Memories

Peas Under the Plate

I owe my mother apologies for many things done or not done over the years, but I believe high on the list should be a hearty, “I’m sorry” for the repeated utterance of the following three little words:

“What’s for supper?”

Every night the same inquisition. Every night the same stares of anticipation. Every night the same dread. What’s for supper?

My Mom faced this eternal (infernal) question each night from four children, a husband and various and sundry pets who passed through our way for thirty years or so. Bless her little heart. I wonder if she, like I now, wanted to slap a frying pan upside someone’s head when those three little words came out?

Mom made do. I admire that and wish I had more of her “do”. She made supper and we ate it (with the exception of my younger brother Ernst, who subsisted on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for 18 years, but that is another story). We had a meat, a veggie and a starch every supper. She made it work, whether we deserved it or not.

When we asked “what’s for supper?” I’m sure there were plenty of turned up noses at times, but the menu she worked out is what we got. There was no ditching the kitchen and heading off to the nearest fast food establishment. Going out was for special occasions and with dinner guests numbering from four to six most of the time, it was rather expensive, too.

We lived on my Dad’s one salary. Mom made it work. Some nights we had Spam patties as the meat source, other nights we had round steak that had been split in half lengthwise then pounded out to stretch. There were other nights of fried chicken or pork chops and mashed potatoes (not applesauce).  Looking back those must have been the times my parents were more flush, but it didn’t matter, we partook of what we had, which is not to say we ate it all – no, I remember clearly trying to hide peas under the rim of my plate and I’ve heard stories of my brother Stavro covertly placing items behind the refrigerator.

Supper was the time the family regrouped. All were called by the rallying cry, “supper’s ready”! Off went the t.v., down went the books, the telephone conversation was cut short, play was halted and we all came together.

We had marvelous conversations and learned of each other’s daily lives. We told stories, passed on new knowledge, played word games and made plans. Occasionally, we would fight, but most of the time we laughed, a lot. Supper became less about the food and more about the time spent together. It was something I think we took too much for granted. Another apology owed to Mom.

Maybe that’s the “do” I’m missing. Even in the worst of times, Mom found something to make for us so that we could sit together and eat. She may have wanted to conk each one of  us on the head for asking what’s for supper, but she didn’t and we survived to ask another day.

Perhaps I need to take the message more to heart. The t.v. needs to go off, apps turned off, Yoda called in from play and make supper the focus it should be, our family reconnection. Stretched paychecks and crossed schedules need to take a backseat to the preparation of what’s for supper. Nothing says I can’t resent the question, but everything says I can make it mean something else.

Thank you, Mom.

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Of shooting stars…

Photo courtesy of NASA

I sat on my front stoop alone last night straining to see any of the shooting stars in the sky. I don’t know if it was positioning on my part or the thin layer of cloud cover, but search as I might, none of the beautiful sky show graced my view.

I was not disappointed in my time spent on the porch though. The humidity dropped and a light summer breeze made my skin feel cool and gave music to the neighbors wind chimes. The crickets gave a gentle buzz instead of their normal shouted cacophony.  A bat or two fluttered by scooping up insects drawn by the street lamp on the corner. It was the perfect setting to as Pooh is want to say, “Think, think, think”.

Thoughts of how slowly and yet quickly the summer passed intertwined with visions of what is to come, as I listened to the starlings call out to each other. The night echoed with the summer’s first faint cries of “I’m bored” and the last plaintive whimpers of “I’m not ready for school to start” and all the voices in between those two moments.

We didn’t do anything big or go off on a extended trip like last year (see August 2011 entries). No we stayed close to home and created small, forever memories.

There was the disappointment at not being able to spend time with my daughter Nené on her 25th birthday (ye gads, 25th!). But there was comfort in knowing that we were able to speak to each other.

I loved the quiet, uninterrupted two hour conversation Bashert and I had on our anniversary (15 years, thank you). That was a gift from my Mom and sister Calico Nell who took Yoda with them on the ride down to Savannah for a visit.

I smiled at the memory of Yoda proudly piloting us out of the marina during that visit with my Aunt Spinning Jenny and Uncle Cliff Clavin. Cliff, who is not always that great with grown-ups, excels in bringing out confidence in kids. He had Yoda doing boat doughnuts in Turner Creek by the time our venture out ended.

I again marveled at Bashert’s bravery in conquering her own fears of thunderstorms in order to show Yoda that all was okay sitting on the screened porch while nature lashed all about. She held her own and we laughed and laughed, while Yoda challenged Cliff to yet another game of chess and I shared some Herman’s Hermits music memories with my sister.

Warm fuzzies surrounded me when I thought of the surprise birthday cake my Mom presented to Yoda and me that same weekend.  I love my Mom.

I relived Yoda’s birthday party of just a few days ago when stiff haired, tattooed rock stars invaded our home. Bashert slammed home another theme party with a karaoke madness/pool fête. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen five eight/nine year old boys getting down to LMAOF on plastic, blow-up guitars and keyboards. We now have enough video to grant several opportunities for teenage blackmail.

As I shifted to relieve the pressure on my bum, some sore muscles reminded me of the fulfilled birthday promise I made to Yoda. We spent the day at one of our local arcades – just the two of us. We sort of fudged his age so that he could drive the go-cart by himself. (I’d forgotten what a thrill it is to pretend to be older than you are.) The smile on his face as he zoomed past me was priceless.

That same smile lit up when he introduced me to laser tag. If you ever want a work out try half an hour of sneaking around in blacklight darkness trying to zap fast moving little kids. You automatically go into a half squat and scurry from hiding place to hiding place. Your thighs will thank you. Yoda won two out of the four games, racking up six digit points on the last round, which I found out later resulted mainly from him shooting me! I wondered where that sniper was.

As much as I had dreaded the noise and prospect of dealing with the foibles of other people’s children, I am glad we spent that day. It’s part of this summer I will never forget.

Thoughts of the coming day began to filter in after a bit. Yoda starting his first day of third grade, me returning to work, all the mundane things that need to be taken care of. I pulled my eyes from the night sky, gave a sigh and turned to go inside. Summer vacation was over.

I was saddened not to have seen a shooting star, but I believe I still gathered a pocket full of starlight. Each of this summer’s memories will act as a luminary for any dark days of struggle yet to come and will serve as beacons for the next round of times spent together. Like the song says:

“For when your troubles start multiplyin’
And they just might
It’s easy to forget them without tryin’
With just a pocketful of starlight.

Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Never let it fade away
Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket
Save it for a rainy day.”

A Full C Note

Today is my grandmother’s 100th birthday.

October 18, 1911.

My older brother Stravos, the first grandchild, called her Mama, following our mother’s lead.  It was never changed so our grandmother was Mama from then on out.

All of us have our own memories and images.  Those who lived with her directly have different images than those of us who just visited.  The children have different images than the grandchildren.  All of that is the way it should be.  We are all correct and wrong, just as our children and grandchildren will be about us.

This is a true story that gave me a little insight into my grandmother.

 

The Place at the Table

 

Girls were raised up right back then; Ginia, the eldest by two years and her mother’s namesake, helped cook and clean, while Annie Caroline had to set the table.  Forks on the left, spoons and knives on the right, knives to the inside, blade in.  Plates two fingers from the edge.

Her mother made Annie set the place each night.  A plate in front of an empty chair.  Empty, negative space in the tableau of the family.   What did Annie think about as they calmly passed the butter beans around and over that empty plate?  What small talk took place to fill that void amongst the quiet clinking of silver to china?  “How was your day, Frank?  Anything interesting down at the train yard?”  “Nothing much, Harriet dear, how was your day?”  “Please pass the beans.”  Did she want to scream?

Not quite five years old and sitting next to a ghost.

My heart aches for the little girl, who had to set that plate.  My grandmother.  Mama.  The sister of the boy who carried her father’s name.  Two and a half years younger than Annie, two year old Francis died during an influenza outbreak in 1916, one day after his second birthday.

Her mother said she wished Annie had died instead.  My great-grandmother.  Mar.  The matriarch of the family I love.  Annie was four and a half years old.  I wonder at the despair that would drive a mother to wish her child dead.  Was the promise of a son so much better than that of a second girl?  Annie, the spare child; the real extra place at the table.
Her brother gone and her mother mad, was Annie allowed to cry or mourn?  Was the plate a punishment for being the stronger of the two?

Girls were raised up right in the time of my mother, too.  She was the cleaner and has no stories of setting the table.  My mother, the third to bear the name.  Mom.  Mama never told her of Mar’s words.  Possibly, it was too fresh, too touchable to set before Mom.  Or maybe the warm, crusty, but yielding Mama the grandchildren knew was too much a hard baked fortress to her children.  The distance to the plate was still too narrow, two fingers from the edge.

Mama took me in when my brother was born.  For six weeks, I was Mama’s.  I was Mama, too, displaced by a younger brother.  Another plate at our table.

Mama offered sustenance, succor and security to my parent’s second daughter, the one who bore her name.  Perhaps, the seeds were sown during that time for her revelation to come.

Fifty years had improved our family’s mortality.  My brother survived his rough arrival and my mother recovered.  I’m told that months after I was returned to my mother, I would still grab my things and get ready to leave with Mama after she came to visit.  I had staked my heart’s claim.

Mama told me of her mother’s words, while sitting on the front porch of her home.  It was set before me in a moment of time right for the revealing.  A moment between a second daughter to a second daughter.  She was seventy years old.  I was twenty.  I never knew Mama had another brother until that moment.  Her words rang flat as she told the story.  Sixty-five years later her mother’s words still served her memory.  How could she sit there so calmly snapping green beans and tell me her mother wished her dead over another?  Did Mama still feel the emptiness and hunger for her mother’s love?  In my youth and shock, I couldn’t find the right questions to ask for more.

Mama never mentioned the plate or Francis again.  It, and he were put back in the cupboard with the rest of the mysteries of her life.

I treasure the moment Mama gave me that afternoon on her porch.  A gift and memory written on my heart as indelibly as the recipe card for her famous macaroni and cheese.

Girls are raised up in this day and age, too.  My daughter.  The fifth to bear the name no longer lives in our house, but there is no negative space set at the table by my son, her younger brother.  There will always be a place, but no empty plate to pass over. Forks on the left, spoons and knives on the right, knives to the inside, blade in.  Plates two fingers from the edge.

 

Mama passed away in 1989, only 78 years old.  And while her absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, there is never an empty space at our tables. Her place is filled with the laughter and kind thoughts that time and memory create.

 

Happy Birthday, Mama.

 

 

 

Rules of Engagement – Don’t Bleed on the Rug

A friend posted on FB some joke definitions of what her Mom taught her. (Thanks, Michigan Blue)

What my Mom taught me:
Religion – “You better pray that comes out of the carpet”
Logic – “Because I said so, that’s why”
Irony – “Keep crying and I’ll give you something to cry about”
Wisdom – “When you get to my age you’ll understand”
Justice – “One day you’ll have kids, I hope they turn out just like you!!”

Moms or any parental unit for that matter, really don’t realize what power they have over their children or how literal those same kids can be.

Bashert tells the story of the time their father told her sister to “stand right there” in the store.  He moved on to the next aisle and she didn’t.  It took him several aisles to realize that she hadn’t moved with him – she stood ‘right there’.

It got me thinking about the one edict that rang loud and clear through our household:

Don’t Bleed On the Rug

I’m not really sure where this stemmed from initially.  I have visions of dastardly deeds being performed and having to remain spotlessly clean so as to not leave any trace for the CSI team to discover.

Fortunately though, I don’t think my family is that full of intrigue.

I do know that it was a rule that I took hard and fast.  I know because I was tested.

Let us return to the time my family resided in Phoenix, Arizona.  If memory serves me right – and that’s a challenge – I was about nine at the time.

Once again, most of the kids in the neighborhood were outside playing.  We lived on a cul-de-sac and as long as we stayed inside that confine we were all good to go without much direct parental oversee.

This promoted independence and stupidity.

There were only two front yards we could really play on in the cul-de-sac, ours and the Kam’s.  Everyone else either had rock yards or the parents didn’t want their grass (a precious commodity in the desert) destroyed.

So, there we all were in the Kam’s front yard doing our thing.  Chasing each other around, playing catch and popping a rake.

Popping a rake?

Ah, a game of reflex and skill that only experienced gardeners and unwise children undertake.

You see it involves placing the rake on the ground with the tines facing upward at one’s feet.  One then stomps on the tines with just the right angle causing the rake handle to pop upward.   The object is to catch the handle before it whacks you in the face.

Keith Kam (all the Kam children had K names: Keith, Kathy, Karen & Kim – go figure, maybe it saved on monogramming) was deep in the game with a steady series of successful pops.  I, on the other hand, was only marginally aware of this when I heard my mother call for us to come to supper.

Dutiful child that I was, I, ahem, ‘immediately’ dropped whatever I was doing and headed home.

As I made my way, I crossed in front of Keith’s field of play.  At the exact moment he popped the rake, I stepped into the strike zone.  The handle came up with a force, I’m sure I could figure out if I had stayed in my summer Physics course.

It struck a glancing, but firm blow right across my kisser.

Blood began to flow – steadily.

I ran the rest of the way home hands cupped under my bottom lip.  By the time I reached the garage entrance to the house I had a handful of blood collected.

I stood at the door calling out for Mom as best I could with the injured lip.  She replied for me to come in.  I yelled back that I couldn’t.

The shock on her face was quite vivid as she came around the corner to see what could possibly prevent me from entering the house. It didn’t take much to realize that I was holding fast to the number one house rule.

She dragged me into the house and the little bathroom off the garage.  I think she may have laughed a bit.

Forty years, oops, forty-one years later my lip still has a scar, but my pride stands tall.

Nary a drop of blood was spilled on that rug.

You Say Its Your Birthday; Its My Birthday Too

Today was the magic day.

I hit 50.

Its a tired cliché to say it all went so quickly. Its rather like the vacation we are on now.  You plan and save and it all seems so far away and then voilà there you are.

I can honestly say nothing has gone according to any plan I ever had.  If it had, I would be single, living alone in a small neat house, surrounded by books and antiques.  There would be maybe a couple of cats for company.  And I would have lots of money.

As it turns out, I am happily ‘married’ to the most passionate side of my soul, have two spectacular children, three cats and one dog.  Our house is small, but decidedly not neat and the antiques are in short supply.  Money, well…I do have books.

There are many things I would have rather not gone through to get to this point in my life. Really – many things, but as the other really exhausted cliché goes, I wouldn’t be the person I am now except for those experiences. (Sometimes, I would like to have known that person – the one without the other stuff, but I don’t want to be visited by three creepy guys in the night on Christmas Eve just to see what might have been.)

But here I am, pudgy waisted, greying of hair and happier than any solitary life would have ever provided.  I have 50 years of life and wonderment to reflect on.

Bashert gave me a book of memories and letters from friends and family.  It is wonderful.  Its a treasure for me and those who read this and contributed will be getting thank you notes…eventually.

Bashert gave me a special memory today to put in a new edition. Get your mind out of the gutter, its not that type of memory (at least not yet – day’s not over).

We had been touring Colonial Williamsburg all morning.  We were tired and hot. Yoda had reached his limit and was getting a bit, shall we say vocally high pitched about something he could not have.  So we thought it best to come out of the midday heat and get some refreshments.

We stopped into Chownings Tavern for lunch.

Our waitress was quite delightful and quite the salesperson.  Before you knew it we were all quenching our thirst on some of the tavern’s homemade root beer and dining on the recommended house specialty sandwich (which I will not reveal because I am now going to rot for eternity because I broke the one kosher law I have kept since 1999, but man, was that sandwich worth it!).

We saved room for dessert, but before it arrived at the table, Yoda had to visit the ‘necessity’.  So up the stairs we went, with me explaining the entire way up that he was lucky it was in the house as the lavatories were outside back then, blah, blah, blah.

When we returned, a man appeared at the table side and proceeded to ask who it was who had the birthday.  Yes, they do this even in 18th century Williamsburg.

I was treated to a rousing rendition of “For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow” followed by a lovely tin whistle serenade of “Brian Boru’s March”.

They even brought out my piece of apple pie with a huge mulberry candle in the middle of it.  They let me keep the candle. Yoda asked if we can use it on his cake in a couple of weeks.  Cool.

The waitress then took our picture with our ‘shutterbox’, making sure to move all 21st century items out of the way first.  Except the visitor tags we were wearing and the San Diego Zoo baseball cap I was wearing and well..we have a great shot of the three of us to remember the occasion.

It’s a memory I will cherish. I’m smiling even as I write this.

Thank you, my love.

Here’s to the next 50 years. May the memories keep coming and may I remember at least half of them.

Huzzah!

Who Is She Today?

One might think that my daughter suffered from dissociative disorder, with all the personalities that spilled forth when she was a child.

One never knew at any given time who might pop out.

The woman who always checked us out at the grocery store was known to ask who she was that day.

Once it happened, there were generally clues, such as dress or demeanor as to who had appeared, but length of time the other personality made reside was always a guess.

In the morning she may have been Dorothy complete with gingham dress and ruby slippers, but by the afternoon she may have transformed into Laura Ingalls, with bonnet and pre-braces (the polite way of saying bucked toothed Melissa Gilbert).

Her personalities ran the gamut from Shira, Princess of Power to Atreyu, the Warrior of The Neverending Story.

Atreyu was actually pretty impressive. AURYN was an old peace sign on a leather string. Her costume was a one piece jumper that she could unbutton to show AURYN. She used an wide suede watchband of mine from the 70’s as Atreyu’s armband. Falkor, the luckdragon was a stuffed dog with floppy ears.

Once when I had to send her to her room she went in as a rather pissed off NeNé, but when I went to check on her a bit later, I found Sleeping Beauty asleep in her reading chair.

I think by far her best personality was Arielle, the mermaid.  My mom or sister, not sure which anymore, made her a mermaid outfit that she eventually wore slap out.  When she donned the magic costume, she also added her well worn Blankie as her long hair.

I would pin it under her chin and she would toss it back in the manner of Cher.  Arielle would then mount the rock jutting from the ocean and sing the most heartfelt rendition of “Part of Your World” one had ever heard.  I would wait with bated breath for the moment when she would rise up with the music crescendo.  I could see the waves crashing all around her.

She always put on a fabulous show.

NeNé began to integrate around age 6.  The other personalities made less and less appearances until I noticed they came no more.  Being someone different was now regulated to Halloween, theme days at school and costume parties.

I still have the little mermaid and Atreyu’s outfits.  I keep them stored with the last thin remnant of Blankie.  Every now and then I run across them when cleaning out closets.

All the organization gurus say that I should get rid of them, but I wouldn’t trade that closet space for anything.

As soon as I see those costumes, I am transported to the days of NeNé’s multiple personalities and the magic they created.  Sometimes I can even hear Falkor’s hearty laugh or the ocean crashing around me.  Magic indeed.  That was one psychiatric diagnosis I could live with.

Happy birthday, Munchkin.

Dancing with my Children

I have two kids, sixteen years apart. Yes, 16 years. Both of their odometers turn over within the next three weeks. Neneé will be 24 on Tuesday and Yoda 8 the second week of August. (We have lots of spring/summer birthdays.)

There are vast differences between the two in addition to their ages, genders and family circumstances, but one thing remains the same – how I feel when we dance together.

Dancing with my children is a delight I will never tire of.

I danced with my children before they could do anything more that eat, sleep and eliminate.  With each month they grew, the rhythm and movements took on more shared emotions.

We went from comforting motion that put them to sleep and soothed my frayed nerves, to dips and swings that brought forth joyous giggles and belly laughs.

Mostly we dance in the living room, but we have danced in super markets, elevators and down sidewalks.

My daughter and I danced to everything from Glenn Miller to the Footloose soundtrack. One that stands out for me is Johnny Nash’s classic I Can See Clearly Now.  We would twirl and jump around to that beat over and over again.  I still have smiling visions of her beboppin’ about the living room, wearing her pink dress with the puffy sleeves.

My son and I get funky with everything in our 78 single collection to the most recent Lady GaGa. Last night we were doing our version of some saucy dance to Bette Midler’s cover of Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano, complete with dip at the end.

I’ve held both of my kids tightly, crying while dancing to Nilsson’s Can’t Live Without You.

One funny thing about dancing with them – they’ve never been embarrassed by it. I may on occasion be the meanest mom in the world, but each have grabbed me and waltzed me down the grocery aisle on their own volition.

Even when I not allowed to kiss my 8 year old in public anymore, I can count on him to accompany me in an impromptu, made up disco dance in the store.  The boy has rhythm for sure.

My daughter and I have a mending relationship right now, so I was caught off guard and thrilled when she pulled me into a dance in the aisle of Trader Joe’s one visit. My heart beats a little faster even now with the joy that she remembers.

Dancing with my children means love to me.  Its a shared and cherished experience that touches the deepest part of my heart even when we are just being plain silly.

So be kind and don’t think me crazy when I am out and begin to hum along with the satellite music, doing a little jig with a distant smile on my face.  I’m just dancing with my children.

Bastille Day a.k.a Dad’s Birthday

Daddio

Happy Bastille Day!  La Fête Nationale. The day the celebrating the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and setting in motion the French Revolution.  Around my house it was always known as Dad’s birthday.

There are 30 years difference between my Dad and I.  As I turn 50 this year he hits 80.

When we were over at the parents house last month Dad asked me to go through a box of items he thought may have belonged to me at some time.  What I found was the letter he wrote to each of his children on the eve of his 50th birthday. Talk about karma.

This is the section he wrote to me:

Some of the memories I have kept of you my little big-eyed rugged tom boy who was the youngest auto driver in the family.  In 1981 dollars the 50 ft drive would cost about $225,000 per mile ~ the strong silent one on the stage who would not say a word – okay- then there were the first day of school – we became well known as the only father going to in school in the first grade ~ then there was the little one who made sure she was available to ride anywhere, anytime, anyplace on the motorcycle even out running the cop – remember tapping me on the tummy and saying Dad I think he wants you to stop!  Things tripped along with a few bumps until an Afro hair style and Joe, the gear jamming and contact lens. College and a grown up job how time flies ~ your Dad loves ya very much.

My Dad is not necessarily a very demonstrative person.  He would rather do for you than talk about how he feels, so these letters to us were really amazing.

Dad was born in 1931 to a couple of people, who probably shouldn’t have had children.

His mother, Betty gave him and his younger sister up to an orphanage after she divorced from their father.  His father rescued the two from there only to separate them, putting my Dad on his Uncle Stetson’s dirt farm and sending his sister Gloria to be raised by aunts in the town.

Dad doesn’t talk much about those days.  He has a few good memories of his grandmother Rebecca (she has a strange resemblance to the Wicked Witch in the one picture we have, but he says she was really a nice woman) and of the animals he took on as pets.

He worked hard to get out of his lot in life.  He joined the Army and spent a couple of years in Alaska.  We have a great photo of him standing waist level in snow, but in short sleeves!

Just when he finished his tour, his beloved younger sister was killed in a car accident at the age of 19.  I don’t think he ever really recovered from that loss. They were each other’s touchstones while growing up.  He speaks of her with such love, I wish I could have met her.

He met Mom when they were both working in downtown Savannah.  They married in 1953 and have been together ever since.  They raised four kids together and they just celebrated 58 years of ups, downs and love.

He worked hard to support us all even when putting himself through school.  He was a great example of never stop learning or trying to improve on yourself.

Dad and I have not always seen eye to eye.  I think its because we are so much alike.  Both stubborn and quietly determined, we tended to butt heads as I grew up.  But as much as we would argue, I always kept two incidents in the back of my mind.  I was very young, under five, but the impressions are so important they are memories I will hold forever.

Both happened when we lived in Memphis, Tennessee.

The first thing I remember is the night of the day I ended up with a concussion.  The four kids had been playing out in the backyard – remember when we used to do that sort of thing? – we were running and jumping off the concrete slab patio and landing in the pile of leaves at the end.

To protect the not-so-innocent, I will decline to give the actual circumstances, but suffice it to say that I don’t think my older brother ended up happy that afternoon as I ended up with a concussion after hitting an object that suddenly appeared in my path as I sailed through the air expecting to land in the leaf pile.

I was upended and my head struck the pavement.  Instantaneous concussion.

The doctor said not to let me fall asleep that night.  My Dad stayed up with me all night, letting me into the inner sanctum of his home office sipping pear juice and I’m sure talking his ear off.

Forty-five years later and I can still feel the level of importance he elevated me to that night.

The second instance took place at a carnival or fair that was operated by the Shriner’s.  Somehow, I ended up alone with Dad and we decided to ride the Ferris wheel.

We climbed into the swaying bucket seat.  I have memories of excitement that can only be experienced by a child as the safety bar was locked into place.  I sat close to Dad and waited for the ride to begin.

As the bucket began to rise, so did my anxiety level.  Excitement turned quickly to panic as I realized how high up and exposed we were.  I began to scream for my Dad to make it stop.

Now, my Dad has not always been the most patient with small children and their immature ways and he will cheerfully own up to this.  But this time, this time he more than rose to the occasion.

He made the Ferris wheel stop.

My Dad made them stop the Ferris wheel.

Dad doesn’t get around as well as he used to these days.  Arms that could one lift two to three kids at a time are suffering from arthritis and his back is showing the results of degenerative bone loss. He prefers the company of his books and my Mom to visiting with others and we still butt heads occasionally.

When I call and ask how he’s doing, he always replies, “fair to middlin’”.

I’m sure each of my siblings have their own special memories of our father, but to me he will always be the man who made a little girl feel important and loved.  Loved enough to stop the world from spinning.

I love you, Dad.  Happy birthday – Sam

Tybee Island Burn

Tonight on the drive home, aside from counting how many times John Tesh could say his own name in 40 minutes (20), I was humored to hear Rick Springfield’s song, Jesse’s Girl.  Flashbacks came from that summer it first came out.

It was 1981 and I was not quite 20, ready to take on some of my own adventures.   Recall from a previous entry that my family adventures usually end up in predicaments.

A solo drive to Tybee Island Beach was in order.  Tybee was the beach we grew up on before it became the celeb magnet it is today.

I packed up my 1968 canary yellow Triumph TR250, with its red wall tires and no speedometer to head to the beach.

Of course at that age, my idea of packing up involved a bathing suit, towel, one change of clothing and a cooler filled with iced Mello Yellow.

I had recently lost a good deal of weight and was going to be sporting a two piece suit for the first time since I was probably, oh – five.

Before I pulled out of the driveway, my mother admonished me to be careful, watch the road and not get burned.

The ride down was great.  It was the first time I had traveled any real distance in the car by myself.  My parents didn’t allow us to get driver’s licenses until we hit 17 and had taken driver’s ed. I remember feeling very accomplished.

The top was down and freedom sang in the wind. I kept with the traffic to keep an even speed.  The police tend to be attracted to bright yellow sports cars almost as much as the hello, officer red ones and my parents would have killed me if I came home with a little blue slip.

Classical music blared from the cassette deck.  How mature and sophisticated.

I didn’t even let the kids in the Statesboro McDonald’s, who so rudely asked if I was a boy or a girl get me down.  I simply opened the door of my cool sports car and pretended to be from some European country and didn’t speak English.  I peeled out of the lot laughing at my genius.

I arrived at the beach around 10am, set up my towel and cooler, stripped down to my awesome red and white two piece bathing suit and proceeded to fry myself during the four hours of most direct sunlight one is now cautioned to stay out of.

Never touched the water.  Nope.  Peter Benchley had seen to the end of my ocean swimming days in 1974.  I had a hardback first edition of Jaws and whatever my imagination didn’t fill in from the book, the movie sealed a year later, despite the fact there hadn’t been an observed shark off the coast of Georgia since 1932.

I dutifully turned over every 15 – 30 minutes and remembered to stay hydrated by downing several of the Mello Yellows.  Nineteen year olds can be rather stupid.

Jesse’s Girl played several times that afternoon on radios across the beach.  I seem to recall having a bit of a conversation with a cute guy concerning the catchy tune.  Strike one – talking to strangers on the beach, not safe.

Around 2pm, I called it quits.  I mean, there’s only so much basking one can do.  I think I had finished my book, too. I packed up my stuff, pulled on my clothes, made the requisite visit to Chu’s and the Sugar Shack and then headed into Savannah.  I wanted to stop by and visit with my grandmother before I left for home.

Mama was delighted to see me and I her.  She tried to convince me to stay the night because it was a first Saturday in Savannah.  She and my aunt (of the desert drowning incident) were going to the Riverfront to walk around and enjoy the evening’s entertainment.

I said no, that I had to get on back.  I had promised my mom not to be too late getting home.  Ah, the days before cell phones and easy access. I could have called, but it would have cost my grandmother for the long distance.

So, I bid Mama farewell and got back on the road.  It wasn’t long before I started feeling strange.  My legs seemed tender inside my jeans and I felt unusually cold.  I pulled off the highway and put the top up on the canary.

I was so distracted that I ended up taking the turn off of I16 too early.  I took the 80 exit instead of the 17.  I’d never been on 80 by myself.  I basically had no idea where I was headed, but figured if I stayed on the highway I would eventually recognize something.  Strike two – watch the road.

It was about 10 miles down the 80 highway when the real chills started.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I was hot as blazes, but shivering.  My clothing was beginning to feel tight.

I was never so happy as to find out that 80 dumped right into Statesboro.  I was half way home.

The next hour or so on the road I don’t remember so well.  I do remember walking into the house, smiling that I had come full circle of my lone adventure and then seeing my mother’s face.  She seemed a bit, shall we say, perturbed.  Strike three – don’t get burned.

People, I was so red I was glowing.  You could feel the heat emanating from my body. And over the course of the next 24 hours, my extremities became so swollen that I could push my finger into my leg and the dent would stay. Blisters developed on my legs, back, chest and face.

I had second degree sunburn all over my two piece bathing suit exposed body.

My individual career as an adventurer had begun, marked by an incredibly stupid afternoon spent in the sun, a great car and a cheesy 80’s pop tune.

Life was good, painful, but good.  Jesse’s Girl will always make me smile…and wince.

Drowning in the Desert

We were living in Phoenix, Arizona at the time.  My grandmother and aunt were out visiting from Savannah.

Mama and Tricia’s visits were always an excuse to go someplace interesting.  We’d covered the Grand Canyon, Montezuma’s Castle, Old Tucson and various other sites during their previous cross country vacations.

Now, let me state here that our family is prone to adventures.  Adventures being a relative term for getting caught in unusual predicaments. So when we had a trip planned to go tubing down the Salt River in the month of May, it was pretty much a done deal that something was going to happen.

In May, the mountain snow is still melting and pouring into the river, raising the water levels and increasing the current strength.  But what’s a little extra water, eh?

We were my grandmother, aunt, mom, older brother & his then wife, older sister, younger brother and me.  A stalwart band of eight ranging in age from 61 to 9 and ready to conquer the river.

We tied a series of inner tubes together in a circle with a free floating one in the middle, holding our cooler.  The cooler was of the type that are hard to find now a days.  It had a removable top and a dimpled aluminum handle.  It was the perfect size to shove in the inner tube.  It held our drinks, the camera and my grandmother’s asthma medication.

It really was a beautiful day.  The sky was brilliant blue, the air was clear, the scenery was breathtaking even for an exited eleven year old.  We saw wild horses grazing on the banks between old, gnarled mesquite trees.  Kodak moments abounded.

I remember the water being slightly chilly in the beginning, snow run-off remember?  There were spots where we had to get out and push ourselves off the shoals because the water was too shallow to float us down river.

We hit a few, very small rapids, just enough to invigorate us and give us something to brag about later. But nothing to really build any anxiety.

On a couple of occasions the current would direct us toward the face of the mountains.  Those who were on the rock side would simply turn around, stick out their feet and push off sending us back out to the center of the river and happily on our way.  So much for the powerful currents.

We heard the roar before we ever came around the bend.

We expected to see another set of the rapids we had laughingly tripped across earlier, but instead we were confronted with a swirling, churning eddy drawing us to the mountain face.  The roar of the water filled our ears.

The whirlpool had been formed by the incredible undercurrent meeting the mountain face and a huge outcropping of the old mesquite trees.  As before those facing the rocks steadied themselves to push off.

Each of us has their own story as to what happened after we hit the mountain.

My sister and sister-in-law were hurled standing into the trees.  They said they never touched the water except for where it lapped up between the low growing branches that brushed the river.

My mother, younger brother, aunt and grandmother, who by the way couldn’t swim, were knocked out of their inner tubes and around the mass of main tree roots and branches and were able to guide themselves into the shore line or grab another to help pull them in.

My older brother and I were flipped into the roots of the mesquite trees. He was caught by the ankle in the tangled mess.  I was caught in the undercurrent desperately trying to hold on to the roots, but was torn away by the force of the water.

I was shot out into the middle of the river, alone.

My glasses were gone. I had slices across my fingers and palms where I had tried to grab the roots and my throat was already getting raw. Apparently when I’m in a panic, I scream, “Mommy!”  Nice to know.

Incredibly, there were patches in the river where I could touch the rocky bottom.  My family on the shore line having heard my frantic cries directed me to drag my feet.  I slowed some, but lost my shoes.  I was a strong swimmer but not strong enough to counteract the current.

The original flotilla of inner tubes was still hanging in the eddy, caught right where we hit, however the free floating one containing the cooler was thrown clear at some point.  This is why I remember the cooler in such detail, it became my life saver.  I grabbed it as it floated by minus the top and contents.

Meanwhile, my older brother was disentangling himself from the underwater roots.  He had to remove his shoes in order to loosen his ankles and reach the top of the water.

When he came up, my mother began shouting, “Get Carol! Get Carol!” and pointing to me in the river.  No one had any idea of what he had just been through.

My brother was my hero once again that day.  He swam out to me and was able to bully through the current to get us to shore.  Some strangers who were on the banks of the river helped haul us in.

Everyone was safe.

After it was all said and done, each story came out.

There was the horse head that my sister-in-law pulled up thinking it was one of us stuck in the trees.

There was my grandmother determined to get to the surface and as she said “float all the way down the river if she had to.”  She was a champion floater.

There was my younger brother who said that when he opened his eyes it looked like a toilet flushing all around him – guess who was the nine year old.

There was my older brother, who said that he was not going to let that tree hold him down to drown, especially since he had the car keys in his pocket! We appreciated that.

Then there was that moment standing on the embankment when we all gathered together to physically reassure ourselves that we were okay. As we looked out on to the river, the lid to the cooler popped up from under the water.  It had been trapped for the entire time.

I don’t think most of us really appreciated how frightening the whole thing was until years went by and the stories were told and retold. One of those laugh until you cry then take a breath and say, “wow” in a hushed tone things.

Last year all of us were on a river again.  This time in August and we were in north Georgia. We were minus a couple of our original party, my grandmother who passed away in 1989 and the long ago sister-in-law, but we had gained a wonderful new set of adventurers: both of my brothers’ wives, their daughters, my sister’s husband, my partner and son.

It really was a beautiful day.  The sky was brilliant blue, the air was clear, the scenery was lovely for a slightly more jaded 49 year old. We saw tourists from around the world in brightly coloured inner tubes.  Photograph ops were all around.

The most dramatic thing that happened was getting stuck on a rock outcropping because the water level was so low on the drought beleaguered Chattahoochee.  The only roar heard was that of children’s laughter.

An unusual predicament indeed.

Survivors