Friday, November 4, 2011

Pulling the String

As I get older, I grow younger. I find myself longing for our old pal Bozo the clown doll who is surely 30 years buried in a landfill. I want to hear his comforting words parroted back to me in his untroubled tones. I picture him in his aqua spotted clown tunic with his orange-yarn hair in clumps going east and west. With each pull of the string our Bozo belted out hilarious phrases one-after-another. “Keep on Laughing” and “Whoop-dee-do-dee-doodley-doo” were two of his favorites. Occasionally you’d hear a “Now that’s a ding dong dandy” or “I’m your old pal Bozo” as if we could ever forget our old pal Bozo. 

These were the glory days before screenwriters brought clown dolls to life to kill everyone in the neighborhood. With Bozo nestled between us at bedtime, my sister and I took turns pulling his string to hear his ever-cheerful chorus of spirited phrases. Now I find myself calling my dad looking for the same kind of encouragement. 

         “Hi Dad. It’s Ann” I say into the phone.  
          Dad quips back his speedy response, ‘Well Hello ‘Dad-its-Ann!’”  

He says this every time, and sometimes I find it annoying, but today I pull the string wanting to hear what I know will come next. 

         “I love you Dad,” I say.  
         “I loved you first” he chimes back.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Grandma Love

There were 62 newspapers to deliver after school and neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night would stop me from carrying the Alliance Review to each and every doorstep. At 8 years of age, I was the Review’s youngest paper carrier. I wore my yellow slicker and sloshed through soggy yards in bare feet. I was careful to place each newspaper inside storm doors to protect it from the rain.
My grandparents’ home was the exact halfway point on my paper route making it the perfect pit stop for fueling up on snacks and soda. If I walked fast and didn’t stop to visit, I could complete the route in half an hour, but of course I never skipped Grandma’s house.
Grandma leaned out her screen door waving and “you-hooing” me over. She wasn’t wearing a raincoat, but was sporting a plastic bonnet to protect her just-home-from-the beauty-shop-curls. Despite the rain Grandma remained at her post gesturing wildly like an airplane flagger guiding me safely into her warm, dry hangar. Although Grandma’s starched cotton housedress was already severely polka dotted with raindrops, she pulled me in close for a hug.  Next she set Grandpa to work drying my feet with a bath towel and hanging my slicker on the shower curtain rod where it could drain into the tub.
As usual, Grandma had arranged a sampler platter with junk-food delicacies on her gold-vinyl-foot stool in the family room. She sat behind me in her lazyboy rocker drying my wet hair with a hand towel. Grandma pointed to the obligatory orange I must eat first. Grandma always pre-peeled it and wrapped it in wax paper. The orange was to appease my mother who didn’t want me filling up on junk every time I was there. Once the orange was downed, I was free to sample the finer snack foods like cheese curls, root beer and ginger cookies.
“Where are your galoshes?” Grandma wanted to know.
“Nobody wears galoshes in the rain, we just go barefoot.” I replied.
Grandma would have none of that. She was not going to allow her granddaughter to walk through wet grass in bare feet. “What if you were to step on something sharp?”
As Grandma dug in her clothespress (her name for closet) to find some boots, I enjoyed the final pleasure of the last cheese curl dissolving in my mouth. The boots Grandma presented were made from clear plastic. Unlike Cinderella’s elegant glass pumps, these clear overshoes fastened with an elastic-figure-eight band around a button at my ankle.  My naked heel fell into the pre-pressed hole that was made in anticipation of an old lady’s wide-heeled shoe. My toes wiggled up at me through the clear plastic. It never occurred to me to disobey Grandma or to fuss about not wanting to wear those things. I simply whispered a desperate prayer hoping no one would see me as I sprinted through my paper route delivering to the last 31 houses in record time.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Telegrams from college

Telegrams from college

My neighbor friend and I sat on our front stoop battered and bruised from the truncated phone conversations we’ve been having with our 18-year-old daughters away at college. We shared stories of loveless phone calls that sound more like 1930’s telegram messages sent over a wire when each word cost money.

Can’t talk– STOP
I’m at lunch – STOP
The phone call ends.

When my daughter Emily came home for spring break, I sat on the closed lid of her toilet seat and began my lecture about phone manners while she curled eyelashes, plucked eyebrows and put on makeup. I employed a phrase we used in her early teens when negotiating friendly relations between our age-related cultures.

“In MY country....” I said in my best hoity-toity voice, “We speak to each other on the phone with SMILE in our voices and we begin with a pleasant sing-song ‘helloooooo.’”

I acknowledged that when Emily is communicating with those from HER country she can follow the customs of that “teen tribe.” Although they speak to one another in grunts and mumbles between incoming text messages - when she’s talking to anyone over 40 - she needs to learn the language and customs of MY people. I demonstrated the art of placing a soft and fluffy word here and there to dress up an otherwise blunt and hurtful-to-me conversation.

I summarized the exercise saying, “What I’m basically asking you for is to fake it. Just raise your voice a couple of octaves into the sweet and loving registers and drop a couple of soft words here and there and I’m good.”

My daughter felt it was wrong to fake cheerfulness, “Isn’t it dishonest?” she said.

Right or wrong I assured her that it’s what I want. “Do it for your mother,” I instructed. 

I recall having similar conversations with my mom many years ago while I primped as a teenager in the bathroom mirror. From that closed-lid-porcelain-mother’s perch, I too received many important life instructions. What I call ‘faking it,’ MY mother – in HER country – called it being polite. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bugsy and Lady

Bugsy and Lady

Emily had a stomach bug while away at college and called me from her bed one night looking for comfort and joy and a bedtime story from her dear old mom. I’m not a Munchhousen by Proxy mother who gets some sort of thrill from having a sick child, but I must admit I did enjoy this brief visit to the glorious “Mommy” days.

As Emily and I lay cozied up in beds 250 miles apart with phones to our ears, she gave me my requisite story characters – a dog and a ladybug and I was off! The story evolved over the next 30 minutes to one of epic-soap opera proportion. Lady, our ladybug, lost her wings in a painful scotch tape incident – narrowly escaping being wrapped alive into the colorful accoutrements of a birthday present. Bugsy, the dog and Lady’s love interest, sadly developed macular degeneration. Over their 10 years together, these 2 unlikely “love birds” came to depend on one another. 

Lady, perched in Bugsy’s ear, guided him through the perils of the house instructing,“Left. Left. Left! There you go. Now turn just a little bit to the right.”

Together the pair regularly watched the TV program Mystery Diagnosis hoping to discover tips that might stave the progression of Bugsy’s blindness or cure Lady’s scotch-tape-tattered wings. The story ended in dramatic fashion with Bugsy’s eyesight gradually diminishing until the only thing he could see at the center of his pinhole vision was his Lady. But after all - what’s more important to a fella than his lady? And - what's more important than a good laugh and a story when one is nauseous and miles from home.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Name Game

Name Game

Just as one day we will run out of names to describe various shades of red in lipstick tubes, I imagine housing developers will one day run out of themed-street names for their new boulevards, avenues and drives. In the old days, streets were named after presidents, types of trees, or were given numbers –Lincoln Avenue, Sycamore Drive and 2nd Street.

These days, developers seem compelled to create wonderlands from tangles of streets named after berries, fruits and stones. Boysenberry, Huckleberry, Blueberry / Plum, Peach, Cherry / Stonemaster, Millstone, Stonebridge. My brain doesn’t work that way. All I remember is that to get to Marie’s house, I’m supposed to turn right on some street called Stone-something. I’m a scientist. Why can’t they make a neighborhood with medical or sciency street names that are easier to remember? Who could forget to make the turn onto Pulmonary Edema from Congestive Heart Failure Avenue? And let’s not forget that cute little park by Kidney Stone Way. During rush hour you can get there faster if you take the Coronary By Pass and follow the shortcut onto Diarrhea Drive. Why am I not consulted on these matters?

Friday, September 23, 2011

I'm such a child

I’m such a child

I will do almost anything for a fresh stick of gum. I suspect this fascination with a brand new piece comes from my days as a real child in the 60’s. Either we were poor or my mother was just “gum stingy” because we had to nurse a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint for several days before we were allowed to open a new one. We had designated safe places to store our precious gray wads to keep them from getting stuck on the back of some magazine or tragically thrown away prematurely. Between meals it was OK to place our gum on the edge of our dinner plate. With the milk downed and the veggies cleared out of my teeth, I’d pop it back in for another tumble. Overnight the chewed gum could be stored in a special place on the counter. My sister had her spot and I had mine.

Now I live large and buy spearmint Orbit in bulk at Sam’s Club like a doggie treat to reward myself when I complete a heinous grown-up task. Like a spoiled dog grown fat for simply doing what a dog should do – come, stay, pee somewhere that’s not on carpet – I’ve come to expect a fresh stick of gum whenever I fold a load of laundry, clean the hair out of the drain (I get 2 for that) or when I’m able to finish reading 10 pages of something boring. I started this trick in college to get through countless chapters of Physics and Physiology, but was on a budget then and was stingier with my treats. Now I have more disposable income and home ownership affords me lots of opportunities for self-treating; there are countless yucky things to do when you own a house. Last week we were remarkably proactive and caulked a silly-putty-like substance between the squares of cement in our driveway. We also filled each and every pockmark in our pavement BEFORE the driveway crumbled into ruin. I was so proud that I almost forgot to freshen my blow. I’m such a child.