Bi-Lingual Gig

During junior and senior high, I took French in school; much to my dismay, I wasn’t a “natural” at it, despite or because of my mother’s own pronunciation, which frequently differed with my teachers’ Parisian-style “proper” French accents.  I found it difficult to feel at ease speaking in class and at home. I found it embarrassing as well, because I was very often one of only two French descent students in French class, and my language gene wasn’t kicking in!

Raised in a home wherein English was spoken and either Pig Latin or French was used only by the adults to conceal subjects that they didn’t want “little ears” to hear, I picked up very few useful words or phrases en francais.

Should I ever find myself on a stranded island or lost in a strange part of the world, knowing how to ask for the salt and pepper or comply with the demanded  Open the window (compulsory in a one and a half bath California bungalow without fans) wasn’t going to help me survive the elements.  I consoled myself that knowing how to recite the months and days of the week would at least help me keep a diary of sorts until I was rescued.  I had also decided that under no circumstances would I request any kind of seafood; the pronunciations and spellings of fish and poison were too close for my comfort zone.  With much practice, I concluded that Hello, Please, and Thank you accompanied by endearing smiles could break the ice, at least figuratively.

Translations were absolutely no good for the hilarious jokes my uncle would tell en francais; too often, the expressions and underlying street smarts of the old country could not be correctly translated to American culture or mindset.  All the adults sitting around the dining table would be howling! I finally gave up asking What was so funny?  The translated punch lines were anything but.

Priests and nuns, however, were favorite topics of ridicule in French culture, and their implied antics survived the French to English transfer extremely well; enough so, that the Church servants became one of my most beloved objects of ridicule.  Eventually, as a practicing Protestant, I had to be fair about this and make sure ministers and even rabbis were included on occasion; but in my versions, the priest or nun was always the foiled character.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely nothing defective about my beaucoup love- for- good- food- gene…it kicked into overdrive at an early age and has remained.  Today, I not only enjoy Mardi Gras, but also partake Lundi, Mercredi, Jeudi, Vendredi and most weekends…

C’est la vie

Peter Pan at 80 Years Old – updated for 2-5-2018

Letting go and allowing my Rogue to handle his weekly pill box and other household chores has been both welcome and difficult for me.  After five plus years of care giving,   I can supposedly concentrate on my personal business projects and goals.  Rapt attention is much needed these days, as being an entrepreneur is a 24/7 mental state of conviction, doubt, confusion, determination, belief, and ignoring one’s surroundings.

I am easily distracted and, because I work both outside and inside our home, the closets and other January projects staring me in the face have to take a back seat now;  I’ve got sales tax to compute and records and multiple reminders (scrawled in my own hand on lots of loose papers stuffed into folders) that must be reviewed before finalizing this year’s business path of priorities.  I consider the stack of info in front of me as a yearly validation that man was never meant to put anything in writing!

We have both aged, my Rogue and I, not only in actual years but (I would like to believe) in wisdom as well.  Wisdom is the attribute I wish for; for me, it describes the compromising of any initial response –  I catch myself biting my tongue – so that I can attempt a more diplomatic reply; for my Rogue, wisdom is centered upon accepting what he can and cannot do.  Accepting  “the cannots” has been the more difficult, on-going process.

Instead, he has chosen to return to old habits with a fervor and survivor’s attitude that neither stroke nor open heart surgery could stop, nor any amount of medications alleviate.  My Rogue has emerged once again as my perennial Peter Pan:  the one who insists that anyone can fly, one need only believe!

So, what is your problem?

A streak of the maturing adolescent is in full exhibition… his modus operandi has always been direct, determinedly contrarian and just plain abrupt.  He has seen my concerned expression and, true to form, insists that there is nothing wrong with his doing chores, i.e. shoveling the drive!

(You’re blowing it again, Wendy; you have to shift gears and believe.) But I can only imagine my hair graying at top speed, and I’m literally willing whatever dark brown strands I still have to stay strong; I have four more weeks before my scheduled highlighting appointment.  Dear God, I’m actually having a conversation with my hair when Peter breaks the silence:

Just what is your problem?

Our experience was unnerving enough to place me on overdrive, reluctant to let up on the throttle. I am overtly cautious, my adrenalin recycling itself and my sheer will stepping carefully forward, slowly acknowledging there are fewer pirates lurking in hidden coves.   I can be very competent in a crisis; but I am no less human than the next spouse when such a stressful pace takes its toll over the long term.  My personal convalescence is far from over; no point in explaining any of these leftover effects to Peter.

My Rogue has come indoors and admits it is chilly; where his snow shovel was once important he has relinquished this duty to others younger than he. Lucky neighbors!   The city has yet to come down the street this morning.

Additionally, Peter informs me that the surface is icy and it is better that he drive me into work and maneuver the sultry black ice.  After all, he reminds me, he knows how to drive on such road conditions and I’m the lesser experienced.

(Bite your tongue, Wendy; remember, his mother taught him well and he is ever the gentleman …)

So, I change the subject to things less serious, and to which I already know the answers:

Did you take your medicine, Honey?

Probably not.

Did you remember to toss the laundry into the dryer?

Probably not.

Do you have your glasses?

Probably not.

Honey, I really think I can drive to work without a problem; I’ll be really careful, you needn’t worry.

I don’t want my truck out there in the freezing weather for four hours!   

BOING!!!! (note to Wendy: toss the gentleman angle out; Peter wants his truck back.)

What would you like for dinner, Honey?

Whatever you want to fix, Dear. You know I’ll eat anything you cook!

He eats to live; I, on the other hand, live to eat.  Yes, opposites do attract; and Wendy is gonna need a bit of bread and butter tonight…


A Numbers Game

Daddy would get depressed on occasion, but he’d always played sports, so when he no longer was active himself, he found other interests to keep him “up”.  One of these was the horse races.

Daddy loved the races, especially the buggy ones.  He loved the excitement of watching the beautiful animals vying for Win, Place or Show. His favorite numbers were 4 and 1 and 1 and 4 which he played regularly when he attended.  In fact, our family had our first color television, complements of a Daily Double that paid nearly $400.00 that particular Saturday.  The year was 1964 and the only “in color” pictures were the NBC peacock and Flipper.  No matter; the round screen RCA console was absolutely beautiful!  The Wonderful World of Disney and other programs soon followed in glorious color.

Funny how Daddy could keep the race horses’ and jockeys’ names and stats straight over the years, yet he couldn’t remember his own children’s’ birthdays!  When we needed cheap entertainment, we could always begin by giving Daddy a quiz:

Hey, Daddy…do you know all of your kids’ birthdays?

Let me see….hmmm.  Yeah…one of you was born in October…on Ike’s birthday; your older sister.

Yes, Daddy…the Pearl was born in October, on the 14th, just like President Eisenhower.

Your brother was born in June…I think… I forget the date…

Keep going, Daddy…

One of you was born around Christmas time…in December…

That’s close enough.

What about the youngest…? The Brat?

Silence.  Pause.  One could hear wheels turning…

By this time, we would be rolling.  Year in, year out:  my father could NOT recite his four children’s birthdays; at least, not all at once. Pitiful, but true.  This game was really cheap fun, especially when he was waiting for dinner to be served or was shooting the breeze with his daughters over a cocktail…we could keep him “on his toes” each and every time.  Pretty soon, he’d plead:

Okay, you got me…tell me.

Yep.  Nothing like feeling special in this house as the Christmas Eve kid…

Besides, in his mind, Daddy had more important things to deal with; like the bets he’d have to place for my godfather who was no longer allowed at the track since he was caught “booking” on the side.  Good ole’ Dad was there for his childhood friend, collecting the money each Saturday and writing down which races he’d have to place bets; the doubles; the exactas; life was getting complicated, even at the races.

And for some strange reason, Daddy’s knees and legs didn’t bother him on Saturdays nearly as much as they did during the rest of the week.  It was just amazing how youthful he could become each weekend, with that added lift to his step and innocent looking expression…like watching Ziggy appear in the flesh!

We decided to dedicate our early morning piano duet to him and when convenient, we’d embark on “Come Saturday Morning” in full harmony.  Mom would be giggling in the kitchen.  Daddy was too absorbed in the green sheet to pick up the irony until about a minute or so later…

Okay, okay, I hear you…you girls want to go in with me on a Daily Double?  I’ll let you pick the horses, I’ll put in the two bucks…here, take a look…

We had Flipper and everything else we needed; our family never did without, even with Daddy’s love for the horses.

Some days, he even managed to convince Mom to pick out horses.  Some weekday mornings, all he had to do was say the wrong thing or just enter the room; it didn’t take much to get on Mom’s nerves.  Eventually, she would hand him two bucks and suggest that he take off for Golden Gate Fields.  Daddy was no fool.

An Orange for Christmas!

Mom always retained her astonishment at things that people said and did.  She was certainly sheltered from much of humanity’s depravity, despite the hard times she actually experienced as a child.

As the little lady of the house, Mom was responsible for making sure she had her uniform cleaned and pressed for school each day.  She had one uniform.  The day that the goat ate her skirt from the clothesline was for her a deeply tragic event.

The little lady had once made herself a dress from a brightly colored, parrot print fabric.  She would shudder as she described wearing it proudly, hindsight having now set in to how incredibly ugly it must have appeared; but the nuns, knowing the family circumstances, would have said nothing to the smiling little girl without a mother.

Mom used to share how, when orphaned, her brother and she were remembered by the civic organizations in which her father had once belonged.  Each holiday season, the two children would attend a party and receive Christmas Stockings that each held an orange, a peppermint candy cane, hard candies and walnuts. What a treat! Mom described the stocking’s contents as though they were as precious as gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Like clockwork, the stockings would manifest each year in Mom’s now familiar reverie. After a few years of repeatedly hearing this story, all Mom had to do was mention the word stocking and The Brat and I would start to tear up; we soon learned to squelch much of the torture by pleading:

Please don’t tell us anymore, Mommy… We will be good, really good…  Just don’t tell us any more… We will be happy with what we get, Mommy – anything – that might be under the tree this year will be just fine!  Pleeeease stop with the orange and walnuts…

We could take the goat eating Mom’s skirt much easier than we could ever handle the oranges in the stockings.  Deep down, The Brat and I both realized how truly fortunate we were; didn’t we also have all the peas at our table that the starving children in China and elsewhere did not?

Funny, but I never heard the kids across the street ever apologize for having so many gifts under their tree…I don’t think their Mom ever told them anything this sad; and she had grown up on a real farm in the Midwest!

Lights! Table Tops! Action!

Daddy worked lots of late hours; the Christmas season was no exception.  Because Mom didn’t drive, we had to wait until Daddy came home early enough on a December evening to eat, then all hop in the car to go shopping for a tree under the Christmas tree lights at the nearest tree lot, often after dark.  We were in the city.  This was the way we did it.

As much as I dreamed about a ceiling high tree (just like those pictured on Christmas cards), we didn’t have a corner that wasn’t already taken in our living room.  So, we always purchased a “table top” tree; one that stood roughly four to four and a half feet high.  Mom loved the silver tips; year in, year out, that is what came home with us on a wooden stand.  The size fit nicely on our marble-topped, Victorian table.  The table was already in front of the large picture window. There was plenty of room underneath the cabriole carved legs to tuck packages safely out of the way from footsteps;   all were simple but good reasons to keep the tree in the same place each year.

It was getting closer to Christmas, and Daddy was working long hours.  Mom announced to us that we were going to walk down the boulevard, pick out a tree, then ask Daddy to pick it up on the way home that evening.  Okay…sounded like a plan!  So, Brat and I bundled up and walked with our mother the two and a half blocks to the tree lot.  At least this time we were choosing a tree in daylight; we were excited and made the rounds, turning the silver tips around until we found one that was just right!

Somewhere between our picking it out and Mom paying for it, Brat and I missed the discussion with the tree salesmen about taking it with us.  Mom agreed, convinced that we could easily carry it, and then reminded us how tired Daddy would be by the time he got home that evening… why, we three could save Daddy a stop, right?  We could carry the tree home…  Wouldn’t that be fun?

It was broad daylight; the entire walk home, Brat and I prayed none of our friends or neighbors (whose mothers drove, by the way) would see us walking up the street carrying our Christmas tree; we had to look up to cross a couple of corners, but I would not look at any cars for fear I’d recognize anyone!

We were groaning at the thought that we might have to explain exactly why we were carrying a Christmas tree home.  I vowed that if I EVER had children I would NEVER make them do anything like this.

We stopped a couple of times to better grasp our portions of the trunk (envision the Seven Dwarfs carrying the log in the movie trailer for Snow White and you have the picture ); except that we weren’t singing.

The more we complained, the more Mom giggled, lightly reprimanding us and deciding that this was truly an adventure!  Wasn’t this fun?

That had to be the longest, two and a half blocks Brat and I ever walked. We wanted to die from embarrassment.

And Mom wondered why we babies in the family grew up believing she’d come over with the Donner Party…

We Need a Little Aspirin

(sung to the tune of We Need a Little Christmas with apologies to Auntie Mame and the rest of the family)

Verse One:

Haul out the GARBAGE!

Let the two dogs out past you; leave the DOOR ajar!

Oops! Toast is BURNING…

I should have stayed in bed –OH! Drat.

Where’d I LAST hide the jam?



Oh, who NEEDS this every weekend?

Cyber-What-Day IS this?

Where’s the IN-STORE coupon?

I had it just one second a-go

HELP! Where are my car keys?

Don’t DARE wear your best blue jeans.

Grab your coat  –  it’s TIME to run!!!


Verse Two:

Kids! Stop your FIGHTING!

I can’t find ONE darn park-ing spot

Even NEAR the store!

Try helping MOMMY

I promise you; we’ll get a drink

JUST as SOON as we can….


Ugh, who NEEDS this every weekend?

Wrap to buy and boxes…

WHAT? You’re OUT of boxes?

Kids! I see a dumpster close by


SHOVE your sister over!!!

Breathe in, GOOD Job!! Let’s RUN back home…


Verse Three:

There! Gifts are FINISHED!

We’ve time to dress – YES! You can

Wear your blue jeans now.

Help your lit-tle brother!

I’m putting shadow on, Hon

Can’t even SEE what he’s done…


Final Chorus:

OH. I need a little ASPIRIN!!!

WHAT takes jam off GIFTWRAP?

How long ‘til we get there?

Just sit BACK and watch the snowflakes


GPS won’t SHUT up…

I need a little aspirin NOW!

Oh, Tannenbaum!

Mid December, we’d have our school Christmas Program.  As I climbed the grades, I knew which teachers were the most clever when it came to planning out musical presentations and art projects (those were my very favorite hours of the day).  I was observing all the details, mentally capturing what I hoped would be the best from them all for when I grew up and became a teacher.

I was really excited the year I reached fourth grade, as our new teacher was extremely creative in all she did.  By early December, she sent home a note asking all of us to bring a flashlight to school. We couldn’t tell our parents what we needed it for; we could only mention that once our school Christmas program was over with, we’d bring it back home still in one piece and still working.

Our teacher had cut squares of crepe paper in bright red, blue and green.  We were each assigned a color square and a rubber band; we fastened the sheets of color over our flashlights.  During rehearsals, she mixed us up on the stage steps to arrange the colors until she had the color mix she was looking for.  We practiced filing and climbing onto the six different levels of the stair-stepped platform until we could line up perfectly in place.  Once stationary, our class members formed the simple triangle shape for our singing tree.

Mind you, we were nine year olds, walking and climbing steps while holding and balancing our own heavy, metal flashlights that were roughly nine to ten inches long and used size C or D batteries. The last thing any of us kids wanted to do was drop our lights on the head of the kid directly below our step position!  The VERY last thing any of us wanted to experience was being the kid who felt a heavy whack on the head!  Cautioned well about our responsibility, each of us  grasped our flashlight very tightly, making sure we directed the bulb end toward the audience, while pushing the slide switches back and forth to make our tree blink on and off to the musical notes per her directions.

The big day arrived and we filed into the darkened auditorium, climbing onto the six different levels of the stair-stepped platform just as we had practiced.  The piano began its intro and we sang and blinked our way through Oh, Tannenbaum!

Our teacher always believed we could pull this off so, therefore, we also believed.   The overall effect was extremely captivating for those in the audience; did we ever delight our parents that year! As fourth graders, we were absolutely joyous and certain that no other singing Christmas tree ever looked or sounded lovelier!



“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.”

Matthew 12:32-34