“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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‘I wonder what little Harry Houdini’s answer was.’

Way back when the earth’s crust was cooling and I was a youngster, there was a show on local TV called “Texas Bruce.”

The full name was “The Wranglers’ Club with Texas Bruce.” Texas Bruce showed cartoons and did silly jokes and suchlike, and had a whole peanut gallery of kids (The Wranglers) on hand. I remember that his sign-off was “Hasta la vista, mis caballeros,” a phrase whose meaning, of course, was a mystery to us Clinton County kids. We gathered it was something like “good-bye,” since Texas Bruce would be waving while he said it.

Anyway. One of his “bits” every show was to ask the boys and girls in his studio audience what they wanted to be when they grew up.

So glad Dude Man did not grow up to be a snake charmer. Tho he is a charmer

The TV station was in St. Louis, which was then — and still is — a very Catholic town. How Catholic? Well, when “Hair” played St. Louis, they had to cut the nude scene.

So. Texas Bruce would be going down the rows of Cub Scout-outfitted boys and Brownie-dressed girls asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” To which they’d answer, “A nun.” “A priest.” “A nun. “A priest.” “A priest.” “A nun.” Honestly, I’d say at least 70% of every audience answered “priest” or “nun.” Which led one to worry about population trends for the greater metropolitan St. Louis area.

What does this have to do with Harry Houdini? Well. I used to work on the Kimberly-Clark account at Ogilvy. In fact, I’ve written about this before in a rather amusing piece titled “Hoohah Time is Story Time.” In that story I mention, among other things, that on client trips to Appleton, Wisconsin (KC’s headquarters), we Ogilvyites would stay at the Paper Valley Hotel. (There was no valley anywhere near, but they did make paper there.)

Speaking of Kimberly-Clark, Huggies had a campaign with babies acting out future careers. Here’s The Child as a magician. Which she sort of is

The Paper Valley was one of those hotels where they put little paper tent thingies everywhere: one to tell you to reuse your towels, one with the TV channels on it, one to tell you not to smoke, and so on. (I guess, being a paper-making town, the hotel got a deal on these.) And there was one with famous Appletonians. No kidding. There are famous people from Appleton. Edna Ferber. Willem Defoe (really!). And my fave, Harry Houdini.

Houdini was such an Appletonian that he claimed to have been born in Appleton when he was really born in Hungary. Appleton Street was renamed in his honor, and there was a Houdini Historic Center I’ve been to because Ogilvy hosted one of their Christmas parties there for the Kimberly-Clark clients. (Since then they’ve changed the museum name, maybe because they’ve added some exhibits on Senator Joe McCarthy. Who was also an Appleton boy.)

God forbid you should ask little Teddy what he wanted to be when he grew up. Other than a U of Washington Husky, that is

Side note: I always wondered why we hosted the KC Christmas parties in Appleton instead of New York City. Maybe the clients didn’t like to travel? Or maybe they just didn’t like to travel to New York. I distinctly remember one rare occasion when a KC client came to New York for a meeting and asked if we could have “breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

But back to those Paper Valley business trips. I would sometimes gaze at the Harry Houdini paper tent thingie and muse about what would happen if Texas Bruce asked little Harry, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Would he answer, “I’d like to be bound with chains and dropped to the bottom of a river”?

Grown-up Harry realizes his childhood dream

I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t say “a priest.” But that’s probably because his father was a rabbi.

New York City. May 2022

 

Film at eleven

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‘Preserving those memories, then and now’

Some of you may have noticed that I played blog hooky last week. That’s because Tuesday, which is the day I usually dazzle my followers with my wit, was also the day I traveled to visit my mom. The trip went very smoothly. But I am one of those people who finds the process of travel all consuming. It’s hard for me to think — much less be amusing.

On the carpet at Portland International Airport

I wish I were more like The Child, who takes travel bumps in stride. She was scheduled to join me at mom’s for the weekend, but there was a strike at the Amsterdam airport (Amsterdam being where her techie business conference was held) and it took her about 24 hours to make it back to the States and PDX. If this happened to me, I’d probably implode.

Same carpet, different feet. The Child’s very tired ones

But back to Mom’s. The visit was well worth skipping a blog post. We did all my favorite stuff: played Scrabble, drank coffee and went for walks. Oh, we also did a lot of what we call “solving the world’s problems,” sometimes switching out the coffee for wine.

Guess who got a seven-letter word right out of the gate? (And with a wet head straight out of the shower)

This trip was my latest round in what we call the Kid of the Month Club, where we four sibs who don’t live close to my mother take turns visiting her for a week each month. This gives everyone — Mom included — something to plan around and look forward to. We’ve also continued the Family FaceTime Sundays we started during the dreaded Lockdown.

Be there or be square. (Or, um, be in the square?)

We’d also like to do some sort of Recorded History Thing with Mom. She has tons of cool stories — like When Electricity Finally Came to the Farm and When Your Father Took Me to the Prom in a Milk Truck — stories that some of us kids know (See my piece “Confessions of a B-Team Mom” for how kids in the same family can have entirely different family memories) and that some don’t.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug (here seen reading the paper upside down) has completely different family memories from mine

We’d like these memories to live on and be shared — with each other, our kids and their kids.

Dude Man’s family had the same idea. I remember they gathered a bunch of home movies — mostly black and white, mostly silent — and got their Dad to narrate them. My favorite was the one where Dad-of-Dude took a toddler (not sure which one; he had six from which to choose) and tossed him (or her) into the ocean waves like a little shrieking football. (There was no sound, but you could tell there was shrieking going on by the big round “O” in the middle of the poor kid’s face.)

Now I know we Henrys had some dandy home movies too. I remember that it was a Big Production to screen these. There was a projector to thread and a big screen to put up. I distinctly recall one in which Oldest Younger Brother Scott is happily splashing in an inflatable wading pool when I appear stage left and unceremoniously dump him out onto the lawn.

Not the infamous wading pool, but pretty close. I’m not sure who that other kid is. Mom?

My Dad, who, incidentally, loved gear, (Guys love gear; see last week’s post, “Guys and their Gear”) was one of the first guys in our town to get a video camera. It was huge; you had to schlep it around on a shoulder, for heaven’s sakes. But I remember he did just that for a whole weekend once.

Dude Man demonstrating some gear: boots, shades and two ballcaps. Oh, and that’s him at the top of this post, demonstrating a Sony video camera his dad gave him. The only issue? It was from a Japanese patient — and all the controls were in Japanese

Yes, for three glorious days Dad followed everyone around, documenting everything. And I mean everything. Scott eating (“Look at that sweet corn, Alice. See what you’re missing?!”), Laura on the couch (“Say hey, Laura!” [glare]) Mom in the garden (“Get a load of those tomatoes!”). But by far the best was Mom at the sink. “There’s Myrna, doing dishes.” “Stop it, Dale.” “What?” “Stop following me around and recording everything I do.”  “I’m doing this for the kids.” “Kids Schmids. Stop. You’re driving me crazy.”) None of this was edited out.

Dad and Mom going somewhere. Dad, of course, is loaded with gear

Oh, yeah. And when he was walking around outside with that big ole camera on his shoulder he kept bonking his head on the bird feeders. So you’d hear, “Oh look! There’s Myrna dead-heading the…(bonk)…damned bird feeders!” This happened three times in the course of one video. And nope, it wasn’t edited out either.

Mom chilling — well, if you can “chill” under a blanket — at Laura’s just a couple of days ago. Where was my microphone?

I would love to record my mother narrating any of these. But, alas, somewhere along the line, these and the other films have gone AWOL. Yes, even the one where someone (Roger? Scott?) is pretending that the Sir Launch-A-Lot — which was a houseboat Dad owned; and yes, that was its real name — is in a storm by tilting the camera back and forth while someone else (Laura? Patty?) runs back and forth on the deck.

Dad tries out new technology on the deck of the Sir Launch-A-Lot: A remote camera (note “clicker thingie” in his hand)

If you, O Beloved Sibs, know where any of these films are hiding, speak up. And, next time you’re the Kid of the Month, maybe record a story or two. I promise to do my bit this summer when I’m out there for my next turn — if I don’t get too involved playing Scrabble, drinking coffee and taking walks.

New York City. April 2022

 

Doing the math

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‘When the twenty-year deck will do just fine’

A couple of months ago I celebrated a large, rather alarming birthday. (See “Skirting the Issue” for festive details.)

How large? How alarming? Well, when people assure me that I am still “middle-aged,” I say, “Middle Aged, huh? Sure. If I’m planning to live to 140.

Doing it up big on my Big Birthday. That’s The Child, who is now bigger than me. Partly because I’m shrinking

Nah. Let’s face it. I’m old. Even if I didn’t have that big number staring me in the face I’d realize it.

Because I’ve started doing the math.

Here’s what I mean. When we needed to replace our deck — it was splintering, it had holes in it, it sort of “sproinged” when you walked on it — we consulted with the Deck Builder Guy, who gave us two estimates. One was for a deck that would last thirty years; the other (cheaper) alternative would last twenty.

Dude Man and I didn’t even have to consult with each other. We both did the math, then looked at Deck Guy and said, “The twenty-year deck will do just fine.” Because, of course, by the time we’re 90, a deteriorating deck will be the least of our problems. And probably somebody else’s problem at that.

The new deck, juxtaposed with a corner of the house, which is being gnawed on by squirrels. Guess the siding’s next. *sigh*

The thing that really makes one’s head spin, math-wise, is that this is the second time we’ve replaced that deck. (Kind of makes you go into “joke mode.” You know: “How old was she? She was so old, she’d replaced her twenty-year deck twice.

The Child with her Whitmore Grampa on the Original Deck. The one before our first twenty-year deck

Another time one “does the math” is with trees. I once did a commercial for a cholesterol drug that had this older couple planting a tree. (Interesting trivia: Older Man was played by none other than Rance Howard, who was Ron Howard’s dad and who was often given cameo roles in Ron’s films. He was the guy who delivered mangoes to John Candy’s character in Splash, for instance.)

Anyway. This older couple is planting a tree that’s, oh, three or four feet high, and the voiceover is talking about how this new drug could help you control cholesterol and prevent heart disease so that, basically, you could live to see the tree all grown up nice and big.

I’m kicking myself that I tossed my reel — the one with that commercial on it. But here are some trees drawn by The Child. Which will never grow old. And always will be there

(This was, of course, implied, not explicitly stated. The copy said something like, “The fruits of your labor should be yours to enjoy, even if you have high cholesterol. Talk to your doctor about new treatments available now.” The tagline was quite brilliant, if I do say so myself: “It’s your future. Be there.”)

Here in Amagansett we’re reminded of the Tree Effect daily. We have evergreen trees all over the property in various states of largeness. They are all Former Christmas Trees; some of them were originally quite tiny and fit on tabletops.

Naturally, in recent years we’ve started getting bigger ones.

But the best solution to doing the math with Christmas Trees? Doing like last year — opting out and enjoying someone else’s Christmas Tree.

Christmas in Flagstaff with The Child, her fam — and her tree

Recently The Child celebrated her (gasp) thirty-first birthday. Happy Birthday, dear Child. May you live long, enjoy many full-grown Christmas trees and replace more than two sequential decks.

Amagansett, New York. April 2022

 

 

A Life on hold

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‘”Your estimated wait time is approximately…”‘

Well, I should be feeling really fit. Because today I had way more than my usual exercise–in frustration.

It all started when I couldn’t find an extremely cute photo that I was determined to showcase at the top of this post. It shows Yours Truly at about age two holding a telephone receiver up to her teensy little shell-like ear. On the back of the deckle-edged black and white Kodak print is written, “Hello, Daddy.”

What’s on the back of this milestone shot? “Big Girl”

That photo was taken by my Mom and sent to my Dad, who was serving in Korea, along with more shots showing other milestones: me riding a hobbyhorse, feeding myself, holding a baby (Oldest Younger Brother Scott, whom my father didn’t even meet till poor Scott was almost two.) You can read about what happened when he came home in “Kissing Daddy Good-night.”

Instead, I decided to feature another extremely cute photo of The Child. Because, why not? Though in her photo she is not even “fake-calling” her daddy. Mainly because he is standing right behind her. If I remember right, she was ordering pizza to fuel up for her night of impersonating a Bloomingdale’s bag for Halloween. (See more about her penchant for dressing as objects at “Happy Ho-Made Halloween.”)

The Child as a Strawberry. Her parents as, well, Parents

Anyway. My ultimately fruitless search for this photo was interrupted by a low bonging sound. You guessed it: “lobat 2nd floor fire,” an alarming situation (literally) I have also written about before. Twice. Check out “Things That Go Shriek in the Night” or “The One Where My Life is Like a Friends Episode” if you feel like sharing my pain. Continue reading

Your face is gonna freeze that way

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‘With any luck, not quite so literally.’

I just got back from a chilly, wintry walk out here in Amagansett. It was bracing, but not brutal, since almost all of the two feet of snow we got last week has turned into sodden slush. (See my post “S’no Problem” for freezing deets.)

Another snowstorm, another snowy beach walk. This time at dusk

So, no. That’s not a picture of me looking like a human icicle at the top of this post. That’s Her Childness, taken after an evening run in nippy Saskatchewan, where she and her Hub are visiting his Fam. It was a frosty twenty degrees — below zero.

But this post isn’t about literally freezing your face. It’s about sayings you probably heard from your Mom. Real classics like the above frozen warning, given when your face is arranged in a sad frown, petulant pout or angry scowl.

It pains me even to look at this. (Good Lord! What if her face froze that way!)

And remember what your mom said when you picked up, say, a stick out in the yard and started pretending it was a sword? Yup: “Be careful or you’ll poke somebody’s eye out.” Why wasn’t it ever “…crack somebody’s ribs“? Or even “…give somebody a bad bruise“? Continue reading

The Days of Double-Knit Dad

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‘A wrinkle-free wrinkle in time’

It’s tennis time, as in the Australian Open. But no, I’m not going to write about the Novak Djokovic Affair. There’s been entirely too much chatter about that already.

Nope. I’m going to write about knits.

See, when I’m watching tennis I knit. It keeps me (relatively) calm, and also from eating junk and drinking. (Well, I guess it doesn’t really keep me from drinking.)

Yes, I can knit and drink and watch tennis — sort of all at the same time

I can look at a sweater — any sweater — and tell you which tournament it goes with.

Wimbledon 2021

But this piece isn’t about that kind of knits. This is about double knits. Which was a fabric-fueled craze back in the late sixties and early seventies. Back then (and maybe even now, for all I know) double knits were made of polyester and were used to make groovy garments like jumpsuits. These were really fashion-forward — if your idea of fashion was to look like someone on an album cover — but I remember that polyester was pretty sweltering to wear. Double knits don’t exactly breathe.

There you’d be at a dance at the American Legion, say, trying to look cool while doing the Swim and meanwhile sweating like you’re dressed in a plastic garbage bag.

Almost everyone at my first wedding was sporting double knits: Me, my Dad, my Grampa Henry (well, maybe not Grampa), Uncle Mark and Mom. First Hub too. It was a jillion degrees that day. Think about it. Then read “My Polio-Shot Marriage”

Pretty much everyone in my family back then had a double knit item or two, but my Dad was the all-around Prince of Polyester. At one point he owned double-knit suits — with top-stitching, like on the jacket in the photo at the top of this post. Also double-knit slacks and double-knit ties. “They don’t wrinkle!” he would exclaim when asked why he had so many polyester items.

I think he really just liked to be trendy and hip. Why, he even owned a pair of double-knit sneakers. Continue reading

Taking motherhood to a whole new level

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‘In The Heights On Christmas Day’

“It’s not rational,” I said as I lamely tried to explain my fear of heights to my pretty-much-100%-fearless son-in-law. “It’s emotional. Visceral, even. I react to a cliff the same way I’d react to, well, a snake.”

“You’re scared of snakes?” was his befuddled reply.

Well, yes. As you know if you’ve read my piece “The Year of the Snake,” I have a very well-developed (and healthy, in my opinion) fear of snakes. A fear that I have yet to conquer.

But I’ll have you know that this Christmas I faced my fear of heights in fine fettle. By hiking the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon. Without fainting or shaking or cringing. Much.

Me, not shaking all that much, pausing to gloat on the Kaibab Trail

Sure, I didn’t hike the whole trail — it’s seven miles all the way down. But, for a person who can’t even stand on the top rung of a ladder to change a screeching smoke alarm at three in the morning (see “Things That Go Shriek in the Night”) climbing down — and back up — a mile of steep, icy, rocky switchbacks is a pretty darned proud-making accomplishment.

It all started Christmas morning. “Hey, it looks like a great day to visit the Grand Canyon!” was The Child’s delighted cry after opening presents. “We’ll do a Christmas hike!”

I didn’t object, but, needless to say, I didn’t join in the general glee. And I was quiet on the almost-one-hour drive from Flagstaff to the South Rim. Too quiet.

Even the roadside stop at Jerky Guy’s stand failed to get a rise out of me

The rest of our carload sang along to country music and nibbled on snacks while I quietly composed my eulogy. All too soon, The Child shouted, “Look out to the left! There it is: the Grand Canyon!” And yes. There it was: magnificent, massive — and oh so very very deep. I’m glad no one took my picture. Continue reading

The Ghost of Christmas Presents

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‘Thinking back on a battery of gifts’

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time wielding a corkscrew. I envy people like The Dude or even my Favorite Sister who, when I complain about not being able to wrest a cork out of a bottle, go “Oh, but it’s so easy. You just slip this gizmo here, lift, and there you go!”

A unopened bottle of wine serves as a pacifier during a family reunion. (Pretty much the only thing an unopened bottle of wine is good for)

I’m especially jealous because they both swear by those mysterious (to me, anyway) waiter-style corkscrews. When I can’t even get a bottle open with a Rabbit.

But guess what? Problem solved. A little elf named Jeff (one of my Mom’s buds at her newish home, the senior-living facility where I’m visiting her right now) listened to me whine the other day over Morning Coffee and said, “You should get one of those electric corkscrews.”

That’s not me capturing the mountains out the window on the way to visit my Mom — it’s some random person with an iPad. But the mountains are stunning, eh?

Of course I’d never heard of any such thing. An electric corkscrew? What’ll they think of next? An electric knife? (Hah-hah, they have. My Dad was an early adopter. Also of the electric toothbrush. The Christmas where he gave one of those to my mom will forever live on in infamy.)

Was this the Christmas of the Electric Knife? Hard to say, though the decade seems about right

Well. Not only did Jeff extoll the virtues of the electric corkscrew, he zoomed off to his apartment and, within minutes, had zoomed back with something in hand. “Here. Take this. I already have one. Merry early Christmas! Do you have batteries?” Continue reading

“Your turkey or your life!”

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‘The time I was mugged on my way to Thanksgiving dinner’

I did a little calculating this week and realized that this will be the 25th time I’ve hosted Thanksgiving dinner out here in Amagansett.

Flippin’ the Bird at one of those 25 Flippin’ Feasts

Yup. My first turkey and fixins’ for a crowd was in 1995 — when the “crowd” was my Mom and my Dad and The Dude — and The Child when she was an actual child. There may have been Others here as well. If so, it would have been our Same-Age-Best-Friends, J and P. I’ll have to ask them. They (of course) will be here this year.

An even-earlier Amagansett T’giving, when The Child was so small that we tied her to a kitchen stool with a bathrobe sash, having no high chair out here at the time

If you’re good at math, you’ve no doubt found a discrepancy in mine. “But every Thanksgiving since ’95 makes 26 times, not 25,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. One year (2009) I was persuaded to skip the Amagansett Thanksgiving because The Child, who was a college freshman at the time, wanted to have Thanksgiving in the City so she could see her friends.

Speaking of “seeing friends,” here’s a batch from a few Turkey Days ago

Well. That year we enjoyed a perfectly-nice (but rather sedate) feast at Wayne’s Club. But The Child was fruitless in her attempts to connect — turns out all her friends were celebrating in away-from-the-City family hoedowns of their own. Continue reading

BaBaRaRaCuCuDaDa

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‘The one (and only) time I swam into an underwater cave’

I’m pretty sure I mentioned that my Bro-in-law Bill stayed with us recently. (He is mentioned — in a good way — in “The House Guest Hall of Fame.”)

It all started when Dude Man had been on the phone with said Bill and announced to me, “Bill and Carol are having work done on their condo in Sarasota and he needs a place to stay while it’s going on. I told him he could stay with us. For two weeks.”

I don’t have a ton of photos of Bill. So here’s one of his brother, The Dude. Oh, and me

Well. I’ve always liked this guy, even though we did get off to a rather rocky start. He’s, um, bossy. But then again, so am I. We had a sort of Clash of the BossyPants.

I chalk it up to us both being Eldest Children. Not only are we bossy, but it’s our way or the highway. Here’s an example. We were lunching en plein air and the wives (Carole and me) had gone on ahead to set things up. Bill sees where we’ve arranged the picnic and says, “That’s not a good spot. Over there — that’s a good spot.”

Well, we did what most people would do — ignored him, filled our plates and dug in — while Bill served himself, then went over to the “good” picnic spot and ate all by himself. Continue reading