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.

I had a favorite double-knit item in high school. It was a dress I made myself out of a polyester fabric: a graphic print in brown on a mauve ground. I loved that dress so much I wore it to Homecoming the year I was not a Queen Candidate. (A sad, brave time you can read about in “The Daydream Believer and the Homecoming Queen.”)

Family photo featuring me in the Favorite Dress. That’s Adorable Younger Sister perched on the arm of the couch. She’s wearing a dress Mom made (not in double knit, tho)

Turns out that this wasn’t only my favorite dress; it was my Favorite Sister Laura’s favorite too. No, not to wear — she was (and is) almost ten years younger than me so we definitely did not share clothes. She just, I guess, admired it.

How do I know? Because a couple of years ago she gave me a wonderful gift: a drawing she made in (I think) second grade to illustrate a story about me, her Big Sister. In the drawing, she portrays me wearing that dress. Here it is, and you can read the story, too.

Well, I’m kvelling now. Which means that just about wraps things up, polyester-wise.

Time to get back to tennis and knitting. And maybe even some drinking. Nope, make that definitely some drinking.

The Aussie Open project. Just add bourbon

Amagansett, New York. January 2022

 

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

 

My polio-shot marriage

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‘Mommy has something she sort of forgot to tell you’

(This story was originally published in honor of my would-have-been 43rd anniversary in August of 2015. Since many of you haven’t had a chance to read it — but mainly because I’m out in the Pacific Northwest enjoying the company of my mother, daughter and my sister’s family — I’m posting it again. Think of it as a summer rerun, Lutheran Liar style. Enjoy!)

Last week I told you about how once I dated Steve Martin. Now I’m going to tell you about how once I married a guy — a guy who was not The Dude.

The Guy in question is the one pictured in the rather awkward wedding photo at the top of this post. I doubt very much that he reads my blog, but, for all intents and purposes and in this story, he’ll just be ‘The Guy’. (That rather downcast-looking young girl — the one who’s not me — is my sister Laura, she of ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’ fame.)

Why am I telling this story now? Well, tomorrow would have been my, like, zillionth wedding anniversary if indeed I had stayed married to The Guy. The other is that it’s August. Which is like Blog Siberia, except that it’s so hot. So if I embarrass anyone, including myself, the collateral damage will be relatively minor.

I was married so briefly to The Guy, and had been married for such a long time to The Dude, that I sort of forgot all about my ‘previous marriage’. Until one August about 15 years ago when The Child was getting ready for her annual visit to her grandparents in Carlyle, my home town. Continue reading

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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The Proustian Popcorn Pan

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‘My brain explodes with salty, fluffy memories’

I mentioned last week that my One and Only Mom was moving to new digs. All went smoothly, thanks to Only Sister Laura and Oldest Younger Brother Scott, who wrestled furniture and wrangled boxes.

Heck, they even unpacked, which in my experience (most recently with our dreaded downsizing, which you can read about in ‘The Tunnel at the End of the Light’) is way way worse than packing.

Boxes ready to be unpacked in the Ken & Barbie House. (Note that I only show my own unpacked boxes)

Mom to OYB Scott while putting things away in her new closet: “I need to go shoe shopping.” OYB Scott to Mom, after opening box containing literally dozens of pairs of footwear: “Um, what about these?!” Mom: “Well, I like shoes.”

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Youngest Younger Brother Doug, while not present for the Unpacking, played a big part in Mom’s Move too — he was one of the Intrepid Ones who sorted and boxed and toted the stuff from her Seaside apartment. (You can just glimpse him taking a much-deserved Baseball Break in the photo at the top of this post.)

A better view of Doug as he and Mom take a Scrabble Break

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On fillers and dingbats

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‘Fun facts I’ve gleaned from newspapers read aloud’

Who knew so many people keep chickens? Dude Man has a pal named Andy who has chickens. He’s always begging us to take some eggs, but we turn him down because with no little kids we could dye Easter eggs with (for example) the two of us don’t really go through that many eggs. Besides, Dude’s cousin’s son’s fiancee just gave us a dozen from her chickens.

My Favorite Sister gets ready to use up some eggs. Too bad she doesn’t live close enough to get regifted some Andy Eggs. (And for other purposes)

Our recent eggs-plosion prompted The Dude to ask just how long eggs keep. (I think he was wondering if we could reasonably accept Andy’s offer.) I didn’t know exactly, but I told him that I’d read somewhere that you can tell how fresh an egg is by putting it in water and seeing if it floats. Apparently, the older an egg is the more air it has inside it. Old eggs float.

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“Never trust anyone over thirty.”

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‘Unless, perhaps, she is your own daughter’

I’ll always remember my very first Big-Time Ad Biz TV commercial. It was for Q-Tips, and was called “Still My Baby.” I didn’t even try to find it on YouTube, not just because this was ages ago, but because it was a pretty awful commercial.

It featured this mom who has a baby on a changing table and a jealous preschooler sulking alongside. To mollify the older child, she asks her to “help” by handing her a Q-tips Swab. Then Mom reassures the child (a girl, natch) by thanking her and saying, “Such a big girl. But you’re still my baby.

Here is The Child at sulky older sister age. She is not sulky, though, since she didn’t have a baby sibling to be jealous of

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“And what’s your dolly’s name, Little Girl?”

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‘”Parasot,” she squeaked.’

I know you’re not supposed to have favorites among your children. I remember asking my mother who was her favorite and she would respond diplomatically, “You are all my favorites.”

Who could possibly choose a favorite from among this hot and sweaty yet adorable bunch?

Well, that question is easy for me to answer; I only have the one Child. But then there is the question of favorite nieces and/or nephews. I won’t reveal my favorites, having inherited my mother’s diplomatic nature. But, when they were all little, The Dude expressed an especial fondness for his niece Natalie, my Favorite Sister Laura’s daughter. (I can say “Favorite Sister” because she is my only sister; but I confess she would probably be my favorite if I had seven sisters.)

Me, holding my still-Favorite Sister Laura

Natalie had a doll whose name was “Meat.” I kid you not — Meat. We aunts and uncles used to get a real charge out of asking, “What’s your dolly’s name, Natalie?” and hearing her pipe up in her adorable baby-duck voice, “Meat!”

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This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

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‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

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Lockdown with a capital “L”

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‘When my Mom did some prison time’

My Mom was a nurse when she married my Dad, and she worked for a few years at Regular Nurse Jobs.

My Mom when she got “capped,” which is like graduation for nurses

I remember when I was in kindergarten and we lived in Memphis, she worked at Methodist Hospital, which my three-year-old brother Scott mispronounced as “Memphodist.” Mom didn’t correct him; she thought it was cute. (She also didn’t correct us when we referred to the “Entire State Building.”)

Mom, with one and a half kids

Well, after a while, nursing while “momming” got to be a bit too much, so she hung up her white cap and devoted herself to bringing up us kids. 

Mom had plenty on her plate, with kids ranging from Big (me) to Little (Toddler Doug) and three more in between. That’s Middle Bro Roger sporting a muscle tee on the left

But then, after years of carpooling and band recitals and PTA, the big kids flew the coop and the little kids turned into high schoolers. And Mom found she wanted to exercise her nursing muscle once again. And earn a little coin besides.

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