts of town who, to put it delicately, serviced interested gentlemen in the county. Perhaps she was beginning to feel the time had come to pack up and move along but whatever the reason, she came to the decision to sell her forty acre parcel. My grandmother was a shrewd business woman who knew a good investment when she saw one. They decided to meet and while their two attorneys were hashing out details in the parlor, my grandmother and the woman came to a mutual and satisfactory conclusion, sealing the deal with a handshake in the kitchen over a glass of buttermilk. Then my grandmother reached into her bosum and pulled out the agreed upon sum of cash. I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure her bosum was safer than the bank.

Truth is my grandmother had been widowed far too early in her marriage: a difficult and frightening situation in a town of about 150. By all accounts she remained stoic and faced the adversity the only way she knew how; with determination, pragmatism and a no-nonsense view of the world. That particular era seemed to be in short supply of warm and fuzzy emotions so I’m sure it couldn’t have been all roses for my father yet he possessed a delightful prankish sense of humor.  Looking closely once again at an old photograph of her, I swear I could finally see a little mischievousness in her eyes too. Perhaps there was more to this woman I always remembered as flinty and slightly distant.

As I continued sanding and stripping, a particular memory slowly came inching back. A visit to my Grandmother’s farm was the closest thing to bliss in my youth. There were pigs and dairy cows along with a stern warning to stay clear of both. She had three devoted Chows, two of which never left her side while the third, a teddy bear with a thick black coat joined me on my adventures. An abundance of bullfrogs and crawdads filled the creek that sliced through the pasture. She always seemed to have a new litter of barn kittens darting out and about the barn sheds. When the mood struck, I would leap on my pony with two lead ropes attached to the halter and ride into town for a cream soda at Pearl’s mercantile. I usually ended up tossing feed to the chickens and the two turkeys in the backyard. On this visit, however, the turkeys were conspicuously absent.

My mother called me in to wash up and a mixture of heavenly aromas hit me as I walked up the back stairs. It wasn’t until I saw my grandmother stand up in front of the cookstove that I mentioned the missing turkeys. Wiping her hands in her apron she didn’t immediately respond but did manage to block the opening. My mother shot my father a guarded look which I didn’t catch but before he could spill the beans about the truth of our guest of honor, my grandmother spoke up, explaining turkeys often wandered off for days at a time. “I’m sure they’ll return by the time you come for your next visit.” I must have taken her explanation at face value for nothing more was said.  She gave my shoulder a little squeeze before shooing me off into the living room to play Chinese Checkers.

Sitting down for Thanksgiving supper at a table covered with a vast array of the most delicious looking vegetables about twenty minutes later, a plate with a slab of ham was placed in front of me. In fact, everyone was served ham. If anyone had thought to question the menu, she must have silenced them with a warning gaze over my head. Maybe she didn’t approach every situation with knife edged bluntness. Perhaps time, age and life had taught her a little levity and holding on to childhood innocence a bit longer to be more important. As the memory came inching back, I’m certain of it.

I look at those old family photographs differently, especially those of my grandmother.  Yep. There was much more to that lady than she let on.

Hope everyone’s memories from holidays past bring a slow smile to your lips. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parenthood = Roller Coaster

From the moment they are placed in your arms, you are overwhelmed with this immense sense of responsibility. They capture your heart when you hear the first flutter of a heartbeat and the love continues to grow. And although you would never in a million years volunteer for the “Rip Ride Rockit” at Universal Studios, you have unwittingly signed up for a lifetime front row seat to the roller coaster that is parenthood.

From the moment they take their first step, you would do anything to shield them from hurt. You know they are going to stub a toe, fall off their bicycle or skin their knee and your heart aches. That’s just the beginning. Next there is the first trip to the Principal’s office, being omitted from a birthday party or worse, not being picked for the sport’s team and you haven’t even left the single digit age bracket yet.

After this stage, we watch as they move to new schools, filled with the angst of making new friends and the navigating the social pecking order. You witness the first crush and the first breakup. During this time, you heart sinks right along with their own, although by now your support is mostly silent…after all, they are teenagers and “they do know everything.” Are we done yet? Not even close.

We feel their pain wishing with every ounce of our being we could take away the sting, knowing full well these are milestones they must experience just as we did. Knowing this fact does not make it any easier. The challenges are bigger, the stakes are higher and a simple kiss can’t make the booboos go away.

Today, I unknowingly took my reserved front row seat on that exhaustive roller coaster. My son loves tennis. I’m not quite sure he understands the sacrifices required to become as good as he wants; only time will tell, but he has stepped up his game in the past few weeks. The next stage will involve competition…at least two tournaments per month, plus setting time aside to practice serving and using the ball machine for consistency. It is during tournament play where the rubber meets the road. Previous matches have not always resulted in a win which is a difficult concept difficult to grasp. This morning yielded the same result—a complete, unequivocal defeat. Needless to say, our young son exited the match disappointed with his performance, feeling completely talentless, stating he should quit but wanting a reason to continue. Unfortunately during times such as these, a parent’s words of encouragement just don’t seem enough. I gave him the same pep talk and pointed out things he might have done differently when I realized he’d crumbled into an emotional heap in the car seat beside me. Truth be told, these teenagers, for all their bravado, are still children.

We sat in the parking lot of Publix and for the first time, I kept my mouth shut; a first for me, unfortunately. I just let him vent, cry, and pour out his frustration. When he was done, we didn’t talk about it and just went to lunch. As luck would have it, next to our table sat a woman with her two sons. The oldest, probably 8, was having a full blown meltdown, albeit quietly while his younger brother, about 5, looked on. After things had calmed down a bit, the mother stood up to get the food and the napkins. It was during this time the younger brother said something to his older brother. Although we were watching, neither of us could make out the words, however, it became clear within seconds whatever it was displeased the older brother immensely. He gave his brother a deathly glare that could only be described as the most incredible “unibrow stinkeye” we had ever seen, again and again. We broke up laughing.

I don’t exactly know what happened to my son during those hours between matches. What I do know is when he walked out on the court later that afternoon, he was different. He carried his head high, walked with purpose and carried a positivWait for ite attitude ready to listen to the little voices of his coaches he carries in his head. Without fanfare or hullabaloo my son had grown up on his own…he had turned the lemons from the morning into afternoon lemonade. Every time he looked at me during the match, he gave me a confident nod. Gone were the outbursts of exasperation and the barely audible swear words. When he walked off the court after losing 6-2, 6-4, he proudly told me, “I think that’s the best I’ve ever played.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Time Waits for No One

Chase on the Beach in HawaiiOur son completed his second year of high school. High school…..the two words together almost choke me. Two words put together to create a whole new meaning. It leaves my head spinning as to how we arrived at this juncture at what seems to be warp speed.  Only a moment ago, they were placing a squirming bundle into my arms.  Just yesterday, it seems, he assumed the well recognized “knee-to-chin” squat position on a beach in Hawaii to closely examine some shells where he comfortably remained for what seemed an hour.

Nothing defines rapidity of passing time than handing the keys of your car to your young teenager when only a brief moment ago you were

Don’t misunderstand. We are very proud of him. There are times he displays such unbridled determination that he accomplishes amazing feats, startling himself in the process. During those times, he walks on air, five feet above the ground, unable to suppress his excitement. I live for those moments because every poignant triumph only reinforces his self confidence in a way no mere compliment can. But there is a bittersweet side as well, one parents wouldn’t change for the world yet the feeling looms ever closer with each passing year.

We used to look at college or high school years with a gentle nod of acknowledgement, yet we remained unruffled. Heck, those years were decades away. We had plenty of time for Little League Baseball, swimming, Christmas vacations with the relatives, choir practice, band, so on and so on. Until, all of a sudden, the realization that our sons and daughters are about to embark on their own path. The best analogy that comes to my mind is the bird’s nest we used to have outside our window when we lived in California. You would see the parents flitting back and forth, bringing food to cavernous beaks, in an endless tag team to keep their babies fed and protected.  As time passed, we would see the now fully feathered babies on the edge of the nest, stretching our their wings as if testing the currents, hesitant, curious, not quite ready. Looking up one day, they were gone, the nest unattended, perhaps a few remnant baby feathers stuck in the woven sides. Right now, our son is testing his wings, not quite ready to leave the nest, but ready to contemplate the possibilities before him.

It seems only a moment ago, I was on the very same edge. Full of doubt and trepidation, my father gave me a gentle shove. I’d been offered an outstanding job but it meant relocation from Illinois to New York. At the time, my father was recovering from a heart attack in the ICU and I felt my first priority was to remain close and help my mother. I secretly dreaded the thought of receiving a call in the middle of the night so I entered the hospital room to inform my father of my decision. I remember the nagging beeping sound of the heart monitor and the various catheters snaking out from the sheets. When I told him, he pulled himself up, looked me straight in the eye and quietly stated, in no uncertain terms, “You can’t live your life through me. It’s time for you to spread your wings. Now, I want you to get on that plane and take that job.”  You didn’t argue with my father when he used “The Tone”. However, walking down the ramp to the plane was the hardest journey I’d taken up to that point but it also prepared me for the moment coming.

We will never be ready to see the backsides of our children and, unfortunately the time comes along too fast. Way too fast. But when the time comes, I hope I have a fraction of the courage my father had when he spoke those words to me so long ago. So, although in my heart, I will be silently saying, “stay a little longer”, his father and I will urge him to follow his dreams, to not let anyone discourage him, to surround himself with truly positive friends and allies and capture his adventures. In our hearts, we will hold those precious memories we have accumulated and savor the remaining school years we have left. And tonight, when he is sound asleep, I will sneak to his bedside, give him a gentle hug, and thank God he was placed in our care over fifteen years ago.

Father and Son at Sunset_0038

What the Heck is Going On?

I may get a lot of flack for this blurb but having been on both sides of the fence and knowing my son was also a recipient of this abhorrent behavior I have to voice some concerns. I’m talking about bullying.

Within the past week, an incident occurred involving a friend’s daughter. As she and her friends sat around a table working on their projects, 3 boys asked to sit at the table as well. They weren’t working on anything in particular but the girls didn’t object. After a few minutes, one of the boys, stated matter-of-factly, “Mary, (not her real name) you’re going to have ten children when you grow up.” I know….benign and silly. Her response was, “Oh yea, well you’re going to hang around Justin Beiber when you grow up.” Did I mention these were third graders? Secretly, I thought the entire thread funny. No name calling, no sticking out of tongues and no hurtful jabs. Personally, my teenage son thought the idea of hanging out with Justin Beiber pretty cool. I mean, sportscars, pretty girls, bodyguards…every teenage boy’s secret dream, right? The matter should have died right there or at least, that’s my opinion. UBad Boynfortunately it didn’t.

The next day, as this young girl entered the school, the boy grinned and told her, “My mom called the principal. You’re going to get it.” Sure enough, the principal called her into his office for a serious lecture.Unfortunately the boy had altered the phrase slightly. Let’s be honest here. Third graders have the attention span of a goldfish. The risk of “lost in translation” is almost a given for elementary school children. The phrase he accused Mary of saying was, “Oh yea, well you’re going to marry Justin Beiber when you grow up.” Slightly alters the implication. The principal proceeded to chide her for her statement. Am I wrong to feel this is a little over the top? The sad result of this altercation is the boy has now been able to pester Mary secretly and has, completely secure in the knowledge he has the upper hand. So what was accomplished here? Not a helluva a lot.

The sad fact of the matter is, most parents cannot conceive their child being the active antagonist which was personally confirmed to me when my son was in second grade.  At a routine school gathering. I found myself nervously approaching the father of a boy who had been picking on my son. He listened to me attentively before calling his son over and asking him directly, “Is it true you have been doing these things to her son?” Under such scrutiny, the boy confessed he had. After two weeks of grounding, the two boys became best friends soon after. However what floored me was his statement afterward. “I’m glad you came to speak with me about this. I have to warn you, however. There aren’t too many parents with whom you can have this discussion. I have found most of the parents here think their child can do no wrong.” Sadly, he was correct.

Now, I’m pretty sure all of us said things along this vein to a classmate growing up. I’m sure I received as often as I gave but, seriously I don’t remember. I certainly don’t remember this being such as issue in elementary school. Back then,  spats like these disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared.  Like storm clouds on the horizon, they blew in, caused a little havoc then disappeared just as rapidly, to be forgotten in the excitement of kickball during recess. What I find most annoying, most irritating and most irresponsible is a parent making a huge deal out of a situation which was  an opportune teachable moment. In my humble opinion, and it is humble, a better course of action would have been for the boy’s mother to have a serious sit down with her son and grill for all the details of the chain of events. She might have uncovered a few details lacking in the original story. Perhaps a polite invitation for a cup of coffee to the girl’s mother might have been a positive alternative.  I know my son was no angel. He was and is a great kid but in situations such as above, he invariably confessed to pertinent details under interrogation that were lacking in the original transcript.

Bullying is a real problem not to be taken lightly. But as parents, as adults who may or may not have experienced it growing up, shouldn’t we realistically stop and consider the possibility there are two sides to every situation?  My father always said, “There are two sides to every divorce.” I’m sure that holds true in these particular situations as well, no matter the age of the participants. Before parents call in the troops, the Calvary and the FBI, shouldn’t cooler heads prevail?  Shouldn’t we as parents examine the situation with rationality and stop with the knee jerk reactions? If parents simply take everything their little angel says at face value, they are doing a disservice to their children. As in the case of “Mary” and the boy who now thinks he “won” I see the possibility of a real bully in the making further down the road. I pray I’m wrong.

 

Ready, Set, GO

I knew it was going to happen, I knew last fall. But, as is my greatest talent since elementary school, I chose to push the thought to the back of my mind thinking…..”oh I have time.” At first there was at least a 6 month window……then the holidays took precedent. After that there was the rapid fire of family birthdays clustered one after another. All of a sudden the 6 month window is now a little over a month. We have to get ready to rebuild!!!! Home Alone

When we sold our farm and decided to downsize, my husband and I made a pact to settle on a budget and stick to it. No changes….no deviations. To accomplish this feat meant I had to research products and select almost everything. A lot of research. Now before anyone asks, “What is his job?”, my dear hubby will be working harder than ever to oversee the entire project as well as complete much of the plumbing and electrical. And since he has chosen to remain in the dark with regard to computers, the position of purchasing and acquisitions fell on my desk.

Mind you, I’m not complaining. The truth is, I have always loved the thrill of the hunt and when the hunt involves the construction and renovation side of real estate, I find it even more exciting. Perhaps that is what drew me to my darling husband in the first place. Looking out of his parent’s window as he was preparing to head to his construction job one morning, I can still see the checked flannel shirt, well worn jeans and construction boots he was wearing as he looked up and waved. I vividly remember butterflies doing the dance in my stomach watching him and that was over 31 years ago. Woof. 😉 But I digress.

So with a little over a month before we break ground, I have found myself scouring building warehouses, craigslist, ebay.com, overstock and a brand new site, Diggerslist.com. There are always tile warehouses stocked with the remnants of leftover construction projects and although there is image 1never enough to complete a full shower or bathroom floor, there is usually plenty to complete a simple insert or design or perhaps highlight a blacksplash. Thrift stores, flea markets and other internet sites often have marvelous items such as this beautiful little buffet, to be perfectly re-purposed into  a spectacular vanity with a vessel sink for our half bath. Nice word, re-purposed. Gives new meaning to the items I like to discover.

Pinterest has been a boon for the creative soul in all of us. Having spent more than an afternoon scrolling through various boards, it has become exceedingly clear there are so many members in possession of  incredibly creative thought processes. In my lifetime, I will never be able to get halfway through all the pins in my”Projects To Try” folder. It doesn’t mean I won’t try, however. Bless my husband’s heart, he doesn’t even bat an eye now. I managed to snag four of these beauties below which will be hung like barn doors and a pair will serve as the entry to a small living/sitting room. Coming from old high schools and public service buildings about to be razed in Minnesota, the thought of restoring and giving them new purpose is quite satisfying. Besides, the seller threw in an old “auditorium” sign probably dating back to the 60’s. That particular door is going on my son’s room. Considering his domain will be the hangout when his friends come over, I can’t think of a better place of honor.

Now it’s time for me to get back to work. Duty calls.

Vintage-Antique-Wooden-Door-AWESOME

 

 

 

 

Patience and Fishing

Family holidays aunder the riverside bridgere sometimes difficult for our son. It’s not that he doesn’t like being with family, he does. But his cousins, being quite older, have families of their own, leaving our son, the youngest by decades, kind of stuck with the old farts. In an effort to make sure he got to enjoy some of the pastimes he would like, we went fishing this morning. In fact, his uncle joined in. Frankly, I wasn’t sure said son would arise at an early hour but, surprisingly he did and we were on our way before 8am.

Promising to meet us at the bait shop, we took off before the uncle because, of course, I needed to indulge in my morning coffee. By the time we arrived at the bait shop ten minutes later, his uncle had not only purchased the proper hooks but a cupful of live bait (shrimp) as well. I have to acknowledge my gratitude at this point. I’m not a fisherman and the idea of skewering a cute little tiny shrimp wasn’t appealing at all.

Without driving all over the island, we decided to walk underneath the bridge and find a spot near the murky waters surrounding the concrete pilings. Besides two other fishing folks, we were the only ones. It was quiet, calm and the waters gently lapped the platform underneath. Having successfully baited the hook, my son cast as far as he was capable into the water We waited……and waited…..and waited some more. Casual conversation occupied our time as we waited for some unsuspecting fish to snap up the the shrimp. Behind my brother in law and my son, I noticed what appeared to be a floating boulder, which of course, was impossible. The boulder turned out to be a pelican flyingcouple of manatees making their way upstream. I would like to proclaim I captured their progress as they meandered upstream but I couldn’t get my camera set up in time. Suffice it to say, they are quite impressive.

Snappers seemed to be toying with my son as they breached the surface several times opposite of the location where my son was fishing. I even spotted on leaping almost twelve inches above the water. Of course, we decided to change our location, try a fresh shrimp and cast a little further out. During this waiting period,  I managed to capture a pelican in flight along with one preening his wings. All the while, my son and his uncle chatted nonchalantly. No nibbles, no tugs, nothing, nada, zip.

The snappers had moved to the other side of the bridge or at least their decoys had. Once again, my son moved to where they were making their existence known and once again, we switched bait and regrouped. After another forty minutes, he called it quits but unwittingly gained experience of learning patience. Patience is not his strong suit, nor apparently of teenagers in general these days. He’d garnered no fish, had only seen the manatee as it began to dive, hadngordon and chase‘t had a single nibble and other than witness a nearby flying pelican, the morning had been a dismal failure. But he came away feeling the time had been well spent.

There had been no text messages. He and his uncle had enjoyed a rare camaraderie. Baiting the hook hadn’t been nearly as gross as he anticipated and there’s just something mystical about early mornings, quiet fishing holes and the serene sound of water. It’s an imaginary throwback to the adventures of Huck Finn. In any case, what he did capture was a little slice of heaven he could tuck into his memory bank.

Happy Easter.