Posts made in June, 2006

The “Rivah”

Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

Even though I have lived in Virginia for 40 years, you will know I am not a native when I say that I do not enjoy vacations at the “rivah”. The concept of renting a house where I am required to do all the same chores as I do at home, only in a place where I can’t find anything, never seemed like a big treat to me. My spouse however, always gets a faraway look of nostalgia about summer rentals, because he recalls delightful childhood memories of summer adventures with his Mom and siblings. Of course, you really can’t go home again, but since neither of us had even seen the river cottage, I was willing to let him try. Our baby girl was five months old and crawling about on all fours, in that daredevil way that came to define all her activities. Our toddler was not quite three and a bit on the cautious side, and our oldest son was just thirteen, and not yet completely turned off to family vacations. At the last minute we had acquired a needy kitten, and not knowing anything about cats at the time, I assumed they were sort of like dogs that purred, so I decided to take him along.

We were very relieved when we finally arrived at our destination with a carload of suitcases, cat barf, fussy babies, and grim, silent adults. The weather seemed pleasant and sunny, the river was broad and beautiful, and all the houses along the bank were expansive— except for the one where my husband parked our station wagon. As soon as the car door opened, the traumatized cat took off like a shot and ran under the house, where he cowered for the entire week. Thinking he would come out later, I decided to take the children in to check out the house.

I walked through the back screen door and took in the whole of the downstairs in one glance. The steps immediately to my right bore a strong resemblance to a ladder. The postage size bathroom on my left had no room for a tub, only a small shower, tiny toilet, and diminutive sink. Okay, I thought, I can use the kitchen sink to bath the babies. Taking the three short steps to the food prep area, I found a 15 inches square basin, which was in scale with the mini stove and fridge. In fact, the whole of downstairs was no more than 8 by 11 feet, not counting the tiny “L” projection that held a miniature table and two bench seats. The living room contained a couch, a chair, a bookcase, and a small TV and a radio, neither of which seemed to be connected to the outside world. Even for the young and fit, the trip up the “stairs” carrying a baby was perilous. Once there, it didn’t take long to discover the same miniaturization in the upper story. One room contained what looked like two ship bunk beds with the world’s smallest table wedged between, and the other had a standard bed squeezed in so tight there was no room for a porta-crib. Fortunately there was a balcony off the bedroom just wide enough to hold the crib, and that would do as long as we had no rain through the screen windows, but I get ahead of myself.

We settled in as best we could, unpacked and surveyed the river and surroundings. There was a swimming pond that looked promising, filled with brackish water and guarded by what was purported to be a jellyfish filter. I took inventory of the pots and pans available, and finding nothing much but a crab pot, skillet, and a few utensils, I added a few essentials to my grocery list. We ate sandwiches for dinner then decided to get the children settled down for the night. After the screams over my little one’s first ever shower bath, I added a plastic tub to my list of supplies needed. Bright and early the next morning, my husband was up and out to go fishing and I was left with the task of heading back down the road umpteen many miles to find the one overpriced grocery store and get food and supplies.

When the babies and I returned, we put away groceries and poked about under the house for the cat. I tweaked the TV and radio a few more times, but finding only static and fuzz again, gave up on that as a lost cause. I decided to speak to my neighbors, hoping they might advise me on some way to relieve the boredom, but they pretended that I was invisible. I guess they thought no one with any intelligence would bring three children to a dwarf cottage for vacation. When my husband came in for lunch he decided to take the boys swimming while the baby napped, the incident that Jason still refers to as “the time I almost drowned”. The purported jellyfish filter turned out to work just as well as the TV and radio, making the pond as appealing as the neighbors. While dodging the painful stingers, My husband looked away long enough for our two and a half year old son to fall face down in the water. Retrieved unhurt, but sputtering and crying, the toddler was soon deposited back in the house, and my husband took off to go crabbing.

We soon fell into a grinding, horrible, routine. My husband took our oldest with him to fish for crabs all day, while I cleaned, cooked, took care of babies, and called uselessly for the cat. In the evening I would cook the crabs, and we would sit around the little table and pick and eat them. For almost 15 years after that week I was not able to eat crab, or stay in any room when they were cooking without experiencing nausea. Since we had no TV or radio, the tropical storm that hit midweek came as a complete surprise.

Now what my husband recalls about the storm is that it “ruined the fishing”, that is, it reduced the number of crabs he was able to snag with a net and a chicken wing on a stick. As we sat jammed into the tiny downstairs, he kept reassuring me that the storm would pass soon and we would be able to get back to our previous fun. Meanwhile, I tried to drape a plastic barrier over the balcony’s screen window to protect our daughter from the rain. As you may have ascertained by now, my husband and I do not have the same remembrance of this vacation, and he is not always an expert at reading my moods. Somehow amid the torrents of rain, we eventually got the drenched cat out from under the house, perhaps with that chicken wing on the stick, packed up the kids and suitcases, and left the “rivah” behind forever.

Every summer for years he still mumbled around about another rental house for a family vacation, even mentioning Alaska from time to time, but I was wise to his schemes by then. In fact, he has never, since that week, been allowed to have anything to do with the planning of our vacations. Call me unreasonable, but if he wants to go on a fishing trip, he’s going to have to find some seasoned river woman to cook and clean for him next time. When the kids were more self-sufficient we did make a few forays to North Carolina beaches, staying in much larger houses, in areas with restaurants and grocery stores. That ceased the year we were told to leave because of an approaching hurricane, and my spouse wanted to stay to watch the storm. I told him that would be fine, but the children and I were heading inland. He remained stubborn while I loaded the car, but finally came along when they cut the water off in the house to discourage insane tourists from riding it out. It’s really too bad, because if we had lived through it, I could have headlined that as the worst vacation I ever had.

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Posted by on Jun 7, 2006 in Just for laughs, Reckless youth | 0 comments

I stood there holding the boutonnière, desperate to get Dian out of the bathroom stall. She kept repeating, “I can’t pin that flower on that boy”, between sobs. I knew the Christian thing to do was be compassionate, but I was fuming. I could finally fit into my sister’s strapless aqua blue and white ruffled formal gown, and I was not going to waste my evening in the high school bathroom. What could I say to keep this girl from ruining what was suppose to be the premier romantic evening of my life? I summoned my most authoritative, maternal voice, and threatened her with everything I could think of; from the loss of what social status she had, to her immortal soul. When I promised to do the pinning, she finally emerged, but her eyes and face now matched her bright red hair. I told her she might want to powder her nose, and raced back downstairs to the waiting escorts. I pinned the flower on Billy’s white sport coat, just as I had done earlier for my own date, and took ’s corsage out of his hand. Seeing the frozen smile on his face, I explained that his blind date thought he was really cute, but she was a just a little shy.

In truth she was more on the “painfully” end of the shy meter, but she was attractive and the best I could do so close to prom. I really don’t know how I had talked her into it anyway. She had never been on a date before, and her parents wouldn’t let her ride in cars with boys, which was a severe limitation on dating in our rural town. In fact, finding a date acceptable to parents and to whom you were not related was an ongoing problem, which is how I got into this dilemma. There were only 71 people in my high school graduating class and only 28 of those were male. My former boyfriend, Danny, who lived in a nearby town, broke up with me right before all special occasions like my birthday, Christmas, and any formal event. The last breakup had been quite definitive, because he had joined the army and left the state for boot camp. I was pretty much recovered from my heartbreak, but was faced with no prospects and senior prom rapidly approaching.

I had what I thought was a brilliant idea. If I played my cards right, I could turn all heads in the high school gym by arriving on the arm of a handsome Latin college student.The year before I had met a boy from Bolivia while at a festival sponsored by (God, I hate to admit this), my Girl Scout troop. Without thinking what a college man would find interesting in a sixteen-year-old girl scout, I gave him my address, and we became pen pals. I had fun pretending he was my boy friend, and wrote him earnest letters on dainty perfume soaked stationary. I used tiny hearts for dots on the letter I dispatched asking him if he would go to prom with me, and I received a reply by return mail. Yes, he would very much like to come, but he lived 30 miles away and had no transportation. He proposed a solution. If I could scare up a date for his pal who had a car, we could double. Most of my friends already had arrangements made, and very few wanted to go to prom with a blind date, but finally I though of a friend from my study hall. It took quite a bit of bargaining, but since the gentleman who was to be her escort was preparing for the ministry, and I would be with her the whole evening, she finally relented.

As I recall, the boys picked me up and we met Dian at the school rather than go through the awkward problem of her not being allowed in the car. That’s how I ended up in the bathroom in formal wear, threatening a girl I hardly knew. I was still desperate to hold onto this as the crowing romantic moment of my high school career, but like many other high school firsts, the anticipation turned out to be much better than the reality. I did get her out of the stall, and her date Billy, actually turned out to be a really nice guy, not that she noticed with her eyes on the ground most of the evening. The high school cafeteria was brightly lit and still smelled of mystery meat and instant potatoes, but we did have white paper tablecloths and centerpieces on the tables. The junior class had made an effort to achieve some sort of romantic ambiance by taping blue crepe paper streamers stamped with silver stars to the green and white walls. I don’t know if they came up with the theme “Moonlight Serenade” before or after they located the streamers, but other than the fact that there was music, and most likely a moon in the sky, I don’t recall any other thematic props.

Members of the class of 1963 danced in the gym that night to a band called the “Teen Beats”, according to my senior memories book, but mostly we were there to see and be seen. Strapless gowns were the “in” item of clothing, but those girls who were both modest and/or substantially endowed picked something less revealing. I was neither, and was more than happy to wear the ruffled horror my sister had wowed them in three years before. Formal attire for boys was their Sunday suit or a white sports coat, dark pants, white shirt, and narrow tie. The cool guys topped it off with a crew cut and possibly horned rimmed glasses. Some, like Billy and my date Al, clung to the more old fashion slicked back style, using Vitalis to make it stay in place. Both hairstyles gave the men a sort of pin headed look, and the maintenance products left a greasy residue on upholstered furniture. Girls by contrast made their hair as big as possible, teased into bouffantsupdosbeehives or French twists, and held in stasis by hair spray, giving them all the glamour of a gumball machine. The details of the dance are fuzzy now, but do I remember awkward conversation, uncomfortable laughter, and drinking fruit punch while wearing white gloves.

Late in the evening Al asked me to show him the rest of my school, and I naively believed he was interested in the American educational process. I took him upstairs into the darkened hallway so he could see my science lab. I was peering into the window when I felt his hot breath on my neck. I turned around and found myself pinned to the wall, with his left hand trying to find flesh somewhere under the 50 yards of organdy ruffles I was wearing. I pushed him away and insisted we return to the dance, making it clear that his expectations of sex were not going to materialize. Looking back, I now realize that the cultural differences between us were enormous, and he must have thought that a girl forward enough to ask him out was, as was said in the day, “hot to trot”. He pouted for the rest of the evening and refused to come to the after party at my friend’s house. It was just as well, because Dian wasn’t allowed to go, and her Dad was waiting outside to pick her up. Without even a goodnight kiss, my thwarted Latin lover and the future Methodist minister dumped me at my girlfriend’s party. I think the minister would have been happy to kiss me if I had asked, but my date, Al, sat on the other side of the seat with his arms folded across his chest.

It is ironic that the only picture I have of the event is of my friend Dian her date Billy. I have no idea who took it, but it was probably me. I never thought until recently that my parents didn’t take pictures of their children with their dates, even for formal occasions like proms. I don’t think they wanted to encourage immoral behavior like going to dances. It’s really a blessing, because I still have a fantasy that I looked wonderful that evening and all my boyfriends were cute and cool. While cleaning out my Mom’s garage some years ago my sister and I came across the dress we had both worn. The years had not been kind to the frothy creation. Granted it was folded and wrinkled, but no matter how we tried, neither of us could imagine it ever looking like we thought it did on those evenings when we were the bells of the ball. I never got another letter from Al, and I don’t recall talking to Dian a lot afterward either. I think Billy did his student ministry at a rural Methodist church in our area. I not only lost track of him, I have actually forgotten his last name. I’m sure his grace and diplomacy served him well in his chosen career, but hopefully he married someone a bit more outgoing than Dian.

My inspiration for this recollection was an exchange with a British blogger who put up a post about proms. She was speaking of them in the traditionally British sense, and when I asked her to explain, she  did so graciously. I realized from her remarks that her vision of the prom was a fantasized Hollywood version of the American rite of passage. If Hollywood had produce my prom they would have cast the three stooges in the leading roles, but I’m sure someone was or is having fun at these things or the tradition wouldn’t have hung around so long. Having sent my children off to many proms, I am aware that they are a lot more fun now that dinosaurs are no longer roaming the earth. I do hope my recollections will trigger memories for you all, hopefully embarrassing, and you will share them in comments.

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Posted by on Jun 4, 2006 in My Children | 0 comments

I think his natural costume would be a wizard’s robe, but he never dresses up to please himself. In his jeans and tee shirt he is just as magical, patiently conjuring gold from base metal and offering it freely to anyone who takes the time to accept. From his earliest days he seemed an old soul who came to us from a place of peace and wisdom, thrust unexpectedly into our land of chaos. His father knew him the minute they met, and realized the name we picked out before he was born was not right. He is the one who dubbed him Jason, a name from Greek mythology, which means, “to heal”. Just like all the beautiful girls who don’t know they are pretty, Jason seems unaware of his unique ability to bring calm and comfort to those around him. He has become our touchstone, able to evaluate those he knows so well and provide words of magical comfort that bring us back to earth after real or imaginary flights of fancy. With a dislike of conflict, he has interjected himself more than once into a volatile situation, defused the dessension with a few words, and retreated without expecting thanks. He does not seem to allow himself the same mercy he provides to others, sealing the sad and lonely parts of his life beyond reach, or perhaps we just aren’t really listening.

He was born in the cold of winter, sandwiched in the lull between Christmas and New Years, and between his two dramatic siblings. Despite my best intentions to not let the holidays overshadow, he had very few exciting birthdays. If he minded he never complained, just sealed the hurt away, standing a little back from life, watching and analyzing. Even as a child he exhibited an emotional complexity that was difficult for him to put into words, and he was often misunderstood when he tried. Our house was rarely without company in the form of friends that came to visit, or often to live for extended periods. Usually guests and siblings would talk over the top of him when he tried to contribute his ideas to the conversation, but those who knew him well all secretly noticed that he had the same simpatico with their problems that he did with the computer. It became our collective habit to go to him with our secrets, knowing that our private talks would be kept confidential. When he left for college we began to receive amazing email from him, and we were all ashamed that we did not provide him with the opening to speak more frequently.

I have labored so long over the words I want to say to him, but I still cannot capture the riddle that is Jason. He is perched on the brink of a new adventure now, and with his siblings scattered to the corners of the globe, he is feeling a bit at loose ends. I have always been full of advice for my beautiful middle child, but I am determined to step back and let his wisdom and intellect take over. My basic theory of life has always been to do something, even it it’s wrong, and figure out my mistakes later. I hate having a new dress and not wearing it immediately, and my mouth is often slightly ahead of my brain. It seems hard to believe that the baby I bore has turned into a man who calculates, reflects, and weighs each decision before acting. When it is his time, he will turn his alchemy inward to transform himself, and he will be the best of us when he thinks it all through, dons his robes, and embarks on his own special quest.

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All Creatures Great (and not so Great)

Posted by on Jun 3, 2006 in All things natural, Just for laughs | 0 comments

I have always taken a good deal of pride in my attitude about the natural world. I have no fear of anything that scurries about the ground on multiple legs, or even those strange reptiles with no legs at all. I credit a lot of things for making me fearless, not the least of which is watching my beloved grandmother pick up a rooster by the feet, march it to the chopping block, and sever it’s head from it’s body in one practiced whack of the ax. Her son, my father, had hunted by necessity as a lad to put food on the table during the long illness and subsequent death of his father. He loved being in woods and rivers, and if I wanted to tag along, I better be able to put my own worm on the hook and not complain about anything that crawled, bit me, or scuttled through the underbrush.

My fearlessness got me in trouble at Girl Scout camp when I picked up a little grey mouse that was sitting on my bunk. The startled wild mouse chomped down on my finger and held on tight. I shook my hand quickly and his small body landed in my adjacent water basin. My terrified screaming roommate ignored me totally, threw her basin over the top of mine, clasped it tightly in front of her, and ran 2 miles on a rough trail to the main office to summon help. The poor mouse did not survive her insane flight, so she arrived at the camp director’s office with a dead mouse in a washbasin, trying to tell her story while gasping for breath. I still think they way overreacted, sending the mouse to a lab to check for rabies, and taking me to town for tetanus shots. I considered myself lucky to get off with just one shot after I heard that if they hadn’t been able to test the mouse I would have had to have a series of rabies shots. I mostly left wild mice along afterwards, but continued to find all little creatures intriguing.

Eventually I came to live in the city where all living things have learned to adapt or die. The vermin that live in the shadows of the bright lights are hard, wary, and defensive, not like their more careless country kin. I was sitting outside my house in the wee small hours one morning, negotiating my immediate future with a young man, when I saw a long tailed beast walking boldly up the sidewalk. “Look”, I said, “it’s a opossum, I didn’t know they came into the city.” He rolled his eyes and said, “That’s not an opossum. It’s a rat”. I didn’t argue with him, but neither did I believe that rats got that big. It was a few months later when I opened my swinging kitchen door, flipped on the light, and saw one about the same size glaring at me from the kitchen counter. Now this was not the cute little mousy from my scout camp bunk, this was a street tough, hard core, gangster sort of animal, and you will forgive me if I backed out of the kitchen quietly. The very next day I said to hell with them all being Gods creatures and got in line at the Safeway with a big box of DeCon rat poison. I had heard the stories from other mothers at the playground and I wasn’t messing around with my child sleeping in the same house with that beast at large. Cora, my cat loving housemate, told me not to put out the poison because her precious Fluffy would chase off the bad rat. That very night I heard a blood curdling scream from the kitchen and a shout from Cora to put out the DeCon.

I noticed a strange rotting smell on the steps several weeks later, and with no new sighting, I considered our problem solved. My housemate still crept around warily, unable to smell what I told her was decomposing rat. She insisted I produce the body, but search as I might, the smell seemed elusive and impossible to track. Several months later, with the rat and the smell a memory, we decided to clear out an area behind the paneled wall of the basement. It looked like a good place for storage, and indeed, there was a lot of stuff stashed there. I heard the second rat related scream when I was on the way out the back door with a load for to put in the garbage cans. Dropping my bag, I ran back down to find Cora hyperventilating and unable to speak. She kept pointing to her hand and the spot behind the wall. I focused on her hand, believing her injured, but she was already headed to the sink for water and soap. I saw no wounds, but when she finally calmed down she explained that she had picked up what she believed to be a dirty cloth, and discovered she was holding a mummified rat carcass. Not wanting to be seriously injured, I did not say anything about my keen sense of smell.

When my husband and I first moved to the country with my firstborn and his big dog Bear, we had all been city dwellers for some time. It was fall, and the time for all living thing to find a warm winter nest. I’m sure the family of mice that took up residence in our house thought they had found a great spot. We had no cats, they could run in and out using the empty dryer vent, and the eats were great. I got tired of gnawed open cereal boxes and reluctantly decided to go the poison route again. With no clothes dryer, I was up every Saturday morning before light to start the wash, so it would have time to dry before the day was over. I shared the utility room with the dog, and his water dish sat on the floor near the washer, giving the mice a nice place to come for drinks and tidying up. I was working that morning in my bare feet, tossing towels and sheets into the machine. I kept stepping on something soggy and thinking there was a wet washcloth I needed to add to the load, I finally turned on the light. There on the floor was the squished body of a tiny field mouse that I had been walking on for about 10 minutes. I was thinking of Cora as I tried to form words and tell my husband why I was gasping for air and washing my foot with the garden hose.

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