childhood, Uncategorized

The Letters

Recently I came upon some letters while looking for the right sized box to mail a package to my son at college in. The letters were not written to me, most of them were addressed to my mother. Quite a few of them were “Aerogrammes” received from Ireland in the early ’70s after my grandparents had suddenly passed away within hours of each other. There are also some from South Africa where her cousin has lived for most of his life. I must have tucked it in the basement cabinet after my mother died, with the intention of looking at them “some day”. My mother passed when my eldest was in her first week of middle-school and my senior in college was still an elementary student. “Some day” ended up being last week.

The box not only contained letters to my mother from friends, there was a copy of my father’s autopsy and a thank you letter regarding him being an organ and tissue donor. There was a letter on camp Ihduhapi letterhead postmarked from the summer of ’43 that my father had written to his parents. A letter that pretty much was a template for “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh. Here I am at Camp Granada.”  a song that was not released until twenty years later. There was a very formal letter from my grandfather, clearly in grief over the death of his own father that thanked my mother for her kind words to him in a previous letter. There was also a telegram telling her that her grandmother had passed and instructing her to share the news with family. I discovered a war bond book with carefully placed stamps from my mother’s youth.

The biggest gem in the box was physically the smallest. A tiny leather bound journal, a calendar from 1924, with space for a couple of lines to be recorded each day. A Belfast Ireland address is in the front cover, and also a Minneapolis address. I passed the treasure along to my daughter, who intends to write out the contents of it. It appears to chronicle the year my Grandfather immigrated, with details of dancing and “police raids” and a notation that reads “lost this book for a while – Found on road”. My grandfather lived in over thirty homes in his less than 70-year lifespan. How this small book survived the multiple moves around the US and back and forth across the ocean is somewhat miraculous.

Taking the time to look at these items caused me to do some reflection. How will a great grand-child “know” their deceased family members from this era some day, down the road? So little it actually recorded in a manner that will be preserved. Social media has taken on the role of a journal to document the highlights of life and Tweets, posts, text messages and rare emails are the efficient method of sharing our thoughts with others.

I feel like there is something different and introspective that occurs when a person takes the time to write a letter or compose a journal entry. There is a sense of permanence and thoughtfulness that is used when choosing the words or attempting to convey a sentiment. A person is required to stop, think and actually feel the emotions that a situation, event or person evokes in them. Without that catalyst, are people unintentionally less thoughtful as the result of those muscles not being flexed?

In my garage is a box that contains correspondence from friends and letters written on graph paper by my brother, that closed with stick figure drawings and “fill in the blank” lines for me to solve with a phrase reminiscent of our childhood. There are also letters from my husband chronicling our seven-month courtship. Reading them takes me back to that time where it seemed positively illogical that we get married but also captured the struggle it was for us to be apart. Receiving mail once meant more than bills and advertisements and the occasional greeting card.

I’m thankful for this box of insights from the past and I also appreciate that my children learned to read and write cursive. If the letters I have written and received last another generation or two, I wonder if they will simply look like scraps of paper with scribbles on them or if anyone will be able to decipher the messages we had taken the time to share.

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My Roots Lead Back to November Fifth

Taking off his work boots at the end of the day

My Dad taking off his work boots at the end of the day

If you look at some calendars on November 5th you will see the notation “Guy Fawkes Day” what you won’t see is “Charles A. Roses’ Birthday”. If it falls on a Tuesday (after the first Monday) the calendar may read “Election Day”. For most the date doesn’t mean much at all. Were it not for one of these November 5th events, you would be reading something else right now, I simply wouldn’t exist. This November 5th is my father’s 85th birthday, though he’s been gone over half of my life (https://nerpribyl.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/dad-gone-a-quarter-century) I feel compelled to do what I do on a regular basis, tell some stories about my dad. One might think that I would eventually run out of tales about my father after so much time has passed but I imagine that if I live to be eighty-five myself I will still be able to gather recollections from the recesses of my mind that highlight his humor, brilliance, general cleverness, patriotism  and huge heart. It wouldn’t take long either to come up with some epic examples of his stubbornness. chuck-rose

Chuck with his older brother Dick

Chuck with his older brother Dick

Growing up I sat to the right of my father at the kitchen table, during holidays in the dining room I was seated immediately to his left. It was during dinner, often while he cut my meat when I was little, that I would stare at his hands. My father’s fingers were twice as wide as my own adult fingers and his nails were large squares. The back of his hand had a fair amount of dark hair and occasionally I would ask him about the scar on the back of his one hand, a white crescent that was visible through the hair. Even though I knew the story, I liked to hear it because it reminded me that he was once a kid. The scar came from when he was in the garage as a child and the latch on the exterior of the doors fell into place, locking him in. After yelling for help and assuming he could not be heard he wound up and punched the glass out of one of the windows. This resulted in somebody hearing him and a permanent scar on the back of his hand. Every time I heard the story I felt sad for the scared little boy, admired his bravery and sort of wondered if maybe his brother hadn’t played a role in the situation.

My father was a bit of a prodigy on the piano as a child and though he didn’t play often while I was growing up it was delightful when he stood at the piano and banged out a jazz piece. My husband recalls him at the wedding where we met stepping over to a piano and hammering out a tune. It was like riding a bicycle for him, it just flowed naturally and never left him. His mother’s cousin who was born just a few years before my father and graduated high school with his brother shared with me recently that her family would occasionally be awoken in the morning to my father playing a tune. Sometimes upon completion of his paper route he would let himself in (in an era when people in Minneapolis didn’t lock their doors at night) and offer up an early morning recital. He was also a gifted drummer who would occasionally intentionally break a drum head during band in high school. “Why?” you might ask. The band director would then offer up the keys to his car and allow him and a classmate to drive to a music store to pick up a new one. I was sad when the Uptown Bar closed, as it was just down the street on Hennepin Avenue from where my parents (and grandparents) attended school at West High. The proximity meant that my father would stop in after school sometimes and play warm-ups with the jazz musicians that were passing through town in the 1940’s. It was there or The Rainbow that we would go together for a beer after meeting in Uptown for a haircut while I was in college.

On trip with parents before Korea

He instilled an appreciation of music in all of his children, even when our tastes did not always align. Music played most evenings while we ate dinner and when my brother Bob was a senior in high school, that meant his favorite Rod Stewart Album nearly every night. While other homes had stereo, we had Quadraphonics. We listened to 45’s, LPs and old 78 rpm records. When a favored orchestra performance was broadcast live on  a local radio station he would often record it on his reel to reel and replay it later. With no air-conditioning in the the house and his music playing loudly in the summertime there would be the occasional quizzical look of a passerby who overheard the station break from months earlier predicting below zero temps or several inches of snow. When the Minnesota Orchestra opened a new concert venue in the early 1970’s he purchased a pair of season tickets to Orchestra Hall and I loved the nights I got to dress up and attend with him and then go out after the show for a late dinner. It was pretty heady stuff for an elementary student on a school night. He not only enjoyed listening to music, he loved to dance to it and since my mother didn’t much enjoy dancing I relished in the opportunity to join him, whether in a ballroom or neighbor’s living room. The only real luxury item I ever recall my father purchasing for himself was a pair of red patent leather shoes with a red suede accent, they were beautiful.

At the cabin 1959

At the cabin 1959

Other than his time in the Army during the Korean War (he didn’t talk about it much but enough to let me know not to refer to it as a “conflict”) and a stint in Milwaukee while he went to engineering school, worked at a camera store and started his family, the major portion of his life was spent in Minneapolis. His ancestors were among the early tradesman that built Minneapolis and as a foreman of the electricians on the IDS building (downtown) he himself participated in the changing skyline of the city he called home. His sons had memberships at the YMCA he had gone to as a kid. He took pleasure in his children enjoying the lakes he’d sailed in his youth and the independence he had experienced via streetcar was accessible to us via bus. While certainly Minneapolis has changed much since my father’s youth, it was not an entirely innocent place. He had gangsters for neighbors and once witnessed a shootout on the way to the store for his mother, a tale that got him in trouble for lying until she read about it in the Minneapolis Star the next day. News traveled differently in those days and during WWII much of it came from the newsreels shown prior to movies at the local theater or via the radio. He typically attended the movies each Saturday and as a flexible gymnast found humor in tumbling down the stairs from the balcony. He had a lot of freedom as a kid, taking the streetcar all the way out to lake Minnetonka to visit his grandmother and he also had a lot of responsibility, including going to some of his grandmother’s rental properties to stoke the buildings furnace on his way to school in the morning.

Dad sailing as a kid

Dad sailing as a kid

My father was what years later would be described as an “early adopter”, he was the first one in his family to purchase a TV set, a new invention that he was enthralled with. During my growing up years he paid little attention to the situation comedies or dramas that filled the airwaves but opted to watch when National Geographic or Jacques Cousteau had a “special” which is a somewhat colloquial term for not “regularly scheduled programming”. On the occasions later in life when he was home recovering after a hospitalization he would tease my mother regarding her soap operas. “Is that the same phone conversation she was having after my surgery three years ago?” he would inquire. We were the first people I knew that owned  a calculator, a Texas Instruments gadget that was an inch thick and I would later describe to my own children as an invention that could “add, subtract, multiply AND divide!”. It was a $100.00 investment in a new technology. We likely owned the first microwave on the block as well. It was a huge heavy model that simply had a single knob for the timer. He loved inventions, studied how things worked and were he to have had better health and a longer life would likely have his name on a number of patents that he was working on.

Christmas breakfast

Christmas breakfast a Rose family tradition

My father did not like to feel taken advantage of and many of my favorite stories are of times he stood his ground. It’s a quality of his that I am often reminded of when dealing with issues of fairness. I never feel alone when I stand my ground, it often feels like he is right there with me backing me up or chuckling at my determination. A favorite example of this was after a purchase of a refrigerator from Sears. It was delivered to our house on Pleasant Avenue while he was at work and my mother was home. He arrived home to realize that the refrigerator was a lesser model than the one he had ordered and paid for. He called Sears to explain their error and wanted the situation rectified. When they told him it would be a couple of days, that simply was not good enough for him. He asked “Well how long will it keep the food fresh without electricity?” They told him not to unplug it. He claimed he did not have enough extension cords to keep it plugged in, as he had moved it to the back alley for convenient pick-up. Sears had the correct model to our home that evening, at which time my father unplugged the refrigerator and removed the perishable items. He could justify his white lie by having been lied to first. They shouldn’t have told him they could not get the refrigerator to him that night when quite obviously they could and ultimately did.

Playing charades at a Job Daughters event (Electrician)

Playing charades at a Job’s Daughters event (Electrician)

I am fortunate to have friends from my youth who will occasionally mention to my kids that their grandfather was a really nice guy. Typically they’ll say how funny he was but often they reflect on how kind he was and that unlike many of their friends parents he actually took interest in them. My oldest brother remembers him as strict, acknowledging that with me he was considerably more lenient. He had high expectations and he was not a man I wanted to disappoint. He was generous with his time and knowledge and showed a lot of compassion. I remember when our neighbor with young kids got laid off work that I babysat, so my parents could take them to dinner. I recall that when my cousin arrived from New Orleans with a paper sack of possessions and pregnant that my father took her in. After his own father died, his stepmother became someone else he watched over, much like he’d done with his favorite aunt years earlier. Smart, good, kind, funny and compassionate, tempered with stubborn and of strong opinion isn’t a bad legacy to leave.

rose-family-1963

Rose Family 1963

My father never really had any birthday wishes that he shared with us and typically would tell us that he had everything he needed. He did however like to tease that his birthday was a big event. If he saw a delivery truck anytime after mid-October he would suggest “we should get home, November 5th is right around the corner and they may need a signature for delivery.” Living in the flight pattern of the MSP airport he would often look up in the fall and claim “If it’s something big, they may be airlifting it in.” He would joke about November 5th when we passed the Cadillac dealership as well. When I was little I remembered my mother’s birthday was in the month of March but “November fifth” was etched in my memory as my father’s birth date from a very young age. It’s a day I will always fondly celebrate. If you knew Chuck or simply resonate with a father who packed a lot of wisdom and some excellent parenting into a truncated life, I encourage you to raise a glass on Saturday and toast to him as well!

My parents with their best friends Jan & Bill Newland

My parents with their best friends Jan & Bill Newland

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The Heart(s) of a Mother and Other Trinkets

Mom Locket

The picture of a heart shaped charm that says “Mom” on it is not simply some random online photo I Googled. That’s a locket, one my children lovingly selected for me, for Mother’s Day in the late ’90s. I dug for it in a jewelry box, as I don’t wear it anymore. It is one of many heart shaped treasures that my husband allowed my children to select for me as gifts. As the worn edges indicate, I did wear the locket for many years, the children proudly noticed each time I wore a gift from them. This particular one made things pretty clear. In the same way an engagement ring shows you are betrothed, there is no mistaking who a piece of the owner’s heart belongs to when “Mom” is clearly displayed in her cleavage.

Locket Kids

Lockets are a special form of jewelry. Not that the heart shaped necklace with the gemstone flower wasn’t lovely, it’s just there was no place to carry pictures of my daughter and son in it. I often wore my Grandmother’s childhood locket when I was a little girl. Her locket it not heart shaped, it’s round and gold with her childhood monogram on it in a fine cursive script. Though it was only intended to hold two pictures (her parents) at some point she had removed the isinglass to insert a picture of my grandfather over the picture of her own father.  On the left hand side of the locket was my Great Grandmother whose stern countenance was reminiscent of Margaret Hamilton in her role as Almira Gulch in the Wizard of Oz. If that character name doesn’t ring a bell, she is the neighbor lady on the bicycle who takes Toto and becomes the Wicked Witch of the West when Dorothy gets to Munchkin Land. I didn’t want to suggest my Great Grandma resembled the witch, as the black and white photo definitely bore greater resemblance to the character in Kansas. My Grandpa’s picture is quite worn, as I removed it frequently to look at the real treasure in the locket. My Great Grandfather, Ace Porter Abell was a distinguished looking gentleman. I chose his moniker as my son’s middle name.

Locket Neona   Locket Ace

I assume my grandmother’s childhood locket was likely a birthday gift, probably dating to about 90 years before my heart shaped locket was gifted to me. My grandma was named Neona, she died of breast cancer two and a half years before I was born. She was only 58. I have her locket, her cocktail ring and paintings done by her mother Nida. I share her first initial and her love of the color purple. It makes me wonder where my own locket will end up someday.

I have only one of my own Mom’s Mother’s Day gifts. Typically on Mother’s Day my father would take me over to the local flower nursery (Sunny Side Gardens, which is still located near 44th and France, the neighboring Taystee Treet of my youth is not) to painstakingly select annuals. I would choose Pansies, Petunias and Marigolds for the large pot near the front steps of our house. I feel like the large pot had come with the house and that perhaps there had been one for each side of the steps at some point. I imagine it may have been terracotta underneath the many layers of green paint. It may have been the paint job that allowed the pot to stay intact through the below zero temperatures of our harsh Minnesota winters. Red was my mother’s favorite color, so often a Geranium was in the center of the pot. I’m fond of Geraniums only for sentimental reasons and have never purchased one for my own home. I find their stems have sort of an awkward and unattractive arthritic bend to them. I also don’t buy Marigolds, as I can’t stand their scent. I planted them as a labor of love, knowing my Mom would appreciate them. Despite being gone for at least an hour and spending another hour creating the potted arrangement, it seems my mother never noticed our clandestine activities. Every year, after we summoned her to come out front, she would walk across the porch and spot my handiwork. She was surprised every time!

My mother didn’t have a jewelry box of treasures from Mother’s Days gone by, she had memories of a little girl who desperately needed a bath, with dirt embedded under her fingernails and a huge smile over having pulled it off. There was the one exception, the year she got her “Mother’s ring”. There was an era where rings with the birthstones of ones children was a staple, like Pandora bracelets seem to be now. I remember being at the jewelry counter at Montgomery Wards. No that is not a typo. The real question should be what order had Sears screwed up so badly that year that we were not patronizing their “fine jewelry” counter? I remember the various sample rings that she tried on before deciding on a delicate setting with openwork. I watched how the employee completed the official looking paperwork; size, setting, stones, order of stones. It was in triplicate at least. My eldest brother’s September birthday dictated the sapphire stone, my other brother’s March arrival was acknowledged with a pale aquamarine and my July birthday contributed the ruby. I remember the debate over whether the stones should be placed in birth order or arranged by what was most aesthetically pleasing. We were represented on the ring in the order that we spent our life in the back of the station wagon. I, as the youngest was always in the center where it was easiest for my brothers to extend their arms to save my life if there was a sudden stop. It took several weeks for the ring to be made to specifications. I remember the night we went to Montgomery Wards to pick it up. The ring box was opened and there gleaming before us was an entirely different setting than my mother had chosen. Not delicate, no open work. After much rustling of paper (the copy my parents had been given, the one the store retained and the one that accompanied the completed order) the flustered employee confirmed that other than the correct birth stones, the ring was in fact the wrong one. It was however a more expensive setting and Wards was willing to let my mother take it home without paying more for it. The pendulum took a mighty swing for the Rose family back to being Sears customers.

My mother went home with the ring that day. She wore it both proudly and sporadically throughout the rest of her life. She would have worn it everyday, were it not for the fact that she would get a rash under it when worn too long, something that a bit of openwork might have prevented.

Mothers Ring

I wear this ring now on occasion. The sapphire is my daughter’s birthstone, the aquamarine is my sons. Their stones rest nicely on each side of my ruby.

 

I am posting my Mother’s Day Blog a little early. I’m putting in some hours at a local garden center and look forward to selling kids flowers to “surprise” their mothers with. I’ll be working alongside my adult daughter.

 

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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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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!

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Thirty Shades of Blog – A GRAND FINALE (the musical) – Day 30 in a Month of Writing

Topless

“In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife…” (Read more: RENT – Seasons Of Love Lyrics | MetroLyrics )

In the summer of 1997 I had what might be the best weekend of professional live theater that I may ever experience. I took my four-year-old daughter to see The Lion King, which debuted in Minneapolis before opening on Broadway. She and I were both mesmerized. Regardless of the number of times I see it, it still makes the hairs on my arms stand up. The following day my sister in-law surprised me and took me to see the show Rent with tickets from my husband. The shows were so different from each other but both were such excellent productions. The Lion King will always rank among my favorites, perhaps because it was Betsy’s first real Disney video and she still has the Simba and Nala that her brand new baby brother had given her at the hospital the day he was born. My son Eddie is likely the only young man whose love of shopping makes it convincing that he came into the world having already been to a mall.

The song Seasons of Love talks about the ways a person measures time. For me, the month of September has been measured in; blog postings, titles, edits, spelling errors and graphic selections. Thirty days of trying to think of a new topic to not only engage me in the act of writing but to hopefully engage others in the act of reading. Making the commitment to write daily came about via a simple posting and I believe most of the other authors who committed to the challenge intended to use it as a way to make progress on a single novel, to use it as a way to discipline their art. I simply am not the sort to be refined enough for that. If you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, it seems logical not to judge a blog by the picture attached or the hastily chosen title. Though I have to admit to experimenting with both to try to draw readers. I had considered giving this posting the title “The Contents of My Underwear Drawer a Month of Revealing Personal Things” but could not think of an appropriate picture to go with it. I opted instead for the gratuitous topless photo of me, hoping it might go viral.

Though the exercise took a month, the effort really took me a lifetime. I’ve lived over half a century, it should not be a challenge for me to write for thirty days, yet at times it was. Each day there was the act of choosing what I wanted to commit to exploring. As of this writing, the most read of my works came on the second day of the month when I wrote about my oldest brother on his birthday. I didn’t want to get stuck in a rut, at one point I felt a bit like Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote, it just seems that I know a lot of dead people. I am pleased to have had people from four countries read one or more of my posts. I have had 227 unique visitors to my blog, resulting in 385 actual views of my material or slightly more than 350 views if you deduct my friend Kristi, who I believe has been the most loyal (and encouraging) of my followers.

I appreciate the kind words left about my writing by friends, family and strangers. I have shared family history, views on various topics, political opinions, parenting observations and anecdotes about where I grew up, about my friends and recounting events of my childhood. I’ve offered a glimpse at how my mind works and my unusual capacity to store details of trivial events. It has been an unusual experience to share so much personal information in such a brief time. Much like my annual long-winded Christmas letter I did it less to entertain and more to capture the essence of a period of time and preserve it for my children and others who may take interest in my musings at a time where I am perhaps no longer able to share it.

I believe it is a habit for me now and though it may not be a daily obligation, I think I will continue to write more consistently and welcome ideas for topics. For those of you with a gift or a passion, I encourage you to do something for thirty consecutive days; draw, paint, take photographs, get out an instrument you have been neglecting and play it, dance, walk or initiate a call to a friend you have not spoken to. Imagine what a month you could have rekindling relationships with thirty people. Maybe send thirty letters or simply a greeting card daily for a month. Whatever challenge you give yourself, I can assure you that rather than feeling burdensome there is something rather invigorating and rewarding in establishing a goal and achieving it. How do you want to measure your October?

*Please “share” this or any of my blogs by selecting the “share” on your Facebook page, including it on a Linkedin post or “re-tweeting” (with or without an introduction) – I would love to reach 250 visitors for the month of September. Thanks to those of you who have shared past posts.

 

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Day 28 in a month of writing: Little Moments With The Kids

HomeSure she is feeling twenty-two and she is not Taylor Swift. He is about eight inches taller than me and has less than six months to be a teenager, something he was eagerly anticipating when we moved to this house and as a first grader he said he wanted to decorate his new room “teenagerish”. They are grownups but to me they are “my kids”.

Today Jeff and I got on the road hours before the sun came up and drove to Bemidji Minnesota to attend a scholarship breakfast for our daughter who is a senior at Bemidji State University. The weather was ideal, the breakfast food was what one would expect for a food service buffet with plastic plates and cutlery. There was recognition of the scholarship recipients, appreciation expressed toward committed donors and speeches given by donors, recipients and university staff. Just when you thought you might nod off a student who spent his senior year of high school living in a friend’s basement while attending school and working full-time shared how his school counselor encouraged him to apply for scholarships when the idea of college seemed so out of reach. He shared how he had been called to the principals office one day and his principal and counselor explained that he had received a very special scholarship, one that permitted him to go to college and he chose BSU. A faculty member shared how as a nontraditional student (with three children and only his wife working) supplemented the family food plan with discarded produce from a grocery store dumpster and even admitted he had stolen a roll of toilet paper from his student union because he could not afford to buy any and the family was out. He gave up on his dream of being a teacher with just three-quarters needed to complete his degree. He took a job with UPS and decided that would be his career and then a packet arrived during the summer, it was for a scholarship which he had applied for that spring. It was specifically for non-traditional students, with funds contributed from former non-traditional students who understood the unique challenges of balancing school and family. It had been over thirty years since he had received that envelope, he had to stop twice to regain his composure while sharing his story. He said that he had cried harder on that day thirty years ago but that being the recipient of that generosity has shaped his life, allowed him to provide more for his family, permitted him to achieve a dream.

It was nice seeing her name in the program and being able to watch Betsy as she crossed the stage in the midst of a long line of students who had received a BSU scholarship for the 2014-2015 academic year. After the ceremony we returned to her room and gave her birthday gifts and treats from home. Then we ran errands and took her and her roommate to lunch. We headed for home early afternoon, knowing that she will be home in a few weeks for a concert with friends, back a month later for Thanksgiving and then finals and nearly a month off at home for Christmas and New Year’s prior to returning for what will be her final quarter of undergraduate classes. I enjoyed it all but in reflecting on the day, as nice as the purpose of the trip was, a favorite moment was when Betsy said that she had been doing some “doodles” and gave me a picture of our house. I loved it because I enjoy her artwork and attention to detail but also because to have drawn it meant that she had been thinking of home.

So it felt like a “win” as a parent day! A few hours after arriving back home I heard my phone and went to retrieve the message. It was from my son Eddie, away at college on the other side of Wisconsin. There was media content, so I opened what I anticipated would be a photograph. Instead I got a brief video with audio. Taken from the stands it was the schools dance-line performing to Amii Stewart’s disco era song Knock on Wood. It was brief and the details of the performance were not clear from the video. You might wonder why a college sophomore would send such a thing to his mother. It was because he remembered. When I was the captain of the “B-Squad Indianettes” during my sophomore year in high school my final performance was a dance I choreographed with my friend Kim Tillman (who later became a costume designer in Hollywood) to a song so new that we tape recorded it off of the radio, Knock on Wood. It was the spring of 1979, my son would not be born for another sixteen years.

Two kids, two very different interactions but the same impact. Amii Stewart may have said it best “It’s like thunder, lightening, the way you love me is frightening!”. I’m gonna knock knock knock on wood.

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