Thursday, March 31, 2011

an angel in her kitchen

Somehow a fuzzy rabbit next to a wooden Rasta strikes me as absurd.
 I reluctantly drag out three boxes of Easter decorations. I like my house the way it is, artistically cluttered, and I don't want to add any holiday drivel.  Having grandchildren drives the need to arrange bunnies and chicks on my shelves this time of year, so I start unpacking.
Last Easter I put away my mother's decorations and wondered if this would be her last holiday and it was.  Marie came alive during the holidays and her closets were packed with Santas and jack-o-lanterns and throughout the year she created all these little pockets of warm tradition for her children.

Meghan O'Rourke writes in The Long Goodby, "I miss hearing my mother say my name."  I understand.  And I miss watching her eat chocolate ice cream, scraping the bowl and saying, I'm not that hungry. And arranging pink peonies in her favorite blue china vase and watching her eyes light up as her great granddaughter stampedes into her house, mushy dandelions in hand. I miss seeing my mother enjoy her life.

Carrie is baking cookies with  little Cameron helping on the sidelines. Carrie wears my mother's red and navy apron, the only item my daughter requested from the estate.
Cameron perks up and says, "your grandma's here."
 What? asks Carrie.
Cameron repeats, "your grandma's here." 
Grandma Marie? asks Carrie.
 "Uh-huh," Cameron replies. 
Where is she? Carries asks.
 "She's right there," says the toddler and  points a chubby finger at a space by the wall that holds nothing but empty air.
 When Carrie was a baby she would wave her arms and giggle, her eyes fixed on a corner of the room that no one occupied.  My mother would comment, "she is laughing at the angels, she can see them, the good ones always can."  But then the children grow up and the grown-ups tell them there are no such things as ghosts and they stop seeing angels.
Sonny rolls his eyes at these stories, I knew he would, but it's fun and oddly comforting.

Monday, March 28, 2011

ugh, not again

I gained five pounds and Big Dave laughs.  He counts body weight in five-pound increments and on his six-foot frame, my weight gain is the same as an extra handkerchief and car keys in his pocket.  For me it means a bigger pants size.  All  I ever wanted was to be tall.  I didn't care about hair color or the ability to tan quickly, I just wanted height. I wanted length between my hips and bosom, an hour glass of svelte curves, a real waistline with a belt that wouldn't disappear into my belly when I sat.
Instead I got good hair color and the ability to tan quickly.  I'm wondering how a weight gain could happen as I have upped my exercise routine to ninety minutes every day with the warm weather returning.   Muscle weighs more than fat and this must explain the gain. Hah, like many, I am in denial regarding my body and if you don't believe me, check out those roly-poly teens in skin-tight tees strolling the mall. There must be no mirrors in their houses. You can be big and fashionably correct but these kids didn't get the memo.

I hang out with a three-year-old girl and we frequently find ourselves in places that sell french fries. And here comes Easter and the grandchild likes the chocolate bunny suckers at Walgreen's and then there's peeps and those unbelievable malted milk ball eggs with hard speckled coating.   I have made many girl scouts happy this season with purchases of numerous boxes of mint cookies and yes, I know they freeze well, but they never make it that far in my house.
Sonny comes for dinner often and normally I do not eat dinner although I will throw a pork chop and potato at Dave occasionally.  So now I am making multiple courses as well as cream puffs and apple pie because anyone who knows my father, knows he's a dessert man. The cook needs to sample, and that she does.
The last health article I read said women my age need to do one hour strenuous exercise daily to maintain their current weight.  So, if we need to lose weight, well, you do the math. I should  stop reading health literature.  I never read those articles when I was flabby, unmotivated and smoking because they were too depressing.  I think I was happier back then.
So that  kills the lunch to the Indian restaurant for spinach crepes with creamed curry sauce.  A bowl of wheat chex lightly sweetened will have to do.

Friday, March 25, 2011

and they almost lived happily after

Jean is a work friend and shortly after I started this job her husband became severely ill.  I did not see her much during those weeks and Tom died in a hospital bed in their townhouse late at night and nobody was answering at the hospice number. Jean is virginal in every cell of her body and I saw their wedding portrait at the wake and  honest-to-god she looked like a starry-eyed princess, her body leaning into her new husband.  She believed all the fairy tales and they did not disappoint her. They lived on the outskirts of town, a wealthy country home, and Tom always hosted a hell of a party every fourth of July.  He would mount a  keg on a trailer attached to his miniature tractor and visit the neighbors offering glasses of beer to get the party started.  The last year of his life he was 62 years old and they traveled to Jamaica and the pace of the resort life bored Tom so he rented a motorcycle and he and Jean saw the island in a purely native way.
Five years passed and Jean has a boyfriend, a wood worker, and  he dropped her off at the townhouse without escorting her to the door, and Jean set him straight on that issue, hooray for little timid Jean. She told him she will not marry him, who could follow Tom, and she says he understands, but I am sure he is plotting for more. Jean is perfect wife material, soft and malleable, full of quiet vulnerability.

I was fifteen years old and setting our dining room table on the night of my parents' twentieth anniversary and I said, I don't understand how people can stay married that long.  My mother was upset with me and later I read an article in her Reader's Digest that said, being married a long time is like walking on the beach, you can walk there every day and still find something new.  Seashells are seashells, I say.

There are many reasons to marry and love should not be the essential one.  It is a fickle emotion and  redesigns itself during the course of two lifetimes.  The man I was seeing before Big Dave stayed with me eight years before I recognized the decay that crept in. There was this other woman, younger, no children and that explained why he disappeared for weekends at a time.  The cowboy is true blue, a regular boy scout and I know he will not stray. I'm not good at being married, I admit that, I am better alone. I have always treasured my private moments, watching the moon travel across my sky light and knowing my thoughts will not be interrupted.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

the world is macaroni

I am a lucky woman.  I live in close proximity to my grandchildren and I get to know their secrets.  In a  world of disappearing extended family situations I bask warmly in their affections.

Ethan is turning twelve and I don't recognize him much these days. He is dissolving into icy moodiness and I get the the heavy-lidded, level stare that teen-agers give their elders, the one that says, I need nothing from you anymore.  And then the sun will come out, he smiles and I am taken in by those warm brown eyes. The births of our children and their children define us and save us from mediocrity.  On the other hand our lives are then marked with stronger boundaries and most of us lose our sense of humor, just for a little while.

Ethan 2009
Ethan can talk football like a seasoned sports announcer and he excels in science and math and pushes out As with very little effort.  He rough handles his younger brother with some pretty scary head holds and then presents an angel's face in school choir. His has a tender heart and it will no doubt be broken a few times, his emotions on his sleeve and everywhere else.  I watch him lope off in the distance, over sized feet, a St. Bernard puppy, he is now superior to my height and we are losing him to the world, we know that.

Adam 2009

Adam is eight years old and nothing like his brother. Ethan is a thoughtful intellectual with the orderly mind of an engineer.  Adam is crafty and alert to innuendos that usually only adults perceive.  He is an artist and a poet and he rewrites lyrics to his favorite songs.  He once spent the better part of a basketball game slowly eating a program to the wide-eyed admiration of three second grade girls behind him.

I find it strange that Adam can see swans in cloud formations and yet find finesse in the corniest bathroom humor. He has scared a few teachers but  they just need to take time to know the old soul that resides behind all the mischief.  Yeah, some of the pictures he draws are scary, the ones with children jumping from a fiery eight-story building and isn't that how serial killers start out?
This is the kind of story you write when you wake up at 5:20 a.m. and get up to make your husband's lunch because you were too tired the night before and you can't get back to sleep. I'm not normally this good but the cowboy offered to use his frequent flier miles to buy me an airline ticket to San Diego. You're being awfully nice to me, I ask him, are you having an affair?

"Somebody once told me the world was macaroni
  so I ate a bite of  a tre-e-e-e.
 It tasted kinda funny
 So I spit it on a bunny
 And the bunny started cussing at me."

Sung to the tune of "All Star" as performed by Smash  Mouth on the Shrek I soundtrack and rewritten by Adam, 8 years

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

the pope wears a dress and so do a lot of intelligent women

I work for the Franciscans and in their nursing home today  elderly people were walking around with black marks on their foreheads. No, the hygiene program needs no reviewing
 because  today  is Ash Wednesday, the Catholic version of Day of the Dead,  Dia de los Muertos.   All good Catholics, and some not so good, trot off to church and have ashes smudged on their foreheads and if that were not enough, the priest mumbles, "Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return" to each recipient.  Who wants to be reminded of that process?
 I have a problem with the pope's religion.  It's bad enough I wasted all that time in school memorizing lists of saints' names when I could have been learning more geography and then there's that rule about women not allowed in high management positions and don't get me started on that other issue involving thousands of broken children.

My father left the Catholic church when I was eighteen.  They sent me to Mass every Sunday and I spent the time swinging in the park waiting for the hour to go by.  And then it was Viet Nam and a young  guest priest gave the sermon. He had long hair and a beard and he gently told the congregation that war was wrong, this war was wrong, and we must work towards peace.  Afterwards in the parking lot all the rich Republicans were furious that this hippie had used church time to talk about peace and bringing soldiers home.  My father listened and decided this was not the place for him.  He did not agree with those fat cats and what better place to talk of peace than a church pulpit. He shopped around for another denomination during the next few weeks and then decided his time was better spent working the newspaper crossword puzzle on Sunday morning.
I have difficulty believing in a personal god, someone who monitors whether I tithe or not.  If there was an energy source, a pre-big bang system  that made the decision that life should be, yes, I can do that, and on that note Einstein and I agree. Man, this kind of stuff really bugs me.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

timid women need not apply

I apologize in advance to  male readers who find this post irritating.  I do have fine men in my life, some are relatives, and I promise my next post will be about tractors and guns, really big guns.

A hundred years ago during my first marriage my mother-in-law said to me, "I think one of your friends called my house looking for you. She had a very soft and timid voice."  My first thought was, I don't know any quiet, timid women.  My friends are in-your-face rabble rousers  because that's what it takes these days.  We were raised in the 50's by women who had no choices and stayed at home stirring the pots and ironing endless creases in pants and never getting the last piece of pie.

Susan  and I worked together in the 80's and we were getting in an elevator to attend a meeting and an older man with a very red face and very large stomach followed us in.  "My oh my," he whistled, giving us the up and down body scan, "ain't just one of you gals prettier than the next."  I could feel Susan stiffen next to me and I turned my face not wishing to view the slaughterhouse that would be directed his way. I don't remember the exact text, but he left the elevator shaking.

I work with a woman who will be 77 years of age and she is my hero.  Marilyn was secretary to the head of the electric plant  and when she married the rules said she could only be a fill-in for people on vacation.  And when she became pregnant she had to give up the job completely.  As a teenager she took the night train to Chicago once a week and learned classical accordion from a teacher in that town. She played in honky-tonks across the river back when Big Band was major, "up until Elvis and that guitar came along and music was ruined forever,"she will tell you. Marilyn went back to school and received her master's degree in music therapy and now the two of us swap stories across our desks.

 I was sitting on a bus a few years ago in another city and a young girl was talking about what was the big deal this women's movement, she was an engineering student and she experienced no obstacles at all.  Luckily, it was my stop so my courage knew no boundaries and I turned and said, in my day, women weren't allowed in the engineering department. Somebody before you fought the battle and here you are.

Women are just regular guys trying to get along in a world slightly slanted away from them. I don't enjoy being a feminist, it is often embarrassing and feels condescending.  We shouldn't have to keep asking for equal wages and other such things.

Carrie brings a Bishop's chocolate pie for dinner Sunday and by Monday there is just a small wedge left.  A grandson and the cowboy both request rights to that pie and I allow each of them a sliver, but I get the last and biggest piece.

Monday, March 7, 2011

spring, come softly

My father lingers outside my kitchen. He had his taxes done today, and when the accountant brought up my mother's death, Sonny broke down, a couple of small polite sobs. He wanted to tell me this and then the moment passes. We find ourselves in this quagmire often.  We are talking about my mother and then we're stuck in this particularly sad moment and we don't know how to maneuver away from the subject. I need to hire a clown to sit on my couch and tell us a joke when this happens, maybe make some balloon animals.

My mother's body, all eighty-two pounds, had been donated to the University of Iowa Hospitals, a charitable gift of sorts. They will keep her nine to twelve months and then return her ashes to us.  I often find myself counting down the months wondering if she is on her way home yet.  It was a hot July Friday night  when she left  and July will never be the same for me. On that night the funeral parlor guy showed up fifteen minutes after the demise.

The thing that amazed me was how beautifully dressed and polished this guy was at that late hour.  Like he was in a room somewhere waiting to be summoned, standing at attention so as not to wrinkle his Dockers.  I was grateful he was so impeccably classy, I needed that kind of guy to escort my mother, I wanted  no one else.

I  bought her one last bouquet during the final days. One of the roses I placed on her chest as she left my sight and the rest I still have, dried in a cupboard.  They were in the room while she still drew breath. I saw the elevator door close and I struggled with the thought that I would not see her again.
We roll into March and aren't we glad,  just saying the word is like a tonic to the brain.  We know we will see more snow but we anticipate it to be more controlled, less fanatical than January and February's storms.  The sky matches the land today, too much grey and brown for any artist's soul. And then I see the Nazi putting away his snow shovel and I want to say stop, bad luck, instant guarantee of a mammoth snow storm about to break. It's like changing your socks during the World Series, you don't do it.  But I never talk to him.

Buds are everywhere and I'm hearing new birds in the morning.  My house plants experience a growth surge and they push out new green leaves at an intense rate, they sense the long growing season just ahead of us. We live inside our heads and forced-heated rooms all winter and we don't notice how soft the morning air is starting to feel.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I got the afternoon shopping mall trying to buy a new bra blues

I left the house at 2:45 p.m. and told the cowboy I would be gone a short time. Four hours later I walk in the door and explain to my bewildered husband that I needed a new bra.
 I have ridiculously large breasts on a small chest and it's a wonder I do not fall flat on my face. Unenlightened women in my past have envied my abundant cleavage, silly chickadees, while I admired their sleek, athletic torsos.   Before puberty I loved to run and was wind-light  racing down grassy slopes.  And then the body changed, girlhood was gone, and this new shape caused my center of gravity to shift  from belly to chest and  my stride felt  lopsided and awkward.

My niece and I share similar genes. Melissa is a smart kid, an engineer, her father read her the National Geographic at three years of age. We talked about this situation and she said, get yourself fitted. She's a big city girl and knows things I do not. I was not looking forward to strangers wrapping tape around my semi-nude torso but I knew it had to be.
 I talked to a clerk at  Victoria's Secret but that place is unnerving and every bra pushes your breasts into your neck and they go up and down when you swallow.  This is what I want, I told the girl, I want to be able to bend over and when I stand straight again I want nothing to have moved.  "We have just the bra for you," she gushed," my boss is a 46DD cup and she wears this one jogging and it comes in magenta." I did not like the mental image that inspired and shortly afterwards left the shop.

My only other option in this farmers' town is the J.C. Penney and the lingerie fitting room is next to the electric skillets and coffee makers.  Inside are boxes of dusty hangers and the clerk handed me  nineteen, yes, nineteen different bras over the course of an hour.  I tried only a few and then read the posters about shoplifting and how to measure your own cup size until she came back. Like all women of culture I detest bra-fitting, a dehumanizing and depressing activity and I watch myself push and squeeze in three full length  mirrors.

 I buy a new bra and it's the same bra I always buy but in the new and improved size. It's called the Minimizer, not unlike the Terminator and it promises to make me look 1 3/4 inches smaller.  Dave, a good old boy sexist, was incredulous and couldn't believe I wanted to make myself appear smaller.  My body parts are not here to entertain men, I tell him. Unfortunately, this is not true and sometimes female bodies are just part of the scenery.  But as long as we have clever women like young Melissa the dark side doesn't have a chance.

Friday, March 4, 2011

banana bread

My daughter drops off  two children full of phlegm and mucous and I am Nurse Nanny today.  It's not fair that children get sick but that's just one more unfair thing on a very long list. I am the official dispenser of Tylenol be it oral suspension or under the tongue lozenge and as a child of the 60's I love drugs especially the pain-relieving kind, because that's what the 60's was all about, pain relief.   My kids received some really hard core anti-drug training during the 80's in their classrooms and I am sincerely thankful.  But probably because of that I spent half a sleepless night convincing my fifteen-year old son to take just one little pain pill following a surgical procedure to  repair a nasal fracture. The star of the high school basketball team, an egotistical monster all temper and immaturity, elbowed him in the nose during practice and that rotten kid never apologized, not even flowers.  I hate sports. Jim agreed to only half the pill and we slept.

The side mirror of my car has gone away due to an unfortunate meeting with a parked jeep on a narrow road and that car has spent the morning at a repair shop. We are waiting for the owner of the shop to drive my car here and then I will return him to his workplace.  Billy Pline, a friend of the cowboy's from the old neighborhood has this little shop on the ghetto side of town and he is the most gentle, petal soft fellow who ever rode a Harley.

 Billy's appearance is a bit alarming for genteel society but who wants to spend time with those people.  My car rounds the corner and  Adam yells, "Grandma, he looks like Santa Claus!  No wait, it is Santa Claus!"  Cameron hears this and starts wailing because she has an aversion to the man in red and who can blame her.  Billy pulls up and his long scraggly peppered hair is twisted and tangled with his even longer beard and he resembles a heroic Viking of yore, although kind of scrappy. His lively blue eyes are smiling and this is good because you can't find his mouth in that nest of hair. He is all of 350 pounds on a mighty short frame, a little gnome of a guy without the pointy hat,  but this is a lovable guy, a friendly teddy of a  bear, and Cameron needs to realize this about the world of men.  Sometimes the most homely are the most worthy.  I attempt to put her in the car seat but she is a shrieking stiff board and refuses to bend and wants nothing to do with this hairy intruder in her grandmother's car. The two of us finally settle into the front seat and her taut little body burrows into mine. It is a short trip to Billy's shop.
 Billy and I talk of many things, the singing birds that cluster in his pine tree every morning, his daughter's nursing career,  the 1926 car parts in the attic of the shop's garage.  His girlfriend is selling them on eBay and she is putting out suet for those birds. Cameron refuses to relinquish  her buried position and I can feel her warm breath on my neck. This was Billy's grandfather's shop and he charges us only for parts, never labor, and I pay him with a check and a loaf of banana bread.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


The woman behind me is ordering breakfast and she tells the waitress she wants her sausage patty flattened between paper towels to squeeze out all the grease and the waitress, poor thing, is writing all this down.  The young girl  puts her pencil behind her ear and with a little wink towards me says, "How about I bring that little sausage patty out here and put it under your big old bingo-playing butt and all that nasty grease will go somewhere else real quick?"   I know, I know, do you want live in my world or the real one?
My sinus infection has a grip on my sanity and any slight discrepancy exhibited by a person or small animal will result in a caustic reaction on my part. My symptoms do not respond to aspirin or beer so I am at my clinic prepared to spend an enormous amount of time in the shuffling process. I sat at three different counters and talked to three different people and none of them were interested in my medical symptoms but they did type endlessly on their computers whenever I answered a question yes or no.
 I could have been inducted into the army and gone through their medical examination process in less time.  There is a large red textbook on the desk of the middle-aged fellow copying my insurance card.  Someone studying anatomy? I ask.  "Neuroscience, actually," he said.  Not your usual kind of hobby, I say.  "I'm hoping to promote it into something more than a hobby." said he.  Everybody in the medical field wants to be a star.  If he can navigate the complicated maze of insurance companies and federal and state medical programs he is well-equipped for this branch of science.

When I was six years old I got the mumps and I was the last kid in the neighborhood to sport swollen melon-shaped cheeks.  In the 50's vaccines were rare, smallpox was it, so we traveled childhood with many halts and stops including chicken pox, mumps, whooping cough and three strains of measles.  Baking soda was bought in containers the size of cereal boxes to alleviate those itchy red welts.  After two weeks I showed no sign of recovery and I decided to stop eating because it just hurt too much.  Dr. Merritt, our sturdy pediatrician, stopped at the house and I'm not sure what kind of magic he performed but by nightfall I was sucking on jello and white Wonder bread squares spread with braunschweiger.
 It is strange to me that in 1958 -  thirteen years into the infamous baby boom era -  there were  physicians available to make house calls.  And today our smaller, less populated families must stand at the end of a very long line if their babies need help.

And if we follow the rules and remain in our chairs the system will swerve its huge blinking head (like the alien in War of the Worlds)  our way for a couple of minutes and give us its opinion.  We will walk out with that special piece of paper and over to the pharmacist where we will wait again. And six hours later I am rewarded with an orange plastic jar full of black and pink capsules. Ah, Amoxicillin, curer of children's ear infections, my boss's strep throat and so many other things, I salute you.