My sister Missy and my dad had an especially playful relationship.They pulled pranks on one another, gave each other trouble, and goofed around constantly.Missy was as much the instigator as Dad was.For example, when Dad teased her, she’d admonish him and threaten, with mock seriousness, to ‘get the spoons.’
Getting the spoons meant she would pull two large serving spoons out of the drawer and ‘play’ them on Dad’s arm or back (or sometimes his head) like drumsticks.Dad, in turn, might ‘accidentally’ butter her arm at the dinner table as he buttered his bread.Sometimes he would go outside when it was getting dark, and, as Missy and I did the dishes, would sneak to the window above the sink, suddenly showing his face and making us shriek. You just never knew what to expect from Missy or from Dad.
I always wished that I could joke with my folks the way she did, but none of us other siblings had her special touch. Dad and Missy had a very close bond, and much of that was their shared sense of silliness. Missy, especially, was always thinking of stunts she could pull on Dad; while she was the brains of the operation, I usually ended up being dragged along as the brawn.
One afternoon, when she was about 15, and I was about 12, Missy had a grand idea.She collared me and told me to go find a box: we were going to pull a trick on Dad.So, like the dutiful little sister (and errand boy) that I was, I found a box and reported back to her.We went outside to the shed, and she got me a fishing net with about a 4-ft handle.We proceeded to the chicken coop out back.We were going to catch us a chicken!
After running around in the pen for awhile, I was finally able to get the net over one of the agitated hens.She squawked something fierce, and left me with a few scratches and welts, but once we put her in the box, she settled down.We folded the flaps over on the top of the box so there was just a little opening at the top. We peeked inside; the chicken was eyeing us, but she stayed quiet.Perfect.
We sneaked in the back door, and I carried the box into Mom and Dad’s room.Missy told me to set it down on Dad’s side of the bed.Then, with hushed giggles, we ran upstairs to her room, which was directly above our parents’ room, to listen at the vent.For some reason I can no longer recall, she knew Dad was heading to his bedroom
Soon enough, we heard Dad in the hallway. We held our breath.We heard him go into the bedroom, where he saw the box.He went to open it, and we heard, WHAT THE — ?!??MELISSAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!!!And then laughter. She had gotten him again.
Missy and I were rolling on the floor, we were laughing so hard.
Fortunately for us all, Dad hadn’t let the chicken out of the box – he had opened it only far enough to see what was in it and closed it up quickly when the chicken started squawking and flapping her wings.(I was really glad, because I didn’t want to be cleaning up the mess.)
Finding myself Stuck in the Middle, I give this movie four stars – ★★★★ by Dink Winkerson
For all of the rattle-bang of the previews of this highly-anticipated second chapter in the I’m Stuck saga, the feature doesn’t quite measure up. More drama than action, more comedy than tragedy, part 2 seems to have leveled off somewhat.
The first installment, I’m Stuck in the Past, though a wee bit slow and meandering at the outset (she had a pleasant, but boring, childhood), picked up speed in the middle (Stuck didn’t settle down until she was in her late 20’s) and toward the end, presented her as a sympathetic figure overall. The understated, but dramatic, retelling of the family’s shocking loss left nary a dry eye, but by the end, her triumphant victory over tragedy turned tears into cheers and brought the audience to their feet. The strong cast of characters (including Joe the Local Boy in a humorous turn as Mr. Stuck) made this a film worth watching again and again. The chemistry between Stuck and her Mister is obvious and well-played.
Such excitement is not the case with I’m Stuck in the Middle, the second part of this story. We rejoin Stuck (now with two titanium hips) later in her daily life, as she struggles to balance career and family. Her hair is graying and the kids are growing up, leaving her wondering what’s next. The ‘midlife crisis’ theme narrowly avoids cliche, saved by a job change and a few new faces, and thankfully, we are spared the melodramatic soliloquies so common in character studies. Whew.
Nearing retirement, Stuck decides to act upon the urging of a friend to start a blog. You see her caught between her dream and her doubts; she fears that she will fail, and her lack of confidence exhibits itself in procrastination and worry. Blah, blah — that part is a bit long; it would have been better as a brief mention. Happily, though, the film picks back up as she makes a name for herself, but it never quite achieves the same level of ‘ooh and aah’ as part 1. Frankly, I don’t mind.
At this point, Stuck’s life is pretty well laid out, and, barring any strange or startling revelations, it promises to continue on the same trajectory. All in all, a decent story; it’s not Gone With the Wind or Citizen Kane, but it is a tale that stays with you. Kudos to the production team for bringing this slice of reality to the big screen — it helps us remember that reality can indeed be pleasantly dull.
Stay tuned for the final act in the trilogy, I’m Stuck in the Future, which is set to begin filming in September.
I’m Stuck in the Middle – rated R for language, prescription drug and alcohol use, and snark.
The monumental task of clearing out my parents’ home after their deaths was made even more difficult by the tragic circumstances under which we’d lost them. Nothing was normal about it, and every little normal thing in the house just reinforced that. What to do with the contents of a house that grew from small to huge as the family itself grew large? Where do you start, in a house where most of their 55-year marriage was nurtured and against which all of our childhoods were staged? We did our best to evenly distribute the “things,” the mementoes of youth, the heirlooms, the books, the spoons.
When it came to their bedroom, it was another matter. Here was the heart of the house. Here is where the window stayed open, even on the coldest nights; here is where the ‘workin’ things’ that resided in my Pa’s pockets would tumble onto the nightstand: washers; marbles; screws and nuts of various sizes; a bit of string or wire; a fuse; a flashlight bulb; a butterscotch candy; a hose clamp; a wire nut; some coins (he always jingled the coins in his pocket); and maybe a broken piece of something he intended to repair. Here were Mother’s ubiquitous safety pins and headscarves and the jewelry she seldom wore.
My parents’ bedroom was normally off-limits when I was a child; without express permission from one or the other, I had no business in there. I am glad that my parents taught us to respect their privacy; we kids always knew that while we were loved and important to them, they put one another first. A happy marriage makes for a happy family.
It was difficult to dismantle that room, probably more so than any other part of the house. Aside from the closets and dressers filled with clothing they no longer wore, there were memories stashed everywhere — everywhere: Birthday cards. Letters. Dad’s WWII memorabilia. Photographs. Reminders of the early days of their marriage and family, when money was tight and they scraped to get by. Gifts that we kids had proudly made for them; baby clothes; items that they had kept from when their own parents passed away. Each drawer, box, and bag spilled more memories.
When we got to the clothing, we knew that most of it would be donated to charity; however, there were a few things we wanted to keep that were meaningful to us. Those of us who could wear Mother’s lovely wool coat or her favorite blouse were able to choose those things. There were plenty of Dad’s heavy, plaid flannel shirts to go around. The clothing with tears or stains that was not going to be given away we set aside for the rag bag.
One of our cousins, who was very close to our family and our parents, is a very talented seamstress. With great love for our family, she offered us a priceless gift: she would make each of us a quilt from our parents’ and sister’s clothing. If we would select the items and cut the squares, she would help us lay out the pattern and she would do the piecework, with custom embroidery. We would select the fabrics for the backing and the binding; a friend of hers would do the quilting.
Each quilt (she made SIX of them!) was crafted with loving care. We chose our preferred fabrics and colors and cut the pieces. She helped us lay them out, and she pieced them together. There were scraps of Dad’s work jeans; mom’s aprons; the daisy-printed sheets we all remembered; my sister’s blouses; a red handkerchief here; and a tee-shirt there; all affectionately combined to make a quilt that would warm our bones and our hearts.
The relationships we had with our family reflected in the items we selected to use. Each quilt is an original; none looks like any other. Each quilt mirrors its owner and honors its subjects. Each is embroidered with a brief note of provenance: my cousin’s name, the date, why it was made, and for whom. She made us promise to use the quilts, not box them up and leave them in a closet.
I have kept my promise. Mine is no longer stiff and new; it is soft and shows wear on some of the seams. Some of the squares were made with fabric that was thin to begin with, and those have now worn through, showing the backing behind. I sometimes look at each square and sigh as I remember Dad in his flannel shirt or Mom in her headscarf; I finger the fabrics deliberately as my mind wanders down that path.
This gift was truly the most heartfelt and bittersweet of anything I have ever been given. At once it represents sorrow and joy; fun and work; and family and love.
It’s been a long while since I’ve heard from you: 14 years and a couple months. I can actually remember the very day, because it was my birthday.
Things are pretty good here. I”ll try to catch you up.
Daughter Dearest is a good mother with two lovely little girls of her own; they always put a smile on my face. The boys are fine young men; I’m sure you’d be proud of them. One’s in college and the other graduates high school next month. They all have the world at their feet. I love that they have the same sense of humor you have — silly and smart. They sing songs and change the words for fun. They make up words and aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves. And they have good hearts, all of them. They have compassion and kindness and respect for other people.
I wonder how you managed with all of us, your ‘passel of kids.’ Sure, the older ones helped a lot with the younger ones, but you still had to supervise and make sure the household ran as smoothly as possible. You cooked our hot breakfasts, the wonderful homemade soups, the freshly-baked breads and pies, and my personal favorite: the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. What I wouldn’t give for a nice Sunday dinner at Mom’s.
Now that I’m older, I can appreciate your sacrifices so much more. Some of them I never knew, but that was your way. You always worked behind the scenes, talking to Dad on our behalf, fixing things, and helping us along. Your own dreams were replaced by the dreams of your children; you wanted nothing more than for us to be healthy, happy, and kind. You taught us to be thankful for the life we have, to work hard, and to keep a song in our hearts.
We all come to the point in our lives where we look or sound like our parents. I remember you talking about that. I laugh when it happens to me, when I cry out in frustration, “Oh, peanuts, popcorn, and Cracker Jack!” Or when I hear a song on the radio and sing your lyrics instead. Or when I stand at the stove with my hand on my hip and realize that I must look exactly like you from behind.
Oh, and I have a confession: yes, it was I who dug down into the chest freezer for those tubs of frozen berries. I would only take a few at a time, so nobody would notice, and I’d replace the tub where I had found it. They were so good, I couldn’t help myself. Yes, it was I who found those large packs of Wrigley gum that Dad had confiscated from my sisters and stole one piece at a time — again, so nobody would notice. Yes, I smoked cigarettes out my bedroom window. I thought I was getting away with it until my sister found the butts and turned me in. Well, that and the small burn in the window sheers.
I know I was a mouthy brat as a kid. That hasn’t changed much.
What also hasn’t changed, and never will, is my love and respect for you.
When I saw the May 8th prompt above (yeah, I’m a bit behind, sorry), my mind cast immediately back to one of those moments where everything I’d hoped would happen actually did — only I didn’t consider it success as much as justice. Sweet, sweet justice.
I’ve mentioned before that I commute to and from work each day, about a 50-mile round trip. I vary the route to keep from turning into an automaton mid-drive, but there are only so many variations I can make. One leg of my route is state highway, and it can get pretty congested if something happens on the ramps.
This was the case one sunny afternoon when we were all anxious to get home and relax. In the mix of commuters was a yellow sports car, a convertible, whose driver was even more anxious, apparently. He was aggressively changing lanes, weaving in and out, tailgating, and generally being a jerk. He was a ways behind me, but I could see his advance in the mirror. Up ahead, something happened that caused our eastbound lanes to slow way down. Not long after that, we came to a near standstill. I was coming up the hill when I saw that Yellow Sports Car had made his way to the shoulder and was now screaming up beside me, passing everyone on the right. I heard some honks, but he pretended not to as he sped off.
Traffic was pretty darned slow for a while. We inched our way uphill, exchanging glances with the other drivers that conveyed our frustration and eventual resignation to yet another screwed up commute. It was hot, and I felt sorry for the folks who didn’t have AC; sitting in a hot car is no fun.
As I made it over the top and down the other side, I laughed out loud. Seems Yellow Sports Car hadn’t counted on State Trooper to be parked on the shoulder near the accident that caused the backup. Stupid, you say? Why, YES! Ding! Ding! Ding!
Mine wasn’t the only horn to toot a cheerful greeting to the more-than-welcome State Trooper. I don’t think anyone was ever so happy to see him. Except maybe for one guy.
When people are jerks on the road — and I know we all have encountered a few — we always think, Where’s a cop when you need one? Because, you know, they are never there. Friends of mine who commute by bicycle and motorcycle have told me some hair-raising stories where they really wished there had been a police officer, sheriff, or state trooper nearby.
But that day, that day of days — I will always remember with a smile on my face. So you see, when things turned out as I had hoped, it not so much success as it was justice. And it was sweet.
Daily Prompt: Mad Libs
Turn to your co-workers, kids, Facebook friends, family — anyone who’s accessible — and ask them to suggest an article, an adjective, and a noun. There’s your post title! Now write.
For all of my life, I have dreamed about Paris. Paris, the City of Light. Paris, where poets and artists have spirited conversation over baguettes and demitasses; where style is both accidental and vehement; and where lovers drown in each others’ eyes. Paris, where the men look like Johnny Depp and the women — well, the women look like models. I hoped and prayed that some day I would get there.
Five years ago, I had the opportunity to go when my son’s teacher and her husband, also a teacher, chaperoned a school trip to Paris for a week, with a day at the beaches of Normandy. The four of us — both boys, Mr. and myself — decided to go. I brushed up on my high school French (“Quelle heure est-il? – What time is it?”), bought some new luggage, read some Paris guides, and counted the days.
After a long flight, we were met with a charter bus and a tour guide, Franc. Franc was very good at herding 14 middle-schoolers and their parents around Paris. At a brisk pace. So brisk, in fact, that I took to calling him our personal trainer. Our first trek, on the first night, was Notre Dame de Paris.
The grand lady is a wondrous sight, with her iconic flying buttresses and intricate carvings. I was excited to see her. We were allowed to tour while a Mass was performed, and I stood on the worn stone and drank in the cathedral. I turned to my sons and told them that here was where Napoleon crowned himself emperor in 1804. To think we were walking in the footsteps of kings and popes was thrilling to me.
We also visited Montmarte, the artists’ quarter, that sits behind the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur; Sacre-Coeur is the lovely church at the top of the hill. The artists and their easels are packed in close, and you can have your portrait drawn if you stand still long enough. I enjoyed meandering through the cobblestone streets, admiring the paintings.
We spent way too little time at the Louvre; we had to find some lunch, see what we wanted to see, and be back in less than two hours. If you’ve been there, you know that is an impossible task if you want to see anything. The Louvre is enormous, and spectacular, and overwhelming. Strangely enough, I had wandered right up next to the Venus de Milo without even realizing it.
When I did, I was amazed. She stood tall in the middle of the hall, without a velvet rope or barricade; I could have touched her, but I wouldn’t have dared. Wow.
We made our way through wings with paintings as large as my living room or bigger, through incredible artifacts, until finally we came to the line to see the grandest lady of all, the Mona Lisa.
She was smaller than I expected, behind glass, behind a rope, and protected by two guards; we had to file past her, only pausing long enough to get a quick photo. But now I could say I had seen her, face to face.
We rode the Seine in a riverboat with many other passengers; I loved how each of the historical bridges has interesting carvings and decoration. After the boat ride, off to La Tour Eiffel. I truly enjoyed visiting the Eiffel Tower and riding to the top. You take two elevator rides to ascend; one takes you up to the first and second levels of the structure, and the second elevator takes you to the top, for an extra fee. The elevators go up at the same angle as the legs; it’s pretty cool. You have the opportunity to get off the first lift and not continue up the rest of the way if you change your mind. There are also stairs up to the second level, but you can only reach the top by elevator. It was night when we were there, and the view from the tower was incredible: all of Paris spread before us.
We descended by elevator, where I got to push the button; the kids took the stairs. At the bottom was a contingent of soldiers canvassing the area. I felt pretty safe, actually, but I wish the soldiers had saved us from the aggressive vendors. As we drove away, we saw the tower light up in a dazzling array of strobing LEDs. It does this for ten minutes every hour. What a show!
The day we spent driving up to the beaches at Normandy was drizzly and gray, like most of our trip had been. It also happened to be our wedding anniversary. I had looked forward to this part of the trip the most; my father was a WWII veteran who came across the English Channel, and I wanted to see what he saw here.
The bus trip through the countryside was filled with old farmhouses and rolling meadows. I closed my eyes and imagined tanks and trucks and infantry on these roads. It wasn’t so hard to imagine — many of the buildings looked exactly as they did so many years ago.
When we arrived at Colleville-sur-mer, my heart was in my throat. The rain had stopped, but the gloom hung in the air. We walked a long road toward the Normandy American Cemetery, passing a reflecting pool and carefully manicured hedges. The memorial is a semicircle of columns with a loggia, or open gallery, at each end containing maps of the landings; there is a bronze statue in the middle.
When you turn and look out over the nearly ten thousand markers, you can’t help but be moved. Most of the men here died on D-Day. There are another 1500 names on the Wall of the Missing. The numbers are staggering. It is truly humbling to be surrounded by acres and acres, row upon row, of gleaming marble headstones.
And past the cemetery, the sea still pushes to shore and retreats over the smooth sand.
We stood on the beach at St. Laurent-sur-mer, where you could still see the bunkers in the hillsides. I tried to imagine what the men felt when they saw what they were up against. The climb was steep for our Allied soldiers, if they made it that far. My heart hurt; I could feel the pain in this place.
I reached down, selected some smooth stones and scooped a little sand to bring back home to my siblings. Dad was here.
There is more to tell, but I will get to that later. My visit to Paris meant so much to me in so many ways. To be able to do it at all was huge. I would love to go back and spend more time exploring the museums and cafes and historical places. Even if I never do, I still have the most wonderful memories of Paris, the Beautiful.
5/1/13 Daily Prompt: Personal Space To what extent is your blog a place for your own self-expression and creativity vs. a site designed to attract readers? How do you balance that? If sticking to certain topics and types of posts meant your readership would triple, would you do it?
When I started to blog, I wasn’t sure what direction it would take me. Four months into it, I have a better idea, but that’s not set in stone. I love connecting with the world this way, and I love that there are folks out there who are interested in what I have to say, but this is not a gimmicky site. That is to say, I don’t see myself grooming this blog for more traffic; at least, not to a large extent.
If I find that some of my topics are more popular than others, I can write more on those, but I don’t intend to sacrifice the character of my blog to get more readers. I don’t want to emulate anyone; I just want to be me, and you can decide whether you like me or not. That said, I hope you do. 😉
Having spent a lot of my life embarrassed for the way I look, the things I say or do, my ‘ditziness,’ my various physical imperfections, and my thoughts and feelings, I can’t help but feel empathy for someone who is being embarrassed. I have great compassion for the underdog.
I have always had a hard spot for people who make fun of others, especially when it is for something the target of the ridicule can’t change. Bullies, or those folks who take the cheap shot by making fun of the frizzy hair, the braces, the physical or mental disability, make me angry. I have often stood up for the victim, having been a victim so much in the past. When I see them being harassed or taunted, I still feel that horrible feeling in my gut that makes me want to sink into the floor.
That said, I also feel embarrassment for people who embarrass themselves. That usually results from too much alcohol, too little self control, or strong emotions. Like having a very public fight with your date or continuing to ask that girl for a dance when she’s already said no, this behavior tends to make everyone around you cringe. It’s too bad that we can’t see ourselves the way others do; it might keep some of that tendency toward self-humiliation in check. I spent a lot of time as the designated driver among my group of friends, and all I can say is, it’s a good thing that the rest of the people were drunk, too, because then nobody remembered how badly they behaved.
I’m not saying that I’m above embarrassing myself – oh no, no, no. I’ve done it many times, and it seems that nobody has tired of reminding me about it. But I’m not as self-conscious about it these days, as I have come to accept that I’ll trip down the stairs, push the door that says, ‘Pull,’ or wear my blouse inside out. I’m like that.
People make mistakes, and I’ve learned over the years that most of the time when I am embarrassed it is because of what I think someone will think. I may be ashamed of something stupid I said or did, and I’ll worry that it will make me look bad to someone else, when in reality, that person isn’t concerned with me at all. People don’t care what I do — they’re more interested with their own business. The less I worry about what others think, the less embarrassment I feel.
Don’t we all wish we were more confident? Stop being so self-conscious and risk a little embarrassment. Step up and show the world the masterpiece that you are!
I haven’t kept up with the Daily Prompts very well, and I would say that part of the reason is that I’m a night owl in an early-bird world. I get up before anyone else in my household, and I am often out the door and on the way to work before anyone has rolled out of bed. It’s not as early as, say, the barista down the road at my favorite espresso stand, but to me, it’s an ungodly hour, and it’s difficult. Thank goodness for coffee.
Years ago, I made it clear to my family that on weekends, if there was no reason for me to get up early (vacation, appointment, or chauffeur duty), then I was to be left alone until at least 8 or 9 a.m. Sometimes I have the luxury of sleeping in much later, especially if I have stayed up late the night before. You see, that is part of my problem — I like to stay up late, but I’m not very good at it anymore.
I’m afraid I’ve fallen victim to what my sister would call, “Oldness.” Oldness is waking up early, even when you don’t want to, and even without an alarm. Oldness is wanting to stay up and watch that movie on Netflix, but falling asleep before it’s halfway through. Oldness is knowing that having one beer makes you want to have two; but having two makes you want to take a nap.
I fear I am becoming more of a hermit as I get older. I used to like going out with friends, dancing and drinking, having a few laughs, and coming home in the wee hours. When I was in my 20’s, I would stay at the club until closing time, and then hit the local diner with my friends for some fries and a Coke. I could stay up for days if I wanted to, and I did on a few occasions. But now, I’m ashamed to admit that I when I go out, I start looking at the clock around 10 or 11.
Number One Son is a night owl like his sister, and like I used to be. He was the one who, as a toddler, insisted he wasn’t tired as he fought to keep his eyes open. He would stay up as late as he could if I would let him. Of course, that means he also likes to sleep late. Number Young Son, on the other hand, was always an early riser as a youngster, and he would go full speed until he’d drop, asleep, in the middle of whatever he was doing. Now that he’s a teen, he likes to stay out late but he is still an early riser, especially compared to his friends.
When I was a kid, one of my older, teenaged sisters liked to sleep in late, much to my parents’ annoyance. They, of course, always rose early. One of my father’s favorite sayings was, “Anybody who sleeps longer than me is LAZY!” My sister’s bedroom was right above the kitchen, and my mother would take the broom handle and pound on the ceiling to get her up. I remember one time my father, frustrated that she was ‘sleeping all day,’ went upstairs to her room. He threw the covers back. Much to his surprise, she had slept in the buff. In one sweeping motion, he pulled the blankets back over her and hurried out, horribly embarrassed. He never did that again. (I remember something about dousing her with a glass of water, too, on occasion, but I would have to ask her if that was truth or rumor.)
There is one time when I do like to be up early in the quiet of the morning: when we are at our lake property. Sometimes I will wake before the sun is quite risen, and I will quickly dress and go out to start the campfire. I enjoy watching the day begin over the calm water, with fish rising and ospreys and eagles looking for breakfast. If I have a cup of coffee, it is that much better.
(Oh, and I meant to post this yesterday, but I stayed up to watch Skyfall, and before I knew it, it was 1 a.m.)