My breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much

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‘When it comes to turkey, isn’t predictability the point?’

I’m sitting here watching raindrops pelt my newly-washed windows while consoling myself with yet another cup of coffee. I just got back from the IGA, where there were no brussels sprouts to be had. Me, noticing empty bin: “No brussels sprouts?” Store employee, noticing panicky face: “Later, Miss. (She gets points for that “Miss”.) We are waiting for the truck.”

But I did get Mr. Turkey. And he looks mighty fine indeed. Speaking of fresh turkey, did I ever tell you about the time The Dude’s Dad ordered one, then put it in the freezer? We had hamburger and cranberry sauce that Thanksgiving.

On my Quest for the Perfect Piecrust

Anyway. Yesterday, I was scouring my sources for the Very Best Piecrust Recipe, which to me is like the Holy Grail. (No matter how many times I make piecrust, I’m constantly on a quest for a Better Way. The last couple of years I’ve been adding vodka; not sure if it makes a difference, but it’s sure more fun.)

Last year’s pies, resting in the “pie room”. Nice crust courtesy vodka. Oh, and a Manhattan

While piecrust-trolling, I kept coming across food articles talking about dry-rubbing your turkey. Which, apparently, is the new turkey cooking craze now that brining the turkey is apparently “over”.

Nope. I didn’t brine this turkey. Or dry-rub it either

According to the Times, the Brining Thing happened back in 2006 when some food editor “was desperate for a new approach to holiday turkey”. But now, I guess, dry rubbing has shouldered brining aside. Brining was so popular, I read, that some cooks tried it when they were planning to deep-fry their turkeys. The problem? When the brine-soaked birds hit the hot oil, they exploded. (Which reminds me of another method I will never try which is, I kid you not, Trash Can Turkey.)

The only time my turkey will meet a trash can is when it’s nothing but bones. And actually, not even then. The bones get thrown in the woods

Now here is where I have to ask: Why would anyone who is not a food editor be “desperate for a new approach” to turkey? I mean, turkey is basically a once-a-year deal. Maybe, just maybe, you might serve turkey again at Christmas (though not at my house; pot roast reigns at Yuletide). But even then, it’s not like, say, chicken cutlets or meatloaf. You don’t come home after a long day at work and go “Turkey again?

Cheese and Wine: a new Thanksgiving tradition I’ve embraced, mainly because it has nothing to do with The Bird

And isn’t Turkey Predicability sort of the point? I find it rather soothing to know that my turkey, if I follow my mother’s instructions (which I would be a fool not to do), will come out pretty much the same every year: simple, and simply delicious.

My Mom wrote out her Turkey Instructions so I’d know just what to do the first time I “did” Thanksgiving

Of course, I’ve heard tell of some Turkey Creativity among those I hold near and dear. Sometimes these attempts do not go well. One year, my parents spent Thanksgiving with my Oldest Younger Brother, who, in keeping with NoCal tradition, cooks his turkey on the grill. Dad threw a few oysters into the Weber to jazz up the dressing, thus (unintentionally, I trust) infusing the whole bird with savory oystery flavor.

And I can remember when there was this fad for roasting the turkey in something called an “oven bag”. This was supposed to keep your turkey moist. Or something. (But how would it brown? I thought, even though I was a non-Thanksgiving-making teen at the time.)

I didn’t get a chance to find out, because my Aunt M, who was in charge of the turkey that year, decided she didn’t need to “waste money” on one of those store-bought bags when she had a “perfectly good” grocery bag she could use instead. It caught on fire, and so did the turkey.

That’s me sampling something Aunt M is whipping up. On top of the stove, and not in an oven bag, thank goodness

Well, as for me, I’ve been “doing” Thanksgiving for more than 20 years now, and every year I haul out those turkey-making notes (which I will hand on to The Child, in time) and do it again — the very same way. So far, no one’s been bored. And if they have, they’ve kept quiet about it.

The Dude and Me on an early Thanksgiving hosting occasion. Note CD player and high-waisted jeans. Which he still wears

Oh, sometimes I change things. Early on I switched from orange-spiked cranberry sauce to just plain spiked. A couple of years ago I let The Child chop and roast the brussels sprouts instead of steaming them. (Fingers crossed I can find some this year). And now I serve roasted sweet potatoes instead of the butternut squash I thought everybody liked but found out they secretly hated. But I never touch those thighs and I certainly don’t rub that breast.

So there! And Happy Thanksgiving, one and all

Amagansett, New York. November 2018

“Open mouth, insert foot”

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‘Questions my mother taught me just not to ask’

Back when I was an Advertising Upstart in Kansas City, I was appointed one of a panel of judges for a creative show. A “creative show”, for those of you not familiar with the Ad Biz, is where Ad People get together to award each other prizes for their work; the “work” being the ads that they come up with for their clients.

Now, I don’t know if agencies still do this sort of thing, but back then these were not only occasions for self-congratulation, they were opportunities for a whole hell of a lot of partying. Sigh. Those were the days.

Me, back when I was judging creative shows and sampling my own feet

Anyway. There I was, a freshly-minted Advertising Judge, on my way to the judging venue, which was some hotel in, I think, Omaha. I get on the elevator where I see a woman about my age dressed in slacks and a sort of tent-shaped top. So I say to her (just being polite, you know), “When is your baby due?” Well. If looks could kill, I’d have been dead for more than thirty years now. “I am not pregnant,” she spit through clenched teeth, then swirled her tent-topped self and turned to face the elevator doors. I swear I could see smoke coming out of her ears.

Back when Tentlike Tops meant One Thing, and One Thing only. Mom and Me, with future Oldest Younger Brother Scott in there somewhere

Well. After what felt like the longest elevator ride in history, we finally reached my floor. The doors open, she steps out ahead of me — and proceeds to walk down the hall to the very room where I’m headed. Yes, you guessed it. She was also an Advertising Judge. And, as the panel consisted of only five of us, it turned out to be three very long days of judging.

I had broken one of my mother’s cardinal rules. Which is don’t assume anything. Do not ask Certain Questions unless you are absolutely sure of the answer. Unless that be-tented woman is lying on that elevator floor timing her contractions and panting it is best not to ask “When is your baby due?” And maybe not even then.

Which of these women is preggers? You can guess, but never ever assume

Another example, speaking of babies, is if you see one accompanied by a Woman Of A Certain Age. Do not assume said baby is her grandchild. Do not make well-meaning remarks about the pleasure of grandkids and how you can play with them and just hand them back when they poop. If you do, even if that Woman looks older than dirt, it could very well turn out that she’s the mother — and she won’t be pleased. (This happens a lot in New York, where Older Mothers, of which I am one, abound.) If you absolutely must say something, ask “What’s your baby’s name?” If it’s the mom, you’re fine. If it’s the grandmother, you’ve made a friend for life.

Grandma? Or Mom? Trust me, in New York City you wouldn’t want to guess

I have firsthand experience of how an Open Mouth can get stuffed. Once I took the about-seven-year-old Child to a podiatrist for some reason I can’t recall. What I do recall is the look on The Child’s face when she was asked while being escorted to the exam room, “Do you want your Gramma to come in with you?”

Is that a Gramma? In the good old days, it was easier to tell. But you still wouldn’t want to guess wrong, now would you?

I don’t think I have to tell you not to ask people’s ages. (I certainly hope not, anyway.) One time, when I was on (a very long) line at the Brazilian embassy to get a visa, an official-looking gentleman approached and asked, “How old are you, Ma’am?” When I recovered and coughed up the number, he told me that my answer got me punted to the front of the line. But, unless you work for the Brazilian embassy, I’m telling you: don’t go there.

What I look like when someone asks me how old I am

And while I’m on this topic, don’t — repeat don’t — ask anyone if they “want the Senior Discount”. Trust me. If someone wants the Senior Discount, he or she will ask for the Senior Discount. Are you listening, Movie Ticket Seller Girl?

Before I wrap this up, let me tell you about another foot-in-mouth pitfall that looms now that I’m in the age group that gets asked about the Senior Discount. Say you run into the female half of a couple you’ve seen off and on socially over the years. Don’t — just don’t — ask “How is your husband?” Because, more likely than not, she’ll answer, “He died.”

And remember, when in doubt, just repeat to yourself the immortal words of my marvelous mom, “A closed mouth gathers no feet.”

My Mom, who is wise beyond her years. Don’t ask — she’ll jolly well tell you if she wants the Senior Discount. Or the cat

New York City. November 2018

 

We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow

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‘How I narrowly escaped a life in Florida’

Last week I had a birthday. Which is all well and good, especially since I am rather fond of drinking champagne and having people sing to me. But I’ve gotten to the age where it feels like every week I’m having another darned birthday. The pages on my calendar seem to be flashing by like one of those flip books.

It doesn’t help matters that my friends are moving to Florida. They’re buying golf clubs and boats and condos with a spare room for the grandkids. Why, just last week we bridge buddies bade good-bye to one of our number who was moving to some place called Jupiter. It’s a place in Florida, not a planet. Though it might as well be, since she won’t be able to make our weekly bridge games.

Visiting friends in Florida a couple of years ago. We were there for — you guessed it — a birthday

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Florida. Well, except for the fact that there are no sidewalks, people bank their turns in their huge boatlike cars, and there are bugs big as dogs. I’m sure Florida has some fine qualities. In fact, what with all those friends fleeing southward it’s starting to look kind of good to me.

Even I might enjoy Florida if I could live in the Ringling Mansion, toured on a recent visit. Nah, it smelled like mildew

But back when I was barely out of my twenties, it was certainly not the place I wanted to be. Especially since I fell in love with New York City the very second I arrived from the Midwest all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, freshly scrubbed and eager to please.

I lived in a terrific New York apartment. (Read about how I found it in “Horowitz plays the bedroom.”) I worked in a terrific New York ad agency. (Read about how I got there in “Take a letter, Miss Henry.”)

The Dude and I, shortly after we met. But before I got him to shave off that mustache

I met a terrific New York Dude. (See “The Jerk and The Dude.“) Heck, we even had a terrific-if-quirky New York wedding. (See “Winning the Dude-A-Thon”.)

A couple of years later after the mustache. And after our terrific New York wedding

Why, The Dude was even born in New York. (Which a whole lot of New Yorkers aren’t, believe you me.) He’d tell cute stories about playing near the grounds of Gracie Mansion as a tot, and about how he rode the New York City bus to Grace Church School way downtown all by himself when he was only six.

The Dude with his sibs in their New York apartment. (That’s Brother Bill adjusting his head) I don’t think he was taking the bus by himself just yet

Well. The ink was barely dry on our New York City-issued marriage license when, one night over dinner in our New York City apartment, The Dude announced that he thought it would be a good idea to move to Florida.

The Dude and I in our New York City apartment, ready to do some New York City Thing. (I still have that dress)

Florida?!? Yes, Florida. The Dude’s Older Brother Bill, like The Dude, was a doctor. A doctor who was doing very well, thank you very much, treating patients in Sarasota, Florida. He had a lot of influence on The Dude, having been around much more during Dude Man’s childhood than Dude’s Actual Father. (A story for another time. Or not. Probably not.)

Whitmore Males in the 80s on a beach not in Florida. Left to right: Dude, Younger Bro Carl, Older Bro (and Surrogate Dad) Bill, Actual Dad

Now, when I met The Dude he was already a doctor. So I was spared the Putting-The-Hub-Through-Med-School Thing. But he was a struggling Freshly-Minted Doctor working three jobs while his practice was revving up. (Which it — whew — eventually did.) So it was pretty tempting to hear about Older Bro’s lush Floridian Life. He had a car. He had a boat. He had a house on a canal with a dock to park said boat.

Older Bro Bill and Me. On said boat

“Dude,” I said. “I spent my whole life getting to New York. I sure as heck am not ready to leave here now. Besides, Florida is full of Old People. Who would we be friends with?”

“Hey, Pie.” (He sometimes calls me “Pie”; usually when he wants to get his way.) “We’ll do so well in Florida that we’ll be able to afford to leave anytime we want,” was his response.

“Who wants to live someplace where all you can think about is when you can leave?” I replied.

Well. To keep the peace, I agreed to go down to Older Bro’s place to “check it out” and “see what I thought”.

Things did not start off well when we met Older Bro’s friends for dinner. The “friends” were about a zillion years old (around my age right now, come to think of it). We met (at 4:30) at their favorite restaurant (a cafeteria) where one could not even get wine (which would have helped matters considerably) but where one could get “a very nice mac and cheese”.

After we bussed our trays we repaired to Poppy and Phil’s bungalow. (Their real names, but they’re probably dead by now so it’s okay.) It was, of course, still light out, so we moseyed out to the back yard.

The Dude reached up and plucked an orange. “Hey Pie! If we lived here we could drink fresh juice from our very own tree!

“Hey Dude”, I replied. “We drink milk, and we don’t own a cow.

We did not move to Florida.

Older Bro Bill and The Dude on a recent visit. Sarasota is starting to look a lot better these days. Tho the socks-with-sandals and/or shorts thing might be a deal-breaker

New York City. November 2018

“Let me go! I want my Mommy!”

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‘The time The Dude (almost) got arrested for Childnapping’

I once took a crack at a funny story about dentistry. (You can chuckle at the result — or not — by clicking on “Is it safe?”) So I thought a humorous take on kidnapping might be worth a shot.

See, you wouldn’t know it from the idyllic father-daughter-on-the-beach photo at the top of this story, but one time The Child was screaming at the top of her lungs (in public!) for The Dude to unhand her.

Scream her lungs out? This little Sweetheart?

We were on a trip at the time, to one of The Dude’s ophthalmology meetings. The American Academy of Ophthalmology, to be specific. This outfit holds these in a different city every year. Nowadays The Dude and I make it a point to go to the “good” cities (Yay, New Orleans and Las Vegas!) and avoid the “bad” ones (Sorry, all-paved-over Atlanta and Disney-fied Orlando). That year the meeting was in San Francisco, and it was the first time we’d go as a family. (And the last, it turned out.)

For some crazy reason we thought it would be a great idea to take the three-year-old Child along on this trip. Well, to be perfectly honest, we took The Child along on every trip to every place we went — until she was six. 

Child (with her traveling companion, Moo-Cow) and Same-Age Cousin Aaron, all behaving beautifully

Also, we thought it would be cool to get together with my Oldest Younger Brother Scott and his NoCal Fam (complete with same-age Cousin Aaron) while we were in his neck of the woods. And the parts of the trip we spent together were, in fact, pretty darned cool. We went to a Japanese tea garden and to Ghirardelli Square and on a cablecar ride. But that was later.

The Child and Moo-Cow behaving beautifully (and not screaming to be unhanded) on a cablecar ride

The Incident Of Which I Write happened on the very first day we were there. The Child and I had been over to the meeting venue itself and walked around a bit, checking out the exhibits on macular degeneration and suchlike, she toting Moo-Cow, her Animal of Choice (being a very fair-minded child, she picked a different one for each trip). And, well, so far so good. We were, in fact, smugly congratulating ourselves on well things were going, Child-wise.  

The Child and Moo-Cow behaving beautifully at the Academy Meeting. And yes, I did knit that sweater

So I guess we got sort of, well, complacent. That night we were supposed to go to a Meeting-Related Dinner in North Beach, and instead of doing the sensible thing and hiring a babysitter for the evening, we took The Child along. To be fair, the restaurant was a casual family-style Italian place (I checked to be sure), but still. She was three, for pete’s sakes.

What we should have given her instead of taking her to the restaurant: a breadlike object of any kind

Not only was she just three, she was also a notoriously picky eater. Her favorite foods were bread (or anything breadlike) — and water. I guess we were banking on the fact that an Italian Place would have plenty of both.

What we weren’t banking on was jet lag.

The Dude and I were tucking into large platters of pasta and suchlike, and The Child was chomping away on a chunk of bread when all of a sudden she…just…snapped.

It was like a demon possessed her. She did that turn-herself-into-a-board Stiffness Thing, then threw herself onto the floor, where she commenced shrieking and drumming her heels.

Well. The Dude had finished his dinner (and most of mine), so he graciously offered to let me stay behind while he removed The Child from the scene — that being the only really effective way to deal with a tantrum so ear-piercingly severe.

The Child, demonstrating the Stiff Baby Thing during a much-earlier practice tantrum. (I don’t have a photo of the Tantrum Of Which I Write)

So The Dude scoops up the totally-stiff incredibly-screaming Child, puts her under his arm and totes her out of the restaurant — kind of like he’s carrying a hysterical briefcase.

And there he is, walking the streets of North Beach, desperately trying to flag a cab (this was, of course, waaaaay before Uber) while The Child is screaming “Put me down!” and “Let me go!” and “I want my Mommy!”

Well. You can just imagine the looks he got. It still amazes me that a police car didn’t stop instead of a cab with a nice driver who also tried to mollify The Child, to no avail. (Driver: “I have grandchildren, let me try” Child: “Even louder shrieking”) Of course, the second The Dude got her into the hotel room, The Child was out like a light — and was perfectly fine the next day.

Which happened to be Halloween.

Here she is in the costume I concocted for her out of a kleenex and a crown. Heck, I may have been a terrible Mom who took her kid to completely inappropriate places where she had tantrums — but you can’t say I wasn’t creative.

The Child, all smiles on Halloween. This was her costume. Somewhat makeshift, but she and Moo-Cow didn’t seem to mind

New York City. October 2018

The first time The Child rode the subway

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‘Featuring a darned good “Lutheran Lie”, if I do say so myself’

First thing Monday morning I took part in a nature walk in Central Park. Our little group was listening, rapt, to our leader, an architectural historian no less, when a rat the size of a healthy young chihuahua weaved its way between our collective feet and disappeared under an ornamental shrub.

Me, the morning after my Close Encounter of the Rattus Kind. (Those are actual dogs frolicking in the background)

No one flinched. Though our leader, after a beat, did say, “They’re okay off-leash until 9:00.”

This whole blasé-about-rats thing got me thinking about New Yorkers and how we get used to just about anything. And how sometimes it takes some fresh eyes to, well, see things “fresh”.

Like the time The Child was introduced to the subway.

The Child, subway-ready, tatts and all

She was about three or maybe four years old at the time. Now, I realize that for some of you fellow New Yorkers out there who read my stories (bless you a thousand times), “three or maybe four” may sound rather long in the tooth for a first-time subway rider. After all, I see babes in arms — and in carriers and strollers — all the time “down there”.

But our little family had the advantage of living fairly close to all the stuff The Child needed to get to, like classes (“science” at the 92nd Street Y!) the Central Park Zoo (ahem, “Wildlife Conservation Society”) — even her assorted “playdates” (don’t get me started, but please see my piece “I’m watchin’ him!” for my views on this aspect of Modern-day Child-raising.)

And for the stuff she needed to get to that was too far to walk to, she and I — or she and The Dude, or even she and Our Caregiver — would take the bus. (Little kids love the bus. One can be driven quite mad in Manhattan, at least mid-day when I’m riding, by the chorus of little voices squeaking “The wheels on the bus go round and round” over and over and over.)

No, I don’t have a photo of The Child on a bus. But I do have this one (and the one at the top of this post) — of her on a cable car. Which is perhaps even more fun, depending on whether you’re the Child or the Parent

Also, little kids can look out the windows on the bus. “Look, Honey. There’s a policeman on a horse.” “Look, Sweetie. There’s a lady with a snake around her neck.” “Look, Doll. (Or maybe not.) There’s a man running up Second Avenue wearing only fishnet hose and sneakers.” All actual bus-window sightings, I might add.

Oh, sure. The subway does have windows, but there’s not much to look at except other subways whooshing by. Which actually is pretty cool, come to think of it.

But I digress. Back to The Child and her first subway ride.

I was working in advertising, literally on Madison Avenue, since that’s where DDB/Needham was at the time, when I was invited to a party by one of my colleagues. A party where children were invited. (Trust me, this hardly ever happens in the world of advertising. Or at least not back in the crazy booze-and-controlled-substance-fueled days when I was in it. So how could I refuse?)

This party was to take place down in SoHo. And the best way to get to SoHo from Madison Avenue, or just about anywhere in New York City, actually, unless you happen to be in SoHo already, is by subway.

How New Yorkers get around — to The Village, in this case. Which is equally as subway-a-rific as SoHo to this Upper East Sider

So I get Our Caregiver to bring The Little Cherub (AKA The Child) to my office, where I tell her we’re headed to the subway.

“What’s the subway?” she asked. (Seriously; I guess all her Little Friends walked and bussed everywhere too.) “It’s a train that runs under the ground” I answered. “Under the ground? Doesn’t dirt get in it?” “Well, um, yes. Actually, it does.”

We get to the subway entrance and descend. It really is a “hole in the ground”, as the song “New York New York” would have it. The Child is fascinated — staring with wide little child eyes at everything: the buskers, the panhandlers, the hapless crowds of exhausted commuters. She’s thrilled when I let her put the token in the slot in the turnstile, since this was well before MetroCards. (Gosh, Child, you’ve reached the age when you can do that “way back when I was a kid” thing!)

The Child, “way back when”, on a slide. No, it’s not a slide that goes into “a hole in the ground”, thank goodness

Did I mention that it was Rush Hour? Now Rush Hour in Manhattan is not nearly as bad as those pictures you’ve seen of Rush Hour in Tokyo, where guys in uniforms push people onto the crammed cars with white-gloved hands. But it’s pretty close.

And, speaking of close, that’s how we’re “arranged” on this subway car — once The Child and I squeezed our way onto one, that is. We’re so tightly packed together that you didn’t really need to hang on to a strap (they had those then, too). The mere proximity of your neighbor kept you upright.

But, even though this subway car was packed tighter than Vienna sausages in a can, it was quiet as quiet could be — everyone was in his or her little New York After-Work Bubble, just hanging in there till they could get home already.

Except for this one little baby-duck-like voice that kept piping up. Yup, it was The Child. And she had a lot of questions. “Why isn’t anybody smiling?” “They’re busy thinking, Sweetie.” “Why does it smell so bad?” “Because you can’t open the windows, Bunny.”

And the Best Question of All, asked when she spotted a noisily-snoring man zonked out, covered with newspapers, and occupying four subway seats while everyone gave him as wide a berth as possible — “Why is that man sleeping?

Well. Here’s where that Lutheran Lie comes in. All faces expectantly turned to me as I explained, in best Mommy Fashion, “Well, Sweetheart. It’s been a long day. And people are very tired from working.

No one flinched. But I did get some pretty good smirks.

Is this the face of a Child ready for a lesson on The Homeless? Well, pardon me, but I didn’t think so. Lutheran Lie to the rescue. (If you’d like an explanation, check out “Lutheranliar explained”)

New York City. October 2018

 

Wedding Belles

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‘What’s not to like about a wedding?’

In my humble opinion, weddings are simply the best parties ever. You get to dress up, eat free food, drink free wine, and dance like a crazy person. All for the price of a wedding gift.

I can honestly say that I have never met a wedding I didn’t like. I’ve been to weddings in old New England Churches that smelled like mold (the churches, not the weddings), “hip” weddings with folksy preachers and awful guitar playing, weddings where the proceedings were so thoroughly photographed and filmed that you almost couldn’t see what was happening, weddings in back yards and on lawns and even involving hot dog stands (that would be mine to The Dude). And I’ve enjoyed each and every one.

“I Sabrett you to be my lawful wedded husband”

I even went to a wedding in the Vatican, which was pretty darned spectacular. That one got its own story, “La Dolce Vita and Me”, which you might enjoy reading. (Britney Spears makes an appearance — though, sadly, not the Pope.)

Well, this past weekend I went to a wedding that was no exception, thoroughly-enjoyment-wise. It was the marriage of two thoroughly enjoyable young people, one of whom is my own personal nephew.

That’s the groom on the left (my own personal nephew). And my own personal Child on the right. (Photo not taken this weekend)

Of course I checked the invitation for details, but I almost missed the fact that this wedding was going to be held outside. See, I almost didn’t check the wedding website, which clearly stated: “Ceremony will be held outdoors, rain or shine”. (Wedding websites are the only thing I actually don’t like about weddings. I often forget to check the darned things, and thus risk missing important details like this one.)

I did check the weather, though. And the forecast was, alas, for rain. So, along with my party shoes I packed my rain gear. I figured what the heck; with a beautiful bride on the scene, who’s going to look at me, much less my big ole rubber boots?

No, there was no one in that gazebo. And not because it was raining. There never is anyone in a gazebo. (And yes, I’ve written about that too)

And sure enough — the morning of the wedding it was raining. Not hard rain, but still. Now I know they say it’s good luck when it rains on your wedding. I say it’s just, well, damp.

In the gazebo, waiting out the rain while checking out the birds

Well, the Wedding Gods were on our side because just before the ceremony was set to begin, the skies cleared and the sun came out. (Yes, this happened in time for me to ditch the rubber boots.)

The sun shines on the bride and groom. (Awning and rubber boots no longer required)

And yes, this wedding was just as fun — if not more fun — than I expected it to be. Free food: check. Free wine: check. Dancing like a crazy person: check check check — and check.

Incidentally, two of the guests at this shindig were also the stars of an outdoor wedding ten (gasp) years ago. Yes, another much-adored nephew of mine was married back then — without rain, thank you very much O Wedding Gods — in a beautiful outdoor setting on Martha’s Vineyard.

The sun also shone on The Vineyard that day

And of course, these two were also in attendance to see this wedding go off without a (sorry, I just can’t help myself) hitch.

Me, plus ten-years-ago Outdoor Bride and Groom

Speaking of years-ago ceremonies, the picture at the top of this post is of me and last weekend’s Mom of the Groom, AKA The Dude’s Sister, at another long-ago cousinly wedding. I believe, if I am not mistaken, I have already regaled you readers with tales of this event. This was the Epic Wedding where we guests were not only partaking of free wine, we were actually scoring our own bottles of Moet et Chandon from which we were swigging freely.

This was the wedding where the Current Groom’s Brother (and Best Man) attended in the arms of his mother. He was an adorable baby at the time, and kept getting passed around from guest to increasingly-champagne-infused guest. Until at one point in the festivities, we were asking “Where’s Matt?” “Who has Matt?” And, finally, “Has anyone seen Matt?” Well, Matt, it turned out, was fast asleep in his portable crib at our house. To this day, no one remembers just how he got there.

That’s once-lost-baby Matt (left) with Mom, Brother Groom and Bride

Well, this time no one passed Baby Matt around. And, as far as I know, no one was passing around bottles of bubbly. But Epic it was, and thoroughly enjoyed by me and everyone else. Here’s hoping the Bride and Groom show up ten years from now at another (fingers crossed) rain-free event. Perhaps it’ll be the wedding of one of the Whitmores in the picture below, which was taken the day after the wedding at the Farewell Breakfast. Which was also free. Like I say, what’s not to like about a wedding?

The wedding was not on the rocks. But these Whitmores (plus non-Whitmore BF of Child) certainly were

New York City. October 2018

Driving the Unicorn

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‘I’ve never bought a car. Not a new one, anyway.’

A couple of weeks ago I revealed to all and sundry that I have never, in all my grownup life, bought a couch. (See the aptly-named “I have never bought a couch” for deets.) Not buying a couch, I mused, meant that I’m probably not really a grownup.

Well, today I’m going to admit that I have never bought a car, either. Well, I have bought a car — an old Austin America, which I’ll tell you about in a sec — but I’ve never bought a new car. Where you go in a showroom and talk to a car dealer. You know, like that guy Jerry Lundegaard in “Fargo”.

I remember going to the showroom with my whole family to buy this Ford station wagon. It was brown and cream and smelled amazing

I got to thinking about this whole new-car thing because we just got back from our annual Best-Friends-in-the-Catskills Visit. (See “Take me home, Country Road” for a nice tale about them.) Said Best Friends always have a new car — they lease a brand-new Mercedes every year. (Something to do with business or some such.)

Whatever the reason, they always have a new car — and each new car is more intimidating (at least to me) than the last. The current model has a dashboard that looks like a fighter pilot’s, with flashing lights and LED displays and GPS maps. It talks to you, this car. (“Fasten seat belt, please”) And it “helps” you. It not only has a rear-view thingie that “assists” in backing up, it can also parallel park itself. I am not making this up. Oh — and it has no car key; just this sort of fob thing that kept getting lost all weekend.

The part that really got to me, though, is how this car “corrects” you if you veer across the yellow line or onto the shoulder. Honest. If you stray, it steers itself back into the lane. It also brakes itself if an obstacle presents itself suddenly. (Think deer here). It will even drive itself — staying in the lane and keeping at a constant speed. But it “warns” you (with a jerk) if you take your hands off the wheel for 30 seconds. I guess even the Mercedes Makers think some civilities must be maintained.

Sheesh. I’m sorry, but I really don’t want to drive a car that thinks it’s smarter than me. (Shades of “Christine”.)

Nope, not the Austin America. This was a Chevy Vega that I also did not buy. The Guy Before The Dude and I are getting ready to drive off in it on our honeymoon. Sigh

One car I did buy on my own was a definitely not-new brown Austin America, which was the shape and size of (and kind of looked like) a bus shelter. Sadly, I do not have photographic evidence of ownership of this car. I bought it for 800 bucks — cash — from a woman who was saving up to run away from her abusive husband. She tucked the cash into a Ritz Cracker box in the pantry and handed me the keys.

Me, around the time I bought the Austin America

This car was Trouble from the word “go” (or in this case, “no go”). For one thing, the engine was mounted sideways. Which meant that, when it rained, the alternator would get wet (are you surprised I know what an “alternator” is?) and the thing would, well, just…stop. This happened once at three in the morning on Interstate 70 halfway across Missouri. A trucker stopped to “help” me and offered to let me sleep in his bunk. Um, “no thanks”, I said and asked him to ferry me to the Truckstop up ahead instead. To this day, I shudder to think that I got in the truck with him.

Also, (less dramatic, but still) the driver’s-side window wouldn’t open. One day I needed to get gas right after having some fairly major dental work. When I drooled “fiww ih uh” to the attendant at the gas station through a crack in the door, he gave me quite a look.

Not the Austin America either. But somewhat reminiscent of the overall effect

Back to the New Car Thing. Though I haven’t bought one on my own, The Dude and I have bought new cars together. The first was a Honda CRX, which was a sporty little two-seater. The Dude’s Dad took one look and asked, “Where are you going to put the baby?” “What baby?” is what we thought (but did not utter aloud). Of course, as luck would have it, we did in fact pop out The Child shortly after buying this polar opposite of a “family car”. But we simply strapped her baby seat into the cargo hold with windsurfing bungie straps. I’m dying that I can’t find a picture of this work-around.

So what is this Unicorn for which I have titled this story? It was (and is) the last new car The Dude and I bought together: a ’98 Toyota 4Runner, which (pause for drama) we bought in the Fall of 1997 and is the same car we drive today. The Car Guy who takes care of it for us calls it a “Unicorn” because cars like this one are rare indeed and guys like him love to work on them. (Lots of mechanical stuff; very little electronic stuff.) Guys who look like they really know their cars actually offer to buy this car on the spot when we’re stopped at a light.

The Toyota has a nice plain ole car key. But no bells, no whistles, and definitely no voice that talks to you. It doesn’t help you back up, can’t park itself and wouldn’t dream of scolding you if you took your hands off the wheel. The Dude and I plan on driving this puppy till it won’t drive anymore.

Maybe, instead of a new car, I’ll buy me a can of new car smell. (Somebody told me you can do this.) Because that’s the only thing I miss when I get behind the wheel of The Unicorn.

Off into the sunset with The Unicorn

New York City. October 2018

 

“There go the roses”

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‘Life as a series of passionate obsessions’

The Dude and I went out on a “bike ride” yesterday — me on my Vespa, he on his electric motorcycle, which is called a Zero. (He purchased it on a hilarious expedition to the wilds of Williamsburg — the hipster Williamsburg, not the colonial one.) He wanted this Zero because it is virtually silent, as in “Zero noise”, and therefore ideal for Biker Birdwatching.)

Dude, in background, stealthily examining some ruddy turnstones he was able to sneak up on — upon his super-silent Zero

Anyway, as we were dusting off our bikes for this jaunt, I couldn’t help but notice various relics of The Dude’s former obsessions: the ping-pong table, the archery target, and the windsurfing gear — all looking rather sad and neglected in the dim recesses of the basement. 

There was a time when ping-pong (excuse me, “table tennis”) was a passion of The Dude’s. He played all the time; he even had (and still has) this “ball-spitter” gadget that fires balls at you so you can, er, play with yourself. And when he wasn’t g-nipping and g-nopping (what we Henrys called “ping-pong” because that’s what the ball sounds like when you play), he was watching DVDs of competitions, which were usually between the Chinese and the Swedes. (The commentary was sometimes in Swedish, but the scoreboards were always in Chinese. So basically, your viewing enjoyment came from watching gleeful or dejected players scream incomprehensibly and fall to the ground, which they did with alarming frequency.)

I don’t have a photo of Dude Man doing his Archery Thing. But, trust me, there for a while it was tricky venturing outdoors. He would yell “Clear!” at the top of his lungs, and an arrow would zip by to plant itself into this big ole target he’d “backdropped” with an old oriental rug of his mother’s to catch the (somewhat pricey) arrows when they went astray.

I do, on the other hand, have plenty of photos of us windsurfing. Because, yes, I shared this particular obsession

Well. Enough of The Dude and his obsessions. But some people say you marry a man who is like your father, and I guess I did. Because, when it came to obsessions, no one could beat my Dad.

Alas, I don’t have photographic evidence of most of these. But I remember when he was passionate about fly fishing. He tied his own flies, which were very pretty indeed. He even started a sort of “business” where he would make them for other people. (He had some cool business cards made up.)

And there was his Thing with the houseboat. This one went on for years. I can’t recall where he got this boat — which he named the Sir Launch-A-Lot (honest, he had a nameplate made) — but he claimed it as a business expense. (He used it to entertain clients of the still-going-strong HMG engineering firm he founded with a couple of buddies back in the mid-sixties.) But mostly, he just liked to tool around on Lake Carlyle on it.

That’s my Favorite Sister Laura with my Henry Gramma and Mom on the Sir Launch-A-Lot (if you look carefully, you can see the nameplate)

The Sir L-A-L was the scene of many adventures — including The Time Doug Ran Into the Sliding Glass Door, The Time Someone Stepped Into The Sheet Cake, and (my fave) The Time Dad Bonked the Dock and The Grill Fell Overboard.

But the Obsession to Beat All Obsessions was The Roses. Somewhere along the line, after painting with acrylics (pretty awful, but he enjoyed it), and for some reason that escapes me now, Dad became interested in growing roses. And not just any ole roses — championship, rare, roses. He researched roses and got cuttings of roses and planted bushes of roses and entered contests of roses. Our whole yard, which was not small, was filled with specimen rose bushes. He was so obsessed that his license plate — for years — was ROSENUT.

Dad getting ready for one of many Rose Shows

The garage was full of vases, and the house was full of trophies (more vases, plus plaques and trays galore). I remember that my Mom even had a brooch that was actually a teensy little vase that held, you guessed it, actual water and an actual rose or two.

That’s my Favorite Sister-in-Law, Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn, sporting her own vase brooch, containing, no doubt, some of Dad’s roses

He even gave rose bushes as gifts. I still have a few blooms from our one surviving bush. (Roses don’t seem to do so well in Amagansett, which is the only place where we have some dirt in which to grow them.)

A rose grows in Amagansett, sort of. Well enough to get one or two roses each year, anyway

Well, rose-growing proceeded apace. And then my Dad retired from HMG. Because he was one of the founders, the company threw him a big party. All of us Henry Kids showed up for this event, which was pretty fancy, being held at the Country Club and all. There was food, there were drinks, there was karaoke. (Which we Henrys hogged all night when we weren’t dancing.)

Oldest Younger Brother Scott and I in a rare moment of not hogging the karaoke machine at Dad’s retirement party

There were speeches, there were stories, there were laughs. And, at the end of the evening, there was a presentation. His soon-to-be-former colleagues and associates got my Dad up in front of the crowd where a big ole box was waiting. Inside the box was a very nice gift — Dad’s very own personal computer.

Well. When my Dad unwrapped that computer — it was a Gateway, the kind that came in those cow-print boxes — well, Dad’s whole face lit up with glee. At which point my brother Scott famously remarked “There go the roses!”

Dad, several years later, not out working in his rose beds

New York City. October 2018

I have never bought a couch

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‘Does this mean that I am no longer The Grownup?’

It’s bad enough when your Child ends up being six inches taller than you. (Stern maternal finger-wagging somehow loses its force when directed upward.) But then said Child ends up making way more money than you. (Granted, I am no longer employed. So there’s that.) And ends up collecting way more stamps in her passport. (The kid has been to Mongolia, for pete’s sakes.) 

But no matter. That tall, employed, well-traveled woman is a person whose nose (not to mention other body parts) I have wiped. I could be in the same room with her and still look myself in the eye and say “Hey, I’m the Grownup.”

But then she bought a couch.

And it’s not just a couch. It’s a sleeper sofa, for heaven’s sakes

And I, a much older person — and her mother — have never bought a couch. 

[Quick note here. Last night I read the beginning of this piece to The Dude, and he totally doesn’t get my point. Maybe you don’t either. Which means you can stop reading if you want. (But then you’d miss some cool couch pictures.) But I had always heard that the true mark of GrownupHood was to buy a couch. And, no, I’m not the only person who thinks so.]

True, she didn’t buy this couch all by herself. She and her BF bought it together. To go in their new apartment on Beacon Hill in Boston. But let’s get back to couches before I make myself weep.

While The Dude and I haven’t bought any new ones, we have owned two couches. There’s the one that was in Mr. Man’s living room when I met him. Which, actually, isn’t just a couch. It’s one of those sectional sets that was popular during the 70s — you know, low to the ground; with separate pieces you can move around to make a “conversation pit”.

If you can take your eyes off the cute kid for a sec, you’ll see a couple of pieces of the gray sectional in our old living room

The Dude likes to brag that he scored all nine pieces of this sectional (which, when I met him he had pushed up against all four walls so his living room resembled an airport lounge) at a garage sale for less than 200 bucks. We had so many pieces of couch that we divvied them up — we put several in our living room, and had plenty left over for the Little House. (A 450-square-foot retreat you can read about in “Hamptons (Un)Real Estate”).

The Dude and The Child having a “conversation” in the sectional “pit” during a hot game of Go Fish at the Little House

Even now, years — and a whole different apartment — later, we have this same couch. Though we raised the pieces off the floor with wood blocks (to be less “pit-like”) and gussied them up with slipcovers, they’re still the same couch. (We did lose a few “sections” to mold when The Little House got flooded. See “The Little House Meets the Perfect Storm(s)” for soggy details.)

Yup. Those are the same sectional pieces. Gussied up, just like us

And though we had to abandon ship, as it were, Little-House-wise, we didn’t buy a new couch when we took over The Dude’s parents’ much higher and dryer Amagansett place. We just used the perfectly-good old couch that was already there. (Actually, my well-meaning-but-somewhat-interfering Sister-in-Law suggested at one point that “We” buy a new couch, but I just ignored her. Like I do pretty much all the time.)

That’s the couch. Oddly enough (or maybe not so oddly, since it’s also from the 70s) this is also a “sectional” — seen here doing duty as a game table as well as seating

No, this couch wasn’t the one pictured at the top of this post sort of camouflaging the Very Young Dude perched upon it. Though gosh I wish it had been (!)

Anyway. At the rate I’m going, I’ll probably never buy a new couch. Which means, I guess, that The Child gets to be The GrownUp.

Wombat and The Child (er, The GrownUp) demonstrating the versatility of the not-new repurposed gray sectional

But hold on a sec; I just thought of something. So she bought a new couch. She still can’t drive.

New York City. September 2018

The Coat of Many Stories

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‘Ratty and faded, but I just can’t bear to part with it’

I can understand why some people might be into the so-called “life-changing magic of tidying up”. But I’m no Marie Kondo. Not when it comes to discarding certain tattered treasures in my closet, at any rate.

Take this coat. Please. I bought it at the Gap, along with a teensy matching version, way back when The Child was actually a child. As you can see, we had a kind of Mother/Daughter Thing going on.

Two peas in their pods. Er, bright, shiny, new, and very red coats

Well, time went by and The Child grew out of hers. I’m sure we “handed it on” to some even-smaller child somewhere. So we never got a chance to see it get faded and tattered. But mine?

The Child, still childlike here, has outgrown and passed on her coat. Not me. Not sure if Middle Younger Brother Roger and gorgeous Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jen still sport those snappy jackets

Why do I stubbornly hang on to this coat? Is it because it’s…red? I ask this because I have another article of clothing I can’t bear to part with which happens to share the same hue — as well as some of the same history.

Or is it because the coat, like the sweatshirt, has seen itself worn to bits on only the happiest of occasions? Like strolling on the beach with Rog and Jen at Favorite Younger Sister Laura’s.  And walking on the (gulp) railroad tracks with The Dude.

The Dude and I waiting for the train. (And hoping the engineer will notice all that red)

Or hiking in the Walking Dunes. Which is where that picture at the top of this piece was taken, probably on a Thanksgiving. Which, as you Faithful Readers know by now, is absolutely The Best Holiday Ever (See “Turkey Shoot”) and my Favorite Family Time by Far (See “Flipping the Bird”). (Well, except maybe for weddings. Hard to beat a good wedding. Even if most of the time no turkey or pumpkin pie is on the menu.)

A look back — and down — on a hike with The Coat

So, this memory-infused article of outerwear has gotten outerworn until it’s worn plumb out. It got so shredded (and so ventilated) that I finally did buy a replacement last year. But have I thrown the old one out? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Me, still in my coat, next to The Child, who probably wouldn’t fit into it even if I did deign to give it to her

I thought of all this yesterday because I happened to be happily sporting my favorite flip flops (never ever call them “thongs”, saith The Child) when they self-destructed.

I blew out my flip flop. But did not, fortunately, step on a pop top

Sadly, a flip that’s flopped is no good to anyone. So on to Flipflop Margaritaville they went. But I was sorry to see them go. These two have been everywhere. There’s a Panamanian thorn embedded in one that I could never remove; every once in a while, if I stepped Just So, I’d feel it and think of the bull goring I witnessed that day. I was able to dig up a little Panamanian film clip where the flip flops — but sadly, neither bulls nor goring — make a cameo appearance. Water shenanigans are involved:

Well, I guess that’s about it for this week. And for that red coat. I’ve decided: now that I’ve paid it this blogging tribute, I can finally toss it out. (Marie will be pleased, as will The Child, who is a Kondo Fan.) But first I have to get busy turning another pair of old jeans into cutoffs.

These jeans are probably older than you

New York City. September 2018