Santa Claus and The American Flag

Our flag and Santa Claus are, unquestionably, two of our most important and unique national symbols.  We have one of each in this house. 

Our Santa Claus is really old.  My parents gave him to me for my first Christmas!   Go ahead. Do the math.

Our flag is only about 14 years old.   A friend’s son gave it to us upon his return from a tour-of-duty in Afghanistan, where both he and our flag bravely represented our country.

Santa gaily and always shows up at Christmas; the flag is proudly and always flown on our national holidays. 

When not on duty, the two co-exist in their very own drawer.  Santa is placed, a sheet carefully wrapped around him, face up in the drawer.  The flag is folded, also carefully, as flags are meant to be, and tucked in next to Santa.

And there they rest until their next appointed appearances. 

Santa has come under some criticism in the last several years.  There are those who say he’s gotten too commercial.  He’s overdone.  Even trite.  And we all know of course, that according to certain rumors, there is no Santa Claus.

And now, there are murmurs, at least according to the news, that displaying the American flag in our yards, windows, bumper stickers, is a political statement.   So, we’re to be wary of that unless we choose to visibly declare our party affiliation.

And I have this to say about that. It doesn’t matter a whit to me what others think about the flag.  Or Santa.  In our house, both of those symbols will always show up when they’re supposed to and the world is welcome to think what it pleases.  Some things are just too all-American to be saddled with baggage of any sort.

Misplaced (Reposted)

This morning’s blog, re-posted for those of you who may have missed it due to technical difficulties on our site. Please pardon the inconvenience!

It’s a much kinder, softer word than “lost.” 

“Misplaced” suggests that our missing items might well be found.  “Lost” implies that they’ve taken a hike and are apt never to be seen again.

We all misplace stuff.   It’s usually just the little stuff that hides in places we’ve been but forgot we were ever there. We don’t worry about it too much anymore.  It’s normal.

It’s also normal for me to receive a call from the nice young man who is willing to come to my house twice a week to try to resurrect this old body into something more than a bag of bones.  His recent call was normal but the message wasn’t.  It went like this: “Hi, Sallie.  I’ve lost my dumbbells.  Did I leave them at your house?”

Now, it’s one thing to lose eyeglasses, socks and keys; quite another, at least in my opinion, to lose dumbbells.   Five of them, to boot.  Ranging from two pounds to ten.  “No,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure I’d have seen them if they were here.  And I would have called you immediately so you could take them away.  Far, far away.”

Now, the good news is that he found them.  Where doesn’t matter.  I know he found them because he brought them with him the last time he was here.  I was hopeful they’d been “lost” but apparently they were just “misplaced.”

I’m trying to restore my faith in his ability to catch me when I trip, fall backwards, sideways or harshly down the stairs.  There is equipment and activity involved in this whole exercise thing that relies heavily on trust.  If he “misplaced” his dumbbells, what else has gone missing?

In fact, I still have total faith in him and will continue to do so.   Errant dumbbells notwithstanding.

“Misplaced”

It’s a much kinder, softer word than “lost.” 

“Misplaced” suggests that our missing items might well be found.  “Lost” implies that they’ve taken a hike and are apt never to be seen again.

We all misplace stuff.   It’s usually just the little stuff that hides in places we’ve been but forgot we were ever there. We don’t worry about it too much anymore.  It’s normal.

It’s also normal for me to receive a call from the nice young man who is willing to come to my house twice a week to try to resurrect this old body into something more than a bag of bones.  His recent call was normal but the message wasn’t.  It went like this: “Hi, Sallie.  I’ve lost my dumbbells.  Did I leave them at your house?”

Now, it’s one thing to lose eyeglasses, socks and keys; quite another, at least in my opinion, to lose dumbbells.   Five of them, to boot.  Ranging from two pounds to ten.  “No,” I said.  “I’m pretty sure I’d have seen them if they were here.  And I would have called you immediately so you could take them away.  Far, far away.”

Now, the good news is that he found them.  Where doesn’t matter.  I know he found them because he brought them with him the last time he was here.  I was hopeful they’d been “lost” but apparently they were just “misplaced.”

I’m trying to restore my faith in his ability to catch me when I trip, fall backwards, sideways or harshly down the stairs.  There is equipment and activity involved in this whole exercise thing that relies heavily on trust.  If he “misplaced” his dumbbells, what else has gone missing?

In fact, I still have total faith in him and will continue to do so.   Errant dumbbells notwithstanding.

I Miss My Subway.

No, not that Subway.  Publix does a nice sandwich, thank you.  It’s the underground I miss.  The tube.  The rapid transit.  The metro.  I like them all but I really miss the T, the Boston subway.

I commuted on the Boston subway for a few years.  I loved the system, its noises, the shock of coming-up into daylight, the mystery of going back down into the dark tunnels.

I loved its roars and screeches. Its hisses, bangs and rattles. The thwack of the turnstiles. All the comforting sounds of travel, down below life above.

I loved knowing that neither sleet nor snow nor dark of night would prevent it from taking me to my destination. 

I had no need to look at maps.  No need to ask if I was on the right train.  No confusion about where to get on.  Or off.  I was part of the throng. Part of the rhythm.

Last time we were in Boston, everything had changed.  As I walked down, deep into the bowels of the system, I looked like, felt like, and was, in fact, a tourist.  And a confused tourist at that.  I choose to forget that and remember the subway I knew and still miss.

To Tattoo or Not To Tattoo?

That may not be THE most important question nagging at me right now but I’m certainly mulling it over.

I’m pretty sure most tattoos have personal meaning and value for the inked ones. They typically reflect an important event, an occasion, a loved one.  Otherwise, well, why do all that?  It’s gotta hurt.  Even the little ones.

My purpose in getting a tattoo would be different.  And may even seem a tad bit warped and macabre.

Here’s my thinking:  If the day should come when I wander off, all by myself, and get lost, I hope that my family will come looking for me.  They’ll call the cops for help and, at the very top of the list of things the cops will want to know is:  “Does she have any identifying marks?”

Sure, she got lots of ’em.  She’s got scars, a missing tooth, a limp, but wouldn’t it be more fun to describe her “tats” rather than all that?  Don’t you think the cops would be more inclined to go looking for an old lady with really cool tattoos on her hands?  Her arms?  Her neck?  I do.  If that’s not a good reason to get a tattoo, then I simply don’t know what is.

Now, the question is what shall I have tattooed?  Cats, I think.  Cats are cool.  I’ll probably just do some cats. 

Gwegwussel

Say it out loud and it’s what our three boys used to call Gregg Russell.  Way back when they were too young to have fully formed their R’s. 

All the way from Ohio to Hilton Head, every year, all we’d hear was: “When are we going to see Gwegwussell?”  Over and over and over again.  ‘Til we’d finally give up and drug them just to get a little peace and quiet.

Once we got here, of course, we went to see Gwegwussell.  Doesn’t everyone?  And since we were from Ohio we knew that if one of ours was chosen to be on stage with Gwegwussel, he would eventually ask them: “What color is your van?”

Forty-four years, he’s been doing this.  Sitting under the Oak Tree in Harbour Town every evening, all summer long, singing, laughing, making children and adults happy and glad to be on this Island.

He’s charmed four generations of our family.  I’m not sure I can say that about anybody else on this earth. 

I would like to use this little space to thank his family for loaning him to so many of us over the years.  There had to be nights when his own kids, his wife, friends and family, just wanted him for themselves.  But that was not to be.  He had, and still has, another place to go, songs to sing, stories to tell, families to laugh with and enjoy. He is, after all, Gweggwussel. 

If any of you, from far away, would like to see him in action, just click here.

Good News!

     

This article from The Island Packet from June 2, 2021 sites a woman, 35 years of age, who, after much research and study, finally determined that it was OK for her to get The Shot.  She studied reports, listened to all sides of the issue, peered into published journals and more. The newspaper credits her information-gathering effort as the impetus for her change in perspective.

Well, I’d put money on another reason for her willingness to stick out her arm and say yes. And it’s just one little word:  threats.  And I’d also be willing to put a little more money on that and say that those threats came from her parents.

We all know, as parents, that trying to persuade a child to do the right thing through calm and rational pleading has no chance of succeeding.  At all.  Ever. Period.  End of discussion.

But, thank goodness, we, as parents, also all know which buttons to push when we really need to get our way. And getting our families vaccinated is something we really want.

The threat of: “We’re sorry but you won’t be able to stay with us when you come to the beach this year” is a good example.  That one affects the whole family and has real meat on its bones.

The perhaps slightly-veiled threat of: “Alas. I guess we’ll have to miss Christmas with you and the kids” can also work quite well.  There are presents and money involved in that one.  Very toothsome.

And, now, if none of that works, it seems there’s beer. This bait comes directly from the White House. I never thought of beer as incentive but apparently there are those who do.

So, we’ve got a little blackmail on one hand; a little booze on the other. Whatever it takes is fine with me. Let’s just get it done.

Vaccination cartoon by Zdenek Sasek

Remembering. Again and Again.

It should never have happened at Columbine. But it did. It happened on April 20, 1999.  12 students and one teacher.  Shot and killed.  

And it happened again at Virginia Tech.  On April 13, 2007.  32 Students and faculty. Shot and killed.

And yet again at Sandy Hook.   On December 14, 2012.  20 elementary school students and 6 teachers.  Shot and killed.

And then again in Charleston, SC.  On June 7, 2015.  9 adults at church, in a Bible Study class.  Shot and killed.

And, it happened again, just four short days ago, in San Jose, CA.  On May 26, 2021.  9 adults at their workplace.  Shot and killed.

Those are just some of the “highlights” through the years.  We won’t forget any of them.

There have been 232 mass shootings so far this year.  “Mass” being defined as three or more fatalities in a single incident.  And it’s bound to just keep on keeping on.

It’s feels like there’s a knee on America’s neck.  Choking us ‘til we can’t breathe.

We’ll remember. Again and again.

Aging: Up and Out.

The aging-up thing was fun.  Bit by bit, we aged-up into lipstick, bras, two-piece bathing suits, dating, drive-in theaters, driver’s licenses.  Then we aged-up even more into marriage, children, work and responsibilities.

Aging-out is a whole different ball of wax.  I, personally, have aged-out of thongs, skinny-dipping and stilettos.  But it never crossed my mind that I would age-out of the New York Times, and, specifically, The Sunday NYT Magazine, which has been my go-to repository for fun and information for so many years.

My pattern for reading The Magazine has never changed.  First, I do a quick glance at the puzzle.  Does it look like fun?  Hard? Easy?  No matter.  I’ll get back to it soon.  The mystery medical column is up next.  Do I have any of those symptoms?  Should I call the doctor? Once I’ve passed that test, I’m off to the Letters to the Editor.  That tried and true process has never let me down.

Until last week.  The following is a paragraph from a much larger article in the NYT Magazine, titled ” Million Dollar JPEGS.”  I should have known, from the get-go, that the article wasn’t written with me in mind but I trundled on until I got to this:

See what I mean? Apparently, there are some things I’m simply not meant to grasp. The good news is that the puzzle was fun and I didn’t have a single symptom of the mystery disease. I’d like to think that I’ve aged sufficiently, however you cut it, to accept that I can take what I need and leave the rest. All’s well that ends well.

Quote from the New York Times magazine, May 16, 2021

Mother’s Day

Yes, I know.  Mother’s Day was last Sunday.  And I hope everyone had a lovely one.

Mother’s Day has never been my favorite day.  There are reasons for that which are no longer relevant but some things never change and it’s still not my favorite day.

For some reason, this year I started looking around our house and found, somewhat to my wonder, much evidence of my mother.  There are “rules” which she had that I follow, to this day, without so much as single thought as to why. Some examples follow:

Those colorfully artistic jackets on hard-back books are pitched before they’re permitted to take up residence in book shelves.

One would never, ever, under pain of death, put just two flowers in a vase.  Even numbers aren’t artistically correct.

New candles are lit, their wicks blackened and then carefully tended as a little wax dribbles down their sides. All of this before they appear in public.

First thing in the morning the front door needs to be opened, just a smidge, no matter the weather, to allow for a small waft of fresh air.

Feign would a cocktail be served without a proper napkin.

Those new, fancy, back-up mirrors are for sissies. Rather, you crack open the driver’s door, look down and back up by following the line of the curb ’til you can straighten out the wheel and go forward again.

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite poets, Ruth Zardo. She said, and I quote: “Long dead and buried in another town; my mother isn’t finished with me yet.”

Candle images from Ryan Gander “Shadows Go The Wrong Way”

Little Lending Libraries

There was one just down the street from us in Bluffton.  It was the first one I’d ever seen. It was right on the main drag so visitors and residents alike could take or leave a book. 

Now, to my happy surprise, I find that we have one here in our little community.  It wasn’t here a few years ago and I applaud whoever started it in the meantime. There’s nicely a smaller one for children. Thoughtfully placed at kid-friendly eye-level.

Clearly, there’s a difference between the little lending libraries and regular libraries.  The little ones have no due dates, no late fines, no check-out lines.  Just grab, go and please return.  The books are contributed by residents and there’s no rhyme nor reason to their placement.  They’re all just jammed in together.  Exactly like my own bookshelves.

Most of the offerings are what you’d expect.  Lots of “who-dun-its,” written by all the usual suspects.  Sue Grafton.  James Patterson.  Faye Kellerman.  Easy reads.  I borrowed a British mystery recently, am half way through and it’s still unclear as to whether the corpse was murdered or simply died of natural causes. Oh, how I love those Brits.  

Stuck in the middle of the mysteries are a couple of outliers.  There’s one on gender and elections.  Another on media distortion in the news.  A slim volume tells us where to find adventurous arts in America. There’s even one one on alien secrets! Engaging topics, indeed. I’d sure like to know who put those books there, but, alas, unless I catch ’em in the act, I’ll probably never know “who-dun-it.”

The Mister and I wish all mothers a happy day.

Driver’s Education. Redux.

It’s that all-important first step to freedom. The path to all things fun and un-chaperoned. It’s a requirement for the ticket to ride in the driver’s seat. And it’s usually forgotten once the license is in hand, but there are exceptions, of course.

Back in our little town, when oh-so-many years ago our group became of-driving-age, we did as expected. We took driver’s ed.  The leader of our pack was the first up.  Her name was “Mary Blair.”   A lovely, southern, double-name, she was always, always, “Mary Blair.”   Occasionally MB, and maybe sometimes just Blair but never, ever, just Mary.

The driver’s ed teacher didn’t get that and he called her Mary.  She was in no position to correct him since she really, really wanted to pass the course.

We’d hang on to every word as she’d tell us about her “sessions” with the instructor and the art of turning, parking, and passing.  We all knew we’d all have to go down that road some day and she was our canary in the cave.

Driver’s ed teachers are, understandably, deeply concerned about intersections.  That’s where bad stuff can happen to anyone, let alone a newbie.  So every time our friend Mary Blair and her instructor happened upon an intersection, he’d say:  “Now ease out to your vision point, Mary. “  But we lived in West Virginia and the teacher was a bit of a hillbilly with a slow, easy drawl and a serious touch of twang, so it came out more like: “Eeeeze on out to your veee-zhun point, Meery. “  Which may not sound funny now, but let me tell you, it was funny back then and the Mister and I still use that little phrase for many things.

Like right now.  It says it all as we carefully ease back out to our vision points and hope, like crazy, that there won’t be any mishaps along the way and that life, as we knew it, is just right around the corner.

High Maintenance

Oh, bother and fuss.  It’s a never ending struggle.

There’s always something that needs doing.  I know this to be true because my mirror tells me so.  It persists in reminding me that there is work, much work, to be done.

It constantly informs me that:

            My teeth need whitening, my hair needs coloring.

            My chin needs firming, my cheeks need blushing.

            The bones need strengthening, our wrinkles need smoothing.

            Those legs need shaving, and that tummy needs tucking. 

           The muscles need toning and those hips could truly use some slimming.

            The lashes need thickening and the brows need plucking.

            The nails need polishing and my lips need painting.

            The boobs need lifting and that neck really should be tightened.

On and on it goes.  Unending and unrelenting.   If I listen to it, it keeps me busy, busy, busy, just playing catch-up. Not to mention the whole money thing.

Or I can sit back, chill out, pour myself a glass of wine, and sing along with the Beatles as they belt out “Let It Be.”    Clearly, the choice is mine. So, mirror, mirror, on the wall, I may not be the fairest of them all but you need to get over yourself and accept me as I am. I think we’ll both be happier that way.

Image from The Scream by Munch

“Above The Fold”

(Please click on pic for full image)

It’s that rarefied space on the first page of any newspaper.  It’s always the BIG news of the day.   It’s what you need to know right this very second and in print so big you couldn’t possibly miss it..   

It’s also, almost always, about loss.  People and things lost in wars, earthquakes, tornadoes, and more.  Not the jolliest way to start one’s day.

But, it’s what we expect and when it’s different, we sit up and take notice.  And so, just this last week, when the Above the Fold headline was: “Bluffton Students Break World Record for Cereal Box Domino Chain, I stopped cold.  Could anyone really give a hoot about a cereal-box domino tournament?  Surely it’s a stretch to greet us with that headline, even for our little paper.

But, if you read the article, like I did, you’d soon find out that 6,000….yes, 6,000….boxes of cereal were donated to the project. Nearly 5,000 of them were carefully lined up and subsequently toppled in domino form to grab the record for such an activity.  That’s a serious number of cereal boxes and a lot of hard work.  Those kids beat the record of 3,416 boxes set in New York in 2017.  Now we’re talking a big deal.

But they didn’t stop there.  Each box was then donated to a local food pantry.  And each box was tagged with a personal, handwritten note from a student.  How cool is all that?

It’s a win, win, win situation.  There’s a lot more Life (Quaker Oats), Kix (General Mills) and Vive (Kellogg) in that story than in our standard gloom and doom. 

So let’s give some Cheerios (General Mills) and Honey Smacks (Kellogg) to our little paper for giving them the above-the-fold space they deserved.

Picture from the April 6, 2021 issue of the Island Packet

Susan Sontag

What a force she was.  Google her and you’ll find quotes on more topics than you’ll ever have time to read.   One of her many noted observations appeared in the New York Times Magazine a week or so ago.

She said, and I quote: “Cameras go with family life. Not to take pictures of one’s children, particularly when they are small, is a sign of parental indifference.”

Oooops.

I have nothing but admiration for Sontag.  She was artist, photographer, mother, lover, philosopher, activist.  But she only had one kid.  So, I can assume that she frequently had one, if not two, free hands, in which to carry and operate a camera.

How different my life was and it had nothing to do with the whole artist, activist stuff.  It had to do with the number of children we had and the number of available hands I had at any given time.  I can only say that photographing them, as cute as they were from time to time, was not always front and center on my to-do list.

Nonetheless, I’ve stewed about that quote since I read it.  Many feelings arise:  Guilt.  Shame.  Remorse.  Regret.

Then I remember that having three boys, all at one point under the age of three, was not about capturing the moment on film or diligently documenting their lives. Most days were dedicated, simply to surviving and keeping them alive and well.  Hoping they’d still be ready to greet the next day, just being regular kids.

So,If all that photographic documentation of their lives is missing, I hope their imaginations can fill in the blanks. Some things are better that way anyway. And, frequently, just that much more fun.