Friday, May 30, 2008

Addendum to the Las Vegas Games

The day of the first game, as we were sitting in the stands, one of the fathers who had flown in to Las Vegas for the American Legion Regional Championship Games that morning was nice enough to bring copies of the local newspaper from home with him. He brought three copies, one for his family, one for Tighe in the dugout, and one for me.

The newspaper captured a big photo of Tighe in uniform, ball cap slightly askew, smiling brightly. The article featured his pitching, and the interview they did with him was wonderful. At one point in the article, Tighe stated that he owed his success to his Mom. He said I was his best friend, and that I gave him the best advice ever when I said to play to have fun; that when he followed my advice he did well, but when he played just trying to do well, he didn't have fun, and he didn't do as well, either.

That game was a long one. He wasn't supposed to be pitching, but our starter got in big trouble quickly. They brought Tighe in with the bases loaded and already down several runs. He'd be able to tell you how many, but I don't remember. He pitched the rest of the game, even though it went into extra innings. I sat there holding that newspaper for the entire game. I kept rereading the wonderful things they had said about him, and the wonderful things he had said about me. (Actually, I still have that clipping.)

When he finally threw the last pitch, and our team got the victory, I was ready to talk to him, but I had to wait. First there were the reporters flooding the field. Then there was a line of little kids with their baseballs waiting for signatures from these young World Series game winners. Then they had to get their things out of the dugout. Tighe was always the last duck out of the pond, anyway. Finally he came up the steps. He stopped and looked at me. He looked at the newspaper, clutched in my hand. He came up and put his arms around me. He whispered in my ear.

"Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

American Legion Baseball in Las Vegas

The whole family drove to Las Vegas to watch Tighe's American Legion team compete for the regional championships, and the right to attend the World Series. We got a room at Circus Circus, at special rates that were arranged through the team. Jeremy asked a very smart question for a fourteen year old while we were there. He wanted to know why he wasn't allowed to gamble his money on a slot machine, where he might have a chance of increasing his five dollars, but he was allowed to throw it away on the video games, where he had no chance of increasing his money. I never did have a good answer for him.

When we got to the game the first morning, someone came to the bleachers and told us that the temperature of the grass on the field at game time was 124°. That was at about 9:00 a.m., if I remember correctly. That was just the first game. By the time we won the series and went home, we were all sunburned and exhausted from the heat, but thoroughly overjoyed. Not only had Tighe's team won, but he had pitched beautifully. We also got to see my favorite ever professional baseball player, Mickey Hatcher.

Hatcher was sitting on a chair at field level watching the game. He was coaching a semi-pro team at that time. They would take the field for a game after we were done, and he was waiting for our game to conclude. When Tighe popped out of the dugout to point him out to me, I'm afraid I got so excited I might have embarrassed him. I yelled, "Hey, Mickey!" and waved. I think people were guessing I'd had heat stroke and thought I was at Disneyland talking to Mickey Mouse or something. Good grief, I never talk to celebrities. I guess my brain was fried.

I always felt that Hatcher embodied my convictions about sports being a balance between fun and effort. The more effort you make, the more fun you have and the better you do. If it becomes a chore, you don't do well. If you're having fun, you will be doing your best. And in Mickey's own words, "I didn't like to fail. I always believed that I was very competitive. You have to have that fighting mentality. . . . Even though I enjoyed it and had fun, I knew when the serious parts were.'' That sounds so much like what I was telling my kids. Mickey always played hard, and as a utility player, you never knew where on the field you would see him. He might be thrown in to pitch an inning, or he might be out in left field. He never said, "That's not my job." He was just glad to be playing.

So we packed up our car and headed home from Las Vegas after the final game, knowing that the World Series was too far away for us to drive to. It would be in Fargo, North Dakota, and buying plane tickets for the family would be out of the question. It seemed that the team would have to go without us. I was registered with a temp Service and looking for full time work, so hopefully money would start rolling in soon, but once it did, the time to do things like follow a team would no longer be there. That's the ultimate quandary. When we've had money to go places, we haven't had the time. We drove home, smelling of burn spray and baseball dust.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Camping With Jeremy

With no close second, the best camping trip I ever had was just Jeremy and me. We drove together to a young redwood forest in Northern California near Yountville. The year was 1992, and Jeremy was was not quite fifteen. We were there to see Tighe's American Legion baseball team compete in the State Championship games. I love baseball, and definitely remember the games, but some of the sweetest memories were of camping out with Jeremy. I couldn't have been treated better if I had been royalty.

Jeremy didn't have his learner's permit yet, so the 450 mile trip (each way) was driven entirely by me. If you know Jeremy, then you are well aware that as soon as the car starts up, if he's not behind the wheel, he's asleep. It tends to make for a long trip, if it's a long trip. He turned from slumbering companion to Super Son as soon as we pulled into the camp site, though. He pulled open the back of our little car, a Mercury Topaz, and pulled out four things: a chair, a bottle of wine, my guitar and a book. He set them up next to the campfire area, and told me that my entire job for the rest of our stay was to enjoy myself. I was to read, make music, and get us back and forth to the games. He'd take care of everything else—and he did.

He set up camp, got the fire going in the fire pit, and proceeded to make us the first of many wonderful meals. He cooked, he served, he cleaned up. We laughed and talked, and had a grand time together. Some of the things I'll never forget include the lady ranger that I (perhaps indiscreetly) described as having "Cojones." She was on some kind of power trip. I'm not sure what her problem was, but she just had a mean streak. Jeremy later got in a wee bit of trouble for using that expression in his Spanish class. When asked by the teacher where he had learned the term, he nicely told her, "From my mother." Thanks, kid.

Another indelible memory would have to be using the showers. One of the reasons we chose this campground was because there were showers. Most of the people attending the baseball tournament were staying at hotels. We didn't want to spend a week around hotel people as we got more and more campground rank. We just didn't realize that the showers only had cold water until we got in there. Jeremy went first and nearly froze, but he was nice enough to let me be surprised. I was.

I wonder if Jeremy remembers getting his first driving lesson at that campground, or that we ended up having to hide from that lady ranger afterwards. I think she wanted to see his permit.

And the baseball games? It would be worth mentioning that Tighe's team won the State Championship. Actually they did even better than that, but that's another day's blog. I'm still busy remembering camping with Jeremy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Candlelight at Disneyland

I'll admit I was devastated when Benjamin dropped out of baseball to take on a second choir class at school. This was my last four years to have a son in the high school. I had followed Tighe's four years of baseball, then Jeremy's four years. Now it seemed like Ben would only have two years of baseball. Choir was something we already did with him, and I knew I'd really miss the baseball. It was his choice, though, so I think I was fairly good natured about my disappointment.

I can't imagine there are all that many choir directors who are as incredible as Mr. Bonn, their fearless leader. He ran a tight ship, and really taught music. Their concerts were astounding, and I was proud to be one of the mothers attending. Ben's tenor voice blended well with the others, and having him in both the main chorus, plus the advanced choir, gave me twice the opportunity to burst my maternal buttons. Ben was never the vocal star, but being so tall, he was a standout on the risers at all times. His sunny smile and proud stance always made me feel good. I've rarely seen such a tall man with such great posture.

Living only a couple of hours from Disneyland, they would send in competition tapes to join the annual Candlelight Service at the Magic Kingdom. Anyone who gets the chance to attend this awesome service can have my whole hearted recommendation right now. Being so well trained, it was fairly customary for their choir to be chosen to attend. As a family, we'd pack up and watch, listening and trying to pick out our group from the thousands of singers holding candles and singing the sweet Christmas carols we all loved. Then one year, they changed to an indoor venue, and we didn't realize that we'd have to run like mad to a location where we could get tickets. We were there, but unable to get tickets. I was beyond depressed. It's the only time I've been to Disneyland and not felt the magic.

The following year, as they prepared to go again, I was unable to get a ride. John was on a business trip. Tighe and Jeremy had moved out and were both busy. Cataracts prevented me from driving after dark at all, and limited my driving in unfamiliar territory. I was almost prepared to drive there alone anyway, but Ben convinced me that I shouldn't. He said he'd try to find me a ride. It seemed that he had, but it fell through when other friends or family members had come to claim all the seats in the car. I found myself sitting home alone. My son's last Candlelight would come and go without me. Life could be a bummer.

The day crawled by. Evening began, and I sat alone, thinking, "Now they'll be marching in. Now they'll be reading of the journey to Bethlehem. Now they'll be singing." In my mind, I tried to be there, not to feel sorry for myself. It wasn't working. I didn't turn on the television or pick up a book. For hours I just sat there.

Then the phone rang. "Hello?" I could hear singing. I listened carefully. Nobody was saying anything, but I could really hear singing! After the song ended, I heard Ben's voice. "Mom, are you there? I can't put the phone to my ear, but we want you with us. I'm going to pass you around now." And then, from the receiver of the phone, I heard the parade of voices saying things like:

Hi, Mom!
Hi, Ben's Mom!
Hi, Mrs. H!
Hey, Mama! We're marching out now!
Listen up, here comes the next song!

For about fifteen minutes they kept me on the phone. As they exited through the cast doors, Ben was finally able to put the phone to his ear and make sure I was really there. He hadn't been able to tell for sure. Of course I was crying. He had made my night, giving me a memory for all time, and letting me know that I was important to him. Parents sometimes feel insecure about that. OK, so I still feel insecure about that at times, but that night I knew I lived in his heart, just as surely as he lived in mine. Thanks again, Benjamin.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Grandpa's Camp

We call our home in the foothills Grandpa's Camp, in memory of the spot that lives so beautifully in the mind of my inner child. I hope our grandchildren come to love visiting here like we all loved visiting there. My grandpa's camp was in the woods in Northern Michigan, not terribly far from where I was born. Grandma had a home in town, where she and Grandpa raised their fourteen children. (Hey, it was cold there in the winter!) For some reason we always called it Grandma's House, and Grandpa's Camp. Just outside of town on the edge of a gemlike lake, was the camp. It was our favorite spot in the world.

There were trees and hammocks. There were birds, blueberries growing thick and wild, a dock for lazing on or jumping off, and a rowboat. There was even a change house over the boat house next to the dock. Of course, we and our cousins didn't call it a change house. We called it our club house. Since there were fourteen kids, and most of them had produced cousins for us, we always had fun when we went to Grandpa's camp. The clubhouse was sacred. Each year, if you were old enough, you were sworn into the the group that was granted clubhouse privileges. That meant that you were given the secret password and told how to make it work.

That's right. You not only had to know the password. It wasn't as easy as presenting yourself at the door and reciting the password. You would simply be ignored. There was more to it than that. There was a small hole in the door, just large enough to stick a finger through. Inside, there was a hook and eye that allowed us to keep the uninitiated out of the fun. Benches surrounded the small space, and we'd play cards, tell ghost stories, eat blueberries and have normal innocent kid fun, typical of the fifties and sixties. If someone came up to the door, we'd all get quiet and watch the hole in the door. Unless the proper ritual was performed, we remained quiet.

I'm now at liberty to publicly admit the entire ritual. You had to come to the door and stick your finger all the way into the hole. Then you had to say, in a loud and clear voice, "Stick your finger in the hole, and when you stick your finger in the hole, say stick your finger in the hole." When confronted by one of our mothers and a tearful younger cousin, one of us had admitted the ritual at one time. When asked why we had to both say and do that, he said that we were pretty sure we'd either recognize the finger or the voice.

One other thing about camp that we always like to talk about when the family starts remembering this particular part of our past. There didn't happen to be any indoor plumbing. Grandpa had a wonderful two-seater outhouse just down the path in the forest. It wasn't really that far away, but we all knew that there were bears in the woods. It wasn't a problem as long as you let them know you were coming. You had to either sing or talk out loud. Some of us would carry a kazoo. My younger brother Kenny hated to go to the outhouse. Usually he would get someone to walk him out there, but sometimes nobody was willing. One night we all said no, as we were playing a game. Then we felt guilty and started to follow him. We heard him creeping along, singing, to the tune of "Yes, Jesus Loves Me."

Yes, there's no bears,
Yes, there's no bears,
Yes, there's no bears,
In Grandpa's Toy-o-let.

About fifty-five years later, we still haven't let him forget that song. He never knows when one of us will start singing it around him. Still, he hasn't been eaten by a bear yet.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sunrise from the Cruise Ship

Always a night owl, as the boys got older and I began to work full time, I was lucky to have a job where management believed in flex time. I could start my hours very early and be home around the time the boys returned from school. This gave me the advantage of still being the kind of mother I needed to be. I always felt that the only part of motherhood that was optional was the fun stuff. It was also the only part I was sure they'd remember. I didn't think that in years to come they'd stand as adults in front of their bathroom mirrors saying, "Wow. I remember when my mom taught me to brush my teeth, and here I am doing it all these years later." They'd remember that I was at their baseball and basketball games, though, or that I brought my guitar or accordion to their classrooms for music. Besides, the fun stuff was more fun.

Working full time gave me a new group of friends, though, and it taught me the joy of being up early in the morning, something I had never in my entire life learned to do. I'd be on the road by five, but I'd be home by about three o'clock. Getting up early is a habit that persists to this day. I'll never regret it, even when I'm still awake and reading at midnight. I'll admit that I now add in an afternoon nap when I want to.

Not too many months after I had started working, about twenty of the women at the company put together a trip to the Mexican Riviera aboard one of the cruise ships traveling out of San Diego. It was really affordable, and with my family's blessing I signed up to go along. The cabins were tiny,
deep below the water line, with little bunks; never having been on a cruise ship before, I didn't realize that there were better rooms available. This is why our passage was so reasonable, I now know, but the trip couldn't have been more wonderful for me. The food was great, and the women all got along extremely well. (Shocked about that, are you?)

By now, however, my body clock refused to let me sleep in. Even though we had been up on deck laughing and watching the ship's lights on the water until quite late, by four thirty in the morning, I was wide awake. Rather than squirm around and run the risk of disturbing my roommate, I quietly slipped from my bunk and dressed. Grabbing my key, I snuck from the room.

For some reason, I was amazed that although the hall lights were ablaze, nobody else was around. It took me quite awhile to find a cup of coffee, but once I did, I made my way to a deck rail. We had docked at Santa Catalina Island at some point during the night, and there was silence around me as dawn began to gray the sky. I sipped my coffee and watched the silhouettes of fishing boats and yachts become more visible. The air was crisp and clear, just barely on the cool side, and the light breeze off the ocean felt wonderfully refreshing. I remember that there was only one other person, a crew member, in sight. He was on a lower deck, and was doing something with the anchor.

I'm not great with distances, but I'd estimate about 75 yards away, close enough for me to see clearly in the pre-dawn light, there was a really big yacht. From out of the hatch came a man carrying what appeared to be a bag. It was a bag, but not just any bag. He carried his bag to the bow of his craft, facing the rising sun, and stood there waiting. He was facing the sunrise. I was facing him and Avalon Bay beyond, where the sun's first rays, I had heard, would turn the buildings pink. That was what I had come to see. I never saw it.

My eyes were filled with tears. As the first rays of the sun crested the ocean, the gentleman on the yacht lifted his bagpipe and began to play Amazing Grace. The world stood still. The ship slept. The night owl cried in the sunrise. I had been blessed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Tupperware Party

When our youngest son started Kindergarten, I went to work part time as a church secretary. It was important that I get to know the ladies there, since there were monthly jobs that needed the cooperation of many hands, and the more people who knew and liked me, the quicker those jobs would go. One of those jobs was folding, stapling and sorting the monthly newsletter, and that was either a four day or a four hour project, depending on whether or not I had to do it alone.

One of the first things I was asked to do in order to get to know the ladies was to attend a Tupperware party. I was working for the money so I could have things like food and clothing for the family, with maybe some extra books and music thrown in, not plastic containers, so I had no real desire to go, but as it would assist me in getting to know these ladies, that's what I did. They got to know me a little better than I had planned. Luckily most of them were very nice ladies.

We had punch and cookies, then sat for the dramatic demonstration of all those things we absolutely had to have. I kept thinking of my big kitchen with nearly no cupboards. No woman had ever designed that disaster of a kitchen. It was so poorly planned I couldn't believe it. The only thing it lacked more than cupboards was counter space. There was plenty of floor, but little else.

The first problem I caused at the party came when, for some reason (maybe because everyone seemed to be trying to get to know me) the demonstration lady turned to me and asked what I did with leftovers. I simply burst out laughing. "Leftovers! My husband is six foot seven and I have three sons, ages five, nine, and thirteen. I don't even know what a leftover is. No matter how much I cook, they eat it." The woman just stood there with her mouth open, literally, while everyone laughed. She never spoke to or looked at me for the rest of the evening. I wasn't sure she'd even give me a catalog at the end, although she did (not that I ordered anything).

The second problem came when we were all sitting around with our little plates balanced on our knees, trying not to spill anything. The catalog orders were being taken at the kitchen table, and I had nothing to buy, so people kept coming by to talk to the new secretary. That was nice. They were gently ribbing me about my leftovers comment, but it was all in god fun. I had been honest, and they somehow thought that was charming. I almost pictured getting out of there without having another major foot in mouth moment.

Then there was a knock on the door and another lady joined the mix. She was way beyond late, but had brought her brand new baby along. He was about two weeks old, and this was the first time many of the ladies had gotten to see him. The mom hadn't wanted to see the demonstration, but she had wanted a chance to support the hostess and make an order. While she grabbed a catalog, the ladies took turns passing her little son around, while he slept soundly in one pair of arms after another. A sweet great-grandmother named Polly sat right next to me. When she got the little boy she turned to me, and was the center of attention as she said, "It means you're getting old when you see a baby and want to hold it, and hug it, and love on it, and you no longer want to take it home!"

Without even thinking, I responded, and unfortunately all the ladies heard me. "What does it mean when you feel that way about men?"

It's a good thing these were such great ladies. I made good friends that night. I accidentally let them see the real me. I forgot to wear that polite public mask, and it separated the real friends from the judgmental women I needed to be careful around. It was like culling the herd in fast forward. I think every new girl in town should be given a Tupperware party.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A Week With My Sister

Today we'll drive Ellen back to the airport and let her get on a plane and leave. It shouldn't be this hard. I wish we could keep her longer. What a wonderful week this has been, but you'll never make me believe it's already been five days since Monday.

Where did the time go? We ate. Oh, did we eat! And John, bless his heart, kept the dishes moving into the dishwasher, and all we had to do was keep it emptied for him. Here's an overview of our week.

The morning of Ellen's flight here, John and I ran into town for groceries and went to Papa John's for a pizza to bake that night. We got a pepperoni pizza with garlic sauce instead of marinara. That night, after picking Ellen up and reminiscing all the way home, we turned on the oven and proceeded to add ground beef, green olives, garlic, blue cheese, and pineapple to our pizza, then threw it in the oven. We ate in front of the TV while watching Dancing With the Stars. It was the final night of competition, and we knew who we wanted to win.

Tuesday morning was beautiful, and since there were thunderstorms predicted for later in the week, we decided to take a road trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming, about an hour North. We had blackberry pancakes for breakfast, and took off. The day was wonderful, with weather in the mid-80's. Ellen treated us to lunch in the old railroad depot and a trolley tour of Cheyenne. She didn't have to do that, but we all enjoyed it. It's a great tour, about two hours long, and the trolley driver really knew all the best history of the area. On our way home we stopped near the Wyoming border so I could replenish my stock of legal sparklers for our campfire nights. For dinner I made stuffed won ton and egg rolls, with fried rice.

After dinner we settled in front of the TV to watch the final competition of American Idol. We were conflicted about who we wanted to win until the judges pretty much said the younger guy was going to win. Then, for the first time all season, I grabbed the phone and voted — for the older singer. When that was finished, we switched over to watch the results show from Dancing with the Stars, and were thrilled when our favorite won. It was a good night, full of shared fun, and laughter, but we were both pretty tired and headed for bed when the show ended.

On Wednesday the weather was cloudy, but not rainy as originally predicted, so we thought it might be nice to take Ellen to see the Leanin' Tree and Celestial Seasonings museums in Boulder. That's just less than an hour away in the other direction from Cheyenne. I made my "American Dairy Tacos" for breakfast and we again headed out. We had a great time, but around one o'clock we started feeling hunger pangs. What to do? Well, I thought it might be nice to do things a little differently. How about heading to Culvert's for some real Frozen Custard, and then pick up our dinners "to go" from The Cracker Barrel. That way, we can eat whenever we want tonight without cooking. That's what we did, and it was a great plan. So many times I want to have dessert, but after a meal there's just no room. This way, although we didn't exactly get lunch, we did get dessert without ruining our dinner. Also, since we can't pick up dinner before four o'clock, we had time to stop at a book store before going to get our meals. Works for me.

We watched American Idol's results show that night, and were thrilled to find out that the older contestant had won. I'll forever believe that many people were disgusted with the judges for calling the race before the election, and had picked up their phones to call in the upset victory. We almost didn't get to see the very end, though because Idol's too big for their britches. They tend to run over, and we have that DVR recorder thing. So I don't watch commercials, and it looked like it was going to end before telling us who it was.

Thursday's excitement was almost more than we wanted, although we didn't realize it at the time. We started our day with homemade Raspberry/Blueberry Muffins and Bacon. Then Ellen and I settled in to watch a cooking show on TV while John napped. I looked out the windows and said to Ellen that we were going to have what I call an "event."

"Hurry!" It had been foggy all day, but I could hear from the sounds of the rain outside, and the low rumbling of thunder, that the storm was approaching. We rushed down the stairs and each grabbed a blanket. Going outside, we sat in chairs under the upper deck while the hail came down in front of us. We laughed and watched it bounce around as thunder rumbled. It was magnificent. We both like weather, as long as it isn't just the boring heat. John came looking for us, opened the door and pronounced us both nuts, then went back inside.

Later we found out that about 25 miles away in Windsor, where our insurance agent has her office, a tornado had touched down, doing massive damage. This wasn't your usual Colorado thin twister that just looks interesting in the sky above the flat lands. This was a mile wide and there was one death and millions in destruction. We made the national news and we later had phone calls from people I haven't heard from in a couple of years. We were safe, we kept repeating. Tornadoes don't set down in the foothills. They like the flat lands.

We watched the news, fielded calls, and put a tri-tip roast, carrots and potatoes into the oven, and after dinner we settled in to watch the season premier of So You Think You Can Dance. Actually, neither Ellen nor I think we can dance, but we had fun watching those who actually could, and those who simply thought they could.

So now, on this day of her departure, I am left with two questions. Why does she have to leave so soon, and when are you coming?

Thursday, May 22, 2008


The birthdays I helped my boys celebrate pretty much blend together in my mind. They were all loud and fun, although they weren't all the same. A few stand out in my mind, but none more than Ben's 5th birthday.

Benjamin had been watching his brothers take off for school all his life. He was ready to join them. He always wanted to know when he could go to school, and like any mother with no brain, I had told him that he could go when he was five. I certainly never meant that he could go the very minute he turned five. Honestly, I didn't.

So into the kitchen chaos he comes on this birthday morning, where I'm packing lunches and putting breakfast in front of half sleeping brothers. Ben's face is scrubbed. His clothes are Sunday best. The front and sides of his hair are combed to perfection. The back is still a rat's nest. If he can't see it, it doesn't count. "Wow," I said, "You got all dressed up for your birthday!" That's when he informed me that he was ready for school.

He didn't take the news too well that he'd have to wait until the next class year started, which would be another five months away. He wasn't too sure what a month was, but it did not sound good. Of course his brothers thought he was incredible nuts, wanting to go to school, but this is one person who even at five knew his own mind. Have you ever wanted something desperately and then when you finally attained it, found it wasn't to your taste at all? Not Ben. He thrived at school.

That first day, when the other kids at the kindergarten door were hanging onto their mommies, Ben was surprised to see me still standing there after a few minutes, and calmly walked back from exploring the bookshelf and said, "Go home now. This is my school." He was polite but firm. Seeing the panic in the faces of the other moms, trying to detach little bodies from their legs so they could sneak from the room, I decided to let myself feel smug rather than rejected.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Lost in the Woods

While I'm remembering the trip Ellen and I took to Northern Michigan, I have to laugh about the differences between us. It's one of the great joys in my life, as well as a wonder, that we got to be such great friends. I often thought we'd end up killing each other before our teen years ended, but sibling rivalry can end, and maturity is possible before senility.

Mentally I've traveled back to that rental car we drove through the woods. Our reason for being in the area was a big family reunion. We had left our own families behind, and flown into the Twin Cities and rented a car, figuring we'd see a lot more and have more fun if we did some driving together. This was the scene of many childhood memories and we would capture all we could. We got lost.

We were looking for Kitchy-Ti-Kippy, a clear bottom lake we'd loved as children. We missed a turn, and if we could have turned around, we would have been fine but the road we tried to turn around on was too narrow. It appeared to loop around back to the main road, so we decided to follow it. It got more and more narrow as it wound around, with the trees closing in on the car until branches nearly scratched the paint.

Ellen, as driver, was hunched over the steering wheel, trying to make us smaller. She wasn't happy, but I won't go into details on that. Meanwhile, I was riding shotgun with my trusty Canon on my lap, window down and leaning out the window trying to take as many photos as I could while she crept along. Suddenly we came to a big enough clearing for me to ask her to let me get out for a minute for some better photos. There have been other times in my life when people have looked at me as though I had lost my mind. I tend to ignore those looks.

As I stepped from the car, I heard two distinct sounds. The power locks engaged and my power window quickly rolled up. That got my attention, and so I stayed in front of the car — not that I really thought she'd just leave me there. After I took my photos, I went back to the car and stood there. She looked around carefully, then unlocked my door. What was going on? "Obviously, if you're stupid enough to get eaten by a bear, I'm not going to join in!"

Did she think the locked doors would have stopped a bear? Well, I'll admit that any bear, having eaten me, would probably no longer have had much of an appetite.

We did eventually find that lake, and took photos, which proved to our mom that it was there. She had sworn we made it up. She had no memory of it. And we all survived our trip — even the rental car.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Driving Through the Woods for Pizza

Picking up my sister at the Denver airport, we started talking, and memories began to flow. Remember when we went to Michigan together, and ended up driving through the woods for pizza?

Oh, do I! Northern Michigan's roads through the woods are beautiful. At night they are very dark. There are two kinds of signs. One says, "Do not pass on hills or curves." Since there are really no places without hills or curves, one wonders why the signs don't just say, "Don't ever pass." The other signs, about every four miles, say "Deer crossing, next five miles." It would probably make more sense to have periodic signs saying, "This is the U.P. Deer are going to jump out at you. Deal with it." That probably wouldn't fit on the signs, though.

Cousin Susie promised us the best pizza in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and so she and our other cousin Suze were barreling down the highway through the dark. The road was two lanes, with signs flying past, and trees in wild profusion growing right up to the edge of the road with not much margin for error. I kept looking at Ellen, and her eyes were getting bigger and bigger, while her head kept sinking lower.

In case you've never been to the U.P., remember the accents from the movie Fargo. That would be close. Finally, I yelled up to Susie, trying to slow her down a bit. We wanted to live long enough to attend the family reunion two days later. "Hey, Susie, those deer signs are pretty funny. They come about every four miles, saying deer crossing next five miles. Are there many accidents?"

"Ya, you betcha," she said. I'll paraphrase the rest the best I can remember. "And they don't read those signs. They just jump out of them trees. I got hit by two at once about four months ago, and I was standing in front of the car, kicking at the stupid things, trying to move of them out of my way so I could get going when the cruiser comes up and wants to give me a ticket for killing them. I told him I didn't go into the woods with a gun. They tried to kill me, and he could just either shut up or help me get them out of the road so I could get going. I was pretty mad. They messed up my car, I can tell you."

"That must have been really scary," I said. "Not really," she said thoughtfully. "Scary was up around that next curve up here, when that big bear came out and I hit him. The car wouldn't drive, and he wasn't dead. That was pretty scary."

Luckily we made it to the pizza place without incident. It was in a tiny old railroad sidecar. After mounting the steps, we entered the place to find little tables for four with a miniscule aisle that the waitress had to move down nearly sideways with her pizza trays. She came to us then, smiling, and said, "Hey! Four? Smoking or non smoking?" Being in the lead at that point, I looked at the small place. There were about five tables on each side of the aisle. "What's the difference?" I asked. The waitress just smiled at me. It seems that smoking was on the right of the tiny aisle, and non-smoking was on the left.

The pizza was great. The memory was even better.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Principal's Office

I was only called into the Principal's Office because of one of my sons once. It was pretty funny. I understand that's not usually the case, but this time it was. The principal and I were both laughing.

I got a call at home from the secretary at the elementary school. She asked me if I would please come in to speak with the principal about my eldest son. I asked if he was in trouble, and was told that he was, but not to worry. Just come in a few minutes early and speak to the principal before picking up my son. So in I went.

When I got there, I was surprised to find the gentleman laughing. He handed me a note in my son's careful printing. On double-lined paper, it said, "I send a bad word." Then there were a couple of spaces, and underneath, it said "Signed." Below that, "Mama" and "Dady" were penciled in with the same careful printing.

It seems he had been told to write the note, then take it home to have it signed by his parents. That's the way he brought it back to school, so his teacher had sent it on to the principal to handle. He figured I'd want to keep it as a souvenir, and he also wanted us to know that our son had used a four letter word for animal matter on the playground. Then he called the classroom and had them send in the boy. When the kid arrived and saw the two of us and the note, he was mortified. He was also really confused. How did they know his parents hadn't signed that note? He had a hard time understanding that.

This is the same kid who went to a Cub Scout meeting with two of his older cousins. When he wandered off by himself the Cub Scout Leader asked him who his mother was. "Mama," he said. "But what's her name?" he wanted to know. "Mama," he answered. "Well, what does your Daddy call her?" he then asked him. "Oh, well, he calls her Ma'am." About that time my sister came up and rescued the poor man. A child's mind is difficult to fathom.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mangled Words

My father often wanted to know if I left my brain in my school desk. "How can anybody get straight A's and be so dumb?" I don't know how many times I heard that question, and I never had a good answer for him. I never even had a bad answer for him. I'm not sure he really expected an answer, though. Sometimes he was really funny. Sometimes he just thought he was.

There was one area where he was right on the money, though. My vocabulary often outpaced my need for it, and I sometimes used words that had no relationship to what I thought I was saying. I'd like to give a few examples.

Dad and I were watching a basketball game together. I was probably in second grade or thereabouts. Mom came in and asked Dad to run to the grocery store for her. (Mom didn't drive until she was 37.) Dad told me to watch the game carefully and tell him what he missed when he got back. (Never expect a little kid to actually follow a basketball game.)

He got back and wanted to know what was going on, and I told him that nothing had happened. "Everybody is crawling on the floor." He looked, and sure enough, everyone was crawling on the floor. The announcers were laughing, but not explaining what had happened. My dad looked at me. "Somebody in black bumped into somebody in white, and his contract eyeball fell out. Now they're all crawling around trying to find it." The next thing I knew, my dad was in the kitchen laughing with my mom, and I heard him ask, yet again, does she leave her brain in her desk at school? Later I found out that the correct term would have been contact lens.

Another example would have been one evening meal where we were asked what we did at school. I was really excited when it was my turn. I loved my current teacher, because she read to us, and I loved books. I'm sure my eyes must have been sparkling when I announced that our teacher was reading to us from "The Idiot" and "The Oddity" written by someone named Homer. Dad actually snorted. Every single time he repeated that story to someone, he'd ask if they thought I left my brain in my school desk. "Do you believe this girl gets perfect marks on her report cards? Unbelievable!" I eventually read The Iliad and The Odyssey, and loved them as much as when that early teacher had first introduced them to me. So what if I messed up the names? If I had said it right, it wouldn't have become one of those memorable family moments.

The only time I ever remember that I stupefied Dad to the point where he didn't even insult me, though, was when I asked him how come Davy Crocket had died twice.


"Well, he was killed at The Alamo, right? But first, according to the song, he was killed in a bar when he was only three."

My dad turned gray really early.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

School Rewards

In our house school rewards weren't given just for receiving straight A's. They were given when you also had perfect attendance. The reason behind this was one really nasty teacher I had in my Junior year of high school.

My journalism teacher, Donald Holmes, had suddenly died of cancer, shocking everyone. I was the editor in chief of the high school newspaper at that time, and he had taught me more about writing than anyone before or since. I'd also had him for English classes for two years, and he was co-sponsor of the Literary Club. He was also a great friend to me when my father had died earlier that school year, and the loss of this teacher was a great blow to me.

His replacement, probably knowing his inadequacy, resented everyone who had been close to Mr. Holmes. No matter how hard we worked, it was never good enough for him. I got a B that semester — the only one to spoil my high school average.

So in my family, you might come one grade short of straight A's and still get a reward, but if your attendance wasn't perfect, then I couldn't tell if you had done your best. You really can't do your best if you're not there every day.

The special rewards in our house were simple. You got to go somewhere, one on one, with Mom. Ben and I ended up driving to San Francisco together, a longer trip than usual, and staying in a very inexpensive but nice little hotel in China Town. Everything was squeaky clean, and we were there for the weekend. We were the only English speaking people in the whole place, but we really didn't care. We had a ball.

Ben is very tall. Even then, in high school, he was probably three or four inches beyond six feet. Chinese people tend to be short. As we walked around the area, we kept laughing about all the tourists with cameras who seemed to come in large flocks. They would often stop and assemble into formal poses, taking group photos around different landmarks. Every chance he would get, Ben would stride up to the back of an arranged group, stop and strike a pose, smiling for all he was worth, to be forever part of a foreign traveler's photograph. I laughed until my face hurt. We'd joke that people would look at the photos at home and accuse each other of whose boyfriend or illegitimate son he was.

Somewhere in China, even today, I imagine some Grandmother showing off her travel photos. "No, I don't who he is!" Probably twenty or more people had to go home and try to explain the tall young blond gentleman in their group to their families. Actually, I've sometimes had a hard time explaining him to my own.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My 45th Birthday

Let's set the stage for my 45th birthday. Tighe was a Freshman in college. Jeremy was in 9th grade, and Benjamin was in 5th grade. I came home from work to find all three boys in the kitchen together, fixing dinner. (Yes, all three are really good cooks, although Jeremy, as a chef, is magnificent in the kitchen.)

As I walked in, the first thing I noticed was a huge bouquet of flowers on the kitchen counter. They had signed their Dad's name to it, and he could have gotten credit for it, too, if he hadn't later come in and asked who had sent me the flowers. These are great kids. I had suspected the flowers were from them anyway.

The boys stopped cooking long enough to pass me around for hugs. They were all taller than I was, even then. Tighe got me last, and after a big hug he held me at arm's length.

"Happy birthday, Mom. How old are you today, anyway?"

"45," I said. I never have lied about my age. It seems I've just been comfortable to be whatever I am, and each year seems to get better anyway. I wouldn't go back to being a teenager for any amount of money, beauty, or anything else. Not a chance.

"Well, here's to the next 45!" Tighe said. Then he seemed to think about it. "That would make you 90!" he said, somehow horrified at the thought. "Would you even want to be 90?"

I didn't even have to think about that one. "I don't care how old I get, as long as I go at the same time as my brain."

Tighe pulled me back into his arms for a particularly tender hug. Over my shoulder he said to his brothers in a stage whisper, "Prepare yourselves, boys, she's fixing to leave us."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Child's Growing Vocabulary

Ben was very young. He was still at the Elementary school, and Tighe, eight years older, had a basketball game in Oxnard at an outdoor court. It was a pre-season game, if I remember correctly, and the team was going by bus. I picked Ben up at school, and he and I were rushing to get there before the game started.

I ran into the house and got a baggy I had been filling with colorful holes made from our hole puncher. They would make great confetti to throw if our team was doing great and the game got exciting. I thought it would be fun for Ben, and not a problem, since it was an outside game. I hurried back to the van, and off we went. He, of course, wanted to know what was in the bag (Confetti), where it came from (the hole punch machine) and what it was used for (throwing if our team does something good or the other team does something bad and we want to celebrate). He was happy with this explanation, and we continued on the road.

As we hit the bottom of the grade into Oxnard, we were assailed by the sudden pungent odor of freshly fertilized fields. Benjamin held his nose, and demanded to know what that stinky smell was. I told him it was "manure." He wanted to know where that came from also, and what it was for. I explained that word, as well. He was pretty shocked. He couldn't imagine that animal by-products or chemicals would be put on plants to make them grow better. I explained that it was for this reason that we were so careful to wash fruits and vegetables before we ate them. He seemed satisfied by my answers.

Now Benjamin at that time had never seen a stranger he didn't like. He'd talk to anyone. I sometimes wondered if I'd go into a restroom some day and find his name on a wall, not in a lewd sense, but just in the "Call Ben for a fun time" sort of thing. That's always scary for a Mom. I kept a close eye out because of that. As we got to the field the only other person sitting in the visitor bleachers was an older gentleman who appeared to be somebody's grandfather. After about five minutes of sitting with his mother, Ben started scooting slowly closer to the older gentleman and speaking with him. Pretty soon he was sitting next to him instead of me.

Then there was a lull in the conversation. I knew Ben would find something to fill it, but I would never have guessed what would come out. "Guess what my Mama has in her purse?" he asked. The older man smiled at me and shook his head in confusion. "I don't know, what?" he asked. "Manure to throw at the other team!" Ben proudly announced.

At that point, with the man looking at me in horror, I whipped out my bag of confetti and told the man that Ben had learned two new vocabulary words on the way to the basketball court that day. "One was manure. Can you guess what the other word was?" He looked at me and said, "I sure hope it was confetti."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Did He Really Believe That?

Elementary school kids can be a lot of fun. One on one time is special, and when you have three kids, it's often hard to come by. One night Jeremy and I were able to sit together and watch a movie on our VCR player. It was Driving Miss Daisy. Since that was released in 1989, Jeremy would have to have been at least twelve by the time we rented it. I knew there was a book out, but had never read it or heard anything about it or the movie. I knew the rating was PG, and it had won a bunch of Oscars. Because of that, it had been released fairly quickly.

I didn't know it was about the Civil Rights movement era. Having done a turn in the deep South during the 50's, that's a really touchy subject for me. At any rate, at one point in the movie, Miss Daisy is being driven down town, and you can tell by the music that something is about to go wrong. I started getting really uncomfortable, and Jeremy stopped the movie with the remote control and asked me what was wrong with me. I very honestly told him that I was uncomfortable with what I thought we might be getting ready to see.

What was that, he wanted to know. "Well," I said, not wanting to ruin the picture for him, "I lived through three assassinations in my teen years, and maybe we're about to see one of them."

I'll never forget the look on his face. "I know! It was John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Abraham Lincoln!"

Thou shalt not kill.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Smile When You Say That

In my family, you only tease people you love. I've always known I was well loved. I was certainly well teased.

One of my favorite memories would have to be the night when the three boys and I were watching a Lakers game together on television. They used to laugh at me because I always watched TV with a book on my lap. Whenever the commercials came on, I'd open the book and tune out for the duration of the paid messages. I never cared what was being advertised. I always felt my reading time was precious, although I managed to find more than most people I ever knew.

Have you ever been reading a book, or involved in something, and realized that somebody has asked you a question? That's what happened that particular evening. What makes it memorable is that I tried to figure out what the question was instead of saying, "Huh?"

I mentally rewound the tape in my head and figured out what I thought I had been asked. Their three faces were all looking at me quite intently when I looked up at them. I thought I knew what I had been asked, and fairly quickly came up with an answer... an apparently inappropriate answer. I was rewarded with three very blank faces.

Finally, Tighe looked at his brothers and calmly asked, "If Mom gets Alzheimer's, how will we know?"

I never did find out what the question was. The game started back up, and the subject was never revisited, although I never forgot Tighe's teasing remark, or let him forget it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back to Church

We might as well revisit kids in church. After all, I was the mother trying to decide whether or not to leave the movie theatre when my son Tighe genuflected and made the sign of the cross before entering the row of seats to see Peter Pan. It's not that he'd never seen a movie. We just went to the drive in theatre, and this was the matinee. People laughed. I was so glad when the lights finally went down. We'd been to church a lot, but to the indoor theatre never.

So now we'll go back in time to when I had three youngsters. It was Easter Sunday, and we had been persuaded to spend the holiday in Grandma Harrell's one bedroom mobile home at Lake Isabella. Ben was two, Jeremy almost six, and Tighe almost nine and a half. Grandma Harrell wasn't used to the noise of children, and it's not possible to keep three boys quiet in so little space. It was blistering hot, and crowded. Ben was a very picky eater, and that set Grandma off as well, but we were closing in on the end of the visit. Stress was high. I had wanted to go to early Mass, but Grandma wanted to do an egg hunt first, so we ended up going to the noon services across the lake.

Bad idea. First off, the kids had had too much of their Easter baskets by then, so they were squirming in their seats. They also hadn't had lunch yet. Not a good time to go to church. But the biggest problem was that it was a high Mass. Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the idea of a high Mass, let me give you an idea. If you're familiar with scriptures, each Mass will have two readings from the Bible. One will come from the Old Testament, and one from the New Testament. A high Mass, however, goes well beyond that. Everyone stands, and the Priest reads a section of scripture, then everyone says Amen and you sit. A short prayer is said, and everyone stands up again, and the Priest reads the next section from the Scripture. During the Easter High Mass, The entire Passion of Christ is read. It takes a long time. After about the sixth reading, as everyone began to sit down, Benjamin yelled out, in a very loud voice, "AMEN!" with the clear intent that this be the last time the Priest should be requiring him to say it.

Grandma Harrell was mortified. She glared at him. She glared at me. She never entered a church with us again. However, there was a little grey-haired grandmother in front of us whose shoulders shook for the rest of the service. She would no sooner get herself under control than a prayer would end with Amen, and she would again start to laugh and her shoulders would start to shake again. I took that as comfort. John's mother didn't think it was funny, but that little Granny in front of us sure did. I have to admit it would have been funnier to me then if it had been somebody else's kid.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What Makes a Mother's Day Grand

  • A husband who grills for you, and cleans up after, even covering and putting away all of the leftovers;
  • Eating on the deck, and being joined by a favorite neighbor;
  • Speaking to your own Mom, and laughing about the times when you were little;
  • Talking to your kids, and laughing about the times when they were little;
  • Hearing your granddaughter mangle the word Grandma over the phone for the first time;
  • Believing that the song you did in church (When Mama Prayed) couldn't have gone much better, and that the congregation really seemed to like it; and
  • Reading, relaxing and working on a baby blanket for the new grandchild due in August.
Now, if we could have gathered all the family on the decks with us, exchanging phone calls for visits, grand would have turned into awesome. But grand was good enough for me, and I enjoyed my Mother's Day to the hilt.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


We've had a few of our first Spring thunderstorms this week, short but powerful, cracking and crashing through the heavens. I look forward to them every year, and stop what I'm doing to listen attentively until they pass away.

I was still a child when I realized that many people were afraid of the sound of thunder, and it amazed me. I had always thrilled to the sound of thunder, as did my brothers and my sister. From where did this fear of the very sound of thunder come? Loud noises, I guess, are strange, and reason enough to fear if unexplained. We never feared because we knew exactly what they were. My father was no scientist, but he did take the time to explain to us what those loud noises were, and he did it in terms simple enough for us to understand.

That's God, bowling with his angels. If you listen close enough, you can tell the gutter balls from the strikes. You can hear the long rolling of the ball down the lane, and the crashing into the pins. And often after the the strike, you can hear, if you listen well, the smaller thumping of angel feet as they jump up and down in celebration of a good score.

Now who could ever hear thunder, knowing exactly what it is, and be afraid of that?

Friday, May 9, 2008

Children in Church

Taking your children to church can be so exciting... You never really know what to expect. Many Catholic churches have a special place called "the crying room." Ah, the crying room. It's usually up in the front somewhere, separate from the congregation but glassed in, so you can see, but the children cannot be heard from the sanctuary.

It's a lovely thought, right? Sound comes into the crying room through speakers, and the crying children are all gathered together like an out-of-control children's choir. At least you're there, and nobody is having impure thoughts of murder while your children disrupt and you struggle to contain their exuberance and energy. With our sons coming nearly four years apart, it seemed like I had ever just graduated to the main body of the congregation, when I again had to be exiled to the crying room. There were two incidents that I want to memorialize here. Both were only funny in retrospect.

The first happened when Jeremy was tiny. Tighe had watched for months as the ushers would quietly come into the crying room with the collection basket for our offertory gifts. People would place their cash, checks, or envelopes in the basket, and then the usher would open the door and quietly leave again. Tighe liked the idea of having money so freely given. One day he figured if it was good enough for the ushers, he'd give it a try himself. When the ushers left the room, he picked up the little trash basket and followed them into the main congregation, and started going up and down the aisles, holding out the trash can and looking expectantly, waiting for money to be placed in his offering basket.

I didn't notice that he was gone right away, as I was dealing with Jeremy, but I could hear sudden laughter coming through the speakers and started looking around. Out through the glass I saw what was going on, and put Jeremy down, ready to go retrieve my wayward eldest, when the head usher beat me to it. He marched him back in the room and actually slammed the door shut as he left! He kept the trash can, too. He never smiled at me again. I was a failed mother. (His standards were very high.)

The second incident only disrupted the crying room, not the general congregation, but one man never came back to that service; at least, he never sat in the crying room again. I'm not sure why he sat in there, anyway. He never had any children with him. He was a big guy, and there's no really polite way to say this. He had a problem commonly known as plumber's crack. He would kneel down with his hips resting on the seat, leaning forward onto the front of the seat in front of him, and this wide crack would be displayed, disappearing into the drooping edge of his pants. We usually came in after he did, and I was careful to sit well forward of him. One Sunday, however, he was late. He rushed in and sank into the empty spot right in front of Jeremy. Just then the service began.

Jeremy wasn't even two yet, and inhibitions aren't strong at that age. We had almost made it to the end of the service. We were all kneeling down after Communion when Jeremy, with a loud "Wheee!" stuck his finger down the guy's crack. I had never before seen a man levitate. He was out of his seat, and out of that church faster than I would have believed possible.

Church lasted another fifteen minutes at the most, but I don't think there was a person in there who wasn't still laughing off and on when we left — except me. I do have more church stories, but we'll save them for another day, assuming the kids don't travel to Colorado to kill me first.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

In the Woods

I open my door, and I'm in the woods. The sheer wonder of it nearly bruises my heart with the memories of camping trips: my own childhood travels and trips with my growing family. I stand there and look over our trees, hear the birds sing, and inside I am singing along.

How does a person contain such joy? This is the reason I quit writing in my blog for so long. It seems that each day all I wanted to do was sit down and write, "Another day in paradise. How can I describe how lucky I feel?" And so I wrote nothing, but I felt much.

The Spring rains are light this year, coming in the evening and watering my growing iris plants. They should be blooming by the time Ellen arrives a week from Monday. There are over a hundred of them, gathered in merry bands beneath the pines, beside the lane, near the steps. Their colors will add a glory to the Spring, and an extra bounty for our table.

Riches we have here, once dreamed of, but never expected. And yet, so often did I quote Robert Browning's famous line, "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Back in the Grocery Store

While we're doing grocery store memories, something else comes to mind. One day, when the boys were a little older, I took all three of them into the store. I was picking up kids from school. Tighe was a junior, Jeremy was a 7th grader, and Ben was a 3rd grader. I remember this only because of the circumstances below. They were going to three different schools at the time, and I had picked everyone up, which was an involved process, and still had to make a quick run for groceries before making dinner that night.

On our way into the store closest to the high school, we happened to see the president of the PTA coming out. She wasn't someone I approved of very much. Her attitude and mine conflicted in one very major way. She had chewed me out for missing a PTA meeting because Tighe had a baseball game that conflicted with the meeting. It was an away game, and I wasn't back in time for "her" meeting. As editor of the PTA newspaper, I felt that I could get the information I needed without being present for the meeting. If someone wanted something in the paper, they could call me or bring an article to me at the baseball field or drop it in my mailbox. I wasn't that hard to find. She told me, in no uncertain terms, that I had to be there. "You're doing this for your son!" I told her, "That's right. I do this for my son, not in spite of him. When he has a game, I'm there for him. I can't have someone phone in the score for me." She just never could understand that.

Our discussion and the missed meeting had been months before, and our relationship was now professional if not cordial. She stopped us as we entered, gave me some dates and times, which I wrote down, and asked some questions, which I answered. She finally pushed her cart out into the parking lot, and we entered the store. One of the boys, I think it was Tighe, looked at me with an awed expression on his face. I noted that the other two seemed to be also looking at me rather strangely. "Wow, Mom. You really don't like her, do you?"

I was so embarrassed I could have fallen through the floor. I was so sure I had treated her with respect and courtesy! "Did it show?" I asked. "Yeah. You were so polite!"

I had to laugh. In my family, you tease people you like. There's joking and laughter, jests and humor. The total politeness that you give to a professional colleague you must deal with (but would rather not) was something my boys had never before seen, at least from me.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


This week I got an inexpensive perm and a priceless visit with my favorite hair stylist, Ambrosia. She's now the manager at the beauty shop inside my local WalMart. I've never found a better stylist, nor one I've enjoyed more. And I sure can't complain about the prices. We always end up laughing about this and that.

She's also one of the few who understands what I mean when I say that I don't worry about my hair until the morning that I step out of the shower, towel dry, and realize that my hair has morphed from wash and wear to wash and swear. At that point, I get professional help in the form of a cut or perm.

Two months after the first time she did my hair, I went back and filled out a card to say how happy I was with the cut and the perm, and with how well she had listened to what I didn't want. I didn't want to fuss with it. I didn't want to decide what I wanted. I just wanted it to look good without having to mess around. I wanted it to look like I have more hair than I do. She gave me what I wanted, and two months later I still liked what I saw. I figured it was time to say so. Now she's the manager. I hope I had some small part in letting them know that she was a keeper.

That's all beside the point of this ramble. She told me a story of her childhood that was too priceless not to share. I told her I was going to put it in my blog, and she surprised me by saying that she reads my blog. I vaguely remembered that I had told her about it over a year ago, but I never imagine anyone beyond the family actually being interested. Anyway, here's one of her memories that I'm still laughing about...

At seven years old, she was learning to assert her independence. Actually, she described herself as sometimes being "bad" when her mom would take her in stores. Her mom, she said, was nobody's fool. She could smile and look quite lady-like while voicing dire threats out of the side of her mouth. By age seven that didn't work quite as well anymore.

One day Ambrosia was acting up in a store and her mother decided she had had enough of being embarrassed and wanted to put a permanent stop to it. In the middle of the store, Ambrosia's mother threw herself to the floor and started kicking and screaming. She proceeded to throw a real temper tantrum right there in front of everyone while Ambrosia tried to pretend she didn't know her. Then her mom calmly got up, dusted herself off and asked her how it made her feel. Ambrosia said she never again made a scene in a store.

I loved that story, and I'm only sorry I never thought to do something like that. The closest I ever came was to wheel my basket to the manager and say, "Sorry, but my boys are acting like they'd rather go home than get all this food. Could you please put it away for me?" and remove them, crying, from the store. At that point, they were no longer crying to get what they wanted, but to not be taken home. It didn't do them any good, but at least it was a different song, and it did help for awhile. It wasn't as permanent a solution as Ambrosia's mother's tantrum, however. Where are the genius mothers when you need them?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Exponential Curves

For those of you who didn't take Calculus, let me briefly explain the exponential curve. Each equal point on the curve is twice the distance of the point before it. How does this relate to ordinary life? For a mother, this means that while two children are twice the work of one, three are four times the work of one, or twice two. When the children are four years apart, or nearly, as ours were, it seems the curve increases.

Let me go back in time, even though this particular memory is uncomfortable and embarrassing for me. It's worth recalling, so it won't be lost in the mists of time. Someone, though I don't know who, once said that everyone has value, even if just to serve as a warning to others. Here's your warning.

I had just produced our third son: Benjamin. He was tiny. He was sleeping. I was recovering from a C-Section, and newly home from the hospital. John was at work, and it had seemed like a long day. Jeremy, not four yet, wanted to go outside to play, but we lived on the corner, and he wasn't allowed to go out unattended. Tighe, at seven and a half, knew about busy streets, and was permitted in the front yard with his friends. It sounded like he was having a grand time out there with a couple of friends. Jeremy was not happy, and was letting me know it.

Tighe was never forced to take along his brother, since I remembered the animosity of my sister when forced to include her "little sister," a whole 17 months younger than she was. This day, however, I needed to get dinner ready for John's imminent arrival, and didn't have any patience left for a frustrated little boy who refused to understand why he was excluded from the fun in the yard. I called Tighe in and told him that it wouldn't kill him to include Jeremy in the fun for awhile. He wasn't pleased. He wasn't amused. He wasn't gracious. He was, however, obedient. 

I listened at the door for a few minutes. I heard the teasing from Tighe and his friends, but felt it was moderate and that Jeremy could handle himself. After all, it was important to let the children deal with their own problems to a certain extent.

As I started dinner, the front door banged open, and Jeremy tearfully ran into the house, lifting his little face to me. "Tighe called me the F Word." 

"What?!?" I ran outside, not wanting to believe what I had heard. I marched over to Tighe. "Jeremy said you called him the F Word. Did you?" Tighe admitted that he did. I looked at his friends. Pointing at each, I ordered them home. "Go home — NOW!" I yelled. I grabbed Tighe by the shirt collar and dragged him into the house.

Some things are simply not acceptable. I had had a bad day. This was shocking and one thing too many. The fighting and sniping were bad enough, but this was simply unacceptable! I hauled Tighe over to the couch, stripped off his jeans and was on about the third smack on his bare bottom when John came rushing in the front door, hearing the screams. At this point, Tighe and Jeremy were both crying loudly. "What is going on here?" he demanded.

Before I could open my mouth, Jeremy yelled out, "Tighe called me a Freak, and Mama's killing him!"

I don't know if you've ever tried wiping red hand prints off an innocent child's bottom, but it can't be done. You also can't really explain to a not quite eight year old how you could make such a mistake. 

That night I learned an important lesson. When a child said he was called the B word or the S word or whatever, I always gave them permission to say the word completely "one time and only one time." 

That evening I skipped several points on my own personal exponential curve, with both feet dragging. I'm not sure I ever completely caught up. I never felt good enough, as a mother, as a house keeper, wife, or anything else. Well, almost anything else. The only area where I really knew I aced every test was the love quotient. I wouldn't have traded my kids for any others I had ever met. I still feel that way. I love my boys, and they are three blessings in my life that have been constant and heart felt. Through trials and triumphs, they live in my heart.

Some day they will understand (and perhaps having a daughter of his own now and another on the way, Benjamin might already have a glimmer of this truth) that I learned far more from them than they ever learned from me.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thinking Back

I had decided to start posting memories, and was going to start with some of the funny things that happened as a young mother, but I thought I'd better get some of the really old stuff out first. 

When I was a kid, one of the things my dad did was to mangle nursery rhymes. I'm not sure how this got started, or when. I don't even know if they were original to him, but I suspect some were and some were not. I've often quoted my favorites and been asked to write them down, which I've very nicely neglected to do (lo, these many years). So, Sherrie, since you're the one who asked the most often, have fun with these. 

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
And all the King's horses
And all the King's men
Had scrambled eggs for breakfast again.
Old Mother Hubbard went to the closet
To get her poor daughter a dress.
And when she got there the closet was bare
And so is her daughter, I guess.
Mary had a little lamb.
Her father killed it dead.
Now Mary takes her lamb to school
Between two chunks of bread.
Now this one you'll have a hard time believing, but I swear... I was told to learn 'the poem' that teaches the number of days in each month. It was homework. My mom was busy with something, I don't remember what, and I asked my dad. Here's what he taught me:

30 days have Septober
April, June and No Under
31 have all the rest
Except for Grandmother
Who drives a Cadillac.

I got sent home from school with a note saying that I had failed to learn the poem teaching me the number of days in each month. My father wrote back that the poem I recited was the poem as he learned it, and that if she had another poem in mind, she should do the teaching herself. Luckily, I wasn't at that school very long.

Hopefully I'll be able to add to these as the days go by. Right now these are the ones that come to mind, but I know there were more. It's always interesting, though, to see how a person comes to be the way they are. People are always saying things like, "The apple doesn't fall very far from the tree," and things like that. Maybe so, maybe not. It's the nature vs. nurture thing in part, but as you get a clearer picture of how I grew up, I just have to ask: don't I seem more normal now? Don't I? Well, never mind. 

Thursday, May 1, 2008

My first Mac

I got my first Mac back in the days when PC users had never heard of Windows. John was still using MS-DOS commands, and argued against me wasting my money, carefully saved from my job at that company in Calabassas. He told me in his best "I am a Missile Design Engineer" voice that the Macintosh was only a toy. I spent the better part of two weeks getting it set up the way I wanted, with Icons lined up and organized by work type, and files spring-loaded to open at a mouse click when needed. Of course, John had never used a mouse. He also never touched my Mac. After all, it was only a toy and he was a mighty engineer.

One night I went to bed first. As I lay there in bed I heard the chimes. Well, I thought, smiling, John's going to try out my Mac! Then I heard silence. Then I heard a mild expletive, followed by more silence. What? Then I heard a somewhat less mild word, having to do with the substance babies put into their pants regularly. I started to worry. More silence. This was repeated more loudly, followed by John stomping down the hall. 

"Somehow," he shouted at me, as if it were all my fault, "I've managed to erase your hard drive!" I jumped out of bed, racing down the hall. All I could think of was the many nights after work, when I'd race through dinner just to spend hours getting things set up the way I wanted. I reached out and grabbed the mouse, double-clicking on the drive icon. It opened up with everything in order. I looked at John and he stared blankly at me. 

"How did you do that?" he asked. It was just too easy. He had been trying to type in commands to make it open. He just could not comprehend that anything could be so simple. The PC mind has struggled with the concept ever since. I love it.