Imagine That!

I didn’t have a TV in my house until I was 10. Sure, I got the occasional cartoons at a babysitter’s house (He Man!), some shows here and there when I visited Dad for the summer (Reading Rainbow! C.H.I.P.S!), and sometimes a TV show or movie at a friend’s house (Back to the Future!), but for the most part I didn’t have television as an entertainment option. Now before you go judging my parents as hippies and mourning over my deprived childhood, or before you say to yourself “here we go – another self-righteous rant against TV”, know this – I had a wonderful childhood full of fun, and I currently own a TV (and yes, my son watches it).

Since I lived with my mom and step-father, and didn’t have a younger sibling in that family unit until I was 10, I lived a quasi-only-child life. I have a brother (4 and ½ years younger than I am) and a sister (8 years younger), and did see and play with them during the summers, but during the majority of the year I was flying solo in the kid department. All that to say, I had to come up with some pretty creative ways to keep myself occupied. I had friends, of course, but they weren’t always available to play and only one of them lived in my neighborhood.

From the time I was 7 years old until the summer I turned 15, I lived in a neighborhood that was perfect for exploring. Our property was surrounded by woods and had a creek running through it. Beyond the creek were more woods and open fields. I became a pioneer who dragged fallen branches together to form my log cabin, gathered wild onions beside the creek for my dinner, and dug for buried treasure (antique glass bottles inexplicably dumped near the edge of the woods). Many times I simply walked as far as I could go back into the woods, just to see what was out there. I can’t imagine letting Luke do anything like that, even when he’s older, but it sure was fun for me!

When I wasn’t playing outside, I was creating my own little worlds inside my house. At times, I was a reporter, interviewing my friends and parents with a tape recorder. Other times I was an author, making up stories (my first publication was “The Bloody Snake at Midnight” – a great read, by the way), writing poetry (heavily influenced by Shel Silverstein), or a princess who liked to reign supreme over any poor friend who happened to be over. On cold days, I would sit on a couch in our basement next to the piping hot wood stove and read stacks of books from the library. I also listened to books on vinyl record (if you don’t know what that is, stop reading this please – I already feel old). My imagination was alive and well during those formative years.

When we got a TV, there were very strict rules about when I was allowed to watch shows (after dinner and homework), and for how long (no more than an hour per day). I enjoyed watching TV, especially since it had been withheld and was therefore very intriguing, but I didn’t have the desire to simply sit around all day and veg. My TV-deprived years had helped build a foundation of imaginative play and a hunger for exploration that TV couldn’t hope to replace.

Okay, so what is my conclusion? Am I saying that all children should be prevented from watching TV in their early years so they develop imaginations? No. After all, Luke is almost 5 and he watches TV shows almost every day. We do restrict the amount he watches, and for the most part he watches show that are streaming and have some educational quality (e.g., no TV with commercials), but the fact is that he does veg out in front of the boob tube. When he’s not watching TV, though (which is a majority of the day), he’s roping his Daddy and me into imaginative worlds where we hide from “shadow people”, provide medical care to his myriad stuffed animals, line up Matchbox cars for the ferry, and pretend to be cats. Sometimes he likes to play board games, draw or paint, play with Play Doh, etc. I guess what I want to keep in mind is that my goal should be to foster my son’s development and imagination by letting him do what I did as a child (within reason) and live in his made-up worlds. Sometimes to be good parents we need to remember what it was like to be a child.

Pretty Hoarding

I have two warring aspects of my personality: one loves to purge my house of all non-essentials; the other can’t bear to part with anything of sentimental value.

For example, I have a compulsion to sort through the mail immediately when it arrives, put the envelopes and all junk mail in the recycling bin, and sort personal mail and bills into separate piles. All personal letters and cards go into storage boxes in our bonus room closet. You might think I mean letters from the past few years – oh no. I mean letters and cards from as long ago as my 5th birthday. Whatever my parents saved and passed along to me, I have kept. I have everything from hand-written notes between me and my high school friends, to Christmas cards simply signed with a name (barely qualifying as “personal” but addressed to me, so there you go).  It’s almost as if I have this commandment engraved on my brain that anything written by family or friends can’t be thrown away, or even recycled. I feel guilt associated with getting rid of even the most cursory expressions of well wishes.

I’ve never really questioned it until now because the practice of saving everything didn’t seem to be hurting anything (or anyone), and I even found attractive photo boxes to keep all the letters and cards in. Think of it as pretty hoarding. It hasn’t gotten out of hand yet (I have perhaps a dozen boxes), but now that I have a son I’m realizing that my collections of what-have-you will eventually end up in his hands and he’ll have to figure out what to do with all of it (being a male, his solution would likely be to chuck it all in the garbage).  For the sake of my son’s future sanity, I suppose I better face the pretty hoarding issue and figure out what to do about it.

So why do I have a compulsion to save everything? Is it because I want a historical record of correspondence and life events? Is it because I want my letters and cards to other people to be valued, therefore I wouldn’t get rid of letters and cards to me (even though the people who gave them would never know)? Is it because to get rid of some things, I would have to figure out the rules of “save versus pitch” and I don’t want to deal with it? I don’t know. What I know is that the practice of saving every card ever sent needs to stop. I have many more years in this life (God willing) and I can only imagine the quantity of boxes when I reach the age that I no longer have the energy or ability to sort through it.

Steps to recovery: 1) starting now, only save letters or cards that include very personal messages and would assist a walk down memory lane; 2) at some point, sort through all the boxes and get rid of non-essentials. The time for this will probably present itself when Luke grows up and leaves home.

Antenna

For those of you wondering about this blog entry’s title, “Antenna” is the nick-name my Mom had for her Aunt Anna. Said in the correct way, Aunt Anna sounds like antenna. Get it? Okay, now that we’ve got that covered, I would like to say a few words – or maybe a lot of words – about the larger-than-life woman who was my Great Aunt, Anna Jean.

Some of my first memories of AA (as she abbreviated Aunt Anna often) include her singing “Baby By, Here’s a Fly” and “Rock-a-bye, Hush-a-bye, Little Papoose.” I would sit on her lap next to the fireplace in the living room and she would point to a fly way up near the ceiling, singing “let us watch him you and I; how he crawls up the walls but he never falls.” I imagined a black fly climbing around on the wall with six little shoes made of hairs (that he always wears).

I spent many a weekend at AA and Uncle Paul’s house as a young child, climbing up and down their steep stairs, exploring Uncle Paul’s wood working shop, trying to throw a baby gate down their laundry chute (see full story in AA’s own words further on), and trying to “feed” their dog Bruno his water. Since my mom’s parents lived so far away, AA and Uncle Paul became surrogate grandparents to me. They would call me their “almost granddaughter.”

As I grew older, I never tired of listening to AA tell stories of when was little. She had a knack for storytelling and wit matched only by her own mother. One of her favorite stories involved my Dad trying to feed me in my highchair when I was about 2 years old. I was refusing to eat whatever was proffered (as any good 2-year-old would do) and my Dad said “Well I guess someone isn’t very hungry”, to which I replied “Yes, I am hungry, and that’s a very dangerous thing for you to say!” I can just picture my Aunt Anna laughing with her dimpled smile upon finishing the story.

As an adult, I enjoyed keeping in close touch with AA via email. She was a champion email correspondent, and a talented writer. In addition to keeping me apprised of everyday life stuff, she recalled stories from yester-year in true AA fashion. When she passed away, I dug through archived emails to find stories that really showcased her talent and the personality I knew and loved so dearly.

Here are the excerpts I chose:

Uncle Paul’s first love: This evening an e-mail came, “Activity Update for Paul Allen.” They wanted him to be on Dr. Phil to reunite with his first love! I laughed for about 5 minutes. We don’t know how he happened to get signed up for reunion.com notices. Can you imagine? Someone who has been married over 46 years to the same person!

The really funny thing is, I WAS his first love. He had the odd date here and there (and if he told you about some of them, you would know “odd” is the right adjective) but did not “go” with anyone until we started going together his senior year of college. During his academy and early college years, he worked a lot; had no financial help at all. In academy he worked the first 2 years he was at Collegedale Academy (sophomore and junior years) in the woodshop. Ran a planer, they didn’t know at the time it ruined people’s hearing, that is why he has had hearing loss in his left ear forever. Then he started running a linotype his senior year of academy, did that all through college. In the summers he ran a linotype for the newspaper in Batavia, OH–would you believe he hitchhiked to and from work every day, 30 miles or so (lived in Cincinnati). He says only once did the same person pick him up twice; and he was late once. In college he was intent on his work, his premed studies, AND his music practice. He was very skinny in the olden days, weighed 136 when we got married. And we all thought he had “gotten fat” the summer between his junior and senior years of college; before that he weighed 128! After we got married my Southern cooking started to fatten him right up. I have told him he was the best return I ever had on an investment, who’d-a thunk he’d ever have a weight problem?

Uncle Paul’s visit to the South in 1986: He went to the South when his mother was terminally ill in 1986, she was with his niece in Deer Lodge, TN at the time. As soon as he decided to do that, he told me he was going to rent a car and drive on over to visit Roy–that was in September before Roy died in January. UP was glad he had gone; he took piano music and played for Roy, which Roy loved. And Ted came down to Morgans’; he and Paul told funny stories and Roy laughed so hard the tears rolled down his cheeks. UP elected to stay at Mother’s for the duration, and the two of them had a blast. He called me one night at 9:15, they were still going strong. I said, “Do you know it is 15 minutes after midnight there?” He hollered, “Artie, Annie says its a quarter past midnight.” She hollered back, “Well, I guess she’s right, that’s what the clock in here says.” I did not know Mother was a Night Owl until fairly recent years. She always HAD to get up when I lived at home! In recent years Aunt Lila used to fuss at her when she had seen the light on late down there–so Mother snuck around and fixed it so the light couldn’t be seen from Lila’s house!

From 2006 – when UP was in the hospital: I have felt so alone, and not for lack of love and support, but from being in alien territory and here by myself, it has been frightening. After this, I realized that I am NOT alone, but in the most loving Presence in the Universe. That is not hard to believe intellectually, but is sometimes hard to internalize emotionally.”

Aunt Anna talked to a neighbor’s land-scaper: The owner of the gardening outfit, a man named Ly (pronounced Lee) was telling me that what we saw around the shrubbery in ReNee’s yard was not beauty bark, it was Kapu (sound like Kah-PU). I had never heard of that, thought it was some fancy new formula. So I just nodded my head and tried to look wise. He finally mentioned that the Kapu also had shickamanoo in the mixture. Finally the light dawned–he was saying cow poo and chicken manure. Some fancy formula…

Uncle Paul’s hearing aids (2006): This afternoon we are to be in Woodinville Costco at 2:30 to have Paul’s new hearing aids fitted and programmed. We are both excited! I know it has been hard on him to not hear what is going on around him–and hard on me to shout, repeat, rephrase. Long since I had to stop talking to him unless I am in the same room with him, preferably standing right in front of him. He has had hearing loss since he ran a planer in the woodshop in academy and the first year or two of college. I was afraid for myself, with Granny’s profound lack of hearing, but so far I am second only to your Grandpa Max. UP is going to have to learn how to pay attention, too! When he had on the testing device, the audiologist put a snatch of Bach on for him to hear. I have never seen such a look of rapture, it was total disbelief. I was so moved that I almost started to cry, but thought if I did I would probably wail and might not be able to stop. They are expensive (although at Costco, half what they are other places), but are the latest digital technology and we have high hopes that they are going to open up the world for him. He can hardly hear what they are saying on TV these days.

Wardrobe malfunction! [That] reminds me of a story about me from the long ago. It was when Lisa was in grade school, and I was teaching a junior SS class which included her, must have been sixth grade. When I got to the church and got out of the car, I discovered that I had forgotten to put on a slip, and the dress I had on was clinging around and through my thighs and upon my hips, VERY noticeably. Ruth was the junior leader at the time. I went in and told her I thought I would have to come home to put on a slip, because I had to play the accompaniment for the soloist for the church service and didn’t think I could walk up to the piano that way. She said she was short of teachers, so could she just loan me the slip she had on–it was a whole slip. We repaired to the rest room, got into adjoining booths, and proceeded to make the switch, with her handing me the whole slip over the top of the booth. (She had on a loose wool dress that was completely lined.) When I got back to the junior room, I sat down and discovered that I had a large hole in the leg of my black pantyhose, (just below the knee). It was quite apparent, as dresses were mid or above knee in those days. Showed Ruth–she had a great idea. She had her daughter, Darla, go get a black felt pen and I colored my skin beneath the hole black. Far from perfect, but much less glaring. Got through SS, went to church. We knelt for prayer, and when we got up lo and behold the stocking had moved and the felt pen mark no longer covered the hole, just showed up to the side of it under the stocking. I was on the front row, and was trying to unobtrusively move the stocking back over the hole, with very little success (as you can imagine). In no time they announced the special music, and I walked up to the piano, kind of shuffling as I went so nobody would notice the holey stocking. When I sat down, I was so unnerved by all the preceding distress that my fingers came down on all the wrong keys. It was like I was on the wrong “home keys” on a computer keyboard. The soloist’s eyebrows shot up and she looked around wildly, but I found the right keys and proceeded with the intro. Fortunately, she was the sort who enjoyed singing solos and never got nervous. I believe that may have been the last time I played in public…

Not Beverly: Here is a story that may amuse you. Yesterday afternoon UP and I went to Costco, then back by Albertson’s to buy, as Granny used to say, a “bill of groceries.” Was feeling done in from having felt pretty good and done a load of work the day before, and I am sure I looked pathetic. Had not done anything to my hair but washed it and run the pick through it yesterday morning. Felt too bad to even care. Had on my ancient cotton cardigan sweater which I wear to hide my unsightly, spotted arms. I was in the aisle where the lawn and leaf bags are, and Paul had gone on to the next aisle. As I was eyeing the stacks of boxes trying to find what I needed, a woman ahead of and to the side of me was talking, I decided, to me. Looked her way, and she had a rather quizzical look on her face, and said something as she looked my direction. I didn’t understand what she said, so said, “Pardon me?” She then said, “Bev–Beverly?” Guess I was gazing at her blankly, then she grinned wildly and said, “No, no–never mind, never mind…” I grinned back, and went on my way. Obviously she thought I was Beverly. (I’m not…) Picked up my lawn bag boxes and went around the corner of the aisle to rendezvous with UP, and thought, “Pore ol’ Beverly–she must be looking really bad these days.” Wished I had told the lady that, and thought I would if I ran into her again but I didn’t–maybe she had fled the store after our encounter! I do feel for Beverly, though…

A little “Hilliary” snippit: Last night they were giving a consumer’s report on KIRO on baby gates. UP and I were reminiscing about your putting the Bruno Gate down the laundry chute, and were having ourselves a good chuckle. We could just see you working your little self soooo diligently to get that gate pushed down there. Maybe you wanted to give “Beuno” more freedom!

Silly patient syndrome: One of our former patients (who beats all), an elderly woman, had a throat culture done years ago. When I called her with the report, she said, “Anna, would that report tell me where I got that illness?” Say WHAT?! I wanted to say, “Why, yes, Ella–it says you picked that up on the corner of Fourth and Virginia.” Instead, I just thought, “I will not scream, I will not scream” and I didn’t.

Another silly patient: Did I ever tell you that a patient called one day and told me she just called to ask how her autopsy turned out? Gave me a nasty turn, I’ll tell you. I said, “Wh-wh-whaaaat?” She said, “That autopsy Dr. Allen did on my breast.” “Ah,” said I, become very brisk and businesslike to keep control of myself, “Yes, of course, I’ll check and find out.” She is the same one who later had to have her breast aspirated, and called and told me she wanted to make the appointment to have her breast exasperated. You should have seen our well-endowed medical assistant, Marcia, doing her impression of THAT one. Lisa and I purt’ near injured ourselves.

Uncle Paul the cheerleader: He is my biggest cheerleader, thinks anything I do is wonderful. What a guy! Years ago when we would have guests and, for instance, have spaghetti for dinner, he would sometimes say as we sat down at the table, “Now you are about to taste the best spaghetti sauce you have ever put in your mouth.” I would be humortified. Flattered, but embarrassed. What are they gonna say? “No it isn’t, this is not good at all.” Or, “My Aunt Betsy’s is good, you have not even tasted good.” I would implore him not to do that. He wouldn’t for a while, then he would forget and was up to his old tricks. Back when we both felt better and I cooked a lot, he would often say after dinner, “Now, Annie, we could eat anywhere in the Metropolitan Seattle Area and the food would not be this good.” Can you imagine how I would miss such support? Not that I think he is right, but it is what he thinks and that is what matters.

App-etite

I used to be able to have good old-fashioned arguments over who was singing what on the radio. “That was Steve Miller Band. Yes it was. Yes it was. I know it was. Because it totally sounded like another song I’ve heard by them. I just know, okay?” Now, all my opponent has to do is whip out his smart phone, pull up the SoundHound app, and hold his phone up to the speaker – boom, I’m proven right or wrong after a short pause and a little vibrating sound. Same goes for the name of an actor guest starring on our favorite show. “That was Ricky Schroder. It totally was. Yes it was. Don’t you think I remember Silver Spoons? I had a huge crush on him!” Now, my opponent pulls up the IMDB app. Finds out I was right after all – hah! Mr. Smarty Pants Phone knows everything.

These days, “there’s an app for that.” You name the need (except maybe doing stuff like washing your dishes for you), and you can be pretty well guaranteed to find an app to address it. There are apps to help you get fit, make all sorts of new and exciting meals (which sort of counteracts the getting fit efforts), compose songs, learn languages, keep up with your friends, and 600,000 other things. I even read somewhere about an app where you can pull up your contact information and bump your phone against someone else’s phone to share the info. Just tap your phones together and voila! – shared contacts. Now that is something.

With new apps being developed daily, no doubt, I thought I’d come up with my own app wishes. Who knows – maybe there are already apps out there for some of these: Get my son to obey me immediately without the need for threats; Figure out what I want to feed my family during the week and auto-generate a grocery list; Do whatever I need to do but don’t feel like doing (can’t there be an app for cleaning the humidifier? I hate that job!).

I enjoy the apps on my smart phone as much as the next person. I like the easy access to information and fun little do-dads. It makes my life a bit easier; a bit more cushy (isn’t that what all new inventions accomplish, when it comes down to it?); it also takes the fun out of arguments and bets. Because no one can out-smart a smart phone with a bazillion apps. Humph.

Twister

In lieu of fresh material, I’ve decided to post some writings I dredged up from years ago. This one is a description of waiting out tornadoes as a child in North Carolina.

Twister

You know it’s coming when everything gets really still. No chirping, croaking, or high-pitched cicada songs break the heat-soaked air, no leaves flutter to expose their silvery undersides. The clouds are soaking wet, gray wool blankets, but the light behind the trees – always behind the trees – is illuminated, pale green.

Then the wind starts. The tops of tall deciduous trees sway gently, at first, then rock more swiftly, then finally pitch about as if they are going to be wrenched out by their roots. The rain, thunder, and lightening quickly follow, as if God has just pushed fast-forward on heaven’s remote. Sometimes the hail hurts – marble-sized, jagged ice balls falling 120 mph from hundreds of feet up. The storm is full-forced and blenderized from that point on.

You take mattresses to the underground basement, along with blankets, pillows, and sheets (because mom won’t live like we’re in a bomb shelter). If you’re an eight year old girl, you take your favorite stuffed bear – the one who’s loved beyond recognition and used to be fluffy white, you think, and your favorite doll – the one who used to have a battery-operated voice box, but you took it out because it scared you. They are your last doll and bear, you tell them, and squeeze them close. The dog whines, tucking her skinny tail between shivering legs. She slinks over and lies down for a belly rubbing when called, which helps distract her from the thunder. Mama and Papa say everything will be just fine – we won’t lose the house, honey. But you remember the Wizard of OZ. Where will you end up? What about Sugar bear and Emily doll? What would the munchkins do with them?

The house sounds as if it’s being attacked by elephants – Boom! One sits on the roof; Crash! One slams into the first floor windows; Rumble . . . a whole herd is running toward . . . Kaboom! You could swear they just knocked down the front door.

And yet, despite the pachyderm posse, Papa goes upstairs. Please don’t go, you say, what if the house flies away? He tells you he needs to open the windows just a crack, just enough to relieve the pressure. You think of the balloons at your recent birthday party, and how Mama stuck needles in them after everyone left until they shriveled up – so they wouldn’t float away and choke birds or something. Suddenly it all makes sense – Papa is opening the windows so the house won’t float away! You sigh and smile, snuggling into your makeshift bed.

The storm rages awhile, tossing tree limbs and house shingles and trash cans into other tree limbs, house shingles, and trash cans. Then the bellows collapse and the wind dies, almost instantaneously. No more hail, lightening, and thundering elephants. By morning, the shimmering pools clinging to tree leaves reflect the sun so that the woods are converted into a shiny green, steaming cathedral. Birds, frogs, cicadas, and crickets all start babbling at once, filling the refreshed air with an almost deafening roar, and you wake up Mama and Papa to tell them it’s over! It’s over! We’re OK! It’s as if the enemy just stopped bombing – and the hidden survivors realize they’re still alive.

Still here

It’s been nearly two months since I last posted something. This is typical of me – I start out with a really great idea and have absolutely no follow-through. Thankfully it doesn’t really affect anyone else, since this is my own creation and no one cares whether I post something or not. I guess I feel the need to force myself out of the pattern of fizzle.

So what have I been up to? Well, the usual holiday busy-ness, of course. Plus I have quite a few volunteer gigs going, in addition to keeping up with my son. I’m pretty busy, but not enough to completely eat up my time. Generally when I have free time I feel the need to do something responsible and project-oriented, like making a photo book of the past year or figuring out how to make a raised bed garden. It feels like the height of luxury to just sit and read. I’ve been doing a lot of that over the past couple weeks, eating my way steadily through The Hunger Games trilogy (wow – I didn’t even intend that pun). Now that I’m done, I feel I can just write a blog entry. Lucky you, I have finished my books and can provide you with a few paragraphs of my writing! 🙂

For some reason, I’m really hesitant to write about my life except in the vaguest of terms. I don’t know why. In any case, my scope of blog material is somewhat hampered as a result. Perhaps I should take requests for topics, so I can write more as a disinterested third party and not as an autobiographer. Ideas for topics, anyone? No promises to write based on facts or with any degree of convincing, but at least it will be something other than “I don’t know what to write” which can get pretty old.

Happy ho ho holidays

There was a time when I can remember hearing and saying “Merry Christmas” out in public. That friendly wish has become something of a taboo, so now people say either “Happy holidays” or nothing at all. It’s as if everyone is so afraid of offending other people (who might not celebrate Christmas) that they can’t even utter the words. I can think of some choice swear words that are said with more confidence. So why all the hoopla?

I can understand how people who don’t celebrate Christmas wouldn’t want to hear “Merry Christmas” all the time – after all, I doubt people who celebrate Christmas would want to hear “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa” all the time, with the assumption that they celebrated those holidays. But why is it offensive to hear a well-wish that is said by a majority of people in the U.S. (in private, anyway)? I remember while living in the UK that Christmas was celebrated with gusto, and everyone wished everyone else a “Happy Christmas” with cards, parties, crackers, mince pies, et cetera. Why is it somehow more offensive when folks in the U.S. say the same thing (replacing “happy” with “merry”)?

I wish that everyone could be more open about what they believe, without fear of reprisal. I wish I could say “Merry Christmas” to someone, and have them say back “thank you, but actually I don’t celebrate Christmas – I celebrate [X other holiday, or perhaps no holidays]”. Maybe we could have a conversation about what they celebrate, if anything. I could hear about some of their traditions; they could hear about some of mine. We could gain new appreciation and understanding about cultures that are not our own, without getting offended by each other.

I don’t mean to sound insensitive, especially since I have family and friends who do not celebrate Christmas (and who I wouldn’t wish a “Merry Christmas” exactly for that reason). I just want to take the muzzle off people, at least in terms of happy things and well wishes, and let conversations unfold. All the rhetoric about “take back Christmas” and “don’t be ashamed to say Merry Christmas” seems defensive to me, and isn’t likely to endear those who don’t celebrate Christmas to the idea (this seems more like shoving Christmas down people’s throats). I just think we should all let our guards down a bit and be willing to talk about what we believe, rather than being either on the attack or defense.

Chances are I won’t say “Merry Christmas” to complete strangers unless I’m fairly confident they celebrate the holiday, but maybe I’ll find a more interesting way of wishing folks well around the end of the year without using the sterile PC adage “Happy holidays.”