When Life is Good Enough

A walk to the mailbox yields an extra envelope inside; this one not a bill! The card is a funny one; a sort of vicarious life-is-good thrill, for this time, my friend’s message tells me that her life has turned around again.  The Thanks So Much is underlined because of the quick emails I sent along with my almost-as-quickly-crafted prayers; I thank God for filling in the blanks so that I could send my short messages when she needed some encouragement.

 

I haven’t had to experience watching a son go off to war; so, when the phone rings later that evening, and the good news is that a friend’s son has safely returned home from the front lines, I take note.  The many months he spent knowing he was in harm’s way is something that as a parent I can only imagine; reading history and watching old Victory at Sea newsreels doesn’t begin to simulate the same experience.

 

Another day’s work has finally ended; the clock permits me to stop and call it a day.  I used to arrive home with a paycheck in my pocket; today, my answers to prayer are what make the hearth seem even warmer than before; perhaps it will be a popcorn night?  A few moments of reverie in the garden before starting dinner are allowed tonight; even the knockout roses are still blooming to full capacity!  There is not an empty branch in sight.

 

I’m beginning to understand my father’s tendency to settle for what he repeatedly described as good enough. It has taken me years to believe that an inner sense of peace can be mine more often; I need only see and hear with a grateful heart.  There are gifts of solace and joy when life is good enough!

 

 

 

 

 

When Everyone Was Irish

Across the Bay, the City had a parade each year.  Even the Italians walked among their Irish compatriots, extolling the Virtues of the Green in their mutually adopted new homeland.  This was America.  The Melting Pot.  Monthly Holidays in a myriad of global refinery and adapted traditions, representing many of the nationalities that had built our country, eventually found a home on Rubberneck.

The weeks after the Christmas holidays were always a letdown for kids; we had to wait for the end of January or early February for any further excitement.  Then, we enjoyed Chinese New Year (comparing our birth year animals) and Valentine’s and George and Abe’s birthdays; excitement invaded elementary classrooms each March as we studied the Irish and their folklore.  A childhood imperative:  we must wear green or risk being pinched!!!

We brought home our latest St. Patrick’s art project to the smell of corn beef and cabbage, with little boiled potatoes, turnips, onions and carrots cooking in the pot!  This was the one night of the year when we were all Irish on Rubberneck Avenue, sharing a bit of the blarney and blessings in our own kitchens.  While most of Mom’s boiled dinners were “French” in nature, containing a variety of meats and things (i.e. oxtails, beef tongue) that my normal friends didn’t eat, I enjoyed this Irish meal very much…and was much relieved that we were eating what the other kids did that evening!  Even Yakov knew what St. Patrick’s Day was.  Wow! What a country!

One St. Patrick’s, Mom even let me make green lemonade!  Odd, but that pitcher lasted the longest any pitcher of lemonade ever did.  Apparently, not too many neighbors were willing to test it out.  Even the kids on the block hesitated.  Thinking about it now, I may have put a bit too much food coloring in the batch; the Kelly green shade was slightly over the top, making the lemonade look more like a potion; something from the Evil Witch Stepmother’s laboratory in Snow White.

We’d had too many hours of Disney magic to warn us of such things. Even though we understood that not all Irish have red hair, the bigger, more important question remained:  do Leprechauns really exist?  Darby O’Gill convinced us they did.  Wow…even the bakery had four-leaf clovers; holiday cookies sprinkled with green sugar.  What a great day to be Irish!

Lenten Observations

On occasion, I see a bumper sticker or recall something that triggers the stories, adventures, and experiences I encountered as a public school kid in a Bay Area parish serving over two thousand families.

For instance, during every Lent, I gave up chocolate chip cookies.  After a few years, I stopped.  The odds of Big Sis baking her out-of-this-world chocolate chip cookies during Lent to my mother’s serving her perfectly edible, liver and onions with the piquant gravy over mashed potatoes were 7 to 1!  Statistics aside, I got tired of the Brat giving up the liver, her angelic countenance supporting the sham that she alone could pull off in front of Mom.  And my parents were surprised when this daughter excelled as a Thespian in her senior year?

In all fairness and upon examination, most any child who was fortunate to survive parochial instruction was indeed well-educated and well-rounded.  Penmanship, Latin lessons, and some fantastic art graced the walls in the church school halls.  Parochial childhood friends even received sex education; it was similar to the well-accepted course content for fifth and sixth grade level students we received in our public elementary school.

Of course, we neighborhood girls compared notes, and I realized my instruction was lacking some of the specifics she’d learned; for example, the dangers of wearing patent leather shoes with skirts.  Obviously, my sister and I were at a slight disadvantage, only attending Saturday Catechism or Friday afternoon instructions. Some practices were never fully discussed or explained.  For example,

  • Why Catholics didn’t believe in Evolution.  The Brat made the mistake of asking this during one Friday afternoon session; Mrs. G, the lay teacher, was not pleased, and my sister realized too late she would not be excused on time; not a good note for the coming weekend.
  • There was the time that Brat and Peebody found a wounded animal in the church property drive.  When asked by the church staff what they were doing, Brat explained they were administering the Last Rites. Again, she found out that it didn’t pay to be candid.
  • Typical Sunday morning conversation with Daddy:

Can we go to the dumps with you today?
Go to church with your mother. It’s good for you.
Will you drive us?
You can walk; it’s good for you.
Yes, Daddy.  But the next Sunday you go to the dumps, can we ride in the truck with you?

No response; Daddy knew better. The decision would be dependent on Mom’s affirmative response the next time a Sunday dumps run came around.

Where does the Church find ashes for Ash Wednesday?  Why must the statues be covered each Lenten season? Would church ceilings really collapse if wayward parishioners attended Easter Mass? Didn’t anyone else find the closed confinement of a confessional scary?  An inquiring mind wanted to know.

I was serious enough; often, too much so.   Finding a creative slant or imagining the manmade link to an otherwise, very solemn religious subject remains an impetuous flaw of mine.  It is both delightful and therapeutic to have been blessed with the gift to think quickly; to find the irony and humor in child-like assumptions of innocent, misguided thoughts.   This gift calms my soul and lightens my normally serious heart.

So, I confess to taking full advantage of any opportunity to reap a giggle or two…and I’ll play to audiences from one to one hundred (those are individuals, not ages).

It is for good reason that I gave up confession long ago…

Gunfight at the OBGYN Corral

On the surface, it was simply routine; my annual checkup.  The form might have been revised; I filled out current symptoms – everything from migraines to fatigue – checking a fair amount of items on the list.

Once my gynecologist entered, we chatted briefly.  Then, she reviewed my check marks, confirming the severity of each chosen item, skipping around as one health concern led to another, including family history of diabetes, cancer, and the like.  Mentally, I was ticking off the points I wanted to remember, interjecting questions that I had as a layman in this medical office atmosphere.

Before long, her eyes back down on the list, she looked up and asked, “How many firearms do you have in your house?”

Thankfully, I was not struck dumb.  Rather, the adrenaline began to flow at top speed. Looking straight into her eyes, I asked, “What the hell does that possibly have to do with any of this conversation?  My husband doesn’t own any firearms.  What’s your point?”

“Have you always been sort of a Type A personality?” she broached…

“My baby book states that I walked on my own at nine months.  What does THAT tell you?”

She quickly changed the subject, but not before I continued saying my peace (or piece, pun intended, because I let go with both barrels!!)

“Doctor, this is not the country I grew up in.  I know where that line of inquiry is coming from; I am aware of the so-called, protective, nanny-state ordinance that recently passed on behalf of protecting our children and grandchildren.  I have no grandchildren as yet, but I absolutely refuse to acquiesce to such scrutiny now or in the future.  Furthermore, my husband lost everything years ago, his guns included.  If I were able, I would replace each and every one he used to own. “

Not that she had much choice after that soapbox rant, but apparently, this naturalized physician with the lovely Australian accent heard me!  She never handed me another form or brought up the subject ever again.

I was definitely my father’s daughter – Type A and however many red-white-and-blue political genes we shared.

HOLY MACKEREL!

When mackerels were holy and the circus came to town,

We children sat upright with smiles, few of us had frowns!

Our parents taught us well; we knew how to behave.

Forgetting manners in public wasn’t minor…it was grave!

 

There was no “wait until we get home” pardon…

We were talked to right then! And put our kid guard on.

Knowing the lines were now drawn: Rights were NOT Wrongs.

When mackerels were holy, our summer feet wore thongs.

 

A taste of Hawaii was fresh pineapple gobbled in pretend grass huts!

This entertained youngsters with imagination and guts.

Teachers taught students to think, encouraging questions and debate.

When mackerels were holy, young minds discerned morals from raw hate.

 

Holidays we drank soda: crème, orange and strawberry!

The rest of the year: milk, water or juice; choices didn’t vary.

Seasonings from far off places flavored a melting pot of tastes;

When mackerels were holy, mothers supervised the family’s plates.

 

 

 

HAPPIER TRAILS….

Internet emails continue to circulate long after they first debut; so, I was recently reminded of a vacation highlight that we had visited during 1980; this was on the same trip in which my parents and my daughter would share their first Disneyland experience together.

Victorville was one of our stops.  We purposely deviated from the main highways toward Apple Valley to see the recently relocated Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum. From the moment we entered, we were in a place that was very un-museum like in its displays and its life size exhibits.  I have never again experienced the same feeling in any other historic collection.

I’ll never forget watching my mother “take in” a glass memorial case at the beginning of the self tour.  For some reason, I only remember two of the three children honored in that case: the military-clad elder son that the Rogers had lost and one other (also adopted) little Korean daughter who had died in a church-sponsored bus trip crash.  The third child was their little daughter with Down’s syndrome.  A sign of the times, medical technology was limited and she had lived only until age two.

As mothers, there was nothing more heartbreaking in our minds than the death of a child.  Mom and I let the men walk on ahead to keep My Only occupied; but we both knew what the other was thinking.  It had been a year of medical challenges for Only Bro, so we’d planned this vacation to temporarily remove our folks apart from the day-to-day concerns that were quickly wearing them down.

We had no idea what was in store that coming holiday season; for now, it was enough that we could step away from a glass encased memorial and move on to the next chapter.

With each turn, there were both recognizable artifacts and the family’s real lifestyle possessions, replicated in a respectful and welcoming manner.  We were not intruders; rather, we were guests invited in to observe and linger where we wished for as long as we cared to, in what I can only describe as the closest thing to walking inside the pages of a 3D family photo album that I’d ever experienced.

Signs helped narrate their home style.  George Montgomery had purposely designed the lovely wooden dining set with a spinning center lazy susan to accommodate a family with nine children. I was old enough to have remembered George Montgomery in his own movies; that he was a master wood crafter was not well known beyond the immediate movie industry.  So, the table setting was there, surrounded with the quintessential dining room wallpaper and décor one would have expected to find in an American family’s 50’s home. Roy and Dale were no different than their fans, it seemed.

I’ve never been good with fur; alive or dead.  So, to see Trigger still in the flesh and the family pet Bullet sitting there to greet us was a bit alarming for me!  I tried hard to hide my discomfort; but as children can be extremely perceptive, my daughter soon picked up that Mommy wasn’t really smiling very much as we discussed the two animals.  I’d never make a taxidermist, nor would I ever want to live in any room with glass eyes staring at me!

Thankfully, we passed the fury critters and came upon an old friend. This next object I gratefully admired; it was the very inanimate but precocious Nellie Belle.  Now, this was a hoot!  I could just picture ‘ole Gabby having left the parked vehicle right there!  The Sons of the Pioneers history wasn’t too far from this main arena; also adjacent were some of the lovely costumes that both Dale Evans and Roy had worn.  We adults even recognized the movie titles that they came from; only now we saw their actual lovely detailing in living color.  Once again, we were reminded of what it felt like to visit old family friends and gleefully await for the host and hostess to join us.

The day we visited, the greeters shared that Roy still came down to the museum to chat with his fans. This was not one of those days, but we were okay with that and thanked the greeters for their warm hospitality. The entire ambience of the museum was engaging enough for us, as the inside décor reflected honor and good taste; both personal and movie collectables had been preserved for the public to enjoy.   And enjoy them thoroughly we did.

Sadly, the two year old email that colored my memory of the Victorville attraction was the Christies Auction House summation of the demise of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson.  Per Roy’s wishes, his children had promised that the exhibits would be sold off and the museum closed once the attraction could no longer pay its own upkeep.  Seems that not enough lil’ pardners even knew who Roy and Dale were;  not even in a tourist town like Branson, a place known for its traditions and reverence for all things Americana.

While few of us understand our personal stewardships will one day end, Roy had realistically foreseen that his earthly fame would eventually be replaced.  Like any good steward, he had prepared his children, lovingly giving them permission to make the difficult decisions when the times changed.

How fortunate we were to have shared some of the happier trails of yesteryear…

Got Juice?

Husbands and wives have lots to learn about housekeeping practices, including the manner in which the family refrigerator is organized. Take designer containers, juice keepers, bottles or pitchers; do you know which ones are normally used for breakfast juice or leftover coffee at your love nest address?

My father learned this the hard way, having mistakenly heated up the contents of a covered glass jar and served it to my mother for her Sunday morning coffee.  Unfortunately, olive juice does not taste anything like coffee, even with added cream and sugar.  Fast forward a few years ago.  My Rogue arrived home before me and during the course of the evening commented on how “very sweet” that juice is, but he’d get used to it.  My immediate reaction was to ask “What juice?”, but after he had described the particular pitcher, I made an immediate beeline to the kitchen.  No need to panic, I assured myself.  I removed the pitcher from the refrigerator, filled the hummingbird feeder, and then settled in for my weekend’s quiet vigil.

Seven Sure Signs that my hubby mistakenly drank from the pitcher containing hummingbird syrup:

Number 7:  When his favorite barber asked, “Want the usual?” he responded “No, just feather the sides, please.”

Number 6:  He changed his voter registration to the Green Party.

Number 5:  He was the only fan sitting at the tennis match who moved his entire body from side to side during each and every rally.

Number 4:  He insisted on our choosing a garden theme with lots of red accents for the master suite.

Number 3:  He now prefers Landscaper’s Challenge to Monday Night Football.

Number 2:  He showed an unusual and renewed curiosity in my old houseplants.

Number 1:  He continually switches from chair to loveseat to sofa and back to chair during cocktails.