“You make a better door than a window”

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‘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

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‘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”

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‘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

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‘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

Some like it hot

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‘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

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

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‘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

 

 

Three cheers for the Red, White, and Oh-So-Blue

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‘The Child declares her Independence’

As she put it oh-so-well and oh-so-hashtageriffic on Instagram, #redwhiteandbluearetherussiancolorstoo (!) And looky here — I found this picture of the Russian flag. Which yes, does feature red, white and blue. Big stripes of red, white and blue, in fact.

Plenty of red, white and blue. But kinda boring, what with no stars and all

But nope, no stars on the Russian flag. (It used to have a star, back in the Good Old Soviet Days — but then it also had a hammer and sickle.) And no stars here in Amagansett, either. By “stars” I of course mean The Child and her friends, a group of whom have been on hand to help me celebrate America’s Birthday for several summers now. (I’ve written about their superstar visits before; check out “Stars in Stripes” for gushing details.)

Yes, that’s a Carvel Cake. It’s from last 4th, when my Stars were aligned. (And present) And no, I didn’t bother getting a Russian-flag cake this year. Tho no doubt The Dude could have polished it off, even with no Girls to help

Nope, The Child and three of her usually-here-for-the-Fourth friends absconded to Russia this year. Partly because one of the group is actually from Russia. (Her Dad, when told they were planning to visit Siberia: “Whatever for?“)

When in Siberia, one simply must stay in a yurt. Yup, a yurt

But mostly they went to Russia because they’re young and they could. (No, they didn’t plan the trip because of the World Cup. (In fact, they didn’t even realize Russia was hosting the World Cup until I showed The Child an article in the Times about this Mexican kid who was taking, like, 72-hour train rides to get to the matches and camping on Nice Russians’ couches and such. You can read it here, if you like. He wore a sombrero to meet girls.)

Of course I didn’t mind that my Gal and her Pals went to Russia. Though it did give me pause; after all, when I was her age, Russia was The Evil Empire and if you went there, like a friend of mine did, your hotel room was bugged and people would steal your blue jeans and chewing gum. (I’m thinking it’s not so easy to bug a yurt. And anybody can steal anybody’s chewing gum as much as they like, as far as I’m concerned. See “In outer space, no one can hear you scrinch”.)

It wasn’t all yurts. The Girls also hit the hot spots in Moscow and St. Pete

They had some amazing adventures, which I followed every day rather obsessively on Instagram. Those Instagram shots disappear, so I even more obsessively took screenshots of some of my faves.

So many palaces, so little time to screen-shoot them. This is one of many pilfered Instagram posts of decidedly non-yurt-like places. I’m pretty sure this was in St. Petersburg

Of course I sent a message. It said “Nope, it’s a cluck

Oh, and yes! I almost forgot — they were actually on hand in Moscow the very day when Russia won their Big World Cup Victory. They posted several movies of Crazed Ex-Soviet Soccer Fans dancing in the streets and on top of cars and so on and so forth. Which I could not “steal”. But I did get this:

Muscovites whooping it up after their World Cup Win. Shot from non-moving car by The Child or a Pal

But of course I missed those girls. The Fourth was kind of flat without them. Those of you who know me and/or read this blog (again, bless you!) know that I am rather hung up on Holiday Traditions. Not Christmas. (In fact, The Child spent last Christmas not with us and I wasn’t upset. Well, not inordinately so.) But I am very into The Fourth. And if she ever spent Thanksgiving “away”, well. I’m not sure what I would do. Dear Child, please let’s not try to find out.

So, sure, I was a tad disappointed that they weren’t around to dig into celebratory Carvel Cake and splash around in the pool and track sand into the house and eat me out of house and home. (Do you have any idea how many avocados four young women can consume in a day?!?)

But at least I didn’t have to experience the Dreaded Dropoff, after which I would head home to my lonely empty deck and a nice stiff — and very consoling — G&T.

This was the Dreaded Dropoff a couple of Fourths ago. I didn’t miss this. And I didn’t miss my G&T either

Amagansett, New York. July 2018

No bottles, no binkies. Just Beach Boys

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‘Why being an Aunt is so Great’

I was going to write yet another post about our Ugandan Trip, to be titled (wait for it) ‘Gorilla My Dreams‘. But then some other little monkeys intervened.

The little Ugandan monkeys who wanted to visit me in the worst way. And ‘worst way’ it would have been, had I acquiesced

The monkeys in question would be my (gulp) great-nieces. They are the absolutely adorbs spawn of my Nephew-By-Marriage and his Thank-God-He-Married-Her equally adorbs wife. I, of course, leave out Actual Names in this blog. But these are The Ones Who Own the Chocolate Factory. (When you’re done reading this story, check out their chocolate. Literally.)

The Monkeys in Question. Right after Numero Tres was added to the mix

Those of you who read my stories regularly (your reward awaits in Heaven) know that I have a large and much-beloved family. My Henry side gave me four-count-em-four aunts (and that’s only counting my Dad’s sisters; there were four other aunts-in-law).

The Henry Clan, including all four Original Aunts. That’s me at my mother’s feet, next to the kid with his thumb in his mouth. That’s my soon-to-be-spoken-of Aunt Vera at top left

I have ever-so-fond memories of listening in on adult conversations around the Henry or Peterson kitchen table, where we little cousins would be seated on various aunts’ laps. My Favorite Sister and I were reminiscing about this at a recent gathering. She reminded me that if we sat really still and stayed really quiet on one of said laps, the aunts would forget we were there, and really let their hair down with their stories. These gab-fests were fueled with plenty of coffee, and she said she still associates whispering and coffee breath with intimacy, safety, and a dash of subterfuge.

Peterson Uncles around the dining table (one Henry — my Dad — in the middle). Notice there are no small children on their laps, at least none that I can see. They are all in the kitchen with the aunts

I’m happy to say that my sister and I kept up this tradition when we in turn became aunts. Though in our case, most of the fascinating conversations were fueled with wine, not coffee. (See photo at the top of this post for an excellent example of an alternate use for an empty wine bottle, featuring my one-and-only Peterson great niece.)

That’s me, honing my Aunt Skills with one of my sister’s adorable daughters. There is probably a glass of wine tucked under the bed

My Peterson side aunt cache wasn’t quite so large, my mom having had only one sister. Luckily, her brothers had excellent taste, and I adored my aunts-in-law too. I have wonderful memories (again involving a lap) of my Aunt Shirley brushing my hair. She also taught me to knit, which turned out to be a highly useful Aunt Skill.

Thank you, dear Aunt Shirley, for teaching me to knit. Every little niece or nephew or great-niece has been ‘gifted’ a sweater, whether he/she liked it or not

My Aunt Shirley has, alas, passed on to the Great Family Reunion in the Sky. As have all my other aunts, including the last of the Henry Batch, my lovely Aunt Vera. My Aunt Vera was a nurse, a mom of a large clan of fun cousins, and a truly lovely person. She did cut her kids’ meat for them, but as far as I know that was her only fault. (And it’s debatable whether that even counts, fault-wise.)

My late, lamented Aunt Vera just a couple of months ago with my Middle Younger Brother Roger. She was not only the last Henry Aunt, she was the last Henry Sibling. End of an era

Which brings me to my last remaining aunt, my mom’s sister Marilyn. Aunt Marilyn (whom I called “Mooey”, probably because I was trying to say her name and couldn’t) was the Favorite not only because she was my mom’s only sister, but also because she was incredibly energetic and fun. She taught us to ice-skate and ski and took us to parades and let us ride on this cool sled she owned called a rodel. She also made up crazy jokes and games and was a big tease. We cousins would fight over who got to sit next to her at dinner.

Favorite Aunt Marilyn, not long after I appeared on the scene

Aunt Marilyn lived at home before she got married, and when we’d visit I got to sleep in her room. (Which was a Big Deal, and a privilege only I was granted since I was a girl.) One morning she said she really really needed to ‘go to the bathroom’, but she was ‘too lazy to get up’, so would I ‘get her the bedpan‘. Honestly, she had me looking everywhere for that thing. And she was in dire need of it before she stopped laughing long enough to tell me she was kidding.

Aunt Marilyn and me doing something companionable in the kitchen. A frying pan, not a bed pan, is involved. As well as a large box of salt

Anyway. Back to the Weekend Just Past and those three little monkeys. Yes, they are my great-nieces. And I’m happy to report that all the Aunt Shenanigans hold up for this generation too. I don’t have any grandchildren (yet), but I can imagine that some of the perks are the same. You get to do all the fun stuff — like play games and read books and make silly faces — then hand the kid back when it’s time for bottles or binkies or (urk) diaper changes. And we don’t have to wear awful house dresses. Well, unless we want to. We’re so old — and the kids are so cute — that nobody notices.

Great aunts, in my mind’s eye as well as my memory. That’s me in the middle on some cousin’s lap being admired at some Reunion or Other

Which brings me to the Beach Boys. On the first day of my inaugural great-aunt hostessing gig, I naively offered to watch Grand-Niece Number One while her mom went for a run. (Her dad was otherwise occupied on a bike ride with The Dude.) After all, I had ‘watched kids plenty of times’ and ‘knew what to do’, so ‘go on and have a good run; I’ll be just fine.’

Well. The second that little girl saw her mom trot off into the sunrise her face registered first Alarm, then Disbelief, then Fear and Rage. Which turned into Outright Screaming. So what did I do? I picked up my iPhone — no, not to call her mom in despair — but to play us some Beach Boys (‘Barbara Ann’, to be specific). I picked up that wailing toddler and we danced. I may have gotten a little winded by the time her mom got home, but I’m happy to say that it worked.

My Uncle Mike carrying me around before The Beach Boys existed. I do look reasonably entertained. That’s my Aunt Susie helping him

Well. It looks like I’ve run on and on. Like a great aunt is wont to do. So I’ll wrap this up with a reminder.

‘Little pitchers have big ears.’ (Though this particular pitcher only has one.) At any rate, if you find yourself with a niece on your lap, you may wish to watch your wine intake. Or stick to coffee

Amagansett, New York. June 2018

How many people can you pack into a gazebo?

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‘No one knows — because no one has ever tried.’

Some time ago (in a piece called ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’) I wrote about stuff that families find funny. (Usually, but not always, it’s only the people actually in that family who find these things funny.) Sometimes, like in the Henry Clan, it’s bad puns. My Grampa Henry had a whole collection of particularly-awful puns. Plus dirty limericks. He wrote one once about his gall-bladder operation. He survived; fortunately, the limerick did not.

Me. Doing stand-up in a bed of you-know-what. Check out ‘What’s Not To Lichen?’ for more punishment (er, examples)

Besides awful puns (and sometimes limericks) there’s usually a set of inside jokes — groaners that never fail to amuse, at least when told (and retold) within the confines of the family itself. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “How many dead people are in that graveyard?” (Answer: “All of them.”) I know, I know. If you can stand it, a good selection of both Henry and Whitmore specialties can be found in ‘Kangaroo Walks Into A Bar’. Just don’t take a sip of coffee before you read it; there’s a Whitmore urology joke that’s killer.

Sometimes this funny family stuff can’t be categorized as a pun or a joke or even a limerick. Sometimes what’s funny just is.

Take gazebos. For some reason, if you’re a Henry, the mere sight of a gazebo is sure to crack you up. (If you’re not sure what a gazebo is, you can click here or just look at the photo at the top of this post.) If a Henry sees a gazebo, and points it out to a fellow Henry, both burst out laughing. If there’s a non-Henry along, he/she can look a bit baffled. Continue reading

“I see by your outfit that you are a birder”

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‘On the Streets of Laredo, way back when — and now’

Nobody goes to Laredo,” says my Texan Friend. Well, call me ‘Nobody’ then, because I’ve not only been to Laredo, I’ve been there twice.

This most recent time shouldn’t really count, since The Dude and I were there not even a whole day, Laredo being merely the ‘end point’ of our birding adventure to the Rio Grande Valley, tales of which I will regale you with another time. Or not. But count it I will, since we did in fact “go walking on the streets of Laredo”, to quote the Immortal Johnny Cash.

We didn’t spy any “young cowboys all dressed in white linen”. Or any cowboys at all. Well, except for these hombres:

The only cowboys we spied. And they were hanging out at the airport, not walking on the streets like any self-respecting Laredo cowboy

No, the time I spent in Laredo that really counts is the time I went there as part of a trip made with my Gramma and Grampa Peterson and my Aunt Marilyn. Continue reading