Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bus Stop

For the past few weeks, I've been watching the same sad drama unfold outside my living room window every morning at about 8:30 AM. It's not that I sit and wait for it; I'm already in my big armchair, reading the newspaper and having my second cup of coffee. Or, if Piper has decided it's Time, I'm having a Snuggle with a huge orange marmalade cat, rendering any movement at all completely impossible. (More than once, I've mistakenly played an Unintentional Word in Words With Friends; it doesn't always work out advantageously.)

But I digress.

At 8:30 in the morning on Mondays through Fridays, a school bus pulls up to the house two doors down, and the sound of a child crying and wailing begins. Soon, a little boy of about six appears, backpack on his back. Sometimes his mother carries him; other times he slowly walks, rubbing his eyes or his head with one hand while holding his mom's hand with the other. It's crying only--no words, no complaints--just a steady bawling which reaches a higher pitch as soon as the doors whoosh open. Each day, the little boy and his mom have been greeted by a cheery, merry bus aide. She calls out his name--it sounds like it might be Charlie? Marty? Barney?--and asks how he's doing. Is he ready for school today? She carefully takes his hand and helps him to walk up the steps to the bus. She won't carry him; he has to walk himself. The doors close, and the bus lumbers away.

The first time this drama unfolded, I initially focused on the little one, naturally. My heart broke for him. He clutched at his mother; he looked so tiny and his backpack looked so large. He's so afraid! I thought. And he has to go on that big huge bus! That poor baby. What if he cries the whole way there? What if someone is mean to him? Then I looked at his mother, who lingered at the end of the driveway, watching and waving, then standing there, hands clasped at her chest. How awful for her! To know that her baby is so sad and so upset, and to be unable to do anything but watch. I remembered my own guilt: I couldn't take my own kids to school on their first day because it was always the first day of school for me, too. I would always spend odd moments of the day wondering. So much of raising children is Heartbreak!

In the ensuing days, the tears have not subsided when the bus comes. Each day, the mother brings the little boy to the bus, still crying. The bubbly aide tries her hardest to jolly him up, but nothing has worked thus far. "He's a little crabby today," said the mother yesterday through the wailing. I wondered why she bothered to say anything. Maybe, though, he does stop crying on the bus at some point. Certainly he would at school. I'm not entirely certain, however; today as I was gathering my mail, the bus dropped him off. He was crying.

All of this is in stark contrast to the other little boy three doors down from me the other way who used to get picked up by a van for his school. A happy-go-lucky sort of kid, he was very hyperactive and didn't seem to have any sort of concerns about going off to school at all. As a matter of fact, one morning as he was leaving, he yelled loudly, "So long, suckas!"

A performance that was never, at least to my knowledge, repeated.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Nine Story


Nine is a number I am not fond of, to be honest. 

When I was earning my living as a bank teller, the only good thing about Nine was that if I did not balance at the end of the day, and the amount I was off was divisible by Nine, I could start looking for a transposition. Transposition errors are always divisible by nine. Try it; it works.

When I was Nine, I got really sick. After I didn't get any better, my parents took me to the emergency room where they eventually learned that my appendix was ready to rupture, possibly minutes away from spreading poison throughout my entire body. My father, a normally very swarthy Croatian man with a barrel chest and strong arms, turned white right in front of me as I watched the doctors explain to him and my mother in the busy hallway that I needed surgery immediately.

The surgeon told my parents that my appendix burst as soon as he touched it. Consequently, I have two scars: a long, ugly gash for the appendectomy, and then a small one directly below it for the drains that pulled out the ugly greenish-brown fluid that I watched fill up a receptacle on the side of my bed. I hated those tubes. They kept me in bed and they meant that for the first few days of my seemingly endless stay, I was NPO, or allowed nothing by mouth. I was constantly thirsty and constantly hungry.  To this day I cannot stand the smell of A & D Ointment because that's what they kept putting on my lips to keep them from cracking while I was NPO.

The year was 1969, and it was April. The children's ward was full of Hong Kong flu cases, and there was also a girl with a full-body cast from her neck to her knees. She had been a hit-and-run victim, and she was my first roommate. She went home two days after I got there. Then I got Rosemary Jake.

I really have no idea why Rosemary was in the hospital, and I don't remember anything being wrong with her. That is, I don't recall any IVs or a cast or anything. But Rosemary was my roommate--I think--for pretty much the rest of my stay, and I was in there for about two weeks.

Rosemary was about the same age as me, but she was teeny tiny with thin arms and legs and a head full of braids. Her skin was the color of coffee, and her face was all eyes. Those eyes were so wide and so dark and they looked as if they could not possibly wait to understand every single thing you were saying. She was very devout--a Catholic--and her mother listened to her prayers sometimes when she visited.

Mrs. Jake braided Rosemary's hair almost every day. My mother did the same to me, except that I had only two braids, one on each side. If my mother brought ribbon, she made sure to tie a few bows onto Rosemary's braids. As the days began to wear on, I began to get gifts from people, and I shared them with Rosemary. One gift was a set of rub-on tattoos called "Funny Freckles." She was charmed by the little pink flowers and red strawberries that appeared on her skin with just a few strokes of a tongue depressor over the transfer.

We watched the movie "King of Kings" together, and we hoped we would be home for Easter. Sometimes, late in the evening, she would get a visitor who made her so happy. I can't remember if it was her uncle or her brother, but he was definitely a character. Named Buster, he wore a long, sweeping duster-type coat and a fedora-style hat. He would walk in on pointed-toe shoes and call her "Rosie." She would smile brilliantly, sit up in bed, and talk and talk. She would promise to rest, but keep up with her schoolwork. It was clear to me that they loved each other.

Rosemary and I were still in our room at Easter, and it was a terrible day. We each got a little basket with a token toy, but we weren't home. Worse, I had spiked a fever; my incisions had not been attended to according to doctor's orders and I was again full of infection. My stay had just gotten longer.

I did finally go home, of course, and not too much longer after that it was my birthday. I was to have a party, and I asked if we could invite Rosemary. I have no idea how my parents contacted Mrs. Jake, but they did and if we could provide transportation, Rosemary was allowed to come.

There are only a couple of things I remember about her house. One was that she lived in a very different part of town than we did, and in a brick house that was big but old and tired-looking. The second one is that it had a sagging trellis on one side with a climbing rosebush on it. Much later, I went down that street again, and those roses were a deep, blood red.

I remember presenting Rosemary--who was dressed in a red plaid dress with red bows all over her braids--as if she were a celebrity to the rest of my friends at my party. Because, to me, she was. She had been my comrade-in-arms, my fellow in suffering, my hospital friend and now, here she was! Here! I have no idea--no recollection--how she was received at my party or if she had a good time. It was such a long time ago.

In the intervening years, life was a challenge for Rosemary, who not only had several of her own children to raise, but because of the sudden death of her sister, was raising several nieces and nephews as well. All this, plus working and trying to take college classes, stretched her resources. Our family often put together some boxes of clothes and things to help out.

That birthday party in 1969 was the last time I saw Rosemary until my father's funeral in the summer of 2000. My brother, who had been the liaison with Rosemary's burgeoning family through his job with the city, took me over to her. "Oh, Rosemary," I said as I hugged her once again, "how wonderful that you're here."

Rosemary didn't look teeny tiny and awestruck anymore. Mostly, she looked tired and...experienced. Like she had seen way too much of life and would like to close her eyes for a while. But she also looked compassionate and kind. I would have loved to have spent some time with Rosemary, but not that day. And she had other commitments as well. And again, our lives have diverged into the years ahead. I have not seen her since, and it's been fourteen years.

To be honest, I have not thought of Rosemary very often, and I'm sure she has not thought of me.  Our lives always were very different.  We lived on the other side of town, but it may as well have been the other side of the world.

Sometimes a person can cross the stage, play her scene, and exit again without changing significantly the course of the play, even if her performance is memorable.  In a life this can happen over and over again.  In the playbill of Memory, during a very difficult year, Rosemary's name is gilded.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I'm Back And Listing A Little, Now That I'm Nine

All of you will be glad to know that Maryland--home of Patriotic Gore That Flecked The Streets Of Baltimore--is still alive and well and right where it belongs. I just returned from yet another Extended Jaunt, during which I luxuriated and slothed and spent more time surrounded by Leanne's fabric hoard while I drank wine and Cosmopolitans and conferred Sainthood upon her long-suffering husband, Jim.

Did any of the rest of you know that there are gloves just for quilting? I'd like to know how the Hetsler sisters, my grandmother Ethel and her siblings Bertha and Grace, managed such an impressive output without them. Who knows what they'd have accomplished had they been suitably gauntleted.

But I digress.

Now that I am back, we can celebrate the Ninth Anniversary of the Dept. of Nance. Nine years ago this month, I staked my claim on this little spot of the cyberverse and began my blog. Who knew that I had such stick-to-it-iveness?

Normally, I choose a Numerical Theme and go from there, but Nine is not a favourite number of mine, so let's just, as the rappers do, "freestyle." (I'm so G.) Do your own Hoodrat Stuff in Comments!

9 Random Material Things That Make Me Happy

1. My GPS
2. My Bench Scraper
3. Effen Cucumber Vodka
4. Words With Friends
5. My Window Bird Feeder
6. Butter
7. Daisies
8. The Internet
9. Pasta

Could I get along without any of those? Maybe. But I would rather not. Are there other things that should be on that list? Oh, sure! But things like books, wine, avocados--those are becoming cliche with me. Besides, I'm freestylin', remember? Off we go.

9 Random Other Things That Make Me Happy

1. My grocery store guy who sings with the Muzak
2. Getting pictures of my granddog via text message
3. Forgetting what day it is
4. Laughing with St. Patsy
5. Reading long, long, long emails from friends
6. Wine on the porch or patio with Rick
7. Dinner with the boys
8. A clean house
9. Travel

I love my grocery store, which is full of genuinely nice and helpful staff. One guy who works there sings along with almost all of the songs on the Muzak, whether it is Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves" (which it was yesterday) or Five Man Electrical Band's "Signs" (which seems to play every Tuesday that I shop). He sings enthusiastically and accurately as he stocks shelves, replaces signage, and tidies areas. He only stops to inquire of everyone in his sphere whether or not he can help them. He's wonderful.

And who wouldn't love getting pictures like this?
photo by Kaitlin C., my daughter

So I'm celebrating Being 9! Nine Years is a long time to be an Internet Sensation Personality ...Presence. Sigh.

But I owe you all a huge Thank You for reading me. So many of you have been my Steadfast Readers, my Dearest Readers and Friends throughout. And some of you have jumped in at different points along the way, getting to know The Me of that moment on. It is the Conversations with all of You that I so enjoy. Thank You.

Now, won't you have some dessert while I rustle up the champagne? And do share a List Of Your Own Nines (or whatever) in Comments.

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Redbud Tree: Chapter Three of Watching And Thinking Of Blueberries

Rick had stepped across the street to talk to the yard man, now stowing the mower into the back of the small black pickup parked in the Cashes' driveway. It rankled me to see him using Tish and Barrington's driveway even though it made sense. That house had been vacant for years, so why clog up Sue Ellen's driveway unnecessarily? But increasingly, people had begun disrespecting the property; at least I thought so. Because there is no parking on the street, Tish's driveway had become a sort of neighborhood parking lot for anyone who had a bridge club, holiday party, barbecue, or needed a place to stow his or her car for a quick getaway when workmen were going to be at their house all day. Her curb lawn became the repository for a few people to place their tree limbs and brush until the city came around to pick it up. Aghast, I watched as the woman next door took her dog out and led it into Tish's front yard to do its business. I stood on my own front porch, impotently furious. Had she glanced over and seen me, I doubt she'd have cared.

At least Sue Ellen had stopped hooking up her hose to Tish's outdoor faucet to do her watering. That had ended years ago, and it probably was because Tish's water was turned off, I'm guessing. There's nothing at Tish's to even pretend to water. Her chubby pots of yellow marigolds and mums have been gone for so long, I almost forget what they looked like. The only thing blooming there now is the huge clutch of brilliant orange tiger lilies surrounding her black locust tree in the back yard. A family of little brown bunnies lives in it again this year, in defiance of the urban hawks and one stray cat that has managed to survive.

Ever since Tish left, the redbud tree in her curb lawn has been slowly dying. It rallied one year, about two years after she disappeared from across the way, but then its decline was steady and inexorable. This spring, it barely showed any pink blossoms at all, just a few on a couple of branches. One limb is entirely dead, and the rest are sparse with leaves that have already begun to yellow, and brown ones litter the ground below. Last week, a green card from the city appeared on Tish's front door. Her redbud tree is going to be removed soon. It's too far gone.

For the past several months, every now and then, I would see a car or truck at Tish's. Once, several lovely pieces of fine furniture--an armoire or china cabinet, a table, and something else--were piled into the back of a pickup truck and it drove away. Another time, a young couple in a bright red jeep went to the house for a while. Recently, three elderly men were there for a while and came out talking. I was watering my plants on the front porch, and it was impossible not to hear them, talking loudly in that Old Man Way. "...And this way, he doesn't have to sell the house," one of them said. "Right!" the other one agreed heartily. Before they left, one stooped low, painfully, and fixed the blue rug on Tish's front porch. I almost burst into tears. I've fixed that rug dozens of times. At least now I'm not the only one.

"That guy wants twenty bucks a week, just to cut and edge our little old front yard!" Rick said when he came back later. "That's ridiculous. I told him I'd get back to him, but obviously I won't. Oh, and he told me that on Saturday, he's doing all the trimming and mowing at Cashes'. The house is either sold or rented. I asked him when he was finally going to shape up Tish's bushes and cut out that tree from the middle of that one that's been bothering you all summer."

I felt a little breathless for a minute. But Rick continued.

"Nance, Tish has Alzheimer's."

What I said next is unimportant. My impression will forever be The yardman knew. The yardman knew. Which I guess is reasonable. As I've said before in my previous posts about Tish,we were merely cordial neighbors. We waved and said hello. She was kind to us and my children. She led her life and we led ours. Why, oh why, am I so invested in her life now? Why am I heartbroken for her? Why am I raging at the unfairness of it all? She is not me; our lives are not parallel.

I will be happy, truly, to see Tish's house come alive again. When the crew arrives to take away the dying redbud tree, I will probably cry just a little. But when the new neighbors arrive, I'll bake a tray of fresh blueberry muffins and step across the street to welcome them.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

In Which I Discuss Drinks And Invite You To Join Me Whilst CAUWFing

Bless your heart, there you are! Thanks for coming back and giving me another read. It's a bit of a Mixed Bag today, so get yourself something pleasant to sip and/or snack on, settle into a comfy spot, and let's see what we have here, shall we? Off we go!

~*~Language Police. Is there a single person among you who has ever spoken--in conversation, ever--the word "wriggle"? I've discovered that I have a deep-seated antipathy for this word. I find it not only ugly to look at, but equally ugly to say. And again, who says it? I have read it plenty of times, mostly in old British novels, and I was unpleasantly surprised to come across it today in a comic strip. When I was much younger, I used to think that it was just the British spelling of the word "wiggle" since that word fit just fine contextually. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that no, wriggle was a word all its own. I'll continue my One-Woman Campaign to Avoid Using Wriggle Forever (CAUWF, pronounced "cough"), and you're welcome to join me. Or not.

~*~Name Brand. So, even though I've been travelling quite a bit, I still remain oblivious to so many things. I was completely confused by (and therefore immune to the allure of) Coca Cola's latest marketing ploy called "Share A Coke." Jared and I were at a Walgreen's when I saw a cooler full of Cokes, all labelled with first names like Jeremy, Amy, Nick, and Jenn. He took great pains to explain it to me, and to his credit, agreed with me that the whole thing was, in a word, stupid. The chances of most Coke drinkers finding their name is remote. Instead, the person is left feeling like a doofus drinking someone else's coke. Or, vaguely odd drinking a Coke with a name, like "Hi, er...Holly Coke. I'm Benito Fernandez. I'm thirsty, so...thanks in advance." And what happens when you reach into the cooler in the 7Eleven at the same time as another person, go to grab a Coke, and the other guy says, "Hey! That's my coke. My name's Steve! See, it's right there on the bottle!"?  Or, finally, last one--you're drinking a Coke with some name on the bottle, and someone assumes it's your name. "Hi, Kelly!" people keep saying to you. But your name isn't Kelly. It's Sarah. Or Anisha. Or Rainbow. Or Vladimir. Just saying. I'm really glad I don't drink Coke.

~*~Bloody Mary Lunch. I've written before about my Bloody Mary lunches and the astonishing iterations that simple drink can take. Today, after a quick meeting to go over some documents I worked on for a free-lance job, I met a friend for an impromptu lunch at a nearby restaurant. Yes, it was only 11:30, and yes, I ordered my Bloody Mary immediately upon being seated and with great alacrity, but there was absolutely no excuse for the garnish that was lolling all over the top of my glass. Once I heaved it off and onto a plate, I had to take a picture. Here it is, in all its glory. Remember, this was on top of a drink:


No, that is not lunch.  That is, in order from left to right on the skewer, my drink garnish: a strip of bacon, a slice of provolone cheese, a third of a stalk of celery, a lemon wedge, a lime wedge, a bleu cheese stuffed olive. Lying on an appetizer plate.  And I am not kidding.

That Bloody Mary cost me ten bucks.  An appetizer of hummus, tzatziki, and tapenade with warm pita and some cucumber slices cost only nine bucks. And Sue and I split that. I'm not even sure what my point is, other than the fact that A) that is just a completely ridiculous garnish, and B) ten dollars is obscene for a Bloody Mary, and maybe C) I could have paid way less for the drink if they would have cut out all that crap in the garnish.  But D) I enjoyed the Bloody Mary and my visit with Sue.

How is it that August is imminent?  Summer is speeding away.  Let me catch up with you in Comments.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can You Hear Me Now?

My life is ever Seinfeldian.  Let me prove it to you, and for those of you who have never watched an episode of Seinfeld, ever, I think you may still enjoy the following:

ACT I.  The Speed-Dial. Scene opens with Nance answering her cell phone.  On the other end is her mother, St. Patsy, who is visiting her sister Shirley in Gettysburg.

Nance:  Hi, Mom.  I hear you're ready to come home already.
St.  Patsy:  Hi, Nance.  You're number four on my speed-dial.
Nance:  What?  Okay, but what, now? Number four?  How am I all the way down at number four?
St. Patsy:  Well, Voicemail is number one.  Then Bobby (my brother, with whom she lives) is number two. Coley (Bobby's daughter; Coley is a nickname--don't ask.) is number three, and you're number four.
Nance:  What the heck!  How is Coley ahead of me?  When the heck do you ever call her?  For anything? How does she rate the number three spot?  I don't get this at all.
St. Patsy:  Well, you're ahead of Patti. She's number five, and Susan at number six.  So, it's Bobby, Coley, Nance, Patti, Susan.  Maybe it's alphabetical order.  I don't know.  But you're number four.
Nance:  Oh, brother.  Well, maybe the next time you need a ride to the doctor or to Gettysburg, you should call Good Old Number Three, then.  See if Coley can haul your ass all over the place.  How about that? Why did you call in the first place?  Just to taunt me with your Speed Dial Hierarchy?
St. Patsy:  No.  I wanted to tell you that Shirley and Dick are bringing me home, so you don't have to drive to Gettysburg after all.  Isn't that nice?
Nance:  Yes.  For Coley.

End

ACT II. The Squirrel. Scene opens with Nance walking outside to take out the trash and recyclables.  She notices a baby squirrel barely moving on her deck.  Upon closer inspection, she sees it is badly wounded, bloody, and intermittently covered in flies.

Nance:  Oh no!  You poor baby!  Damn it.  Those damn hawks.  First my fish and now you.  I don't know what I can do for you.  Damn it. Damn.  Let me go look and see what I can find to help you.

(Leaves to go and look up a wildlife or metroparks rescue number...or something.  Shortly after, Rick comes home.)

Nance:  (greets Rick in garage)  Oh, Rick.  It's terrible.  I need your help with something.
Rick:  What happened?  What's wrong?
Nance:  Rick, it's this poor baby squirrel.  Something got it and it's all chewed up and mangled.  We have to help it. I feel so bad.
Rick:  Nance.  What are you talking about? Like, take it to the vet? I don't want to be on the hook for a huge vet bill and then have to bring home some wild squirrel.  I just got home. Where is it?

(Nance shows him the squirrel, who is now barely breathing.  Its eyes are glazed, and its body is covered in flies.)

Rick:  Nance.  This thing is dead.  Or practically.  There's nothing anyone can do.  Look at it.  I feel bad, too, but it won't even survive a car ride to a vet.  Or anyplace.  You have to let it go.
Nance:  I called the metropark office number and got a machine.  I left a message.  There's no place else to call.  I feel sick.  Rick, you have to do something. We can't let it suffer. (taps out a message to her friend in Maryland, Leanne, who relays it to her husband, Jim; pause)  Jim says to use a flat-edge shovel and break its neck.  Ugh.  That will behead this poor baby!  Rick.  Do something.  I'm not able to.
Rick:  Nance, what would you like me to do?  I don't want to kill it, either!  We just have to let Nature take its course.  It's sad, but there it is.

(An hour later, Nance goes out and finds the squirrel dead.)

Scene 2.  The next morning, Nance's cell phone rings.

Nance:  Hello?
Caller:  (brightly) Hi, Nance? This is Amy from the county metroparks returning your call.  How is the squirrel?
Nance:  Dead.

End

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Summer has been busy.  I promise to get back to posting more often as soon as I can.  And I owe so many people so many emails and blog comments.  Where is my time going?  Fun places mostly.  Be back soon, and I will try to get back on track!

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