Monday, October 27, 2014

Dream Catcher

When Mark is out of town I like to surprise him with a decorating project upon his return.  One time he got home in the middle of the night and ran into all the newly rearranged furniture. 

He might have cussed.  I might have said, "But don't you think it looks so much better?"

He tends to think everything is just fine the way it is and often doesn't understand my need to change things up.  I put a new-agey spin on it to justify my thought process and say, "This wall color and couch is stagnant much like my life right now.  We need gray everything.  Look at these swatches.  Which do you like better?  Storm cloud or anonymous?  They might look different but they're not so really look at them."

His defense mechanism is to leave town to escape the madness.

My current project is my writing-bill-paying-clothes room.  It hasn't been painted in years, and come to find out, no furniture has ever been moved and vacuumed behind.  Little no dusting has occurred either.  I had a consult with my designer son and decided to go way out on a limb and paint the walls white. 

I need calm.  I need to bring up my six foot wallpaper hanging table that is about eighty years old and spread myself all over it.  I need my nature chotchkes and favorite books close by and my clutter gone. 

As is my style, I grossly underestimated how long this thing in my head would take to come to fruition.  Three days, max, I thought.  But the Royals are playing in the World Series and they need me to cheer.  Then I caught a cold.  I am far from done and Mark will be home in two days.  It is chaos in the bedroom where everything has been put so I have room to paint.

Welcome to my cluster, honey.


******

When I worked at the bank, Phyllis asked me if I wanted to be on a softball team.  I declined.  I had never played before and went through four, long years of high school being called "Peeps"(even by the gym teacher) because I ran like a chicken.

That really was enough humiliation to last a lifetime.

Phyllis was relentless.  "You don't have to be good.  It's just for fun." 

I joined.  She was a big, fat liar.

These women were competitive.  Long-time softball players who could knock the ball to the next zip code, they were out to kick ass, take no prisoners and win.  I was there to have something to do a couple of nights a week and drink beer afterwards because my husband often worked late.

It didn't take long for it to become apparent that I had no softball skills.  Even though I had three brothers that played Little League and we always played ball in the backyard, it all seemed hard and foreign to me.  I became the catcher because the furthest I could throw the ball was back to the pitcher and that was on a bounce and a slow roll.  I frequently made it on base because I hit the ball so softly that no infielder was expecting a baby bunt when nobody was on base.

Towards the end of the season, a batter from the opposing team sent one sailing out to left field.  Our player chased it down and sent it back to me like it was shot out of a cannon.  I was terrified because that ball was coming for my face and I knew I sucked, but Lord Have Mercy I caught that thing and tagged the runner out at home plate. 

We whooped and hollered even though we lost the game because not a single person on that team, especially me, ever thought I would catch that ball.

*****

We were at a wedding last weekend and a darling, young girl sat down beside me and said, "I feel like a stalker and we've never met but I read your blog and I wanted to tell you that I love it.  I know you're not from the south but you write like a Southerner.  Like William Faulkner.  In fact, I've told all my friends and they read your blog too."

That's when the room started to spin and I felt faint. 

Then I got awkward and dorky and Peeplike and talked too much.  "Did you read the one......." I asked.  "Oh, I've read them all," she answered."  And it felt like the holy spirit scooched between us to say, "Listen up, girl" because I have struggled mightily to get something written once a week. 

"My daughter says I need to write more," I said.  "I would be in agreement with her," my new friend said.

The next day I decided that the place I write has to reflect the expectations I have of myself going forward.  It has to be serene with the things I love close by and I have to show up more for practice.  It has to be dusted off now and then.

When it's done my old wallpaper hanging desk will look out onto the fall trees, then the bare, snow-covered ones that will give way to spring.  My goal is to spend time there every day.  I can picture it all just like that ball sailing towards me at home plate.

And guess what?  I can see me catching it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Wild Card

I once read that kids find a way to connect with their fathers by pursuing their dad's interests instead of their own.  I'm not sure if that is always true but it certainly was in my case.  A mild interest in the Cubs that was fueled by a trip to Wrigley Field when I was about ten and the deal was struck. 

Dad's team became my team.

We would arrive early enough to watch batting practice with a picnic lunch in tow.  Mom and Dad would get a beer or two from one of the vendors to wash down the ham sandwiches, and my sisters and I would get peanuts and cotton candy.

I dove head first into my new obsession, clipping newspaper and magazine articles for a scrapbook I kept.  I made a rug with the Cubs logo for my bedroom.  When I was in high school my mom got tickets to a luncheon for Cubs fans and I got my picture taken with Fergie Jenkins.  I once saw Ernie Banks on the streets of Chicago and ran back to my office so I could call Mom and tell her.

My interest in baseball ebbed and flowed over the years depending on how busy my life became.  When I met Mark I made him watch the World Series with me and explained everything my Dad had taught me.  The strategy, the signals, the base runners.  He grew up on hockey and so this was new turf to him. He loved it, or maybe he tolerated it and loved me more.

Sitting at home on the couch one can almost smell the crisp, autumn air of a World Series game that makes the sound of the ball pop when it hits the glove of the catcher, or the crack of the bat as though it is across the street instead of thousands of miles away.

And then there's Vin Scully.  The play-by-play announcer that has made a career of putting poetry to baseball.

This year the Kansas City Royals are going to the World Series.  In a wild card and playoff series that often went past midnight, this bleary-eyed city woke to win after win and collectively said the morning after, "Did that really happen?" 

Kansas City is also home to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and it is a cultural gem.  When I went I happened to be following the current director and was right on his heels as he gave a tour to two women.   He was a wealth of knowledge about a time long gone when there was a white league and a Negro league, and never the two should meet until Jackie Robinson came along.

Vintage photos of the Negro League games show crowds in their finest apparel.  Most games were on Sunday afternoons and so fans would walk from church with their picnic baskets and then sit in the stands to cheer for the Kansas City Monarchs.

In a football season that has started with more violence than most of us can stomach, this team has been the antidote.  The MVP smiling while clutching his trophy and then beaming when he was cradling his newborn son.  They are our gentleman players - the Sunday-after-church kind that seem grateful enough to tip their caps and thank their moms.

My dad used to run training sessions for lineman at Commonwealth Edison in Chicago.  One team knew how much Dad loved the Cubs and bought him a coffee cup with the names of all the bullpen pitchers on it.  "You have it, Kath," Dad said.  "You love them as much as me."

That's what I drink my coffee from each morning, and though it traces back to 1969 and seen better days, my love of the game has the best days ahead of me this year. 

While an entire city cheers the Royals on it almost seems a certainty that the spirit of those dads who rooted for the Monarchs or the Cubs, the ones who patiently taught the intricacies of the national pastime to their eager kids, will be right beside us.

So close in fact that it wouldn't seem the least bit odd to say aloud after a diving catch in the outfield, "Can you believe this game, Dad?"
 

Monday, October 13, 2014

God Loves A Terrier

The very first dog we owned after we got married was a terrier named Clem.  I went with a friend to the Humane Society and fell in love with him.  He did a frantic search of the place when we got home and then curled up and napped like our apartment was where he was always meant to be.

Every night after work I'd walk him in the cornfield across from the complex we lived in.  Mark was in graduate school and Clem was my company on those long nights when Mark was still in the lab working.  So connected that dog and I were that one day for no reason he lifted his leg and peed on Mark's lazy-boy in the living room.  It was as if he'd read my mind and knew how much I hated that chair. 

And then after a few years things got turned upside-down for me and Clem.  I had a baby.  Three weeks later Mark started a new job on the East coast.  I was alone and I could not figure out how I was supposed to walk Clem, take care of a newborn and prepare to move thousands of miles away.  I was overwhelmed. 

Mark was equally overwhelmed trying to adjust to a new job in a new city and in his off hours find us a place to live.  Finances were really tight and any apartment that would accept pets was too high for our budget.

Clem would have to stay behind.

I place an ad in the paper and an older man came to look at him.  "Mind if I take him for a walk," he asked.  "Please," I answered.  "He has been neglected in that department lately and next to ice cream it is his biggest joy in life."  They both came back and the deal was done.  No money was exchanged and I gave him Clem's bed, food and water bowls and leash.  Off Clem went wagging his tail and I closed the door and cried for hours.

The next night the guy called me up and said, "Ma'm, this is the sweetest dog I've ever had and I feel like I should give you some money to compensate you for him.  I'd like to come by with a check."  I cried again and told him he had no idea how happy it made me that Clem was going to be okay.

We've had two more dogs since Clem but no terriers.  "If we ever get another dog," I announced after we put Henry down, "it will be a terrier."  So for the last couple of months I've been scouring the pet rescue sights looking for another Clem.  They go fast and a couple of times the dog I went to see had already been adopted by the time I got to the place.

Two weeks ago I found my terrier.  A seven year old Yorkie that was turned in by a breeder.  "He'll take some patience," they told me.

To say I didn't know what I was in for would be an understatement.  He doesn't know how to walk on a leash even after dozens of attempts.  He stays in his kennel a lot even though the door is always open.  He likes dogs more than people.  He has barked once.  If you pick him up and put him on your lap he can't wait to get off.  The only time I've seen him wag his tail is when he's running in the yard with Maggie and Nate's terrier.  When he feels brave he sits by the front door but will run away and back to his kennel if anyone comes near him.  He brings anything you give him into his kennel.  He is a hoarder .

I sit on the floor outside of his kennel many times a day and talk to him.  I look at that cute face, scratch him under the chin and say, "Who's the best dog ever?"  I set treats out and coax him from his self-imposed jail.  When his food bowl is filled I put the cat outside so he won't help himself to it before our shy, scared dog gets a chance.

He's my rehab project but he's got a shitload of trust issues that so far prevent him from letting go of his defenses and surrendering to all that the world has to offer.

Oh little Wrigley.........welcome to the club.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

This Little House of Mine

When it comes to making improvements and spending money on this house, Mark goes into denial, followed by the fetal position.  Anything that has more than one zero after it gives him the shaky shakes.

I, on the other hand, plow forward with blissful, ignorant optimism.  Deep into a project and waaaaaaaaay off the mark on the actual costs involved, I take the plunge and grab him kicking and screaming all the way to the edge of the cliff I intend for us to teeter on.

For the last several years I've been saying that our tired, old house needed a paint job.  The side that gets baked by the sun all day was a peeling mess.  Some of the trim had no paint left on it.  We had wood rot.  When I would point it out to Mark and plead my case he'd say, "Nah, I think we're good for another year," and go back to puttering in his jungle garden. 

He. Cannot. Deal.

I couldn't imagine what another cold and snowy winter would do to our already compromised house, and so I took matters into my own hands and called a number scribbled on scratch paper in my phone book.  Not entirely sure if this was a painter, a handyman or a landscaper I dialed.  Beginner's luck!  On the first try I was talking to the painter we had used years ago.  I considered this me lucky charm and a few hours later he was at my door.

The initial quote made me gasp.  Maybe I actually did audibly.  I cannot remember.  He came down $400.00 on the spot.  I was thinking more like "divide by two" but it's been a long time since we had a paint job and I tend to think inflation applies to other people's houses and not mine.  That night he called and came down another $300.00.

Now I had a more palatable price and selling point to present to The Big Daddy.  "He said since we're returning customers he'd knock $400.00 off.  Oh, I didn't bite at first, Mark, so then he came back with even more off.   You should have seen me in action, Mark.  I held my ground."  This made it seem like I was more like Hilary Clinton brokering a deal between Israel and Palestine than a dumbfounded customer whose only skilled tactic was to be too stunned to speak.  Whatev.

He nodded and made a counter-offer.  "I'll see your house painting and raise you gutters.  I want new gutters."  I nodded back.  "Sure.  What's a few more hundreds of dollars?"  We had struck a deal.

These painters had their work cut out for them.  Painting, caulking, wood repair.  A leaking screened-in porch that needed a rehab.  Mark's jungle garden to work around.  They set up camp and have been here so long I'll almost feel a little sad when my FEMA team hitches their trailers and moves on to the next disaster.

In the meantime, the dishwasher started making a weird sound.  "It's not draining," The Big Daddy declared.  "I think it's leaking," I declared back.  He must not have heard me as he headed off to Lowe's to buy a pallet of drain cleaners.  He firmly believing that blasting pipes with toxic chemicals will solve all plumbing problems.  "Toxic chemicals in the dishwasher with plates and cutlery we eat off of?" I inquired. "Ack!!!  There's more chemicals in strawberries than in Mr. Plumber," he said waving me off.  While the noxious fumes may have killed every bug in the basement it did not fix the dishwasher that had now begun to leak under the kitchen floor.

I called Bernie - my appliance repair guy who has been to our house so many times he doesn't even need to write the address down.  He took the panel off, got on his belly on the floor with a flashlight and stated dishwasher time of death as 4:21 p.m.  "You can claim this on your homeowners and they'll pay for your floor to be replaced," he told me.  "Well, we've got two auto claims in there now for car mishaps with one unnamed child so I'm stuck with my oceanic floor," I said hopping over the laminated waves. 

The next night we went back to Lowe's and picked out a new dishwasher.  Six months no interest!!!  Yippee!!!  Then we waited ten days for the install, washing dishes like the Pilgrims.  "I'll be a little late to work tomorrow," I gleefully told my boss one day. "Our new dishwasher is coming.  No more washing the dishes in the sink!  I bet we're going to be amazed at how clean our dishes are going to get.  And quiet, too.  I've heard the new ones are really quiet."

Not. So. Fast.

The installer looked at our old school rigged up Kenmore and said, "Hold your horses, Luck-Be-Any-Lady-But-You. You need a shut-off valve for the dishwasher and your electrical isn't up to code.  When that gets done I'll come back."  Off he went into the gloomy, thunderstorm that had descended over our house and like Rose on the Titanic I clung to the door, lifted my pruney, dishwashed palm into the air and whispered, "Come back."

I called a plumber for the second time in a month.  All will be fine I told myself.  I'd have him fix the tub faucet upstairs while he was here and check that off the list of "good stuff gone bad."  He did those repairs and at the last minute I remembered that there was a drip behind the downstairs bath faucet.  "Can't be fixed. ma'm.  You're going to need a new faucet," he said.  Of course we did.  I wrote him a check.

I made a call to the electrician.  All will be fine I told myself.  I'd have him fix those two basement lights that haven't worked in eons and check that off the list.  Two hours and do-you-seriously-really-make-that-much-money and my electrical problems were fixed.  I wrote him a check.

Finally, an early morning jaunt to Mark's jungle garden resulted in me getting stung three times by hornets.  I lost my shit.  My patched, primed, caulked and no longer optimistic shit.

I tended to my stings and made another call to someone who will come out, haul away the crap from the Frankensteinish Laboratory out in back and get it ready for next spring's grand plan.  I will write one more check and then I will go into hibernation.......keeping my misguided exuberance in check until a season or two has passed and our savings account is replenished.

Until then I will swoon over the handiwork of the pros who made our little, pricey charmer shine once again. 

I still love her but if I think she needs anything else I'll save my husband the trouble and tell myself to shut it.






Tuesday, September 23, 2014

To The Moon, Alice

We have a darling young couple that moved in next door.  They are freshy-faced newly married and oh-so-good-looking.  The guy's father had owned the house and had been renting it out for the last few years.  The Freshy-Faces decided that they wanted to move from downtown to our area and for months months there was a parade of service trucks in the driveway fixing the place up for the new tenants.

I felt like the jealous old hag next door.

Now they're painting.  I bet they're getting the kitchen and floors redone.  We'll never be able to do that.  I bet his father is footing the bill.  Don't you think, Mark?  Mark?  The power company was here, Mark.  For hours.  What do you think they were doing, Mark?  I bet they're getting their own service line so that when the power goes out they can still watch t.v. and mock us on Facebook.

And Mark said, "Stop looking out the window, Gladys Kravitz."

Then I actually met the Freshy-Faces and I liked them so it was kind of hard to dog on them and their reno'd house.  It occurred to me that the stories I made up in my head about things being so great over there might not have had much accuracy. Or any.

On Sunday Mark and I were going to go out for a walk when I noticed the Freshy-Faces in front of the house.  She was walking ahead of him and neither of them looked happy.  I told Mark we had to give them a head start because I didn't want to be all up in their business if they were arguing.

And they were.  Around the side of the house and back to the front of ours.  They were yelling at each other and so we decided to sit tight for a few minutes until things cooled off outside.

But part of me wanted to yell out the window, "Ummm......kids, we don't really spill out onto the street in this neighborhood with our ugly differences of opinions."  The other part wanted to say, "Ummm.......kids, can you yell a little louder so we can hear."

Then Mr. Freshy-Face threw his hands up in the air, saying to her as he stormed off, "What's your problem??!!!"

By afternoon they were planting flowers and being a team again.

They probably had make-up sex after that.  Don't you think, Mark? I think he seems like kind of a jerk don't you, Mark?

And Mark said, "Let it go, Gladys."

That night in this basement the Stale-Faces were going at it over the multitude of rags coming from the dryer that were used to soak up the latest overflow.

The Speckled Trout roll or The Big Daddy fold?

There was no declared winner or loser.  Nor was there hot make-up sex afterwards like in the old days.

Just two people still still trying to hash things out with a pile of rags close at hand for the next meltdown.  Some folded, some rolled.

A fascinating difference of opinion and compelling arguments on both sides that any passerby would surely want to listen in on.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Twenty & Four

Sometimes my sister, Ann, and I will sit around and talk about how long Dad's been gone.  It usually starts with the same question.  Was Dad there when.......?

Then we start ticking off the the things that have happened that he wasn't around to see.  Weddings, weddings and more weddings.  Babies being born, babies growing up, babies graduating from college.  Funerals for dear friends and relatives - his little brother last year.  The Hawks winning the Stanley Cup and the White Sox the World Series, but no such luck for his hapless Cubs.

At some point the conversation will trail off to nothingness because there's only so much you can scoop from the well of absence.

Now we're past the two decade mark.  Decades?  Really?

I remember watching t.v. with him the year before he died.  The Berlin Wall was coming down and there was live coverage of it with Peter Jennings.  "Well I'll be, Kate," he said.  "In a million years I never thought I'd live to see that."  The dashing network correspondent would die as well, and do kids these days even know what the Berlin Wall was for?

The day after he died Ann and I drove to the mall.  Since Mark and I had only planned a four day trip home that would stretch to two weeks, I had nothing to wear to the funeral.  We took note of the clouds along the way.  Fat, huge, fluffy clouds and we both wondered if Dad was "there."

I ponder the there a lot.

Mark and I were lucky to have Mom and Dad be our first visitors a few months after we moved to Maryland.  They were going to a convention with friends and stopped to spend a few days with us.  While Mark stayed behind to work at his new job, Maggie and I went with them to Mt. Vernon, Annapolis, Williamsburg and Monticello.  Being #4 of six, it was the first time I had my parents to myself and I loved it.

A few weeks later I got one of Dad's long hand-written letters thanking Mark and I for our hospitality.  He wrote, "A good home can surely be an elusive thing.  It should have an air of calmness and tranquility about it.  It should convey a spirit that projects an understanding of what is most important and worthy in our lives.  It is our observation, Kath, that you understand those ingredients very well and are weaving them into your home life."

For a guy with only one good eye he noticed a lot.

When I look at my own kids, two of whom weren't even born when he died, I see pieces of him.  The smile, the eyes, the gentle touch with strangers.  They are inordinately kind and their dad and I can't take all the credit for that.  It was their grandfather that walked the walk.

The Mister and I have a rather spotty record in that regard.

After decades of pondering as if I had a say in the matter, I would like my soul to resemble a sparkler on its exit.  I hope "there" is where Dad landed - in everybody he loved and who seek to understand that which is worthy.  That the pieces of light fall far and wide and are scooped up and saved for the babies of the next generation.  That what is no longer needed finds a calm and tranquil home.  That a tiny flame stays lit to guide the way.......

And that life goes on.

And life goes on.

And life goes on



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Shouldering On

There is a drugstore near our house that has been in business for over fifty years.  It is in the old school category.  Women who worked there were required to wear skirts or dresses up until a few years ago.  There is a free delivery service if you're too sick to pick up your prescriptions.  If you live in town (and produce a driver's license verifying your address) you can get a bottle of cough syrup with codeine without a prescription.

When I worked at one of the shops in the center, a customer told me about a face cream they carried that was like "a facelift in a jar."  I became a loyal purchaser of that cream until the company closed due to retirement, and though I searched every internet cranny I never found it again.

The face cream was the beginning of my loyalty to that drugstore with its selection of obscure lines and products that I had never seen anywhere else.  The mainstay at the register in makeup was 87 years old.  She had been full-time there for years until she broke her pelvis and had to cut back on her hours.  She still worked the night shift, though, preferring to start at 1:00, work until nine a few days a week and then stop at the Quiktrip on the way home for a coffee.

She loved to talk and would tell you about her deceased husband, the accident that caused her to break her pelvis and why she likes gas station coffee.

It was like paying a visit to your grandma if you stopped in to pick something up.  Her coworker was a good decade younger than her and at some point must have had a mild stroke.   She is the sweetest thing in the land, calls everybody "honey" and always says to me, "Now how did you get so lucky with all those curls?"

Those gals are my geriatric posse of love.

This past week I have taken some big action on my ridiculous hurting shoulder.  It's either going to be my cure or my undoing.  I've got my fingers crossed for the cure but since I have only gone once it's too soon to make any predictions.

On Friday night, though, it was making me crazy.  I never got around to ordering the heating pad I pined for on Amazon and I was in a world of ache.  I went to my favorite drugstore to get another one.  They had a good selection with some intense heat ranges and when I checked out a new-to-me woman was at the register.  She was on the young side of seventy.

"Oh dear," she asked, "are you hurting?'

"Yes.  My shoulder is making my life miserable," I answered.

We talked about her hip, my shoulder.  It was a mini AARP convention at the back of the store.

"It always bothers me," I said.  "But tonight it is worse than ever."

"Well, that's because it's raining.  Didn't you have a grandma whose bursitis acted up whenever rain was close by?  I did.  She knew when it was going to rain better than the weatherman just because of her aches and pains."

Ah yes.........the barometric pressure decided to take me for a ride.

It didn't seem that long ago that I was a hip forty-year-old.  When I turned fifty that was no big deal because actually that was the new forty and not really fifty.  But what do they say when sixty is hot on your tail?

They say you can predict the weather, that you'll frequently need a heating pad with an ibuprofen and Salon Pas chaser, and one day you'll be just the right age to work the makeup counter at the local drug store.