STANDING UP

I was reminded of Mom, who continued to stand for older people on the bus or in the doctor’s office; she was over seventy years old herself, and we would remind her that she no longer had to give up her seat; in fact, she’d earned it and could safely enjoy staying seated.  She didn’t really acquiesce until her ankles began to weaken and she became unsteady.

Such was the déjà vu moment that spoke to me as I watched the group of older men come forward, each in turn, as their names were called.  This was a moment for decorum…

I watched as the once young soldiers resumed their youthful, military stance; one could almost imagine each reporting for duty as they were called in alphabetical order.   Despite their fragile gaits, each had once again straightened up just enough to return to uniformed days when they had been warmly greeted by their loved ones.

This was a simple but touching ceremony.  Those who walked without a cane or walker stepped forward and stood at attention while the caring woman pinned the red carnation on their lapels and thanked them for their service.  Slightly exuberant but still possessing the shyness of their youth’s generation, each ambled to a nearby seat so as to allow the next Vet his very own moment of recognition.

A couple of them were strong enough to raise themselves up from the wheel chair seats that brought them to their place in line outside the room’s entrance, where they managed to stand ever so briefly but long enough to receive their carnations eye to eye.  They fell carefully back into their wheeled seats and worked their way back to the end of the line so that the next Vet could move forward.

I tried to imagine the individual yesterdays these men had known; some of us who watched the brief proceedings during our lunch were younger by at least thirty to forty years… from my brief encounter with WWII and Korean War history, I could only surmise the reels of memories still rolling inside each of these old soldiers.  I had had older cousins who had served at the same time as these gentlemen. But as in most families, ages tended to stay within ages, and reunions were more difficult to get to these days; I had to admit: I knew very little of my own cousins’ stories.

My membership in a service club had brought me to this senior living residence dining room this week, wherein tradition extolled these precious individuals at least one day each year.  Some of these men had once celebrated Armistice Day; and like my older cousins, they were at least a generation younger than my mother would have been, had she been sitting here at lunch with me.

Like Mom, they understood the simple courtesy of giving up a desired seat so that another older member could take in the brief but respectful place accorded him by the rest of his senior living comrades in arms

A Family Affair

I remember walking around the corner shoe store repair, heading back up the street on the way home with Mommy that day…she was really excited! Mommy had her carryall filled to the brim with lots of good things.  An aunt and uncle who lived very far away would be coming to visit us in the next few days.  I asked who they were.  My mother told me that I had been too young to remember when they last visited.

You know your little pink rocker, Annette?

Ohhhh…the light bulb was beginning to turn on…  They were the ones who had sent me the small rocking chair with its rattan seat; something especially for me from very far away.  So, I knew of them by the little rocker that was mine.

One thing about listening to my mother – you got a textbook history in any and all topics – and their story was no exception.

Originally from Georgia, my uncle had been stationed in California many years before. This Georgian absolutely loved kids and noticed a little guy in the neighborhood playing all alone.  Apparently, my future uncle asked the little guy’s mother for permission to play ball with him; that’s how my uncle met my aunt, who was my father’s baby sister, a young WWII widow.  Eventually, the two adults fell in love and married.  Years later, my cousin would follow in his new father’s footsteps and also choose a Navy career.

Mommy continued on…Uncle was now a Lieutenant Commander.  Mommy stressed how very important his new position was.  Actually, my mother stressed about almost everything!  Aloud, she hoped she had picked up enough French bread and that the meal she was planning for the night at our home was different than what another sister-in-law would be serving, and that she hoped we had enough cheese and salami on hand…Mommy’s excitement was absolutely infectious!

There were a few times that I “connected” well beyond my four years of age, with the particular significance surrounding our household events.  Hence, I was starting to pick up just how very important their visit would be, so I asked Mommy:

Will we have to salute him?

Naturally, that made the rounds pretty quickly once their visit had begun.

By the time I was growing up, Armistice Day had been renamed Veterans Day; my mother made sure that I knew the historic background of our country’s holiday at a very early age.  I had a cousin who was born on Armistice Day when it was Armistice Day.  I was born on Christmas Eve; thus far, no one had renamed it.

This would be the first of many visits from Uncle Bake and Auntie that I would actually remember.  So, I listened quite intently as Mom explained that because Uncle was still in the Navy, they couldn’t visit us very often – like around the holidays – when most families gathered.

Because their visits with us were always limited, the days took on a holiday feeling when these two returned to the West Coast.  Each visit might be short, but that wouldn’t stop any of the siblings from filling it as full of family good times as the suitcase full of comfort foods returning with Auntie.

One of the things that Auntie missed most was the sourdough French bread; no matter where in or out of the country they had been stationed, she still claimed nothing ever came close to the bread from California.  Over the years, the older siblings would chip in and help fill up one suitcase going back with Auntie and Uncle to their next post; it would be filled to the brim with Larraburu French Bread and enough salami to feed a company!

Each May Americans remember Memorial Day with a quiet moment of reverie for the family members who have passed on; the same ones we used to hug and kiss goodbye, then send off with a suitcase full of Home.  Today, there remain several opportunities for those of us who want to support our living Veterans and current military men and women; they, too, would appreciate receiving “a bit of Home” now and then.   None of us need wait until May or November to remember our military.  Their calendars have twelve months, just like ours do!

So, when a few extra dollars can be found, at any time of year, send them on…the internet makes it easy to find a favorite charity, adopt a soldier, gift a military family, or send a donation to your local VFW or USO.  Then pack that picnic lunch and give thanks for another holiday in this precious land…

Wabbit Watching

My Rogue and I have been walking the Riverfront Trail, a joint project of the city park system and The Washington Rotary Club.  It is a much loved, scenic path that winds along the Missouri River as it passes by Washington’s Historic Downtown Area.

We have groaned and complained upon arising each day until we step into the truck, winding our way downtown to the trail, half-filled coffee cups with cream in our hands.  Thank you, God, for coffee; especially on these early morning bonding adventures.  Most mornings we are on the trail exceptionally early; the pathway can be very dark. The humidity is climbing already; by 5:30am the temperature is anywhere between 74 and 84 degrees, depending on whether Washington will experience a triple digit day.

One meets all nature of walkers; some with pets on leashes, two friends heavily engaged in catching up from the day before, some just on their own… A few greet us; others prefer to concentrate on their own tempo and listen to their ear buds.  A bicycle passes by, with or without any warning.  It is up to us to stay to the far right side of the path.

Were we to wait until later in the day, women with grandchildren in tow inside a wagon or specially made stroller might accompany us, even passing us by when we neglected to keep a faster pace.  Children seem to flourish in this small but pristine town west of St. Louis; so, too, the elders, who take their walks along the Riverfront Trail very seriously.

Among the walkers are those who briskly pace, focusing on the aerobics of the moment.  If one sees another more than a few times, a familiarity begets a quick hello.  Sometimes, a bit of history is shared…

Did you know that it was 104 degrees fifty years ago today?

This gentleman explains that it is his fiftieth wedding anniversary.  AHA! I conclude…climate change is just another history-repeating-itself occurrence.  I congratulate the man, explaining that My Rogue and I will never make our eighteenth if he doesn’t straighten up!  The man consoles my husband, explaining that he’s survived a good number of idle threats over the years! The handsome but grayed groom continues on, walking in quick time tempo.

Others walk along as we do, stepping at a comfortable pace; it is nothing short of a miracle that My Rogue can walk the one mile course; we are not yet ready to expand our horizons and lengthen the walk to the bridge; at least, not just yet.  We have slowly become familiar with certain curves and markers along the trail.  Some mornings it is so dark, I can barely even see the rabbits unless they decide to run across the asphalt path.

Mostly, I’ve spotted the small cotton-tailed critters nibbling on the grasses among the fallen leaves; a few spot us coming and immediately dart back under the brush!  Others remain very still; had I not been wearing my glasses, I’d have passed them by; God does indeed blend the critters’ colors with their surroundings.

Rabbits with cotton tails.  No overalls, unfortunately.  Beatrix Potter surely had imagination.  I’ve not once seen Peter, nor have I seen any rabbit with a tattered blue jacket, torn in haste from escaping Mr. McGregor’s garden.  Big disappointment for this romantic but child-like observer…in fact, somewhat of a letdown, though intellectually I know I am not within a cartoonist’s cell or artist’s sketch pad…

This is about as adventurous as I get.  No Sacajawea am I. I am definitely a City Frog. I’d have told Thomas Jefferson that the existing thirteen colonies looked good enough; we need not tarry any further, Mr. President. Then, I’d have cooked him one of my fabulous dinners…that, and a late nightcap, and Voila!  America’s expansionist days would have ended.

For cheap entertainment, I begin counting the rabbits. I am joking along the way…counting and remarking to My Rogue that our morning walks now include our current position on “practicing safe sex”…we no longer kill rabbits, we just count them. My Rogue shakes his head, chuckling softly in agreement.

So, the City Frog and her Rogue continue, walking along the neatly paved trail, noting the birdsong and the trains – one, sometimes two, every morning – carrying coal or refrigerated perishables on their way toward St. Louis.  Waving to an engineer was not a possibility where I grew up.  Yes, I knew what a train looked like; I’d colored enough of them in my Southern Pacific coloring books from my godfather.  But I’d never read anything that said it was against the law to wave to an engineer. So, I continue to be the child-like one, waving to the next train as it passes by.

You are just like a kid! I can’t believe you…do you really think he cares?

Yes; I’m sure he sees and appreciates someone’s greeting along the way.

Truth be told, it’s great fun to wave and enjoy this childlike freedom…I could never be a kid; even at age four, I was a proper but little old lady.  All I could do was behave; pay attention; and follow the delineated rules of whoever’s house I was in.

The trains cannot blow their horns any longer here in our city limits; they can, however, change tracks when needed.  On occasion, we run the risk of being “stuck” on the riverside of the tracks…sitting in our Ford truck with bottom of the cup cold coffee.  I repeat:  Sacajawea passed by here long, long ago.

I turn my attention back to looking for more rabbits to count; today, I’ve seen a baker’s dozen on our walk inside the trail, along the riverfront, toward the half-mile bench.  We are on the return leg, slowly moving toward the parking lot entrance.

HeLLO, little wabbits… This is your fwend, Elmer. Come out…come OUT!

My Rogue is my best audience; I get another chuckle from him.  But it is as I suspected: even rabbits are smarter then we; the smarter ones are probably still sleeping…it’s not even 6am yet. Not another appears, much less one approaching me and asking,

What’s up, Doc?

Damn cartoons…

Gratitude Pending

When all that’s left in me is gratitude, I permit myself some moments to reflect upon the good things that My Rogue and I have enjoyed these past several months.

Of course, my perfectionist tendencies still argue within me; especially these days, when writer’s block, senior moments, and other “cutesy excuses” cover my day’s production or lack thereof…I remind myself that my purposeful attempts to achieve a good day’s work and a job well done have to go. I am still too hard on myself; not yet ready to chuck my personal standard of “best”.  I can pretend it doesn’t matter, but it does.  I am no different than others my age; I am fearful during these economic times.

Perfection’s attraction is slowly eluding me; I’m slightly overwhelmed at times (no more, no less, than in the past) but when the light finally turns on, I realize that truly the small stuff doesn’t matter.  For example, the house will always collect dust, and we live in our house, so dust and clutter are a part of it.  An old acquaintance of mine used to give her kids permission to write on the dusty surfaces of the home’s furniture.  The only caveat: they were not to date any of their scribbling!

So, I have long assured myself that the same tasks will be there tomorrow; and when I hear life calling me, I absolutely MUST join in the joyful clatter! There are sounds outside my window; souls of all ages, waving “I’m home” and looking forward to sharing some momentary chatter with other adults before sealing themselves inside to parent the little critters.  Cars arriving home after the work day will usually stop short and check the mail; the children can’t wait to spill out of the car seats and regale us with their days’ news.  This is LIFE.  We are in the midst of a neighborhood, not a senior development.  Neither My Rogue nor I want to exist apart from little critters and the stories they share.  So, before me is once again a neighborhood teaming with the routine but very precious moments that  I recognize from years before; only this time around, I am an adult “grandma type” so there is a freedom from the moment to moment responsibility…I can just watch the familiar scenes and smile.

Cautionary words – Don’t get hurt! Be careful!  The sounds of loved ones from my own childhood days resonate and come to mind.  But I bite my tongue. I don’t want to instill anything but confidence in these little critters…I am careful to laugh when they are not within ear shot.  Children are too precious a commodity to have some ignoramus neighbor offer any comment without respectful consideration; absolutely no way do I intend to purposely chisel away even a modicum of their confidence.

Perhaps my having left the rat race this past year has given me a fresh perspective in addition to a much needed rest.  Each morning’s daybreak is once again a time to begin; it’s truly another day in America.  I can choose to wallow in past defeat or expectantly score another win!  Busier souls than I have passed the new bloom in my yard; so, I breathe in summer’s last rose on their behalf.

I will permit myself a brief enjoyment of its scent before falling back into old habits, racing down the drive to another appointment – another “I’m keeping busy” moment – that serves to numb me from the underlying truths of this economy:  I am over-qualified.  I am over fifty.  I have a medical history that has been reviewed and used against me; thus far, I have been turned down several times by the same company that once paid for my doctors’ care.  In this current job market,   I fall outside the perimeters of the “hot minority”…it’s now my turn to be discriminated against by lesser students flaunting the badges of supervisory positions.  I’ve faked it from the seat of my pants before; when corporate courtesies demand yet another brave, quixotic stance, I convince myself I will once again deliver.

I finger the small piece of paper in my wallet.  I folded it carefully and marked it Gratitude before tucking it inside the coin pocket.  I even dated it.  When opened, the paper is a simple shopping list of grocery items.  My Rogue scrawled the list in his bold, confident print. Any reader can tell a few letters are actually missing from some of the names on that list. But he could read it and he returned home with every item I asked for.  This was noteworthy, especially so for a man who had suffered a stroke the previous year.

As with perfection, I must toss aside the recurring fears and convince myself that they no longer serve any purpose.  We are both on the mend and, pending our permission, gratitude will easily fill in any blanks…

We’ve Each A Place

By what authority proclaimed, by what process or fair measure?

Removing living things deemed irritants…are they not also treasures?

Even seedlings have intrinsic beauty, some small redeeming grace.

Might I not display the buds upon my finest lace?

 

Dear Lord, who’s eye has deemed them such, to reach but never grow?

Should I weed a few, toss them aside, implying that I see

Why I should pull them from the soil – to never fully glow?

And pretend I understand the stewardship you’ve offered me?

 

To cast them out from Your green earth, I’ve found no meaning in this toil.

As gardener I shall choose to find a safe and sandy rest.

Perhaps a place You’d once designed lies hidden in the soil

Let rains renew old garden seeds to proudly sprout their best!

 

 

Cabbages and Things

My child grew to love everything that had a label on it.

Take out was part of our “grocery” budget; therefore, dining out soon became “therapy” under the auspices of medical funds allotted each month.  Robbing Peter to pay Paul was nothing compared to my creative household accounting!

I’d dined in a restaurant perhaps two- no more than three -times a year as a child.  Most probably, there existed just a bit extra in Daddy’s wallet so that the family could afford a treat. Normally, dining out had something to do with special occasions; rarely was it to give Mom a break.  Sometimes as a treat, Daddy would run down to Kasper’s and bring home their great hot dogs.  This was more in the later years, after Daddy had retired.

My daughter at age five had eaten OUT more often than I had in my entire lifetime.  Since I worked in our own business, this meant there were days that I was too pooped to boil a pot of water.  We often ran straight from the shop to pizza or local cafes then eventually dinner houses once our child’s taste had developed beyond the pepperoni and cheese group.

At no time did it dawn on me just how dependent her comfort zone had become on the Wendy’s little red head, the Carl’s Jr. happy little star or the golden arches that peeked out from the playground while the Hamburglar threatened to take your plate away if you didn’t hold onto it (Experienced kids planned to bargain with their fries).

I realized this many years later, when in college and living with us in the Bay Area, her tastes ran counter to mine; specifically, what she would eat and from where. She was racing back and forth to college or part-time work; I totally understood as I was once again back in the old neighborhood,  much enjoying the old comfort foods like Kasper’s Hot Dogs,  ¼ Pound Cheeseburgers, and Taco Bell.

Come to think of it, labels had always been around; they were the “you’re ok, I’m ok” system for kids’ clothing and toys; as a parent, I was very sensitive to the need to belong and fit in.  I remembered what it was like to feel like an oddball when my clothes weren’t the latest or from the hottest stores at the time.  I understood how important it was for my daughter to own one or two cool clothing items. That I could manage by watching the sales.

Names and Labels (Branding) had spilled over into our toy chests years before.  One year I specifically described my friend’s Revlon Doll to Mom, explaining how lovely she was and that she was the doll to have.

That next birthday, Mom gifted me with a Sweet Sue.  She, too, was a fashion doll.  No one else had a Sweet Sue.  No one else ever even HEARD of a Sweet Sue.  I was supposed to be grateful so I was. I was still grateful, even when Mom realized the lady at the store had forgotten to put the extra ballet outfit inside.

(Whoa! There was a glimmer of hope here…)

Revlon Dolls had a leotards outfit, so I eagerly mentioned

We can go back and ask for it.

I was thinking…a ballet costume might just meet the requirements when I played dolls with my friend and her Revlon Doll…

No.  Not even a maybe.  We were not going to return to the store.  Mom wasn’t one to go back to complain; whatever extra she might have paid for didn’t matter. Granted, Mom didn’t drive and this would have meant another daytime bus trip downtown.  The situation was neither priority nor a necessity; not in Mom’s world.  As pretty as my Sweet Sue was, she never quite made the grade for me; in my young mind, she might just as well have been missing an arm.

There was no getting around it.  I would have to make sure my daughter enjoyed and eventually owned the same – emphasis same – play things that her peers would recognize.  While I refused to play the waiting in line game that so many parents succumbed to, I still managed to find a little redheaded Cabbage Patch Doll.  “Alina” was the beginning of a collection of these so- ugly- they- were- cute dollies, each with at least a small red tuft of hair.

Who said cabbage was cheap? Must have had it mixed up with something else…

Paste Buckets and Sweet Peas

Daddy prided himself on his yearly garden.

No paste bucket that had been emptied at the floor covering shop went unused; many came home to be repurposed as part of the vegetable garden; the buckets enabled Daddy to stretch the garden area.  He planted pepper plants, some zucchini plants and even tried growing pole peas in them, allowing the vines to trail upward along the old lattice fence to reach the late afternoon sun.

Because we had only a limited amount of garden bed in the backyard, Daddy used the area well, packing enough tomato plants against the pink stucco wall (side garage wall belonging to next door) to feed the third world …we were constantly amazed at how many plants Daddy could pack into the seven by ten bed!  Radishes, Lettuce, parsley, thyme, some Swiss chard and even kohlrabi – this latter veggie had been introduced to us by our Czech neighbor.   Often, marigolds filled spots in between the edibles to fight the garden pests.

The next door neighbor would drive into his garage, hear my father cussing and look over the wall.  Daddy would be on his knees, pulling the tomato worms off his precious plants, cussing at them as though it would make them leave and never return. Return they did and I can still hear the Italian chuckling and shaking his head, then admonishing Daddy to be sure all the worms were off “his” plants.  A repeated scenario, his reminding Daddy that the property line reached 10 inches deep into our garden was an on-going joke; in our neighbor’s eyes, all the plants against the heat-holding stucco wall were technically his.

Hey, Brochier…make sure you water those plants really well when you get through cussing out the worms…I want to see a good crop this year…

I can’t write verbatim my father’s response as it actually had little to do with gardening.  Suffice it to say that the two bantered on like this for years, one cajoling the other and the other never failing to come back with his best retort.

Daddy wasted nothing.  He kept old coffee cans and other trays and containers from any nurseries to plant garden seeds ahead, so he often dried seeds from his own beefsteak tomatoes and green bell peppers.  He and his buddies even exchanged seeds from year to year, comparing the easiest to grow, the sweetest varieties, and so forth.

One particular year, our cousin dropped off some seeds in an envelope; he told Daddy that they were among the sweetest peas he’d ever grown, so Daddy was really excited to have some of such high quality hybrid peas.  He put them away until sowing time, and then made sure he gave them lots of room to grow in his limited garden bed.  He staked the seedlings and had cross bars he’d made from salvaged wood strips.  Daddy was determined to have some very sweet peas to enjoy this season.

The plants had just the right amount of sunshine; the stucco wall helped bounce back some of the afternoon sun, so the tendrils began climbing up the makeshift lattice in no time!  Daddy was really happy with the progress until the small little pods didn’t grow any longer; instead, the little pods began to open.

Standing tall, smack in the middle of tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, Swiss chard and crawling squash plants fighting for room with the herbs and marigolds were multi-colored blooms of pastel pinks, lavender-blues and creamy white.   What the—! He called my mother out to the back to see; she confirmed what he already suspected:  those very sweet peas that Daddy had imagined he’d soon be harvesting for dinners were indeed sweet peas.

Sweet peas in all their beautiful, delicate glory!!!  Mom was absolutely delighted, as the blooms’ scent perfumed the entire back yard.  Some were even tall enough to cut and take inside to enjoy!

Down at the coffee shop, the guys had been counting the days until Daddy realized this garden “discovery”; you can bet they knew the minute their ears began burning!   My father resigned himself to being the butt of one very clever joke, but remained a good sport always. Obviously, Daddy became especially careful when accepting any future envelopes of “specially” dried seeds from this gang!