Here’s to you, Texas

We’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice skin color, but it’s been impossible not to notice in the pictures streaming out of the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

A black man trudges through floodwaters carrying a white child in each arm. He’s got this. More importantly, he’s got them.

Harris County, Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Rick Johnson was helping those in need of rescue from heavy flooding Sunday, Aug, 27, when a colleague snapped a photo of him carrying a small child in each of his arms.

A white man wearing a S.W.A.T. team hat carries a woman who appears to be of Asian descent with her infant curled and sleeping on her chest through floodwaters like it’s something he does every day. Nothin’ to see here, folks. Move along.

A reporter holds a microphone to a black man beside a boat and asks what he plans on doing. “Go try to save some lives,” he says, nonchalantly. No big deal. Just steppin’ up to the plate.

People rising to the challenge aren’t sorting those in need by their differences. They’re not sorting by color, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs or political party.

Differences have been set aside. In the wake of unimaginable loss and tragedy, people have united and are coming to the aid of one another.

Days earlier, images streamed out of Berkeley showing a different side of us.

Antifa members were on the rampage. What protesters rallying with their heads and faces covered and are up to any good? The last big rallies where people hid their identities were conducted by the KKK. Antifa embodies the hatred and brutality of KKK, but with different wardrobe choices.

A video shows a mob chasing down a photographer, knocking him to the ground and savagely beating him. The mob just keeps kicking and slugging him over and over and over. It’s called windmilling. I didn’t know that. Did you?

A courageous woman in a red jacket tries to get between the man on the ground and the mob and the video ends. Did they beat her, too? Did they get her good?

I look at all these images and wonder how it feels.

How does it feel to hold a scared mother and her infant in your arms and rescue them? How does it feel to carry trembling children to higher ground?

How does it feel to beat the livin’ daylights out of a fellow citizen you may have stood beside in a Starbucks a few days ago?

Self-government, government of the people, by the people and for the people, is a high-risk proposition. It is so risky that few had tried it before our founding. Most nations were ruled by tribes, monarchs or the sword. Ours was to be a nation based on a shared belief in the crazy idea that all men were created equal—and given liberty and freedom would have opportunity to prosper and flourish.

True, liberty was not extended to all in the beginning, a blight forever on our history. It was an egregious wrong eventually righted in part by commitment to liberty.

So, is it working, this grand experiment in liberty? Does freedom bring out the best in us? It’s been questionable of late. But images from Texas would once again say the answer is yes.

The real question is, can we sustain the generosity, good will and character we muster in a crisis when we return to the day-to-day?

Here’s to you, Texas. Thanks for reminding us of the kind of Americans we need to be.

Gloves hold the hands of time

A pair of ladies’ fashion gloves rest at the bottom of a dresser drawer. I see them at least twice a year when I rotate cold-weather and warm-weather clothes.

The gloves are old and worn, a testament to age. They’re also soft to the touch and golden brown, like a newborn fawn. A sporty topstitch runs halfway down the back of the glove and around the top with the scalloped edge.

They belonged to my grandmother.

A cousin said she had found a stash of Grandma’s gloves and asked if I would like a pair. When the package arrived, I peeked inside and pulled the gloves out of the plastic sleeve in which they originally came from the department store. They looked as though they had been carefully put away. For next time.

They’re small, but my grandma was small. Small but sturdy—it runs in the family. At least among the females. The men are big and broad and the women are . . . well, let’s just say long, lean and leggy was not in our DNA.

She was a woman who needed sturdy hands and arms for kneading bread dough, butchering chickens and scrubbing wood floors. Delicacy wasn’t all that useful on a farm, not for tending nine children, firing up a wood cookstove or feeding a hungry threshing crew of 20 dirty men fresh from the field, gathered around long makeshift tables outdoors under the locust trees.

The hands that slid into those gloves had tended the sick, weeded gardens and washed countless dirty dishes in soapy water.

There was a time when ladies of every social and economic class wore gloves when they went out.  Gloves were part of the dress code of the day. They’re everywhere in our old black and white photos—gloves along with hats and pocketbooks, boxy purses with fierce clasps that would pinch any child’s fingers should they be messing where they didn’t belong.

These gloves put a lovely cover on the hands that fed hobos who rode the rails, wandered through the countryside during the Depression, and occasionally appeared at her kitchen door. They were the same hands that bid farewell to two sons going off to war and held the flag presented in honor of the one who didn’t make it home.

She was small but mighty. The story goes that she chased away a young man whom she considered an unsuitable suitor for one of her daughters with nothing but her bare hands and a broom. He later became a son-in-law.

I remember being a small girl and seeing those hands grip the steering wheel of an automobile so huge she could barely see over the dashboard.

And could those hands fly on a piano. They raced up and down the keys faster than the speed of sight. She could play any song she heard, from hymns to polkas to ragtime. Name your key.

She had music in her. And love and grit.

The gloves aren’t worth much in and of themselves, but they’re a lovely touch of the past.

New Mom Jeans still lack essentials

Just when you thought the world couldn’t get any crazier, Mom Jeans make a comeback.

Mom Jeans were a staple of the ‘80s—cinched at a high waistline, generous in the thighs, a broad backside and lots of pleats and tucks on the tummy for room to expand.

Think Debra from the early years of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Think Humpty Dumpty finding relaxed fit at the Gap.

Mom Jeans said, “If you want the breadsticks with cheese, go ahead and get the breadsticks with cheese!”

Mom Jeans were old-school denim that predated Spandex. They had absolutely no give. Bending over in all-cotton heavy denim that cut deep at the waist rendered many a woman unconscious.

Mom Jeans were a friend to no one, but they provided ample coverage— like an ill-fitting tarp.

Eventually, Mom Jeans were mocked, ridiculed, shamed and replaced by a new denim with stretch and a new design. Meet the skinny jean.

Skinny jeans brought with them an entirely different silhouette – women who looked like praying mantises—stick legs protruding from long flowing shirts and roomy tunics.

The youth culture propelled the skinny jeans to a long stretch (pun intended) of popularity. And now the youth have turned on their own. All the cool, hip stores courting teens and early 20-somethings are touting Mom Jeans.

Seriously.

American Eagle touts Mom Jeans claiming, “She’s never been more right about anything than she was about this fit.” One can only assume the copywriter was not alive during the ‘80s. But it’s always good to get credit for something.

Many of the new Mom Jeans are shredded at the knees. One retailer describes it as, “The beauty is in the breakdown: Destruction at the knees.”

They got it wrong. There’s never beauty in the breakdown of a mom in jeans. And the destruction is not in the knees, it’s in the wee hours of the morning, when the baby won’t sleep. Destruction is in front of the washing machine when you’re putting in a load of sheets somebody puked on, or in the grocery unable to focus because three kids are hanging onto or out of your cart.

The AE model wearing the Mom Jeans looks amazing. The caption says she’s 5’10” (more like 6’ 6” in the stilettos), has a 24” waist and wears a size 2 X-Long. If this woman has borne children, she’s a walking miracle.

Trendsetters call them Mom Jeans, but there has never really, truly been a Mom Jean. Authentic Mom Jeans would come with carabineers strapped to the belt loops—one for holding anti-bacterial hand gel and another for pacifiers. They’d have two generous back pockets, one for a cell phone and one for a wallet. They’d also have Velcro tabs on each side, one to hold a small packet of wipes and diapers and the other for Goldfish and Cheerios.

True Mom Jeans would make women look like human diaper bags.

There’s not a designer alive who would want to have credit for that line of jeans and not a young person alive who’d want to be caught dead in a pair.

 

 

 

 

 

Kids’ twisted vocab leaves us spellbound

We are constantly learning new things at our house. Of course, none of this enlightenment is the result of our own resourcefulness, but courtesy of the little people around us.

The husband got a call from one of the grands last week in which a squeaky voice said, “Mommy wants to trim the bushes. She said to tell you to bring the head trimmers when you come.”

Ouch. Seems like the hedge-trimmers would be less painful.

That same grand also reported being outside and seeing a gardening snake.

We’ve also been learning new things about anatomy.

One of the little ones had terrible stomach pains, so her mother took her to the emergency room suspecting her appendix. I saw her after she had been thoroughly checked out and asked how she was. “Fine!” she said, beaming. “And I still have my independix!”

We are also learning wonderful ways to ramp up superlatives.

One of the little ones had a cold for a few days and on the third day, when asked if she felt better, she said, “No. I feel worser.”

Maybe the dictionary people will add that to their list of words.

When the entire mob was last here and everybody was helping clean up, putting things away and turning furniture upright before leaving, a little voice yelled, “Grandma, where do you want me to put this dirty worm?”

He said it with sincerity—as though I probably had a special place in the house picked out for the worm he had been rolling in sand.

Sometimes it’s not what they say, but the way they think that is intriguing.

To a kid who asked for a second cookie: “You already have one cookie you’re eating. Why do you need another?”

“I want to be ready for when this one is gone.”

The kid will do well in business.

When we kept a couple of the grands for a few days, their mother told them that Grandma was going to be busy, but Grandpa would help them with their school lessons.

One of the kids looked Grandpa up and down, then said, “How do we know he knows anything?”

It has been a long time since he has been in school, but he does remember a thing or two.

They are also free with the commentary. A two-year-old watched her daddy get up from the dinner table, walk to the stove and help himself to a second serving. When he came back to the table and sat down, she looked at him and announced, “Da-da hoooooong-ry!”

They’re also creative when it comes to lending assistance, even if the assistance isn’t exactly on a professional level.

When the husband had a problem with his cornea, our daughter told her twins it was hard for Grandpa to open one eye.

First twin: “So he looks like a pirate?”

Second twin: “I’ll bring my doctor kit!”

Not the kind of health care he was hoping for, but it can always be worser.

Take cover – the zucchini are coming!

It is Zucchini Season once again, that delightful window of summer when zucchini are so abundant that people aggressively push them on family, friends and total strangers. Why, I’ve seen people standing on street corners randomly throwing them to passersby.

Yesterday a neighbor texted that she was sending her husband down with some zucchini. Her exact text was “whether you want them or not.” It read more like a threat than an offer.

Zucchini is to the garden what clothes hangers are to the laundry room—you close the door, darkness falls and they multiply like crazy.

Nobody ever asks, “How are your zucchini doing this year?” Zucchini are always doing well—their numbers are always up. Zucchini is the vegetable that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving.

I have often thought of the Old Testament passage describing Jews wandering in the wilderness living off of something called manna that they collected each morning before sunrise. I have concluded manna was probably a lot like zucchini. If not actual zucchini.

Zucchini is not only prolific, it is downright odd. Is there any other food on the face of this planet that people work harder at disguising? Zucchini bread, zucchini pasta, zucchini parmesan. The zucchini is in there somewhere, but you’re going to have to hunt to find it.

A friend had some ladies over one afternoon and served a lovely homemade pie. She asked us to guess what it was.

“Sugar pie?” someone said.

“Custard pie?” another asked.

“Zucchini pie!” she exclaimed. “You’d never know, would you?”

See what I mean? And they always say it with a “gotcha!” sort of attitude, like “hey, you really walked into that one.” I don’t know. I find that unsettling—and I always hope those people never get their hands on arsenic.

Listen, I’m certainly not one to cast the first zucchini.

I made latkes last night and waited until everybody had some to make my announcement.

“They have zucchini in them! You’d never know it, would you?”

They wouldn’t ever know it because they were basically potato latkes with hidden zucchini.

The point is, you cook zucchini with the intention of disguising it. Even people who eat it straight up first sauté it in oil, season it and sprinkle it with cheese.

Lest it sound like I am complaining, let me say that zucchini is very versatile. We’ve even used it to teach math.

If you have a dozen zucchini and your neighbor asks for one, how many do you have left?

None. You unload all the zucchini you can whenever you get a chance.

 

When a full staff adds up to one

Someone called the other day and asked to speak to me. She was surprised when I said that it was me. Sounding disappointed, she said, “Oh, I thought you’d have staff.”

Hey, so did I.

I don’t have staff.

I almost had staff.

There was a time when high school and college kids, aspiring to be columnists or writers, or just get out of class, routinely asked if they could shadow me to learn what a columnist did all day.

My husband is still asking.

In any case, I explained that I worked from home and spent much of the day sitting in front of a computer trying not to fall asleep or fall off my chair.

If they claimed they couldn’t wait to see the heart-pounding excitement of a real-life columnist sitting in front of a computer screen, I usually said yes they could shadow for a few hours, but with the stipulation that they sign a waiver in the event they died of boredom.

A very polite young high school student once asked to shadow me for an entire morning. After a couple of hours, the poor kid was so dazed that I asked him go to the kitchen and make me a cup of tea to make sure he was still conscious.

He seemed to perk up. So then I asked if he’d like to go get the mail.

He bolted for the door.

He returned with the mail and I was just about to ask if he’d like to wash a columnist’s car when his mother arrived to pick him up.

What rotten timing.

Students don’t ask to shadow often anymore. These are hard times for columnists. Hard times nothing—being a columnist today is like having a deck chair on the Titanic and hearing a dull thud.

If I did have staff, I know I could keep them busy.

First, I’d have them bring coffee. Good coffee, not the cheap kind we make here at home, but coffee from some place where they write your name on the cup. That seems so upscale and professional. You don’t write your name on the cup when you work at home. You can, but there’s nobody who’d be impressed.

Then I’d send my staff out for a Fidget. I never needed one before, but your needs grow exponentially when you have staff. Make that two dozen Fidgets.

By then it would be time for my staff to go get lunch.

After lunch, I’d have my staff tackle my backlog of bookkeeping. When they finished logging in income, expenses and figuring my estimated quarterly taxes, they’d understand why I was letting them go.

Hardly anybody has staff anymore. Corporate execs, middle managers and business owners all used to have staff, but financial whizzes discovered tons of money could be saved by having people be their own staff or outsourcing work to other countries.

You can always tell those fortunate enough to still have staff. They’re the ones who like to say they’ll have their people call your people.

When my people call your people, it’s really me calling, but using a very deep voice.

Oh well.

Somedays I do wish I had staff. Like right now.

The laundry needs to be transferred.

It’s nonsense what makes sense anymore

A view of the human brain from the top shows that it looks similar to a whole walnut. Although larger. At least I hope mine is.

Some days I wonder if our brains aren’t turning into pretzels.

I answered two emails and three texts with nothing but emojis today and it dawned on me that we’ve just about come full circle.

Our ancestors used to paint pictures on cave walls to communicate, and here we are communicating with simple pictures once again. But instead of putting them on stone, we send them on mobile devices, some costing upwards of $700.

And we think we’re the smart ones.

I have an entire list of things that make no sense:

I have one pair of feet and more than 20 pairs of shoes, one pair of eyes and three pairs of glasses. Numerically, it appears I favor my feet by a wide margin, which is categorically untrue.

I will never unravel the mystery of why people pay big money for ragged jeans. Ragged clothes have long been a stigma of shame for the poor—now they’re a status symbol for celebrities.

Years ago, people died from malnutrition and starvation. That is still true in some parts of the world today, but here we are killing ourselves with food. We have a hard time finding the happy medium when it comes to eating. Nearly every women’s magazine features pictures of dessert recipes alongside advertisements for workout clothes.

Whenever someone puts a hot plate in front of me and cautions that it is hot, as though I am age 6, as soon as the server turns around, I touch it. There’s a 6-year-old trapped inside my aging body.

There are some things that sound completely illogical, but in reality make perfect sense. I drive three miles to walk three miles on a trail. That makes no sense. But if you saw the beautiful trail, you’d understand.

Roaming through a brick and mortar bookstore the other day, I was astounded by the number of children’s picture books, authored and illustrated by adults, that go into great detail on the subject of toilet training. For thousands of years children were able to potty train without picture books, but now they need visual aids.

The husband takes the little shampoos and conditioners from hotels home with us, then I pack them when we go out of town again even though every hotel routinely stocks little shampoos and conditioners. (No, we don’t take toilet paper or bath towels.)

What makes me doubt our brains the most is how we are functioning as a nation. Many of us know exactly how many generations ago someone in our family came here from another country. In most cases they came eager to become Americans, to become part of a story larger than themselves. But now we are dividing and subdividing, splitting into factions, tribes and clans. There is precious little focus on the things that unite us, and constant harping on the things that divide us. We no longer agree to disagree; we now disagree and destroy.

Self-destruction makes no sense.

Butter be prepared for corn on the cob

There are two types of people in this country – those who eat corn on the cob with those little corn holders with metal prongs and those who don’t.

We are among the group without corn holders. Years ago we had some, but the prongs got bent, half of them went missing and the half that didn’t go missing wound up mangled in the garbage disposal.

The purpose of corn holders is to keep you from getting butter on your fingers. But isn’t that the point of eating corn? It’s not strictly about the corn; it’s about the butter. Lots and lots of melted butter, and salt and pepper and the wonderful combination thereof.

Let’s be honest—eating corn on the cob is one of the most unsightly spectacles that occurs at the family dinner table. (Not like that’s going to stop us.) Using corn holders isn’t going to somehow make eating corn on the cob an aesthetically pleasing experience.

Eating corn on the cob requires lunging, grappling and attacking with bared teeth. You bite down and the corn squirts. It may squirt into your eye, across the table, or across the table and into someone else’s eye.

Not even silver-plated corn holders could make eating corn on the cob a class act.

A friend who lived abroad once said that the French believe the only ones who should eat corn on the cobs are pigs. Leave it to the French to once again make us feel inferior regarding food.

Most of our grandkids are too young to have mastered the art of eating corn. They nibble—a nibble here, a nibble there. The end result is a half-eaten ear of corn that looks like a mass of divots on a golf course.

I tell them to eat across the cob, from left to right, the same way they read. I tell them that eating corn in a row will make them better and faster readers, one day give them better test scores and get them into the best colleges.

I also tell them not to worry about being untidy, that if you eat corn the right way, it’s bound to be a mess. If you eat corn on the cob the right way, you should have butter smeared on your chin. How’s a corn holder with two sharp prongs going to help that?

You might also have kernels stuck between your teeth. I suppose you could use a corn holder to pick them out, but let’s not give the French any more ammo.

If you’re one of those people self-conscious about eating corn on the cob, I give you permission to liberate yourself from the normal restraints of polite dining.

No need to thank me.

You’re thanking me anyway?

Aw, shucks.

Dashing through the season, but not laughing all the way

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but chances are you missed it.

Everybody says it was easy to miss because it was faster than usual, but nobody can prove a thing like that. It’s just talk.

That said, I do believe it was faster than the last one.

The thing about speed is, once you hit a certain momentum, there’s no slowing down.

So that’s it. Another one gone. Blink twice and it’s over.

This one was so short I think everybody will be talking about it years from now. You know, the sort of, “Where were you when you heard the news?”

I was at the mall. The husband had dropped me off and was waiting in the car while I ran in to make a return. I entered the double-wide sliding doors and saw the big red letters on a store window—END OF SUMMER SALE.

I thought it was a sick joke. But then there was another—END OF SUMMER CLEARANCE. It was a one-two punch. And then there was a third—END OF SUMMER / EVERYTHING 20% OFF.

Summer was over. It was June 27th.

You know what June 27th, is right?  It’s one day shy of being a week after the first day of summer. It’s the sixth-to-the-next-longest day of the year—but summer was over.

When I got back in the car, I told the husband summer was over.

“What?” he said.

“Turn down the air conditioner so you can hear me. Summer is over.”

“Might as well be,” he said with a sigh of despondency. He’d be OK with summer being over since his ball team is doing rotten this year. Again.

I don’t know how summer can be over. I’ve only had one cherry tomato off the vine. Cucumbers aren’t ready to pick and I haven’t seen a single roadside stand selling field-fresh sweet corn.

The basil is going strong, phlox are blooming and the hillsides are bursting with black-eyed Susans.

The thermometer says 90. Mosquito season is just getting into full swing. We’ve been eating watermelon nearly every day of the week. Sometimes for breakfast.

My biggest clothing decision each day is whether to go with the khaki capris or the white capris. My shoe choice is between flip flops and sandals.

There are a half dozen Popsicle sticks on the back patio and two unopened boxes in the freezer.

They can say summer is over, but I’m not going along peacefully on this one. They can have my sunscreen when they can pry it from my cold, frozen hands, which won’t be until late December, also known as winter.

Then again, maybe summer is over. The husband was channel surfing and said, “Look at this on the Hallmark Channel—Christmas movies all week long.”

Time flies when you’re having fun.

 

 

 

 

Vacation turns up the heat and knocks ‘em out of their seats

On our last extended family vacation, we decided to drop the better portion of our retirement savings on tickets to one of those venues where you sit around the edge of an arena and watch live family entertainment while eating a four-course meal with your hands.

Our middle name is classy.

Before the show, we were herded into a lobby where there was live music and, in case we thought we didn’t pay enough for the tickets to the show, we could drop a few more bills on pricey soft drinks that came in plastic boots. The idea of drinking out of footwear was not all that novel to our group, as several of the younger children had been gumming their shoes on the 8-hour car ride down.

Once we took our seats around the arena, a very friendly wait staff appeared and started delivering food faster than a Vegas blackjack dealer deals cards.

There was soup, biscuits the size of Frisbees, a full rotisserie chicken for each of us, hot buttered corn, buttered potatoes—food was flying. And napkins. Lots of napkins because, like I said, you eat with your hands.

The preschool kids, who for years have been instructed not to eat with their hands, were hesitant to dive in. They thought it was set up. I kept saying, “No, no, it’s OK. Just tear off that chicken leg and eat it. Look at your daddy eat with his hands. Look at your mommy eating with her hands.
“I know your hands are greasy, but don’t wipe them on my — ”

Too late.

People were wiping hands on napkins, sleeves, pant legs and licking butter off their fingers, but nobody was complaining because you don’t complain when you pay big bucks to do without silverware.

If it’s true that “everything is betta with butta” we were having the time of our lives.

And then they introduced the fire. A huge flame soared from the floor of the middle of the arena. Some of the little ones jumped and a couple of them screamed. I jumped and screamed. You could feel the heat from the flame and I wasn’t sure but what both of my eyebrows had been singed.

When the trick riders came out on horseback and began jumping through rings of fire, a couple of the kids went over the edge.

“Where’d your youngest go?” I asked my daughter.

“Under the table,” she said.

I looked under the table and sure enough, she was hanging onto her momma’s legs for dear life, sobbing her eyes out.

Next thing I knew another kid jumped on my lap and was shaking like a leaf. She tried to bury her head against mine but her cheek kept sliding off my cheek because we both had butter on our faces.

The little one under the table didn’t come out until the show was nearly over and the last horse had left the arena. But the next day, as we hiked trails and enjoyed the mountain views, they jabbered about the trick riders, the disappearing cowgirls and the beautiful ladies that floated down from the ceiling in big beautiful gowns.

That’s how it often is with a vacation—you don’t realize how good it was until after it’s over.