How could she forget about “Grampa crackers?”

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‘On little kids and how little they remember from being little.’

Some young friends of ours are going through the Nursery School Application Thing. Which, in New York, is like applying to the Ivy League, only way more stressful.

It’s felt that getting into the “right” nursery school can set your child on the road to not just academic success but life success. So the whole process is, well, somewhat fraught.

Me, not attending nursery school — enjoying the School of Hard Knocks instead

Fortunately for Dude Man and me, almost 30 years ago — when The Child was an actual child — the process wasn’t nearly so stressful, at least not for us. This was mainly because, having not grown up in New York City — and, in my case, having been unaware of even the existence of nursery school — we didn’t realize how cutthroat and competitive it all was and blithely went about things in a relaxed and matter-of-fact manner. “Hey, this school looks good — it’s close to our apartment!” was kind of how we rolled.

Our Child at her Very Good Nursery School when Aunt Eleanor was visiting

(You can read about our experience in “The Bears are Watching a Movie.”) Sometimes ignorance is bliss, especially when the ignorance involves education.

But back to our young friends. In the course of our nursery-school pep chat, the mother mentioned a cute thing that their two-year-old does: “When we come home from work he runs to get his shoes and our masks (my emphasis) so we can go outside,” she told me.

Well. This got me thinking. About a lot of things, but mainly about how little we remember from when we were little. And how you find out about stuff you did then from people telling you about it.

I certainly don’t remember this. Someone had to show me this evidence to prove that I once bathed with a cousin and an aunt — at the same time!

I once famously threw my socks and “shoes-on” out the car window (which you can read about in “The Red Shoes-on” ) and, another time, came inside after playing and informed my mother, “I wasn’t throwing rocks at the house.”

I can remember neither of these childhood episodes, which is probably just as well. I’m thinking that our young friends won’t be too upset if, in a few years, their Little Guy has no memory of wearing his mask, either. I certainly wish that could happen to me.

But what about those “Grampa Crackers” I refer to in the title of this piece?

See, The Child’s Grampa on the Dude’s side had a very close relationship with her. Quite literally. He lived in the same block as us in the City, but where we saw him most was in Amagansett. He was totally enamored of her, calling her “My Little Character,” and spending almost every waking hour in her company. They swam together, they hiked together; they picked berries and picked up snakes.

I don’t have a photo of Grampa and Child picking up snakes. More’s the pity

Grampa W’s favorite snack was Carr’s wafers. He would open a box and just, well, eat them. With no spread or topping or anything. The Child loved them too, and called them “Grampa Crackers.”

Well, thank goodness she had another perfectly-good Grampa, because this one didn’t last very long. He died when The Child was just four. In his honor, she made a mural of the ocean shore — and placed, smack dab in the middle, a Grampa Cracker. A real one, glued right on.

When I was clearing out the attic to make room for the displaced City stuff that wouldn’t fit into the Ken & Barbie House, I came across this mural. When I mentioned it to Her Grown Childness, she didn’t remember making it — and, what was worse, didn’t remember “Grampa Crackers” at all. I didn’t have the courage to ask if she remembered Grampa. Maybe some day.

Amagansett, New York. September 2021

 

The House Guest Hall of Fame

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‘Entertaining is easy — with the right guests’

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman in possession of an extra room, must be in want of a guest. (Sorry, Jane Austen.)

When I told The Child about my plan to write about house guests (both the really great ones and the really, um, not-so-great ones), she was concerned. “Mom! What if one of the Not-So-Great Guests reads your piece and sees that you’re writing about him (or her)!” And I’m like, “So? Maybe he or she would benefit from being thusly outed.” So. Be warned. Especially if you ever stayed with me and upon leaving I said to you, “I hope you had a really nice time.”

Really great guests in a hammock. I did not ask them if they “had a really nice time.”

I first wrote about the House Guest Thing a few years ago. But somehow gremlins (or maybe scorned house guests?) ate the post. Anyway. The story somehow disappeared from my archives.

I didn’t think much about it. I had other, more pressing, things to write about. How I almost went to work in Arkansas for Wall-Mart (“My Almost Arkansas Commute”), My recipe for corn salad (“Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend Me Your Ears”) and so on and so forth.

Cousins hanging around waiting for corn salad

But today I waved good-bye to my Brother-In-Law Bill. Who is The Dude’s brother. Aside from a propensity for buying multiple loaves of crumb-producing bread, he’s a pretty good house guest. He doesn’t expect to be entertained. He doesn’t leave wet towels around. He doesn’t try to cook; in fact, he likes my cooking.

The Child and another Very Good Guest display one of the humongous crumb-producing loaves Bill is so fond of

Okay. Back to Jane Austen. I bet, like Bro-in-law Bill, she’d make a swell house guest. But since she’s not a possibility, I have to make do with live people. Speaking of which, my daughter and her female friends make excellent house guests. They happily (and quietly) pursue shared activities not requiring any hostess participation or even supervision. They share a bathroom, a bedroom, or even a bed, if so required. Without complaining. And without eating or drinking in said bed. Model house guests.

The Child and her friends. They did not eat in bed. Homework, maybe. But no eating

To be perfectly honest, most of my guests are, in fact, close-to-model house guests. If they weren’t, well, I wouldn’t keep inviting people to stay, now would I? It’s kind of like that thing they say about babies: if it were all that awful having them, everyone would be an only child.

Of course, even model house guests sometimes sit on the couch in wet bathing suits, or walk around with sandy and/or muddy feet, or even set wet glasses down on prized hardcover books. But that’s (sort of) okay and eminently forgivable. And kind of within the bounds of “make yourself at home.” That is, if you live in the kind of home where books serve double-duty as coasters.

Speaking of which, when your hostess says, “Make yourself at home’” (which I never do, by the way) imagine that you are at, say, your mother-in-law’s home. Would you pare your toenails in Mother Smith’s living room? Or give your spouse a scented-oil massage in her bed? Would you ever even think of dying your hair (yes, this really happened, and no, red hair dye does not come out of a chenille bath rug) in her bathroom?

These guests did not bring food. They did bring a decidedly cute baby

Oh, and then there are the guests who bring food. Now, I don’t mean a nice jar of jam or a home-baked pie (usually from a hideously-expensive farm stand, but delicious, so who’s complaining?) I mean I’ve had guests who’ve brought huge coolers and shopping bags full of provisions, as if they were going into a Cold-War bunker or on an Antarctic expedition instead of to my well-stocked Hamptons home. And these provisions are not for communal consumption. They are for themselves. It’s like they can’t trust me to provide food they can actually eat.

Another perennially great guest: my mom. Nuff said

Now, think about this. It’s kind of like taking your own food to Lutece (Nope, Lutece is gone) or, hmmm, Gramercy Tavern, or (wait!) it would be like going to Shake Shack and taking your own burger.

Speaking of bringing things. It’s not necessary, but it is polite and awfully nice when guests do. If you’re stumped for an idea, think “consumable.” You know, something that everyone can enjoy together, and that soon will be gone. Many hostesses have not only their own ideas about décor, but also short memories. They might forget to drag out and display the purple majolica soap dish or the heart-shaped rag rug (both actual gifts given to me by actual guests) the next time you spend a weekend. So think fancy olive oils in pretty bottles. The afore-mentioned jams. Chocolates. Wine. Did I say wine? When in doubt, bring wine. Just don’t keep it in your room and drink it all yourself. Which one house guest of mine did. Really.

Another great guest. Gee, I don’t have photos of the bad ones. I wonder why?

There’s an old saying (I think Steve Allen said it first) that comedy equals tragedy plus time. Which must be why Bad Guests are much funnier (after the fact) than Good Guests. All I know is they’re much more fun to write about than actually live through.

Like the guest who couldn’t sleep in the guest room because she found an ant in her bed. Or the couple who left one Sunday morning for a nice brunch, “forgetting” to take their toddler along. Or the guy who sneaked downstairs in the middle of the night to turn the pool heat to 90. Or even the pair who declared that “you don’t need to cook for us tonight because we are going to The American Hotel for dinner“ but failed to include their hosts (um, us).

Well. When these various guests waved good-bye after their respective (interminable) visits were over, I politely waved back. But did I say, “Come back again soon”? Or “It was great having you”? Or even “Thank you for coming”? Nope. I smiled sweetly and said, “I hope you had a really nice time.”

The unsaid part being, of course, “Because you are never ever coming back.”

Thank goodness (and Thanksgiving) for great guests!

Amagansett, New York. September 2021

 

Monkeying around with Mom

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‘My Kid-of-the-Month Week out West’

Last week, I was so distracted by my date with that big ole blowhard Henri that I neglected to tell you all about my week with my decidedly non-blowhard Mom.

A gaggle of girls gathered together last week

I had actually visited Mom in May, not long after she had moved into her new digs. A couple of my younger bros followed in June. Our visits were so successful that we decided to take turns visiting Mom for a week every month. We dubbed this plan our Kid-of-the-Month Club. I called dibs for August.

When I mentioned my impending visit to The Child, she said, “Hey! I’d like to go too!” — even after I explained that I would be not just visiting Gramma, but staying with Gramma. Which meant that, unlike our last trip when we rented an Air BnB, this time Her Childness and I would be sharing Mom’s pullout couch at night. And sharing her one (very nice, but still) bathroom.

The Child polishes off some work — and some Goldfish — in our Air BnB during our last visit

The Dear Child was not fazed. Not one bit. I must admit that I, on the other hand, was a tad nervous. I haven’t shared a bed with anyone but The Dude for, like, 40 years. Would I snore? Drool? Hog the covers? I have some disturbing memories of sharing a bed with my late lamented Aunt Marilyn — whom everyone adored (See “Hey, Aunt Marilyn, Everybody’s Up!” for cute aunty anecdotes) but who ground her teeth in her sleep. I was, oh, seven, and didn’t understand about this sort of nocturnal habit, so was rather terrified.

Undaunted by the prospect of being so up close and personal with her mother, The Child made her plans. She would rent a car and time her flight to meet mine.

My flight left at night; hers in the afternoon. Timing worked out (gasp) perfectly

And yes, we had a most marvelous time. Not only did we share bed and bath with nary a hiccup, she planned outings. (Which, I must admit, I might not have done, being perfectly satisfied with Scrabble — played clutching a glass of wine.) We went to the Portland Rose Garden.

Mom and I strolling around admiring the roses

More Rose Garden. ‘Cause why not? It was gorgeous. Did you know that Portland is known as the Rose City?

We went antiquing and farmers-marketing in a charming little town called Camas. (Where we also whiled away a pleasant hour or so sipping cocktails at a sidewalk table outside a wine bar.)

One of the almost-irresistible finds to be found antiquing in Camas. The Child almost bought this as a shower gift for her soon-to-be-married friend Sarah. But the ants were not included

We also spent some incredible Family Time with Favorite Younger Sister Laura and her husband, Favorite Bro-in-Law Dave. Who happens to be the Best Grillmaster on the Planet. Honest. The man owns, like, six grills. And none of them are gas.

That’s Grillmaster Dave posing with three generations of grateful meat-eaters

This is where we enjoyed the funeral hot dogs I mentioned last week. And also big fat amazing steaks, which I did not. (Though the memory of eating them is making me mighty meat-hungry even as I type.)

A Seaside welcome on a cloudy day

We even made a pilgrimage to Seaside, where Mom lived for many years. It was a cloudy, misty day, but we made the rounds: to Dooger’s for a seafood lunch, to The Turnaround for a stroll down Memory Lane (er, The Prom) and a visit to one of Mom’s fast friends, Bernie. Who lives in quite possibly the cutest cottage I have ever seen.

We Three at the Turnaround. I shared this shot once before, but what the heck. I love it!

Bernie shows off her collection of daughter-made sock monkeys in her cozy cottage named, aptly, “Cozy Cottage”

Bernie’s been inundated with Sock Monkeys made by her daughter (good news) and bunnies made by nature (not as good as it might sound). The bunny infestation seems to have begun with a pet let loose. This bunny teamed up with a local, and did what bunnies are wont to do — and now bunnies are, well, everywhere. Eating shoots, digging out roots, and causing widespread bunny mayhem.

Looks like this bunny is planning a getaway in our rental car. (Note: That’s not Bernie’s house. That’s a really big house across the street. Bernie’s place is like a tenth that size)

When The Child commented on how goldarned cute they were, Bernie shook her head and looked dour. “They’re not so cute when they’re digging up the roots of your rosemary bush,” she noted.

One of many bunnies plotting to invade Bernie’s garden. That’s her remaining rosemary bush, now guarded with wire

Our last night was spent catching up with Cousin Richie and deviled-egg toting Wife Vicky, who shared the afore-mentioned steaks at Laura and Dave’s.

A decidedly good time was had by all — all week. Oh, in case you’re wondering, I asked. Did I horrify The Child with any noisy nocturnal habits? She wouldn’t know. She always travels with ear plugs.

Thanks for the memories, Mom, Sis — and Child!

Amagansett, New York. August 2021

 

 

August: the ‘Sunday night’ of summer

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‘The season winds down while I’m still winding up’

I was on the phone with my mother the other day, discussing the fact that most of the 2016 championship-winning Cubs players had been traded — one, my fave, Javier Baez, is now playing for the Mets — when we interrupted our solving of the world’s problems with a big…heavy…sigh.

We didn’t even need to ask each other what the sigh was for. It was August, after all.

If June is spiked with the thrill of Friday-like expectation, and July is packed with the pleasures of an endless Saturday, then August is tinged with Sunday’s bittersweet longing.

The Child and her Whitmore Grampa solve the world’s problems on an endless July afternoon

It’s like when you were a kid and you were doing your homework at the dining-room table while Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was playing in the next room. It was Sunday night. Where on earth did the weekend go?

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Pranks for the memories

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‘Stuff you miss when working from home’

So I read in the New York Times today that there are some twenty-and thirty-somethings out there who are resisting going back to the office. “Is this mandatory?” was one Young Whippersnapper’s querulous query.

Some are even quitting their jobs when told to pull up their socks (make that put on some socks) and report to work in person.

Just because you can work remotely doesn’t mean it’s easy to work remotely

Now, I have heard the arguments for working remotely: no commuting time (or expense), the opportunity to prepare a healthy lunch, fewer dry cleaning bills. (That last one is a no-brainer, especially if you’re talking about pants).

Not everyone in the universe likes Zoom. Though it seems everyone skips the pants

And I’ve also heard the other side. As a pro-office guy in the Times piece said, “As a manager, it’s really hard to get cohesion and collegiality without being together on a regular basis, and it’s difficult to mentor without being in the same place.”

Hmmm. “Cohesion?” “Collegiality?” Using “mentor” as a verb? Sorry, fella. I think I’d stay home too.

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“Do we have any snacks?”

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‘If a husband says this, it means “Get me some snacks”‘

We were recently graced with a visit from The Young Couple, formerly known as The Child and The Beau.

The Young Couple share a few-days-into-marriage moment

Yes, in case you have been holed up in a blogless burrow, here’s the news: Child and Beau made the plunge on the rim of the Grand Canyon on May 1. (You can revel in the details — and drool over the gorgeous photos — in “Runaway Bride” and “Tough Act to Follow.”)

One of many cinematically-gorgeous bridal shots

It was fun having them here, and for more than just a couple of days. It gave us all a chance to get into some normal hanging-out rhythms. Like, they both were working like crazy and commandeered sections of the house for no-go zones. Unfortunately, New Son-In-Law (whom I will henceforth refer to as “The SIL”) chose the kitchen, which is already my no-go zone. Or was.

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The time crickets ate The Dude’s shoes

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‘”Eat or be eaten,” or so they say.’

So last time I told you about how We Whitmores were recruited to help save some purple martins from starvation. The martins were huddled in their gourd condos out at SoFo (the South Fork Natural History Museum, founded by Idiosyncratic Family Friend Andy), having been caught in an unseasonable cold snap during which their regular flying-insect food supply was grounded.

We rescued them by tossing crickets into the air — crickets which had been bought in bulk from a pet supply place. Overheard: “Do we have more crickets coming in?” “Yes, 1500 are due tomorrow.”

 

(At which point I’m picturing chirping boxes being unloaded by a quizzical UPS guy — or maybe just crickets, 1500 strong, marching en masse up to SoFo’s front door and volunteering for duty.)

Anyway. Martin Man, who directed our feeding efforts, would put a big ole Teddy Grahams container full of crickets into a freezer for seven minutes to stun them, after which we would throw them into the air (Martin Man used a slingshot) where the hungry martins would chomp them (you could actually hear their birdie jaws snapping) mid-swoop.

One weakened female got her crickets via cute kid and tweezers

Now, in case you’re feeling sorry for those crickets being eaten, let me share a story about how they’re not all that, well, innocent.

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Nesting Instinct

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‘At long last, bicoastal birdies come home to roost’

It had been 599 days since I had last hugged my Mom. And, gosh-darn it, I wasn’t going to let another momless, hugless day go by. I zoomed one last time — in an airplane instead of on a screen — and got myself out to Vancouver, Washington, where my Mom was settling into her new nest.

Mom shows off her nest, including her new Smart TV

The newly-hitched Child dragged herself away from her (sounds so weird to say it) husband to join us. And, bless her, she handled everything: Air bnb, car rental, the works. Once we got there, she even did an InstaCart. All I had to do was be where she said to be at the time she said to be there.

One of many beautiful trees adorning the grounds at Mom’s place. Anybody know what it is?

Our visit did not disappoint. In addition to multiple sessions of much-anticipated hugging, it was packed with Scrabble (I managed to win a game!), Cubs games, gabfests and even some Corner Gas (Canada’s answer to Seinfeld).

It was lovely enough for a walk along the Columbia River

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Narrowing the Generation Gap

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‘Daughter, Mom/Daughter, Mom get together again’

Pictured above are a daughter, a mom (who is also a daughter) — and her mom. Three generations of a family who, like many others, loves nothing more than to get together but hasn’t been able to in ever so long.

Same trio, same positions — Daughter, Mom/Daughter, Mom — on another visit long ago. Which doesn’t actually feel that long ago

The last time this threesome was in the same room at the same time — not to mention the same positions — was in October of 2019. When the extended Henry Clan gathered to celebrate our matriarch’s ninetieth.

Same room, same time, some celebration (!)

That was some shebang. (You can read all about it in “So far, so good.”) There was cake, there was wine, there was dancing and joking and all-around foolishness and hijinks.

Dancing in pjs. A must at any Henry party

One can only wonder what we would have done differently had we known it would be the last time we’d see each other for more than a year. I certainly can’t think how we could possibly have enjoyed ourselves more.

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Tough act to follow

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‘What could possibly beat this?’

One of my best Bridge Buddies (hi, Laurie!) says she always reads my blog (thanks, Laurie!) but that she can tell when I’m, well, at a loss for words. I won’t mention specific posts, but if you, like Laurie, follow me regularly, you probably have your “favorites.”

Who wouldn’t be at a loss for words? (Well, except the Bridegroom, I trust)

Last week this happened because The Child had just wed The Beau in a quickie ceremony to satisfy the immigration authorities. (See “Runaway Bride” for cinematic photos and storybook details.) I sat there at my laptop wracking my brain, then gave in and wrote about the wedding. I could literally think of nothing else.

How could I possibly think of anything else? This is my brain on “wedding”

This week it’s because that story got kajillions of views and likes and comments. I’m thinking, “What can I write about now that could possibly capture your interest, O Faithful Readers?”

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