Author: halfcnote

Downtown

There is a long standing, bordering on stale, story in my family. It involves, me, my Aunt Spinning Jenny, Petula Clark, and a certain song from 1965.

Allow me to set the scene: in 1965, I was four, Spinning Jenny, twenty, and in my adoring eyes, world-wise. I mean, she could drive, played the guitar, and ratted her hair, what further proof did one need?

Our family was living in Memphis, TN, but we were still close enough to spend a great deal of time in our home town of Savannah, GA, where most of the extended family still resided including Mom’s younger sister, Spinning Jenny. Days spent on Tybee Island Beach were the norm for families with a bunch of summer-bored kids and not a lot of money.

Now in those days, there were no life-saving laws about seat belts and front seat size occupancy ratings. No, it was cram as many people as you can across those bench seats and woe unto the small child pressed between door and their larger relatives when going around corners. The safety harness was the “mom arm” flung across your chest upon sudden stops. Ah, the good ol’ days.

So when we all went to the beach, our crew shoved as many people in each car as possible and any available of-age driver was pulled into service. SJ fit that bill and perhaps to give the attendant Moms a rest, the kids (or a portion of them) often rode with her. It was on just one of those nights returning from Tybee, that the story begins.

The “British Invasion” of music was still raging and Petula Clark just happened to be part of that phenomena with her hit, “Downtown.” For my little four year old self, the hook of the song was the repeating lyric, “downtown.”

“When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely
You can always go
Downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know
Downtown”*

There we were, all crammed into the car and somehow I scored a place in the front next to SJ, who was driving. The radio was playing (I’m sure to aid in keeping SJ awake after a long day in the beach sun. She was also known to fall asleep at the wheel, but that’s another story…) and the song came on.

Mx. Clark’s voice begins to croon and SJ started to sing along, but not with the words I was familiar with at all. No, this was an odd combination of sounds, mysterious and slightly dissonant to my ear. SJ looked at me and told me she was singing in Chinese. I was captivated. It was “Downtown” in Chinese!  From then on, each time the song came up, of course I requested that SJ sing it in Chinese. How wonderfully fun and fascinating! I loved it. SJ, already high on the cool list, moved up even farther. Wow.

Every song has it’s day; the music scene moves on and so did we. “Downtown” moved off the charts and we from Memphis to various and sundry geographic locations through the years. And all this time, I would brag to my friends that my Aunt Spinning Jenny knew the words of a song in Chinese.

Now, I never questioned the fact that SJ never set foot in any Asian country (at that time), or that she didn’t speak any other language outside of English I was aware of. Hey, people sing along with “La Bamba” in Spanish all the time and have zero understanding of what they are saying. Nope, when you are four, 20 year old aunts know everything. And no one told me differently.

EVER – FOR THE NEXT 17 YEARS.

Turns out that the laughter surrounding SJ’s performance was not a mutual expression of the same amazement I felt.

No, it wasn’t until I was 21 years old that I found out my esteemed Aunt Spinning Jenny duped me. She never sang “Downtown” in Chinese, not at all, not once. Sigh. Gibberish, it was all gibberish. I was legitimately crushed.

I guess I should have known something since this is the same person who tried to convince me of the age old yarn about plants growing from seeds stuck in your teeth, but there never was really a reason to doubt. She did, after all, counter silliness like that with teaching me how to blow bubblegum bubbles and taking me for sailboat rides.

It could have ended the night I found out, surrounded by gales of laughter and disbelief at my long standing gullibility, but no, my family being the warm, supportive unit it is, has come to pass on the story of how ‘your Mom/aunt/cousin,’ fell for Spinning Jenny’s oh, so, clever language parody back in the day.

It’s been thirty five years since the reveal and I still suffer from PTSD (Pretend Translation Song Disorder). The expression of symptoms include, but are not limited to, slight embarrassment, chuckling to oneself, and a certain fondness of memory. It’s a disorder I can live with, so as old as the story has become, I’ll continue to thank Petula Clark and cherish the idea of my Aunt Spinning Jenny singing “Downtown” in Chinese.

Patricia (TriTricia windblowncia) Sullivan Fraker, a.k.a. “Aunt Spinning Jenny” 1945-2017
Lover of family, music, food, traveling, camping, hiking, dancing, sailing, trivia, oddities, game nights, adventures, and costume parties.

“What a Life Lived.” – B.F. December 8, 2017

 

 

*written by Tony Hatch

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Solitaire with Yoda

cards

Dear Dad,

I taught Yoda how to play solitaire last night. He was bugging me to play cards with him and I just needed some time to work a quiet word puzzle, so Bashert suggested I teach him how to play. At first, he was not really interested; too complicated and boring he said then he started to catch on. I think it helped to tell him you taught me how to play and that I was playing with him, that clever boy.

Funny, the things that stick in one’s mind. I remember it was when we lived in Phoenix, in the second house that you taught me to play. That made me about the same age Yoda is now: eleven. You taught me to play left handed despite the superstitious attempts of your teachers to overcome your natural left handedness, some of it still shone through. I never corrected that even though the rest of the world seemed to play in the other direction. This is the way my Dad taught me, so this is the way it is played. I showed Yoda the same.

It took him a minute to catch on – how to build the cards down and up at the same time and to read the entire board – but he got it. The kid can play a mean game of chess, so I thought this wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for him. A few more games and he will see the strategy involved.

I told Yoda, it’s always good to know how to play a game of solitaire with real cards. I told him of how I was stuck in an airport for six hours in the days before portable electronics. After I finished off the book I brought for reading on the plane, I didn’t want to pay airport prices for anything else and people watching only goes so far when you are by yourself. Cards to the rescue.

That story led to other stories and before you know it, we were all laughing and having a splendid time without all the distractions of the television or computers. It was a warm, cozy and fun time. I hope it’s one he remembers down the line.

I ended up teaching him a couple of different games of solitaire besides our old standard, Klondike. He really took to Aces Up. I think because I told him that it could be really frustrating to win. Klondike has about a one in four win ratio, with Aces Up the ratio is a bit wider. He read that as a challenge, I believe. He didn’t win, but he didn’t get frustrated either. I loved that.

He hasn’t given up on learning to shuffle. His hands are almost big enough to handle a full sized deck and he is a hair’s breath away from getting it down. So many things we take for granted until we see someone learning it for the first time.

Thank you, Dad for taking the time to teach me.

Never Hide Again

Pride balloons        As this day, this “National Coming Out” day comes to a close here in America. I am reminded of something Bashert and I promised ourselves about 16 years ago; we will never hide again.

You see, Bashert’s first ‘real’ job after graduating from college was teaching art at a local, private high school. Thing is, this private high school was also a Catholic school, complete with their very own nun and moral turpitude contract clauses. Bashert could not reveal the fact that not only was she living in ‘sin’, she was also living in sin with a woman. So, for the first year of our relationship, we lived in hiding.

Every morning before Bashert left for work, she took the ring off her finger. It broke my heart each time. We were careful not to be seen too close together when out and about town. There was many a time I took off for other parts when one of her students or their parents were spotted. Even as far away as Atlanta, we had to watch out. We ran into a student of hers up there in a jewelry store, of all places. We became professional level dodgers.

Why did we do this? Fear. Bashert was our only means of support. I was still in school with no job. Our livelihood depended upon her livelihood and she could be fired for being openly gay.

After a year of this exhausting life in the closet, Bashert said she didn’t want to hide anymore. She couldn’t stand all the avoiding and having to take a ‘beard’ (false male date) to school functions. So, we quietly began living our lives in the open. Well, sort of. She still took her ring off and I just became an unnamed entity in Bashert’s life: her unspoken partner, her ‘friend’. I attended fund raisers and didn’t leave her side when kids or their parents came up to her. I helped with community projects and we attended Pride festivities in Atlanta. We went to dinners with other faculty. Some knew our relationship, others chose not to acknowledge it and others didn’t like it a bit.

What did this cost us? The least thing was a keyed car. The biggest thing was her job. At the end of that school year, the principal stated that there wasn’t enough money to continue the art program. They were cutting back and didn’t need a full time art teacher for the next year. Her contract was not renewed. Next fall, the art program was suddenly back on – with another teacher.

It was that year, we told ourselves no more hiding. If we lived in the closet and shamed ourselves, how were we to expect others to treat us with any dignity or understanding? How could be expect my daughter to accept us as the family we were if we didn’t set the example? We decided then and there to just be us. No fancy or dramatic coming outs, no topless marching in the Pride parade (although eventually I did get to ride in the Dykes on Bikes segment thanks to some very good friends who owned motorcycles at the time). Nope, we just went about our lives as matter of fact. And for the most part it was okay and became more and more natural as we practiced what we preached.

The only other time we shied away from the full truth was when I went to work. I got a part time job at the local library. I didn’t really go back into hiding or so I told myself: Bashert and I continued to live in the open outside of my job, I just didn’t talk about it at work.

This was my second time working at the county library, the first being 20 years earlier and with many of the same people. From what they knew, I was no different from that young student, except a good bit older and greyer. As said, I didn’t talk about my present outside life.

I worked there two years before the rumours and comments began. Of course, a lot of it probably had to do with the timing of Yoda’s birth. Not many ‘roommates’ get that excited about the other roommate’s pregnancy and birth. I took my vacation around Yoda’s birth for goodness sake and kept a picture of Bashert and him on my desk – not so subtle.

One coworker kept dropping the hint that she loved watching the HBO show “Queer As Folk”. If I hadn’t been so exhausted from now working two part time jobs and having a newborn and a teenager in the house, I might have recognized an ally, but I was pretty blind.

Another coworker, actually, my boss at the time kept making side comments as to how she was grossed out by seeing two women kiss on television. These were never made quite in my full presence, but as I was passing through the room or loud enough so that I could hear them through the doors in my area next to hers. I got that picture.

Why didn’t I stand up? Why didn’t I fight back? One reason alone – fear. At this point, I was the sole means of support. I needed my two part time jobs and I lived in a state and worked for a county government where I was not protected under the law. I could be fired for being gay. Money won out, plain and simple.

I was fortunate enough to be offered a full time position at my other job not too long after Yoda was born. At that job, I was protected under their anti-discrimination policies. I said goodbye to library and the last time I ever avoided the truth of my family.

Bashert and I reaffirmed our stance with each other after my stint at the library. No job was worth lying about ourselves even if it was by omission. Yoda and Nene would not know parents who were together, yet separate. We were a family and took our place in the world.

For the last ten of almost 18 years, Bashert and I have just lived our lives, no fanfare, no dramatics, just matter of fact. We are lucky. Despite a few, short rough patches in other family relationships and our initial forays in the job market, we have met with few who deny our place. Yoda’s school and friends know he has two moms. Nene has grown proud of her relationship with Bashert and considers her a stepmom of the best character. My job continues to support and expand their anti-discrimination policies and Bashert is now a substitute teacher for the same government that could have fired me ten years ago.

It did get better and we have kept our promise to each other; we will never hide again.

Breakfast at McD’s

place-setting-compToday I returned to the doctor’s office for my lab work. I need a big girl sticker for just returning after Tuesday’s misadventures in waiting. But this time the wait was reasonable, my appointment was a 8am, first on the list, so I was willing to give them the 10 minutes for set up time. Twenty minutes overall wasn’t too bad (I was early again).

Dr. M. told me that the tests being done get the best results if I fast and stay hydrated. I took that to mean that not only was blood being drawn, but also the good ol’ pee in a cup thing. So, I gulped a nice, large thermos of ice water on the way over to the office. Turns out the hydration was just for getting a good vein. I ended up hungry, but full if you get my drift.

Since the blood drawing (sounds rather Medieval doesn’t it, blood drawing…), anyway, since that didn’t take very long, I figured I could wait until I found a breakfast place to relieve my hunger and bladder. The less time spent in a place where sick people congregate, the better – especially in a place where you know they will have touched the same things you will.

I really didn’t want to stop at a fast food place. I thought I owed it to myself to have at least a decent egg and toast breakfast. But time and nature have their own ways and my nature call became rather urgent just as I was coming up on, you guessed it, MacDonald’s.

I succumbed to the lure of the golden arches and it’s usually clean bathrooms. What the heck, their iced coffee isn’t that bad. I pulled in and parked across from the door and walked in. I first hit the facilities, which thankfully, were in lovely order. Next, I moved to find something on the menu that didn’t seem to scream, “You are eating crap!”

All the cute little pictures above the counter seemed to feature some version of a biscuit sandwich. I wanted at the very least, pancakes. I questioned the woman behind the counter. “All you seem to have are biscuit sandwiches. I want pancakes.” She replied, “You can get a McGriddle with an egg and bacon.” I asked what a “McGriddle” was. She said it’s like two pancakes with the syrup inside served with an egg, cheese and bacon. I thought okay, it’s not Denny’s, but it will do. I placed the order.

What came back to me was a biscuit sandwich. Seems I should have paid attention to the ‘like’ portion of her statement. Oh, well. I asked for a fork so that I could take the sandwich apart and pretend that I was having the breakfast I ordered. (I did not eat the bacon. I rather figured it did not come from a turkey.)

My doctor’s office is located about 15 miles or so from where I live in town. The county where it is situated is developing and has quite a few businesses popping up all around. The countryside is fast becoming a quasi-urban/suburban area. Many of the residents, however, are still very rural. They are the ones who grew up on the former farms and country roads now being overtaken. The McDonald’s that chose me is also in this same rural/suburban crossroads and the clientele showed this with clusters of older folks speaking with deep, Georgia southern accents.

Not wanting to sit at one of the single barstool type places, I took a booth seat next to a group of three older gentlemen, who were deep in swapping stories. Expecting to hear tales of hunting or local politics, I was pleasantly surprised to hear what they were discussing – their families, more specifically, special family vacations! It was all so sweet.

One gentleman, who I shall call Mr. Buttonup, was treating his coffee clutch brethren with the tales of how he and his family used to take vacations in the mountains and tell ghost stories around the campfire. He laughed and laughed telling the tale of how he and his wife took turns inventing outlandish stories that took place “right on this very spot.” He added with a smile on his face that it never took long for everyone to end up in the same big bed for the night.

Another gentleman, Mr. GreenPolo, told of his inexpensive vacation at the beach. “Best time we ever had and all for under $300!” His companions were very impressed. “We walked the beaches for miles, it was just wonderful.” They all agreed that one could not get such a vacation for $300 nowadays. And at that they began to talk about moseying along.

My heart jumped a little when I realized they were about to leave for it had struck me a little into their conversations that they were all about my Dad’s age. I was eavesdropping with a wistful ear and wanted their stories to go on. It was so pleasant to hear these men teasing back and forth and regaling each other with stories, not of hunting, or business deals, but of times spent with their families. It was if I was listening to my Dad again. I wanted to thank them for that little piece of joy they had just given me.

As they started to leave, I called out to Mr. Buttonup, “Sir, if I may…” and I explained that I had lost my father this year and that their conversations about their families had truly touched me. I apologized for listening in, but I thanked them for letting me in for just a moment even if they didn’t realize they did.

Mr. Buttonup said I was most welcome and Mr. GreenPolo asked what I said. Apparently, he was a bit hard of hearing. (I guess that was one of the reasons I could hear them so clearly; they were compensating for Mr. G.) Mr. B told him the short version of what I said and they both smiled. Mr. B asked if I was from there and I told him no, I was only on this side of town for an appointment. Then he said I was welcome to come back anytime, they met almost every morning right there. That made me smile.

I may not have gotten what I wanted this morning, but I sure got what I needed. I cried a little after they left, both for what they had given me and for what I will never have again, but in the end I was left with a smile. Someone knew I needed that little slice of love even if it came wrapped in a fast food breakfast biscuit. Thanks, Dad. I love you, too.

Waiting & Cussing

lonely carI hate it when I get tired and irritated and run out of words. When I run out of words, I resort to cussing. Mind you, I’m talking cussing, not swearing. There is a difference. Swearing, in my humble opinion is a higher art form than cussing. Swearing involves creative thought, a unique combination of well put together words to form an expressive and descriptive, yet negative picture. For example:

“Mother of pearl and golden dams, that hurt!”

Cussing on the other hand, it more earthy, immediate and guttural:

“Hell’s bells and g*d dammit, that hurt!”

There are no well thought out variations; no, it’s just a bam! there you are sort of thing. Visceral and heartfelt cussing is brought out when there is no time or filter.  To me, it has it’s place in one’s freedom of expression and I have no shame nor sorrow to say I am verbally proficient, but it is also the bottom rung of word symbolism and yesterday I sank that low in writing. For that, I am embarrassed (especially if my mother reads it).

Let us recreate the scene:

As you may or may not know, I am still having issues with my right foot and ankle. I have seen doctor after doctor to find out why my poor ankle and foot swell to the point of tightness and pain and why my ankle will give me acute shooting agony at odd times. Ultrasound, MRIs, x-rays: all reveal nothing, except the things I do not have. The last orthopedic specialist recommended I be tested for soft tissue diseases and see a vascular specialist. Money doesn’t grow on trees, so why shell out for yet another specialist if I can get some of that done at the local level, you know? That is how I ended up at my general practice doctor’s office.

 
So there I was at my GP’s. I signed in a cheerful 20 minutes early, thinking in a strangely optimistic way that this would help slide me right into my 4:15pm appointment. Now, that’s not as foolish as it sounds because this was happening at my other appointments for the past few weeks, so I had reason to be hopeful. Well, those hopes were soon to be dashed in a slow, torturous tunnel of time.

 
I was tired, nervous, and on edge. This ankle thing has been going on for quite some time and it’s costing me a lot in many ways. Chronic pain does something to people and by people, I mean me. I am grumpy, short tempered, and tense. I end up taking a lot of meds to help take the edge off and by that virtue, I end up losing time at work. (Goodness knows, I don’t want to have to go through a urine test at work for this!) I’m also losing valuable good time with my family, especially Yoda, who is growing up and away by the day. I’m distracted, well, you get the picture. I was ready to get the appointment going so I could get my labs done and be on my way.

 
As I sat working my crossword puzzle and surreptitiously observing the others in the waiting room, I kept hearing name after name being called back, all but mine. I think I knew I was in trouble when a fellow waiting room occupant not only ran out the internal battery of her Kindle, but also the emergency battery and began searching for an outlet. By 4:45, I was ready to bust. The woman behind the counter said, with a verbal pat on the head, that it shouldn’t be too much more time. It is too laugh.
My eyes were bleary from working crosswords, I played through the paltry assortment of games on my phone, and ran out of people to observe because I was the only one left. The religious MUZAK was taking on ominous tones of brainwashing. God’s happy music was starting to sound a bit on the Stepford side. If the reason for my visit was not so important to me, I would have walked a long time ago. It was now 5pm.

 
At last my name was called to the magic ‘back’, but told that it would still be a wait.  I left home over two hours ago and have been waiting an hour and 15 minutes. Insert internal screaming here.

 
I entertained myself in the exam room with more magazines, but that didn’t last long. I swiped a couple of tongue depressors and had a wooden sword fight with myself. I took a latex glove and blew it up to make a chicken. I paced a little to stave off the sleep that threatened. I allowed myself to get beyond frustration and what is a modern person to do about that? I posted it to FaceBook.

 
This is where the written cussing took place. All out in public. Yep, the best place in the world to display a total lack of verbal creativity and show that I really should have joined the Navy that day in the recruiter’s office so long ago. I ended my short little rant with the mother of all four letter combinations. Yes, I dropped the ‘f-bomb’ on public media. Really swift.

 
You know if you post a photo and comment it on it via mobile, you can’t edit the comment? Found that out a little too late. So there it sat, four little rudely combined members of the alphabet for the world (or at least the twelve people who read my FB page) to see. I think that began to bother more than the continued waiting.

 
I am not a prude by any means, as I said I am very proficient in verbal cussing, have been since a young age. I used to get in trouble in elementary school (yes, me) for gratuitous usage of foul language. Perhaps that is where my love for words began – trying to find the alternates. Or perhaps it’s where I learned that words have power – to change, to mark, to delineate, to shame or raise up. Next time and I am sure there will be a next time, I will stick with swearing (at least in public). It is much less worrisome, at least to me, but if you perchance do see me slip up and bring out the verbal trash again, please note the dire circumstances said expletives are surrounded by and do not judge too harshly.

 
Oh, and by the way, I did not get out of the doctor’s office until 6:20pm. Gosh darn it.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance

endurance

I don’t normally comment on the photo of the week – after all, it is about the photo and an explanation should, for the most part, in my opinion, not be necessary. Dirty knees may not seem to fit the bill for endurance, but please you, me, they do. I have some serious issues with my feet and doing any physical labor while standing can be extremely painful. So, these are the knees of endurance – building a retaining wall in my back yard. Not a marathon run but after a couple more hours, endurance was what it all became about.

 

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/endurance/

Lullaby

Naptime2    I am very weary these days, struggling to stay afloat in a sea of grief and stress. It is difficult to find a safe shore to rest upon and when by chance I do find a moment to lie my head down, anxiety churns the waters. So tonight I thought perhaps I could try a story of a lullabies – lullabies that eased weary souls a long time ago.

When my daughter Nene was an infant, she was at first calmed by the old standard by Brahms, but as she grew into toddlerhood, she began to prefer more rousing  tunes. She had a strange proclivity toward military anthems and Linda Ronstadt’s, “You’re No Good.”

I remember one particularly grouchy afternoon at my grandmother’s home. Nene could not be cajoled or convinced into thinking anything other than the world was coming to an end and she had to meet it with her lungs giving full voice to her song of woe. My grandmother, mom, and I were stretching to our respective wit’s end. Four generations of women were about to implode and bring Nene’s prediction to fruition.

When the tension and noise finally reached ‘this will drive out the armed fanatics holed up in the house’ level, my mom asked if there was anything else to try. I said well, it sounds odd, but we can try the “Marine’s Hymn.” Mama and Mom looked at me like I was nuts, but at this point it was that or actually call in the Marines. So, I started in with, “From the halls of Montezuma…” And it worked!

Mama and Mom started chiming in and Nene fell into a stupor that would have won a prize on “America’s Funniest Videos.” By the time we finished “Anchors Away”, she was out, lolled over in her little yellow walker. Always her own, that kid.

Sixteen or so years later, Yoda was a completely different story. He definitely preferred the more melodic, slow tempo themes. Often I would hum as smoothly and dolce as I could muster the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” or a quiet version of some folk song culled from my memory of “Sing Along with Mitch.” But the one song that would always close the deal, was “Little Red Caboose.”

Now if you Google this song, you will more than likely be bombarded with versions containing inane adults wearing engineer outfits and singing the lyrics in an over the top Barney fashion. The version I sang was one I found in my collection of old 45rpm single records – a slow spiritual, one sung or hummed right gives the slow, rhythmic rocking of a train moving down the tracks. It was a perfect tune for an active and sensory issued baby.

One afternoon while Yoda and I were out visiting my parents, he had reached his infant tolerance for sociability and began to fuss. So, at that point I swaddled him up tight and removed myself to the dining area to try and calm him down before it went over the top. I could recognized the signs a wee better with the second child…

My Mom stepped off to I don’t know where, to give us space to work I guess. My Dad went to sit in his chair in the living room, not too far from where I was sitting with Yoda. I began to run through my repertoire of songs and then moved in with the closer of “Caboose.”

I rocked, sang, and the hummed for about 5 minutes and the little guy finally settled into a nice little nap. I could even hear a small snore. I smiled and listened again. This wasn’t Yoda’s snargle (what we had termed his breathing issue common to baby boys when born small – another story). I turned my ear to the sound again and realized that my Dad had fallen asleep!

When it came time for me to leave my parents’ house that afternoon and I went over to say goodbye to Dad, he pulled me in and thanked me. When I asked what for, he said it had been a very long time since anyone had sung him to sleep.

Eleven years have gone by and it still brings a smile to my face to remember the time I sang a lullaby to my Dad.

Sleep well, Deddy-O, sleep well.