I don’t care what you call me, as long as you call me for dinner.

Standard

‘Well, on second thought, maybe don’t call me “Karen”‘

Big surprise: my name isn’t actually “Lutheran Liar.” It’s Alice, a name I didn’t like much when I was a girl. Back then I wished my name was Linda or Debbie or Nancy or Sandy or Barb. Cool girl names. Cheerleader names. Girls-with-flips names. (That’s me, without a cool name, but with a reasonably-cool flip, in the picture at the top of this story.)

Instead, I got saddled with the name Alice. Which is a perfectly lovely name, really. But at the time I thought it was a “Grandma Name.” Maybe that’s because, in my case, it actually was a Grandma Name: the name of my Peterson Gramma. To add insult to name injury, my middle name was also a Grandma Name: Celia, the name of my Henry Gramma. (I couldn’t — and didn’t — do this to The Child. Her name would have been Bertha Myrna.)

My Gramma, the original-in-my-family-anyway-Alice

At my age it’s kind of hard to wrap my head around what’s happened with the name Karen, which was perhaps the coolest Cool Girl Name of all. As you probably can’t help but know, “Karen” has become a not-so-great all-purpose name for women caught exercising their white privilege muscles. Preferring an upbeat blog, I won’t go into this now, but you can read this New York Times piece for sad sociological details.

One of the nicest of the Nice Karens I know

Me, I only know Nice Karens. Like my cousin Karen. And my bridge buddy Karen. The very sweet Karen I babysat for in high school. There’s snappy-smart Lustre Karen. I even know a Field Guides Tours Karen. All nice as nice can be.

A gaggle of nice cousins with Cool Names: Debbie, Sandy, Kathy, Cindy, Nancy and — yes — Karen — all at my Mom’s 90th birthday party last fall. And no, dear Cousin Sandy, we did not name our dog Sandy after you (!)

Of course, no one really called me “Alice.” Except my Mom when I did something wrong. Then I got the whole darned name: “Alice Celia Henry, get in here this minute.” Ooops. I was “EO” to my Middle Younger Brother because he couldn’t say “Alice” and instead tried to spell it. I was “AE” to my Dad, because he remembered the spelling incident, only with with different letters.

Middle Younger Brother (the one who called me EO) competing for treats with Hermie, who was never ever called “Herman”

And, of course, The Child called (and still calls) me “Mom.” I know some families where the kids call their parents by their first names. Which is fine; just don’t try it at my house.

The Child modeling a sweater her Mom (me) knit for her. In the background is a painting that she used to point at, saying “Mommy! Mommy!” Hmmm

And The Dude? He calls me “Pie.” In fact, sometimes when he leaves me a note, he just draws a little pie wedge in lieu of a signature. Sometimes he draws steam coming out of it.

My Dad, who called me AE, called The Child “WalMart” because I made a crack one day about people naming their kids after stores (“Tiffany”)

As for the name “Alice,” not only did I learn to like it — especially after I moved to the East Coast, where I met several other Alices my own age — but I’ve grown into it.

In fact, the only other name I’d rather be called now would be “Gramma.”

Amagansett, New York. August 2020

“When I grow up, I want to be Brenda Starr”

Standard

‘Me and the mimeograph machine, making news after school’

Somebody Up There must not want me to go to The City. Last week when I journeyed there for a necessary errand, an epic storm struck right when I had to catch the Jitney home. In spite of being (what I thought was) adequately prepared, I — and everything I had with me — got thoroughly soaked. (I tried to make a video of myself pouring literally cups of water out of my rain shoes — yes, “rain shoes”, I told you I was prepared — but it was too dark and wet down by my feet.)

The errand that took me into The City: watching the countertop guys make a template for this curved counter in our itty bitty kitchen

Here’s how the side with no curve turned out

As you know only too well by now, The Dude and I are downsizing and need to get everything out of the old apartment. So, every time I slip into The City I try to bring some stuff back with me. If I’m traveling by Jitney (which is a fancy New York name for what is essentially a bus) I can’t take, say, boxes of books, but every little bit counts.

Some of the “stuff” got a bit damp. (See rain-stained right side of envelope)

This trip I grabbed a half-full box of tagliatelle, some jars of slightly-old-but-perfectly-good oregano and basil, a few cat toys, some socks, a few bits of china (which I wrapped in the socks), and a couple of random envelopes from a desk drawer, including one tantalizingly labeled “Stuff from Mom.”

By far the largest item in that envelope was this studio portrait of Baby Me. I swear it’s, like, 10×12. (Notice the same expression in the photo at the top of this post)

But what really got my attention were three lovingly-preserved copies of The Carlyle Grade School News.

This October edition had its cover art embellished by a younger sibling

I saw these, and the past came rushing back like a journalistic freight train. Gosh, how could I have forgotten The Carlyle Grade School News? I can recall (now), like it was yesterday, the aroma of baking bread that was the mimeograph machine running off copies in the school office after hours. Of course this happened a jillion years ago when I was in the eighth grade. There’s sure been a lot of water under the bridge (or poured on my head) since then.

The Christmas Edition was a fat one, bursting its staples. There was a Roving Reporter asking what students wanted for Christmas. Overwhelming answer? Mohair sweater, usually in pink

But why and how did this newspaper come to be? Well. When I was a girl there was this comic strip called “Brenda Starr, Reporter.” It featured a glamorous redhead (Brenda) who, as an ace reporter lived an extremely exciting life. I always liked to write and I’ve always had a thing about redheads. I could imagine no future more perfect than to be Brenda Starr. Gosh, it’s only now when I look it up on Wikipedia that I realize that the “Dale Messick” who drew the strip was (gasp) a woman. How perfect! (She shortened her name from Dalia, says Wiki, to get her strip published, since being a woman wasn’t exactly an advantage for a cartoonist in those days.)

Future Brenda Starr. But without red hair

To be Brenda Starr, I would need some practice. They didn’t have a newspaper at my school, so I decided to start one. I recall approaching The Powers That Were for permission to use the school office as a newsroom. I said that I wouldn’t break anything or make a mess, and that they wouldn’t have to lift a finger. All I would need was use of a typewriter, the mimeograph machine and some paper. In those days, well, that was enough. At least in my small-town hometown.

Me with my effortlessly glam mom, at about the age of my Editor-in-Chiefdom

Of course I was the Editor. But there were others on “staff.” Like reporters who covered each grade. Second Grade heard a talk about “the danger of playing in old ice boxes,” while Grade Five said “their chief interest in math is to myltiply (sic) with zeros.” (Note: there is no way to make a correction when typing a form for a mimeograph machine.)

Editorial staff plus editorial excuse

There were sports reporters and a gossip column and puzzles and stories — there was even a story “hand-picked by Alfred Hitchcock.” Though I doubt he actually appeared at Carlyle Grade School to do the “hand-picking.”

No newspaper would be complete without editorials. This one foreshadows the tone of a certain blogger, n’est-ce pas?

There was a fashion column (the Christmas edition featured knee socks), an advice column called “Letters to Lola” which dealt mainly with issues concerning “getting pretty girls to like me.” (I honestly don’t remember who was “Lola.”) Oh, yes, and Want Ads. One offered “Baby snails. Limited supply.” And jokes? You betcha! “Hey Chef, this soup is spoiled!” “Who told you?” “A little swallow!” I didn’t say they were good jokes.

All that remains of the Carlyle Grade School News today are these three dog-eared, rain-rescued and sibling-scribbled issues my mom squirreled away in an envelope buried in a drawer. But it led to my high school gig on the Carlyle Union Banner, my enrollment in Journalism School (see me ecstatic in my dorm room at the top of this post) and, ultimately, to New York City and my ever-so-exciting career in the Ad Biz — not to mention meeting The Dude.

Big fat sigh goes here.

But enough Deep Thoughts. Now I’m back to obsessing about the Ken and Barbie House.

The Ken and Barbie House: getting there!

Amagansett, New York. August 2020

 

Before the parade passes by

Standard

‘Believe it or not, summer’s almost over’

I’ve written about the astonishing swiftness of summer before. (See “The Days are Long, but The Season is Short.”) And more than just that one time. (See “Yup, Summer’s Officially Over,” etc. etc.) One would think that by now, with so many summers under my baby-boomer belt, I’d be used to the swiftness of it all.

One would be wrong.

What made me realize that this particular pandemic-plagued summer was already sailing inexorably into its sunset was a photo my beloved Favorite Only Sister posted on Instagram recently.

Here it is. Showing a mixed assortment of Clinton County Parade spectators. Looks like I missed a *sniff* swell time that year

She posted it because, yes, it’s Clinton County Fair Time again. The Parade pictured was enjoyed during a time when we kids were all grown up, some of us with kids of our own. I was, alas, missing from the scene that particular year. But I did get to witness the “Surfing the Internet with God” float (pictured at the top of this post) on another similarly-memorable Parade-watching occasion.

Continue reading

Her Personal Truck

Standard

‘From zero driving to truck driving in no time flat’

Back in the early 80s I dated this guy who also worked in the New York City Ad Biz — he was a producer; I was a copywriter — but he, unlike me, owned a vehicle. This was (and still is) somewhat unusual for a New Yorker.

The few New Yorkers who own cars are all out here

Anyway, this guy was really cool. Still is, I imagine. He was so cool that he not only owned a vehicle, he owned a truck. This was so unusual — and, to me, so cool — that I dubbed this vehicle — I don’t remember the make but it was white — his Personal Truck. As in, “Oh, do we get to go wash your Personal Truck?”

Yup, that’s me. During my ride-around-in-the-Personal-Truck period

I say “go wash” because Cool Guy did not keep his Personal Truck in the City. He kept it at his childhood home in New Jersey. We would hop on the train, pick it up (well, it was a pickup truck, after all), wash it (this was back when you could ride through a car wash, which I enjoyed immensely) and then he would drive it around while I made those swoopy hand-fish motions out the window and felt the wind in my hair.

Continue reading

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” said my wise mother.

Standard

‘”You’re going to be a grownup for a very long time.”‘

I had my heart set on using this seriously cute photo of The Child wearing my shiny brown hand-tooled cowboy boots. (They look more like hip boots on her three-or-four-year-old form.) In this lost photo she is also sporting a pair of big ole dangly pearl clip-on earrings. Painfully cute.

Never fear. I have a plethora of painfully cute Child photos

I could keep on looking, but the clock just keeps on ticking and it’ll be Wednesday before this Tuesday post is done if I don’t just forge on ahead.

Continue reading

Queen Elizabeth and I both put our tights on one leg at a time

Standard

‘And we both sit down on the bed first’

I’m not all that cagey about revealing my age. Though it does bug me to be asked. Usually, unless the person asking is a government official or someone hinting that I deserve the Senior Discount, I just smile and say that I’m old enough to remember when Sir Paul was a Beatle. They get the idea. And I get the discount.

Note to Young Persons in Positions Serving the Public (movie ticket sellers, museum fee gatherers and the like): if someone wants the Senior Discount, she will ask for the Senior Discount. MoMA won’t make any new Friends if you suggest that discount to someone you in your dewy-eyed wisdom deem eligible. Trust me; I know whereof I speak.

The Dude and me on a recent tights-wearing occasion. It was me wearing the tights

But back to Queen Elizabeth and me. You know that old (speaking of old) saying, don’t you? The one about The King of England and the lowliest commoner both putting their pants on one leg at a time? Well, I realized last Tuesday that I am now just like Her Highness, at least in the Getting Up There Department. Because, when I put on my tights, I sat down on the bed first.

Continue reading

I never did find that darned bedpan

Standard

‘More Memories of my dear funny Aunt Marilyn’

I’ve been feeling a tad emptied out these last few weeks. And not only because our home is, bit by bit, quite literally being emptied of virtually all our favorite possessions. (The Gods of Staging decree it thus.)

Living room with piano and cat bed, on its way to being “staged” for sale

No, I’m feeling empty because my life is being emptied, bit by bit (or soul by soul), of many of my favorite people. (In this case, it’s the Guy — or Gal — Upstairs who decrees it.) A few weeks ago, it was my Mom’s sister, my dear funny idiosyncratic Aunt Marilyn.

Aunt Marilyn in a rare formal portrait. I used to stare at this photo (framed, on a shelf in my Gramma’s house), wishing I owned that fabulous fur neck thing

True, I already wrote a piece about Marilyn. A couple of pieces, in fact. (See “Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”  and “A Very Marilyn Christmas” for some nice reminiscences.) But, trust me, she was such fun and so, well, unique in her enthusiasms, that she deserves another few words.

I already mentioned that, when I was very small, my Dad went off to serve in Korea and Mom and I went back to her parents’ farm to live for the duration. (See “Kissing Daddy Good-night” for poignant details.) Marilyn was a teenager at the time, so she, of course, was in residence.

Continue reading

Only if the plane was on fire

Standard

‘When Whitmores say something is “exciting”‘

There’s a scene in one of my favorite Woody Allen movies (I’m thinking it’s Annie Hall) where Woody’s character asks his date to name her favorite sport. She says “swimming”, and Woody says, “Swimming? Swimming’s not a sport. Basketball’s a sport. Swimming is what you do when the boat sinks!”

Well, Woody, I hear you. I feel similarly about parachute jumping. I can think of absolutely no scenario where I would jump out of a plane. Unless it was on fire — and I’m not sure I’d do it even then.

Obviously The Child feels differently. There is photographic evidence (see the shot at the top of this post) of her smiling while she’s jumping out of a plane. And guess what? She did it again a few years later with a bunch of work buddies.

Not sure if this was before or after that second jump. Those could be smiles of relief — or terror

Anyway. I bring all this up because The Child never ceases to amaze me with her daring. Though, honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised when she does stuff like jump out of planes, leap off cliffs, swing from trapezes, or face off with large animals. She is, after all, a Whitmore.

The Child, outstanding (er, squatting) in her field: staring down danger

Now, some of you are no doubt protesting, “Hey, you’re a Whitmore!” But I am a Whitmore only by marriage. The Child’s Whitmoreness flows through her very veins.

Continue reading

“Why do you want to know?”

Standard

‘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.”

Continue reading

“What’s that smell?”

Standard

‘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?

Continue reading