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

Strolling The Prom

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‘Yet another trip down my personal Memory Highway’

It might be only a tad wider than a sidewalk, and just over a mile long, but The Seaside Promenade — lovingly dubbed ‘The Prom’ — is jammed with traffic. Memory traffic; for me, that is.

As you Faithful Readers know all too well by now, I was raised, Midcentury-Modern-style, in a small town in the Midwest. It was a nice enough small town, but as it happened, all five of us Henry Kids scattered to the four corners of the country pretty much as soon as we could get our respective acts together.

The small-towny, rather Carlyle-esque house where my parents lived in Seaside

And, a decade or so after the last of their brood flew the coop, our parents too pulled up stakes (I’m dizzy from mixing metaphors here) and relocated to Seaside, Oregon, an unassuming small coastal town that one of my beloved-and-hilarious Younger Brothers immediately christened “Carlyle-by-the-Sea”.

We had an Old Crab or two in Carlyle, too

Similarities? Lutheran Church with coffee hour: check. Library where they forgive an overdue book (or two or five): check. Neighbors who don’t mind if you “drop in”: double check. Plenty of local character(s), too. Carlyle had Skinny Man and Skinny Lady and That Guy Who Rode His Bike Everywhere (when I was a kid, a bike-riding Grownup was definitely considered a “character”); Seaside had Bubble Man. This was a guy who rode a bike-like contraption that spit out bubbles. I never actually saw him, but my brothers swear that he existed.

Just like home: Carlyle HS Buddy Dan drops in on Mom for a Seaside chat

But Seaside has something that Carlyle, even with its Corps-of-Engineers-dam-and-Illinois’-Largest-Lake, just doesn’t have: the Pacific Ocean. And with that Prom running right alongside.

Typical morning, typical weather, atypical view: The Prom on a recent early stroll

My parents loved that Prom. My Mom still gets out there every day (every day when it’s not doing what she calls “sideways rain”, that is) and walks it. Even my Dad, who notoriously hated walking — he would drive to his office when they lived in Carlyle; and his office was literally across the street (“Why don’t you walk, Dad?” “I might want to drive somewhere once I’m there.” “Oh.”) — even my Dad could be induced to give The Prom a stroll now and then. (Though my Mom and I had a sneaking suspicion that he did this so he could sneak a cigarette, speaking of “sneaking”.)

Both Dad and Mom also rode bikes along The Prom. Once a cop stopped Dad because he thought he was riding stolen property. But nope; turned out someone else in Seaside had a bright blue three-wheeler.

One of two identical blue trikes in Seaside. This is the one with my Dad on it

And once when I was on a Prom stroll, I met my Mom coming from the other direction on her (regular, two-wheel) bike. She motioned me to stop. “Hey, there’s a naked couple playing cards right by the window in that motel up ahead,” she stage-whispered. And, sure enough, there was.

The motel where the naked couple were playing cards. Bricked-up doors, but curtains that definitely do open

I’m pretty sure this was the same motel where the lady stayed who kept her horse tethered right outside. But it might have been another one a bit further on. Seaside has dozens of motels, including one boasting of a “Heated Indoor Pool” with water the color of soy sauce. Yes, you can see it through the window.

There’s plenty more to see on The Prom, and not just through windows. There are adorable pail-and-shovel-toting children galore, and hand-holding couples of all ages, most sporting every type of tattoo imaginable (the couples, not the adorable children; though one can’t be sure). And I think it’s a local law that Prom-strollers be accompanied by a cute dog.

Forgot your tattoo? No worries; you can get one here — along with “Free Advice”. My advice? Don’t get a tattoo

There’s this place midway on The Prom called the “Turnaround”, because, well, that’s where all the cars have to turn around, the road ending at the ocean and all. There’s a statue of Lewis and Clark there because that’s where they had to turn around too, the trail ending there and all. (The whole Lewis-and-Clark Thing is fascinating — Cape Disappointment! — remind me to tell you more another time.)

“She had a hat.” Selfie Time at the Turnaround

On any given day, there’s lots going on at the Turnaround. Once The Child and I were the only ones dancing to a street band. And another time my Mom and Favorite Sister and I had to jockey for selfie space with a gaggle of Furries.

Smile and say “fur!” A group of Furries at the Turnaround

But, basically, The Prom, including its Turnaround, is all about the Pacific Ocean and that incredible view. Here, in closing, is a 360 taste. This was shot just a few days ago from the relatively quiet, non-Furry-and-street-band-infested end of The Prom. And already, like everything else I’ve told you about here, it’s a memory.

New York City. May 2019

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater

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‘The dirty little downside of belonging to a big happy family’

I have this very good friend, Jim, who is astonished that anyone could have grown up in a house with only one bathroom. It’s a good thing he doesn’t read my blog, because he would be shocked (shocked!) to hear that not only did we Henrys share a bathroom — we also shared our bathwater.

(Of course, he told me once he shares a shower with his cat, so there’s that.)

Anyway. Back to the Henrys and their sharing of the suds.

Those of you who do read my blog (bless you many times over) know that I am the proud member of a large, happy family. A large happy family who did a lot of sharing.

We shared popcorn in front of the TV, we shared (sort of) the toys in the toy box, we shared seats in the car. (See ‘He’s Breathing My Air’ for how that worked out.) Of course we shared bedrooms. My parents (natch) shared Mom and Dad’s Room, my three brothers shared The Boys’ Room, and I shared The Girls’ Room with my Favorite Only Younger Sister Laura. She and I shared so nicely that she even tried to move on to cohabit my dorm room when I went to college. (It’s a pretty good story, called ‘Larry and the Nose Holes’; you might like to read it after this one.)

We shared chores too. Here I am enthusiastically taking my turn loading our (quite astonishing at the time) dishwasher

And all five of us (plus two parents) shared our one bathroom — and the bathtub in it. When we were little and there were only three of us kids, Mom would line us up in there all in one go: me in the deep end, Scott in the middle, and Roger at the shallow end. Later, when there were more of us, we took turns.

I’m honestly not sure if this was about efficiency — it taking less time to bathe children using the sequential-dunking technique — or whether it was about the fact that our hot water heater couldn’t face the challenge of five tub fill-ups. But I do remember being grateful that I was the oldest and therefore got dibs on the hottest (first) bath.

In my family, bath sharing happened even before I had any siblings. Here I am getting squeaky-clean with my Aunt Susie and Cousin Jimmy

I guess sharing water was a Henry Thing. Here I am sharing a washtub with some Unidentified Cousin. At least we have pants on

Of course, there was a brief blip before my oldest younger brother was born when I got to have the tub all to myself. (See the photo at the top of this post, taken when Mom and I lived at my Gramma Peterson’s while my Dad was away in Korea, for seriously cute proof.)

Being the firstborn, I got everything all to myself for a while — including the kitchen sink

Being a child at the time, I honestly don’t remember being grossed out or embarrassed by having to share my bath time ablutions. But I do remember being humiliated and horrified when my brothers would dig this particular photo out of the big cardboard box in the attic and taunt me with it. Sometimes they’d even threaten to show it to my friends.

The incriminating photo. It didn’t help that my mother had written “Big Girl!” on the back

The end.

New York City. April 2019

“What’s that smell?”

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‘There’s something rotten in the State of Illinois’

It rained this Easter. Which wasn’t really a problem, not for me anyway, since I don’t have any little kids to take on an Easter Egg Hunt. (More’s the pity.)

But I remember very well, being the Oldest Kid and all, what happened one time when it rained on our, er, Easter Parade.

But first, a word about Easter.

My family was Lutheran. Which is sort of like being Catholic, but stripped-down and rather basic — kind of like the black-wall tire of religions, or like being the Catholic B-Team. We were jealous of our cousins who were Catholic and enjoyed the full-on religious package; they got to have First Communion and wear fancy dresses and patent leather mary janes and hats with (gasp) veils and get sprinkled with Holy Water. They even got to kneel. (When you’re seven, you think kneeling is incredibly cool.)

I remember that purse. I loved that purse; I distinctly remember putting my collection envelope in there — and (gasp) am I wearing a hat?

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