The Fifth Bowl

The Fifth Bowl

I was emptying the dishwasher, one of the most mundane of household  tasks, when I came across a bowl. Nothing fancy.  A plain glass bowl for  a dinner salad, or morning cereal. As I returned it to its shelf I counted its set. Five, five glass bowls. Not six, or four, but five bowls nestled in the cupboard. Oh yes, I thought to myself, I had purchased them years ago after we  had moved my mother-in-law to our Wisconsin community from  New Jersey. I knew she would be often having dinner with us and I wanted enough bowls for us all. So, five bowls.

There was an envelope on the  kitchen table with the rest of the mail when I came home from work one evening this past fall.  I recognized the name on the return address immediately, the husband of a good friend and college roommate, who had died a couple of years earlier. As soon as I picked up the envelope I knew what it contained. Photographs.

It’s Christmastime again. And I can’t help thinking about these two things and the people they remind me of. They are both gifts of a sort. Inadvertently placed in my hands and challenging me to see their worth.

My friend Barb was many things. Really smart, very short (shorter even than me) and a prolific picture taker. Armed with her Kodak camera she was famous in our college circle for taking pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Later we would learn she would catalogue the pictures into albums with copiously hand written captions of who, what when and where in her famous ,fine,  (nun instructed, she always added)  small print. She created huge photo albums of our college years that sat on her desk.  The first time I visited her in her hometown, I saw she had even  more albums. Her family life and high school years all recorded in color, and a sprinkle of black and white.

So, I knew what was  in that envelope that day. Inside were more than a dozen pictures of Barb and I through our college years and the early years of my marriage. Lifted carefully from her albums, along with a note “I thought you would enjoy these.” from her husband. And I thought about what those pictures meant and about what I learned from Barb.

Likewise that plain glass bowl reminds me of my mother-in-law and what I learned from her. She was different from me in many ways.  In other words she was quiet, very quiet. In the early years of my marriage I was certain that she did not know  me well enough to dislike me, certain and sad that  our relationship would always be distant. But after a few years, two grandchildren she adored, and many salads we found our friendship. Her quiet acceptance of her immersion into our midwestern cold winters, big golden retrievers, and our family life taught me to try quiet and steady as attributes. And while I still would never be described as quiet, I know how to use that muscle. A gift indeed.

And what did I learn from smiling for the camera in all of Barb’s photographs? Well simply to smile. And really anyone who knew Barb would tell you that was one  her strongest dearest qualities. She was a smiler. She chose to be  happy every day that I knew her.

Back in the day before selfies and cameras in phones, Barb was an unintentional historian, to our lives and friendships. And unlike most people she arranged and curated her pictures rather than boxing and forgetting them.  People and  memories, were to be cherished and remembered, in Barb’s world.  So that is what she did.

My husband and I recently made our annual trip to Chicago to view the Great Tree in the Walnut Room. It’s the old venerable restaurant on the seventh floor, in what used to be the flagship State Street store of what used to be, Marshall Fields.  Lately absorbed by Macy’s, and now no longer with an eight floor viewing site, the tree was beautiful but the shrinking of its home was sad.  Despite  this, we enjoyed the tree and made the predictable comments on changing times and old traditions changing or disappearing.

Christmas marks many things including the end of one year and the passage of time. Gift giving has long been a part of the holiday but sometimes Christmas gives us a chance to ponder the gifts not wrapped in colorful paper and bows. Rather it gives us an opportunity to look back and see the gifts we received from those no longer with us that we may not have recognized  when received.  The Christmas song Happy Happy Christmas sums it up,

                                        I hear them singing outside my door..      

                                       But I know you’d want me to sing in the snow        

                                                            Live well and let go

                                                        Happy, Happy Christmas

                                                Love the ones who love you too,

                                           They say time flies, baby it’s true so

                                                 Happy, happy Christmas to you

I’m   just say’n.

                                           

 

 

Provenance of a Sports Fan

F298BE71-5B90-4D36-A237-BBC830F9A053I like sports. I’m a sports fan. Specifically, I’m a baseball fan. I come by it honestly, both my parents liked baseball. They were natives of Detroit, so they rooted for the Tigers. But we lived in northern Illinois where the Cubs ruled. Even so in our house it was all about the American League.  My first trip to a ball park was to old  Cominsky.  So I grew up a White Sox fan, something of an anomaly in the land of Ernie Banks.  That’s my background as a baseball fan, my provenance if you will. How people become fans of their teams is very interesting to me. Anyone can be born into a household of Red Socks hating Yankees or blue sky loving Dodgers. These fans are just following a crowd. But I’m interested in a fan whose team of choice is not from their hometown or region. How was that fan’s provenance formed?

That brings me to the other baseball fan in my house,  the one I know best his baseball provenance started out routinely but transformed to another team over time. This is his story.  And let me tell you, sports fans, you’re going to love this story.

It was 1982 my husband and I had returned to our college town after he completed  grad school to live and work. Tom, born and raised on the east coast, an avid baseball fan had grown up following the Mets and the Yankees. He still speaks of Tom Seaver in dulcet tones. But our four years in Milwaukee  at Marquette University had found us at many a Brewer game and we found it easy to root for the home team. Players like Yount, Molitor and Cooper, made it easy to watch baseball in our adopted city. And that year would be the franchise’s second time in post season play.  So with a pinch on our limited finances, we luckily secured four seats in the right field bleachers for both the playoffs and the possibility of a  World Series. Good friends of ours would join us in the bleachers of the old County Stadium.

The playoffs were a best of five series in those days and the Brewers had dropped two straight to  the Angels in Anaheim. They would have to sweep three games, something that no other team had ever done, to advance to the Series.

It was a chilly October evening and the Brewers had won the first two games after retrning to Milwaukee setting up an improbable game five. But the Angels took and early lead and in the fourth inning it was California 3 Milwaukee 1.  And that’s when the fun began. My husband’s favorite player on the Brewers, was out fielder Ben Oglivie. Tom loved Ogilvies’s out look, athletisim, and reputation as something  of a scholar. But in the fourth inning nature called and   Tom was in the men’s room when Oglivie came up to bat. With one out, and no one on  base, Oglivie launched one for a solo home run. A midst the cheering and the applause, our friends and I could not believe that Tom had missed this very important homerun by his favorite player. It was what we kept saying to each other as Ben rounded the bases. We were still cheering the home run when Tom made his way back to his seat. “You missed it ! Can’t believe you missed it!”  We shouted above the roar of the crowd.  And that’s when he pulled from his pocket and shouted for everyone within ear shot  to hear “I caught the ball!”  Well, he actulally added an adjective which I won’t use in this post. But you get the idea.

You see as he exited the men’s room  and walked back under the stands to our seats he heard a roar go up from the crowd. He stopped to try to see the scoreboard and as he has described many times, he looked up through the tunnel in the bleachers to see, the ball. “It looked like  something out of  a movie, with the ball slowly dropping toward  me. It actually hit me in the chest. I simply put it in the pocket of my coat.”  Yes my husband caught a homerun ball from his favorite player in the decisive game of the playoffs coming out of the men’s room. The Brewers  won the game and went onto the World Series.

But the story doesn’t end there. After the game and later after the World Series  Tom contacted the Brewers and offered to return the ball to Ben. Nothing ever came of it and the baseball resided in one of those acrylic boxes meant for noteworthy baseballs, in our family room for 25 years.   And then last year the Brewers hosted a reunion of that 1982 World Series Team.  Tom made another effort and wrote to the team owner. This time his letter was answered. So on July 15,2017 Tom finally got to meet his favorite Brewer and return the home run ball to Ben Oglivie.  Tom shared his story with an incredulous Ben and posed for a picture.

I’ve always found it ironic that a guy who had been to hundreds of baseball games, as a kid growing up,  watching both teams in New York, and in  the cities we would visit together, never caught a baseball, not even a foul ball.  That the ball he would finally catch would be a home run ball off his favorite player  in a championship game, while exiting the men’s room is almost  to wild a story to believe.

It’s October again, and the Brewers are in the playoffs once more. This year it’s in a different league and a different stadium. The fans in my family will be watching again. But somehow I don’t think we’ll be able to top that memory. Our fan history, our provenance was forever altered by a baseball dropping out of the sky into the hands of my husband. An improbable, funny, story to add to our family lore. Ahh baseball… at our house it’s still the national past time.  I’m just say’n.

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Tom meets Ben after an improbable catch.

Good Day, Sunshine

I was waiting for a sunrise.  From the moment I entered the bedroom of our vacation rental and saw the east facing, lake-viewing balcony, I knew I would be waking up early one morning to capture a sunrise snapshot.  But the best laid plans as the saying goes, did not take into account my catching the dreaded summer cold.  And each morning when the lake loon cried out to the rising sun, my congested head stayed on my pillow.

Summer is the season we Midwesterners dream of through long icy winters and teasing glimpses of spring. Some even decline to enjoy our beautiful autumns by mourning summer’s end. There is so much to love about summer. For me, it’s the little moments of enjoyment. Sipping brewed ice tea I’ve  blended. Watching kids on bikes with tennis rackets or baseball bats heading to the school yards. Murphy, my golden and I wear matching smiles on our morning walks. Smelling the grass and flowers, feeling the breeze as we survey the lake on our walks.

It has been a long time since I felt compelled to walk to the lake to catch the early morning show. A lot of summer memories had been made since I had. Making real lemonade with my daughter, encouraging sprinkler fun as a win/win to my son. Fun for him, watered grass for me. Watching the kids play tee/soft/base ball on  summer evening. Enjoying it more than they probably ever did. Hot dogs on the grill. The delicious smell of a neighbor’s dinner grilling while on our evening walk.  And yes, even the music of the ice cream truck driving around the neighborhood. (I must confess I told my oldest it was just a music truck, and would bring him in the house to avoid the dinner spoiling treats. Imagine my well acted surprise when he informed me, around age 4, that the music truck also sold ice cream! Remarkable! Who Knew? I know, evil mom.)

So on this week-long vacation, at the up north location where we had spent so many happy times with our kiddos I wanted to watch a sunrise. This vacation, sans children was relaxing, and lovely. But, each day reminded me of each time we had all been together, scratching bug bites, riding bikes, and eating ice-cream.  So, on the last morning of the trip, when the loon’s call startled me from sleep I followed up on my plan.  I  tossed  on a cardigan over my night-clothes, slipped on sandals, grabbed my phone and headed out.  The short path from our back door to the  to the small northern lake was rosy with early light. The sky held more clouds than ideal, but still presented itself well. I started snapping pictures hoping for the definitive shot. And then, well then, I turned the lens on myself, in all my sleepy-eyed, summer cold, madcap hair, glory and snapped. And then just sat. And watched. And listened. And experienced. And breathed in a less than perfect lakeside, summer sunrise.

Summer’s are never perfectly perfect. Too hot or too rainy, to cold or too busy too short or too boring. But they are some what divine. Because every year, they’re just what we need. I’m just say’n.

 

The Poetry of Peonies

This is my peony summer. Or rather, it is the summer that  I have given  the fluffy flower its due. I admit that I’ve arrived late to the peony party.  In the first home my husband and I owned there were peonies planted next to the back step.  As the new foliage arrived that spring I was unimpressed. And when I saw all the back ants on the closed buds, yuck!  I  had no time for peonies and exported them to a welcoming and wiser neighbor.  Several years later while driving on a sunny early summer morning I spotted a rural yard with a double row of tall graceful peonies nodding in the morning sun. I appreciated their waves but did not connect them to the ant carriers I had exiled. In the next  and current home we live in, we also inherited peonies. They had earned my respect if not my warmest affection and I transplanted them from an out of sight corner to a place of prominence near the patio. But it is this summer that I’ve begun to really love these ladies.

I notice them on my morning walks in the park. The mounds of earth await the village workers bringing flats of annuals to plant. But the peonies have a permanent home in the small city park, and a head start on summer.  I watch them as they grow taller. Likewise in my own yard the green stalks have returned. Which will burst forth in color first, mine or the parks? I watch for the ants. I now know those busy, tiny soldiers, are necessary for the flowers bloom.  Where are the ants?  Don’t they know they have work to do?   The peonies that bloom first are in the flower section of the grocery store. I hold off buying them. I want my own. The park peonies bloom next. Come on, I encourage my own plant. Will it bloom soon?  Will its timing between rain storms be wise enough to protect its’ blooms? Finally, they open, three big beautiful  flowers. And it is summer.

I know what follows. The peony once opened can’t stop. Its many tiny petals reach and open further each day. Until finally they drop off the stem. Other flowers in my modest garden will need to be plucked, dead headed, as we say, or they will shrivel to brown and withered detritus. But the peony can not stop opening, until it can no longer hold on to itself. The peonies in the park, so heavy with their own beauty, lay down their weary blooms. My own, held up with wire baskets are also destined for the same end.

And then I notice all the places I have inadvertently planted peonies. On the pillows that cozy up my sofa: peonies.  On the cover of the small notebook I carry; peonies. On my wedding china; peonies. And there, framed and hung in my dining room a water-color painted by a beloved cousin; peonies.

Recently a friend sent us a beautiful arrangement of her favorite blooms. You guessed it, peonies. As I watch their intense salmon blooms open and open more. Their unbelievable color morphs into a more traditional pink. They refuse to remain static, until they are white. Only then do they start to release their petals onto the table. I do not wipe up the scattered petals. Even they seem perfect in their faded glory, laying across the mahogany.

Peonies, summer, ephemeral delights both of these. Children laughing as they run through a sprinkler. Voices in conversation, in the dark of the patio the gentle clink of ice cubes in glasses of cold drinks, moments of summer.

Poet Mary Oliver  wrote about peonies,  “with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling..to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are nothing, forever.”

I’m just say’n, yes, I love the peonies, ants and all.

 

 

 

 

 

The Mother Thing

Recently, I was selecting my Mother’s Days cards. Looking for just the right card for a neighbor and another for my cousin, and a mix for my girlfriends.  My own mother died 25 years ago.  I still remember that first Mother’s Day with out her. The card racks in the local Hallmark store practically brought me to tears, and the holiday brought a level of sadness I had not planned on.

When your own mother is gone you not only miss the intimacy of the bond but the immediacy of that font of support and information. Advice and knowledge on a range of subjects you never realized you would miss that she shared.  Sometimes with out you even asking for any of her input at all.  Oh yes, a mother’s prerogative.   From stain removal to work issues, chicken pox identification to book reviews, my mother always had something to add to the conversation. And when that voice was gone the silence mocked and saddened me.  The next year I made a plan. I would send a card to the friends who had helped fill in the blanks, the ones who had “mothered” me.

And so to the friend. who showed up to help me pack my mother’s kitchen when I moved my parents closer to my home I send a card. The packing was work.  But the conversation while we marveled that anyone would have that many colanders, was light enough to keep me moving in the face of my mother’s illness.  To the friends who called me and held my hand when an adoption plan went south, I send a card. And when that longed for baby finally arrived and friends showed up to hold the baby, take his picture and make a fuss with the same enthusiasm as if I had experienced labor and delivery, I sent a card.  The other moms in my playgroup,who helped me navigate roseola and teething, card worthy indeed. Then there was the experienced cousin by marriage who cemented her place in my heart with her steady reassurance during the tumultuous teenage years. She told me that I was capable and loving and that all would be well.  Mothering friends helped me navigate the healthcare system when my parents faced their final illness.  And mothering friends helped me plan memorial services for another friend when he died. These women took my child to soccer/school/ballet when I was sick and my husband was out of town. They made me soup after surgery, picked up my daughter and cared for her while I was at the emergency room with my son. They even stepped in to visit my mother-in-law when we travelled, to ease our worry when we were far away. And when the time to close up and pack up my parent’s final home came, so did a  friend or two to help with the task and hand me tissue for my tears.

Sometimes I hear people say that women treat other women badly. That at work or socially, we undermine and attack.  Like the characters shown on one of those “real”  television shows, we plot and plan to hurt and demean.   That has not been my reality.

This past winter, a week or so before Christmas I was in the parking lot of our local gift/card/toy emporium.  The same one where I buy all those Mother’s Days’s cards. On this day, I saw a young mom soldiering toward her car carrying a baby in a carrier,while she tried to shepherd two older boys into her mini-van.  The older one, maybe 6 or so was cooperating, but the younger perhaps two or three-year old, was having a good old fashioned melt down.  I knew just what had happened; toy department, little boy, two parts fatigue and one part “no toy” disappointment. This almost always equals tears and the dragging of feet as mom tries to get everyone home, something we all remember.  I parked my car and walked back to the family. I didn’t want to add to the drama so I asked her quietly, “Can I help you?  Would you like me to carry the baby while you get the boys into the car?” By the time she had everyone in and seat belts fastened she and the younger boy were in tears. He had tried to make a run for it but between the two of us he was finally in his car seat.  “Thank you so much,” she said between sniffles, “I don’t know what I would have done.”  I smiled and told her she would have been fine. “We’ve all been there, you were so patient and calm you’re  doing great.”  She thanked me again, this time with hug, and we said good-bye.

So this year once again I’m buying Mother’s Days cards. For the women who’ve  taken the time to lovingly mother this motherless mother. I couldn’t help thinking about them that day in the parking lot.  I think each one of them would have done the same thing I did. Being a mom is hard, but being a mom with the mothering of others helping and supporting us, that makes the experience more rich and meaningful. Thanks, and Happy Mother’s Day, I’m just say’n.

In the Middle of a Moment

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I was watching my favorite TV comedy, The Middle. I love its portrayal of a mid western, middle class family. The shows mother, Frankie Heck, is beleaguered, harried, and always fully cognizant of her failings and shortcomings. In this episode she was feeling nostalgic and wanted to celebrate an important moment in the life of her family.  Introspection on Hallmark moments is not something she does a lot of. But she wanted to take note and more importantly she wanted her family to recognize the moment with her.  And in true television sitcom form laughs and zaniness ensued.

That’s what happens with plans to create moments in  real life too. The moment that we think we need to spotlight may not pan out just as we  had planned. But sometimes the momentous moment sneaks up on us.  Yes, moments are funny things.  We all have memorable ones.  The first time you hold your very own baby. The first kiss at the wedding, the first dance.  And there are the other kind as well.  The heart stopping heart breaking kind. The phone call about , cancer, the divorce or and accident.  They are just as unforgettable.  Touching our hearts and grabbing our breath.

This past summer we were awash in weddings.  Five brides had invited my husband and I to share their day.  Weddings are quintessential planned beautiful moment productions.  The walk down the aisle, the music, the dress all selected to provide memorable moments.  And each wedding we attended was lovely and meaningful.  But for me there was one moment. It was unplanned, and unscripted as all the best moments are.

My god daughter, was the bride.  She and her family had planned a small intimate wedding.  No big church with hundreds of guests. Rather 70 or so friends and family in the dining room of an Elks lodge.  Flowers, a cake, dinner and homemade jam as party favors, defined the day.

The bride’s mother was quite busy before the ceremony.  Doing all those things  that mothers do. Running hither and thither pining boutonnieres on her husband and son, checking with the catering staff. Now I admit I love to catch a peak of the bride before a wedding if I can, who doesn’t ?  So I knocked on the door of the designated bridal dressing room.

“Oh thank goodness!”  she said. So I went in.

And there all alone, the beautiful bride was obviously going to be unable to hook up the intricate back of her gown. And so I set to work.

I knew.  It was a moment. The moment I would remember  and treasure long after this wedding season had passed. I had been the one to hold her at her christening, included in her milestone events, birthdays and graduations. At six years old she had announced to her mother I was a great cook based upon my peanut and butter and jelly sandwiches.  And now here we were in the middle of a moment. I felt equal parts gratified, useful and honored. Feeling the the moment in every hook and eye I fastened, connected as each lacing I tightened on her gown.

That week the bride’s sister and I had co-hosted a dinner for her.  It was lovely, just as we had planned. During the wedding I had selected and read a reading, my husband officiated, he was great.

But the moment I will treasure took place in the ladies room of an Elks Lodge that Friday night.

Frankie the TV mom, wanted to make a toast at a family dinner to commemorate a transition the rest of the family was oblivious to.  She had to settle for clinking and olive jar in front of her open refrigerator.

We try so hard to create those memorable moments but often the most wonderful moments happen with out a plan or even a wedding planner in sight. It’s a wedding, mothers cry, father’s beam, enjoying the moment.
Summer wedding season is over now.   I’m walking through crunchy leaves and crisp fall air.

“I’m having a  moment. ”  It’s a  cliche and sometimes even a punchline.  But if we are lucky those moments leave trails in our hearts and memories as we walk through our days and nights.

I’m just say’n.