A Daughter Still description here

If It Started with the Letter F…

On a regular basis, Brat eagerly climbed the fence two doors away to spend time with the neighbor and poodles.  While I had many choices around the block, most of the time I simply crossed the driveway to the next door neighbors’ back door.

I completely absorbed the family culture and influences.  In some ways, my neighbor had a more direct impact on my early identity than my own family.  Certainly, I identified with her Italian heritage, so much so, that for my first eight years I believed I was Italian also.

Only upon sharing that our next school project was to write about our nationalities did my mother correct me (and rather harshly) that we – including moi – were not of Italian lineage.   We were French descent.

“What’s French?” I asked.

Normally an innocent question might not have evoked a ballistic response; but that one did.  I didn’t remember seeing my mother THIS upset since the time I’d returned home after a day at school.  By that term, I was reading really well and was good at phonics. So in perfect diction I repeated the sentiment that was carved into one of the portable’s wooden sides; then I asked Mom what one certain word meant.

That was the first time I’d ever pronounced the particular word beginning with the letter F.  Believe me when I tell you: it was also the last time.  I learned that asking certain questions could get me into trouble at eight years of age.

 

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!

When the Chimney Shook

Daddy didn’t contemplate life before him in rhetorical terms.  He might ask the questions, but he’d already accepted the circumstances and decided on his necessary role.  His was a tough act to follow; principled, he normally forged ahead with a quiet conviction.

Daddy was extremely loyal to family.  In his view, family was his original siblings.  Mom understood this loyalty, as she shared the same devotion to those “siblings”; their father was her guardian and she lived with them in her teens until marriage to my father. Familial assumptions of responsibility were theirs to share. As number seven’s daughters, we grew up watching this devotion and love for the older ones, Daddy’s name for the six children born before him.

We were ill prepared to influence him very much to think outside of the box. Devotion had become a hereditary virus of sorts; collected from our common good, we were emotionally spent beyond our capacities often under the mantel of doing the right thing.

Infected like the rest, I did the best I could to do my part; sometimes, it took a toll emotionally and I gladly buried my head in my studies and retired most evenings, totally relieved to shut away the day’s responsibilities.

Daddy’s actions always spoke louder than words. He did the right thing; as hard as it might be on him or us all.  Underlying the days’ tasks was the deeper belief and faith that we were doing the best we could; that there was a light at the end of this tunnel and we’d get through it.

Our family provided a home, food, a job and often transportation for a favorite uncle of ours who was an alcoholic.  Somehow, Mom and Daddy managed all this at the same time Only Bro was having his ups and downs, phases during which times his mental stability was very fragile. Daddy pursued, working his business around the needs of his customers, his son’s medical needs and his brother-in-law’s binges, covering the bases to provide for the immediate family with Mom’s support from the home front.

The carport was beyond the chimney and had no room left for an actual car anyway.   Daddy’s seeds and garden equipment, along with his tool bench and storage cabinets filled up what wall space there was.  Our family picnic table sat in the middle, out of the sun and accessible for backyard picnics.

As cars grew in width,   one had to be very cautious not to drive in and break any tomato plant branches or roll over the garden hose.  The drive might have accommodated two smaller cars, but our father drove a station wagon for business and personal use.  So, he rarely used the deepest end of the drive.

We always knew when Daddy had arrived home for the evening; once we felt the rumble, Daddy had hit the chimney; no point in going any further. We raced to the front door and unlocked it. Daddy was home.

What are ya gonna do?

That was Daddy’s summation of his day, as he stood there in the kitchen, pouring his glass of red and grabbing a piece of French bread with a slice of salami before dinner…

Plywood

I’m sure my father never thought twice about the plywood he delivered to my junior high school that day; but I remember it on occasion, especially on days like this when I think I haven’t accomplished nearly what I set out to do.

In fact, today was one of those the whole damn day was shot days as Daddy used to call them, walking into the kitchen to reach for the wine bottle and a glass from the cupboard.  This announcement was normally followed by a string of the what went wrongs:  the pattern that arrived was the incorrect color; one of the guys had a flat tire and was two hours late getting to the job site; or somebody forgot about a medical appt. and didn’t show up; or any variation on a theme that might affect a small floor covering business.

Daddy had heard me say that our eighth grade class was pricing wood for the showcase.  That’s all he remembered.  Before the pricing had even begun, I was called out of a morning class and asked to see my science teacher.  I arrived there and, to my great surprise, was told that my father had just dropped off two large sheets of 4 x 8 three-quarter inch plywood; my teacher had been in class, so he missed seeing Daddy, but was informed by a memo that we now owned had two large sheets of plywood-what did he want to do with them? Mr. L., my science teacher, was especially appreciative that Daddy had donated the wood sheets; so he asked me to please make sure to thank my father for the donated sheets.

I was on cloud nine that day…couldn’t believe that Daddy had taken time from his busy, time-sensitive schedule to drive by the school and deliver the plywood sheets.  My father worked.  He owned his own business.  He was a no-nonsense guy when it came to serving the public.  My father was an honest laborer, who made sure that the customer came first; normally, that meant that the family’s wishes were secondary.  Without his “hustling” as Mom called it, we’d have had no income. Neither Winnie nor I were allowed to chat on the phone for anymore than ten minutes tops.  Our home phone was an extension of our family business, so God help the daughter who dawdled and prevented a possible customer from reaching our home!!!

Daddy understood time was money, so made sure we understood it as well.  That day, I realized he had spent an hour traveling from his shop to my school, then making sure the plywood sheets were delivered to the right classroom (I still marvel that he even knew how to find the administrative office!!!)

I would never completely understand all the nuances or the actual costs involved, but I would always remember:  I was important enough for my father to make sure our class had the material to build the showcase for our science project.  There was no describing that emotion; even today, I “tear up” at the thought that my father, the man I saw as normally too focused on making a living to even tune in to his kids’ school projects,  would attempt such an extracurricular delivery; especially during a work day.  But it remains one of my very precious memories.

Perhaps, with any luck at all, I might have touched someone’s heart today…and the day wasn’t a complete loss.  I should be so fortunate…

Accordionist Angst

I began music lessons on April 9.  The good news was that I had talent and an ear for music.  The bad news was that I chose to learn the accordion…in the Year of our Lord 1961.

My father was delighted!!! An Accordion carried the melody…it was a REAL instrument.  So, at the age of nine and for the next seven years, I committed to lessons every Saturday.  What had begun as a means of fitting in (my best friend from third grade played accordion, too) eventually backfired; the Beatles arrived on the American scene in 1964.  Music was changing; cultural changes were “blowin’ in the wind” and by sixteen, I was beginning to realize: I was definitely outside my generation’s norm.  My “era” was quickly passing me by.  I would never actually “fit”.

I had made my choice.  My musical ability wowed the folks and their generation!  I could live with it; just another way of making people happy…no harm in that, I thought.  I would eventually sail through this rite of passage and become a normal, functioning citizen of society.

Gradually, I began to realize that there were some logical, though not very serious, side effects from having spent Saturdays with a keyboard during my early formative years.  So, I sought therapy as others my age did.  It was time to find myself.  I shared the following concerns with my therapist:

Make yourself comfortable, Annette.  What brings you in?

All in all, Doctor, I like to think of myself as a fairly average, well-adjusted individual.

What causes you to question yourself?

In hindsight, I can identify some terribly hurtful and/or embarrassing moments for me that started to domino once I committed to taking accordion lessons…

Tell me about it.

Well, Doctor, for example:

The day came to “pick” my own junior size accordion!  I had graduated from the very small, rented, marbleized red one, so I gravitated toward the black with the shiny silver trim! It was beautiful!   Immediately, I was reprimanded,   “What’s the matter with you?  The white and gold-trimmed accordions are for girls, Annette…” so, I chose the white one instead and said I liked it when I really didn’t.   I never confessed this until now, not even in confession.

Sounds like a simple case of Gender Confusion, Annette.  Go on…

Auditions were open the next year for our elementary school music.  I was very excited to tell our school’s music teacher that I already played accordion!  I would love to participate in his class.  When I shared this with him, he responded in no uncertain terms:  “We don’t allow accordions; you’ll drown out the orchestra! “  My fellow school mates laughed at me.

But my baby sister Winifred learned from my humiliation.  She was always daring, so she kept her mouth shut about her accordion experience, and two years later chose the violin; she successfully eased right on through the school orchestra application process.  Even our cousins were impressed and thought she was really cool, especially working with cat guts and all…

I see; so you were Shunned by Public School Music Teachers and Humiliated by Peer Pressure; please continue…

After a couple of years, Winifred exceeded my musical talents… the folks would later take my original instrument for her, but they promised me a larger accordion of my own.  Daddy came home one day and presented me with a very expensive but second hand full size accordion he’d purchased from one of his floor covering customers.  Apparently, their daughter didn’t want the instrument around anymore.  Her father claimed she hadn’t played it in several years.   I was now the proud new owner of this fancy, silver-trimmed, white accordion with their daughter’s name TINA emblazoned boldly down the front in silver lettering.  We were supposed to replace it (sniff..sniff) with my own name (sniff…) but we never did…

I understand, Annette…you were simply experiencing an early Identity Crisis; it’s very common.  Here’s some Kleenex…feel free to continue when you are ready…

Thank you, Doctor… (sniff…sniff…)   It wasn’t long before I began to realize that I had other talents my school friends didn’t.   Why, I could win at game shows, not just with my grade student aptitude (in the ninetieth percentile) but also with my secret arsenal of knowledge…

Secret arsenal?  Annette, what did you have in this knowledge bank of yours?

My best category was Polkas for $500.00.  What a thrill it was for me to take the lead, sitting at home and “name dropping” composer Strauss the Younger or recording artists The Andrews Sisters or the popular Beer Barrel Polka during an evening’s rerun!  What I didn’t tell them was that my worst category was Musicians from the Sixties. By the time I “discovered” Jerry Garcia, he was designing ties for Macy’s and very soon after, he WAS dead!  So didn’t that count?

Looks like our time is up for today, Annette…

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.

DNA of Carpetbaggers

I was really captured by the Great Society Program begun by President Johnson.  I told Daddy that I thought this was the correct thing to do: to give our country’s citizens a fair shake at a new beginning; it just seemed relative to the Civil Rights movement, and I saw the president’s vision as nothing short of admirable.

Daddy was a fair man but a bit more cautious; he agreed that President Johnson’s ideas were based on many good and righteous things. No one could argue against a war on poverty; but in Daddy’s experience, he argued that giving something to people in need didn’t necessarily make them stronger; nor did it teach them to take care of themselves. Daddy understood the human limitations in the president’s vision.

So, what did the Great Society actually accomplish?

Unfortunately, carpetbaggers selling a great society still exist some forty years later; some as intimidating and as mesmerizing as filmdom’s Elmer Gantry…perhaps that classic should be written into the curriculum for the junior high level.  I say junior high because of the great number of emotions and popular fads that tend to distract an already difficult and distracting decade for teenagers.

Sadly, one needn’t research Hollywood’s files to recognize the DNA of carpetbaggers.  They exist in current pop culture as well as political arenas; unfortunately, the more fantastic the dog and pony show, the more effective; especially on the lesser educated masses.

How our country has cheated our native born youth is despicable.  My assumption that all American children had access to an excellent education was quickly corrected once I experienced some conversations in a nation-wide call center. For over ten years, I discovered an ever decreasing, socially inept group of individuals from all races and ethnicities (no one region of our country was left untouched). Sadly, on any given day a number of calls would display the following traits:

Ignorant; these individuals thru no fault of their own could not read at a third grade level; they often struggled to read the manuals and, in some cases, had to be walked through the simplest instructions.  Funny how polite and thankful they could be…

Stupid; these individuals had, to their own credit, honed a “you can’t teach me anything; I already know” attitude; odd that several of them were degreed and in the professions; their natural layman’s sixth sense had been woefully affected by too many tight neck ties …

Illiterate; these individuals were often harder to discern; one had to listen carefully; then, when they walked through the step by step instructions referencing only the illustrations, it was at that point the light bulb went on! One realized just how dependent they were on others to survive in our written word world.  They rarely admitted their inability; often, they profusely thanked me for being so patient.

Uncivil; in this group, individuals could sling insults and four letter words at an incredible speed! They hurled them at both men and women representatives (they were extremely even-handed in their brusque manner).  As the years passed, their language (always unprintable) increased beyond incredible!!!

Apparently, arrogance has slowly replaced much of the civility of social graces; like mob rule. Supported by a group mentality, a bad attitude offers not only strength in numbers but also bi-partisan money-making opportunities by keeping victims at hand.  A few irresponsible individuals in protest, available to argue their talking point entitlements, make for great drama, especially on YouTube.

Perhaps we need to redefine the term: Affirmative Action.

Let America’s citizenry affirm:

  • That legal Americans only (by birth or process of naturalization) can work to further their education.
  • Let the border states uphold both their own states’ laws and the constitutional republic’s laws.
  • When possible, subject captured illegals to either deportation or community service – let them work for the money our country gives them in hospital care and other program services.

We have youth of all ethnic groups that were born here.  They are being used, demeaned, and ignored while politicians clamor for this year’s electoral votes.  I am appalled that we are still cheating the youth of this country, just because they do not meet the “hot minority of the moment”.

You are being used by politically savvy mouthpieces… wake up! Demand better! Or, better yet, leave the party and vote independently…YOUR voice of disgust and embarrassment over these political hacks must be heard!

We don’t need Spain sending representatives over to count our ballot boxes.  We need upstanding citizens answering to their local county clerk and volunteering to count the ballots.  If you remember nothing else, a constitutional republic begins with WE THE PEOPLE.  Exert your independent voice and get involved before your citizenship is declared moot.