Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Worth the Wait

Today is my daughter's birthday. There's so much I could say but so little time to think about saying it. Her birthday is always that way, but surprisingly she has never blamed me for the poor planning! Years ago I wrote this piece during the Advent season, so I'll recycle it again.

The baby came two days after Christmas-- out to meet a gasping mother and a pale, shaken father. The baby’s face was unbelievably red and indescribably beautiful. She had been expected for several weeks. While her father had slept, her mother had walked. Down the hall, into the living room, around the Christmas tree, the mother plodded silently. The baby inside was silent but not still. Stretching, rolling, reaching, turning, she reminded her mother, I’m here, I’m here, I’ll come, you can wait. Her mother reminded herself, it will be worth it. Worth all this. Yes, worth it.

Was this really Christmas, the mother wondered as she looked out the window of an empty nursery. Lights blinked outside. Christmas for me will be late this year, the mother thought. But worth the wait, the baby, still spinning, told her.

Years later the mother learned what the baby was doing during their wait. A swimmer from the beginning, she was arching her back, ready to push off, waiting for a good start. A good start is worth the wait.

Christmas is a start, a good start. Worth the wait. Yes, worth it.

Monday, November 6, 2006


A few years back, walking out of the ladies' room of an American department store, a British friend of mine remarked, "The doors to your toilet stalls are not fitted properly! There's a rather large gap!" That's true, but I'll take too large a gap over too small. Here's why:

Years ago a stall door closed so tightly that I couldn't open it when I was ready to leave. I really couldn't and I began to panic. Fortunately, there was another woman nearby washing her hands. Unfortunately, she was from Thailand and neither spoke nor understood much English. I was one of the English teachers in the class she was attending in the building.

Her name was pronounced Noy-nook, though I'm sure it was spelled differently. "Noy-nook!" I cried. "I can't open this door!" I repeated this several times as she struggled to understand. Finally she summoned all her English skills and shouted back (though there was really no need to shout-- we were only a few feet apart), "Turn latch! Turn latch!"

"I've already tried that!" She came closer and began pull on the door. No luck.

"Turn latch! Turn latch!" We repeated this exchange several times.

I felt like crying. I looked down and saw a small space between the bottom of the door and the floor. I was skinny-- and younger-- back then and decided I had to go for it. I began to bend down toward the floor, as Noy-nook continued to shout "Turn latch! Turn latch!"

I didn't get very far. The stall space was so small that I bumped my forehead hard on the door, on my way down. As I yelled "Ow!," the door flew open and I exploded from the stall.

Noy-nook smiled with relief. "Ah, you turn latch!"

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Making Faces in the Psych Unit

Daughter #2 formed the face you see in the photo on the right. I don't remember where we were living, just that we were overseas and it was about 20 years ago. She brought it home and I was amazed. Never had I seen such a face. I wish I could remember how she described it at the time. Much later she recalled that the piece was not originally designed to be a face but rather a little bowl of some sort. Somehow she changed plans and pinched it into a human (?) image.

Clay is a remarkable thing and not only when used by artists. It's very basic-- just you and the clay. No paintbrushes, needles or knives are required. Not even a potter's wheel. Your fingers can roll it, squeeze it and punch it, and most of the time it feels good. Most of the time.

I spent a couple of weeks in a psychiatric unit when we lived in Germany. As a patient, I should add. At this point in my life, over 18 years later, the experience is filed under Been There, Done That, Glad I Did- Though It Was Awful. What my experience has to do with clay is this: A smug occupational therapist, in his daily session with us, assigned the task of making someone out of clay. The Someone had to be the person we hated most in the world and, consequently, blamed for our misery.

I remember being surprised that I was the only one who formed my own self-- sitting down, legs extended, head bowed, hands in pockets. My comrades-in-distress came up with: husband, boss, ex-husband of fiance, former friend, and parents. Then there was Victor.

Victor was on staff, a psychiatric technician or "psych tech." Which means the Air Force may have given him one hour of extra training on how to be with crazy people. Victor's mouth, when it wasn't making an inappropriate remark, was shaped into a permanent smirk. I loathed him. . . him and his blonde buzz-cut, wispy little mustache, macho posturing, and icy blue eyes. He was probably no older than 21.

As I was being urged by the therapist to explain my model, I heard snickers. To my relief, my new friends weren't laughing at me. They were looking at Victor and his creation. Victor had made a lumpy-looking dog. The dog was squatting. The dog was, yes, you guessed it, defecating. Victor was still rolling little turds. (I know that's a nasty word to use, but there's just no other way.)

I don't remember the therapist's reaction, if he even noticed. I just remember feeling a new bond with Victor. Yes, Victor, that's exactly how I feel about this stupid exercise and about life in general right now.

Victor secured his improved status with me by helping us order pizza, then organizing us into a band of leering idiots before the delivery person arrived. When the unsuspecting pizza man stepped hesitantly into our game room, our crossed-eyes, stuck-out tongues and wild grimaces awaited him. He hurriedly took our money and left.

As I said before, isn't clay amazing? And aren't faces even more so?

Monday, October 9, 2006


All my talk about hand-holding must have made me go mushy. You were already mushy, I hear some of you saying. Okay, fine, agreed, but sometimes I am more myself than other times. This morning is one of those times.

Do you ever feel incapable of self-care? Or, maybe, just tired of doing it? Years ago, when Daughter # 2 felt sad or needy or, more likely, was in some sort of trouble, she would throw her head back and wail, “I need to be holded!” She was about 3 or 4 years old and life could be difficult for a middle child. Her older sister bossed her and her little brother bit her. She prayed about it (dear-dear-God-help-her-not-to-be-so-mean-to-me-and-help-him-not-to-bite-me-so-much).

And when relief didn't come quickly enough, she'd go for being "holded."

I dreamed last night that we had a huge party at our house. Being a typical dream, it was a party I hadn't known about, hadn't planned and hadn't wanted. People kept streaming in, oblivious to my confusion. My family wandered in and out of the rooms, vaguely happy it seemed, yet not really helping me give this party. I so wanted to be somewhere else but I couldn't leave.

I think I needed to be holded.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

I Wanna Hold Your Hand!

One of the main reasons I enjoy reading the New York Times is the quirky articles. By that, I mean that the Times-- and the Washington Post to some extent-- frequently explores issues that, at first thought, don't seem significant. But they are, and the Times reminds us of that.

Who would've thought, for example, that hand-holding merits serious attention? True, it is a relationship issue and a behavioral issue and a cultural issue. But it seems so minor. When I think of those kinds of issues, I expect to read about AIDS, or cohabiting, or sex education. Last week, however, the Times reported that the practice of holding hands is being studied.

I'm glad. Hand-holding is something I have experience with! On my first date many years ago, the boy I was with asked if he could hold my hand. How quaint, how sweet, you might think. But at the time I thought, How yucky. It's hard to explain my negative reaction, except to say that his asking took all the romance out of it. A few years later my husband-to-be didn't ask to hold my hand on our first date-- he just reached for it. Much better.

And I always loved holding my children's hands when they were young. I remember walking with my little boy in our small town in England, holding his gloved hand as we ran into a tea shop to waste time and stay warm while his sisters were having their weekly piano lesson. This won't last forever, I thought. Shortly after that, this same little boy was having a fight with his uncle as they toured Framlingham Castle. My brother-in-law instinctively reached for my son's hand. Castle walls can be dangerous places for children. My son was having none of it, and they proceeded to have their own battle inside the castle. (Having already been there several times, I was obliviously browsing in a nearby bookstore, though I may have heard some screams.)

I believe hand-holding is welcomed more often than resisted. Almost nine years ago my family lined up to be seated for my mother's memorial service. I saw my brother take my father's hand just as they began to walk up the aisle of the church. It was my dad's hand and not mine, but I felt reassured. We're together, we're all here for her.

And now studies tell us that holding hands makes us feel more secure and protected. Our brains really like it! I think I already knew that. But it's good to be reminded.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Group Hug

When it comes to something a group of people can do together that isn't illegal or immoral, nothing much can beat the Group Hug. I am absolutely, terrifyingly serious. I say "terrifying" because sometimes I realize I'm so needy it scares me almost to death.

Monday was such a beautiful day. Absurdly inspired, I once again decided heaven must be like a big front porch where you can sit a while, then run out and play like a child in the front yard, or maybe with a child in the front yard. The sun shining through the leaves felt so fine on my face that I almost threw my big unstylish sunglasses into the street.

I was driving around with my friend and we had some spare time between our scheduled activities. So we made a stop at her daughter's house and that's where my front porch reverie began. I felt awkward at first because I didn't know anyone but my friend. Different people kept coming out and going back into the house, and children who belonged to who-knows-who were running everywhere. Cats, some wearing collars and others obviously wild, were lolling all around, stretching and yawning. The ice cream man jingled by. I remembered I had my camera in the car, so I retrieved it and began taking the children's pictures. They shrieked "Cheese! Cheese!" before I even had it out of the case. The adults I didn't know began to laugh and so did I. I promised to give them copies of the pictures.

Our next stop was at the home of my friend's former son-in-law. He has custody of her grandchildren, a court-ordered fact that she finds it hard to forgive him for. She'd been telling me how he won't let her see the children and, in fact, she hadn't visited them since January. We drove by his house slowly. She saw his truck but didn't see the former son-in-law himself sitting in the front yard smoking. But I did.

"Why don't you try asking him if you can make an appointment to see the kids?"

"No! He might throw something at me."

I'd never seen this man act violently, so I persisted, "Ask very politely." I promised to circle the block but not leave her for long.

She got out of the car and began to walk up his driveway as I pulled away. I drove around the block slowly, waving at strangers who were outside enjoying the lovely weather.

When I pulled up again at the house, the ex-son-in-law waved me into his driveway, and my friend was already hugging a grandchild. Another grandchild was on his way out.

I had missed them, too. Even after the first hugs, the ten year old stood between my friend and me, patting us both. Finally, he put his arms around us and said, "Let's stand real close to each other."

I could restrain myself no longer. "Let's have a group hug!" I cried. The six year old ran over to join us.

We were standing in a driveway. But as I've prayed my thanks today, I've pictured us holding onto each other on a heavenly front porch. Absolutely, terrifyingly beautiful.

Friday, September 8, 2006

The Other Birthday Girl

Growing up, I enjoyed telling people that I was born on my mother's birthday. I didn’t know many others who could say that, and I liked feeling special. But really, that was almost my only childhood acknowledgement of her birthday. The fact that she was part of my birthday story made her birthday slightly interesting. But only slightly!

My paternal grandmother used to tell the story of how I once said to my mother: “Guess what? We have a surprise for you!” To which my mom replied, “What is it?” My enthusiastic answer: “We didn’t get you anything for your birthday!”

That story has not improved with age.

As I grew older, my mother and I cherished the occasional birthday we celebrated together. Usually we lived far apart. We would talk on the telephone, though, and tell each other about our day—what we had done, who we saw, how we celebrated.

And my mother always said, before we ended our conversation, “You were the best birthday present I ever got!” I can still hear her voice.

On her last birthday—when she turned eighty—she was sitting up in her bed in a hospital room as she laughed, talked and opened cards and presents. As a joke, we had signed the name of her quiet, humorless physician on one of the cards. She loved it. Smiling nurses wandered in and out of the room, sometimes leaning against the wall for a few minutes to talk. My mother said, “Everyone wants to be where we are, because we're having so much fun.”

I think all of us knew it was her final birthday, herself included, but I couldn't bear to think of it then. After being her favorite birthday present for so many years, how could I have imagined a birthday without her?

Now she’s gone and, of course, I miss her and what she said to me every September 8th. For the first several birthdays after she died, I didn’t want to celebrate. The other birthday girl wasn’t there.

But time and memory can re-ignite the imagination, often out of necessity. Now I can picture a special birthday card just for me. It’s from my mother. You can guess what it says.

Friday, September 1, 2006

The First September 1st

You’ve heard the expression, “She didn’t know what hit her.” That describes the beginning of my first labor pains—I didn’t know what was hitting me! By the time my husband and I had figured it out, we were glad the hospital wasn’t farther away. Several hours later the most beautiful baby in the world—up until that time at least—made her first cries. Her father and I fell in love with her at that moment, and we’ve never fallen out.

She looked so much like her dad that he and I both began to laugh when we saw her. The same chin exactly, with the dimple.

I was 23 years old, a baby myself, and my husband was only a few weeks older. We had been through childbirth classes, read books and listened to stories, but we knew nothing. I repeat, nothing. The Beautiful Baby began tutoring us, her sometimes reluctant pupils, on that September 1st.

We soon discovered that she enjoyed straightening us out. Her way was the only way! She took her role as Firstborn very seriously and would grow into it even more as her younger siblings arrived. She became counselor, teacher, disciplinarian, leader and—dare I admit it?—her mom and dad’s guinea pig.

Now she lives across the country, working at a job I can’t understand and doing things I can only marvel at. To me she’s still like her dad—beautiful blue eyes and determined jaw. The same unmistakable laugh. When I see her, which will probably never be often enough, I stare at her with the same longing, awe and aching love that I felt on that first September first.

I’ve heard that in some ways a child’s birthday means more to the parent than to the child herself. Who knows? Now that she's no longer a teenager, she might not welcome this date every year. But of course, I do. Happy, happy birthday, sweet baby.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Excuse me, where is the garboli ?

About 22 years ago our family went to live in England. We were thrilled. We landed at Heathrow on a Friday and by Sunday we were exploring local castles, churches and ruins.

My husband, a one-time history major, was fascinated by castles. Since he was an avid reader and had already traveled extensively, he was quite knowledgeable. He carefully explained the history as well as the reasoning behind the way castles had been built. He introduced us to terms such as moat, keep and....garboli. But I’m ahead of myself.

Our children were 10, 8 and 5 years of age. If my memory is correct, Orford Castle in Suffolk was their first castle. They loved it, especially since they could move freely and not have to listen to a tedious tour guide. One of the first questions they asked us (their tedious parents) about living in a castle concerned a subject children are often interested in. How, they wondered, had people gone to the bathroom? Their father pointed out a seat-like structure and solemnly intoned, “This was a toilet. It was called a garboli.” He pronounced it GAR-BO-LEE.

Ahhhh. A garboli. After much giggling, the kids began to enlighten other newcomers to castle life, mainly family members and close friends who came to visit us in our new home. Even I took pride in pointing out the garboli, though I confess that I did wonder why English toilets had such an Italian-sounding name.

A couple of years after our initial visit to Orford, I was perusing a guidebook on castles. It contained many diagrams and terms. Suddenly something caught my eye: “Medieval toilets were called garderobes.”

What? I immediately called it to my husband’s attention, exclaiming, “Listen to this! This book says toilets were called garderobes. What about garbolis?”

My husband-and-father-of-my-children merely shrugged. “Oh well,” he answered, “garderobe, garboli, what’s the difference?”

What’s the difference? WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE? So what if we’d been authoritatively telling people about “garbolis” for two years!

Though we amended our toilet vocabulary, the term garboli was not lost to history. No, even today some of our relatives-- and their friends with whom they shared this story-- use it. “Where is Howard? Oh, he went to the garboli.” or “Do you need to use the garboli before we leave?”

The gospel of garboli has spread throughout the land! Or maybe it's more accurately called...bathroom humor.

And to think I’d wondered if the word was Italian! It wasn’t. It was ours.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I Miss My Imaginary Friend

One morning last week as I was driving home from Ft. Worth, one of the Bad Songs I’d named in an earlier post began to play on the radio. Oh no, I thought. But I decided to listen to “I’m Already There.” After all, I could have made a mistake—maybe it really wasn’t that bad. But I soon realized, it is. I reached to the dial to turn off the whining of Lonestar’s lead singer. Then I heard it.

I’m all-ready there...I’m the whisper in the wind...I’m your imaginary friend.”

What was that? Say again?

Imaginary friend. What a loaded two-word phrase. An article I read recently says that after an exhaustive study of Imaginary Friends, researchers say that by the age of seven, 65 % of children have had such a pal.

Oddie P was my friend. I wish I remembered more about her. I do recall that she was a she. And that she was older than I, maybe even middle-aged. I loved the sound of her name, though I don’t know where it came from. My parents said that I used to call for her when I was in trouble, especially when a spanking was about to begin. (“Oddie! Oddie! Oddie Peeeeeeee!”)

My brother’s person was Pea Gah. I’ve emailed my brother for the correct spelling. Maybe he’ll fill me in on a few more details about Pea Gah, such as gender (I think he was a male), occupation and activities. As far as I know, Pea Gah and Oddie P were not related.

Only one of my three children had an imaginary friend that I know of. And really, had I predicted which child would have one, I wouldn’t have picked my son. My daughters seemed so much more, well, sensitive, and—dare I say it?—imaginative. (At this point, I humbly acknowledge how little we mothers sometimes know about our children.)

But John Gock lived somewhere in Bowie, Maryland when we did. He went to my son’s pre-school and was close to my son’s age (four), but just a little older. He and my son played together a lot and liked the same things. Sometimes John Gock got into trouble with the pre-school teacher. No matter. John Gock had The Aura. He just seemed on top of things. When John Gock’s name was mentioned, the rest of us listened.

One Sunday morning we were driving to church and my son casually mentioned, “We just drove past John Gock’s house.” My husband hit the brakes. The older sisters exclaimed, “Where? Which one? Let’s go back.” And my son said, “No, you missed it.” We went on to church.

Last week I asked my son if I could write about his Imaginary Friend John Gock. “You can,” he replied, “but he was real.”

Thursday, August 17, 2006

If I can't have her boyfriend, I'll take her hair

The record cover was too much for me to resist. For one thing, it was a record cover. Remember the days of buying a 45 (RPM record) for less than a dollar? No, of course you don’t. (But if you do, please let me know and we’ll hang out. Maybe do the Mashed Potato or the Peppermint Twist. Or something.)

So I had to buy the record cover. Because of the second thing: the cover girl’s hair. More specifically, her flip.

Ah, the flip hairstyle. It seemed so impossible to achieve, at least for some of us. I think I started working on it when I was in the eighth or ninth grade. It’s hard to tell from my old photographs. Why? Because I didn’t achieve it.

It was all or nothing back then. This was before blow dryers and quick re-do’s. What you came up with, you were stuck with. I remember having to go to church one Sunday morning with a flip that had flopped. I was humiliated. I knew how bad it was when even my mother looked sympathetic. If only she'd allowed me to skip church!

Back to the record cover...the guy on it is cute, though he looks somewhat aloof. Doesn’t he recognize a good flip when he's next to one?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Husband for Hire

I saw this sign in north Waco yesterday and had to photograph it. It was irresistible for a Collector of Useless Information and Off-the-Wall Pictures.

I wonder who put up the sign. The husband himself? Or the wife of the husband? I know, I could call the number. But it’s more fun to just...speculate.Here are a few things I would hire my husband out to do. After all, he does have some skills which could be marketable, especially if times get tough.

Hanging drapes. In 1972 he was a drapery-hanging trainee for Sears.
Cooking out on a grill. Talented to the max. Has a cute apron.
Calling Bingo. In the early 90s he was a nursing home favorite.Entertaining babies. His in-your-face style wins ‘em over every time.
Directing traffic. Loves to hold a Stop Sign. And tell folks what to do.
Pouring concrete. A natural. Never met a sidewalk he didn’t love.

On the flip side, he lacks certain talents which I will now (briefly) list to show my lack of bias. I would not hire him to:

Do yard work. He has allergies and prefers concrete over grass.
Cut my hair. I’ve been there, done that and won’t do it again.
Sing at a wedding. Unless they were all wrong for each other.
Pick out clothing. Most of all for himself.

Let’s stop there. The first list is longer. As they say in the field of economics, the surpluses outweigh the deficits. Hey, that reminds me: He’s pretty good at economics these days, even if he did sleep through class in the 70s!

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Deep in My Heart

It might be nice to be able to say that I don’t love things. But I do. What I treasure most is what could be called, tactlessly, junk.

Sappy, sentimental, maudlin, mawkish (I’m not sure of those last two words as I don’t think I’ve ever used them), that’s me. I can’t bear to throw away stuff and still regret tossing out old letters years ago.

So I’m glad I didn’t get rid of my Texas flag. Not that I don’t love my State, but it’s not Texas that attaches me to it. It’s my mother. She made it when I was twelve.

I’d volunteered to bring a flag to my geography class the next day. I was probably grandstanding, or maybe trying to ingratiate myself to a teacher who didn’t like me. And he really didn’t. After announcing that I would come up with a flag, I forgot about it.

Until 9:00 that night. As I was complaining about Mr. Reeves—the horrid teacher—one last time before bed, I suddenly remembered. Oh nooooooo!

Mother to the rescue. She asked how big it needed to be. Doesn’t matter, anything, whatever, I blubbered. She pulled out several scraps of fabric and, in ten minutes, I had my flag. Mr. Reeves was impressed.

Many years later, when she saw the flag framed on my wall, my mother said, “Well, I’d have made it look better if I’d known you were going to frame it.”

No, no, it was perfect. Still is.

Friday, August 4, 2006

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

During their first week back at school, do children still write about what they did last summer? That was a routine assignment way-back-when. I don’t remember what I wrote, but I probably tried to use correct punctuation.

My summers were uncomplicated, and beautiful. I loved playing. Our neighborhood-- in what was then north Dallas-- was as far as I wanted to go. We built forts, had wagon races, and organized backyard softball games. We chased lightning bugs and put them in old mayonnaise jars with holes punched in the lids.

One summer we bought small turtles at the nearby 5 & 10 . Those turtles, I’m sad to say, had it rough during their short life spans. They went “swimming,” with the help of a garden hose, in our wading pools. We made little churches out of shoeboxes so that they could have weddings. Gertrude and Pierre were the first-- and last-- couple. The same large ugly turtle who presided over their marriage ceremony held their funerals a few days later. I guess life with us was just too much for them.

Even my older brother, usually far too sophisticated for such silliness, joined in the memorial service for Gertrude. He tried to say a prayer, but the rest of us fell down on the grass giggling after he’d spoken a couple of holy words.

The two sisters who lived across the street, far luckier than I, were allowed to buy hamsters at the 5 & 10. We put them on the sidewalk and encouraged them to run. One of them darted straight under the foot of my best friend Ellen, and promptly gave up the ghost. The sisters were first heartbroken, then furious. “Murderer!” they cried. I don’t remember participating in that funeral.

Life is different now, certainly for me, but also for today’s children. Even with the Texas heat, our houses weren’t air-conditioned. We stayed outside, occasionally running in to the kitchen for a swig of cold water from a Tupperware bottle in the refrigerator.

We played until the sun began to set. Coming in barefoot and “filthy-dirty,” as we proudly called it, we were so tired we could hardly bathe.

Afterward, I collapsed into my bed next to an open window, dreaming of lightning bugs, tomorrow’s races, and trips to the 5 & 10 for more turtles.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Baylor Girl, I Mean Woman, and the Raincoat Rule

Soon after arriving on the Baylor campus as a freshman many years ago, I noticed several things. First, a lot of the boys were very short. But that's not what I want to write about today. I kept seeing the phrase "Baylor Woman" everywhere. No more Girl. I certainly didn't feel like a woman and I knew for sure my parents didn't think of me as one.

Baylor Women, I soon learned, didn’t smoke, drink, or stay out past 11:00 on weeknights, 12:30 A.M. on Friday nights, or midnight on Saturdays. I really had no interest in smoking or drinking, and there wasn’t all that much to do on campus or in Waco past curfew. So no problem there.

What seems remarkably strange now, as it did even back then, was the Raincoat Rule. Baylor Women wore skirts on campus, not slacks and certainly not shorts. The dilemma of issues such as P.E. and leaving campus was addressed by the Raincoat Rule: wear a raincoat over your shorts or slacks. Uh, a raincoat??? I suppose any sort of overcoat would have sufficed, but it’s far too hot in Waco much of the school year for a heavy coat. Hence, the raincoat.

I didn’t own a raincoat. Raincoats have never been cool, and they weren’t then. But somehow I ended up with a wrinkly/crinkly, vinyl thing. It couldn’t be see-through, of course, and mine wasn’t. It was greenish gray. It could be folded into a small satchel when it wasn’t in use. Sadly, though, it was often in use.

A raincoat could easily cover shorts, but what purpose did it serve for slacks?

You can probably answer that question, and I can now. The Raincoat Rule existed to manage and protect. In a word: CONTROL. Even though we were women and not girls, we needed to be controlled. Baylor men/boys, on the other hand, did not. Curfew-less, they roamed the campus and Waco late into the night. They smoked in their dormitory rooms. In fact, they smoked all over campus, wherever they wanted to. And they had maids to clean their rooms! Yes, maids.

When questioned about the obvious disparity, a Dean reassured the skeptics: “We provide the men with the services and the women with the protection.”

I am not making this up. Ah, the good old days…

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

10 Things I Used to Not Think About

I was pleased when I finally realized, or was told, that “blog” was a shortened form of “web log,” which meant an online journal. A diary! I understood diary. Like many girls of my generation, I often received a small leather, or fake leather, book for Christmas. On the cover was written “My Diary.” It had a small band attached to the back cover that curved to the front. At the front end of the band, a gold clasp could be fastened to the front cover. Best of all, the clasp could be locked with a tiny gold key! I might even lose it! The dramatic possibilities were thrilling. Of course, since the band was only about an inch high, and the diary about 6 inches, it was very easy to read most of the writing on each page. But no matter, the key meant that it was WRONG for anyone else to read it. My entries usually consisted of January 1 and 2. January 1 likely read, “Today was a boring day. We took down the Christmas tree.” (January 2, I forget.)

They were always vaguely interesting to me, but now I often think about one in particular. It’s a beautiful place just outside Waco. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, great-great grandmother, and—yes—great-great-great grandmother are buried there. Several grandfathers, and some favorite aunts, uncles, and cousins are as well. I think of how my maternal grandmother watched as her 23 year old daughter was buried. And of my great-grandmother who stood at the graves of two of her daughters, both under the age of 25. When did I start thinking of it? Probably after seeing my mom’s gravestone and wondering how it could be possible. Somehow, standing in that place—sad, bewildered, and silent—has been profoundly moving to me. And then there have been the fun times! My cousins and aunt and I visit “our people” (as a 4 year old cousin called them) and tell stories as we clean, replace flowers, and wander around. My aunt said they used to have picnics there on designated clean-up days. She said we should bring sandwiches sometime. Maybe we will.

Root Beer Floats
Honestly, I have to give credit to my friends in the nursing home where I once worked. They requested them during the summer months and promised immediate refreshment to anyone who partook. I dipped and poured many floats. Slurping floats was such a joyful activity that I took the idea with me to the next place I worked, a home for retired Catholic nuns across the country from the first place. The Sisters already knew about root beer floats and happily agreed to drink what I fixed. So now the root beer float—not Coke, not Dr. Pepper—is a favorite drink, especially when it’s 100 degrees outside!

We used to put it on our noses and shoulders, sometimes, and the “suntan lotion” container didn’t have an SPF number. Most of the time we didn’t use it at all; we knew how much better we looked with a tan. About 20 or 30 years after I stopped obsessing about my tan, or lack thereof, one of my closest friends died of melanoma. And now I think about sunscreen.

In 1986 I stopped sleeping well. In fact, I stopped sleeping. For several years, no medication helped. I sleep much better these days, but never again as I did pre-1986.

I know there are places that make better coffee, but Starbucks is a favorite chain. I look for Starbucks when I’m on the road. I rejoice when I see the green letters. I sigh after taking a first sip. I don’t complain about the price. I’m not really embarrassed about the coffee stains on my shirts, though I pretend I am.

Sock Monkeys
In the mid-90s I saw an old sock monkey in an antique shop. I wanted to buy it but the person with me laughed and asked, “Why?” Since I didn’t know, I didn’t buy. I began seeing more and more sock monkeys in the next few years and realized my childhood had lacked something. I had teddy bears and dolls, but no sock monkey. For a while I collected old ones, then began wistfully looking at “make your own sock monkey” instructions on the internet. Since I don’t sew, it seemed impossible. Now when someone talks about miracles, I nod and say I believe in them. Because I learned to make sock monkeys and even sold them on Ebay. Sock monkeys are comfort creatures, like comfort foods. Mashed potatoes, pound cake, banana pudding, sock monkeys=Comfortable Miracles.

Since very few subjects are as fascinating to me as Myself, it was probably inevitable that I would eventually discover my forbearers. My mother’s ancestors and my father’s ancestors chose to come to Texas after stops in Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana, among other states. Farther back, some lived in Ireland, Scotland and England. There is a lot I do not know. But now I understand why I was born in Dallas, and that the reason is more complex than the fact that my father happened to work in Grand Prairie at the time.

Life Groups
When I lived in England, I was a member of a British Baptist church. It had “house groups” that met in various members’ homes once a week. We prayed, sang, and studied scripture. We talked about our problems and laughed at our messy lives. Now, twenty years later, I attend a church that encourages “life groups.” Usually there aren’t more than 8 of us. I love the quietness, the candlelight, and the silliness. I love the diversity. I often think about my friends during the week.

Border Collies
We’re dog people but had never had a border collie. We inherited her. She needs Prozac, I’m quite sure, and I think about that a lot. Especially when I look at the fifth chewed-up rug.