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My Dad Was the Best. Hope Yours Was Too!

Father’s Day is fast approaching, an annual celebration of the paternal and the sad anniversary of my own father passing. While memories of him cross my mind several times a day, at this time of year I find myself digging in my mind for some forgotten memory, thinking perhaps I have some tucked away like a forgotten sweater in a cedar chest, an old favorite that simply has not seen the light of day for many years.

I have used my father as the topic of previous blogs (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/dad-gone-a-quarter-century & https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/my-roots-lead-back-to-november-fifth) and his humor and life lessens dot the landscape of other musings in my posts as well. While my mind is percolating on him as a subject, I will share some more.

My dad (just like my best friend’s father, another amazing man) was an electrician by trade, as was my grandfather. Though he worked on many job sites through the years, some of the more memorable ones included the construction of the Thunderbird Hotel, The IDS Tower, The Registry Hotel and the story I’m about to embark on  from his work on the MSP Airport.

My dad started work early each morning, usually packing a lunch and carrying a thermos of coffee. As a union man he also had “coffee breaks” during the day and while working on the airport runways a silver truck would stop out to his work site that offered hot coffee, sandwiches and pastries for sale. I imagine his first break took place about 8 am. An affable man, my father built a rapport with the truck driver during his daily rounds. When dad became aware that his work at the airport was winding down and his company was preparing to assign him to a new job he hatched a plan.

When the silver truck headed out to my dad’s location, on what was scheduled to be his last day, there sat my dad at a card table (with two chairs) covered with a white table cloth, an electric frying pan had been used to prepare bacon and eggs, he pushed the button down on the toaster and invited the driver to join him for breakfast, right there on the airport runway. Juice was poured and there the two sat and enjoyed a final conversation, the table complete with a milk-glass vase with two red plastic roses (that had come free with a bottle of dish soap). It was a funny and kind gesture of his appreciation. “Memorable”, that is a word that aptly describes my father. I imagine the driver never forgot that special breakfast or the man who prepared it for him.

My dad loved animals and they loved him. Unfortunately, his allergies could make his being around them a less than pleasant experience for him. While growing up we had rabbits, I had a parakeet, we had tropical fish, my brother acquired the rat from his elementary classroom “Milk vs. Soda” nutrition lessen.  We also had the cutest dalmatian puppy who in reality was the worst dog I have ever known. At some point in the late ’70s (sometime after a divorce) my aunt was moving with her youngest from her house to an apartment, a pet-free destination. For many years the family had had a beautiful long haired calico cat that they all loved, named Mama. Despite his allergies (and the fact he was not that fond of cats) my dad was very fond of his high-school classmate and the mother of his nieces and nephews. That is how Mama came to live out her final years with my parents. Meanwhile my uncle moved on, got a new wife, got a new puppy and eventually got another divorce. The Whippet/Collie mix was not going to work with either of their new housing arrangements, so Tara came to live with my folks (and Mama) where she slept on the floor next to my father’s side of the bed. My father loved that dog but when my uncle retired, my dad insisted that Tara move with him to the cabin. My dad was accommodating, compassionate and fair. In both instances it was not that he “wanted” a new responsibility at his house but that he didn’t want to see someone he cared about suffer any more than they already were due to their present circumstances. He gracefully made these situations appear to be nothing and just used his ever-present handkerchief with greater frequency. I bet you’d already forgotten about his allergies, that’s exactly how he wanted it.

My dad wasn’t into gender stereotypes, he grocery shopped, did the laundry, gave his kids baths, read bedtime stories and even took on the role of “room mother” one year when I was in junior high. In many cases, if something needed to be done, he would just do it. He could work a full day, come home and make dinner and still remain engaged in what you were learning in school. When he went to bed we assumed he snored so loudly simply because he was tired, not because Sleep Apnea was just another medical malady stealing time from him. In other cases, if something needed to be done, it simply waited. Taxes were something he loathed doing and I think at some point he delayed filing for five years. Red Owl Grocery sacks filled with receipts and medical bills all waiting to be collated and submitted. He wasn’t avoiding paying taxes, he was delinquent in filing for money owed to him by the IRS. In retrospect I think he knew his time was precious and he would rather spend it occupied with people than with paper.

My dad was strict but you knew what was expected. I vividly remember arriving home five minutes late one summer evening and after listening to what my excuse was he simply said “I didn’t tell you that you couldn’t be early.” So I credit him with the fact that I am slightly early or prompt at nearly every appointment I have, as a general courtesy.

Growing up, my brothers and I didn’t get an allowance but Dad gave us our lunch money weekly and we were allowed to pack our own lunches and use the allotted money however we chose. That taught responsibility, decision making and flexibility. He also allowed me to pack a lunch for my brother and have him pay me a portion of his own lunch money.

My father had more interests than could be explored in a lifetime, he loved concepts, new ideas and possibilities. He was fascinated with black holes and could wrap his mind around things I never could. While his mind was sharp he was not impressed with phonies and would make time to chat with a loner or buy a guy a beer. I remember that he joked loudly to my mother as they were leaving one of her class reunions (perhaps her 20th) “Hurry Dorothy, we have to get the rental car back.” to mock some of the blowhards who had spent the evening trying to one-up each other.  He both literally and figuratively just didn’t have time for that.

Though this blog comes to an end and he is no longer among us, his story is far from over. I like to think that I have fostered in my own children some of his curiosity, his ability to learn something from everyone, his sense of fairness coupled with compassion and an ample dose of his humor. His greatest teachings were never in the form of lectures, they were in his actions, small gestures, mundane tasks that were eventually completed, behind the scenes maneuvers that brightened someones day, lightened someones load or simply made somebody laugh. His legacy lives on in that laughter.

 

 

 

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The RNC Saved My Life

Elephant

Some people read the title of this blog and instantly formed an opinion, had an immediate reaction, knew they disagreed and never got this far. Others may still be reading but believe the title is hyperbole and wish to challenge me on my rhetoric. Still there are those who are curious, have no preconceived notions about what the contents of this blog will be, accept me at my word and are looking forward to the information I will offer as explanation.

Forty years ago things were both different in this country and much the same. 1976 was a leap year with a summer Olympiad. We were celebrating our nations bicentennial, patriotism abounded but both major political parties were divided. Our Commander-in-Chief was a politician who nobody had elected to the office, an affable man whose frequent clumsy missteps  were immortalized by a single-season cast member on a new show called Saturday Night Live. I imagine Chevy Chase (as family patriarch Clark Griswold from the Vacation movie franchise) is more recognizable to the Millennials than President Gerald Ford.

The summer of ’76 was a hot one! I finished seventh grade that June. I became a teenager that July. I don’t recall every birthday gift I ever received but that year I know I got a metallic blue Raleigh Grand Prix, 10-speed bike. A new bicycle was the equivalent of a car in junior high. In an era before cell phones, laptops, gaming systems and the like, a bike was by far the most valuable thing a child owned. A bike was freedom, transportation and recreation all rolled into one.

The day after I turned 13 began the first of the two political conventions to nominate the candidates for the presidential election that November. The Democrats held their convention first that year and day two of it coincided with what would be the hottest day of the year in Minneapolis. I lived in the Linden Hills neighborhood in a house that was built at the turn of that century. We had lived in the house for twelve years and during that miserably hot summer had hired a painter to repaint every room on the second floor and hang a delicate floral wallpaper in the hallway and down the stairs. This update made the old house look fresh and lovely. The home had rich dark woodwork, beautiful stained glass windows, leaded glass built-in cabinetry, high ceilings and hardwood floors. It also had just one bathroom and during that sultry summer of ’76 there was only one air conditioner, a window unit that was in my parent’s bedroom. My father’s allergies coupled with his occasional need to work nights were the reasons behind this extravagance. My brothers had a box fan in their room and I had an Emerson brand oscillating fan that was more hazardous than it was cooling. Staying up late and watching TV in the living room was an option on only the hottest nights. That is how I ended up watching the first convention ever presided over by a woman and the eventual nomination of a former Georgia Governor and peanut farmer, who added a senator from my state to his ticket.

A week after my birthday, and days after the DNC, the Olympics began in Montreal. The ’76 summer games are likely best remembered for a petite Romanian gymnast named Nadia Comaneci who won numerous gold medals (with seven perfect tens) and Bruce Jenner who earned the gold in the decathlon for the United States.

Nadia     Bruce-Jenner

Two weeks after the Olympic torch was extinguished it was time for the RNC. It was a contentious year, the last time that the delegate count did not determine the candidate prior to the convention. It was the first time I heard Ronald Reagan give a speech and though his was a concession speech, he was a much better orator than President Ford who won the nomination.

1976 RNC

Thursday August 19th was the final day of the convention. My father was at work when mid-morning my mother noticed that there was a strong odor like “airplane glue” in my parent’s bedroom. She unplugged the air conditioner that was in the window above the cedar chest my father had given her while they were dating. Even after dinner the acrid aroma lingered. My parents opted to sleep downstairs on the “hide-a-bed” to avoid the heat of the top floor and the lingering scent. I brought my sleeping bag downstairs to watch the final night of the RNC.  I stayed up through the speeches, the cheering, the adults in the funny hats and the grand finale, the balloon drop. Freshly 13, I am not certain how much I grasped of the political proposals but I loved the spectacle! I dozed off in contentment knowing I had exciting plans for the following day.*

I’m unclear how much time had passed when I awoke, sweaty and a bit disoriented on the living room floor. I heard my mother’s shouts from the second floor and knew if she kept yelling she would wake my father who had to get up in just a few hours. Once I cleared my sleepy head I heard that what she was yelling was “fire” and then I instructed my mom to come downstairs. I woke my dad and calmly asked “should I call the fire department?” Our phone had glow in the dark stickers on them with the seven digit number for both police and fire. 911 was years away from being the norm. My father called and then calmly went to the basement to retrieve some clothing from the dirty laundry and then grabbed the car keys to pull his car from the lawn alongside the house onto the street. He then unreeled the garden hose and shot a stream of water at the small flames licking out of his bedroom window. My mother and I stood on the sidewalk in front of our home, I could see my shiny new bike in silhouette through the open front door and instantly regretted not having wheeled it out with me. Minutes ticked by, which was super annoying because the fire house was on the next block. By the time the trucks rolled up the flames were leaping out the window and licking toward the roofline. More time passed and the firefighters grew frustrated as they could not get water pressure in the hoses. Once they got water flowing they dragged a hose into the house and I watched them run up the steps bracing themselves with their sooty gear against the newly wallpapered staircase. My brother’s room faced the street and we could see nothing through the windows, my parents room was next on the hallway and when the firefighters got into the room they shoved the burning AC unit out the window directly onto the ground where my father’s car had been parked. Next, the cedar chest with all of the sweaters my grandmother had knit for us splintered explosively as it was jettisoned but we were relieved to see the handmade treasures strewn on the lawn, seemingly unharmed. That relief was brief as flaming molten pieces of my parent’s life were tossed out on top of the woolen goods. Further down the hallway and on the opposite side of the house an ax was taken to my window, a questionable choice from my perspective, as the window was already wide open.

Despite it being 2 am I had not seen so many neighbors gathered in front of our home since my parents coordinated a block party. Apparently sirens are as good as a free keg of beer for bringing people together. It was hot, humid, smokey and smelly  and over pretty quickly, despite it feeling like slow motion. The fire itself had been extinguished, having only gutted my parents room. I remember walking up the stairs that night to see the damage. My bike was pristine and unharmed in the front hall, the new wallpaper smudged with glove-prints and there to the left of the top of the stairs a lamp was on in my parents room, only the wire framing of the shade remained, tall thin lotion bottles were short and wide now. Upon further inspection in the daylight we noted the phone handpiece was melted into the cradle, my father’s polyester leisure suit had dripped off the hanger and was a plastic chip on the floor.

A tiny ember in the air conditioner had  glowed enough throughout the day that it ignited something else in the unit and smoldered for hours before bursting into flames and destroying and damaging memories and artifacts, treasures and the mundane.

The chief is the one that told my parents that were I to have been sleeping upstairs it is likely that I would have succumb to the smoke while I slept. That is how the RNC saved my life.

*Because I survived that night I was able to go to Valley Fair the next day with my aunt and cousin, an amusement park that opened that summer and remains a big family attraction in Shakopee Minnesota to this very day.

 

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Mom is Gone and the Gifts Keep Coming

Mom B & WMy mother was born 80 years ago today. I have written in the past regarding epic birthday moments. There was her 60th Surprise party on St. Patrick’s Day, that she thought was going to be her grandson’s first birthday celebration. On her 50th when I got her the first new swimsuit she’d had in twenty-five years and she posed for a commemorative photo (in the Minnesota March snow) in a lawn chair my eldest brother gifted her.

Dorothy 50

I am reminded several times each month that many of my friends are joining the club of the parentless. What was somewhat exclusive when I unwillingly joined it nearly twelve years ago seems commonplace now as the Facebook tributes and condolences frequently appear in my feed. My best friend’s parents have departed in that interim, as have their next door neighbors, who were my own parents best friends. A couple of our friends lost both of their parents in the last year and we are at that phase in life which has transitioned from socializing at weddings and baby showers to catching up with friends over luncheons in church basements. Just recently my husband’s father died, though Alzheimer’s had stolen him years earlier. His mother struggles with the frustrations of dementia, a version which cruelly behaves like a rewind button and has her share the same anecdote a dozen or more times in a half hour or initiate a phone call to the person she only moments before ended a conversation with, but has no recollection of.

When a friend experiences the death of a parent I do two things. I encourage them to enjoy the shared remembrances in the days ahead; friends, neighbors, aunts and uncles often have fond recollections of interests and events that even adult children are totally unaware of. I also like to share that the memories that bring a tear to the eye during that initial raw phase (immediately following a death) eventually become the memories that will bring a smile or that they will share with others so their loved one is not forgotten.

I remember after my father died that I wore his old work socks for many years until they were all worn out and I hung onto a blouse he had bought me as a birthday gift for perhaps twenty years beyond fitting, not because I intended to ever wear it again but because I knew I would never receive another gift from him. I was mistaken, I still get gifts from my parents on a regular basis. An event that triggers a memory, a glance at one of their grand kids, my own words or behaviors that mimic them.

When I open a buffet or desk drawer and come across an old greeting card from anyone I am reminded of my mother who painstakingly chose cards for friends and family members but who also hung onto most any correspondence she ever received. When I am eating and slop on my front, I am reminded it is a genetic trait passed down from my mother. One that happened with such frequency that we developed a code word. While dining out if I said “shelf” Dorothy knew to glance down at the front of her top to see if it were merely crumbs on “the shelf” or if she needed to dip the corner of her napkin in her ice water to blot away a spot.

This year I received a letter from my mother, a letter written twenty-seven years ago. Though it was not written to me, upon reading it I am sure it was intended for me. Jeff’s aunt while clearing through decades of her own paperwork was going through letters from her sister (my mother in-law). They had the habit of not only sharing newspaper clippings and programs from weddings or funerals the other had not attended but also passing along letters which they had received from others. She passed along to me a letter that my mother had written (to my then future mother in-law) in the week after we had told Jeff’s parents we were getting married (they had been out of the country when we shared the news with others) and her happiness was palatable upon the paper. “What do you think of Jeff and Nancy’s news? Do you think you can handle two Rose children in your family? I am very happy for them.” It came as sort of an endorsement from beyond the grave, none of the misgivings covertly exchanged among others who questioned why so soon or came up with unkind assessments to share, like “they don’t even know each others middle names”. Gerard and Elizabeth, those are our middle names and while for us they’re not cornerstones of our marriage, they were actually known to each other even early on in our brief courtship. Ultimately “two Rose children” did not remain in the family but Dorothy was equally supportive when that happened too.

Today we will celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday, that premature twin who began her life with the loss of her brother. We will do it while celebrating the 21st birthday of her eldest grandson, whose birthday was four days ago but who just arrived home from college early this morning. It is my assumption that at some point during the meal I will glance down and have slopped something on my front, and I will smile and simply accept it as another gift from my mother.

Other reflections on my mother are available on my blog. Feel free to share and comment.

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I Suppose We All Have to Grow Up Sometime…I’m Getting There

2013 No Dog

Twenty years ago this week is the last time I gave birth. Two decades gone. Come Sunday, I am done parenting teens. I’ve been a parent for twenty-two and a half years. Other than marriage, parenting is the thing I have done for the largest part of my life but oddly it has all gone by pretty fast. In looking back at my life that stretch from seventh grade until high school graduation (despite being less than six years) seems like the longest chunk of time. Five years of college stretched out too but these years of parenting have raced by, perhaps because they are the years I wished to savor most.

Motherhood is so often pictured as a beautiful woman in a billowing white cotton frock with a cherub-like infant nestled to her bosom. I have loved being a mother but despite feeding the children the purest of foods the end result when they were infants was best kept away from pristine linens and really better suited to the gym shorts and sweatshirt I was likely wearing. The true miracle of birth for me was how my focus was forever changed from “How do I look and what should I wear?” to what they wore, what they were doing, what they needed. A life change that I have never regretted.

I remember always wanting to be a mother but upon reflection didn’t really grasp all that the position entailed. I recall the maternal “mama bear” kicking in when my oldest had blood drawn by a nurse who pricked her tiny little (some might say “perfect”) heel many times to get it and how my daughter’s squealing made me want to physically harm the woman. I remember when I took her baby brother for the same test and how I braced myself with my plan to ask for another nurse if the first one did not draw enough by the second try, only to have him sleep in his car seat through the entire procedure. That was when I began to realize that parenting is a lot like college, each child is a different class. In my case the classes were in entirely different disciplines. I have learned so much from raising both of my children and it has been like preparing projects for two separate courses with two dramatically different professors; the assignments are entirely different, their needs (demands) unique, the materials required varied. While some of the skills required to complete the works have overlapped, the end results are truly originals and I am so proud of both.

Parenting books tend to end with adolescence and parents themselves often quit looking to books for answers after potty training is through but the process continues; offering advice on education, travel, relationships and major purchases, perhaps even someday advice on parenting itself. My daughter has been home this week on her final spring break from college. A few days ago we found ourselves enjoying lunch together at Macy’s in the Southdale mall, a tradition we had often enjoyed with my mother under the monikers Dayton’s and Marshall Fields. I pointed out the table I had eaten lunch at with my mother on our final outing together. My daughter and I reminisced. I told several stories of my mischievous childhood. One story regarding an escapade with three of my girlfriends to the downtown Dayton’s over a spring break as ninth graders. A quart of vodka and Burger King orange soda followed by dining at the Dayton’s salad bar did not end well for one of my companions. It was an epic story of immaturity and bad choices. As stupid as it was hilarious, it is the kind of thing that would involve social services today. There was another great story involving officer Metro from the St. Louis Park police department when I was a sophomore. The poor choice of transporting alcohol in shampoo bottles on a choir trip was disclosed. They were not stories I was proud of, not stories I am ashamed of, they are simply my stories. When I had finished with regaling her with episodes from my youth, I shared a couple from my father’s teen years. His were stories shared with me during summers I was in college, some that he had never shared with my older brothers.

There were occasions in my life that I thought would define me as an adult but as they came and passed I never felt like I was truly a grown-up.  Being old enough to vote, driving, moving out of state, buying my first car, these were milestones but they did not make me feel grown-up. Not even getting married, having children, buying a home or the loss of my parents truly made me feel like an adult. Even as a Girl Scout troop leader, teaching art in the elementary school and eventually chaperoning school dances only left me feeling like an older kid, never an adult. Though I am not one who will ever fully embrace maturity, I will say that the closest I have felt to being an adult  has been sharing the errors of my own youth, with my children, now that they are adults and can view these stories more as history lessens than a “How-To” course.

As a little girl I always wanted to be a mother. Being the youngest of my siblings and even the cousins on both sides of the family I had little exposure to babies but I thought that was what being a mom was about, taking care of babies. While I loved my children as babies and adored them as toddlers, was mesmerized by their learning in elementary school and feel fortunate to have witnessed their blossoming talents and personal growth through high school, I am beginning to think that what I may ultimately enjoy most as a parent is the sharing of our stories with each other. Adult to adult.

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The Simple Things That Make Christmas Your Own

 

Conduit

 

 

A friend and neighbor posted on her Facebook page what she described as being a potentially unattractive ornament on her Christmas tree. She went on to explain that her father had been a photographer and that as children she and her siblings were permitted to paint spent flash bulbs and suspend them from ribbons on their tree. What might appear as an unattractive bauble to the uninformed was a beautiful tribute to her father and fond childhood memory.

We have a tradition in my family on Christmas morning which we have come to call “table gifts”. It began with candy canes and an age appropriate trinket on the Christmas morning breakfast table at my Grandpa Roses’ house. My grandfather has been gone for forty years and my own father for a quarter century and it is an honored tradition to this day at our Rose Family Christmas Breakfast, a 9:00 a.m. affair that rotates between my home and those of my two brothers. Each family contributes to what has become a small pile of useful gadgets, odd trinkets and inside jokes.

One year my brother gave us each an item retrieved from the remnants of our childhood home. Another year found one of my brothers reading from a small book about the terrifying lives of Gnomes. Eventually we began placing things at the places on the “children’s table” too, which ironically has more adults than minors at it now.

Despite forays after college to a few different states, my two brothers and I have been living in the same metropolitan area where we grew up for over the past twenty years. During one of our gatherings when we were reminiscing about childhood and my propensity to spill my milk at the dinner table on a regular basis and other mundane topics of our evening meals I mentioned that as a kid I had no idea what conduit was. If you are thinking “I have no idea what conduit is.” don’t feel embarrassed. My father was an electrician and conduit (pictured above) is the flexible tube that wires are drawn through. My father would sometimes refer to the size of a job he was on by the yardage of conduit he had “pulled” that day. I was familiar with conduit, because there was always some in the back of the family station wagon, I simply had no idea what it was called. I mentioned that by the time I was about seven it just seemed too embarrassing to ask “what exactly is conduit?” because I had been hearing about it since back in the day where I was seated in a high chair for my meals and not at my fathers immediate right where I sat for all of my post-high chair meals, even when my brothers were away at college and their chairs remained vacant for months.

We all had a good laugh the following Christmas where one of my table gifts was a small gauge piece of conduit, about the size of my pinky finger. I later took a paper clip, unbent it and wound it around the middle of it and bent it around a branch on my Christmas tree. It has been placed on my tree each year since and as it is put on I ask the question “Why do we put a piece of conduit on the Christmas tree?” and my children respond with “Because Grandpa Rose was an electrician.”

We also place a star of yellow tongue depressors (with just a smidge of glitter remaining) on the tree, for many years on the back with the comment “so people driving by can enjoy it”. The silly, the peculiar and to what some may appear to be the most unattractive ornaments are often the most special and memory evoking. Such a great reminder at Christmas that there is no reason to get stressed out over high cost presents and unrealistic expectations because years later it is never the things we thought were important that ultimately were important.

When it comes to the modern-day version of Christmas in the United States, so much of what makes the season beautiful is Christmas lights. None of that would be possible were it not for the noble profession of the electrician and that is one of many reasons that I proudly display conduit on our family tree!

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Day 24 in a month of writing: A New TV Season Doesn’t Mean What it Used To

Marlo Thomas - That Girl

Marlo Thomas – That Girl

Monday night Jeff and I watched Big Bang Theory. The character Penny had gone from long locks to a short cut and we found out what had happened to Sheldon Cooper since the finale of last season. They actually aired two episodes. Then we watched some new show about geniuses who help Homeland Security with a sidekick waitress who was on American Idol long after I quit watching and was in some other show I never bothered to view that got cancelled. After watching all but the final season of Breaking Bad on borrowed DVD’s in a three-week stretch the summer before the finale, I doubt I will ever be tied to a TV schedule again. We don’t have Netflix or own a DVR but I’ve been known to watch a Dance Moms episode on my laptop in a pinch. The last time I was concerned about missing a show was sometime during Desperate Housewives back when I used VHS tapes on the rare occasion that I couldn’t be on Wisteria Lane for a Sunday evening.

Perhaps it’s my age or that my kids are away but I have an odd longing for a TV show that I really want to see but none of them engage me enough to compel me to tell a white lie to avoid scheduling something over them. There was a time though where my TV shows mattered to me, when realizing it was seven o’clock on a Friday could send my best friend Melanie and I screaming “Brady Bunch” into the shag carpeted splendor of her basement and the relaxed seating of a bean bag chair. Better get ice cream before the escapades of the Partridge Family began. Eventually Room 222 made its way into the Friday line-up but just like the Odd Couple it started out on a different night of the week. Even Love American Style had started on a Monday before finding its way into the time slot before the evening news on Fridays.

Saturday Night Live was the show that I hated to miss when I was in high school. For my generation it served as a self-induced curfew for those wishing to be in the know on Monday mornings at school. Clearly that has changed with websites, social media and the fact that most phones will permit you to locate anything you may have missed. Long before SNL came to be it was The Carol Burnett Show that coaxed me to get in and out of the tub on Saturday nights. Her gowns, her guests, the sketches and the cast members cracking each other up was too good to miss. Though I always thought of it as a part of my childhood Saturday evenings it was originally aired on a Monday and after ten and a half years of songs and monologues it ended on a Wednesday evening in March of my freshman year of high school. There is a distortion of reality that comes with nostalgia that will keep me believing that The Carol Burnett Show was always on Saturday night. Mary Tyler Moore, now there is a woman who owned Saturday night, in an era when it was not embarrassing to be home watching TV on a Saturday Night, though that is not how viewers saw Mary Richards spending her weekends and she even worked for a TV station, in Minneapolis, where I was watching the show. Today it would take an entirely different sort of show to feature the Riverside highrises in their opening montage.

The first new television season I recall was the year they launched the Flying Nun (so to speak) which was 1967, the year before I started kindergarten, that was also the first time I remember seeing Marlo Thomas in That Girl which was in its second season. In retrospect, I guess I was likely being put to bed by 7 pm during prior years. The 1960’s were the golden era of women with magical powers; witchcraft, genie skills and flying gave young girls a lot to aspire to. Shows still tend to copy ideas and concepts; reality shows, competition programs and fairy tales all seem to have had multiple networks clamoring to meet audience preference needs. Entire networks now are devoted to Do It Yourself programming, travel and real estate. Often this sort of programming will air marathons of the show after the initial run. Franchises like the many versions of “Real Housewives” host reunion shows and tabloids love these faux celebrities because viewers oddly can’t get enough of them. The shows are cheap to produce because there is no true actress or actor and other than salaries and footing the bill for some extravagant staged social events or travel there is little script writing or set design. This year the theme on cable channels is “naked” shows, surviving naked, dating naked and even a real estate show in a nudist community. Apparently there is some commercial market for that. Maybe luring advertisers who make vinyl furniture coverings and antibacterial wipes.

As a child I remember types of shows that networks tried during different seasons. There were westerns when I was real little, medical shows, attorney shows, cop shows, PI  shows, women cops  and by the time I was in high school the night-time soap opera was a popular format. Sitcoms could be about where you lived, where you worked, where you went to school and I think an entire network could run just reruns of shows whose hired help was a primary character; Hazel, Family Affair, The Nanny, Charles In Charge, Whose the Boss?, Mr. Belvedere and many others come to mind. Great era pieces; Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons and my underrated favorite The Wonder Years. Occasionally I  find the concept for a new TV show intriguing but with over a hundred channels to choose from there is simply an overload of potential viewing options. Rather than selecting something to watch on TV I often opt to read a book or write a blog and wait for the evening news.

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Day 23 of a month of writing: When Drunk and Cheating is All Part of a Days Work

Dolly

My kids don’t like country music, mostly country music in the car. My go-to car radio station when they were little was a country one. They associate country music with motion sickness. My son still gets nauseous and a little clammy if country music plays in my car. Sure there are exceptions and a polite tolerance for the genre but I feel comfort in knowing they will likely never be planning a weekend of debauchery at WeFest.

I was not raised on country music but had my fair share of exposure to it during my childhood. In a small hamlet near the family cabin, Indian Creek Tavern was situated down the road from the Indian Creek Store; two gas pumps, LP-tanks, a small deli, generous candy selection and a sliding top freezer for frozen confections. Ormie and Ella Brunclik and their son Lyman lived at the rear of the store that was neat, clean and the only place you could pick up items without having to go into Cumberland. The tavern was on the opposite side of the road, directly across from the Grover Root American Legion Hall which was a barn shaped building where I attended my first wedding dance. At varying times there was a trailer situated beside it that provided housing for the bartender of the bar across the street. The juke box at Indian Creek was filled with country music of all varieties and eras. I loved pumping coins into the machine and pushing the buttons to select the songs. Then I would saunter over to either the pool table or bumper pool table and chalk my cue stick, or perhaps belly up to the bar to have a Slim Jim, some cheddar-cheese popcorn and maybe take a pull off of my low-ball of lemon-sour. Wisconsin was different in that way, you just didn’t take your preschooler to a bar back home in Minneapolis. I loved the environment, the farmers who stopped in on their tractors were all friendly. I liked the taxidermy displayed behind the bar and the pictures on the flipping records in the juke box showed the big-haired and long-dressed country women; Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette and Lynn Anderson. After I had played the requisite Rambling Rose by Nat King Cole I was free to select whatever other singles I liked and often I chose country because the songs all told a story.

Despite Indian Creek’s small size (there really was a small creek out back) as I grew older I realized the locale could have produced its fair share of country ballads. Eleanor and Junior Root were the bartenders when I was little, they lived up the road with a huge brood of kids that all looked like Eleanor and the one time I recall stopping by their home they had a mending fawn wandering around inside the house. The real country saga would have come from bartender Ray and his patchwork family. He moved a trailer in for his considerably younger bride and her two kids Bobby and Bonnie who I began playing with when I was about eight. Further up the road on the left was a corn field and on the right was the abandoned school-house. The three of us kids would wander up the road to play on the playground equipment. I was perhaps eleven when Bobby offered me a swig of the clear amber liquid he had helped himself to while unloading a delivery truck. It was fire water of some sort and I could not spit it out fast enough. Bobby was two years older than me and his sister squeezed between us in age, they were reminiscent of redheaded and freckle-faced siblings in a hundred books I’d read. As I got older I went to Indian Creek less, opting to stay home and sunburn myself on a floating raft while listening to John Denver on my cassette player. I last saw Bonnie during my senior year in high school when she dragged a familiar farmer (who was older than my father) over to the table I was at in a restaurant outside Cumberland. I had not seen Bonnie in perhaps five years and I remembered playing with the farmer’s kids outside the tavern during summers when I was younger while his wife got louder with every cocktail Junior poured. Bonnie was animated and still a scrawny teenaged girl and when she introduced the farmer to me as her husband I wanted to spew my coke the same way I had the cheap Phillips whiskey years earlier. I had only listened to country music, she was living it.

Yesterday I had the unique pleasure of working six consecutive hours to continuous country, a Pandora or Spotify program with no commercials. It played so long that I actually got a mix with some of the tracks repeating. Of the songs I heard, many reminded me of specific places, some had me thinking about certain times in my life and others gave me recollections of people I’ve known.

King of the Road was the earliest one I remember knowing as a kid. I’m not sure why the song resonated with me as a child but I recall as a preschooler singing “I ain’t got no cigarettes” which I’m sure I learned from the Indian Creek juke box and oddly I likely had a pack of candy cigarettes (manufactured in Pewaukee Wisconson, which I thought was hilarious as a kid) in my possession while learning those lyrics. The Johny Cash tune Folsum Prison is one that I best knew as a parody off of a comedy album owned by my brother. The Dolly Parton tunes (often duets with Kenny Rogers) reminded me of my uncle Dick and the VHS tape of her he played repeatedly one summer. Other tunes brought me back to my freshman roommate Jill who exposed me to epic tunes like “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool” which sort of summed up her commitment to that musical genre in the early eighties. She tolerated my passion for Springsteen, The Who, Prince and The Clash as well as Soft Cell and local bands but I came to enjoy much of the music she added to our eclectic mix. I chuckled while listening to Harper Valley PTA which I had owned the 45 of, questioning why my parents allowed me to purchase such a racy record. The Hank Williams Jr. songs throughout the day reminded me of my “record club” days and the cassettes I bought during my year living in Missouri. Those were great sing-along songs that kept me awake on drives to see my brother in Dallas, visits back home and road trips to the cabin the following summer. I even got my mom Dorothy to like Bocephus. Rounding out my day was some Jerry Jeff Walker who is the perfect combination of redneck ignorance and a sense of humor.

Cheating, drinking, prisons, trains and broken hearts might seem like the ingredients for a depressing work environment. Personally I found it pretty pleasant, the day sped by and despite the song topics I found the music enjoyable and energizing. The hardest part about the whole day was fighting the urge to sing along.

 

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