Family photos.

We all want them, of course.  To document, to remember, to recall the great times, the special times.   Smiling faces, pretty places.

As I looked once again at our Christmas cards,  I felt a touch of envy for those who were able to gather their families together and take group pictures, each one special and meaningful.

There was a Christmas, many years ago, when we decided we’d do a family photo, professionally staged and documented.

The children were at a particularly fetching age….all three of them somewhere between 12 and 15 years of age, malleable,  smileable, cute….in other words, photographable.

Photographer arrived around ten am.  The boys looked adorable in their blue blazers, button-down shirts, striped ties, khaki pants and top-siders.

The family gathered ‘round the roaring fire.  We thought we looked quite grand.

But not a single child had on a single sock.

Photographer wanted socks.

So did parents.

Fights ensued.  It got ugly.

We dismissed photographer and suggested he come back in two hours and all would be well.

During that two hour period, Bloody Mary’s were poured.  Generously.  Never mind that three of the five being served were seriously underage.

Remember.  This was all about the photograph, the document, the occasion.   Any port, or in this case, vodka, in the storm.

Photographer returned.  Still no socks.  Entire family in various stages of disarray.  Happy, yes, but definitely not photographable.

Pictures were taken but never purchased.

That was decades ago.

The last family photo was on the beach, just a few years back. It was a beautiful night. Everyone wore what they wanted to wear.  We walked, barefoot on the beach, holding hands.  No one needed to tell us to smile.  We couldn’t help but smile.

Who wouldn’t be happy?  Walking the beach at sunset, with the ones we loved best, a breeze blowing, a little wine in a few, if not all, tummies.

Sure, we failed Documentation 101 but we finally got one great family picture.

I hope that 2017 will be everything you wish it to be.

Christmas Day 2016

“May you live in interesting times.”   So says an old, time honored, and currently relevant (overly-so?) Chinese curse.

As we were drinking coffee at the breakfast table this morning, I looked into the pretty little dish adorning it.  In it were a stash of Hershey’s kisses, a power bar, four packets of Emergen-C for our dripping, sniffling colds.   And in the middle of all that was an extra-large bottle of Valium.

OOOPS.  Time out.  Time to take stock, inhale deeply and think about Christmas.  When I do that, I always go back to the year in Boston when I received such an important lesson.   So, without further ado, here is a re-print of that time.

The Christmas Spirit

The year was 1961. I was working in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music as a receptionist. It was, in all respects, a wonderful year. I was in love (still am) and was surrounded by talented, generous and joyful people.

But Christmas was always hard for me. What to give to my parents? My father never wore anything but a suit, had enough ties to last several life times, bought his own socks and had no hobbies. My mother was choosy about the things she wore and the things she had in the house. I always had great angst about what to give them. That year I found a little Japanese porcelain dish which I hoped they would like, but it cost more than my small salary could comfortably bear. Still, I bought it. There wasn’t any joy in the purchase, however. I was worried and poorer…not a good combination.

The Conservatory was, back then, in a less than desirable part of town. It was surrounded by poverty level housing and people. There was a drug store right across the street that I visited on my lunch hour to pick up necessary items.

One day, near Christmas, I was at the drug store, mindlessly purchasing some stuff, not giving it any thought as I stood in line to pay for my items. An older woman was in front of me. She wasn’t dressed warmly enough for the cold Boston December day. It did strike me that she most likely didn’t have a warmer coat, but the thought was fleeting.

And then something happened that I will never forget. As my arms were carelessly full of stuff, I realized she was buying a single box of tissues. And I heard her say to the clerk: “This is for my friend for Christmas. She’ll really like it.”

I find myself as speechless now as I did then. And still a little close to tears. It was a hard reality. She was delighted with her choice of a gift for her friend, confident that it would be given, received and used with love and affection.

And I was worried about an expensive porcelain dish for my parents who needed nothing and would most likely put the dish in a drawer anyway? Not a Christmas goes by that I don’t think about that moment.

Sometimes, I wish our family could just exchange boxes of tissues, carefully choosing one that might appeal…they come in such jazzy colors and designs these days. Wouldn’t that be fun? We could wrap them up fancifully with pretty paper and ribbons, confident they would be used and appreciated.

Now, I know we can’t….and would never want to…deny our families the joy of Christmas morning and presents under the tree. Santa Claus does exist.

But, for me, perhaps, a box of tissues has become a symbol of friendship and love, of a longed-for simple Christmas season, of joy, of an opportunity to share with others less fortunate, and, of course, in its own way, the true meaning of Christmas.

The Holidays are Upon Us.

And with them, of course, the consideration of gifts.

As we mull over our giving, we must consider the fact that The Mister is quite consumed by the issue of global warming.   And, in particular, its impact on low-lying coastal communities.

Subsequently, one of the things we are considering for our family this year is some acreage in Siberia. By many accounts, most of them highly suspect, land in Siberia could, at some point, be as good as gold.

Our plans are to get ahead of the rush.  Sort of like the people who bought water-front property on Hilton Head so many years ago.

Now, what’s not so simple is figuring out how we go about purchasing that land.  Yes, we have a realtor in the family but, the last time I looked, his license doesn’t extend quite that far.

Alas, we won’t be able to put eyes on the property.  Is there a view?  Will our land be conducive to shopping malls?  Good schools?  Neighbors?  What is the resale value?  Is there any?  These are among the many things we will probably never know.

But, still, we are seriously considering the option.  Many factors are at work here.

Children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up in such different worlds from ours.  We find it hard to keep up with the trends and their needs.  I have the strange feeling that a deed to property in Siberia won’t get that “Oh, this is just what I wanted” moment on Christmas morning.  But, as always, it’s the thought that counts.

We have dreams of the family shivering around roaring fires, swathed in heavy blankets, ice-fishing on the frigid floes, snow-skiing on the blizzard-swept plains, dining on dried Buffalo meat and chilled borscht.

Wait.  Stop.  Never mind.  I went off the rails a bit there.  I’m back now.  Eddie Bauer  just announced its 50% off-everything-in-the-store sale.  Whew.

 

A Christmas Card Exchange

We send out a few Christmas cards….fewer every year, I  fear.  One goes to an old childhood friend and her husband.   She and I grew up together; our parents were good friends.  She was an important part of my life.

As is often the case, we grew apart as family, work and life put us on different parts of the map.

But for as long as I can remember, she and her husband sent Christmas cards.  Regularly and early.  You could set your calendar for their card, with wonderful handwritten updates, always arriving three or four days after Thanksgiving.

But things have changed as they so often do.

They stopped the Christmas card thing several years ago and I miss that terribly but for one important saving grace.

Every year, about ten days after they’ve received our card, I receive a “typewritten” letter from her husband.  We’re talking ribbons, clunky, noisy keys and 20 pound engraved stationery here.  And, may I add, nary a mistake nor a white-out-ed letter to be found.

His letters are magnificent things to behold and to read.  They are treasures that I eagerly await until they are safely in my mailbox and then in my hands.  I’ve kept every one of them.

He writes elegantly about their lives, their thoughts, their hopes and expectations.  I find myself reading his beautiful, personal and error-less prose over and over again.

I try to engage him in further written correspondence during the year but he’ll have none of that.  He’s set his boundaries and isn’t about to step over them.

So, I wait.  Each year.

I only have one month to go.

At Long Last.

I finally got it.

Because it was a world not open to me, never available, I brushed off its value.  I thought all the rituals surrounding it were silly, childish, and seriously over-rated.  I couldn’t understand why people would travel…sometimes long distances….to recreate the scene, to keep a toe in those waters, to go back.

But now I get it.  At long last.

We recently spent a week-end with three of my husband’s fraternity brothers and the distaff members of their families.

I watched as “mature” faces relaxed and dissolved into laughter.  Concerns and problems faded away.  Hair actually seemed to grow on balding heads.  Worry lines disappeared.  Replaced by the fun and joy of remembering and recalling.

They forgot their secret handshake but the lawyer in the group rallied his sharp mind and it all came back.

Stories that have been told many times were told again. And again.  Far-distant brothers were called and brought up to date.

Together, we laughed so hard and talked so loud, we either irritated or engaged those  near us.  At dinner one night, a gentleman seated next to us Googled the college song and serenaded us on his way out.  Waitresses benefited from our wine-induced largess.  The owner of another restaurant sent free shots of Tequila to the table.

We briefly waded into the political waters but decided, wisely, not to stay there too long.  Our mission was not to solve the world’s problems but to try to laugh them into perspective.

Once upon a time, I would have shrugged my shoulders at all that and basically said: “So what?”

But now, you see, I understand. I get it.  I appreciate the value of those bonds.…those fraternal bonds.  I wish I’d understood them earlier but late is better than never.

And I won’t be likely to forget them anytime soon.

 

A Little Help from a Friend

Thanksgiving, 2016

Dear Carolyn:

It’s Sallie here.  I know it’s been a while since I’ve written but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think of you nearly every day.  So, I’m taking my own advice right now and “just checking in.”

If you don’t mind, I do have one quick question for you.

As you know, I’m not the best person in the kitchen but Thanksgiving requires me to at least pretend I know what I’m doing.  I always offer to make something and that takes me to my recipe folder, such as it is.

So many of the recipes in there are from you.  You always shared anything I asked for.  The “Soup” section is full of your yummy things.  Written in your unique penmanship. The mere thought of your Wild Rice and Chicken soup makes my mouth water.

This year I decided to make your green bean, feta cheese, and pecan dish.  I’ve made it before but, for the life of me, I can’t remember if you sauté those pecans or just chop them up and sprinkle them over the beans.  Maybe you could refresh my memory.

Of course, I’m looking at my calendar and thinking about your annual Christmas Ornament luncheon.  Always a highlight of the season.  How you managed to do so much for so many continues to amaze and delight me.  That I was always included warms my heart and makes me feel special.

Well, I’ll sign off for now.  I know that the answer to my question about those pecans will not be directly forthcoming.  I’ll have to muddle through by myself.  But I’m confidant that, with your hands guiding me, it will be a delicious contribution to our Thanksgiving dinner.

And, as always, there will be a special toast to you, your generosity and your friendship.

I just wish those darn tears weren’t welling up as I write this.  But they are and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.

Love always.   S.

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all.   Life on the May will return next week.

What’s in a name?

Our children’s names for us, as parents, come naturally: Mom and Dad, with the occasional variance. They’re not necessarily original but there are only so many people on the earth who can call us by those names. So, in spite of their ordinariness, they become unique and special.

The Mister had another name for his mother. It was “Dux.”   Everyone, including her children, called her “Dux.” It was an all-inclusive, affectionate and honored name.   A neighbor chastised him one time, telling him that there was only one person in the whole world whom he could call “Mom” and that he was abusing that privilege by using her nickname. That went nowhere fast. She was first, last, and always, “Dux.”

When grandchildren arrive, we suggest names for them to call us. Ones that are happy, comfortable, and seem to fit our new roles.

I’ve asked around and find that we also tend to choose names that are easy for the grandchildren to pronounce, or perhaps have special familial meanings. “Go,” “Ali,”               “Clau-Clau,” “MeeMaw,” “LaLa,” “Nana,” and “Birdsey” are just a few recent examples.

I love all of those. I know those grandmothers and those names are wonderful, individual and affectionate. They fit the personalities.

But my favorite comes from a woman I don’t know but sure wish I did. She married a man who came equipped with children and grandchildren and of course, one of the big questions was: “What shall the grandchildren call me?”

My understanding was that it took her about 30 seconds to come up with the best grandmother name ever: “Miss America.”

Think about it.

“Miss America is picking me up from school today.”

“Miss America and my Granddaddy are coming for dinner tonight.

“I’m going shopping with Miss America this afternoon.”

How much fun is that?  For everybody.

Why didn’t I think of that?

Note to my own grandchildren: “Change is good. It’s never too late. Love, Mimi.”

 

 

 

We live in a zoo.

The zoo’s residents simply moved in with us. We didn’t invite them. They’re here 24/7. They follow us wherever we go. Into the living room, the den, our bedrooms. They join us for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Uninvited, though they may be.

They climb into our cars with us. They demand to be fed, heard, obeyed. Their voices penetrate our tender eardrums.

Their roaring and braying is incessant. We try to tune them out. Turn them off.   We simply can’t get away from them.  They even call our cell phones.

Who knew elephants and donkeys could be so smart?  And so annoying.

I think they’ll go into hibernation in a few days but sometimes I wonder. Will they go peacefully and quietly back to their enclosures?   Or will they continue to fuss and quarrel?

Will their keepers try to tame them or just let them roam at random? As they have for the past two years?

We just don’t know yet, do we?

Three Little Words

Sometimes it doesn’t take more than three little words to convey an important message.  “I love you” always hits home.  “It’s a girl (or boy)” packs a mighty wallop.

I have a new three-letter-word message.  Probably not intended as that but I’m adopting it as such anyway.

At this point in life, we’ve all had stuff come our way.   Stuff that we could have done nicely without.  It becomes part of our lives but not necessarily a welcome part. We deal with it but it’s always there.  In the background.  Making humming noises to be sure we don’t forget it.

At some point, our personal issues lose value as conversation pieces.  Friends and family give us those blank looks.  As if to say: “Not again, please. We’ve heard enough.” They’ve already responded generously and appropriately to the “crisis du moment” and don’t feel an urge to do it again.  Everybody’s got stuff and time moves on.

It’s not that we forget our friends.  Or that we’re forgotten by them.  It’s that other, newer, more urgent things get in the way, demanding attention.

Enter my new three-little-word message: “ Just checking in.” Those words, and only those words, came in an email from a friend I don’t see often but who knows things have, in recent weeks, been a little rough around the edges for our whole family.

She wasn’t offering to do anything grand for us.  (We didn’t need that.)

She wasn’t asking me to detail our current issues.  (That would have been too-much- information.)

She was “just checking in.”  No response necessary.  No action on my part required.  But, she opened the door.  Just in case.

It struck me as such a simple way for her to tell me that we were present in her mind and heart and she took that moment to let me know.

It packed a real wallop for me, and I hope I remember to “just check in” with friends in the future.  Not to intrude but to open the door if someone wants to walk in.

P.S.  No one needs to tell me that “checking in” is a lot better than “checking out.”  That would be sassy.  And we can’t have that.

Foul and Damaging Weather

We had our share of both with Hurricane Matthew. 

In looking at the damage afterwards, we were pretty sure we saw indicators of tornadic activity.  The marked and definitive paths of destruction.  Trees twisted from their roots.  One house leveled; the next one untouched.  We’ve seen tornado behavior and felt certain that more than one had touched down during the hurricane.

Living through Matthew brought back memories from an event over 40 years ago.  As a result, the following came to mind:

The sky was black.   At  4:10 PM.  On April 3, 1974.   In Dayton, Ohio.

We knew why.  We were used to tornado warnings and watches.  We weren’t a full-fledged, designated, tornado-alley but we were close enough.

The weather forecasters always got carried away with themselves and, almost always, overreacted.   So we, naturally, under-reacted.  We became cavalier about the whole thing.  So very “here-we-go again.”  Sure, we  listened to the weather stations and stayed alert for the tell-tale “freight-train sounds.”   But we never gathered  supplies, batteries, blankets, children or anything else because the worst had never come to pass.

On that day, April 3rd, in 1974,  as the tornado sirens were wailing, we were outside, watching the wind direction, looking for unusual cloud formations and fallen tree limbs, but we weren’t scared.  It really was business as usual.

Later, when it seemed everything had blown over, we  went back inside, did our normal every-day things, and went to bed.

What we didn’t know until the early morning was that a small town just slightly east of us had suffered the brunt of an F -5 Tornado.  It touched down at 4:40 pm and destroyed much of the town.  34 people were killed; 1500 injured.   Massive, massive attack by Mother Nature.

Those are the facts.  Readily available on Google.  “The Xenia Tornado.”    All the reports say it better than I could.

But I’m the only one who can say what follows.   And I’m not proud of it.

Among the things our family did that night was pack our bags.  In readiness for our annual trip to the Low Country.  We were excited, always ready to get our feet in the sand and the sea.

We’d be on the road the next morning by 7:00 am.  Just as we always were.

We got up early.  Made last minute checks for the trip.   The phone rang about 6:00 am.

It was a Red Cross volunteer.  And through her I quickly learned of the devastation and disaster that had struck, so close to home.  She asked if I could/would join the others who were gathering to go to Xenia and help those whose homes, families, businesses, and lives had been totally destroyed.

Now, here’s the bad part.  The part I’m ashamed of.

I quickly told her that our family was on its way to Hilton Head Island for our annual vacation and that I would be unable to help.

And I hung up the phone.

Those words, my thoughtless words, haunt me to this very day.

Enisled.

Prounounced:  en-isle-ed.

If you’re a crossword puzzle person, you probably know that word.  If not, here’s the definition:

“To make into an island; to set apart from others; to isolate.”

Yep…that was us all right.  Hurricane Matthew “enisled” us.

We made the decision on Friday morning.  Took a straw vote with our neighbors and, in hurricane-speak, decided to ”ride it out.”  We knew we wouldn’t be flooded…at least by the river.  The bluff’s too high and there’s too much space between it and us.  All the other elements were variable and subject to change.

But, at least, the go/no-go conversation was over.  We collectively decided to go against the mandated evacuation order and sit tight.

At some point during our final preparations on Friday, we came across a long-lost, little blue battery-driven radio.  We pulled it out and loaded it up “just in case.”  We also, “just in case,” prepared a safe zone, in a deep closet under the stairs which we were pretty sure could withstand just about anything.  Put some wine in there, a few comfy pillows, took silly pictures and assumed we wouldn’t need it.  Also hung up a sign in the safe room with my old school motto.  It reads:  “Function in Disaster; Finish in Style.”

On Friday afternoon, it looked like there would be high winds but nothing we hadn’t seen before.  So we congratulated ourselves.  We would be safe here on the May. Enjoyed our wine, had pleasant dinners.  Watched a bit of the political mess on Friday evening and went to sleep.

At 11:30 pm Matthew arrived in earnest.  By  1:30 am we’d retreated to our safe zone, huddled with the radios and seriously starting to question our decision.  We were in text mode with the next-door neighbors.  None of us voiced our fear but it was palpable.  The information coming to us was not encouraging.

Around 2:30 am the power went out.  And all we had was noise and darkness.  Loud, unrelenting, banging, howling noises.  Except for the rain, pounding on the tin chimney flashings, we didn’t know what the noises were. Thunder?  Trees falling on the house?   Shutters being torn off?  Docks being ripped away?  Windows exploding?  Transformers blowing?  Who knew?  We didn’t.

Our trusty NOAA radio, guaranteed to withstand all inclement weather, went out. So-long storm updates.

Then cell service died.  Bye-bye neighbors.

The little blue radio was our last hope.  And then, even IT quit.

Four, seemingly endless, hours of fear and blackness.  Not knowing.

But then the dawn came and we realized this old house and our neighbor’s house were standing; the docks were still attached; even our little boat was at the ready.  Big trees were down and Mother Nature had vigorously pruned many limbs and much of the Spanish Moss but we were okay.

For almost three days, we had no power.  No cell service.  Electrical lines were down.  And  live. No newspapers, obviously.  There were food issues, or more appropriately put, issues of no food.  We were trapped by large downed trees.  There was no contact with the outside world.  We were isolated, set apart, enisled.

(Personal confession of naiveté and ignorance here:  I don’t know exactly where my brain was but those obvious consequences of “riding it out” weren’t part of my plan.)

Of this writing, of course, things have changed.  For the better.

All around us, residents have returned and the stories are just beginning.  Many are hard to hear and read about.

Our son’s house is by-and-large destroyed.  They have their hands full.

My cousin’s son, Hayes, refers to this time as the “Aftermatthew.”  The tough time.   For so many people.

Upon reflection, I think we’d make the same decision.  But I’m not absolutely, completely, totally, sure about that.

 

A brief caveat:  This is a birds-eye view of the storm.  It’s not intended to be comprehensive or reflective of the many efforts, by so many people, to restore our communities.

Writing for Money

Recently, a friend sent me a notice regarding a writing contest that stood to make me $100.00 richer if I won.  It was nice of her to think of me so I decided I’d submit an essay.  One that had animals in it.  I’m told that you always get extra points for children and animals.

Then I looked at the requirements.  The fine print.

First, I discovered that I had to send in $10.00 with my essay.  Suddenly, this had all the earmarks of a money-maker for the contest people.  And, most likely, not for me.

Secondly, the essay had to start with the words: “The sky went black….”

Well, that was the real kicker.  I haven’t seen the sky go black in longer than I can remember.  I’m assuming that happens somewhere around ten o’clock or so but, being an early-to-bed person, I can’t say for sure.

Sure, I wake up at four am and it’s dark outside but nothing happened, at least to me, during that period. When the sky went black.  Certainly not anything worth writing about.

So my essay would look something like this:

                   “The sky went black.  Just like it does every night.”

Somehow, and correct me if I’m wrong, I didn’t think that was going to get me $100.00 and it seemed a little silly to send in something that cost me a dollar per word.

And four of those words were theirs to start with.

“In Praise of Profanity”

That’s the title of a new book by Michael Adams.

According to the publisher, The Oxford Press, the book is a “provocative and unapologetic defense of profanity in modern society.”

Personal admission right up front:  I can swear like a sailor.

So his words are music to my ears.

Since moving to the gentle state of South Carolina, I have curbed my language, softened it. But that doesn’t mean that something untoward doesn’t slip out occasionally.  Sometimes it happens under the influence of a glass of wine or two. And when it happens, it feels good, comfortable, passionate.  The word, or words, just come out for all to hear.  And, I normally regret it later.

But now, according to the author of this new book, it’s all okay.

Maybe even better than okay.

It seems a little profanity can create an emotional release, even spur a strong relationship.  Can create trust among friends.

The author also tells us that, when used correctly, profanity is “expressively complicated.”

Let me be clear.  I am wildly against gratuitous profanity.  Comedians who think that pounding four letter words into their routines makes everything better, stronger, funnier. Characters in movies whose every-other-word is profane.  Not my cup of tea.

I was, and I hate to admit this, the mother who didn’t censor her language.  Interestingly, none of my children even think about cursing, swearing.  No, they leave that to me.   And, typically, out of respect for them and their families, I behave myself.  But there are those times……..

So, fair warning:  If I fall and snap an ankle, spill red wine on a friend’s white sofa, find myself plunging to earth in an airplane, there will be profanity.  It’s my way of telling you that I take those things VERY seriously.

And everyone around me will know exactly how I feel.

Clearly.  Passionately.  Honestly.

 

On Buying Jeans

Apparently the new criteria for buying jeans is: “Can you sit in them?”

I discovered that when I went on a mission to buy a pair of jeans that were “in.”  This by definition means that they aren’t baggy, have very skinny legs, have no give in the fabric.  Aren’t, in other words, comfy.

The adorable sales-person, (underage in my opinion but child labor’s a whole different subject), clearly had concerns about the jeans I was wearing.  My favorite ones, to be precise.

To say that I was shamed into trying on things that I shouldn’t have might suggest that I was persuaded by her youth, her chic-ness, and by the look on her face as she gave me the once-over.  Indeed, I felt pitiful and desperate.  I was, in other words, a sales-person’s dream.

She put me in a dressing room with more mirrors than I needed, then abandoned me so I was forced to walk out into the world…or at least into the store…in jeans that even I knew were wrong.   But by then I was starved for her opinion and, especially, her approval.  She kept saying they were still too baggy. Clearly, no better than what I had on when I walked in.

Now, at this point in my life, I know myself well enough that if I don’t already have something quite like it in my closet, I shouldn’t buy it.  I won’t wear it. But this shopping trip was intended to be a new experience.  To get with it.  To embrace change.

So, we tried and we tried some more.  We pulled and we zipped.  We assessed and we evaluated.  She had to be so tired of me.  I was tired of me, too.

Finally, we found a pair that we agreed had some “with-it-ness.”   That’s when she asked the all-important  “Can you sit in them?” question.  So I sat in them.

And I bought them.

What I neglected to tell her, because I didn’t want to upset her, was that I couldn’t breathe in them.

Apparently, that’s not a criteria.

I should have known.

 

 

 

jeans image courtesy of polyvore.com