Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Halloween Retrospective

Provosts in a pumpkin patch circa 1975
Ah, Halloween.  As a youngin' in the 70s and 80s, my Halloweens were slightly different from your early 21st century celebrations.  As you can see here, the pumpkin patch we visited in Indiana was a barren throwback to the Dust Bowl into which they trucked a load of pumpkins, then lined them up sort of neatly to give the appearance that they sprang up from the ground for our carving and seed-roasting pleasure.  I do recall there being a pony there for me to ride* and while I don't recollect this specifically, I'm certain there were hayrides.

Prior to the Big Night, I would get revved up for this holiday by waiting excitedly for The Great Pumpkin to come on as a CBS evening special.  It was exciting.  There'd be a silent written announcement that the regularly scheduled programming would not be seen, then they had this "duh duh duh duh" drumroll with the word "special" surrounded by all manner of colors come right at you as it twisted in a spiral, like it was being born in your face.  It's on!  It's on! It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!  Now we own a copy on DVD and the only thing stopping you girls from watching it any time you want is your father and me.

Well before CBS was interrupting its regularly scheduled programming and
we were all making sure we'd gone to the bathroom, had snacks and our places were "saved with everything in them", my mother and I had secured my costume.  Early on, it was always store-bought, with a big, plastic mask and an equally plastic but pliable matching outfit.  Would you like to sweat and sweat while being outside in the cold?  These are the ensembles for you! "Trick or Treat!  I'll take some inedible Mary Janes and hypothermia!" These costumes had everything.  Even so, to this day, the smell they emitted (now we call it off-gassing and have discovered it leads to neurological damage and infertility) throws me into a fond, misty-eyed nostalgia.  As I grew and those costumes no longer fit me, or more wisely, were no longer on the market due to their highly flammable nature, I was responsible for cobbling together something from found objects in the household.  by "found" I of course mean that I ransacked my brothers' rooms and stole their crap.  I didn't have an Aunt Jo Jo making me fabulous costumes that require hip new footwear.  Indeed, I had to work it out myself and the only help I got from my parents was when they ate half of each piece of my candy to insure there "weren't any razor blades" in it. 

I grew to the point that trick or treating was no longer a thing.  It happens, as you girls are just beginning to note.  Then it was all about the parties.  There was apple bobbing, a barbaric practice involving plunging one's face into icy cold water and attempting to retrieve, using only your teeth, the prize - an apple.  As I emerged from child into early adulthood my fellow revelers and I found far superior things for which to bob.  There was a lot more huddling indoors and watching horror movies in honor of the day, too.  I remember my parents splitting duties between taking kids trick or treating or handing out candy.  Then, I remember just going out with my friends, no parents.  Now we abandon the house entirely so we can all go out together, and we head to our neighbors' houses, and the grown-ups go out into the streets with the kids and we bring our own grown-up beverages, often we bring refills in wagons we tote along behind that I think of it, while I have great Halloween memories from my childhood, I think I'm enjoying your childhood Halloweens even more.  

* "ride" here means - sit upon wide-eyed and staring pleadingly with my parents while it's tied to something and allowed to take 4 or 5 steps forward and back.

Friday, October 30, 2015

You know What? Ima Keep This Blog Alive

I know that Kate, at least, is reading this thing now.  I failed in my attempt to get words out of my own parents (slackers), so I guess it's up to me to be sure that Kate, at least, has something to read. 

It occurred to me as my the sun was setting upon my childhood, that I'd never really thought at all about my parents' lives apart from their involvement with me.  I realized, kind of unpleasantly, that it was probable that they had a great deal going on in their days and their bodies and their social circles, and various relationships that actually had nothing to do with me at all. It was like I looked up from something I'd been absorbed in reading (a little novella titled Myself) and realized they'd been in the room with me and I hadn't even  noticed or acknowledged them.  This is what it's like to realize your parents are human.  Some people think it happens when you witness your parents making some kind of mistake, or when they become ill or die.  Perhaps, for some, that's the case.  For me, it was more subtle and dependent upon my growing up a bit.

I only mention this because I assume that my daughters don't bother to think at all about what my life is like apart from them, and I'm fine with that. I do expect, though, that one day they'll wonder.  So, I've been thinking of coming back in here and sharing with them the sort of things I think about, and how I see them during these times that they are making their own assumptions about how I see them.  There are things I'd like to say to them that they aren't ready or willing to hear, but I can write them down here, and they can choose to come back and peruse it later.  Or not. I've read a lot of blog posts from other mothers that were written to their daughters - general advice on womanhood and adulthood - and I think that's all well and good but they're usually not what I want someone to say to my daughters, so here's my chance.  It's risky, of course, because as a rule, us mothers are insane, and I'm about to put my insanity down in writing (something my own mother repeatedly warned me not do), but so what? And you know what else?  I think I'll cuss.  All those years I kept this blog of my babies I never cussed because it was a family space, and the thought of hearing foul language from my sweets daughters' lips makes me cringe but the truth is, I like cussing and I do it a lot.  You've been warned.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Funny, I Don't Even Remember Having a Frilly Barrette

I was in 4th grade when I learned what the word "frilly" means.  I did not learn in class.  I can hardly recall a thing I learned in that class except that sometimes adults (my teacher that year) are total jerks, and how to spell "mountain".  I learned about "frilly" from Tracy Ross.  I don't know Tracy's origins, but she was in my class that year, and I was aware of her for many years after that, though I cannot recall exactly when she faded into the background and completely out of my awareness.  The only exchange I can recall ever having with Tracy was that day in 4th grade when I walked past her and she declared "oh, I like your barrette!  It's so frilly.  Do you know what "frilly" means?"  I said that I did not and she said "it's when something is very decorative in a sort of delicate and poofy way.  Like lace".  To this day, I think of Tracy when I hear that word, though I must admit, it isn't often; I live a life that's a little too utilitarian for things to be frilly around me.

The thing about Tracy was, she was a social pariah.  When I picture her, I remember a thin girl with brown eyes and unkempt, matted, yellow hair.  She was usually dressed in clothes that looked dirty and frumpy.  No one really spoke to her, but people often said mean things about her.  Like that she had lice.  It seems unlikely to me now, since I don't recall anyone else in my class having lice and frankly, they are very social creatures, but I suppose it's possible.  I had no opinion of Tracy.  I do recall, though, that she would occasionally attempt to enter a conversation, only to be ignored. 

In middle school we all went to the cafeteria in the mornings before school started.  Everyone huddled with their friends.  I remember seeing Tracy there, sitting at the end of the one of the long lunch tables, completely alone.  I remember thinking I should go say hi to her, ask her how she was doing.  I never did, though.  I wanted to visit with my friends, and I had no real desire to be Tracy's friend.  So, I would see her, think she seemed lonely, wonder if my saying hello would make her feel better, then not do anything about it. 

Today, when I think that something is frilly, I wish I'd taken 30 seconds every now and again to chat with Tracy.  She was not an unpleasant girl, despite the faint odor.  She smiled easily, and sat right out in the middle of things, looking approachable.  I wish I'd taken that time, because school can be brutal, socially, and I found it difficult even with a lot of friends.  I felt the urge to be kind, and ignored it.  Would it have made a difference to Tracy?  I have no idea.  Would it have made a difference to me?  Very much so.  When we are kind to others, we feel better.  We affirm for ourselves that we are decent, loving people, and when we do that, we know we deserve to be loved and when we know that, we do not accept anything less.  I know now that if I had offered that kid a smile and a wave in the hall or the cafeteria, my own junior high experience would have been slightly less insufferable. 

I'm telling you this now, because I know, without a doubt, there is probably more than one Tracy Ross in your respective worlds.  I know it might seem awkward, or forced, and I know it might make you think your own friends will think less of you - but please say something kind to your Tracy Rosses.  Anyone who would think less of you for it, does not know your value, their own value or that of the kid sitting alone.  Do it for yourself, and you never know, you might find out there's serious friend material there. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Is All Carol Burnett's Fault

When I was in first grade, mom and dad went away for a few days and they left me with their friends the Emorys for safe keeping.  I don't remember a whole lot from that visit, except that Mrs. Emory allowed me to bang away on the piano for quite some time, and she never complained within my earshot.  I did notice that she seemed maybe a little too ecstatic when I accidentally hit upon the first few notes of Mary Had a Little Lamb.  She rushed into the living room and helped me play the rest of the song.  I felt her relief.  People think children don't know these things, but I remember thinking at the time how annoying it must have been for her to have to endure my pounding away at the piano keys.  I doubt I mentioned it, but I appreciated her patience.  I learned how to play that song that day, and never forgot.  That's not what this is about, though.

The Carol Burnett Show.jpg
In the kitchen of the Emory household hung a calendar with the iconic cartoon cleaning lady from the Carol Burnett Show.  She looked bedraggled and rested on a mop with the words "To hell with housework!" next to her.  I asked Mrs. Emory what that meant.  She said "it means she really doesn't like doing housework."  Later that same day, my parents received a call from my teacher, because I'd written "to hell with mathwork" on my math worksheet.  That was the day I learned that polite children do not use the word "hell" and they certainly don't go around writing it on their papers.  I got quite a talking to from the teacher and the principal that day, all about what a naughty thing I'd written on my paper.  I was asked why I would write such a thing, but the question referred to where I'd heard the word, not what motivated me.  Indeed, never once did anyone ask why I really didn't like mathwork.

As I endured the remainder of my formal education, I seethed with animosity toward all topics math.  I struggled in each math class, passing each by the skin of my teeth and only with incessant complaint.  Dad helped me with my math homework by yelling at me that he couldn't fathom why I wasn't getting it.  He meant well, and I understand his frustration.  It's OK.  By the time I rounded the final curve of high school I was beginning to see glimmers of usefulness for math.  When I was in college it dawned on me that there was never any reason for me not to have mastered all that basic math.  A bit too late, because I missed the foundations and while I appreciate the logic and, yes, simplicity, of the language of math, I have forgotten most of algebra and trigonometry.

One of my favorite quotes attributed to Albert Einstein is this - if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.  Why did no one wonder why I would want to send my math to hell?  Why did my teacher not take that as an affront to the topic, and try to help me find my way to grasping it instead?  Why do we allow a child who earns a C in her math class to advance to the next level?  A grade like that says this student absolutely does not understand it well enough to explain it simply.  Why, particularly in the early elementary school years, do we allow scores that low on any topic?  I know there are so many children, and so few educators, and we're just trying to escort everyone to adulthood while hoping each kid finds something for which she has an unending curiosity.  It's unlikely all kids will master all subjects.  So we agree everyone should at least have a passing knowledge of what we consider the basics, but to this day, I feel given up upon.  I am amply aware that I presented a considerable challenge to those who tried not to give up on me, as far as math is concerned.  Still, there was a moment there, very early on, when I was pointed down a rocky math path that I think was a chance to redirect me.  I am sad that math and I weren't better friends.  As a parent now, I I already missing a key redirect moment?  Can it be helped?

I carry the threat of missing a key moment on the outer edges of my daily existence with you.  I know your life is your responsibility, but parents are a tangible representation of the ego - we accidentally instill fears by fearing you'll be afraid.  I want you to love learning, but you are being educated in much the way I was - in segments and boxes and with lots of punitive "motivation".  The answer, of course, is that I must be the student I'd like you to be.  I think of it every time you stop to observe the greenery along our walks, searching for 4-leaf clovers and noticing bugs.  I think of it because I invariably hear myself say "come on, let's go!" which is the antithesis of what I want for you.  I think what I'm trying to tell you here, girls, is this - don't write curse words on your homework papers.  I kid!  I will consider us fortunate if you'll be so verbal; I hope we'll be on it enough to pay attention, and ask why.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hey Mom, Why No Reminiscing From My Grand Parents for Whom You Made This Blog Private?

I don't know girls.  Maybe they don't really love you.  Here's a little LRB to soothe your pain.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Couple Random Memories

Let's gals are in first and third grade as I write this.  What was I up to at those ages?  In first grade I lived in Indiana.  I went to the 10th Street Elementary School. My teacher was Mrs. Richards and once, when an impromptu paste fight erupted in the classroom, I caused its end when Patrick Shoemaker threw some in my eye and I cried.  Ahhhh...good times.  I learned that we would be moving to Virginia near the end of the school year.  As a going away gift, Mrs. Richards gave me a copy of Bedtime for Frances.  I don't recall having any strong emotions about the impending move, but I do remember the move itself.

The night before we were to head off to the mountains, there were twenty tornadoes sighted in and around our area.  I loved tornado warnings and watches.  Obviously, nothing I cared about was ever wiped from the planet by a twister.  What I knew of tornadoes was this:  if they were home when it happened, we all piled into the van and drove 100 feet to our neighbors' house because they had a finished basement.  We drove because the van was grounded by its tires which meant we would not, individually, be electrocuted by lightning should it strike in our immediate area, and also because it was usually raining with some ferocity as the warning sirens were blaring.  Their basement was awesome.  It had a ping pong table and a pool table and the back wall was lined with shelves that were filled with fun things.  We would play, and there would be snacks, and we'd listen to the transistor radio for news of the storms.

That night, we were doing all those things, when your uncle Keith locked himself into a pair of handcuffs.  The handcuffs were famously missing their key.  Everyone had heard that about them.  "Don't mess with those, we've lost the key" must've been said a dozen times that very evening.  Still, Keith boldly snapped them on, convinced he could free himself.  He could not.

The storms passed without incident to our neighborhood, so we would still have a ton of boxes for the movers to load on the truck in the morning.  Keith remained locked in the handcuffs.  So my parents called our neighborhood police officer, Dennis - the boys' nemesis.  Dennis had made it his personal duty to keep the Provost boys clean and off the streets and was, from what I could tell, the bane of their collective existence.  Dennis was off duty, but came right over.  He did not have a skeleton key with him, so he had to take Keith to the station to get one.  If memory serves, he made him ride in the back of the car like a common criminal.  Then, after he made a big scene of not finding a key in his desk, he walked Keith through the jail, pointing to cells and telling him how one guy killed himself in that cell, and the guy there did [something scary] and so on.  Then he found a key, unlocked the cuffs and brought your uncle back home to us.  I remember sitting on one of the boxes in the dining area of the kitchen, waiting for Keith to get home.  I remember my mom thinking the whole thing was pretty funny.  Then we set off for Virginia.

Now then, by third grade I was in the swing of how school worked.  For one thing, I got in trouble a lot less. I met my friend Anni in Mrs. Gnegy's third grade class.  Early in the year, my favorite song was Joan Jett & the Blackheart's cover of I Love Rock and Roll.  I remember dancing to it and singing into my comb in front of the full length mirror that hung in the hallway as I got ready for school in the morning.  I discovered my love for writing (but not spelling) in third grade.  Oh, and your uncle Dave broke my finger.

We were headed to church in our van, and it was very cold out.  There was some ice on the driveway.  Just as I was about to climb in, I slipped on said ice, and grabbed the post between the front passenger door and the sliding door for support.  At that exact same moment, Dave was closing the front door.  As we all knew, you had to really slam that front door or it wouldn't shut properly, so he slammed it with impressive force, on my hand.  Kevin reported that I sounded just like a foghorn roughly one and half seconds after impact.  The door closed on all my fingers, but only my index finger was fractured.  We had to go to the hospital, after a brief stop next door, so Dr. Miller could have a look at it and pronounce it likely broken.  The ER staff x-rayed it and put it in a splint and wrapped it up and sent me on my way.  I got to go home and eat a popsicle and lie on the couch.  Dave felt pretty bad about the accident and everyone was nice to me for at least that full day.  What I remember most now is that I didn't have to go to church.  That made it a win in my book.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Roller Skates

My first pair of roller skates were the old, metal kind.  You stuck them on your shod feet, and tightened them to fit by sliding the two pieces just the right distance apart and clamping them in place with a wing nut.  They weighed a ton and their noisy, metal wheels destroyed nice flooring.  I adored them.

I can recall one of the first times I wore my roller skates.  Mom helped me get them on my feet, then sent me directly to the garage, where my dad was doing some wood working on his table saw.  Your uncle Kevin was out there with us.  It was cool out, and it was evening.  I was only just beginning to figure out how to move myself along without falling.  I would push myself from one fixed point to the next, not really moving my feet but just gliding along until I stopped by colliding with another fixed object.  Back and forth in the garage I was doing that.  Back and forth, back and forth...I was going to be good at this activity.

I suppose Kevin was helping.  I guess he was encouraging me to move my feet along, to use one to push myself along while slightly bending my knees and swaying ever so gently to maintain balance and steer myself.  I suppose this is the case because I really don't remember but I do know I eventually was able to do those things.  I did them so well I used to wish roller skating was an Olympic sport because I would own that event!  Just wait till those judges saw me breeze through space backwards while Kool and the Gang Celebrated Good Times.  I could see them all holding up giant "10" placards.  That was to be at least a year from this moment.  At this moment I was pleased to be upright, and marveling at the sheer weight of the contraptions on my feet. 

I have no idea what Kevin was actually doing out there, but I do know dad was ignoring us both.  I think maybe when one has 5 children one learns to tune a lot of things out.  I don't remember what we were talking about but I do remember this:  I was perched upon the garage door when I suddenly needed to go to the bathroom right now.  I can recall seeing the distance between where I stood and the door into the house.  There was a bathroom just inside that door to the right.  But as I stood there the short scoot over there became an unbridgeable chasm.  I froze.  Then Kevin did something hilarious.  I don't know what it was, but I could not.  Stop.  Laughing.  And I could not move from that spot, but my bladder didn't care.  Full is full people, it's not subjective.  Kevin has never been that funny again, I promise you. 

At last I had no choice but to use every bit of arm strength I could muster to push myself from the garage door to the door to the house (and then somehow manage to lift one foot at a time up the single step that led inside).  When I finally managed this monumental task, it was too late.  I was laughing so hard, I peed my pants as I glided across the garage floor in my metal skates.  I left a trail of pee from point A to point B.  My oh-so-helpful brother left stinky me to my own devices, but he was good enough to help with the clean-up.  My memory of that evening ends with the sight of Kevin gingerly grabbing the broom then sweeping the freshly created sawdust from around the table saw into a tidy mountain range along the long line of urine I'd left in my wake.  And that, for me, was Roller Skating: Day One.  On Day Two and every other successive skating day, I'm certain, I visited the loo before donning my skates.