“Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”

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‘Missing the Most Marvelous Aunt the World Has Ever Known’

The quote serving as title of this story came from the wee toddler lips of my Oldest Younger Brother Scott. When he was very small he would march into our Aunt Marilyn’s room very early in the morning and announce that “everybody” was up — “everybody” meaning him.

That’s my Aunt Marilyn standing in front of my Mom. She wasn’t much more than a toddler herself in this photo. But I bet she was a lot of fun, even then

See, when Aunt Marilyn was in the house you wanted her up and around and with you at all times. She was that much fun. So much fun to be around that we kids would actually fight over who got to sit next to her at family dinners. (I only realized years later that we were unintentionally hurting our other perfectly-good aunts’ feelings — not to mention our very fun mother’s — by doing this.)

Two sisters and their mom, my Gramma P

But kids are kids — and naturally unfiltered — so fight over Aunt Marilyn we did. We adored Aunt Marilyn. Maybe because she was rather like a kid herself. For one thing, she was our mother’s younger sister by almost ten years. She was a high school kid when I was born. For another, she remained single — living in her parents’ (our grandparents’) house — for most of our childhood, so she was always there — and eager for fun — when we visited.

That’s All-American Teen Aunt Marilyn, complete with saddle shoes and bobby socks, between Perfectly-Fine Aunt Shirley and my Gramma P. My Mom is holding “Everybody’s Up!” Scott while I glower through the car window

Even after she found the Amazing Arlyn and got married, she didn’t “settle down”. She continued to play croquet and badminton (See “Howie and the Muscle Shirt” for a funny badminton story) with youthful gusto and was apt to say things like, “Who wants to go out in the snow with the rodel?” when it was, like, a zillion degrees below zero. (I just googled “rodel”, which is a kind of sled, and found one that looks just like Aunt Marilyn’s for sale for $1,175.)

That’s Marilyn, in bridal gown, natch, greeting well-wishers in the background. That’s my Starter Hub and me front and center

Aunt Marilyn hated the hot summer and absolutely adored winter. And not just for the skating and skiing and rodeling. She was a Major Fan of Christmas. I can remember like it was yesterday going to our Gramma P’s for Christmas. Marilyn was always in charge of the fun, both before and after she and Arlyn got hitched. (Arlyn, bless his little Dutch heart, really got into the swing of those Swedish Christmases. Though I bet he didn’t really have much choice.)

A scene from a Marilyn Christmas. That’s my Mom whispering her wish to a plastic-bag-bearded Santa

Since we were Swedes, the festivities were always on Christmas Eve. You can read all about these special festivities and even watch a video of the Very Last One in “A very Marilyn Christmas”. If you listen carefully, you just might be able to hear Nat King Cole on the stereo.

Aunt Marilyn in the kitchen stirring up some fun. I’m thinking this wasn’t Christmas, since the cooking is happening on top of the stove

Ironically, it was during her favorite season, while she was skiing with my mom out in Colorado (pronounced by Marilyn as “color” with “adoh” on the end) when she first felt the manifestations of the Parkinson’s Disease that would torment her for decades and ultimately take her life just last Saturday.

Winter won’t be winter without you, dear Aunt Marilyn. And as for Christmas? I feel like just skipping it this year. But that wouldn’t be at all what you would want. So I’ll break out the gumdrop tree and the teensy cordial glasses in your honor. But, if you don’t mind, I’ll skip the homemade brown paper “oven bag” to roast my turkey. I’ll no doubt burst into tears, but I’d rather my turkey not burst into flames.

Rest in peace, dear Aunt Marilyn. Christmas — even with teensy toasts and gumdrop trees — won’t be the same without you

New York City. October 2019

 

Sitting Pretty

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‘I have a seriously addictive Thing about chairs’

Right now, there are twenty-one chairs sitting (if it’s not too silly to think of a chair as “sitting”) in my apartment. Which, speaking of sitting, means a lot of places to rest one’s weary bones. The extremely cute bird-themed perch in the photo at the top of this post — the one with the extremely cute kitty enthroned thereupon — isn’t one of them, since it isn’t a chair, but a hassock.

Another shot of Wombat with that hassock. This was when Wom was a baby and the hassock had tassles. Three guesses why I removed the tassles

No, a chair has a back, and legs, and sometimes even sides — and it seats one person (or one pet). I also have a couple of benches in this apartment. Which don’t count either, since two people can (in theory, anyway) sit on a bench.

Nope. Not a chair. This is a bench with a lion sitting on it. Well, a lion on a pillow. That’s a chair in the left background

Oh. Before I forget. Those of you who expect a weekly story to be posted by me every Tuesday (bless your hearts) were no doubt wondering what the heck happened yesterday. Well. My lack-of-posting wasn’t entirely because of downsizing-related stress. (And I wasn’t even too busy making brownies to write a story. See downsizing story — and brownie recipe — here.) Nope, GoDaddy was having some WordPress-related technical difficulties. I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say I am glad to have Somebody Else To Blame. (Because I actually was too stressed to write coherently, much less amusingly.)

But back to this chair-chocked tale.

I use these to display my (ahem) needlepointing skills

The reason I happen to have so many chairs isn’t due to some fear-of-no-seating phobia. It’s just because, well, I really really like chairs. It seems that, there for awhile, every time I’d go to a thrift shop or an antiques fair or just about any place old chairs could be found — I’d fall for a new “find”. I say “new”, but I don’t really mean new. All my chairs — all twenty-one of them are old.

One of a set of extremely fragile Pennsylvania Dutch dining chairs. I use place cards at dinners so the few fat people I know won’t sit on these

And each and every one has a story. One I salvaged from Great-Gramma Whitmore’s barn. One is a leftover from my Starter Marriage. Another followed me all the way from Kansas City.

I toted this baby all the way from the Heartland. And then on to, hmm, three different apartments

But the chair that has the best story is the leather wing chair that came from the East Hampton Antiques Fair. See, East Hampton used to be not nearly as trendy and fancy as it is now. Why, there was a time when there wasn’t even one Ralph Lauren boutique there, much less four. (Yes, there are, in fact, four Ralph Lauren stores in EH. I kid you not. I guess Ralph wanted to make sure you could find an American-Flag sweater without panicking.)

So. This is the Time Of Which I Speak. When there was an antiques fair in East Hampton with actual beautiful antiques that Normal People could afford. (They still have these fairs, but I can’t even afford the admission, much less the antiques.)

My Very Good Friend Who Moved to New Jersey used to accompany me to these antiques fairs. We would have big fun together scoring Bakelite bangles and crocodile handbags and Fiestaware and such. And yes, for me anyway, chairs. (Green tufted leather ones for the library, blue painted stools for the kitchen, even child-sized ones to hold magazines in the bathrooms (try it!) and so on and so forth.

I found out the hard way that the red paint on this chair comes off on your butt. So I use it to hang things on

BFWMTNJ and I were strolling about — she encouraging me to buy John Boy Walton’s cowboy hat (it fit, and I did); me encouraging her to buy butterfly-wing jewelry from the 40s — when I happened upon this chair.

It was (and is) amazing. A wing chair of gently-worn (oh, okay, really worn) caramel-hued tufted leather. Very Downtown Abbey, even though Downton Abbey hadn’t been invented yet. I could picture myself curled up in it by the fire, book in one hand, wineglass in the other. I sat down. I enquired about the price. Hmmm, not bad. But I decided to abide by my “If God Wants Me To Have It, It Will Still Be Here After I Walk Once Around The Fair” Rule.

Friend and I go walkabout, only to find upon completion of our round another woman sitting in “my” chair — busily writing a check.

Well.

I chatted her up, got her name and number, and sweetly suggested that if the chair didn’t “work” in her apartment that she give me a call and I would take it off her hands for her.

A week later, sure enough. She calls. The chair indeed didn’t “work”. And it’s been mine ever since.

The lovely leather wing chair, “decorated” at a Christmas long ago by one of my favorite people

I have a sneaking suspicion that our new majorly-downsized digs (potential only! fingers crossed the deal goes through!) won’t be able to accommodate this chair — not to mention, I’m thinking, around twenty of the other twenty-one in this much larger apartment.

Maybe I should look for that woman’s card and see if she wants “her” chair back?

New York City. September 2019

 

 

Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.) Continue reading

A very Marilyn Christmas

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‘A Holiday Tribute to an Aunt I bet Yule wish was yours’

I was feeling a touch of the Christmas Blues the other day. Remembering The Old Days and how we kids used to peer out the car windows at the Christmas trees lighting up the picture windows of the houses in the small towns along Route 50 on the way up to Gramma’s house. And how, once we got there, we’d run as fast as we could to the Tree to see just how big it was and to shake the wrapped presents to guess what was in them.

I think I liked pressing my face against windows. Here I am smudging things up at Gramma’s

When Christmas Blue, what do you do? Well, I called my Mom. (Thank goodness I still have one.) She knew exactly what I was talking about, and exactly what I was missing: The Marilyn Christmas. Continue reading

“Life is short. Eat dessert first.”

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‘Words of Wisdom from One Who Is Older Than Dirt’

Yesterday I was with some super-swell women friends at a really nice Christmas lunch — the kind of Christmas lunch where your plate has a festive little foil-wrapped treat placed right there next to your fork by your thoughtful holiday hostess.

Well. The oh-so-elegant and beautifully-dressed woman seated next to me reached right for her shiny red-and-green-befoiled peppermint bark, unwrapped it, and ate it — not only before eating her lunch, but before she’d even ordered.

I must say that I was very impressed.

See, I’m the kind of person who promised myself when I was young that when I finally grew up I would eat dessert first and have sex every chance I got.

Needless to say, I haven’t kept either promise. Not very well, anyway.

The not-eating-dessert-first part had to do with wanting to maintain a svelte silhouette, something that mattered to me more as a matter of economics than vanity. I reasoned that, if I didn’t change size, then I wouldn’t have to go shopping. (I hate to shop, not having inherited the Shopping Gene from my loves-to-shop mother.) This worked pretty well for years and years. It got so that people recognized me from party to party not because they remembered my name or even my face — but because they remembered my dress. Continue reading

“They’re just blankety-blank-blank so good!”

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‘Some Christmas Movies you might not know about’

Well. Another Thanksgiving’s been added to the Memory Bank. The leftovers are long gone, and Mr. Turkey himself has been stripped down to his carcass, the broth boiled from his very bones.

Remains of the Pie. This was a couple of years ago. As you can see, I had not yet perfected my crust

And, as much as I adore my Absolute Favorite Holiday, I honestly can’t look another sweet potato or cranberry in the eye. I don’t even want more pie.

But am I ready to move on to Christmas? Starbucks certainly seems to think so. (Half an hour ago, there was Judy Garland on the speakers warbling “I’ll be home for Christmas” as Miss Barista handed me my carefully non-religious “Holiday”-themed vente latte.)

In spite of an email inbox crammed with cyber deals, I’m so not ready to shop for Christmas. And even though my building lobby is tinseled and lit, I’m not ready to decorate for Christmas either. And thank goodness I know no small children, because I am certainly not ready to bake for Christmas. (Nor will I ever be, unless and until some small children reappear in my life.) Continue reading

Out with the old year, but not out with the old stuff. Yet.

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‘I’m so not ready for Swedish “death cleaning”, thank you very much’

As if The Holidays weren’t bittersweet enough. (You know what I mean: You’re happy because it’s Christmastime, but then Christmas is over and you’re smack-dab in the middle of that weird Week-Before-New-Year’s and everyone is telling you they’ll “see you next year” and you’re deciding whether to put away the decorations now or wait and be confronted with them when you walk back into the apartment after your trip to Panama.) Or wherever. You get my drift.

And as if all this Seasonal Sturm und Drang weren’t bad enough, the other day I innocently opened the Times to find a review of this new book called, I kid you not, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. Continue reading

“I’ll be (at Somebody’s Else’s) Home for Christmas”

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‘”You can count on me (not to give you a hard time about it)”‘

Or not too much of a hard time, anyway. I mean, what did I expect? The Child is a Certified Grownup now, and not even a freshly-minted one. (She is not only ‘over 21’, she is ‘over 25′.)

Hmmm. It’s a wonder she didn’t spend Christmas Away even earlier

Even when she was a wee Santa-Believing Child I knew that, at some point in the Foggy Festive Future, there would come a Christmas that she would want to spend Elsewhere. And, even though we’ve been guilty of ‘downsizing’ our Christmas festivities as the years have whizzed by — going from super-sized Trees complete with all the Tree Trimmings (including a big ole pot-roast-fueled Tree Trim Party) to ever-smaller sort-of-decorated Trees In Pots to No (gasp) Tree At All — I still took it for granted that she would be with us at Christmas.

After all, she made it home for Christmas all through college. Why, even the year she spent studying in Cambridge (the England Cambridge, not the Massachusetts Cambridge), she managed to get herself Home in time for December 25. (Gosh, I hope I fed her some pot roast.) Continue reading

Is that stocking half full, or half empty?

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‘The Philosophy of Gift-giving. It’s all how you look at it.’

One of the few times I saw my mother weep was one Christmas when she opened a gaily-wrapped package only to discover that my well-meaning father had given her an electric toothbrush. “It’s the latest thing,” he protested as he tried to comfort her. It didn’t help when he pointed out that it came with different heads, one for each member of our family.

Poor Dad. He was one of those well-meaning people who give gifts that they really want. He loved gadgets; ergo, Mom got gadgets. I think it was the next Christmas that he gave her the electric knife.

My Mom later told us about a Christmas when she was very little — a Christmas when she really really wanted roller skates. There was a largish, heavyish roller-skate-appropriate box under the tree that looked promising. But her Uncle Warren Who Liked To Tease (didn’t everyone have one of these?) kept telling her it was a hair ribbon. Poor Mom.

I’m not sure if this was the Christmas Of The Electric Knife. Or the Christmas Of The Electric Toothbrush

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Deck the halls with bough of holly

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‘A Grinch Guide to Holiday decor’

Well, maybe not ‘Grinch’. Make that more of a ‘minimalist’. It’s not that I don’t enjoy Christmas (well, not as much as I enjoy Thanksgiving; everybody who knows me knows that.) And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a nice Christmas Tree. In fact, I remember gazing out of the car window as we worked our way through small town after small town on those long pre-interstate drives up to my Gramma’s in Northern Illinois, admiring the Trees that were strategically placed in front-room picture windows for maximum drive-by impact.

But I’ve never been one of those people who fusses with the ornaments on her own Christmas Tree, arranging and rearranging them every time she walks by, striving for Holiday Perfection. In fact, I do everything I can to avoid having my own Christmas Tree.

Oh, there for a few years, when The Child was an Actual Child, I condescended to allowing a Tree on the premises. But I got The Dude and The Child to go get the tree. (I made this sound like a fun Daddy-and-Daughter outing, while I cleverly stayed home and sipped champagne.) And I threw a Tree Trim Party to get other people to actually do the decorating of said tree. I made this sound fun, too, by luring friends over with the promise of more champagne — and my Famous Pot Roast — in return for their bringing over an ornament (and this is the important part) hanging it on the Tree. (I’ve told the story of my Tom Sawyerish get-someone-else-to-do-the-work Tree Trickery in a previous hilarious/nostalgic post called ‘(N)o Tannenbaum’, which I invite you to read when you’re done chuckling over this one.)

I decorate myself in preparation for bribing friends with pot roast in return for decorating that bare tree, stage left

Continue reading