Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fireside Chat: Chapter Four of Watching And Thinking Of Blueberries

In spite of the snow and cold, the restaurant's closed-in porch was warm and pleasant. Surrounded by windows, we could see traffic churning at the busy intersection while the snow fell in fat, wet flakes. One absurdly tiny woodstove was keeping us all warm. It seemed impossible.

"Nance, we saved a seat for you right by the fire," someone said, and Rick and I took our places after a bit of requisite mingling. It was, after all, a company party, and the long table would keep most of us apart during dinner. I found myself next to the boss's wife, whom I like very much, but then, I like everyone with whom Rick works. She had recently lost her father, quite unexpectedly, and a party was the last place she wanted to be. In an effort to help them both, she had brought her mother along, and they were clearly struggling in this festive, happy environment.

In her grief, her mother could not sit still, but wandered back and forth behind the table. She stopped by the stove, trying to stay warm. She seemed distracted and flighty. Marielle, the boss's wife, drew her over and introduced her to me. As is often the case, I was her nephew's teacher. He is now a greatly successful financial advisor (mine, in fact). She was so happy to talk about him and his accomplishments. "Let's get you a chair," said Rick. "You can sit right here at the end of the table by the fire for dinner. Stay here and talk with us."

She did. She never left that chair. She could not eat very much, but she talked at length about her husband, being alone in her big house now, her plans, and what she does to fill up her days. "One thing I do is to volunteer out at Wells Glen. I go out there and run an exercise class for the old people. I--"

But I had stopped truly listening as soon as I heard "Wells Glen." I looked up at Rick, heart hammering. Tish lived at Wells Glen! He smiled. I waited patiently for a chance to ask if she knew of Tish, if she had any information at all about my former neighbor. She paused for a moment, chuckling a little about the ladies at Wells Glen doing their exercises.

"A former neighbor of mine lives at Wells Glen now, " I started, "and we've been wondering about her. Tish Cash, do you ever see her? The last we heard was--"

"Oh, Tish! With her glorious silver pageboy! She's great! She takes my class, and she goes to the beauty parlor every week. Her son...ugh. But yeah, she's fine. Her son took her car away, and she's a little forgetful, but she's great. She has a lot of friends and when the weather is good, she goes outside for her walks. She plays cards and all kinds of activities. You should come and see her. Yeah!"

It's entirely possible that she never noticed my eyes filling with tears during her entire recitation. Rick did, of course, and patted my hand throughout. I know I thanked her for telling me about Tish's life now and for setting my mind at ease; that we had no way of finding information and did not want to impose on anyone's privacy. That it was happy and reassuring news she had brought us about Tish.

By the end of the evening, many jackets had been shrugged out of and sweaters slipped off shoulders. One little woodstove had created enough warmth to comfort the entire room, and then some.

There will be no trips to Wells Glen for me; I was not a visitor in Tish's life when she lived across the street. We would have nothing to talk about, and I would struggle to keep from telling her about her driveway adrift in snow, her uncurtained, unblinking windows, the sad fate of her redbud tree. No, instead I will smile, knowing she is warm and happy--in her home.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Breaking Up And Stuff

Forgive my absence. Winter is unrelentingly harsh; life grows a bit lumpier; the February Theme has become, for me, uninteresting and unwieldy. The thrumming under my skin has started, and I am feeling as if I might fly into a million tiny fragments if I don't escape to a place that is, if not warmer and less snowy, at least NOT THIS.

I know I am not alone, but that knowledge is unhelpful.

Pressing on.

I'm going to abandon this Theme. I'm just not Into It, Not Feelin' The Love, Not--all puns intended-- Enamored With It. Maybe it's not even the theme, you know? Hey, Theme. It's not you, it's me. Things just didn't Work Out. It's better we go our separate ways, and I hope we can still Be Friends.

Breaking up is always a shitful part of relationships, and I have to say that I did try to be a good Breaker-Upper. I did not have extensive Boyfriend Experience, however, so I cannot be too self-congratulatory. I did have a couple of young men who thought they were my boyfriend, only to find out that they were not. If passing on that information counts as Breaking Up, then maybe I had more experience than I originally thought.

But I digress.

Sometimes I wonder if Breaking Up is so lousy because of the Love part or because of the Fear part. What are some of the very first things you hear a person say after a breakup? "What will I do now?" "I don't understand." "I feel like my whole world has fallen apart." Every single one of those statements is completely understandable and appropriate, and every one expresses Fear. Aside from horror movies and maybe roller coasters, no one truly likes to be scared.

And so much baggage! People to tell, stuff to give back or throw away, explanations to go through while you relive the details over and over again. It's like a Death. No matter how you spin it, Break-Ups are awful. Part of me wishes it were customary to do it surgically, like a subpoena is served. Someone shows up with a document, hands it to the Break-Upee, and walks away. The End. I think I would feel better if on the receiving end of that. Maybe.

But we all know what a Sentimental Autistic I have become. I am thinking now of my wedding dress, still in its huge box, supposedly preserved, someplace in our crawlspace. I haven't looked at it since the day I took it to the cleaners about 34 years ago. I could drop it in a Salvation Army clothing bin tomorrow and not care a bit. What do I need it for? It seems a terrible waste of money now. (Why is it that men traditionally rent their wedding clothes, but women buy theirs, anyway? I wonder if brides-to-be are suffused with some sort of biochemical cocktail which makes them eschew the very idea of renting a gown, even if it could be a designer gown of their dreams.  A quick search tells me that this is now available; the comments on the story tell me that it is also not new for large cities.)

I've already tossed all of the other wedding tchotchkes I thought I'd save forever and forever. The handmade ring pillow (our rings fell off of it, prompting a mad search by the best man), the wedding "unity" candle, the dried-out remains of my bouquet... oh, all sorts of things which had nowhere to be. Why save them? We're married, we're together, we have kids for heaven's sake. I don't need any other mementos of our marriage.

I broke up with that Stuff.

It was, if you'll excuse the reference, Hard To Do. It made me feel guilty. It made me a little afraid. I knew it could be seen as if I didn't revere or respect the Past, like I was trashing the memory of our wedding.

It isn't that at all.

When I throw away or donate things that I no longer need, it's for that reason. I no longer need them. I don't need Things to remind me of how much I love my husband or our life together. I don't need baby shoes to remind me of my sons or how much I love them and the human beings they've become. I can't live a full, wonderful life of Now if I have it crammed full of Then. Our story is rich and ongoing. Every day I celebrate Us. I go on, making room for new chapters.

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Different Kind Of One And Only

It's Friday The Thirteenth and my house is overrun with somewhat inept painters who, apparently, fear The Boss and are hell-bent on finishing this job today, even if it means that the interior of my house looks like a third grade class went at it for a School Project. I'm trying to be pleasant and sympathetic while still insisting that my house look better than it did when they started; surely it should look no worse.

Situations like this make me wonder if I'm The Only One anymore. Am I The Only One who sees that this looks like crap? Am I The Only One who expects quality? Am I The Only One who thinks it is rude to have strangers come into my house and blast loud music without asking and for the whole day? Am I The Only One...well, you get it. Lists like this are truly Endless.

But as I made my rounds of The Interwebs this morning, I came across something else that made me wonder if I was The Only One again, this time in a far more humorous instance. Or...maybe that's not the exact word I want.  You can decide.

By now all of you are aware of the scandal in which Brian Williams, NBC news anchor, is deeply embroiled. Because he was found to be heavily embellishing a story about being in a helicopter while reporting in Iraq, a lot more of his reporting and his basic truthfulness have been called into question. Thanks to social media, everyone has been able to weigh in on this story, and people have lined up on either side as supporters or opponents. As is often the case, it is surprising to see who says what.

But no one could have prepared me for this, a letter of support for Brian Williams written by Charlie Sheen. I am including it here for you to read, exactly as it was posted to Mr. Sheen's Twitter account. Get through it, and let's discuss.

Dear Mr. Williams,

Sorry to bother you during this most surreal, unjust and mercurial moment in your awesome life.

First off, THANK YOU, for 24 years of inimitable professionalism and top shelf brilliance, as a stone cold passion driven and (PERFECTLY) fact based journalist.

Secondly, Thank you “squared” for delivering not only the news on a nightly basis, (PERFECTLY) to myself and my family.

But for every other person alive, (with a TV) who relied and still do,on your poetic, insightfuland NOBLE sacrifices,that made our longest nights shorter,and our shortest nights safer.
You good sir, are a hero in my “Entire Library”

Lastly; you are clearly the victim of a transparent and vile witch hunt! Erroneously “staged” by hooligans, non coms, cowards and oligarchs, who’s only desperate and hideous goal is to discredit the genius that they relied on for almost 3 decades!

Now and forever you are a true Patriot and a Hero of mine until the day i leave this star crossed imperfect Rock we call Earth…

Mr W: respect love hi 5’s and refuge! (if you need it!) I remain humbly and on dangerous standby at your service….

I am;
the MaSheen….

At the risk of overusing my Rhetorical Device from above:

Am I The Only One who is stunned and mystified by absolutely everything in this letter? (But let's start with "poetic, insightful and NOBLE sacrifices." Brian makes 6 million bucks a year. What "sacrifices" has he made, really, that he has not been handsomely compensated for? I'll let Mr. Sheen have his own interpretation as to the level of their nobility, insight, and poetry.)

Am I The Only One who is still trying desperately to figure out how BW "made our longest nights shorter and our shortest nights safer" by reporting the news? Can anyone give me an example of anything that has done or is doing that so as to help me understand?

Am I The Only One who wonders if being a hero in an "Entire Library" is a sort of mixed metaphor or if it's really, really creative?

Am I The Only One who is laughing (hard!) at the series "hooligans, non coms, cowards and oligarchs" and wishes it wasn't too long to be the name of a really awesome band? (If I were still teaching, I might address my class that way. "All right, you hooligans, non coms, cowards and oligarchs, let's grab the vocab books and get going." Okay. Maybe not.)

Am I The Only One who reads the last "sentence" as a sort of jumbled command that then devolves into a sort of closing, like: Mr. W, Respect love, hi 5's, and refuge! If you need it, I remain humbly......?

What is "dangerous standby?"

And, finally, Am I The Only One who thinks that it would be great if someone like Patrick Stewart would read this aloud?

I remain on dangerous standby, awaiting your comments.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Valentine's Day: Memories Of Love

Valentine's Day is a Hit-Or-Miss Holiday with Rick and me. Sometimes he brings home a bouquet of carnations for me; sometimes I make him a heart-shaped meatloaf. More often than not, we end up saying at some point, "Oh yeah. Happy Valentine's Day!" Usually this realization occurs when we get the mail and there is a card from St. Patsy, Obsessive Greeting Card Sender (And Underliner).

My mother loves to not only shop for greeting cards, which can, according to my brother, take her hours, but she also loves to underline key words in their sentiments. All of her kids and grandkids now hold One-Upsmanship Sessions in which they compare not only the number of words underlined, but the amount of times the words are underlined. Reading her cards aloud with the underlining is hilarious:

Wishing YOU, DEAR daughter, the BEST Valentine's Day EVER
because YOU are LOVED.
and ALWAYS!!!! (Adding extra exclamation points is new.)

But I digress.

Valentine's Day. Rick and I aren't exactly dismissive of it; we just don't Do It. We have our anniversary, and that's our Personal Valentine's Day. We figure February 14th can be everyone else's Day For Celebrating Their Love.

When I was little, Valentine's Day was a much bigger deal and a lot more fun. We bought the whole-class box of valentines, there was a class party with treats, and my mother made sure I had red bows in my braids. I would sit at the kitchen table the night before and put way more thought into who got which Valentine than I did into my Social Studies chapter questions. Especially the boys' valentines.

At school I was always astonished at the valentines I received that had a lollipop skewering through them. Although I had never truly wanted for anything as a child, I knew those had been expensive and were not something I could even have asked to hand out. Sometimes, I didn't even eat the lollipop. I saved it and saved it, only to throw it out later after it got broken or forgotten. How silly.

My parents both were enthusiastic celebraters of Valentine's Day when we were children. The very first flowers and heart-shaped box of candy that I ever got for the holiday were from my father. He always made sure that Patti, Susan, and I got a Valentine present. My mother, I'm sure, was in charge of Bobby's, but Dad's fingerprints were all over ours.

One of my father's great joys was to get in the car and simply go. My mother hated it because often, she would send him on an errand for an item she needed for her dinner preparation. Hours later, Dad was nowhere to be found, and in the age before cell phones, he was unreachable. Half an hour before dinner, he'd pull up in the driveway, placid and triumphant, and Mom would be harried and beyond irritated. "Honey! Where have you been? I'm waiting on those potatoes!" she'd say, exasperatedly.

My father would ease out of the car, look surprised and a little sheepish. "Oh! Doll, I forgot all about those potatoes. Let's just have rice. But take a look at the chair I got in the scratch and dent at Penney's. Only a hundred dollars. And I hit it really, really good at the driving range, too. Really loosened up my back."

In his travels my father would frequent small, family-owned florists and garden centers and find little vases or containers in sets of three. Each one would be a little different, either in colour, shape, or something. He'd then have the florist put a flower in each one, add a ribbon, and bring them home. We girls would come in from school on Valentine's Day and find them with our card and sometimes, our candy. If Dad had been downtown, we'd get a little tiny heart box of French chocolates from Faroh's, and we knew that meant he had a secret stash of the same someplace. Oh, those French chocolates from Faroh's. Divine and beautiful.

Mom and Dad exchanged cards, but that was it. The kids were the ones who got actual Valentine's Day presents, now that I take the time to think of it. Again, I am astonished at how oblivious I was growing up. Everyone in my family said I constantly had my nose in a book. It's clear that they were not exaggerating.

I still have one of those little vases that my father gave to me as a Valentine. About four inches tall, it is the only one to have survived not only several moves, but also the capriciousness of my feelings. Safely tucked away in a cupboard, it has weathered fits of temperament, organization, streamlining, and independence. Like Valentine's Day, some things are just for Love.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Things We Love

I could do with some Light And Fluffy right about now, couldn't you? Let's put the Serious Love Stuff aside for the moment and look at something more...cotton candy-like.

At the risk of trivializing The Word, there are lots of Things We Love. The second definition of the word Love is, after all, "warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion." So here's a random list of

Things I Love, Grouped, And In No Particular Order

1. Names: Annabelle, Samantha, Boris, Tristan, Roberto
2. Foods: Butter, Basil, Olive Oil, Pasta, Duck
3. Activities: Going On Drives, Exploring Civil War Sites, Spending Time With Zydrunas, Teasing St. Patsy
4. Thingies: Mascara, Rick's Old White Tees, Boots, My GPS
5. Places: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gettysburg, the lakehouse, To Dinner with Rick at Nemo's

Technically, I suppose some Persnickety Readers could snort and snark and say, "This could be termed A Favourite Things List, you know." Well, to him or her I would say this, "Did you get up on the wrong side of the day?" (That, by the way, is a direct quote from my niece Alexis, who had about eleventy thousand of those in her early childhood, and all of them were far more intelligent and sensible than the originals.)

But I digress.

1. Some of you may wonder why neither Jared nor Sam ended up as a Boris, Tristan, or Roberto. In a word, RICK. I was smitten by the name Tristan from the James Herriot book series from decades ago. Come to think of it, I got the name Boris from that, too, and the song about the spider by The Who.

2. As far as foods, those are my constants and will probably not change. Even lobster has disappointed me every once in a while, but these are always True.

3. I don't have a ton of activities that I truly love because so many of them feel worky to me, even writing and now, even reading. It's a concentration issue. But all of these listed bring me such joy. Despite the incredible amounts of nibbling and slobber, time with Zydrunas means unfettered energy and love. That dog loses his mind when I arrive, and it is such a lift to be greeted with unabashed adoration. Jared and Sam do not jump as high as my head, flip themselves into a comma, and wag their back ends until they fall down, even when I bring a pie.  But Z does, every time.

4. While I fully realize the Transient Nature Of Things, I can love some anyway. I have a torrid love affair with boots, which comprise 90% of my footwear during the months of October through March, with a week or two of September and April as necessary. Here in NEO with the snow, freezing rain, slush, and uncertain terrain thanks to the aforementioned, boots are a stylish and lazy-easy way to look decent and get through half the year. I have four or five pairs in various colors that I can slide into and not even have to worry if my socks match (although you know, of course, that they do). And if you buy a good, leather pair and take care of them, they can last for years and years. And if you don't buy leather, you don't worry too much about wrecking any that are cheap. Win-win.

5. Finally, these Places I Love, I really do love. They are all places that I can go and relax, watch my husband relax, and/or do things I truly love and enjoy. They are places where I can commune with the Best Parts Of Me.

I can't wait to see your lists of Things You Love in Comments!

Saturday, February 07, 2015

Find Out What It Means To Me (And My Father)

When my father used to talk about the kind of husband my sister Patti and I would eventually find and settle into happiness with, he often described a sort of professorial man of academic bent who would be a hybrid Philosopher Poet, probably another English teacher or even a writer or college instructor who would be quite similar to us. He may never have said so, but I got the impression that this man would also be older than us as well, though not by too terribly much, and down-to-earth, but certainly not earthy or crude, my father's most hated personality trait.

As you can probably guess, neither Patti nor myself married such a man. Her husband is a business manager whose politics have always run somewhat counter to those of my late father, a blue-collar union man. Their discussions used to get passionate and heated, and my mother and Patti would practically have to drag in firehoses or, at the very least, send in the children en masse armed with storybooks and Overwhelming Cuteness to defuse the situation. My husband Rick is a carpenter by trade, and he has probably read a handful of books all the way through in his lifetime without growling, none of them recently.

It is important to note here that my father graduated high school, was drafted, and afterward went to college briefly on the G.I. Bill. He did not stay long. After the War, college felt alien to him, I guess, and Getting On With His Life meant something else entirely.

Anyway. The husbands/sons-in-law.

Both of them were obviously not what Dad had intended at all. But both of us heard, via our mother (Dad's favourite conduit) that it was okay. I can't speak for my sister in this case, but I can, of course, say plenty with regard to mine. My dad never doubted for a moment that Rick and I loved each other; I knew that. And even though we were So Incredibly Young (eighteen when we met; twenty-two when we married!), it was clear that we weren't making an impetuous decision.

No, the big factor for Dad was Respect. "Your father can tell that Rick really respects you," my mother said to me. "He can see that he cares for you, yes, but it's the way he listens to you and looks at you when you talk. He knows you're smart, and he's not intimidated by that. He treats you like it's a partnership. That's what's really important to your father."

My father was terribly hard on all of us kids as we were growing up, and there were times that I used to stomp upstairs to my bedroom and hate him mightily for hours, days, even weeks on end. It wasn't that I didn't understand why, either. He always made sure we understood exactly why he said what he said or was disappointed in or angry at us. (We were never hit, ever.) That didn't mean we didn't think it was stupid or ridiculous, or unfair, or so Not Like Anyone Else's Parents. But we did always feel loved, valued, and above all, respected our entire lives.

I'm glad. Respect should be an enormous part of Love.  I'm grateful that my parents taught me that and modeled that for me, and I hope that I have effectively done the same for Sam and Jared.  I hope I did as much for my students, too.  

image modified from zazzle.ca

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Heresy Of Young Love

Love was always one of the most popular topics of discussion to arise in my classroom. Believe it or not, my sophomores, juniors, and seniors were desperately uncomfortable whenever sex crept into any conversation, moreso when I brought it up. (And I often did, especially when teachingThe Catcher in the Rye.) No, Love was the discussion winner by far, and everyone usually had something to say about it.

I got very popular very quickly when I aired my view that, yes, Teenagers Can Be In Love. I respectfully disagreed with Other Adults, often some parents, who dismissed this notion. "How can a teenager know what Love is?" was the inevitable question, followed by protests like, "They have no idea. They're too young! They aren't mature enough! They're full of hormones and ridiculous images from the media. No one at that age has the slightest idea what it even means to be in Love. Most of them are still lining up for Disney films. They can't even look past themselves, let alone truly care about another person."

My students would tell me all this, naturally, and they'd carefully and earnestly watch my face as they did so. (You know, I don't think I ever really got used to that--all those eyes on me at once used to regularly freak me out when they were expectant like that.) They wanted to see if I was going to stick with my Dangerous Opinion under the barrage of Grown-Up Fire. I would listen as they wore themselves out and had their catharsis; I really did understand what they were up against because I heard it from parents during conferences and phone calls all the time.

Once they let their last dogs loose, I explained myself, and the smart ones added it to their arsenal, saving it to use later, and then only in the calmest and wisest way.

Teenagers Can Be In Love. I believe it sincerely. Children, if they are raised well and correctly, are raised in a loving, caring, supportive environment. They are surrounded with demonstrations of love from their parents, siblings if there are any, and extended family. Love is modeled for them, and they know what it feels like to be nurtured, valued, supported, and cared for. They know what it feels like to want to do that for someone else. They have given and received affection and known the rewards of that reciprocity. They experience Love every single day.

I think it's incredibly arrogant and dismissive to say, then, by virtue of their age alone, that teenagers cannot be In Love. It's more of a disparagement of the parent/adult saying it than it is of the teenager. We expect our kids to learn from us; we are supposed to be role models and serve as their best mentors of how to get on in later life. Aren't we teaching them every single moment how to Love?

Being In Love is quite different than Being Ready To Do Something About It. That is a huge qualifier. But to tell Teenagers that They Are Not In Love because they are only something-teen years old is ridiculous. That's like telling a baby he's not hungry because it's not two o'clock yet. Or saying that it can't snow in NEO anymore once Spring starts on March 20th.

If you were not In Love as a Teenager, maybe you were So Hoping To Be In Love. But you certainly knew what it meant to be In Love. Growing up didn't really change that, did it?


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