No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law).

The Henry Clan, including all four Original Aunts. That’s me at my mother’s feet, next to the kid with his thumb in his mouth. That’s my soon-to-be-spoken-of Aunt Vera at top left

I have ever-so-fond memories of listening in on adult conversations around the Henry or Peterson kitchen table, where we little cousins would be seated on various aunts’ laps. My Favorite Sister and I were reminiscing about this at a recent gathering. She reminded me that if we sat really still and stayed really quiet on one of said laps, the aunts would forget we were there, and really let their hair down with their stories. These gab-fests were fueled with plenty of coffee, and she said she still associates whispering and coffee breath with intimacy, safety, and a dash of subterfuge.

Peterson Uncles around the dining table (one Henry — my Dad — in the middle). Notice there are no small children on their laps, at least none that I can see. They are all in the kitchen with the aunts

I’m happy to say that my sister and I kept up this tradition when we in turn became aunts. Though in our case, most of the fascinating conversations were fueled with wine, not coffee. (See photo at the top of this post for an excellent example of an alternate use for an empty wine bottle, featuring my one-and-only Peterson great niece.)

That’s me, honing my Aunt Skills with one of my sister’s adorable daughters. There is probably a glass of wine tucked under the bed

My Peterson side aunt cache wasn’t quite so large, my mom having had only one sister. Luckily, her brothers had excellent taste, and I adored my aunts-in-law too. I have wonderful memories (again involving a lap) of my Aunt Shirley brushing my hair. She also taught me to knit, which turned out to be a highly useful Aunt Skill.

Thank you, dear Aunt Shirley, for teaching me to knit. Every little niece or nephew or great-niece has been ‘gifted’ a sweater, whether he/she liked it or not

My Aunt Shirley has, alas, passed on to the Great Family Reunion in the Sky. As have all my other aunts, including the last of the Henry Batch, my lovely Aunt Vera. My Aunt Vera was a nurse, a mom of a large clan of fun cousins, and a truly lovely person. She did cut her kids’ meat for them, but as far as I know that was her only fault. (And it’s debatable whether that even counts, fault-wise.)

My late, lamented Aunt Vera just a couple of months ago with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. She was not only the last Henry Aunt, she was the last Henry Sibling. End of an era

Which brings me to my last remaining aunt, my mom’s sister Marilyn. Aunt Marilyn (whom I called “Mooey”, probably because I was trying to say her name and couldn’t) was the Favorite not only because she was my mom’s only sister, but also because she was incredibly energetic and fun. She taught us to ice-skate and ski and took us to parades and let us ride on this cool sled she owned called a rodel. She also made up crazy jokes and games and was a big tease. We cousins would fight over who got to sit next to her at dinner.

Favorite Aunt Marilyn, not long after I appeared on the scene

Aunt Marilyn lived at home before she got married, and when we’d visit I got to sleep in her room. (Which was a Big Deal, and a privilege only I was granted since I was a girl.) One morning she said she really really needed to ‘go to the bathroom’, but she was ‘too lazy to get up’, so would I ‘get her the bedpan‘. Honestly, she had me looking everywhere for that thing. And she was in dire need of it before she stopped laughing long enough to tell me she was kidding.

Aunt Marilyn and me doing something companionable in the kitchen. A frying pan, not a bed pan, is involved. As well as a large box of salt

Anyway. Back to the Weekend Just Past and those three little monkeys. Yes, they are my great-nieces. And I’m happy to report that all the Aunt Shenanigans hold up for this generation too. I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), but I can imagine that some of the perks are the same. You get to do all the fun stuff — like play games and read books and make silly faces — then hand the kid back when it’s time for bottles or binkies or (urk) diaper changes. And we don’t have to wear awful house dresses. Well, unless we want to. We’re so old — and the kids are so cute — that nobody notices.

Great aunts, in my mind’s eye as well as my memory. That’s me in the middle on some cousin’s lap being admired at some Reunion or Other

Which brings me to the Beach Boys. On the first day of my inaugural great-aunt hostessing gig, I naively offered to watch Grand-Niece Number One while her mom went for a run. (Her dad was otherwise occupied on a bike ride with The Dude.) After all, I had ‘watched kids plenty of times’ and ‘knew what to do’, so ‘go on and have a good run; I’ll be just fine.’

Well. The second that little girl saw her mom trot off into the sunrise her face registered first Alarm, then Disbelief, then Fear and Rage. Which turned into Outright Screaming. So what did I do? I picked up my iPhone — no, not to call her mom in despair — but to play us some Beach Boys (‘Barbara Ann’, to be specific). I picked up that wailing toddler and we danced. I may have gotten a little winded by the time her mom got home, but I’m happy to say that it worked.

My Uncle Mike carrying me around before The Beach Boys existed. I do look reasonably entertained. That’s my Aunt Susie helping him

Well. It looks like I’ve run on and on. Like a great aunt is wont to do. So I’ll wrap this up with a reminder.

‘Little pitchers have big ears.’ (Though this particular pitcher only has one.) At any rate, if you find yourself with a niece on your lap, you may wish to watch your wine intake. Or stick to coffee

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

Happy Birthday to my Selfie

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‘Reflections on the 10th anniversary of the iPhone.’

Honest Injun. I was going to write a piece about iPhones and ringtones anyway. But as I was reading the Times (er, procrastinating) with my zillionth cup of coffee, I happened upon the news that the iPhone came out ten years ago today.

My my my. It seems like just yesterday that I was sharing a (very tiny, so it’s a good thing we got along) freelance office with an art director I dubbed Svenska Boy, who was the very first person of my acquaintance who had an iPhone. He waited hours in line outside the Apple Store in Midtown Manhattan to get it. Sigh. Technological memories are so bittersweet.

Take that early selfie at the top of this post. Please (!) It’s not only fuzzy, it’s taken in a mirror. Because the phones back then didn’t have that reverse camera. Or maybe I just hadn’t realized it was there. Oh well.

Selfies before iPhones. I take a picture of my reflection with a thing called a camera. Actually it was a Flip Video Camera. Remember those?

But back to the reason I was going to write about phones in the first place. It has to do with sounds. I was at the Amagansett IGA a few days ago, stocking up for my umpteenth wave of weekend house guests, when I spied a woman who used to date one of The Dude’s cousins. (Hey, I’m alone all week. When I run into someone I know, even vaguely, they simply must be prepared for a bit of social interaction.) 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

The Days of Wineberries and Roses

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‘Listening to the Warm: sensational summery sounds’

Forget Rod McKuen. It was Henry James who nailed summer. He once famously said that the two most beautiful words in the English language were ‘summer afternoon’. Go on; say them out loud. Better yet, murmur them.

‘Summer af-ter-noon‘. Mmmmmmmmm. You can practically feel that hammock swaying.

Now you’ve already heard me go on about the tastes of summer — I’ve waxed ravenously poetic about such seasonal delights as watermelon and corn and berries-somebody-else-picks and glorified rice and even (yum!) Jello Cake.

But I haven’t talked much about summer sounds. You know the ones I mean; sounds that really say summer. Fireworks. The ice-cream truck. And, for me anyway, that fwap fwap fwap sound that happens when you clip playing cards onto your bike spokes with clothespins and ride home from the Carlyle Municipal Pool gnawing on a frozen Milky Way.

Continue reading

Everybody into the Gene Pool

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‘There’s no such thing as too many cousins’

I guess it’s the Silly Season. Newspapers in the UK are publishing pictures of baby Queen Elizabeth doing a mini Nazi Salute. The New York Times today featured a cover story on (yawn) Hilary Clinton’s Dad. And bloggers are publishing pictures of Benedict Cumberbatch.

Looks like summertime-desperation-for-readers has set in. I’m thinking that it’s the time of year when just about anything I write won’t be able to compete with the beach. The only thing worse for my stats would be if it were Christmas. Or if I wrote about the ding-dang South Pole again.

So here goes. Cousins. I worry, what with the trend to smaller families and all, that the whole Cousin Thing will be experienced by fewer and fewer in the future. The Child, for example, has seven Henry Cousins, five of whom are pictured at the top of this post. Of course that’s waaaay more than the measly three the Whitmores managed to eke out. From six siblings (!)

I mean, when I was a kid, we had cousins. The Petersons, who were Swedish and Lutheran and played Scrabble and drank coffee, produced this batch: Continue reading

The Incest Mug

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‘Aha! So that explains it’

‘Incest’, eh? You might be thinking that’s a frisky topic for Lutheranliar. But I figure now is a perfect time to get this story out of my system, since almost everybody’s away from their computers doing their Christmas shopping. And all the other people not away from their computers are probably doing their Christmas shopping too.

So, hah. I’m thinking the chances of ruining my social standing and/or becoming shunned by polite society are fairly slim since nobody’s going to read it anyway. So, here’s the story.  Continue reading