Meanderings Over Birthdays Past

Another birthday is coming up, one of those big ones that mark the number of years I’ve existed here on earth. Kinda shakes one up a bit.

I often wondered how I ever got to this age. Surely, I haven’t been around for almost 75 years. I can tell you right now, I honestly don’t remember having that many birthdays. Some were real doozies, though. Remember the Columbus Day Storm that occurred on the real Columbus Day, October 12, 1962? Oops! I  guess many of you have only read it in your history books or found it on the internet. Anyway, I’ll get back to that one in a moment.

When I was little, nothing could stop me from having birthday parties, not even chicken pox. And, no, I wasn’t contagious on the day of my party! Rummaging through old pictures, I attempted to find ones of my youth. Unfortunately, the real old ones weren’t scannable. But, I want you to know, I was an equal sex inviter. At times, the boys out-numbered the girls at my parties. Guess I kinda liked them even back then. During my grade and high school years, I don’t think I ever missed an October without a birthday party.

Fast forward to college days. On my 21st birthday, I was serenaded at the Beachcomber Bar in Lake Oswego by one of the guys in the band who was a classmate of mine at the University of Portland. We were good friends and liked the same kind of music. At one point we almost dated for real. Ah, but I digress.

On to the Columbus Day Storm. My birthday! I was six months pregnant with baby #3. It seemed to have slipped my then husband’s mind that day. Yeah, right! Well, one could blame the whole storm on me because I really threw a fit! To appease me, he reluctantly brought his sister home to babysit, so that we could at least go out to dinner. Just as we were to leave, the storm hit. We had to hunker down in the basement, too afraid to venture upstairs.We could hear the wind thrashing about, glass breaking, and objects hitting the house. Since then, I’ve managed to keep my temper at bay, should any more birthdays be missed, and they weren’t. Hey, we’ve had no big storms occurring in October – yet!  (Shedding that husband may have helped, too!) Needless to say, the birthday year of 1962 was by far the most fearful and exciting.

My children are now grown with families of their own, but they like to plan memorable birthdays for me. On one occasion, one daughter scheduled a party at her house and a hike up near Washington Park. My girls are very competitive about the birthday cards they choose for me often betting on which one would make me cry. On that particular hike, three of them were lagging behind me, another daughter and a friend. They were arguing about who picked the best card. Suddenly, we heard a burst of laughter. We turned around to find them in hysterics. Would you believe the three picked out the same card? And, do you know which one I picked? ‘Twas the one from my other daughter who was walking with me!

Black Butte was a very memorable and exciting 70th birthday celebration planned by the girls. Some of you have heard that story. I’ll have to save that for a blog all it’s own.

I can’t leave out my 60th birthday. It was a gala bash planned by a dear friend with help from my daughters. Relatives, family, new friends, and some surprise ones I hadn’t seen in years, came to help celebrate. I am truly blessed.

I’ve had many wonderful memories of birthdays past and I’ll probably get into trouble for not mentioning others. Afterall, I’ve had quite a few to remember. My children know how much I cherish each one. I can only hope!

So as another birthday nears, I will be as excited as that little eight-year old with the chicken pox. I’ll probably not show it on the outside, but the butterflies will be fluttering around inside. A friend once told me that one is allowed to celebrate the entire month for their birthday. Guess I better start enjoying it right now!

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Backyard Barbecues

The smell of fresh mint awakens childhood memories of summer
barbeques in the back yard patio of my parents’ house, vintage ‘50s.

Dad built our barbecue pit in the middle of the back wall of the patio. He used cement
blocks as the base. The wall was about four feet high running the length of a 15-foot
cement pad. A lattice affair sat upon a slab of wood rising up to the trellis
overhead. Thompson seedless grapes wove tendrils in and out across the top,
their leaves a perfect shade from the sun’s glare. In front of the patio,
fragrant sweet peas climbed upon strings supported by two stakes. At mid-point,
scarlet roses climbed up to meet the ripened green fruit. Gladiolas (Mom’s
favorite) and other summer flowers bloomed in the beds below.

Dad was proud of his barbecue. He constructed a pulley with pipe
and chain so that he could raise or lower the grate to determine the degree of
heat needed for perfect grilling temperature. Sometimes he would miscalculate,
and we would have a slightly overdone chicken wing or well-done steak. It didn’t
matter to us one bit. The mixture of burning wood, charcoal and Dad’s marinade wafting
about the back yard enhancing our senses. Today’s barbecues don’t quite measure
up to the rustically friendly ones of long ago. They are spiffy
chrome gas wagons with a separate burner on the side for sautéing special sauces
or side dishes. Even charcoal grilles don’t have that woodsy aroma even if the
coals are doused with liquid smoke.

Dad concocted a mixture of mint, garlic, lemon and other secret
ingredients (Dad was always changing his recipes) for the marinade. He also
made what we call, curly-cue hotdogs. He’d make a small incision with a sharp
knife and encircle the length of the wieners. Then he’d  pop them into the big roasting pan to marinate along with the steaks or chicken; sometimes both depending on the number of
friends and/or relatives invited.

Meanwhile, we children played games on the lawn in front of the
patio, trying not to run into the flower beds, which we usually did, and then get
a good hollering from Mom. After awhile, we would sit upon the covered lawn
swing, rocking back and forth, watching the older folks play pinochle, canasta
or cribbage on the brightly cloth covered picnic table.  Or, we’d munch on appetizers
of salami, cheese, olives, anchovies, chips, crusty French bread, and drink
cool beverages to stave off our hunger. When Mom called us to bring out
plates, silverware, napkins, and side dishes, we knew that the moment had
arrived.

Dad brought out the pan of thoroughly saturated meats ready to cook.
He started with the hotdogs, brushing them with a large wooden spoon wrapped in
mint and dipped in the left over marinade. The first scent was almost too
much for us.  We watched in anticipation for the first done wiener, our excitement overshadowing the tears in our eyes caused by the smoke billowing up from the grille. We’d nearly burn our mouths taking that first bite. But no one ever complained. We just wanted more.

We took pictures of Dad turning a piece of meat or chicken, then he’d
raise his tongs, giving us a salute all the while smiling through the smoky haze. He was
definitely in his glory. Dad loved to entertain and he was at his best when anyone came over for a visit. Out would come the bread, salami, cheese, and wine before guests had a chance to sit. No one ever left his house hungry. Family was important to him. By opening up his kitchen to friends, they became family as well.

Dad’s marinade continues to live on in our families. To this day, whenever
there is a big family barbecue, our children, and grandchildren always request those curly-
cue hotdogs marinated in that wonderful mixture. (At least we knew the main ingredients!)It wouldn’t be a barbecue without them. It’s a loving legacy handed down to my brother and to me and to our families for generations to come.

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Oh No, I Just Became My Mother!

It happened. I don’t know how, I don’t know why.

I don’t know when it happened.

It just did.

Children beg, plead, cry, promise they will

do the dishes, clean the house, mow the lawn,

If only.

If only they could go to the movies, have a sleepover,

Our house, friend’s house, outside, inside.

My answer, no!

Their question, why?

My response,

Because I am your mother, that’s why!

And then it hit me.

My mother’s words echoed in my ear.

Same tone of voice, same non explanation

Just the same answer she gave me.

Crying, pouting, stomping out the door.

The meanest mother in the world.

That was me then, and someday

It will be them, too.

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A Thing about Blogs

            

Blogs can be useful tidbits of narrative to help writers hone their skills. That’s how I perceive them to be. However, it keeps the writer, well me anyway, from working on a current project. I spend too much time trying to come up with a piece to put on my blog rather than laboring over the next segment of my novel.

            Just the other day, I was staring at the monitor trying to conjure up something interesting when I felt a slight heaviness on my left shoulder. I reached up to swipe whatever it was away, when a tiny voice squeaked indignantly, “Look out, you nearly knocked the sucker out of my hand!” 

            Startled, I turned my head and found that it was Melody, one of my characters from a much older story perched on my shirt. She must’ve snuck out of the computer while I was deep in thought. “What are you doing out here? I haven’t thought about you in years.”

            “Obviously,” she said quite displeased.

            “I’m a little busy right now, Melody.”

            “What’cha doing?” she asked while tearing the wrapper off her lime green lollipop.

            “I’m trying to come up with something to write about for my blog,” I said.

            “There weren’t any of those things when you were writing about me!” she sighed, swinging her legs back and forth, tapping her tiny brown and white saddle shoes against my shoulder blade. “You couldn’t even use that as an excuse for not finishing,” pointing her sucker to the post page with title written, and nothing in the body.

            “Don’t remind me,” I said a little ashamed.

            “You know,” she said between licks, “you and I are alike. I think I’m actually you when you were little.”

            “How so?” I was a little nervous anticipating her reply.

            “Well, I never liked my name any more than you did.”

            “How’d you know that?” surprised at this revelation.

            “I just know,” she said, jutting out her chest. “Maybe that’s why you quit writing my story.”

            “No, that’s not it. There were so many ideas whirling around in my head that…”

            “You’re a procrastinator,” she interrupted.

            “That’s a pretty big word for a little girl,” I retorted.

            “I am wise beyond my years,” she boasted, shaking her curly brown locks. “Besides, you know you are.”

            Such bravado coming from a little twerp, I didn’t need. So, I decided to disregard her last remark and concentrate on the blog.

            Seeing my intent to ignore her, Melody started crinkling the cellophane from her candy wrapper in my ear. “You’re supposed to be working on your novel, not composing a blob!”

            “It’s a blog,” I said. “And it’s good exercise for a writer.” I batted the paper away. What a pest!

            “How about when you play solitaire on your laptop instead of writing?” her bright green lips smirked at me. “I know about that, too.”

            “Look here missy, one more barb and I’ll archive your story so far into the Ethernet that it will never appear again.”

            “Geez, I was only trying to be helpful. Don’t get so huffy,” Melody said, jumping off my shoulder and strutting onto the desk. She paused, fingering her monogrammed Peter Pan collar, then quickly swung around to face me, causing the pleats on her Pendleton skirt to billow out. With a tiny wave, she murmured, “I think I’ll come back when you’re in a better mood, or when you’ve finally finished something.”

            That was the last straw. “Off with you, now!”  I took a Post-it note, and scooted her back into the computer.

            Distraction finally gone, I began to pick up where I’d left off when a quick glance at the clock reminded me that my soap opera was almost beginning. They’re going to be obsolete one of these days, so I’d hate to miss an episode. I know, I could still record it or watch it at a later time…but, well, I’m sure I’ll come up with something later, maybe after a game of Spider Solitaire.

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Thoughts on Friends with Cancer

It’s not easy coming up with a new blog each week. Well, for me it isn’t, but for some it is a sure-fire way to either write something interesting, get something off one’s chest, or just babble on about life in general. For me, there must be a pretty good reason.

 I’d like to chat a minute about my friends that are undergoing different types of chemo treatment. I cringe at the word because I’ve heard all about the side effects that follow after the drugs have moved through the body. They play havoc with all the organs and take out some of the non-affected cells in their wake. 

I wish there was a better way to cure my friends. I wish I could take a magic eraser, like one of those Mr. Clean kitchen pads that rub out stains in kitchen sinks, etc. Then I’d swipe those bad little critters with one swoop, leaving the affected area a Mr. Clean shine.

That’s what I’d like to do, but in reality I can only offer support, prayer and hope that the drugs will be kind to my friends and that recovery will be clean and thorough.

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Things Come Full Circle

My Mom passed away years ago before the age of iPods, Facebook, My Space, Twitter, Tweet, Text and Blog. Cell phones were in during her time, but she had no use for them. The old rotary worked just fine, except for one problem, it didn’t ring much. Her family was at fault and she let us know about it, frequently.

I lived a few miles from my Mom, and my brother was located in Eugene. Just us two sibs, unless you count the one that the Oregonian made up in Dad’s obituary. According to the paper, there were three of us. They had written Eugene in as another brother, not the city. Imagine the surprise to family and friends at Dad’s funeral!

 It became an instant excuse if one of us failed to call or visit Mom regularly. We would tell her that it was Eugene’s turn. We blamed our imaginary brother on a lot of things. More times than not, we wished there really was another brother to carry some of the burden of guilt.

When it got harder for Mom to get up and down, the phone company put in a 40 foot phone cord. She could drag it from room to room so as not to miss a call, especially from her family. Mom could string it from the desk in the dining room over to her ‘ejecto’ chair in the livingroom and into her bedroom. Much to her chagrin, the phone sat quietly on the floor, with hardly a ring.

When she got tired of waiting for us to call she’d call us.  If we weren’t at home, we would hear one of her famous messages on the recorder, “Oh, I just wanted to see if your phone was working.” It was her suttle way of making us feel guilty.

 As time went on, Mom’s hearing worsened. Anyone that called would have to tear their lungs out trying to make her understand. I bought her a phone amplifier, but she had trouble adjusting it to the receiver, so it sat unused in the drawer gathering dust. If I called her and her voice sounded distant, I would try to tell her that she was holding the receiver backwards, and was talking into the hearing side.  

Looking back on those years, I was too busy with my life to give my Mom the attention she really deserved.  All she wanted was a to know that we were interested enough to let her know that we were thinking of her.

Funny how things do come full circle. I find myself facing the same situation with my children and grandchildren. I know they do love and care for me. I also know that their activities keep them busy. I was once there, too, but it still would be nice if they called or texted more often. Besides, they need to feel a little stab of guilt once in a while.   

History does repeats itself. With Mom, it was only the non-phone calls that created guilt in me. With modern technology today, look at all the mega amounts of guilt I can cause on my offspring!

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