childhood, Uncategorized

Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends

Despite truly meaning it, when we say “we should get together” somehow life gets in the way and the weeks turn into years and the years turn to decades and it just doesn’t happen naturally to fall into place. There has to be some effort. Social media has been both a blessing and a curse to relationships. Some feel there isn’t really a need to gather physically because they “know” what is going on with someone based on occasional posts and photographs. Others feeling that perhaps when their own life somehow measures up to the vacations, grandchildren and celebrations of others, then the time will be right and they will feel worthy. Perhaps when they drop some weight, have a better hairstyle or update their wardrobe, that will be a good time to get together. If we wait until our lives are perfect, it simply will never occur.

Facebook has allowed my generation to locate people from our past in addition to seeing what our own kids, family members and social circle did over the weekend or are having for dinner tonight. One can get lost looking at friend lists of other friends and trying to decipher if that thin red-head was once the chubby brunet cheerleader who was hilarious in your English class; same first name, married, living on the west coast. Could be her, maybe not. It’s like winning the lottery when you locate someone from your past and reconnect, catch up and find yourselves much the same. There are the other scenarios when Facebook suggests that you “might know” someone and “Yes, you do” and you have been avoiding them at all costs because they are toxic and don’t need to know you “might” meet at Bunny’s for Wing Night next week.

 

Facebook has replaced Hallmark as the way to send a birthday greeting and makes a better source than a local paper for birth announcements, engagements and marriages, as well as obituaries. The arc of life, all happening in real-time and available via phone or computer. Though one is never truly alone anymore, the constant connectivity seemingly causes people to interact less with those around them. Lack of eye contact when checking out with a cashier, tapping on a desired menu item while simultaneously talking on the phone with someone not present or being part of an entire table updating their statuses but not really “experiencing” the company of those present or engaging in the event they are attending.

Yesterday I experienced what is the best of what social media can do, gather people for real social interaction. The only thing that could have made the gathering more like the childhoods we’d all shared would have been convening in the rocket at Linden Hills Park or all arriving by bike and leaving them pedals down on their sides on a grassy spot outside the restaurant (Red Cow) we chose to meet at. My use of technology was having this single picture taken before we ordered, others used their phones as photo albums and one table-mate ignored an incoming call but showed her phone because she was filling someone in on her brother and it happened to be him calling. The two-year age gap meant a couple of the older girls couldn’t place the youngest one, so she pulled up a picture from thirty years ago and got “Oh, I know that girl.” to which she responded “That’s me.” Beyond that, everyone present was truly present!

An initial Facebook invitation to neighborhood girls swelled into an unmanageable number of invitees and then settled back into a table-sized gathering that allowed for multiple simultaneous conversations but conveniently allowed for shared laughter as well. To an outsider (or our waitress for that matter) I imagine we looked like a group of ladies who meet monthly for lunch. The reality being that with six of the eight having been 1980 graduates from nearby Minneapolis Southwest (Purple Indians) we had not all been under the same roof since the Carter administration. We used to bike over to each others house and ring the doorbell to see if someone could play or call their house and hope the line wasn’t busy when we wanted to extend an invitation. With a Facebook invite our friend who has lived in Hawaii for three decades received the same information in real time.

As I pulled up, I saw Laurie arriving. I parked down the street and walked up, giving her time to put our name in for a table. The weather being nice we stood outside as the remaining five arrived and a sixth slid in once we were seated. Laurie and I had played on the badminton team together and she had played volleyball in high school as well as in college. Badminton was a spring sport and we often found ourselves walking home together in weather thirty degrees warmer than the temps of our morning walk. Wet sidewalks and muddy ally-ways, our route included a couple of blocks that had formerly been the path of the streetcar line, a mode of transportation abandoned before our births and replaced with MTC buses that shuttled us to Southdale, our suburban mall or downtown which was a grittier urban destination for us to find everything from magazines at Shinders to department stores, restaurants and where all sorts of options for teenage girls to make bad choices were available. Laurie stood in her overalls and dreadlocks and lamented the fact that she had not seen me since she’d graduated and then she simply said it “We’re old!” and we laughed about it, me realizing only later that I had only been sixteen the last time we had seen each other. When a neighbor girl arrived that I had more recently encountered at funerals over the last several years she hugged me, commented that I’d lost weight and looked great and I glanced over at Laurie and laughed again, “Lost weight, gained weight. All depends when you saw me last.” and the two of them laughed harder having seen each other a few years earlier and a few pounds lighter. Same struggles, different decade.

The majority of us had attended Lake Harriet Elementary school, most starting kindergarten in 1967, I started in 1968 and Doreen, the youngest attendee being a 1969 kindergartner who looked exactly like the little girl Buffy from the show Family Affair (with ringlet pigtails) when she started school. Though the school was physically gone by the time we entered high school, one of our lunch friends currently resides in the home she was raised in, located across the street from the massive brick structure my own grandmother had attended. Her renovated childhood home located diagonally from my block, the other two corners being where responsible sixth-graders stood as school safety patrols and lowered their flags to grant me safe passage on a daily basis.

There we were; infants of the sixties, school kids of the seventies and all having graduated on the cusp of the eighties. High school graduates before most of us had heard the word “aerobic” and at a time when Ayds was a dietary candy to be taken with a hot beverage, a half hour before meals and AIDS was not yet coined as the name for a sexually transmitted plague. We were a new generation of women with Title IV rights. In addition to Typing (later useful for keyboarding), Clothing (sewing) and Foods (cooking) classes we could take Metals, Woods and Electricity classes, once considered the trades classes for boys. Thirty-five years later all of these basic skills classes that provided one with the capacity to sew on a button and press a shirt before a job interview or prepare a nutritional meal on a budget, even classes that taught one how to simply follow directions to complete a basic task in an office or factory setting are gone. A multi-million-dollar renovation and addition to our 75 year-old Alma mater has added dance studios, put a greater emphasis on the arts and offers computer coding, now considered the skill that one might learn while a high school student that could lead to employment beyond graduation. Most of us did not touch a computer before we graduated, ditto for the majority of our teachers.

Teachers; we reminisced about the ones we loved, the ones we feared and the ones that reminded us that we were in fact skipping class when they encountered us in the hallway. There were the ones whose children were our classmates, the ones who coached us, the ones that encouraged us, the ones who prepared us for college, believed in us and were well suited to their careers. There were the ones who seemed miserable, hated their jobs, likely hated us and took pleasure in tormenting our classmates who really didn’t want to be there in the first place. My childhood neighbor shared an amusing anecdote about being a server at a country club and being invited to a coworkers home for drinks after work, only to realize that her coworkers “boyfriend” was actually a despised teacher.

We were a  mixed-bag of women, many of us the youngest (read “least supervised”) of our families. Some of us were involved in student activities, while others cut class frequently, hung out with older kids, pushed the envelope and took part in risky behavior. None of it mattered, then or now to us, we were kids with friendships forged in youth that treated each other kindly. One girl mentioned that she quit ordering yearbooks because of the unkind remarks other classmates wrote in them. When another asked for an example she tossed out “Titless Wonder” as one of the more repeatable torments, when asked who said that I realized he was the same guy that thought it appropriate to opine on my breast size (too big apparently) like some perverse male Goldilocks looking for “just right”. Neither of us realizing his Napoleon complex, his insecurity that he lost four inches whenever  he took off his Hockey Skates. I’m sad to say that he likely continues to take out his “shortcomings” as a Minneapolis Police Officer.

We discussed relationships; long marriages, divorces, remarriages, children, grandchildren, even Godchildren. We discussed death; former classmates, siblings, parents and God forbid those who had endured the loss of children. We inquired about our friends siblings and learned that not only relationships of choice sometimes end but even those of blood are sometimes severed when maintaining the bond is no longer healthy and amputation of a limb  of the family tree is the best option.  We talked about work, travel, moving, pets, concerts, camping and the ache that comes when children grow up, gain their independence, lead their own exciting lives and leave us with an empty space that we might lack the collagen to have close quickly and naturally and the choices we have about how to manually fill those open spaces. Nothing we said was shocking or judged or remotely evaluated. It simply was. We learned of those battling illness, those who we lost due to lifestyle choices, those who regained their footing after epic challenges, the wild youth who embraced sobriety as adults. We championed the triumphs of our peers and used each other to connect the dots and locate where some of our other lost childhood friends had landed. We confused names, described physical attributes and referenced addresses based on the family names of others who lived nearby. When I mentioned Kennesaw Drug and then said “It became Butler Drug” one of the women nodded “Where I got caught shoplifting.” I laughed recalling that my own dalmatian had entered the store one hot summer day and exited with an 8-pak of Snickers that had been on display in baskets along the lower shelves in the candy aisle. Kids and canines of the neighborhood all had some experience linked to the store. I remember my brother’s friend getting caught for stealing Hot Wheels it’s where shampoos and cosmetics we learned about from Teen magazine could be procured or you could sample perfumes. There was a pharmacy in the back and their delivery car was a Volkswagen beetle with a cartoon image of pharmacist “Herbie” on the side, it was across from the Tom Thumb “superette” where you could purchase milk in returnable jugs or purchase cigarettes with a note from your parents. Hell, it was an era where you pretty much could do anything with a note from your parents. One of the attendees took her little sister to Canada (while in high school) on a Greyhound bus and was reminded to “bring a note from your parents next time.” Hell, we could do nearly anything, including leave the country without a note from our parents.

Long before a TV show made a zip code synonymous with Beverly Hills, we were the women of Minneapolis 55410, we walked the same lake paths that Mary Tyler Moore immortalized during the opening credits of her TV show. We attended Story Hour in the iconic Carnegie-era Linden Hills Library, resplendent with leaded glass windows, built-in  benches and story-book tiled fireplace. We played SWAC sports at Linden Hills or Pershing Park and went to the Tastee Treet for cones afterwards  or the DQ (which we could see from our table) which closed in just the past couple of months, close enough to the high school to grab lunch at during the allotted half an hour, IF you were willing to eat while walking.

For over two hours, there was no lull in conversation, not even when the food came. We were noisy! We spoke loudly, we interrupted, interjected but mostly we laughed. We misheard, asked for clarifications, jumped conversations. We heard about wedding plans, impending grandchildren and retirement ideas. We agreed to not wait so long to get together again.

We were girls of the transistor radio era, we had listened to American Top 40 together while swatting mosquitoes. Later we tanned at Lake Harriet or skated to those same songs at the Roller Gardens in St. Louis Park, a suburb which provided many of my friends with their boyfriends. Sometimes they were older boys whose tastes in alcohol, music and muscle cars made them an appealing option.

We started our school careers as girls who wore dresses and being Minnesotans we wore pants under them to and from school during the coldest months. Our teachers were the edgy women  who marshaled in the revolutionary pantsuit which in the 1970’s did not consist of a jacket and pants at all but rather a dress that came with coordinating pants of the same fabric. Basically, these fashion monstrosities were the grown women rebelling by wearing pants under their dresses, just like the girls did on the the playground. We were exposed to lots of rebellion during our youth, with older siblings returning from Vietnam; boys grew their hair out, marijuana smoke wafted in public venues, music lyrics grew more graphic and the girls of Linden Hills mimicked the culture of our youth. Some of us followed the rules and some of us rebelled against rules, teachers, parents and laws.

We sat and talked about nearly everything but politics. A refreshing change of pace from a year of divisiveness. Some joked about their therapy. One is a full-time seminary student, having raised her kids and having finally found time for herself. While talking about the pro’s and cons of getting another dog, another joked that she hated to be cliche but she (a lesbian) owns two cats. While a divorcee with two adult children talked about her and her partner of three years going out for a birthday celebration another woman inquired “did you know in high school?” and before she could respond I jumped in “I don’t think that was really considered an option then.” to which she agreed. They talked about the other girls we grew up with whom they thought were likely lesbians as well. I marveled a bit that the last time I’d encountered these women the word “partner” had the singular connotation of being the person you were paired with for badminton or tennis.

We are no longer the little girls who went to school together, were antagonized by the same boys, who hung out at the same parks and venues.  We are all grown up and became the women we wanted to become. Not the ones that others had supposed us to be or shamed us into pretending we were. We’re the women who not only don’t wear pants under our dresses, we’re the women who don’t have to wear dresses if we don’t choose to, the women who could choose not to comb our hair if we don’t want to. We grew into the best versions of those sassy, silly, sneaky and snarky little girls and regardless of how different we are, we all have each others backs and appreciate each other for our shared beginnings. We have moved, we have traveled but we have in our DNA the water of Lake Harriet, the appreciation of the Indians who settled on the shores of Lake Calhoun and whom the original students of Southwest selected as their mascot and an abiding thankfulness that our parents opted to raise us in Minneapolis 55410. Hope to see you ladies all again soon (Golden Friends)!

 

Standard
Uncategorized

Another Perspective On New Years

Today is the first day of a New Year. A blank slate full of hopeful possibilities for people who choose to be optimistic. For others it is emblematic of the start of some dreary foreboding anxiety-inducing era. It’s the same year for everyone and though our individual experiences will vary, it is how we choose to meet the situations and challenges of life that determines if 2017 will be the best year of ones life or the worst year in history. A year from now it will have been both. Not all of that is choice but much of it is. While we can’t control all of lives circumstances, how we choose to frame those situations determines our perception of them, not just at the time they occur but for the rest of our lives. The same event can be a trauma for one person, while having a positive impact for someone else. This year in particular seems to have people strongly divided regarding the future, our quality of life and mankind in general. Some are excited, while others are terrified. In reflecting on my own life, it seems to me this is a recurring theme and hopefully others can learn from my observations.

Looking back there was the year that I arrived in a foreign land where I knew nobody and could not speak the language. It was pretty intimidating but people helped me out and I knew that even though I was a stranger that they cared about me. Some of the basic rituals of their daily routines were upsetting to me and often it felt that nobody understood me. Some would say I was depressed because I slept a lot and when I wasn’t sleeping I was often crying. I wasn’t depressed though, I was a newborn infant and the experience is one commonality I have with more people on this planet than any other. I’d say the year I was born was a good year. Though from a historic standpoint, the year I was born is remembered by most Americans as the year that made phrases such as “grassy knoll” and “School Book Depository” synonymous with the assassination of JFK, an historic event that people identify with in the way others recall the Challenger Disaster or September 11th. I’m not old enough to remember where I was when JFK was assassinated but as with other major historic events, it is one where people not only remember where they were, they recall who they were with, how they heard, perhaps what they wore and how they felt. It’s this type of event that shocks the system and briefly one imagines things will never feel “normal” again. A single event in a year can make a huge impact. JFK’s death left a permanent void in the Kennedy family. My birth filled a hole in the Rose family; they had a baby girl, their family was complete. I imagine that my parents questioned the type of world they were raising their three children in. 1963 goes down as a good year for me.

The first year that I was really cognizant of in a meaningful way was 1968. Many Americans will recall the year because of the assassinations of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. that spring and Bobby Kennedy early that summer. The year was rife with racial tensions and Americans rioted in major cities, in the nation’s capitol and in Chicago during the DNC. It’s memorable to me because I started kindergarten at Lake Harriet elementary in Minneapolis that fall. The summer Olympics took place in Mexico that October, with George Foreman winning the heavy weight gold medal in boxing with a TKO in the second round against a Soviet. American gold and bronze medal winners in the 200 meter took to the medal podium shoeless in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists in silent protest against racial discrimination and were banned from Olympic competition by the IOC for life. My kindergarten class held a mock election that November in which  native son Hubert Humphrey won Mrs. Ostrum’s kindergarten class election by a landslide. However Richard Nixon exceeded the necessary 270 electoral votes by garnering 301 to Humphreys’s 191, with George Wallace bringing in a third-party 46 votes. I remember the election day clearly, as it fell on my father’s birthday and we had company that evening, which was highly unusual on a school night.While the nation was divided, that December brought us the iconic Earthrise photo which so clearly depicts that we actually are all in this together. The picture was taken  Christmas Eve from the Apollo 8. That same day brought us the most watched television broadcast in history (at that time). The astronauts took turns reading the creation story from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the moon. Tension, division, chaos and hopefulness were major components of 1968. For me it was a positive year of new beginnings.

I have written about 1976 before (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/the-rnc-saved-my-life) it was another Olympic year and Presidential election (Jimmy Carter). Additionally, it was the year I became a teenager and got my ten-speed bike. It was also the year I didn’t die in a house fire because I’d slept downstairs in order to watch the final night of a political convention, instead of succumbing to smoke-inhalation upstairs while a fire slowly burned. Regardless of what else happened that year, not dying a tragic death mere days after becoming a teenager makes me appreciate 1976 as a good year.

1977 thru 1981 were spent in high school. Some people hated high school, I happened to enjoy most aspects of it. I made some good decisions, some bad choices and like many teenagers spent too much energy on superfluous matters and may have benefited from focusing more on other things. It’s a cruel period where you care more about how you look than any other time in your life but go through acne, braces, body transformation and often regrettable hair choices. While I didn’t obsess, I do recall some of the really superficial things that I thought at the time mattered, that in retrospect were pretty trivial. On the national and international level the Iranian Hostage crisis lasted 444 days from the day before my father’s birthday my junior year and not ending until the day that Ronald Reagan took office midway through my senior year. Months later Reagan was shot in an assassination attempt. Two months after that Pope John Paul II was also the victim of an assassination attempt. The week of Southwest High School’s commencement my community was hit by a tornado. While some lamented the horrible luck, others were thankful that only property was damaged and nobody was killed. Whether you’re Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II or some high school kid who might have been killed the week of graduation, sometimes being brought to the brink of a horrible situation or surviving a tragedy makes one appreciate the things they have more than they would be able to had they not had the life-altering experience. I’m certain there were many new parents that year who  likely questioned what sort of world they were bringing a child into. I have to say that 1981 goes down as the year I graduated from high school, the year I left for college, a year of fond memories.

In reflecting on my life I can think of no year that was perfect. I can’t even think of a year that went as I assumed it would from the outset. Whether it be a car accident, an illness, the death of a friend, loss of a family member, an injury or some other life changing situation, there hasn’t been a year where some sort of  unanticipated crisis hasn’t surprised me. By contrast, life has been full of surprising situations and opportunities. In 1988 I could not have envisioned that I would meet a man and marry him seven months later. At the onset of 1992 it would have seemed unimaginable that nine months later I’d be a mother. The year I married my husband is the year I buried my father. During the months  prior to giving birth to my daughter I drove my husband to the ER when chest wall spasms had us convinced he was having a heart attack. I rushed to retrieve him from work when he called to say he’d gone blind in one eye from what turned out to be an oculur migraine. Temporary inconveniences that made us thankful, helped us prioritize, kept things in perspective. While I’ve experienced bad things in my life, misfortunes and setbacks, I don’t believe they ruined a year. There is much to be learned by challenges and misfortunes. While we try to avoid bad situations, rare is the individual who makes it through life without them. Though it’s not hard to identify our own, it’s good to remember that we aren’t always privy to the very real difficulties that others endure.

As we enter a new year we are not certain that we will be present to usher in the next one. It’s not macabre, it’s simply how life works. It seems wasteful to spend too much time planning for a bad year or dwelling on how awful the past year was. What age has taught me is that there will always be world events that disturb, disgust, upset and even scare us. As an RA at St. Cloud State in 1983 I recall having to console a floor member after the TV movie The Day After was shown. While it won two Emmy Awards and holds the record for most viewed TV movie of all time, the fictional story of nuclear war left viewers overwrought with anxiety about something that simply did not occur. There was a lot of energy expended over fear of something that felt so real but didn’t exist. It struck me as wasteful.

As 2017 begins, perhaps it’s healthy to exhale and recognize that much of what will happen this year you won’t have much say or control over. Don’t let that make you feel helpless. With that knowledge go into the world with the objective of not fixing every real or perceived wrong but with the simple goal of being an asset. Donate a pint of blood, volunteer in an area you are passionate about. My neighbor sews pillow cases that are distributed to sick kids who are hospitalized. There are opportunities to foster animals. Programs exist for helping both adults and kids learn to read. If you have a hobby or interest there is likely an organization that would allow you to share of your talent or passion. Maybe your contribution is eliminating some of your own excesses and donating items. You can think globally and act locally. Don’t be paralyzed by your fears of the unknowns of the future, whether that means tomorrow or the next four years. Despite our differences, our commonality is that none of us truly knows what the future holds for us or others. What our attitude is, that is something we can control. It’s your choice if you want to begin the new year cynical, mean-spirited or judgemental. It’s not beneficial, unless you’re wanting to make your year miserable and to be “right” when next December 31st you can say “I knew 2017 was going to be a horrible year.” Having watched people this past year who faced seemingly unbearable challenges but who had fantastic energy, inspiring courage and positive attitudes through their battles (some to the very end of their time here) I see it as wasteful to exert so much negative energy. Negative energy is like any other pollutant, too much becomes toxic.

Though I’m not psychic, I’m going to make a prediction about the coming year. I foresee that locally, nationally and internationally there will be man-made problems, natural disasters and injustices. I predict that some people will do selfless acts to benefit their fellow-man. I imagine some individuals held in high regard will disappoint us. I’m guessing that educators, doctors, scientists and inventors will find new ways to make life better for people from all walks of life. If this all sounds somehow familiar, that is because like 1963, 1968, 1976, 1981, 1988 and 1992 (and all years prior, in between and since) I believe despite mankind’s frailty and inhumanity that ultimately  2017 will be a good year!

Standard
Uncategorized

Memories of a Distracted Child

I have been told by many throughout my life that I have a fabulous memory. Though it’s not particularly common, I have vivid recollections from about 13 months of age on. Many years ago I read an article claiming that memory is triggered by a specific event.  Based upon my earliest memories, I am convinced that my families move from the rented double bungalow on Pleasant to the house my parents bought on Vincent Avenue South was the catalyst for those first memories. While most do not recall life in diapers, in my earliest memory that’s all I was wearing.

walker.jpg

Mine was more aqua blue than this.

Though there are photographs (and slides) of me from just weeks earlier, celebrating my first birthday at our home on Pleasant, try as I might, I recall nothing of that house. I just remember the things from the photo’s that made the trip to the “new” (built in 1905) house, like the yellow high chair I was seated in. My first memory was in a different metal contraption and I was in the large yard behind the house when the next door neighbor lady came through a gate in the hedges that divided their yard from ours. My mother was in the yard with me, the two women spoke. I  would later refer to the woman as Grandma McGovern. I sat in the little metal walker, it was August in Minnesota and it was sticky. Hot rusty metal, a near naked baby in direct sunlight. My mother was likely smoking a cigarette (as she had through all three pregnancies) and to further embellish the story why don’t we pretend this little vehicle was coated in lead paint. In retrospect it is ironic that over 90% of the women in my neighborhood were stay-at-home-mothers and yet by today’s standards, daily life was the sort of thing that currently warrants calls to protective services.

high chair

You might wonder what got me thinking about childhood memories, unless of course you know me, then you know it doesn’t take much. Personality tests define me as the type of person who makes connections between disparate ideas, items, topics. As I’ve gotten older, I have learned to recognize the triggers. Yesterday the trigger was a school teacher. I’m working part time for a few weeks at a neighborhood garden center. Yesterday it was rainy and there were few customers. In the afternoon a school teacher stopped in to pick up some starter plants donated by our greenhouse. They are to be used for a family Earth Night tomorrow. The woman also grabbed some colorful rubber tubs and potting soil and commented “the kids should have fun digging in the dirt with these!” and I could not have agreed more. Once the transaction was completed I was mentally back at Lake Harriet Elementary School (the original one, not the one that assumed the name years after the destruction of the stately Linden Hills structure that I and my grandmother had attended) and recalling planting Johnny Jump Ups in Styrofoam cups. The school was located on a block that ended in a point where Upton Avenue and Sheridan Ave met. At the point of the block was a grassy area with a flag pole. In the spring when our flowers were strong enough and the weather was appropriately warm, we made a procession in a single file line along the curb (there was no sidewalk) and planted our flowers at the base of the flag pole. We could see them all summer long from the business district at the intersection. It was science, community beautification and patriotism all wrapped up in one activity that got wiggly kids outside on a nice spring day.

purple tub.jpg

Johnny Jump Ups

My father was an easily distracted child as well. Rather than trying to quell it in me, he encouraged it. Every spring he let me select a Punch & Grow for my classroom. It was a container with soil that had been seeded, with a clear lid that you punched holes in and watered. I spent a great deal of time when I should have been learning my multiplication tables keeping an eye on the little plot of outdoors that I had gifted to my classroom. Another spring tradition was him giving me a bird seed bell for my class. Annually a custodian would come up to hang it outside a classroom window. I enjoyed giving my dad updates at the dinner table regarding visitors to the bell that day. I’ll never know what lessens I missed while witnessing the migration of my feathered friends.

Birdseed

I feel like my vivid memories from my childhood are what prepared me to parent the children I had. Just as my father’s distractions had prepared him to be my dad. When my son was being tested and it was discovered he was dyslexic it was also noted that he applied Chapstick several times in a brief period of time. It was suggested that further testing might be required to understand his distractions. I asked if his behavior was impacting his classmates and was told that it was not, just that he might not be focused. So, I had a talk with him. I explained that when the teacher was at the board and talking, that most of his classmates focused on what she was writing and the content of what she was saying. That was how they learned. I told him that I suspected that while he was looking at the teacher he was noticing that the pattern in her skirt had the same colors as our couch at home and then perhaps he noticed a bird outside the classroom window. He nodded in understanding and said “yesterday it was a cardinal”.

Cardinal

Standard
Uncategorized

Almond Joys (Trick or Treat?) and Other Random Thoughts About Halloween

ninja batman

Candy with coconut in it is not a treat to me. I hate the texture and dislike the taste. “Peter Paul’s Almond Joys got nuts, Peter Paul Mounds don’t.” were the words to their catchy jingle when I was growing up but that didn’t make them taste any better. Those were the candy bars that languished in my bag until it was time to throw them away. Not since the raisin had a less appealing food been dipped in chocolate pretending to be a treat. They are among the most horrifying memories I have of Halloween.

Halloween is the one holiday that holds great memories for me from childhood, college, early married life and right on thru parenthood. While other holidays hold fabulous memories from different eras, there would at times be pressure, disappointment or unrealistic expectations. Even now, with “the kids” grown up, Halloween is the  holiday that best exemplifies the “It’s more fun to give than it is to receive.” mentality that has me slip a glow-stick in my beer bottle and welcome the toddling Disney Princesses and ghoulish tween crowd with distributions from my black cauldron.

I love the crunching of leaves under feet and even enjoy the slightly burnt pumpkin smell when real candles are used in outdoor jack-o-lanterns. I loved the well planned costumes of my youth; a witch, a skeleton, a tree, a cowgirl, an old man. My brother Robert painted eyes on my eyelids for my “trick” when I was a witch and camouflaged my face when I was a tree. My best friend Melanie made an adorable old lady the year I was an old man, though despite her being a few months older than me, her diminutive size had one actual old lady scowl at me with “Aren’t you a little old for this?” and refused to give me any candy. It was my first exposure to ageism, I was probably nine.

I recall that on my eighth grade Halloween I arrived home from the family cabin on a Sunday night after trick or treating time was over. For whatever reason, my brother who was a senior in high school had drove us home and my parents stayed on in Wisconsin until Monday. A neighbor’s friend, a year older than me, was just heading down the street toward home dressed in a Devil costume. She asked if I wanted to go out. I confirmed with my brother it was okay to go out on a rainy Halloween night at 9 pm (a “school night”). Permission granted. That is the wisdom of a 17-year-old, authorizing a 13-year-old to go raise a little hell with a 14-year-old. That was the first of many TP’ing adventures with my friend Heidi, the Devil who is now attending seminary. Next year will be the 40th anniversary of that epic Halloween that launched an amazing friendship. I believe that it was ninth grade that while on our way to a party my lifelong friend Melanie and I took a toy head that was designed for hair styling and makeup applications. We stopped at a house and Melanie pulled her jacket over her head and I pulled the collar up around the neck of the makeup head. When the homeowner arrived at the door with their bowl of candy I said “trick or treat” and then turned and angrily commanded “say something” and smacked the head off into the shrubs next to the front steps. We ran off thinking we had pulled off a spectacular stunt.

I remember going to a radio-station sponsored haunted house in elementary school and not being scared, because I knew that Camp Fire Girls wouldn’t take you someplace you could get hurt. It was my sophomore year in high school that the movie Halloween came out and some of the classmates I went with were so frightened by it that I walked them to their doors that night. Over the years while working with college students I attended Poe readings at the James J. Hill House, took “Haunted bus tours” and attended various haunted houses and barns. I love not so much the “scariness” associated with the holiday but rather the playfulness and childlike fun that it conjures. Perhaps my love for it comes from my brother Bob who let me do his makeup the year he was Alice Cooper. During college he went as Pete Townsend from The Who and even bought a used guitar to smash. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of “Rambob” a prize-winning likeness of Sly Stalone. It’s a holiday where adults can be kids and kids can be whatever they want!

Freshman year in college I was Winnie the Pooh, no there is no “slutty Pooh Bear” costume, it was a gold hoodie sweatshirt with pony tail holders making the ears out of the hood fabric, gold sweatpants and an inside out red T-shirt with “Pooh” in white paint on it. The next year I went as an electrician (my father’s trade) with a pillow in my shirt for a beer belly, a tool belt, hard hat and work boots. I wore Brut aftershave and used an old mascara wand to make a uni-brow and give myself a 5 o’clock shadow. Again, I had missed the memo on slutty costumes. The next year I attended a party wearing tag board camouflaged with markers and covered in leaves, a few additional leaves clipped in my hair. I wore a “Hello My Name is____” adhesive name tag with “George” penned in. Clearly I was George Bush, it was the Reagan years and my political costume was too cerebral for most. Yes, many of the party goers had no idea who our vice president was.

Halloween '87

After college I remember a friend showing up in the college town where I worked, Halloween again fell on a weekend. Twins were in the World Series and my friend (despite being a Wisconsin native) wore my Twins sweatshirt and loads of my grandmother’s sparkly costume jewelry. She was a “Twins Wife”. I wore a ton of makeup, and a black coat dress and carried a basket. When people asked who or what I was, I squirted them with perfume and told them I worked in fragrances at the mall. Horrible costumes but a fun night! My friend went on to have some fabulous Halloween parties of her own! Early in my marriage, arriving from out of town with no costumes my husband ended up wearing my Martha Washington night-cap (that my eldest brother had brought home from his sophomore DC trip) some furry slippers of my mothers and a woman’s house coat. I can still picture his hairy calves walking beneath the glow of the street lights, almost a masculine version of Carol Burnett with the mop. Another year he went with a child’s Bart Simpson costume (one of those one piece step-in type with a tie at the back) attached over coordinating shirt and shorts and a smashed Bart mask worn cock-eyed, so as not to obstruct his actual vision or prevent him from having a beverage. He carried a plastic pumpkin to collect treats in. I kept explaining to people that he was “big for his age”.  Our first Halloween party with Betsy she was 13 months old and a Red Crayon, Jeff went as a Shriner in a meticulously made miniature car that he wore with suspenders over his white shirt and black bow tie. My grandfather’s fez completed the costume and he “motored” about like the Shriners do in parades in their mini cars. It was perfection and sadly I have no photographs of it, just good memories.

Halloween Wizard of Oz

Letting the kids pick what they wanted to be was fun, sometimes costumes were purchased (Harry Potter, a magician, a ninja) but more often than not either Jeff or I made them. Eddie’s first Halloween, he was the Tin Man, while Betsy was Scarecrow to their cousin’s Cowardly Lion and Dorothy. During our years living near campus, the kids typically trick-or-treated among the college students on the 30th. During our years in St. Paul the streets were full of packs of kids, inspiring Eddie to give away the candy he’d received one year when our supply ran out. At our house in Bloomington, we receive few kids because of our street being only an unlit single block. We had three houses in a row of kids who with additional friends went out together, the tradition being to start at former Twin’s player Kent Hrbek’s house, where in addition to Kent being in costume at his fire pit, distributing full-sized candy bars, autographed baseball cards also found their way into treat bags. Eddie got an extra treat one year when Kent asked him to sing when he was dressed as Alfalfa from Our Gang.

When Eddie got invited to a high school party with Betsy while still in middle school we whipped together a Kevin Federline costume quickly, adhering a huge rhinestone to his ear with Super-glue (which seemed like a good idea at the time) he carried a “Bitty Baby” around and referred to it as Jaden James all night. My favorite costume ever for the kids was the year they went as King Arthur and Patsy from Spamalot. It was a family effort and perhaps the last time they trick-or-treated together with a whole band of neighborhood kids, followed by swapping treats in our basement.

Spamalot

Spamalot

The kids eventually went off to college and Betsy spent the final three years there outfitting her room to look like Hogwarts and distributing candy to community kids with her roommate, dressed in the robes of their respective houses. So far this year Instagram tells me that Eddie has been costumed as both a kitty and a puppy. Betsy is back at home this fall and just carved a pumpkin tonight. I look forward to the kids who will stop by on Saturday night and am hopeful that the weather cooperates.

Pumpkin '15

Best wishes for a safe and happy Halloween and may none of your treats contain coconut!

Standard
Uncategorized

Commence: What Did I Begin at High School Graduation?

As I recall, it was a beautiful late spring day. There was a breeze blowing across the football field as my classmates and I walked the couple of blocks down the hill from Southwest High School. Folding chairs and a podium awaited us on the field and the home team bleachers were filled with our families, friends and members of the community.

As class president, I was to give the commencement speech. I had typed it on an ancient manual typewriter the night before, not on ordinary note cards but on 4 x 6 cards I had cut from a Jerry Lewis telethon poster I had left over from a girls organization I was a member of. My best friend and I had taken one last trip to Zantigo’s across from the mall late that afternoon. I returned home about 5:00 and asked my mother where my gown was. She had wanted it to look nice and had taken it to be pressed at the dry cleaners (her own ironing skills had resulted in my brothers and I outgrowing most of our clothing while they lingered with good intentions in a large wicker “ironing basket”). My brother who had graduated from college a few weeks earlier dashed down to the Pilgrim Cleaners in the Linden Hills business district where he banged on the already locked door and persuaded the remaining employee that he really needed his sister’s graduation robe.

Most girls wore a dress, sun-tan colored hosiery and white dress shoes under the purple gown. I wore lavender pantyhose, my purple shoes from prom, my brother’s Minneapolis Public School’s boys gym shorts that had been patched on the butt with boldly patterned fabric from a girl’s bikini. The ensemble was topped off with a T-shirt that had come in the mail after submitting postage and proof of purchase. It was pink and proclaimed “I’m Baby Soft”. It was 1981 and apparently that is what a leader looked like.

One might suspect that giving a speech would make one nervous but after a year of leading “Senior Home Rooms” on Wednesdays each week and a couple of years emceeing “Pep-Fests” that did not intimidate me at all. The anxiety-inducing portion of the evening was the reading of the graduates names, a task shared with my vice president. We announced them and they received their diploma cover (no diplomas until your gown is turned in and all text books and athletic equipment has been accounted for) and a handshake from the principal and other folks from the district.

You may wonder why reciting the names of the people you had gone to school with for years would be so taxing, so I’ll explain. A very large portion of my class was comprised of kids I had not gone to school with my whole life. They did not live in our corner of Minneapolis, they had been arriving by bus for the previous couple of years. Southwest had been selected a couple of years earlier to house the English as a Second Language (ESL) program for the city. In an unfortunate oversight, in what I am convinced would not happen today, there was very little explanation of who these people were, why they were here and most importantly what they had been through. Most were Hmong and Laotian and some were from Iran. Though they attended our school and we all ate in the same lunchroom, for the most part we were not classmates at all. It was years before I fully grasped the horrific circumstances many of these students had experienced before ever arriving in Minneapolis. When organizing class reunions I have been asked why none of our Vietnamese classmates attend. Though I mailed invites to the five and ten year gatherings to the addresses they lived at senior year I have never got any responses. I assume that high school memories for them are not a scrap-book filled with school activities and old dance photo’s but more of learning English and being thrust into a large and not terribly friendly building across town from where they lived. It was not until commencement rehearsal that I learned that Nguyen was pronounced more like “Win” than “Nugent”.

In looking back I wonder what any 17 year old who was born and raised in Minneapolis could possibly convey to the kid who grew up across the ocean or for that matter across the street. I talked about parents taking us to kindergarten in the fall of 1968 and I recited from Desiderata an encouragement to “Go placidly amid the noise and haste…” and I left them with the wisdom that I just heard again in a speech last week about ships being safe in harbor but that not being what ships are made for. As I write this, I realize that with both of my parents gone, I may be the only one that has retained any recollection of the content of my commencement address.

So to answer my question of what did I commence at commencement, I say that leaving the security of the familiar is when one really begins to learn. So there was a lot that I learned entering Lake Harriet elementary in 1968 when I left the security of my home to begin  formal education and that the most valuable of my learning has taken place beyond the familiarity of Southwest High School. I truly did not have much life experience or wisdom to share with my classmates in June of 1981. Would a wise person really lecture “Boat People” on where ships are safe?

Standard
Uncategorized

Why Boys High School Hockey is “My Sport”

Brad Shelstad (Goalie) with coach Peterson

Brad Shelstad (Goalie) with coach Peterson

Here I sit on the second Sunday of March. Clocks have “sprung” forward and another Minnesota State High School League Boys State High School Hockey Tournament is in the record books. There are the victors and there are those who lost, some whose favorite memory of the season may ultimately be a glorious upset in section finals that allowed them to be embarrassed in a larger venue like the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Any shame or embarrassment will fade, like the red rings around their eyes that match the ribbons holding the second place medals around their necks. As they age there will come a time when the thrill of the trip will mean more than the scores. It’s athleticism at its purest form, performance for the sake of competition not a pay check. Often it is with a group of kids they have grown up on ice with and I love it for that and many other reasons.

My grandfather and his brothers played hockey but in the era prior to the storied tournament. They were West High guys out of Minneapolis and legend has it the “Rose boys were scrappers” (there were seven of them). My father remembered the end of my grandfathers playing days, long after high school and as a father with two boys of his own, he arrived home fairly banged up sometime in the late 1930’s and it was grandma who made the pronouncement that his hockey career had ended. He still flooded the yard on Girard Avenue to create a rink for his own boys and the neighbor kids to skate on. Though my dad and uncle grew up skating neither of them participated in any formalized hockey and I’m not sure if that was based on personal choice or by design of my grandma.

My brothers were regular rink rats at Linden Hills park, occasionally Pershing or as interlopers at Weber park in Edina. My one brother played organized hockey up to a certain level and then traded in his breezers for a telephoto lens where he captured his classmates on ice. There was a time when the televised hockey tournament had profiles of each high school and community they represented and my brother produced the one that aired when he was a senior. Both of my brothers got in some quality bar league play in college.

So other than growing up in Minnesota during the North Stars era and skating in parks and on lakes like most of my peers you might wonder why I have such a devotion to Boys High School Hockey. For me it is more fun than the Super Bowl or the World Series, I like it better than any college athletics and it is simply without compare to any youth sporting event. It’s in my blood and as much as I have great memories of attending tournament games while in high school I have an affinity for watching it on TV. This year marked the 25th tournament I have watched with my husband. He was an early member of his schools hockey program and has great memories of coming to watch the tournament in St. Paul during the first few years at the St. Paul Civic Center.

For me it began the winter of 1970. I was a six year-old first grader. The Southwest Indians had made it to the State tourney. During the era of living within walking distance of your High School this meant that most of the kids at Lake Harriet elementary school knew somebody on the team; siblings, friends siblings, cousins or neighbors. We wore purple as if the outcome of the games depended on it!

I’m unclear if this is how other schools handle tournament play or if it was unique to ours but instead of having class we sat in the hallway with our classmates (who had not been pulled from school that day to attend) and watched hockey on the large (by standards of the day) TV that perched atop a rolling cart. We ate popcorn out of grease spotted brown paper lunch sacks that we naively believed were “nickel bags” because of the fee the PTA charged for them. A TV at both ends of the hallway on the first and second floor. Most of the teachers had taught players and despite being in the middle of a city it was my first glimpse at what it must be like for the small towns that earn their way to the tourney.

The final game against Edina, a wealthy neighboring suburb in walking distance from Southwest High School was a Saturday night game. Southwest won the game in sudden death overtime 1-0 bringing to an end Edina’s 25 game winning streak. It was late but I was able to stay up for it. South Minneapolis was euphoric! Coach Peterson would go on to coach two Olympic teams but I like to think that as with many players who went on to college and even professional careers on the ice that the high school hockey tournament victory was a pinnacle event. In an ironic twist the goalie who shutout Edina did not make the “all tournament team”.

Ten years later, as a high school junior the Indians were fourth in the state. It’s probably best that we didn’t know then that the Indians would become the Lakers, that the tournament would become two tiered (which after over twenty years I have come to accept and actually enjoy seeing more play) or that eventually no Minneapolis public school would field their own team.

All these years have passed but I am still thrilled by the introductions; the ones who acknowledge a parent or grandparents when they skate out, the ones that wink, the others who look too nervous to enjoy the moment. There are a lot fewer cheerleaders lining the staircases during the games, a nod to the fact that there are a lot more options for high school girls than simply cheering for the boys. Many of the girls play hockey now and their tournament is televised as well.

Though neither my son or daughter have played hockey they have been raised with the tradition of watching the tournament. They know that every March they can find their dad and I yelling at the TV set. They know that I have grown soft and despite the glorious shutout of 1970 I am happiest when the game is close and doesn’t end with a zero on the scoreboard.

I love an upset, I truly enjoy an underdog victory but the reality is that even if a school has sent a team many times I know that these are kids and it is as important and exciting to them as it was for the first team their school ever sent. Edina won the tournament this year, as they did last year and many other seasons. Next year will mark the 45th anniversary of that 1970 Southwest victory. Those players are now in their early sixties. The victories are monumental, the losses seem devastating and bragging rights last for a lifetime. The legacy, tradition, teamwork and fan enthusiasm are truly unparalleled. I love the hockey tournament because it reminds me each year how to be a kid again.

Standard
Uncategorized

Valentine Reflections

Four months before our first Valentines Day.

Four months before our first Valentines Day.

My husband and I are not the sort of couple that have a lot of complicated rules about “our relationship”. Seldom are there occasions that “we need to talk”. Part of it is that we are both incredibly immature for our ages and that sort of activity might seem too grown up for our liking. One rule that I do have that he has committed to memory is “no flowers on Valentines day”. Don’t get me wrong, I love flowers! I just think that flowers any other day of the year are both more economical and thoughtful. The first Valentines Day after we met he was living in Mankato Minnesota and I was residing in the college town of Menomonie Wisconsin. He called me that evening when we were both done with work and after asking how each others days were and the typical small talk he sheepishly asked “so did anything arrive today?” and my answer was “No”. He had ordered flowers for me well in advance but for whatever reason they were not delivered to me and he felt horrible about it. I appreciated the gesture and I thought the flowers were lovely when they arrived the next day but I never wanted him to stress like that again on my behalf.

I’m awkward. In high school when I was home with mono over Valentine’s Day a really nice guy stopped by to see how I was doing, as he left he gave me what obviously was a Valentine and I said thanks and tossed it on the couch as I walked him toward the door. This was not some elementary school Valentine that came 30 to a box, this was a serious Hallmark card that the poor guy had selected specifically for me. It was simply too much for me to handle. I felt ambushed and though I’m sure he wasn’t expecting me to have a reciprocal card for him that was all I was familiar with to this stage. I’m not certain that I ever even acknowledged the card beyond my nonchalant toss of it. All these years later I still feel guilty for his effort and my dopey adolescent reaction.

Elementary school, that is where Valentines Day reigned supreme! There was the crafting of your mail box that was the receptacle for receipt of you Valentines, which it was mandatory for each of your classmates to give you. Paper doilies and festive construction paper (cut in heart shapes) applied with that minty scented school paste made for a beautiful creation. Lake Harriet Elementary had what was a somewhat unique tradition, an Indoor Picnic. During that era in the Minneapolis Public Schools kids went home for lunch. The majority of moms were not working outside the home and after clearing the breakfast dishes and doing some laundry  they prepared lunch for their children to come home to. I lived a half a block from school and had a 90 minute lunch period, as some of my classmates had nearly a mile to walk to their homes near Lake Calhoun. Indoor Picnics took place on Halloween, before Christmas break (yep, that’s we called it then) and Valentines Day. The day consisted of making a place mat for your desk that was suitably festive for the holiday being honored. The hallways of the school were soon fragrant with the scent of boiling hot dogs from the basement kitchen. It was a PTA fundraiser and all of the important moms were there assembling the lunches they charged a quarter for. There was the hot dog in a doughy bun that had been wrapped in a paper napkin, a bag of potato chips, a large bakery cookie and a milk or an orange drink. It was an incredibly exciting event as the class lined up to wash their hands and a PTA mom distributed the fine cuisine in their individual brown bags. It took about 10 minutes to eat those lunches, everyone was sort of in a hurry to get to the Valentine distribution. Depending on the weather we were typically required to bundle up and take a recess at this point. In retrospect, I think this was a time when the nonsmoking teachers supervised the playground while the smokers headed to the staff lounge and discussed if it might be better to just make a contribution to the PTA and have them eliminate these Indoor Picnics.

After recess was when the real fun began, the distribution “in a calm and orderly fashion” (sure, I’m in first grade and I just had lunch at school and am about to get Valentines) of the Valentine cards and any additional treats. It was just too much, boxes of chalky conversation hearts, mini boxes of Red Hots, an entire roll of cherry Lifesavers! After all of the deliveries were completed then it was time to open them and (depending on the penmanship) see who they were from. There were duplicates, homemade ones, the ones that were from the same variety pack as yours that came from Kennesaw Drugs (that you could almost see on the next block from your classroom window).

You would think that would be about all a kid could handle but then we got to head down to the gymnasium to sit on the tiled floor and watch a movie. I probably saw The Red Balloon a dozen times in that gym. For the Christmas Indoor Picnic it was an ancient black and white Twelve Days of Christmas that had music instead of audio. A silent movie that was probably about the same age as the school. Then we returned to our classroom and packed up whatever project we had created as a gift for our parents to commemorate the holiday. No math, no reading, just art and eating and still the graduation rates were higher then.

As an adult I know that a lot of people celebrate Valentines Day because of me. I have introduced several couples who have walked down the aisle and some of them have produced children of their own who participate in whatever today’s version of Valentine’s Day in school is. I am a cupid and think that for many people going through life with a companion is better than going it alone but when it comes to Valentines Day it is the small gestures and surprises that I appreciate most. Of all the days in the year it is the one that should have the least pressure but somehow creates the most.

Go easy on yourself and whether you spend this year watching the Olympics alone with a frozen pizza or get down on one knee to ask someone to spend every future Valentines Day with you, know that it is the other 364 days of the year that truly define you and not this one. I wonder how Jeff would feel if I suggested chips and boiled hotdogs for dinner tomorrow?

Standard