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!

Rocky Road and Silly Rabbit Trails

I don’t imagine that old John made too many of these treats, since he worked alone so much of the time; but he annually took orders each spring for his special creations.

The Brat and I could always count on one of his beautiful, hand-decorated Easter eggs, thanks to our Italian neighbor.  She would gift us with the rocky road eggs laced in yellow icing ribbons with bows atop.  Slicing into our eggs and enjoying the old-time freshness of the marshmallow and walnuts woven into the milk chocolate was a repeated, absolutely delightful adventure!  Daddy always seemed to appear at just the right moment; we would share a piece of our precious Easter egg, but rather regrettably, as we knew he would never be happy with just one slice!

Easter was still one of the year’s major holidays and planned for with as much care to detail as Thanksgiving and Christmas. At that time, candles and paper plates with Easter designs flew off the shelves; Easter Dinner demanded lots of décor and effort to make it memorable.  Like my mother, I enjoyed shopping for the petite dessert napkins with the lovely spring colors!  I can remember Mom’s joy at picking out some new candles for her table setting.  Mom’s good set of dishes managed to miraculously change along with the seasons, its small multi-colored flowers seemingly a breath of fresh spring when placed among the pastel pinks and soft greens of the paper goods.

A few years into my Hallmark retail experience, I was watching the spring inventory just sit there.  These candles needed dusting! Even mark downs didn’t urge sale-seekers to purchase. The plates, napkins and cups sat from year to year with red sale stickers on the plastic wrapping.

So, it was true.  Moms like me had entered the workplace and many of us now lived miles away from immediate family and favorite cousins.  If we were going to recreate any of the former Easter tradition, we’d need to work smart – cheat if you will – to accomplish the semblance of tradition.  Stove Top replaced the home made stuffing; and instant mash potatoes were another kitchen miracle in a box!  The Easter table would continue, but my version was a buffet without the candles; even our Easter outfits were more casual than in years before.  But some traditions would remain and with a bit of creativity, new ones would be added.

Thank heaven for the small, family-owned, local candy shop!  It was now this mom’s pleasure to choose a specially decorated egg each year to delight my little girl.   By the time My Only was old enough to remember Easter mornings, she would awaken and run to the front door.  She has memories of finding on the front step a beautifully decorated egg with her name in script among the goodies in her basket; and always, sitting beside the basket was a big box of Trix.

My daughter knew the Easter Bunny wouldn’t forget that the house rule of no sugary breakfast cereals was temporarily deferred; even a silly rabbit understood he was no match for My Only on Easter morning…

 

 

 

WashMO Blues

FrogHaven, 2018

It’s been two Christmases since I sent out cards; but I can assure you that your greetings hung on our shutters as in years before, helping chase the winter blues away. While there are changes both subtle and laughable and my natural look takes longer with each birthday, there are still traces of wine, women and song; kinda.  For example, Jim bakes fruit and flaxseed bread each week and I w(h)ine about having to eat it every morning… thus, a satirical refrain of a Neil Diamond hit best describes the coming Spring here at FrogHaven:

WASHMO BLUES

Verse One:

WashMO Blues – Earth Boxes are too heavy…

WashMO Blues – doc visits are aplenty…

Him or Me, we just can’t see until all cataracts gone….

Now we purchase Kleenex by the carton…because the pollen’s that strong,

Because the weather’s all wrong…. (Thank you, Puxatawney)

Verse Two:

WashMO Blues – lets pull out that dead willow

WashMO Blues – each night we hit the pillow

One:  Funny thing, we hear bells ring and can’t distinguish whose phone… (Oh not again)

I can sing it in the shower daily – yes, I still have a voice! YES, I still have a voice!

(Repeat Verse Two, and then jump to Finale)

Finale:  Funny thing, ya see another Spring…and we’re renewed once again!

It’s Easter! He is risen! Keep believin’! We’ve simply got no choice! (Music fades)

Love, hugs and kisses xoxox from Annette and Jim

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…

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.