July 29, 2010
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I appreciate the artists of Craig who exhibit their work during the Art Walk, in museum exhibitions, and at local businesses. I admire my friends who take art classes on Wellness Wednesdays or at Colorado Northwestern Community College, especially those who decide to give it a try for the first time. I lack such courage. It leaked out of me in sixth grade.
City’s conflict resolution on deer issue a lesson in civility for Congress
I fled my principal’s office to regain optimism in a kindergarten classroom. At the “Create a Play” center, I found Sally and Joey in a costuming battle. Sally disliked Joey’s choice of a sombrero and insisted he wear an umbrella hat instead: “This one looks better, Joey. That one’s dumb.” “Fine. I’m not playing. You’re not the boss of me.”
“Be kind to your brothers and sisters, “ I once read. “Their life span parallels yours. If you’re good to them, they’ll be a meaningful part of your life for more years than your parents, spouse, or children.” When I was younger — engaged in teasing, tattling, and fisticuffs with my many siblings — I would have scorned such an idea. Who’d want to be stuck with that throng of thugs forever?
I eat with gusto. Growing up with Dad’s modeling and six pace-setting siblings, I was neither fussy about taste nor shy about consumption. Mom once laughed that watching her hungry horde assemble at the table reminded her of piglets at a trough: squeals of excitement, jostling for position, and dedication to the task.
I’m sometimes surprised by the odd habits of others: Some bake brownies without walnuts. Why do they bother? Some stay up beyond 9 p.m. How do they do that? Some open their presents Christmas Eve. What do they do the next morning? I’m most puzzled when the peculiarities belong to my friends and family. In college, it boggled my mind when my roommates postponed studying for a test until the evening before and then pulled an all-nighter. I shook my well-rested head in disbelief as they stumbled into class, bleary-eyed and mumbling.
I pour a cup of coffee and prepare to immerse myself in a library book — until Joel wanders by. Reading is not his idea of entertainment, so he doesn’t understand my inability to concentrate on a book while carrying on a conversation about his missing socks. Though his teachers taught him to read with skill, they were evidently unable to inspire him to love doing so. And that’s OK.
“Joel,” I cautioned, “your meeting starts in 20 minutes.” “Yup,” he replied, concentrating on the endless game of computer pool he plays. “No problem.” Five minutes later, game finished, he went from shaving and showering to out-the-door in 10 minutes.
Last Sunday, I raised the blinds as a hardy neighbor walked his dog by our house: an ordinary sight, except for the lowered earflaps on his hat and the hound’s embarrassment at wearing a red-and-yellow doggy sweater. Fingernail-resistant frost edged our windows. When Joel opened the door to retrieve the paper, frigid air invaded, bullied the furnace heat and touched my face with frozen fingers.
I sometimes promise to improve, but never on Jan. 1, when my brain, sluggish from too much merriment, hatches dubious goals.
I loved the rural community that sheltered me in the early 1950s, and the elementary school that anchored it. The old brick building had creaky wooden floors, hissing radiators, and banks of windows with cranky roller shades. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln kept watch over classrooms filled with wooden desks, and every morning a tower bell summoned us from the playground. In December, a tree stood tall in the cafeteria, smelling of pine and adorned with ornaments created from construction paper and smudged paste. Glitter sparkled on oiled floors, and the voices of children practicing holiday songs drifted the halls.
When emails are forwarded to 117 people, I tend to delete them, no matter how much amusement, amazement, or inspiration they promise. Recently, however, I succumbed to one that contained descriptions of love written by children. Seven-year-old Bobby supplied an unforgettable response: “Love is what's in the room with you at Christmas, if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Joel and I are familiar with the muddle of remodeling: a tile removal that drifted our house with billows of clinging dust, a wall-papered room that pitted his careful measuring against my slap-dash optimism, and the hanging of updated window coverings, a task that challenged his vocabulary and my sanity. But, the recent installation of a new refrigerator took me to the dark side. My refrigerator is personal, indicative of my character and relationships. Spousal tussles and compromises dictate its content and organization: more footage for salsa than yogurt; more varieties of cheese than produce; frosted beer glasses making it impossible to access the ice cream.
My dad’s birthday was last Wednesday, two weeks after mine. We shared the plunge-into-winter month of November and the same reply when Mom asked what kind of cake we wanted for our celebratory dinners: raisin cake with caramel frosting. When I think of my dad, I find I tend to remember the ordinary and unremarkable more than the momentous. The life he lived day by day weaves the fabric of my memories.
One year during Thanksgiving dinner, between the blessing on the food and the passing of potatoes, Mom asked us to express gratitude. “Mention something meaningful,” she said with a stern look at Dad. “Don’t talk about pumpkin pie or being happy your belt expands.” We started strong. We talked about good health, our grandparents, and Lawrence home from Korea.
I think cake, presents and the happy birthday ditty obscure a significant event connected to birth: the naming of innocent, trusting babies who have no say in the matter. How many times have you heard: “You’ll never believe this, but in college I knew a girl named Wanna Hickey, ha ha ha” Such statements are natural conversation starters; everyone in the room can participate, sharing hilarious names bestowed on precious newborns — April Schauer, Walter Melon, Willie Leak.
One morning while brushing my teeth, I glimpsed myself in the mirror and saw an undeniable truth: I’m old. The approach of my birthday next week had nothing to do with my realization. I’ve looked forward to birthdays since my sister and I decreed them free-eating days: food without guilt. How could such a grand occasion not be happy? Seeing myself every day, I usually don’t notice gradual changes: wrinkles turning into crevices, gray hairs multiplying like rabbits, dry skin taking on the texture of a turtle’s sh
Except for the miniature Snickers bars, I could do without Halloween. As a teacher, I presided over the dance of the imps and acted as a wardrobe mistress during the school party: adjusting wigs knocked askew, pinning up Tinker Bell’s tulle and re-tying Superman’s cape, ripped off in a tussle with Igor. As a partygoer, I lacked the imagination needed for clever costuming.
After my mother’s death, my dad disposed of her many prescriptions. He thought the pills — big, small, yellow, white, and twice a day, as needed — contributed to her death. Dad never questioned the home remedies recommended by his grandmother — oatmeal baths for chicken pox, licorice paste for corns, onion juice for earaches, and Pepto Bismol, Epsom salts, or witch hazel for all else. But, if he had to swallow a pill, his demise was imminent.
Being childless, I’ve never watched my traits emerge in offspring, but I do see shadows of myself in my siblings: JL worries too much; Barbara doesn’t return calls; and Carolyn never drives if someone else will. These behaviors drive me bonkers — because I share them. I don’t know whether we inherited these traits from our parents or caught them from each other. I do know Mom and Dad bequeathed us their physical characteristics.
I remember waiting for seating at a popular restaurant in the historic mining town of Virginia City, Nev. A gaggle of local teenage girls walked by the line that spilled onto the sidewalk. As they passed, they spoke loudly about the summer tourists who invaded downtown, dressed funny and didn’t tip enough. A ruddy-faced gentleman wearing plaid Bermuda shorts with dress shoes and white socks pulled high, stepped out of the waiting crowd and addressed them: “Girls, with good health, hard work and an active IQ, someday you may be lucky enough to have the time, money and interest to visit other places. If so, I hope nobody pokes fun at you or finds you annoying.” His embarrassed wife shushed him, but others applauded.
When I can’t see what others point out to me, why do they act as though I’m apathetic, irksome or dull-witted? I have trouble distinguishing distant, miniature objects. Does that mean I’m peculiar? I don’t understand why my inability to discern far objects causes others to tear their hair and wail.
After my column about worthy locations in Craig, several of you told me about local places you enjoy. Realizing what discriminating people my readers are, I immediately added your suggestions to my list. A friend chose the fairgrounds when it’s bustling with 4-H and FFA activity. It is rewarding to watch our youth display meticulous projects, model self-sewn clothing, demonstrate marksmanship and show well-groomed animals from beef to rabbits. When finished with serious competition, they ride the mechanical bull, rope chickens or chase pigs. You have to love them.
I grew up with cars that clanked, shook like a belly dancer, and scattered parts willy-nilly across the countryside. Though I knew other families took pride in their cars and even cleaned them, I appreciated the pluck of the dilapidated cars my dad chose. I remember bouncing around with my siblings in an icy breeze from the missing side flap of a bucking jeep. We cheered as Dad yelled, “Go, old boy, go!” and rammed the hard-charging jeep into the mountainous snowdrifts that lined the lane leading to our house.
When young, I admired my mother’s ability to make a decision. “Janet,” she’d say as I sprawled on the couch rereading Little Women, “you need to learn how to change Blaine’s diaper. Quit wrinkling your nose and gagging. Come here.” She ordered me to brush my teeth and lace my shoes. She decided my book-besotted mind needed the challenge of clarinet lessons. At a church social, she insisted I dance with Justin Clinton, a runty mouth-breather who rested his chin on my hipbone.
I have an idea for a reality TV sensation: Family Reunion Frenzy. This summer, my family gathered in Wyoming, and Joel’s a week later in Illinois. I needed more recovery time: my eyes had barely begun to refocus when we departed for the Sheridan festivities. I have six siblings, and Joel has seven.
Because I had happy memories of camping when young, I didn’t object when Joel suggested we intersperse motel stays with camping during our road trips. But, trying to recapture the fun of trekking through the dark of night to an outdoor toilet is like trying to wear the swimming suit I wore at 16 — doomed. Our recent camping ventures have included views of breath-taking beauty and wildlife sightings we’ll never forget, but some of our tenting experiences make a colonoscopy seem festive.
Every year as August approaches, I remember 4-H, a long-ago fair, and a lesson from my mother.