You Have an Uncle?

My children and I were sitting around the dinner table last night, having a rare, slow evening. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about summertime. After a bit of animated response, Daryl asked, “Are we going anywhere this summer?”

“Denver,” I said, reminding them of our annual trip to visit my husband’s family.

“Anywhere else?”

“Well…,” I said, “If your sister doesn’t get that wild card spot to Globals in Knoxville, we were talking about going to North Carolina.” I said it in a tone that hinted I was annoyed with her possible wild card berth.

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed in false excitement. “North Carolina!! Oh, my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go to North Carolina. It’s just so exciting!! I’ll totally give up Globals for that! I mean, come on. It’s North Carolina!”

I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her.

“What’s in North Carolina?” Daryl asked.

“My uncle.”

“You have an uncle? I didn’t know you had an uncle.”

“Yes, my Uncle Matt and his wife and their daughter Anna and her husband and their kids. Here,” I said, showing him a picture off of Facebook.

“He looks just like Grandpa Ted!”

“Wow!” injected Jane. “They must be related!”

“They are brothers,” I said.

“Well, I didn’t know! I’ve never met him before.”

“Yes, you have,” I said. “You’ve been to his house even. You just don’t remember it. You were pretty small.”

“I don’t like visiting family I don’t know very well,” Daryl said quietly. “It’s uncomfortable.”

“Yeah,” said Jane, who then started in with a loud and energetic voice tinged with that homey sweetness that older family members often use: “‘Oh, sweetheart! You are looking so good! My goodness, I haven’t seen you since you were THIS tall. You sure have grown! I remember when you could barely walk. How old are you now? Are you in High School yet? I bet you’ve got all the girls lined up waiting for you, don’t you! Quite the ladies’ man, I’m sure.’ See?” she asked, dropping the fake voice and turning to me, “I’m ready to be an old family member. I’ve got this down.”

I hate to say this, but she’s kinda right. The older we get, the more obnoxious we seem to get when we see people, especially young people, that we haven’t seen for awhile. But having had the occasional “Oh, wow! You look just like your mother!” or “I can’t believe how much you’ve grown up!” slip out of my mouth unplanned, I’ve gotta say, she doesn’t have to fake it. By the time she gets there, she’ll be doing it too.

I just hope that I can continue to stop it after the first sentence and not go on with the annoying attempts to relate and sound cool. Thing is, kids are so aloof that it seems to me to not be a very comfortable event from the other side either.

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Regarding my Mother – Edith

My mother’s name is not Edith.She does not have a pension with Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust. She is not dead.

I’d be OK if her name were Edith although since my middle name is her first name, maybe I wouldn’t. It doesn’t flow well between my first and last. I’d be OK if she had a Boilermaker-Blacksmith pension – especially if it meant she’d go ahead and retire. I’d NOT be OK if she were dead. Not at all.

Fortunately for me, she is not.

The same is apparently not true for another woman who shares my name.

In July, I received the following letter. I initially thought it was a scam, but as I read on, it seemed unduly complicated and put considerable burden on me to collect the money. It was a pretty stupid scam, if that’s what it was.

Suggesting that I hire Legal Counsel isn’t something the average scammer does. Such an act is counterproductive to their objectives. It also didn’t give me an “act now or lose it forever” ultimatum or instruct me how to wire administrative fees or create any sense of urgency in me at all. Not to mention calling my mother Edith, when her name is most certainly not Edith, is not very convincing.

Edith

So if not a scam, then what was it? I Googled the Trust and didn’t find any indications of it being dubious or untrustworthy. I Googled Edith’s name and didn’t find it linked to any scams. Finally I Googled Edith’s name and mine (first and last) together and came across an interesting find.

Edith and her husband, either Fritz or Harold (or maybe one was her husband and the other her son), had a place of residence in a town not too far from me. The website also showed that there was a resident with my exact name there. First, middle, last. Another me less than an hour away. Her husband was also a resident, although his name was not the same as my husband’s name. Thankfully. That would have been too much.

So it must be this other me that Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust actually wanted to get in touch with. Not the me me, after all! Intrigued by this information, I resolved to call the other me.

A month went by without me getting around to it. We were gone for a portion of that time. I forgot about it another portion. I spent some time imagining how the conversation would go, though. Would the other me think the me me was attempting to scam her? Oh, the irony.

“Hello? Is this Jane Anne Doe? It is?! Hi, my name is Jane Anne Doe too!… No, really, it is… I’m serious…So I got this letter in the mail and I think it was supposed to go to you. I’d like to send it to you if you don’t mind giving me your address… No, really… no, wait! Don’t hang up!… Really, I’m not trying to scam you!… Wait… Is your mother’s name Edith?… It’s on the letter – that’s how I know. Has she passed away?… No, I haven’t been looking in your records… Really, it’s not a scam.”

Eventually, when resurrecting my to-do list notebook, I wrote down “Call the other me” on Sunday’s to-do list. Late Sunday, I transferred it to Monday’s to-do list. I got so little done on Monday that I just wrote Tuesday under Monday and kept the same list. Didn’t call her Tuesday either. What if after 8:00 was too late?

By Wednesday, I was determined. I would call the other me. I informed the kids I was making a phone call and to keep it down. I went to my room and closed the door. I took a deep breath, excited and nervous to finally be calling Edith’s daughter – because I had absolutely convinced myself that it was her and that this was her number.

But when I finally hit the green button to place the call, I was told the number wasn’t in service. I sat there on my bed, staring at the letter, thinking Wow. That’s kinda a let-down. Now what?

That number had been other me and her husband’s number, so I tried the number that was listed for Edith and Fritz and Harold. That number was disconnected too. I Googled poor Edith again. I found her obituary on a tribute page. Here’s what it said:

Edith was born on July 16, 1927 and passed away on Thursday, February 17, 2011. Edith was a resident of xxxxxxx, Texas.

And that was it. Her middle name was included on the header at the top of the page but there was no other information. No survivors. No indication of where to make a memorial. Nothing at all.

She was 83, making her daughter definitely older than me. Interestingly enough, when I imagined talking to the other me, I imagined her about my age. But, no, other me was probably about my mom’s age or a bit younger. Had she died too? Or moved away?

I think I’m done playing detective although I’m still insanely curious about Edith and other me. The letter tells me to write to the Pension Department if I’m not going to pursue getting paid this money. If I could send an email, I would. But if I can’t even write to my own grandmother, put a stamp on the letter, and get it in the mail, what’s the likelihood of me writing to this trust? Besides, they told me to give contact information for another person and the only contact information I’ve got for other me isn’t any good.

Maybe Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust sent the letter out to other possible descendants of Edith. Maybe there are lots of other me’s across the country. Or other Fritzes or Harolds. Or maybe they’ll just have to put the $3,121.10 back in their coffers. Either way, I wish them well.

How To Remember The Little Things

My mom always left notes for herself. Everywhere. There could be notes hanging from the ceiling fan pull in the dining room, guaranteeing she would see them since that was the main thoroughfare of the house. She’d tape notes on the inside of the front door so we’d see them as we left. Or on the door out to the garage. Or taped to the bathroom mirror. Or she might lay the note on her purse or on some other object that she wasn’t likely to forget.

I used to think she was forgetful. Now I know how smart she was.

Her notes would remind her to get something out of the fridge or to take something with her or make a phone call, some little out-of-the-norm activity that she needed to do. Or it would be a note reminding us of something we needed to do.

I actually come from a long line of note posters. My grandpa, her dad,  taped notes on the staircase banister, which was the central location of his house. These notes were often notes instructing my grandma on something she needed to do or a note for one of us coming to the house. The funny thing about his notes were that they were always typed and dated. I’m kinda surprised he didn’t sign them or have them notarized. I used to imagine that he filed the old notes away in case he needed them as evidence in a disagreement on something or for historical reference.

Despite having been raised by note-posters and understanding the intrinsic value of the activity, I’ve never made it part of my daily routine. And considering how badly I remember the minutia of life, that’s not a good thing.

While bemoaning the stacks of stuff in our entry way that my husband plans on (some day) (when he remembers) taking out to his studio, I remembered the notes.

“Maybe you need a better reminder {than all the crap in the way… I thought but didn’t say}. Maybe a note on the door so you see it on the way out.”

That put the thought in my head.

I have these Wella bars that I eat for breakfast at work and I accidentally took the entire box to work on Monday without remembering to leave one at home to eat before our half marathon this weekend. So I knew I had all week to remember to bring one back home.

Yesterday, as I retrieved one from the fridge in the morning, I thought, You aren’t going to ever remember to take one of these out at the end of the day.

Aha! I thought with a smile. A Post-It note will do the trick. But where? The fridge? My computer screen? No, I’ll get used to seeing it all day and it won’t work. Aha! On my purse!

And that’s what I did. Come the end of the day when I reached for my purse, I smiled broadly at my wild success and retrieved the almost-forgotten Wella bar from the fridge and slipped it in my purse, triumphant.

And then this morning as I pondered our upcoming race, I suddenly exclaimed an expletive. The must-be-refrigerated Wella bar from the day before was still nestled in my purse.

I guess I’m still in the beginner stages. Another note, perhaps? Maybe I should have carried the note with me and placed it on my steering wheel or back on my purse. So close, yet so far. I’ve got a long way to go before I earn my place among the great note-posters of my family.

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Remembering Grandma’s Grandpa’s House

We joined hands in a large circle around the island in my mother’s kitchen. There were 18 of us in all. My uncle said grace and we prepared to eat our Thanksgiving meal.

“Kids! Come over here and go through the line,” someone said shortly after the amen.

I grumbled to the person next to me, as I do every year, “Kids didn’t get to go through the line first when I was a kid. We always had to go through last.”

The person to whom I grumbled happened to be my 89 year-old grandmother. She laughed and attempted to remember how things had been handled when she was a child. She began to describe her grandparents’ house.

“Grandpa had a chair in the corner of the room,” she said. “His radio stand was right next to it. The dining table was over there.” She motioned with her hand. Her hands and words painted the picture of a cozy Thanksgiving gathering.

“The kids would run around playing,” she continued. “And eventually we’d get too loud and Grandpa couldn’t hear the radio anymore. So he’d start yelling in German.”

At this point, she startled me by uttering some words in German. I knew her parents had both been first generation American-born citizens of German descent. I had never considered that that likely meant German had been spoken around her as she grew up. I had never considered that she might know any German herself.

She cut off the German abruptly and chuckled at the memory.

“They didn’t have screens in their windows,” she said. “And I remember some of my cousins diving headfirst out the windows. They weren’t very far off the ground. But when he started yelling, you got out of the way!”

She smiled as we walked over to pick up our plates. “I don’t remember though whether we got our food first or last. I don’t remember what we ate or how we did it.”

I don’t know about you, but if she couldn’t remember it all, I’m glad she retained the radio, the German, and the cousins flying out the windows rather than who went through the line first and what they piled on their plate.

On This Day Five Years Ago

I recently enabled the “On This Day” feature in Facebook. This feature sends you a notification and then shows you all your previous posts from years past that you posted on this particular day of that year. I’m in love. And I’ve got all this fodder for looking-back blog posts!

Of course, we haven’t had internet service since the big thunderstorm a week ago. Our ISP has promised to come on Tuesday. They weren’t real good at returning calls when they promised that though, so I’m not holding my breath.

Anyway, it’s hard to write blog posts without an internet connection. I refuse to use the WordPress Android app to compose blogs. And it wasn’t until a couple of days ago that we bought a wireless adapter for our (approaching ancient) desktop computer so we could hotspot one of our phones and connect to the net from the computer.

Still – it was a long and emotionally draining weekend so I wasn’t interested in writing anything even though I now had the ability. Until I got the “On This Day” notification, that is. My husband and I had just finished watching Grace and Frankie on Netflix. As we sat on the couch trying to decide whether to retire to bed, I read my posts from years past.

Eventually, I got to the “5 years ago” section and saw this:

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The next memory was from an hour and a half earlier and went something like this:

So I sit down to write my first ever blog post. After a brief pause, I find a good starting point. Just as I’m getting into the groove…

“Mom? Where are those capri pants we bought at the mall?”

“I don’t know. Everything I found in the shopping bags, I ran through the washer and dryer and they were in the green hamper. Don’t you have some other dress code to wear tomorrow?”

“No. Just those pants from Claire that are too tight and then those others that are too short.”

 

With a sigh, I get up from the computer and head down the hall. As I’m digging through the laundry, the boys’ door opens and out walks the youngest…

“I need to go poop.”

“Ok. But make it quick. I’ll be in to wipe you soon.”

 

I gather up all the khaki laundry and head to the laundry room. As I’m loading it, I hear crying from the bathroom. It gets louder and more intense. I see Jane so I ask her, “what’s going on?”

“He asked me to hug him so I did and then he asked for it again so I did and then…”

The rest of it is drowned out by the crying. I open the bathroom door. He’s screaming incoherently about wanting something more from sister. I recognize the cry. It’s the impossible-to-satisfy-I’m-too-tired cry. Nothing his sister does will satisfy him.

 

After some threats and cajoling and sweet talking and a trip back to the washing machine, I finally get him shuffled off to bed. All is quiet. Only a 20 minute interruption. I suspect I better get used to them.

The friends who had been encouraging me to start a blog had asked for the web address. I smiled when I read my response to them:

Not handing out the address until I’ve replaced the picture of the chess board and figured out how to remove the tagline that says “4 out of 5 dentists like this blog” and a few other important housekeeping tasks! 🙂 But the first post is done and I hope to get the address out very soon.

I was outright laughing when I saw the response from a high school friend… who actually happens to be a dentist:

I want to be one of the four out of five!

Two hours before that post (about 7:15 in the evening), I had posted that I’d done the research, picked a site, decided on a name, and figured out aliases for my children’s names. I declared that I would be creating my blog and was posting that intent so I could be accountable.

I expressed concern that my name was likely already taken. It was. This was originally just going to be “Bright Spots.” The name wasn’t available. I panicked. But that was the perfect name! Then I thought to add “my” to the front and “mybrightspots” was born.

I looked over at my husband tonight and said, “Wow. Today is the 5th anniversary of my blog. Guess I should have written a post or something. Oh, well.”

“You still can. There’s time.”

It may seem melodramatic but I felt in that moment, that I was at a fork in the road. To shrug “nah!” and head to bed with Two Dots and Words With Friends would be the first nail in my blogging coffin. Was this thing important or not? It was. I had been too tired just moments before, but now I wanted nothing more than to write.

So here I am. Perhaps boring you with long-winded Facebook posts from five years ago. But still writing. And BrightSpots? Well, I went to see what they were up to. This is what I saw:

brightspots

Heh. So I outlasted them – whoever they were. That’s ok. I think I like expressing clear ownership of the bright spots after all.

Five years ago, I was attending a different church. I was working in a different building for a different supervisor. I hadn’t learned to enjoy wine. I hadn’t invested in a regular and vigorous workout routine. My husband hadn’t either and was growing a massively long beard. My children were about to turn 10, 7, and 2. My oldest child was still in elementary school.

Now I have a child marching in the High School band. And another starting bassoon in sixth grade. In fact, our three children are at three different campuses. Our first grader has learned to sass and employ sarcasm – even if he uses it at odd times. Our sixth grader is growing armpit hair and might have the faint shadow of a mustache if you hold him under the light just right. Our high schooler thinks she might want to go away to a special academy in two years. I enjoy a glass of wine after work some nights and work out with my cleanly shaved husband almost every morning.

Our life has changed so much. But the spots are still bright. And still mine.

TBT: Great Grandma’s House

Two weeks ago, in honor of Halloween, my Throwback Thursday post was about the spooky bedroom at the end of the hall at my Great Grandmother’s house. I spent a lot of time at her house. This week’s throwback looks at some of the brighter – or at least, not frightening – times.

Great Grandma was very adept at pinching pennies. Conservation was the name of the game. According to her, an inch and a half of water in the bottom of the tub was more than adequate for me to take a bath in. Can’t wash my hair in that little water? No problem. She’d just bend me backwards over the edge of the bathroom sink and wash it there.

She had a whole bunch of cheap costume jewelry. Never having pierced her ears, all the earrings were clip-on. This was perfect for our jewelry store that my brother and I would setup in the living room. We’d pull a dining room chair in as our display space. Hang the necklaces on the corners. Clip the earrings on the center portion of the chair back. We’d push the two facing couches away from the walls and each would claim one space as his or her home. The shop would be outside one of the homes. Business couldn’t have been swift. What, with only two people in the town.

My favorite activity, by far, was eating Saltine crackers. Now that I think about it, that was pretty much my favorite activity wherever I was. And I always had to be sneaky about it because crazy grown-ups seemed to have a problem with a kid eating an entire sleeve of crackers in one sitting.

Grandma kept her crackers in the little vertical storage space in her range (cooktop and oven – not built into any cabinetry). I’m sure the space was intended for baking sheets or something, but at her house, that’s where the crackers were. When she wasn’t looking, I’d swipe them and run to hide under the table in the living room.

For a smart kid, I wasn’t very bright though. I almost always forgot to close the door in my haste. So in would walk Grandma to the kitchen. She’d see the open compartment, and she’d start calling me. Problem was, she was 80-some years old and had quite a few grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

It took her awhile to get to my name.

“Mary Lee? Marsha? Susan? Jennifer? Lucy?” I never felt compelled to respond until she got to mine. I mean, how was I supposed to know she was calling me? In the meantime, I’d pick up the pace on stuffing crackers in my mouth.

Eventually, sometimes after cycling through some men’s names too, she’d hit mine. And I’d dutifully call out, “Yes?” The response was always muffled since it’s hard to speak with your mouth full of crackers. She’d enter the living room and snag the remaining crackers. I don’t recall getting into much trouble for it.

She had a pecan orchard too. As she got older, she became less and less able to pick the pecans on her own. In fact, sometimes she’d call my mom or my grandma yelling, “The crows are getting my pecans! The crows are getting my pecans!!” That was the siren call that would get all family members living in the area loaded up and hurried out to her house to pick pecans.

When I was in eighth grade, I remember going out there and picking pecans. That’s when I learned that there’s some sort of dye in the soft outer green shells that protect the brown speckled shells we are all accustomed to. I was trying to be helpful and peeled them all off. And all my fingers were stained orange!

Such an event is absolutely devastating to a middle schooler. How could I go to school with my hands looking like that?! I simply couldn’t. There was obviously only one thing to do… I carefully covered all my fingers with band-aids. Yep. That’s what I did.

And being an honest child, when the unforeseen question came up, “What did you do to your fingers?!”, I told the truth. Which made me look incredibly stupid since I wasn’t actually injured.

On Great Grandma’s wall, hung a poem. I thought this was one of the most insightful things I’d ever seen. And when we emptied her house, so many years later, I learned I wasn’t alone. Everyone wanted the poem. And so we all got color copies of the original. Mine is matted and hanging on my dining room wall:

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TBT: Memories of Great-Grandma

This week’s “Throwback Thursday” post was inspired by a conversation I had with Marissa Bergen, Rock and Roll Super Mom, who writes some fun and clever poetry on her blog, Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth. The conversation was on her spooky poem, The Picture. I encourage you to go check it out.  This recollection of mine seems appropriate to run the day before Halloween.

Marissa’s poem was about a (I assume) young child fearful of a painting on her grandmother’s wall and what happened when she decided to take matters in her own hands.  I don’t recall ever spending the night at my grandmother’s house.  Hers was walking distance from ours so I suppose a sleepover never made sense.  I do, however, remember spending the night at my great grandmother’s house.

The memory that I related to Marissa was of spending the night with my younger brother.  It was a very small farm house with one bathroom, a tiny kitchen, three bedrooms, two connected living rooms, and a basement.  Despite the house’s diminutive stature, the hallway going to the last bedroom was at least a mile long.  And not lit.  And I think there were cobwebs in the corners.  And rats watching us with beady little red, evil eyes.  And a witch cackling somewhere just out of sight.

Ok, so maybe the last few points are exaggerations.  Exaggerations on reality, not on how we felt.  I can remember the intense fear of being led down that (actually very short) hallway.  I hated it when my brother stayed with me because if it was just me, I got to sleep in grandma’s bed with her.  Until I got older and she claimed that I kicked her too much in my sleep.  Even then, I got to sleep in the second bedroom.  I never got banished to the end bedroom on my own.

There’s a reason for that.  I think Great Grandma knew that a child alone had no hope of survival in that bedroom.  We never wanted her to close the door.  We never wanted her to leave.  But she always did.

My brother and I would lie flat on our backs, huddled as close to each other in the dead center of the bed as possible.  We’d hold the blanket up tight under our chins.  Our fingers would begin to ache from clinching the sheets so tightly.  And we’d stare intently at the picture on the wall.

I don’t remember what the picture was.  I just remember truly thinking the person in the picture was watching us.  We’d whisper furtively to each other, wanting the reassurance of each other’s voice but fearful that the sound would draw out the demons watching us from that picture.

We were never as united as we were fighting for our lives in that dark room at the end of that long hallway.  “I want to roll over,” one of us would say.

“Ok,” the other would respond.  “I’ll keep watch.  You go ahead and turn over.”

We’d keep watch until we eventually dropped from fatigue.  The paralyzing fear I felt then is still palpable now.  I don’t know why.  It’s not like great grandma was a scary woman.  Well, barring the fact that she only had two fingers on her right hand and she was quite adept at pinching that fleshy underside of your arm with them if you were doing something wrong.  And she had false teeth that she liked to pop out of her mouth at us in a ghoulish expression that would cause us to shriek in mostly-fun fear.

Oh, and then there was the fact that she actually had those three fingers missing from her right hand in a jar in her basement.  I’m not making that up.  The fingers, and a chunk of the hand, were severed when she was two years old and was pretending to play the organ on a piece of sharp farm equipment.  She slipped and sliced her hand.

A very talented German doctor stitched up her hand.  And stored her fingers in a jar of formaldehyde that he kept on a shelf in his office.  And when she got a job working for him as a teenager, he handed the fingers back to their rightful owner.  Nothing spooky about that, right?

No, the truly terrifying thing about Great Grandma’s house was the time I realized just how old she really was.  When it dawned on me that none of my friends went to visit their great grandmas… because they didn’t have living great grandmas.  Or if they did, they were waiting out the end in nursing homes.

My great grandma lived by herself on a large farm out in the middle of nowhere.  When all of this came crashing down on me one day, I called my mom in a panic.  Had to stand at the rotary phone at the end of the kitchen.  And whisper – just in case Great Grandma was listening.

“But mom!” I pleaded.  “What if she… dies?!”

“Well,” she replied calmly and practically, “you’ll call me and I’ll come pick you up.”

“But what if I can’t reach you?!”

“Then you’ll call grandma.  One of us will come get you.”

“But what am I supposed to do until you get here?!”

“What do you mean?  Just wait for us.”

“But what about her?!”

“What do you mean, ‘what about her’?”

“I’d be in a house with a… dead body…”

“Well, it’s not like she’s going to jump up and grab you.  She’d be dead.”

Obviously, my mother had never taken the long walk to that end bedroom or she wouldn’t be so sanguine.  I resolved to sit out on the porch and wait for them there if, indeed, my great grandmother were to expire during one of my visits.  She didn’t, of course.  Like most childhood fears, that one was unfounded.

I had many wonderful experiences at Great Grandma’s house.  And I count the spooky, terrifying ones among them.  Happy Halloween, everyone.