childhood, Uncategorized

Purple Indians, Red Cow, Golden Friends

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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 IX 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)!

 

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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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Day 29 in a month of writing: “Kids Will Be Kids” Unless Parents Don’t Let Them

Sophomore Year SCSU

Sophomore Year SCSU

Before I had two college coeds of my own I spent over twenty years supervising college students and prior to that I was a college student myself. I have watched in live-time dramatic changes that were discussed in a recent Huffington Post article that a former colleague had posted (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Mickey-goodman/are-we-raising-a-generati_b_1249706.html) that resonated with what many of my own observations have been. While I agree with the writer, I have developed an even more controversial theory.

I think that how people go through life is substantially predetermined by their makeup. This is how you end up with stories of identical twins separated at birth having similar life outcomes, interests and frequently career choices. Sure opportunities and experiences are factors but I wish to further explain why there seems to be a pretty dramatic change in both parents and their children that are now young adults and the experiences of their own parents as children. It is truly a matter of numbers and for someone who is predisposed to not really liking math (an attribute passed to me from my own mother and present in my own daughter) I will keep it simple. When parents had six to eight children (and often one car) it simply was not possible to attend every activity they participated in and it was not an expectation. The workload at home was different as well. With families that size it was often obvious who was the “smart one” or the “athletic one” or some other “one”. Parents took their cues from there as to where to invest funds or who to encourage when making decisions; the “strong one” might be left the family farm and the “smart one” might be sent off to college. The “athletic one” might have an opportunity at college because of their skill and the “pretty one” might marry well and be taken care of. There was often “one” destined to remain close and take care of the parents should they become infirm. An observation I made many years ago regarding friends from larger families was that nearly every one of them had a “black sheep” who was either in  trouble with the law or less successful than their siblings; perhaps had a more difficult time making a living or retaining relationships. A “black sheep” or even a “town drunk” who succumbed to a reliance on a chemical and was taken care of by family but was not expected to amount to much or ultimately  ran off with the carnival as it passed through town. No blame, no finger pointing, that was just accepted as their lot in life.

My theory is that if you take several random samplings of 100 adults, you will find a fairly consistent number who exhibit these same traits and some others. The difference is that today families tend to have perhaps 1-3 children and as a result they only want those who are successful in academics or maybe athletics. They have to put all their money on one horse so to speak. Their kid(s) is going to go to college or will run the business or do whatever it is the parent has determined. The parent is not so bogged down with cooking and laundry they can’t attend activities. You actually see parents staying through practices or rehearsals which nobody had the time for a generation ago. Odds are there are  two cars along with a greater likelihood that perhaps both parents work. So economically  there is more money to spend on fewer children; camps, coaching, tutoring are all accessible. There is less preventing a parent from talking to a teacher, coach or even a boss at a job. The real point of my theory is that perhaps their child is not part of the percentage who will succeed at college but is maybe the manual laborer or even, despite Sylvan learning center and an ACT tutor they are from the sliver of the pie that is a wanderer; the black sheep or the town drunk. The percentage of kids and the traits they will have remain constant, it just is that they are spread over approximately four times as many sets of parents.

The workload is smaller with few in a household, it is easier for the parents to cook, clean, do yard work and laundry. The kids are encouraged to participate in lots of activities. “Play dates” and big birthday parties are the norm, something that no parent with eight children was able to or wanted to do. Kids don’t have as many chores or responsibilities and thus remain reliant on their parents longer. Increased divorce rates have resulted in parents who want their children to “like them”, who are not always with them and as a result need to make their time together special. This is where the phrase “Disney Dad”came from.

When the term “helicopter parent” was coined I looked at many articles describing the phenomenon and was struck by a brief story that I have repeated many times. A college installed laundry machines which students could watch via computer to tell when a load was done. A college-aged daughter called her mother in another state to have her watch her laundry and then text her at the library when her load was done. This story was an epiphany to me that the student housing complex adjacent to a Big Ten campus that I worked for was not the only place where students were not growing independent as the result of being at college. Parents were not letting go and were inserting themselves in their child’s lives into adulthood. One day my coworker had taken a call from an irate mother from out of state. Her daughter was in one of our buildings (located a block from our office) and was stressed because our change machine in the lobby was out of quarters and her daughter had wet clothing in a washer and no coins to operate the dryer. I was glad to just overhear the call because my response would not have been as customer service oriented. It might have gone something like this:

“It is a shame that by age 18 your daughter thought the best solution to not having quarters in Minnesota would be to call you in South Dakota. It is unfortunate that she did not think through having enough change to complete the task prior to starting the washing machine. I am sorry that she does not have a relationship with her roommate or neighbors that would allow her to ask them if they have any change. It is too bad that her skill set did not include problem solving to the extent that there is a store a half block from her location and at least three banks within a half mile of her apartment that are all equipped to exchange her money for her but those options did not occur to her. There is also a person sitting at a reception desk feet away from where the change machine is located who could notify our maintenance man who fills the machine when he is made aware of that need. She could have walked over to our office or made this phone call herself regarding the parking pass.” Slight pause while I listen to the mother. “I assumed that you were calling to obtain a parking pass for when you get here with her quarters.”

So there are many factors that have contributed to adults seeming less sufficient than they have been in the past. Some of them are in fact real and brought on by parents who are overly involved in their children’s lives. Don’t be their alarm clock at college by giving a daily wake-up call. Give them chores, allow them to make mistakes, that is how they learn. Another factor is that now young adults are being manipulated into being places outside of where they would have naturally landed a generation or two ago because of the concept that children are to fulfill their parents wishes and not simply their own. The best thing a parent can do is to give their children (of any age) the space to find what they enjoy, what they are good at, what they want to do and who they want to be. Don’t live vicariously through your children, they can’t fulfill your dreams for you and if permitted to be, their dreams for themselves are likely different than yours.

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Day 5: You Remember Your Firsts, How About Your Lasts?

biking

I have seen a lot of first day of school pictures this week. I have the hallway down to my own children’s bedroom lined with them. Other than a photograph of my daughter in a construction paper mortar board at a silly affair called “kindergarten graduation”, I have nothing when it comes to last day of school photos. There is not much new at the end of the school year; waistbands are snugger, shirts have faded, one of the zippers on the backpack with their favorite character on it won’t budge. For that matter, their favorite character has even changed.

People seem to remember their firsts, take that however you choose. Your first bike, your first kiss, your first apartment, your first love, your first car, your first job. I bet the mention of most of those retrieved some memory from your mental file cabinet of firsts. They are organized and even if they are old memories, there is a particular clarity to them still. I think of lasts as getting the soggy moving box that is still in the garage the next time you move. The memory is probably in there, though some may have been lost or simply never collected at all.

The difference between firsts and lasts is that you know a first because it is exciting, different, new and even sometimes scary. You can picture riding your bike the first time without training wheels, with a parent running alongside or a friend encouraging you. The last time you rode your bike was either yesterday or twenty years ago, either way, it simply does not warrant the attention that the first time did. I vividly remember the first time I consumed Indian cuisine. I was in Chicago, the summer after my sophomore year in college. I had gone to see the Vatican Art Show with my aunt and two cousins. It was so spicy hot that I remember breaking a sweat but still wanting more. I can’t tell you the last time I ate Indian food, I assume I will again some day but future experiences will never have the allure of that first time.

When my daughter walked off the LaCrosse field her sophomore year in high school, neither she nor I realized that would be her final game. Her junior and senior year she opted to put shot for the track team, where efforts were more independent but the camaraderie of teammates was more evident. Unlike some dramatic lasts, like losing at state senior year, this finale was one observed in hindsight with a shrug.

That is how it was with my son in dance. He began dance lessens in the fourth grade; jazz and tap consistently, ballet sporadically and Hip Hop for one year. While he enjoyed the dancing, he equally liked the social aspect, the performances and once a year overnight lock-in at the studio where he allowed the girls to make him over. It was in ninth grade with a new commitment to show choir, both as a member and serving on the crew for other choirs that his participation in recitals ended. No Holiday Show, no Spring Recital. After years of photos and costumes, programs and giant all-studio finales it was over. I hadn’t realized his last performance was his last until nearly a year later. His senior year, he and I went to the last recital of many of his former studio classmates. Graceful young women whose final performance was an emotional ending to a culmination of a dozen years or more of; leotards, sequins, quick costume changes and seeing other dancers on a daily basis. It was during that event that I got to watch my son on stage at a dance recital, one last time. At some point in the show, a portion of the dancers come out on stage and young audience members are invited to come up and do the Hokey Pokey. There was all six foot 2 inches of Eddie, raucously putting his back side in and his back side out and shaking it all about with classmate Molly who is currently a dance major in Utah.  A last I will remember.

When I gave birth to Eddie, before they even had cleaned him up and handed him to me I exclaimed “I’m doing that again.” but nearly twenty years later and looking back, that was the last time I was going to be in a delivery room as a patient. I don’t regret not having more children but in that adrenaline rush after bringing a life into the world I was certain I would do it again. There are a lot of lasts with children that you do not realize until well after they have passed. Things that were so much a part of the daily routine when your kids are young you almost wish them away. You don’t know the last time your kids are going to take a bath together as it is happening, someday you just realize that it hasn’t happened in awhile and you know it won’t be happening again. When was the last bedtime story? When was the last time your kid climbed into bed late at night after a bad dream? When was the last time you cut meat for your child? How recently have you caught one of them midair jumping off a dock? They were just simple acts, the minutia of life, big moments that pass without acknowledgement because perhaps the reality might be too much to take in all at once.

I may be unique in that despite not being bedside with my parents when they passed, I recall my last exchange with both of them. Neither was significant at the time and I certainly was not aware in those moments that they were the last time I would hear their voices or have eye contact with them. With my father, I was on the porch of the house I had been raised in, he was just inside the door. I was a newlywed and had come to town to bring him home from a brief hospital stay. I was in a hurry, because his release had been delayed (hinging on oxygen being delivered to the house) and I needed to travel 90 minutes to get my husband from work. I got my dad into the house and told him I’d be back on Monday to visit. His final words to me were “If you behave yourself, I’ll take you out to lunch.” It was not to be, that Sunday was Father’s Day and he died in the living room after taking my mother out to breakfast.

My mother and I had our last meal out at Dayton’s at Southdale mall.  It was no longer called Dayton’s but that is what it had been to us for years. I had brought her to select outfits for her class party the following Friday and her West High class of ’54 Reunion the next Saturday. After successful shopping we had lunch and I drove her home in my minivan. I let her out and explained that rather than take her to get shoes the next week, I would simply purchase several pairs and bring them to her to choose from, so as to reserve her energy for the festivities. Toddling up the front walk with a large shopping bag in one hand she glanced back and with her other hand gestured with her thumb and forefinger about an inch apart “I like a little patent leather.” She died in her sleep three days later. Years later for his Junior Prom, instead of traditional dress shoes, Eddie bought a pair of black Sperry’s…with a little patent leather.

I took the kids to Macy’s (former Dayton’s) for lunch the week before returning to college. Even though their grandma has been gone a decade, it’s a place where they have fond memories of her; where Betsy began her love of tea and we all enjoy the popovers. I hope it was not for the last time. One never knows.

Lasts truly are not less significant than firsts, they are often just harder to identify.

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Dad: Gone a Quarter Century

Chuck Rose

Chuck Rose

I have been alive for 51 Father’s Days. There were 25 during my lifetime when my father was living. There have been 25 since he died in 1989. Then there is that one in 1989, not quite two months after I married the man who was to become the father to my own children, he woke in the morning but did not go to bed that night. I had given him his Father’s Day gift (a Korean War Veterans t-shirt) earlier in the week and was scheduled to visit him on that Monday. When I dropped him and my mother at the house I’d been raised in on the previous Friday, after he’d had a brief hospital stay, he told me “If you behave yourself, I’ll take you to lunch on Monday.” Those may seem like funny words coming from a grown man to his adult daughter but our relationship had always been filled with funny exchanges.

Where my relationship with my mother had been a somewhat fragile thing throughout my growing up, my relationship with my dad was a sturdy and reliable one. I knew I could depend on him and he knew that I was in his corner. The thing that both of my parents and I had in common is that all three of us were the youngest in our families. For each of us it seems to me that being the youngest  kept us perpetually immature, with my mother this manifested itself in a certain fear and anxiety, with my father and I it was more of a desire to find the humor in everything or the idea that any attention was good attention. My mother and I both had two older brothers, with very similar age differences. My father had an older brother who was smart, calm and during his teens went to bed for a year with Rheumatic Fever. My father was bright, a fidgeting bundle of energy who by comparison was a vision of health; a gymnast who loved to dance, who played the drums and sailed the waters of Minnesota lakes in the summers and their ice in the winters. While his brother was sick my dad moved upstairs in the family duplex where his grandmother and aunt tried to fatten the thin athlete up with their baking and cooking.

My uncle sustained heart damage during his year of being bedridden and later died during open heart surgery while in his forties. Their mother was a practicing Christian Scientist, which meant that neither of her sons received the necessary care of a doctor during their youth. I was in the fifth grade when my father suffered his first heart attack and it was determined that he had likely sustained some valve damage from illness as well and that the well-meaning attempts to fatten him up by his aunt and grandmother had perhaps not had the intended health benefits they had hoped. Despite diet and exercise modifications, surgical procedures, regular doctor’s visits and numerous medications he aged dramatically over the years and eventually died at age 57 from congestive heart failure and complications from Emphysema which was only discovered via his autopsy, his enlarged heart having prevented reliable x-rays.

It might seem that such a tragic story would be intended to convey sadness and a sense of loss but oddly, for a man that we were aware was sick for over half of my life (at the time he died) I have mostly good memories of him. My childhood friends, neighborhood kids and my cousins all loved him because he was funny and genuinely engaged in their interests.

When I was little I did the grocery shopping with him on Saturday mornings. I have fond memories of going with him to Zayre’s Shopper City, a grocery store, pet store, pharmacy, that sold records, huge twist cones and popcorn. You could get a haircut, have your taxes done as well, purchase toys or buy cheap and low quality clothing and jewelry. Going there with Dad was an adventure! Typically in the dog food aisle my father would say “It’s your brother’s birthday this week, so I’ll pick up some canned food as a treat.” after catching the attention of other shoppers he would then ask “What dry food do you want?” then in my best eye-lash-batting five-year-old Tony Award eligible performance I would respond “Can we get something that makes gravy when you add water to it?” We would relive our performance in the car on the ride home, recounting the mortified reaction of other shoppers.

When I moved to college, it was not home cooking and free laundry that I missed, it was my dad. Being gone for months at a time made his failing health more noticeable but despite his frailness his humor never wavered. Even when hospitalized he was a favorite among nurses for his quick whit and charming ways. My father shared things with children that many of our friends parents would not have. We knew that throughout much of school he spent his homeroom in the principals office. We knew that he orchestrated sneaking beer into the band room in high school and that when caught by the teacher they were given a lecture regarding offering a man a drink when he comes into a room, followed by a warning not to do it again. We know that when moving cars as a job while a teenager that he pulled down part of a garage wall at Knoll’s Ford in Minneapolis. As a youngster on his way home from school he spotted his grandmother returning from getting her dentures and shared how he shouted across the street “Granny, how are your new choppers?”  When he struggled in a science class he built a still in his folks basement and took the results of his experiment to school for the teacher, who gave him a passing grade.  When I came across an 8×10 photo of a man bent over in front of a fridge that was full of bottles stacked on their sides and the bows of his horn rimmed glasses filled with “church keys” (bottle openers) he told the story of he and a half dozen high school classmates who rented a house for $5 each per month and letting an exchange student from the University of Minnesota (who worked nights on campus) live there for free if he cleaned up after their frequent parties. He appreciated the fact that I was his offspring that had a bit of the mischief in me.

My father had open heart surgery the summer after my sophomore year of college, a surgery he delayed until my brother’s wedding was over that spring. His surgery consisted of a valve replacement and the relocating of some veins in his leg to repair his heart. On a nearly 100 degree day late that summer I was with him on the rare occasion that he wore shorts in public. We were together at the Uptown Bar in Minneapolis, a place where he had stopped after high school some afternoons to see if whatever jazz band was playing later would let a kid sit in during their warm-ups. A man seated at the bar commented on the nasty looking scar that began near my Dad’s knee and disappeared into his shorts. Dad responded by tugging at the neckline of his T-shirt to reveal the top of his incision on his chest and simply said “It doesn’t end ’til here.” To which I added “Those sex changes are hell. Aren’t they Mom?” It was 1983 and the man simply picked up his drink and moved to a booth without saying a word.

When I shattered my elbow in a freak accident shortly after graduating from college, it was my dad that took me to get my hair cut just an inch longer than his own. Then we went to find me skirts with elastic waists. When I came to after surgery and was in so much pain, it was seeing the worry on my father’s face that made me tell the nurse “please make him leave”. He returned to the hospital later that night and tucked in my favorite childhood stuffed animal (Joyce, who ironically still had a small bandage on her right elbow from playing with her when I was little). He later told me that he had dug through all of my packed boxes to locate her because it was the only thing he could think of that might bring me comfort. Six months later, alone in Missouri and headed back for elbow surgery I took Joyce along.

Less than three years later, shortly after Christmas, my mother and I were taking a bus home from downtown after spending the day choosing my wedding dress. It was dusk and we were seated near the rear when my dad got on coming home from work and sat in the “peanut seats” (how he referred to the seats that faced each other near the front of the bus). He looked much older than he was and I whispered to my mom that I was going to go sit by him. A “normal” young woman would approach and greet their father and tell them about their day picking out a wedding dress. That would have been too ordinary for us. So I approached and said “Excuse me but is this seat taken?” he removed his work bag from the seat beside him and offered me that space. We acted as if we had never met and made casual conversation, providing improvisational theater right there on a bus. When we rounded the curve near St. John’s church on Sheridan Avenue he boldly stated “I don’t mean to be too forward but I’ll be getting off shortly, would you be interested in joining me for dinner this evening?” I responded with a “Why certainly.” A few blocks later my father and I got off the front exit of the bus, joined hands and began walking away. My mother got out the rear door and we stopped for her to join us once we knew the bus was safely out of sight up Upton Avenue. She said that people had actually gotten up and crossed the bus to look out the window to see if what they witnessed was real. Did an old man just pick up a 25 year old on the bus?

Another time I will document some of the truly valuable life lessens I gained from him, his stubborn nature, his cleverness and how incredibly bright he was. Each of his children got some of his skills and abilities, none of us got them all. We love music because of him and are each creative in our own ways. Today however, I am content with focusing on his unique humor and how it has inspired my own bizarre interactions with his two oldest grandchildren. I will leave you with what I have recently recalled as a shining example of his presence in our lives, despite his absence.

A number of years ago when my daughter was perhaps 11 and my son about 9 I took them to the eye doctor where all three of us had appointments. I was handed three clipboards to complete and we went to a seating area around a coffee table where other patients were waiting. I handed Betsy and Eddie their clipboards so they could complete their own forms. Since both of my children go by nicknames, they asked almost simultaneously “Do I put Edward?” and “Should I use Elizabeth?” to which I responded “Yes, the man from the witness protection program said that those are your names now.” We knew that other patients pretended to read, while looking at us over their magazines and glancing at one and other to confirm that what they had heard was accurate. Both kids performed flawlessly and we never laughed about it until in the car on the way home.

Though none of his grandchildren ever had the opportunity to meet him, just like with me and my brothers, it is evident that his legacy lives on in varying ways in each of them; musicians, performers, nature lovers, sailors, dancers, fancy dressers, nonconformists, hyper, intelligent, inventive, creative and the valuable trait of a quirky sense of humor. I know I would miss him a lot more, if it were not for the fact that he makes himself present so frequently!

 

 

 

 

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Wedding Anniversary of the Deceased or Eternal Love/Eternal Bickering

Anniversary

Fifty eight years ago today my parents got married. I could call them High School sweethearts were it not for the fact that they never actually attended West High at the same time. He graduated in 1949 and was best friends with my mother’s brother and she did not graduate until 1954. By the time she was a sophomore in high school he was overseas with the Army in Korea. He told her to attend her school dances with other boys and enjoy her high school years. She kept him supplied with care packages, one included a table-top Christmas tree with messages on gift tags to be used as ornaments from friends and family members. A pretty clever and thoughtful gift in the days before Pinterest that took both time and forethought.

He returned from Korea, attended her school formals with her and proposed the evening of her senior banquet. He pulled a box from the glove compartment of his car and would open it and look at it and then look over at her and close it. He did this several times until she grabbed it away from him. He had not asked her father for his only daughter’s hand because he was fairly confident that the business executive who rubbed elbows with the Twin Cities social elite of the era would deny the electrician’s son. Her mother was fond of my father but told my mom she would need to be the one to tell her dad. Terrified and excited she needed to wait until his return from a business trip.

She went off to college for a year in Illinois, while my father studied at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Not terribly academic she returned home after her freshman year and got a job. After a two year engagement they wed in the spring of 1956. I still remember in junior high coming home from the Linden Hills library informing my parents that someone had given me an inaccurate date in my family tree research. I was fairly certain I would fail the class if I indicated that my eldest brother was born less than four months after their wedding date. My parents assured me the dates were correct. I had seen newborn pictures of my brother Bob, those chubby cheeks did not belong to the face of a premature baby.

I was married, with kids of my own and my father had been gone for a number of years when I finally reconciled our one major disagreement from my childhood. The year I was a ninth grader the ninth grade became part of the high school, which meant that activities such as school dances were open to freshman. I attended the Welcome Dance with my circle of friends and later in the fall came Sadie Hawkins with a large group of kids all planning to go as couples to The Malt Shop and then the dance. My father said “no” that I could not attend. My mother in an unusual display of taking my side in an even more unusual situation of my father and I disagreeing said “Chuck, let her go.” but to no avail. My epiphany twenty years later was that were I to have asked a boy  to this dance, in my father’s eyes I would be betrothed. In looking back I chuckle, the boy was not likely to have agreed to the invitation and throughout the remainder of high school dated several of my friends. He is currently married to his third wife. Meanwhile it would be 11 years before I brought a “boy” to meet my parents. Ironically the first time I did it was so the man could ask my father for my hand. “Sir, I have known your daughter for what may seem like a short time but I am very much in love with her and would like to ask for her hand.” was the brief explanation my husband offered for our quick visit to my parent’s cabin during a snow storm on my father’s birthday. My dad simply said “What does Nancy think of this?” to which I was speechless for the first time in my entire life and responded with a vigorous nod.

My parents were not ones to celebrate their anniversary (or most milestones) with gifts for each other and date nights were so rare that I can recall using the fingers of one hand how many times I spent an evening with a sitter as a child. I remember that their class reunions were special social outings for them and how my father loved to dance. I also remember how my mother did not enjoy dancing. In an odd twist of fate I love to dance and my husband does not. In retrospect it was not that my parents did not enjoy an evening out it was that finances were tight and popcorn and cider with a movie or in front of the fireplace fit the budget better than dinners out.

My father was an incredibly patient man and one that was always willing to make sacrifices for us kids or our mother. He would work long hours as an electrician, often outdoors in the elements of Minnesota. The winters were brutal but for a man who had suffered with Hay Fever since childhood, the summer months could be downright miserable for him. It was during those months that we stayed at the cabin and Dad would arrive on Friday night with a car full of groceries and clean laundry and stick around until Sunday night when he would drive home for a night’s rest in air-conditioned coolness, only to return either next week or on Wednesday night (to gather more laundry) and leave incredibly early on Thursday morning to make the 100 mile “commute” to his job site. All of this amidst the sneezing, watery eyes and nose blowing. I recall one summer where he simply commuted to the cabin each night and shopping and the laundromat in Cumberland Wisconsin were utilized during the weekend. I never remember him complaining but the thought of it coupled with allergies is exhausting.

As patient as my father was, my mother had numerous things that annoyed her. Tapping her on the shoulder was one thing that drove her crazy, so us kids would do it frequently to annoy her. Another thing that really bothered her is something my husband does to this day as sort of a nod to my father. When adding sugar and creamer to his coffee he would stir it until my mother (despite her best effort to ignore it each time) begged him to stop the clanking of the spoon against the side of the mug. Despite the fact he snored their entire marriage she never grew accustomed to it and even if she had not retired for the evening, the entire household could be awoken by her yelling from the base of the stairs “Roll over, you’re snoring.”. Personally, I always found the sound comforting, as I equated snoring with breathing and after some medical issues I liked hearing his vigorous snores from the bedroom across the hall. I married a snorer myself and when he began using a c-pap machine the week our oldest left for college the silence became oddly noticeable to me.

My dads humor overshadowed my mothers annoyances but their interactions mirrored that of a sitcom couple more than star-crossed lovers you would see in movies. His mother’s cousin recently commented that “I never saw a couple more in love than those two.” In spite of their health issues, financial woes and extended family drama they stuck to their vows of “For better or worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer…”

There was a time when I was in high school, my brothers away from home and my mother erratic, that on a particular evening  her behavior was what she herself would have referred to as “out of line”. I asked my dad “Why don’t you divorce her?” His response was a resigned “I married her for better or worse. This must be the worst!” His humor again serving as the buffer and helping his daughter to understand that when a person is the least likable may be the time they need you the most and that you don’t just walk away from your commitments because a particular day (or year or decade) is unpleasant.

So here, on their anniversary, I picture them looking down on their children and grandchildren and all that their young love and devotion resulted in. I see them smiling, content and pleased with deciding to proceed regardless of the lack of endorsement. Faintly, I hear the distinct sound of my father leisurely stirring his coffee and envision my mother trying to wait him out for the first time ever, while all of us who ever knew them know it’s not going to happen this time either. The guy has infinite patience and she should know that more than anyone.

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