Fees, Foes and Fumbles

Summer of 1980; it had been a roller coaster ride thus far that year for many of our immediate family.  Continuing health issues were taking their toll on my brother; those of us close enough to be affected were emotionally drained.

My Only was now four years old, at the perfect age when dreams and places like Disneyland were beckoning!  Since my folks had never experienced a trip to Disneyland, we came up with the idea of renting a travel trailer and making our summer vacation a three generation trip.  I reasoned that getting away would be good for the folks and we believed we could pull it off this year as business was steady, and we were financially able to help make it happen.  In my fairytale-like, happy ending, creative reasoning, I envisioned  My Only seeing Disneyland with her Funny Grandma and Funny Grandpa to be a memory that they could all share for years forward.

This was a getaway that few men would have had the courage to take on!  A ten day trip with his mother-in-law…  My Only’s Father would need as much support as he could round up; a few lit candles wouldn’t hurt either.

Only Bro couldn’t believe how gutsy his brother-in-law had proven himself even SUGGESTING a 24/7 trip with Mom.  The woman we all knew and loved,  who never stopped talking and never found a topic, flower, or American Flag that she didn’t think was worth noting….yep, this was going to be interesting.  Bro started the betting; he gave Mom seven days MAX before either 1) she couldn’t handle being away from home so long or, 2) her son-in-law would cry Uncle and change direction for home!

Big Sis thought Mom would make it, if only because Mom was determined to prove her children wrong; she would get through a ten day adventure if it killed her.  For myself, I planned to pack lots of vitamins, plenty of spirits, and as many comfort foods as I could slam into the trailer’s kitchen.   So, I went into high gear.

Planning a menu around Daddy’s expectations of what constituted a meal even on vacation meant that we’d be bringing the microwave, the toaster oven, a full packed ice chest with casseroles already assembled for speedy cooking and  serving, and as many comforts of home as we could fit.  I planned each day’s menu, down to and including when we would eat on the road, what restaurants we’d choose at the parks (we would include Knott’s Berry Farm, too), and the how, what and when we’d barbeque when we stayed at KOA camp grounds.

For everyone to be comfortable on this trip, we knew that the size of the rented travel trailer should at least meet a minimum living space and require as few change-overs as needed for sleeping arrangements.  We were somewhat familiar with the layout options that existed.  We couldn’t squeeze Daddy in just any space, so the floor plan had to be correct for everyone’s sizes and abilities.

Because my folks had never spent time in a travel trailer, it was up to me to persuade them both of the wonders of trailer camping.  Daddy “got it”; actually, he thought it sounded fun and was a willing participant.  Persuading Mom that the trip was doable was another task.  Describing a travel trailer vacation to Mom conjured up something less than anything familiar she had ever known.  My description notwithstanding, I believe she pictured more of a modern day Conestoga Wagon; and this was the woman who wondered why we babies grew up believing she had been with the original Donner Party???  Yep, the entire undertaking would be a memory alright, as long as we were still able to keep our brain cells in tact through the planning and prepping stages.

This was supposed to be quality time for My Only and her grandparents.  Quality Time was the current expression for describing what generations previously had taken for granted in multi-generational homes.  These ten days would have to suffice. We were finally off and all things considered, the trip began and ended extremely well. We had a fantastic time! Not that we didn’t experience a few fees, foes and fumbles along the way!

Unfortunately, we thought it smart to combine a business stop along the route.  The stop was a success; we were happy to meet one of our suppliers in person.  Picking up what we needed would save us some shipping this time around.  Until we drove off; then ever so slowly, we heard a noise that could only come from the trailer having brushed against a tree limb.  We got out and inspected the damage.   A six to eight inch gash along the trailer’s right side panel told us the limb had won.  Insurance would cover it, so we continued on, certainly a bit more carefully when parking under shade trees.

Then there was the first morning we’d awakened in the trailer, and Daddy wanted to get dressed.  He couldn’t find his pants and asked Mom where she’d put them.

“They are in the suitcase, Honey.”

“Where’s the suitcase?”

“It’s right there, at your feet.”

Surprise!  Son-in-law had placed it back into the trunk of the Chrysler Newport to save some floor space…Mom and I broke into giggles at Daddy’s reaction. He was furious for her having placed the pants back inside the suitcase! My Only’s Father saved the day by going outside in his trunks and retrieving Daddy’s pants.  What a guy!

I’d paid all the fees ahead and, for the most part, the camping sites were nice and convenient.  But when we arrived at one of our spots and realized just how desolate it really was, we left our reservation money behind and found a place with a little more civilization.  We settled in for the evening and endeavored to barbeque some steaks.  The desert winds were strong enough that they actually lifted a couple of the steaks right off the grill and literally tossed them to the winds!  My Only’s Father managed to salvage them, sand and all.  Being the good sports that they were, Mom and Daddy suggested we just rinse them off and finish cooking them; we did, managed to enjoy our dinner, and spend a quiet evening, exhausted from the day’s events.

One of my most cherished memories on that trip involved Daddy and My Only.   I suggested to my daughter that she take one of her favorite books over to Funny Grandpa, who was sitting in one of our lawn chairs, enjoying the outdoors.  Of course, this suggestion didn’t need repeating.  She loved books and dutifully walked over to her grandpa, climbed up in his lap and asked him to read one of her favorite stories.  She handed him Jack and the Beanstalk.

Being the good sport that he was, Daddy began to read.  Mom and I marveled at this, as both of us knew that when Daddy normally read aloud, he didn’t apply much emphasis or inflections that a story would call for.  From what we could tell, he seemed to be handling both the book and the granddaughter fairly well.

That was until the Giant came onto the scene.  Daddy continued reading and, thinking it wouldn’t matter, began skipping over a few words here and there. Mom and I were chuckling softly,  watching the two from the inside of the trailer, listening and picking up what we could through the screened view; My Only’s facial expression was one of absolute disgust as she waited for him to get through another page; then we heard her admonish him:

“Grandpa, you forgot the Fee, Fie, Foe, Fum again!”

Even quality time had its limits…

The Back Room at 3671

My father’s idea of maintenance was to ignore any and all upgrades.  He was not one to pre-plan or estimate the improvements a home might need over a period of years.  Thus, nothing was ever updated until it had completely broken and there was no choice but to fix it.  Like the cobbler’s children, we didn’t get new floor coverings or carpet until the old was absolutely worn and used up.

The back bedroom had been added on with Daddy’s and Mom’s compliance; her aunt, Tante, needed a home and culture dictated that my folks provide at least the ground.  Tante had the money to build to her taste.  Unfortunately, she was scared of the gas heaters that were then available (she had survived the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake) so she waived any heat or suggested extension of heating in her “wing” of the house.

Thus, the backroom was always colder than the rest of the home and we used to joke how we could properly keep meat back there without a freezer.  When Uncle moved in, he accepted the circumstances and made the best of it, but not without turning the reality of his ice box quarters into a comic routine.

That room could be absolutely freezing in the winter time, dropping to the low 40’s.  Uncle would rise, warm his arthritic hands under the hot water faucet of the small half bath, then dress and come into the kitchen.  He always had a smile and witty remark to begin another day:

Rudolph sends his best! or

I just saw Santa fly by…

Mom couldn’t help but giggle.    When her only brother lived with us, even I understood my mother was more relaxed and less worried about him and we all benefited from her peace of mind.   What I perceived in child like terms was that his living with us meant he would eat regularly; the folks mentioned something about his drinking too much; this would come up now and then, even though they tried to keep it from us little ones.  I soon heard them describe my uncle as an alcoholic, whatever that meant.

All I knew was that I loved my Uncle Johnny dearly.  I would sit next to him on our sofa each evening.  He’d let me hold his warm pipe in my hands after he was through with that evening’s smoking.  I can still smell the Half and Half that was his favorite tobacco.  He’d sit and tell stories in funny voices, mimicking the radio programs of the past, reminding all in the room that “The Shadow Knows”… never once failing to fascinate this little girl.

At an early age, I was drawn to him.  He was one of the many mentors who treated me as a very special person.  Uncle Johnny would walk with me down the street to the store and always make sure I was on the inside of the sidewalk, away from the road.  He would explain:

Ladies always walk on the inside, Annette.  The gentleman walks on the outside to protect the lady from the dangers of the traffic.

From the time I was old enough to remember, I was one of his “ladies”.  Until his death, he carried my first grade photo in his wallet with the inscription “my sister’s angel” written in his hand on the back.

By the time Uncle had moved on and I inherited the back room as my own, the only items that kept me warm were the electric blanket and incandescent bulbs in the nightstand and desk lamps!  I told myself that my freeze-dried skin would keep me looking young for decades to come.

Of course, Daddy’s response to any of our complaints about the cold was that

It’s good for you!  …makes you strong!

Several years later, I’d drop by and see Daddy working over the morning figures from the stock market page, computing with pen and paper what his holdings totaled that day.  Any suggestion to him about remodeling the main bath for his and Mom’s comfort was met with the same indifference.  It wasn’t necessary; as he reiterated many times,

You’ll be happy one day; one quarter of this house will be yours.

Good. Then I want my old room back.

Hopefully, the termites would still be holding hands when that day came…

The Shark in the Driveway

I had loved him from the beginning; the Shark was a handsome, loving, big brother type guy who always had a hug and smile for me.  I would forever be the little flower girl who lived next door.  I can still remember studying in my room and hearing the squeaking brakes come to a stop in the driveway.

He knew how long it took him to get back to the store, and used his lunch breaks to the fullest.  His mother-in-law often made him a special sandwich or something particularly delicious; of course, these lunches were not without cost.  He often had to endure another round of on-going reminders and messages; didn’t matter that he’d already heard them earlier that day.  The lunchtime reminders were just an insurance program so, once on the road and through the tunnel toward home, he’d have remembered to pick up and or bring everything home.  Like clockwork, I’d hear him leave; he was the only one I ever knew that could backup a car before the engine was fully started!

On occasion, he’d stop by after a day’s work and, finding my retired father at home, goad him into walking down the street for a game of pool.  Truth be told, Daddy enjoyed the Shark’s company; as Daddy would remark, “He’s just a big kid– what the hell – I can still beat the pants off him!”  And each time they returned, the young Shark would comment, “Man, your dad is really good. Tough to beat, Man…I almost broke my back beating him on that last game.”

Daddy understood the younger Shark better than most, because he understood what it was like to be underestimated at a young age.  Daddy had an uncanny sense when it came to summing up a person’s character; the Shark had at once passed Daddy’s litmus test with flying colors.  So, though the Shark liked to toot his own horn, Daddy would simply explain, “Hell, the kid gets no credit; I remember what that was like…”

Despite the talk and exaggerated highlights, each enjoyed the other’s company; indeed, sometimes it was difficult to tell who enjoyed it more! Those of us watching the antics and listening to the B.S. that accompanied this spar fest very soon understood all was harmless if not actually therapeutic for them both.

A common foe didn’t hurt, either.  Each had a bone to pick with the neighbor; truth be told, one could afford to be harsher than the other… The Shark had to mind his Ps and Qs as he had married the neighbor’s daughter.  Daddy didn’t have to mind anything or anybody, so he kept up his playful harassment at the neighbor’s expense and Shark the Son-in-Law’s delight.

In the entirety of Rubberneck Avenue dynamics, this was normally a non-eventful exchange; it was, however, great fun and entertainment for those of us on either side of the driveway.

 

When Healthier Roots Prevailed

The American Dream was the prevailing mindset:  there were opportunities for those who sought them and a political system that – in its purest sense – erased social classes via the ballot box.  Thus had the quintessential republic become a world beacon for opportunity, not opportunists; and this young country flourished as long as those tasked with governing maintained the disciplined checks and balances needed for a healthy milieu to support free enterprise.

Some old country practices and expectations naturally slipped right on through Ellis Island into the new country.  A family member contributed to support of the entire household, sometimes at the expense of a shortened, formal education.  Daddy was one of nine who had grown and matured, understanding full well the responsibilities of earning one’s keep as part of the workforce in the family’s laundry business.  As one of the babies, my father was lucky enough to finish high school, and then enter a trade school.  Not so the older daughters; many of them married early and became homemakers themselves; more often than not they, too, worked outside the home.  Two of my aunts had married foreigners who became naturalized citizens.   In keeping with another customary practice, my father and mother were married only six months when they moved “back home” to take care of his aging parents.

My father had his dreams like any young man of his generation.  He’d had the chance to tour the Orpheum Circuit.  As one of a barbershop quartet, he lost the big chance when one of the four decided he couldn’t commit to traveling the country, so went into hiding for several days; his action was long enough to permanently break off any remaining ties of a permanent contract with the entertainment circuit.

A marriage and two children later, Daddy was too old to enlist for WWII, so worked for the war effort at home.  After the war, he and Mom opened up a floor covering business.  Daddy understood the labor movement from both sides now, and was reforming his previous union mindset.  My father changed his voter registration to vote for Ike.  Eventually, my uncle joined as a full partner. By the mid-fifties, the linoleum shop was supporting two families and growing.

While not easily fooled by smooth-talking orators, Daddy liked men who told it like it is (and touched his own emotions).  Spiro Agnew was a particular favorite.  I can remember my father chuckling at Spiro’s deft handling of the press; that is, until the first American Vice President with a Greek lineage was exposed for federal tax evasion, then struck from the nation’s memory in quick form!  Daddy had voted for the Nixon-Agnew ticket.  We’d never let Daddy forget it.

The Brat and I guaranteed old Spiro would forever remain in our father’s conscience; a metal trashcan with Spiro’s cartoon image would ensure the proper place for additional garbage – political and otherwise.  We presented it to him for Father’s Day.  It stayed – well hidden but serviceable – under the shop’s main desk for many years.

When the Vietnam War was aired on nightly television, Daddy insisted that we watch Cronkite’s coverage each evening.  My brother had already received an honorary discharge, but others’ sons were fighting; thus, my father insisted that we remember the toll being carried by our fellow Americans. This was difficult for us around the table; several times, we asked if we couldn’t dispense with the war coverage just for one night.

My father was insistent: our young men were fighting in a terribly difficult terrain and under very divisive circumstances here at home; the least we could do was stay informed.  The news would stay on during dinner.  End of subject.

A Fork in the Road

I wanted the silverware more than I ever imagined, and they have proven to be magical wands full of memories.  I do not mix a can of tuna or turn a slice of meat in the pan without remembering the mannerism that I watched and absorbed all those years in the kitchen next door.  Our Italian neighbor could cook an entire meal and never have one dirty dish or pot left to show for it!  She was incredibly clever at keeping the counter clear and clean.  Unfortunately, neither her daughter nor I picked up that particular good habit.

But there is not a time that I pick up one of the forks that I don’t recall the tuna and red onion, or the breaded zucchini in the sizzling olive oil; or brains breaded and slowly browned on top of the stove; or anchovy paste, rubbed into the bottom of the salad bowl; or the celery sticks laced with her special cheese spread that decked the holiday table year after year.

Picking up a piece of the old silverware has nurtured my heart and comforted me when money was tight; I could always mix a can of tuna and smile. With a bit of luck and planning,  I can even go out into my own summer garden and cut fresh chard with the well worn, mis-sharpened blade of their old kitchen knife…and once again, transport myself next door…

Political Passionist

My principal in elementary school must be rolling over in his grave.  Today, the Pledge of Allegiance is not necessarily a daily routine; few school children across our nation can recite it.  Some districts suggest that replacing older, thread-worn flags isn’t in the budget, so they do not exist in all classrooms.

But for the children attending Laurel Elementary in the fifties and sixties, the Pledge was recited daily and immediately followed by our principal Mr. K’s favorite song, “I Love You, California” at each and every assembly.  We all groaned but we sang it loud and clear, never once realizing what made this song so great.  It was years later before I fully realized the song’s importance.  Mr. K was a veteran of World War II; in his eyes, we children had good reason to sing about the wonders and fullness of our Golden State.

FOOTNOTE; MAY 2017

Dear Readers:

These are two veterans’ organizations that serve our military families past and present that I am particularly fond of!  One is Honor Flight which transports WWII,  Korean and now also Vietnam Vets  to Washington D.C. to visit their respective war memorials.  The other is Veterans Airlift Command, a group of volunteer pilots who transports our current wounded military members’  families to the hospital (often several hundred miles from home) in fully modified planes to accommodate the loved ones and, upon release, their very own hero or heroine in perfect comfort!

Our service men and women serve year round and their needs are greater than the traditional May and November months in which they are traditionally remembered; please give WHATEVER you can, WHENEVER you can, to an organization of your choice.  Remember that within any gift in any form you share, the smiles are free…

the FrogHavenLady xoxox

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.”