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.

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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: An Ugly Car and Cloud Gazing

I’ve told a couple of stories from my past recently, one verbally to some friends and one in a blog comment.  Both times, I received such a positive response that I thought I should write them up as blog posts.  And that made me think that surely I have more stories from my past that would be entertaining to at least a few souls.

So I’m embarking on my first ever “feature” on this blog.  We’ll see how long it lasts.  Taking a page from Instagram and Facebook, each Thursday, I hope to post a story from an earlier time period in my life for “Throwback Thursday.”  As they are stories I remember well, I suppose they very definitely qualify as “bright spots” in my life if their memory is still shining bright after all these years.


My husband and I were High School Sweethearts.  We met somewhere around the start of our Junior year.  His best friend had a crush on me that summer and talked about me in such a way that my future husband was fascinated and interested in meeting me.  The start of the school year saw me dating his best friend and he dating mine.

One day, my best friend and I met up with him to go to a party.  He had spent the day polishing his not-yet-operational-again ’57 Chevy with a bottle of Windex to show it off.  We drove up.  He stood proudly by his car and asked what we thought.  I was doing my best snotty teenage girl imitation and told him I thought it was ugly.  He was crestfallen.

Within a couple of years, I’d be using a manual to rebuild the master cylinder of that “ugly” car in the band room after school.  I’d ride in it to prom.  I’d later retrieve him from it when it threw a rod through the oil pan on our wedding night.  I’d chastise him for driving it in a torrential rain storm that swept it off the road while we were in college.  I’d willingly have it towed to Texas when we moved.  It’s still sitting in the backyard now, waiting for our time, money, and interest to revive it.

Anyway, the car was not operational at the time and he was not 16.  My best friend was to drive us to the party.  I very snottily told him that I was riding in the front; he could sit in the back.  We stopped at an ATM and my friend and I went in to get some cash.

When I came out, he was sitting in the backseat with his head leaned all the way back so he could gaze out the back window.

“What are you doing?!” I asked.

“Looking at the clouds…” he said in a drawn-out, dreamy voice.  I remember very distinctly thinking that he wasn’t a very good match for my friend and that he would be a better match for me.

There was no motivation to steal him.  There was no emotion, no burning heart thumping in my chest, no desire.  Just an observation of fact.  I remember nothing of the party or anything else we did that day.  But I remember that young man gazing out the back of that window and making that comment like it was yesterday.

Within a couple of months, she had dumped him and his best friend had dumped me.  He had migrated through another girlfriend (who he confided to me he thought he could marry – I still don’t let him forget that remark).  While he was with that girl, I was growing to realize just how much I liked him.  Again, clear as day, I can remember my reaction to his writing that he wanted to marry her in the note we were passing back and forth at a Latin Club event.  This time, I felt the burning feeling in my chest and a profound sense of disappointment.  That feeling of loss was followed immediately by a firm decision that I wasn’t going to react.  That I really liked this guy and if I couldn’t be his girlfriend, I certainly wanted to be his friend.

She dumped him a week later.  And we began to date a month or two after that – after a drawn-out note-passing courtship that we were enjoying but was driving my friends batty.  And I became the first girl in his life to not dump him.  I never have and I never will.


Interestingly, this wasn’t the story I set out to tell.  I set out to tell the story that got my friends smiling last night.  I was just trying to set the stage when this story fell out instead.  Funny how that works.  Well, maybe the other one will come next week.

 

The Summer of 1989

I didn’t plan on posting anything today, and indeed there will be thousands upon thousands of blogs about Robin Williams today.  If there were not already thousands before I even roused from bed this morning.  I don’t have anything profound or significant to say about him or depression or suicide or even life.  I have no expectation to rise anywhere near the top or even any level of significance in the mass mourning of a great man.

What I do have is a fond memory from my pre-driving teenage years and since this memory involved him and resurfaced because of his death and because this blog is called mybrightspots and the memory is definitely a bright spot in my life, I will share that tale.

It was the summer of 1989.  I would be heading into tenth grade in the fall.  My best friend invited my mother and I to join her and her mother to watch Dead Poets Society at the theater.  I asked my mother if she wanted to go and was befuddled by her response.  There was no “Oh, I’d love to, but…”, no hesitation nor consideration.  Just a strange look on her face followed by, “No, that’s ok.  You guys have fun.”

My mother loved this friend and loved the friend’s mother as well.  She loved Robin Williams.  I couldn’t interpret the look on her face.  I couldn’t understand why she wanted to spend that Saturday afternoon cleaning house and doing laundry instead of watching this movie with these people.  I shrugged.  Oh, well.

I don’t recall if we went on opening day or if we just arrived late or what.  All I know is that when we walked into the theater, it was immediately obvious that we would not be sitting together.  I have never been in a more full theater in my life.  We found two seats near the back and I think my friend’s mother had my friend and I sit there before she wandered off to find her own seat.  I have a faint memory of guilt that mother and daughter did not sit together but relief that I was not cast out on my own.  I also remember thinking maybe it was best my mother hadn’t come.  Where would she have sat?

The movie was incredible.  Inspiring.  Moving.  Heart-breaking.  To this day, it remains one of my favorites.  And it’s at the top of my list of Robin Williams movies I want Jane to see this week.  My husband and I were up late last night, cruising IMDB and commonsensemedia.org to bring to mind all of his works that we loved.  I have this deep desire to show my children this wonderful actor, to help them understand what the world has lost.  Popeye for Hal.  Jumanji and Mrs. Doubtfire for Daryl.  Dead Poets Society and maybe Good Will Hunting for Jane. Maybe not The World According To Garp just yet. It feels important.  This honoring and remembering and educating.

Back to 1989, though.  I came home on an adrenaline rush.  I could barely contain my excitement as I burst into the house.  “Mom!” I exclaimed.  “Man, you should have been there!  That was awesome!”

The strange expression on her face from earlier was back but intensified.  “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” she said, in a mildly disconnected and certainly not enthusiastic way.

“You’ve got to go see it, mom!  That was the best movie ever!  Robin Williams was wonderful!”

“It was a movie?” she asked.

Now it was my turn to be confused.

“Um… yeeeessss…?  What did you think it was?”

“I thought you were going to some group that was going to sit around and listen to people read poems written by dead guys.  I couldn’t figure out why you wanted to go, but more power to you.”

It took awhile for the laughter to die down.

And even though Robin Williams is gone, it’ll take awhile for the laughter he left me with to die down.  If it ever does.

Rest in Peace, you talented, flawed, and wonderful man.

Music to my Ears

Jane declared the love of her life to me today.

“I am totally in love with music! I mean, I’m just in love with music.”

“Are you in love with playing music or just listening to it on your iPod?”

“I love it all! I love listening to it. I love playing it. I love figuring out how to play different instruments that I’ve never played before.”

“You don’t like to sing.”

“I know, but I love instruments.”

Earlier in the evening, as chime choir practice wrapped up, she had sat down at the piano and begun picking out Good King Wenceslas. She’s never taken piano lessons. Well, unless you count the 2 or 3 basic lessons she had at the preschool one summer. She’s played the song on violin and viola, but never piano.

By the time the chimes director had turned off the lights in the room to encourage (force?!) her to leave, she had it figured out. And pounded it out in total darkness as I called from the hallway, “Jane! We need to go!”

In the car, waiting (forever!) in the Taco Bell drive-thru line, she concluded her gushing of musical love by categorizing the band instruments and their players.

“I’ve thought it might be neat to play the tuba,” she said. “Because, you know, I’m big and it’s big. It kinda fits. But…”

“But what?”

“Did you ever notice when you were in band that certain people seem to play certain instruments?”

“Like how the tubas tend to be the big chubby guys?” I asked.

“Yeah! And quiet. They are all quiet. And the trumpets are loud and obnoxious.”

“I often found them full of themselves.”

“That’s true. And the trombones are weird in a quiet kind of way. And the french horns are… well… You know, Mr. Thomas says the french horn is the hardest instrument to play.”

“I can believe that,” I said. “I always thought the french horns were kind of formal. Stuffy.”

“Yeah! That’s it! Formal.”

“And what about the flutes?” I asked, naming her instrument.

Without missing a beat, she said, “They are the girly ones.”

“You and Jason are girly?” This surprised me.

“I’m not but he sure is. He’s got a high-pitched voice and he’s always going on about stuff like the girls do.”

“Okaaaayyy… what about the clarinets?”

“They’re the normal ones. I mean, not *normal* normal – they are still in the band, you know, but they can kind of pass for normal. They are interesting, like their own person, you know?”

It was about then that I decided she was a remarkably perceptive judge of character. In case you were wondering which instrument I played.

“What about the saxophones?” I asked. She had earlier stated that the saxophone was her favorite instrument.

“They are loud and annoying but funny.”

“And the percussionists?”

“Nerdy band nerds.”

“Um. They are all nerdy band nerds, honey.”

“Well,” she said, “they are always doing this.” She began to bounce up and down like she was keeping the beat of a song and getting into the groove. I smiled.

She thinks of “the twins” anytime she sees bassoons or oboes because the bassoon and oboe in her band are played by twin brothers. I said I had found them to be “pinched”, although the person most prominent in my mind didn’t fit that bill.

I was curious, since she has played a stringed instrument for eight years, what she thought of strings players, even though they aren’t in the band. So I asked.

“Snobbish,” she said. “And different.”

“Snobbish? Really?”

“Well, especially violins. They think they are all that because they always have the melody.”

“And what about violas?”

“Well violas are awesome, of course!”

“And cellos?”

“They think they are the best because they’ve got the biggest instrument.”

So now you know Jane’s official band and orchestra classification system. If you were in one or the other, do you agree with her? How did you see the different sections?

When we enrolled her in the Suzuki Strings program in Kindergarten, we were hoping to inspire a love of music. We felt mastering an instrument was an important skill. There for awhile, as she chafed under the continuous years of lessons and itched to try new opportunities, I was concerned we had failed in that endeavor. I am so pleased to know now that we succeeded.

Gizzards

A random comment on Facebook brought this childhood memory to mind recently. We didn’t eat out very often. When we did, it was likely fast food take-out. My mom would occasionally bring home Kentucky Fried Chicken – this was back before they tried to hide the fact that it was all fried by calling it KFC.

She always got an order of livers and gizzards along with the chicken. To this day, I still don’t know what a gizzard is. I just remember that both my brother and I thought they were delicious. We hated the liver though and it was nearly impossible to tell them apart.

Kind of like cherry and cinnamon Jelly Bellies. I love the cherry ones but can’t stand the cinnamon. I’ve gotten to the point that I’ve given up eating red jelly beans if I don’t know for sure there are no cinnamon ones hiding in the mix.

As a child, I was more stubborn with the gizzards. I really wanted them. So I’d carefully study the little nuggets of breaded and fried meat trying to detect the slight difference in color. The livers were darker. I’d compare them until I found one that seemed clearly lighter than the others and then I’d eat it. If it was a liver, I’d freak and try to spit it out. My mother, who loves eating liver, would react badly to such a waste of delicacies.

They don’t even sell livers and gizzards anymore. But back in the day, when eating out was a real treat, if mom opened a bag from KFC, we’d get excited. And my little brother would ask “Did you get some lizards and givers?!”

Photo Album Memories

Today we went through the pre-funeral ritual of looking through old photo albums and scrapbooks, looking for pictures to use. I think this exercise may be of greater value than the resulting slideshow. The slideshow is great, projected up on the screen, but it is silent or set to music.

The gathering process is much more educational and gratifying. It always comes with stories and remembrances. There’s always time spent staring at a black and white picture, trying to remember if that’s Uncle Claude or his brother or maybe someone else. Lots of cute little babies that no one remembers who they are. And the embarrassing childhood photos to show the children and grandchildren.

Today I learned that my paternal grandfather’s father was British and actually served in the R.A.F. during WWI. I never knew that. My dad remembers him, remembers his accent. This fascinates me.

When my maternal grandfather died, my mother’s cousins brought old photo albums originally belonging to their father, my grandfather’s brother. I looked through those pictures, mostly from the mid to late 1940’s, drinking in the snapshots of a time long gone. After awhile, I noticed that Grandpa was often in the company of a woman who was not my Grandma. And a little girl who was not my mother, the firstborn child.

I finally asked someone who the woman and child was. The answer left me stunned. That was his first wife and their daughter. All those years and I never knew that he had been married before Grandma. Or that his first wife had left him while he served in Europe in WWII. Or that he felt a child should be raised by an intact family so willingly gave up his parental rights and let his ex-wife’s new husband adopt and raise her as his own.

That had been a powerful afternoon for me and I had considered it unique. It is still special but I no longer consider it unique. I suspect that most families go through this when there is an elderly death. I enjoyed going through the albums with my father today and the other conversations throughout the day. But it made me wonder about a couple of things.

First, I wondered what families will do in eighty years or so, when all of our pictures are digital. There won’t be photo albums to look through. In some ways, it will be easier – no need to scan in the pictures. But instead of a couple hundred photos to paw through, we’ll have hundreds of thousands of digital images… that won’t be labeled as to who is in them.

On a deeper level, I wonder why we don’t have these conversations until someone dies. Are we really so busy with our lives that there is no time to look back? Is what is happening in Modern Family or Family Guy of more value to us than what happened in our family history? Or are we just not around the people who have the memories? Or are the memories forgotten until the photographs bring them back? Or do we just subconsciously believe we have more time?

Then again, I wonder if it’s really so bad to not share these memories until the funeral comes. Maybe the remembering of fonder times lessens the burden of dealing with the loss; the discovery of “new” tales brings our ancestors back to life. Maybe it helps the youngest members of the family gain a connection, not just to the person in the coffin, but to all the people that came before them too. Maybe it reminds us that this frail, failing being who just passed on was once young and vibrant, was once like us.