I try very hard to be thankful in my life, even for the bad things. (That’s tough, but I believe you need to be grateful at both ends of the spectrum and all in between.) And I try to recognize and express my appreciation and gratitude regularly and honestly.
Tonight I was thinking about that, and I wanted to share it with you.
I like to be appreciated. I think we all do. I think it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate others. So I try to return favors and give thanks for all the thoughtful little things in my day. Mr. Stuck is the author of a great many of them, so this one’s for him:
thank you for carrying the laundry basket thank you for opening jars (and bottles and boxes and envelopes and cans and buckets) when my hands hurt thank you for turning off my Kindle and tucking me in at night when I fall asleep reading thank you for the flowers you bring home for no reason at all thank you for remembering the tasks I forget thank you for doing the vacuuming and sweeping and mopping thank you for waking up in the middle of the night to help me with my excruciating leg cramps thank you for eating whatever I cook without complaint and for trying new things thank you for telling me you love me every single day thank you for being able to joke me out of a bad mood thank you for being my interpreter when I’m not hearing well
thank you for being my cheerleader thank you for taking the steps to be healthier and happier thank you for helping me be happier and healthier, too
The more I express gratitude, the happier I am, and the happier I am, the more I express gratitude. My marriage is all the better for it.
Both of us make a habit of saying thank you, not just assuming the other person knows. This is crucial.
I thank him for things he does and things he does not do. I thank him for decisions he’s made and goals he sets. I thank him for caring about me, caring about himself, and caring about us. I thank him for being a good father. I thank him for thinking of me and bringing home asparagus. I thank him for putting ice melt on the steps. I thank him for making my day – and life – easier.
Yknow, we all have plenty we can complain about. Despite the impression some people give, it’s not a competition.
I choose instead to say thank you, and that has made a difference.
A blogger friend’s recent post about traditions started me thinking about my own traditions with family and friends and how they’ve changed over the years.
As a child, and well into my young adulthood, I spent Thanksgiving at my parents’ house, my childhood home. The menu was classic and rarely varied: a big fat roasted turkey, stuffed full of sage and sausage dressing; potatoes and gravy; fruit salad; cranberry sauce; and some combination of vegetables, usually green beans, creamed onions, or cauliflower. Sometimes, Mother made sweet potatoes or squash. And there was usually a veggie tray and a divided dish with black olives (Mother being the only one who ate them after Grandma passed away) and pickles.
Of course, the meal was not complete without dessert — apple and pumpkin pies, for which my mother was renowned. Quite the feast! And that was for the early, big dinner – later on, at supper, it was time for turkey sandwiches and pie (for which we had been too full before). Oh my goodness!
I come from a big family, and I always looked forward to these holidays with my parents, because it meant that I would see most, if not all, of my siblings and their families. I relished the house full of loved ones, the Macy’s parade and football games on TV in the background, the chatter and laughter of my sisters, and the children underfoot and overhead in the upstairs bedrooms. The roasting turkey’s aroma, mingled with coffee, pumpkin, and pickles was a familiar and welcome bouquet.
When the bird was done and plattered, it joined the rest of the dishes on the table and we were called to “Wash up!” and “Come and eat!” Those of us with aprons on, who were already bustling about in the kitchen, made sure everyone had a spot to sit, and we’d round up the kids to sit at their own table.
We all sat and bowed our heads to say grace, giving thanks for the meal and the hands that prepared it, and asking blessings upon those at the table as well as those who couldn’t be there. I savored that moment of appreciation, thinking about how fortunate I was to be in that family, at that table, with the people I love, on that busy, but gratifying, day.
And although the meal was always impressive, and we all left the table stuffed and nap-ready, it wasn’t about the food.
It was never about the food.
Over the years, the family got bigger as my sisters married and had children, and eventually, I did the same. As the family got bigger, the Thanksgiving table got smaller, as my older sisters and I started our own Thanksgiving traditions or visited with in-laws. But even after I married and had children, my siblings and I still enjoyed celebrating at my mother’s table sometimes. Mother would do less of the cooking as we encouraged her to sit and rest. We’d make sure Dad had his cold beer so he could enjoy his football game. It was nice to feel like a kid again, but at the same time, to be a grownup.
Losing my parents and sister in 1999 dealt such a blow to my life; aside from the obvious, it also turned my whole notion of tradition on its head. I was unable to muster up any desire to celebrate the holidays; for several years, I was lost when it came to Thanksgiving. We were invited to join other family members for their festivities, but nothing really felt like it fit. Not to me. And it wasn’t a reflection of their generous and loving hospitality; it was just how torn I felt from the very fabric of my life. The old tradition was gone – obliterated – and I had nothing with which to replace it.
Eventually, we accepted the invitation of our very dear friends. Their Thanksgiving, while not what I was used to, was a warm and welcome gathering, with a menu that’s a little different each year. I worked my way through the grief by literally working my way through it – I would arrive early in the day, don an apron, and set to prepping vegetables or making pie or whatever task I was given. Many times I found myself in tears over the sink, but those tears were the catharsis I needed.
Thanksgiving with our close friends is the convention we’ve embraced for over a decade now, and although sometimes I yearn for the turkey dinners of the past, I am overwhelmingly grateful for what we have now. We are not guests; we are family, and this is our custom. To honor my parents, I make my mother’s sausage stuffing. Mr. Stuck and I share in the preparation of delightful and creative dishes and serve them proudly. The house is abuzz in activity and laughter and music, with family members, friends, and guests arriving throughout the day. Every year, there seems to be at least one new face to welcome to the table. This is our new old tradition.
And as we sit down to the table heavy with goodies, we carry on the practice of my friend’s late grandfather and take turns sharing what each of us is thankful for. There are many mentions of friends and family, those who have gone before us, and the bounty of the day’s meal. When my turn comes, I am nearly always choked up with emotion and gratitude. I am thankful for so much: the traditions of the past; the generosity of our friends, the hosts; the faces of the people crowded around the large table; the abundance of the meal itself; and the healing that it has meant to me.
But more than anything, I am grateful for what it all represents – the loving ritual; the anchor; that feeling of belonging and the carrying on of a tradition over generations. These are memories that we build together and that our children will look back on and build from.
So this last weekend I attended a birthday party for my very dear friend; I love her as a sister. She’s a gourmet cook, a planner, an organizer, and a doer. My friend is amazing in many ways, but one of the traits I admire most is her ability to bring people together. She is a most gracious hostess, a role she embraces with enthusiasm. I have helped with numerous parties and get-togethers at her home, where I’ve met dozens and dozens of her and her husband’s friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. These are people from all walks of life who come together around her table, and it is a glorious sight to see.
So it happened that as dessert was being served in the dining room, I was standing next to another friend, talking about her luscious coconut cake. After a moment he looked down at the dining room table and said something nostalgic like, Boy, that table sure has seen some good times, hasn’t it? And I nodded and said, “It sure has.”
Around that table we’ve enjoyed many holiday meals, special desserts, and cheap Chinese takeout. We have assembled hundreds of kebabs and filled hundreds of plastic Easter eggs there. We have danced, sung songs and been an appreciative audience to violin, piano and guitar performances. We have given thanks, told jokes, offered toasts and discussed politics. And we’ve played games: Greed, Family, Cranium, even Cards Against Humanity.
Some of the best times I’ve had in that house have been around that table. And this is where I see the power of the gift my friend has, because here, we are all equals.
Around that table sit the housewife and the artist, the winemaker and the corrections officer, the teacher and the landscaper, the student and the retiree, and the scientist and the yoga teacher. Police and former addicts, strangers with no place to go, vegetarians and carnivores, Harley riders and bicycle racers, they’re all there. Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist, Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Heinz 57 — makes no difference because we’re all friends and family. That table is like a little melting pot, and we all have that in common, even if little else.
All because of my friend — whose heart, as Mr. Stuck might say, is as big as Texas.
I wanted to give this toast to her on her birthday, but before I had the chance, she gave a most eloquent and emotional talk about love, standing on a chair so everyone could hear. She called upon us to reach into our hearts and think of what makes us happiest, then to send that warmth to a mutual friend who could not celebrate with us because she is undergoing treatment for cancer. It was very moving, and nothing more could be said. Our hearts were as one at that moment, and I hope our absent friend could feel the love.
So I offer this up as my tribute to my incredible friend, who used her own special day to shine light on someone else, because that is her way. It is through her that so many of us from so many different places in life have come together to be friends, and I am forever grateful.
Normally, I’m not one to point out my strengths or qualities. Like (I would suspect) most of us, I tend to dwell on my weak points and foibles. I’m quick to rattle off a list of those: I’m a klutz, I’m a dork, I’m lazy, I’m a little slow on the uptake. I think we all do that – we’ve rehearsed the list all our lives, until it becomes a common bond that we can share with someone else. Instead of being a humble confession, it becomes almost vanity, a point of pride to be ‘worse’ than other folks. “You think that’s stupid? Well, let me tell you about when I cut the miniblind cords off because they were too long!” (True story.)
So today I step out of that comfort zone of self-deprecation and admit that there are some good – nay, great – things about me, things I’m proud of that make me happy. I’m awesome, and I’ll give you ten reasons why.
My brain. I was lucky to be a bright child – quick to learn and understand. I did well in school, earning scholarships and accolades, and my parents always encouraged me to think and absorb the world around me. As a result, I have confidence that there is nothing I can’t learn or teach myself. I especially love that ‘aha’ moment when a concept clicks and all those neural traces connect – I love being able to relate something new to something I already know. I love how my brain can stow bits of trivia and then retrieve them at the most unlikely moment. The brain is a magnificent organ, and I only wish I had enough time to learn everything I want to know.
My sense of humor. Each of my parents had an offbeat, upbeat sense of humor. They did silly things and taught us to see the humor inherent in life. All of my siblings and I possess that same quality, and I firmly believe that is a very strong part of the bond that connects us. When I’m amused, you know it. I love to laugh, and I love to make other people laugh, too. I love to clown around and crack wise; like my niece said, the world is sad enough as it is. Let’s have fun!
I root for the underdog. Pa once told me that I had a strong sense of fairness and a lot of moxie (which, by the way, is one of my favorite words). I have always cherished his assessment. It’s important to me to stand up for what’s right, even when it’s unpopular, and to champion the little guy. It’s who I am.
I’m authentic. There is no pretense with me. What you see is what you get. Like Popeye, I Yam What I Yam. Heck, I don’t even color my hair or wear makeup. I’m just plain old me, and if you like that, great. If you don’t, well…<shrug>.
I’m compassionate. I’ve had some rough spots in my life, and I have come out on the other side with a renewed sense of kindness and understanding for others. While I don’t consider myself a ‘bleeding heart’ with exaggerated sympathies, I do care a great deal about people and try to be considerate and compassionate. Sometimes it’s hard to be kind, but I’m always trying.
I’m quirky. My medical history is populated with strange events and afflictions. My running joke is that because my mother was a week shy of 37 when I was born, my oddities are a direct result of her ‘old eggs.’ So, I laughingly told her that my hypermobile joints (double-jointedness), inner ear disorder, migraine cluster headaches, third set of front teeth, missing wisdom teeth, mismatched vision (one far-sighted eye, one near-sighted eye), and other physical quirks are because her eggs were past their pull date. But that’s the stuff that makes me, me.
I can write. Ever since I can remember, I have been in love with words. I love to read, and I love to write. I have always been able to express myself in writing, and I’ve been able to use this gift to help other people over the years. I believe my friend’s assertion that ‘everyone has their own talent,’ and while I would love to be able to draw or sculpt or bake or craft, I am content to have been given the gift of writing.
I’m a spoiler. I will go the extra mile to do something special for people I love. I used to put notes in my kids’ school lunches to let them know I was thinking about them. I enjoy spoiling Mr. Stuck. I have a soft spot for the elderly, especially little old men. I will go out of my way for you, just because.
I have great hair. I’ve always loved my hair, except during my adolescence, when, try as I might, the Dorothy Hamill bob and Farrah Fawcett look escaped me. Once I came to terms with that, I’ve been happy with it. Long or short, it was thick and healthy, with its own waves and cowlicks and a very pronounced widow’s peak. Like me, it has a mind of its own, doesn’t care for the muss and fuss of curling irons and hair spray, and is at its best when left alone. It’s greyer and thinner now, but I still love it.
I have a great smile. I used to have a gap between my front teeth. It was handed down through the generations on my mother’s side, and several of my sisters and their kids also have gaps. Mine was huge – I used to joke about being able to floss with a tow rope. Getting braces and a permanent retainer eliminated that gap, but I still love my smile. When I am happy, there is no mistaking it: apple cheeks, bright eyes, and a big, wide grin with my whole mouth.
It took me a while to come up with this list, and I changed my mind a few times. I wasn’t even sure if I could find ten whole things. But I’ve looked it over, and I am satisfied.
Now, a few things I need to work on:
Patience. I’m just not very good at it, especially when I get behind the wheel.
Procrastination. Unfortunately, I’m an expert in putting things off. Like blogging.
Follow-through. I’m a great starter, but a not-so-great finisher. I get bored too easily and switch gears. I need to learn to see things through to completion, whether it’s a book I’m reading or organizing my closet. Or blogging.
Judgment. I struggle with being too judgmental. It is something I work on every day. I think it comes from being judgmental toward myself and then spreading the misery. Ugh. Let me apologize in advance.
Self-control. I have long said that I can resist anything but temptation. I have the ability to talk myself into and out of just about anything, especially if it’s not good for me. My overdeveloped conscience helps me behave most of the time, but too often, the devil on my shoulder wins out.
Now, I’d like to invite you to tell me at least one thing youlove about yourself. We spend so much time being critical that we often forget to celebrate our wonderful individuality. Learning to love that unique, amazing person in the mirror is another step toward being healthy and happy!
My mother was a war bride; not in the foreign-born sense, but in the sense that she married a soldier headed overseas. It was February 26, 1944; she was just shy of 17 and her man was 21, looking sharp in his Army uniform. There were quite a few new brides in her high school; sadly, some would become new widows, as well. Mother always told me she never doubted that the man she loved would return to her, and maybe her faith and his determination helped make it happen. I don’t know, but I’m just thankful it did.
My father had a rough time returning to normal life after the war; in fact, nightmares plagued him for the rest of his life. In the first few months, he drank too much, trying to escape the horror show in his head. He didn’t sleep well for a long time; Mother recounted night after night of playing pinochle with him into the wee hours. Eventually the worst of it subsided, and they became a normal, post-war family.
Both of my parents loved children and wanted lots of them. Curious people would see their little ones and ask if our family was Catholic, and my mother would say with a wink and a smile, “Not Catholic – passionate Protestant.” By the time I came along in 1964, they had been married 20 years and already had six children. And as it turned out, seven was enough. The house my dad built had already been pushed out more than once from its original floor plan to accommodate more bedrooms.
Raised during the Great Depression, Mother and Dad had learned the hard lessons of doing without, and with a house full of children on one income, they lived it daily. As the youngest, I don’t remember the hard times that my siblings do, but I do know that in my family, emphasis was never on material goods. We just didn’t live that way; we were happy with what we had, and those things that were important to us were love and family and character. I knew as a child that I didn’t have all the fancy stuff that my classmates did, but it didn’t really matter. I suppose we could have been considered poor, but by whose standards? We were loved.
Speaking of my classmates – I remember several of them had divorced parents and spent weekends alternating between their moms’ and dads’ houses, juggling stepparents and new siblings and the related upheaval. I have always been grateful that my parents never split up; I could see how divorce had a painful effect on my friends. Even when I was secretly jealous that my friend’s dad bought her a new stereo, I still felt sorry for her because she didn’t have both parents all the time, like I did. I don’t think I ever worried that my own parents would divorce – even though they argued, my parents genuinely loved one another and were committed to their marriage and our family.
Growing up in a big family taught us to share and to be patient; we learned to help each other, and we learned to work as a team. We were taught the Depression-era axiom, ‘Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.’ Hand-me-downs were common; toys and books passed from one child to the next; and bedrooms were shared. While Mother taught me where babies come from, growing up with sisters taught me about puberty and panty hose. In fact, it was my sister Wendy who taught me how to use a razor to shave my legs and underarms. I loved my big family.
My father was terribly outnumbered at home; after my brother moved out on his own, Dad was the only male. I often wonder how he kept his sanity back then surrounded by so many girls, but then I recall how much time he spent in his workshop and basement. Dad was a strict, but loving, father, but he saw the humor in his situation. One summer day, on a family vacation with just three of us girls, Dad was enjoying a cold beer outside our tent trailer, while inside the trailer was all kinds of commotion. Hearing it, a man from the neighboring campsite came over to see what was going on; Dad swung his beer hand in the direction of the trailer and explained with a wry smile, “I’ve got female problems.”
Some of my fondest memories growing up featured my parents showing their affection for one another. Many times I would see Dad take Mother’s hand and lead her gallantly through a few dance steps, whether there was music or not; I loved the smile on her face when he did that. Mother drew his baths, and she would go in to wash his back; when he came out, she would attend to his tired feet. They held hands, kissed, and hugged all the years they were married. They were demonstrative in their affection, and that’s how they raised us. All of us knew that our parents loved one another deeply, without reservation. That was how it was supposed to be, right?
Pa used to joke that his first wife was a Sasquatch. He joked about many things – how he’d spent time in the Swiss Navy and the Underground Balloon Corps, and that he was once a member of the Mess Kit Repair Battalion. He joked with the kids in the neighborhood that the sidewalk he was pouring was actually a baby elephant walk, and that the air compressor on wheels was a newfangled go-kart. But he took his role as husband and father very seriously. We girls grew from wanting to marry Daddy to wanting to marry someone just like him.
Mother was devoted to Dad; she first met him as her best friend’s big brother, and was instantly attracted to the handsome, quiet young man. She set out to spoil him, and she did. She learned to cook his favorite foods, and she treated him like a king. She appreciated that he worked hard to support the family and that he was a knowledgeable handyman who took care of the homestead. I asked her once about why we were having liver and onions for dinner when nobody liked it but Dad, and she looked me square in the eye and said, “Because your father likes it, and I cook for him. He gets up every morning at 5 o’clock to go to work, and he deserves to get what he likes for dinner. Now run along.” What a gal.
When I met my husband, I was happy to learn that his parents were also a long-married couple. Sadly, it seems surprising anymore. Because of this simple fact, our backgrounds were very similar, and we had much in common. We both hoped to find lasting love like our parents had, and we believed in the sacred commitment of marriage. He fit in well with my goofy family, and they embraced him; likewise, his family opened their hearts to me.
At my wedding shower, the ladies wrote marriage advice on note cards to give me. My mother’s said, Just remember – YOU are not perfect, either. Those words have sustained me through these married years when my frustration level rises. She also told me that men and women are different animals who speak different languages. She predicted that someday I would find myself in a heated argument with my husband, and suddenly recognize that we were actually on the same side. She was absolutely right, and it’s happened more than once. She was a smart one, my ma.
Over the years, after the kids had all grown up and had kids of their own, my folks settled into a routine of loving togetherness. When Dad’s eyes were bad, Mother read books aloud to him so they could enjoy them together. They helped one another with the chores and the cooking. They would linger at the table after a meal, enjoying their coffee and conversation. They took walks together each day to get a little exercise. Sometimes one of my sisters would join them, sometimes bringing her children along. It was a slower life, well earned by their earlier lives of hard work. One of my poetry-loving mother’s favorite verses was the first few lines of Rabbi Ben Ezraby Robert Browning: “Grow old along with me/the best is yet to be/the end of life, for which the first is made.” That was truly how they saw their twilight years.
My parents died tragically one night in a train crash fifteen years ago. They were on a cross-country trip to visit one of my sisters, and, just weeks before, had celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. My sister Wendy died with them, as did her best friend. It’s a tremendous understatement to say how that tore the fabric of our lives apart; Mother and Dad were the hub of our family, and losing them changed everything we knew. But what they left us is everlasting: love, family, and character. Work hard; love God; be honest and kind; be grateful; and above all, cherish each other.
I love to do little things for people ‘just because’. It’s how I was raised.
It’s Random Acts of Kindness Week — let’s turn our thoughts into actions! I know you guys can think of something to do to participate! I didn’t know there was a designated week for this, so I’m a little late on this post, but I think it’s great. Check it out here:
I’ve talked before about my mother sewing for the nursing home residents with her ladies’ group; doing nice things for other people just for the sake of doing them was ingrained in me from an early age. I remember Mother saying I was ‘earning jewels for my crown.’
I’ve bought meals and coffees for people I didn’t know, fed parking meters (before I knew it was illegal — oops!), held open doors, allowed people in front of me in line at the store, carried things for people who were overloaded — nothing big and life-changing, nothing for recognition, but small kindnesses, just the same. I like to think my kids have grown up understanding why I do these things, and I hope they will do the same when opportunity presents itself.
Our family has ‘adopted’ our elderly neighbor, Harvey, who is a widower who lives alone. He’s a great guy with a lot of fun stories and a wicked sense of humor, and I love to bring him soups and stew and other treats if I’m not having him over for dinner. We look after each other, and that’s how it ought to be.
Perhaps Random Acts of Kindness Week can help inspire those who want to do something but aren’t sure how. Their website has suggestions and some great, uplifting RAK reader submissions. They ask you to tag your kindness posts on social media with #RAKweek so they can see them and post some on their site.
Been in rather a blue funk for a few days. In addition to the letdown after the hyperventilation surrounding high school graduation for my youngest; the impending 6-week hiatus from our dear friends; and the sick week I just had, it’s June. June is Father’s Day and graduation, or, for those with younger kids, the month when school lets out and kids are underfoot. Roses fill the air with their perfume; gardens explode in green; we celebrate the summer solstice; and Sir Paul McCartney and my friend Chris blow out birthday candles in June.
And it is also my sister Missy’s birthday. Next week she would have been 52.
Two years ago, two of my sisters and I flew down to Georgia to visit Missy and join the sister who was already there. It was the occasion of Missy’s 50th birthday, and she was in the hospital. We wanted to make sure to give her a 50th birthday none of us would forget. We brought along goodies she loved but couldn’t get in Georgia and took decorations and funny things to make her laugh. Once there, we went shopping for more. We got her a cake and even a little contraband — small ‘splits’ of wine we thought she might like to try.
None of us could voice what was aching in our hearts. We were there because we feared that this birthday would be her last. She needed us, and we needed her. So we went down to spend time with her, all of us, together. We would bring some fun to her for awhile and show her some sister love. Our eldest sister was already there helping to care for her, which was a blessing. We came to see her husband and children and give them some support, as well.
When we first surprised her in her room, on our arrival, it was wonderful. She hadn’t known we all were coming, and it was a joyous occasion. Missy perked up, and we set about fussing over her, laughing and joking like old times.
A couple of nights later, in the darkened and vacant hotel lobby, with poster board, markers, and stickers, the four of us made signs to brighten her room. We laid the paper on the floor and drew around our feet; we traced our hands and thought of silly slogans to write. We talked and sang and danced and laughed until we nearly wet our pants. I haven’t felt so close to my sisters in a long while.
The day of her birthday, we arranged for her to be taken out of her room for a few minutes while we set up her party decorations. We had hoped to put a sign on the outside of her door, as well, but the staff wouldn’t allow it. No matter — we had streamers and hats and noisy things and cards and little fun gifts for her. We had cake and shrimp and the contraband wine. We had to stall the nurse a bit, but when it was all ready, we gave the high sign for her to come in.
She was happily surprised at the party; in addition to her husband and sons and us girls, she had other visitors and well-wishers. We sang and chatted and she opened her gifts; we had silly hats and glasses for her, as well as a big round ‘button’ made of a paper plate pinned to her gown that said, “Ask Me about AARP!” (American Association of Retired Persons) We all had fun. Afterward, she was tired, so we toned it all down and left her to rest.
I will always remember that visit more for the bonding we shared during those days than for what specific things we did or talked about. We all carry the scar of losing the sister who died with our parents fourteen years ago; that is a sad, but strong, bond we already share. Even as different as we all are, our love for each other is steadfast.
I wish I could better describe that feeling of oneness with my sisters; it is rather new, as we are not all close in age, and therefore didn’t all grow up together. We are of three different groups within the family: the two eldest sisters and my brother, who is firstborn, are the first group; after a five-year gap, there are two more girls; after another five years, Missy and me. We have always been a close family overall, but after we lost our parents and sister in 1999, we realized how short life is and we drew tightly to one another. We are not often all together physically, either, since one lives in Georgia, one spends half the year in Arizona, and the rest of us live in Washington. For those few days, we were all together, with no agenda but to be grateful for them and enjoy ourselves.
There is a lot more to this story, but there will be time for that. Let’s just say that she left us at the age of 50, which was far too young. Life is so damned short.
So I’m blue. My heart aches with the weight of memory and loss. Junes will come and go, but they will always be Missy’s month: not only was it her birthday, but her husband’s birthday is the week before, and their wedding anniversary falls in between.
Dads and grads may take the spotlight, but June belongs to her.
When I was a kid, having your tonsils out was both the norm and the cool thing to do. I mean, come on — back then, going to the HOSPITAL and having an OPERATION was pretty danged cool. A lot of my friends had had theirs out. I was so jealous! They had something they could brag about. Kinda like the rich kids who skied — the ones who broke their arms or legs had the best bragging rights. Wow…you broke your leg skiing? WOW! Can I sign your cast?
Me, I had a pretty normal, boring life. I didn’t have any operations. I didn’t ski. I didn’t fly somewhere to visit my grandparents during spring break. I didn’t go to Dad’s one weekend and Mom’s the next. I didn’t have a cast that everyone could sign. So when I was a kid, I just knew that my life was nowhere near as exciting as the other kids’. They got Christmas presents at TWO households. They got to go skating and skiing and swimming and all of that. And they had their tonsils out.
For me, the closest I got was when I smashed my finger in the front door and the nail turned purple and it hurt a lot. Dad took me to Dr. Graisy, who heated a needle with a match and pierced my fingernail so the spurting blood would relieve the pressure. I hated that doctor. I hollered and cried and fought him, and he tried to smack me, and my Dad told him to leave me alone. Dad bought me a 7-up on the way home for being brave when the needle pierced my nail.
An older girl in my neighborhood — Kathy was her name — told me she’d had to get her ‘adenoids’ out. I didn’t even know what an adenoid was, but I could tell it had to be cool. Kathy was way cooler than the tonsillectomy veterans, because what she had removed was a mystery to everyone, not just me. I assumed that’s why she had such a nasal voice — even the word ‘adenoid’ itself sounds nasal when you say it. I never really liked Kathy because she wielded her adenoidectomy (is that even a word?) like a Coach bag — look, everyone, I have this and you don’t! So we neighborhood kids plugged our noses to imitate how she talked, saying, “My name is Kathy, and I had my A-DEN-OIDS out!”
My next-older sister had her tonsils out. She had been sick for awhile, and the doctor said it was tonsillitis and it was bad. I remember Mom and Dad getting a flashlight and looking down her throat. She spent the night at the hospital. I was so jealous…you have no idea how far my nose was out of joint. She got all the attention, and she got milkshakes.
When we came to take her home, she played it up pretty well…at least, that’s how I saw it. Dad even stopped for ice cream and 7-up for her on the way home. Back then, those were pretty special treats. I recall that Dad let me have a bottle of pop, too, even though my tonsils were intact. When we got home, I was still pretty pouty watching my sister get fussed over. (I was a champion pouter in those days, being the baby of the family and all.)
A little while later, Dad called me over to where he sat in his big chair and had me climb up on his lap. I always liked sitting with him, because he always seemed to have some kind of treat hidden in his shirt. I patted his pockets, feeling for a butterscotch candy or a piece of “lickernish.” I felt something in his shirt, but it wasn’t in his pocket. I patted around the lump above his belly, trying to figure it out.
I gave him a sideways look. “What’s in your shirt, Daddy?” as he pretended not to know what I was talking about. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out one of his ever-present mechanical pencils, offering it up. “No, not the pencil! What’s in here?” I said, grabbing hold of the lumpy thing under the buttons of his shirt.
“Oh, for the love of Pete!” he said, acting surprised. “I don’t know! You’d better take a look, hadn’t you?” So I fumbled with the middle buttons; when I got them undone, I spied a paper sack, a bit bigger than the penny-candy sacks we used to get at Esser’s, the little corner store. “I wonder what’s in there?” Daddy said. “Can I open it?” I asked eagerly. “If you think you can,” he smiled.
Inside that paper sack was a puppet — a marionette, to be exact. For me! She was a simple wooden doll in a pink skirt with painted-on yellow shoes and black hair; strings joined her moveable head, hands and feet to the handle. The handle was simply two pieces of wood that crossed at right angles, and you held it horizontally above the puppet. I was so excited!! I had never had a marionette, so Daddy showed me how to do it. It was really fun! I forgot all about being jealous and pouty.
My sister got a marionette, too; hers was a man dressed in black. After she felt better from her operation, we played puppet show a lot. My sister always had new storylines for our dolls to act out.
I still have my tonsils, and I still have my marionette. Resplendent yet In her (dirty) pink skirt and (scuffed) yellow shoes, she now rests in a box in the garage. Even though the strings have long since rotted and she’s a little worse for wear, I can’t bear to get rid of her. In my litlte-girl memory, it was my Daddy’s way of comforting me when I felt very left out. It made me feel special, and it still does.
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.