Through hail and high water, trip was fine

Whenever you are traveling and have the good fortune to arrive at your destination in one piece, I think you are obligated to tell people your trip was fine.

I had a fine trip last week.

I headed an hour north to a speaking engagement. Fifteen minutes out of town my vehicle began to shake. To see if the shake was significant or just my imagination, I belted out a note and held it. For the first time in my life, my voice had vibrato.

The vibrato was so full and rich I wondered if I had missed my calling for opera. The engine light began flashing wildly. Fortunately, I had several friends who lived not far from the next exit. I called one and asked if I could borrow her vehicle for the afternoon.

I bee-lined to my friend’s place and ditched my vehicle, now shaking like a mechanical bull, then headed back to the interstate. I was behind schedule, which was why I may have broken the speed limit passing a motorcycle.

For an instant I thought I had passed an unmarked police officer on an unmarked motorcycle. Paranoia runs in the family. It was all good, the bike just had shaky lights flickering in my rear view mirror. I pulled my heart out of my gut in time to see the sign that said “Slow and stopped traffic ahead.”

Once I slowly wound through several miles of construction, traffic began to sail. Until we came to the trucks with flashing lights blocking traffic. Workers were removing a deer that was no longer with us. And a second. And a third.

After another delay, and a brief moment of silence for the deer, traffic resumed speed. Right into towering, dark, ominous clouds.

They were the kind of clouds that spawn tornadoes. I know my clouds. I grew up in Missouri, right across the state line from Dorothy and Toto.

Maybe I’d get there in time for my introduction.

Rain fell in torrents. Traffic slowed to a crawl and then came to a halt.

I was thinking how to word my apology for being late when the hail began. It was so dark I could barely see. Thank goodness for the lightning. It was killer hail, the kind that blows out windshields. I was torn between shielding my eyes and looking to see what was happening around me.

Open, eyes! No, close! Open! Close! Open! Close!

The hail ended, the windshield remained and the traffic resumed. The cloud doubled back and dumped all five Great Lakes on us. Stopped again.

Maybe they’d have refreshments beforehand. Maybe whoever was introducing me could do a song and dance.

Waiting for the second torrential rain to pass, I programmed my destination into Google maps. As they closed the flooded highway behind us, I took my exit and headed to my destination, which I had inadvertently entered as S. Salisbury instead of N. Salisbury.

Recalculating. Recalculating.

I arrived at my destination late, harried, wide-eyed and disheveled, but in one piece.

“How was your trip?”

“Fine, thank you. Just fine.”

Can’t leaf the trees alone

On the eves of our daughters’ weddings, I gave both of them what I considered to be excellent marital advice: Never leave your husband unsupervised with pruning shears.

LeafIf only I had heeded my own caution. I recently let my guard down. Thirty-some years of marriage can do that to a woman. Now, as a result, the only thing that has been harder on our trees and shrubs than this past brutal winter has been the husband.

Give a man pruning shears, a telescopic extension and electric trimmers and he will give new meaning to the term armed and dangerous.

Champing at the bit, the husband pronounced the crab apple tree dead earlier this year.

“Why do you think it is dead?” I asked.

“Look at it; there’s not a leaf on it.”

“There’s not a leaf on anything. It’s March,” I said.

“It looked sick last fall and with this bitter winter we had, I’m convinced it’s dead.”

The truth is he’s never liked the crab apple. Sure, it has beautiful blooms in the spring, but then it gets a fungus, the leaves curl, it drops those little apples that ferment on the driveway and make the bees drunk. Once your bees are buzzed it pretty well puts an end to outdoor activities.

Each passing week he pronounced the tree dead. Eventually I began to believe him. Though he agreed it would be a regrettable loss, there was a twinkle in his eye. He armed himself a couple of weeks ago and began trimming. A branch here, a branch there, a small limb, then a larger limb. I watched and then decided to check the wood on some of the branches closer to the trunk. I broke one off and saw green.

The crab apple was not dead, it just hadn’t had time to leaf out. The tree was now lopsided, but it was not dead. I would have told him so, but he had moved on to a maple. Once the man starts, he can’t stop. One trim leads to another. He was giving the maple what could only be described as a haircut that was high and tight.

“Please, stop!” I called. “It’s a maple, not a Marine!”

He smiled and nodded, but he couldn’t hear because he had revved up the hedge trimmers and was preparing to “touch up” a line of shrubs.

Zip, zip, zip. Zip, zip, zip.

“What do you think?” he shouts.

“It’s supposed to be a privacy hedge; now all that will be private are our ankles.”

He revved the trimmers again. “Stop!” I called. “Come back!”

“Why?” he shouts.

“You’re in the neighbor’s yard.”

Be glad you weren’t invited to speak at graduation

The quandary of this current graduation season is whom to feel sorrier for— graduates facing the real world or speakers invited to speak at commencement ceremonies and then uninvited to speak.

MortarTo be cajoled, wooed and invited to be a commencement speaker and then abruptly uninvited, is reminiscent of that horrid fellow who dumped you in the tenth grade. Let’s just hope today’s incidents do not result in graffiti in the restroom stalls or shaving cream on someone’s car windows.

The first this season to be invited and then uninvited was the First Lady. Originally invited to speak at a high school commencement in Topeka, Ks., it was determined that her security detail and accompanying entourage, roughly numbering the population of Texas, would be so large that family members would not be able to see their loved ones graduate. So the First Lady’s invitation was suspended. Shortly thereafter she was invited to speak at a different event prior to commencement. This invitation, uninvitation and reinvitation was actually more like a 24-hour breakup followed by “we’re back together,” explained by “we just needed time apart.”

Of course, if such a thing can happen to the First Lady it can also happen to someone like Condoleezza Rice. She was invited to be commencement speaker at Rutgers University, whereupon a few students and faculty objected because “Rice played a prominent role in the Bush administration.” Yes, she did. The secretary of state often does.

Rice was uninvited. Rutgers then invited Eric LeGrand, paralyzed former Rutgers University football player, to speak at commencement. And then they uninvited him. And then they reinvited him.

Consulting with Anna Post, the great-great granddaughter of etiquette maven Emily Post, on the proper technique of inviting and then uninviting a guest, as near I can gather, it falls under the heading of “Things Not Done.”

Thank goodness for WikiHow (second cousin, once removed, to Wikipedia) that offers four steps (with illustrations!) on uninviting someone. First: Rest chin in hands and make sure you don’t want this person at your event. Next: Close eyes, rub temples, ask yourself if you’ve had an argument with this person. Step Three: Wearing a cardigan, confront the person calmly and suggest you stay out of one another’s way. Final Step: With a big red embarrassed face, only uninvite someone in a serious circumstance.

Brandeis University invited Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the most courageous women walking the planet, to be commencement speaker. A few days later they skipped to Step Three telling Hirsi Ali to stay out of the way. Among other things, Hirsi Ali is critical of forced female genital mutilation, a view deemed intolerant by the tolerant Brandies, which resulted in Hirsi Ali not being tolerated and thus being uninvited.

You’re in, you’re out, you’re in, you’re out. I’ve seen dice games with greater predictability.

If you’re out there buying graduation gifts this year, be grateful it’s only costing you money and not personal humiliation.

The mom in the mirror

I officially morphed into my mother last week. I flipped down the visor in the car, opened the mirror, looked at my reflection and said out loud, “Why didn’t someone tell me I look like death warmed over?”

Word MOM in a mirrorI’ve never said that line out loud before because it was always my mother’s line. She often used it when we were going somewhere in the car. It was a show-stopper, a line that could hold a crowd. My dad would glance over from the driver’s seat, my brother and I would momentarily stop fighting in the backseat, and we’d all direct our full attention to the front-passenger seat to see what would happen next.

What happened next was what always happened next. She’d open her purse, whip out a tube of red lipstick, stretch her mouth thin, carefully apply the lipstick, smack her lips and snap the visor back in place. Another near-death encounter successfully averted. I grew up thinking red lipstick was the CPR of motherhood.

Why is it we think we won’t become like our mothers, when we share the same gene pool, voices, laughs, gestures and mannerisms?

I had just gone a verbal round with our youngest when she was in high school as we were on our way to the grocery one day. We were both miffed, both certain the other one was pigheaded and stubborn, both wondering how we were even related.

As we walked side-by-side into the grocery, a man walking out of the grocery said to us, “Don’t tell me you’re not a mother-daughter combo! You not only look alike, you even walk alike.” Of course we walked alike; we were mad walking. Stomp, stomp, stomp. Thinking we were radically different, we were unmistakably alike.

My mother and I did our share of mad walking as well. Like all mothers and daughters we were alike but different, different but alike. Not long after she died, I picked up a picture of her and wrote on the back of it as fast as I could all the marvelous things about her that I was terrified I would one day forget, praying I would always remember.

“Thank you, Lord, for the things you taught me through my dear mother. Kindness, goodness, forgiveness, fortitude, patience, forbearance, organization, zeal for life, love, “lighten up,” thoughtfulness, anticipating needs of others, honesty, stewardship, planning, how to have fun. I miss her, Lord. Her voice, her laugh, her racing mind, her sparkling eyes. You have given me a good gift.”

I know now that I could never forget my mom. By nature, mothers are unforgettable. I often picture Mom in my kitchen, sitting at the table, drinking coffee, cup after cup after cup, speed talking, offering wit, insight and commentary on people, places and things. Tell me that apple didn’t fall from the tree.

To those of you still insisting you’ll never resemble your mother in any way, shape or form, thanks for the laugh.

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to apply some lipstick. Why didn’t somebody tell me I look like death warmed over?