In my early 20s, with a job and readily available spending money for the first time since starting college, I succumbed to my mom’s genes, and became a collector, buying inexpensive items that appealed to me.
Cousins there were, too numerous to count. They arrived in bulging sedans for family reunions in the hot heart of summer and turned wild, as though they had no manners. They splashed in the off-limits creek, ran with sharp sticks meant for hot dogs, threw rocks willy-nilly and burned their marshmallows black. They shoved, taunted, threatened to tell and berated one another with scandalous words heard at school.
When I look in the mirror, I see Dad’s eyes looking back at me. I also have his height, frame, ears and hand gestures. I like the physical features I share with my dad, but I’m surprised when I display his behaviors — especially those I vowed to avoid when I was young, smug and critical.
On May 30, small flags will be planted; and those who remember will quietly gather in cemeteries across our land. Taps will soar, echo and fade. The names of men and women who died serving our country during times of war will be read, and crowds either large and small, but always attentive, will listen with gratitude to the roll call of our honored dead.
When I think of my mother, as I did on Mother’s Day, I see her in her mid-60s. She sits in her favorite rocking chair in a circle of lamplight that softens her wrinkles and highlights her brown hair. As she sews a button on one of Dad’s shirts, her wedding band, thinned by 50 years of wear, flashes in the lamp’s glow.
Mrs. Huff was noted for her monumental bosom and the hiccupping soprano. She used to teach my third-grade class the song “Far Away Places.” Singing lyrics about the alluring glamour of lands across the sea shaped my desire to visit “places with strange sounding names,” and motivated my collection of unusual words that describe travelers’ experiences or emotions. Some of my favorites follow.
Men have fewer fashion crises and quandaries than women. To be considered well dressed, a man buys a limited number of items: shirts, jackets, pants, underwear, shoes, socks, belts and a tie or two.
In September of 2015, ten scientists won the satirical Ig Nobel Prize for scientific studies of questionable worth. When I read about the tongue-in-cheek prize and the dubious research it rewarded, I felt better about my failed attempts to participate in an extra-curricular science fair in seventh grade.
Every year, since moving to Craig in 1996, I wait for the spring of Disney movies and picture books: birds swooping, squirrels frolicking, flowers blossoming along my path and colts auditioning new legs.
Gazing out the window at Craig’s snow-bound, January world, I remembered, chuckled and thought, “This is perfect snow-turtle weather.” I ran with my fourth-grade classmates as fast as I could across a playground of snow and ice. Reaching the turtle-building area first, I slid to a stop, knelt, and quickly began to shape a solid, knee-high mound of snow with my mittened hands, thinking maybe this time I would win.
When the first heavy snow fell, we expressed surprise and dismay as we shivered in thin jackets, stomped our sneakers free of flakes, and bought new snow shovels.
Another unending January indifferent to the discomforts and inconveniences caused by its weather. Noses run. Furnaces strain. Clumps of melting snow litter entryways, and glazed patches of ice glint with menace beneath a weak winter sun.
I have an unusual Christmas tradition. I watch for Cook Chevrolet’s annual newspaper ad: a list of events or circumstances that made the previous year a good one. For example, in 2014, the list included “We live in a beautiful place, surrounded by the nicest people in the world. Most of us have our good health. We slept inside last night. We ate yesterday, and we will eat again today.” The list finished with “The Broncos are in the playoffs.”
Years have passed without several of my important people, and I’ve lost some of the details that made them unique: their laughs, their intonations, their facial expressions. But Christmas helps me remember. As I bake cookies, hang ornaments, or listen to the gentle notes of carols, memories of those who shared my Christmases bring them back to me in their entirety.
My hair stood on end when I first heard the song “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Evidently, Santa knew if I’d been good or bad and cared. As I listened to Perry Como warbling on the radio, “So be good for goodness sake,” I filled with anxiety: “Christmas is four days away, and just this morning I hogged the bathroom, folded the corner of a library book, and sneaked a box of Jell-O from the kitchen — and ate all of it. I’m doomed.”
I used to read Shel Silverstein’s poetry to my students because it made them giggle. One of his poems described the persnickety Mary Hume who spent her life finding unforgiveable flaws in her birthday parties, boyfriends and pupils.
Courtesy lies on its deathbed, fading away unnoticed: no letters filled with love and gratitude, no phone calls expressing concern and caring, no bedside visitors with mournful eyes and soothing hands. The windowsills of Courtesy’s hushed chamber display no get-well cards or flowers, and no one has carried a casserole to Courtesy’s door.
When I skimmed a February 2013 feature in Parade Magazine, I recognized column material: The article consisted of a quiz on research-based techniques for reducing family fights from Bob Feiler’s book, The Secrets of Happy Families.
When I can’t sleep, it’s usually because I’m entertaining mind-boggling concerns: What if I my doctor tells me the bump on my big toe looks cancerous? I tried to call Barbara three times, and her line was busy; someone must have died. I’d like to walk to my meeting tomorrow; but if I do, I might be late; and if I’m late, everyone will look at me, and if they look at me, I’ll be sweaty and red-faced from walking.
I’m neither Oprah nor Dr. Phil; but, based on novels and personal ponderings, I’ve developed a blueprint for staying married long enough to finish the leftover wedding cake.
I watched in dismay as a fellow garage sale devotee purchased an item I spotted too late: a set of shiny aluminum tumblers like those that added cheer to my childhood. When filled with cold beverages, the tumblers frosted over like windshields on a sub-zero morning and made everything, even water, seem extra tasty.
All through my schooling, I tested well. When other students complained of sleepless nights, sweaty palms and nervous stomachs during finals week, I remained smugly silent. But lately, I, too, suffer from test anxiety because now a test means having my vein stuck with a turkey baster, my bottom exposed to strangers, or my bosom squeezed to a crepe.
Since the 2007 movie, “The Bucket List,” senior citizens occasionally make the news by celebrating their birthdays with daring exploits or unusual experiences. When I learn that former president George H.W. Bush jumped out of an airplane or that a gray-haired grandmother rode a camel across the Sahara, I think, “Oh, my, that was plucky.”
“Mom, where are my baby pictures?” I asked as I idly turned the pages of a family album. So far I’d found a studio portrait and numerous photographs of the first born, Lawrence, and several more snapshots labeled Carolyn or Bob, but no bald Bray baby called Janet. “Didn’t you take any of me?”
I listen to the national news, and it alarms me: crumbling infrastructure in sprawling cities, abused children in homes where they should be safe, unspeakable murders in peaceful towns, the weak apologies of elected officials involved in questionable acts, counter-claims of racism and police brutality, mentally ill or evil people wielding knives, guns, cars, fire, and poison to harm others.
I greet both the summer and winter solstice with enthusiasm, but for different reasons. December’s winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, motivates me to reflect, lose myself in memories, and appreciate the quiet pleasures of home and family. The summer solstice on the longest day of the year in June beckons me outdoors, fills me with energy, makes me feel happy and alive.
I was waiting to have my teeth cleaned and skimming through a magazine when a quote by Elizabeth Gilbert caught my attention: “I don’t have much fear of getting older, but I do fear that someday a wicked genie will make me go back and live my twenties over again.” I related to the lady’s words, though I had no idea who she was.
Craig Daily Press columnist Janet Sheridan shares beloved memories of her brother.
My grandchildren believe chips to be one of the USDA recommended food groups for healthy eating; so they strive mightily to eat an adequate amount each day, consuming any greased, salted, crunchy morsel available: fried, baked, seasoned, or stale. Though I‘ve warned them they’re eating Styrofoam peanuts dyed orange, they even eat cheese puffs. I’m appalled by their addiction and aghast when they wash the chips down with gigantic soft drinks and then munch cookies to refresh their palates. But I keep my thoughts to myself because I recently encountered one of my food obsessions at a funeral luncheon. And my loved ones noticed.
A shadow hovered over the United States in the early '60s. Its darkness lurked in the background as I married and graduated from college; it fell across the school where I taught fourth-grade children the intricacies of long division, comprehension skills of reading, and correct fingering for their flute-o-phones. Busy with my life, I didn’t notice the shadow blacken, move closer, threaten. I didn’t know it would envelope me.
First, my older brothers brainwashed me, then the speed and athleticism of the players and the changing rhythms of the game hooked me. I became a college basketball fan. Football caught my attention when I attended Utah State shortly after the glory days of Merlin Olsen. A knowledgeable guide in the person of my college boyfriend cemented my enjoyment of a game played by strong, quick athletes who mix it up, emerge battered and dirty, and come back the next week to do it again.
Some time ago, I wrote a column candidly confessing my inability to solve life’s mysteries. I hoped you, my readers, would contact me with possible solutions so I could sleep. You didn’t. So I’ve decided to give you a second chance with the following perplexing situations.
I hate daylight savings time and the Uniform Time Act that created it. Due to legislative action taken in the 60s — an era not know for its level-headedness — twice a year I find myself scurrying around the house, fumbling with clock controls and trying to remember whether to spring forward or fall back. By the time I manage to reset all of our clocks, pinpoint accuracy no longer matters. If the timepieces and electronic displays are within fifteen minutes of each other, I declare victory, sit down, put my feet up and think bad thoughts.
I spot them as soon as they enter a restaurant: weary, shoes untied, crumbs littering their clothing. They remove their sunglasses, rub the bridges of their noses and order with little interest; then they smooth out a wrinkled map or peer at a digital version on their cell phones. Road trippers.
I collect antique valentines. My interest in collecting old valentines no doubt flows from my happy memories of school valentine parties.
My friend’s father railed against pedal pushers. My grandmother questioned the attire of Elvis Presley but seemed to enjoy his hips. A college dorm mother told me a true lady would never appear in public without hose, and my first principal sent a teacher home when she showed up at work in a pantsuit.
Now that Christmas is tucked away in my memory, where its bustle will fade and beauty improve, I find my only regret is paying little attention to the winter solstice on Dec. 21, the day nature turns.
Last year, during the interlude between Christmas and celebrating a new year, I sat in my living room by a Christmas tree, of diminished interest and numbered days, and watched as rays of afternoon sunlight slowly expanded the asphalt patches on the snow-packed street.
Home for Thanksgiving, I overheard a conversation coming from the kitchen where Mom was making cinnamon rolls and arguing with my youngest brother JL, “I don’t know that having two paper routes is a good idea in the kind of winter weather we have,” she insisted.
I recently heard that children who lick their iPads could develop mercury poisoning. Unable to validate the rumor, I decided to start another, verifiable from personal experience: old ladies in charge of passwords could develop hysteria.
When my birthday rolled around earlier this month, I had a list of things to wish for as I blew out the crowd of candles that topped my cake. Fortunately, oxygen-deprivation didn’t impact my mental acuity, and I remembered the entire list.
I did not glide into adolescence gracefully. Unlike my peers who seemed to frolic into their teens with nary a backward glance, I plodded forward reluctantly, unconvinced that being a rookie in junior high school was better than being royalty in elementary school. My uncertainty intensified as stores filled with costumes and candy, the mountains displayed swaths of color, and Oct. 31 approached.
I identify with philosophers, dreamers and academics who contemplate the mysteries of life, because I, too, ponder the unexplainable.
In junior high, I participated in a skit designed to extol the virtues of good grooming to adolescents. The five cast members each recited a verse written by our class poet and repeatedly chanted the refrain: “If you want to be healthy, wealthy, and wise, guys, clean up your act, Jack” — an exhortation indicative of both the quality of our act and its reception.
At my age, if I said I’m surprised by my gravity-altered body, I’d sound no brighter than a collie being amazed by ticks after a romp in the woods. Some things in life are as certain as a stalemate in Congress.
As usual, I began by wallowing in a quagmire of indecision. For months, I’d busily and happily written new material to combine with past columns for a book. Now I had a choice: attempt to publish my work or let it die an anonymous little death on my computer.
Last August, a niece who teaches high school posted on Facebook, “Oh, hello, teaching anxiety. There you are. I was wondering when you’d show up.” A week later, a friend in Alabama wrote, “I am going to start my 10th year of teaching next week. Can a person be full of excitement and dread at the same time?”
A few seconds in a rainforest, a sunrise shared with a stranger, a five-minute walk on a beach: all are moments that lingered and the reason I travel.
A week ago, when I planned to wash the windows or sit in the shade feeling guilty because I wasn’t doing so, for some nonsensical reason I decided to reorganize my filing cabinet instead. I flew into action, sorting and discarding with determination, until I came across a stack of old calendars.
If you saw me working in my yard in June, I apologize; I hope you had your children close their eyes as you drove by — no need for nightmares about crazed old ladies in pajamas wielding garden clippers and mumbling.