Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘children’

Last week, Anne Lamonte posted a blog on Facebook explaining her negative opinion of Mother’s Day. Anne is famous among writers for her book Bird by Bird, which reminds us that writing a book, like so many other things in life, is done one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. I like most of Anne’s posts, even the ones I don’t agree with. And I enjoyed this one. But she got me thinking. Did I agree with her attack on a day that is more or less sacred because it is devoted to mothers?

Now, Anne’s post is not sour grapes. She is a mother, and she was quick to point out she did not raise her son Sam to celebrate the day. In her view, she would rather have a thank you 365 days of the year in place of just one on a day that is more or less sponsored by Hallmark and See’s Candy. (She is also not a fan of Valentine’s day, either.)

In theory, I agree with her point. And, in addition to my Smile Project (which I wrote about some posts ago), I have my own personal Thank You Project, devoted to random acts of thank you. I believe the world is too full of criticism and not full enough of letting people know what they’ve done right. Hence, I strive to use the words “Thank You” as often as possible. And you get what you give. My children are quick to thank me often. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t nice to have one special day to sit down with them at brunch (which has become our traditional celebration) and enjoy their recognition for my role in their lives. I would miss Mother’s Day if it went away.

Anne also finds the day discriminatory. She reads Mother’s Day as a message to women without children that they are second class citizens. I disagree. I had my children later on in life, after years of not wanting any. And I never, ever drew a negative inference about myself on Mother’s Day during my childless years. Of course I will not deny that for a woman who wants a child and who cannot have one, the day can be painful. But so is every other day when she sees a child and longs for one of her own, yet does not become pregnant. (A dear friend went through this and after giving up entirely found herself pregnant at last!) I don’t think Mother’s Day is a message to the childless, either by choice or by chance, they are less than.

Finally, Anne faults the inevitable commercialism that any holiday that involves gift giving creates. But that, I think, is too simplistic a view of the question. While Hallmark and See’s get their share of business, along with florists, why is it wrong to send a gift on a particular day to a special person? And Mother’s Day gifts do not have to be expensive. I was always happy with the handmade artwork, the $1.99 earrings from Walmart, or the “coupons” for dishwashing and laundry folding. (I never cashed them in, by the way. They live forever in my keepsake box.)

After thinking it over, I do see Anne Lamont’s point. Some aspects of Mother’s Day can be viewed as negative. But that is true of every other holiday I can think of. New Year’s means resolutions no one keeps. Easter is only about candy and stuffed rabbits. Halloween will rot your children’s teeth (and yours, too, if you steal their candy.) Thanksgiving in devoted to gluttony. Christmas is too stressful and commercial. And children’s birthdays are too expensive and pretentious, and your birthday is depressing because you’re getting older. So should we stamp out holidays?

No, of course, not. Nothing is perfect. Holidays are bits of magic interspersed into everyday life. They allow us to believe in magic, even if for only twenty-four hours. I would miss all of them, including Mother’s Day, if they went away.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Read Full Post »

You can always tell when a store is offering a promotion that benefits them, not you. A few years ago, it was Costco. They came up with their “cash back” American Express card. Now, for anyone who wanted another credit card, I’m sure it was a THRILLING DEAL. But for those of us who don’t like plastic and who have enough already, it was not attractive.

The thing is, Costco would not take no for an answer. Their AmEx “specialists” aggressively chased me across the store so many times that I finally left written complaints in BIG LETTERS on feedback cards every time I shopped. Once I went lawyer on one of them and threatened to file a complaint for a PC 422. I hadn’t the slightest intention of course, but I was tired of being chased and harassed. (And it wasn’t a PC 422, it was a PC 245, but 422 sounded more intimidating and came out of my mouth first because I was working on one of those cases.)

Eventually Costco penned up the AmEx Card hustlers (I like to think it was because I complained), and I could just avoid them. For a while.

But then they started a campaign at check out for those of us who were holdouts on the GREAT DEAL. We still had the tell tale white membership cards. Put one of those babies on the checkout conveyor belt, and your fate was sealed. You were going to get a talking to from the cashier with all the fervor of a Southern Baptist street preacher who suspected Jesus Christ was NOT your lord and savior. Finally, I paid Costco an extra $60 bucks a year for a black card that is not a credit card, but that entitles me to a paltry rewards certificate every January. It’s enough to buy a couple of good bottles of wine, and so far it has been a stake in the heart of AmEx vampires.

Having lived through the Costco AmEx campaign, I was not thrilled when some baby B-schooler created JUST 4 U at my local supermarket. I mean, the title was an instant give way. It was definitely NOT 4 ME.

The whole thing began pretty innocuously with tables just inside the entrance doors where pleasant-faced employees gave out little flyers telling us how sign up on our computers at home. Ever obedient, I did just that. But I went no farther. Why, you ask? Because the object of the exercise was to get me to decide what I wanted to buy BEFORE I went to the store, click on a bunch of e-coupons and somehow magically have these on my cell phone to be scanned at check out. Do you see where this is going, Highly Intelligent Reader? Yep. You got it. The store was sneaking up on paper coupons and trying to make them extinct.

Now back in the days when all four of us were home, I did clip coupons like paper dolls from the glossy Sunday inserts. I had one of those cute little coupon organizers with wallpaper patterns on the front that I wagged with me every weekend. In those days, I often did plan my meals for a whole week in advance, created shopping lists, and executed them (in every sense of that word.) Only problem with this activity: it killed the whole weekend, EVERY WEEKEND. (Another form of execution.)

But as my children grew up and left home bit by bit, I had little need for an elaborate food plan every week. And, as a foodie, I love to roam the aisles and Impulse Buy. I may know three things I want before I hit the supermarket, but I don’t know the other ten. It is just not fun to sit at a computer and pretend I’m putting tunes on my iPod when in fact I’m hunting for paperless coupons for the Android for things I don’t even know I want yet.

Being Southern and polite, I just decided to silently drop the whole thing. But not the supermarket. Oh, no. The employees behind the tables now began to shout at us as we entered, DEMANDING we sign up They came armed with laptops to do the deed ON THE SPOT. They pushed free cookies and coffee to waylay unsuspecting victims. (That was an easy one for me to ignore, but no mom can get a kid past a plate of free cookies.) Still even if a shopper managed to run the entrance gauntlet, he or she still had to face to the Sign Up table in back across from the meat counter. (I guess vegetarians escaped this one.) And finally, the fresh-faced cashier would smile and demand the JUST 4 U info at check out like some sort of Free Mason hand shake that if I got right, would allow me to take the food home. Masonry went extinct in my family in my father’s generation. So, faced with leaving the groceries on the counter or finding a new place to shop, I learned to cleverly hand over my store club card and say, “This is all the discount I wanted for today, thank you.” (I mean the whole club card thing is a pain, too. Why can’t they just give you the low price to begin with?)

Lately, like the AmEx herd that got bullpenned, the JUST 4 U pushers are fewer and farther between. (I think the moms complained about the free cookies.) There are still plenty of customers with cute little coupon savers at checkout, handing over wads of rainbow-hued clippings. I actually haven’t seen a single phone scanned. I’m thinking the baby B-school genius who visited this plague upon us is Looking For Another Job right now. B-school genius has learned the hard way no one is going to deprive me of the extemporaneous fun of being an Foodie Impulse Buyer. Absolutely no one.

Read Full Post »

This has been a tough week for all of us. First the heartbreaking images from the Boston Marathon on Monday and then last night and today the death of one perpetrator and the capture of the other. Monday’s blast not only shattered the world around the marathon’s finish line, it shook all of us to our emotional core. How to believe in the essential goodness of humanity in the face of three young lives extinguished in seconds and hundreds maimed and injured? This is the place where we want to shake our fists at God and demand, “Are You There?”

The heroes who step forward in times like these are the ones who bring us redemption. Because they are willing to be selfless in the face of danger and even death, they let us go on believing that the essence of life is goodness and love. Boston and the sight of so many law enforcement officers, as well as civilians, stepping forward as heroes reminds me of a hero whom I never met and who died when I was two years younger than Martin Richard, but whose story has become an important part of my family lore. In the family I grew up in, the word “Boston” is synonymous with “Dick Horan.” Here’s why.

My father was an FBI agent. He was a very good FBI agent. That meant when something happened in the world – like Boston on Monday – our phone would ring in the middle of the night, and he would be whisked away on “indefinite assignment.” We never knew when he would be back. And once in a great while we would also admit the awful corollary: we never knew if he would be back – although it is exceedingly rare for an agent to be killed in the line of duty.

On January 17, 1950, a gang led by Joseph “Big Joe” McGinnis and Joseph “Spec” O’Keefe robbed the Brinks bank on the north end of Prince Street and Commercial Street in Boston. They arrived in Brinks’ guard uniforms and masks, went to the trouble of duplicating the bank’s keys, and made off with $1,218,211.29 in cash, and $1,557,183.83 in checks, money orders, and other securities. They divided an initial cut of the loot and put the rest away to wait for the six-year statute of limitations to run while they squabbled and fell out with each other. The FBI investigated the Great Brinks Robbery for many years and finally made arrests in January 12, 1956, just five days before the statute of limitations expired.

But my father had no inkling of that outcome when he got “the call” late one night in the winter of 1951. I was heading toward my second birthday in the coming August, and my mother was pregnant. In the 1950’s married women had children because everyone expected them to. But a more unmaternal person was never born than my mother. So she was not delighted to be left alone, although she knew it came with the territory of being my father’s wife.

Six months later, my father was still in Boston and had no idea when he would be back. It was hot, hot, southern summer in Tennessee; and my mother was uncomfortably pregnant and stuck with me, the charming child who neither napped nor slept. One particularly miserable day in mid-July, a scruffy man came to the door and asked to borrow the ladder he had seen in our open garage. Now, of course, my law enforcement wife mother should have known not to leave the door open or to say yes; but we were home, and it was hot, and she did. The man used the ladder, put it back, and then returned in the wee hours of the night and broke into garage.

Nearly eight months pregnant, my terrified mother summoned the police, who responded at once and frightened the man away. Later, Mother speculated he had seen the country ham she had brought from her father’s farm and the jars of canned goods my grandmother hand contributed and had returned to steal the food.

Calls to my father in Boston did not produce his return. I’m not sure if she asked him to come home, but I bet she did. However, the Bureau was not going to yank a top agent from a special assignment because of a domestic burglary.

Then, a week later, the doctor informed my mother my sister was going to be a breech birth. Now she really burned up the phone lines to Boston.

FBI agents work in pairs. My father’s partner was an agent named Dick Horan, then of the Boston office. Although my father did not strike up many friendships, he and Dick hit it off. That night after my mother’s call, Dick could tell my father was upset, and he insisted the two go to a movie. Now, my father hated two things in the world: sweets and movies. But he went because Dick insisted and eventually told him about my mother’s call.

In the family legend, it is Dick who went to the Special Agent in Charge and asked for the Bureau to send my father home. I suspect that is true, since I can’t picture my father, hat in hand, asking to leave. But not long after Dick dragged Dad to the movies, the SAC called him into his office and told him he was going home. To this day, I remember (and I was less than two mind you) going to the airport to get him that hot July afternoon in my best dress and hair bow. Then a few weeks after his return, my ever fickle sister turned herself around and was born head first.

On April 18, 1957, Dick Horan was killed by a fugitive on parole whom he and a team of agents were trying to arrest in Suffield, Connecticut. The rest of the agents went to the back door of the house. As Dick went down the basement steps alone, Francis Kolakowski shot him to death. I was just shy of my seventh birthday. After that, my father was ever-bitter about the subject of parole and would tell Dick’s story if the word was spoken in his presence. Understandable.

So, you see, heroes live on. I cannot count the nights my father sat around the dinner table, and in the tradition of true Southern storytellers, told Dick’s story. And today, all these years later, I am telling it to you. In the same way, night after night, someone will tell the stories of the heroes of Boston. And they, like Dick, will live in the lore of uncounted families from generation to generation. I never met Dick Horan, but I always felt as if I had. He meant a lot to my dad, who was close to few people in his life. Dick was a good man and a hero. And this week, the good men and women of Boston became heroes and redeemed us all. They gave us the hope and the courage to believe that evil is the exception and goodness is the rule.

Richard P. Horan, a hero

Richard P. Horan, a hero

Read Full Post »

Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Conference after more than sixty years. He had been a deacon and a Sunday School teacher, and he is a profoundly and sincerely religious man. But his reason for leaving the Southern Baptists: the church’s increasing rigidity over the equality of women. Relying on certain passages of scripture, the Southern Baptists insist upon a wife’s subjugation to her husband. And they no longer allow women in the ministry.

Southern Baptists are the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, with 15.9 million members. I doubt that people who have not lived in the South understand what a powerful presence they are in Southern society and culture. My own grandfather was a rigid Southern Baptist who believed in eternal damnation for setting foot in any other church. As a child, I was bundled off to Sunday School and kindergarten at the Southern Baptist church that literally sat on our doorstep. (Eventually they would buy the house I grew up in and turn it into a parking lot, an act of destruction that has always left me profoundly sad.)

I was lucky that my early contact with the mighty Southern Baptist conference had nothing to do with doctrine and everything to do with my parents not wanting to go to church themselves. They shuffled me across the street, Sunday after Sunday, and then went home to put their feet up, read the paper, and drink coffee until it was time to pick me up. The perfect example of “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Eventually, though, being Southern parents, mine were forced to decide about their children’s Religious Affiliation. Southerners have to have some sort of Religious Affiliation to use on Easter and Christmas. And to get married and buried.

Since I had not been baptized as an infant – a practice my Southern Baptist father would never have agreed to and my Methodist mother had no opinion about – I necessarily would have to be baptized as a pre-teen or teen. But the point was, I was a daughter of the South and so I had to be baptized somehow, to avoid going to hell, of course. (Hell at that point was thought to be populated by Northerners, at least unreconstructed Southerners thought so. I didn’t give it much thought since I never planned to wind up there. And it did seem to me that the Civil War had been over for quite some time.)

My parents eventually lit upon a sect of Presbyterians who conducted services as if they were Episcopalians minus kneeling, the sign of the cross, and robes on the minister. For some reason, these Presbys were taken with the beauty of the Anglican liturgy (me, too, by the way) and they adopted it as their own. My father quit being a Southern Baptist and my mother quit being a Methodist, and I got baptized and turned into a Presbyterian by having a red carnation dipped into a bowl of water and squashed on top of my head. Whew! Eternal Damnation avoided! (I fully believe God has a sense of humor because He gave me one.)

By and by, to the absolute horror of my parents, I became an Episcopalian. This required yet another baptism for technical Episcopalian reasons. In their world, water on top of the head doesn’t save you. It has to cross your forehead. So to make absolutely sure I was good and baptized for all time, the priest poured water from a silver shell over my forehead. Killed the hairdo, but now Nothing stood between me, Saint Peter, and those Pearly Gates.

At first, I wanted to be an Episcopalian so that I could walk into any Anglican communion anywhere and hear the beautiful words of the liturgy. I loved that feeling of community when the priest intoned that gorgeous subjunctive phase, “The Lord be with you.” And we answered, “And also with you.” If I went to a Presbyterian church, other than the one I grew up in, I would not hear the liturgy. Then, by and by, my first child turned out to be a daughter. And I wanted her to grow up in a church where women could be priests if they wanted to be. I couldn’t see the point of a religion that told women from the get-go, you’re not good enough.

I have admired Mr. Carter always. He is a man of integrity in a world where integrity is in short supply. And I know what a hard decision he had to make. A Southern Baptist heritage is like being bound by tentacles.

For me, I chose well. You can be anything, anyone, anybody and be an Episcopalian. We have women priests, men priests, gay priests, lesbian priests, and yes, married priests, hetero and gay. Oh, and Bishops, too, come in all varieties. We are the ones the Catholics come to when divorce makes them ineligible to be Catholics anymore. We don’t have to stand on street corners and preach (Southern Baptists did this when I was growing up) and we don’t condemn anyone else’s religion. We are pretty sure God doesn’t either. And we are absolutely sure that women are equal in this world and the next. Back in the day, the Baptist Sunday School taught me to sing this song, which doesn’t say anything about having to be a male child to gain the All Access Pass to Heaven.

Jesus loves the little children
All the children of the world
Black and yellow, red and white
They’re all precious in His sight
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Love Comes in All Shapes and Colors

Read Full Post »

I went to an estate sale on Saturday and acquired some
items that mean the world to me. No one knows why. Here’s why.

A few years ago, the woman who gave birth to me had a stroke that
changed her personality so drastically that I found myself an
orphan in mid-life. She had always been a difficult person, and I
had labored for my whole life to have a place in hers. I had
acquired all the academic bells and whistles, had become a
respected professional, and had done a sometimes heroic job of
raising three children as a single mother. But nothing I ever did
impressed her or was enough for her; and in the end she showed me
the door because I was, in her terms, a poor specimen of a human
being.

She survived the stroke; but our relationship did not. And
that is enough said about that. I found great freedom in accepting
my situation and moving on with my life. She wanted me gone; I gave
her what she wanted. For the first time, there was no voice whining
in my ear that I wasn’t good enough.

A few months later, a story on Good Morning American snagged my attention.
A lovely young woman in her mid-thirties, also cast out by her birth family without
justification, had actually put herself up for adoption. And she
had found a lovely second family. I considered the ad I would have
written. “Lovely little family of four, all outstanding over
achievers, seeks parents and grandparents. Looking only for love
and companionship, holiday celebrations, loving phone calls.”

It was only a fantasy, of course. But fantasy has often gotten me
through some of the harder places in life.

Perhaps the central difference in my birth mother and myself is the ability
to nurture. I’m not quite sure how an Earth Mother like me sprang from an Ice
accept her as she is.

Queen, but I did. I don’t fault her for what she didn’t have. I
But as a born nurturer, I have to have someone or some thing to take care of.
Of course there were my children when they were little. And even now they
are adults, I can still give them some nurturing, although not as much.
But now they are on their own, my days are bracketed by the need
to care for my two Golden Retrievers, Melody and Rhythm. Every morning
and every afternoon, I feed them and walk them to the enchanting
little pond that some of the condos in our development back
up to. And this routine was especially comforting in the days
when I was still hurting from my mother’s ultimatum and
wishing I could advertise us for adoption.

The path to the pond winds through a grove of lacy
eucalyptus trees, past a condo in our development with a greenhouse
window facing the path. Now all these units are rather old. They
were built in 1978 when greenhouse windows were quite the “in”
thing. As Melody and Rhythm and I passed by day after day, month
after month, I noticed that this particular window’s display
changed with each month and often featured ducks, a tribute to the
mallards that inhabit the pond. At Christmas, the window had
caroling ducks in tiny Dickens outfits holding tiny song books. At
Easter, there were ducks and bunnies and pastel eggs. For July,
teddies dressed in red white and blue and lots of those .99 cent
flags. At Thanksgiving the window held a blend of pilgrims, ducks,
and autumn leaves. Then Christmas and the web-footed carolers would
come round again. In between, the window defaulted to a display of
tiny lighthouses, rustic bears, bald eagles with spread wings, and
a pair of tin lanterns. And now and than a new trinket appeared.

The person responsible for this fascinating whimsy was a tall,
thin, grey haired woman, well over eighty. Just about the age of my
former mother. She lived alone, dressed elegantly in expensive
subdued slacks and blouses, and always wore pearls. There were skis
in the garage and a set of golf clubs. In those days, she still
drove. Her regular routine was a trip to the grocery store around
four o’clock each day to decide what to cook herself for dinner.
She first noticed me because she loved my beautiful Goldens, and we
often passed by just as she was beginning or ending this daily food
shop. She’d wave when she saw us and would smile and say something
sweet to Melody and Rhythm.

I learned that her name was Lenore. I caught glimpses of her mahogany Windsor
chairs in her dining room as I passed each day. I saw the tiny beautiful
antique table in the perfect spot in the hall, the tiny spoon
rack above her miniature sideboard, and the glass-fronted
curio cabinets in the living room. I guessed she was a collector,
and that she was not from California. Her condo was an exquisite
blend of Williamsburg-style furniture that few people in
California are drawn to. But I, of course, loved it.
She was just the sort of mother I would have chosen.

Her monthly displays inspired me to decorate my own front
entrance each month. I didn’t have a greenhouse window, so I made a
front door wreath for each month and hung appropriate wooden signs
and ornaments on the tree by the door. Even the grumpy Homeowners
Association wrote me a letter complimenting my charming entrance.
Little did they know it was all because of Lenore and her
greenhouse window.

Lenore seemed to draw people to her. Most afternoons when the weather
was nice she would put off the store trip, and she would sit at the table
on her patio with several of the ladies who lived in the condos. They
would sip white wine from thin-stemmed crystal glasses and chat.
Their ritual included feeding the ducks who would come up to
her patio, flapping their wings if Lenore was late throwing
out their food. Often, Melody and Rhythm and I would be
walking by about this time, and Leonore and her friends
would wave as they threw food to the ducks.

Then, a couple of years ago, Lenore had a stroke. A widow from Connecticut,
she had moved to San Diego when her husband died to be close to her
children living here. So she had plenty of support from children
and grandchildren. She recovered enough to go on living in her
lovely condo with a live-in care giver; and even though she no
longer drove, she steadfastly maintained her old routine. Store in
the afternoon. Friends and duck feeding on the patio. Waving at me
and the retrievers. Church on Sunday. Always beautifully dressed
with pearls, but now she used her ski poles for support instead of
a cane. And the window changed each month just as before.

I came to count on that window. Her creative additions were mini surprises in
my day. Sometimes a new duck. Sometimes a single flower in a vase.
She was obviously a woman of great charm and creativity. Then, this
October, a month after she turned ninety, she died. I didn’t know
for a long time because nothing changed at the condo. There was
even a Christmas tree at Christmas. And the window displays went on
as before.But in early January, I began to see lots of picture
frames in the trash and a woman in the garage going through albums.
Eventually, I learned that these were her children deciding what to
keep and what to let go of.

I was profoundly sad, but her daughter staying at the condo kept
up the old ways. Window decorated. Afternoons with the ladies and
white wine on the patio. Ducks fed. I half hoped Leonore wasn’t really
gone but was on a long visit and coming back. Silly fantasy.
But the day I saw the blue glass vases were no longer in the window
in her bedroom, the truth became very real to me. She and I had loved blue glass vases.

This Saturday, I was one of the first to arrive at the estate sale. I knew exactly
what I wanted. And there they were, still in the greenhouse window,
with tiny price stickers on each one. I don’t know where the
caroling ducks went, or the bunnies or the patriotic teddies, but I
bought the default bears and lighthouses and lanterns. And a tiny
little Limoges heart box to remember her by.

Lenore didn’t really adopt me. But it was a fantasy that got me
through a sad time in my life. I don’t have a greenhouse window,
but I rushed happily home from the sale and arranged my treasures on
shelves in the guest room. And I go in often to stand
in front of them and smile. They mean the world to me.

And something else came from the estate sale, too.
I met Lenore’s son and his wife, and I got to tell them how
much Leonore inspired me. Yesterday I was out walking the
retrievers at the usual time, and they were leaving after closing
up her house for the last time. They made a point of waving to me
just as she would have done.

So prayers are answered. A part of my own family reconnected with me
after my wish went out to the Universe to belong. And now I will always
be able to look at Leonore’s little treasures and remember how
much she inspired and cheered me during a sad time in my life.
The ducks, too, are being looked after. One of her friends comes
by each afternoon about four to feed them as Melody and Rhythm and I go by on our walk.

Lenore's patio just as she left it

Lenore’s patio just as she left it

The ducks and the pond

The ducks and the
pond

The window empty for the first time.

The window empty for
the first time.

Lenore's eagles and lanterns


Lenore’s eagles and lanterns

The light houses

The light houses

Her bears

Her bears

Her January cardinals

Her January
cardinals

Read Full Post »

Last week, on the day before Valentine’s Day, my son called home from college.

“Mom, I need the fudge recipe.”

Now here was a bit of family lore that had drifted silently into dry dock, and I’m not quite sure if I can say when. Back in the day when all three kids were home and fairly small, fudge at Christmas was our special family treat. Even in the years when Christmas had to be celebrated on a shoestring, fudge was always affordable. It was our go-to gift for their friends, for their teachers at school, for their music teachers, and for anyone else who happened to cross our paths at the holiday. And it was blissfully appropriate across all religious lines as long as I remembered to buy only “Happy Holidays” tins at Walmart. (None of the kids’ friends had a problem with the ones with Santa Claus on top, either.)

Now, candy was an interesting subject at our house. I do not know if modern Southern mothers raise children who are forbidden to have candy, but I was not raised that way, and it never occurred to me to banish candy. Perhaps because it was so available, my children were never particularly interested in it. The miniature candy bars in the toes of the Christmas stockings became petrified wood by the time I remembered to throw them out at Easter. Similarly, the pastel foil wrapped chocolate eggs thoughtfully provided by the Easter Bunny languished into melt down as summer approached. And my children would politely nibble an ear off a chocolate rabbit and then wrap it up forever more. At Halloween, they counted their loot and put it away until Christmas. It is amazing that we didn’t have more ants in the house more often.

So because candy was never forbidden, it never made anyone’s heart beat faster. On the other hand, when the children who were being raised Sugarless came over, I’d find the little jars of Hershey’s kisses on the kitchen counter empty by the time they went home. Which was fine. The kisses were there to be eaten, and we probably weren’t going to eat them. And I would never inform the Sugar Police on our little visitors.

But fudge at Christmas was a different story. Maybe because fudge is creamy, gooey chocolate like none other and maybe because it appeared but once a year, every fudge crumb ever concocted on our stove was consumed.

When Michael called last week, I panicked. Where was the recipe? I had once known it by heart, and for a full ten minutes I could not even think where the written version was. Losing it would be like losing the baby teeth the Tooth Fairy had taken out from under their pillows and hidden in my jewelry box. Some parts of family lore are just too precious to lose.

“I’ll have to hunt for it and call you back,” I told him. (Southerner’s “hunt” for things; we do not “look for” them.) As soon as I got off the phone, I sat quietly and tried to think it through. I had no idea where the written version was because I had made it so many years by memory. Yet I knew it was written down. I am careful to keep important things like that written down.

I closed my eyes and thought about how ordinary things are no longer ordinary when they are woven into the fabric of a family’s life. There are the special ornaments that have to be on the Christmas tree each year. There is the Thanksgiving stuffing that must contain sausage and oysters, but no mushrooms. There is the one and only birthday cake with chocolate butter cream to paste the layers together, and vanilla butter cream on the outside. There are the Easter Bunny footprints stealthily stenciled on the front walk at midnight with flour. There was our first dog’s birthday on July 4, and now our current dogs’ birthdays on February 2 and March 3. These things and these dates and these memories are sewn together to make the quilt of our unique family story. And each is important and never to be lost or forgotten.

So where, oh where was the fudge recipe? Of course, in the binder of family recipes that I had put together over the years. Within fifteen minutes, I had typed it into an e-mail, and it was on its way to my son who called shortly thereafter.

“Thanks, Mom.”

“No problem. Glad you reminded me where it was.”

“Well, I’m being cheap. Instead of buying chocolate, I’m making it for her.”

“Oh, no. That’s not cheap. Any gift from your own hands, of your own time, is never cheap. You guys have a very Happy Valentine’s Day!”

And so a bit of our family lore was recovered, renewed, and passed on.

Holiday Tin

Holiday Tin

The Good Stuff

The Good Stufff

Read Full Post »

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

When I was a child, New Year’s was a sad holiday. It was the day the now shabby and wilting Christmas tree came down; the day we were forced to eat black-eye peas swimming in bacon grease for luck; and the day before the dreaded Return to School. Whereas December had been filled with class parties, cookies, gift exchanges, singing carols, and a Christmas play that the entire elementary school presented, January was a bleak, cold month in Tennessee filled with homework and early bed time. No magic allowed.

New Year seemed an even more hollow celebration as I grew older. Even though by high school the December lead up to Christmas no longer carried even the slightest celebratory trace of magic, still the idea of two whole weeks without six periods each day, homework to match, and avoiding the Popular People in the halls was anticipatory nirvana. But New Year’s once again marked the end of freedom and the return to drudgery. Nothing joyful about that.

After I graduated to career person, I used to hang out at various New Year’s parties, trying to feel festive and not sad. I never developed a circle of close friends, so I always shouted “Happy New Year!” among strangers. Despite being happy to be included, a holiday with people I didn’t know just reminded me I was pretty much rowing my little boat alone in the big wide ocean. No magic there.

But after I became the mother of three, I began, at last, to see New Year’s differently. It all changed about the time my oldest hit preschool, and I encountered the hurdles that face a Mom with Kids in School between October and January 1. First came Halloween, and sewing costumes. Three children, three costumes, a night of trick or treating, and then scraping my exhausted little ones off the bed and back to school on November 1. Then came Thanksgiving and preparing a feast alone while making sure three children under the age of five did not vaporize themselves while I shopped, chopped, baked, served, and counted the silver forks when it was over to make sure I hadn’t thrown one out. Next came Christmas. More sewing: matching mother, daughter, and sons outfits to wear to church on Christmas Eve. Decorating the house, including hauling a tree home on top of the car. And last, but not least, doing Santa’s work for him – and realizing that Santa Claus was just another way to keep women from earning credit for their own hard work. (On Christmas morning the kids never knew not only had I bought the toys, I had spent the night assembling them!)

When New Year’s rolled around that first year of being a Mom with Kids in School, I took a big breath (after the Christmas tree was down) and realized that no more holidays were in sight until Easter. Yipee! Suddenly New Year’s was not the drab little elf sitting on my shoulder after all the glittering Christmas fairies and angels had departed for warmer climates. No, New Year’s was the well-deserved break I had earned! Thankfully, Valentine’s and Easter were fairly minor holidays in the yearly pantheon, leaving me time to rest up before the onset of serious Birthday Season in our family: May, July, August, and September. Followed, of course again, by Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and – at last – the well earned rest New Year’s!

Read Full Post »

So from my last post, you could pretty well guess the Windows Phone was not going to be a part of my life for very long. On Monday afternoon, after I brought it home on Sunday, I boxed it up and headed for Verizon with my youngest son, Michael in tow. The phone itself was wonderful, but it did not have Google Maps; therefore it did not have Google navigation. We had downloaded the Garmin Navigation app, but it wasn’t knocking our socks off.

Still the Windows Phone gazed at me and Michael from its box and begged for one more chance that Monday afternoon. So we left the Verizon store unvisited that day.

The charms of the Windows Phone were so seductive, Michael went out and got one, too. Now he has interned for IBM and MicroSoft and will be with Google next summer. So I kept telling myself, this Windows Phone has got to work out because Mikey likes it.

For the rest of that week, I gave the Garmin Navigation app a chance. I even turned it on to take me to places I knew how to get to. And I discovered a couple of disconcerting things about it. One, it took the most indirect route it could think of. Two, it loved U-turns. I mean it REALLY loved U-turns.

Michael flew back to school on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He flew into Pittsburgh and picked up his girlfriend, so they could drive back to Virginia Tech together. On Monday he called to let me know the navigation app hadn’t been reliable on the trip to Blacksburg. I have to say, after just tooling around San Diego with it, I wasn’t surprised.

Well aware our Fourteen Days to Take the Phone Back were rapidly expiring, me and Mikey headed to Verizon stores in California and Virginia to divest ourselves of the Windows Phone. In its place, I got a the 4G version of my old Incredible. Needless to say, I am happy to have the new version of my little Droid sidekick back.

This whole episode has impressed upon me just how dependent I have become on my Goolge Maps Navigation. Back in the old days, I’d print directions off the computer, and then struggle to read them in heavy traffic in unfamiliar places. I once had to kidnap a couple of Michael’s friends to read the directions to LAX because my daughter was returning from Ghana, I had to pick her up, and I could never have read the printed directions and executed them in the traffic that perpetually surrounds LAX. (The boys were highly rewarded for their reading skill, I might add. We stopped at In and Out for the best burgers this side of the Mississippi – and probably on the other side, too. I mean, these burgers ROCK!)

My flirtation with the Windows Phone is now history. I am back to plugging in my little Droid friend and sailing off into parts unknown while I listen to its ridiculous, flat computer voice calling the shots. I take this experience to mean, it is good to try new things; but it is important to know when to go back to the old way if that turns out to be the best way. Life is not just about old and new. It’s an ebb and flow of the tide between the two. And besides, you have to love a phone that belches “DROOOID” at you whenever you get a voice mail!

4G HTC Incredible

P.S. If you like to read, check out my book review blog,at deborahsbookreviews.wordpress.com.

Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago, my faithful 3G HTC Incredible began to do weird things. For example, when I tried to open my text messages, it would tell me its memory was full. But three text messages a full memory doth not make. Ever resourceful, I hit *228 and, against a background of really strange electronic music, Verizon updated my operating system. Problem solved. Or so I thought.

Faithful 3G Droid

But no, my otherwise highly reliable companion since 2009, kept refusing to go about business as usual. And while the *228 trick worked every time, who wants to hear weird music several times a day just to open an app? Not me. (Now if the background music had been my favorite jazz/ska band, Western Standard Time, I might have taken a different view of the proceedings. But what if’s don’t count.)

Favorite Jazz/Ska Band: Western Standard Time

So I went to a Higher Authority – namely my sons, who Understand Technology and speak Geek Speak to perfection. The answer turned out to be simple, but deadly.

“Your operating system is a piece of shit,” my oldest son Chris said with true Geek Speak elegance. “Verizon has stopped updating it. You will have to get a new phone!”

“But I don’t want a new phone. This is the best phone I’ve ever had!” (Read between the lines: I actually know how to use this phone and It Understands Me.)

“Sorry, Mom.”

I was in heavy denial over the impending death of my little Droid buddy. So I sought a Second Opinion.

Not long after my youngest son Michael, computer software major extraordinaire, stepped off the plane for his Thanksgiving visit, I asked him if my 3G baby could be saved. Answer: “Not a chance, Mom.”

So with a heavy heart, after turkey feasting on Thursday, I set out with Michael for the Verizon store on Friday. While we waited eons for our number to come up on the Next Customer List, we browsed around, trying out the 4G phones. Chris had just upgraded to the gigantic Samsung Galaxy. Ever competitive, I announced I wanted one, too, only to be laughed down by the Geek Speakers who said it was Way More Phone Than I Would Ever Need. Ten minutes of swiping its touch screen not only convinced me they were right (to my great humiliation), it also convinced me the phone was way too big to fit into any evening purse ever invented. Clearly a male designed it. Possibly a male who had never seen an evening purse.

Next, I worked my way through the smaller Samsungs and then, at last, found the 4G version of my beloved Droid. Happily I tried to figure out where in the world they had hidden my favorite icons on this new incarnation of my baby. But they were not in the same places!

Michael found me trying to get the hang of the new version.

“It’s not the same phone, Mom.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not. If you get it, you’ll still have to get used to a new phone.”

“No, I won’t.” I was too proud to admit he was right. And I was wondering why they had changed things. At least it wasn’t any bigger than my own little Droid. It would fit into an evening bag!

But, then, for some reason, both Michael and I turned to the left and saw IT: The Windows Phone. It drew us like the Sirens singing to Ulysses or like the Monolith dropping out of the sky in 2001, A Space Odyssey. We picked up its ultra sleek thinness and began to explore its touch screen. I expected to hear the opening fanfare from Thus Spake Zarathustra. (That would make a killer ring tone, by the way.)

The Monolith

Guilt settled over me. How could I even consider another phone? It was like picking out a new husband while the old one watched. But after I discovered the Windows Phone understood my southern accent and would let me dictate a text message, I let Michael talk me into trying one out. After all, I had fourteen days to Bring It Back. And my tiny little thumbs are not user friendly on touch screen key pads. (What do people with big thumbs do? Buy the Samsung Galaxy I guess and forego evening wear.)

Anyway, in deep emotional conflict, I left with the smart, sleek Windows phone in my purse, and its various charming accessories packed into a suitably Christmasy Verizon logoed shopping bag. How could buying a new phone leave me feeling as if I were setting out alone on uncharted waters? Because, truth to tell, the next not quite fourteen days would show me I had done exactly that.

Siren’s song: Windows Phone

Next time: Trying to Survive Without Google Nav or Droid Love II

Read Full Post »

I stink at goodbye. I freely admit I have avoided the ceremony of parting as much as possible throughout my life. As I was driving away from dropping my youngest child at the airport curb this morning because he is headed back to college in the east, I wondered if my aversion to “saying goodbye” is a virtue or a vice.

It was labeled a vice once by the kids’ dad when he was trying to win custody of the children years ago. Like a prosecutor accusing a defendant of first degree murder, his attorney shouted in open court, “And Your Honor, do you know that she DOESN’T EVEN SAY GOODBYE?” (His attorney always made “she” sound like some really nasty, dirty word that no nice person should ever be called.)

This flaw was supposed to be some evidence of my bad character – I think. I’m not quite sure because the attorney never got any farther than that. She didn’t accuse me of neglecting my children, or of being a drunk or a drug addict, attributes that I’m pretty sure would have won him custody of the kids. No, the worst she could come up with was I don’t say goodbye, which (fortunately for me) did not turn out to be grounds for declaring me an unfit mother.

But at least once in my life, in a public place, someone labeled my aversion to goodbye as a vice. Is that right?

The word “goodbye” is a short for “God be with ye.” Now, I have no trouble with “God be with ye.” I could toss that off in a heartbeat. It sounds so much friendlier than “good bye.” And, as a good Episcopalian I have heard the priest intone a thousand times, “The Lord be with you” and responded, “And also with you.” I actually think I would rather use this ritual in parting because to me “goodbye” sounds so dead end – so final, so “Get out of my life and stay out” or “Yes! You are leaving and never coming back!” On the other hand, wishing blessings to someone and wishing blessings back seems to express so much more love and caring than just an abrupt “Goodbye!” (Which also makes me think of “Begone!”)

Of course that brings the religious problem into play. For those who don’t believe in traditional religion or even God, using the Anglican liturgy at parting would definitely not be an option. But what if we said, “Blessings to you” and the answer was “And also to you”? As a committee of one, I like that better.

Still, I think my aversion to saying “goodbye” is not really based entirely on the word we intone during the “ceremony of parting,” as one dictionary defined it. Where the people I love are concerned, the separation never feels real. In my mind and heart, we are still together even if we aren’t physically in the same place. “Having to Say Goodbye” feels so drastic to me. And even when I do say “goodbye” I inevitably add, “See you soon.”

As I drove away from the curb this morning, the post-holiday sadness began to settle on my shoulders because Thanksgiving 2012 was now officially a wrap. For a brief second I longed for the old way of airport parting, where we parked the car and headed inside and even sat at the gate with our traveler until the call for boarding. Of course we can’t do it that way anymore. So all airport partings are now a quick hug curbside like mine was this morning.

But then, as I swung my beloved red Mini Cooper into the “Exit to Downtown” lane, I realized that the brief hug at the curb is better for me because we aren’t really apart, no matter the miles in between. And, as with every parting from a loved one, I remind myself not to think about the separation, but to look forward to the next visit. Which, in this case, will be in just three short weeks!!!!!

Ok, I admit it. I stink at goodbyes. But I’m not sure that matters much.

Good Bye

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: