Not a Day Goes By

My father has started appearing in my dreams lately.  That hasn’t happened for a long time, and is a sure sign that I’m upset about something and looking for safety and security.  When Daddy is in a dream, he’s usually watching from the sidelines; he doesn’t take action.  I guess even my subconscious knows that he’s been gone a long time.  But

mother-and-daddy[2]
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
that longing to feel safe and taken care of  will never go away, however old I may get.

I just realized today, Father’s Day, that Daddy died 40 years ago.  Forty years!  And I’m nearly the age that he was when he died of a sudden heart attack, chopping wood in the back yard at the farm.  It was hard to be young in a crazy time without his presence.  Sometimes I wonder how much he would have liked the adult I became.  I’m pretty sure he would have disapproved of many of the choices I made.  But I am sure he would never have stopped loving me.

I want to remember the good things, the tiny jewel-like memories that still remain:  Daddy taking me to the department store (McClellan’s) and buying the doll I had wanted for so long, a small one in a green dress; Daddy standing with a group of uncles and cousins at a relative’s wake (we called it “receiving friends”) and laughing at Uncle Fatty’s jokes; Daddy coming in from the fields for lunch and drinking sweetened iced tea from a giant glass, which I still have.  His khaki work clothes, how hard he had to scrub his hands with Lava soap  to get the dirt and grease off from working in the fields or at Uncle Preston’s garage.  Watching our black and white TV in the dark while he smoked a cigarette.

I miss him every day.  I’m sending out my love to him, and to all the fathers and uncles and brothers and grandpas who are father figures for children everywhere.  Happy Father’s Day!

 

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Mother’s Irises

The iris is the state flower of Tennessee, where I grew up.  The classic color is purple, but my mother planted some unusual, beautiful ones on our farm.  In addition to purple, there Iris from Mother's bulbswere peach-colored, yellow, and white ones.  They were much bigger than the usual irises, almost like the orchid corsages you would wear to church on Easter Sunday.

I don’t remember where she got the starts for them.  Irises grow from roots called rhizomes that spread out as they grow.  When they get too thick, they stop blooming, so you have to thin them out periodically.  Someone gave Mother the starts and she planted them in the yard beside the house.  They grew and grew, blooming copiously every year.  She thinned them and gave some to my sister Sherrie, who planted the starts at her house.

Years later the irises at Sherrie’s house got too thick, so she thinned them and gave starts to our niece Judy.  Judy planted them at her house, and took starts with her again when she moved.  Judy also planted some at her mother’s house.  She sent me a photo last week, the one you see above–the irises are still blooming, still growing, years after my mother passed away.  The sight of that iris took me back to the rows of flowers blooming bravely in the back yard, so top-heavy that the wind or rain would easily beat them to the ground.  They bloomed in April in Tennessee, but are just opening now in cooler northern climes.

Mother loved her flowers, and irises always remind me of her.  Happy Mothers Day to all.

Shall We Dance?

I went to a ballroom dance party last weekend with some friends.  This is not something I would normally do, but the party was sponsored by a local organization and was held by the local Fred Astaire Dance Studio.  It was a Saturday night, and I felt, why not?  Whendance-hustle1 you’re not a kid out clubbing, one gets few opportunities to dance.

The Fred Astaire instructors give these parties for their clients every month or so, so they knew how to accommodate both experienced dancers and people with two left feet.  I learned some new things (the rumba) and remembered some I had forgotten.

It came back to me in a rush that I had taken “social dance” classes before.  When I was in business school, I took free social dance classes to get away from the tension and have some fun.  Back then we did the fox trot (which I forgot completely),waltz, cha cha, Charleston, and the hustle and the Latin hustle.  The hustle stood me in good stead until disco died.  I taught it to my late boyfriend, who was a big fan of the Latin hustle despite his inability to stick to the beat.

After the party I felt really sad.  I had remembered how we used to roll up the rug in the living room of my boyfriend’s apartment and practice the hustle to Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album or the Beegees.  His law school gave a “Sleazy Party” and we showed up dressed as quintessential disco dancers, me in a tight blue disco dress with spaghetti straps and him in flared pants and platform shoes.  He was convinced we were the best dancers on the floor.

It was a time of endless potential and limitless ambition.  We danced with abandon and knew the future was ours.

Some of the dancers at the party Saturday night had been around for the hustle in its heyday, too, and they swung and stepped with enthusiasm.  The ballroom version of the hustle is more complex, but it’s based on the same old steps, as one of the teachers commented.  “Keep your steps small and you can stay with the beat,” he said.  I remember running in high heels on the dance floor to keep up with my partner’s energetic swings in the past.

Wish I could still fit in that disco dress!

 

 

Five Reasons Why February Is Not So Bad

I just noticed my last post was commenting on how warm it was in December.  So much for that!  Now that it’s barely above zero where I live, it feels like a real February.  I’ve found Red_Heart___1.2011this a depressing month since my dad died in February many years ago.  But on this sub-zero Valentine’s Day, I decided there are reasons why February is a good month, too (in addition to my niece Judy’s birthday!)

  1. The days are finally starting to get longer.  When you have a long commute via car or train the late sunrises and early sunsets of winter in the north make each day a little grimmer.  I noticed last week that the sun was up before 7 a.m., hooray!  And the angle of the sun has changed, so there’s a pool of warm sunlight for the cat to lie in by late morning, and again in the afternoon on the other side of the condo.  So he’s happy, too.
  2. Some of us get a long weekend.  Not everyone gets Presidents Day as a holiday, but for those of us who do, it’s a welcome break in the long winter dreariness, without having to use a vacation day.  Any long weekend is a good thing, even if you don’t go anywhere special.
  3. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romance.   I heard the other day that Valentine’s Day is the most popular day for pet adoption of the whole year!  That’s a great way to show what love really means, by giving a home to a homeless pet. Also, we can all show some love to the other people in our lives who aren’t romantic partners.  When I was younger I was sad if Valentine’s Day didn’t feature a date or a present, but now I like to think of all the kinds of love we give and get.  As the Beatles song says, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”
  4. It’s a short month, and it’s almost March.  In the south, spring comes in March.  Up here, not so much–we still have another month of cold and potential snow.  But spring feels a lot closer than it did in December.  I’m dreaming of forsythia and crocuses…
  5. I can’t think of another reason.  But every good blogger knows that “five” and “seven” are magic numbers in blog post titles.  So use your creativity and make up your own fifth reason.  If it’s a good one, I’ll make it public.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

How I Learned to Drive, and My Dad

I want to apologize to my faithful followers (you know who you are) for taking such a long hiatus.  It’s been a very long, cold winter, and I just lost the energy to write somehow.  I meant to get this one out in February in memory of my father.  Better late than never, I65-dart-charger suppose.  And now that the snow is receding, maybe my juices will start rising, too.

February is the month when Daddy died, many years ago, not long after I graduated from college.  I think my love of cars comes from him.  He was a good mechanic and worked on all our cars, mostly at my uncle Preston’s garage.  Over the years our cars ranged from a turquoise Studebaker to a pale yellow Dodge Dart with pushbuttons to change gears, and a red Plymouth Sport Fury with bucket seats in between those two.  I also recall a battered station wagon of indeterminate breed at some point, and any number of beat-up old trucks for use on the farm.

Daddy was not a good driving teacher, however.  He tried to teach Mother, long before I was born.  She said he made her nervous, and words were exchanged.  She left the car in a huff, and never learned to drive.  Mother was dependent her whole life on other people to drive her to do errands, buy groceries, or go to church. This was not uncommon in country women of her age, but it surely was an inconvenience and limited her freedom.

I was determined to get my learner’s permit and my license as soon as it was legal for me to drive.  I couldn’t take a driver’s course because I couldn’t get to the classes, since Daddy was at work, Mother couldn’t drive, and I didn’t have a license.  So I got the booklet to study and got ready for the written test on my own.  Once my permit arrived, I was ready to go!

I had a lot of theory about driving, but very little practice other than steering a tractor.  So I asked Daddy to help me practice.  He showed me how to brake and hit the gas.  Then he turned me loose to practice in a field in back of the house.  My brother had abandoned a scarred-up Volkswagen Beetle at our house on the farm at some point, which didn’t have a license plate and was scarcely capable of moving.  So Daddy put some gas in it from a can and left me to practice driving around the field.

Everything went well at first, although I didn’t know how to change gears with a stick shift.  I just went around and around the field in first gear, steering and practicing turn signals.  Then I decided I was bored and wanted to stop for a while, so I hit the brake.  No response!  Granted, the car was going very slow, but it didn’t have any brakes left.  Well, I thought, how long before it runs out of gas?  I knew there wasn’t much left in the tank.

So I went around and around and around until it started slowing down even more.  This was my chance.  I steered it into the back bumper of Daddy’s latest battered truck.  There was a little bump, and then the engine died.  I hopped out and abandoned it.

Daddy never asked me what happened.  And my next practice session was in the yellow Dodge Dart with him.

 

Homegrown vs. Store-bought

I was shopping the other day, looking at whole chickens in the grocery store.  The prices ranged from $2.99/lb. for factory-farmed, on-special chickens to $14.99/lb. for organic,

Photo by Niall Kennedy
Photo by Niall Kennedy

free-range, kosher chickens.  I gasped at the price, and then I remembered my mother’s reaction to free-range chickens.

Mother grew up on a small farm before the Great Depression, and they raised their own chickens and hogs, churned their own butter, grew vegetables, and mostly bought staples like flour, cornmeal, sugar and salt.  They canned and preserved everything they could for the coming winter.

People think of this now as healthy, organic and being close to nature.  It actually was due to poverty and lack of other alternatives!  If the garden did poorly or the winter supplies ran out, there were days when dinner was biscuits and gravy made from bacon grease.  You didn’t kill a chicken until its laying capability was past.  Then it was killed and cooked, and often it was stringy and tough.

By the time I was a teenager we were living on a farm again, after some years living in a small town and a brief sojourn in Texas due to Daddy’s job.  Money was an issue again, so we had a vegetable garden, and Mother and I canned and froze quarts and quarts of vegetables.  We did not raise chickens, but Aunt Lou, Mother’s sister, did, and we bought eggs from her when she had them to spare.  Otherwise we shopped at the store for eggs and for chicken to cook.

Aunt Lou’s chickens were truly free-range, brown hens pecking around the yard, but they did get chicken feed to eat and had a coop to roost in.  They laid lovely brown eggs with rich yellow yolks.  Occasionally Aunt Lou would offer Mother a freshly killed chicken.  Mother always accepted it and thanked her, but her private reaction was different.  “These things are tough and gamey,” she said.  “I’d rather have a nice clean one from the store!”  Not to mention that she had to pluck and clean the homegrown, free-range chicken.  And she was right, the flavor was stronger, and they were not tender.

I think of Mother whenever I see the high prices on those in the store.  There should be a middle way between factory farming and having hens in your back yard, and it shouldn’t cost $14.99 per pound!

Blue Christmas

Last week we had a holiday potluck lunch at work.  People brought the usual assortment of fatty, salty and sweet treats, and the department sat around and ate together.  Some of the folks really don’t know each other all that well, and others really don’t like some of the 800px-Christmas_tree_bauble[1]others.  To get the conversation started, a well-meaning person said, “Let’s go around the table and tell what we’re doing for the holidays.”

This is a gambit loaded with pitfalls, and sure enough, they happened.  Not everybody has the perfect family, or a family, and many people don’t have anywhere to go.  One divorced woman was waiting on her infuriating sister to decide if she was hosting Christmas or not.  A single gay guy said he plans to sleep through it, since he will be singing in choirs or as a soloist (his side job) through Christmas Eve.  Our head of technology (a woman) sat at the table with tears sliding down her face.  She’s married, but they have always spent Christmas with her sister, who died a few months ago.

Christmas is a time of joy for many, of irritation for others, and of sadness for others still.  My father was always melancholy at Christmas because his mother died in December.  Mother would hiss at him, “George, cheer up, for the children!”

Perhaps the bluest Christmas I’ve ever had was the year after Daddy died.  Mother and I went through the motions, even traipsing out into the fields to cut down a cedar tree and dragging it back to the house to decorate.  It was too tall, and Uncle Floyd had to come over and cut the trunk shorter so we could get it in the living room.  We spent many a sad Christmas Day alone together after he died because Mother would not “intrude on someone else’s Christmas,” even though we were invited for dinner many times.

I learned my lesson from that.  If someone cares enough about me to invite me on a holiday, I’ll go.  If I can invite someone else who doesn’t want to be alone, I will.  And I admire the guy at work who just wants to sleep–sometimes you’ve had enough celebrating!  I’d like to thank the friends who give me a reason to celebrate Easter and Thanksgiving, and to thank my sister who makes Christmas happen each year.  And I’m grateful for the friends who help me celebrate throughout the year.

So, a happy Christmas to all, and let’s be sensitive to those who don’t have a picture-perfect holiday.  You may be showing kindness to an “angel, unawares.”