Did You Have History When You Were Little?

My daughter was learning her manners and just barely past two years old at the time of this conversation:

Mommy, tie shoes PLEASE?

Okay, Honey.  And what is the nice word you are going to say to Mommy when she is finished tying your shoes?

DONE, Mommy?

When she had reached fourth grade and was learning about US History (or some of the highlights), she came home one afternoon and asked me:

Mommy, who was president first… Lincoln or Kennedy?

BOING!!!!  Help me, God…I’m becoming my mother….

History is REAL.  As I learned too quickly, it is REAL for those who lived through the headlines; it only STAYS REAL if SHARED…   SO?  What to do this Memorial Day?

JUST BE AVAILABLE.  While military tributes are on-going across this great land of ours during Memorial Day Weekend, recall that Veterans from  WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq War will be in attendance; and some of these survivors are not completely healed themselves, yet are there to honor their fallen comrades.

Hence, it is incumbent upon us all to stop and reflect upon the ones who grieve among us.  Don’t underestimate the value conveyed in the simplest expressions of a supportive arm or a respectful nod… or a sincerely expressed “Thank you for your service.”

 

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…

CROCK-POT OPTIMIST

Written to the tune of Cockeyed Optimist from South Pacific, with my apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein.   I couldn’t help but toss a melting pot of ingredients into the crock pot during this political season, especially after listening to one endearing “movie tradesman” remind us of our roles…

 

WHEN MY VEGGIES ARE SPENT AND RATHER SORRY…

I COMBINE EV’RY LEFTOVER I’VE GOT

SO THEY CALL ME A CROCK-POT OPTIMIST

ADDING COLOR AND SPICE TO MY POT!

 

I GREW UP WATCHING MENTORS BRAG AND BLAZE NEW TRAILS

BLESS THIS GROUND IN ACCENTED ENGLISH TONGUES;

BUT BECAUSE I’M A CROCK-POT OPTIMIST

WHERE I WISH, I CAN CLIMB ANY RUNG!

 

I SEE THE RISING DEBT!  I FEEL OUR CHILDREN’S FATE.

SOLUTIONS SEEM BEYOND OUR GRIP

EVEN MOVIE TRADESMEN KNOW:  FREE MARKETS FEED JOBS’ FLOW

TAKE BACK THE HELM! LET GOOD TIMES RIP!!!

 

DO NOT THINK THAT THE OLD DAYS WERE THE BEST OF TIMES

OR THE WORST; THEN IGNOR OUR HISTORY

OF ONE VOICE, WITH ITS STRENGTH AND TO WHAT GREAT LENGTH

IT CAN SHAPE!  IT CAN BUILD!  IT CAN SHINE!

YES….. IT’S……….. TIME…

 

 

 

Look Mom, No Hands!

Sometimes we moms wonder if all the repeated teachings we perform as loving parents are ever really understood; emphasis on ever.  During her upbringing, My Only received every family storyline and set of values, including the proper respect one should show for the colors.

At our next downtown parade, I arranged to take her along with her little buddy. The kids had great seats because I worked right on the parade route; I could have the two of them sit along the curb and enjoy the parade until my shift began. As each unit passed by, I made the two of them stand up if the particular club or service group had an American flag color guard.  I explained that we were showing respect for the flag and the military who had served under it by our standing quietly at attention.  By the time the parade ended two hours later, both children said they never wanted to go to another parade with me again; they were too tired from standing up so many times!!!

More often than not, children do understand when we least expect it; to our great joy, their comprehension is often greater than the initial credit we give them at so young an age.   Such was the case during a patriotic assembly at my daughter’s elementary school years ago.

The program was in full swing.  The next grade to enter was my daughter’s third grade class.  Nothing unusual; I saw that My Only was standing in line next to her best friend; both seemed ready and willing to participate.  We two mothers were sitting together, remarking how cute the girls looked, dressed in their Sunday best.  The girls filed onto the stage with their classmates.

It was then I took a double take and let out a small gasp!  I remained sitting, somewhat speechless. When I recovered enough to look at my friend, she knew immediately what had taken me by surprise.  We both began to smile, tempering the glee that we felt as we turned our attention again to the stage.

My Only was wearing her one pair of white gloves.  She was singing with all her heart, her true blue friend standing right by her side.  When the pledge was recited, the small, white clad hand held over her heart was even more visible!

I sensed neither pretense nor any foolishness from my little lady’s countenance that day.  She was a genuinely focused, good student. My friend remarked that it was obvious that my daughter had comprehended the desired sense of decorum all the teachers had tried to instill to the school children for this patriotic assembly. We agreed; My Only appeared to be somewhat of a trend-setter, seemingly poised and very much at peace with herself, having accessorized her own outfit.  This was all more than we could absorb; the giggling began and soon we moms were almost out of control, trying very hard to retain a bit of dignity ourselves!

To this day, I don’t believe either of us even remembers much of the assembly; but I can still remember my joy and delight at the sight of my daughter’s white gloved hands.

 

Kitchen Hopping

On a regular basis, Winnie eagerly climbed the fence two doors away to spend time with Butch and her poodles.  I had many choices:  I could visit with Alice and her father, Mr. W., and sit in the kitchen learning embroidery under Alice’s tutelage, or cross the street to visit Anastasia while she prepared the evening meal for her family of four.  She liked having me visit because she had boys.

I could also venture up to Marian’s house and visit in the kitchen there, too, if her grandmother were visiting.  Mrs. L would be cooking, and would still talk with us while she did. I never knew my own grandparents, so I often found others’ grandparents truly fascinating; I’d surmise just how my own grandmother might have fit in to the various personalities of the older ones I met. I liked Mrs. L. She had white hair and dressed like a grandmother.

The woman with reddish-tinted hair who rented the upstairs apartment was not my idea of a grandmother, yet she had several grandchildren. For sure, my grandmother would not have worn formals in which she had to stuff herself into them and ask neighbors (like my mother and me) to zip her up so she could attend the next installation at her club events!  I found this wholly vile; of course, I was extremely opinionated at age eight regarding just how a grandmother should conduct herself.  How would she hug her grandchildren if she wore scratchy formals???

But most of the time, I simply walked across the driveway to our Italian neighbors back door.  They were like my second family, and I could sit on the kitchen stool, pour my heart out on all the serious issues facing me at so young an age while she finished preparing that night’s dinner, and wait until the mechanic came home from work; when he came through the kitchen door, I always got a big hug and kiss! He was always happy to have me around.  I could even sit at the kitchen table and have a bite of dinner with them.  I couldn’t eat so much that I wouldn’t be able to eat dinner when I returned home.

Hah! Like that was a problem for this food-loving little girl…

A Mother’s Thoughts

It’s a choice to cry again, my dear one, for as you cry unknowingly

My heartstrings’ tempo recognizes two-part harmony

 

Others now still once walked before us; stumbled, felled time and again

Understood the child within, anxiously searching for a friend

 

Some lived the same foreboding life, cried long but healing did not find

Nor does watching you repeat despair; such wounds reopen yours and mine

 

Refuse all hurtful dregs! Ignore the sabotaging din!

Reach in and calm the child, caress the babe who lies within

 

It’s assurance that we yearn for, when days dawn less bright, more gray

“But when”, you ask, “will my tears dry? When will they finally go away?”

 

Remember, dear one, you are complete and perfect in His eyes

Your song is music to His ears; this is your time to rise!

 

Enough with choruses of fears and verses from a darkened moon

Compose! Rewrite with humble talents a new verse; a brand new tune!

 

Confirm within your heart and soul a melody you seek

Quell the sharpened tongues with confirmation, quiet and meek

 

Only you can stop the off-key discord… Only you can build and travel over

A bridge that’s waiting to be built, a path you choose toward Heaven’s clover

 

My child, you are complete and whole; you need simply take your place

Beneath his ever-present arms: Sing, Child! You are covered by His grace.

 

 

 

Rejoicing on Rubberneck Avenue

Fifty years ago, in my small little world of Rubberneck Avenue, I understood that families with German heritage “were Lutheran only” and the remaining European descent around the block were customarily of the Roman Catholic faith.  Obviously, I’d lost something in the finer details about the Reformation.

Not to worry…on our block, one of our families had Native American blood; this was particularly significant to a few of us! Wow…imagine having bloodlines to the Old West!  At that time, a term like indigenous didn’t describe people, only landscapes.  This particular favorite family hailed from the Midwest and were of the Protestant faith; Presbyterian actually.  They shared their church and fellowship with me at an early age.  I was frightened a bit on my first visit; hearing one give a testimony regarding his born-again experience during a church service was almost foreign in concept from my familiar milieu, the Mass; no one spoke out in Mass unless the priest spoke first!  But I was intrigued, none the less.

I have old Kodak photos in my childhood album from earlier Easter times.  Big Sis would dress me up in my Easter finery, complete with bonnet and lace-trimmed little white socks to accessorize the requisite party dress for a toddler.  We would then walk up the street to the local elementary school for the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  Memories of well-meaning adults pointing toward the evergreen hedges and whispering,

What do I see there???

helped toddlers like me and my “big” friend on the block, Marion, find enough eggs to return home smiling from our cloud nine experiences!  There are photos of Marion and me, proudly standing together on Rubberneck, still clutching our baskets and comparing our precious findings.  Marion was a beautiful little girl, with thick bangs and perfectly formed curls.  She too was dressed in her Easter finest; only her braced leg is a reminder of the very real polio epidemic that persisted still among children of our generation.

Another favorite photo of mine is of a later Easter with my cousins. The boys are in suits and the girls all with bonnets and bows, standing near the fishpond in my neighbor’s backyard, smiling for the camera.  I am at my happiest, standing among my most beloved cousins.  (The Brat was obviously too little so is not included in this shot; yes, my smile is wide…no sad feelings about my little sister missing from the moment)

As Winnie and I grew older, we would plan our own Easter egg hunts for our first little nieces and nephews.  John and Big Sis would come by early that Sunday morning so we could run our hunt, then they’d leave to enjoy Easter at their own dinner table.  When the kids were too old for egg hunts, they sometimes joined us in the evening for an Easter visit and dessert.

I think back on the many Easter tables filled with wonderful food and drink.  Traditional dishes graced our table; there was barbequed leg of lamb and a ham, with the requisite side dishes that Mom insisted must be included to complete a proper, holiday dinner.  One or two might not eat lamb, but they’d work around it.  Hospitality in our Rubberneck home was plentiful though not very flexible; food allergies aside, any recently announced vegetarians could really throw Mom’s balance off …

Are you sure that the potatoes, cheeses and the green salad are going to be enough for you?

Aunts and uncles arrived each year, early and with wines and sometimes a dream cake for dessert!  Only Bro and his family would also be there for dinner, (normally running late but Daddy had learned to expect the phone call from Only Bro telling us that his all girl family were still getting ready) so our two littlest nieces were the next generation to experience a homemade egg hunt!  They walked in the front door dressed like little dolls, much credit to their mother who not only sewed beautifully, but also baked the absolutely best homemade pies for dessert!  Being a reasonable man, Daddy eyed the pies and immediately forgave the late arrival; no penance was necessary!  Only Bro often brought a bottle of his favorite white, Wente Brothers Grey Riesling, chilled and ready to enjoy during the first course.

Ours was a home to drop by; Might be slightly nerve-wracking, but the loving intentions easily obscured the initial shock waves from the daily Punch and Judy reruns, compliments of my parents.  Cousins originally in bonnets, bows and suits were now old enough to drive; they’d stop by to wish Auntie and Uncle a Happy Easter; this was not a have-to visit despite the family dictates…being around my folks was a want-to, if only for the cheap entertainment!

We shared our casa croute (translated loosely as the house bread) with whoever honored us with a visit on Easter Sunday. Daddy would set up the bar in the kitchen and stay out of Mom’s cooking territory.  Neighbors walked in and out, enjoying a cocktail before having to drive over the hill to be with their daughter’s family, or walk back across the street to prepare for guests of their own.

We passed along traditions, not hatred, on Rubberneck.  We were several different families, celebrating our common heritage in our homes, unencumbered by protocols, politically correct admonishments, or charlatan’s accusations…our credo was simply: Live and let live.

The static photos in my album are black and white; but the shared good times and humble simplicity of expectations still play vividly in full Technicolor brilliance in this writer’s reverie…

He is Risen!