No, you don’t have to put your white bucks away after Labor Day.

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‘Not if you never even got them out in the first place.’

Perhaps some Labor Day will roll around when I won’t say how amazed I am that it’s already Labor Day. But somehow I don’t think so.

In fact, I think my tendency to mutter such things as “boy, this summer sure went fast” and “I can’t believe it’s September already” will only get worse. I have this theory about why time  seems so much shorter and goes so much faster the older you get. See, when you are twenty, ten years is half of your life. When you’re my age, ten years is, well, I won’t get all mathematical, but the fraction would end in an “eenth”.

Me, back when I bought the white bucks. When ten years was still a significant chunk of my already-lived life

Not that I mind. I rather like that time is now so pacey. The calendar rolls along in such high gear that if I get stuck doing something I’d rather not do, I just know that whatever it is will be over in no time. And then I’ll get to complain about it. Dental work? A blink in time. Delay at La Guardia? A mere pause in the clock. Excruciatingly bad musical theater? Well, there was the show last season that had me counting the fake bricks in the scenery. But even that ended, and now lives on as a party anecdote.

When I do feel rather gobsmacked by time’s ever-increasing rapidity, is when I, say, look in my closet and realize that I never even wore my white bucks — and now it’s time to put them away till next summer.

Gosh. White bucks would have looked pretty nice with that stripey-shirt-topped outfit. But I bet I was wearing my blue Birkenstocks. Which I, um, don’t put away. Ever

I know a couple of extremely astute women who run a website called lustre.net who claim that you can wear basically what you want to wear — white, and (I’m assuming) white bucks included — whenever the heck you want to wear it, calendar be darned.

Well, I respect these women and their mission, but I’m gonna stow the white bucks. I figure wearing them could go either way. Either people on the street will think I am original and daring and brave and funky and fun. Like, you know, Betsey Johnson. Who is ten years older than me and wears tutus. Often.

Or (more likely) they’ll think I’m a batty old lady who doesn’t know better than to switch to the brown bucks, already. (Yes, I have brown bucks; bucks and brogues of all shades and degrees of shininess are quite the Thing among women of my set — or at least in my personal closet.)

Incidentally, I thought about going to my closet right now and taking a picture of my bucks and brogues to share with you. But, nah. That would be a seriously batty old lady thing to do. That picture at the top is the closest I’ll get — that’s me (or my feet, anyway) modeling my other Summer Footwear of Choice: flipflops. Which The Child taught me to say rather than “thongs”. For reasons embarrassingly obvious to her then-teen self but not to me, until she ‘splained it. (“Thongs” are underwear, Mom!”)

Speaking of underwear. Speaking of embarrassing. Fortunately, those aren’t thongs

Well, enough about me and my closet and my unworn white bucks. It’s time to bid both you — and the summer — adieu.

What I’ll miss even more than not wearing my white bucks: not getting to see summer sunsets like this one until next year

New York City. September 2019

 

 

The Summer Selfie, Seventies Style

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‘Taking a look–and a photo–back in time’

It’s funny how genetics works. My Dad was a numbers guy; a civil engineer who worked with a slide rule designing bridges and roads. My Mom was a science-y person too; she was a nurse who in another time and place would surely have been a doctor.

My siblings and I? Not so numbers-y, science-y. My Only Sister is a writer turned real estate agent, my Middle Younger Brother a filmmaker, my Oldest Younger Brother a photographer. And me, you know enough about former copywriter ad girl me.

The only one who followed that science-y path? My Youngest Younger Brother, a neuroscience nerd turned optometrist, who in grad school was studying the effect of cocaine on the brain. Or maybe it was heroin. Whichever. All I remember is that he had to go to the lab several times a day to make sure the rats got their “fix”. I also remember that he would joke that he wanted to outfit the rats with itty-bitty doo-rags and switchblades.

Youngest Younger Bro Doug takes a houseboat break from his lab-rat drug-dealing duties

So anyway. Enough with the genetics. The reason I’m going on about this is that my Photographer Brother, recently retired from his news-photography career and looking for something to do besides go on zillion-mile bike rides every day with his gorgeous squeeze in the equally-gorgeous countryside around his home in Marin County, has started sorting through his photo files dating back to 1965.

Said Scott, “I just bought a new scanner…this should be interesting”

This new scan-gajillions-of-photos project reminds me of something Scott said when our Dad was presented with a computer at his retirement party: “There go the roses.”

Dad was a prize-winning rosarian. Until he got that darned computer. (Note: Scott probably took this photo too)

Well, I don’t know if Photo Bro has any new-hobby-endangered roses, but he has been busily posting discoveries from his stash almost daily. He generously posts them on a family share site for my sibs and I to enjoy.

Photo Bro (in middle) at some forgotten wedding with my Dad and his brother, my Uncle Mike

Invariably, when I check the site I find not only great photos (my bro was and is an excellent photographer who has had his work published in the New York Times, among other places) — but visual evidence of times and places and people that I have forgotten all about. It’s kind of scary that I have such big memory lapses. Almost as scary as seeing myself looking so, well, young.

Impossibly-young-and-almost-unrecognizable-me (again) with Youngest Younger Bro and Only Sister. This time I was the one who remembered the occasion; Scott didn’t

The picture at the top of this post is a perfect example. Not only had I no recollection of what the heck was going on in this photo, but I did not recognize myself. Honestly, I had to show the picture to The Dude and have him verify my identity. “Sure, that’s you,” he said. “Who else could it be?”

Our houseboat, the Sir-Launch-A-Lot (seriously; that was its name) pulled up to a sandbank on this day of photo fun

When I asked my brother was what going on, he said that he had brought a 20-foot cable release home to Carlyle (the town where we were raised and where this lake with our houseboat on it is located) and had us all snap “selfies” with it. (If you look closely at the houseboat shots, you’ll notice we’re holding something with a black cord on it. That’s the cable release.)

Even Mom and Dad got into the act. Note what Dad is holding. Besides Mom, I mean

So heck. I don’t remember this outing, or taking these “selfies”, or even that it’s me in that photo up there. But at least I don’t put the carton of Haagen-Dazs back in the microwave instead of in the freezer like certain Other People Who Shall Remain Nameless did just yesterday.

Amagansett, New York. September 2019

The Back-Up-Plan Beau

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‘I promised to marry him in 5 years — and clean forgot’

So I was swiping through the New York Times the other morning (I get the paper on my iPad while out here in Amagansett, hence the ‘swiping’) and saw a piece in the Modern Love column called “Let’s Meet Again in Five Years”.

Well. I’d barely started reading the darned thing — which is about these college sweethearts who “thought college was too soon for lifelong love, so they scheduled their next date for a little later”, like five years — when these little bells started going off in my head.

Gosh, I remembered all in a rush, there once was a guy, way back when, who made a plan like that with me. Except that it wasn’t a college sweetheart, and we didn’t schedule a date — we agreed to marry each other in five years.

It happened like this.

I was, in those days, the Head Creative Director of an advertising agency in Kansas City. Now, I don’t mention my big fancy title to impress you. After all, it was a very small agency, and in Kansas City to boot. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Kansas City, mind you. But, as far as advertising goes, let’s just say they didn’t set Mad Men on the Country Club Plaza.)

That’s me, acting all Head Creative-Directory for a company brochure

I mention my big fancy title so you’d understand why I got sent to a big fancy advertising conference in, of all boondoggley places — Aspen, Colorado. Now, for those of you who didn’t work in advertising back when advertising did things like this, a “boondoggle” is a “business trip” that is “coincidentally” held in a wonderful location. Like later, while at Ogilvy, I got sent on a multi-city tour to sample fried chicken. (I was working on the Shake ‘n Bake account at the time.)

This time I got sent to this gorgeous place — Aspen — to “confer”. I remember that the first thing I did when I got there — this was on the getting-to-know-you “Free Day” — was go on a white-water rafting trip. (We could also choose golf or tennis; this was summer, so skiing wasn’t an option.) The guide warned us that one of us was sure to get launched into the water, and, when it happened, to immediately curl up into a ball so our limbs wouldn’t snap off on the rocks. Well, guess who the lucky launchee was on that trip?

Well, after I dried off and spruced up, I launched myself into a two-day white-water whirl of talks and panel discussions and conference-related whatnot.

It was during the last event on the last day — a send-off, see-you-maybe-someday cocktail party — that I met this Incredibly Handsome Guy.

I don’t have a picture of the Incredibly Handsome Guy. So, what the heck, here’s another bosslike shot. This is me sandwiched between my bosses, the two guys who ran the agency

Where had This Guy been all conference long? He not only was “important” enough to be attending a meeting like this, but he had the most amazing Paul Newman blue eyes and black hair. (He told me later he was “Black Irish”, which, you can imagine, sounded unspeakably exotic to a Midwestern Girl like me.)

We got to talking about, of all things, running. This was back in the Seventies, you see, when running was a pretty sexy sport. Talking running talk back then was kind of like chatting about Brooklyn Boulders. Hot stuff.

We were well into a swooningly interesting conversation about marathon training techniques (I was training for my first marathon, happening that Fall in Kansas City), when it was time to part. We exchanged smoky looks and business cards and went back to our respective cities. (He lived in Santa Barbara.)

I don’t have a photo of me running in the Kansas City Marathon. But here’s me a year later, running my first New York Marathon

Speaking of running, I’ll cut to the chase. Back in Kansas City, I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy. So I bought a copy of a then-popular book about great places to run in cities all over the country, paper-clipped a note inside (“Let’s get together and do a little running around”) and sent it to him. (I had his business card, remember?)

Well. The next thing I know, I’m opening an envelope from him. Inside is a plane ticket to San Francisco.

Honest. I could not, as they say, make this up.

Of course I went. We clicked like crazy, and had a wonderful time. We even did a little running. A few months later he came to visit me in New York — where I had relocated, having gotten a taste of The World Outside Kansas City on that conference. (The story of my relocation is a pretty good one, too. It’s called “Take a Letter, Miss Henry”.)

Now, it might seem hard to believe in this day and age, but back in those Wild and Crazy Seventies, young people like me — and the Incredibly Handsome Guy — weren’t exactly what you would call monogamous. So, while IHG and I were conducting our long-distance relationship — him coming to New York; me going to Santa Barbara — we were, of course, “seeing other people”.

So. We didn’t promise each other unfailing loyalty. But we did get along so well and liked each other so much that we made a pact that we would get married in five years.

Well, I don’t know what happened with the Incredibly Handsome Guy (bless him, I don’t even remember his name), but I kept my half of the bargain. Because, yes, I did, in fact, get married in five years. Just not to him.

And here’s the Dude who made me forget

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

French Lick, the WaWa Goose, and the Oregon Trail

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‘Summer vacations, Midcentury Midwestern Style’

The Child is on Day 18 of her solo hike of the John Muir Trail. The JM is a 200-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Canada to Mexico. Her Childness started in Yosemite National Park a couple of weeks ago and will finish in three or four more days at Mt. Whitney.

Here she was on Day 13. Well, here is where the satellite said she was, anyway

We’re not too panicky, since we can track her via GPS. And sometimes, when she has cell service, she calls or texts. She even Facetimed us from the top of Half Dome.

The Child Instagrams from Half Dome, where there were still a few people. Unless those are bears in disguise

Now, I’m glad (sort of) that she’s doing this. But I must say that this kind of trip is certainly not my cup of tea. The blisters and bears and dehydrated food and being alone for hours at a time wouldn’t bother me so much. (In fact, I rather like being alone.)

Nope. It’s the sleeping outside part that’s the deal-breaker for me. Let me explain.

The Child’s home away from home. A veritable trailside Hilton

See, when I was a kid, when we took a family vacation, we drove. We didn’t know anybody who took planes. For one thing, back in those days taking a plane with a family with at least three kids (and ultimately five) was way too pricey. At least for families like mine.

Trains were on the expensive side too, though I remember taking one once from Memphis to Chicago. That was the trip where Middle Brother Roger (who was the youngest at the time) sat on a fancy lady’s lap and asked her why she had a string of dead squirrels around her neck. (It was, in fact, a mink stole, and she didn’t even get mad, he was so adorable.)

Surly Teen Me, with Laura and Roger, on a rare trip that (I think) did not involve sleeping outside. We went, for some reason, to French Lick, Indiana, and stayed in an old resort at the hot springs. (Oldest Younger Brother Scott snapped the photo)

And when we were on these driving vacations, we didn’t stay in motels. (See same reason given for not flying, above.) Nope, we slept outside. Well, not outside-outside, exactly. We stayed in a popup camper. (See our Nimrod in the photo at the top of this post.) In those days these things were too hot or too cold, mosquitoes (and little kids) whined around inside, and when it rained the canvas leaked.

Once in a while on a road trip, we wouldn’t even bother with the Nimrod. Dad would just pull over by the side of the road and we kids would grab some Zs on a mattress that was back in the cargo area of the Ford station wagon. (But, hey, at least it wasn’t outside.)

Getting ready to hit the road back home to Memphis after visiting the Peterson relatives in Northern Illinois. At least our luggage is on top, and the mattress is in the back

We drove and camped our way to Colorado, a trip I associate with the aroma of Alberto VO5. (It was super-hot in the car, no automotive AC available in those days, and the goop had liquefied. Younger Only Sister Laura, who was a mere tot at the time, had been playing with the jar and spilled its contents.)

Regardless of the smell, I also remember walking in the wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail and being amazed by the vastness of the Badlands. Great Mom Quote: “Just think, the early settlers rode in their covered wagons straight into the sun for months at a time — and they didn’t even have sunglasses.

A couple of good kids (Scott and me) out in the Badlands

We drove and camped our way to Canada, too, a trip I associate with instant mashed potatoes “cooked” on a Coleman Stove and with “toasting” rinsed diapers on a stick held over a campfire. Heady times. I also recall a side trip to see the WaWa Goose. And I will never forget driving over the Mackinac Bridge, which is the longest bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the source of many a nightmare of mine to this very day. 

Dinner in the “dining room” — a tent that attached to the front of the Nimrod

Basically, though, these family trips were a lot of fun and made memories to last a lifetime. But I did promise myself that when I grew up I would never ever sleep outside again. And I haven’t.

Not even on the Upper Reaches of the Amazon River did I sleep outside. We had no hot water, but we did have real beds in that boat there in the background

Amagansett, New York. August 2019

The time my (Austin) America let me down

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‘In the middle of my twenties in the middle of Missouri in the middle of the night

Oh, and if that weren’t enough “middles”, it was also in the middle of a rainstorm.

But before I start my exciting tale of alone-by-the-roadside automotive woe, let me tell you exactly what it was that sparked this sodden, scary memory.

See, The Child is in her fourth day of a three-week hike along the John Muir Trail in California. It’s 200+ miles through High Sierra wilderness — and she is doing it alone.

The Child, on top of Half Dome, at the end of her first day on the John Muir Trail. Fingers crossed that a bear did not take this photo

A view of The Child and her 47-pound pack, pre-hike

The Dude and The Child’s friends, not being mothers, are all “wow!” and “isn’t this exciting!” and “good for you!“, while I am all “but there are bears” and “must you do this alone?” Trying to reassure me, The Child said, “But I’ll be running into other people on the trail all the time“, and I said, “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

The Dude and I out on a trail in the wilderness. But with other people. And rum

Like I say, I could relate to being in my twenties and taking a trip by myself. Though mine wasn’t on the John Muir Trail, but on I-70, which is the interstate highway that I would drive from Kansas City, Missouri, where I was living at the time, to Carlyle, the small town in Illinois where I grew up.

Me with my Dad at about the time of this story. We look pretty hot and sweaty, so this must have been a summer visit

I lived in Kansas City for close on to seven years, and made that drive so many times it became easy-peasy routine. Except for this one time.

On this particular trip, I was driving my Austin-America. No, no, not the Aston Martin, which is that James Bond car. And not even the Austin-Healey, which Wikipedia says Helen Mirren drives. No, the Austin-America was a British car that was supposed to be a competitor to the VW Beetle, but wasn’t nearly as sleek, as sexy, or as reliable. Tiny, boxy, and (in my case) brown, it was probably the clunkiest car ever to park in a driveway. (Ever wonder why it is that you park in a driveway, but drive on a parkway?)

How I happened to have this car is a pretty interesting story in itself. I bought it for $800 cash from a woman who was saving up so she could flee from her abusive husband. And how did I know this woman? I worked with the husband.

I showed up, as instructed, when the hub wasn’t home. She took me in the kitchen, where I handed over 800 one-hundred dollar bills. After counting them carefully, she folded those bills and hid them inside a Ritz Cracker box, which she then put back in its spot on the shelf.

You wouldn’t be lonely for long if you broke down in the middle of this highway. Though probably no one would stop to actually help you

Me, I walked out with the keys to the Austin-America. Which I drove without major incident (except this one time I’m going to tell you about) until it finally conked out a few years later. When it did, it had absolutely no trade-in value, though I briefly considered turning it into a planter or maybe a bus shelter. It did get great gas mileage — so great I probably only had to fill it once. Which was fortunate because, among other things, the driver’s side window wouldn’t roll down. Which meant I had to speak to the gas station attendant through the little flip-out wing window.

Anyway. Back to the “major incident”.

I was driving back to KC after visiting my parents. I’d lingered a bit too long in Carlyle, probably enjoying another slice of my mother’s excellent banana bread, and got a late start. So late that, when it started pouring — and in the Midwest, if it starts pouring, we mean pouring; like some Rain God is emptying a giant pitcher over your car and everything around it — it was, like, three in the morning.

I’m soldiering along though, not tired one bit, squinting through the sheets of water slashing my windshield, trying to keep my spirits up by listening to Top-40 Radio KXOK, when the car starts slowing…and slowing some more. Before it can coast to a stop, I wisely steer it to the shoulder. Where I sit. What on earth is wrong? I wondered. The lights are on, the gas tank is half full.

No one has invented portable phones, much less cellphones, so there is no way to call for help. So I turn off the engine and lock the doors — and sit there.

Me, a few years and a completely different hairstyle later, still living in Kansas City, but now with a Mercedes. And yes, there’s a story there too

This being the middle of the night, there are very few cars on the road, even though it’s an interstate. Where are all those Highway Patrol Guys when you need them? But there are truckers. And, sure enough, after about half an hour a big ole rig pulls up on the shoulder just ahead of me.

I roll down the window as he approaches the car, and explain the situation. “There’s a truck stop up ahead,” he says. “I’ll give you a lift so you can get help.”

I do see a glow of mercury-vapor lights on the horizon, and he didn’t look too terrifying, besides which I didn’t relish the prospect of sitting in a wet car all night, so — bless my heart — I got out and went with him. And sure enough, as he boosted me up to the truck’s cab, he says, “You know, I’ve got a bed in back. You’re welcome to stay here if you want.”

Gulp. I can’t remember now how I managed to gracefully get out of that one, but he did indeed take me to the truck stop where a helpful mechanic listened to my story and goes, “Oh, one of them little Brit cars, eh? They’ve got their engines mounted sideways. Which means the alternator can get wet when it rains as bad as this. You just wait till it stops. It’ll dry out, and you can drive it on home.”

Which I did. And, trust me, I never drove that car in the rain again. Not even in a sprinkle.

But back to The Child. So far, she’s shown pretty good judgment, so I just have to cross my fingers and trust that she’ll be safe out there on the Trail all alone. At least I can console myself with the thought that it’s highly unlikely she’ll run into any truckers, helpful or otherwise.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

“Why do you want to know?”

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‘How to deftly handle the odd impertinent query’

When I first moved to New York, there were quite a few things that took some getting used to. But the most startling thing wasn’t the garbage trucks clanking away at five AM or the fact that a “regular coffee” comes with cream and sugar — or even that panhandlers sometimes panhandle with cats on their heads. (See “The Cat is The Hat” for hilarious details.)

Wombat, who looks exactly like the cat in “The Cat is The Hat”, perched not on my head

No, the most startling thing was the way New Yorkers were so preoccupied with how much things cost. “How much rent do you pay?” “What did that Jag set you back?” (not that I had a Jag, mind you). Even (gasp) “How much money do you make?” And it hasn’t stopped. Now that I’m no longer gainfully employed I get “How much do you have in your IRA?”

Me, when I was promoted to Vice President at Ogilvy and started making “none of your beeswax” per year

Why, when you compliment a friend with a “nice skirt” or a “wow, I just love your coat” she won’t go “Oh, this old thing?” or “This? I’ve had this for years” like a Midwesterner. No, she’ll tell you how much it cost — with emphasis on how little she paid for it. “This? Oh, this I got at Loehmann’s — on the sale rack. The once-yearly clearance sale rack. Also, it was Loyalist Day. Plus I used my Aunt’s employee discount. And had it sent to my Mom’s in New Jersey so I didn’t pay sales tax.”

Feel free to compliment The Child and/or her Gal Pal. They won’t tell you how much they paid for those party outfits — because they get them from Rent the Runway

By the time she gets done it sounds like the store paid her to take the darned thing. Which actually does happen in New York sometimes. But not to me. (Though I did score some pretty choice free items from advertising shoots. Like a Gucci suit that was used in a Pantene commercial. Seriously. It fit me — brag brag — so Wardrobe let me take it home.)

But I digress.

Back in the Midwest, where — and when — I was raised, it was considered incredibly crass to discuss money in what was called “polite company”. Sex and/or religion, too. Oh, and no politics either, at least not at the dinner table. And, unless you were a census taker or an employee of the DMV, you certainly didn’t ask anyone, especially a woman, her age.

My mom and I at my first wedding. At the time, I was almost exactly half her age. Which is so not the case today

The title of this piece is the reply that my wise — and polite — mother used to give when Some Person Who Didn’t Know Any Better would ask, “Myrna, how old are you?” She would smile sweetly and reply, “Why do you want to know?” Which would usually nip that line of inquiry right in the ole bud.

Now me, I’ve reached an age that nobody ever even asks me about anymore. No, well-meaning people just assume that I’m entitled to the Senior Citizen Discount. But I still have my little payback strategies. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this one before, but what the heck. Nowadays, when a Nice Young Person offers me a seat on the bus or subway, I smile sweetly, look down at my tummy, and say, “Oh! Am I showing already?”

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

 

To clean, or not to clean?

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‘The best way to get ready for house guests’

I remember vividly the time I was chatting happily away on the phone with my Middle Younger Brother Roger when I caught myself and said, “Darn. I’ve gotta go. Wayne’s sister and her squeeze are coming for the weekend, and I have to clean.” At which my wise brother said, “No, no. You’ve got that backwards. You don’t clean before guests come — you clean after they go.

Major crumb-producing loaf. When The Dude’s Bro visits, we go through one of these puppies each day

Well. How smart is my Middle Younger Brother? He was absolutely right. Guests — even beloved, dear, wonderful guests — make messes. Where I am, here on gorgeous Eastern Long Island (the land some folk call “The Hamptons”), guests produce not only crumbs on the countertops and hair in the showers but also sand on the floor. (And often there is sand in those showers too.)

Whattaya gonna do? It’s a sandy place

If you clean before guests come, you’re in that awful Hostess Place where you’re following your guests around with, like, a sponge or a cloth, trying to deal with crumbs and sand and whatnot, thinking “Oooooo…I just vacuumed that floor!” instead of relaxing and enjoying yourself — and them.

Big ole messy family birthday celebration. Trust me, I wasn’t thinking about crumbs

Whereas, if you clean after the guests go, you’re not only less stressed, but you’re — voila! — instantly ready for your next guests. If you’re like me, and own a house in a location that’s House Guest Bait, and actually enjoy having (most) house guests (see my piece “The House Guest Hall of Fame” for some notable exceptions) — your house won’t have time to get dirty before the next batch arrives.

Why, in a two week period in June alone, I was hostess to a bunch of bridge buddies, my chocolate-factory-owning nephew and niece and their three adorable spawn, and The Child’s gorgeous girlfriends. Whew.

Girls just wanna have bread. A new loaf is back in crumb-producing action

So. Thanks to my brother, I’ve developed this system where I clean after my guests go. And I mean immediately after they go. Sometimes the sound of tires crunching on the gravel driveway mingles with the sound of my vacuum cleaner, I’m so eager to get cleaning.

I’m hot to get going with the vacuum and the Soft Scrub because that way I can erase any traces of their visit. See, the older I get, the more nostalgic and sad I feel when guests leave. If I have to pass by an open guest-room door and see a rumpled bed, I catch myself getting all weepy while thinking, “She was just sleeping there a few hours ago, and now I don’t know when I’ll get to see her again. *Sniff*”

A batch of beauties (AKA house guests) after I dropped them at the jitney stop. I raced home and immediately started cleaning

Why, the last time The Child was here, I had her room all spic and span and ready for her next visit before she’d reached the LIE. Probably even before they’d passed out the granola bars and itty-bitty bottles of Evian.

So, in hostessy summery summary, if you’re expecting house guests, don’t waste time cleaning. Save your energy for what’s much much more important — grocery shopping.

Amagansett, New York. July 2019

Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?

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‘No, my hometown didn’t have a Costco’

When I was growing up Midcentury-Modern Style in the Midwest, my very small home town had a main street with a few stores (and several taverns) on it.

If you wanted to, say, buy a Christmas present for your mom (Evening in Paris was a popular choice), you’d take your allowance or your paper route money and go to the Dime Store. (Ours was a Ben Franklin, but we always called it the “Dime Store”.) Which was owned by a really crabby guy who totally didn’t like kids and would follow you around like you were going to shoplift. There really wasn’t any other option.

Then, sometime after I’d gone off to college, a Walmart came to town. It was out on the west end by the Dairy King (totally different from the Dairy Queen). A (gasp) Walmart.

My Personal Family. In the front yard of the house I grew up in — in my Walmart-welcoming home town

Did my town protest? Did they try to keep that Walmart out? No way. They welcomed it, big-time. I remember reading a Big Story about its Grand Opening in the local paper (which I subscribed to because I worked there during the summers.) And it was only a matter of time — and not much time, either — before everyone was shopping at this new Walmart.

They weren’t crabby at Walmart, for one thing. They had (and still do have) these Greeters, who go “Welcome to Walmart” when you come in the door, and say “Thank you for shopping, please come again” when you leave. Take that, crabby Dime Store Guy.

Why is this goldfish smiling? Maybe because you can buy him — and dozens and dozens of his friends — at Walmart

And Walmart had everything. You could buy not only giant cartons of milk and huuuuuge bags of Cheetos, you could get rose mulch and stereos and DVDs and khaki pants and baby shoes and glitter. My Nephew once bought a BB gun there. (Walmart cheerfully took it back, even though it had been fired, when he returned it for some reason I do not recall, probably involving his absent mother.)

Nephew Phil (or is that Groucho?) without his Walmart BB gun. But I bet that’s where he got that disguise

Walmart became so popular (at least in my family) that I remember coming home for some sort of school break, sitting at the kitchen table sipping coffee, when Mom goes, “Who wants to go on a Walmart Run?” Turns out a “Walmart Run” was a Thing.

Yup. My Mom got her coffee at Walmart. And after consuming some, she’d go right back to Walmart

My Late Lamented Dad even called The Child “Walmart” — before and after she was born. See, while preggers with her, I was of course asked many times what names The Dude and I were considering for our imminent bundle of joy. Sometimes, if feeling feisty, I’d do a riff on the trend for non-traditional names. Which is perfectly okay by me, O You Who Have Named Your Child “Brie”. I just happen to think it amusing to name a child after a type of cheese. If “Brie” is cool, why not “Cheddar”? Or, how ’bout this one: “Time for supper, Camembert!”

My father amusing some random child whose name I can’t recall (tho I bet it wasn’t “Roquefort”) with a sparkler, no doubt purchased at Walmart

Anyway, I’d been amusing my father with this funny-name bit; had run through the Cheese Names and the State Names (If “Montana” and “Dakota” are cool, why not “Delaware”?) and even the Neighborhoods in New York City names (If “Chelsea” is hip, why not “Soho”? Or “Tribeca”?) Well, I was just getting into the Store Names (I like “Tiffany” for a girl, and I think “Duane Reade” is rather distinguished for a boy, don’t you?) — when Dad pipes up. “Walmart”! It’s a great name for a boy or a girl.

So he called her “Walmart”. For years.

Speaking of children, we recently enjoyed our annual visit from The Dude’s nephew, his amazing wife and their three-count-em-three frisky and adorable girls. The Dude and I, being grandchildless, are drawn like moths to their collective flame. But then so are The Child and her BF.

The Child and BF roughhousing (er, playing) with the Adorable Girls

This is the nephew and wife who started a chocolate company (yes, they started it!) that you may have heard of. It’s called Taza, and makes incredibly delish stone-ground chocolate. They make dozens of products (I have to hide the chocolate-covered hazelnuts from The Dude’s Brother Bill) but on this visit they were most excited by a new one they developed for Costco.

It’s called the Paleo Dark Chocolate Slab. And you can only get it at Costco

Now, you can indeed find Taza products at your friendly neighborhood Walmart. But Costco, unlike Walmart, is a membership-only buying club. And it, well, has a certain je ne sais quois. New York City Upper East-Siders who wouldn’t be caught dead in a Walmart will happily drive their Range Rovers up to Northern Manhattan (yes, I said “Manhattan”) to stock up on organic stock from free-range chickens (as well as their eggs) and almond milk (no doubt from free-range almonds) and the like.

How the Paleo display will look in a Costco. If you are lucky enough to be able to go to Costco

This new Taza product, being Paleo and all, is a perfect foodie fit for Costco-goers. (I tried some, and even though I am not a Paleo Person, it certainly hit my personal Sweet Spot.) We were pretty excited for them — and for the lucky Costco-goers who get to buy it. I’m betting it’ll be such a big hit that sometime soon I’ll be hearing my fellow Upper East-Siders saying, “Hey, who wants to go on a Costco Run?”

No need for a Costco Run here. These lucky girls have parents who own the whole darned chocolate company

New York City. June 2019

Dad and the Magical Mystery Trolley

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‘It’s been ten years since he rode off into the Sunset’

Ten years ago tomorrow (June 12, 2009, it was) my Dad was pretty darned happy. He’d made it to 80, and he was the guest of honor at a big ole party at the assisted living place.

Oldest Younger Bro Scott (and me) at Dad’s Big Birthday Party. This is, famously, the Last Photo Ever Taken By My Dad. He borrowed my camera and shot it from his wheelchair

Dad loved living there, which may seem hard to believe. But he was kind of like their Prom King; he ruled at Scrabble and Rummikub and Trivial Pursuit, but mostly he regaled his co-residents and fans with jokes and stories. He knew lots of jokes and stories.

Dad was a whiz at games. And only partly because he cheated

Yes, Dad cheated at games. He would reach into the Folger’s can where we kept the Scrabble tiles and sort of “Braille-read” the letter faces for the Zs and Qs and Js. He had a very good sense of touch. Which did not diminish with age.

Anyway. Dad was living at the assisted living place because he’d been diagnosed with dementia. It took a long time for him to be diagnosed. Those of you familiar with dementia (so sorry if you are) know that it can be notoriously difficult to pin down. One of the symptoms is a bad temper (though they call it “agitation”), and, bless his heart, my Dad had rather a short fuse his whole life. (He used to explode if somebody scraped a pan or chomped a raw carrot or served him semi-thawed-out-frozen-for-economy’s-sake-bought-in-bulk-from-the-factory-store Bunny Bread, for example. And this was when he was, like, thirty.)

Dad liked to sit around in his underwear. This was actually pretty okay. Until he switched to tighty-whities

There’s also the Sundowner Thing, which involves getting up in the night and roaming around, often in your underwear. I’m here to tell you that Dad did that for years too. (When he stayed at my house I made a point of setting the coffee machine up before I went to bed at night to minimize drawer-and-cabinet-door slamming at 3 AM. But then I’d forget about the garage door. Sigh.)

I guess it was the “lack of social control” symptom that finally clicked those dementia puzzle pieces into place. Dad started doing things like laughing loudly and inappropriately. Saying whatever was on his mind. Dad: “That lady is so fat!” Mom: “Dale! Shhhhh!” Dad: “But that lady is fat!!!” Only he didn’t say “lady”.

Dad exhibiting non-dementia-induced “lack of social control”

So off to Suzanne Elise Assisted Living Community Dad went. (I mention the name because it was a very nice place.) Like I mentioned, he participated in many activities. And he could also leave the premises pretty much whenever he wanted, like to ride his bike. Er, trike.

Once the cops stopped Dad; seemed a blue trike had been stolen. Dad wasn’t the culprit; turns out there were two blue trikes in Seaside

“Nice” though it was, my Mom did not want to live at the assisted living place with Dad. Well-Meaning Person to Mom: “Don’t you want to move in with your husband?” Mom: “Not on your life.” So we’d visit Dad at cocktail hour and the like. (Yes, they had cocktail hour. With real cocktails!) And we’d take him on outings.

The Dude took Dad “car-birding” once. (This is birding where you don’t get out of the car; Dad loved it.) And The Child once gave an impromptu piano concert for Dad and Dad’s Fellow Residents. (She didn’t have any music with her, so she found some online and printed it out; Dad loved this too.)

The Child after holding forth on the piano at Dad’s Place

On one of our outings, we drove up to Astoria, stopping for coffee at what seemed every bend in the road. (The Northwest is perfect for stop-everywhere-for-coffee types; there’s a drive-in coffee place every few feet, or so it seems.)

At one coffee place, Dad gets a wacky souvenir along with his java

We roamed around Astoria for a while, doing Astoria-like things like poking in thrift shops (Dad: “This is no fun.”) and eating Mexican food (Dad: “I’ll have another margarita, please.”) As for me, I was eager to ride the Astoria Trolley. I’d heard about this alleged trolley for years. I say “alleged” because in all the years I’d been coming for visits, I had never once clapped eyes on it, much less ridden on it.

Middle Younger Brother Roger had better luck finding the trolley. I’m assuming he also rode it

My Mom assured me that the trolley did in fact exist. “You just wave a dollar bill, and it stops for you, ” she said. So I got out a dollar bill and waved it around. “Like this?” I asked. No trolley appeared. “Gosh, if I keep doing this, people will think I’m demented!” At this, Dad chuckled to himself and we heard him mutter, “Hell, I am demented.”

I’m happy to say that dementia didn’t affect Dad’s sense of humor. I’m also happy to say that he did indeed make it to 80. But just barely. He died a little over a week later. In his sleep, in the early morning hours of Father’s Day. With a smile on his face, Ella Fitzgerald on his CD player, and a Dairy Queen Dilly Bar in the freezer of his mini-fridge.

Happy What-Would-Have-Been-90th-Birthday, Dad. I’ll keep looking for that darned trolley.

Dad, waiting for the trolley

New York City. June 2019

 

Nope. It’s not the sport with the pointy orange ball

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‘I become a Blazers Fan. For a few days, anyway.’

There’s a scene in a Woody Allen movie where Woody’s character is making nervous small talk with a woman on their first date. He asks her what her favorite sport is and she says “swimming.” “Swimming?” he sputters. “Swimming? Swimming isn’t a sport. Basketball is a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks.”

My Mom, ready to swim. ‘Cause it looks like that raft’s ready to sink

Well, I was always kinda with the date on this one. I’ve never been that into team sports. Not even when I was at the University of Missouri, which was, and probably still is, a Big Football School (Mel Gray and John Matuszak ate in my cafeteria). I used to gamely sit in the bleachers with my eventually-to-be-First-Husband-the-Frat-Boy, guarding my nylons from splinters, corsage pinned to my insubstantial breast. Surreptitious sips of Mad Dog 20/20 helped. Sort of.

That was the sport with the pointy orange ball. As for basketball and its bouncy round orange ball (see an example in the photo at the top of this post, being held, pre-bounce, by The Child), I actually got off to a good start, playing H-O-R-S-E with my brothers around the hoop perched over our driveway. But then my bros got so they didn’t want to play with “girls” — or, to be fair, maybe it was me who didn’t want to play with “boys” — at any rate, around sixth grade it was no more H-O-R-S-E. And for me, no more basketball.

Me, at about the age when I thought I was too cool for H-O-R-S-E

There was plenty of basketball at my high school, but only boys played it. If you were a girl, basketball meant trying out for cheerleader. And, not only was I totally inept at the fancy footwork involved in “cheering” (have you ever tried to do a cartwheel?) but I simply wasn’t the Cheerleader Type. I mean, I was reasonably attractive and all, but cheerleaders had cute little figures and were perky and bouncy. I didn’t have a perky bouncy bone in my lanky gawky body.

But hey. I was cute enough to snag a hunky prom date. A date who was on the basketball team, I’ll have you know. (Yes, I made that dress)

So. Where was I going with this? Ah, the Blazers. Actually, they are called the Portland Trail Blazers. And, not to get all sportscaster on you, but when I was out west visiting my Mom for Mother’s Day, the Blazers just happened to be duking it out with the Denver Nuggets for some Big Championship which would mean they would then vie for the NBA title. (Whew. I feel like I’m channeling Howard Cosell.)

So, of course we watched. And I must admit it was exciting. Maybe not as exciting as swimming for your life because your boat just sank, but exciting nonetheless. There was deft ball handling, cool three-point shot-making, and even — with two brothers playing against each other (the Currys) — Family Drama. Speaking of Family Drama, my Lovely Niece Emma made a video of we three moms (me, my sister, and our mom) noisily getting our Blazers on:

I seem to have a knack for showing up for a Mom Visit when there’s some exciting Big Deal Team Sport Event going on. Like the time I innocently traveled west for my Mom’s birthday, only to find my visit coincided with the Chicago Cubs’ run-up to their history-making World Series victory.

Yup. They won. But we didn’t know this was going to happen when I was visiting. It was pretty tense around that TV

The presidential debates were also on TV — remember Trump looming over Hillary? — but no Henrys seemed to care. It was all about baseball and the Cubs. I did manage to sneak off and watch a debate on my iPad, but basically, that visit was a crash course in baseball’s finer points. (Baseball is the one with the smallish non-pointy white ball.) After watching a few of those playoff games, I was talking “double-play” and “pinch-hitter” and “closer” with the best of the Henrys. I even had a Favorite Player (Javier “Javvy” Baez).

Mom’s Birthday, the year she got gifted a Cubs World Series win

And do I have a Favorite Spectator Sport? Yes indeed. It’s the one played with the small fuzzy yellow ball. Not only are there no teams involved, in my mind there is only one player. And he’s playing right now in the French Open. So, in a weird way it’s good that the Blazers flamed out, since I wouldn’t be able to pay them any mind. Because when Roger Federer is on, everyone else takes second place.

The One and Only Fed at Wimbledon a couple of years ago. I was watching him play while on a flight out to visit — you guessed it — my Mom

Amagansett, New York. May 2019