The Coat of Many Stories

Standard

‘Ratty and faded, but I just can’t bear to part with it’

I can understand why some people might be into the so-called “life-changing magic of tidying up”. But I’m no Marie Kondo. Not when it comes to discarding certain tattered treasures in my closet, at any rate.

Take this coat. Please. I bought it at the Gap, along with a teensy matching version, way back when The Child was actually a child. As you can see, we had a kind of Mother/Daughter Thing going on.

Two peas in their pods. Er, bright, shiny, new, and very red coats

Well, time went by and The Child grew out of hers. I’m sure we “handed it on” to some even-smaller child somewhere. So we never got a chance to see it get faded and tattered. But mine?

The Child, still childlike here, has outgrown and passed on her coat. Not me. Not sure if Middle Younger Brother Roger and gorgeous Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jen still sport those snappy jackets

Why do I stubbornly hang on to this coat? Is it because it’s…red? I ask this because I have another article of clothing I can’t bear to part with which happens to share the same hue — as well as some of the same history.

Or is it because the coat, like the sweatshirt, has seen itself worn to bits on only the happiest of occasions? Like strolling on the beach with Rog and Jen at Favorite Younger Sister Laura’s.  And walking on the (gulp) railroad tracks with The Dude.

The Dude and I waiting for the train. (And hoping the engineer will notice all that red)

Or hiking in the Walking Dunes. Which is where that picture at the top of this piece was taken, probably on a Thanksgiving. Which, as you Faithful Readers know by now, is absolutely The Best Holiday Ever (See “Turkey Shoot”) and my Favorite Family Time by Far (See “Flipping the Bird”). (Well, except maybe for weddings. Hard to beat a good wedding. Even if most of the time no turkey or pumpkin pie is on the menu.)

A look back — and down — on a hike with The Coat

So, this memory-infused article of outerwear has gotten outerworn until it’s worn plumb out. It got so shredded (and so ventilated) that I finally did buy a replacement last year. But have I thrown the old one out? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count.

Me, still in my coat, next to The Child, who probably wouldn’t fit into it even if I did deign to give it to her

I thought of all this yesterday because I happened to be happily sporting my favorite flip flops (never ever call them “thongs”, saith The Child) when they self-destructed.

I blew out my flip flop. But did not, fortunately, step on a pop top

Sadly, a flip that’s flopped is no good to anyone. So on to Flipflop Margaritaville they went. But I was sorry to see them go. These two have been everywhere. There’s a Panamanian thorn embedded in one that I could never remove; every once in a while, if I stepped Just So, I’d feel it and think of the bull goring I witnessed that day. I was able to dig up a little Panamanian film clip where the flip flops — but sadly, neither bulls nor goring — make a cameo appearance. Water shenanigans are involved:

Well, I guess that’s about it for this week. And for that red coat. I’ve decided: now that I’ve paid it this blogging tribute, I can finally toss it out. (Marie will be pleased, as will The Child, who is a Kondo Fan.) But first I have to get busy turning another pair of old jeans into cutoffs.

These jeans are probably older than you

New York City. September 2018

“You make a better door than a window”

Standard

‘Consuming media the Mid-Century Modern way’

So. The Dude and I went to an actual movie yesterday afternoon. In an actual movie theater. It was the new Mission Impossible. (The one everybody else on earth saw, like, six weeks ago.) I must say that I’m glad we caught those zooming motorcycles and dueling helicopters and ticking nuclear bombs before they left the theaters and we had to stream the whole shebang instead.

Looks like Youngest Younger Brother Doug’s been doing a little ‘streaming’. Or maybe ‘laking’

I can remember only too well those days when, if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to a movie theater. (I shouldn’t say “had to”, because it was really fun.) The only thing that was kind of a downside was that the one movie theater in my hometown only had one screen and pretty much played only one movie at a time. I say “pretty much”, because sometimes they’d play Kid Movies in the daytime and Grownup Movies at night.

You’d buy popcorn or Milk Duds and sit in the balcony with your friends. If you were naughty, you’d warm the Milk Duds in the palm of your hand, then throw them at the screen. The goal was to get them to stick in an embarrassing spot — like on the Leading Lady’s cheek.

Oh, and in the summer that theater would shut down. (Too expensive to run the AC, I’m guessing.) And the drive-in would open. Our whole family would pile in the car and go see such fare as “The Absent-Minded Professor”. We would pop our own corn and take it in a big washtub. This was not only to save money, but so we kids wouldn’t get “educated” on walks to the concession stand. There were other cars with suspiciously steamed-up windows, you see — even at the Disney movies.

Phishing. A gang of Mid-Century kids left to their own non-electronic devices

When I reached high-school age I was absolutely forbidden to go to the “Passion Pit”, as my mother called the drive-in. Though once I famously got into Big Trouble for going there anyway when she was out of town and my Dad was in charge. (See “Double-Dating at the Drive-In with Bonnie and Clyde” for gory details. Note: I am still grounded.)

Oh — the other way we watched movies was on TV. I don’t remember there being that many channels, but there seemed to be lots of choices. You could watch not only “To Catch a Thief” (one of my Dad’s faves) but cool “foreign” stuff like “The Lavender Hill Mob”. I distinctly remember my Dad digging “Knife in the Water”. Which was in Polish, for heaven’s sakes.

While watching, if we weren’t devouring vats of popcorn popped by my Youngest Younger Brother Doug (who could barely reach the stove to shake the popcorn pot, which was what you had to do, microwaves being non-existent), we were powering down giant bowls of vanilla ice cream. (The only flavor, pretty much, that was on hand, since Mom could buy humongous cartons of it on sale.)

One minor wrinkle was that you could only watch movies on TV when they were actually scheduled. There was no “on demand”, unless you count my father dictating the choices. (He ruled with an iron hand even before the invention of the “remote”. If you had the temerity to change the channel — even if he was snoring in the supine position — there was heck to pay. “I was watching that!” he would snarl, and you’d better darn change it back to the golf game, and be quick about it.)

Flat-screen TVs are nice, but you can’t display family photos or Christmas decorations on them, much less lighted candles

Oh yes. There was one other little drawback. Which was that there were seven of us. And even though we had a pretty big TV, it could be tough to get in good viewing position. Basically, we left the couches and chairs to our parents, and deployed ourselves all around the floor. (Wall-to-wall carpeted, as all floors were back then, at least all the floors I came in contact with.)

Doug again, in prime viewing position. Except that it looks like Major, instead of a sibling, might be blocking his view

The littler kids in my family would sometimes plant themselves smack dab in front of the screen and have to be reminded that, as my title says, “he or sometimes she made a better door than a window”.

Just try to go running with a set of these. That’s not Doug, but The Child, listening to Beethoven, no doubt

By the way, speaking of littler kids, check out the picture at the top of this post. It’s Doug again, at prime screen-blocking age, reading the daily paper, bless him — upside down.

Here is The Child, post trick-or-treating, using an early version of Seamless 

I could go on and on, but I have to go check on my grocery delivery. The Fresh Direct internet elves tell me it should be here by now. In the meantime, if you haven’t already seen the ever-youthful how-does-he-still-do-his-own-stunts Tom Cruise in the new Mission Impossible, I highly recommend you do so before streaming is your only option.

The Child setting me up with Facebook. Which I am sure she now eternally regrets

New York City. September 2018

Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Lend me your ears

Standard

‘And I’ll show you how to make Corn Salad’

“Leftover corn? What’s that?” Would be what any member of the Henry Clan would say if you offered to share this recipe.

Because, when I was growing up, there simply wasn’t any corn left over after we were done attacking a big ole platter of ears.

Each of us could pack away more than one could imagine a normal child could consume. But it was my Oldest Younger Brother Scott who was the Corn Champion. His capacity for corn was so prodigious that my Grampa Peterson said Scott’s middle name should be “Sweet Corn”, and actually used to refer to him—in the summertime, anyway, when the corn was at its peak and Scott would eat the most—as “Scott Sweet-Corn Henry”.

The guy who dubbed my brother “Scott Sweet-Corn Henry”, my beloved pipe-smoking Grampa P

Scott could indeed polish off six or seven ears at a go. And that was when he was, like, five. He was also amazingly fast at consuming corn. I can’t remember what his record was (and is), but he could denude an ear in seconds. (Scott Pro Tip for Speed-Eating an Ear: corn-rotation beats the typewriter method every time.)

Me with Scott in his peak corn-capacity prime. I honestly don’t know where the heck we are. (Maybe the Badlands on one of our road trips?) But we’re looking rather Joad-like

It didn’t hurt that we had access to, basically, the Best Corn on the Planet Earth. When we were at the Henry Farm where my Dad grew up, some Henry Grownup would put a big ole pot of water on the stove to boil, then send us kids out to the cornfield to gather, then shuck, the ears. They’d get thrown in the pot, and presto! All that corn would just—disappear. (If you don’t have access to a corn field, I do have a corn-cooking method that is the next best thing, and works perfectly every time. It’s featured prominently in “To Hell with Kale”.)

That’s me, being toted by my Henry Uncle Mike. That’s my Aunt Susie next to him. We all look ready for some corn

So no recipe for Corn Salad was handed down to me by an Aunt or a Gramma or even a Mom. This was something I had to make up myself, after I’d grown up and turned into a Whitmore. (Whitmores like corn only so-so okay; though, in fact, The Dude can polish off a couple of ears—sometimes three— with admirable dispatch.

Whitmores have their own crazy food craving: bread. But that’s a story for another time

But Dude Man is the exception rather than the rule, corn-wise. There are Whitmores who have graced my table and refused an ear of corn. Even my personal Child has not inherited the Corn Gene. Here’s an actual text exchange from a couple of summers ago:

But that’s okay. I honestly don’t mind having a few leftover ears, since I can make Corn Salad. As I mentioned, there isn’t really a recipe; it’s more of a method. In fact, making Corn Salad is kind of like that old fable about “Stone Soup”. That’s the one where the starving peasant suggests making soup of of stones because that’s the only thing he’s got. (They were starving peasants, remember.) So he gets a big pot of water boiling and all his neighbors start throwing stuff in: a few potatoes, turnips, and suchlike peasant stuff. And voila! Soup. (There’s some moral here, about sharing, you see. Which if you read last week’s “He’s breathing my air”, you’ll see I already know a whole lot about.)

Basically all you need to make Corn Salad. Oh, plus some leftover corn

So. Corn Salad. Start with however much leftover corn you happen to have. You’ll need at least two ears to make it worth your while. Stand the ears upright in the bowl you plan to serve from. (Make sure it’s a pretty big bowl.) Cut the kernels off with a big ole knife. Then add some cooked pasta that you’ve rinsed with cold water. I usually “match” the amount to the amount of corn, but it doesn’t really matter. It also doesn’t matter what kind of pasta, as long as it’s smallish. (It’s fun to make it with orecchiette, since that means “little ears”.)

Then add a couple of generous spoonfuls of mayo. Splash in some white vinegar. Say, about a third as much as the mayo. (Again, it doesn’t really matter. Honest.) Now sort of toss the mixture with a couple of spoons till everything is coated. Salt and pepper to taste, and you’re good to go.

Another fun thing Scott can do with food: make a clam talk! But no, clams don’t taste good in Corn Salad

But wait, there’s more! (Here’s where the Stone Soup analogy kicks in.) You have the freedom with Corn Salad to add as many tasty things as you please. I always throw in some frozen peas. You don’t cook them, just throw some in. As many as you like. And often I add some snipped-up black olives—those greek kind are really nice.

Want your Corn Salad to be a nice main dish? Add some drained canned tuna. This is one of my Summer Staples, since everybody seems to like it. Except once I caught a Bad Houseguest picking the tuna out of the bowl and popping it into her mouth. When I asked what in heaven’s name she was doing, she said she’d “had enough carbs that week”, and “only wanted the protein”. I handed her a can of tuna from the cabinet and instructed her to eat that.

If you’re lucky enough to have some of these, add them too. Though only right before serving—they don’t do well in the fridge

You can also add some snipped basil leaves. But again, don’t do this if you plan to refrigerate your Corn Salad. Like tomatoes, they’ll turn icky on you.

Okay. I’m hungry now. But I can’t make Corn Salad. Alas, I have only this one lonely ear.

My sad little leftover ear. Which I will take out on the deck to devour with suitable dispatch momentarily

Oh, and since most occasions that yield leftover corn also tend to be large gatherings, if you whip up a batch, you too can enjoy an extra treat—fun family moments like this one, captured at a recent Henry HooHah by my most marvelous sis-in-law, Nobody-Doesn’t-Like-Jenn. Happy End of Summer! May all your Corn Salads be tasty and bright!

Amagansett, New York. September 2018

“He’s breathing my air”

Standard

‘An ode to siblings and their rivalry’

When I was a kid there was this show on TV called ‘The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’. It was a pretty groundbreaking show at the time. But not so groundbreaking that my parents didn’t absolutely adore it. Their favorite part was when Tommy would say to his brother Dick “Mom always loved you best.”

I’m thinking they dug this because they both had plenty of siblings, and thus could relate. Of course, having plenty of siblings was the rule rather than the exception in those days. At least where my family was from, parents needed lots of little ones to help out on the farm with chores. And (gasp) there was always the risk that some of them wouldn’t (ahem) “make it”. So you had to have a few “spares”. You know, “just in case”. I can remember my Gramma P talking about her little un-siblings Pearl and Edward. Bless ’em, they “failed to thrive”.

Gramma (right) with one of her two sisters, Aunt Net. She also had a brother, Uncle Warren, who “made it”. Well, except for the arm he lost in a farming accident

So. Anyway. Irk. Enough of that. Dad was the fourth of eight. And Mom was the second of five. And these were not even considered exceptionally large broods.

My Mom, top right, captured not fighting with her bros and sis

And in my generation, I honestly can’t remember any families that didn’t have at least two kids, mostly more. I’m not sure whether that was just the way things were back then, family-wise, or if there were other forces at work. (My father’s side of the family and practically my whole hometown was, um, Catholic. So there was that.)

Regardless of the reason(s), we all had brothers and sisters, which meant we all shared some common experiences — experiences that Only Children might miss out on.

Most of these shared experiences involved actual sharing. We kids shared almost everything. Big things, like bedrooms. I like to say that it was only when I got divorced when I finally got my own room. (I was — gasp –married, though briefly, Before The Dude, which you can read about in ‘My Polio-Shot Marriage’, if you’re interested.) When I was little, I shared with my brother Scott. (I stretched a string down the middle of the room to mark “my” side.) Then it was my Only Sister Laura. In college, of course, I had a roommate. And after that, I got married.

Sharing a soak with Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy-with-all-the-toys, who was the only Only Child I knew for many years

We shared smaller things too. Like toys (except for my Cousin Jimmy, who was an only child and an object of toy envy for me and my sibs), and books, even baths. And food. Meat came mostly in “family packs” of eight. Which meant that there was one extra pork chop when our family of seven sat down to dinner. We’d speed-eat our chops (you couldn’t take “seconds” till you were through with your “firsts”), only to have my Dad pull rank and fork the last one onto his plate. And when my mom made a pie, she had to practically use calipers to make sure our pieces were “even”.

A subset of sharing was “taking turns”. We took turns being swung on the swing, being pulled (or pulling) the wagon. Sitting on Mom’s lap. Sitting next to Aunt Marilyn at Christmas.

One of the most coveted “taking turns” experiences was Sitting in The Front Seat of The Car. See, in those days before not only car seats, but seat belts, parents would sort of cram their kids in the car every which way. In our case, with five kids, that meant four in the back, and one very lucky sibling in the front seat between Mom and Dad.

“Get in the back seat if you want to wiggle your behind”. At Gramma’s house, arrayed around the Ford. I must have been in the car, sulking

It was really sweaty and sticky and icky being one of the four in the back. (No AC in cars then, either.) We would stake out and jealously guard our little sections of bench-seat territory. I pity my poor parents, having to listen to “His leg is touching my leg” and “He’s looking out my window” and (my favorite and the title of this piece) “He’s breathing my air!” And to think that every single one of our family vacations was taken by car. It’s a wonder that they didn’t just leave us all by the side of the road. (Which The Dude and I actually did with The Child once. A story I have yet to write.)

Only Sister Laura and I sharing a bench (actually, I think it’s a cooler) on a family vaca involving not only a car, but a Nimrod camper towed behind it

Another subset of sharing was “hand-me-downs”. This was when you inherited an article of clothing from an older, larger, sibling who had “grown out of” it. My brothers once famously owned muscle shirts which stick in my memory not only because of their unique style (striped as well as sleeveless and “muscle-y”) but because they wore them at the same time. Yes, someone gave them each a muscle shirt instead of gifting just one that then would get handed down. (Yes, I do have a story about these; called “Howie and the Muscle Shirt”. Check it out.)

Even though I was the oldest, I still didn’t escape hand-me-downs. Some were from older cousins. This gown, oddly enough, was handed down by a friend of my mom who had a rather glam daughter

At the time we would whine and complain about all this turn-taking and handing down, but I honestly think we learned a lot about getting along — and had a pretty good time while we were at it.

These days, even as a Grownup Responsible for her own Child (who is, like most of her peers, an Only, bless her), I’m still sharing with my siblings. Only now, instead of sweaty sticky car seats, it’s memories.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

 

A look back: The Guy before The Dude

Standard

‘My short first marriage, in short. Sort of.’

I’ve written about my first marriage before. Specifically, about how I (finally) revealed to The Child the fact that I’d had a Husband Before Daddy. It’s a pretty funny story. Now. Though it was pretty traumatic for the poor Child at the time.

It’s weird to think that your mom had a life before you existed–that she locked her brother in the pantry and tricked her father into letting her go to the drive-in and smoked in the car (just one time, but still) to provoke her mother–much less that she was actually legally wed to Another Person Not Your Parent.

Me, after having been wed to a Person Other Than The Child’s Parent. In my extremely hot, extremely (in retrospect) inappropriate-for-August-in-Southern-Illinois gown

And even though my first marriage lasted only a very short time–I’ve had cars longer than I had that husband–it was still a Real Marriage. There was a Real Wedding, complete with rehearsal (see the top of this post for a photo of us practicing our vows with Pastor Kahre), in my hometown church. With six friends and relations as bridesmaids in homemade-but-pretty dresses, and a reception with a tiered cake and boozeless-but-punchy punch. So I think this marriage deserves, at the very least, its own blog piece.

Me, as a Real Bride. Gulping that punch (it was HOT). Don’t think I had even a bite of that cake, though

First, a bit about The Guy. I did tell you, in “My Polio-Shot Marriage”, that he was a fraternity guy (as opposed to my Other Serious College BF, who was a tie-dyed in the wool hippie). His was the frat (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) whose members had a penchant for dressing in Confederate Uniforms on occasion–occasions more formal than those requiring nylons and wrist corsages, which were football games.

I met The Guy when I was on a blind date (yes, blind dates “work”; in fact, that’s how I met The Dude)–but the blind date in question was with a totally different person whom I left in the lurch when I spotted The Guy across a room crowded with Boone’s-Farm-swilling collegiates.

The Guy caught my attention with his good looks and charm, but he also had a great story. He came from a town even smaller than mine deep in the Missouri Ozarks. His Dad, whom I never met, was a long-haul trucker who ran off with a truckstop waitress. His Stepdad (I never met him, either) was a merchant seaman based out of Galveston. His Mom wore muumuus and those fold-up slippers with jewels on them and ran a beauty parlor out of the back bedroom in their house, which stood on cement blocks and had a couch on the porch.

(I have a vivid recollection from our first Thanksgiving: eating turkey dinner off TV trays while watching Dolly Parton on the Porter Wagoner Show in his Mom’s living room, where his Gramma was ensconced on a cot. None of this fazed me, except for the fact that they put cornbread in their stuffing.)

We even had real cans tied to the back of our getaway Vega

Not only did The Guy’s life sound like a country western song, he could actually sing country western songs. He played the guitar and had a really nice voice. We would sing “Me and Bobby McGee” and Linda Ronstadt songs together (my voice is simply awful; he must have loved me) as well as such gems as “Put Your Sweet Lips a Little Closer to the Phone” and “Hello Country Bumpkin, fresh as frost out on the pumpkin.” Which is, scout’s honor, a real song.

The Guy and Me, blissfully wed. Yes, those were the days of more facial hair and fewer foundation garments

This was a guy who not only made it to college — the first in his family to do so — but was the president of his fraternity and, when I met him, wrapping up his last year of law school. He was also great with kids. (He took my little sister and even littler brother on boat rides.) And nice to animals. (We took in a particularly problematic treated-the-shag-carpet-like-a-litter-box stray cat in our first year of wedlock.) And did I mention he had a great sense of humor? (The Guy is my source for gems like “He was so dumb, his brain rattles around in his head like a bee bee in a boxcar”) He could even cook. He made a mean chicken casserole with canned mushroom soup.

Great story. Great guy. So what happened? Trust me, this is the very question my parents asked when I called them to deliver the news that we were breaking up. (Mine was the first divorce on either side of my family. This was devastating news.)

To this day, I don’t have a real answer. I don’t think it helped matters that the ink wasn’t even dry on our marriage license when The Guy had to report for military duty in Indianapolis. (He went to college on an ROTC scholarship, so he “owed” the Army.)

The Guy and I, about six months’ married, attending somebody else’s wedding — my Aunt Marilyn’s, in fact. (Domestic skills note: I made that dress)

So for months, I was a married college senior, living in a dorm. (“Heck, we’d paid for that dorm contract!” my parents and The Guy agreed.) So that was weird. And then, when The Guy came back, we had completely different schedules and hardly saw one another. I was up late–and out, at the library–studying, while he was up early to go to work. And even though our apartment was rather Barefoot-in-the-Park adorable, the Murphy bed completely blocked the door, making it impossible to go our separate ways without waking–and annoying–each other.

So. Anyway. Speaking of going our separate ways, that’s ultimately what we did, even though I can’t really explain why. I honestly have no idea what path The Guy took (we had no kids, and no real reason to stay in touch, so we didn’t). But, as you know, I ended up moving to New York and meeting The Dude and having The Child. Who knows where I’d be if I’d stayed married that first time? I could go on and on about Fate, and about Paths Not Taken. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll show you this picture taken in my going-away dress. And then I’ll go away. Until next week, that is.

Me, with my Mom, Grampa Henry, and Uncle Mark, looking impossibly young and hopeful, getting ready to ride off into the sunset in that Vega

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

My Night at The Museum with Jeff Goldblum

Standard

‘I almost forgot my mantra’

The other day I was messing around on Facebook and saw that some genius has invented Jeff Goldblum jigsaw puzzles. Yes, now you can spread Jurassic Jeff all over your coffee table and have hours of Fandom Fun. “Look! I found the piece with his glasses! See? There’s the reflection of the dinosaurs in the lens!”

No, not Jurassic Jeff of the Jigsaws. This is, instead, one of the few royalty-free photos of Jeff I could find. Though, since he is Screen Royalty (at least to me) I still might get sued

This photo definitely does not give Jeff justice. Though it does have a certain, well, twinkle. As does Jeff in the flesh. See, I had a close encounter years ago with His Jeffness. And yes, I’m going to tell you about it.

First, though, a bit on Jeff.

In case you’re one of the few not already Jeff-enraptured, Mr. Goldblum was (and still is, at least for me) the Original Intellectual Hunk. He has a huge fan base; just check out this guy’s Pinterest page (!) The first time I remember seeing Jeff — and being immediately smitten — was in Annie Hall, where he had a most memorable spoken line. (Hint: it’s the line I stole for the subtitle of this piece. I promise to end with the scene itself. Kind of a Jeff Fan Reader Reward.)

Speaking of words, though, Jeff doesn’t even need them to make an impression. Check him out in Nashville as ‘Motorcycle Man’. He doesn’t say a darned thing. And who cares? (He was also very cool in The Big Chill, but I simply must stay on Jurassic Point here.)

Jeff, looking intellectual with the Big Chill Gang. Happy to see he got Third Billing — and some lines

I’m thinking Jeff might be having a bit of a renaissance — and inspiring jigsaw puzzle designers — because this year marks the 25th anniversary of the movie Jurassic Park. (Last year was the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which is a far better movie, except for the fact that it doesn’t have Jeff Goldblum in it. It doesn’t even have Jeff Bridges in it. I guess I have a ‘thing’ for Jeffs.)

Anyway, Jurassic Park holds up pretty well. I watched it again just the other night. The dinosaurs are still pretty scary (unlike the animatronic shark in Jaws, which, in my opinion, Speilberg should have scrapped), and there are some nifty scenes with them stomping around and chomping on bad guys. One especially nice touch is when the really big dino bites right through an outhouse where the Cowardly Guy Who Abandoned the Kids is hiding. I really don’t like whiney kids in movies, and these two are pretty whiney. (Even whiney kids don’t get chomped in Spielberg films, more’s the pity.) But Guys Who Abandon Them certainly do.

My kid, The Child, at about the age when this story takes place. She was (mostly) not whiney

Side note about those kids. One of them, Joseph Mazzello, was cast in an Alpha-Bits commercial I did way back in my Ad Days. This was before Joe-as-child achieved lasting fame as dinosaur bait. (Check out the almost-fatal hide-and-seek scene in the kitchen! It’s fabulous!)

Me, far right, at about the age I was making Alpha-Bits commercials

So. Jurassic Park was a huge hit. Even though Laura Dern’s character does not have the good sense to fall for Jeff’s Ian Malcolm. Who, in my humble opinion, is far more interesting/sexy/appealing than watery old Sam Neill.

JP was such a huge hit that fans begged for a sequel. Or maybe it was the studio who was doing the begging. Whatever, a sequel was made, and Jeff was in it. It was called The Lost World: Jurassic Park. (It too was successful, so much so that the studio went on to make many more JPs. Though Jeff lost interest and moved on. As did I.)

But I was interested enough back in 1997 to go to a members’ only evening that was held at the Museum of Natural History. This was an event for families, where kids could check out dinosaurs (natch), but also dabble in some science. I was like, “oh that sounds sort of interesting” until I noticed Jeff Goldblum’s name on the invitation.

See, the Museum quite smartly deduced that a co-promotion with Whatever Studio Brought Out Jurassic Park was a “great fit”. It also did wonders for their attendance figures, as I recall.

But for us (well, me anyway) the Draw was Jeff. The Dude and I grabbed our invitation, grabbed The Child, and off we went.

Me, at a Museum of Natural History party. But, alas, not with Jeff. That’s another Hunky Guy named Teddy

I don’t, alas, have photographic evidence of this event. But I am happy to report that Jeff was, if anything, even hunkier in Real Life. (Many movie stars are surprisingly small when encountered in Real World; see my story “The Jerk and The Dude” for proof.)

Another photo of The Child at about Museum Party Age. Because why not? Oh, that’s not a dinosaur she’s playing with

Jeff was tall, he was buff, he had lots of (real) hair and wonderfully white teeth. (He smiled a lot, so you could catch them gleaming.) He was also super nice. He even helped the kids — including mine — make those volcanoes where “smoke” comes out when you combine baking soda and vinegar.

Aaaah, science. So sexy.

Well, that does it for my Jeff Encounter. OK, maybe it wasn’t of The Third Kind. And maybe it wasn’t as star-studded as my Steve Martin Experience. But it did make a greater impression on me than my Vladimir Horowitz Thing. And it was definitely a more positive memory than my #metoo moment with James Toback.

Here, as promised, is that Annie Hall Jeff Clip. (Watch it and drool.) See you next week — maybe at the movies, if not at the Museum of Natural History.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

Some like it hot

Standard

‘A lifetime of summers spent sweetly sweltering’

The Dude and I were sharing an outdoor dinner with some Fabulous Friends (thank you again, A and T!) when our hostess pointed out a passel of birds doing a parabolic dance in the sky.

“Oh, those are swallows,” Dude Man informed us. “They do that swarming thing to get ready to migrate. It’s a Sign of Fall.”

“Oh noooooo!” A and I immediately groaned. “Not Fall. We’re so not ready for Fall!

Hot Family Reunion. My Favorite Sister and I keeping cool out on a porch

See, I have friends who pine for autumn leaves and who count the days until Christmas. Friends who Hate Being Hot. But A and I fall (pun intended) into that group of People Who Believe Summer Can Never Be Long Enough.

Hot Recreation. That’s Teenage Me (and is that my Mom??) enjoying the heated pleasures of Jantzen’s Resort

Because I adore it, I’ve written several odes to summer. You can catch up with summer reunions in “Looks like we got ourselves a Hoo-Hah!”, summer foods in “Great Aunts and Glorified Rice” and “To Hell with Kale”, summer jobs in “Those Were Banner Days Indeed” and “They Didn’t Do This for Fun, You Know”. And if just plain good ole summer nostalgia is your thing, check out “The Days are Long, but the Season is Short” and “Remembrance of Watermelon Past”. Or just keep on reading.

Hot Pose. This family portrait, complete with gleaming sweaty heads, was taken in a sweltering trailer by an itinerant photographer

I grew up in Southern Illinois, which means that I was fully prepped for Summer and its attendant heat. Because, no we didn’t have AC. And yes, it was super-hot. So hot I can remember almost burning my hand on the refrigerator handle. And hotly and restlessly tossing on top of the covers to the sound of the box fan that was set into the window of the upstairs landing. It ran “backwards” — with the blades facing out — so that, in theory anyway, it sucked hot air out of the extremely suffocating upstairs bedrooms so that the (relatively) cooler outside air would breeze on in.

Cats on a Hot Boat Roof. “Cooling off” on the Sir Launch-A-Lot (yes, that was my Dad’s pontoon boat’s real name) on Carlyle Lake

My parents, when they remodeled their house sometime in the Eighties, added a porch where they could sleep outside in the summer. They did this even though they had, by then, installed air conditioning that worked (sort of) on the main floor. They really didn’t like using it very much. I can remember visiting and Mom saying, “You can turn on the air conditioning — if you want.

Hot Birthday. My Dad accepting tributes on his Day — and on his sleeping couch. It was only June and already too-short-shorts sweltering

But most of the time, instead of retreating to the confines of the air-conditioned living room, we stayed cool (or somewhat so) by staying outside. This was the way Life was Lived in Summertime in Southern Illinois. People went outside. As kids, we’d run around outside throwing persimmons at each other until Mom called us in for supper. Then, after supper, we’d run around outside catching lightning bugs.

Even as adults, my siblings and I would sit outside in lawn chairs eating takeout church chicken and clutching beers kept cold in foam holders emblazoned with Dad’s engineering-company logo. (Only in Southern Illinois would beer-holder branding be a such a wise marketing choice.)

Hot Bros. The Dude and Youngest Brother Doug enjoy a couple of cold ones on board the Sir Launch-A-Lot. Note HMG beer holders in addition to sweaty bare chests

Speaking of which, some Southern Illinoisans would place lawn chairs in the back of their pickup trucks, along with a cooler of beer, load it up with their friends and then drive around town.

Hot truck. My Dad had one, but I don’t recall any lawn chairs in the back. At least not when I was visiting

Sometimes, when we were outside, we jumped into water. When I was a kid, it was the municipal pool. (Oh those days of biking home, damp and smelling of chlorine, chomping on a frozen Milky Way.) When I was older, it was Carlyle Lake, where my Dad kept his pontoon boat, the Sir Launch-A-Lot. (Honest. There was a nameplate.)

So, by the time I grew up and moved East, I was ready for whatever Summer could throw at me. To escape the City and its fry-an-egg-on-it sidewalks and suffocate-down-there subways, we come on out here to Amagansett. Where we still cope with the heat the old-fashioned way. By going outside.

Hot on Deck. The Dude and The Child chilling at the Little House

Which is where I’m going right now. See you — sweaty but happy — next week.

Amagansett, New York. August 2018

When mothers turn grand

Standard

‘What to call that lady who happens to be your mom’s mom’

I have several friends who are grandmothers now, and they all pretty much agree that it’s a pretty sweet gig. They get to read stories, sing silly songs, play ‘Sorry’ and ‘Go Fish’ — all with cute little kids that they then get to give back to their parents who just ten minutes ago were little kids themselves.

My Gramma with my Mom — before she turned into a Gramma herself

The one thing they can’t agree on, though, is what to be called. I know a Nonna, a Nanna, a Nanny, a Mimi and a Gigi. And I’ve heard tell of MomMom and G-Ma. (Hmmm, that last one sounds a tad X-rated, if you ask me. But maybe that’s why it’s popular.)

Now, perhaps there were let’s-call-ourselves-something-else trailblazers back then, but when I was a kid, grammas were mostly called “Gramma”. It was actually spelled “Grandma” if it was written down, like when we wrote letters to them. But when we said it, it came out “Gramma.” (Yes, we wrote letters. When my Gramma Peterson died, I got a big envelope in the mail; it was every single letter I’d ever written to her — she had saved them all, including the first when I was about six and a multi-page tome I’d written her from my honeymoon.)

My two Grammas, inhabiting the same space at the same time, flanked by some daughters (my aunts). The Gramma on the right is the one who saved my letters

And, again like most kids, I had two grandmothers — just two. Come to think of it, maybe the reason grandmothers today search for unique Gramma Names is because their grandkids would have a hard time calling them anything what with multiple marriages — and multiple grandmas — being so common and all. I personally know a “Gramma Carol”, who is The Dude’s Older Brother’s Wife’s moniker because the grandkids already have another “Gramma” on his side of the family. Who is his ex-first-wife and the mother of the kid’s dad. Whew! (But at least she’s “Gramma-Plus-First-Name”; I don’t think I could look her in the eye and call her, say, “MeeMaw”.)

Don’t call her “MeeMaw.” My Gramma before she was a Gramma. Which was way before I knew her, natch

Anyway. My mom’s mother was simply called “Gramma”, while my dad’s was called “Gramma Henry”. I honestly don’t know the reason the Peterson side got dibs on just plain unadorned “Gramma”. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that the Henry side had so many grandkids (my dad was the fourth of eight fairly prolific children) already calling her “Gramma” that we thought it wouldn’t be that important to her to not be The Un-Further-Defined Gramma.

A Horde of Henrys. Featuring only about half of a possible eight kids-plus-progeny, this is just the tip of the family iceberg

Or maybe it was because, on the Peterson side, my mom had kids before any of her siblings did so we got a lot of attention. When I was little, my mom and I even lived with my Peterson grandparents (see ‘Kissing Daddy Good-night’ for poignant details) when my dad was away doing his bit in the Korean Conflict.

Me, hanging out with Gigi and G-Pa (well, actually ‘Gramma’ and ‘Grampa’) at our (actually ‘their’) house. Note storybook in Grampa’s hands

All I know is that the naming choices boiled down to “Gramma” or “Gramma Plus Last Name.” Oh. I must point out at this juncture that while I like the idea of (eventually) being called “Gramma”, I’m not so into dressing like the way they did then. My two grammas were always dressed in dresses. Usually accessorized with an apron. I heard from a cousin that my Gramma Henry sometimes wore pants, though I don’t recall witnessing this myself. Actually, I suppose dressing the way they did made it easier to tell who was the “Gramma” and who was not.

Which one is the Gramma? If you guessed “both”, you’d be right, since I think my Mom was one at this point, tho just barely

Which one is the Gramma? You certainly can’t tell by our clothes. Or even our glasses. And, to complicate things, I am older in this photo than my mom was in that picture where she’s sitting at the picnic table

But these days I can’t think of anyone in my generation who gets called “Gramma”, at least by choice. If you think I’m exaggerating, take a peek at this video I found on YouTube.

As for me, if I ever get to be a grandmother, I’ll no doubt be happy to be called just about anything as long as I get called. And visited. A lot. 

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

Don’t call me “Madam”.

Standard

“I much prefer “Miss”. Or even “Hey You”.’

I was going to write a post about weddings. About how they’re the Best Parties On The Planet. About how, in my opinion, even George Plimpton’s last Hamptons Bastille Day bash couldn’t hold a Roman Candle to a wedding. After all, weddings are where you get to dress up and dance and drink to ecstatic excess. And all for the price of a toaster. Or, these days, if The Dude and I are invited to a nuptial shindig, a round brass Tiffany clock.

Two wedding belles and a beau. Me with two New Best Friends at a wedding in June. (No, I have no idea who they are, and it was only a month ago. Great wedding)

Then I realized I already wrote that wedding/party piece. (See “I do, I do. I really do like weddings” for senior-moment proof.) Repeating my stories means it’s either time to wrap up writing this blog or for everyone to start calling me “Madam”. Or possibly “Ma’am” if we’re buddies as well as (old) friends.

I use the word “old” intentionally here because I’m not, shall we say, a Spring Chicken any more. (More of an Autumnal Hen, I suppose, if we want to stick with the poultry analogies.) But even though I can remember all too well when Sir Paul was a Beatle, I tend to bristle when addressed as “Ma’am”.

Incidentally, I have a friend who hates being called “Mrs. Smith” (not her real name, of course.) “My mother-in-law is named ‘Mrs. Smith'”, she correctly, if somewhat peevishly, explains. So I don’t think flinching at “Ma-am” is all that prickly.

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive about the Ma’am Thing because I had The Child so late. The year I turned 40 I was having a baby; the year my mom turned 40 I was heading to college. So I’m what you would call an Older Mother. Which is actually not all that rare in New York City. But you still get the Odd Old Mom Moment.

Like one time I took The Child to a podiatrist for reasons that I cannot recall today. What I do remember is that the doctor’s assistant, before ushering The Child into the exam room, asked her “Do you want your gramma to come in with you?”

That’s The Child at about the age of the Podiatrist Incident. (That’s her Real Gramma with her) And (gasp) I just realized I’m the same age now that my Mom was when this was taken

Quick Etiquette Note: If you see a woman — any woman, even one pushing a walker and drooling — if you see a woman with a small child, always assume she is the mother. Trust me. If you say something like “What is your baby’s name?” and she’s not the mother, she won’t mind one bit. She’ll blush and smile and admit grandmotherhood. Probably treat you to a coffee too.

But oh well. There are some perks associated with being a “Ma’am”. Like when I was applying for our visas for that trip to the Amazon last fall. (See “Eat. Or be eaten.” or “The Curse of the Potoo” for hair-raising and colorful travel tales.)

I had just cleared the metal detector and was eyeing the DMV-worthy line of hopeful Brazilian visa-getters snaking its way around this cavernous holding pen of a room in the consulate when a security guard asked me sweetly “How old are you, Ma’am?”

I was somewhat taken aback, but when I told him my age he took me by the arm and led me right up to the front of the line. Apparently, in Brazil (and the consulate “counts” as Brazilian soil) anyone who is either pregnant or of advanced age goes directly to the front of any line. Whether it’s in the supermarket or at the movies or in the ding-dang consulate. So there.

I had a feeling I was going to like Brazil. The security guy even had the good grace to laugh when, after he explained the front-of-the-line policy, I remarked “Oh! I didn’t realize I was showing already!”

Does this shadow make me look preggers? At least it doesn’t show my age

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

 

 

Who are you, and what have you done with my daughter?

Standard

‘There is a grownup hanging out in The Child’s room’

It hit me like a ton of memory sticks the other day that my daughter is the same age I was when I upped and moved to New York.

Now, at the time, you understand, I thought I was practically over the Advertising Hill and had better get the heck out of the Hinterlands before I got used to writing radio spots for chicken specials at Safeway and languished in career obscurity.

Now, of course, I realize that I was barely dry behind the ears and that writing poultry-packed radio spots wasn’t all that bad a way to make a living. After all, back then I drove a Mercedes. (A 450 SEL previously owned by an Army Guy, but still. A Mercedes.)

But if I hadn’t gotten myself to New York I wouldn’t have met The Dude and wouldn’t have had The Child and wouldn’t be writing this post. So there’s that.

She used to tell jokes about bars. (See “Kangaroo Walks into a Bar”) Now she goes to bars

Like many of you out there who also are no longer Twenty-Somethings, I am constantly amazed at the rapid passage of time. Everything goes by so darned fast. Like, summer lasts about two weeks, tops. (See “The Days are Long, But the Season is Short” for deep seasonal diving.) I swear, there are some Labor Days when I put those white bucks back in the closet without having worn them once.

But back to the Alien Who Has Somehow In Five Minutes Taken Over The Space Formerly Occupied By The Child. Not only does this person not resemble in any way shape or form the daughter that lives in my mind’s eye (for one thing, she’s a zillion feet tall and towers over me), she doesn’t act like her, either.

The Child in my head teeters around on training wheels and goes on playdates where she breaks her arm and doesn’t tell us because she’s afraid we’ll “be mad because she was running inside”. The Child in the present goes on one-hundred mile bike rides and wins wine in backgammon tournaments — wine that she is more than old enough to drink.

The Child in my head chooses a stuffed animal to take on a trip. (“Lion went last time, Mom. This time it’s Penguin’s turn.”) The Child in the present goes gallivanting around the globe.

Nyet to stuffed animals. That’s a real, grown-up Siberian Husky

Speaking of global gallivanting, The Child now not only goes on trips without us, she takes care of things while we go on trips without her. I don’t know what we would have done had she not been on the scene during our first jaunt to Africa. Not only did she have to deal with a sick cat, but our apartment building caught on fire. (See “The Agent of Destruction” for heroic details.)

The Child in my head needed care and feeding. The Child in my house takes care of the cat and deals with emergencies without batting an eye — or calling us up

Basically, she looks like a Grownup. And acts like a Grownup. And that would be because she is. A Grownup.

I could go on and on. (Like many Parents-of-One, I have an amazing number of photos of Said Child.) But I will end with one last shot — and with this question: If The Child is now a Grownup, then what does that make me?

The Child and I as we exist now only in my imagination. Hmmm. Perhaps Time actually is on our side

Amagansett, New York. July 2018