GUILTY AS CHARGED

We didn’t know it was a crime when we did it but isn’t that what guilty people always say?

Sure, we knew they were underage when we poured them Bloody Mary’s so they would smile for our Christmas photograph.  (see Family Photos)

But, hey, it was all done in the confines of our house, so who cared?  Who was going to report us?  Not the children, certainly.  They were too young to drive, let alone file a complaint.  And, I might add, too happy to care.

Apparently, serving booze to our minor children was just the tip of the iceberg of our criminal streak that morning in Ohio.  Oh, so many years ago.

It was what we did afterwards that was the bad thing, the criminal act.

See, we took pictures.  And not just any pictures.  We took pictures of underage children, who were, by all accounts, slightly intoxicated.  And, some might even suggest, strongly encouraged along that path by their parents.   See where I’m going with this?

No, neither did I until I submitted that little essay to our town’s newspaper, who generously runs one of my blogs each month.

Seems we were guilty of a “PUI” and the Editor gently but firmly told me that what I had written could get us…..and the paper….in hot water if it were to be published.

FYI, “PUI” stands for “Photographing-Under-the-Influence.”  Bad enough to do that by itself.  It gets worse when you toss in that underage thing.

Now we’re talking C as in Crime and T as in Trouble.

But, I protested to the Editor, surely after all these years no one would care.   We were young parents. Didn’t know any better.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  Harmless little acts of indiscretion.

No, no, no and no, said the Editor.

I capitulated, of course. And we tamped down the blog for obvious reasons.

It was a first-hand lesson in public perception.  And just how easy it can be to cross the line between intended humor and potential harm.

Little Treasures

Question:  What on earth could the following items have in common?

A purple bud vase

A small African warrior statue

Two little glass hearts

A handmade piece of pottery with the words “You Are Great” painted on it

A badly chipped china angel

A kitchen timer

A painted spoon rest

Answer:  They have absolutely nothing in common.  Except that I have a special affinity for each of them.

I didn’t buy a single one of them.  They were each given to me.  With love.

If I don’t see each of them, in their rightful places, every day, several times a day, I go into a cold sweat.

They each have names, of course.  They’re named for the people who gave them to me.

They’ve developed an aura of personal significance which is why I panic if I don’t see them.

They’re supposed to be in their proper places.  They’re there for a reason.  And that reason is that I put them there.  And that’s where they’re going to stay.  Exactly in that spot.  Their special spots.

If I wrote a letter to people who were planning to rob our house, I’d draw them a map to the silver with a request to take it all.  I’d beg them not to harm the cats and to please leave a couple of rugs and some of the wonderful lamps my husband made.

I’d also ask them to leave me those eight little items but they most likely wouldn’t take them anyway.

I think we could start all over with just those few things.  I don’t want to.    It would be a bother.  But it could be done.

 

On Books

I read a lot.  I study the New York Times Book Review each week in search of books I might like.  Goodreads sends me stuff once a month.   I study book club lists.  All in hopes of finding books to enjoy.

I’ve gotten picky.  The words “war, violence, slavery, torture, suffering, strife” don’t compel me anymore.  There was a time when I was drawn to that, but not now.

Instead, I look for kinder, gentler stories.  Stories that I can climb into and yes, that clichéd word, “identify” with.  I like that.

Henry James said many years ago: “The purpose of a novel is to help the heart of a man to know itself.”  That’s what I’m looking for.

For some reason, at least for me, Swedish and British mysteries fall into that category.  I think it’s because the protagonist is almost always a pensive, brooding, thoughtful person who is trying to figure out his/her own heart.

He or she is usually smart. I admire that.

He or she is usually a loner.  I get that.

Sure, there’s a murder or two but they’re just props.  Tools for the characters to develop and act accordingly.

In the process of solving the crime, the detective finds his family among his co-workers and friends.  Each has a role and they form the whole to solve the mystery.  They are independent and interdependent.  They are the sum of their parts.

I like to figure out where I might fit in.  Where I could help.  I try to climb into the heads of those who are part of the group and wonder why and how they think that way.

In the process, they let me discover something about my own heart.  Just like Mr. James said they would.

 

 

Splinters and such.

The iconic Katherine Hepburn once said in an interview that she’s quite good at getting foreign objects out of eyes…her own or anyone else’s.  The mere idea of that gives me the heebie-jeebies.  So, I’m not your go-to person if something’s in your eye.

I am, however, quite infatuated with splinters.  Those little shards that end up in the bottoms of bare feet or in tender little fingers.

Pro-splinter people have unique outlooks and perspectives.

A rickety old wooden pier becomes a source of hope and possibility.

A child screaming “Mommy, I have a splinter in my foot” is cause for celebration.

Nothing brings a smile to my face more than the prospect of getting that splinter out.  Just ask my children.  And most recently, the Mister.

I happen to think that my needle and tweezer work is exemplary.  It’s hard to be sure of that as no one I’ve ever worked on has said: “Wow, that was really great!” or “I can’t thank you enough!”  So I have to rely on my own personal assessment.

I look for a fairly high degree of pain tolerance in my patients.  And, as I’ve gotten a little older, I also expect them to forgive my lack of precision, due to failing eyesight.

I know that all sounds a bit macabre.  Perhaps it is.

I’ve never looked at my patients as victims.  But perhaps they are.

I do know that more than one child has limped around for days with a splinter in his foot before he (or anyone else) told me what the problem/opportunity was.  That could be viewed as stealing candy from a baby.

But since I’m the one with the sharp needle, I suppose I should proffer a little compromise and, perhaps, a touch of compassion.

What a bother.

 

 

 

Can We Talk?

Don’t put pussy willows up your nose.

Don’t put your elbows on the table. 

Don’t chew with your mouth open.

…and other things our mothers told us NOT to do.

It almost goes without saying that unless you’re sure  the person you’re talking to voted the same way you did in our recent election, do NOT talk about it.   Don’t go there.  Bad idea.  Our mothers would be the first to tell us so.

Well, I’d like to suggest that we should do exactly that. That we indeed need to talk about it.

I… and others I know on both sides of the election … would very much like to know how and why we made our decisions.  We musn’t think less of one another, regardless of how we voted.  To the contrary.

IF, and it’s a big IF, we can, as friends with differing opinions, hurdle the divisiveness and ugliness of the past two years, it surely would be a good thing.

I, personally, need to understand those differences if I’m going to continue to feel a part of this town, state, country.  If I don’t, life will be emptier.  And scarier.

I’m always the one to giggle at funerals, say the wrong thing, ask the wrong question.  That will do nothing but get worse if I feel throttled and unable to say what I think and feel.  Especially when it comes to our lives and hopes.  And those of our children and theirs.

Perhaps the time isn’t right.  Maybe it’s too soon.  Maybe there’s still a fragility in the air.  Too much raw emotion.  But if not now, when?  Who decides that?  Maybe I’m ready for a conversation but no one else is.  When will that be?  How will we know?

I don’t expect total agreement on this.  I’m simply suggesting that our door is open. And I’d like to think that our minds are, too.  The goal is pretty important.  If not critical.

As Joan Rivers used to say, “Can we talk?”

Exam Time

So a friend walks into a doctor’s office.   It’s her annual check-up.  She’s strong and healthy so this is just routine.  Right?  Wrong.

Seems she’s reached the magical age where not only her physical well-being is evaluated; her mental acuity is also going to go under the microscope.  To say that she was flustered and taken aback by that is an understatement.  Which explains the “off-by-a-century” answer to the question: “What is today’s date?”

Once she got over the terror, she did quite well.  As those of us who know her would have guessed.

She was cooking right along, spelling WORLD backwards, remembering her children’s and grandchildren’s birthdays, asking for clarification on the question “Who is our President?”  And so forth.

But then came the kicker.  The stumper.   The unanswerable question.

“What is the number and street address of this office?”

If you live here, you understand her complete surprise and inability to even come close to an answer.

We quickly learn that, around here, we get to where we’re supposed to go by first going to someplace we know.  Then we take a right (from it), or go three doors down (from it), or across the street (from it).  Directions are obscure, convoluted and always given in relation to something else.  Say a Sam’s, a Walmart, a Publix.

But a street name?  A number on a door?  Not our way of doing business.

But it works.  Somehow.

Sure, we could use our GPS, or ask Siri, but, really, what fun would that be?  Think of all the dead-end streets and illegal u-turns we’d miss out on.

So, as long as we know how to get to the place that’s sort of close to the place we’re going, we’ll get there.

Sooner or later.

 

 

Dates and Appointments

I still use a paper calendar.  A month-at-a-glance thing.   It sits right in front of my computer and yes, I know that if I were “with it,” I would keep all those dates, appointments, and birthdays on the computer.

The Mister does that.  He’s computer savvy.  He also forgets most of his dates, appointments and birthdays.

I’ve used the pretty Hilton Head calendar for years.  But the publisher started using fancy glossed paper and everything you write on it smudges.  Only a ball point pen doesn’t smudge and I don’t like ball point pens.  Oh, what to do?

As it happens, I recently ordered my outfit for next year’s Bluffton Christmas Parade from an on-line source and those nice people enclosed a free calendar with my purchase.   I tested it with my favorite pens and, oh joy, it doesn’t smudge.

But, here’s the best part.  Did you know that nearly every one of our 365 days in the year is special?  And not just because we’re here to experience it.

My new calendar alerts me to “National Cow Appreciation Day,” “ National Rubber Ducky Day,”  “Belly Laugh Day,” and “Drinking Straw Day,” and that’s all just in first week of January.

Towards the end of the month, we can enjoy “Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day,”  “World Penguin Day.” and “National Cream Filled Donut Day.”  I haven’t dared to venture into February yet.  It’s overwhelming.

The mind boggles with opportunities.  However, I’m afraid to let the calendar out of my sight.  There are people I know who might actually find cause to celebrate each and every one of those days and I don’t think I’m up to that.

Participation in The Bluffton Christmas Parade is already pushing me to my limits.  It is, however, clear that I will be ordering something…who knows what?….from this place again next year so that I will receive their calendar.

I want to be ready for “Backwards Day.”  I’ll send out a save-the-date notice so you can get ready, too.  Of course, I have no idea WHAT that is but at least we’ll know WHEN it is.  Information is power.   How we use it in this case is entirely irrelevant.

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.”