Underwear Memories

This past weekend, Daryl, the eleven year old, announced that he had no clean underwear.  We had recently removed the much-too-small oldest underwear from his supply and he was running short.  I had purchased some more but was saving them for that oh-so-favorite Christmas gift.  But now he was out.  I offered him the much-too-small pairs that he had been wearing just a week or two ago but apparently they were no longer acceptable.  And asking him to wear dirty underwear when I had ten clean pairs tucked away in my closet seemed petty and gross.

So I announced with as much enthusiasm as I could muster that he was going to get part of a Christmas present early!  Yay!  And then I opened the package of new underwear and extracted a pair.  Gosh, it looked so big!  I took it into him and he frowned at me.  “That’s going to be too big,” he said.

“Just try them,” I responded.

He did and they fit just fine.  As I folded laundry later that weekend, I thought about how hard it had been getting to tell Hal’s underwear apart from Daryl’s.  Now, as I folded my husband’s, I thought about how it was going to get harder to tell Daryl’s from Daddy’s.

And that reminded me of a major source of contention between my brother and our step-dad.  My brother had a really bad habit of stealing our step-dad’s underwear.  I can’t recall now whether he extracted them from the laundry before it got sorted or if he actually ventured into his room to steal them out of the drawers.  At any rate, he was always walking around in Bill’s underwear and Bill was always irritated.

So one Christmas, or maybe it was for Bill’s birthday, I hatched a plan.  I bought a package of underwear and stitched colorful “B”s on the fly of them.  Some were small, some were quite large.  All were brightly colored.  When he opened them, I triumphantly announced that now my brother could not claim that he didn’t know the underwear he was wearing was not his.  Problem solved.

It wasn’t too long before my brother was seen walking the house in underwear with bright “B”s stitched on the fly.

Today would have been Bill’s 66th birthday.  He left us nearly nine years ago when his cancer returned with a vengeance.  I’m pleased that memories like this one still return periodically and still make me smile.

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.

With Family Like This…

Back in elementary or perhaps early middle school, I remember tracking biorhythms.  My primary takeaway was that sometimes we have bad physical, mental, and maybe emotional(?) biorhythm days.  We could plot it out and know when our bodies or minds might not be optimal.  I have no idea if this was quack science or the real deal.  It was being taught in the public school so it had to be solid, right?  (There was snark in that question if you couldn’t read it).

Anyway, I got to wondering this past weekend if it was possible to have a bad other-people-impacting-your-physical biorhythm day.  Maybe you exude some energy that says “harm me!”  I don’t know.  But that’s all I can come up with for Hal’s unfortunate 24 hour window that began Friday afternoon.

It all started with his sister messing around with him.  She picked him up and started spinning and swooping with him.  He was laughing and carrying on.  It was great fun.  They were both just a tad manic.  She hauled him into the cluttered kitchen to turn up her already loud music.  As she struggled to reach the volume control while juggling a squirming Kindergartener, she knocked over a cup.  (Not just any cup – my favorite porcelain hand-made, one-of-a-kind cup.  Just the right size, height, shape, thickness, and such a lovely shade of blue.  But I digress.)

When her Daddy called out that she was knocking over her mother’s favorite cup, she attempted to catch it.  And in so doing, dropped her brother just enough to smash his forehead into the kitchen counter.  Much crying and head holding and apologizing and scolding ensued from all parties.  Eventually, life resumed.

Soon after, we all headed to the church to drop Jane and her friend off at the lock-in.  The boys played outside in the front yard, some strange version of football, I think, without the ball.  As the boys ran toward us, Hal slightly in the lead, Daryl called out, “Hey, Dad!  Look at this!”

Dad turned just in time to see Daryl reach his foot out and trip his little brother.  Hal’s left knee hit the ground as he crumpled.  He grabbed his knee and rocked back and forth, crying, remarkably like an injured football player.  His dad checked it out while scolding his older brother, who apparently did not understand that tripping is not an acceptable part of football, or indeed, any other sport.

The next morning, Hal walked stooped over, complaining that his bruised knee hurt.  That afternoon, he was sprawled on the floor of the living room, watching Netflix.  His shoes had been tossed carelessly to the side and were in the walkway.  Since we were about to carry a heavy piece of furniture through there, I began to scoot the shoes toward him.  They were gripping the floor remarkably well, so I began to kick with more force.  One of them went airborne and smacked him in the side of his head.

Daddy was once again watching.  Hal was again shocked and crying.  “What is wrong with you people?!” my husband asked incredulously.  “Can’t you leave that poor boy alone?”

Poor boy, indeed.  I hope our strengths outshine our weaknesses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if late Saturday afternoon, Hal was wondering what other living arrangements might be available to him.

Away From Home

I rarely have to travel for work. Maybe once every couple of years or so. Well, last week was one of those times. I left Monday morning with three people from my workplace (although not direct coworkers) and returned Friday morning, a day earlier than everyone else.

When I woke up Friday morning, I was surprised by the dominant emotion. It was regret,  not joy. That surprised me. And upset me.

As I dressed and packed,  I examined how I felt and why. Why would I be sad about leaving here and returning to my family?

First and foremost,  I’m a creature of habit and resistant to change. Life had fallen into a very simple routine. But surely that alone couldn’t explain it?  I also don’t like the thought that the group I’ve been “hanging with” is still hanging but I won’t be part of it.  But surely that couldn’t be it?  Surely my family is a better group than these guys?

So what was I doing while here that might make me reluctant to leave? Well,  the work environment was very relaxed and low key. No one was pushing or rushing me. I only had a small assignment with dead time while I waited on other people. I didn’t have to find something else to keep me busy during those times. I could relax,  visit with folks,  whatever. And it was all OK.

The work day was longer that my standard work day but still easier. And then, after work,  I’d go back to the hotel and chill. About an hour later, I’d go out to eat with my travel mates. They were a quirky lot but still fun to hang out with. Everyone had a good sense of humor. Our last dinner had been particularly enjoyable. And then I’d return to my room and read. Or blog. Or talk to my family on the phone. Whatever I wanted.

Home is chaos. Responsibility. Stress. I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s,  but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s hard.

I’m an elder in my church,  currently serving on the governing body. My kids have many activities. There’s a lot to do.  But while away,  those responsibilities were distant. I had an out. But,  as I packed my bags,  I knew I was heading back to a busier,  more stressful life. I was mourning the loss of the quiet,  easy,  selfish *me* time.

I was still pondering my feelings when I was dropped off at the airport. I was early so opted to walk down to the gift shop. I strolled through the racks looking for just the right items for my family. I smiled as I found things they’d like at reasonable prices. I called my husband to ask his opinion on one.

As we talked, he said to me,  in response to a remark from one of the kids,  “Daryl says he loves you. He’s the only one though.”

There was some commotion and other comments.

“Jane says she doesn’t love you.”

Indignant protests in the background.

“Hal loves you and he’s the only one.”

I could hear Daryl’s sharp outcry.

The conversation,  rife with my husband’s trademark misrepresentations of what people were saying made me feel at home. I walked away from the gift shop,  thinking over my purchases. I felt my throat constrict. Tears began to well in my eyes. I’m going home. And there’s no place I’d rather be.

It Makes Our Lives Easier

Technology. It makes our lives easier. Right?

I don’t have to have TV because I can watch shows on Netflix. As long as I have my internet connection, that is. Lose it, as I am prone to during big thunderstorms like the one last night, and I sit on my couch mourning my inability to engage in my nightly ritual.

Taking pictures is a breeze now. No film, no uncertainty on whether the picture was good, virtually no limitation on quantity. My phone, always in my pocket, has a great camera. I can take a picture anytime anywhere. Both it and my super-deluxe SLR camera have huge amounts of memory to store thousands of pictures.

I’ve thought about this when sifting through photos for loved one’s now-standard funeral slide shows. By the time my generation, and definitely my children’s generation, are dying, this process will likely be a nightmare. The standard 3 day window between death and funeral will have to stretch to a week to give the survivors time to search through millions of pictures stored on hard drives. Stored with helpful names like “DSC098773” or “img_12378”, because really, how many people get around to organizing their pictures? At least the shoebox of old is easy to sort through quickly and it only holds so many pictures!

Yes, the problems with digital pictures have been on my mind of late. See, Hal’s preschool requested I send a photo from each year of his life, from birth to age 5, preferably full face pictures. It’s part of a big project related to his preschool graduation coming up. They gave plenty of notice and I tried to get to it out of fear I’d forget. But I listened to my laid-back husband who said, “Oh, you’ve got plenty of time. You don’t need to do it now.”

So as I picked him up from school on the Thursday evening of the week we were to bring the pictures, I overheard another mom asking about the pictures and I panicked. Oh, no! They are due tomorrow!

I mentally ran down our evening’s schedule. Not looking good. It was already 5:30 and we were meeting for a quick supper at Taco Bell. My husband had choir practice at 6 while Jane needed to be at the high school at 6. I had a meeting at another church at 7 while Daryl had open house at 7. No one would be home before 8:30.

That’s ok, I thought. I’ll run home before my meeting to see what pictures I can find. We’ll finish up after the kids go to bed, upload them to Wal-Mart, pick them up in the morning. It’s tight but it’ll work.

Yeah. Right. It’ll work. Unless a storm hits and we lose our internet connection.

As the group I was with closed in prayer, my phone notified me of the impending danger. “Tornado Warning. Take Shelter Immediately. Severe Warning.” See? Technology is great.

Several people decided to disregard the warning and headed out to their cars. When they opened the door, I could hear the tornado sirens. Now, I’ve lived in this Texas town for 17 years and I don’t recall ever hearing the sirens for anything other than tests. This good Oklahoma girl knows that when the sirens sound, you better take heed. I returned to the building.

I started getting text messages and phone calls from my daughter and husband. She was at the high school, taking cover and begging us not to get on the road to retrieve her. He had taken the boys from the school and returned to the church next door and was camped out in a small hallway. I explored my surroundings and hunkered down near a closet in a small office. And then did what anyone in this connected age of technology would do. I posted on Facebook:

Tornado sirens just went off. My family is taking cover in three different locations across town. I wish we were all together.

I then noticed a friend on Facebook who was complaining about strange behavior with her text messages. I soon experienced problems too. The networks were having trouble keeping up. Calls and texts were not making it through. Our single most reliable devices were failing us.

Before long, the other two people holed up in the church office decided that the danger had passed and prepared to lock up. The sky and the National Weather Service disagreed. I called a nearby friend to see if I could go to her house but ultimately decided to take the extra few minutes to join my husband and the boys. Or my daughter at the high school. Which one? I didn’t have to decide right away but as I approached the road where I’d have to turn left for her or right to them, I still found myself unsure. I ultimately went for the boys, for reasons that make no sense in the light of day.

Eventually, there was a small break in the storm. One of the adults with Jane brought her to the church and we decided to head home. Not until we were on the road did I get a text from a friend worried about us because our area north of town was getting pounded and allegedly reporting 118mph winds. The weather was terrible and a tornado watch would remain in effect until much later that night. But we were home and, as it turned out, safe.

But we had no internet access beyond the data on our cell phones.

Texting with my dad had resulted in him emailing me photos from Hal’s birth, the one time period I had been unable to find on our computer. But I couldn’t get to the email from the computer and my phone wasn’t registering receipt of the emails. And even if I could get to them, I couldn’t upload them to get printed anyway. I went to bed with the hope that we’d have internet access in the morning.

We didn’t.

And thus began the ridiculous technological attempts to get what we wanted anyway. I first forwarded the emails that my phone now knew about to my husband. It’s near the end of the billing period and I’m getting tight on my data usage. Better for him to download the pictures than me. My plan was to then connect his phone to the computer, copy the pictures over USB, then burn all the pictures to a CD to be taken to Wal-Mart the old-fashioned way. But the computer wouldn’t recognize his phone as a USB device.

Fine, I said. Let’s use Bluetooth to transfer the picture from your phone to mine and then I’ll connect mine to the computer. He suggested we use NFC. You mean SBeam? I asked. We then huddled in our entry way, the children patiently waiting to be taken to school. We enabled NFC and SBeam. We put our Samsung phones back-to-back. He tried to send the picture. It didn’t work. We tried it several different ways. Eventually we turned on Bluetooth. Our phones recognized each other but the transfer failed. I suspected the picture wasn’t truely saved to his phone even though it claimed to be. At any rate, I ultimately told him I’d just download the picture to my phone – screw the data limit; go ahead and get them to school.

But my phone wouldn’t download the picture! I rebooted our computer and router in the vain hope that we could regain our internet connection. I rebooted my phone to see if it could download the picture after a fresh start. Nothing worked. I was surrounded by technology but couldn’t get what I wanted where I wanted when I wanted it.

I finally called the school and after confirming that they wouldn’t actually use the pictures before Monday, took a deep breath and went to work. Hopefully we’ll regain our connection to the internet, the world, and our sanity before then. Technology. It’s supposed to make our lives easier.

A Few of our Favorite Things

I recently noticed a purple wrapped box on the kitchen counter. It had a note written on it: “To Everyone”.

I idly wondered which of the children it was from but then went on about the things I needed to be doing. I think a week or two went by without all of us being together at the same time, near the box, and with someone cognizant about the box. I never got a chance to ask who it was from.

Today, I walked through the living room as Hal tore into the box. There were several layers of construction paper wrapping. I heard my husband comment that there was something for everyone. And then he and Hal began to thank Daryl.

I looked up as I passed through a second time to see Daryl curled up in the recliner, playing on his Nintendo DS, and trying his best to hide the self-conscious smile spreading from ear to ear.

Then I looked down at the little table where the contents of the box had been spread out. I now remember him asking me what my favorite thing was so he could draw it. And that’s what he did: draw his family’s favorite things and wrap them up in a box. Sometimes this kid is truly special and thoughtful.


Mediocre Mommy

Hal brought home a sheet of paper from school recently with a series of boxes that had an English word, its Spanish equivalent, and then his artistic representation of the idea behind the words.

I was impressed with a number of the pictures – the school house had no fewer than 20 windows on it, for example. But the best, by far, was his picture of family.

We all had necks and five fingers, an improvement over older drawings, although we appeared to have no arms, our hands sprouting directly out of our sleeveless shirts. We were also bald, and the family was comprised of three members instead of five. But one of us had some wicked heels on our shoes.


I asked him who was whom while his siblings began to argue over who was left out. He explained that he didn’t have time to draw his Bubba and apparently had no intention of drawing Sissy. The one in heels turned out to be me, despite the fact that I very rarely wear them. The small guy with no feet at all was Hal, the other person was Daddy.

Daryl, who was standing too far away to see the assignments announced his assessment on who was whom. “Daddy is the big one and Mommy is the mediocre one…”

He cut off as Daddy and Jane burst out laughing and I expressed feigned indignation.

“I think you meant the medium one, Buddy,” my husband said as he got his laughter under control.

“No, I mean mediocre.”

More laughter.

“Doesn’t it mean average? Like, the middle one?”

“No, not quite, honey,” I said. “It’s got a more negative connotation than ‘average’. Here, let’s look it up in the dictionary.”