Love Hankies

 

When I was a kid, I was afflicted with annoying hay fever.   I would suffer beginning from the first thaw of spring to the first frost of autumn.   My eyes would be itchy and red, and under my eyes would swell to almost double the size.   My throat would get hoarse and I wouldn’t be able to talk sometimes, and I was a heartbeat away from developing the asthma that kicks in when I am run down.

The only over the counter medication of the day was Allerest, and my mother bought it in 100 tab jars.   I can still see in my mind’s eye the tall jar of blue pills sitting in the medicine cabinet, next to the Alka Seltzer and Head & Shoulders shampoo.   Although they dried out my saliva glands (causing other problems such as dental and bowel) it did the trick.   It usually lasted about 4 hours, evidence of its effectiveness wearing off shortly before the fourth hour. An alarm clock was set so that I would wake up at 5:30 a.m. to take the first pill, and I was given a baggie with 2 more to take to school with me.

Although the clock was set for 5:30 a.m., it really wasn’t needed. My father was already up, having awakened at 4:00 a.m. to get ready for work. He would get up and cook the two hard boiled eggs and toast, the same breakfast he ate every day until the day he died at 73 years old.   He put on his suit and always made sure he had a white handkerchief in his back pocket – and an extra one for me.   White and folded in fours, it was part of his outfit every day.

“Here kid, take this” he’d say and I grab it as I rushed to the bathroom to blow my nose.   Boxes of tissues were worthless and toilet paper was a waste of money; I went through them both way too fast.   A cloth hanky was what I needed.

I had always wished that I had dainty, girly type hankies, and certainly not a man’s handkerchief.

One of my chores when I was a preteen was to iron those damn handkerchiefs. Bingo Mary would supervise.

“You missed a spot” she’d point out, if I didn’t iron straight to the corner of the cloth.   That was me – always taking the shortest route.

“What’s the difference?” I’d argue, “I’m only going to sneeze into it! Then I’m going to stuff it like this”, and I’d pick one up and stuff it into my size A bra. I didn’t develop womanly curves until I was much, much older.   I stood there with one mutant breast pushing out under my sweat shirt.

She’d just look at my mother, who would be choking on her Pepsi by this point. Bingo Mary would just shake her head and go over to the sink to fill up the teakettle with water.

“Heaven help her, Patsy”, she’s announce with a touch of a grin, Irish brogue intact.  “She’s a loony one, she is.”

 I never did get those dainty girly type hankies. I carried those thick white cotton handkerchiefs everywhere with me. It never occurred to me to just go out and buy my own. By that time, they had become part of my outfit too, just like they had become my Dad’s.   When he died, I snuck one from his bureau draw. If I put my nose into it, I can still smell his aftershave. I’ve never washed it.

Nowadays, I get immunology shots. Having been tested for various allergens and food allergies, the infamous hay fever was on the top of the list.   I make sure I dust and try to be proactive as far as food choices and other things that can set me off.

Every now and then, however, the sky will be clear and blue, and the summer breezes will blow just right, spreading the particles my way.

“Here, sweetie, take this” he’d say, and my husband will hand me his hanky. Not a white cotton one like my dads, though, but a bandana. He has a drawer full of them for he, too, is prone to sneezing and wheezing.

I smile as I honk into the soft cloth and wipe my slowly reddening nose and watery eyes. The tears aren’t from the allergies, but from the act itself.   The gesture reminds me of the gentle smile of my father and the devotion to the routine, as was his nature.   Every day, he puts on his work clothes for work, and sticks a bandana in his back pocket.

Folded in fours and part of his outfit.

Un ironed.

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Obla Dee, Obla Da

They come back every year at this time.

The Ooo-bid-dee birds.

Actually, they are Orioles. Bright orange breasts and black beaks, the Orioles came to nest near my old house in the City every year.

His mate, not as flamboyant or flashy, would sit next to him on the cable wire near my yard.  With a bird feeder always stocked, he’d swoop down and grab some seed in his mouth to deliver to her as she waited in her place patiently, never moving. She never seemed to want to go retrieve the seed herself and was content to accept his gift to her time and time again.

He would lean over and place the seed in her open mouth, and after every mouthful he would sing to her, making the loud and cooing “ooo-bid-ee ,  ooo-bid-ee” sound that I loved to listen to. They could go on for hours.

It was that sound I looked forward to every Spring to announce the arrival of the new season, just as I await the arrival of the sound of the honking geese in the Fall. To me it seemed the announcement of true love for all the world to hear. How I longed to hear someone sing to me that way.

I was feeling sad that I would not hear the duet from the two lovers ever again, as my location had changed and I am a different listener now. Until this year.

They followed me. I have heard them here out in the country after so many years.

It’s as if they are telling me “Love still exists, it’s in the air” for all to hear. Right outside my bedroom window in the room built just for me and him, before the sun has fully risen.

There they were again, singing.

Reminding me I had found my my own Ooo-bid-ee bird to sing with again.

 

Dream A Little Dream Of Me

mom and daddI dreamt of my parents last night.  What’s odd about this is I never remember my dreams, much less dream of them at all.

I woke up with my face wet with tears.  They streamed down the sides of my eyes, finding their way down to the line of my top lip.  As my thoughts cleared, I realized I was laying in my bed next to my husband,  not still talking with them.

My parents died years ago; first my dad and then five years later my mother.   I didn’t have the best relationship with them; tumultuous is putting it mildly.  I can see now they practiced on me (as all first born children can attest) before they had my five siblings.  I was a force to be reckoned with.  A learning experience to be sure.

I don’t think they knew what to do with me, this head strong, freckle faced, undiagnosed ADD kid with a mind that never stopped, nervous ticks that interrupted conversations and embarrassed them, and the propensity for music and dance.   Everything was always LOUD, the music, the talking and the screaming.  I was LOUD.  I think I just wanted to be heard.  The more they tried to silence me, the louder I became.

But there was tenderness and sweetness during those times too.

My father was a fan of “reality experiments” before it became a catch word of social media.  He was always taking either still pictures of us all with his Polaroid instant movie.jpgcamera, or his Kodak movie camera recording every event.  He was known for turning on the tape recorder he kept on the top of the refrigerator to record us,  unaware he was not only recording our conversations, but history as well.  We loved nothing more than hearing those tapes played back weeks later, laughing at how high pitched our voices sounded and not remembering saying the things we said to each other.

So I guess it was only fitting that they would both come to me in a movie, wrapped inside a dream.   I watched the screen as they talked to me, sitting closely together and holding hands  as they always did.  I would pinpoint their age to be in their early 50’s, younger than I am now.  I don’t know why they chose to show themselves to me at that age.  They seemed so old back then.

They were both smiling at me and telling me how happy they were for me, that I had finally found happiness.  They said my husband was a good man, and that they watched over my kids.  They weren’t the best grandparents either when they were alive, but somehow I sensed regret in their voices when they ‘spoke’ about it.   I guess its enough to know they watch out for them now.

It was comforting to see them sitting there together, talking to me as if we were at the kitchen table having a cup of tea.  They told me I was brave for getting on a boat, after being terrified for so many years after nearly drowning.  They said they watched over me and my sweet husband as well, even though he was an old sailor at heart and didn’t need their help.

teaI laughed at their characterization of him and suddenly I was awake, the dream over as quickly as it started.  There was no goodbyes, no fading out of their bodies, or any other ghostly images one has when they think of spiritual visits.

Opening my eyes and dabbing at my wet face, I hadn’t wanted the visit to end.   I was glad they visited me together, and so sad to see them go.

“Bye” I whispered, the catch in my voice waking my husband.

I will be surprised if they visit me again, as there seemed such a finality to their departure.

He saw the tears on my face, held me close and whispered  Everything is fine, not even knowing what I had been dreaming about.

I believe him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Signs of Spring

55[1]It is the second week of Spring, but there is still snow covered ground in Upstate New York.

No matter, though.  The signs of spring have appeared, and the warm weather is not far behind.

I’ll tell you why:

The geese have arrived, honking and flying in unison and into each other, as if they too are anxious for the cold to be blown away.   The sounds as they call to each other are majestic and magical; an easy give and take echoing the reminder that all which is difficult passes, and all that is real has always been there anyway, just beyond view.   Just hold on.

I’ve seen pictures of daffodils and crocus pushing up bright colored stems from beneath the snow.  Not here, though. But that’s ok – the spring catalogues have clogged my mailbox, bright with pictures of pretty dresses designed with daffodils and tulips, bright yellows and greens, the colors of Easter, evoking memories of Easters past.

The hardware stores have put away the shovels  and taken out the rakes in anticipation of the Great Clean Up.   Everyone is ready to clear their decks and walkways, ready to plant their flowers and arrange their planters.

The Lake, the great Ontario, is still a powerful sight.   Once a blanket of white from the shore to the horizon, its starting to chip and wobble, the groaning from under the ice audible.   Not from here though, but that’s ok.  Even though my view has changed, my outlook hasn’t.   I still hear it calling to me, this time for my presence in it, and not just from afar somewhere on shore.  I am part of it now, and no one is more surprised than I.

The Book of Seasons  is always changing, even though in some places it takes longer to turn the page.  But that’s ok.

Spring is coming.

 

PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE

The kids were over for dinner last night, and even though they are no longer children, I like to put together a menu that is reminiscent of when they were.

The one serving our country is back on dry land after six years and is no worse for wear from the experience. He is older, wiser and more mature. A natural progression, of course, but it is still odd to see him as a man.

Standing next to him at the front door was his best friend and my 7th child, Jon. They have been friends since kindergarten, and it is my deepest joy that they have remained friends all these years. I believe the art of friendship is the biggest gift you can pass on to your children.

How to get them, how to keep them, and how to be one.

Dinner was meatloaf and an old favorite for dessert: Pineapple Upside Down Cake.

It immediately brought a smile to his face when I brought it into the dining room, steaming hot and bubbling having just retrieved it from the oven. For this was his first attempt at cooking while in 1st grade, a project all students were asked to do.

Bake something with your parents and bring it to school! The flyer said.

“I want to make an pineapple upside down cake!” He announced proudly.

“Can we?”

I looked at him and smiled, even though I didn’t have a clue back then as how to assemble one.

Thank goodness for the Betty Crocker Cookbook I had received when I was first married at 21 years old. It had followed me from house to house, and had served me well. I learned how to make chicken pot-pies and far too many variations of meatloaf than I cared to admit, but it was a great source of information. It taught me how to get out of more scrapes in the kitchen than I could have imagined.

“Sure” I answered happily, as I reached for the good book. “Let’s find a recipe.”

Needless to say, the Pineapple Upside Down Cake was a success, and he talked about it for days on end, until even his baby sister couldn’t stand it any longer.

“Why did you want to make that cake, anyway?” she asked exasperated. “What’s so special about that cake?”

She had asked the question I had been rolling around in the back of my mind since he had asked for it. Since I had never made it before, I wondered why he was even interested in it.

Looking at me with the pride I still see in his eyes to this day, he answered. I will never forget the dedication and unabashed affection in his voice as he told me simply and without embarrassment.

“It’s my best friend Jon’s favorite cake” he said joyfully, and then he turned to run into the living room. The Transformers were on t.v.; one of his favorite shows.

The memory of that day has been tucked away in my mind and wasn’t brought back out until I laid the cake in front of him again last night after dinner.

We smiled, as no words were needed. I cut the cake in giant squares to pass along with vanilla ice cream.

For we know that good friends are forever, no matter what.

Sandals In October = From 2006

The sun is shining brightly this beautiful day, another gift from the Sun God. It is mid October and the past week has seen temperatures heading towards 70 degrees, the true example of an Indian Summer up here in Western New York.

I know the temperatures will be dropping today; the weather forecasters have delivered the somewhat solemn news. The digits will fall from 70 to 60 to 50 this evening, and I believe them. The skies are getting cloudy over the lake and the wind is picking up, the sure signs of oncoming cooler days and even colder weekends. It is time to plant the bulbs that have been calling to me from their bags under the kitchen chair, left there as a reminder so that I don’t forget to start digging before the frost hits. A neighbor mows his lawn for the last time of the season, moving slowly and enjoying the sun on his face as he sits contented, moving back and forth, and up and down across his acre of land.

We’ve been spoiled and we know it, sleeping with the windows open in mid October. What a delight and a treat in itself, to hear the crickets and the peepers, to listen to the waves as they gently tap on the rocks behind our house –not insistent, but certainly persistent.

Fall is here and the pumpkins have been picked, laid across in row after row like an army battalion, ready for the choosing. Little arms will try to envelope the biggest one they can, while moms and dads stand close by to catch both should they fall. After all, they all have their sandals on sock less feet, still.

I took the boys for their daily walk down to the water, all of us anxious and sad at the same time. It is the last swim for the summer and we know that too, even though they could probably stand to take a dip in November.

Throwing their toys for them to retrieve they are barking loudly; I know in reality it is really their laughter and joy that I hear. Jumping on each other, dunking them in the shallow blue, they are besides themselves with happiness and glee. They are content and so am I.

Autumn
The leaves blow over us as we walk back to the house, yellow, brown and green ornaments sticking to their wet backs as they walk slowly up the lane towards home.

Sandals and swimming in October. We can’t ask for more than that.

AND THE OSCAR WENT TO…….

Its 2017 and I am celebrating my forty-second Mother’s Day.  I woke up wanting to write about the birth of my children, both maternal and inherited, but celebrations and  commitments will steal the time needed to adequately share with you my experience of both the joy and  heartache of motherhood.   But I will write it, to be sure.  For now, I have posted something I wrote in 2004.  It all stands true today.   Happy Mother’s Day!

 

I never thought I’d end up here.

I was supposed to be living in New York City by now, a famous comedic actress on Broadway. I was supposed to have received numerous Tony Awards for my stellar performances in various musicals as a singer and dancer, and accolades for the countless Neil Simon plays written just for me.

Everybody said I was supposed to be a star. All my teachers, my friends, my drama coach. I could cry on cue, deliver a line without mistake, and hit my mark every time. Directors were amazed at the volume of my speech, coming from this little body. I could belt out a song and not break a sweat. I learned how to pose and how to strut. If I didn’t make it on Broadway, it was a no brainer that I could be a Rockette at Radio City Music Hall. Amateur photographers would take my pictures for college portfolios, saying I could use them for my casting call rounds. I did summer stock productions from 1972-1974. I did go for a casting call once, in 1973.

Then I got married.

Dreams of youth have a way of crashing down around you. Reality sets in. I got pregnant shortly after the marriage. We were both children, raising a child. He was a student and I worked in a psychiatric hospital. My stellar performances were limited to sad, mentally ill women, and a two month old. Tough crowd.

As time went on and I became a single mother, I never gave up the dream of becoming a star. But motherhood has a way of knocking everything out of your knapsack and replacing it with baby bottles, toys and teething rings. My casting bag became a baby bag. I realized I had this little life I was responsible for, and I had to make a choice. It was getting crowded in my knapsack.

I never looked back. I am happy with the choice I made, that of being a mom. I was a star to five more children as the years went by. My talent now lies within them. They are writers, singers, songwriters, photographers, musicians, artists and comedians.

They are my greatest achievements, the result of stellar performances of determination, education and compassion. They are my Tonys, my Oscars, my Emmys. Their pictures decorate every wall of my house, every corner of my office. Because I chose them over myself, I will forever have them as statues on my mantle. They have done me proud, and my ambitions and dreams will live on in them.

I never thought I’d up here. But I am so glad I did.