“You make a better door than a window”

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‘Consuming media the Mid-Century Modern way’

So. The Dude and I went to an actual movie yesterday afternoon. In an actual movie theater. It was the new Mission Impossible. (The one everybody else on earth saw, like, six weeks ago.) I must say that I’m glad we caught those zooming motorcycles and dueling helicopters and ticking nuclear bombs before they left the theaters and we had to stream the whole shebang instead.

Looks like Youngest Younger Brother Doug’s been doing a little ‘streaming’. Or maybe ‘laking’

I can remember only too well those days when, if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a movie theater. (I shouldn’t say “had to”, because it was really fun.) The only thing that was kind of a downside was that the one movie theater in my hometown only had one screen and pretty much played only one movie at a time. I say “pretty much”, because sometimes they’d play Kid Movies in the daytime and Grownup Movies at night.

You’d buy popcorn or Milk Duds and sit in the balcony with your friends. If you were naughty, you’d warm the Milk Duds in the palm of your hand, then throw them at the screen. The goal was to get them to stick in an embarrassing spot — like on the Leading Lady’s cheek.

Oh, and in the summer that theater would shut down. (Too expensive to run the AC, I’m guessing.) And the drive-in would open. Our whole family would pile in the car and go see such fare as “The Absent-Minded Professor”. We would pop our own corn and take it in a big washtub. This was not only to save money, but so we kids wouldn’t get “educated” on walks to the concession stand. There were other cars with suspiciously steamed-up windows, you see — even at the Disney movies.

Phishing. A gang of Mid-Century kids left to their own non-electronic devices

When I reached high-school age I was absolutely forbidden to go to the “Passion Pit”, as my mother called the drive-in. Though once I famously got into Big Trouble for going there anyway when she was out of town and my Dad was in charge. (See “Double-Dating at the Drive-In with Bonnie and Clyde” for gory details. Note: I am still grounded.)

Oh — the other way we watched movies was on TV. I don’t remember there being that many channels, but there seemed to be lots of choices. You could watch not only “To Catch a Thief” (one of my Dad’s faves) but cool “foreign” stuff like “The Lavender Hill Mob”. I distinctly remember my Dad digging “Knife in the Water”. Which was in Polish, for heaven’s sakes.

While watching, if we weren’t devouring vats of popcorn popped by my Youngest Younger Brother Doug (who could barely reach the stove to shake the popcorn pot, which was what you had to do, microwaves being non-existent), we were powering down giant bowls of vanilla ice cream. (The only flavor, pretty much, that was on hand, since Mom could buy humongous cartons of it on sale.)

One minor wrinkle was that you could only watch movies on TV when they were actually scheduled. There was no “on demand”, unless you count my father dictating the choices. (He ruled with an iron hand even before the invention of the “remote”. If you had the temerity to change the channel — even if he was snoring in the supine position — there was heck to pay. “I was watching that!” he would snarl, and you’d better darn change it back to the golf game, and be quick about it.)

Flat-screen TVs are nice, but you can’t display family photos or Christmas decorations on them, much less lighted candles

Oh yes. There was one other little drawback. Which was that there were seven of us. And even though we had a pretty big TV, it could be tough to get in good viewing position. Basically, we left the couches and chairs to our parents, and deployed ourselves all around the floor. (Wall-to-wall carpeted, as all floors were back then, at least all the floors I came in contact with.)

Doug again, in prime viewing position. Except that it looks like Major, instead of a sibling, might be blocking his view

The littler kids in my family would sometimes plant themselves smack dab in front of the screen and have to be reminded that, as my title says, “he or sometimes she made a better door than a window”.

Just try to go running with a set of these. That’s not Doug, but The Child, listening to Beethoven, no doubt

By the way, speaking of littler kids, check out the picture at the top of this post. It’s Doug again, at prime screen-blocking age, reading the daily paper, bless him — upside down.

Here is The Child, post trick-or-treating, using an early version of Seamless 

I could go on and on, but I have to go check on my grocery delivery. The Fresh Direct internet elves tell me it should be here by now. In the meantime, if you haven’t already seen the ever-youthful how-does-he-still-do-his-own-stunts Tom Cruise in the new Mission Impossible, I highly recommend you do so before streaming is your only option.

The Child setting me up with Facebook. Which I am sure she now eternally regrets

New York City. September 2018

“He’s breathing my air”

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‘An ode to siblings and their rivalry’

When I was a kid there was this show on TV called ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’. It was a pretty groundbreaking show at the time. But not so groundbreaking that my parents didn’t absolutely adore it. Their favorite part was when Tommy would say to his brother Dick “Mom always loved you best.”

I’m thinking they dug this because they both had plenty of siblings, and thus could relate. Of course, having plenty of siblings was the rule rather than the exception in those days. At least where my family was from, parents needed lots of little ones to help out on the farm with chores. And (gasp) there was always the risk that some of them wouldn’t (ahem) “make it”. So you had to have a few “spares”. You know, “just in case”. I can remember my Gramma P talking about her little un-siblings Pearl and Edward. Bless ’em, they “failed to thrive”.

Gramma (right) with one of her two sisters, Aunt Net. She also had a brother, Uncle Warren, who “made it”. Well, except for the arm he lost in a farming accident

So. Anyway. Irk. Enough of that. Dad was the fourth of eight. And Mom was the second of five. And these were not even considered exceptionally large broods.

My Mom, top right, captured not fighting with her bros and sis

And in my generation, I honestly can’t remember any families that didn’t have at least two kids, mostly more. I’m not sure whether that was just the way things were back then, family-wise, or if there were other forces at work. (My father’s side of the family and practically my whole hometown was, um, Catholic. So there was that.)

Regardless of the reason(s), we all had brothers and sisters, which meant we all shared some common experiences — experiences that Only Children might miss out on.

Most of these shared experiences involved actual sharing. We kids shared almost everything. Big things, like bedrooms. I like to say that it was only when I got divorced when I finally got my own room. (I was — gasp –married, though briefly, Before The Dude, which you can read about in ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage’, if you’re interested.) When I was little, I shared with my brother Scott. (I stretched a string down the middle of the room to mark “my” side.) Then it was my Only Sister Laura. In college, of course, I had a roommate. And after that, I got married.

Sharing a soak with Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy-with-all-the-toys, who was the only Only Child I knew for many years

We shared smaller things too. Like toys (except for my Cousin Jimmy, who was an only child and an object of toy envy for me and my sibs), and books, even baths. And food. Meat came mostly in “family packs” of eight. Which meant that there was one extra pork chop when our family of seven sat down to dinner. We’d speed-eat our chops (you couldn’t take “seconds” till you were through with your “firsts”), only to have my Dad pull rank and fork the last one onto his plate. And when my mom made a pie, she had to practically use calipers to make sure our pieces were “even”.

A subset of sharing was “taking turns”. We took turns being swung on the swing, being pulled (or pulling) the wagon. Sitting on Mom’s lap. Sitting next to Aunt Marilyn at Christmas.

One of the most coveted “taking turns” experiences was Sitting in The Front Seat of The Car. See, in those days before not only car seats, but seat belts, parents would sort of cram their kids in the car every which way. In our case, with five kids, that meant four in the back, and one very lucky sibling in the front seat between Mom and Dad.

“Get in the back seat if you want to wiggle your behind”. At Gramma’s house, arrayed around the Ford. I must have been in the car, sulking

It was really sweaty and sticky and icky being one of the four in the back. (No AC in cars then, either.) We would stake out and jealously guard our little sections of bench-seat territory. I pity my poor parents, having to listen to “His leg is touching my leg” and “He’s looking out my window” and (my favorite and the title of this piece) “He’s breathing my air!” And to think that every single one of our family vacations was taken by car. It’s a wonder that they didn’t just leave us all by the side of the road. (Which The Dude and I actually did with The Child once. A story I have yet to write.)

Only Sister Laura and I sharing a bench (actually, I think it’s a cooler) on a family vaca involving not only a car, but a Nimrod camper towed behind it

Another subset of sharing was “hand-me-downs”. This was when you inherited an article of clothing from an older, larger, sibling who had “grown out of” it. My brothers once famously owned muscle shirts which stick in my memory not only because of their unique style (striped as well as sleeveless and “muscle-y”) but because they wore them at the same time. Yes, someone gave them each a muscle shirt instead of gifting just one that then would get handed down. (Yes, I do have a story about these; called “Howie and the Muscle Shirt”. Check it out.)

Even though I was the oldest, I still didn’t escape hand-me-downs. Some were from older cousins. This gown, oddly enough, was handed down by a friend of my mom who had a rather glam daughter

At the time we would whine and complain about all this turn-taking and handing down, but I honestly think we learned a lot about getting along — and had a pretty good time while we were at it.

These days, even as a Grownup Responsible for her own Child (who is, like most of her peers, an Only, bless her), I’m still sharing with my siblings. Only now, instead of sweaty sticky car seats, it’s memories.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

 

Some like it hot

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‘A lifetime of summers spent sweetly sweltering’

The Dude and I were sharing an outdoor dinner with some Fabulous Friends (thank you again, A and T!) when our hostess pointed out a passel of birds doing a parabolic dance in the sky.

“Oh, those are swallows,” Dude Man informed us. “They do that swarming thing to get ready to migrate. It’s a Sign of Fall.”

“Oh noooooo!” A and I immediately groaned. “Not Fall. We’re so not ready for Fall!

Hot Family Reunion. My Favorite Sister and I keeping cool out on a porch

See, I have friends who pine for autumn leaves and who count the days until Christmas. Friends who Hate Being Hot. But A and I fall (pun intended) into that group of People Who Believe Summer Can Never Be Long Enough.

Hot Recreation. That’s Teenage Me (and is that my Mom??) enjoying the heated pleasures of Jantzen’s Resort

Because I adore it, I’ve written several odes to summer. You can catch up with summer reunions in “Looks like we got ourselves a Hoo-Hah!”, summer foods in “Great Aunts and Glorified Rice” and “To Hell with Kale”, summer jobs in “Those Were Banner Days Indeed” and “They Didn’t Do This for Fun, You Know”. And if just plain good ole summer nostalgia is your thing, check out “The Days are Long, but the Season is Short” and “Remembrance of Watermelon Past”. Or just keep on reading.

Hot Pose. This family portrait, complete with gleaming sweaty heads, was taken in a sweltering trailer by an itinerant photographer

I grew up in Southern Illinois, which means that I was fully prepped for Summer and its attendant heat. Because, no we didn’t have AC. And yes, it was super-hot. So hot I can remember almost burning my hand on the refrigerator handle. And hotly and restlessly tossing on top of the covers to the sound of the box fan that was set into the window of the upstairs landing. It ran “backwards” — with the blades facing out — so that, in theory anyway, it sucked hot air out of the extremely suffocating upstairs bedrooms so that the (relatively) cooler outside air would breeze on in.

Cats on a Hot Boat Roof. “Cooling off” on the Sir Launch-A-Lot (yes, that was my Dad’s pontoon boat’s real name) on Carlyle Lake

My parents, when they remodeled their house sometime in the Eighties, added a porch where they could sleep outside in the summer. They did this even though they had, by then, installed air conditioning that worked (sort of) on the main floor. They really didn’t like using it very much. I can remember visiting and Mom saying, “You can turn on the air conditioning — if you want.

Hot Birthday. My Dad accepting tributes on his Day — and on his sleeping couch. It was only June and already too-short-shorts sweltering

But most of the time, instead of retreating to the confines of the air-conditioned living room, we stayed cool (or somewhat so) by staying outside. This was the way Life was Lived in Summertime in Southern Illinois. People went outside. As kids, we’d run around outside throwing persimmons at each other until Mom called us in for supper. Then, after supper, we’d run around outside catching lightning bugs.

Even as adults, my siblings and I would sit outside in lawn chairs eating takeout church chicken and clutching beers kept cold in foam holders emblazoned with Dad’s engineering-company logo. (Only in Southern Illinois would beer-holder branding be a such a wise marketing choice.)

Hot Bros. The Dude and Youngest Brother Doug enjoy a couple of cold ones on board the Sir Launch-A-Lot. Note HMG beer holders in addition to sweaty bare chests

Speaking of which, some Southern Illinoisans would place lawn chairs in the back of their pickup trucks, along with a cooler of beer, load it up with their friends and then drive around town.

Hot truck. My Dad had one, but I don’t recall any lawn chairs in the back. At least not when I was visiting

Sometimes, when we were outside, we jumped into water. When I was a kid, it was the municipal pool. (Oh those days of biking home, damp and smelling of chlorine, chomping on a frozen Milky Way.) When I was older, it was Carlyle Lake, where my Dad kept his pontoon boat, the Sir Launch-A-Lot. (Honest. There was a nameplate.)

So, by the time I grew up and moved East, I was ready for whatever Summer could throw at me. To escape the City and its fry-an-egg-on-it sidewalks and suffocate-down-there subways, we come on out here to Amagansett. Where we still cope with the heat the old-fashioned way. By going outside.

Hot on Deck. The Dude and The Child chilling at the Little House

Which is where I’m going right now. See you — sweaty but happy — next week.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

Hygge for the Holidays

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‘Making a list, and checking it twice’

Okay. Confession Time. First, the idea for this post, which is to make a list of Blessings, comes from a Blogger Who Has Many Many Followers. (Which is kind of a blessing right there, wouldn’t you say, Susie?)

Susie mentioned she had ‘Hygge’ in mind when she made her own list. I would define “Hygge’ for you, but (Second Big Confession Coming Up), I had absolutely no idea what ‘hygge’ meant until I googled it and found an article titled, aptly, ‘What the Hell is Hygge?’ Continue reading

Yes, there are plenty of fish in the sea.

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‘I know because I had my share of stinkers.’

I don’t want to embarrass The Child. Well, not any more than I have to. But I must say that she has excellent taste in boyfriends. So far, fingers-and-all-toes fervently crossed, she has managed to choose ‘dates’ who have not inspired The Dude or me to put on that Fake Nice-to-Meet-You Face. Or not very often, anyway.

(I put ‘dates’ in quotes because I don’t think that’s what Young People call ‘guys you go out with’. But, for my purposes today, it’ll have to do.)

Now, before I dig myself in deep here, let me say that this is not going to be a story about The Child and her ‘dates’. (I can hear her ‘whew’ all the way from Cambridge.) Nope. It’s going to be about me and mine. Continue reading

Those were Banner days indeed

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‘An ode to my first job that did not involve cleaning up. At least not cleaning up after other people’s children’

Again, apologies for being a slacker. I seem to be getting later and later with my Tuesday posts. And I don’t even have the turkey to blame this week.

‘Curses, foiled again!’ said Mr. Turkey upon spying this clever foil

Hey, at least we didn’t use a slingshot, an idea suggested by a relative at that Fab Family Reunion I recently attended.

But I wasn’t always a slacker. I was a hard worker, even at a very early age. For one thing, my parents were firm believers in Kids Doing Chores. (I remember we got docked a nickel each day we didn’t make our beds; since our weekly allowance was only 25 cents, there were weeks when my brothers owed my Mom). I won’t go into a whole long list of these chores, but suffice it to say that I got my fill of ironing. And my brothers don’t often volunteer to clean out basements or dog pens. Continue reading

Looks like we got ourselves a HooHah!

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‘The Family Reunion, taken to a whole new (Henry) level’

Well, no one who appeared in one of my commercials died this week. (Are you still out there, Betty White?) Or not that I know of, anyway. So “HooHah” story it is.

Now let me be clear. The Henrys did not invent the “Family Reunion.” Family reunions have been around, oh, I’d say probably since the invention of Large Extended Families. No doubt some of you readers can recall sticky gatherings of seldom-seen aunts, uncles, and cousins featuring picnic tables laden with summer dishes like jello salads (urk) and glorified rice (yum). Games like Corn Hole (a real “thing”, I kid you not) and wiffle ball and sometimes even croquet would be played (though our “croquet” was decidedly non-Downton-Abbey-esque, involving lots of violent “sending” of opponents’, i.e. younger cousins’, balls, resulting in much wailing).

Gathering of the Henry Clan featuring sweaty, crying cousins (I’m down in front next to the boy sucking his thumb)

The other side of my family, the Petersons, had Family Reunions too. They even gave theirs an idiosyncratic name. I dimly recall attending something called the PAL Reunion in Belvidere Park. (This was in Belvidere, Illinois, the closest metropolitan area/gathering place for my farm-residing relations.) The “PAL” stood for, I believe, Peterson, Anderson, and Lindstrom. Yup, these were the Swedes.  Continue reading

“Swim, Sandy, swim!”

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‘Equal time for dogs’

My Porn Star Name is ‘Sandy Peterson’. In honor of Sandy the Dog, the beloved Pet of My Youth, pictured above in a moment of not-unusual adorableness.

But before we get to Sandy, a quick word about that word game. Maybe you played it too. It’s the one where you take the name of your beloved pet, add your mother’s maiden name, and, voila!, you’ve got your Porn Star Name. (The Child’s is ‘Tuna Henry’.)

I must admit ours are pretty tame. Over wine at my dining room table I’ve heard some easy-to-imagine-clad-in-fishnets doozies: ‘Pinky Parker’, ‘Missy Goodbody’. Though the Dude’s is ‘Duffy Miltner Flockmaster Cromartie’, which is pretty darned racy.

But back to pets, which is the point of this piece. A couple of weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about felines of yore in ‘The Cat Who Ran Away from Home and Broke My Heart’.

I finally found a picture of me with Aunt Marilyn’s Herkimer, the first cat I adored. And tortured with two-year-old abandon

Continue reading

The cat who ran away from home and broke my heart

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‘And other feline friends from days gone by’

Somewhere among the snapshots that used to live in the attic in a big cardboard box — the photos we were allowed to rummage through on rainy days (see ‘In An Alternate Universe, I Would Have Been a Redhead’) — is one of me with my Aunt Marilyn’s cat Herkimer.

I’m, oh, two in the picture, and poor Herkimer looks about as pleased at being clutched by a toddler as you can imagine. Aunt Marilyn said I used to thread the poor thing through the gaps in a wicker chair.

Now the cat in the picture at the top of this post looks marginally happier. And I look pleased as punch. This kitty never had a name that stuck (I kept coming up with names that didn’t ‘take’; for some strange reason, Christopher Columbus Kitty was one) so everybody just called him Kitty.

(I am notoriously bad at naming. As an adult, I had another cat named Kitty. In fact, when I was pregnant and trying to think of baby names, my Oldest Younger Brother Scott said “Why not just go with ‘Baby’? Since that’s what you’ll end up calling it.”)

The Dude poses with The Other Kitty Named Kitty. Before we had the Baby Who Is Now Called The Child

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“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes”

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‘Unless, of course, they come with a chocolate bunny’

That quote up top is from Thoreau. I don’t know much about little Henry David’s family or what they did for Easter, but I’m thinking he may have felt a tad better about new-clothes-requiring occasions if he’d had a nice mommy who sewed him a sport coat. Not to mention a Bunny to leave him an Easter basket.

Younger Brothers Scott and Roger and I show off our Easter finery, which was most likely made by our mother. No, that’s not the Easter Bunny. That’s Sandy, the Dog of Our Youth

Last weekend was Easter. It was also my Youngest Brother Doug’s birthday. Since he is waaaay younger than me, and I wasn’t around for many of his Easters, I don’t have a photo of him lined up with the rest of us wearing Easter duds. But I do have this shot of him in his (almost) birthday suit. Continue reading