Archives for category: Family

Today, February 21 is the 91st anniversary of my father’s birth. I have missed him more than I thought possible since he succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage 15 years ago. I want to share one of the lessons he allowed me during our time together.

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My father was known through family, friends, and neighbors as a laconic gentleman. He was a man of few words but an observant eye, ready to help anyone in need, anytime.

My mother, to this day, is more impatient and quick to criticize.

With these credentials, my father became the de facto driving instructor for his six children.

My lessons started in the spring of 1967. I had turned sixteen the previous December, but mom acted as principal of the driving school and would not allow winter driving lessons.

In those olden days, the Sunday “blue laws” were in effect. Those laws meant that no stores were open on “the Lord’s day.”  So, Dad and I took advantage of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, making it the track for my driving lessons.

The lessons started with dad driving the roads to the shopping center’s parking lot where he turned over the keys and steering wheel of the 1958 green Oldsmobile 98. That car was so big some of my siblings called it a boat. With its fashionable-in-the-late-fifties fins, I preferred calling it the green dragon.

Over time, my lessons progressed. I became the dragon driver, chauffeuring us both over the quiet streets to the shopping center to practice parallel parking between dad-made wooden poles.

My most cherished lesson came after a Sunday afternoon of parking practice followed by my confident drive back home. The journey ended with a left turn into our single car driveway.

It was a narrow drive past a side screened-in porch that ended in a much wider surface that always reminded me of a map of the United States. To leave we drove through “Florida” and to get to the house we walked through “California” and the Baja peninsula.

Almost home, I engaged the turn signal as I got to Metzger’s house, two doors up from ours. The indicator blinked past Crowley’s and the breadth of our house. Fortunately, no one was proximate to see me turn into the drive and continue turning until I was stopped on our front lawn, parallel to the driveway with the grill of the Olds a very few feet from the entrance to the side screened-porch.

I felt like a complete failure. How could I mess up such a simple maneuver? I must have been shaking—especially since my hero, my father saw my mistake. I could have injured him!

My dad’s reaction allowed one of the best lessons of my life.  He asked the perfect parental and instructional question, “Do you want me to move it or do you want to?”

My dad still trusted me? Wow!

I quickly deduced that I was not always going to have my father to get me out of trouble and that I was going to need to fend for myself. “I’ll do it.”

I not only said, “I’ll do it.” I did it.

That was not the last mistake of my life. It was not the last time my father supported me. It was and is a lesson that I’ve kept close to my heart for fifty years.

I hope I’ve been able to pass it down to my son.

It has been an incredibly emotionally sad year – especially the last three months. That has kept me from sharing my writing because I usually write lighter fare.

I have been looking forward to today because I put in motion an act of kindness that should reach fruition today. That’s all I’m going to say. Christmas means a lot to me and this will be an example of it.

One of the miracles I have awed about is my marvelous son. When I went to the hospital to give birth, I took a book. Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I had a book. When don’t I have a book? The book I took was Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. It was 2 more years and a sprained ankle before I got that book read. The only reading I did in the hospital was the face and body of my son.

It’s been twenty-seven years and I still am amazed by this young man. I constantly wonder how he turned out so fine, giving, witty, intelligent, and hard-working.

To illustrate one of his fine qualities, I relate this conversation that took place this morning.
Son and Husband, downstairs, had a conversation while I was upstairs getting dressed.
Son came up a few minutes later and, as I passed his door, I asked, “What’s going on?”
He didn’t answer until I was in my bedroom in a far corner. There were absolutely no pauses in this exchange
Son: unintelligible
Mom: “Were you talking to me?”
Son: “Yes.”
Mom: “What did you say?”
Son: “I asked dad if the fish had been fed.”
Mom: “Why didn’t you just ask the fish?”
Son: “They lie!”
Hug those you love and tell them that you love them!
Merry Christmas.

We’ve lived in this house, built in 1876, for 20 years. When we moved in, we were astounded by the number of lady bugs occupying the bedrooms. Well, we thought they were lady bugs. Turns out, they were not. They are a cousin known as Japanese lady beetles.

I didn’t mind since I realized WE were the intruders since the home had been vacant for five years prior to our possession.

That is, I didn’t mind until one crawled down the straw of my water bottle and I almost ingested it. Almost because, Boy! Those things are terrible tasting.

They don’t return every year as winter approaches, but a lot of them.

The next stranger came a few years later when I opened the door to the basement and starred at an opossum staring back at me from the landing. It hissed. I slammed the door. I have no idea how it got in (the foundation of the house is stone with gapes) but it must have found its way out. That was a one time observation.

Mice have been a problem some winters. We are a no kill household (except for flies, mosquitos and, in my case, earwigs) so we would catch them and take them close to the river to let them find a new home. We did have one for close to two years we dubbed “Elvis” because he left the… room (not the building) as I pointed him out to Husband. Last winter we found one baby that was quickly caught.

Two summers ago, I ducked as a bat flew around the living and dining rooms while waiting for Husband to get home from work and capture it. I knew he could do it since he had for a neighbor on the west side. He evicted the bat. I went up to bed and found a baby in the bedroom. For the second time that evening, I ducked. Husband caught.

The neighbor on the east side doesn’t like snakes. We’ve told him will come and get them if he finds any. Husband has rescued a few. Brownie has also left us carcasses hanging from the chain link fence separating our properties.

This week, I was proud of myself when Son came into the bedroom where I hole up once we get to air conditioning season since we only have window units. With a grin, he announced that he found a garter snake in the silverware drawer. He didn’t catch it. I slithered under the refrigerator where he couldn’t see it.

I have to admit given the choice among all the critters who have tested our hospitality, the garter snake would probably be the least objectionable to me. I guess I’d be a snake charmer.

 

When did cooking become audible? I don’t just mean repeating to myself an ingredient that I’m searching for in overstuffed cupboards.

For a several reasons, I don’t cook often. My husband has done most of the cooking for a long time. Occasionally, a recipe or an event will prod me into action. Lately, I have been trying to replicate macaroni and cheese like I used to eat in high school.

Lunch in high school cost $1.50 and consisted of an entree, three sides and a beverage. On Fridays the menu included a creamy macaroni and cheese that I heartily endorsed by asking for an entree portion accompanied by three sides of the delectable pasta dish. If my milk could have been replaced by my favorite food, I’m sure that I would have done that, too.

I hadn’t thought about this ritual until I recently met a friend at Tim Horton’s and decided to try, what has become for me, of late, an unusual side dish. Macaroni and cheese.

I was in lust again. It seemed the perfect clone for what I’d had half a century ago during my much thinner days.

Since that fateful stop, I’ve been perusing cookbooks and the internet to find a plausible clone for the elusive recipe.

A few weeks ago, I found a candidate in a usually reliable source, a new America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

Some of the ingredients had to be purchased fresh from the grocery, others were already found on my cupboard shelves.

Fortunately, the largest saucepan was not buried in the unending corner cupboard. I easily pulled it out, filled it with water, reached above the stove for salt, sprinkled some into the pan’s water, replaced the salt and turned on the stove.

Step two, getting a casserole dish large enough for all the macaroni. “Large enough” in our kitchen means that it is under a stack of like, but smaller, vessels. “Unh!” was audible as I thought, “When did these get so heavy?” taking a pile of casseroles out of a lower cupboard onto a stool then separating those I didn’t need to return them to the low shelf.

Step three, reaching the food processor on top of the upper cupboards. Fortunately, the device was placed up there so that it hung over the edge. It still was a stretch to balance it down. The bread-ends I needed to pulse were on the third shelf of the frig, at the back. The perfect spot to torment my back. Before I found all the slices I needed, my back said, “Enough!”  resulting in a very loud moaning from my mouth, Uh, uh, uh!” This was the first sound that resulted in an, “Are you okay, Mom?” from Son in the dining room. I assured him that I was.

It is time for a pause to let the reader know, the kitchen is very closed off from the rest of the house, only a single door opening into the dining room. Usually the person (Husband) in the kitchen talking to others in the house — Son in dining room and me in living room —cannot be understood. So it was notable that my predicaments were obvious.

The fourth step was easy, developing the roux into a creamy cheese sauce. No audibles here.

The penultimate step required Panko crumbs which were on the highest shelf over a counter. “I didn’t used to have trouble reaching that shelf. Am I shrinking?” came out as a very loud, “Unh” as I stretched to tipple the bottom of the can in my direction. Again, from the dining room, “Are you okay?”

“Yes, hon. I was just trying to reach the bread crumbs.”

“Did you get them?”

“Yes. I did. Thanks.” Although I noticed he didn’t get up from his computer to check.

The layout of the kitchen is wanting (one of the reasons I don’t cook in there.). One of the things it “wants” is space. Especially in front of the oven. One can not stand in front of the oven and open the oven door. Well, if one is paper thin, it could be done, but no one in our household meets that requirement.

This means dishes put in the oven are done so from the left side. To eliminate any more audio clues, I calmly called, “Help.”

Husband answered, “What do you need?” I could tell that he was walking towards the kitchen.

He put the macaroni and cheese in the oven and returned to remove it 20 minutes later.

The result was a creamy but anemic looking (pale yellow vs vibrant) dish. We all were disappointed with the results. The disappointment was not just because of the taste. It was also because of the quantity.

We’re going to be eating the leftovers for weeks.

“Unh!”

Almost 24 years ago when our son was born, my friend Mary, who had been my matron of honor, looked at our infant and commented, “Bill will never be able to deny this child is his.”

I had given birth to a miniature physical replica of my husband even to a cleft in the chin I was not aware my bearded husband had.

Over the years there have been instances when Son exhibited behaviors obviously learned from his mother. I laughed the first time he talked to grandma on the hard-wired-to-the-wall phone while he passed back and forth – exactly the way I talked on the phone.

Another incident that caused me pause was seeing my pre-schooler straighten the stripes of a bath towel draping a wet picnic table bench. “Oh, son! Don’t get that from me.”

Today another sign of our connection – granted it has been a hectic week. On Monday, leaving for work at 4 p.m. was the fifth time I’d left the house that day. It wasn’t the last time I left the house.

Wednesday was a flip flop of Monday. I left the house once but made six stops throughout Dayton, Springfield and Urbana.

For the Fourth, we drove more than 3 hours to spend the afternoon with my family to get back in the car for another 3 hours. It was a good visit, but we were all exhausted.

Husband and I were able to nap this afternoon. Son worked a full day.

I picked him up at the end of his shift, but had him drive home. Shortly after getting home, he came to me for the car keys. I didn’t have them.

A few years ago, I had so many instances of calling Husband to get me into a vehicle that I finally put reminder labels on the steering wheel and door.

It only took about 15 minutes to locate the missing keys today. After checking his pockets, the dining room table, the bathroom, the kitchen, and the front porch he located them safe and sound in the ignition of the locked car.

After the busyness of this week, I’m happy to stay home, reading and writing until Husband gets off work so he can once again get keys out of the locked car that I drive.

Yep! He’s my son, too.

The yo-yoing temperatures have had some questioning whether it is truly spring or not.

I have seen or experienced proof that spring has actually arrived.

The daffodils are standing at full attention. The forsythia is well on its way to being fivesythia.

There was a fly in my van last week.

Two Canada geese have adopted the university library as their personal property. I think they have been trying to hatch it.

The robins have returned and are presenting harmony with the cardinals and sparrows.

Most obvious spring forensic? My husband of twenty-five and a half years was confused by the voice that answered his phone call to home this morning.

I answered the phone and heard, “Do you have to work today?”

“Yeah,” I answered, baffled by his question.

“Oh, I though you were Son!”

My allergy produced basso profundo has returned.

Yep! It’s spring.

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Eleven Years ago today, my dad died (seated on the right with me on his lap). I refuse to say, “I lost my dad.” I know exactly where he is. His death was unexpected and shocked my entire family.

An eleven year anniversary isn’t unusually memorable or remarkable, but I noticed that the calendar matches exactly for 2002. March 20 was a Wednesday then, as it is now. Dad’s funeral was on March 25 which, like this year, was a Monday. Most notably, the Sunday after dad’s burial was Easter, like this year.

It was shortly after dad died that I first entered the Erma Bombeck Writing Contest (she was born on my dad’s first birthday). That first time I entered the human interest division rather than the humor division. Naively, I submitted what I felt would be the obvious winning entry. Evidently the judges didn’t agree.

I’ve continued to enter the Erma Bombeck Writing Contest and even won an honorable mention one year. I wrote a column in the Springfield News Sun for almost five years, but the first submission will always be special to me because it is a tribute to my dad.

I share the piece again for some, for others this will be a first:

Communion and Confirmation

     My family congregated around my father.  We had just been presented with the most formidable decision of our lives.  How would we ever reach consensus?  My mantra developed from previous gatherings where our diversification was evident: “I’ll bet none of us would eat a bologna sandwich the same way.”

There were no special orders in my mother’s kitchen.  Bologna, costing only 59 cents per pound, was efficiently folded into bread-and-butter menus.  Mom prepared sandwiches as if on assembly line.  White bread spread with oleo was the foundation for the meat and condiments.

None of us would use margarine or butter now.  White bread isn’t in my culinary repertoire.  Cathy drowned things in catsup.  Mustard was anathema to Jack.  Bob welcomes variations of breads and condiments.  Sue hasn’t even said the word “bologna” since leaving home.  The parental role seemed to be lost in this rumination.

It never seemed odd that each chose different professions.  After 30 years in the business world, my calling became teaching students with Learning Disabilities in a suburban school. Cath taught for over 25 years at the parochial school we had attended.  Bob transitioned from Bank Manager to Loan Originator after a “down-sizing”.  Sue was a Systems Analyst.  After graduating with a degree in Engineering Technology, Jack opened an auto salvage yard.

My bologna logic demanded that our dietary requests remain constant though other parts of our lives had not.  The nuances of our personalities affected even our religion.  Two retained the Catholicism of our upbringing.  My spiritual road detoured through Methodism and made a stop in the Lutheran Church.  The youngest two appeared to have no church affiliation, though one’s marriage vows were exchanged before a Baptist minister.

Now the five of us, with our mother, encompassed the rudder of our family.  My laconic father, whom I often compared to the mighty oak because of his stature, had been felled by a cerebral “accident”.  His 6 foot 4 inch frame was stretched diagonally across the hospital bed so his feet wouldn’t hang over the edge.  He was still bleeding into his brain while he was hooked to a myriad of machines.  The doctors informed us my dad had no brain activity.  We were gathered to decide my father’s fate.

What I might have previously considered an inconceivable solution came to me very quickly.  This would not be my father’s concept of living.  Surprisingly, the rest of the family had the same insight.  We were unified in our decision.  As he had once given us wings, we had to let dad go.

The differences were inconsequential.  Our hearts were the same.  That core would nourish us longer than any bologna sandwich.

Godspeed, Dad!