FROG IN A BLENDER

Forty years ago, I was a new bride, determined to run a home with matching dishes, orderly towels stacked in my linen closet, and a kitchen floor that anyone could eat from, even if anything was dropped; in MY home, a 3 minute rule would apply!

It was the 70’s but I’d had one too many mentors from the 50’s…so, all things were undertaken as the wife and my area of responsibility encompassed not only the home but also  the counter clerk/bookkeeper/inventory taker/purchaser and hr dept in our ma and pa shop.  Certainly, I was never bored, as I had several priorities during the course of any week.  We had one car, so working early in the morning and late in the evening on the home front was part of my daily routine.  As with any routine, it either works or it doesn’t.  When it works, it’s great.  But when it doesn’t…

The newness of being a young married and working all day with my spouse eventually took its toll.  The business of making a living was obviously the priority in our real world; the buck stopped at our shop counter.  My cooking was doing well, but it was quickly becoming obvious my home didn’t look anything like the photos in the collection of easy to decorate articles.  I had an artistic talent for color and display, so the color schemes, while good, did not quite compare to anything even close to what was “popular” except for the wedding gifts!  Thankfully, the rest of the collection was tasteful and in great shape, as it had belonged to my in-laws; they’d gladly passed it over since they no longer had a family room.

My belief that I could pull off the Super Woman scenario was beginning to wane.   I was careful to monitor my performance against the decorator magazine cover titles of my new homemaker status.  When I first hit my wall (one of many awakenings I’d have over the years), I was already rewriting my titles for future articles in a realistic, slightly off key, self-published Mad Magazine Does Homemaking periodical; perhaps the world will be ready for it someday.

Forty years later, I am now in the entremanurial stage of my life:  sorting through the top-heavy piles on my home desk!

Calendars of medical appointments blend with business opportunities, sitting alongside the household file that holds most of the insurance payments due, half-finished shopping lists, and a few decorating and recipe sheets torn from the two periodicals that still arrive in the mailbox. Weekly, I am  essentially moving one stack of paper, photos, drafts and binders from one side of the desk to the other, onto the floor, over the ottoman’s surface, then onto the one side of the bed that remains clear when My Rogue is not napping…I believe that is enough of a visual.

On any given day I am writing for my very own website, social networking, attending business meetings, sometimes donating a half hour here and there on my  civic or non-profit duties, and employing my creative side, fine-tuning the next snippet or my “natural look” , whichever takes priority for that particular twenty-four hour segment.

I have crossed over into this frontier;  the bonding of a still working wife and a long retired husband, sharing moments of joy and elation (panic attacks are mine) midst a range of exciting opportunities for retirement living in 21st Century America.

My home’s loft is now my working headquarters, but I am  boldly going where other American women have gone before… keeping a disciplined work day’s hours in-between breaking eggs, walking on eggs, or beating eggs to bind last night’s leftovers into a piece de resistance for lunch.

When I do take a break and come up for air and an evening cocktail, I ask myself:  just what chapter did this frog in a blender miss?

The Census Takers

Contrary to today’s penchant for overdoing all things, Halloween was pretty much a one day dress-up event years ago.  Beyond the costumes, trick or treating and the two-dimensional pumpkins and black cats hanging in the windows, the holiday itself was no big deal.

We didn’t jump in vans, didn’t hop from one area of the city to another, didn’t Trick or Treat until we were high school age; nope, Halloween Trick or Treating was for kids only.  We loved running from porch to porch, up the stairs where the lights were on to welcome us, quickly spitting out an audible thank you before running back down to the next walkway.  Our Trick or Treat bags were small, often plastic pumpkins or small paper bags we’d decorated, but they were adequate size for the amount of candy collected.

People knew people and neighbors didn’t move very often; generations watched second generations often grow up on the same block.  Cookies wrapped in wax paper or foil, home-made candies…one didn’t need to go through the bag to sort “safe” from “unsafe” treats.  Kids normally didn’t roam very far beyond the initial home front (about a three block area); if we even thought about going up another street or extending our route, believe me it had to be done with more than one parent’s blessings.  Neighborhood parents were just as watchful as your own.  It was a good time to be a kid as someone was always looking after your safety and holiday fun.

On occasion, Mom would let us help pick out the candy to give away.  Some years we’d have to remind Mom that raisins, no matter how cute they were in the small little boxes, were not really what we kids wanted in our bags.  She tended to go after the familiar:  Tootsie Pops, hard candies, peppermint sticks, bubble gum, things that were familiar to her when she was a kid.  We had a shallow wooden bowl that Mom used for the candy every Halloween.  She’d place it on the desk with a small notebook and pen; she liked to keep count of how many kids came to the door each year.  So did our next door neighbor.

It didn’t help that Daddy had already checked out the next door’s bowl of goodies; he’d return home, reporting how great the candy assortment was next door; none of his remarks improved either our home atmosphere or our bowl assortment.  Mom could be oblivious when she chose to be; just what was wrong with our candy selection?

At the end of the evening, when the porch lights had been turned off, Mom and the neighbor conversed via their respective kitchen windows (across the driveway) and compared their totals.  The variance was the same most of the time: for some peculiar reason, our neighbor always logged a higher number of Trick or Treaters.

These census counts became somewhat of a contest for the women, though none of us understood what the big deal was.  Certainly, the men were not interested in any of this nor were we kids.

Mom, always the one with the investigator mind, couldn’t figure out how any kids would have stopped next door to ring the bell without then following up our porch steps; both houses were in the middle of the block.  Likely, their methods differed; one ticked off numbers, the other counted the small number of candy bars left in her bowl.

Also very likely, Daddy had eaten more than one candy bar on his earlier visit…

 

 

Caramel Apples and Popcorn Balls

Like many kids in the fifties and sixties, the kids on Rubberneck Avenue enjoyed the Halloween season with school parades, PTA festivals, and bake sales; all culminating with the actual Trick or Treating around our initial neighborhood.

Since a majority of us were raised in the Catholic Church, our families had no problems celebrating Halloween.  None of us were exposed to the actual, historic beginnings that were less than church-like.  Some of us had been Brownies and knew that the Girl Scouts of America’s founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was born on October 31st.  For many of us, that was enough validation to stamp Halloween as an “approved” holiday for participation.

Of course, Daddy always told the story that as a boy in West Oakland, he was invited to a Halloween Party in which the invitation said to bring five cents for admission.  Money was dear to many immigrant families; a nickel could buy something of value in the early nineteen hundreds. I can’t imagine too many parents obliging this request but apparently my grandparents did.  So, Daddy and his buddy decided that in order to get their money’s worth, they would each have to take a bite out of all the apples floating in the water bucket that was readied for the traditional Bobbing for Apples game.  He never mentioned being invited back.

Daddy’s newer tradition was taking inventory of our candy bags when we returned each Halloween evening.  This was for the sole purpose of making sure that he got a piece of the good candy, not “the crap that your mother buys” (to hand out).  I grew to understand that I’d lose at least two to three Snickers or Musketeers on average from each year’s haul.  Not a problem.

No one worried about the safety of unwrapped or homemade goodies.  Neighbors knew neighbors; merchants often lived in the same area as their small shops.  Since our homes were only a few houses above the major boulevard, we kids knew just how far and in how many directions or streets we needed to cover to rake in all the special treats that awaited us.  One of the first stops was to pick up our caramel apples with nuts, made ONLY for the Rubberneck Avenue Block Kids. Once we ventured across the street to 3668, we’d show off our costumes, pose for photos with the entire group, and then return our apples to our respective homes before continuing on.  Thankfully, Daddy didn’t realize that we’d left them unguarded.

Around the corner and up a few houses directly opposite our elementary playground were the homemade popcorn balls ready for pick up.  This house was where one of the five and dime ladies lived; she always made sure to have popcorn balls set aside for us children she knew from frequenting the store.

No Halloween was complete until Mom had trudged down to the boulevard earlier that week and purchased fancy cupcakes with black cat and jack-o-lantern plastic décor on top!  Mom didn’t bake, so she always purchased cupcakes for the school bake sale and saved two for us baby girls at home.  (I guess Daddy wasn’t aware of this; we never had to give up our cupcakes.)  The ladies at the bakery across the boulevard were wonderfully kind.  If we accompanied Mom into the bakery and behaved (not that we had a choice), one of the grandmotherly clerks would pull a butter cookie that had drizzled pink and brown icing on it.  They were a wonderful treat and we thankfully nodded, smiled and stayed as polite as we could, gobbling them up quickly before anyone had a chance to utter Not before Dinner!

We were allowed to trick or treat in specific areas and on only certain streets.  As we got older, the parents would let us go as a group.  Some years, we’d split up, depending on how late a parent was in getting home that evening or, if indeed, someone was in trouble and allowed out with his parent only.

One year we took turns ringing doorbells.  Some of us knew that one mother in particular was especially good at losing count and allowing her child to ring most of the bells.  We learned not to repeat that exercise the following year.  As the kids began to move away and less of the original gang lived on Rubberneck, only my baby sister and I were left to carry on.  But the caramel apples appeared each year on schedule.

I was lucky enough to watch our neighbor put the caramel apples together one year; I used to visit her often just to chat; she liked girls and was appreciative of the company in the kitchen as her boys were normally not interested.  She was another particularly neat cook – not a drop or mess anywhere when she prepared meals or desserts for her family.  The counter space was limited, so she deftly used each inch and fifteen minutes later, one would never know that any ingredients had even been removed from the refrigerator or the adjoining overhead cupboards!  Except for the individual green salads with radish slices that graced the four place settings at her kitchen table most evenings, one would have thought no one was even home or that they didn’t cook!  The kitchen was always pristine.

Each year, Laurel School held its Halloween parade after lunch in the early afternoon.  This was our time to shine, walking up and down the side streets and in front of the five and ten, the soda shop, the theater, then back up toward the school.  The route was always the same, so the ladies at the five and ten and our neighbors knew exactly when to expect to see us passing by.

Each class walked together, the younger ones holding onto a rope to stay in line.  It was rare to see a store bought costume, except for the simple masks or princess hats or tiaras.  The costumes were normally homemade; either sewn from a Simplicity pattern or pulled and assembled into the final character from the “dress up” drawers each year.

Dress Up was a popular pastime and fairly cheap; especially if a Big Sis used to sew or had been a bridesmaid several times. There were usually some really good skirts and formals to choose from.  Mom was very creative when it came to costumes.  Unfortunately, her creativity didn’t kick in until the last minute each year…we never knew what we were going “to be” until we “became” a teacher, a ghost, a princess, whatever Mom convinced us we looked like; and believe me, Mom could convince you!

I’d have given my eye teeth to have had the Red Riding Hood costume that a friend’s mother had made for her in the third grade!  She had a red hooded cape with a basket of goodies, including the obligatory napkin covering the contents; just like all the story books!  My friend was a sweet girl to begin with. I could almost believe that she had indeed been Red Riding Hood at one time!

By sixth grade, when our cousins had outgrown some really neat stuff, I was lucky enough to wear a Spanish Senorita black lace dress.  That was particularly special.  With my dark, long hair allowed to hang loose instead of braided that day, I felt very pretty, very Spanish, and very special.  A mantilla over my tresses and this was enough to satisfy this little girl’s fantasy at eleven years old.

I was now in sixth grade, so this would be my swan song. Mom was adamant.  Once I entered junior high, I would be too old to trick or treat.  My role would transition into staying at home, being more “adult” and handing out candy to the little critters from thereafter.

 

Election Year Interrogation

You’re going to vote for Reagan, aren’t you?

Daddy asked the question fully expecting a resounding yes.

We’d been down this road before; the discussion normally started with the who are you voting for, then the fatherly counsel followed with the whys, hows, whats and whens in every election year for as long as I could remember.

Geesh…(Just what I needed; another father figure telling me what I should be doing and by when and where… did I really need another father image lecturing to me?)  Ronald Reagan was only a few years behind Daddy but they were certainly cut from the same generational cloth; especially when it came to smaller government, American patriotism, the labor movement, and the individual’s rights and responsibilities of good citizenry.

Like many young men who were first born generation Americans, Daddy had originally been a Democrat.  Times were tough.  They lived through the ’29 Crash and the Great Depression, listening to a fatherly FDR’s fireside chats from their floor-size Philco radios.  Regarding the neighborhood and the times, my father described simply that the immigrant families in West Oakland were all “in the same boat”.

Mom likened President Kennedy’s assassination to when the nation lost FDR; both men had communicated so much hope to so many.  Unlike many of our Catholic neighbors, ours was a Republican household, yet we grieved for our president.  1963 was going to be tough on a personal level as well; my brother had suffered a breakdown and our immediate family was overwhelmed with unfamiliar ramifications of therapy and psychotropic meds.

At eighteen, I’d registered as an Independent, but by the mid-seventies and after having run a small business during the Carter administration, I’d not only changed my registry to Republican but had sworn off peanut butter for a few years, too!

My father was a political animal of sorts, passionate but not always articulate about the issues or the candidates.  More often than not, he let his own character-judging gut sort out the wheat from the chaff; sometimes this instinct failed him.

It was another election year interrogation; only this time, Winnie was confronted as well.

You’re going to vote for Reagan, aren’t you?

I was going to be polite but firm, and let Daddy know that I hadn’t as yet made up my mind.  Before I could even respond,   Winnie replied in no uncertain terms:

I’m not listening to you; you told us to vote for Nixon!!!

Daddy about fell off his chair!  I couldn’t stop laughing; his interrogation abruptly ended, Daddy suggested he’d fix us a cocktail before dinner.  For the time being, politics were set aside…

Economic Follies

FROGONOMICS  102

I’ve never had enough income to avoid reality; after a short-lived stint as an idealist, I became a pragmatist.  And my politics followed.

Yes, I am opinionated…but as a lady, I am politely opinionated.

Also, I have realistically reassessed my career path:  unfortunately, in today’s economy, I would be worth more if I were an antique chair.

Thus, I’ve embarked on a personal voyage: exploring all the possibilities; discovering my inner self, building up my self-esteem, inventorying my talents and expertise; in essence, I am reevaluating some childhood dreams and exploring the free market opportunities that still exist in this good ‘ole USA republic (YES, it is a REPUBLIC, NOT a democracy; don’t argue with me, my history textbooks are older than most of you!)

SO:

I’m thinking of going into a ministry as a second career…evangelizing in redneck bars and grills instead of walking the countryside (since I’m not really very outdoor-sy).  Currently, I’m composing a medley of show tunes and old gospel favorites especially for the hangover crowd, entitled How Great Thou Smarts

This could be the niche I’ve been looking for, if I can just patch the bellows on my old squeezebox…

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…

 

 

 

The Man from Valentine, Nebraska

I’d been in the workplace for better than a decade, and had already worked for some very difficult employers; I’d become one myself, co-running the small vac shop at the south edge of town.  But when I left to work part-time elsewhere, I eventually landed downtown on Broadway in another family-owned business.  What had once been a newsstand and smoke shop had long since evolved into a combination card shop and office supply; it was one of the mainstays in the heart of this college community.  Two generations worked the store, but it was the older one with his accompanying “old school charm” that nurtured us younger, part-time housewives.  In our eyes, Douglas J. was an employee’s employer.

His respect for our well-being and deep regard for our working hours’ needs exceeded that of the other employers I’d known.  His morning greeting, query about our health and home, and his supporting input and positive reinforcement about our work there on the daily shift were all spoken with a consistent, respectful undertone for the listener.  He had hired the clerk but related to each personality and was genuinely concerned about our personal family needs on and off the job. 

No day’s contact with Doug was ever complete without a verbal compliment or sharing of a business aside; the latter, too, evoked his respectful manner.  His giggle was infectious, whether he was responding to one of our dry-humored remarks or laughing at his own (often corny) jokes.

The small courtesies were always there: he told us when he was leaving; he made sure we knew when we could expect his return; he called us over and extended a special courtesy when introducing us to his old friends and long-time customers.  Daily, he made several trips downstairs to check on our cash flow, never wishing to leave us unprepared for the closing hours.  One could remark that his routines were necessary to transact the business day, but Doug’s charm and manner enveloped a higher sense in all of his actions.  Over 30 years have passed, yet his smile and giggles are still very vivid…

Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly,

knowing that you also

have a Master in Heaven – Colossians 4:1