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.

 

 

Let’s Hear It For Dads

I’m embarrassed to say that this will be my first post for Father’s Day.  Let’s face it, dads sometimes get the short end of the stick when it comes to their special day.  So as I was walking on this beautiful summer day I was thinking of my Dad.  I often think of him.  But this time I was pondering which story to share that would illustrate the relationship we had.

My Dad was talented and smart. He could repair almost anything we had. His natural gift was probably enhanced by his military training as first a pilot and then, when an old baseball injury scrubbed him from the air corp, his training as a radioman and later his  work on un- manned drones. Before he even joined the Army he was trained by his father and uncles as a working carpenter. So if he couldn’t build it he could probably still fix it. Cars, big appliances , small appliances. The Stereo cabinet (very 1960’s) my bedroom dresser, and a big beautiful wooden playhouse came out of his work shop. But it was something much smaller that he made for me that still makes me smile.

When I was seven my second grade teacher decided that our class should learn and present a play as puppet theatre.  We read the play in class, The Princess and the Pea, then we would be assigned parts and perform the play for the other grades all from the puppet theatre in our class room.

I don’t remember how I felt about this project, only that I was home sick the day students were assigned their roles.  When I returned to school I learned that all the parts had all been taken.  The Princess,  the King and Queen the assorted folk of the village everyone had their part. There was just one role open–the Prince.  I remember not being too happy with having to take a boy’s role.  But this was the ’60s, the teacher told me I was going to learn the part of the Prince and that was how it would be.  Second grade puppet theatre had two important tasks first, for some still unknown reason we would have to memorize our parts. (Remember this was a puppet show we were behind a puppet stage no one could see us.)  Second, and this was what really scared me. We had to provide our own puppet.

Now if my Dad was “Mr. I can make it or fix it” my mother, although a classic “homemaker” of the era, was not as we say now a days, “crafty.”  Our Halloween costumes were store bought, our clothes form the Sears catalog. And that was fine. But, how was a royal prince puppet to be created?  I brought this dilemma home to mom and I must say she looked shaken by the thought of providing my thespian debut so important a tool.

We went to the only how to manual that wasn’t about cars, mechanicals and woodworking in the house.  My trusty Brownie Girl Scout hand book.  Eureka !

There were puppet making directions in the book!  Great. It involved large spoon and a napkin. You drew a face on the back of the spoon, and worked the napkin around the handle forming a cover for the puppeteer’s hand.  Believe me what you imagine that looked like would be better than it actually turned out.

And so I set out for school with my spoon puppet in by book bag.  My teacher was less than impressed.  I don’t remember how she explained to me, or how  her note to my mother was  worded.  But we were both informed that a spoon-napkin puppet would not meet  the  teacher’s theatrical standards. Back to square one.

I think that afternoon was spent with neither one of us wanting to talk about the dilemma. I know I felt totally clueless about puppet design and creation.  She probably did too. By the time my dad come home for dinner  the house was pretty quiet.  I also don’t remember who told my dad about the puppet problem but soon after dinner he got to work.

And a couple of  hours  and old white pillowcase later a Prince was born. No spoon and smiley face here. This prince sported an ermine-like black and white jacket and a jaunty face drawn on a puppet body that fit my seen year old hand perfectly.  My mother’s old black Singer sewing machine whirled and stitched while my father fed the fabric under the needle.  The first and only time I ever saw him at  the machine.

You know how the story ends. Everyone loved my puppet. And as we performed for the other classes I rendered what I remember as an inspired prince of a performance. The kids laughed at the Prince’s antics.  He gestured with his little puppet hands, scratched  his little puppet head as he performed his princely lines. I was a smash hit as a puppeteer. The  teacher congratulated me as the Prince  took his bow.

In a drawer of my dresser I keep the beautiful gavel with inlaid wood my father made me when I was elected presiding officer of  my local Rainbow assembly.  In my living room there stands a beautiful grandfather clock he built and passed on to me. But on this Father’s day I’m thinking about a puppet prince and the man who designed, sewed it and sent me off to school to be the best prince any little girl could hope to be. Sitting over the old Singer at the kitchen table stitching a memory that will never fade. I’m just say’n.

Thoughts On A Teapot

Thoughts On A Teapot

The first time I noticed it my daughter was 16 and going to the prom. In the photos we had taken of the prom group, the girls all had one thing in common.  It wasn’t a hair style or a dress length, high heels or flats.   No.  It was  their arms.

Almost, without exception all of those beautiful high school girls were posing with what I would describe as “teapot arms.”  Do you remember the old nursery rhyme we sang as children?

“I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout.”
As we sang about the teapot’s handle we put our hand on our hip to make a right angle.

Teapot arms.

So why, in all their prom finery were the girls doing that with their arms?

It’s not a pose limited to my small Midwestern town.  When I saw photos of other girls in other towns I saw them posing in the same way.  And lately I have noticed women of a certain age (namely mine) posing in the same  way as well. Arm bent, leaning out, what was going on?  I asked my self when did smile for the camera also involve  bending your arm in an artificial pose?

Finally I was so curious  by this phenomenon that I asked my daughter.  “What gives with the teapot arms?”  “This is not a pose that happens naturally.”  So she told me.  “It makes you look skinny.”

What!   All those beautiful, fresh faced young women, many of them athletes, concerned enough about the size of their silhouette  to strike a pose looking so forced?   I was one part stunned and two parts disappointed.  All the work we had done as mothers trying to instill confidence, to negate body shaming and we had daughters with teapot arms?

Being a parent is fraught with guilt and the fear that we are making mistakes every day.

“Was I home enough ?”

“Did I listen enough?”

“Was I too strict?”

“Was I too permissive?”

“Did I teach her that good health was more important than any idealized thin size?”
We hold ourselves to standards that move continually farther away from us.

Happily our children grow up and for the most part succeed. They may do so not on our preferred schedule, but they do fine.   They learn to take care of themselves, They work, they contribute.  They say please and thank you. They volunteer in their communities.  We see all this and hope we did right by the motherhood thing.

My daughter did look lovely for the prom. She finished high school. Went on to graduate from college and yes find a job. That Christmas we were all together posing for the usual family photos, the two of us in front of the tree.  “Smile for the picture,” someone said.
And then she did something with her arms.

She put them around me.  And we both smiled for the the picture.  All of my teapot arm concerns fell away in her embrace.  Finally, a pose I could love.

I’m just say’n.

imageCloset Wish

Ride On A Time Machine

I recently changed the cover on my ironing board.  Well, actually I recovered the old cover.  The cover my mother put on it when she gave it to me 36 years ago. On my birthday, ten days before I was to be married. I puzzled then over the gift. Somehow not the sentimental type of gift I imagined I would be given just prior to such a life changing event.  But I kept my questions to myself,  accepted the gift (graciously I hope) and got married. And I even did the ironing.  But recovering that old ironing board recently propelled me back to my mother’s kitchen and that day in August. Whoosh, like a time machine.

Gifts can do that to us. And at this time of the year when gifts are such an integral part of the celebration of Christmas, we can be riding a roller coaster of memory and emotion daily.  That may be one of the reasons we all hit  the mall, and the internet.  Not so much trying to buy love or win the best gift contest. But rather, trying to connect with our family and friends and earn that place in their memory. A special place where it is not the gift that is valued but the relationship, yes the thought.

Have you ever given someone the perfect gift? The one you know hits all the right notes in your relationship?  Have you ever been present when someone else gives the gift and witnessed the look on someones face that says “This is just it!”

Maybe.  Or maybe like me unwrapping that ironing board, and the cover my mother put on it you received the perfect gift and didn’t realize it for quite a while.

I want to be clear. I am not a regular iron-er of clothing.  I love permanent press as much as the next person. I iron only sporadically.  But I don’t remember any other birthday gift I received that year.  And I never iron without remembering my mother. I can see her ironing in the living room, there’s a game show on the television. She works her way through my father’s dress shirts, the sheets, my own cotton dresses. I see her, hear her voice (correcting my ironing technique sometimes) every time I haul that a board out of the closet.

Last night as I walked by my Christmas tree one of the ornaments caught my eye.  It was backwards. A simple muslin square with a holly wreathe and a red bow. The design did not show so I re -hung it.  Whoosh. Time travel.  The ornament in question was given to me by my college roommate. She gave it to me the year my husband and I bought our first home. She had come to our Christmas party and she brought  a set of or muslin ornaments to give me. I remember I asked  her if she had made them. “No, I just liked them. Saw them on vacation, and picked them up.” That was 30 years ago. This year no one had any idea she would not make it to Christmas. She passed away in early spring. We had lived together our sophomore year. She stood up with me at my wedding. She had given me other gifts I’m sure.  But it was that  Christmas tree decoration that propelled me to that Christmas long ago. To her smile. Even to her voice.

I am sure her sisters, brothers husband  and son, will have similar experiences this Christmas. I hope they’re comforted by the memories of their own time travel. I hope her other friends, of which she had so many, will also be reminded . Of her voice. of her smile. Of her ability to sing the entire score of “The Sound of Music.”

That’s one of the gifts of the season. The connection we feel to those so special to us in our lives. Our parents, a dear friend, gone but not ever forgotten.

That’s what the unexpected perfect gift can bring us. Someone once said, Christmas is a time machine. The rushing, the noise, the wrapping is just background noise. Listen carefully. It’s a carol worth enjoying. I’m just say’n.

The Bittersweet

The Bittersweet

It has been very bittersweet around here this spring and early summer. Perhaps in your world as well.  May and June often bring important transitions and changes.  Graduations, weddings and the like are just two of the  traditional bookmarks of this time of year and we have seen both in our family this year.

The word itself colors our perception of the events.  You’re all set to be happy on your way to the wedding or graduation, baby shower or parade and someone says “How nice, bet it’s bittersweet.”

Well, now that you mention it.

The dictionary defines bittersweet as “pleasure alloyed with pain.” It’s also a woody type plant that gardeners can’t quite decide whether or not  is friend or foe. Invasive species or decorative vine?

And  of course there is the baker’s world of bittersweet chocolate. And that last one does it for me.  I see the dark, rich chocolate. Its aroma deep and heady. I break off a small piece, take a bite… the smoothness covers my tongue and palate, its essence warms my taste buds.  And then, it bites back.  Not the sweet confection of even semi-sweet, like the chips I bake into cookies. But bitter. Is it disappointing, or just surprising? A happy respite from sameness or the taste of something foreign and unpleasant?  Oh yes, bittersweet.

My niece in her bridal gown perfectly beautiful. But nothing defines bittersweet to the parents, aunts and uncles like her happy march down the aisle. Wasn’t it just yesterday, that we all explored the beach together? Took photos with Minnie Mouse?

My own daughter took her own walk this spring to pick up her college diploma. It was her commencement. But to her father and me it seemed like an ending. Oh yes, happily we are done with tuition payments, but we know she has taken even more steps away from us and our sphere of influence. And as she is our youngest, for me at least, the feeling is more intense. I am pondering all these things while knowing full well that the bitter of the bitter sweet is probably only being experienced by those on the older side of the equation.

My recollection of my own to walks down those two aisles of adulthood is only of the joy, the happiness, the fulfillment, the sweet. I felt no sadness, no pain, nothing bitter. Oh perhaps some fear, anticipation, but pain? No.

And that is the bitter pill we not so young and not (quite thankfully) old parents must swallow. The sadness is all ours. We know that they, our babies our children have more wonderful moments to experience and that some of them will be bittersweet. They will take a child to school for the first time and think “where did my baby go?” They will leave a job or move  or end a relationship and know it’s for the best and yet be sad, bittersweet.

It’s my understanding of bitter sweet that colors my understanding of not only the milestones but of the seemingly regular path of days. Summer with its longer days and smells of cut lawns and the flowers in my garden are experiences I try to embrace and appreciate. All to soon the temperature will change and the days will shorten. Bittersweet. To me it lends a richness and a dimension to my days I had no understanding of while I accomplished the milestones. An though I know I have many more wonderful experiences and days ahead (God willing) for me and my family and “framily” this view of bittersweet keeps me in the moment and joyful. Breathe in, taste, embrace the bitter  it makes the sweet taste even better. I’m just say’n.

Hoarders Much?

Walking out the door of  a local store I glance at a sale display of odds and ends. I spy it. A large  white , metal, free formed bowl. Half off original price. Wouldn’t that  look nice on a summer table on the patio filled with flowers?  Or fruit? Or Chips? Or stop! Put it down. Exit the building.

I have of late developed a fondness for dishware. Beautiful floral pieces of china. Cups and compotes. Plates and tea pots I love them. At the same time I know I should be paring down such items from my life and pantries. But they sing a siren song and draw me in. Is it the beauty of their design? Their echo of grace and and lovely times spent with food family or friends?  Or something else?

I am not alone in this collecting coalition.  One friend is inexorably drawn to handbags. She only half jokingly had me promise to enter her home in the event of her sudden or premature demise and remove the bulk of her booty before her husband and children could discover the real size of her collection. Another friend’s husband, a card carrying re-cycle, re-use type has acquired quite the collection of second hand leather jackets.  My own husband had a serious fling with duffel bags, the kind  you  put tennis racquets in. He had not only several for himself, but he also started picking them up for the kids and me. He was always looking for the perfect bag. One for just match play, one that would work as an extra suitcase for air travel, or hold multiple racquets. It was after a family intervention when he had brought me yet another bag that we finally convinced him to stop, since I don’t play tennis! 

The world is full of collectors. Did you know the number of doll collectors is only exceeded by those who collect coins?  Numismatologist or arctophile, pick your poison. Actually  the latter specializes in teddy bears but you get the  picture. Tea cups, baseball cards, stamps, movie memorabilia, stuff and more stuff. And open the door on a quilter’s closet and prepare to be overwhelmed by fat quarters, a quilter’s  phrase for  fabric squares.

It was said that Mother Theresa owned but two saris and a bucket to wash the one she was not wearing. I am making no judgement on collecting or  anyone’s appreciation for whats-its. Just that for   many of us some things draw us in and hold us fascinated. And in this we have something in common, even if my treasure is your “not another one of those??”  I’m just say’n.

Original Recipe

The Thanksgiving feast was no sooner put away when I began to think about when I would begin Christmas baking.  Not because I love those cookies so much but rather I love what my family says about them.  They speak of my egg nog logs in dulcet tones, they praise my Mexican wedding cakes  with effusive smiles. But, I don’t for a moment think it is because of my superior baking skills. I think it is because I have harnessed an important part of the holidays.  Repetition.

Let me explain.  We’ll return to the Thanksgiving meal. When my husband and I were  dating and he came to my family’s home for Thanksgiving for the first time, he was looking forward to a home cooked turkey dinner.  But not, he told me, to the stuffing. He did not like stuffing, he told me. As a matter of fact, he rather detested it. (Why I continued to date him after he confessed to this heresy I don’t recall.) He arrived at my parents home on time and suitably charming and as dinner began I watched to see how he would handle himself when the stuffing was passed his way. He must have decided that  tasting was the better part of valor and he took a small helping. Which he ate, I noticed.  And then he went above and beyond and asked for seconds. I whispered to him, “You, don’t have to.” “I want to.”  “You don’t like dressing.”  I said. “I like your mother’s dressing, a lot.” And that was that.

After we married I made the dressing for each holiday. And he asked most years “You’re making your mother’s dressing, right?”  If  I ever thought of  switching to cornbread or adding sausage, I was quickly   reminded of the superior nature of “your mother’s dressing.” And to this day the dressing (that’s what we call it now, stuffing no more) is much like my mother’s.  A basic herb seasoned, bread concoction with celery and onion.
Families are a lot like dressing and holidays. The recipe for our days depends much on that which we can count on. The parts we play in the theatre that is our life story are based on birth order, hardwiring, and repetition . Maybe we call it tradition. Big brother is freakishly adept at assembling legos. He grows up and is still the one everyone asks for help in assembling all that needs putting together. Princess daughters know/remember who wants/needs the gifts and where the nutcracker looks best. And everyone wants the dressing to be just as it always was.

“Should I make the onion tarte?” I asked my husband. “You will if you don’t want writhing on the floor and gnashing of  teeth,” he replied.  It makes us feel connected to the holidays of our past. And yes even to those no longer with us. I think of my mother every time I make the dressing.

And yet, some traditions are ripe for change. Like most people my age, I was served (and in my case, did not eat) canned cranberry sauce. It was probably a function of the 1960 grocery store that cranberries sauced or gelled and in a can, were most common. And it is a sign of the 1990’s and the 21st century that homemade fresh is so common today. But I have one friend who still loves that scary canned concoction complete with ribs imprinted on the the gelled  sauce, best. We serve it to him with a wink and a nod while everyone else enjoys the other. It is his tradition we respect.

So, here is my metaphor for the day. The food, the decorations, the music of the holidays are how we connect to our past, to our families, to our younger selves.

And here is my confession. Sometimes we need to tweak or refresh those recipes.  I make my mother’s dressing. But, a few years ago I snuck in mushrooms, and a year or so later I added wild rice.   It seemed to work. That’s  the dressing at my house now.

Our children grow up and bring others to the table, just like I did all those years ago. We set another place and add a chair. The beauty of the holidays is that they are able to grow and morph while still retaining their original “flavor”  if you will.

It’s a gift more beautiful than the crystal returned to the china cabinet, or any gift under a tree. We belong to each other because we remember  the dressing and how we all fit together.

It’s a dish we can have second helpings from. I’m just say’n.