The Balloon Lady

balloons for saleThe boys and I went into the city last week. They’re just done with Kindergarten and Third Grade, so the subway ride alone offered them food for thought. They feasted heir eyes on every passenger and sign in our car.

Then, having climbed up out of that dank subterranean space, they looked around even more:

At the sunning pigeons and the equestrian statues, and the Golden domed Massachusetts State House and the elderly woman who sat in her collapsible chair shaking a fistful of bells, a donation basket on the pavement next to her bare and swollen feet. We waded in the Frog Pond and rode on a carousel. We ate an Italian ice and watched horrified as a bicyclist tearing across the Boston Common braked so suddenly to avoid a darting child that the cyclist flew clean over his handlebars. All this we did see.

And then we met Sheila.

Sheila sells balloons twisted into shapes that are not the usual shapes, like Mickey Mouse head or Bugs Bunny heads, but shapes more whimsical and improvised. One balloon looked like somebody’s appendix, and one looked like a sweet potato. The balloon the Kindergartner was drawn to looked like DNA’s double-stranded helix, three feet long with a braiding of skinny balloons of red, white and blue.

We asked to buy that one.

“Howsabout a face at the top?” she offered, and, opening a bag of shrunken balloon ‘heads’, invited them to inspect it.

The boys chose the superhero Wolverine and Sheila talked as she pumped air into him.

“People ask ‘aren’t you afraid you’re gonna bust ‘em with all that pumping?’ and I want to say “If only you could SEE how many I bust!’ I learned to do this from the balloon men across the park. I got laid off last spring but I have a hawker’s license so balloons it is, for now anyway.”

At last she handed us the DNA one with a bulbous yellow Wolverine balloon tied to its top.

“We just saw the Governor go by!” said the big brother of my pair.

“Did you darlin’?”

“Yes and we were excited because we had just seen his picture in the paper holding his new grandbaby,” I said.

“He has a grandbaby, does he?”

“His oldest daughter’s baby who weighed only two and a half pounds when she was born.”

“Well, there’s nothing like family, whatever size or shape,” she said.

“Right!” I said. “These boys are my family. My grandsons, Edward and David here have two moms at home.”

“There you go!” she shot back. “And this is Malachi,” she said, indicating a boy about ten who we had not noticed before. “He and his brothers have two fathers! And I’m their grandma who takes care of them.”

Family is what family does. You know that I bet,” she added, addressing my two. “We look after each other and it is ALL GOOD in the Lord’s eyes!”

“I think so too,” I said.

We had to move off then, as another party was just approaching her little balloon stand under the trees.

“She was really nice!” Edward exclaimed as his little brother bumped his balloon along the old paving stones.

“Watch out!” I said, but even as I spoke, Wolverine’s head exploded with a bang and the strands of DNA, rapidly unbraiding, turned back into three latex worms.

So, we lost our balloon, but we weren’t sad really.  We had had our day with its delights and dramas. And we had met the wonderful Sheila who I am guessing we’ll remember for a long, long time.

A Fresh Wind

Yikes what a summer this has been, just weatherwise alone. One minute my grass looked like the grass you find in a salt marsh, bright blinding green and so perennially wet you couldn’t mow it. Then in blew the searing heat and within three days it looked like someone trained a blowtorch on it . It’s no longer even grass, by the look of it. It’s Corn Flakes. Just Corn Flakes.

So once a year we get to go to the summer home of our friends at the beach for an all-too-brief 48 hours. This past week, I didn’t see how I was going to live long enough to get there.. A family of three is moving in with us for a while as they continue to look for a house in this daunting overpriced market.

We ‘re crazy about all three –  they’re family! – but all week long I could NOT stop stressing over how I would make space for them. I spent five solid days taking our stuff out of closets and bureaus, bureaus and closets and trying to figure out what to do with it all.  Of course I also had to work every day as everyone does, plus get to the doctor,  oversee some details around the estate of our much missed Uncle Ed and feed the hungry young mouths of a few other people, also staying with us this summer.

I was a tight little bundle of stress by the time we pulled late into our friends’ driveway in other words. It was pouring rain and the trip took hours. and while David gamely went out to a karaoke bar with the guy half of our hosts I fell exhausted into bed.

Then, in the night the wind came up. It rattled the bedroom door and set the window screen to singing and I slept like a stone – and woke in the morning to the sea across the street and the sun overhead and one gorgeously crisp flags-snapping day. Deliverance!

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Ghosts of Summers Past

sunbathersThings change, and so much we once associated with summer has vanished.

Take tanning. Tanning is gone, or nearly gone. Only your young teens still lie out on the griddle of pool deck or beach, and the only deeply bronzed people you see in the media are figures of fun, like the neighbor lady in There’s Something About Mary. I remember the  audience screaming with laughter when she first appeared on the screen – and that was a good 15 years ago.

Nowadays I’m almost frightened  by the sight of a deeply bronzed person. It takes me a good ten or 12 seconds to realize I’m looking at a suntan; a full ten seconds before I stop thinking ‘What on earth happened to this poor prune?’

Your young parents however, totally get it that catching rays is a dangerous practice. Just last weekend I was a looking for some sunscreen to offer a houseguest getting set to take his baby for a stroll.

“Here you go!” I cried triumphantly after rooting around under the bathroom sink for some.  “Suntan oil with an SPF factor of 8!”

“SUNTAN OIL?” the young dad repeated with a look of horror. It was as if I had offered him a vial of skin-dissolving  acid.

“And with a factor of 8, are you kidding?”

The fact that I think of 8 as super-protective tells it all, especially since I just had a patch of Basal Cell removed my shin, which now looks like someone dug a trench in it with a grapefruit spoon. Live and learn!

Also pretty much gone from the summer scene:

Drive-in movies.  Handpush lawn mowers with their wonderful scissoring sound.  Dancing in the toxic fog the bug man left behind. Who knew it was DDT, or if they knew who had the sense to warn us away from it rather than toward it? Our parents didn’t seem to know; babes in the woods that we all were, we thought it was just another example of Better Living Through Chemistry  as the good people at DuPont used to say.

What about those cute halter-tops girls wore together with hip huggers so as to really show off a tan? My friends and I wore both. We applied Baby Oil to the vast expanse of skin laid bare by such togs and held record albums wrapped in tinfoil under our chins to really train those UV rays at the face .

We sunned on the flat tar roofs of our buildings, and took diet pills prescribed by real doctors, who gave them to any of us wishing to look better in a bathing suit.

The diet pills were amphetamines of course, pure speed, though for sure nobody told ME that. I was 19 and living in Colorado that summer and would look at those Rocky mountains after taking my morning pill and literally think I could walk to the top of any one of them, easy as pie.

I look back now and think the only thing there is to think from the perspective of the years: How did we live to be grownups at all?

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Getting Ready (if you can ever BE ready)

IMG_2015Three people are moving into our house this weekend, in addition to the three that are already bunking here most nights.

All I can say is it’s a good thing I bought all those extra plates at Macy’s when they head their big sale.

I looked in my cabinet late last night and thought “This looks like the pantry of the Titanic,”  though my meals will run less toward turtle soup and more toward tacos.

The thought of all all that crockery  though: it takes me back to the video I once saw of what the last minutes of the ship Titanic might have looked like if God has stepped in and reversed its ruination. The dishes leaping lightly back onto the shelves is what I remember as the most touching detail of this act of cinematic legerdemain.  Turn up your volume and watch it now …

Time Slips, Eclipse

Eclipse-384The summer I finished middle school 60 other kids and I got to watch a total solar eclipse at summer camp. Or not watch it I should maybe say, for fear of burning our retinas; The counselors were told to corral us all into the camp dining hall for the duration.

This event took place on July 20th a hundred years ago as it now seems and it popped into my head on that same date this year – last Saturday in other words.

The memory was so vivid: I saw the gravel road we walked along to get inside the dining hall; saw the wildflowers of high summer nodding in the breeze; saw again the big posters I was making in the camp’s little theatre where in two days time we would hold the big Team Party.. (I was Captain of the Gold Team and had talked the Captain of the Green team into making a huge production of the whole thing, painting oversize images of Warner Brothers and Disney cartoons on poster board.

Back then my bangs kept flipping up like window shades; there was no stopping them. I didn’t look a thing like those teen movies stars with their long straight hair, and not in summer especially what with the twice-daily swimming periods you couldn’t get out of.

Somehow it was OK though. There weren’t any mirrors to see yourself in anyway, save for a small cracked five by seven-inch one hanging on the wall of the washhouse. I can’t recall a single mirror in our little bunkhouse.

“Bunkhouse”: sounds like where George and Lenny slept in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and we lived kind of like that come to think of it. The camp wasn’t a bit fancy – no electricity in those cabins, and canvas shutters that you banged down fast when the rains came. We loved it though. Kids came back for years and years, for all eight weeks, unbelievable as that sounds nowadays.

My sister and I were only there because our mom was the Camp Director, which was a good thing since being apart from her would have been impossible for us. Certainly it would have been too hard for me,  even that year of the eclipse when I was 14 and finding myself newly dazzled every day by the light of a brand-new sun.

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This is how the eclipse looked on that very long ago July 20th. What a find on the Internet! Maybe Faulkner was right and the past isn’t really past at all.

RIGHT IN YOR WHEELHOUSE

My columnist friend and fellow blogger Ann Aikens on what aggravates us: “Seeing people on Facebook scaling mountains, giving their antique roadsters a spin, and laughing broadly on power yachts isn’t helping any.” She’s funny all right!

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wheelhouse pngWith steaming temps and standing pools of fetid water and everything dripping always, the New Bayou that is Vermont has done a number on our hair. Forced to pull mine back in a frizzy bun, I look like “Mother” in Pyscho.  Not sure what the Tunbridge World’s Fair theme is for 2013, but it could be The Year of the Insect…featuring slugs, skeeters, silverfish, giant ants, leggy fliers, and those mini-snails that destroy irises.  Spiders are building webs double-time. Even the moths seem diabolical—lurking doorside, waiting for a shot to jet in and eat your best fabric.  It’s like some TV movie from the 70s. Slug Slime SaboteurRevenge Of The Various Classes Of Insects.  Don’t Go In The Basement.

When I’m not obsessively checking my phone for storm updates or competing in catch-and-release firefly programs, I’m lying around lifeless, thinking deep thots to share…

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IS This the End of the World?

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So IS this the end of the world like that ridiculous funny movie I saw the other day? If it isn’t then why is the magnolia at the corner of our lot trying to blossom again when everyone knows that only happens in late March or early April?  Look at this picture. I mean really!

Also today I had to knock off work early to go to Mahoney’s Garden Center with a picture of my two new hydrangea plants. The more I water them the worse they look. “Is this too MUCH water?” I asked resident plant guru Carrie Kelly. “No,” she said, “in weather like this you have to water them every day. Their problem is they’re so hot that they’re trying to hide,” she said, doing a kind of duck-and-cover move in imitation of the poor suffering plants.

If they are trying to hide I can  identify. Here in my part of the world in the sixth and hottest day of the week I keep thinking of that first paragraph of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking bird when she says that by noon of an Alabama summer the talcum-powdered ladies would be melting like the frosting on a plateful teacakes.

By 6:00 last night I’d had three baths in less than 24 hours. (Our shower is not just broken, the whole floor is gone. You can step inside that glass door and look right down on the heads of friends and family enjoying cold drinks in the kitchen below.)

I don’t like to complain  – even though the probable HIVE of microbes living in our sad little air conditioner that hangs its boxy grey fanny out our  bedroom window is making me sick. I mean, I love the warmth – I think.  And look at the color of that magnolia blossom! And who cares if the bag if Tostitos turns instantly into something resembling a bagful of limp puppy ears the second you open them? Tostitos aren’t that great for you anyway.

It’s just that when I imported that picture of the magnolia I came upon THIS picture taken in our same corner six months ago. It just looks so delicious doesn’t it? I get light-headed just looking at it.

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More Maya Angelou, on Men

Very_angry_marge_simpsonShe also had this to say, Ms. Maya Angelou, when that same interviewer from TIME magazine asked “Did you inherit your mother’s fondness for guns?”

“I like to have guns around. I don’t like to carry them,” said Maya.

“Have you ever fired a weapon?” asked the person from TIME.

“I was in my house in North Carolina. It was fall. I heard someone walking on the leaves. And somebody actually turned the knob. So I said ‘Stand four feet back because I’m going to shoot now! Boom! Boom! The police came by and said ‘Ms. Angelou, the shots came from inside the house.’ I said ‘Well, I don’t know how that happened.’

Well now we know that It’s wrong to feed falsehoods to  cops – of course! –  but  the way I look at it, those two cops were probably guys and it’s really is never a mistake to  keep a pretty tight hold on how you communicate  things to a guy. “You want to control the information when it comes to your man,” said  my very own mother-in-law regarding my relations with her own darling boy.  “Timing is everything,” she added, nodding her head in emphasis.

I believed her. Hadn’t she just recently told me about the time when, driving home from HER mother-in-law’s house carrying on her lap the  extra platter of the eggplant parmesan that she’d made for the family, her own young husband patted her knee and said while it had tasted perfectly fine, really it just wasn’t QUITE as good as the way his mother made it? And hadn’t she in response and on the spot opened the car window and tipped the whole drooly platter out into the street?

Yes she had, indeed she had.

I love stories like these two, told by Ruth Payne Marotta and the wonderful Marguerite Johnson AKA our Miz Maya Angelou. They inspire me and make me want to also say to any men who mess with me: Stand back four feet now.

Son.

And get ready for what’s comin’ at you now – and you’d best HOPE it’s just a platter of eggplant. 🙂

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images“You endured some really horrible things, mostly at the hands of men,” somebody at AARP ‘s Monthly magazine said to Maya Angelou in a 10 question Q & A  last spring. “Have gender relations improved?

Here’s how she  responded:

“No, I think men are as crazy as they were and women are as crazy as they were.”I think it’s wise when women say what they like and don’t like and will and won’t take. Men ought to do the same. I’ve never had a dislike for men. I’ve been badly treated by some but I’ve been loved greatly by some. I married quite a lot of them.”

As I say, gotta love her!

What Must He Think?

God MakesThe SnakeI know God is really busy but what must he think looking down on us all?

In the heart of the big city nearest me there’s a bagel shop whose high stools are mounted on a raised platform next to its windows, on the other side of which early in the morning, uncountable numbers of people pass, all either heads down or peering at their cell phones.

They’re hurrying to work mostly. Anyway the expressions on their faces make it seem as if that’s where they’re going. They never look up at the buildings they pass. They never look up at the sky over their heads. Certainly they never look at one another. I can sit with my coffee and a bagel for a whole hour and never tire of looking at them.

“Humans!” He must think. “These busy humans rushing about! They look so earnest!”

Well, humans ARE earnest. It kills me to see how earnest.But if it’s true that we are earnest, we can also be frisky at times:

Take the guy who pulled up beside me in the parking lot of the medical center where I went for blood work last week. He turned off the car and before getting out lifted a hip flask to his lips and took a long pull. This was at six o’clock in the morning. “Hope he’s not one of the doctors!” was all I could think.

Or take the two people who parked on either side of me at the little pond I love to visit. The woman climbed out of her own car and into the man’s. The intensity with which they then kissed – for a good four or five minutes – might have told the story by itself but seeing how their shoulders then began to slump and their conversation to flag anyone could tell that these were stolen moments.

“Give it up!” I wanted to call over to them. “This won’t make you happy!” But they would have thought I was crazy. And anyway how did I know what I was looking at, really?

You can look and look and still not know what you are seeing. Why? Because people are mysteries, sometimes even to themselves.

A blogger I admire wrote me last week to say he was glad to see I had ‘broken out of the darkness that pervaded some of [my] pieces for a while and was back to [my] usual sunshine and brightness.” Dim-visioned human that I am, I didn’t know I had been writing out of a place of darkness.

But then we are often the last ones to know how we ourselves feel.

We rely on those loving others, who are watching not the sky, or the buildings, or the people in neighboring cars but us.

They are watching us. And thank God for such people in our lives.