cynthyb

Claremont sidewalk crack


Leave a comment

Cracks in the Sidewalk

View of home

Blog Post #39

My husband, Brad, and I moved back home eight years ago to help care for my 93-year-old father. He lives in the house our family moved into in 1962, when I was eight. My father is the last original homeowner on the street. Even before our family moved into this house so many years ago, we visited it on a regular basis. Each weekend we’d drive out and look at the stepped lots of dirt, where little flags identified each leveled-off lot. We knew which lot was ours in that vast, arid sea of flattened earth.

images

Orange groves once covered the parcel of land where our house now stands

I admit that I didn’t particularly enjoy those trips to the house that wasn’t there yet. It was about as exciting as asphalt – a giant wasteland. Then, on one visit, a slab of cement appeared. My siblings and I explored the foundation until that grew old—let’s see, that took about two minutes. Later, the Palos Verdes stone (complete with real, built-in fossils) that would become the fireplace appeared on the slab, then a wooden framework, walls, roof, and so on. Finally—FINALLY,—the house was finished! We sat on the floor of an empty bedroom and ate bologna sandwiches while waiting for the moving van to arrive. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in that big, empty house! Something good was happening to our family—I could feel it in my bones.

Claremont house Sept 1964

The new house two years after we moved in

We moved in on the tenth of November, mid-semester. It’s no surprise that our mother registered us for school right away–almost before she tucked us in that first night. 

Claremont view from living room window Craig bike 1964

Riding bikes in the neighborhood

The first or second weekend, my sister Karen and I got on our bikes to explore. Our explorations took us repeatedly by the model home around the corner. Eager realtors stood by card tables laden with floor plans in the open garage of one model. We knew they had small tokens for the children of prospective buyers, so each time we “happened by” on our bikes, we picked up another novelty eraser for our swiftly growing collection.

B&W Eraser

These were the kind of erasers with generic pictures (the Smurfs weren’t introduced for another two decades) 

Everything was new, then. New, meaning undeveloped. Tumbleweeds and mini-whirlwinds blew through the dusty neighborhood, while lizards scampered about the flattened dirt that was our backyard. My sister Karen and I pretended we were orphans of the Shirley Temple movies variety, lost and alone in a veritable desert. When playtime was over, we carpeting our mother’s pristine floors  with dirt accumulated on our filthy little “orphan” bodies.

The neighbors were also new. We got to know all the families on our block by name. Mrs. Chung across the street had an older daughter who was an opera singer. Her vocal scales blew into our house each morning with amazing clarity —and punctuality. (They moved away not many years later.) The family next door had three children, and would have two more before moving away. The oldest was my age, a son, which automatically disqualified him as a playmate. (I don’t think he sought my particular association either.) Besides being overcome with bashfulness around most boys, I was getting older, and what I really needed, and wanted, was a girl to play with—someone my age to be my best friend.

Cynthy in front of house on Maryhurst 1964

I’m standing on the sidewalk in front of our house. The Chung’s house is in the background. (1964)

Up the street, a family moved in shortly after we did. They had kids, too—four of them at the time, and one who would follow later. The oldest was a girl. I knew she was my age because she was in my grade at school, but not in my class. I watched her curiously as we walked to school—keeping just enough distance between us to avoid having to talk to her. I kept the same unfriendly I-wonder-if-you-have-cooties distance while playing outside. I wanted to make friends, but shyness created an insurmountable obstacle. The Great Wall of China could not have been more effective. I watched the girl ride her bike up and down our street. She made a point to ride in front of my house over and over again. Finally, one day, after a week or two of watching her with the scrutinizing eagle eye of a private detective, that toe-headed girl with the pixie cut pulled up on her bike and stopped at the curb in front of our house. Looking at me with not so veiled disapproval, she bluntly asked something like, “Well, are you ever going to talk to me?” Shy or not, I wasn’t going to miss this chance of making friends. Fortunately, Sheryl turned a blind eye to my backward nature, becoming my best friend – for life. Some fifty-odd years later, she is still my best friend. (If it had been left to me, I suppose I’d probably still be watching her from behind a bush.)

Sheryl Koncsol in front of house at 1034 Maryhurst in 1964

Sheryl standing in front of our house (1964)

The neighborhood was full of kids back then, and we owned it. We rode bikes, but mostly we walked—everywhere. We knew every crack in the sidewalk between our houses and school. “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back. Step on a line, break your mother’s spine” we’d repeat as we carefully navigated the cracks and lines wherever we went, while simultaneously stomping on every dry leaf we encountered just to hear it crunch like a potato chip.

Claremont sidewalk crack

Sometimes, we’d take the back path through the undeveloped field behind our tract of homes to and from school. One day, along the path, we met a handsome fellow—a large *desert tortoise. Wanting to take the heavy tortoise home, we weighed our schoolbooks and the tortoise in the balance. Attesting to our strong responsible natures, and our not so strong arms, we opted to, first, run our books home, then return for the tortoise. Responsible? Yes. Practical? No. Not toward our purpose. (This was during the pre-backpack era when girls juggled loose school books in–or mostly out of–their arms.) If we had thought it through more carefully, we might have concluded that, had we left them, no one would have wanted our school books, but the tortoise was another story. At any rate, when we returned, the tortoise was gone, and we bemoaned our loss.

(*This predated the time when laws were enacted prohibiting desert tortoises as pets. As I think of it, that tortoise probably was an escaped pet, which may have been retrieved by its owner.)

gagassiziisb508

Desert Tortoise like the one we found on the path home from  school. Isn’t he (she?) cute?

There was a nice little flower shop a couple blocks from home. They had a large greeting card display in the shape of a Snoopy doghouse from the Peanuts comic strip. I was a huge Peanuts fan and wanted that doghouse in the worst way. I asked Mrs. Mayer (in those days we even knew the names of the business owners in our neighborhood) if I could have the doghouse when she was done with it. I wrote my name and phone number down on a scrap of paper, and waited for her call. When I’d almost given up hope, my mother informed me that Mrs. Mayer had indeed phoned! If I would pick it up, the doghouse was mine! I called Sheryl, and off we went—on foot, of course. (Ours was a one-car family until my later teens. My father made a long commute to L.A. each day, or I’m sure my mother would have been glad to drive me to the flower shop and help me haul that doghouse home. What mother wouldn’t be thrilled and anxious to have such a monstrosity in her house?) I developed a very valuable motto about that time: “I’ll make it in one trip.”  (This motto is still in effect today. Be it a giant stack of text books (the densest, heaviest books in existence), bags of groceries, camping gear, or the kitchen sink, I can pretty much figure out how to haul everything in one trip at great inconvenience and possible harm to myself.)

Peanuts B&W1

Peanuts Comic Books: I read them all

The Snoopy doghouse, when assembled was a good five or six feet tall, counting the cardboard Snoopy sitting atop the roof. Made of heavy-duty corrugated cardboard, the doghouse had several levels of narrow display shelves that formed the roof on both sides. (These had once served to display Peanuts greeting cards, books, and stationery.) The base of the house was about the shape and size of a big, empty washing machine box. Had I cut the door out, I could have curled up and slept inside. (Snoopy didn’t sleep inside his house, and neither did I.)

 

Cynthy Doghouse

Yours truly (and our dog, whose name was not Snoopy) in front of the doghouse. (1970)

Sheryl was such a good sport. Somehow, and with a great deal of difficulty, we carried that doghouse (which was disassembled into large awkward pieces) home. One might think cardboard would be lightweight, but it was actually pretty heavy for two young girls of about ten years of age. After struggling to get it home, we worked out the puzzle of how to put it together with the intensity of Einstein working out Relativity. It took up the former location of a large four-story homemade dollhouse–a conglomeration of boxes, carpet scraps, and homemade décor. Out with the old, and in with the new! I couldn’t have been prouder of my new acquisition. I used the narrow shelves to display framed pictures, artwork, books, greeting cards I’d received, knickknacks and other odds and ends. It was my pride and joy. (Included in the display, was a framed letter written on official Peanuts letterhead to me from Charles M. Schulz himself, creator of the Peanuts comic strip, which he sent in response to a letter I had written him.)

38bbeba820198e2325d3f9f61aab1ece

The letter I received from Charles Schulz was on stationery just like this. (Currently in storage)

In those days, when the homes in the area were still fairly new, if company came to dinner, there was always the grand tour of the house that followed the meal. Not surprisingly, people did a double-take when they saw the giant doghouse in my room—a room which otherwise stockpiled a hodgepodge of hand-me-down, non-matching, outcast furniture. One guest, with stunned admiration (or was it incredulity?) remarked, “Now, this room has character!” At the time, I was certain I had been paid a great compliment, but on hindsight, I suspect that either I was “the great character,” or that it was a polite way of commenting on the odd conglomeration that was my room.

So attached to that doghouse was I, that it followed me into matrimony, providing the duel purpose of a playhouse and a shelf for our children. Once our children were old enough to enjoy the playhouse aspect of it, I finally succumbed to cutting the door out so they could crawl inside. At last, we faced a move in which we would have to store most of our household until we could settle in our own place, which would possibly take months. My husband thought it might be time to rid ourselves of the giant doghouse, which was beginning to show some wear and tear and the effects of age. I protested at first, however after much reasoning, was convinced that the doghouse would have to go (but not with us). Nostalgically brokenhearted, I gave it to a family with young children in our neighborhood, and girl and dog (house) parted forever. It was the last formidable vestige of my childhood still holding a visible presence in our home, and I felt its absence keenly.

Lard

A bucket of lard

Occasionally, Sheryl and I resorted to baking for entertainment (with a bonus–a sweet treat). Absurd as it was, one time we chose to make lard lemon cookies. Why these tempted us, I’m not sure. Just the mention of lard is disgusting to me, but paired with cookies it’s over-the-top revolting. Maybe that day we were missing an ingredient for other, more enticing cookies–namely chocolate. Or maybe ignorance played a part. I don’t think I really knew what lard was until Sheryl pulled out the carton that held it. The interesting thing about this recipe was it required said bakers to mix the lard with their hands! Pulling up our shirtsleeves, we dove in, grimacing and exclaiming “eew!” and “yuck!” It was a nasty business, but we persevered, giggling as we smooshed about in the greasy mixture. I can’t remember if the cookies tasted good, of if they provided the anticipated boon to our efforts. I can’t even remember if I ate any. Did anyone eat them? Needless to say, we only made them once, sticking strictly to Toll House cookies, Five-Minute Fudge, or  molasses cookies (Sheryl’s mother’s amazingly declicious recipe) after that.  

LArd Cookies

Lard lemon cookies similar to those Sheryl and I made

Speaking of Sheryl’s mother, it might be of interest to note that she was an immaculate housekeeper, and her children learned at a young age how to keep a tidy house. When I had a sleepover at Sheryl’s, I followed her around in the morning while she vacuumed, dusted, and completed various other chores before we could eat our breakfast of Wheaties. Looking back, a better friend would have offered to help with the chores, which, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t recall doing.

comet-plumber-ad-e1349727018951

One day, Sheryl was at our house, playing with me in my room. There was a large black scuffmark on the wall that only someone with Sheryl’s keen eyes for cleanliness would notice (mine were blind to dirt in those days). She suggested we clean the scuff off the wall, and, it went without saying that in doing so, we would please my mother immensely. I produced cleanser and sponges from the bathroom and we proceeded to do a number on the wall removing the scuffmark in its entirety—as well as the paint. When my mother came in and saw what we had done…well, let’s just say, she wasn’t exactly “tickled pink.” She turned more a shade of red.

Sheryl and I were inseparable during most of our growing up years. People knew our names, but often didn’t know which of us was which, even though Sheryl had straight, light blonde hair and blue eyes, and I had curly, (okay, frizzy) dark hair, and dark eyes. To the untrained eye, we attached at the hip.

Sheryl owned two beautiful, silky Japanese kimono-looking pantsuits. Our mothers had given permission for us to go, by ourselves, to the Alpha Beta shopping center (within walking distance of home) to eat an early dinner at a quaint little restaurant located there. Sheryl was going to wear her Japanese outfit. I was envious, and she knew it. I didn’t have anything that even came close to those uncommonly pretty clothes, so Sheryl, being the generous and thoughtful friend she was, offered to let me wear her other Japanese outfit. Off we went, bedecked in those delicately flowered outfits, to Little Pigs of America (I kid you not, that was the name of the restaurant). I felt positively exotic as we walked into Little Pigs to eat. In we pranced wearing our silky pajamas (in retrospect, I wonder if that’s what they really were, glorified PJs), and feeling very glamorous in an outlandish sort of way. I’m sure we turned heads, (and drew snickers) a toe-head and a dark Italian in Japanese costume. We must have been a sight!

La CasitaB&W

The Girl Scout Cabin “La Casita”

Sheryl and I joined Brownies, advancing into Girl Scouts together, and shared all the joys (ice skating lessons, hikes, campouts, and camaraderie) and trials of scouting (selling calendars and cookies door to door. Let me add, it was a different time. No one ever set up camp in front of a grocery store in those days. Parents never took cookies to work to sell. It was door-to-door or bust). When we went to the local Girl Scout cabin “La Casita” in the foothills near home, pairs of girls were assigned (or chose) various chores that had to be done before the day’s regular activities began. I’m not sure why, but we opted (yes, we chose) to clean the outhouse! (Were we nuts? Maybe. Or maybe it was Sheryl’s propensity towards cleanliness, and the repulsive stench of the outhouse that spurred us on to such undervalued benevolence. At any rate, we took it on and magnified our job description.)  We not only swept it out, we scrubbed it as best we could, and gathered pine boughs and flowers to try to sweeten the air (without succeeding). We felt we had done our duty and a good turn, however I’m not sure it was noticed, let alone appreciated, by anyone but ourselves.

LA+CASITA2

The outhouse was down the hill to the left in those days. (I wouldn’t be surprised if they use regular bathrooms now.)

After the campfire at night, Sheryl and I spread out our sleeping gear next to each other on the wooden cabin floor. My family never went camping. I didn’t have a clue what an air mattress was. Many of the other girls not only knew, but were privileged to have one. I looked at their soft, billowing sleeping arrangements with a sigh. Surrounded by luxury, I knew I’d be roughing it. I had received a Girl Scout sleeping bag for Christmas. It was like sleeping on a chilled paper towel, having no padding or insulation to speak of, yet having considerable bulk when trying to roll it up tightly again. (After rolling my bag, it always looked as if I had, first, wadded it up, then tried desperately to tie up an explosion that had occurred somewhere in its depths.) I looked on enviously as other girls nonchalantly stuffed their bags into nice little tote sacks. I lied awake in a state of misery most of the night. I was freezing, sore, and needed to use the bathroom in the worst way, but couldn’t bear the idea of traipsing down the hill to the outhouse by myself in the dark (even with the anticipation of the fresh scent of pine needles to greet me). I held it in ‘till morning, then, shivering, made a mad dash for the latrine when the first scouts began to stir at daylight.

download (1)

Breakfast was its own trial since I was a picky eater. My mother never made oatmeal. I’m not sure why, but, when growing up, we never had hot cereal or casseroles (both typical Girl Scout fare). I was crestfallen when I heard breakfast was oatmeal, not pancakes. I sat there staring at the lumpy white goop while hungry scouts all around me gobbled theirs up. The rule was you had to eat two big Girl Scout bites before you could leave the table. After tasting just a tiny bit of the bland and sticky stuff, I was pretty sure a 21st Century Girl Scout would find me dead on the bench decades later. Sheryl encouraged me along, as did the other girls around me, urging me to put sugar and milk on it—promising it would help. I loaded the sugar on and choked down my two big Girl Scout nibbles, then got out of there as fast as possible.

oatmeal

I’ve acquired a taste for oatmeal since those long ago days. I especially love it with cinnamon apples, nuts, brown sugar, and raisins. Yum.

When we were about twelve, the big day arrived when our mothers consented to let us ride the bus alone to an outdoor mall about five miles away. We put on our best dresses and boarded the bus. (In those days, going to the mall was an event worthy of dressing up. I think it’s rather a shame that practice of dressing up for special outings has been mostly lost.) We were sure we had reached a certain level of maturity when Sheryl’s mother decided to send money to treat us to lunch in a department store restaurant. Before lunch, we shopped, or more appropriately, window-shopped, as we had very little of our own money to spend. We looked at items on the main floor of the department store, checking price tags with cloaked dismay. We made our way to a less expensive part of the store, perhaps located in the basement, thinking we might find something in our price range while still giving the appearance of being two very independent, and if not well-to-do, at least refined young ladies. While I looked with interest at one clothing rack, knowing full well I couldn’t even afford to buy one of the wire hangers the clothing hung on, Sheryl was making her way around another circular clothing rack across the room. Suddenly, she looked up and called out to me in a rather loud voice, “This isn’t the budget department!” I’m not sure if I disappeared into the clothes on the rack in front of me, or if I just pretended I didn’t hear her. At any rate, the ruse was up!  We were what we were, and there was no hiding the fact.

UP_MALL_C (1)

We rode the little bus shown in the picture (above) up and down the mall on our grown-up excursion

Honestly, this is one of the many things I have always loved about Sheryl—she is as genuine as they come. No pretense. Honest as the day is long, she calls it as she sees it, so you always know exactly where you stand. A true treasure.

We were a twosome. If Sheryl had a dentist appointment, we walked downtown to the dentist office together, then to the library, and to the bakery for a cookie afterward. We created clubs, played the piano, and vied to see who could take the most notes during class. We walked to and from school together, made identical Halloween costumes, and roasted hot dogs in the fireplace when she spent the night. When I wanted to join drill team in high school, Sheryl was right there trying out with me. We shared all the monumental events girls go through. Our families shared holidays and outings. Our mothers were best friends. Our brothers were best friends. And my sister Karen was welcomed into the circle of our friendship, as well. We laughed and cried together. And we even had our spats, but they never lasted long.

Halloween 1960s

Halloween: Sheryl and I were majorettes. I’m the one in the tall hat with the curly dark hair, and Sheryl, is my blonde twin. My sister Karen is Peter Pan.(I’m guessing 1965)

Then the dreadful day came when Sheryl’s parents announced they were moving—and not just across town, but all the way to Ohio! I was devastated. We did our share of bawling, and making promises to be true to the end. Before Sheryl’s departure after our sophomore year of high school, my sister and I hosted a going away party for her. It was a bittersweet event. We pledged to write letters (the old-fashioned kind), and we kept our pledge faithfully for a long, long time.

Sheryl's going away party 1970 Linda Guay, Cynthy and Sheryl

At Sheryl’s going away party (1970)

We didn’t have cell phones, and with expensive long distance rates, calling was not an option except on rare occasions, such as a birthday, and soon fell out of practice. When high school graduation time rolled around, Sheryl flew out to celebrate with me. That was our last hurrah together.

sherylme3

Celebrating high school graduation (1972)

We didn’t see each other in person again for close to thirty years, and that was only for an hour at the airport when I was passing through.

1SherylMe

A quick visit at the airport

Letters became sporadic throughout those years. Life was busy with work, family, moves, and other normal occurrences that drive people apart, but we never gave up on our friendship. As we approached our fiftieth birthdays, we determined it had just been too long, so Sheryl flew back to Southern California from her home in Texas, and I returned from Colorado at the same time. We both stayed with my father at my childhood home (the same home I live in at this time), tracing our steps from the past. We walked three houses up the street to Sheryl’s house and knocked on the door. The current owners were gracious, inviting us inside, and giving us a tour of the house as it then stood. They even magically pulled from a brown paper bag the original kitchen cabinet and drawer hardware that looked like bunches of grapes, sending the bag of metal treasures from the past home with Sheryl.

Sheryl in front of house on Maryhurst

Sheryl in front of her former home

As is the case with faithful souls, we picked up exactly where we left off years earlier, laughing and having a great time. Time sped by and we soon regretted how little time we had allowed for this visit together. (Sheryl confessed she didn’t know how it would be, and didn’t want to be [stuck] with me for more than a weekend if “things” didn’t go well. She didn’t use the word “stuck,” but she would have been had she stayed longer and things hadn’t gone well. Fortunately, we parted wishing for more time, instead of holding to the sentiment my mother-in-law used to profess: “Company is like fish; after three days it stinketh.” It was time to bid each other farewell again and just as when we were children, it was hard to do.

Cynthy & Sheryl in the Koncsol's old backyard on Maryhurst 7-04

Sheryl and me, the last time we were together

This farewell was so like our sixth grade graduation from elementary school. On the last day of school each spring, the 6th graders filed through the younger grades, all of whom were lined up by the bike racks, singing “Aloha Oe” ( in English, “Farewell to Thee”). We knew that when our time came, we’d face this emotional event. Even when singing among the younger grades each year, we felt the weight of this melancholy, and life-changing rite of passage. Usually, we walked to school, but on our last day of sixth grade, we rode our bikes. We walked numbly and with a lump in our throats through the singing students, boarded our bikes, and bawled all the way home.  We knew an important era of our lives had come to a close.

“Farewell to thee,
Farewell to thee,
Thou charming one who dwellst among the bow’rs.
One fond embrace,
Before I now depart,
Until we meet again.”

(“Aloha Oe,” as we sang it to the 6th graders)

Bike racks

This is a recent picture of the school bike racks. When I was a kid, the bike rack area was smaller, and either there was no fence, or it was chain link. The 6th graders processed down the center  through the opening, and the younger grades sang the mournful tune on either side.

At fifty, we bade each other farewell again. Time and circumstance have kept us apart to this day, but fortunately, although we couldn’t foresee it then, we lived to the ripe old age of cell phones and Skype (which we’ve yet to use). We communicate more frequently now, calling at least on birthdays, but at other times, too, and we write emails as well as the old-fashioned, hand-written, snail mail letters.

1034 Maryhurst Drive 1960s2

Our house in the 1970s.

Now, in my sixties and back at home, I walk on almost a daily basis the same places Sheryl and I walked as children, but most of the time, I walk for my health and diversion instead of to get where I need to go. The neighborhood has aged, but many things remain the same. Instead of tender young shoots, the trees are giants, providing shade and beauty. The homes still stand, some having undergone face-lifts, others falling into various stages of age or transformation. Yards no longer sport dichondra, and even grass is becoming scarce, as a long-term drought takes its toll and people move toward drought-resistant landscaping. The sidewalks are uneven and weathered.  The cracks are still there, and greet me like old, worn-out and worn-in friends. Those cracks in the sidewalk prompted this post. I walk past Sheryl’s house every time I’m out, and remember…remember….

Craig ca1970

My younger brother Craig in front of our house.  (About 1970)

I believe memory is a gift from God. All time is present before God. We can experience a little of that miracle through memory. The past is present before my face; time is naught, and I can relive so many of those special moments so dear to my heart as often as I like, and “be with” friends gone from my sight, living far away, whom I treasure–like Sheryl.

47c56-scroll

“It is one of the blessings of old friends

that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

42db2-doves1 

From quiet homes and first beginning

Out to the undiscovered ends,

There’s nothing worth the wear of winning

But laughter and the love of friends.

~ Hilairee Belloc

e9450-flower-borders-09 

“No distance of place, or lapse of time can lessen the friendship

of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other’s worth.”

~ Robert Southey

 

“But if the while I think of thee, dear friend,

all losses are restored and sorrows end.”

~ Shakespeare

 47c56-scroll

“Let the soul be assured that somewhere in the universe it should rejoin its friend, and it would be content and cheerful alone for a thousand years.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

End Piece

© May 28, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

Snail_Escargot_Lumaca_Caracol_Schnecke_Helix_Aspersa_Maxima


Leave a comment

Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

escargot-on-a-plate

Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

snail-trail

A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

La Puente House Jan 1956 b

The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

english-ivy-r

It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

Corrys-Slug-And-Snail-Death-300x300

This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

18674326-live-edible-snails-in-a-brown-basket

The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

snail-kid-14018726

Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

garden-snail_200-623x200

Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

7067000782cf

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

orange


Leave a comment

A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

If you ask a second grader to draw a picture of a tree, the odds are the result will consist of a brown trunk (long, thin, brown rectangle) with green leaves on top (a round splotch of green), and maybe some apples (small red spots)—don’t all trees have apples? I’ve noticed that adults sometimes perpetuate the idea that this is how trees are drawn. It has become a bit traditional, and almost generally accepted, that trees have brown trunks topped by green leaves.

When I was in third grade, we moved to a community that still had many acres of orange and lemon groves. Naturally, we learned about orange trees and smudge pots in school. As part of the lesson, our teacher asked each of us to paint a picture of an orange tree. I was new to the area, and didn’t really know an orange tree from a oak, so I painted a brown trunk with the roundish green blob at the top, and colored the usual red spots orange in the leafy top. I’ll always remember the teacher holding up Julie Wilson’s painting of an orange tree, and being completely surprised and impressed. Her painting had a tree consisting of a large irregularly roundish leafy area that went almost to the ground, with only a tiny bit of trunk showing at the bottom. The leaves were laden with oranges throughout. It was beautiful. (I think she may have included a smudge pot in the picture, too.) Obviously, Julie had looked at and “seen” orange trees as they really were. On our next drive through the north part of town where the orange groves were, I noted how accurate her painting of an orange tree was compared to the cartoonish and generic painting I had made. How different orange trees were shaped from other trees—or, more accurately, from what I had assumed all trees looked like. I was determined to pay better attention in the future, but sadly, that didn’t always happen.

2280959254_fb841ece57

I began to notice that all trees were not the same, and that, in fact, if you really look at the details, you’ll find an astonishing variety. In addition to an assortment of colors, you’ll discover differences in overall shape—some sprawling with sturdy, gnarled trunks and umbrella-like canopies, others tall, graceful, and straight with willowy, softly undulating ribbons of leaves. Contrasting textures are also obvious–some with mottled or pealing bark, striations and deep grooves, geometric patterns, and contrasting darks and lights. The combination of texture, color and shape create breathtaking and beautifully varied effects.

Although there are many examples of monochromatic color schemes in nature such as may be found in ocean, dusk, dawn, and nighttime scenes, nature also uses a broad palette of complementary colors.

 

Nature is bold. She paints stark, snow-laden mountaintops against brilliant sunset skies, blazing vermilion rock formations arching over a brilliant backdrop of blue, yellow and purple pansies, and red tomatoes against deep green foliage.

Nature doesn’t limit herself to one texture or one shape either. A tree–a Brazilian peppertree, for example, such as line the parkway of my street–has multiple textures and shapes, from the rough and deeply grooved trunk to small, greenish-yellow, oval, pinnate compound leaves, and tiny round pepper seeds that turn from green to red to brown (and, incidentally, burn the lawn with their heat). In addition to a peppertree’s varying color and texture, the trunk weaves its way upward, its branches writhing in a twisting tangle of knotted masses. (Hardly a straight stick of a trunk with a green ball at the top! Although, to be fair, if you look at the bottom of the trio of pictures below, from a distance, the peppertree does appear to fit that description.)

If you were to describe a Brazilian peppertree, an orange tree, and a Quaking Aspen, you would have to give very different descriptions. Still you could describe all as having roots, trunks and leaves.

quaking-aspen-trees_1497_600x450

As creatures of nature, people are more complex than trees, yet many find themselves characterized as “trunk and leaves,” after all, people all have heads, arms and legs. At a glance, people may appear to be objects: dumbed-down, over-simplified caricatures of what they really are. (She’s pretty. He’s tall. She’s mean. He’s old. She’s a gossip. He’s cocky. She’s shy. He’s self-centered.) How many a tall fellow has been asked if he plays basketball–as if his height is his only defining characteristic?

Quercus_robur Oak

These observations are likely arbitrary, biased, and viewed through a flawed lens. One may choose to believe over simplifications one hears via rumor or gossip, or one hazards at first sight, because it resounds with one’s own preconceived ideas. Such claims may satisfy for the moment, but also may be mostly false. They may appear correct, based on circumstantial evidence, but unfounded when the whole truth is known. At first glance, there are always—always—unknown quantities of information. In most cases, the observer failed to look close enough to see all the colors, all the textures, and all the shapes, to see the combination of these as one uniquely whole “tree.” There’s the possibility the observer didn’t even know what the whole “tree” really looked like, and didn’t bother to find out. Almost certainly, the observer wasn’t perceptive or empathetic enough to have walked the proverbial mile in the others’ shoes. In other words, he or she didn’t really know the tree.

leafrub5

I have been guilty of seeing people as “trees”—brown trunk, leaves on top. When I was young, it was mostly: she is popular, he is smart, etc. That was all I knew of some people. How sad that is. How sad that I was too shy, too backward, to delve a little deeper, to walk a little closer and really look at the tree, at its roots, its differing shades and nuances of color, of personality, of ideas. I missed a lot because I based so many of my impressions on a glance at a tree that I was too shy or afraid of to know or to understand!white willow

I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those “trees” again later in life, and to “see” them anew, after maturing enough to have genuine interest in them instead of fearing them, and appreciating them instead of weighing their strengths against my weaknesses. How silly I was when I was younger!

orange

Southern California Orange Grove

I went from seeing thin, rectangular brown trunks topped with green circles (maybe with red or orange spots) to seeing deeply complex root systems, sturdy, varied and profoundly textured trunks, and wide canopies of sheltering, beautiful and intensely colorful leaves. When I inspected and comprehended the true nature of each individual tree, and saw the beauty therein, I wondered how I ever missed the innate wealth of each. I really began to appreciate people as uniquely beautiful, strong and intricate. I began to appreciate each individual soul as the amazing “tree” it is.

sycamore leaf

Social media (i.e. Facebook) has helped me reconnect with people I had forgotten that I once knew. Recently, I reconnected with a girl I knew in elementary school. I never thought she liked me back then. (Brown trunk.) She was stuck-up and popular. (Leaves on top.) She wasn’t interested in being my friend. (Red spots.) All I saw was a generalization of the tree, not the real person. And what I concluded was false.

willow_salix_babylonica

 

One day I saw this girl’s picture on the Facebook post of a mutual friend, she still looked young and beautiful. She had a lovely smile, and looked content. I wondered what weathering had shaped the tree rings of her life. I became interested in her textures and the shades and tints that colored her life. I decided to make a comment, and I truthfully told her how lovely I thought she looked. Next thing I knew, we were corresponding back and forth. She was sweet, kind, and interested. We talked about our folks, our families, and our friends. She was not what I had believed her to be so many years ago. I’m sorry to say I had carried those old ideas in the baggage compartment of my mind for years. I felt ashamed of the petty views I’d had. (Then, I wondered if she had seen me as trunk and leaves before, too. Thankfully, I’ll never know.) But what a waste! I’m happy to report that I have grown into more of a “tree admirer” over the years. I now truly make an effort to see people (and trees)—really see them, and all the magnificent uniqueness and beauty each has within and without.

oak tree.jpg

A lone and unique Oak tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

einsteinsarc


2 Comments

Relativity-ly Speaking

Blog Post #37

einsteinsarc

Einstein had his Theory of Relativity, and I have *mine.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: E=mc2

(Energy = mass multiplied by the speed of light squared)

My Theory of Relativity: A=pt2

(Age = perception multiplied by the speed of time squared)

*Disclaimer: There is nothing scientific about my theory of relativity. Any similarities to science, math, or physics is completely coincidental. The ideas and philosophies represented in this post are those of the author and are not to be confused or mistaken with anything legitimate.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I began developing my Theory of Relativity when I was in 2nd grade. During the course of my second grade year, I underwent eye surgery as well as contracting an infectious virus, causing me to miss quite a bit of school. It was during that school year, at the tender age of seven, that I began to perceive a change in Time.

Up until second grade, Time moved at a snail’s pace; to my mind, there was no Time to be reckoned with. Life was an endless stream of fun, family and investigation—everything was new. I was young, carefree, and full of energy. I had loving, caring parents who provided a safe and happy environment and life, and school hadn’t yet become a stressor for me (that came later). Worries were essentially non-existent.

064

Then I got sick. I remember how miserable I felt even though it was well over half a century ago. I couldn’t go to school, or play outside. I didn’t feel like eating, and was so tired—the kind of tired where your head feels like a balloon full of lead. After running its course, the illness passed, but not without making an indelible mark on my perception about life. I had come to understand that being sick meant that during the Time in which I was ill I couldn’t do the fun things that I normally liked to do.

illus035

The eye operation meant an overnight hospital stay. I remember my parents giving me a beautiful, light blue, quilted robe with lacy ruffles as a gift. They said good-night (good-bye) just before bedtime, and went home. (In those days, anxious parents couldn’t stay all night in the hospital with their frightened children.) There I was, almost alone in a dark room, standing in a cage (perhaps it was a large crib) where they must have hoped to keep me from wandering about, looking across what appeared to be a vast, dark wasteland of a hospital room to where a toddler was crying uncontrollably in his cage. I don’t remember shedding a tear myself. It was all so surreal. I do remember lying down in that cage and having a hard time falling asleep with the incessant bawling—not that I could blame the poor little guy. I must have eventually drifted off, because the next thing I remembered was waking up and not being able to see. Once the surgery was completed, the doctor had covered my eyes with patches to protect them while they healed. These I wore for a week.  I was too young to be frightened by blindness, and trusted my parents implicitly, so in many ways, the experience of surgery was an extension of childhood investigation, and I might add, fun. In a way, it was sort of an adventure to have patches—to experience the world without sight. As usual, all my needs were met by my attentive mother, and I found I could still draw on my Etch-a-Sketch and “watch” “Car 54, Where Are You?” and “The Mickey Mouse Club” on T.V. even though I couldn’t actually “see” them. The process of healing lasted two or three weeks, and then I was back to life as usual–school, playing, and just being a seven-year-old kid with a story to tell about what it was like to be sightless for a week.

illus018

Besides improved vision, one monumental thing had changed from this experience: my sense of Time. My second grade year dragged by. It was the longest year of my life, and I recognized it as such even at that tender age. I began to mark Time from that year on, and noticed that each subsequent year began to speed up a little bit more than the last.

In my theory, I propose that Age is equal to perception multiplied by the speed of time squared. (Please see disclaimer at the beginning of this post.) I confess that while my theory is not scientific, it is the opposite—a whim. Still, it rings true for me, even though it follows no logical thread. According to my theory of relativity, aging depends on my perception of things relative to the speed of time. In other words, the older I get, the faster time speeds by, and/or the speed of time shapes my perceptions about my age.

img77b

Interestingly enough, perceptions (including memories) of my childhood have remained intact and vivid during each passing year of my life. However, perceptions during the years following second grade, have shifted like tectonic plates with the passage of Time. The more distance between 2nd grade and the current year, the more the shift, sometimes causing quaking and trembling in my perceptions—especially regarding details, such as what I believe I said to my husband, and what I’m sure he said to me.

The following is an example of how age (A) is equal to (=) perception (p) multiplied by time squared (t2). At a young age, maybe around three years old (A), I became (=) acutely desirous (p) of being two years older (t2) than the age I currently was. (*For your own sanity, please do not try to force my variables into a true equation.) This was probably due to my sister being two years my senior, giving her privileges, which I, as the younger sister, had to wait for. I remember crying at the bus stop as Karen boarded the school bus bound for kindergarten. I desperately wanted to go with her, and I couldn’t understand why I had to wait. No amount of sobbing swayed my mother, who simply scolded me for my tantrum and marched me back home. Wishing to be two years older became more intense as the years passed, which accounts for *time squared. (*Mathematicians and physicists out there, I know this is all sheer folly—please humor me.)

images

 

The inverse was also true. As the younger sister by two years, I had the opportunity of observing my older sister, and those behaviors and consequences I wished to avoid. A very valuable asset and one I exploited to my gain.

There is yet another interesting corollary to perception as it relates to Age and Time, that is, how I perceived those who were older than I was. If I was thirteen, a fifteen-year-old was strictly out of my league in every aspect of life. (I now attribute this incorrect perception to the public school system, which unwittingly forces most children into an unrealistic environment—boxing them into a classroom with thirty other students of the same approximate age and developmental issues for about twelve years of their lives. This short-sighted and preposterous arrangement prepares children for an environment they will rarely, if ever, experience later in life. During adulthood, you would be hard-pressed to find yourself (it would seem unnatural to find yourself) among peers of your exact age group on a daily basis. In fact, most people spend the majority of their lives in family units composed of a variety of ages and temperaments,—the ultimate seedbed for learning—not in a setting as unnatural as that of a public school classroom.)

school

When I attended my first year of college, I was eighteen, but my roommate (who was seventeen—having graduated high school a year early) soon after became friends with a girl of twenty-one! Imagine it!—she was friends with a co-ed four years her senior! (This is where my theory of relativity really became obvious to me.) I was in awe of this twenty-one-year-old. To my mind, she was light years beyond me in wisdom, experience, and dignity just by virtue of her three extra years of advanced age—I assumed this without really knowing her.

By my second semester of college, a shift in perspective had already begun to occur. I had become used to sharing the classroom, the campus, the dormitory, and the dining hall with a multiplicity of ages, but it wasn’t until this particular girl—my roommate’s friend—shared a class with me, that I realized the fallacy of my perception about age creating such a huge superiority gulf. On the first day of class during the second semester, we students looked around the room sizing each other up, and because this girl and I had a common friend, we recognized and gravitated to one another, sitting next to each other the remainder of that course. This was when I discovered that she was every bit as childish as I was! We doodled little frogs and cartoon-y characters with text bubbles full of nonsense all over each other’s and our own notepaper, quietly giggling at our silliness. We had so much fun! It was a great class to begin with, but it was all the more enjoyable for me when I realized that “twenty-one” was not the sage old age I thought it was, and that I could have fun and be silly even when I, too, reached the landmark maturity of twenty-one.

Even though challenged with every passing year and season of life, my flawed perception has remained with me; I still view age as a relative thing. When I was a young mother in my twenties, the thirties seemed ancient. Indeed, thirty-nine (or for some twenty-nine) has been the place where many people stop the “aging” clock, refusing to admit to any age above that. Year after year, when asked their age, these people refuse to acknowledge themselves as any more than 39. (Jack Benny comes to mind—he was forever 39. If you are my age, you will know who Jack Benny was. If you are from a younger generation—sorry. It’s one of those advantages of advanced age, to know about and gloat over things those younger than you were unfortunate enough to miss out on—things such as The Great Depression, roller skates with keys, garter belts, corded telephones, and 45s.)

18069_288507530538_287864780538_4979518_4629349_n

Hint: The perpetual 39 year-old

As I approached forty, and recognized that I was old enough to be mother to the youngsters of twenty whom I often hosted in my home, turning forty sounded like putting one foot in the grave. To my mind—to my eternal spirit—I was always looking out of eighteen-year-old eyes (that is, from the inside out), and each numerical age I reached was someone else’s bad idea of flimflam (for clearly, I was perpetually “in spirit” the eternal age of eighteen inside—that was my perception). Note: My outward appearance does not necessarily agree with my eternal “inside” age.

Then, fifty came, and most recently, sixty (by the way, I missed The Great Depression, the Revolutionary War, and the age of dinosaurs, though my grandchildren might challenge that). I have friends in every age bracket—age is immaterial when it comes to finding worth in others—and is very instructive as to differences in perception about time and age. With a ninety-three-year-old father, here’s what I’ve discovered: seventy-five is the new “thirty.” It’s all relative.

old_man_with_books

For a 93-year-old like my father, age is a badge of distinction—of longevity few live to reach. A 93-year-old perceives the speed of time as being akin to the time spent on a merry-go-round that goes faster with each rotation. You get on, orbit the circumference a few times enduring the usual ups and downs, and then anticipate jumping off your horse, which might throw you at any time. Life is a blink when you’re 90, and often a blur—but things do tend to appear blurry when traveling at great speeds.

paris-carousel-merry-go-round-at-hotel-de-ville-paris-carousel-horses-at-hotel-de-ville-kathy-fornal

As I mentioned earlier, time began to speed up for me in second grade. During each subsequent year, time has picked up momentum. Although reason tells me this is due to my flawed perception, I think it must also be due to age. With every passing year, I become a year older. (Yes, I know,—brilliant deduction—nothing profound here, folks.) The more years gathered into the garner of time, the faster time passes. Age is the fireman stoking the steam locomotive’s boiler with more and more coal, making Time’s train move on at an ever and ever increasing rate. (Or maybe it’s the other way around.) At any rate, Perception stands on the ground next to the tracks and watches the train fly by, saying “Whoa! Did you see how fast that train blew by?”

railway-908277__180

Where once there were long, lazy days of summer, summer days now run into fall, fall into winter, winter into years, and years into lifetimes. Deadlines, responsibilities, calendar events, reminders, commitments, activities, and endless checklists of to dos tip one side of the scale, while the other holds the inevitability of time running out. The scale is rarely balanced. It is all relative. Relative to one’s own age, and time, and maybe even one’s own perceptions.

 

“Time is too slow for those who wait,

 too swift for those who fear,

too long for those who grieve,

too short for those who rejoice,

but for those who love, time is eternity.”

 – Henry Van Dyke

 In light of the relativity of age, time and perception, I would like to repeat the last line in the Van Dyke quotation above:

“For those who love, time is eternity.”

Amen to that.

End Piece

© April 21, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

5c22a532ef35e422919b5f40bb6737b9


2 Comments

In Search of a More Normal “Normal”

Blog Post #36

danelion_color_illustration

 

nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

1.conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

952f4-flower-borders-09

What do you consider to be “normal?”

People talk of leading a “normal life,” or wanting someone they know to behave in a more “normal way.” Who hasn’t heard someone say, “I’m just a normal person,” or “I just want (or like) to do normal things?”

002-girl-sitting-in-grass-under-cloud-flower-birds-in-sky-public-domain

I think it’s possible to explain normalcy to a point, but I think there’s a fine line separating what one person thinks is normal from what another person thinks. Maybe not even a fine line—maybe a giant firebreak sort of line, that won’t allow one person’s normal to leap over and infringe on, or burn, someone else’s normal.

This question of normalcy often arises early in a marriage. When Brad and I were first married over forty years ago, it was clear that what was normal to Brad was certainly not normal to me!

bed in summer

Example:

Since I was five years old, it was normal for me to get up and pull the covers up over the pillow, making the bed first thing in the morning. At a young age, I so liked the feeling I got tidying my room that by the time I was a teenager, I often made the bed for my mother, and sometimes my siblings. This practice spilled over into married life. As soon as my feet hit the floor in the morning, I made the bed—provided, of course, that Brad wasn’t it in. Observing this routine for a week or so, Brad told me that it was normal in the home in which he was raised to pull back the covers to air the bed each morning, and he wanted to know why I didn’t do that. Feeling slightly defensive about my family’s normal, I told him that our mother expected us to make our beds first thing, and our sheets always smelled perfectly fine.

rcnr9dG5i

In this case, as in many others, my normal and his normal did not match. It was many months—possibly years—before we came to the realization that even though our ways of doing things were different, this didn’t make one more right than another. We just had different normals. Once we pulled back and aired out these kinds of issues (and there were many), a more normal atmosphere settled in our home.

Rockwell__Mother_Tucking_Children_into_Bed_1921

A Normal Life

I’ve heard a lot of people say that they wish they could lead a “normal life.” Now, what exactly does that mean? The same principle that applies to the normal practices of making a bed or airing it out applies to normal lifestyles. There is a broad spectrum of what many would consider to be “leading a normal life.” For some people it is getting up and working a nine-to-five job every day. For others, it may mean putting in a couple of hours at work and the rest on a boat, or on the golf course. For many, it may mean caring full-time for a home and family. And for still others, it may mean jetting around the world taking pictures for NatGeo.

paparazzi

So when you say you want to lead a “more normal life” what do you mean? Do you mean you’re so famous, you can’t go anywhere or do anything without being recognized, mauled, and paparazzied, and you’d like to go back to pre-fame life and anonymity? (For most of us “normal” people, this isn’t the case.)

Does it mean you don’t want to be accountable to others anymore, and only do what you want to do? (If so, maybe you are an entrepreneurial sort of person and it’s time for a career change.)

StateLibQld_1_131783_Stuck_in_a_deep_rut_on_the_outskirts_of_Toowoomba,_ca.1925

Does it mean you’re tired of a certain type of drudgery? Or you feel trapped in a rut? (A lot of people fall into this category, making it a very normal place to be.)

It seems to me that the desire to lead “a more normal life” means you may desire some kind of a change, and in my estimation, change is never normal in the sense that change, by very definition, is a move away from what has been normal, or typical, or usual—even if that normal may have been undesirable. In this case, leading a more normal life may not be what someone would want. (If you followed this line of reasoning, give yourself a gold star.)

More Normal Behavior

And what of wanting others to behave in a more “normal way?” What does that mean? I’ve observed that it is normal for certain people to pursue a quiet, reserved lifestyle—staying under the radar, and liking it that way. It is also normal for certain other people to seek after the limelight—having a constant need to be noticed, applauded, or even censured—just so long as they are getting attention. And there are many who live a normal existence somewhere in between.

Scolding

People who want others to behave in a more normal way are often parents. The people they usually want to behave more normally are often their children. Here are some samples of possible uses of the word “normal” that may set a parent up for trouble:

“Why can’t you wear your hair (or your clothes) like normal people?”

“That is NOT normal thinking!”

“If we could just have a normal conversation….”

“If you would just use a normal tone of voice….”

Normal people don’t do that kind of thing….”

Inherent in each of these phrases is the large and looming misconception about how each individual defines the word “normal.”

Some people use the word “normal” and the phrase “classic example” from time to time to make a point. (I throw the phrase “classic example” in with the word “normal” because they are very much alike. A classic example is another way of saying something is not only “normal,” but “super normal.”  These are go-to words when making comparisons between normal and the way-out notions, behaviors, and characteristics espoused by others.

Huygens_first_pendulum_clock_-_front_view

The pendulum always seems to swing toward our own ideals when we are considering what is normal and what isn’t. And rightly so. Who out there wants to believe, or possibly admit, that their ideas about things are off-the-wall cuckoo? Or at the very least, abnormal?

lead_large

“Serious Business” by Charles Dana Gibson

I have learned that when people talk about things that are normal, not normal, or classic examples, they are frustrated with the changing world around them, and how those changes defy what is near and dear to them. This is a time for compassionate and empathetic listening, not censure—unless, of course, it is one’s own normal that has been challenged. Even then, it is wise to listen and try to understand, because we don’t always see ourselves through normal eyes. Sometimes, we view ourselves through tainted rosy glasses, or the sludge of insecurity or failure—making what we think is normal for us, really something that is not normal at all.

the-square-peg-in-the-round-hole

A Normal Person

I think when people say they’re just a “normal person” they are doing their best to fit their square peg of normalcy into the round hole of what they think others consider normal is. Each individual is just that—individual. Unique. Each has a slightly different way of looking at things than even those closest to them.

Nov02120

Karen and me—a long time ago

My sister, Karen, and I could finish one another’s sentences. We loved and understood each other: our hopes and dreams, our upbringing, our way of approaching things, and the many tiny little idiosyncrasies we had. BUT we were not one another’s “normal” at all. Normal for Karen was quite different from normal for me. The way she thought about certain aspects of life, the way she planned and lived her days, the clothes she wore, the food she ate, and many other things that were normal for her would have been very uncomfortable for me, and vice versa.

I suppose I’m just being knit-picky, but it seems to me that everybody’s normal depends upon them. And if that’s true, then there is no “true normal”—only a bazillion normals that suit the bazillion different personalities out there, or in other words, everybody’s normal is really something uncommon or rare.

5c22a532ef35e422919b5f40bb6737b9

Still, to be fair, when someone says they want to have a “normal life,” I understand what they’re saying. (I think.) When things have been anything but normal, when life has gone askew, when the world seems topsy-turvy, when every day is different, or the demands of life have become overwhelming, then what some of us long for is to go back to whatever it was we used to do, before we stepped from normal into abnormal. It may also mean that we long to be like everyone else, or what we think everyone else is like, since—as has already been established—everyone else has their own normal, and is therefore not “normal” as Google’s dictionary would have you believe.Over-the-cliff

Normal Things

Normal” things give backbone to daily life. Routine is “normal.” Routine is a gift to someone who’s predictable life went suddenly awry.  Some people thrive on the kind of adventure that involves Indiana Jones situations around every corner—where being on the edge of your seat (or the edge of your last nerve) every single moment of every single day is, well…normal. That’s not for me! I prefer a healthy portion of predictability, sprinkled with spontaneity, and a dash of surprise.

11.11.15.jpg-550x0

After recent upheaval, I ached to do normal (for me) things, such as wash a load of clothes, bake cookies, walk around the block, and sleep in my own bed. I dragged a bag of notepaper, books to read, food I liked to nibble on, and a script I was trying to memorize with me to the hospital and then the nursing home where my father was recuperating. I read to my father when he’d let me, and while he dozed or was distracted, I wrote dozens of notes, listened to the script via headphones, and read till my eyes grew tired. If you carry a little bit of normal with you, it helps, but there’s nothing like your own normal in your own space, in your own home, in your own daily routine.

a021382

While he was in the hospital and nursing home, my poor father was in a constant state of abnormal, and it took its toll, causing a bit of disorientation. I could understand this, which is why I spent so much time with him—to bring a little bit of “normal” to his bedside while he was in a state of terrible transition. Now that he’s home, things are definitely more normal, but not quite. We are learning a new normal, and it’s sometimes painful, but a necessary part of life. We are adjusting and adapting until the inevitable time when things will be jostled around again.

What I have concluded by all of this is that once one leaves their traditional normal for any length of time, one can never fully go back. Change is the byword of life. Some little thing will always be different…or perhaps some big thing.

bathsheba-smith-590025

Bathsheba Smith

The early Mormon pioneers knew much of upheaval and of frequent hankie waves bidding farewell to normalcy in their lives. Constantly forced to move from place to place, frequently driven from their homes and loved ones, they, at last, made their exodus across the plains to create a normal life according to their beliefs in the deserts of Utah. The story is told of one such Mormon pioneer woman, Bathsheba Smith. Her history tells that her husband…*“widened and heightened Bathsheba’s [covered] wagon substantially.” After he did this for her, she then…“carpeted the floor, put four chairs in the center in which to ride, and hung a looking glass, candlestick, and pincushion. Once, while fording a stream, Bathsheba’s awkward wagon threatened to wash downstream. Unruffled, she yelled, “Behold, Noah’s Ark!” 

 

Why would she do this? I think she was doing her best to bring a feeling of permanence and normalcy to their ever-shifting lives by taking a portion of her home—her normal life—with them.

Crossing_the_Mississippi_on_the_Ice_by_C.C.A._Christensen

” Crossing the Mississippi on the Ice” by C.C.A.Christensen (c1865)

I heard the story of Bathsheba Smith forty years ago, and have never forgotten it. Her story is a reminder that you may choose to “bloom where you’re planted,” no matter how abnormal, or stressful, or difficult that may be.

flower_in_desert

I think that maybe there is no normal “normal.” Not really. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to make reference to things that are normal, and hope for normal times to come. In spite of the ambiguity of normalcy, I am determined to “bloom where I’m planted” –creating my own sense of “normal” no matter where I am, how difficult it may be, or how abnormal others may think I am.

Is this normal?

You be the judge.

End Piece

© February 24, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

 

I-dwell-500w


2 Comments

“Dwell in Possibility”

 (It has been months since I’ve posted, and I find I must write—something…anything! So here goes…)

Blog Post #35

dwell-in-possibility002

I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson

pos·si·bil·i·ty

ˌpäsəˈbilədē/

noun

  1. a thing that may happen or be the case.
  • ” the state or fact of being likely or possible; likelihood.
  • “a thing that may be chosen or done out of several possible alternatives.

My First Blog Post EVER!

I have always associated Possibility with positive things—with the hope for better things waiting just around the corner. However, it occurs to me that Possibility also has a negative or dark side to it. A prophet of old once said, *“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things.” It makes sense, then, that Possibility, like “The Force,” has both a good side and a dark side.

maxresdefault

Darth Possibility sometimes sneaks up from behind, or lies hidden around a corner, waiting to startle or take you by surprise (e.g. a loved one discovers he or she has cancer). Sometimes, Darth Possibility lurks in the shadows of time, and surreptitiously tosses a banana peel in your path causing you to slip and fall (e.g. an unexpected job loss). Sometimes, Darth Possibility stealthily eases through the backstage door, and waits in the wings. Then, disregarding any cues, descends on center stage, villain-like, upstaging all other bewildered actors, playing a loudly dramatic role, then swiftly exits, flourishing its black cape for effect (e.g. the untimely death of a loved one). Darth Possibility likes to throw around its weight, employing other often ill-mannered cohorts from The Dark Side: Probability, Risk, and Consequence, to deal their hands into the game called Life.

Villain-Railroad-Tracks-300x222

When things seem their blackest, Darth Possibility’s kin, Possibility Skywalker, appears and opens a portal to hope. I have noticed that Possibility Skywalker is so powerful that even the tiniest pinprick of the light he carries within him can obliterate the fear of the Dark Side. But one must carry the light saber of faith to ward off Darth Possibility’s depressing influence. Possibility Skywalker is like a bright shoulder angel reminding you that you can get through whatever comes. He whispers that there are always opportunities for learning and growth buried within each trial, and urges you on a quest to seek out the beauty and joy amidst the difficult. He fans the flame of courage in the face of affliction, and shows you that you may rise up and conquer fear and despair. He spreads a feast on your table, encouraging you to taste a variety of flavors, rather than remain in a rut of mediocrity and melancholy.

bird_in_flight

When you step out your door and encounter the unknown faces of Possibility, pay attention—you may be surprised to hear birds singing,  to see white puffy clouds floating by, and flowers blooming abundantly around you—as if the whole world is oblivious to the hard things that are happening in your world. How many battles have taken place on a meadow where birds sang, and the sun shone brightly–where men fought, lost in a mindset of war, while carefree birds dipped and soared around the melee?

summer-fields-at-gettysburg-nmp

When death is at the door, both Darth Possibility and Possibility Skywalker rest comfortably on a porch swing nearby, waiting. Good can come from even the very throes of death itself. In a very real sense, that which we embrace–the dark side or the light side of Possibility–depends very largely on our own choices, and what we decide to do when that moment of reckoning comes.

fullsizerender

 

Recently, my father was staying in a rehab center after breaking his femur, and I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by Darth Possibility. I walked out of the door to head home for lunch, and was stunned at the brightness and beauty of that winter day! Surely, those twittering birds didn’t understand that my father was feeling despondent about his situation inside that building I had just exited. Those happy children and adults laughing and playing at the park nearby, whose voices wafted to me on the winds of hope, had to be unaware of my mental, physical, and emotional fatigue, or else they wouldn’t have had the nerve to engage in such activity! Or were they really the many faces of Possibility Skywalker coming to save the day? The looming question was: Would I allow myself to be rescued, or would I choose to wallow in the oppressive grip of Darth Possibility? The tall Palms lining the drive of the nursing home stood stately and firm; their rustling fronds professed that nothing had changed. Not really. “Life goes on. Joy continues all around. Stand firm, and wait on the Lord,” they whispered. “In His time, all will be resolved. Look up and be of good cheer.” I could choose to partake of that joy, no matter what other turmoil may be churning within or around me, or I could choose to ignore that joy—relegating it to a shelf marked “someday” or “never.” That the joy was always there, I have no doubt. That I had but to embrace it, and allow it to soothe my aching heart was entirely up to me.

I chose Joy.

ChooseJoy_web-400x250

I have discovered that Possibility Skywalker may at any moment rush in and save the day. Just when you may think all is lost, new and transcendent light obliterates the darkness and wonderful new Possibilities appear, if we’ll let them! We always have the freedom to choose which side we will indulge, or with whom we will ally ourselves.

We all “dwell in Possibility.” Which side do you choose ?

I-dwell-500w

 

Note – During November and December 2015, our family experienced all of the previously mentioned events: my beloved sister discovered she had cancer which took her life in a mere two weeks from the diagnosis, my son-in-law lost his job, and my 92-year-old father fell and broke his femur. Through divine inspiration, I was told to find joy during these difficulties, and I took that counsel to heart. It has made all the difference. I’m happy to report that joy is everywhere, and “everywhen.” Whenever something hard and heartbreaking happens, joy and hope are as probable and possible as depression and despair, if we will choose them. Worry and fear never accomplish anything–they are disabling. Joy and faith, however, are enabling. Since these events took place, we still mourn the loss of my wonderful sister, Karen—we miss her greatly—but we move forward in faith and hope in the atonement of Jesus Christ and in the knowledge that we will be together again. My son-in-law started a new job that promises a fresh start for their whole family, and my father has completed rehab and is home again. He is improving a little each day, and we are finding new manifestations of joy along the way as we walk in the Light of Possibility.

*2 Nephi 2:11

eebc2-end2bpiece

Copyright February 9, 2016 

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

worn-out-shoes_001


Leave a comment

Feet You Meet

Blog Post #34

InStep-S

“Front feet, Back feet,

Red feet, Black feet,

Left foot, Right foot,

Feet, Feet, Feet,

How many, many

Feet you meet.”

(Dr. Seuss, The Foot Book)

I found myself meeting all kinds of interesting feet while sitting on a bench at a Southern California amusement park. It began with simple people-watching. Then, a man stopped about twenty feet away. My eyes zeroed right in on his feet, or rather, his man-sized ruby slippers. (Not the Dorothy from Kansas variety, but resembling something akin to the Nike or Adidas type.) I’m sorry to admit that, as far as I was concerned, the guy wearing the shoes was completely incidental to his feet—he might have been a Wookie, for all I knew. I never got a good look at anything but the brilliant, fiery, shiny, red boats carrying him adrift in a sea of paved walkways filled with other colorful foot-supporting spectacles. Those red shoes shouted like a diva, “LOOK AT ME!” and I did, until they became lost in the mass of “Red feet, Black feet, Left foot, Right foot, Feet, Feet, Feet” parading up and down in front of me.

red shoeCutout

LOOK AT ME!

The rest of that day, my eyes were riveted on the phenomenal number and variety of shoe-shod feet crammed into a relatively small area, as well as the excessive diversity in design, texture, shape and size, and the equally excessive diversity of the people wearing them. Especially impressive was the enormous quantity of feet in motion—all busily going this way and that, while mostly avoiding collision with other feet in such close proximity. The numbers were staggering, really. There were shoes of every kind—sneakers, pumps, flats, boots, even stilettos! (I have never understood women who wear stilettos to an amusement park—some strange obsession or vanity must consume them to self-inflict such torture! Just spike my shoes with nails, why don’t you?)

228041b4571ef35cd0398bd7546a37e3shoe_of_nails2

I realize that the prescription for comfort varies from person to person. Some opt to get as close to the mercilessly hard asphalt as possible, choosing flat, barely there sandals—a thin piece of leather separating foot from scorching heat, and a spaghetti noodle strap to insure one’s foot doesn’t slide off. (As a teen, I wore a pair precisely like this to the same amusement park; I perfectly recall the heat radiating up through the sparsely protective sole, and the pain and soreness my feet suffered in the name of fashion by mid-afternoon.)

blogbernardomilly (1)

Probably most popular among amusement park goers, are those who cushion their feet in the sweaty comfort of rubbery padded vinyl. (I’ve also experienced this type of sweltering, stink-enhancing foot environment. Great for cooler days, but a virtual sweatshop in 104 degree temperatures.)

spin_prod_833055912

With crowds as thick as peanut butter, still others find comfort in making sure they can see parades and shows from any location by wearing platforms that give them eye shot five or six inches above the heads of their low-heeled counterparts. (I have not experienced this, and doubtless never will,—even if I had platform shoes. Five-inch heels would barely place me on an even keel with those of average height. Most of the time, I’m too short to see above heads belonging to persons over six years of age.)

5322d7a5d826be6926dd2a0526a17d81

While in the attitude of foot-watching, my mind wandered into one of those “what if…” imaginings that have no real merit, and do no real good.  I conjured in my mind’s eye some futuristic shoe connoisseur doing the equivalent of a Google search for “shoe fashions of the early 21st century,” and pictured results showing a pathetic sampling of sneakers, flats and pumps reminiscent of 19th and 20th century fashion plates. After seeing such an enormous variety of shoes in one place, at one time, I felt certain our generation’s multiplicity of shoe styles would be lost to history. No one in the future would ever really comprehend a hundredth part of the varieties of shoes available to our generation from, literally, all “walks of life”.

01b036423448ff28e9802d8530cb6dc7

Once home, I did a Google search myself. I was flabbergasted at my findings! My imaginary shoe connoisseur would not be disappointed if cyber files remain intact eons into the future. Indeed, our era has produced the most enormous, and I might add, ridiculous, array of footwear ever conceived of. Surely, comfort is not a primary motivation! Nor is the proper alignment of one’s skeleton while in motion. Beauty does not seem to be an all-encompassing rationale, either.

The inspiration for many of today’s shoes is a mystery to me. I present to you a small sampling from my own search results. I have to ask, are these for real? You be the judge.

Feet and shoes

Most of what I saw while foot watching was not as extreme as my Google search would have you believe. Furthermore, I recognize that each pair of shoes represents a uniquely individual personality who chooses them. I suspect that if I were to interview a cross-section of shoe wearers, I would find distinctive personality traits tied directly to the shoes they chose to wear. Just as surely as “Stiletto Gal” chose her shoes for looks over comfort, “Ruby Slippers Boat Shoes Guy” chose his shoes as an outward expression of some inward desire to have his feet noticed. Of course, these are very shallow, soulless, (or perhaps, sole-less) observations which don’t begin to comprehend the special, priceless souls that occupy those shoes. I’m no expert—no well-versed student of human behavior—but I do wonder why someone of a sound mind would, by choice, wear a pair of furry shoes with a cloven-footed toe and gold pistol heels….

Weird-Shoes-4

Really?!

Our seven year-old twin granddaughters were with us during part of that day at the amusement park, each wearing a pair of boots.  A couple of weeks earlier, they had desperately wanted to go on a particular ride, and had been straining for months to reach the mark, but hadn’t quite grown tall enough to prevent the ride attendant from forcing a finger between the top of their curly heads and the wooden bar indicating how tall you had to be. Far from dense, these girls conspired a way to measure-up. They chose to wear their boots in place of their usual flip-flops or tennis shoes. Why? Their boots have significantly higher heels than any of their other shoes. Just to be sure, they wadded up tissue paper and stuffed it in their shoes to lift their feet even more. Off they went—on one of the hottest, most humid days Southern California had to offer—in their shorts and high top, laced-up boots. Their efforts didn’t go unrewarded—they were thrilled to find they had made the height requirement, and were able to go on the ride—being re-measured at every checkpoint right up to the last one just before stepping into their seats. Later that day, one of the girls began complaining that her feet hurt. On closer inspection, her mother discovered the wadded-up tissue had formed into tiny balled-up clumps, like small marbles, under the arches of her daughter’s feet, adding absolutely no height to her stature, but causing a great deal of discomfort (a small price to pay for achieving the desired goal). A stranger may have questioned boots with shorts and lightweight T-shirts on such a hot day. Had they know the serious business these girls were about they would have understood the combination.

ANDREA-37K-BRN-GBOOTS__2_9

I suppose the same might be true of “Stiletto Gal” and “Ruby Slippers Guy.”  If I knew the motivation, or the inner workings and desires of the heart, I might better understand the choice of shoes. Doesn’t this apply across the board? People make all kinds of choices about things…things I, standing in my own hand-picked variety of shoes, simply don’t understand.

A well-known adage says we shouldn’t judge a person until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. After seeing some of the bazillions of shoes out there, and some of the bazillions of people filling them, I’m certain I don’t understand what makes people choose what they choose—whether it be shoes, or food, or other choices of more consequence. But one thing I did notice, and do understand, is that most of those people belonging to the feet I saw were kind enough to say excuse me, or I’m sorry, or pardon me, when they accidentally bumped into, or stepped on my shoes—a frequent occurrence in a crowded amusement park.

stepping-on-toes

Contemplating the vast amount of shoes out there, and the equally vast amount of shoe wearers, I can’t help but think that there’s no way I could ever comprehend the minds and motivations of such a variety of people. I’ve been married to my husband, Brad, for over forty years and I still don’t get how his mind works a good portion of the time. How could I possibly understand what motivates complete strangers in their choices? When one considers the mileage each individual has trod through life—much of which may have been traveled alone on painful, wadded-up-marble-sized-balls-of-tissue-stumbling-blocks, over quiet, lonely, desolate, and difficult pathways, one is certainly not in a position to judge!glass-slipper-coloring-page-2047

Indeed, the opposite is true. One must pick up the glass slipper (that was left in a rush before the magic ended), and seek out those who need the magical quality of kindness and charity restored to their life. Among the throngs of feet, we must search out those who have been hurt, or lost, or forgotten, and find the shoeless ones who have had a dream or a hope burning in their hearts, but don’t know how or where to find the lost slipper. We each carry a glass slipper in the pockets of our hearts. We each have within us the ability to restore to those in need the proverbial glass slipper of kindness, hope and truth.  We can start by nurturing patience and tolerance towards those whose “choice of shoe” we don’t understand, and forego unkind, shallow, and false judgements that do injustice to those like “Stiletto Gal” and “Ruby Slippers Guy,” or more importantly, those whose feet are bare, or shod with nondescript, tired, worn-through uppers, insoles, and treads.

worn-out-shoes_001

A good place to begin is by lifting one’s eyes from the ground, and looking into the eyes and hearts of others. This naturally occurs when one accidentally bumps into, or steps on someone else’s toes. That’s when most of the thundering crowds at places like amusement parks actually stop a second, look up, and look into, and really see the eyes and faces of others, and simply, and sincerely say, “I’m sorry.”

charlie-chaplin-original-suit-hat-cane-1_06

Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp Shoes

“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself in any direction you choose.

You’re on your own,

and you know what you know.

And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go.”

Dr. Seuss (Oh, the Places You’ll Go!)

© July 15, 2015

© October 23, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.