Freeing the voices in my head

Posts tagged ‘Children’

High Peaks Summer

We ate our way up the mountain. Grabbed what we could as we walked and crammed it into our mouths. We didn’t worry about rinsing off any dirt, bird poop, or germs; it had rained last night and the sun hadn’t yet burned off the morning dew. The lush purple goodies were ripe and sweet and irresistible.
Fourteen girls, the current residents of Cabins Six and Seven, on the last summer of childhood before high school, make up, cars and boys, no, we didn’t care. We were still invincible, still innocent, and we were conquering the world. Or least some of it.
Echo Camp for Girls on Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York offered a full summer program. Six weeks of swimming, boating, archery, horseback riding, hiking and camping. Arts and crafts, talent shows, and for the older girls, a dance night with the boys from the camp across the lake.
So many choices, so much to do and see and learn, every day structured except for Sundays and yet we didn’t feel restricted or restrained. Our parents paid for all of it, but we could choose; not interested in learning how to survive when your canoe capsizes, well then, use that extra hour to go down to the stables for more time with your favorite horse.
I had made a choice that summer, that last summer, to miss the final dance and go on the week long hiking trip. I wasn’t interested in the boys from the other camp because I had a boyfriend at home. We had shared our first kiss on the last day of eighth grade, the last day of junior high. I was true blue to him, so I chose to climb mountains.
Not just any mountains; these were the Adirondacks and we were climbing five of the highest peaks in the state. We would join an exclusive group of adults who had hiked up these mountains. It was a big deal back then to be part of the High Peak Club.
We started the journey by crossing the broad expanse of Raquette Lake in the camp’s two big motorboats. At the public dock, we piled into three canoes. Our lone camp counselor was Patty from Cabin Six, my counselor and at eighteen, four years older than us and our hero and mentor. We paddled our way to the first stop, put on our backpacks and hoisted upside down canoes on our shoulders to hike into the deep forest.
We dumped everything at the campsite near the first mountain and Patty led us up the trailhead. It was our first challenge – hike the smallest of the High Peaks before we ran out of energy and sunlight. We almost made it.
We reached the summit of Phelps Mountain and marveled at the gorgeous view, nibbled gorp (trail mix), and signed our names in the hiker’s book. Patty found it in a small wooden box nailed to a tree. The little notebook was filled with signatures and had room for many more. Phelps wasn’t a popular hike for day-trippers – it wasn’t steep, but the trail was a find-your-own-way-up once you reached the midway point. Day hikers wanted easily marked and cleared trails. Intrepid adventurers, like us, just scrambled through brush, scraggly trees and around boulders until we reached the top.
After signing my name, I glanced at the opposite page. A familiar name caught my eyes. “Hey, I know this boy! He’s one of Sean’s friends.” I probably blushed saying my steady’s name; Love was brand-new for me and one of the few things I was shy about learning.
Patty leaned over and pointed out the group name at the top. “Boy Scouts. They were here last week.” I smiled, feeling a warm connection to this boy I barely knew, we had climbed the same mountain, this Randy Eldred and I, what a coincidence.
The beginning glory of the sunset spread out before us, so close and breath-taking, was our nudge to return to camp. We scampered down the mountain, laughing and screaming, mere steps ahead of the dark, and landed in breathless heaps at the bottom of the trail. Patty grinned at us, a serene goddess of fitness, barely sweating, and sweetly said, “Time to make camp.”
We groaned and stumbled forward to pitch tents, build a fire and cook over it, but a glorious smell hit us when we entered our clearing. A cheerful fire blazed in the pit, the tents were pitched and an actual dinner had been set up on picnic tables. Patty informed us that this was our first reward. There would be different ones each time we conquered a high peak.
“But how?” someone asked. Our counselor pointed at the line of trees. “There’s a road and public campground right over there. The Skipper sent the kitchen staff here to set us up for the first night. After this, though, we’ll be on our own, so enjoy it!”
The next day, and for the rest of the week, we shouldered our canoes and packs, trekking through dense forest and tiny creeks, to reach open water. It was always a relief to get in the canoe and glide across a lake to the next mountain. Paddling was easier than walking, at least for the first hour or so.
We followed a stream up Mount Marcy, the tallest peak in New York. It wasn’t the toughest mountain and it took forever to reach the summit. Once there, we received our geography and history lesson. The owner of Echo Camp, the Skipper, made sure her girls learned about the land. Marcy was a long boring hike, made fun only because Patty let us play in the stream. That became a tiny trickle near the summit and disappeared into the bare ground. Patty pointed to the spot and proclaimed, “Girls, this is where the mighty Mohawk River begins.” She turned us around. “And from here, you can see across five different states.”
I was impressed, but too tired to hang onto the feeling. This tallest peak was, for me, a disappointment and all I could think about was that long boring hike back down to camp. Lonnie, my best buddy that summer, suddenly said, “Well, I don’t know about five states, but I do see thunderclouds.” We all turned the other way and squealed at the black masses of clouds heading toward us. Patty shouted, “Go, follow the creek, but do NOT walk in it. Go, girls, fast as you can!”
Some of us had grown up in this area, played with family at Lake George, camped here before, but others were city girls and didn’t understand. I grabbed Lonnie’s hand and hurried her along. My New York City girlfriend gasped, “The stream is easier to run through.”
“No! If it starts to rain, it’ll flood and be too fast, too dangerous,” I said.
She stared at me and the ankle-deep creek. “Trust me. We have to get down before it overflows.” I lost track of the group, tugging Lonnie along with me, crashing into boulders and trees, frantically praying the storm would pass us by or hold off for just one hour.
Thunder rolled and rumbled. From one step to the next, it was suddenly very dark. Another slam of sound from the clouds and the rain hit. It slashed down through the trees with enough force to drench us in minutes. Lonnie started crying. I held onto her and remembered my woods-lore: keep the creek on my left and keep moving downstream. The sight of flashlights and the sounds of voices shouting for us almost made me join Lonnie in crying.
We had made it and were greeted by two park rangers. The girls didn’t know it then, but Patty’s route was being watched, we weren’t really as “on our own” as she made us believe. The rangers led us back to camp and showed us how keep a fire burning in a downpour (tucked halfway under a roof made of green pine branches). It got smoky under there, but it warmed us. They stayed for dinner, flirting with Patty among giggling girls. We were no longer cold, wet and scared. We had conquered another High Peak, so where was our reward?
We received it the next morning. Instead of breaking camp, we hiked to a road and climbed into a bus. Our ride took us to Wright Mountain. It was a pretty hike, with no surprises. The best part was the bus ride back and forth, giving us a chance to rest our legs and arms.
We canoed across Lake Placid the next day, easing up to a scrap of land at the base of Whiteface Mountain. We faced a wall of dirt, rocks and scrawny trees jutting out from the cliff. It wasn’t a sheer cliff and it wasn’t a rock cliff, but it wasn’t a normal hike, either. We would be doing actual climbing, like scrambling out of a ravine or climbing a tree that happened to be growing alongside a hill of dirt. But that wasn’t just a hill, that was a mountain and it would take hours to claw our way to the top.
Patty gave us a choice: We could get in the canoes and paddle to the other side of Whiteface and the easy trail or we could conquer this Peak from here, taking the expert way up. I wonder now if when our parents signed all those forms that they were told exactly what their daughters would face that summer?
We climbed. The dirt was firm enough to hold us and soft enough to shove fingers and feet into with the help of tree roots and rocks. We paused on ledges and turned to gaze out at the beautiful lake far below. We pretended to be mountain goats and jumped to the next ledge before sticking our hands into holes and climbing again.
The last few feet of the climb was the real challenge. There the cliff was sheer and hauling our tired bodies up to the overhang took everything we had. I scrabbled my fingers over the lip and found a surprise. There was soft grass under my hands. I scooted up the rest of the way and rolled onto freshly mowed turf, a manicured and maintained lawn. We all reached the top, helping each other over that cliff edge.  Our group stood up and broke into gales of laughter at the sight before us.
Tourists. Families in clean t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops, drinking soda from cans and staring at fifteen muddy, bedraggled apparitions who had just appeared out of nowhere. Civilization in the form of a gift shop and ski lodge, the parking lot full of cars, the chair ski lift giving summer visitors rides here on the summit of Whiteface Mountain.
Our reward was a picnic lunch catered by Echo Camp’s kitchen staff and a ride down the mountain in another bus, sneering at the hikers walking the easy trail up the mountain that was next to the road. We did have to hike around the base of Whiteface to reach our canoes, but we were full of energy again because we had climbed a CLIFF!
It rained all night and cleared up in time for our hike up Mount Algonquin. The second tallest peak in the park was a beautiful trek with a delightful perk. This was our last mountain, our last day, and it was the best one of all.
On either side of the trail, in full rich ripe glory, we saw blueberries. The trees were few, the bushes were all. There would be no wandering off the trail here; the entire mountain was covered in blueberry bushes. We swiped handfuls of them in passing, the plump berries bursting with sweet juice, filling more than our tummies. Sun-warmed berries, chirping birds and a bright blue sky. We were young, strong, healthy, and we had done more in one week than most people achieve in a lifetime.
This was Summer.
My last perfect summer, it turned out. The summer I strive to remember when I feel I can’t cope with one more day of adult life. I did something that summer, something no one else in my family could lay claim to: I climbed five of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. The chubby, half-blind, asthmatic child had been strong and brave, helpful and knowledgeable.
I sometimes wish I could freeze Time to that moment, that Summer, when the filthy, wet, muddy and tired girls of Cabins Six and Seven stepped off the boats and returned to Echo Camp to the cheers and hugs of the younger kids. We felt like conquering heroes, we WERE heroes, and it was glorious! 😀

 

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Hollywood Needs Revamping

Or we should just shut Hollywood down, oust all the movie moguls and start over with fresh blood.  And television needs a make-over, too.

There are a few movies I want to see in a movie theater: Big action adventure movies are worth the price.  Nothing else will motivate me into spending fifty bucks.  The other types of movies are readily viewed on the big TV at home, in comfort, where I can mock, um, talk back to the movie, laugh loudly, cry, cough, smoke, eat, play on my laptop…

I forced myself to watch about ten minutes of “Twilight” one night.  The dialogue was terrible and so were the wooden dolls, um, actors.  I clicked it off.  I had already lost a couple of hours of my life by reading the horrible book; I’m too old now to lose more time to dreck!

What Hollywood has lost is the ability to create good movies using good actors.  They seem to think we want pretty people on the screen at all times.  Pretty is okay, but even the richest dessert makes you sick if you eat nothing else.  Pretty does not equal talented.  I’m tired of seeing no-talent actors in movies with no plots.  Sure, I know the moguls are going for the cash from the 12 to 25 year old pockets (or, rather, their parents’ pockets).  And I know they all think the public is stupid and only interested in stupid shit, but come on, skateboard and bicycle movies?

I can’t even address the horrors of television (non–)programming today.  There are a rare few shows that are still halfway decent to watch, the rest is Reality TV, which sucks.

Anyway, here’s what we should do…to find good actors, go to any restaurant or bar and hire the oldest waitress, waiter and bartender in the place.  These people know how to ACT!  We may not be pretty skinny plastic dolls, but we know how to smile in the face of chaos and cruelty, tell the most outrageous lies and be believed, pretend we like you when what we really want to do is shove a butter knife down your bitchy throat.

As for storyline and plot, stop using the newest best-selling book.  Most books of that genre are dreck pumped out in two months to feed the stupid people who can barely read but need to have the newest thing piped into their tech devices.  God forbid they buy an actual BOOK!

Yes, comics and graphic novels have been great.  There are lots of them out there, find them and please stop remaking Spiderman, Batman, Supes, Hulk, etc.

I do like the Ironman movies and The Avengers.  X-Men was good, Thor was cute, one of the Hulk movies was okay, and the first Punisher movie was really good.   But there are more to choose from, like, um, shit, I can’t think of one that can stand alone.  Oh well…you get my point, I hope.

“The Help” was an okay book and a good movie.  Would I have enjoyed it in a movie theater?  I don’t know; watching it at home let me react the way I wanted (until hubby returned from golfing and teased me for crying).

Years ago, my older son and I went to see the movie “Braveheart.”  We came out of the theater, blinking back to real life and amazed that we had been immersed in there for three hours.  We had lost all sense of time passing, of Real Life existing… Now that, to me, is the sign of a really GOOD movie!

Yes, bring back movies that suspend real life for hours, movies that make you sigh in remorse when they end because you want more.  I’m tired of movies that have me sighing with relief when they are over and I can go home.

Movies, like books, should transcend Real Life, take you away, help you escape.  If I wanted to see Real Life, well, hell, I could drive to Wally World or go visit my relatives!  shudder….

Vignettes

I love words and vignette is a favorite of mine.  “A short, graceful literary sketch.”  “A brief, appealing scene, as in a movie.”  I don’t know how graceful or appealing my blogs are; they usually aren’t short or brief, that’s for sure!  To me, a vignette is a glimpse or an anecdote of  mine or someone’s Life, a quick story told on the fly, usually at the dinner table, almost always resulting in laughter.

I’m outnumbered here, gender-wise, and men don’t tell stories the way women do.  A woman will go into great detail, she’ll add sub-plots and side-way tangents; she will regal you with rich observations that would fill a book.  A man will say three to five sentences and be done.

But, oh, my men have the most interesting stories, um, tidbit tales!  My brother hasn’t been able to write down his Woodstock adventures (he’s in a great deal of pain, barely managed by his pain meds).  We’re hoping he can get that Dragon program and just speak into his computer and have it type it for him!   The only parts of the Woodstock story I remember are that he smoked that funny stuff, camped out, played in the mud, and got the station wagon stuck in the mud.  Someday, I’ll get him to tell me the whole story again.

When they had the Woodstock reunion in the 90s, I was the manager of a Pizza Hut, just off the New York State Thruway.  We were mobbed and so not ready for it.  We had people five deep at the counter, starving, filthy campers, eagerly pressing forward, watching the ovens, hoping I was cutting their pizza to be boxed.  Amidst the chaos was one … woman.  Yes, I’m being polite.  She insisted that no meat, meat substance or meat oil touch her pizza.

We tried.  My main cook made her pizza on a clean board and used fresh gloves to place the garlic sauce (no tomato marinara sauce for her, no sirree, it might have meat products in it!  Gack!) and cheese on the dough.  She was right up front, and could see everything.  Before he placed her pizza in the oven, she saw the other cook grabbing cheese from the bin…”Wait!  That’s the cheese you ALL use?  It’s tainted with meat substance!”  Oh, god…

We apologized and Ted trotted to the walk-in, pulled out a new bag of cheese, and used it for her new pizza.  Good, pizza now in oven.  I was lifting pizzas out as fast as I could to keep the ovens from backing up and burning them.  The slightest pause meant disaster.  I grabbed her pizza, slid it out of the pan onto the cutting board… “Wait!  That board just had a sausage pizza on it!”  Oh, god (and the twenty people behind her groaned, too)…

I apologized and Ted made her another new pizza.  I swiftly dealt with a few more pizzas, making sure a clean cutting board was at hand for the vegan lady.  Her pizza rolled to the front, I expertly slipped it onto the clean board and sliced down… “Wait!  That’s MY pizza and you just used THAT slicer on a pepperoni pizza!”   Oh, god (and the thirty people behind her didn’t just groan.  They bitched, they told her to give up, they looked at her with murder in their eyes…but, wonder of wonders, they did NOT blame me and my crew!)…

We apologized, again, and started over.  Now, we had a backed up oven, pizzas burning, rhythm disrupted.  Hurry to box her pizza and cash her out, whirl back around and zip, zip, slice and box three more pizzas.  I turned to cash those people out and noticed the crowd was watching the front door.  When it shut on vegan lady’s exiting behind, the mob cheered, applauded, and thanked me and my crew for our patience!

We had a bunch of extra mistake pizzas and breadsticks.  I had my waitresses pass out slices to everyone and comped all sodas as my thank you to the crowd.  Ah, the Woodstock legacy of “Peace and Brotherly Love” blossomed again for the rest of the night!

Heh, see what I mean?  I’m sure my brother’s story is longer than the tiny bit I recall, but it took a whole page for me to tell my Woodstock reunion story!  🙂

Some of the funniest, oddest, best stories I’ve heard from my menfolk aren’t stories at all.  They are mere vignettes, a few sentences at most.  I have to pull more details out like a cat giving birth to an elephant…yeah, improbable at best, impossible most of the time!

For example:  Hubby’s ship went through a corner of the Bermuda Triangle.  I was fascinated and wanted to hear if anything weird happened.  His response?  “Well, it got foggy and the radio wouldn’t work for a few minutes, but everything cleared up on the other side.”

That’s IT?!  Really?!  Can you elaborate at all?  Nope, that really was it, delivered in a bored nothing-unusual-today tone of voice.  GACKKK!!!

Or this one, from my oldest son:  Walks in the house all sweaty, without his car (a 1967 Mustang, runs good, maybe, sorta, kinda…)…  I asked, “Where’s your car?”  Brian said, “Oh, the drive shaft for the tranny fell out.  I had to push it over to Midas.  I got a ride home with Matt.”  And heads for the shower.  “Wait!  What?” I frantically call out, instantly on the alert, knowing that the Midas shop he uses is at one of the busiest intersections in our part of Tucson, AZ.

He paused, returned to the kitchen and got a soda.  “I’m really hot, tired, and sweaty, Mom.”

“Please?”

So, here’s the REST of the story…  He was at the intersection of Ina and Thornydale, in the far left lane, got to the light and started through.  In the MIDDLE of the intersection, in the middle of his turn, in the middle of rush hour traffic, the Mustang drops her tranny (transmission), and comes to a dead stop.  With cars whizzing by in all directions, my son got out and single-handedly pushed that ton or so of car across a gazillion lanes of traffic, up a slight hill and into the parking lot of Midas.  He received assistance only at the end, when a mechanic saw him and came over.

Think on it:  a 1967 Mustang, weighs a lot, probably almost a thousand pounds because it’s made of METAL not fiberglass, no power anything — brakes or STEERING.  One guy pushing AND steering it…oh, good lord, my mind seized up.  Eh, Brian assured me, once he got her moving, it wasn’t so hard…and off he goes to the shower.  GACKK!!!

Then there’s the tale of the pallet of ammo that didn’t exist and the one bullet, “What bullet?”…but that’s a real tale to tell and not a vignette, so…

Later, my lovies!  heh heh… 😀

 

Terror Alert: RED!

No, not “terrorist,” no one is attacking the USA.  It’s just Life attacking me and the people I love.  What is the most terrifying thing that can happen?  Well, if you’re a parent, it’s anything regarding your child.  Doesn’t matter how old they are, when something bad approaches or happens to your kid, you feel it – that heart-wrenching, gut-twisting, knee-buckling sensation: Terror.  At the same time, because you are the parent, you are not allowed to collapse screaming on the floor (which is what part of you wants to do).  Nope, you must act strong, calm, and deal with the situation.

About two weeks ago, we got a phone call late in the afternoon from our daughter’s ex-boyfriend.  She had been in a lot of pain in June from a pinched nerve in her shoulder that numbed her right hand and left her with fumbling fingers — yes, you can have pain and numbness at the same time; it’s happened to me.  She did go to a clinic, but not a chiropractor.  She has no insurance and little income because she only has a part time job.  By July 4th, she was better, but her hand was still kind of numb and tingly.

For the next two weeks, unknown to us, she battled a painful infection.  She did go to Urgent Care and took the antibiotic and pain meds they gave her.  The next day, she tried to call her friend for help.  By the time he could get to her, she was incoherent and having seizures.

We have a number of wonderful angels in our lives, most of them are our adult children’s friends.  Her ex-boyfriend has been through so much with her and she can trust him with some frightening issues, so she called him.  Then, he (thank you, son), called us.  When he got her to the hospital, two more angels went into action: our “other” son and his partner – paramedics.  They called us, too.  And then, the one angel I am most grateful for: the sweet wife of our “other” son, who works at the hospital, called.

Now, fed regulations protect private patient info so the hospital couldn’t tell me anything over the phone, but from the little info our friends gave us and the tone of their voices, we knew a parent had to go be with our girl.  When you hear that one piece of info – “They’re sending her to the ICU.” – you jump in the car and drive.

Now, we got lucky in a few ways and unlucky in others.  The bad part was her dad HAD to leave for South America the next day for work and would be gone for an unknown length of time.  There was no money for a plane ticket and no way to get one at 9 pm, plus, no one to pick me up at the airport and no money for a rental car.  We live in the middle of Texas (bum-f@ck Houston), daughter is in Arizona – it’s a 15 to 17 hour drive.  And I suck at long drives…and dealing with authority figures like doctors…

But…I’m retired and could go to her.  Our younger son is here with us, still getting all his papers together for his job, so he isn’t working yet, and we could do the drive together in a really good car.  Hubby has a good friend who took the dogs, the cats were left with a huge bowl of food…and we all headed out to our assignments.

Once in Arizona, in the hospital, I learned more – they will tell a parent things in person, thank goodness, maybe, sorta…It is terrifying to hear your child (I don’t care if she’s an adult, she’s still my baby!) was “Code Yellow” – which is just a step below “critical.”  Terrifying to learn she continued having seizures and stopped breathing at one point, terrifying to see her hooked up to a breathing tube and in a chemically-induced coma…looking like she’s 12 yrs old…and weighing under 100 pounds when she’s 5’6″ and should have at least 20 more pounds on her.

We can joke about it now (ah, morbid humor  it’s the only thing that keeps us sane), but it took a four-point restraint and two burly staff to hold her down to keep tests done before they doped her.  The boys related how the ER staff was talking about the 90 pound girl throwing all the men around the room.  Our paramedic boys also told off the people who were speculating with disrespect regarding our girl’s behavior because she’s “our sister-friend.”

Ah, validation when the test results came back clean – no drugs or alcohol, but very low potassium level, electrolytes, nutrition values, etc.  Perhaps a reaction to the antibiotic or previous pain meds?  No one knew for sure, but she did, indeed, have a nasty raging infection in her body.

It took a few days before they allowed her to awaken.  And, of course, we all wanted to know what had happened, what she could tell us.  But her first words were “What the hell happened?”    She doesn’t know, either.  She took the proper doses of meds and went to bed, then woke up unable to control her body and fingers and frantically tried calling her friend.

We may never know what happened.  I believe it was a combination of everything.  I have seen a low potassium episode before – my mom was found wandering around her yard late one night in her pjs, yelling for my dad – who had been dead for six months.  She was confused and didn’t know me or my brother (this was way before she slipped into dementia).  She fought the paramedics, then flirted with them (75 yrs old and still feisty!).  An infusion of potassium and voila!  All better.

Our girl is also allergic to penicillin and some of its derivatives.  It’s possible the antibiotic – one she had never taken before – is another one she is allergic to; she did have trouble breathing.

Then, there was the infection and the fact that she hadn’t been eating much for almost two months…

Well, I took care of her once they released her, feeding her, fussing over her, and left her with lots of proper food, juices, and a clean apartment (!).  I’m back in Texas now, but I’m still gonna worry, that’s a given, that never ends.

Is the terror over?  Can I lower the alert from red to green?  Nope, never.  Maybe yellow?  No, I’m Mom – the terror alert remains at Orange, a constant gnawing bug I hide deep inside and try to ignore.

So please remember – if you have a friend who is a parent, no matter what age their child is, don’t ever call them late at night.  Because before she/he sees who is calling, the Terror Alert jumps to Red: “My child is in trouble!”

Hey, it’s a parent thing…  🙂

 

The Buzz-Buzz Monster

“Here it comes again!”  “Outta my way!”  Shrieking, jumping, laughing… My little sister and I clambered up to the top of the couch.  From there, we plotted out separate routes across the living room.  Pixie claimed the easy road; down to the arm of the couch, across the side table to the back of the big armchair and then jump onto the dining room table.  I was more daring.  If I timed it right, I could jump down to the middle of the living room floor, run to the stairs and perch on the table sitting on the stairway landing.  Risky, but the monster might go after Pix and give me time to escape.

“Buzz, buzz!”

“Aarrgghhh!”  The monster had a long reach; if we slipped, he’d get us!  Pix took her chance and I jumped.  Strong arms grabbed me, “Buzz, buzz!” And the tickling commenced.  I rolled in Daddy’s arms, laughing and kicking.  Pix jumped on his back, trying to help me, but Daddies aren’t ticklish, especially when they are Buzz Buzz Monsters.

Her little legs pummeled his sides.  “Horsie! Horsie!  Gi-pa!”  And the game changed.  With a rear and a whinny, the Gi-pa took off across the living room, Pixie shrieking with joy, her hands fisted in his thick black hair.  I sat up, trying to catch my breath and waited for my turn.

Every family, I hope, has games.  Silly fun games.  I’m pretty sure Jim Carrey (in “Liar, Liar”, I think was the movie’s name) does not have the exclusive rights to “The Claw!”  Hey, my daddy was “The Claw” before the actor was born!  Daddy was the big sneaky shark before anyone ever heard of “Jaws!”  He would swim underwater to us and one hand would rise up.  He would corner us in the shallow end of the pool, hands crooked, reaching for us, and ominously announce, “It’s The Claw!  The Claw!” in a twisted accent.  If caught, more tickling…  I learned how to swim just to escape into the deep end.

That was a rule.  “The Claw” couldn’t get you if you were on dry land or in the deep end of the pool.  Same with the Buzz Buzz Monster – it couldn’t climb on the furniture to get us, but if we touched the floor, we were fair game.  We didn’t play these games with Mom.  I don’t remember a single tickle session with my mom.  She did come outside and push me nice and high on my swing, though.

Maybe they were Daddy games because he was home.  We were “latch-key” kids long before the phrase was coined.  We’d walk home from school or the bus stop, enter the unlocked house, and do whatever.  Our older brother and older sister were supposed to be our baby-sitters, but, honestly?  Between the time we left school until my Dad got home from work, we were out in the neighborhood playing.

Dad had the typical 8 to 5 job; Mom, as a Registered Nurse, tried to work only the 7am to 3pm shift so she could be home with us in the afternoon, but she sometimes worked doubles or she’d be sleeping because she had to work 3pm to 11pm or 11pm to 7am.  If she was home, sleeping or not, we’d grab our bikes and take off.  We didn’t want to bother her – that woke up a whole different kind of monster.

But once she left for work and Daddy was in charge, ah, the games commenced.  Did she know we climbed all over the furniture?  Did she find out Daddy let us sit in his big chair with him to watch “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” late at night?  Did she ever come outside and catch fireflies with us?  She did love to swim and I remember playing “The Claw” with her in the pool.  Mom made a good “Claw.”  She had long slender fingers and could cackle like a witch.

I have my dad’s hands – small with short chubby fingers.  But my fingers have Mom’s agility.  I played a variation of “The Claw” with my kids when they were little.  “The Spider” would creep across the table toward their highchair, creeping, “legs” extending up and out, wriggling forward…ooo, the suspense, the wide-eyed happy fear as “The Spider” advanced.  And then…Pounce!  Tickle, tickle!  If my baby swatted at it, “The Spider” would dash away.  If my child landed a hit, my hand would flop over, palm up, the “legs” curled in defeat.  Ah, but maybe the monster was just playing dead.  Maybe, if you poke it with your baby spoon (never your soft meaty little finger, oh no!), it will move and jump at you again!  Cats love “The Spider” game, too!

My husband makes an awesome “Claw.”  He has big strong hands with long slender fingers.  Back when we were first “going steady” in high school, I taught him how to swim properly.  Oh, he knew the basics from swimming in the river or streams, but he had few opportunities to swim in a real pool.  I took him to our housing development’s pool or up to Saratoga Springs Park – for a dollar, you could spend all day at the two big pools there, swimming and diving.  I taught that boy the crawl, the backstroke, the side stroke, taught him proper form for a simple racing dive, beat him in lap races the length of the pool…then he went to SUNY Maritime College.  My aspiring sailor came home, challenged me to a race, and was halfway across the pool before I’d hit the water!  College had taught him better than I and I stood in the shallow end, watching a man shoot through the water with clean strokes from powerful arms and efficient kicks from those nicely muscled legs.  Then, he disappeared in the deep end…moments later, something grabbed my legs.  “The Claw” broke the surface and, well, that game didn’t end in a tickle session!  Maritime instructors taught him how to hold his breath for a long time, too.  I hope I’m the one who taught him how to kiss like that!  😀

I also introduced my love to “Scrabble,” gin rummy and poker.  Just a few games later, he was winning every time.  Hard to win against a guy with genius IQ once he learns something!  I took him horseback riding.  I had years of training and experience; he settled in the saddle, picked up the reins, tucked his feet in the stirrups – heels down, toes out – and, yeah, a natural, no more lessons required.  He had the “seat” and the “soft” hands, and horses responded beautifully for him.

Men and games.  Kids and games.  Family games are necessary, made up games are the best.  Imperfect and dysfunctional as my birth family was, we had some fun times.  I worry that I’m the only one who remembers, that I’m the Keeper of the Good Memories.  They’re gone now, those two beautiful, talented walking wrecks of people, but, sometimes, I miss them.  My brother battles intense pain and struggles with a mind fogged by powerful pain-killer drugs.  My older sister is lost to us, buried in mental illness.  My little sister, Pixie to my Trixie (Daddy’s nicknames for us), is raising her family, working, living through the grief of having her oldest son die at the age of twenty.  So I frantically type, attempting to organize the memories and get the family stories out of my own failing brain.

Don’t be my mom; go catch some fireflies with your kids or point out the stars in the sky.  Better yet, let your children climb on the furniture while you, the Buzz Buzz Monster, crawl on the floor below.  Make the good memories now and they’ll help you fight off the Dark.

Grandpa’s Wheelchair Game

“…As those caissons go rolling along.”

I was sitting on Grandpa’s lap and turned my head to ask, “Grandpa, what’s a caisson?”

We had rolled down the hall from the living room and across the tiny kitchen.  Grandpa stopped his wheelchair precisely at the back door.  He was in the middle of his grand flourish, swiveling to face Grandma as the song ended.  Grandma glanced at us, her mouth crunched up like she’d just bitten into a lemon.  Ut-oh.  I leaned back against Grandpa’s chest and stared down at my knees, dangling between the stumps of Grandpa’s legs.  He chuckled and we took off again, but he did sing a different song.

“Roll me over in the clover!  Roll me over and do it again!”

“Harry!”  The shout from the kitchen made him laugh.  I had no idea why.

I don’t remember how old I was, had to be between the ages of  six and nine because we moved to the house in Schenectady, NY when I was five and lived six houses down from my father’s parents.  Our house was in the middle of the block, theirs was at the end of the block – a red brick one-story two bedroom with a tiny bath and kitchen but a huge attic and basement.  At some point before my eleventh birthday, both of them had died and we moved to Clifton Park.

They were both really old by the time we moved to the house on Myron Street in Schenectady.  Mom and Dad married after college, a few years after WWII, and didn’t have my brother until 1951.  I missed out on getting to visit my grandpa’s high class Italian restaurant in the city, when they lived in a huge Victorian home off of Route 7.  (That house is still there, hidden behind massive trees.  Last I heard, it was an Assisted Living Home for the elderly.)  I do have a very nebulous memory of sitting at the counter of Grandpa’s diner.  That was located on Erie Boulevard, near the train station.  There’s a faded photograph of me with a soda fountain coca-cola glass that’s so tall it’s as high as the top of my head, but, sorry, the printer’s dead so I can’t scan in pictures.

Grandma and Grandpa were excellent cooks.  They were from the Old Country.  No one’s alive now who remembers exactly when they came over from Italy (someday, I’ll look it up, but the urge to write their stories down has hit, so I’ll do it later), but they embraced the American Dream at full throttle.  They learned English, struggling to remove as much “wop” accent as they could.  They worked hard and fulfilled the dream of owning their own businesses.  Yes, plural.  They had the fancy restaurant, the diner, and, later, when I was little, Grandma’s secondhand store, Treasures & Trash.  That was on Erie Boulevard, too, not far from the big General Electric plant where my daddy worked as an ad writer.

Grandma’s store was crammed full of tables covered in glassware.  Display cases full of jewelry formed an aisle to the back wall where huge pieces of furniture gathered dust.  The best jewelry, the antiques, the real stuff, sat in a display case in my grandparents’ house.  You’d walk in the front door and the first thing you’d see (and make sure you didn’t bump into) was that glass case full of sparkling diamond rings and thick fancy bracelets and necklaces.  We weren’t allowed to open that case or touch anything, but we could look, and we did.  My sisters and I would drool over those pretty baubles, picking out our favorites.  Shortly after Grandpa died, Grandma did open the display case and told us to pick out our favorite piece of jewelry.

My sisters chose big, bold pieces.  I had my eyes on a ring no one else wanted.  “That’s so plain and small, and it’s not real gold,” my older sister sneered.

Grandma smiled and explained, “Yes, it is.  It’s white gold and those two rectangular gems are black sapphires.  The diamond is a half carat, pure and clean.  You have a good eye, Eileen.”  She handed my choice to me and I slipped it onto my ring finger.  It was too loose for my ten year old finger, but it was beautiful.  The diamond sat clutched in six prongs above a delicate filigree cage of tiny vines.  On either side of it, sat the two black sapphires, so dark a blue they did look black until the light hit them and a blue glow woke within.  Grandma wrote down our choices on a piece of paper, put the jewelry back and tucked the paper in a corner of the case.  “When I die, make sure your father gives you these.  This is your inheritance.  Don’t let her steal them from you.”

Yeah, Grandma A and my mom hated each other.  Dad was Gram’s late-in-life baby and her only son.  He was a mama’s boy, a rotund little kid, spoiled by his mother and two older sisters.  He did rebel, finally, and at eighteen, joined the Marines and was sent into the Pacific Arena to fight during World War II.  When he returned, he was a lean and handsome man who immediately dashed off to college to avoid being dumped into the family business.  He had absolutely no interest in working in or owning a restaurant.  He wanted to be a writer and an actor.  Then, he got married.

Married to a woman his mother didn’t approve of, a flighty, vain, wanna-be actress, a woman three years older than him who was also the daughter of the black sheep in her family.  The only thing Grandma could like about Mom was that she was full-blooded Italian and could cook.  Of course, Mom wasn’t as good a cook as a Grandma – no way was she going to leave a pot of spaghetti sauce on the back burner at a low simmer for days, tossing in the dinner leftovers from the week.  Nope, my mom was a modern woman, with a job, and she enjoyed the convenience of canned tomatoes and sauce.  I never had the heart to tell my mother that Grandma’s Sunday sauce was heavenly compared to hers, thick, rich, full of bits of mystery meats and veggies.

Grandpa was retired by then, probably because of the ice skating accident that took his second leg.  It got infected, developed gangrene, and was amputated at the knee.  No one ever revealed how he lost his first leg.  From Grandma’s reaction to any talk, or songs, from the war, we kids suspected he lost it back then.  Damn, how I wish someone had told us more about them – I don’t even know if Grandpa was in WWI!  The contradiction here was their extreme reaction to their son joining the Marines.  They were completely against it.  If Grandpa was in the first world war, wouldn’t he be proud of his son enlisting in the second one?  Ah, there’s a small mystery we’ll never solve.

The tidbits of stories have been in my family for years.  Helen B. was a young Polish girl who wanted to escape to America (ironic how Grandma was Polish, but wanted her children to marry full-blooded Italians.  Maybe that was to please Grandpa.).  She was in love with Captain Francisco and after one more trip, he would have enough money to take her with him across the ocean.  Her beau never returned from the sea.  As she approached the age of spinsterhood, another man limped into her life.

Harry A. was from a successful Italian family.  Their restaurant was the star of the town.  But Harry wanted more – he dreamed of owning his own business in America.  Was it a marriage of convenience?  Did he marry Helen to help her or to appease his family by being wed before he left them?  I don’t know.  They were cordial to each other, and Grandma took excellent care of him, but they didn’t act like they loved each other.

I remember seeing pictures of Grandpa standing on one leg in the dining room of his restaurant, balanced on two canes, but my memories begin with him in the wheelchair.  Did my older brother and sister ever play the wheelchair game with him?  I know my little sister did.  We’d fight over who would get to ride first.  I was eighteen months older, so I always won.  Christine was lighter and it was better for her to be second – Grandpa would be getting tired by then.

It was wonderful to sit straight down in the middle of Grandpa’s lap and hang on for dear life to the armrests.  I’d wrap my legs around the leg supports he didn’t need, not the least bit squeamish about being tucked between his stumps.  It never occurred to us to think of him as handicapped; he was just Grandpa.  He had strong thighs and they would help keep me from sliding off his lap.

That was important.  He’d dip his head down to whisper, “Ready, ma bella?”  All I could do was nod, for we’d be off!  He’d push away from the front door, his strong arms and hands propelling us down the hallway at top speed.  His chest would thrum as he bellowed out a song.  To the back door, pivot, and race away again.  Three turns each, and then he would have to rest quietly in the living room with Grandma fussing over him.  She would shoo Christine and me up to the attic, where we could play dress up in all her vintage gowns and jump around on a huge old bed…but that’s a story for another day.

Oh, and he never answered my question.  I had to ask it again one day when I heard my father singing the same song.  “Daddy, what’s a caisson?”

It was an ammunition wagon used in World War I.  Maybe Grandpa really was in that war…

The Toilet Paper Toss

At some point today, I bounced out of my funk, determined to be more cheerful.  I was sitting in the bathroom and realized someone-who-shall-not-be-named had used up the last of the toilet paper and left the empty roll sitting in the holder.  Unfortunately, I didn’t go shopping today, even though I knew that was the last roll of toilet paper.  I’d been hoping it would last until tomorrow.  Oops…

Swiveling into a contortion to reach the tissue box on the back of the toilet, I knocked some things onto the floor.  The tissues landed in the bathtub, just…out…of…reach.  Well, damn…

Our one cat, Trixie, is fascinated by the bathroom and will play in there.  She grabs hair scrunchies and jumps in the tub, batting them around.  Toss something in the toilet and she jumps on the rim to watch it magically swirl away when flushed.  I decided to use her to help me.  I grabbed the empty toilet paper roll and got her to play with it in the tub, trying to swat it out of my hand.  Closer, a bit closer, and, ah-ha!  She found the tissue box!  Startled, she jumped away from it, knocking it just close enough for me to grab.  Ah, I love it when a plan comes together!  Okay, no, I didn’t completely plan it, just kinda, sorta hoped…

The playtime in the bathroom awoke a pleasant memory…

My little sister and I used to play a game when we were stuck in a restaurant with the parents.  We’d eat as fast as we could, desperately trying to time our escape.  When the third or fourth drink was swallowed, the glasses slammed down, the hissing insults curdling the waitress’ ears, we’d say, “Excuse me,” and dash off to the ladies room.

We didn’t need to “go.”  We just wanted to be away from the embarrassing drunken scene in the restaurant.  Being kids who needed to stay in that rest room for awhile, we looked for a way to pass the time.  Back then, some restaurants kept their extra toilet paper rolls in plain sight – on the counter, the backs of the toilets, or in a cabinet under the sink.  This was back when rest rooms used normal household toilet paper rolls.

I don’t know which of us came up with the idea…  We’d each go in a stall, next to each other, with the extra toilet paper rolls evenly divvied up between us.  Then, we’d toss the rolls over the stall wall, attempting to land one in the other sister’s toilet bowl.

There were a couple of Rules to the game of Toilet Paper Toss:  You had to stand on the other side of the toilet bowl (we were only 9 and 10, short – thanks a lot, Mom and Dad – so we needed the room to throw the roll high over the wall, anyway.).  You could not block the toilet bowl and you could not stand on it to block it (Eewwacchhh!).  There were two ways to Score:  One point if you heard a “Woof!” or “Ow!”  That meant the other sister had been hit by your toilet paper roll.  Five points for actually getting a roll to land in the toilet bowl.  And the one with the most rolls in there was the winner.  You lost a point if your roll came apart and opened and unrolled during your toss, making more of a mess we’d have to clean up.

Yep, we did try to clean up.  We’d use paper towels to fish the rolls out, tuck them back in the cabinet, way back in the cabinet, wash our hands with lots of soap, and saunter on out of there, usually before Female Drunken Parent came hunting for us.  Male Drunken Parent would already be in the car, threatening to drive off without us.  We could ignore them by then, giggling softly to each other, buoyed by another fab round of Toilet Paper Toss.

Hey, you mix the good times with the bad.  Our game came to an end about a year later.  Clifton Knolls Country Club.  So many disastrous, drunken dinner fights there, don’t know why the staff didn’t throw our family out.  We only lived about a half mile away; we kids used to ride our bikes around the golf course at night and swim in the water hazards, then peddle madly home before someone saw us.  Little sis and I were playing TPT in the ladies room when, horror, an actual lady walked in!

It had been a messy round.  We’d both had rolls unravel over the stall walls, laughing too hard to hear the main door unlock and open (Club members had rest room keys.  We thought we were safely locked in, forgetting there were other people in the clubhouse.).  The lady shrieked and ordered us to clean up, where were our parents, what the hell…blah, blah, blah….

From that moment on, our older sister had the chore of escorting us – separately – to the rest room whenever we went anywhere.

A few years ago, my little sister and I visited Tucson, AZ,  meeting up together and sharing a hotel room, going to the casino, having a ball…Imagine my delighted laughter when one night, in the ladies room together, in separate stalls next to each other, a toilet paper roll came flying over the wall…Oh, yeah, baby, it is sooo ON!  😀