Remembering When…

Nostalgia can be a bitch. I’ll just get that out there right now. Memories, especially those from childhood, can play with our minds.

Take Harper’s Ferry in West Virginia for example. Wow, what a segue, right? But it makes sense, trust me.

When I was a kid, my family visited Harper’s Ferry a few times. We liked it so much, we even took extended family members when they visited us.

Harper’s Ferry, for those who don’t know, is where John Brown had his fort and it was a key site in an 1859 abolitionist raid. It’s a historic park and while I haven’t been there recently to know if they still do this or not, back in the day, people could stroll through the town, visit decorated “shops” and businesses and homes that hearkened back to the town’s heyday, and watch reenactments of blacksmiths in historic garb fashioning something awesome, soap-makers/story-tellers creating soap in the same way they would in the 1800’s all while discussing the history of soap and the town, and people roasting peanuts.

My favorite was the freshly roasted peanuts. I remember burning my fingers on them because I had no patience whatsoever and wanted to eat them straight away.  You could have your picture taken in old-fashioned dress, with the picture itself made to look antique. There was even a nifty wax museum about John Brown.

In addition, and this part is spectacular, it’s home to The Point, a place where the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet, and while standing in West Virginia, you can see – quite clearly – Maryland and Virginia.

View of Harper’s Ferry (photo credit: Harper’s Ferry National Park) 

When I was a kid, there was a picnic area down by the river that ran through the town. My mother always brought fried chicken (and sandwiches, I think) and snacks and we’d go down there to have our lunch. While wading out into the water one time – I was young, that’s important to know – I walked into an unexpected dip in the riverbed and ended up in water up to my neck. Fun and games. Made my family laugh though as I spent the rest of the afternoon soaking wet.  Nowadays, that part is blocked off. I can’t imagine why. But you can’t get to the river from the public portion of the town anymore, and I found that disappointing.

Too many years ago, I took a trip to Harper’s Ferry with my kids. In my excited state of nostalgia, I reminisced and told them about some of my favorite memories there and all the cool things they were about to experience. I probably built it up more than I should have, but then again, in my mind, it couldn’t be built up enough… if that makes sense.

When we made it to the town proper, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t nearly as “grand” as I had remembered. It seemed “smaller” if that makes sense. Maybe that’s because I was “bigger.” It was certainly not the bustling hub of activity it had once been.  Whether due to budget cuts or lack of volunteers, there were no reenactors dressed in historical garb, there were no blacksmiths or storytellers.  It was too quiet. Too still.  History had come alive in Harper’s Ferry when I was a kid, and when I visited with my own children, it was a ghost town.

All I knew was that the view in my mind’s eye was at odds with my current surroundings. And I realized my mistake almost immediately… I had waited too long to bring my kids. This was confirmed by my children’s reaction – an utter lack of enthusiasm in the place I had talked up so much.

I started to ask myself a few of the more complex questions. Have times really changed that much over the years? Was I only in such awe of Harper’s Ferry as a child because we were simply more easily impressed then?

Oh, it’s easy to blame video games and a generation that favors a computer screen to The Point, but let’s be clear, society helped speed them on that path. Our society panders to the Gods of Technology and then has the audacity to complain when our kids are overly involved with electronics.

I’m not sure where I’m going with all this except to say once again, nostalgia is a bitch. But what do we do about that?

Maybe another visit to Harper’s Ferry is in order. It’s high time I gather my kids back home for a road trip. They can even drive so I can be the one to sit back and enjoy the ride. Maybe now the view in my mind’s eye will win out. Or better yet, maybe there will be a new view altogether.

Long Distance Call

I will admit, since last October, life has been weird. I appreciate all of you sticking with me during my “sporadic writing phase.” It’s kind of like Picasso’s “blue period,” just not as… well, blue. Or paint-y. Definitely not as paint-y. Or hanging in a museum. Okay, fine. So, it’s not like Picasso’s blue period. Happy now? Sheesh.

Today would’ve been my Dad’s 78th birthday. Yeah. It’s still all so strange. We had his memorial last month. We’d been holding off for a number of reasons, not least of which, we simply did not want to officially say goodbye. There were military honors, and they gave my Mom a flag. One of his siblings spoke about his life. It was a lovely ceremony. I wanted to speak as well, but my severe anxiety, as it so often does, got the best of me. I think my Dad would’ve understood though. Neither of us were known for lengthy conversations, though we knew the love was there. That, we had in spades. As they are wont to say, we have closure, whatever the hell that means. All I know is, my heart still hurts.

And now, it’s summer. In our family, we all knew what that meant.

Hope the fishing’s good where you are, Dad.

Valentines and Self-Realization

The older I get, the more I realize that my mother was right after all. I am just like my Grandma Mooney.

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Grandma Mooney & the Case of the Vinegar Valentines

Valentine’s Day always reminds me of my Grandma Mooney (more specifically, she was my Great-Grandmother). That may seem odd to some people (to think of grandparents around a holiday meant for couples), but there’s a reason behind it.  She was actually quite a colorful character… and then some. And one of her favorite things to do centered round Valentine’s Day.

It’s not really observed much anymore, but back in the day people would give out what were called “vinegar valentines.” They were basically insult cards with a caricature drawing on the front and a small acidic poem on the back that tended to call people out as being either foolish, a spinster, a loser, etc. You get the idea. They were pretty unflattering for the recipient and not exactly the heartwarming valentines we give out now covered in hearts and roses. Grandma Mooney absolutely loved giving these out to so-called loved ones and friends.

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It was one of her favorite times of year because, while she may have been thinking these evil thoughts all year, now she was able to put those thoughts to paper. And let me tell you, she got serious pleasure out of poring over who would get what card. If memory serves they were sent out anonymously so the person receiving the snail mail insult couldn’t be sure who thought they were an idiot, but rest assured, someone out there in the world did. The ironic part is that Grandma Mooney would get super pissed if she ever got one. She sent them out by the bucketful but getting even one in return was blasphemous.

I wish I could’ve seen her face as she was picking out the cards and sending them out. It’s hard to picture without having seen it up close, but anytime Grandma Mooney was up to trouble, she’d laugh… not out loud… but sort of an internal laugh so that her massive bosom shook like jelly. Watching her go through her stash of valentines with an intensity more often seen in a tax auditor and the inevitable intervals of shaking as she came across just the perfect one for say… Georgie or Carlene… would’ve been a hoot. Although I’m just guessing that these two were among the lucky recipients.  Grandma Mooney always kept her list top-secret so no one could rat her out.

In truth, though, I almost wish more that I could’ve seen what she did when she opened up one that she had received. I’d be observing that from a very safe distance of course.  I mean, there’s just no sense in poking an already pissed off bear. Grandma Mooney would’ve made Sherlock Holmes proud though… because after receiving one of these heart to heart communiqués in the mail, she suddenly became a resolute and determined investigator, examining handwriting, postal stamps, and whatever else would give her a clue as to who sent it.  She’d wander around the house muttering names for a week as she narrowed down the list of suspects. And when she finally had that “eureka!” moment and was convinced she knew the perpetrator of this horrible crime, she immediately began planning the coming year’s list, editing it accordingly, and putting that person’s name in the top position. Ahh… it’s the simple joys that mean the most.

When I was young, my mother used to tell me that I was just like my Grandma Mooney. I’d take offense at that if I could only figure out how to argue the rationale. Admittedly, I can see the similarities — though not to the extremes of my enjoying sending anonymous insults. But I do share some of her ornery eccentricities. In some respects, it may seem like an awful comparison — but along with her cantankerous quirks, my grandmother had a heart of gold and took care of her family above all else. So I guess when all is said and done, I’m pretty happy to be compared to her.

 

Mommy, Look!

While chatting with a friend today, I reminisced a bit about my kids when they were younger, and the grey hairs they have so generously given me over the years. That conversation got me thinking of the different parenting scenarios I’ve survived experienced with my children.

When I was a mom with young kids, there were a few phrases I’d hear that would make my heart drop in my chest.  “Your credit card has been denied” was one of them, “I’m sorry, we’re out of that brand of wine” was another, and “I forgot to tell you, mom, I need…”  was an anxiety inducing sentence, no matter what they added to the end of it.

There’s one, though, that stands out from the rest.  Never will a mother ever hear anything more frightening than “Mommy, look!”  This is the child equivalent of “hold my beer.”

There is a direct relation between how many times the word “mommy” is used and how much time will be spent at the doctor’s office later.  “Mommy, look” usually can be fixed with a band-aid and a few kisses, but “mommy, mommy, mommy look” is probably going to end up in an emergency room visit.

Even more frightening is when they add words or phrases to the basic “mommy, look.”  Additional phrases can be “Look at me, mommy,” “look what I can do,” or even worse, “mommy, look what I learned in school today.”

Sometimes, the action is more embarrassing than dangerous.  “Mommy, guess what Uncle Fred taught me today?”  is a dangerous thing for a young kid to say in a crowded elevator.  Other times, a “mommy, look” can be inspired by a movie.  Even an innocent movie, like Mary Poppins, can have your kid teetering on the garage roof with an opened umbrella. Don’t ask me how I know this.

As moms, we picture our Facebook and social media pages as being full of sweet posts, adorable pictures, and heartfelt videos.  Instead, we get emergency room photos of smiling kids holding up arms in casts – all with one thing in common; the incidents probably all started with “Mommy, mommy, mommy, look what I can do!”   This is a real thing; doctors can now legally bill your insurance for “uh oh” and “mommy, look.”

Speaking of which, “uh oh” is another loaded toddler phrase, roughly equating to “I spilled my beer.”  The “uh oh” by itself can range from dropped food to “I drew with crayon on the Mona Lisa while you weren’t looking.”  It can be paired with “mommy, look” for added anxiety.  “Uh oh, mommy, look” is slightly less frightening than “mommy, look!  Uh oh.”  If you understand the difference, you are truly a mom.

Unfortunately for women, while little girls will eventually grow out of the “mommy, look” stage, their male counterparts never do.  They may exchange umbrellas for ladders, garage roofs for four-wheelers, and “mommy, look” for “here, hold my beer,” but the basic concept is the same.  Men’s “uh ohs” can be loosely translated to “look out!” or “damn, didn’t see that coming.”  Either translation will probably equate to an emergency room visit and stitches. Lots of stitches.

A mom can tell you, though, that on par with “mommy, look” is The Silence from the Other Room.  This is a much subtler approach for kids; it sneaks up on moms before they realize anything is even amiss.  Usually, it happens after the fourth load of laundry and right around the time the unsuspecting mom finally collapses into her favorite chair with a sigh and a glass of wine.  Then, it hits her…she hasn’t heard her children make a sound for over ten minutes.  The length of quiet time will generally translate into exact degrees of trouble the child has found.  A few minutes may only find a wall covered in lipstick, while ten minutes or more will most likely result in a child stuck upside down in the chimney.

Sadly, once the kids grow up, “mommy, look” is replaced by “mom, drop me off around the corner” and “uh oh” becomes “I know, I know” with an eye-roll chaser. The best advice for moms whose kids still want them to look?  Look, every time.  Before you know it, you aren’t cool enough to even be invited to see what they are doing anymore and, trust me, you’ll miss “uh oh” more than you can imagine.

Science – 1, Mother – 0

I apologize for yet another round of radio silence on my part. To say this past week has been crazy is the biggest understatement of all understatements.

My family thrives on chaos and stress apparently, and, never to be outdone by my kids it would seem, my mother has done her share this past week to give me even more grey hairs. I really should have taken stock in Clairol back when my kids were growing up. Who knew my mother would eventually add to my investment regret.

Anywho, my dear little 75-year-old mother decided to test the physics of gravity last weekend … it seems she really wasn’t convinced in the science of it all. To that end, she tried to take a flying leap in her kitchen and instead just fell, like a lead balloon. While she called it an experiment for the greater good, I think walking simply isn’t her forte.

Instead of calling 911, she called me. I guess she just wanted me to join the party or perhaps she thought I’d be the one to help her suppress the results of her ill-fated experiment. Ever on the science-y side of things, I figured this was a job for the superheroes of the medical field. Da-da-da-dahhh!

After a quick ambulance ride and a not so quick fun-filled visit to the ER, I brought her home to her comfy recliner and there she sat for a few days. Or at least, that’s where I tried to keep her without actually tying her down (I was told that was elderly abuse).

It’s been a few days now and while she’s still sore and sporting some really very interesting bruises, she’s on the mend, I’m glad to say. Meanwhile, I’m back at my place content to regularly check in to make sure she’s still upright.

I just got a phone call from her this afternoon. She signed up for dance lessons. God help me. I can feel the grey hairs sprouting as I write.