Miller Time

When I was about 12 years old an event that would become one of the most hotly debated stories within my family happened. It was as ridiculous as it was horrific and divided the bloodline for years to come. Of course I’m talking about when my Great-Grandma Mooney was “allegedly” attacked by a vicious, unrelenting, terrifying…moth.

In our house a moth is called a miller. While both are accurate (a miller is a type of moth that loves to live in homes…sort of like The Borrowers), I’ve never heard the word miller used up here in Maryland regardless of favored habitat of said insect, so it must be country speak from days spent wasting time down in the holler. So, during one fateful summer at my grandparents’, this moth/aka/miller flutters its way into the house probably looking for a light bulb to beat itself against for hours on end. When, all of a sudden, it was gone. Poof. We thought it must’ve flown out the window and were ready to scrub the intrusion from our mind completely.

Well, we start to notice Grandma Mooney jerking her head every once in a while and muttering to herself like one of those more quiet (and dangerous) inmates at a lunatic asylum. She gets up, sort of shuddering…I’m not sure how else to describe it, and starts swatting at her head with her hands swearing that the moth flew into her ear. We all let her have her dramatic episode with none of us actually paying her much attention. She keeps breathing heavily and tossing her head and getting even louder with her ooooohs and aaaahhhs so we decided maybe it’s time to actually listen to her.  My Mom gets a bit concerned, but she was the only one out of the adults to do so. My grandmother, Grandma Jimmie, isn’t buying it.

What you need to understand about my Grandma Jimmie is that while she was smart as a tack and generous in most respects, she also housed a bit of a mean streak. Patience was not a virtue she was keenly familiar with, especially when it concerned her mother, Grandma Mooney.

So Grandma Mooney is hooting and hollering about this damn moth and Grandma Jimmie is stubbornly refusing to take the bait. The story is just too ridiculous for words. Eventually, someone caved and brought a flashlight out to look in her ear. What do they see? Nothing. Nada. No evidence or trace of a moth anywhere, especially not in Grandma Mooney’s ear canal.

The lack of proof certainly didn’t dissuade my Grandma Mooney. Every few seconds she’d shudder, then twitch her head, claiming she can still feel the damn thing flapping around inside her head. Grandma Jimmie is over it and wants to put the nail in the coffin on this pure fabrication. So to “appease” Grandma Mooney, she pulls out a turkey baster…yes—a turkey baster…fills it with peroxide (not quite sure why that particular medium was chosen) and shoves it none too gently into Grandma Mooney’s ear. She then proceeds to syringe the hell out of Grandma Mooney’s ear FULL FORCE which (I’m assuming) was at the very least…not pleasant. I mean eardrums are fairly sensitive and probably don’t respond well to being blasted with a torrent of peroxide shot out of a turkey baster wielded by a highly annoyed woman.

1,2,3,4 times Grandma Jimmie floods the ear with this peroxide baster. What do they see now? Still nothing. No moth. So that’s it, the jig is up. It is decided that Grandma Mooney, God bless her soul, is lying. Or crazy.  Or both. Still, she stuck to her guns and kept on saying she could feel it fluttering. Moth or no moth, could we all just agree that at the very least she was now contending with what must have been an insanely horrendous cacophony of bubbling in her ear from the peroxide?? I mean, can you imagine!?

Time passes. The moth is forgotten. Though I suspect Grandma Mooney’s hearing was never the same again. Lo and behold about 8 YEARS later, a dead moth falls out of her ear! Just plops right out of her ear! It had been in there the whole damn time. She was right and had always been right. Not that Grandma Mooney had ever needed any proof!

I’ve often wondered that if it hadn’t drowned or been bubbled to death and subsequently driven deep into her ear canal by that flash flood if it would’ve come out sooner. In all that time she never developed an infection or serious medical condition because of the insect corpse, so I consider her lucky in that way. But it makes my skin crawl thinking about some winged creature being lodged inside my ear for that long. If she wasn’t crazy before that moth flew into her ear, can you imagine what having it in there fluttering around would do to a person?? Or knowing it was in there and dead?  Ugh….

It truly haunts me and to this day, any time I see a moth, I instantly cover my ears. My kids laugh at me but they just don’t know the danger these vile creatures pose! My mom is the same way. One of the reasons she keeps her hair just long to cover her ears is so that she always has a little cover to block any unwelcome moths. You see my Grandma Mooney had amazingly lush, long, thick, beautiful hair – but she kept it up in a bun, thereby leaving her ears completely exposed to all and sundry. Had she been just a bit less modest, perhaps all of this could have been avoided. This is a real threat people! Don’t leave your ears vulnerable! You’ve been warned!

A day for the memory rolodex

So I had a doctor’s appointment last week — I don’t need to go into that, the point of this story is that my kids were with me.  I’ll back up here a bit to say that I’m seriously geographically challenged.  I know that sounds irrelevant. Stay with me for just a minute. On top of being geographically challenged, I switched insurances in January and now have a true HMO which, while great in some respects, is horrible when it comes to locations of specialists, tests such as MRIs, CAT Scans and the like.  I know, I know. My HMO issues sound equally irrelevant as to why my kids were with me.  I’m getting there. Trust me. So. Being geographically challenged and nervous about driving to the location of the specialist I needed to see, my son Jake was kind enough to take me to my appointment so that I didn’t have to traverse unknown lands. Ta Da! I made it to the point–told you I would! Aren’t you glad you waited around?

Well, he also had the absolutely brilliant idea of catching the light-rail (a.k.a. commuter train) to the National Aquarium in the city after my appointment…his treat. Which is how I got to spend the entire day with both of my kids, something I haven’t done in quite some time.  Oh, we’ve gone to the movies here and there. Every time a Marvel comics flick comes out actually. But since Jake doesn’t live at home any more, we haven’t truly spent a day together, the three of us, since I can’t remember when.  Jake’s friend came along as well and he is very much like my son which means he’s smart, has a sharp, somewhat twisted wit and is quick to laugh. He fit right into our little familial clique just as if he always belonged there.

Despite the overwhelming odor of urine throughout our foray from the light rail station to the aquarium, and witnessing the beginnings of a throw-down between two women at a bus stop, for which another man, for reasons unknown, seemed to be gathering an audience in the passers-by, a fun day was had by all. I’ll admit the two women (one proclaiming loudly, “I am NOT going back to jail!”) may just have added to the excitement of the day.

We laughed more than I thought possible, we oohed and aahed over black tipped reef sharks and blue-tinted jelly fish, we waited patiently in one spot for over 20 minutes for a 3 finned sea turtle named Calypso to make his way back around a panoramic tank so we could see him up close, saw a dolphin who refused to swim right side up, and reminisced over field trips from days past when Jake’s fellow student (my charge) skipped into a museum exhibit, setting off alarms in the process.

I used to tell my kids they could stop growing at any time…that they could simply stay small indefinitely. They grew up anyway. They never listen to me. Damned kids. Now I know that’s the way of the world. I know that’s how it’s supposed to go. Kids grow up and move on.  Even still.  In the aquarium last week, I caught myself sorely missing the hand holding and the “stay together!” that always accompanied such trips when they were younger. The barrage of quick fire questions that would need answering as we went through the exhibits because they wanted to learn about everything they saw.  Now they know more than me. Which is as it should be, I suppose.

The one thing that has not changed, and it thrilled me to no end, was their sense of wonder at the animals and habitats contained in the aquarium. They are both still very much in awe of the natural world around them and the animals that reside within it. And I’m happy to say Jake’s friend is the same. I’m glad that he has surrounded himself with like-minded friends. Like I said before. It’s as if this kid is one of us.

So at the end of the day, Sarah and I arrived home gloriously tired with impossibly sore feet (oh my god such sore feet!)…and for me — a full, happy heart.

Below are some photos from the day. You can probably guess my favorite exhibit.

the kiddos

the kiddos

fierce looking jelly

pacific sea nettle

jellyfish3

jellyfish 2

moon jellyfish

moon jelly – these were a very good size

baby moon jellyfish

baby moon jelly — some were the size of quarters, some the head of a pin

jellyfish8

spotted lagoon jelly

spotted lagoon jelly

jellyfish9

The Squirrel Whisperer

It may be a couple of rungs down from Dr. Doolittle level but over the years my mother has slowly worked her way into the role of Queen of the Squirrels within the local rodent community. I don’t know if this has been an intentional plan of hers that she’s been rolling out over time, but she’s been feeding the squirrels in her backyard for so long now that not only are they not afraid of her, they in fact bask in her aura of generosity.

As soon as she graces them with her presence in the morning by stepping onto the back deck for her morning coffee, her robe draping off her statuesque form like a regal cloak of benevolence, the squirrels scamper about her feet, clutching meekly at the bottom of the robe in a silent plea for the peanuts they know she has in her pockets. And as she seats herself on her queenly throne, the frequent flyers of the group gather to sit at or on her feet.  If she doesn’t see them (because she’s on the phone with me let’s say), they ever so delicately tug at the material to get her attention all the while gazing up at her with loving reverence.

I’m hoping for her sake it’s “gazes of love” and not that crazed look so often seen amongst mutated wildlife in B horror movies:  “feed us now or we’ll surround you and chew your face off!”  It’s so hard to tell with squirrels.

I’ve walked down busy sidewalks in major cities and the squirrels there just barely move out of the way of getting stepped on and that’s normal to see, they’ve grown accustomed to humans and live/react accordingly. But my mother’s squirrels (good grief…now I’m thinking of them as my mother’s squirrels) don’t just politely avoid her as they share the yard or the deck for their morning constitutional…oh no…they seek her out! It’s gotten to the point that she’s given them names! I have to admit though, if I had squirrel worshipers, I’d name them too.

It’s the same routine every day. She wakes up, the squirrels hear her stirring in the house, she comes out with her coffee mug to take in the fresh morning air, and suddenly, they start appearing from hither and yon to sit patiently waiting for her to distribute her stash of peanuts. They each vie for her attention, trying to win her favor and earn a precious, delicious nut.  Should she run out and need a refill, no fear…they simply wait for her to return.

Squirrel 2

This would be “Sweet Pea.”

Now if for some reason, the squirrels don’t see her come out because they’re preoccupied doing their squirrelly things (this is usually in the afternoon, well after their morning meet-up)…all my mother has to do is make a noise I can’t spell but somehow involves clicking her tongue. Oh boy, you’d think she had just rung a dinner bell for all and sundry!

And it’s not just squirrels. Oh please. She’s no amateur, my mother. Whenever I talk to my mother in the afternoon, she always seems tired. I know why. It’s because she has so many mouths to feed (not to mention my Dad), each demanding their very own breakfast. At last count, there were 8 squirrels, 6 blue jays, 4 woodpeckers, and gosh knows how many sparrows all awaiting her appearance in the morning.

Oh, and if you think I just mean they’re waiting for the bird-feeders to be filled, you’re seriously underestimating my mother. How dare you! No…this is the motley assortment of acolytes she hand-feeds peanuts to in the morning. The sparrows are spoiled though. Don’t let them fool you, everyone says so. They need their peanuts crushed. The divas.

The ironic thing is that this friend of nature is the same woman who used to yell at me as a kid whenever I tried to touch any form of wildlife whatsoever because she was scared to death that I’d get rabies.

Now I know the truth.  It was all just part of a silent campaign on her part to rule them all and keep the crown as Queen all for herself.

Summer Nostalgia

Summer is well under way and with it comes a wave of nostalgia. Usually these memories stay happily dormant in the back of my head only to be brought up at family dinners where too much wine is flowing and too many “back in the day” stories are being told much to the embarrassment of my brother and me. I thought I would share a bit here with all of you. Bear with me as I know this is longer than my usual entry but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless.

So as luck would have it, my parents grew up together — so before they were even betrothed their families were close. It sure made visiting easier when my brother and I were young. Whenever we would spend summers with them in West Virginia, it was always a two-for-one deal. Two sets of grandparents in only one trip.  Both sets of grandparents lived off the beaten path, to put it nicely. More like the boonies or boondocks, which made for an interesting time as a kid.

My paternal grandparents lived way down a gravel road that curved around past their house and into a darkened wooded area that was always creepy as hell even on the brightest of days. Their house was surrounded by over 20 acres of pasture with a very cool barn directly behind the house.  I delighted in wandering through the pastures because it was so beautiful and quiet and reeked of adventure to anyone with an imagination.

My maternal grandparents lived in a “holler,” their home nestled cozily between two mountains. Let me tell you, it was no easy feat to get from the main road down to their place. You took a leap of faith off the hard road, onto a shale covered dirt road barely big enough for one car, over a rickety home-made wooden bridge to their house.

Oh, and I say a leap of faith because when you went from the hard road to the dirt road, the front tires of your car hovered in midair for a moment before connecting with the dirt road. Fun times. Then while one side of the car was snug against the mountain, the other side merely flirted with…well…nothing.  Seriously, you could’ve opened the passenger side door and just stepped out into air.  My brother and I used to torment my mother to no end by scooting over to that side of the car and jumping our little butts up and down to see if we could make the car fall over the edge.  Honestly, I don’t know how she held onto her sanity sometimes.

My Mom’s childhood home (Grandma Mooney and clan) sat in the low center of the holler.  The house itself was set up higher than the road.  To keep the yard from simply eroding and falling into the road, it was shored up in the front with a rock wall that was even with the yard but about 3 feet high off the road – a rock wall from which my brother, in pure locomotive action, accidentally catapulted himself when he was little….hanging in midair like Wile E. Coyote before gravity overtook him and he finally fell to earth… waaayy on the other side of the dirt road. I still grin when I think of it.  Not sure what that says about me.

There were distinct differences at the two places. At my Dad’s place we had a lot of freedom.  My mother had only two rules really: 1)Always keep the house in sight (didn’t quite follow that one) and 2)Stay away from the bull (definitely paid attention to that one). When I got old enough to ride the ATV there was another rule: 3)Don’t wreck and run over yourself (fair enough, right?). And the only thing I can think of is that this must have happened to a cousin at some point in time because otherwise, why need that particular rule?  Luckily I never did quite figure out how you could wreck and run over yourself at the same time.

Looking back, I think my mother gave me a lot more credit than I probably deserved. I don’t know why she thought I had more common sense than I did, but those three rules seemed to be enough for her.

Had she known what little sense I actually had she’d have made more rules. Perhaps one would have been centered around not chasing cars down the gravel road when you’re riding your cousin’s bike which is too big for you, especially when there’s a steep decline right by an apple tree that has dropped slippery decayed fruit onto the road turning it into a stretch of goo that bike tires can’t really handle. Maybe the rule would revolve around that. I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here. Don’t worry, the scars didn’t last. And surprisingly, my mother’s sanity held.

Things were a bit more regimented with my grandparents who lived in the holler. The places we could go were more clearly defined.  For instance, we could wander along the shale-covered road all we wanted but we couldn’t go up the hard road alone.   We could go down to the creek to hunt for lizards and crawdads, but we had to watch out for water moccasins. What can I say, life in the country does involve taking into consideration that a poisonous snake might jump out and sink its fangs into your shin at any given moment. In an odd way I kinda miss that thrill.

The rules here were just as practical and served the same purpose as the ones for the “pasture house.” They were all instituted so we wouldn’t accidentally kill ourselves or be destroyed by wildlife.

The rules for the holler were: 1)Watch out for water moccasins, 2)Don’t go up the hard road alone, 3)Stay off the grapevines, and 4)Watch out for and avoid bears.  The fourth rule only applied when we were going up the mountain back behind the house.   Like the bull, this was a rule we all happily obeyed. Rule #1 was pretty easy to follow as well. Generally speaking, any rule where the punishment was an animal killing us, we stuck to it.  Rule # 2 was another one we didn’t have an issue with… mainly because there was nothing to do up the hard road anyway.

The grapevines rule…well, not so much. The vines were thick and ran up the sides of trees. Most of the time, the vines could hold a person and you could use them as a rope and swing.  But it was boring just swinging around the base of a tree…usually scraping the tree in the process or else boomeranging back and whacking the tree full force.  Lucky for us, there was a spot up the road where the grapevines reached out over a ledge…we had our friend CW (may he rest in peace) to thank for the lowdown on the secret location.

Well, kids being kids, I’m sure you can guess what we did next. Yep, we’d use those vines to swing out over the side and into…empty space. Like Tarzan of the Jungle. It never occurred to us that they might break midair or that we could get seriously hurt as we leaped out into that void. All we knew was the sheer joy of feeling the wind as we flew.

As a parent myself, with the world as it is now, it seems like those summers are a lifetime away, and I guess they are.  It never seemed like we were living life on the edge or putting ourselves in mortal danger but I suppose in a way we were. Still, we survived. We survived the wildlife and the angry bull, the ATVs and the unstable grapevines.

Not only did we survive, we thrived.

I wish my kids had been able to enjoy such freedom and fun as we had during those summers. I mean, nowadays, we warn our kids…look both ways before you cross the street,  keep an eye out for strangers, stay together when wandering through the mall, take your phone and text me when you get there.

I would have loved just once to yell after them as a wooden screen door slammed behind them: “Hey!  Watch out for bears!

 

June 18, Bear in Yard

 

My mother is driving me crazy

I know it’s been a few days since my last post — my sincere apologies for anyone who may have been waiting with bated breath to see what I’ll come up with next.  My mother, my best friend, had a stroke this past week and it has had me somewhat distracted. With many heartfelt thanks to whatever gods may be, she is going to be okay.

But at least she learned one thing from all of this — you cannot call someone, tell them you’ve had a stroke, and then break down on the phone unable to speak coherently as you hand the phone off to Dad. I mean, you had a stroke.  And now you can’t talk.   That’s the sort of thing that prompts an all out car race to see just how fast one can get to your hospital bed (regardless of having been told it’s not necessary to make an appearance).  But….we all live and learn. Thankfully.

 

Wedded Bliss

It’s unfortunate that this is a not-very-odd conversation these days:

Friend 1: Did you hear? Sue and Jeff are getting divorced?

Friend 2: Wow, how long have they been married?

Friend 1: Five years!

Friend 2: Well, at least they gave it all they had.

Yes, friends, sadly people these days hold on to cars and computers longer than they do marriage licenses. In the days when so-called role models treat “commitment” with less respect than a pinky swear (Britney Spears’ marriage, 55 hours. Kim Kardashian’s second marriage, 72 days) what couple can be expected to last long enough to see if the seven-year itch actually exists?

My parents, that’s who. This past Sunday played double duty in my family – it was Father’s Day but it was also my parents’ 54th wedding anniversary.  That’s right.  54 years.  If you’ve never read the “The Lockhorns” comic strip before, do yourself a huge favor and Google it (or click on the picture below). You’ll quickly get the premise:  an old married couple that does nothing but complain about each other, but in their insults is a special kind of love (you have to look deep, but it’s there, I swear). My parents, they’re my live action version of The Lockhorns; the sort of couple that practices the Old School style of marriage. The kind where they may bicker and nag and nit-pick and groan through each and every day, but when one of them holds out their hand, the other is still there to grab it. They’re like those cute salt and pepper shaker sets that fit together. My Dad makes my Mom’s daily coffee.  My Mom makes my Dad’s fishing trip lunches. They just go together. Not to mention they’ve developed a sort of non-verbal, thought-reading kind of communication that is amazing to witness.

Over half a century with one person is definitely something to admire but it’s made even more so given the throwaway society we seem to live in. Whatever their secret, be it love or simply tolerance or a smooth balance of both, my parents are an inspiration. Happy 54th Anniversary Mom and Dad!