Under the Big Top…or Not

I don’t think my mother gets nearly enough credit for her superhero powers of persuasion. She’s like Kayla Silverfox (aka Silver Fox) from X-Men (Wolverine – Origins) with a southern accent. I mean, to hear her tell it, she – my mother that is, not Silver Fox — single-handedly kept my father from selling my brother and me to the travelling circus for years…years, people! And apparently my father listened to her (I mean, here I am after all, with no trapeze skills or fire-breathing expertise to speak of, sooo…).  He could’ve made a pretty penny too, or so I was told growing up. A. Pretty. Penny.

Tasteful Memories

Have you ever thought about the powerful connection between smell and memory? One whiff of a food or perfume and, boom, you can be instantly transported back to a specific point in your life. Maybe childhood, maybe a person you knew, maybe a trip abroad, maybe the college dorms.

Well, it’s not just smell that can flood your brain with memories. Taste can do this as well. I realized just how true this is a few days ago when I was at an old-fashioned diner serving a full, honest-to-goodness country breakfast.

As the waitress brought out the plates, piled high with freshly baked biscuits, pancakes, fried eggs, and fried potatoes, I breathed in deeply, and when I dug into the food in front of me, I was transported back to breakfast at my grandmother’s.

As my regular readers know, both of my parents are from West Virginia, and we’d spend summers there – with both sets of grandparents. My mother’s mother, Grandma Jimmie would make a full country breakfast with everything made from scratch: biscuits, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, beyond amazing gravy.

As I sat there, in this country diner, I felt a wave of nostalgia so intense, and I swear I could see that old kitchen, the coal stove, and envision myself sitting there at their table with my grandfather and the rest of the family waiting impatiently for breakfast to hit the table. And when it finally did? Oh boy, pure heaven!

That breakfast – not just any breakfast, mind you, but my grandmother’s breakfast, is a comfort food from my childhood that stands above all the rest. My own mother’s gravy and biscuits (not to mention her fried potatoes – to die for, yum!) summons up the same memories, and well, it’s more than just food, really. Although, it’s some damn fine food, I must say!  It thrills me to no end when I walk in my mother’s door to those delightful smells, knowing what I’ll be sitting down to when it’s time to eat.

It’s not just fresh-baked biscuits or the smell of bacon that reminds me of West Virginia, though. (And while I say these things remind of West Virginia, and I guess they do, it’s just a place – what they really remind me of are childhood, of growing up, and family. When I say West Virginia, to me, it encompasses so much more than just a place.) The taste of raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries remind me of West Virginia too. Raspberry and blackberry bushes grew on the side of the mountain at my mother’s old stomping grounds. Blueberries flourished in the pastures where my father grew up. I had the best of both worlds and believe me, I tried my best to eat myself sick at each place.

Sadly, this is a memory that I’m hard pressed to duplicate these days – store bought berries are just not the same, they lack flavor and what flavor there is, is just…different. But luckily, I’m in a rural area and have options, so sometimes when I see them at local farmers’ markets, I’ll stock up on homegrown grown fruit, and all is right with the world again.

Speaking of fruit, I have yet to find a peach that will rival the fruit from my mother’s peach tree from our own backyard, but I try…oh trust me, I try. But for just an instant, with that initial bite of each one I try, year in and year out, it throws me back to a carefree time when that tree still stood. Why is it we don’t appreciate these things more when we actually have them?

Comfort foods are a wonderful thing. The warmth from the nostalgia and emotions they inspire runs deep and a world of hidden memories is just waiting to be unlocked with a smell or taste.

Hello Karma – Nice to Meet You

The other day my dog, Rufus, took a little spill off the bottom step that goes out my back door. It was such a short distance that I knew right away he was okay. Still, bless his heart, I think he was upset that I didn’t help him up quicker (not from lack of effort on my part, trust me).  Seriously, he fell all of a little bit and even then, he landed on a bag of soft potting soil, you know, the good kind that is mostly air and fluff anyway. I’ll admit, a quickly stifled giggle did escape when I saw him lying there on my gardening supplies gazing up at me with his big, brown eyes. Despite knowing there was just no way he could be hurt, and further knowing that had he wanted to, he could have simply gotten up on his own, I nonetheless dropped my end of the leash that was hooked to his harness and rushed over to placate his pride.

Despite my loving assistance, I guess he was offended by how long it still took me to get there, because he gave me a stricken look me as if to say, “Are you seriously moving that slow? Oh, the betrayal.” I picked him up, brushed him off, snuggled with him, and then he was off doing whatever it is he wanted to do in the yard as if nothing happened. I even gave him an unexpected snack when we went back into the house. No harm, no foul.

Or so I thought.

On Monday, I fell face-first from the TOP step of a 4-step staircase right onto a concrete patio. No rhyme. No reason. No one pushed me. I didn’t trip. My feet just didn’t work. Go figure. I didn’t land on my face, thank the gods that be, but I definitely messed up my hands, wrists, and knees. So yeah. Hello there, karma. Nice to meet you. My bad for not taking Rufus’ misstep a bit more seriously.

I thought the fall was the worst part, but there’s been a ripple effect of delayed pain that’s been even worse. The day after the fall my back decided to get into the game too. Maybe I twisted it funny. Although really, whoever thought it was funny should have their head examined.

To top it all off, guess who was walking around the yard without a care in the world while I was trying (and failing) to get back up on my feet. You guessed it…Rufus. There I am, flailing around on the ground, unable to get up, and after a while, starting to give serious thought to, “Gee, maybe I should just stay outside for today,” and there’s Rufus idly traipsing around, sniffing the grass, and looking for squirrels, leash dragging behind. Not one ounce of concern for his ailing mom, no sir. I’m not going to say I deserved his cold shoulder, but damn, that was a reality check. Thankfully I still had Petra, who stayed glued by my side worried about me and whining. Guess who got a snack that day when we finally made it back in the house!?

There’s always a silver lining, regardless of how bad a situation is. The blessing in all of this was ultimately my laziness. Yes, you read that right. Laziness. You see, all of this happened on Monday. Well, on Sunday, I never finished the laundry, so I was out of shorts. Hey, don’t roll your eyes at me. It was just one of those weekends. So, anyway, even though it was certainly hot enough outside to warrant shorts, I was in fact wearing pants. It was a good thing too or my knees, which took the brunt of the fall, would be scraped to hell in addition to being just swollen. Fun science fact: concrete is hard. Who knew? Another fun fact: old concrete is jagged and crumbly. Even worse.

The lesson I’ve learned here is that laziness is not always a bad thing after all. But not being able to move as fast as The Flash to grab your pet when he missteps to save his pride? That can be a serious problem.

Shoo Fly

I have window air conditioners that blow…and not in a good way.  They work to keep the place tolerable, at least to a point, but the monthly cost to keep from living in a sauna is quite high. So I open my windows at every opportunity, especially on particularly windy days and evenings, like it is here now — a storm having just moved through. The problem IS, is that somewhere, somehow, there must be a hole in a screen or some tiny crevice in a frame where all manner of creepy crawlers and buzzing flyers are gaining entrance. I’ve looked at all the windows and can’t SEE any holes in the screens, but something is amiss, otherwise we wouldn’t be living in a frog’s paradise.

Oh, my cat, Shaylee…she makes short work of the larger creeping critters. Being a good hunter of the bug variety, and apparently having no shortage of an appetite for the little buggers, she has a field day, I must say.  Flies are her favorite. It’s actually quite impressive to watch her in action. Awe inspiring to see someone so dedicated to their craft, truly.

But the smaller bugs, and unfortunately the truly frightening ones — the ones that look prehistoric or as though they’ve somehow mutated due to alien interference — THOSE she has no interest in. Maybe she knows something we don’t.

More often than I care to be doing so, I find myself up on a chair, glass or tissue in hand (we catch as many of them as we can and let them go outside rather than just arbitrarily smooshing them), trying desperately to catch a fast-footed whatchamacallit without it springing into defensive mode or simply losing its grip on the wall and landing on ME.  It’s a sight to behold, I’m sure, and I have no doubt my neighbors must wonder just “what the hell is going on over there with all that noise and screaming??”

Knowing my luck, it’s these very same liberated bugs returning over and over again, ungrateful for their shot at freedom…or as I have often dreamt in nightmarish color, perhaps they are rising up, staunchly determined to stage a coup and take over the house altogether.

 

Construction Ahead

I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my Dad. And I’m sure my children would like to take this time to thank him for the inside joke that I constantly throw out, even though they weren’t even born when the joke originated, and it’s one they don’t really “get,” but they laugh along with me anyway. Of course, their laughter is likely just a way to placate their eccentric mother since we’re always in the car with me driving at the time of said joke, and they do have their safety and well-being to consider.

I’ll share a bit of nostalgia with you and let you in on the inside joke – there are actually two. And which joke gets repeated on which outing depends entirely on which road construction sign I happen to see at the time.  I know, I know, make jokes about construction signs, you say? Who on earth can come up with jokes about road construction signs?  Well, my Dad can. And little did he know they would drive off into the future at full speed to infect his grandchildren.

I have no idea if these happened all on the same long family trip, though I think they did. I think my Dad just happened to be on a “roll” during this one lengthy excursion with a Great-Aunt in tow – honestly, it all happened so long ago that I can’t remember exactly.  There are a great many parts of my childhood that I remember only in fragments, not getting the whole picture, but rather just fractured bits. I believe on this particular occasion, we were taking my Great Aunt Bunny to West Virginia with us, and both the long drive and the looming visit itself would have made her an anxiety ridden nervous wreck, such things always did. Which would make sense – IF that’s the trip I’m remembering – because my Dad would have been doing what he could, in his own silly way, to ease my Aunt’s nerves. The jokes I’m going to tell you about, however, those stand out in my mind.

The trip to West Virginia from our house back in those days took a solid 8 hours, and more often than not, there was road construction along the way. Going through an area of construction, with all of its delays and issues, during an already 8-hour trip – with two pains in the ass children, can never be an easy thing, but on this particular trip in question, my Dad decided to take his comic show on the road, as it were, and lighten the mood.

Coming upon a section of road construction that required rerouting of the lanes, there was a safety sign duly posted informing all and sundry of a “flag man ahead.” Now most people would slow down, follow the “flag man’s” direction and just move on, right? Not my Dad. He stopped, rolled down his window (this was in a time when you really did roll down a window) and cheerily greeted the guy: “Hi, Mr. Man!”  After we drove on, and I suppose due to the looks of confusion from all of his passengers – except my mother, I don’t even what to know what look she was giving him – he says, “Well, I don’t know him well enough to call him Flag!”  Rolling eyes and groaning laughter ensued. And the joke has lived on into infamy. Although, my version keeps the window tightly closed, with me just shouting through the glass, but in a good way, not like when there is an errant jaywalker or a driver who has apparently never heard of a turn signal.

The next sign that encouraged my Dad to act was a bit more hearty and enthusiastic, or rather, his reaction was at any rate. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, and certainly with no warning, my Dad threw out his hand and grabbed my mother by the top of her head. I wish, for the life of me, that I could remember the look on my mother’s face at that instant, but what I conjure (based on personal experience with the woman), it would’ve been a hoot, and not exactly a look of adoration towards my father either. In his defense, he pointed to the “Stop Ahead,” sign we were passing…I mean, he was only following directions, right?

My kids are 25 and 18, and I kid you not, they know exactly what is going to happen when we pass construction or road work that has one of these signs posted. Oh, they may forget in the moment as they text or watch videos on the phone, but whoever is in the front passenger seat is sure to have their head accosted, or to be startled into thinking we’ve seen someone we know, each and every time…and when they search the surrounding area for the sign and find it, they smile a pacifying smile and then go back to their business.

It makes no difference to me if my kids don’t share in my joke. I think it’s hilarious and sometimes, dammit, I just do things because they amuse ME, not necessarily those around me. And more than being amusing, it reminds me of family, of times gone by, and while I can’t grasp the full memory of that road trip from so many years ago – only bits and pieces remain, what does stick in my head is the fact that my Dad was on a comedic roll for the entire drive. Who knew his Dad jokes would get passed down through the generations? I guarantee you that while they may not repeat the jokes themselves, till their dying day, my kids will never be able to pass road construction without at least going over those wisecracks in their head. And maybe, just maybe, when they have kids, this bit of Dad-silliness will live on.

So, thank you Dad…it’s not enough that you’ve had my back since I was born or that you constantly watch out for me. Your casually tossed out pieces of comedic genius have stayed with me over the years and have been the source of great joy, in so many ways. Here’s to family road trips from back in the day. Here’s to lasting memories. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

dad in his element

The Adventure Continues

My parents’ 57th wedding anniversary is tomorrow – June 15th. Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad! I think this might be the first year that I haven’t confused the date. It fell on Father’s Day one year, ages ago, and for me, I’ve equated the two ever since, making me perpetually late in wishing them a Happy Anniversary. Father’s Day changes every year, you say? No matter. You underestimate my ability to be wrong about something.

Hey, did you know there are traditional gift themes for each year of wedded bliss? First year is paper. Fifth year is wood. Twentieth year is china. Well, as far as I can tell, by year 57 all the ideas have been used up. By that time only the anniversaries ending in 0s or 5s get a themed gift. Seriously. On the list of “traditional gifts” the years skip from 55 right to 60.

My guess as to why that is: maybe whoever made the list felt that people grinding out 55 to 60 years of holy matrimony are too busy trying to not kill each other to really celebrate the honored day. Who knows? Maybe they’re right. Maybe by that point, not trying to choke each other is a gift in and of itself. “I didn’t suffocate you with a pillow this morning sweetie, Happy Anniversary! Want some breakfast?” Personally, I think 57 years of marriage—murderous thoughts notwithstanding—is one hell of an accomplishment.

The lists of traditional gifts often give an alternative modern gift for the couple who want to stay hip and with the times. For example, the first-year anniversary’s “modern” take on the traditional paper theme is clocks. How the two are related completely escapes me. Now while there isn’t a traditional gift for 57 years of wedded bliss, a modern alternative my parents have for celebrating their anniversary is a glass or a mirror. A glass, particularly of the decanter variety, I can understand. Giving each other something to hold the sweet nectar of alcohol or caffeine I can see as being invaluable to such a lengthy marriage. Sadly, my parents can have neither. So that’s a firm no on the glass option.

Mirror, it is. But really? A mirror? All I can really see my parents doing with a mirror is holding it up within an inch of the other’s face and saying, “SEE! I told you there was a smudge on your face! You just couldn’t believe me, could you? Noooo…of course not.” I’m not sure I want to be the purveyor of such a contentious gift.

Despite their individual secret schemes on how to plan what can only be described as the perfect murder, in real life my parents do what they can to keep each other out of the ground for as long as possible. Which is particularly good news for my dad. If anyone was going to kill an old man and get away with it, it would be my mother. That woman is nothing if not thorough.

I’ve often wondered what the secret is to a long marriage such as theirs. In an age when a marriage that makes it five years can be seen as “a good run,” there’s got to be something special to keep two people together for close to SIX decades. I believe that my brother and I were maybe that special ingredient in the glue that has bound them. No, not because their love for us created an unbreakable bond.  It was more than that. I think they decided years ago that whichever one of them asked for a divorce, they had to be the one to take the children.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, my parents loved us…still do for some crazy reason. It’s impressive really, given what we put them through. It’s just that together, they were strong enough to counter my and my brother’s daily foolish antics. They could commiserate late at night and bolster each other’s mental stability – “Did you SEE what that boy did? Just look!” “Oh well, that’s nothing on what the girl tried to get away with today…let me tell you!”  Ahh, there’s nothing like having a common enemy to keep people together.

At its essence, having each other’s back is their mainstay – their rock. Sure, they may squabble and they may pick at each other, but my dad still makes my mom her coffee (decaf these days) every single morning before heading out to the backyard to feed her feathered friends – I mean, hey, she needs company while she sits on the deck, having her morning cup of joe. In return, she makes sure his meds are always in order and that he has his fishing hat when he goes out on the water so his shiny bald head doesn’t burn.  And god help the outsider who speaks ill of either one of them.

 

Here Comes Peter Cottontail

I have to visit my parents tomorrow for Easter. Well, I don’t “have to” per se, I just am. I wouldn’t turn down my mother’s cooking for anything. So. You know what that means. Well, maybe you don’t. In which case, you haven’t been paying attention. Hey, that’s okay! You’re not alone. I tend to zone out when I ramble on too.

What it means is, I have to clean out my car before my father sees it. Now, this is a true “have to” situation. So, knowing the mood I’ll be in when it’s all said and done, I thought I would take the lazy easy smart way out for blogging today and repost my Easter entry from last year. In all honesty though, it’s as true today as it was then.

So now I’m off to do the dirty deed. And not in a fun way. I have garbage bags, plastic gloves, and determination. I should survive. I hope. Nothing appeared to be moving in the backseat last time I was in the car. But still. Wish me luck?

 

— — Original Post from 2016 — —

Easter Egg Hunting, Old People Style

Easter is only a day away now and you know what that means. Well, now I think about it, I guess it could mean a lot of things. A renewed sense of religious piety. The cyclic nature of life, death, and resurrection. An observance of a community-building holiday founded in the goodness of fellow citizens. What does it mean for me? Besides loads of candy — eggs, of course!

It’s true. I hear the word Easter and the first thing I’m reminded of is not a crucifix. I think of the overabundance of candy that saturates the day with sugary goodness…those of you who may remember this jingle can hum it with me (and you’re welcome for the earworm!) — “Mary Sue Easter Eggs, Mary Sue Easter Eggs, here’s a treat that is sunny for your Easter Bunny, the creamiest candy that’s made. Mary Sue Easter eggs, Mary Sue Easter eggs, Brighten you Easter parade!”

Next at the top of my list for Easter reflection are eggs. The hunting variety, that is. Oh, they weren’t always my first thought. When I was a little girl the word “Easter” meant that it was time to dress in a pretty new outfit and slip on some beautiful new shoes. Boy, did I love that tradition.

my brother & me in our Easter outfits – Easter 1971

But then I grew up and, after I had my son, Easter Sunday became much more about the basket, the eggs, and the competitive quest for the brightly colored symbols of Spring. I loved putting together the baskets with the chocolate bunnies and the pastel colors shining from the fake grass inlay. I loved it so much I still decorate Easter baskets for my kids to this day. No lie. I know that my kids are well past the age of believing in the Easter bunny but it doesn’t mean we don’t still enjoy the magic of the holiday. Or at least the candy.  And my daughter and I still dye eggs together. Albeit we’re a bit more creative now in seeing what crazy things we can do with colors and trimmings (this year I’m determined to talk her into a horror theme). So what? She may be a teenager and I’m, ahem, just a tad older than a teenager, but Easter doesn’t have an age limit, right?

Of course, hand-in-hand with the coloring of the eggs comes the annual Easter tradition of the classic Easter Egg Hunt! When my son was growing up, this was an Event with a Capital E. We would hunt eggs, oh maybe a billion times each Easter afternoon after dinner. Rain or shine. He never tired of searching for those cleverly hidden holiday icons that we had so painstakingly colored just the night before.

The tradition was subsequently passed down to my daughter. They’re seven years apart so when Jake was already a seasoned veteran in his egg hunting career, Sarah was just a rookie starting to ascend the ranks. Don’t think for a minute that he taught her anything or showed her the ropes though…it was a fierce competition from the get-go.  Egg hunting has always been a very serious undertaking in our household, with those partaking in the game guarding their stash with a watchful eye as they scanned the horizon for yet another victim poking its neon-colored head out from under a blade of grass or leaf or perhaps sitting there precariously upon a bird-feeder perch. Until recently that is.

You see, the age of retirement from a career as an egg hunter in my family is exactly NEVER.  No one gets out of the Easter Egg game in my family.  I don’t care if you’re 16 or 75. You’re either hiding eggs or finding eggs. Case closed.  It’s always been a family affair and we do more than just have the adults hide the eggs then set the kids loose across the yard. We like to mix it up.

Back in the day, it used to be a kids vs. adults hunting royale. Now that the kids are older, it’s evolved into more of a men vs. women battle of the sexes hunt.

There’s only one problem: age. We’re all getting older and our collective memory just isn’t quite what it used to be. So nowadays one team will go out and hide their batch of eggs, then the other team will put forth the good search and find, oh, we’ll say most of them…but when it’s time to reclaim the ones that weren’t found, so much time has passed that the team who hid them in the first place now can’t remember where those “they’ll never find them here!” spots are that were so deviously chosen to befuddle their beloved family members just 30 minutes prior.  So, often times, our two teams have to merge into one super-team just to find all the eggs. And even then, it’s never a given all of the eggs will be found. We’re still missing an egg from 2013.

Yes, every Easter Egg hunt has the potential to turn into a messy expedition through the grassy lands of colorfully-dyed forgetfulness, but it doesn’t stop us. Oh no, not us. Why? Because it’s too much darn fun, that’s why!

This year I’m going to propose something different when egg hunting time comes around. I say, we just ALL go ahead and hide the eggs together. No teams. That way we skip the foreplay and start this year’s hunt where we know it’s going to end up anyway. After we hide the eggs as one group, we go back in the house, have a little coffee, sip a little wine, nibble on some cake, then after 20 minutes or a half hour goes by, head on back out to the yard. I guarantee that none of us will remember where we put our eggs.  Then a truly great hunt can begin! It’s all about turning a negative into a positive. Genius, right?