boomerang betsy was shot out of the bulgarian sky on the way to the ploesti oil fields in romania. it was 79 years ago today. i’m grateful for the tenacity of my sweet poppo, taken prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action to everyone back home for months. he survived and came back home to – one day – tell the harrowing story and combat the unnamed ptsd that became part of his strong fabric as a man, a husband, a father.
without our knowing it, the veterans administration named my dad #VeteranOfTheDay on july 19, 2019. i stumbled across this a couple days ago and wondered how it was we did not know this. he was – and is – our hero every day, but it was a thrill to see a day devoted to him and his dedicated service, celebrating him, seven years after he moved on from this plane.
today we arrive in iowa. david’s family is gathering to celebrate columbus/aka chuck/aka charles/aka his dad. a time put aside to inurn his ashes in his little hometown in the farmlands. we are in a farmhouse – one with a back porch, a working silo, green grass on which to play bocce ball. the family will come here for dinners, to reminisce, to play and laugh and, likely, weep a bit. i know it will be a time rich with moments.
these dads of ours were like great white trillium. somehow – despite everything – growing easily in the world, faithful, not-too-picky, gently spreading seeds of wisdom.
the chicago botanic garden says, “in the constellation of singular spring flowers, there are a few stars that shine more brightly than the rest. perhaps the fairest of them all is the great white trillium.”
and after we got off the train we walked in the brisk wind off the lake to the chicago auditorium. a stunningly beautiful landmark theatre, it was established in 1889, around the time my grandparents were born. the arches and tile floor and gilding tell over a century of stories. a joy to be in such an old house.
the first national geographic live event we went to was in breckenridge, colorado. the cinematographer and extreme adventurer bryan smith had breathtaking footage descending over waterfalls and climbing mountains. we sat next to the guy who owned the scrumptious soup shop in town (the one to which we quickly became addicted) and ooh-ed and ahh-ed in unison. we were hooked.
david doubilet and jennifer hayes were the speakers at this event – coral kingdom and empires of ice – and to watch the photographic essay of their work was to marvel at the life this 24/7-together-married-couple live. multiple times they encouraged people to contact them, to ask questions or ask for help. brilliant change-agent scientists. generosity and humility.
as two people who are together 24/7 we know the perils of such togetherness. artists have a wiiiiide spectrum of emotions and this can be detrimental at times, so i wondered about two explorers. david and jennifer poked fun at each other while honoring each other’s work; the dance seemed balanced. working with your life partner requires a good sense of humor and a good life raft. sometimes, getting in the river on the rapids is the only way forward. that and laughter.
the hardest time we ever had working on a project was during our rehearsals for the lost boy. a two person play written by david and inspired by his mentor tom’s family history, we were preparing it for the premier performance on stage in california. prepping was a little like two pieces of sandpaper rubbing together. the rough kind. not the fine sandpaper you use for finishing work. nope. the roughest sandy sandpaper you could pretty much find. somehow, and i’m not sure how, we made it through the memorization, the blocking, the nuances and weeks of rehearsing onto the plane to california. and mike – our director – took it from there.
at the end of the first performance we jumped and danced in the hallway, twirling around in the aftermath glee of success. i imagine this to be much like david and jennifer having made it back to the surface after sharing oceanic waters with sharks and crocodiles. the time when david – in the minutes of giant jaws within inches of jennifer – took photographs. i’m thinking they likely danced in the boat. in the category of 24/7 moments, some are better than others. they didn’t mention the “whatthehellwereyouTHINKING?!!” moments. but you know they’re there. we can attest to them.
i can imagine – one of these days – subscribing to natgeo live. there are usually three or four events a season and, in combination with the magazine that arrives every month and the tv channel we mostly land on, they would round out these opportunities to keep learning.
my sweet poppo received national geographic magazine for as long as i can remember. he’d immerse in it. just like my newer intense desire to know all the birds – like my parents – i find myself holding national geographic in high regard. my dad would have loved being in the same room as all of these explorers, sharing their adventures and discoveries. his wall-to-wall bookshelf of yellow magazine spines all lined up would vouch for that.
as we were walking into costco the other day, there was a man briskly walking out. he was balancing a a box of items in his right hand. but in his left was a bundle of flowers. i don’t think he was aware of my brief stare, for outside costco it is windier than most places and we were scurrying to get inside.
but i did stare.
it wasn’t because of the man – i wouldn’t be able to identify him in any way. it was because of the bundle of cellophane-wrapped flowers in his hand. he made me think of my sweet poppo who would purchase grocery store flowers for my momma to put in the center of their coffeesitting table or maybe on the side table in their foyer. my momma loved those flowers. inexpensive, and often on sale – she was ever budget-mindful – but she really loved them.
in these days of a bit more challenge we have taken to a new practice. it’s: pretend-i’m-giving-this-to-you. next to a display of valentine cards sweet-topped in love language with $5.99 printed on the back, we held one out to the other – “pretend i’m giving this to you.” we stopped by the floral cooler and he pointed to a bundle of red roses (with buds and petals actually attached, i might mention) and said, “pretend i’m giving these to you.” the “pretend-i-got-you-this” is far-reaching and much more satisfying than you might imagine.
for it is an intention of love and, in our lighter-weighted and budget-minded world, not stuff.
as we drove home from hiking we contemplated what we might do for the rest of the saturday. it was wide open and we had vowed to hold it as our own. we needed this day on the trail, this time outside, this time together sans angsts. we ran ideas in littlebabyscion.
revisiting frugality is not unfamiliar for us. it is, in fact, much more familiar than extravagance. and so, it is much easier for us to be prudent and thrifty when considering the ‘what’s next’ category. off-trail, our legs were tired from hiking in snow and, though refreshed, we were a little weary from being out in the windy cold.
we considered our options. what to do with the rest of saturday. it was getting later.
back home, we made a little charcuterie board, poured a little wine. we decided to stay home – with our happy dogga. we talked about our trail covered in snow, we read a book together, we played one of favorite cds. kind of a gentle end to our day.
i scrolled through my photo stream then reached out to d with my phone, pulling up one the photographs i’ve taken on the trail we love – this photo of stunning blooms of wildflowers in the winter forest – and said, “pretend i’m giving these to you.”
i’ve noticed lately that my eyes look a lot like my poppo’s.
the music and lyrics of jon mohr and john mays come to mind:
“oh maybe when we realize how much there is to share we’ll find too much in common to pretend it isn’t there
love in any language straight from the heart pulls us all together never apart and once we learn to speak it all the world will hear love in any language fluently spoken here“
lisa signed the song as the youth choir sang it on the stage in florida. i carried the song from youth choir to youth choir, its lyrics positive and the song always a director’s success.
d’s ceiling-fan-poppo-chain-bracelet broke and we had to replace it. we both wear these bracelets 24/7 so we have stand-by ceiling fan pullchain to wrap around our wrists should we have a break or a loss. we know my dad is heartwarmed – somewhere – as we hold onto him and the simple way he loved his family – via lightweight metal chain.
after i wrapped d’s wrist a couple times and secured it with the ball chain connector clasps, i tossed the remaining piece onto the counter to put into a tiny special box that is heaven for beaded chain.
i walked past and looked down.
there on the counter it had formed a heart.
my poppo grinned.
love…straight from the heart…pulls us all together…never apart.
i wish – every day – that my sweet momma and poppo were still here. that we could coffeesit with them, make them great soups for lunch, spoil them for dinner. that we could take them apple-picking and introduce my dad to a new scotch or two he hadn’t tried yet. that we could maybe adventure a little or just be quiet and listen to their old stories. i wish.
the thing i know, though, is that they would be beside themselves in this circus of a country we now have. it would make both of them irate to watch the vitriol being tossed about, the divisiveness that is being fed by rabid spewers, the lack of transparency, the lies. my daddy-o would have a few choice words to describe these folks and they wouldn’t be pretty.
and my mom? well, she would have no time for anyone who is less than kind to another. she would want nothing to do with any politician or religious leader or pundit who skips kindness in their approach to life, who excuses their own behavior, stance, agenda, platform, control tactic, extremism based on warped interpretation of law or scripture. she would point out the colossal hypocrisy. she might reiterate the story about when, in the dark night, they parked their little vw bug next to a small hill off the road. tired while traveling europe by car, they needed to rest and could find no guesthouse nearby. the little hill would serve them well, they thought. they woke up next to a gigantic dung pile, covered with black tarp held down by old tires. she would trust that we could connect the metaphoric dots. sometimes a hill is not a hill.
i think that both of them – were they here – would be ashamed of what it’s all become. my dad would wonder how his service – missing-in-action in world war II and then as a POW in a bulgarian camp – mattered now to these people who are making a mockery of democracy. my mom would be aghast at how people are being treated, marginalized, discriminated against, excluded. she, who worked hard to be kind to everyone, would worry about the popularity of this ugly trend. yes, they would both – were they here – be astonished at how, in so many arenas and in so many circumstances, people are just downright not good to each other.
i guess that – were they here – they would love a sit-down with dolly parton. they’d probably all talk at once, new yawk and a southern drawl all intermingling in conversation. and they’d all agree that they didn’t understand why anyone at all would “let religion and politics and things like that stand in the way of just being good human beings.”
and then – were they here, the three of them together – they would remind us all to stay away from dung piles posing as hills.
there is always time. nothing we do is more important than the time we spend together. all of us.
my sweet poppo always said, “you can’t take it with you!” and was referring to money. but it generalizes to pretty much everything. in the end, you can’t take your possessions, your achievements, your investments, even your failures, with you. they will stay behind and it’s love that will carry you on, love that you will carry with you.
so even in the middle of important checklists of chores, work tasks, more achievements and more failures, more, more, more anything – cars, clothes, houses, boats, snowblowers and appliances, shoes, hairdos, all the fancypants trappings of “made-it” – there is time. to walk and talk and be silent and swish your feet through crunchy fallen autumn leaves.
cause you can’t take the other stuff with you.
my dad’s last words to me were, “i love you, kook.” my last words to him were, “i love you, my poppo.”
he’s watching us swish our feet through the leaves now. and smiling.
i’m sure people in the target parking lot stared at me while i took a photograph of the side of the sara lee truck pulled up in front of the store. i’m always the one – lagging behind, trying to capture some image. so many photo ops, so little time…
but these words “how goodness should taste” caught my attention. sara lee, the company of classic pound cake, chocolate creme pie, new york style cheesecake, makes me think of my sweet momma, coffeetime, the round smoked-glass table, white plastic vinyl swivel chairs. my poppo, pouring the coffee out of a farberware percolator, whistling. goodness, indeed.
my growing-up wasn’t dressed up with ganache and crème brûlée or crepes and chocolate soufflé. i was the product of two great-depression parents and they were practical. entenmann’s crumbcake and my mom’s lemon pudding cake, homemade apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, box cupcakes and sara lee raised me, along with an occasional traditional-cheesecake splurge at the bakery.
goodness was simple. it wasn’t prissy nor did it require much money. it wasn’t fancy or haughty nor did it exclude anyone. it wasn’t loud and shiny nor did it bellow “look-at-me”. it wasn’t for show. it was just simply goodness.
when i saw the sara lee truck i called to david. he had stopped on the target sidewalk when he realized i hadn’t made it across the lane from lot to store.
i showed him the picture of the side of the truck “how goodness should taste” and said, “this is perfect for a blogpost.” i continued, “a great reminder!”
after all, maybe we should all think more about goodness.
not just how it should taste, but how it should feel inside, how it should sound, how it should be shown, what it should look like, how we can touch it, how we can share it.
wouldn’t it be cool if – maybe instead of [or, even, in addition to] “land of the free, home of the brave” – the united states of america was known as “how goodness should taste”?
surely this will attract the attention of agriculture lovers near and far. we – the tiniest farmers of them all – are growing corn.
i would like to say that we have deliberately planted corn, in an effort to have a cob or two, but this isn’t the case. the chippies are likely the generation alpha planters; they are messy at the birdfeeder and, while they are stuffing their little cheeks of birdseed, their tiny paws are flailing and birdseed is flying. they planted the corn and we were, frankly, astonished to identify it. in good-corn-fashion, i’m guessing it was knee-high-by-the-fourth-of-july, only we didn’t notice, as it blended into the ornamental grasses under the feeder. it’s nice to know our soil is good enough for corn.
i looked up if we could actually eat it, and stumbled into the georgia gardener walter reeves who said that “the seed used in bird food is delectable to birds, squirrels and chipmunks.” but “if the seeds sprout, you’ll get more of the same.” to his knowledge, “all of these plants would be edible by humans. but you might not want to eat them, because the varieties used in birdseed might not be digestible by humans. leave them for the birds,” he recommends.
nevertheless, we consider it a win. whether we were passively or actively farming, it grew and we are proud.
it is all beginning to make sense to me. all that time my sweet momma and poppo spent in arboretums and planting fields. all the time they spent watching the birds out their back windows. all the time they simply spent with each other, appreciating the idyllic opportunities that nature and outdoors and together bring.
i am guessing that somewhere – on another plane not too far away – my dad is watching. maybe he’s hanging out with columbus, who was pretty expert at the iowa-corn-in-which-he-was-raised. my mom is rolling her eyes at them, while they’re chuckling at the corn in our garden and maybe scoffing a tiny bit at walter. they’re paying no attention to her eyerolls.
they’re getting their yellow-plastic-tipped-corn-cob-skewers ready.
a good self-actualizing refrigerator and freezer will keep things cold and frozen, respectively, and have no further issues. the job is simple.
now, there are fancy fridges and run-of-the-mill fridges…side-by-sides, french-door-bottom-freezer models, freezer-on-top standards, retro fridges, beverage center fridges, deep built-in fridges…but the one thing they have in common is keeping things cold, keeping things frozen. so, leaking water onto the floor is not in the list-of-things-to-do for a fridge/freezer combo that has any self-respect.
which brings me to the last two years of our kitchenaid.
back in 2013 i spent a literal fortune on a stainless steel french-door-bottom freezer refrigerator because suddenly, after merely 24 years, my fridge had failed. there is limited space in our old kitchen where the fridge goes so i had to choose carefully, measuring tape and measurements in hand.
they installed the new shiny fridge and, i have to tell you, i felt fancy. gleaming stainless steel, sunlight reflecting off its french doors, bottom freezer the coolest-invention-ever, i was pretty darn excited, despite the monthly payment to the temporary credit card issued by the local appliance store. classy fridge and all, i moved on in life.
seven years later, this fridge, that i have babied with stainless steel cleaner and soft cloths, began to weep onto the wood floor.
there was no reason for it to weep. on the contrary, i should have been weeping as i watched rust spots accumulate on its no-longer-gleaming doors. stainless steel that is not stainless. when i asked kitchenaid about the rust spots and streaks, they said, “we’re sorry you’re experiencing rust on your stainless steel fridge. we recommend using stainless steel cleaner.” well, hello. that’s the only thing i have used, frequently enough to have to purchase and re-purchase. somehow i am not feeling their remorse or sympathy.
but, back to the water-on-the-floor. the opening credits of the pandemic on the screen of life, we were not anxious to bring in a service rep, so i googled. there was a gigantic sheet of ice under the drawer of the freezer – and this was leaking onto the floor. apparently, this is a common problem. (which begs the question why this is not addressed.) i defrosted the freezer and fridge, cookie sheet catching the icebergs as i rubber-spatula-ed them off of the freezer floor. cleaned everything, dried it all off, stainless-steel cleaned the doors and body for good measure and turned it back on.
and now? i am doing this every four to six weeks. but i have it down to a science. i use this tiny fan that my sweet poppo made, a rube-goldberg special the rpms i could not guess but the pitch of the whir tells me it’s mighty fast. i only thaw the freezer floor – so i only need one larger cooler for the freezer food and i don’t open the fridge. i wipe it all down (there’s no chance for it to get icky these days) and turn it all back on.
yesterday morning…merely nine days since the last great-thaw…we woke to puddles under the fridge, clearly having a meltdown (no pun intended). we are increasing the defrost-the-freezer-frequency and looking up appliance repairmen.
my conversation with kitchenaid was…interesting and very, very long. they promised to send me a part on the 22nd. a couple days ago i checked on this. they told me the information i provided does not match their records. so i am at ground zero again. no irony there. zero. the degrees the freezer is set at.
i just don’t know. it goes without saying they just don’t make things the way they used to.
yep. they are mine. sponge curlers from my growing-up.
and, i have to tell you, i am tempted to try them. i mean, remember banana curls? well, they are baaaack.
everything comes back, it seems…so my sweet poppo was right in saying that you need to have a giant barn “out back” where you can put every single thing until it comes back into style again. and again.
the cleaning-out-of-the-basement (and the closets and the attic and the cupboards and the garage) is just a tad bit overwhelming, not that you haven’t guessed that from all the other times i’ve mentioned it.
these sponge curlers are riding the can’t-decide-train. they alternatively go from donate to trash to keep. i’m leaning to keep. i mean, how much room do they actually take? and….wouldn’t it be fun to try them again one day? i think i have a curling iron or two tucked away somewhere, but we all know old-school is, well, old-school.
we came across the word “modtro”. ohmygosh, ya gotta love it! it is us, i told david. a cross between modern and retro. yup, yup. and no, we aren’t going to go all math-like and try to figure out the proportions of each…what percentage modern and what percentage retro…i’m sure that the girl and the boy could fill you in on that. but i do love having a descriptor. because, truth is, we sit kinda close to the tail end of the baby boomer category and we are not really gen-x-ers either. it’s tough without a proper descriptor. modtro. i like it.
so, as a modtro, surrounded by both – the modern and the retro and don’t forget the retro-ish-modern – my life-work is now – for this moment – discerning between treasure and what’s-a-nice-word-for junk. discerning between we-should-keep-this and someone-else-could-really-use-this-especially-if-they-didn’t-have-to-buy-it-let’s-give-it-away. discerning between someone-else-needs-this and someone-else-would-buy-this. discerning between i-can’t-part-with-it and i-can-take-a-picture-of-it-and-thank-it-and-let-it-go. discerning between the necessary and the not-necessary. discerning between the i-can’t-store-it-anymore and the deep-regret of getting-rid-of-it.
i come by all this honestly. my parents were not wasteful. they had a tight budget – i now see – and they re-purposed and re-used and did-without and passed on the genetics of this in full force to me. the i-might-need-its rear their ugly heads and i push back, conjuring up the strongest ruthless inclinations i can muster.
and i’m doin’ it. the stuff is clearing out. it’s a long process with many decades to review as i go. there are moments of utter joy – remembrances and visceral memories. there are moments of wistfulness. there are moments that make me laugh aloud.
i clearly remember my sister not-so-gently brushing my hair and winding it around these old sponge curlers. then i’d sleep on them all night, which is a gigantic sleep-sacrificing effort. and then, voila! curls! “it hurts to be beautiful,” she’d admonish me when i complained, bonking me on the head with the hairbrush.
so it’s hard to know in what pile to put these pink squishies.