The Boy

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I’m smiling as I clean up supper dishes. I am, once again, left alone with the aftermath of supper while my guys belch and head for the basement rec room to resume their downstairs lives. I feel honored that they interrupted their Xbox game long enough to refuel themselves and give me a half hour of their time.

My guys are my 65-year old husband, Richard, and my 6-year old grandson, Matthew. Right before dinner, the two of them had just returned from a special operative mission whereby they had to secure more “guys” for the Skylander game that Matthew brought along for the weekend. They were both wearing wide smiles when they walked in from the game store and began tearing into the packages that held the four new guys. I was instructed to pick my favorite and then they both told me in short order why the black bird thing that I picked out was a bad guy. “Why did you buy him if he was bad,” I asked. They rolled their eyes at me like I would never possibly understand even if they drew me a picture. Whatever…he looked cute to me.

Downstairs, I can hear Matthew chastising grandpa for some error of his ways in the video game they are playing. Grandpa defends himself by yelling back that Matthew gave him the “crummy” controller so what did he expect. It is the sounds of that back and forth bickering with an occasional shout of joy as they conquer some level or chapter or whatever the heck it is that they are conquering together that gives me such joy. It is the continual river of life that runs through our lives the minute that miracle child steps foot in our house.

For those readers who know me, you know that my son, Matt, passed away suddenly 6 ½ years ago and his son Matthew was just barely a conglomeration of dividing cells at the time of his death. During the dark days after Matt’s death, God gave me a light in the impending birth of my grandchild. It was a miracle…it simply was.

Matthew is a bright, stubborn, funny, joyful, sensitive, innocent, and intuitive child. I am constantly amazed and amused by him. Last week, he told me that he was embarrassed that he did not realize that his friend was only 5. Embarrassed? As I was wrapping gifts the other night, he asked me what I got his mom for Christmas. I asked him if I told him, if he would tell his mom. He looked me in the eye and said, “Yes. I don’t keep secrets, I tell them.” I laughed. At least once a month, he looks at me with tear-filled eyes and tells me how much he misses Mugs, our ten-year old puggle that we had to put to sleep last Christmas. He tells me that he’s glad that his dad was in heaven to play with Mugs when she went there.

So on this Sunday night right before Christmas I am filled with joy. The empty places in my heart are filled with laughter, love and just a little bit of impishness that comes from a boy who is, in his own estimation, just a boy.

 

Merry Christmas!

Football Frenzy

I’m sitting in my living room watching the Seahawks play the Giants. Earlier this afternoon, I had several televisions tuned into the Lions and Dolphins fight it out as worked through my in-home physical therapy to rehab my knee after knee replacement. My Sunday will be complete later tonight as I’m glued in front of the television as the big game plays out – my beloved Packers vs. those dastardly Chicago Bears.

I periodically check my fantasy football stats. My team, Hooters Hellions, is 5-4 and I’m playing against the Screaming Squids, the first place team which is one game up on me at 6-3. Going into the match, I was a 10-point underdog as the Squids were projected to garner somewhere in the 115 point range for this week’s match ups while I could only line up about 105 projected points. I debated all week whether I should play Russell Wilson or my backup quarterback, Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick was projected to score more fantasy points, but Russell Wilson can be a wild card any week…either dogging it or running up huge points. I went with the Badger alumni which somewhat explains why I’m spending my late Sunday afternoon caring about a football game that may otherwise be great background noise for a nap!

I’m feeling a little more comfortable after points for the noon games have been posted. The Squidmeister has a mere 20-point lead and only has two more players left to play. The Hellions, on the other hand, have four players competing in the 3:00 games and two of them are my power houses…my Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos defense! With halftime of the game nearing, I have cruised to a five-point lead over the Screaming Squids!

One might ask why a 58-year old grandma would spend her Sunday obsessing over a sport that is typically better suited for testosterone driven, beer drinking, high-fiving men. The truth is, football is laced through my DNA.

My earliest memories of my dad are of he and my grandpa sitting shoulder-to-shoulder screaming at the television on a Sunday afternoon. One moment they would be cheering loudly and loving their Green Bay Packers and the next they would be cursing at the television as Bart Starr got sacked. “Protection…where in the hell is the protection?”

My mother, on the other hand, was cool, calm and collected when she watched football. Right. If you were the fortunate person who drew the short straw and had to sit on the sofa next to her, you were darn sure going to walk away from the game bruised. My mom would fist up and spend the exciting moments of the game pummeling the knee of the person sitting next to her. Good memories.

I remember when I went to my son’s freshman parent-teacher conference. His social studies teacher (who was also the boy’s varsity basketball coach) confidently stated to me that it was obvious that my son had a strong male influence in his life. I thought to myself, “Hmmm…the boy is being raised by a strong single mom, but relatively no male influence,” but I just smiled at the guy. I raised my son to be sitting in front of ESPN on Sunday morning by 8:00 a.m. watching pre-pre-game. We took an hour off to go to church (and pray for our team) and were then back in front of the big screen (which was a 19” television until we hit the big time and got a 24”). While my football watching aerobics more resembled my mother’s, my son picked up the screaming/cheering at the tv screen genes that had been passed down through the generations.

I married a man who can take or leave football. Many are the games where the Packers score a clutch touchdown and I run to my husband with arm raised in a victorious high-five and I have to wake him up to return the air-clap! Really? What was I thinking when checking off my dating/marriage criteria? It was obviously NOT football season when I fell in love. Obviously!

So as I sit in quiet solitude in my living room screaming to Russell Wilson to just run the football in himself for the touchdown (and thus garnering myself additional fantasy football points) rather than hand it off to Marshawn Lynch, my husband questions why I care. Why do I care? Why do I care? I just look at him and smile.

How do I explain to him that I care because it’s in my genes? I can’t not care…I just can’t!

As I close this story, Hooter’s Hellions is leading the fantasy football match with the Screaming Squids 108.98 to 66.46. I can almost taste the victory!

Got It, Dropped It

Gail Brown and I were on again off again friends when I was six. She lived across the alley from us on South 15th Street. When we were on, she was my best friend. However, as frequently as we were on, we were also off, and then we were bitter enemies. During those days, we would stand along the crack going down the middle of the alley and warn each other not to cross onto one another’s “side”. Gail had bigger ammunition in this territorial war than I did. She had two older brothers, which she would threaten to “go get,” to reinforce her army. I only had neighborhood girls for support, and we all knew that the Brown boys would kick our hinnies so it was a real threat.

Gail and I were playing in our backyard one June day when we decided to walk to Roosevelt Park to play “got it, dropped it” on the merry go round. The park was about ten blocks from our neighborhood so the thought of walking that far by ourselves brought an element of adventure into the day. My mom and dad had taken a trip to Oklahoma to visit my Grandma Hutton so my parents’ friends, the Landers, were staying at our house to tend the flock in their absence. Good sense would have told me to inform Mrs. Landers of our plan to leave the neighborhood, but the woman frightened me so good sense evaporated in the hot summer sun as we headed down the alley toward Union Avenue.

Emerging from the alley, we walked three blocks east on Union toward 12th Street. We looked longingly at Molly’s candy store as we passed by – neither of us possessing even a nickel to spend on penny candy. Our first major obstacle lay in front of us as we prepared to cross Union Avenue. We looked up and down the street awaiting a break in the busy traffic. Finally, the much-awaited pause in traffic came, and our short little six-year-old legs ran full speed across the street. The excitement bubbled from us as our destination awaited five blocks down 12th Street.

We heard the sound of children laughing and baseball bats cracking before we actually saw our mecca. Roosevelt Park consumed much of a city block and was filled with three baseball diamonds, tennis courts, a shelter and a full array of playground equipment. Lying just inside of the northwest corner of the playground stood the merry-go-round.

 

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I grabbed the first large stone I saw and threw myself belly first onto the merry-go-round. I was firmly planted between two of the grab bars with one leg on the ground slowly pushing it around. Gail hopped on in similar fashion, and the game began. “Dropped it,” I shouted merrily as I placed the stone as far under the apparatus as my short arms could reach. Gail precariously slid out on the hot, metal orb and snatched the stone. “Got it,” she loudly exclaimed. “Dropped it,” Gail exclaimed, and it was my turn to retrieve the stone which had been placed almost out of my reach. We repeated these phrases endlessly, and we played on with no regard to time.

“Mary Hutton!”

I looked up from my spinning world to see Mrs. Landers’ car parked menacingly along the curb with the tall woman marching toward us. Filled with immediate dread, I lost my hold on the grab bar and slid off the merry-go-round onto the hard dirt. A large hand grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet while the other reached for Gail’s arm. We were unceremoniously dragged to Mrs. Landers’ car and shoved into the back seat.

Gail and I looked at each other with fear-filled eyes brimming with tears. Mrs. Landers dropped herself into the front seat and started the car. The only sound present during the short drive home were the sniffling of two very scared little girls. When we pulled up in front of our house, Gail and I immediately jumped out of the car. Gail ran for home, and I darted into the house and planted myself behind the far end of the sofa quivering with fear.

Mrs. Landers called my name. I did not respond. I heard her walk into the bedroom that I shared with my two sisters. Her footsteps took her to the kitchen and into the back hall that led to the backyard. They then returned to the living room and stopped. My heart was racing. I held my breath. I wet my pants.

Suddenly, that very large hand reached behind the sofa and grabbed me. It pulled me from behind the sofa until I stood head down in front of Mrs. Landers. She tipped my face up and I closed my eyes. I would not look at her. “Look at me,” she demanded, but I would not. She turned me around and with her enormous hand, spanked me and sent me to my room.

I cried. Lord, I cried. I cried for my mommy. I cried for my daddy. I cried for someone to save me from this scary lady. I cried until the gulps and the hiccups lulled me to sleep. When I awoke, Mrs. Landers was sitting next to me on the bed stroking my hair. With a soft voice, she said, “You will not leave the yard again until your mom and dad come home.” I buried my head in my blankets.

I spent the next four days hiding in the lilac bushes that surrounded our backyard. Mrs. Landers would occasionally look at me, but her big hand did not pull me out of my hiding place. When my sisters begged her to allow me to come play at the neighbor’s house, she shook her head. In my lilac fortress, I cried big alligator tears and waited for my parents’ return.

At night, I had nightmares of Indians snatching me away in the dark and taking me to their village and tying me to a post. Each night, Mrs. Landers would come in and stroke my hair, but we did not speak. Finally, on the fourth night, I awoke to find my mom stroking my hair. She gently picked me up and hummed me back to sleep.

Mrs. Landers was gone with the morning sun. My parents, fully apprised of the situation, scolded me softly and then handed me an Indian maiden doll and a rubber tomahawk with authentic Indian headdress feathers tied around the wooden handle – souvenirs from their trip to Oklahoma.

The rest of the summer was spent riding bikes and roller skating with my older sister and playing on and off with Gail Brown. The imaginary demilitarized zone was still present in the alley although Gail and I used it far less often. We had been to battle and the experience left us a bit more forgiving toward each other.

I did not return to Roosevelt Park until the summer I turned seven. Although our families continued to get together, I did not talk to Mrs. Landers again until I was a grown woman when I attended a bridal shower for her daughter. The first gruff words out of her mouth were, “Girl, you scared the hell out of me!” I smiled and replied, “I think we’re even. You scared the hell out of me too.”

“There’s a man with a gun over there…”

marysmoments4life:

My hubby has finally started his own blog! While our writing styles are very different, his tongue-in-cheek humor (even if you don’t agree with his views) are hilarious!

Originally posted on A Berg's Eye View:

Gun Guys Agree on Dress Code

(Fairfax, Virginia, Thursday) – Normal citizens will finally be able to distinguish bad guys from good guys with guns, thanks to a deal brokered here today by the National Rifle Association.

“The next time you meet a shopper carrying a semi-automatic firearm in the aisles of your local supermarket, just look for the white hat,” said Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, who served as chief facilitator in the accord. “If he’s wearing one, he’s a good guy.”

Drawing from the symbolism of the Old West, the agreement simplifies things immensely for fearful average Americans uncertain about the intentions of the gunslingers they are encountering more frequently every day. Anyone toting a gun who is not wearing the tell-tale white hat is now suspect and a fair target for every properly white-hatted gunman exercising his right to stand his ground. Unarmed citizens now need…

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Eighth Wonder of the World

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It is ordinary to those who become accustomed to its beauty and extraordinary to travelers viewing its uniqueness for the first time. It’s name, Schoolhouse Beach, would not scream Eighth Wonder of the World, yet it very well should. It is a natural all-stone beach with crystal clear waters that expand beyond the eye’s view.

We simply call it Schoolhouse. I have lain upon its stones in the darkness watching stars that are not visible in the city lights. In my crazy misbegotten youth, I stripped off my clothes in an alcohol-induced frenzy and skinny-dipped with wild abandonment in its waters. I unsuccessfully attempted skipping stones for over 50 years while I watched all the men in my life – my grandpa, dad, brothers and son pick up a small round stone and effortlessly dance it across its blue waters. I watched with joy and trepidation for three July 8ths in a row as we celebrated my mom’s birthday in its tree-lined picnic shelter…silently praying that we would celebrate another as lung cancer ravaged her body but not her spirit.

In its small cemetery beyond the waters, it holds the markers of my mother, grandparents and all that preceded them. It calls me home.

The Feeding of the Masses

I’ve been at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival all week and yesterday’s writing prompt was food. I instantly knew the story that needed writing!

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Nanny’s buttermilk pancakes were legendary in our family. Upon arrival on Washington Island for a family Christmas in July party or to celebrate our many family summer birthdays, the first family to arrive to the Island on Friday night would stop at Mann’s General Store and grab two quarts of buttermilk – before the summer people got them – and swing by Nanny’s to drop them off on their way to mom and dad’s house. A quick knock on the door to give her fair warning and then they’d push their way in. Nanny would grab the buttermilk from your hands and gruffly state, “Well, I don’t know that I’ll be making pancakes this weekend.” We would oblige her and beg, “Please Nanny, would you please make pan-a-cakes sometime this weekend?” Of which she’d snort while her eyes danced with pleasure and say, “We’ll see.” It was all part of the routine.

My grandma was not your typical rocking chair kind of grandma. A full-blooded Norwegian, she was a complex combination of love and sass. Nanny was more of a “do you have time for a game and a cocktail” kind of grandma. She loved nothing more than to pull out the cards and cribbage board and prompt you to deal up a “hand” while she mixed you a little drink. After several cribbage games (which were played for $1 a game) as well as several cocktails, you’d regretfully push your way from her kitchen table and make your way out the door to your next stop – the parent’s house.

Saturday was never pancake day as people were still arriving for whatever event it was that was being held for the weekend. Nanny was also busy Saturday morning baking and frosting the heaviest and tastiest carrot cake you could ever have the good fortune to taste. It was her donation to the family event of that day. I remember one year, she made some kind of torte instead of the traditional carrot cake and we all looked at her like she was Benedict Arnold.

The pancake breakfast was always held on Sunday morning before we packed up our belongings and headed to the ferry, which would take us back to the mainland and our real lives. Our seemingly reluctant pancake-making grandma was on the horn calling my parent’s house by 8:00 Sunday morning to see when the troops would arrive. My mother would reassure her that we would all arrive by 9:00 and she would do her best to get her motley crew moving. Mind you, this was no small task. Our family consisted of 8 kids all with significant others and a large contingency of children of all ages, shapes and sizes. All told, Nanny could on any given family-event weekend be turning flapjacks for upwards of 30 people.

We’d arrive in shifts. As we’d walk through the door to Nanny’s small retirement apartment, we’d breath in the smells of bacon, sausage, coffee and ohhh, buttermilk pancakes. The table would be set with a stack of plates, a pile of forks, butter, homemade maple syrup, strawberries and whipped cream. If you got there early enough, you would see the master chef mixing flour, salt, baking soda, egg and finally, buttermilk and just a bit of melted butter to a lumpy consistency. There would be numerous hot, greased pancake griddles anxiously awaiting the moment that the delectable batter would grace its surface and the ever so delicate and fluffy pancake would begin to take shape.

As the pancakes near their completion, rich golden brown discs the size of saucers with a lightness that would make one think they could simply float from the griddle, the first shift anxiously awaits their arrival. A stack of eight levitate to the center of the table and the breakfast soldiers quickly glance at one another and mentally do the math. If I take more than one, who will be left out in the dark. From the kitchen, the commander reminds them to empty the serving plate as another batch is nearly ready. That’s all they need and the reaching hands capture their prize.

The average eater could do about five of Nanny’s pancakes. These folks came and went from the dining room table and quickly made room for the next shift. They were common, ordinary, run of the mill sort of connoisseurs that the Pancake Princess simply fed. It was those brazen eaters – the ones that fell into a competition with one another to see just who was the pancake king of the weekend that captured Nanny’s heart. Nine, ten, twelve, uff dah, sixteen pancakes. The more they ate, the bigger the smile that graced my grandma’s face. Eventually, the competition would end with a groan and a belch and more often than not, my brother-in-law, Terry would once again be declared the winner. He would rub his belly and smile the victor’s smile. It was little wonder that he was the apple of my grandma’s eye.

My grandma died in 2008 and with it died the Sunday morning buttermilk pancake tradition. My brother, Patrick, has my grandma’s recipe and occasionally will rustle up a Sunday morning pancake breakfast. His pancakes are good, but they are not Nanny’s pancakes. They are made with the same ingredients and the same technique, but they are missing that one special quality. They are missing Nanny and that’s an ingredient that will never again be matched.

The Trapdoor

She sits on the edge
of the trapdoor heart pounding
Do not be afraid

Do not be afraid?
Asks the little girl inside
I am only five and I’m scared

I fell down these stairs
when my sister tackled me
in 1960

Fitfy-four years gone
and the trapdoor steals my breath
and fills me with fear

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My twist – I don’t think I’ve ever written a haiku before!

 

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