Good Times on The Year’s Best Holiday

a turkey knows when it's doneBack in the day, we used to get a free local turkey from my husband’s work for Thanksgiving and for some reason the thing was always huge, more like a pterodactyl than a domesticated fowl, so huge that one year we had to tie the oven door shut and brace a chair up against it to hold the beast inside. I remember too the year when, taking some bit of turkey-roasting advice I saw in the paper, I cooked our bird breast side down for the whole time, only to extract, at the end of six hours, a roasting pan containing something that resembled a skeletal sunken ship, a sort of scaffolding of bones perched over a world of turkey fat and what could just barely be described as meat. If memory serves, that was also the year the whole roasting pan shot out of the oven and onto the floor.

Ah, but does memory serve us very well, or are you, dear reader, not yet at the age where you tell a story about something that happened to you only to be wryly advised by a family member that no, actually that whole thing happened to her? Anyway, isn’t it better sometimes if we look ahead rather than looking back?

Who is to say?

I know my sister and I still love looking back at the Thanksgivings of early childhood in our household of five grownups, four of whom were female and all of whom could be seen laboring away in the kitchen for a whole week leading up to the big day. Our grandfather meanwhile, as the sole male among those aunts and great aunties and our mom and our pretty Aunt Grace, sat in his easy chair smoking a cigar and reading biographies of the great men of American history. Though come to think of it I do remember hearing about that one Thanksgiving eve, when he did what he had said he would try to do and actually brought home the turkey  –  still attired in its longjohns as you might put it, in the form of hundreds of soft under-feathers that took forever to pluck out.  “How did you ever manage?” my sister and I squeaked in delighted horror as young adults which we were when we first heard the tale. “Ha!” she replied. “Well, the first thing we did was pour a few stiff drinks!”)

That ease-taking grandfather is gone now, as are the ancient great aunties. Gone too is our merry Aunt Grace, and also our funny and irreverent mom. I have my own children now and they have children themselves and I write this from a house that at 10am bears no scent at all of the cooking of a turkey. We are to eat at the home of one of our daughters, and our duty is light duty: We’re bringing the beer and the wine and I am to make a salad (which is funny all by itself since really who eats salad on Thanksgiving? I mean, besides me and my strikingly slim, pure-foods-only sister-in-law?) Oh but wait I am almost forgetting! I am also to do the gravy because our daughter confesses herself shy about pulling off a good gravy and for sure I feel ready for that task. We’re going over to her house at 1:00 but I have already set out my full-length chef’s apron, as well as the special lump-defying  flour and the steel spatula for prying up the pan drippings. I have a pocketful of chicken bouillon cubes too in case we need to make gallons of the velvety stuff,  so I’m pretty sure I can do the task justice. Really all I need do is close my eyes and I can see – see  as if they were standing before me – the literal gravy-making movements of all those hard-working women in whose kitchen I spent one happy childhood.

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Accept It?

IMG_4431We all gripe but maybe there’s a way to not mind this endless winter and it is this: Accept it.

Look at it this way: Sure there’s always that salt-and-sand mix on the floor by the door, agreed. You track it in on your boots and shoes and every day there’s more of it. Always with the salt and sand by the door!  But what are you gonna do? Sure, you can sweep it up every day and sure, you can put down a mat for those boots and shoes, but mostly things are gonna look a little litter-boxy for a while yet over there by the door. 

Accept that fact. Accept the fact that there’s still treacherous walking caused by the snow and the ice and the slush and the more snow. Over the last few weeks I have seen so many people take that banana-peel-style leap-and-tumble I feel like I’m watching some kind of super-athletic dance company in action. The other day at the grocery store I saw five people on crutches with casts on their legs. Five! And all of them were under 40!

Sometimes it just feels safer to just stay indoors, so accept that fact.

Maybe even try being glad for it. Because when you’re spending more time indoors you have the chance to tidy up a bit.

Take the job of cleaning your closets. People don’t clean their closets in summer. It’s now that we’re moved to do it.  I’ve been cleaning closets myself lately.

 I’ve also been customizing things. Yesterday I dyed a bunch of sad old towels with hilarious results. (Let’s just say it looks like my man will be wearing underpants of a gorgeous sunrise hue for a while.)

And today I began going over letters sent to me by people who have been reading my column all these years. 

I laughed all over again at the one where a woman wrote, in reference to the picture that accompanied my column at that time, “What makes you think you’re so great? Your eyes are beady, your hair is out of style, and your teeth look false.”

After the initial shock, I laughed when I first saw it too. And when I published my first collection of short funny pieces I put that quote right on the back cover where the gushing remarks usually go. 

I took at lightly in other words. I took it with a grain of salt.

Maybe that’s what we all have to do right now. Maybe we have take these snow banks with a grain of salt – and God knows the salt is in good supply. We can just amble over to that spot where our boots and shoes are and take some from there.

As I say, what’re you gonna do?

the above-mentioned blurb , I Thought He Was a Speed Bump

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Funny Lady

ermaLast week, when my birthday rolled around I reflected once again how nice it has been to share the day with one of America’s great humorists. 

At the time of her death, every print and broadcast outlet in the country ran a tribute to Erma Bombeck, the homemaker from Dayton who one day sat down and began sending out dispatches from the front lines of motherhood. The dispatches grew into first a column syndicated to over 900 newspapers and then some 15 books, including the wickedly titled The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.

But as uniformly fond as these tributes were as I reread them online now, many of them read as slightly dismissive, framing her almost as a clever dabbler, a suburban mom who started writing columns as a lark.

As if any writer doing a thing ‘as a lark’ could produce the tightly crafted sketches she was known for. 

As if anyone tossing something off in the odd half hour could describe the child-rearing game the way she did.

She wrote in one column that she once lived in a place so small she had to iron in the baby’s playpen.

She wrote in another that if her kids had looked as good as the kids of her perfect neighbor, she would have sold them.

She spoke about the child who could “eat yellow snow, kiss the dog on the lips, chew gum that he found in the ash tray, but wouldn’t drink from his brother’s glass.”

And then there was the column where she imagined how each of her three kids might someday recall her: Her first-born would think of her as “the slim dark-haired mom who used to read me stories and paste my baby pictures in the album.” Her second-born would picture “the somber-looking bleached blonde who used to put me to bed at 6:30 and bought me a dog to save on napkins.” And the baby of the family, she wrote, would remember her as “the grayish lady who fell asleep during the 6 o’clock news, and was GOING to display my baby pictures, as soon as she took the rest of the roll – at my wedding.”

She had just that light way of describing time’s effect. But funny as she was, she always told the truth.

She spoke of the feeling that comes to women raising kids in the then-newly fashionable ‘nuclear family’ where a man, a woman and their children went off and lived on their own, sometimes far from all kin.

Her commentary on this new arrangement: “No one talked about it, but everyone knew what it was. It was a condition, and it came with the territory.”

She called that condition ‘loneliness.’

I found out about this loneliness when I left my job teaching to care for my own small children. In their baby years, I would stuff them into coats and snowsuits and push, or walk, carry them – somewhere – anywhere I might find another woman in another house trying to do the hardest job on earth all by herself.

But when those babies napped? When they napped, I’d kick the toys under the couch and begin to read and read, looking for something I could not name – until one day in my daily paper I met the writer who would show me what I most wanted to do in life.

Erma wrote a column every week for 32 years. 

By now I’ve been writing one for 35 years – and with every passing birthday I think what a privilege it has been to follow in her footsteps, recording life as we really live it and celebrating its vicissitudes.

the calm before the boy child

this was us in 1980, before the final child come and broke the snoozy,two-little-girls peace

 

Ghost Town

arts & craftstime 087Where IS everybody?

It feels like even the Wallgreen’s parking lots are empty. It feels like if you called 911 you’d be able to just tell that the dispatcher was filing his nails and slurping a smoothie.

It’s the weather.

When the weather gets like this and stays like this, don’t you just want to dress any old way and mosey on over to the Arts & Crafts tent?

I do . I surely do. Let’s go ask these nice ladies for some gimp and get under that big tree outside and make us some lanyards, whaddya say?

Summer Salad (with a Dash of Kids)

This year June seemed to last forever, yet here we are at the final day of this most beautiful month. Could it stay awhile , cool as it was and lovely every day? Alas no, it cannot.

In its last week we looked in on our younger grandson’s First Grade Show and Tell Day, arriving nice and early in our cool summer clothes.

enr route with papa

We admired his artwork, and played on the classroom terminals,

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ate strawberries and bagels outside and watched as he said goodbye for now to his best friend Diego.

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Then this past Friday we kicked off summer.  We went to Legoland…

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then dropped off little Miss Sundress at her house and continued on, taking her two big brothers away for the weekend, where Auntie Annie, pregnant on not still did all the cooking for us .

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On Saturday, the guys in the family chatted away, and hit golf balls. We had a fire, and when bedtime came we made a bed on the floor that everyone wanted to sleep in, even me. Even though it was on the floor of my own bedroom.

edward asks Mike answers

 

 

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Next morning, there was a game of Sorry with David Marotta the Younger and Auntie Annie,  as Annie and John’s  puppy Archer, who is the size of a large file cabinet, kept Annie’s growing baby warm.

annie & archer relax

The boys fought some of the time and we found out that now, as grandparents we’re not quite as good as we once were at taking that in stride. (At one point, when they were hitting each other with OUR i-Pads I snatched them both out of their hands and all but clashed them together like cymbals. At another, David-Marotta-the-Larger picked up Mini-David-Marotta the way a man might pick up a bag of laundry and carried him by the waist into our room where he made him lie for ten minutes on his improvised bed on the floor, while ‘Papa’ lay on our bed, calmly doing his crossword, same as always.) 

Nothing came of these small microbursts I’m happy to say. The boys know how we love them and are ever merry and loving back, and as we began the longish drive to return them home again, the car was full of laughter and the eating of McDonalds.

And now it’s June 30th, with a short week ahead and summer, summer, summer stretching like that big happy  dog of Annie and John’s before he thuds to the floor all puppyish elbows and knees.

 

 

 

Skinnyman

desert day of the dead manThinkin’ about bones today. It must be this desert around me that’s doing it. 

I just love bones, the way one nudges so nicely into another; the way the fat round head of the femur nestles into the deep bowl-shaped part of the pelvis fashioned to hug it tight.

I used to keep a little dancing man of a skeleton on display in my office in the years when I practiced massage. 

He stood a good three feet tall there where he perched atop my file cabinet. You couldn’t miss him when someone opened my office door and I guess that’s why that little brother-and-sister team knocked shortly after I had arrived that one time. When I had passed them in the hallway where they were playing, they must have looked in and seen my clattery man, grinning down in that dapper little ​Mr. Bones way.

“We want to see your skeleton!” is how I remember the little boy saying breathlessly, while his sister hid herself behind him.

“Hmmm Well, I’m actually wearing my skeleton at the moment,” I replied, pretending to misunderstand.

​ “I mean it’s under my skin.”

He brushed past me and my silly joke and together with his sister entered my office.

“THAT skeleton,” he said, pointing upward.

“He’s scary,” he added gravely.

“Scary? No!“ I said back​. “These are just his bones, just like we all have.” Then I went on. I can never help going on when it comes to this topic.

“Bones do so much for us, holding us up, helping us move, providing a platform for our muscles…”

“Look at his FEET!” squealed his younger sister.

“I know​, aren’t they great, with all those tiny parts? And look at his ribs, like a perfect little birdcage, just right for protecting his heart.”

The boy swallowed hard. “Show me his skull,” he said dramatically.

“Let me see if I can lift him down then,” I answered and did so, causing the figure’s limbs to caper and sway.

The children squealed, and squeezed back toward the wall.

“And you know what the skull protects, don’t you?” I said. “The most important thing you have, which is….”

“Your BRAIN!” they both yelled together laughing, then piled back out to the hallway.

The boy dashed off then, but the girl stopped before following him, shot out one arm and waved a merry goodbye.

“My name is Terry,” I told her because we had not introduced ourselves exactly. “What’s yours?”

“Vanessa!” she shouted gleefully.

“Well then Vanessa, goodbye for now. We’ll see each other again soon, I’m sure.”

“Goodbye!” she yelled and danced away down the hallway.

And that was ​that. It was an exchange that lasted maybe five minutes, but even all this time later I still cannot think of a nicer way to have started my day. For the whole rest of the week in fact, I felt cheered and buoyed up by it, and newly conscious of all the small people present among us.

For if humanity is a forest, then we adults are its stiffly standing old trees, while they are the new ones. Self-important lot that we are, we imagine that we rule the forest. We even imagine we hold up the sky, with our barky old arms, hurrying the very clouds along to their next assignment.

But the future of any forest lies in its new growth. And the whole time we elders go on looking upward for meaning, the meaning lies below us in these tender saplings – like the ones I met that day, so bright, and limber, and trembling with that fresh young life.

I’m Happy Today

I’m happy today hanging out with my old man David  – these are his arms –

the arms of dpm

who slept so late I thought he’d been kidnapped from our very bed, sucked out through the bedroom window by aliens. Call Liam Neeson!

I’m happy because we will see our daughter Annie and her man John,

just annie

though not their baby-dog Archer, still just a pup, though tall enough at 8 months to sweep the counters clean if left unattended.

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We’ll see our daughter Carrie too, which makes me happy…

mama carrie & baby caroline 11 days old

…though sadly not her  Chris, or their oldest son, since the two of them will I suppose be watching basketball or some such silly March thing while the rest of us are at our favorite eatery.

Along with Carr, we’ll also get to see their two younger children who are always ready to join me in restaurant fun. (Today: tiny black-velvet fuzzy-posters with bright neon-colored markers!) 

Sadly, we won’t get to see our son Michael

mike says didnt we say no pictures

since he’s out in Utah this weekend pretending to ski, a thing not really in our blood. David grew up with sandlot baseball, and pounding and being pounded by the other kids at the park, while the main pastime for my one sister and me was sneaking into the alley just around the corner from Blue Hill Ave. to inspect this one dead cat as it went through the absorbing transformation from the three-dimensional to something flatter than an old kid glove squashed under somebody’s tires. 

I’m happy because I’m about to sit down and write 14 days’ worth of entries in my diary. (My entries are a lot more interesting, I find, if wait ’til I’m really in the mood for the endeavor and can do the mental levitation that let me look at my last few weeks from the air, so to speak, and thus spot the highlights.)

I’m happy because I just said ‘Screw returning those shoes to Macy’s today. The store will still be there tomorrow when my workday ends.’

I’m happy because I think I might be about to actually vacuum that room I’ve been meaning to vacuum for a month.

I’m happy because we watched that old chestnut Ghostbusters yesterday and I read my three books and stripped the lid to the piano bench for a piano that lives at the ABC house. I’m happy because I got it all sanded and primed and even stained. Now David will help me screw on the lid, I can put on two finish coats and then trot it on over there.

I am not so happy when I remember that I almost learned to play the piano as an adult, together with Michael who was then 11, but quit just as I was getting that itchy feeling in the top of my head when my fingers were starting to know what a note was. We both quit and I’m sad now that we quit, causing the people who gave us the loan of that nice old upright piano to take it back again to give to worthier persons … But the days are getting longer now and who knows but what I’ll go out and buy a little keyboard and have another go at learning a new thing? We learn till we die do we not? I’m happy remembering that truth.

And now, me playing that classic beginner’s piece The Happy Farmer at age six (but why doesn’t that guy in the suit leave my nice pink dress ALONE!