Batshit Crazy

About a year ago, I published My Mirror Lies to Me, my third collection of funny stories and musings on life in my little corner of rural Michigan. In one chapter,  I talked about the time my husband, his brother,  and my father encountered some bats while working on our house.

I was reminded of that story this week, when workers discovered a mummified bat within the walls of that same house twenty-odd years later. Let that sink in for a minute.

They found a mummified bat within the walls of my house.

Seriously, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to other people, does it?

At any rate, Mr. Mummy Bat’s unexpected appearance made me want to share the other bat story. So here is a short peek inside a chapter of My Mirror Lies to Me. I hope you enjoy it!

Batshit Crazy

A few years ago, blueberries became the big trend worldwide. Everyone, it seems, has been singing the praises of those little buggers for their health benefits and anti-oxidant properties.

Yeah, I could have told them that. I live right in the middle of “Blueberry Country.” Between the sandy soil, the moist air along the lakeshore, and the short but intense summers, this part of the world was made for growing blueberries.

I grew up here. I’ve gone blueberry picking every summer, although I’d probably owe a small fortune to those farmers if they ever got smart enough to put my chunky ass on a scale before and after an hour in the field. I freely admit that I put twice as many in my belly as I put in the bucket, and so do my kids. If I take them picking later on in the afternoon, I can usually get away with not having to make dinner that day.

Here in Blueberry Country, we put blueberries in everything. Blueberry muffins. Blueberry waffles with blueberry syrup. Blueberry wine. Even blueberry bratwursts, for God’s sake. As far as I’m concerned there is nothing as tasty as a handful of fresh blueberries on top of a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

They are delicious, but I really don’t understand how anyone absorbs any kind of health benefits from eating them. It’s not like we actually digest them. They come out in the same condition they go in. Better, in some cases. I’m afraid to even glance down at the toilet during blueberry season because I know I’m going to start worrying about the fact that I remember chewing those berries that are now floating whole in the bowl.

It’s like stomach acids have some sort of restorative properties when it comes to blueberries.

This doesn’t just happen to humans, either. The birds around here begin dropping bright purple grenades during blueberry season. Cars, laundry on clotheslines, slow-moving pets — nothing is safe.

Just to go off a tangent for a moment here, I’d like to share something that makes me unique.

I have been hit by seagull poop at least once every summer of my life.

Every.

Single.

Summer.

That’s fifty-one summers of seagull shit, people. Granted, I don’t remember the first few shitbombs, but family members tell me that the streak started early in my life.

And it’s not just a Michigan thing. One year, I went camping in Virginia with a friend and a seagull crapped on me at the campground. In Virginia. It’s like they have a secret seagull messaging system to make sure I get hit no matter where I go.

I even got nailed by one as I left work last night. At night. Birds don’t fly at night. That particular seagull must have been perched on the lightpost outside the hotel for hours, just waiting to complete its mission.

And yes, I know for a fact that most birds don’t fly at night. I learned that in the early days of my marriage, when the Big Guy and I sat in our backyard sharing a romantic moment under the stars. “Look at the pretty night birds over by the porch light,” I sighed, blissfully ignorant about my new life in the country.

“Birds don’t fly at night,” he told me. “Those are bats.”

Birds may not fly at night, but I sure did that night. I flew up the steps and through the door so fast that I’m pretty sure my feet never touched the ground.

I’ve learned since then that bats are truly wonderful creatures. They are complex animals with amazing talents, and they do so much to help control the insect population. Bats are not inherently a bad thing.

But they don’t belong in my house.

During our first few summers there, we were under constant bat attack. A bat can slip through the tiniest of openings, and our house was an old, old farmhouse that we were renovating, so there were many tiny openings. And big openings, for that matter. We seemed to have a bat or two flapping its way through the living room at least once a week every summer.

At one point, the Big Guy ventured up into the attic and discovered that it was Bat Central up there. I was one hundred percent in favor of abandoning the house and moving back into the city, but he swore he could take care of them. “We just need to figure out where they’re getting in, and then seal it up,” he told me.

True to his word, he gathered up a few friends and family members to stand in a loose circle around the house at dusk one night. As the sky grew darker, bats began to leave the cozy home they had made for themselves in our house. There was a narrow crack between the siding and the chimney, and that turned out to be a bit of a bat on-ramp.

He counted well over one hundred bats flying out through that crack.  When he thought they were all gone, he climbed a ladder and sprayed insulation foam into the entire crack to prevent them from coming back into our house in the morning. Later, he made a more lasting repair to the opening and solved the problem once and for all.

However, that left the problem of an attic full of bat poop. You can call it guano if you’d like, and rave about its wonderful properties as a fertilizer. But when it’s in my home, I’m going to call it what it is: shit. Bat shit. Nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

We had an attic full of it.

Unfortunately, not all of the bats left the house that night, so the problem sort of came to a head when the Big Guy rounded up his little brother and my father to help him while I was at work a few days later. It’s important to note here that the “little brother” is a ridiculously tall individual who makes the Big Guy seem more like a Medium Guy when they’re together. So I’m just going to refer to him as the Bigger Guy from here on out.

They didn’t tell anyone their plans for the day, probably because they knew I would have insisted on a few more safety precautions than they liked to use. I only figured it out because my mother-in-law was one of my clients that day, and she mentioned that she thought “the boys” were on their way to play tennis because they had stopped by her house that morning to borrow some tennis racquets.

Neither one of them plays tennis.

A tennis racquet is, however, the perfect defensive weapon when dealing with bats.

It wasn’t until years later that the Big Guy told me what actually transpired that day. Those three great big men went upstairs to begin ripping out the second floor ceilings to start the upstairs renovations. They took the tennis racquets to defend themselves against any remaining bats.

Apparently, none of them realized just how much batshit there really was in the attic. When they started ripping things apart, it began an ugly chain reaction that none of them would ever forget.

Along with the hundreds of pounds of batshit, the attic was also full of old bricks from some long-forgotten project started by the previous owner. Guano-covered bricks and boards began raining down, first on the Bigger Guy’s head and then on all three of them as the hole above them widened.

None of them had thought to wear any kind of hat or helmet, of course, or gloves. And I guess real men don’t wear masks, not even when dealing with hundreds of pounds of nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

They were covered with it. They breathed it in. It went into their eyes and ears and most likely other bodily orifices that I don’t want to think about. The two brothers leaned on each other, choking and gagging and gasping for air, tennis racquets forgotten in their hands as a few angry, homeless bats flapped around their heads.

My dad, however, stood a few feet away, staring at the guano on his arms with a calculating look in his eyes.

“You know,” he mused, “people would pay a lot of money for this stuff.”

“No,” the Big Guy told him. “We are not selling batshit from my attic. And we are never, ever telling anyone about this. No one. Not even Amy.”

“Especially not Amy,” the Bigger Guy agreed. “She’ll move out if she hears about this.”

“Just seems like sort of a gift from Mother Nature, you know?” my dad persisted. “Guano is worth a lot of money as fertilizer, and you’ve sure got a lot of it.”

“Batshit is not a gift, Dean,” the Big Guy said firmly.

He finally told me the whole story just before my father’s funeral a few years later. It was, he insisted, one of his favorite memories of Dad.

It made me feel good, too, in a way, because it made me realize that I’m luckier than my father  even though we both shared the same knack for being hit with bird poop. I may get nailed with wads of smelly, slimy, warm seagull shit every summer of my life, but I think I can say with all certainty that I will probably never share his experience of being buried under tons of guano.

Or, as I prefer to call it, nasty-ass, motherfucking batshit.

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Never Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll

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I have reached a new stage in life, and I’ve got to be honest: it’s really pissing me off.

I can deal with the “Everything pops or creaks when I bend over” stage, as well as the “I need a nap every day” stage.  Even the “Why did I come into this room” phase is tolerable.  But folks, this stage is intolerable.

I have now entered the “Today’s music sucks” portion of life.

I always swore I would never be that mom. You know the one. The one who tells her kids to turn down their music because it’s just not as good as the music from her generation. The one who takes over control of the car radio because she just can’t understand the garbage today’s kids listen to.

Yeah, I’m there.

I am the youngest of three kids, and I remember when my two older sisters sat me down sometime in the mid 1970’s and informed me that I was not a normal teenager because I still enjoyed John Denver. They would line up a stack of records on the record player, one after another, and hand me album covers and lyric sheets to study while I listened.

To digress for just a moment, if you are too young to understand the concept of a stack of records or don’t know what a record player is, just walk away now. There just aren’t words sufficient to describe the finesse involved in stacking just enough albums but not too many, and making sure that the quarter taped to the needle arm was in just the right place to prevent skipping.

And no, I am just not pretentious enough to say vinyl and turntable. They were albums and record players, damn it. Sure, kids today have an easier time downloading music off the internet, but that simply can’t compare to the experience of strolling up to Murphy’s Five-and-Dime on a Saturday morning to plunk down my allowance for a handful of forty-fives with their cheap plastic inserts that made them fit on a regular record player.

All it takes is a few notes from “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die” or “Nights in White Satin” to take me back to those days, sprawled out on the bottom bunk in my sisters’ basement bedroom at two in the morning, listening to music and gazing at album covers while we hoped that mom really was a very heavy sleeper upstairs.

I’m not confessing to anything here, but there may or may not have been a few questionable substances consumed during those late-night listening sessions. Frankly, it was all too long ago to remember all the details. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

As I got older, they would quiz me on music trivia, turning on me at random moments to demand things like,  “Who is the drummer for Cheap Trick?” “How many famous musicians died by choking on their own vomit in 1980?” “Who did the artwork on the inside of ‘Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die’?” (For the record: Bun E. Carlos, three, and Dave Gibbons.)

I was in high school before I dared to step away from my sisters’ opinions and started forming my own. My friend Kathy introduced me to songs from this little-known garage band out of Athens, Georgia, and my mind was blown. Couldn’t really understand a word that Michael Stipe sang, but that didn’t stop me from wearing out my homemade casssete of REM’s Chronic Town EP in a matter of months.

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Kathy was also responsible for making me aware of The Replacements, The Jazz Butcher, Peter Case, The dB’s, Robyn Hitchcock, and oh, so many more.

That was music, man. Music that evoked an emotion, that took up residence in my brain and in my soul. Music that still sometimes wakes me up in the middle of the night with stray lyrics running through my mind, keeping me awake until I can remember who sang it and why it was important to me.

And in the morning after one of those nights, I’m left sitting here with my morning coffee, lost in the soundtrack of my life as I wonder whatever happened to that girl who used to know every word to “Bastards of Young”  and “King of Birds.”

She got old; that’s what happened to her.  She became that mom.

But she finally understands what Jethro Tull was singing about:

No, you’re never too old to rock ‘n’ roll
If you’re too young to die

Rock on, y’all.

 

A Traditional Family Christmas

This holiday season, I hope to establish some new traditions. But I have to be careful, because in my family the word “tradition” is sort of a bad word.

When I was growing up, my aunts were really into holiday traditions. Everything we did was supposed to have some kind of significance, from the precise placement of Grandma’s porcelain angel bells to the exact shade of Christmas toilet paper. Our Christmas with the aunts was always the weekend before the actual holiday, and Aunt Marian was determined to cram MEANING into every second of every day of the entire weekend.

Christmas with Mom, on the other hand, was much less predictable. The most charitable way to describe my mother’s holiday traditions would be to say “Well, she tried.” In fact, that was the best part of Christmas with her — she kept trying different things every year. The only constant about holidays with Mom was the fact that she would let us all open our gifts from Grandma on Christmas Eve.

And that was only because we all knew that Grandma was going to send us all matching nightgowns that she had purchased at Dillard’s Department Store in Jonesboro. Grandma worshipped Dillard’s the way most folks worship God, although she was pretty vague on which granddaughter wore what size and we all ended up swapping gifts with each other until we found one that fit.

I think our most memorable Christmas was the year Mom decided that we should all go to church on Christmas Eve. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going to church on Christmas Eve. Jesus is, after all, “the reason for the season”.  It’s just that we were never really a church-going family. We went on Easter and whenever Mom worried that one of us was sinning more than usual.

On that particular Christmas Eve, she made a batch of chili for our dinner and then ordered us all to get dressed up for the big evening service.  But she didn’t take us to “our” church. For some unknown reason, the woman took all of us — including my two adult step brothers — to an ornate, hundred year-old house of worship in downtown Kalamazoo. It was enormous, with high ceilings and lots of religious statues and plenty of stained glass.

It was beautiful, but it It wasn’t our church.

It wasn’t even our denomination.

To this day, I have no idea what denomination it was. I just know that it involved a lot of kneeling. Everywhere around us, people were bouncing up and down like bits of human popcorn. We tried to blend in and do what everyone else was doing, but we sort of gave ourselves away when a man on our pew bent to retrieve his pen and my entire family hit the floor.

About thirty minutes into the service, the Christmas Eve chili began to work its magic on my stepbrothers. I’m not talking about a gentle, unavoidable “right cheek sneak” during a loud hymn. No, these boys didn’t do anything halfway. Dedicated followers of the Go-Big-Or-Go-Home school of thought, they were busily exploring the full comedic and acoustic possibilities of flatulence in a quiet, high-ceilinged room.

By the time we got back to our car, Mom was furious. As for me, I was pretty firmly convinced that we had offended both Santa and Jesus, and that I was going straight to hell without any Christmas presents.

Now that I have kids of my own, I don’t serve chili or go to church on Christmas Eve. We have a few traditions, most of which involve food. This year . . . well, this year is kind of rough.

It’s been two years since my husband and I split. Last year, he still came to my house to watch the kids open their presents, and we were very cordial about splitting our time with them. But this year, I’m in a tiny apartment and he’s in a committed relationship with someone else. And with our daughter away at college and our oldest son graduating in the spring, it’s time to face the fact that our holidays are never going to be the same.

I’m doing my best to see this as a positive thing. It’s a clean slate, an opportunity to start fresh with my youngest son with a whole new set of holiday traditions. We’ll still make our sugar cookies from his Great-great Grandma Tice’s recipe, and this year he’ll be able to write the note to Santa without my help. By next year, he may have outgrown Santa.

I really hope he outgrows that creepy little elf soon.

Image result for creepy elf on the shelf

This holiday season, I hope to face Christmas with a positive attitude. I hope to keep in mind that this is a new beginning or me, and I hope to come up with a few fun and meaningful traditions for my Little Man and me to follow every year.

And  . . .

I hope that all of you out there have a safe and rewarding holiday season, surrounded by those you love.  Go ahead, share some of your family traditions or even some of your funniest Christmas memories!

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post: “This holiday season, I hope…” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and Lisa from The Golden Spoons. Please visit their blogs to see what other writers have done with this prompt!

 

If you enjoyed what you read here today, please check out my book Have a Goode One! It’s free on Kindle December 11-12.

The Window

One of the high points of this past week was discovering that one of my all-time favorite bloggers has come out of hiding and started blogging again! If you’re not familiar with 23thorns, please take a few minutes to go check out his most recent post. I’ll wait.

Okay, now that you’re back, let’s get on with things. Reading his post about irrational childhood fears made me start thinking about my own childhood and some of the strange things I was afraid of. And thinking about that reminded me of what was pretty much the only good line in the Three Investigators movie that came out a few years ago:

“Why aren’t you afraid of the things you’re supposed to be afraid of?”

You see, I had these four aunts that I’ve mentioned a few times here in my blog. They had some pretty strange ideas of what was and was not appropriate for children. They thought nothing of waking my sisters and me in the middle of the night to take us out to the pier so we could watch the Coast Guard bring in a dead body. They also told us awful stories about ghosts that they swore they had actually seen; I don’t remember much about those stories, other than the fact that one ghost had an “Uncle Sam beard” and glowing eyes.

In short, I was never scared of ghosts or dead bodies. I had no fear of monsters or ghoulies or any of the things children with normal relatives are afraid of.

I was afraid of a window in the aunts’ basement. Terrified.

When we stayed with our aunts at their house in town, we all slept in the guest room in their basement. It was actually a very nice little guest room in a finished basement that included a formal sitting room with a fireplace. In retrospect, I’d have to say that their basement was nicer than the upstairs portion of any house I’ve ever lived in since.

Nothing scary about their basement.

Except for that window.

The guest room was in the farthest corner of the basement, and one had to cross the laundry room to get there. The bedroom was simply furnished, with a big double bed against the outside wall and a rollaway bed folded up beside it. When we were little, Aunt Marian would sleep down there with us, and we developed a complicated system to determine who got to sleep where. Marian slept in the middle of the big bed. The child who slept on Marian’s right was on “the new side” while the child on her left was on “the old side” and the child who got the rollaway was “out.”

My problems started on the nights when it was my turn to be on “the old side” because that’s where the window was.

My aunts had made the unusual decorating choice of hanging a full-length curtain covering the whole wall. Side-to-side, top-to-bottom, the entire wall was covered by curtains. There was nothing scary about the curtains themselves.

To my way of thinking, however, curtains covered windows. There was simply no other reason for a curtain to exist. It didn’t matter how many times my aunts tried to convince me that the only window on that wall was a tiny casement window near the ceiling; I remained firmly convinced that the whole surface behind that giant curtain was made of glass.

Still not so scary, you say? Oh, I beg to differ. (Or as Aunt Marian used to say: “I beg to diffy.” But that’s a subject for another day.)

Think about what would be on the other side of a window that made up an entire wall. A basement wall. I imagined worms and moles and underground beasties that would have no problem breaking the glass and snatching a sleeping child who was dumb enough to fall asleep when it was her turn to be on “the old side.”

Later, when we were big enough to sleep alone downstairs, we added a whole new level of terror to the basement bedroom. It was an older house, and there was no light switch at the bottom of the stairs. That meant turning off the light at the top of the stairs and making our way down the steps, across the laundry room, and into the bedroom in the dark.

In the basement.

A dark basement.

With a big, scary window.

I am the youngest, and probably still the most gullible of the three of us. I think it goes without saying that I was usually the loser at any kind of rock-paper-scissors or what-number-am-I-thinking or even eenie-meenie-miney-mo challenge to see who was going to be left alone at the top of the stairs to turn off the light after the other two made it safely into the bedroom.

It was me. It was always me. My big sisters would holler up at me when they had made it to the bedroom, and then it was my turn.

Let me just say for the record that we are not stupid women. None of us. So it escapes me now why it never occurred to any of us to just turn on the bedroom light for the poor, unfortunate sap stuck at the top of the stairs.

Which, in case you missed it, was me.

I would flip the switch and let out a bellow and take off, screaming all the way down the stairs and across the laundry room. As soon as my toes hit the threshold of the bedroom, I would launch myself through the air in the general direction of the bed — because apparently I assumed the basement creatures couldn’t get me if I never touched the carpeting.

Since my sisters were usually in the bed by that point, and because I’ve always better at launching than landing, my landings usually resulted in a bit of bruising and a lot of swearing. Which then led to one of the aunts flicking on the light and hollering down at us to settle down and watch our language.

Really, I swear we are not dumb people in my family. I promise.

We just do really dumb things.

For example, my oldest sister came home from college one weekend and rearranged the furniture in that basement bedroom. My aunts never rearranged furniture. Ever. Nothing ever changed in their home. Ever.

So it was completely logical for me to assume during my next stay with the aunts that the bedroom was arranged exactly the same as it had always been. Furniture simply did not move at my aunts’ house. Ever.

Even though I was in high school and staying at their house without my sisters on that particular weekend, I still followed the same bedtime routine I had always followed: turn off the light at the top of the stairs, sprint down them and across the laundry room, and go airborne into the nice, big bed that had always been there.

And which was now not there.

As I recall, I did a magnificent Berber face-plant and went into a long, slow skid toward the curtained wall. At that moment, I didn’t care about the rug burns on my face. All I could think of was Don’t break the window!

So, here I am, nearly fifty years old, and I have a lot of fears in my life. I’m afraid of my children being hurt, I’m afraid of thunderstorms, and I have a weird love-hate attitude toward maple trees. I still hate basements and would rather go up in a tornado than take shelter in a Michigan half-cellar. But nothing in life will ever terrify me as much as the window in my aunts’ basement.

What about you? What were you most afraid of as a child?

 

Falling For You

Each fall, I remember why I live in Michigan.

At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, I have to say that Michigan is a beautiful place in all seasons.  Sure, we’ve got some of the worst roads in the nation, and there’s a public perception out there that we’re all a bunch of lumberjacks, hunters, and hillbillies. Our winters are brutal; in fact, the weather is unpredictable and often violent all year ‘round. And the wildlife? I’m not even going to talk about the random bear and cougar sightings around here, or the fact that the mosquito is close to edging out the robin as our state bird.  But not even the mosquito is as annoying or irritating as its friends: the gnats, black flies, deer flies, and that most mysterious of all insects known as the No-see-um.

Wait. Where was I going with this?  Ah, yes. Michigan in the fall.

It’s all about change. Driving down the road one day, I’ll suddenly notice an orange leaf here, a red one there, and somehow, it always manages to surprise me. I know it’s coming every year, but there’s always that one day when I say, “Is it that time already?”

Right about then, the smiling weather reporters on the nightly news shows start talking about “Peak Color.” They point at pretty charts and start running all the facts and figures to tell us all where to be and when to be there in order to see the brightest display of Michigan’s best fall colors.

Folks, we don’t need the weatherman on WWMT to tell us when the colors are pretty. Just look out the damn window or head north.  Red, orange, yellow and brown, in more hues and tones than can ever be recreated in a Crayola box of 64 colors. Bright, vivid, riotous shades that stand out against a clear blue sky, or sometimes against thick gray storm clouds that swirl and poke at each other like teenagers looking for a fight.

The trails around Tahquamenon Falls, already orange from the tannic acid in the water, become almost ethereal in their autumn beauty. The Mighty Mac – the Mackinac Bridge – becomes a road to a land of such indescribable beauty that it must be seen to be believed. And Mackinac Island itself becomes Heaven on Earth, and that’s all there is to it. The Island is pretty darn amazing in the spring when the lilacs are in bloom, but even that doesn’t compete with its October beauty.

Colors always reach their peak earlier in the U.P. Or as you non-Michiganders refer to it, the Upper Peninsula. Here in Lower Michigan, we tend to think of those folks up there as sort of a different tribe, distant relatives of our family. We call them “Yoopers” and they call us “Trolls” because we live under the bridge.

That’s okay, though, because at least we go out at night.

The stereotypical Yooper wears flannel, plays Euchre, and says “eh” at the end of every sentence. They even have their own local celebrities – a very funny, very talented band called Da Yoopers, who have songs like “It’s The Second Week of Deer Camp” and “Da Couch Dat Burps” among other treasures.   Da Yoopers also have their own store and outhouse museum in Ishpeming.  My ex-husband and I went there as part of our honeymoon tour of the U.P., right after a stop at the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.

In retrospect, I think it says an awful lot about us that our marriage began with a trip to look at shipwrecks and toilets.

Back down here in the Lower Peninsula, fall brings football season and bonfires, and an almost frantic rush to get in as much fun as possible before the snow hits. It’s not quite time for hot cocoa yet; we demand hot cider stirred with a cinnamon stick or sprinkled with tiny red-hots.

We have corn mazes here in Michigan, like many other Midwestern states. I used to take my kids to the one at Crane’s Orchards in Fennville, but it got embarrassing when the owners had to send in a rescue party for my kids and me year after year. The one year my ex-husband joined us, his perfect sense of direction whisked us through the entire maze in ten minutes flat.

Good man to have around in an emergency, not so fun in a corn maze.

After the maze, we hurry over to Crane’s Pie Pantry, where they serve the world’s best homemade apple pie ala mode. Since I don’t really like apple pie, however, I am usually content with the heaping platter of tiny apple cider doughnuts they plunk down on every table. Add a bottomless mug of icy apple cider, and I’m in absolute bliss, especially since Crane’s idea of a “bottomless mug” is a Mason jar.

Just outside the Pie Pantry, there stands a tiny log cabin made out of railroad ties.  It is over a hundred years old; the Crane family bought it and hauled it here from the little town of Dunningville, where my grandfather and his half-brother Jim built it.  Just inside the door, there are two pictures on the wall. One is a picture of Grandpa, Jim, and their dog Bowzer – who, according to family legend, simply lay down and died a few days after Jim died from a ruptured appendix.  The other is a picture of my four aunts in their heyday.

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If the Pie Pantry isn’t too busy the day we visit, I’ll tell the Cranes that I’m Mr. Hyde’s granddaughter, and they’ll let us go inside the old cabin instead of just peering through the windows with everyone else. My sister and I once held hands in the center and easily reached out to touch the walls, marveling that two grown men once shared that tiny space.

I never met my Grandfather, of course. He died when Dad was just a little boy, somewhere in the 1940’s. From everything I’ve heard, he wasn’t a very nice man, and there are many, many stories about him that I probably shouldn’t have been told. But I love to go to his cabin in the fall because it makes me feel connected.

You see, they’re all gone now. Grandpa, Jim, the aunts, even poor old Bowzer. Mom and Dad, who aren’t in any pictures at the log cabin, but still connected in their own way. It’s been too many years since I held hands with my sister in the cabin or anywhere else, for that matter.  Sometimes, even with my kids and my friends and those few family members who are still here . . .sometimes, I am so alone in this world that I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage to draw the next breath.

But each fall, I go to Grandpa’s cabin and I find that connection again. I hear the leaves crunching beneath my feet, and I try to whistle through acorn caps the way Aunt Marian used to do, and I’m not alone any more.

Each fall, I am reminded that everything ends. There is always a sense of wrapping up, of tying off loose ends, of saying farewell. It’s a last burst of color before we’re all buried in snow. In a sense, fall is a preparation for death. But it’s also a promise, because fall’s beauty reminds us that spring is just around the corner and things are going to be bright and colorful again someday.

It’s all about hope.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “Each fall, I . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Julie Martinka Severson from Carvings on a Desk and Danielle Dion from https://wayoffscript.wordpress.com/. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Shamrocks, Blarney, and Mom

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, I always think of my mother.

She was part Irish, although I have to be honest and say she was sort of part-everything. Her maiden name was Kirk, and she always told us that she had once traced the family tree back to the first Kirk to come to America from Scotland; he married an Irish girl, and their son married a Cherokee, and so on down the line. She insisted that we had our own Tartan and family crest, and swore that our family history also included Welsh, Swedish, Dutch, French and German ancestors.

She also insisted that she was 5’5” but barely reached my chin, and I am 5’4”, so I think it’s safe to say that many of my mother’s “truths” should be taken with a grain of salt. Irish or not, she definitely had the Gift of Blarney.

shamrock2

She loved St. Patrick’s Day. She was an incredibly irritating Morning Person who was hard enough to deal with on a normal day, but on St. Patrick’s Day, she amped it up by blasting “Irish Washerwoman”  on the radio and clog-dancing around our beds to wake us up. She insisted on speaking in a thick Irish brogue all day, and the real tragedy here is that she thought she was good at it.

She was not.

She had a song that she liked to sing on that day, in the same terrible brogue, that involved a drunken fool coming home late at night and doubting his wife’s explanations about a hat on the hatrack or a head on the pillow. I’ll admit that I thought the song was really funny as a child, especially the part that went, “A football with a mustache on I never saw before!

Of course, now that I’m a parent and have access to Google, I looked up the song and was promptly horrified to discover that my mother’s favorite song was a delightfully filthy little ditty called “The Traveler.”  I honestly don’t remember if she left out the following verses or not:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
That’s not a cock a-standing there,
But a carrot that you see.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
But a carrot with balls on,
I never saw before. 

And I’m sure she omitted the following:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
I ain’t your wife, this ain’t your house,
You have never lived with me.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
It’s the fifth time that I’ve stuffed this bird,
She ain’t never complained before. 

 

 I also remember the year she was supremely offended when I met her brogue-to-brogue with some alternate lyrics I had learned for “Irish Washerwoman:”

Oh, McTavish is dead and McTivish don’t know it
McTivish is dead and McTavish don’t know it
They’re both of ‘em dead and they’re in the same bed
And neither one knows that the other is dead.

She was not amused.

Neither were my sisters, as I recall.  It was pretty early in the morning for a brogue-off.

But the real reason I think of my mother on Saint Patrick’s Day is McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes.  Dear Lord, those things are pure evil.  Nothing should taste so good! Cold and sweet, just minty enough, creamy and smooth. I am not usually a big fan of milkshakes other than plain old vanilla, but Shamrock Shakes are so much more than just a milkshake.  They are an experience.

shamrock

In the final days of Mom’s battle with breast cancer, she developed a craving for a Shamrock Shake.  She had lost her appetite and her weight had dropped to well below 100 pounds, so we were happy that she had a craving for anything. The cancer had invaded her brain; she was childlike in size and behavior by that point.

One of us stopped and bought her a Shamrock Shake on the way to the hospital that morning.  I don’t remember now which one of us it was, and it really didn’t matter. All that mattered was Mom getting something that made her happy at the moment. Before she could even take her first sip, however, one of the nurses who was drawing her blood at the time somehow managed to bump the tray and spill the shake all over the floor.

The nurse was even more devastated than Mom.  Mom wept like a child over her lost treat, and Debbie, the nurse, couldn’t stop apologizing. I remember that she cried a few tears as well. For the next several days, she stopped on her way in and brought my mom a new Shamrock Shake every day until my sister gently told her it wasn’t necessary any more.   By that point, Mom didn’t remember any of it.

I’ve never forgotten Debbie’s kindness, or the horrified expression on her face when she realized what had happened. It was just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it meant the world to a dying woman with seven brain tumors and three grieving daughters. Debbie could have dismissed it as just a stupid shake and shrugged off my mother’s tears, but she cared enough for her patient to worry about more than just who was going to mop up the mess. She let my mom into her heart and I knew, even then, how much that cost her.

Now, more than thirty years later, I still buy myself one Shamrock Shake to drink alone every St. Patrick’s Day in honor of my Mom, but also in honor of Debbie and nurses like her everywhere, who care enough to let their patients into their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.

It’s just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it’s so much more than that.

***

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kelly from Just Typikel, and Lisa from The Meaning of Me. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Quiet Saturdays

I remember waking up early to watch Saturday morning cartoons.  Back then, there was no Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, and the single fuzzy PBS station was a little too kid-friendly in slightly creepy and condescending sort of way.  I still have nightmares about that crazy Romper Room lady who insisted she could see us all in her mirror, although I’m also a bit pissed off that I never once heard her say “I see Amy.”

Sunday morning TV was a wash.  We could watch Rocky and Bullwinkle and try to understand all the nudge-nudge-wink-wink humor that usually sailed over our heads, or we could try to sit through the awkward stop-action Davey & Goliath that always left me feeling vaguely uneasy.

I always wanted to be the first one awake on Saturdays so I could see shows like Clue Club and Speed Buggy before my older sisters took over the TV.  My middle sister and I especially liked the live action shows; we both crushed on the little blonde boy from Sigmund the Sea Monster, and we spent hours re-enacting scenes from Isis and Shazam!  We all three loved playing Bugaloos, but I always had to be the little fat firefly kid whose butt refused to light up.  I never got to be the pretty princess or even Witchipoo from H.R Puffnstuff.

No, I take that back.  I got to be the princess one time, and wore my favorite hand-me-down-dress with straps that tied on the shoulders.  The little neighbor boy came over to play, and I remember him staring at me with buggy eyes and crooning, “You look beautiful!  Will you go swimming with me?”

Ah, yes, my first date, at the ripe old age of five.

I could write volumes of blog posts about the lessons learned that day about beauty or male shallowness in the face of revealing summer clothes.  But I’ll take the high road here instead and go back to my Saturday mornings.

By the time I had kids, they had access to cartoons 24/7.  I always worked on Saturdays, so I usually didn’t see them until late in the afternoon on those days.  I only found out recently that my older kids used to tiptoe downstairs to watch Saturday morning shows after I left for work but before their father woke up for the day.  We had satellite TV, of course, but on Saturdays they turned off the satellite and watched the Saturday morning lineup on the same channels that I watched as a child.

They have the same kind of memories that I have:  wrapping up in an afghan on the couch, eating endless bowls of mushy cereal and watching TV with the volume turned down low to avoid waking their parents.  It didn’t matter that those same shows were available in a constant rotation on other channels during the week; Saturday morning TV has never been about the shows.  It’s about watching the shows, whatever shows they are.

Nutritionists and health experts are still bemoaning Saturday morning TV with as much vigor as they did in my era.  Of course kids are better off outside in the fresh air and sunshine.  Of course they shouldn’t eat multiple bowls of sugar-encrusted cereal in one sitting.  Everybody knows that.

But it creates a childhood memory, and isn’t that important, too?

Now, I am at my desk on a Saturday morning, catching up on my writing while I down my fourth cup of tepid coffee.  My teenagers are in their rooms upstairs, either sleeping in or playing on the internet with tablets and Galaxies and X-Boxes, oh my.  The Little Man spent last night with his cousin (and occasional partner in crime), and the house is shockingly, disturbingly quiet.  What I wouldn’t give to hear an annoying theme song right now; I don’t care if they’re singing  “Gotta catch ‘em all, gotta catch ‘em all!” or “Call me,  beep me, if you wanna reach me . . .”

My nest is getting empty, but never as empty as on this quiet Saturday morning.

. . . and It Feels So Good

My feet look like sausages this morning. Swollen, aching sausages with funny tan lines and some majorly cute coral-colored polish.  My spine is on fire, my ears are ringing, and my throat is raw.  I have a monster headache, and there’s something vaguely Sharpei-ish going on with my face.

I had a helluva good weekend.

I stood too long, drank too much, talked too much, slept too little.  I made some pretty awful jokes, laughed at stupid things, and learned that some men are very uncomfortable with jokes about female incontinence.  (Apologies to your husband, Bonnie.)  In fact, there were a lot of jokes about incontinence and the need for Depends.  At least, most of us were joking.

Talked about boobs a little too much, particularly my own.

See?  I'm not the only one in a push-up bra!
See? I’m not the only one in a push-up bra!

The first night of the class reunion began with vodka and cranberry juice on an empty stomach, and moved quickly on to mead.  Not my smartest move.  It was hot and humid, but it was a lovely Beer Garden full of people who were all just as nervous and excited as I was; the alcohol flowed rather freely that first night, and I made a point of jumping in front of every camera that was raised.

I struck up a conversation with the man who used to tie my shoes for me in Kindergarten because my dexterity was just as bad then as it is now.  He still has shockingly blue eyes and I really shouldn’t have been quite so pleased to learn that we are both divorced.  I think I scared him away, because he didn’t return for the second night of the reunion.

Two complete strangers told me they were disappointed because they had really expected more cleavage from me.  I guess I’m flattered they read my blog, but I’m a little creeped out.

Just a little.  It was actually pretty cool to realize how many of them had read and enjoyed my work.  And my cleavage, apparently.

Thirty years ago, I would have recovered from this weekend much more quickly.  A little tomato juice, a couple of aspirin, and a whole lot of either Mountain Dew or Diet Coke, depending on where I was on the insecurity scale with regards to my weight.  Of course, when I drank like that thirty years ago, my recovery also involved hiding the empties from Mom, pretending that I wasn’t hungover, and trying to swallow the very greasy breakfast that Mom always cooked on mornings when she suspected a hangover.

For me, the best moments of my class reunion were those moments laced with irony.

Four of us women giggling in the pre-party hotel room, slinging back vodka and cranberry juice with the occasional shot of Rum Chata, talking about Spanx and push-up bras and comparing notes on who held onto her virginity the longest way back when (for the record, I won).  There were catty comments and dirty jokes about our sex lives (or lack thereof) and lots of selfies.   And then it happened.

It dawned on us that we all four wore our “cheaters” to look at the pictures on our phones.  Despite the Spandex and make-up and hair extensions and glitter in cleavages, we just weren’t young any more.   We had not hidden our age by one day.

“Dudes,” PhD announced with a sigh, “we look like the worn-out whores of ’84.”

She is as brutally honest as she was thirty years ago, and I love her even more for it than I did back then.   And whether she is 18 or 48, she is still stunning.

 

Hey, Doc!
Hey, Doc!

Several of my classmates seemed to be under the impression that I played in the school band.  One gentleman regaled me with tales of my moving into town in tenth grade and “partying” with him on several occasions.  He was so glad to see me, and even dropped some vague hints that led me to believe he thinks we had some sort of relationship back then.

I have no idea who he has me confused with, but he obviously has great memories of her.

Whoever she is.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him we never actually spoke in school.  (Sorry, Bill.)

I was so worried about this reunion because, let’s be honest, life hasn’t turned out like I thought it would.    I remember feeling judged in high school, and I was afraid of feeling judged once again.  Of not measuring  up.  And yes, there were a couple of utter asshats there this weekend who did their best to be complete jerks.  I was really hoping one woman in particular would end up with her head in dirty toilet water before the night was over, but overall, my classmates were magnificent.

The girls who once intimidated me were quick to hug me this weekend; the cute boys who made me trip over my own feet and walk into walls back then seemed happy to see me now.  Lots of genuine smiles, friendly hugs, warm handshakes.  Perhaps someone more cynical than I would make snarky remarks here about phonies, but I chose to see sincerity.

We made promises to stay in touch.  Exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and “liked” each other’s statuses on Facebook.  Posted lots of pictures and talked about seeing each other again at the fortieth in ten years.

Most of those promises probably won’t be kept.  No matter how much we want all of those good feelings to stay strong, we’ve all moved on with little in common other than shared memories of a time we can never go back to.  We can only share laughs about Mr. Kitchen’s Algebra class or Mrs. Frank’s scary blue hair and hawk nose so many times before we run out of things to say to each other.

This weekend was all about saying hello again after thirty years, about sharing our memories, about re-living a few days gone by.  But it also felt a little bit like a good bye.  Good-bye to the insecure kids we used to be,  good bye to old dreams that were replaced by different realities, good bye to old grudges and resentments that we should have let go of a long, long time ago.  It was a chance to say farewell to any lingering hopes or fears of ever going back to who we used to be.

For me, this class reunion was the chance to embrace life just exactly as it is, and to appreciate each other in ways we didn’t back then.  I never knew Mona was so sweet, Karen was so smart, or Inger was so caring.  I never noticed Maggy’s gorgeous green eyes, or realized that Tim was so funny; I didn’t know that Denise was the person to go to when I needed honesty, or that Cheryl had such an infectious laugh.  I had forgotten that Anita’s smile has always been the brightest and warmest thing in any room, or that Holly’s stability and dependability mask an inner capacity for mischief that only a few of us have ever seen.

Guys, let’s not wait for the fortieth.  Let’s have a thirty-fifth.   Perhaps my hangover will be gone by then.

See you in another ten?
See you in another ten?

 

Totally!

My favorite decade was the eighties, of course!  The fashions, the music, the TV shows – what wasn’t great about the eighties?

Okay, I could have lived without seeing Don Johnson’s rumpled white suits and bare ankles.   And George Michael’s suntanned lips were pretty creepy.  And I could seriously contemplate self-harm if I ever have to watch a Toni Basil video again. But we also got MTV, Max Headroom and REM.  The eighties gave us Moonlighting and launched Bruce Willis on an unsuspecting TV audience. The eighties gave us leg warmers and pegged jeans and slouch boots.  Slouch boots!  Who didn’t feel gorgeous in slouch boots?

I wore earrings in the eighties that could have doubled as fishing lures.  Seven earrings up the left side, one super-long dangler on the right.  A big gold hoop with a spare key dangling from it.  The true question of the eighties is how on earth I managed to come through both earlobes intact.

And the colors.  Jewel tones and bright geometric prints.  Socks that matched the collar that matched the ginormous earrings that matched the bejeweled hairclip.  Color-coordinated matchy-matchy outfits that worked perfectly for someone with my fashion-impaired sensibility.   It was so easy to put an outfit together, like Garanimals for grown-ups.  I wore royal blues and vibrant reds and shades of fuschia that could be seen from outer space.

But my love for the eighties isn’t just about the fashions and the music.  It’s more personal than that.  The 1980’s were the decade when my life really started.

I started and finished high school in the eighties.  Started college, but didn’t finish.  I got my first real job, left home, got an apartment.   Lost my first job.  Hated the apartment and moved into my sister’s basement, got a better job.

I lost my Aunt Ida and my mother and my grandmother in the eighties.

I sold my first article in the eighties, to a now-defunct magazine called “Amazing Heroes.”

I became an aunt in the eighties.  That moment is still right up there as a close second or third behind becoming a mother (a nineties event, not part of today’s post).  Some of the most wonderful people in my life were my aunts; I still find it hard to believe that I have been lucky enough to be an aunt to eight little people.  Not so little, actually; only one is still shorter than I am, and I expect him to pass me in about three years.

And only three of them were born in the eighties, but I’m the kind of aunt who can never brag about just one niece or nephew.

We make fun of the fashions of the eighties now, but the truth was that I felt beautiful then.  Maybe it was because I spent my late teens and early twenties during that decade, and most women begin to recognize their own beauty at that age.

The big, big hair was perfect for me.  Even now, I still have enough hair on my head for a small village.  I wore it long and spiral-permed and pulled it back with scrunchies and bow-shaped barrettes.  And don’t forget the banana clips!  Oh, the banana clips!  Decorated with faux pearls and rhinestones and enough flash and sparkle to blind anyone in a ten-mile radius.

I only stopped wearing a banana clip when I realized LeVar Burton wore one every week as a visor on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

No, LeVar, that's not how you wear a banana clip
No, LeVar, that’s not how you wear a banana clip

Make up in the eighties was totally awesome.  Anybody remember the blue mascara?  Paired with blue eyeliner, it made my small, close-set eyes actually look big for once.  And the lip gloss.  Bonnie Bell Raspberry Lip Smacker was my go-to flavor.  Glosses and roll-ons with fruit-flavored glitter and sparkle that glistened like drool on a teething six-month old.

My sister referred to that look as “Cum-Lips.”  I didn’t understand that in the early eighties, but I caught on somewhere around 1987.  Yes, I was a late bloomer.

My sixteen year-old recently had to dress up for “Eighties Day” for her school’s spirit week.  I wanted to coach her in how to peg her jeans and do her make-up, but she seemed to figure it out just fine.   I wish she would have let me give her “Mall Bangs,” though.  They would have made the outfit.

I'm not sure if I should be proud or afraid
I’m not sure if I should be proud or afraid

Bedtime Stories With Aunt Marian

One of my favorite childhood memories is of listening to my Aunt Marian’s bedtime stories when my sisters and I spent the night at The Girls’ house.

“The Girls” was what everyone called my father’s four unmarried sisters.  They lived at home with their widowed mother until her death, and then continued to live together until the last remaining sister went into a nursing home in her nineties.  Since there were four of them and three of us, it meant that each one of us had the full and undivided attention of at least one adult at any given time.  All the time.  It was pretty creepy when we were teenagers, but we loved it as kids.

Especially at bed time.

Marian was the youngest of the four, and she loved to tell stories about her childhood – particularly about her family’s pet goat, Lindy.  She also talked about Chippy the dog and TB the cat, but Lindy was the star of our favorite tales.

goat-whith-big-head-fisheye-black-white-9944544

At bedtime, Marian would come into the room with us and sit down on the edge of the bed to wind up her big old-fashioned alarm clock.  The little bells on top of it would chime as she turned it back and forth in her hands to crank the dial on the back, and the noise would make all of us shiver in anticipation of what was coming next.  Crank. . . bong! . . . crank . . . Bong! . . . Chunk, as she plunked it down on the dresser.

Marian would then stretch and yawn theatrically, give us a sleepy smile, and head for the doorway, wishing us all “sweet dreams.”

“Tell us a bedtime story!”  We clamored.  “Tell us stories about when you were a little girl! Tell a story about Lindy!”

She would heave an aggrieved sigh, roll her eyes and begin:  “When I was a little girl,” she always started, “I always went right to bed and right to sleep.  So did Lindy.  We were both good kids.  Now go to sleep.”

“Marian!”  we wailed.  “Tell us a real story!”

And she was off.  It didn’t matter that we had heard the stories hundreds of times or that we knew how each was going to end.  We knew each tale by heart.  Lindy was a little black and white goat, a runt whose ears “hung down like pigtails” because my Uncle Lawrence’s bigger, meaner goats used to chew on her ears.  She followed Marian and The Twins (Dad and Uncle Don) everywhere they went.

Lindy was more like a dog than a goat.  She followed her masters to school and feasted with them on leftover popcorn from the neighbor’s popcorn wagon.  She once hung herself from the porch railing and had to be rescued in the nick of time.  But the most-requested Lindy story was the one that told of her untimely end.

Lindy Stories took place during the Depression in a small, poverty-stricken town in Southwest Michigan.  Like most Americans at the time, the family was poor and hungry, barely managing to eke out a living.  One of the most crucial elements of their survival was the gas ration sticker on the bumper of my grandfather’s truck.  Without that sticker, he couldn’t buy gas for his vehicle; without gas, he couldn’t drive to any of his random odd jobs to earn those few pennies that meant the difference between feeding his family and letting them go hungry.

So of course Lindy ate the gas ration sticker off my grandfather’s truck.

Gas Ration A Continue reading