Musings and Amusings

Archive for the ‘Personal TidBits’ Category

Santa, Pack a Seamstress. PLEASE!

In the ‘What Was I Thinking’ category, I bought Raqi this child-size mannequin

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and these It’s So Easy (even an idiot can do it) Simplicity patterns

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and filled a sewing basket with shiny pins, assorted needles, pink pin cushion, measuring tape, colorful ribbon, spools of colorful thread, my button collection, black snaps and Velcro strips.

Raqi has been designing and hand sewing rudimentary clothes for her dolls, and she asked for fabric and a mannequin for Christmas to make herself some clothes. Her Mom told me she bought Raqi a ‘beginner’ sewing machine, so I jumped on Ebay to look for a mannequin.

As I was dressing up the mannequin in a scarf and skirt to put under the Christmas tree, lightning struck.

I CAN’T SEW.

I HATE SEWING!

Who is going to help Raqi thread the sewing machine, translate those mind-numbing pattern illustrations, measure and cut the fabric, sew in a straight line?

All my childhood trauma of my complete and utter failure as a seamstress came flooding over me. Mom made all our clothes and fully expected my sister and me to follow in her footsteps. She tried to teach me, cajole me. She even threatened to disown me from the realms of Home Ec majors who’d paved the way in my family.

I can’t make head, fingers nor foot-pedal sense of bobbins, nap, salvage, pinking shears. I can’t even fold the patterns up once they’ve been unfolded, not even with those permanent fold lines seared in that tissue-like paper.

Panicked, I emailed Parker: “Can YOU sew?”

Her response: “No, I thought you could.”

Running through my non-existent list of Plan B’s, I thought of Charisse, Raqi’s next-door-neighbor-Super-Mom who French-braids hair; makes daily meals for six from scratch; paints Halloween faces with the skill of a makeup artist.

I emailed Parker: “What about Charisse? Does she sew? If not, can she learn overnight?”

Parker’s response: “Charisse is out of town. You better bring gin.”

Merry Christmas to all my dear friends, readers, fellow bloggers and your families. May your Christmas celebration be as blessed and loving as I know mine will.

O Holy Night.

‘Up at the Legion’

Today, November 10, 2014 we celebrate the United States Marine Corps’ 239th birthday.

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day when the United States honors all who have served in the US Armed Forces.

Below is a photo of my grandmother who bore twelve children, eleven of whom lived to adulthood and some of whom she watched with her steadfast fortitude and optimism as they left town on their way to distant battlefields.

Grandma and Marine Recruiter

Grandma and Marine Recruiter

 

During World War II, four sons enlisted in the Marines and were deployed to the Pacific Islands while one daughter enlisted and was stationed as a Marine recruiter in Chicago. Grandma also had two sons-in-law deployed in the Marines and Air Force, and a younger son who later joined the Marines.

Aunt Dot, Dad, Uncle Chuck, Uncle Art, Uncle Pep, Uncle Walt

Aunt Dot, Dad, Uncle Chuck, Uncle Art, Uncle Pep, Uncle Walt

 

During her sons’ deployments, Grandma – along with so many other women on the homefront – worked at Clark Equipment Co., a manufacturing plant that assisted in military support by transitioning its manufacturing lines to produce heavy duty lift trucks and towing tractors for overseas missions.

As a tribute to the Marine Corps birthday and Veterans’ Day, I’d like to honor Uncle Pep and a veterans’ organization – the American Legion – because they were an integral part of my childhood.

Small town life in the 1950s centered around school, church and a few civic organizations. For my family, that organization was the American Legion.

At the time, I couldn’t have told you much, if anything, about the American Legion’s purpose. All I knew was if we had a family Christmas party, summer family reunion, town Halloween party or just about any other local festivity, it would take place ‘up at the Legion.’

That was a phrase heard often in our house and those of my many cousins. The Legion – a nondescript one-story blond brick building with a large social hall, roomy kitchen with a pass-thru window and serving counter, and two single stall bathrooms – was located on the way out of town on our steepest, longest hill.

For me as a child, both the hill and the Legion loomed large. Hence ‘up at the Legion’ was said with reverence not only because the Hall itself held such allure, but because of its ‘majestic’ setting.

I don’t think there was ever a time I was ‘up at the Legion’ and didn’t see Uncle Pep. I thought he owned the Legion. Or at least lived there.

Uncle Pep

Uncle Pep

 

Uncle Pep always seemed to be surrounded by my Dad, Uncles and other men – talking, playing cards, giving each other grief.

His nickname fit him perfectly; Uncle Pep was exactly that – full of energy, enthusiasm and a twinkle in his eye. No matter the event, he was always in the thick of it – setting up tables and chairs; cooking up something on the stove; washing pots and pans; doling out the decks of cards – all the while making sure everyone else had what they needed and felt welcome.

Because we held so many family functions ‘up at the Legion’, I thought of the place as simply ‘our’ gathering place, not making the connection to the Legion’s true purpose.

Sure, Uncle Pep, Dad and other men wore those odd-looking hats. And every Memorial Day and 4th of July, we – the adults in their military uniforms and kids in Boy and Girl Scout uniforms – met ‘up at the Legion’ to begin the parade that marched through town to the cemetery. Afterwards, we reconvened ‘up at the Legion’ for crowded picnics and games that lasted well into the night.

But I didn’t realize the haven that Hall provided for the men and women who came home from WWII struggling to fit back into ‘normal’ lives; learning how to move past the flashbacks and nightmares that could be shared only with those who’d marched through the same hell.

If you’ve seen the HBO series The Pacific, you know some of what these men endured. Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Peleliu – places etched deeply in their souls because of the young friends and comrades they lost in battle, not to mention their own gruesome actions on missions of unspeakable horror. Dad and my Uncles were fortunate to all come home from the war, but no one comes home without wounds and lasting scars.

The American Legion (http://legion.org) was chartered by Congress in 1919 after World War I to focus on serving veterans, servicemembers and communities. In my small town, the Legion served us well. It continues to do so in numerous communities across our nation.

Uncle Pep passed away a couple years ago, having lived a fully engaged life until age 90. For four of those years, he was an active duty Marine. For approximately 65 years, he was a veteran and proud, active member of the American Legion.

You military veterans and your families have my highest praise, my deepest gratitude  and my steadfast support.

Semper Fi

It’s the Thought That Counts

My doorbell rang a week before my birthday, intruding on my comfy silence.

* cringe *

Isn’t that always an introvert’s involuntary reaction?

Fortunately it was the UPS guy in his behemoth brown truck already turning the corner at the end of the block, racing his way to the next doorbell on the next porch.

I picked up the package addressed to Hub; walked down the hall to where he was sitting on the couch; and playfully asked, “Is this my birthday present?”

It is,” came from behind the newspaper.

What is it?” I teased.

It’s the replacement toilet seat for the one that got cracked.”

 

toilet seat

 

Two facts about our marriage:
1. We like humor.
2. We don’t buy each other ‘have to’ gifts.

What are ‘have to’ gifts?

The birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day conventions that dictate you show your love with gifts on these days. I’m not judging those who celebrate with flowers, candy, and jewelry because they are meaningful expressions of love for many couples.

Just not for us.

I much prefer spontaneous, unexpected gifts on non-event days, although traditional gift-giving days have created some gold nuggets in our family lore.

When I was four – back when we had thriving main streets with a movie theater, a soda shop, and hardware, clothing, pharmacy and ‘Five and Dime’ stores within a 3-block stretch – Mom gave each of us a quarter and let my older sister and me walk to the ‘Five and Dime’ to buy birthday presents for Dad.

I bought him this postcard:

orangutans

And a receipt book:

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2014 Version

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The postcard has travelled back and forth between Dad and me as a ‘laugh’ for 60 years, sometimes appearing in family photos or other unlikely locations.

Although I didn’t understand his job at the time, Dad was an accountant and I became an accountant and finance professional myself. I still like to look at receipt books and ledger paper in the office supply store.

Like the toilet seat Hub gifted me, Mom received tokens of Dad’s love through the years including a rototiller, a riding lawn mower and a washing machine.

Yup. Hub and I are carrying on the family tradition of ‘It’s the Thought That Counts’ gifts.

My grandkids have gifted me rocks, dried seeds and countless crafts. The usual – but nevertheless cherished – stuff, all of which is crammed onto a three-shelf display stand in my kitchen to get pawed over each time they visit.

Solidifying family memories of who, when, where.

My favorite gift from Sparks was when he asked me to participate in his ‘Now & Then’ school project – interviewing an older family member to compare my youth to his. Of his six grandparents, he chose me; and the time we spent discussing the interview questions and compiling this book are a gift I treasure.

 

Now & Then

 

Raqi has shown her love for Hub and me through many spontaneous gestures. When she was three years old and we were saying our goodbyes at their front door, “Wait!” she suddenly cried and scurried into the kitchen.

She hustled back with two single-serving peach paks from her snack cupboard.

“Here, Mima, Papa. For YOU!”

Shortly after, Hub and I were moving to our current home. Raqi had decorated a blue (now-faded) frog at daycare and gave it to me one night at their house.

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As we were leaving, she held out her hands, “Mima, give me the frog.”

Why?”

“Wait till big truck. I bring it.”

Raqi had no experience with moving nor had any of us talked to her about the moving process. She brought the frog on her first visit to our new home and carefully placed it on the top shelf of the display rack.

Some people have an angel watching over them. I have Raqi’s frog.

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All Changes Have Their Melancholy

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France

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That quote is a tad dramatic for this topic, but back in April I was feeling a loss too keenly to write about it. I’ve read many a post by a parent or grandparent experiencing this normal life transition. I suspect knowing it’s normal didn’t make it any easier for them either.

Raqi has always been ‘our’ grandbaby.

As is often the case in step-families, we had to wait our turn. A first granddaughter was born to Hub’s older son. Next a first grandson was born to Hub’s younger son. Naturally parents are very protective of their first-borns, and naturally the biological grandmothers expect to have those babies to themselves. While Hub and I visited and occasionally babysat, we didn’t have the luxury of much one-on-one time with those two babies.

By the time Raqi came along, her older brother was three; both parents were tired, stressed and steeped in career paths; and biological grandmothers had “been there; done that”.

Raqi seemed ripe for the taking!

raqi baby

 

When she was two weeks old, she had her first overnight with us. That quickly became two overnights a week, and even more when Mom and Dad could stand the guilt of relinquishing her. It gave them much-needed relief; gave three-year-old Sparks time alone with his parents; and gave Hub, Raqi and me an opportunity to bond with each other in a way I never imagined.

Not only has our bond flourished for eight delicious years, but we have become closer to Sparks and his parents than we would have otherwise. I will always be grateful to my stepson and daughter-in-law for making us such a welcome part of their home and their family.

In April we took our first spring bike ride to the pond near our house. After we circled the pond several times, Sparks and Hub headed home to get the football, but Raqi wanted to stay at the pond.

She normally chats non-stop and is always in close physical contact with us. So it was unusual when she left me with the bikes; walked over to the tree and stared quietly at the water.

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After about five minutes, I walked over and leaned against one of the other trunks. I didn’t say anything and eventually she began telling me how sad she felt that their family was moving to another house. When I asked her why, she explained that she had lived in that house since she was born, and all her memories of her life are in that house. She went on to talk about her bedroom and how much she loved the color and the wall decorations and how many times she and I played with her dolls in there.

She talked about the living room and playing ‘Hot Lava’ and doing the Hokey Pokey and learning to turn cartwheels. She talked about the basement and how much fun we had playing in our ‘family band’ and dancing to music videos.

She cried, saying she’d never be happy in another home.

It broke my heart.

Or should I say it added to my broken heart. For months Hub and I had been dreading the changes that were coming – not just the physical change of their home which, indeed, held so many memories, but the loss for the two of us as Sparks and Raqi move into adolescent/pre-teen preoccupations, and baby/toddler absorption fast-fades in the rear view mirror.

Even though they will always be with us; they won’t.

I know I don’t have to explain that to most of you.

It’s our job, as parents and grandparents, to prepare our children to move out into the world beyond our arms. The beauty is we do it well. The melancholy is we do it well.

That day, I tried to reassure Raqi that we will – as a family – carry memories of that home in our hearts, and we will help each other remember. I also promised her (and myself, although I don’t quite believe it) that we will make just as many good memories in their new house.

Within three days of moving, Raqi had fallen in love with her new next door neighbor Em. Those two girls became inseparable for the rest of summer, Raqi going so far as to write Em a “love poem” when Em left for a week on family vacation. My heart beams for both of them.

Hub and I are learning to find joy being interested observers as Raqi’s world widens, thankful we have front row seats.

It’s All Fixable

A year ago last Friday, my life came to a screeching halt. A violent, jarring, me-screeching, “OH SHIT” halt.

I crashed on my bicycle.

I wasn’t going to write about this, but Friday night I had a nightmare that was an exact re-play of those horrible few moments, and I take that as a sign that I need to continue my efforts to release that awful memory.

My physical recovery, while not perfect, is as good as it’s going to get. My emotional recovery has been less predictable, more elusive, and stubbornly resistant to ‘closure’. I’ve had other bike crashes with broken bones and measured recoveries. This time is different.

This memory feels like a dense, heavy boulder deep inside me that requires a shot putter’s strength to heave it from my core. I haven’t yet found the strength. I try to visualize the movement, seeking release from this burdensome weight. I’d like to cast that weight elsewhere.

Anywhere but here.

To set the stage:
Granddaughter Raqi had finally gotten comfortable and confident on her two-wheeler. She was eager to show she could ‘hang’ with us on a ‘real ride’. Grandson Sparks had ridden his bike at the skate park with his Dad, and sought off-trail routes for a few thrills and challenges.

100_4185

 

And the kicker?

I bought myself a new bike – one with shocks. Having been thrown off my old bike the previous summer by a well-concealed pothole, I wanted all the protection I could get to cushion myself from further mishap.

100_4177

 

Eager to get Raqi out on a trail and show her the joy of riding alongside the fast-flowing creek, in and out of shade trees; and catching glimpses of horses, cows and tall, waving golden grasses, we cruised along for about an hour.

100_4176

 

On the way home, Raqi wanted to visit her favorite park. The park has a cozy gazebo, and Sparks and I amused ourselves riding down the gazebo steps several times. Not only did I want to impress them as ‘the cool grandmother’, but I wanted to show them that I don’t just spout the mantra, ‘Be Brave’; I live it.

Apparently my bravado impressed Hub, because he said, “Let’s ride over to the skate park.”

“Uh”, I thought. “We’re all getting a little tired.” (warning #1)

“OK”, we all agreed.

When we got to the park, there was a large concrete plaza leading up to the arena. As I passed a sign, I slowed to glance at the rules to make sure bikes were allowed.

100_4303

 

The first paragraph read something like:

 DANGER, SAMMY !!!!

(or at least it should have). Nevertherless, the actual, more subtle message ‘… at your own risk’ should have been my warning #2.

Did I mention my lifelong propensity for getting carried away by moments of exuberance?

Our grandkids were with us, fulfilling one of my dreams to have them share my passion for biking. How much more exuberant could I be?

A series of 12 wide steps appeared in front of us. While Hub and Raqi veered off on the plaza, Sparks and I rode down the stairs like superstars. What other grandmother does that? How much more exuberant could I be?

A series of semi-circle loops appeared in front of us. Sparks and I rode into them and started up the loop – Sparks turning one direction and I the other. As I came out of the loop, the mirage I saw was a level concrete plaza just like the one at the front end of the arena.

What actually existed was something quite different.

The moment my front tire touched the 6-inch ledge (nowhere to stop; nowhere to go), my forward momentum propelled my bike over the 4-foot drop to the concrete slab below.

“OH SHIT!”

My tires hit the pavement; I bounced – violently – bounced again; flew off my bike and … next thing I remember, I was on all fours saying, “Sparks, go get Papa.”

I knew, without a doubt, I had fractured something in my neck and broken my left hand. Beyond that, I could move all my parts and needed to get myself into a prone position. (I know … I should not have moved with a neck injury, but somehow I knew it was ok to do so, and I had to lie down before I passed out.)

I carefully crawled to the shade of a nearby pine tree and very slowly – moving my neck and head as a unit with my body – rolled myself onto my back. By then Hub, Sparks and Raqi were by my side.

My main concern – my only concern, actually – was not to traumatize my grandkids. Although they were both calm, I knew how frightened they were. How Hub and I reacted would leave a big impression on them about how to deal with life’s setbacks. We’ve always told them to ‘be brave’, and I sure didn’t want that to change now.

That concern, combined with my reluctance ‘to be a bother to others’ (thanks, Mom and Dad!) meant I didn’t want Hub to call an ambulance. Our house was only a 15-minute, pedal-at-top-speed ride away, and off he went to get the car.

Hub left his cell phone in Sparks’ hand, saying, “If Mima passes out, call 911.” I never opened my eyes, but I’m positive Sparks had a death grip on that phone.

Sparks and Raqi, who usually talks a mile a minute, were both seated as close to me as they could get, and neither spoke a word. I realized my lips were on fire and asked Sparks if they were bleeding.

Yes, Mima. You have blood all over your face.”

I asked him to pour some water on my lips from my water bottle. I sensed the bottle above my face then heard a tearful, “Mima, I can’t”, and I knew he was near his breaking point.

Eyes still closed, I reached out my right hand and asked them both to hold it. I said, “I know you’re scared, and I have some serious injuries. But everything is fixable. Do you understand? We will go to the hospital, and the doctors will fix me. I will heal, and we will ride our bikes together again.”

My ER visit and overnight stay were routine, and my outcome was the best it could be. My vertebrae were intact; I had snapped off one of the stabilizer spurs on the exterior of a cervical vertebrae. Multiple facial stitches, a neck brace, a hand cast, and I was good to go. X-rays two weeks later showed both my neck and hand bones healing in the desired alignment, so no surgery was necessary.

The ER staff provided a couple of light-hearted memories:

One of the nurses, a young muscular buck with dark curly hair and full beard, grimaced when I explained what happened.

“Did you brake when you hit that ledge?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Oooh, that was your big mistake,” he commiserated. “You should have accelerated over the ledge to leap further out in your landing.”

He was serious! As if I was a legitimate trick rider who just needed a few pointers to fine tune my landing!

The middle-aged female nurse who transitioned me from the ER to the overnight ward was a tad more realistic, “We’re awarding you the Coolest Grandmother of the Year, but you must promise any future visits to the skate park are spectator-only.”

A year later, I know my effort to minimize the trauma for my grandkids was successful. Not only are we back on our bikes, but a few months ago, Raqi told me about her friend who had suffered a serious injury.

“But she’ll be ok,” Raqi said confidently, “because it’s all fixable, Mima.”

The downside of working so hard to minimize the trauma for them (and admittedly downplaying the extent of my injuries to friends because, frankly, I was embarrassed at attempting something so risky ‘at my age’) meant I was in denial about how badly injured I was. I no longer weep uncontrollably as I did for a few months, but I still panic at what look like looming collisions in the car, and on the steep slopes in the golf cart when it feels like we’ve reached the tipping point – that sensation of plunging haunts me still.

My neck creaks and crackles, and I just completed six months of agonizing splint therapy for a jaw alignment problem we didn’t discover until I was done wearing my neck brace. I am determined to clear the cobwebs of lingering bad memories.

But no worries. In time, it’s (almost) all fixable.

bike photo

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