My Son (or Paul Bunyan Redux)

A carnival gypsy once told me that the love of my life would be tall, dark and handsome.  Somehow she failed to mention he would arrive on the waves of excruciating labor pains.  Now, 23 years later to the day, my son can legally buy alcohol, towers over me, and resembles Paul Bunyan.    He’s out on his own and I couldn’t be more proud of him. Still, whenever we talk, I oftentimes offer unsolicited advice.  No, really, I do.   Other mothers do this too, right?  Right??  Well of course Jake’s response is usually one borne of frustration because, according to him, I’ve not kept up with his birthdays all these years and therefore don’t know just how old he is.  My response is one he will never understand until he has kids of his own – he’s always my baby regardless of how old he may be.  Or how tall.  Or how thick a beard he decides to grow (I mean really, you do own a razor after all Jake!).

And many times during these mutually frustrating conversations, a mental picture of him will pop into my head.  Like when he and I went outside to play in the yard like maniacs during a freak midnight snowstorm when he was 4.  Or when he was a very convincing snowman in a school play at the age of 5.  Or as a 6 year old on a trip to Luray Caverns….which is actually a pretty cute story and one that I go to often in my mental rolodex of memories because it never ceases to make me smile.

We used to make the trek to Luray Caverns every year, sort of a family tradition.  These trips were always a great time.  For those not familiar with the area, near Luray is another set of caverns touted as “The Endless Caverns.”  To me, that sounds sort of horrible. The idea that you could possibly get lost and never find your way out of the dark, stone tunnels, eventually succumbing to starvation with your body going undiscovered for maybe centuries didn’t fill me with a great amount of intrigue.  Sort of like an “always erupting volcano” or “constantly snowing tundra.”  Okay fine, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic….but hey, it could happen.

Well, on this particular trip when we passed one of the billboards emblazoned with “Endless Caverns” Jake asked just what “endless” meant.  Remember, he’s only 6 at the time so he was still trying to figure out the intricacies of the English language which can be tough on anyone.  Being the vocabulary nut I am, I was thrilled to explain to him “Well, Jake, endless means that something doesn’t have an end…. never-ending.”

This is where I have to take a small sidebar and let you know that my husband’s running compliment for me at that time was “hot.”  It could also be interpreted as a running joke.  And having the goofy mentality that my husband did he was always coming up with a “you’re so hot…” comment.   As in “You’re so hot you make lava look cool.”  I know, I know….but what can you do?  I married him anyway.  Not sure what that says about me, all things considering.

So, back to the story….as the meaning of “endless” registered with Jake, he perked up and said, “Oh, so it’s like you. You’re hotless.  Never-ending hot.”   Why yes, Jake.  That’s exactly what it means.

To this day I hold that small, innocent remark in my heart as one of the best compliments I’ve ever received.  Not because it’s true and certainly not because Jake fully understood “hot” as it related to women,  but because it came straight from his beautiful, ever loving six year old heart as meaning something special.  Jake will never understand that when I look at him, I still see that wide-eyed, precocious boy who stole my heart the day he was born.   I don’t think that will ever change.  And quite frankly, I hope it never does.

Although seriously…. a razor wouldn’t hurt now and then.

Image

jake pier

jake and shaylee

Image

My Mom Can Beat Up Your Mom

You think your Mom is great? I’m sure she’s a lovely woman, but I hate to break it to you – my Mom deserves the Mother of the World award. Hands down. Don’t believe me? Need proof? Well, for starters, she’s still sane.  No small feat given the fact she had to deal with my brother and me.

If you’ve been to this blog before, you’ve probably caught some of the questionably shameful entries about the terrors my brother and I would inflict on each other and the world around us. But they were just the tip of the iceberg in our quest to break our mother’s sanity.  We really tested the ‘kids will be kids’ adage on a daily basis. In our case ‘kids will be evil little, unpredictable, heart attack-inducing devils.’

I’ve been reflecting over our childhood as Mother’s Day has been looming and thought of some more examples of the things we did that, now as a parent, have me shaking my head and wondering how my Mom was able to keep it together.

For instance, on one of our many trips to visit our grandparents in West Virginia, my brother decided one day to just wander off. That might not be so bad except he was only about three years old at the time. A group of cousins were supposed to be watching him and apparently they didn’t take their job seriously. The consensus was, he followed the family dog, Coco, down the shale-covered road past my Grandparents’ barn and off into the woods.  And just like that, poof, he was gone. Swallowed up by the fields.  I know, I know. Sounds like the start of a not too great-ending fairy tale.

Of course everyone went on a mad search, looking for him. Another set of cousins, twins, who were probably 6 years old at the time, were the evil entities in this horror story…every horror story needs at least one, right? As everyone searched, they kept following my mother around calming whispering truly evil nothings into her ear. Things every mother longs to hear in a situation of this sort, things like: “he’s gone,” “yep, he’s never coming back,” “we’ll never see him again I bet,” “oh, he’s long gone by now.

My brother eventually came back. Coco the dog, who, through it all turned out to be a better babysitter than the older cousins, had decided to return home, and my brother, who was still in hot pursuit, followed along. I can only imagine the roller-coaster of emotions my mother went through on that day. From her desire to kill the naysayer twins who were following her around planting seeds of doom to the wave of relief that swept over her when her little boy returned both mixed with her internal criticism of how she would never let him leave the house ever again. I bet she wanted to laugh, cry, yell, and jump all at the same time. Speaking as a mother myself, I know I’d probably lose it once it was all said and done. And maybe she did, but she recovered because she lived to deal with a hell of a lot more shit from us.

Not to be topped by my brother’s little disappearing act, I decided my next escapade needed to involve more gore. So when I was about 5 years old, I ran through a glass storm door and sliced open the major artery in my wrist…quite deeply. I didn’t want to of course. It was my cousins’ fault. Our storm door never latched on its own. We never had to actually touch the doorknob to go through the door, just push on the door and it would swing open. I was pretty used to doing this when I wanted to go outside. It was like this since forever. Can you see where this story is going already?

When my cousins were over for a visit, someone (I blame them although it could’ve been my aunt or uncle as well) pulled the door shut so it latched firmly. Damn their conscientious souls. Sure enough, later that day I was running out of the house at top speed, expecting to simply push the door open in mid-flight. Instead of the door flinging open, it held fast and I ended up running right through it. Chaos, predictably, ensued. I was rushed to the local firehouse (which would’ve been cool had I not been spurting blood everywhere) and then to the hospital.  It was pretty bad. I still have a serious scar and some damage.

Of course I didn’t have any concept then, but being a parent now, I can well imagine my mother’s fear and anxiety as her daughter lay splayed out on the porch, bleeding out, and then later listening as the doctors’ explained the damage. And miraculously, her sanity held.

I could go on and on – for instance, I could tell you about the night my paternal grandparents’ house caught on fire when my brother and I were little. Oh, but that wasn’t the highlight of the evening.  The highlight of the evening was that while my parents were gone to help, my brother and I were left with my maternal grandparents – and during a round of roughhousing, my brother promptly fell (with no assistance from me, mind you) down the steep wooden stairs of their old farmhouse. Now, right smack at the bottom of the stairs was a cabinet, against which his head made a satisfying thump as he landed. Can you imagine coming home from the chaos of such a crisis only to be faced with a son who might have a concussion? Yep. That was my mother’s life.

Sadly for her, our foibles also spilled out into the public domain. Now, we never engaged in any active warfare in public (Mom wouldn’t have allowed it) and we never went missing while chasing after errant dogs or collided with clothes poles or fought with storm doors while out and about in the world, but we did offer up other embarrassments for her. We were glad to do it. It was sort of our ‎forté.

On payday, we’d go out to eat as a family – it was my mother’s futile attempt to show people that we were functional members of society (or maybe it was just the one time she was able to take a break), but rarely did my brother and I cooperate. There was the infamous mushroom incident of course. But in addition to that, there was one time when I was very young – before I realized the ways of the birds and the bees and how women’s bodies worked – that I discovered the “napkin dispenser” in the ladies room of one particular restaurant we used to frequent. I don’t see them much anymore, but back in the day these were a regular thing. Well, at this restaurant they were ripping women off by charging 10 cents per “napkin.” Can you imagine!? Something usually set out on the table for free, women had to pay for in the ladies room of this snooty place! My little 6-year-old self was outraged!

Well, back at the table, my parents were discussing the prices on the menu and me, who didn’t have a quiet bone in my body when I was little, shouted out indignantly, “Yeah, well, that’s NOTHING!  In the women’s room, they charge 10 cents for NAPKINS!!” The whole restaurant heard me. I bet the whole block heard me. I can only imagine my mother’s dismay and desire to suddenly become invisible.

Pretty audacious, I know, but my brother always had a flair for the dramatic and he did trump me on that story. In another restaurant there was a jukebox that made a rat-tat-tat noise when it switched records. One night, we’re all sitting in a booth enjoying our dinner out and minding our business. The place was quiet. You know how that happens? When there’s that one instance of total silence amongst a crowd? Well, in this one moment of silence, the jukebox just happened to switch songs and made its usual rat-tat-tat sound when out of nowhere my brother clutches his chest and screams “ACCKKK! You GOT me!!” in his best gangster voice. He slammed back against the booth as if he’d been shot and then slowly slid down the seat in his rattling death throes to the floor. Dinner AND a show ladies and gentlemen!  It was quite impressive. I’m not sure my mother appreciated his talent, but that’s probably because she had all the drama she could take from us at home.

My mother raised us well and she tried to keep us safe, from ourselves and from each other. We just weren’t very cooperative. And quite frankly, it’s a wonder my brother and I weren’t ever put up for adoption by a mother whose nerves just couldn’t take anymore. THAT is worthy of an award and I can think of none better than Best Mother Ever. The fact that she loves us more than anything despite our attempts at putting her into a straight-jacket is just icing on the cake.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I’m glad to call you my mother as well as my friend.

 

mother 2

what my mother looked like most of the time we were growing up

 

The Lost Art of Low-Tech Entertainment

When most people think of amusement parks, they think of Disney World (Florida) and Disneyland (California).  They think of rides – roller coasters, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars – and maybe even water parks.

As a matter of fact, I think today it’s pretty difficult to find any amusement park that doesn’t have high-speed rides or virtual reality booths as an integral part of its attractions.  What they offer to kids is speed and high-tech fun…an adrenaline rush…and that’s it. I don’t think many of them actually stimulate a kid’s creative thought processes…not like The Enchanted Forest did.

What is The Enchanted Forest, you ask? (If you need to ask, you clearly haven’t seen the John Waters film Cry-Baby, starring Johnny Depp!)

The Enchanted Forest was a nursery-themed amusement park located in Howard County, Maryland. A blast from my past. It opened in 1955 – a month after Disneyland opened – and delighted children and adults for 34 years, until it closed in 1989. It was re-opened briefly in 1994, in another location, but closed again for good in 1995. It’s finally got a new life now on a farm, in 2015….well…kind of.  The Gingerbread Man who refused to be dessert, a somewhat fierce dragon, Snow White and her dwarf buddies, Old Mother Hubbard, Alice in Wonderland along with the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, The Crooked Man with his equally crooked house, and just about all of the other various icons of the park have been moved and restored once again, this time just for nostalgia’s sake I believe. Only a few structures were lost to age and vandalism, worn beyond repair: Cinderella’s Castle and the Gingerbread House of Hansel and Gretel fame. Not too bad I suppose, all things considered.

What was great about The Enchanted Forest – what was unique about it – was that it was just a low-key park, based around characters from books and fairy tales. Yeah, that’s right. Books. *Gasp!* Oh no!

Oh, there were a few rides – but they weren’t truly mechanical rides, not like what you’d see at Six Flags or Wild World or even Dutch Wonderland. There was a tea-cup ride along with a tugboat and swan ride in a pond – those were pretty much the exciting draws as far as rides were concerned – and believe it or not, they were.  “Exciting draws,” I mean.  People loved the place. Kids and adults alike. People came from miles around to visit.

I certainly loved it, even though I have to admit the start of my fear of water came from The Enchanted Forest. There was a “wild safari” jeep-pulled trolley ride that was supposed to simulate the jungle with elephants, gorillas, a hippo (all fake of course)…well, it also had an alligator lurking just below the surface of a deep marshy water area, and that alligator used to scare me to death. It certainly wasn’t high-end on the animatronics scale or anything like that – but, still…whew! Captain Hook’s tick-tocking crocodile had nothing on this one!  However, to give credit where credit is due, it was really my seeing the movie Jaws at an impressionable age that really sealed the deal on that little phobia.

I tell you what though, before I posted this entry, I found a video on YouTube that someone had posted of their home movies of The Enchanted Forest from a trip in 1975 and it even had a clip from the “safari” ride – I showed that video to my daughter and she agreed with me, that alligator is freakin’ scary! Of course, she may have just been eagerly going along me ’cause she’s sweet like that, but I’m serious.  That thing is scary.  It is.

But I digress.

Here, let me share with you a few paragraphs from a site dedicated to the history on The Enchanted Forest.

Howard Adler, a local designer … [built] imaginative creations of papier-mache, cement and fiberglass [that] would give the Enchanted Forest its whimsical, enduring appeal.

The sturdy brick house of the Three Little Pigs, for example, was decorated with a wolf skin rug on the floor… The house of the Three Bears not only had three bowls of porridge and three beds, it also had three chimneys a pipe-shaped chimney for Papa Bear, a purse-shaped chimney for Mama and a bottle-shaped chimney for Baby Bear.

The eight-acre Enchanted Forest, with figures and storybook settings nestled among woods, a stream and a small pond, was deliberately low-key compared with Disneyland in California….

“There are no mechanical rides in the park,” [owner] Howard E. Harrison Jr. told the Baltimore News-Post in an article that ran on the Enchanted Forest’s opening day, Aug. 15, 1955. “Instead, we hope that the children will enjoy the make-believe figures that are before their eyes. I say children, but actually, we think that many grown-ups will enjoy seeing the famous old figures that they knew when they were children.”

Do kids these days even read the old fairy tales? I think they get started with their smart phones and tablets at an extremely young age, not to mention watching TV, and all they ever see are the glossy characters of Disney, or shows like Spongebob Squarepants and things of that ilk. Stories are spoon fed to them these days through high-tech graphics and cartoons and on-screen games rather than through the pages of a book, and when they go anywhere, they expect their entertainment to be spoon fed to them as well. It’s a fast paced world, especially for kids, with no time for imagination.

Whereas, with The Enchanted Forest, all they had going for them was their knowledge from nursery rhymes and fairy tales and their imaginations. Lots and lots of imagination.

I remember The Enchanted Forest with so much fondness, not the least of which because my mother used to take my brother and I there and we’d spend the day – so those are good times I remember with my mother, as well as all the things we would see and do.  For anyone who wants to see pictures (not mine), there is a gallery here.

My favorite parts were these little houses you could go into – they were like life-sized dioramas – showing scenes from various nursery rhymes and fairy tales like Snow White, the Gingerbread Man, Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel. My mom’s personal favorite was the teacup ride.

gingerbread house

teacup ride

safari ride

The Enchanted Forest was great because everything was truly interactive – and by that I mean you walked, ran, played, climbed…there was no waiting in line for an hour for a two-minute ride or sitting in a chair  oblivious to the world around them while playing with a virtual reality system. Kid’s today are “inter” – while we were truly “active”!

I lament the “lost art” of low-tech entertainment. We simply don’t have these kinds of places any more – places where kids have to use their own imaginations to conjure up fun instead of having it, as I said before, basically spoon fed to them.

Yeah, it’s great that we’ve progressed the way we have with technology. Don’t get me wrong – I think a lot of good has come from technology.  It has encouraged tremendous vision and has given us so much (speaking on strictly an entertainment level: 3-D movies, virtual reality games, amazing interactive rides, 3-D printers, etc.), but our children have lost so much in return — the ability to play or enjoy things just by using their own imaginations.

Not to mention the wholesomeness of nursery-rhyme stories (okay, well, once you clean up the original Grimm stories) and books like Alice in Wonderland, instead of the glitzy, overly grown-up, in-your-face, kids’ characters that are pushed on young children today. I know, I know, it’s not surprising that I go back to books.  But come on, anything that’s oriented around books cannot be a bad thing.

Books and imagination.  It’s a combo we need to nurture more in kids today.

The Cat Whisperer

For those of you who remember Damien Thorn, well, he had nothing on my cats. Oh sure, Damien had all of Hell behind him. What Damien didn’t have though was a PR guru like my daughter. She can explain away an uprooted potted plant or shattered crystal bowl with such finesse that you’re A) impressed with the prowess of the cat who is suspected, and B) admiring the cuteness of whichever one is stupid enough to still be in sight. Don’t think the cats don’t know this either.They suck up to her…big time. It’s a conspiracy I tell you. So allow me to introduce my daughter — the cat whisperer.

Sarah and Shaylee

Sarah and Holly

Sibling Wars

Let’s hop back in the time machine and go back to Wendy’s childhood; a time and place that—if I’m forced to be honest—might be best left in the past. Why? Possibly because at my mature(ish) age now, I can admit that there were moments in my family’s history in which I might not have been the nicest member of it.

An example? Still to this day I come damn close to crying with laughter when I think about the time my brother knocked himself out after he ran off our porch and into the clothes pole in our backyard when he was about seven. Absolutely hysterical to me. The funniest part wasn’t that he hit it so hard it left a long, pole shaped bruise down his torso. The funniest part is the fact that the pole had been there, literally, our entire lives. How he forgot about it so completely that he ran into it so hard he knocked himself out is pure comedy. Don’t roll your eyes. It’s my duty as a sister to laugh at stuff like that. That’s what siblings are for, for cryin’ out loud.

Not like he didn’t have his moments of payback. Like the time he hit me in the head with a hardball (a.k.a. baseball) when I was about 6. He and his friends were playing a game we called “rundown” which was similar to what is commonly called “monkey in the middle.” Or if you’re good at baseball terminology, it’s a game centered round being caught in a pickle. When I got beaned in the head, I was the monkey. Being the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys, I was always the monkey or whatever unsavory role there was to be had in the street game du jour. (To be fair, being the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys got much, much better as we got older). But I digress. So, I was the monkey. My brother was manning one base. His friend was holding down the other. All of a sudden—BAM—I got socked right in the head with the ball.

Now I’m not saying it was on purpose or anything. Let’s be clear about that. I have no evidence supporting wrongdoing. BUT if it was orchestrated, I probably deserved it. I could hold my own in the never-ending “war of the siblings” which means I had to commit a few acts of questionable morality to keep up with my brother’s torment.  Need I refer you to the mushroom incident?

That was the great thing about my brother and I. We always went tit for tat. It was never a lopsided fight between the two of us. Sort of like our own personal version of Spy vs. Spy. Neither one of us would have the upper hand for too long before the other took it right back just when the dust was about to settle.

Now, as a parent, I look back on these acts of juvenile recklessness and am stumped on how my mother survived with her sanity intact.  I can totally understand now why she always had that anxious look on her face.  She was probably in a constant state of worry about what one of us would either do to ourselves or to each other next.  Would this be the day we’d have to make a another hospital run? Are the cops on speed dial in case one of us went missing…again? Actually – that’s a funny story and one I’ll tell another time.

Luckily my brother and I both survived (not without our fair share of nicks and bruises along the way). We made it to adulthood and, call me crazy, but I think all that silly cartoonish competition as we were growing up only served to make us better friends in the end.  It certainly has given us some great stories to tell around the holiday dinner table.

Keith_Wendy Easter 1971 (2)

 

Keith_Wendy Easter 1971

 

Keith_Wendy unknown

 

View at Midnight

This is my view while enjoying late night cake. Either they’re trying to make me feel guilty enough for breaking my “not so much sugar” diet so that I’ll slip them some to keep them quiet or else they’re trying to sway me by telepathy…not sure which.  Either way, it didn’t work. They were stuck with plain ol’ dog treats. Okay. Well. Maybe they did get just one taste of icing when I was done. Their combined psychic power was strong, I tell you!!

 

view at midnight2