It was only 10 bucks. A friend of mine was selling appointments for glamour photos as a fundraiser for her cheerleading team and it included hairstyling, make-up, and an extensive array of wardrobe changes. In the end, you walked away with an 8 X 10 photo of a fabulous new you. Nobody warned me about the in-betweens.
I bought two appointments, one for me and one for my daughter Katy. We we were both glamour shot virgins and it seemed like a fitting rite of passage for us both. After all, we got our first two tattoos together. We giggled the whole way there about my plans to surprise her dad by revealing a side of me he hadn’t seen since 1986.
My daughter is a beauty and on those occasions when people tell me she looks like me, I know they mean before time and gravity took control. I knew her photos would all be fabulous and I was hopeful that I would get something a least a little sassy out of my sitting. I was very naïve in thinking we would have some sense of privacy to make that happen.
Upon arrival, we walked into a gymnastics studio filled with other beautiful young girls on the cusp of womanhood. Wrinkle-free faces and flawless complexions radiated above bustlines still under control and at an appropriate height – members of the cheerleading team, no doubt. I decided then I would not be having a good time at the glamour photo shoot.
The make-up artist/hairstylist worked on each photogenic face in full view of the rest of us. Behind her on the barre, hung a variety of tube tops; it was required wearing for the prep work and the photos. At the other end of the floor, the photographer was busy arranging and rearranging leather jackets, furs, boas and fake diamonds.
My number came up before Katy’s and I was directed to the dressing room. First stop was the balance barre to pick up a tube top. The only thing I saw that might possibly fit was the pillow case they had been packed in. I shot a mournful look at the stylist and she suggested – with empathy — that everything would stretch.
“Try the yellow one?” she queried.
“On which one?” I questioned.
A moment of respectful silence ensued before she burst into laughter. I held up the yellow tube top to one side of my chest before she headed over to help me sort through all the choices.
“If you hear a thud when I’m in the dressing room, don’t be alarmed,” I warned her. “It will just be the fallout.” More muffled hysteria.
All eyes were on me when I headed to the transformation chair but not before I announced that it would be best for everyone to look away lest they grow up never feeling like an adequate woman. The cheerleaders were clearly embarrassed; my daughter just smiled. She has grown accustomed to my brand of defense.
Twenty minutes later I stepped down off the chair being careful to support my non-secured womanliness with folded arms. I now had a pound of pancake batter on my face and decollette and rather than looking glamorous as promised, I looked even more like a a tired old lady. Still I had hope; Photoshop is a wonderous thing.
The photographer clearly thought he knew who he was dealing with because he began festooning me with the old lady hats and feather boas (If only I had been sporting my purple hair back in October) . Big clunky clip-on earrings accented every costume change and even without my glasses, I knew this was getting ugly. If this 10 bucks was to be salvaged at all, we needed drastic measures so I started talking. His name was Jerry and it turned out it was his birthday. The next thing I knew, we too were in hysterics. In a moment of pure genius, he pulled the zebra-stripped cowboy hat off the rack and my imp became apparent.
Katy of course had been oblivious to my struggle to find an authentic me as she was doted on by the stylist, but I hung out to watch her flash her million dollar grin in shot after shot. Jerry was blown away by how great she looked in the red hat, the black hat, the straw hat, the black jacket, the fur coat, the feather boa, etc. etc. etc. She and I talked trash about the S&M look the biker garb created while all the little girls and moms looked on, wishing now too that there had been more privacy.
Twenty minutes later, we were wisked away to the only private moment of the whole experience when we got the chance to see our digital proofs. The sales rep began with a litany of package offerings, canvas prints, full portfolios and the licensing rights to all the prints. I had dug in and was settled on our free 8 X 10 – until I saw the photos.
Every single one of Katy’s pix looked like a Cosmo cover and with Christmas right around the corner then, I viewed this as a shopping opportunity. Okay. So we would buy all her photos and get the free 8 X 10 of me.
When my pictures flashed on the screen, a frumpy old lady in borrowed clothes paraded by, photo after photo. The promised freebie was the one in the sparkly drape and it looked like a sad graduation photo that had been impacted by an age simulator, the kind of thing you might find on the back of a carton of prune juice if your grandmother had gone missing but had left no recent photos.
And then the heavens opened and the trumpets blared, wolves howled and codgers dropped their teeth as the wild woman in the zebra cowboy hat made her appearance. Sassy, sexy and only a little bit scary, it was the perfect Christmas gift for my husband.
Three weeks later we picked up our glamour shots but not before dropping off a check for $325 because we wanted the rights to all those photos. Everyone got pictures of Katy and loved them, but I gave away just one of Mitchell Kyd. After 28 years of marriage, Doug got a chance to see that naughty glimmer in my eye and a playful hint of my cleavage, framed and ready for hanging. And it was worth every penny.
Copyright 2010. Mitchell Kyd. All rights reserved.
Forgive my superior attitude but it is all but the darkest six weeks of winter that confirm for me that small town America is the only place to live. I am reminded of that the moment the first delicate little Snowdrop pokes through winter’s crumble, sending out the annual memo that another Absolutely Free season is about to unfold. If you look out your window, pick up a hometown newspaper or drive down any road around here, you know exactly what I mean.
Of course, there are always absolutely free kittens and the occasional free recliner to be scooped up but that is only the start. It is impossible to ignore the abundance of things that are free for the taking here: the smell of honeysuckle, the shade of beautiful hardwood trees, the best seats in the world for unwinding in our free local parks.
In another few weeks, raspberry bushes that have volunteered to freely overrun any unclaimed spaces will be filled with plump, purple berries along road banks and fence rows. Home gardens will overflow with tomatoes, squash and zucchini to the point that no visit to a neighbor concludes without an obligatory armful of fresh produce.
Even now, local gardenscape artists have set up their canvases, free for us all to view in the pleasures of the passing moment. As we drive by, baskets of purple petunias wave from a balcony railing and tubs of scarlet impatiens shout “Quick! Look! I’m beautiful!” as they punctuate porch steps and the gray stretches of sidewalks.
Libraries, churches and historical buildings fling open their doors and invite us in for enticing programs, entertainment and lectures because the community collective has made funding possible for our personal free admission. Local businesses and banks offer free seminars and demonstrations and fund visits from other experts to help us with the specific issues that concern us here. Even a Saturday spent at a public auction is a free seat for a local history lesson. It is our hometown version of American Pickers and Antiques Roadshow rolled into one, brought to us live by auctioneers who have perfected their sales pitch even on items they can’t identify.
We wind our way to all these events uplifted by flag-lined streets, thanks to our service clubs and veterans organizations. Often we can simply walk the few blocks that take us to a glorious, free performance like this week’s local appearance of the US Army Jazz Ambassadors. At most, we may burn up a single gallon of gasoline for the entire round trip to enjoy all the free music and festivals that surround us.
We grill local meats and fresh corn from farmers’ markets and convene impromptu neighborhood parties on our porches. When the darkening sky becomes a backdrop for a spectacular fireworks show, we may never have to leave our porches to take it all in. We sit there happy and contented late into the night, free from fear that strangers will harm us. All these gifts and more are brought to us by the good works of local business owners and leaders who also help power our service clubs, fire companies, veterans’ organizations and our local governments.
In small town America, we also get a free pass to talk with our elected officials; they don’t lie in hiding here. The chances are good we will bump into them at the local pharmacy or grocery store, in line at the hardware counter or coaching on the community baseball fields. We’re as likely to find many of them working side by side with our friends and neighbors in a Lion’s Club french fry stand or bagging trash at a scout troop’s roadside clean-up.
Life is amazingly good where we live, especially now that Absolutely Free season is here again. You need only be open to noticing all the good things that come our way simply for being part of small town America. But beware of the offer of that free recliner; it might just be the one where those kittens were born!
Note: It was one year ago this weekend that I announced publicly in my newspaper column about my plans to forgo a beach trip on Memorial Day weekend. Instead, we chose a woodsy stay-cation as we began rehab on our family cabin. Here we are, one year later, still in rehab. The good news is we continue to carve out our little slice of heaven and have come to call it affectionately the Path Valley Hotel (PVH).
We have scrubbed, scoured, shooed, gnat-swatted and mosquito-slapped our way through two late springs, one summer and a fall and are now heading into prime stay-cation season once again. Last year we rose to every challenge as we battled bats and birds zooming through the house and garter snakes in the garbage. The incidents of the past year could keep any storyteller busy for a very long time. In fact, we have had so many encounters, that we’re now up to episode # 58 in my chronicles of the PVH news on my blog. I can’t wait to see what this summer holds.
As I was flipping through a magazine shared by one of my beach-going friends, I ran across a succinct to-do list on the simple priorities for opening a beach house for the summer. Imagine my delight as envisioned a work plan already laid out, a great guideline already set for prioritizing tasks at the Path Valley Hotel, too. How silly. A cabin is not a beach house. Let me share a few examples.
Priority #1 on the beach house list was: Let in the fresh air. Ha! I have contractors who do that. They are called squirrels and they have been grinding and gnawing their way under the eaves adding ventilation for some time. At night while we try to sleep, they play field hockey or lawn bowling with last year’s hickory nuts on the attic floor above us. One night a squirrel (or chippie?) followed the vent pipe path into my closet. By the sounds of it, he was using my coat hangers as a personal fitness center. For the first time ever, I propped a security stick under a doorknob to prevent something inside the house from coming out.
Task #3: Make sure your AC filter is clean. Air conditioning? Are you kidding? At the PVH that means dusting off the box fans and making sure the ice cube trays are filled.
Task #4: Wipe down windows with a vinegar-soaked cloth. At the PVH, wiping down the windows starts with a good strong spay of Round-Up. The poison ivy vines and Virginia creeper never miss an opportunity in their quest to clamp down and digest the house like a giant Venus Fly Trap. We also need a brush and dustpan for the windowsills to remove the papery carcasses of the tiny insects that made their last flap there, lured by the hypnotic flickers of the microwave clock.
Task #6 : Clean baths. Baths?? That implies there is more than one which of course there is not at the PVH. Our guests have to learn that intricate choreography of synchronized sharing that makes sure all needs get met, even the emergency ones. And, despite her good intentions, the author of the original article made absolutely no mention of how best to remove the giant wood spider lurking in the bathtub drain. (As I am no longer a squasher, I was left to my own devices on that.)
Task #7 : Replenish your candle supply so you’ll be ready for impromptu dinner parties. No disrespect intended but an edit is needed there to specify citronella candles. Without citronella, any gathering at the PVH is an impromptu dinner party–for the bugs.
Task #8: Bring outdoor furniture and cushions out of storage. The essential missing instruction here is: First, pull on work gloves. You really shouldn’t be poking around storage at a cabin without a bit of a barrier between you and the little snakes, fuzzies and assorted creepy-crawlies that are on stay-cation in your boxes and basement.
There was also no mention anywhere of taking down the once-live Christmas tree that has been on the sun porch since last December — and sadly, no instructions for doing it.
Thankfully, that should be an easy task. It has slowly been undecorating itself for the past five months. A broom should be all that is needed to finish the job now. O poor Tannenbaum!
The final item on the beach house list was task #10: Run the dishwasher. My question is: run the dishwasher where? Around the house? To the store? Up and down the basement stairs a few more times? Here at the Path Valley Hotel, if the dishwasher is always running, the dishes will never get done!
Stay tuned for new episodes of News from the Path Valley Hotel. If you want to get caught up in our saga before the new season starts, check out last year’s stories in the archives of this blog. That’s where you’ll get the whole scoop through other episodes such as: Dancing Naked in the Moonlight; Itchy, Bitsy Spider; The Undress Rehearsal; Narrow Fellow in the Trash; and Strangers in the Night. It’s the beginning of the 99 days of summer countdown and the fun here has just begun!
There was just no doubt about it; when I looked in the mirror this morning, my head was strubely. I don’t remember having a rough night but my reflection told a different story. On one side, my hair was painted flat to my head. On the other, it looked like a battle-ready porcupine. You might have said that was the start of a bad hair day but it was my great grandmother’s voice I was replaying. When she woke up looking like that, there was never an issue with her hair; it was always with her head. And if her head was strubely, well, there was nothing to be done with those errant white strands but wet them down and run the comb through them one more time.
Strubely??? What word was that even meant to replace??? The etymology didn’t matter because I knew what she meant and this morning, that all came back to me. And if my hair ever stops growing in purple, I hope it will turn instantly to the same kind of striking white that framed that soft and love-filled face.
With all this talk about Mother’s Day, I’ve spent some time today remembering the Moms who got me here. I hope to celebrate the day with my own mom on Sunday and at my age and hers, I realize that is quite a gift. But I’m also thinking about her mother, my dad’s mom, and my strubely-headed great grandma, Bone. Some of the twists and turns I take on my own journey had surely been mapped out by all these women years ago and it’s good to remember that sometimes.
I guess Bone was the best title I could articulate when I was learning to talk. No doubt my mother wore herself out trying to get me to mimic what she called this woman, her grandmother, but Grandma Malone was simply never accepted into my vocabulary. And when I christened her Bone, it stuck.
Bone had been born 10 days before the Great Blizzard of 1888. Grover Cleveland had been president. She married, worked and raised three children while the history books were being written about the first World War, the Spanish Influenza, and the Great Depression. She saw 16 US presidents in office and was here to hear the news that two of them had been assassinated. She had read her Bible “clean through,” twice. By the time she left it to us, it was held together -barely- with paper tape. I was 14 when she died and I realize more each year how much she could have told me had I simply thought to ask. But I didn’t ask and now she’s gone.
Although I don’t know much about how she made her way in the world, I do know a lot about how she made her way in mine. I’ve said before, there is a reason there is an increasing number of adjectives in the title of women who evolve in their mom-hood. “Grand”ma is good; “great-grandma” is better. I loved my grandmother but when I was really young, being with Bone was the best. She was past her working days, didn’t have much housework and had no outside errands to run so I got all of her attention when I visited. We played jacks on the linoleum of the kitchen floor, lined up dominoes on the kitchen table and played with the Tinker Toys left at grandma’s house by my mother. I was always ready to examine all the treasures in her button box and to hear about what dress or shirt or coat had sacrificed them. She had a marvelous shade tree in her back yard that was completely perfect for climbing and a big, black toad that lived in her garage. In the summer, we ate fresh peaches on her back porch steps next to the post that had all the pencil marks on it to show how much I had grown since the last peach season.
She kept her sunbonnet on a clothes tree by the door and always wore an apron. In all the days I knew her, she fixed herself a breakfast of a cup of hot water and a piece of bread she poked with a black-handled fork and toasted over the stove burner. Sometimes we would “chew tobacco” together by tearing the crusts off a piece of bread and eating the crusts first. Then we would enjoy the soft white centers as “‘lasses pieces” when she would pry the lid off the bright red King syrup can she kept in the pantry and spoon molasses over them.
My mother remembers what it was like to ride with her on the train to grand destinations as well as to simply travel between our local towns. Her husband had been a railroad man and in my mother’s day, Bone had always lived in “railroad” houses across the county. By the time I came along, she had been alone for a quarter of a century and I never really had a glimpse of the hard life she had endured just to spend the rest of her days “getting by” as a widow on that pension. That’s the wonder of great grandmas. The know the wisdom of the here and now. They have nothing left to prove and feel no obligation to impose any lessons of the past.
If I’m learning anything from all the Moms that got me here, it is this: the energies that collide to create us won’t ever be contained. Their shapes may be impermanent but they flow like electricity from one body and one life into the other lives they touch along the way. Those connections are always with us. They arc and bob on unpredictable frequencies and they tickle our awareness, bringing us back to those ah-ha moments that somehow always surprise us as coincidence. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day and I plan to be aware. Before I head out the door, I expect Bone will remind me if my head is strubely.
Last weekend, dozens of local men donned red spike heels in the Chambersburg square to “walk a mile in her shoes” as they raised awareness of domestic violence. The event, sponsored by Women in Need, was part of a national project and was a grand success for our area. The men –local elected officials, business owners and docs, as well as regular Joes– hobbled down Main Street while their wives and friends and children cheered them on. For the most part, those guys seemed pretty pleased with themselves when it was over.
I applaud this event and its mission. And although I don’t want to detract from the personal sacrifice those brave guys all made of their metatarsals and their dignity, I did make some observations as I watched them hit their finish line.
Not one of those men walked in heels with a baby on his hip, a toddler yanking on his sleeve or even a hairy ankle biter threading its leash in a death knot between his legs. No man had a diaper bag, a laptop or briefcase dangling from his shoulder. When the event was over, not a single man continued on – in heels – to the grocery store, the dry cleaner or back to the office for a last-minute errand. What they did do was slip into comfortable shoes and head into a special reception hosted in their honor. I can’t remember the last time a woman was honored for walking a mile in her shoes.
With Mother’s Day right around the corner, it seems like a good time to remember what moms do, every day, whether they are wearing high heels, steel toes, pointe shoes or surgical booties. Moms everywhere power the universe. Remember that expression: The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”?
Sunday is Mother’s Day. Maybe you are already in the gift-buying mode, wondering how can you say thank you for the way moms rock our worlds with such goodness and aplomb?
I can’t speak for mothers everywhere but one thing I can tell you about me is that I would much prefer you give me time over things. Most mothers’ lives are overfilled with things; what we need more of is time.
When my kids were very small, my husband used to treat me to a night off once or twice year. We would plan ahead and he would pack up the kids (and the dog) and spend the night at Paw Paw’s while I had the whole house to myself. I didn’t need to book a hotel night or a spa treatment. Knowing I could go into the bathroom unattended and stay as long as I wanted without interruption was its own special getaway. I would luxuriate by watching a movie in its entirety, start to finish, and enjoy an entire meal while sitting down, tasting every bite while it was all still warm. In the morning, I would lounge in my pajamas without multitasking long enough to experience that exquisite pain of missing my family.When they would walk through the door again later that day, my heart would explode at seeing those smiling faces return. What a beautiful gift those hours were: a poignant reminder for me of the wonderful life that I had been granted.
As the kids get older, I have come to appreciate the time they choose to spend with me. A shopping trip, lunch, an unexpected drive, it doesn’t matter. For more years than I can remember my son has taken me to the Wilson College book sale as a Mother’s Day treat. We arrive together and then part ways, agreeing on a time to reconvene. Hours later when we have worked our way through the tables, we meet at checkout and head for lunch. Then it’s on to the park where we settle in for the rest of the afternoon to get lost in our new treasures.
If there is a lesson to share here it may be this: your mom probably doesn’t really want another set of salt and pepper shakers or a cutesy Mother’s Day commemorative plate. And she may not want you to send her flowers on Mother’s Day. She may prefer that you cut her a vase of lilacs — or even dandelions — and show up at her door instead. If she’s already into the grand- and great-grand- era of her mom-hood, she may not like dining out as much as you may think, either. Instead of taking her out to lunch, pack an indoor picnic of her favorite foods and settle in for some quiet time just listening to her stories. You can be assured she has some.
Have you ever tried to walk a mile in her shoes? She might like to know you understand. Consider what she might do if you simply gave a gift of your time and allowed her to put her feet up for those few hours that you choose to celebrate this Mother’s Day.
Everybody have their everything? For years that has been the battle cry as we slammed the van doors shut for the final time before heading out the driveway for a family road trip. We have put a lot of miles on our butts over the years on those family trips to the beach and Disney not to mention Punxsutawney and even upper Orbisonia the year we went to see the mastodon bones.
Time passes and here we are, about to embark on our first road trip to see our kid as he graduates from boot camp and I’m not sure what to expect. I can only rely on history.
We made three trips to Florida with two toddlers in tow, locked and loaded in matching car seats. Those were happy days when a road trip meant juice boxes and crayons. To pass the time, there was reading out loud and word games and then books on tape for the hours when the reader was too hoarse and bleary- eyed to pluck another single sentence off the page. We made the the mile markers dissolve into a blur by car counting and punch bug and holding our breath in tunnels and under bridges.
Our cars were always crammed with inflatable giraffes and leftover sand from the last vacation. If the scenery was good while the kids slept, the radio faded in and out and we rarely ever noticed it was playing only static in the great stretches of the in-betweens. All the while, we stayed mostly on course without GPS or Goggle maps because our jumble of maps was safely wedged between the seats with the gum wrappers and french fries. (Travel tip: the best way to refold a road map is differently.)
I’ve talked to a lot of parents who’ve done their own road trips with their kids; most can only recount their horror stories. There must be something wrong with me, even if it’s only a memory lapse. I remember all the good stuff: air conditioning off and windows open, belting out endless repetitions of I Know a Song That Gets on Everybody’s Nerves and finding wrong turns were really serendipitous side trips.
What some might call disasters, we think of as our stories like the year I had to take a major work project with me on vacation. In the stress of finishing a Homeric writing assignment, I lost the entire Mitchell family fortune; I sent $1,000 worth of travelers checks into the trash compactor at our lovely beach front cottage. (We lost our four-year-old at Disney that same year but that’s a story for another day. And, oh, there was another time when I dropped the rental car keys down the hotel elevator shaft but that was barely an inconvenience by comparison.)
All of our great vacations have always begun with a list and I pride myself on being an excellent list maker. As much as I hate riding herd over life’s tiny details for the most part, I love making vacation lists. For starters, it expands the joy of the trip by setting that anticipation on a long, slow simmer. List making gives me something to do when it’s too soon for anything else to be done. Lists also impose order on an unruly world when the crazy making finally starts. As the last countdown begins, they ultimately provide me the opportunity to make a big, fat check mark next to each task as it is completed, a visible attagirl for all the brain cells I’ve invested to get us out the door.
I’m not sure how road trips are supposed to go without your children but we will soon find out. I do know juice boxes will be replaced with bottled water and snacks will mean baggies of crudites to ease the stress of too much road food. Side trips will mean excursions more in search of public restrooms than scenic overlooks and the battle between who’s hot and who is cold will no doubt be intensified. The music we listened to when we traveled with the kids is now buried in the oldies channels but that’s okay, we’re oldies, too.
When we settle into that Army base, we will be scanning those young faces for our grown up kid, a man standing tall and strong in a soldier’s uniform. No matter what we may have to leave undone at home or what we might forget to pack, it will all be good. At the moment we hug our son, everybody will have their everything.
I expected a lot of life changes to hit me in my fifties, but I don’t think I was fully prepared to become a new MoM at this age. Yes, it’s true; I have finally joined the ranks of Mothers of Military Men. Although my rational brain has been preparing for that for a very long time, my completely irrational heart still can’t quite comprehend what has happened.
At 1:00 pm on that winter afternoon, he was sitting at the kitchen counter. By 2:00 pm we had dumped him at the Turnpike exchange, into the hands of strangers, knowing it would be months before we could catch even a glimpse of him. I told him that day that I could accept that he was leaving; I just couldn’t accept that he would no longer be here. That of course makes no sense to anyone else but it seems like a perfectly logical reaction to me.
Until now nearly all of our son’s big memories have been sewn together by our family’s shared experiences. Friends, girlfriends, sisters and even dads don’t get what mothers understand. When we send our children off to boot camp, it is the giant, irreversible step out the door and off the map into a world in which we will no longer have a critical role. No matter how close we remain in our histories and our hearts, our two worlds now have new epicenters.
He, of course, is fine. This has been his dream and he has been preparing for it in some way nearly his whole life. But boot camp is the training period for new MoMs, too, as we begin to practice another wave of doing what we do best: wait. We wait at the mailbox and by the phone. We wait out the days until graduation knowing that boot camp is simply our military kindergarten. It is the thing we need to prepare us for the next longer separation, the bigger unknown and deeper letting go.
I think on some level my kid knows his mother still needs some hand-holding so he’s been great about writing home. The envelopes arrive stuffed with little spiral notepad sheets scribbled while he stands in line for chow or any of a dozen other hurry-up-and-wait activities that constitute his training days. I’m keeping them all for his grand-kids to read some day because whatever else might be changing about him, his sense of humor is still intact. Take a peek inside my mailbox.
Day 3: Good Evening. I am writing this after lights out so I am in ninja-mode, also known as under a blanket with my red light…
Day 10: It’s long and busy days here. Up at 0400 and lights out at 2100. The yelling, a.k.a. the “motivation,” is not as bad as they show in the movies.
Day 12: My left boot came apart. I have tough feet. Most of our platoon does not. Am making friends by giving away my moleskin.
Day 14: Did gas chamber today. Wanted to cough up a lung and snot ran out of our noses in buckets. Best thing is, they got it all on tape.
Day 15: I have forgotten how to eat slow. My spoon is my friend. It is like a mouth-sized shovel.
Day 18: I named my rifle BUR. It means big, ugly rifle. The stock is all dinged, dented and dimpled. The finish is almost gone..
Day 21: It was good to live by a farm. The latrines on the range reek. There are 44 soldiers in our bay with various levels of hygiene. For the most part, it doesn’t bother me.
Day 22: All the males got bad sunburn yesterday. Our near-bald heads look like big tomatoes on top of our ACUs.(uniforms)
Day 28: Sleep in the Army. Though not officially against the rules, it is strongly recommended that you don’t. You don’t have to have the discipline to stay awake. The Army does that for you…First there is fireguard duty. ..There is also CQ detail. That’s when you get awakened at outcha’mind ‘o clock and have to report to the office…
Day 31: Carrie Underwood lies. There IS enough wind in Oklahoma. They could make a fortune bottling it and selling at a slight markup…. “And for your cooling pleasure, we have a well-aged 2013 Afternoon Gust, bottled March 2nd at the east range of Fort Sill, Oklahoma.”
Day 33: Good news, bad news, good news. I ran at the head of Bravo group again today. Bad news: I’ve been ordered to run with Alpha from now on and they run farther and faster and I vomit at the end of the run. Good news is that being pushed that hard will make my final PT test a breeze. P.S. It’s 30 days till Family Day.
And so our graduation countdown begins! I may be at the beginning of my MoMhood but I’m sure I’ll be joining in some of those military chat rooms as he gets farther and farther off my map. It may be my real calling is to collect those other mothers’ stories and create the user’s manual for new military moms!
Like a lot of parents, we tried to expose our kids to a broad range of experiences as they were growing. You never know what might stick. Broadway, the ballet, art museums, the science fair, living history encampments, political debates, snake charming, architectural tours: all are on our been-there-done-that list. We once spent a day watching archaeologists amass a pile of dirt, one spoonful at a time, as they painstakingly unearthed the bones of a mastodon from a baseball field. With this kind of background, you can understand why we also felt a moral imperative to pack up our kids for Punxsutawney to celebrate Groundhog Day.
I would be lying if I said that the release of the movie Groundhog Day had no influence on our decision. The lure of a charming little town and the lore of its annual rituals as portrayed by Andie MacDowell and Bill Murray were just too compelling. Who wouldn’t want to stand around in the freezing, pre-dawn hours with thousands of other revelers, waiting for a bunch of old guys in top hats to yank a giant rodent out of a box? We certainly didn’t want to miss out on that.
This Saturday, February 2, 2013, will mark the 123rd appearance of the legendary Punxsutawney Phil, prognosticator of prognosticators, or so the ritual says. His only missed year was 1943 when he declined the hoopla in deference to the seriousness of WWII. Every other year since 1887, his groupies have waited anxiously to discover if Phil will see his shadow on February 2nd, predicting six more weeks of winter.
The little town of Punxsutawney has marketed Groundhog Day into an art form. When we called the Punxsutawney Hotel for reservations, we were instantly accommodated – in a little motel 40 minutes away. It was one of a dozen sleep-over partners with which festival organizers had wisely built deals for the Groundhog Day promotion.
Our package included one night’s lodging and transportation from the motel to Gobbler’s Knob and back. Bundled in mittens and long johns, ear muffs and two-few pairs of socks, we boarded an ancient school bus at 5:00 am with other groggy guests. A lot of foot stomping, hand clapping and hot chocolate sipping kept the crowd of thousands warm and under control for the 90 minutes or so as we stood shoulder to shoulder on the frozen Knob waiting for the big reveal; some had partied there all night.
The year we visited, Phil lied. But the enthusiasm was contagious, the anticipation glorious and the town quite charming with it’s all-hail-the-groundhog attractions and window displays. In the end, our little weekend getaway included all the critical elements to make it a happy and distinctive memory. I’m not sure what our kids took away from it, some insight into hotel management or impractical haberdashery perhaps, but who else do you know who has ever done it?
We did learn a lot. As it turns out, Punxsutawney Phil has a last name (Sowerby) and a wife (Phyllis) with whom he shares accommodations in the town library when he’s not on forecast duty. Like all famous movie stars, he has fans. In 1995, Phil was flown to Chicago for an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Until 2009, there was a TY Beanie Baby released annually in tribute, complete with three versions of distinctive top hats. Phil has also inspired competitors and wannabees including French Creek Freddie in West Virginia; Gen. Beauregard Lee in Georgia; and Buckeye Chuck in Ohio.
According to the records dating back to his first pronouncement, Punxsutawney Phil has only predicted an early spring 15 times. His track record says he’s accurate 39% of the time.
Last year, Chicago meteorologist Tim McGill had the audacity to call Phil out. “ Phil is a punk when it comes to weather forecasting,” he declared on the Chicago Tribune blog. All I can say is that Mr. McGill should be glad that Phil wasn’t from Ft. Loudon, Merercsburg, Bino, Lemasters, Nova –or any other small town in Franklin County. We don’t take kindly to the defamation of our local heroes here.
It’s now too late to attend Breakfast with Phil which was held last Saturday. It may be tough to get a motel reservation – even 40 miles away – but you can still be part of the excitement. Log on to the official website at www.groundhog.org where you’ll be able to plug in to all the latest chatter in Blog from the Burrow. You will also find Punxsutawney Phil coloring sheets, crossword puzzles and lesson plans for teachers. There is even a recipe there for Groundhog Cookies which, thank goodness, are a lot like their Girl Scout cookie counterparts in that they contain no actual components of their namesake.
In three more days, we will be looking with promise to Phil once again. I say nothing good about the weather can come from rousting a giant, winter-weary, rat from a coma. If we expect a better outcome, use a better process. Remember this old bumper sticker: “Some days I wake up grumpy. Other days I let him sleep.” If we don’t want Phil to see his shadow, then remove the opportunity. Maybe we should simply let sleeping groundhogs lie.
The Big Three holidays may be over for another year but you can count on another set of celebrations rolling around in 2013. May all of your holidays be rated NCG.
The 2012 holiday season was the first in many years that didn’t involve some kind of quaint little plumbing mishap for our family and we’re grateful. But no matter how bad it has ever been, we have a saying here: At least it’s NCG (Not Clark Griswold).
You fans of National Lampoon’s movie classic Christmas Vacation are already enjoying a private chuckle or maybe an out-loud snort, aren’t you? If the name Clark Griswold doesn’t conjure up funny man Chevy Chase in a scene from this timeless, inter-generational Christmas train wreck, your holiday pleasures are incomplete so please rent Christmas Vacation.
At least it’s NCG has become part of our own family’s code talk, that special language that people sharing living quarters put together over the years to capture secret messages created through shared experiences. It’s like Morse Code for the dexterity-challenged. We’ve watched Christmas Vacation so many times that we no longer need the audio; we can recite most of it line by line, although only my son gets that masterful performance correct where Clark describes his boss in delicious detail. (Cheap, rotten, no-good-, lying, four-flushing, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, over-stuffed... well, you get the picture.)
The important lesson here is that NCG has set a standard by which our family now measures all holiday chaos. No matter how bad the oversight or mishap, we are consoled when we remind each other: At least it’s not Clark Griswold. Truthfully, it helps us remember that we really don’t have holiday disasters at our house; we have inconveniences. For instance, unlike the Griswold family Christmas, we’ve never had an exploding turkey or a Christmas lighting incident that nearly turned a favorite uncle to toast. We’ve also never used a chainsaw to decapitate a newel post or had our home invaded by a SWAT team on Christmas Eve.
I remember two Christmases in a row where an overflowing toilet created quite a distraction while the in-laws were all visiting. (Apparently we weren’t too quick on the pick-up about what toilet paper really works best at our house.) I also remember a toilet seat emergency at my grandmother’s house decades ago. One of the little cushion thingeys came off the bottom and caused the seat to slide off the rim when you sat down. My Pap, a fixer, came up from the garage with a solution: a piece of baler twine, a giant rubber band made from a slice of truck inner tube and a stick. I don’t remember the exact physics behind his approach but I know it had something to do with creating torque on the inner tube by turning the stick, the entire mechanism of which was held creatively in place by the baler twine.
Everything worked well until my grandmother got home and found the fix unaesthetically pleasing and then the whole damn opera fell apart. We all wobbled until after the holidays when someone could drive the 14 miles to nearest hardware store for a new toilet seat. (That’s ho things got done in the pre-WalMart era.)
Our current best story – and I’m leaving room for it to be updated and upstaged – is the 2009 Thanksgiving Incident. Those of you who know me well know that I’ve made n0 claims as a Domestic Diva and despite my perennial night-before scurry and my continued best intentions, Thanksgiving always finds our entire family waiting in queue for a shower in that last hour before lunch gets served. That has pending disaster written all over it.
The root cause of this particular incident is still open to dispute but one of the early contributing factors was a lost pendant that may or may not have gone down the bathroom sink drain. We’ve learned since then that when you live in an old house, it’s best not to disturb the plumbing for anything less than a full-scale blockage but in our zeal to confirm or deny the existence of said pendant, somebody in our house twisted the pipes open under the sink to check. (Somebody in our house is also family code talk and is used to assign blame to a mystery being who is responsible for all sorts of unclaimed mayhem.) There was no pendant. There was also no chance of getting the two parts of the pipe to realign properly again and in a way that assured their watertight integrity.
Thanks to our vast experience with plumbing problems, this was a situation we knew we could fix. With a bucket. And so the dribbles were caught behind closed vanity doors and the bucket was dumped regularly into the toilet bowl where the evidence of a quick-fix could be flushed away. I can’t say how long the bucket solution had been in play under the sink before the Thanksgiving Incident but suffice it to say, it had been at least a day or two…
During that same time period, my daughter was still wearing her hair long. Her grooming rituals were lengthy and rigorous, involving several sessions of lather, rinse, repeat and about a quart of Mane and Tail conditioner with every shower. Even the most tolerant drains can only take so much, you know what I’m saying? A back-up was inevitable. Enter my son for the final shower of the morning but facing several inches of standing water.
The events of the final 20 minutes of meal prep are a bit of a blur but I do know that I had just pulled the turkey from the oven and was standing at the kitchen counter with my mom and dad, sweet potato casserole on one side, a bowl of stuffing on the other. I had set the turkey on the cutting board and but instantly whisked it away to the other side of the counter so my dad could carve and be out of my workspace. I had barely moved the turkey when the first trickle of bath water began running down through my kitchen cabinets, the same cabinets I had taken a vacation day to clean inside and out just two days earlier.
As the three of us stood mesmerized by the waterfall that was cascading with more ferocity, my son slid through the doorway demanding a pot –not a cooking pot it seems, a bailing pot. Through some fascinating combination of gravity and water pressure and the power of a vacuum, the clog he had dislodged in the tub caused such a surge in the drain pipes that all the tub water rushed back up into the sink drain where it of course, followed the path of least resistance, out of the broken sink pipe and onto the bathroom floor. And down through the ceiling into my kitchen. And the whole way through my cupboards. Two seconds before that, our Thanksgiving dinner had been in perfect position for a final basting of Mane and Tail. At least it was NCG, we all declared.
The next few hours after dinner were spent with mops and fans and coat hangers and drain snakes and my son finally retrieved from the bathtub drain a wad of sister hair that resembled a small raccoon. (But it’s coat was certainly in great condition after all that Mane and Tail.) Just like the Griswold’s, we hadn’t let a little mishap ruin our holiday; we had only added another story to the Mitchell family album.
So here’s the moral of the story: no matter what has happened or may happen to change your vision of the perfect family gathering, if your family was gathered, it was perfect as intended. And the next time your toilet overflows when guests arrive or your dogs yacks up a bone under your table during an elegant dining experience, just remember: it could be worse. Your holiday is still rated NCG.