Jalopy

We are driving up the highway on our way home from a typical crazy trip out. The afternoon started with a long-awaited appointment, and spilled into a trip to the craft store for fabric paint for a school project, a hop into the grocery store for two necessary items for a cake, and a stop at the pharmacy, which (for future reference) closes early on Saturdays.

Just behind my peripheral vision, the clouds are on fire with the setting sun. Up ahead, the sky is tinged with residual pink, as if someone took a paintbrush and accidentally touched a couple spots with the wrong color. It is this time of day on this drive up the highway (as wonder streaks the sky with end-of-day color) when I am most likely to feel that Dad is present.

Suddenly, a large pick up truck pulls alongside my car, then passes me. He is towing a trailer on which rests enough of another truck to allow me to recognize it as an antique from the 1930s.

“There’s a jalopy,” I comment, speaking as much to myself as to my daughter, sitting in the passenger seat. The sight of the antique truck and the recall of the word “jalopy” bring to mind memories of being in the backseat as a child with Dad driving. He would comment on a jalopy on the road or sitting on someone’s front lawn.

“What’s a jalopy?” my daughter asks.

I smile to myself, remembering Dad. “Look it up when we get home.” It’s a Grampa word, I want to tell her, but I don’t.

“I don’t even know how to spell that. How can I look it up?” she asks.

“You’ll figure it out,” I say.

What a great word. Jalopy.

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Rediscovered Treasure

This weekend, winter decided to move in. On Saturday, the temperature dropped several degrees, and the snow began to fall just before noon. And Saturday was the day I chose to sort through my Christmas ornaments to decide what I would keep and what I would give away. After all, some of the ornaments in my collection have been kicking around since I was just out of college. And even earlier.

Nowadays, I tend not to burden my tree with an overabundance of ornaments like I did when the kids were younger. Mostly because I like it simple—lights and a few sparkly ornaments to reflect the light back into the room. But there is also the fact that my teenagers are excited about decorating the tree, but not so excited about taking it down after Christmas.

So I sat on the couch and opened the large, green plastic tote, removed the first cardboard box, and began to unwrap small tissue paper balls to rediscover what was inside. Plastic animals dressed in Santa hats with wreaths, hand-painted cinnamon sticks and wooden disks picked up at a long forgotten craft fair, needlepoint plastic canvas squares… these were the items that found themselves in the ever-growing “give away” pile.

As I sorted, I came upon a yellowed box that said, “Mom’s dwarfs” in the handwriting of … I’m not really sure … one of my aunts, maybe? And in pencil, in a similar handwriting, it said, “For Suzanne from Nana.” More recently written were a number of notes in Dad’s handwriting: instructions about being careful, about the fact that there were extra parts wrapped up by themselves, about the things that Dad would typically warn me about as he removed these very fragile items from their carefully crafted tissue paper cocoons.

And now, I pulled one out of the box and placed it in my lap. I unrolled the tissue, getting closer and closer to the treasure it held. The weight of the ornament was less than one might expect, making it easy to fumble or accidentally drop it. But it was cradled securely in my lap. Finally, I was rewarded for my care when I spied the first glint of pointy shoes, a leg, and then a jolly face, its paint cracked and peeling from years of use.

My breath caught in my throat as I could feel Dad’s large hand carefully placing the “dwarf” ornament in my own then small hand. Each year, without fail, before he let go, he would ask, “Got it?” double-checking that this delicate figure was secure and would not fall to the floor where it might meet its demise.

The fact that these old ornaments had seen better days did not make them any less precious. The memories they evoked were worth the extra care needed. Of course, now that I have carefully unwrapped these very fragile ornaments on my own, I believe they are less fragile than all the past fuss would indicate. No matter. I still took great care as I hung them on the branches of my tree.

My one question that will never be answered: why, with elves all around at this time of year, did these ornaments end up being labeled “dwarves” rather than “elves” that might be more fitting for the Christmas season? I suppose I’ll never know. I will be left to devise my own theory.

 

 

Of Memory and Circuses

In honor of the final show of the of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus that is happening today, May 21, I thought I would reminisce on the circuses of my past. In truth, my life as a single mom is often a bit of a circus, but I will stick to a discussion of circuses in the entertainment sense of the word.

When I was very young, I attended my first circus. I don’t remember how old I was, and I don’t remember where the circus was. I only remember that it was under a tent in a large field. It was a cold, rainy day, and my very scattered memories of that event include the fabric of the tent, the hay that was scattered on the ground to keep the mud under control, and the mingling smells of damp hay, dirt, and animals. I remember Dad’s large, warm hand holding my small one as we made our way to our seats. And that is pretty much my only recollection of that trip to the circus.

My second trip to the circus did not involve a performance under a tent. This one was a performance of The Great Moscow Circus in a large indoor arena about an hour from our home. [Side note: my childhood took place during the Cold War years]. It was a beautiful, sunny day, though I cannot remember the season of the year; I think it may have been somewhat cool outside. We made our way to our seats, and Dad left to visit the men’s room before the show began. A few minutes later, as my sister and I bounced in our seats in anticipation, we heard an announcement that began, “Ladies and Gentlemen….” The announcer continued, letting us know that we needed to evacuate the arena. We had a brief moment of disbelief before Mom gathered us up and headed for the door. As we descended the stairs and began to move toward the exit, we met up with Dad, and we made our way back to the car. We sat in the car, listening to the local radio station, but no news came as to why we had to evacuate. After a time, we were allowed back in the building, and the show went on as if nothing had happened. Later, we would learn there had been a bomb threat which necessitated the evacuation for a thorough search. I don’t remember any of the show that day, only the evacuation.

My third trip to the circus was to celebrate my younger son’s sixth birthday. We went to the Ringling Brothers pre-show first, where we met some of the clowns and saw some of the performers. I’m not sure how much of that experience my children will remember as time marches on. This is the only circus performance I remember—because it was much more recent—and I only remember bits and pieces. I think traditional circuses tend to be far too busy and flashy to appeal to those of us who can only pay attention to one thing at a time.

The moral of my circus story is that parents can spend time with children in all kinds of activities. Ultimately, what children will remember is the time together (and sometimes any occurrences out of the ordinary) rather than the activity, itself.

The Best Gift

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My grandmother loved to laugh. She had a bit of a silly sense of humor, which we first began to notice as children, when she made us birthday cakes on which she placed “trick” candles—the kind that we couldn’t blow out.

As I grew older, she would give me gag gifts. These were usually things she came across as she was cleaning out her house. One of the most memorable (because it went back and forth several times) was a crocheted miniature chair that she boxed up, wrapped, and addressed to me from “Nobody.” We had some fun with that chair, including the time I reupholstered it (in the same material she had just used to cover a chair in her home) and gave it back.

In my mind, the best gift I ever gave my grandmother was the silliest and the simplest. It was her birthday, and if my math and memory are right, I believe she was turning 90.

Now, if you have any 90-year-olds in your life, you know they really don’t need much. So I thought long and hard about what I might do for her. And finally, I knew what I would do. I went out and bought a mylar balloon that said, “Happy Birthday!” I put it in a cardboard box, sealed it up, and addressed it to her. In the spot for the return address, I wrote, “Nobody.”

When the package arrived at her house, my aunt handed it to her to open. “There’s nothing in this box!” she chided. “It’s empty!” But (thankfully) she went through the motion of opening it, anyway.

When she pulled open the flaps of the box, the single balloon floated to the ceiling. According to my aunt, my grandmother laughed and laughed and laughed. As my aunt went about her business that day, she would hear my grandmother start laughing all over again.

That was truly the best gift I ever gave. It was also the simplest and probably one of the cheapest—a single balloon in a box. But what I really gave my grandmother that day was the gift of laughter. And in return, I received a memory that I will cherish forever.

[image credit: FreeImages.com/John evans]

Summer Jobs

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Since there has been some talk of teenage jobs in my house of late, I got to thinking about some of the jobs I held in my early working life, jobs that were increasingly interesting and varied. I had some not so good jobs and some really great jobs. Being open to the experiences that come along is always a good way to approach life.

My very first job was stocking shelves in my father’s hardware store. But beyond my family circle, the early jobs I held were fairly typical high school jobs. I worked in fast food and motel housekeeping. The fast food job hung on for two years while I simultaneously worked other jobs. The motel where I worked (only for one summer) was owned by a man who felt the tips left by guests were his to fuel the bets he made on the horse races. When we arrived for our day’s work, he could often be seen making the rounds of all of the rooms before the maids went in to clean them. The only time we ever got tips was when the guests would hand them to us directly, which wasn’t very often.

My first summer home from college, I took a job in a gift shop. I worked long days, and the work was not the most interesting. However, it was better than flipping burgers. I didn’t go home smelling like food and feeling greasy, and the people I worked with were ridiculously mischievous. There was always a prank… or ten… in the works, and one never knew what would happen on a given work day. I fit in quite nicely. You said prank? I’m in!

That same summer, I created newspaper advertisements for my father’s business. I caught the attention of the ad salesman who also happened to be the salesman for the gift shop. He would often stop by to chat, and at his recommendation, I took an internship working in the art department of the newspaper during the January term of my sophomore year. That internship grew into a summer job that filled the summers before my junior and senior years of college.

The second summer at the newspaper, they allowed me to take three weeks off so I could go back to my college campus to work as a teaching assistant in a program for gifted upper elementary and middle school students. One of my professors was the site coordinator for the program, and he had offered me that position. The funny thing about that TA job is that one of my present jobs is for the same organization in their online program.

My all time favorite summer job—and one that was truly one of those opportunities that most people never have—was working in the photo lab of an art museum. I spent six to eight hours of every day during the summer in a darkroom. I cataloged the art work that was in the vaults, and I made prints from stacks of negatives. To this day, I am not sure why I did that….

But the most exciting part of the job was dealing with actual works of art. If my boss was working on a particular project in the studio, he would talk to me about it and explain what he was doing. He would tell me about painting and light and the best angle to capture damage or decay in a painting. He would explain how infrared reflectography would create an image that could  “see” the various layers of paint used by an artist. For example, this technique would show the various leg placements Degas used for his ballerinas before he got it right.

One day, as my boss was photographing some paintings from the vault, he called me out of the darkroom. He told me what he was doing, explaining his chosen angle and what it would show about the pieces in question. And then he handed me a seldom seen Monet painting that spent much of its time in the vault–for lack of wall space. Upstairs in the museum, these paintings were connected to alarm systems in rooms with guards. If a visitor accidentally leaned on a painting or touched it, an alarm would sound and the guards would come running. And here I was holding it in my hands!!

Yes, I held (in my hands) the very same canvas that was painted and held by Monet, himself. It was one of the amazing perks of that summer job. Because summer jobs are like that. You never know what might come up. The job might lead to a position that you will hold for many years, or it might just lead to an opportunity of a lifetime!

November

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Tomorrow is November 1st, and several of my friends will be taking on the challenge of NaNoWriMo, a month in which the goal is to write an entire novel or 50,000 words. While I have always thought this would be a great contest to participate in, I am realistic, and I know I wouldn’t get beyond day two.

However, in support of those of you who are gearing up to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge, I have decided to ramp up my blogging for the month of November. There are two reasons for this. First, I need to write more often, and second, my blog is feeling neglected.

I have downloaded a November blogging challenge from 2014, and I will use the prompts to fuel my writing of daily (or nearly) blog posts. The first day’s challenge: 20 facts about me. In my mind, I figure that’s 20 days of material right there!

Stay tuned, Friends. November will be a great month for us. You’re going to learn some things you might wish you didn’t know….

Monsters

There is a monster under my bed. Really. A monster.

Remember when you used to think there was something under your bed? You used to be afraid to get out of bed (or maybe you still are) because you felt that something might grab your ankles as your feet touched the floor? Perhaps this is an unreasonable fear from childhood that has carried over into adulthood.

And you can’t get rid of it. No matter how hard you try.

In the middle of the night, when all is dark and quiet and your mind is racing from some crazy dream you had, you think about getting up to use the facilities, and you can feel that hand closing around your ankle.

Rather than venture the few steps to the bathroom, you snuggle more deeply under the covers, avoiding the inevitable confrontation with the monster.

This morning, I awoke to find that my normal nighttime companion had been abducted by the monster under my bed. I am deeply thankful that I didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night, as the monster might have chosen me instead of my much lighter companion. The evidence left behind by the monster was more than obvious, and I have recognized that this is a warning for the future.

There is a monster under my bed, and I (now) have evidence to prove it!

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