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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The Angst of Immaturity

My husband and I are at the stage where we watch our son in awe…..most of the time. Oh there’s the ups and downs of immaturity and the  aggravaSpencer,Alex,Chasetion thereof but yesterday was different.

Our son took to tennis like a duck takes to water about four years ago. Since then, he and his friends have taken lesson after lesson, clinic after clinic. When the summer temperatures rose to uncomfortable levels in the high eighties, most of the participants scrambled to the swimming pool. This group, however,  headed back out to the courts for another couple of hours of grinding a little yellow ball. I admire tenacity and determination. To have a goal and set out to at least try to achieve it, is a worthy aspiration. On the practical and pragmatic side, however, there is a harsh reality one must eventually address whether the goal is in athletics or academics. It is easy for a young dreamer to announce the desire to play in Wimbledon or perform with the New York City Ballet Company or simply compete in an Olympic event. It is quite another to fully comprehend the magnitude of the desire and knowing the cost, continue with the commitment no matter what results will yield. Yesterday, my son received a mere taste of what the future can hold.

High school athletics is rigorous, competitive and an invaluable experience. One year a particular high school will have attained notoriety in a specific sport only to return the next year barely hanging on to the bottom rung havtennis racquets.on.neting lost the bulk of the team to graduation. I can only liken the rise and fall of any high school’s athletic division to the undulating tides of the ocean – sometimes high, sometimes low. My son chose a high school closer to our home and in doing so, wound up on one of those high school tennis teams climbing up from the bottom rung. There were probably 5 students on the team and only 2 had participated in any formal training, one being our son. For those unfamiliar with tennis  lingo, which I wasn’t, Court 1 is considered the best court, the dreaded arena often referred to as the court of annihilation one wants to avoid unless properly prepared. It would be like having a Freshman suited up to play quarterback facing a defensive line made up completely of experienced seniors. Kind of takes the stuffing out of you.

It didn’t take long for the lineup to be formulated. A great, lanky, and talented sophomore played Court 1 and my son, my tall, wonderfully goofy, freshman son moved to Court 2. In one fell swoop, he was thrown into the deep end.  The remaining team members fell into place thereafter. Now, this was just our high school. There were approximately six other high schools to compete against. A few were in the same category as ours; limited number of players with equally limited experience. Others were highly regarded with a deep roster, exceptional experience, mostly comprised of seniors and carefully cultivated to dominate the competition. They did so quite well. However, our little team became the thorn in their sides, at first surprising, then annoying. While my son’s high school team didn’t do well overall in the standings, both Court 1 and Court 2 weren’t easily overcome.

The season ended yesterday with District competitions, another level involving another set of high schools,  some familiar, some completely unknown. Without being aware of the fact, my son was pushing his commitment into an unknown arena. He was facing competitors of unknown ability in front of friends, parents and other attendees for the opportunity to achieve the same goal as every other high school tennis participant: the chance to play in the finals, a lofty goal for an incoming freshman.

His first match was long and deliberate, controlled and executed. The opponent was no slouch but eventually my son prevailed. Because of a pass, he went straight into the semi finals against a player, a senior, he’d come close to beating twice. My son was chomping at the bit, eagerly ready to play, certain he could win and move to the finals.  Previously, their matches had been neck and neck so the opposing team player was rather surprised when my son won the first set handily. I’m sorry to report that’s when things began to go south. This is where the difference in age, the difference in competitive experience and the ability to pull it all together or simply keep it mentally together, is affected by immaturity. When a few of my son’s shots went awry, his frustration grew. Instead of taking a few moments to gather his wits and take a few breaths, he launched immediately into the next point with the same results. It didn’t take long for his opponent to capitalize on my son’s growing self aggravation and win the second set. My heart broke for my son. He wanted the win so much he could taste it but the possibility was rapidly slipping away.  It was a journey to a lesson he had to take on his own. A simple hug or thumbs up wasn’t going to make everything better. As parents, we aren’t allowed to coach our children during match play. The only thing I could manage to tell him, handing him a bottle of water was, “Getting angry isn’t going to help your game.” not really believing the statement would help.

As he went back out on to the court, however, a new young man emerged. I can’t readily confess he was no longer frustrated but for the first time, he took charge and began playing with his brain again. For the next ten minutes, emotion did not control his game and I saw a glimpse of the young man he is trying to become. When the tie breaker ended, he was the first man to the net to congratulate the winner. I couldn’t have been more proud. I’m not sure angst is the proper word to describe what teens go through but I’m fairly certain it’s the perfect word to describe what parents of teens go through.

Well done, son. Well done.