1973: Here, kitty kitty

When I was little, I desperately wanted a dog. My near-neighbor and default best friend, Joe A., had a succession of dogs: an elegant Collie named Princess and her unworthy and hyperactive successor, a Shetland Sheepdog named Kipper. Though Kipper was probably the right size for a small city house, there was unfortunately no flock of sheep for him to herd. Each time the doorbell rang he flung himself into action, barking furiously as he turned quicker and quicker laps on a short track comprising the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen.

I still wanted a dog. I watched Lassie and Rin Tin Tin on TV — so intelligent! such faithful companions! — and continually lobbied for a dog of my own. Of course I was far too young to think about the more practical concerns of where a dog would stay and who would take care of it. I petted Kipper — when I could catch him — and played with my Ohio grandparents’ dog Simon whenever I visited. Simon liked to fetch but he didn’t like to return whatever it was he had been fetching, so I had to go out into the back yard with two tennis balls at a time: one to throw initially, and a second one to throw to trick him into dropping the first one. Fetching sessions continued until the tennis balls were too wet from dog slobber to try to pick them up.

My West Virginia grandparents had a pair of dogs at this time, but since I only visited a few times a year there was not much satisfaction to be gained. Mickey was a scruffy black terrier mix of some sort, and Annie was a Dachshund. Both of them were getting along in years and not terribly fond of playing with a girl whose other source of fun on vacation was skating on the concrete sidewalk on metal strap-on roller skates.

The memories of my childhood are highlighted by encounters with unexpected dogs — the English Bulldog that Joe D. brought to school for show and tell, the Boxer we found in the park and who waited stoically in our back yard until his owner came to pick him up, when he sprang ecstatically to life. Real dogs, cartoon dogs, storybook dogs, movie dogs — they were all fine with me. I read a book called Follow my Leader that not only offered me practical tips for coping with unexpected childhood blindness but also made me wish, for decades, to raise a seeing eye dog for the blind.

But the dog above all dogs, the dog of my heart, was a Collie. I don’t think Joe A.’s dog was as responsible for this desire as much as the ubiquitous Lassie was. If there was a smarter, friendlier, more beautiful companion on earth I couldn’t think of it, and it seemed a great travesty of justice that I could not have a dog when others could. (Come to think of it, this attitude probably led to my great empathy with Fern Arable in Charlotte’s Web, at just the age it should have.)

Somewhere in the midst of this canine adoration, my father came home one day with a pair of kittens in a cardboard box. They had been left outside the hardware store where he used to work. (Did he still work there every once in a while? Dad always had several jobs as a time, and I’m not sure when some left off and others began. However, when he took me with him to Hilltop Hardware, he was clearly familiar to the current owners.) The other abandoned kittens had found homes, and these last two littermates would be ours: Boots, a grey female with four white paws and a white bib, and Bounce, a male orange tabby. Bounce wasn’t ours for long, as he spent too many of his waking hours climbing up the draperies and being generally incorrigible. But Boots was ours for keeps.

One problem with your first pet is that you tend to assume that its qualities are the qualities of all pets. It turns out that Boots was an unusually jealous animal, exacting a calculated revenge for each infraction you committed, such as petting another animal. Revenge usually consisted of her peeing in an inappropriate location, such as under my bed on the hardwood floor. If you followed her rules, she settled into a kind of benevolent queenship. (Hmm. Now that I think about it, perhaps Bounce was framed!)

Oddly enough, Boots and my father didn’t get along well. She slept on my parents’ bed until one morning when she didn’t get up as usual and my father suspected the worst. “Vickie,” he said, “the cat’s dead. Get a bag and I’ll put her in it.” When the bag was brought over she leapt up with a scream and ran out of the room. They didn’t seem to trust each other after that, and for years the only thing I heard my father say about Boots was, “When that cat dies, we’re never getting another.”

Bootses

Boots and a boot. Get it?

Boots occasionally went outside in the back yard, and though she had all her claws she really couldn’t climb trees. If something spooked her she would race up the nearest tree trunk, then look around as if puzzled at how she came to be there. I’d have to go out and unhook her from the tree to bring her down.

She had an epic confrontation in that same back yard. Both sets of next-door neighbors were retired couples, but while the Meginnesses let me come next door to practice on their piano and sit with them to watch the “Lawrence Welk Show,” the Millers were on the grouchy side. Doc Miller surprised us with his acquisition of an English Springer Spaniel, a young purebred whose name was Sonny. I’m sure that as an active child with neighborhood friends I was an annoying neighbor to Doc Miller, but Sonny was insufferable. Every time he was let outside he would race up and down the Millers’ short sidewalk, barking at everything in existence until he was let in again. Usually I would give up first and go inside to get away from him. One afternoon, however, I was in the backyard with Boots while Sonny was out. Boots sat on the sidewalk that ran up the center of the yard, facing the white picket fence that separated her and Sonny as they fell into a staring match. With the tension at its peak, Boots spat at the spaniel, something I never saw her do before or since. Sonny erupted into a fury of barking, lunging ineffectively at the fence while Boots got up and walked to the house with the calm demeanor of a matador.

Boots went on to tolerate a pet goldfish and a pet hermit crab and, after we moved to the country, our own succession of dogs (none of them Collies, alas). But they were outside dogs, and she ruled the interior. She settled into being jealous only of other cats to which we paid attention, and enjoyed the rare indulgence of a sudden romp down the hallway that recalled her more active kittenhood. When she wasn’t dozing in a sunbeam, or surviving the winter’s cold by seating herself directly over the furnace vent, she accompanied me as I wrote my way through high school and college. I have had other cats and now enjoy the company of a dog, but there will be no cat like Boots.

Boots in drawer

Circa 1987.

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Published in: on February 19, 2018 at 10:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

1972: Big Time

In the fall of 1972 I was off to kindergarten. It was just a part-time gig, and my time slot was chosen so that I could still watch Captain Kangaroo every day. It was a new routine and I loved it. I must have loved it, because in one of the few pictures of me from this year I am looking deliriously happy while wearing a pink and white crocheted poncho. Trust me, I would have to have been even happier before putting on this poncho. Even at age five I wanted to do all the same things the boys did rather than look for one instant like a girly girl who was too dressed up to be able to climb a tree at a moment’s notice. (Those of you who only know me as a baking knitter who wears skirts almost every day should be warned that in my heart of hearts I still imagine that I’m a tomboy who’s playing against type.)

I’m amused to review the scant materials tucked in the pocket of my “school days” book. There is one extra copy of my school picture (another is glued or taped into the book), but no class picture. There is a report card that notes various qualities I displayed Consistently, Most of the Time, Part of the time, or Not yet. “My Kindergarten Skills” were marked with an X when I accomplished them, and I’m so proud to say that by the end of this school year I could not only say my full name and use a crayon, but I could also tie my shoes and “put on and take off my wraps.” (Who says that anymore?) Apparently I also knew how to use paste. That skill has really come in handy.

In the book I list no less than sixteen “New Friends” and can even remember who three or four of them are. I list my two favorite activities as coloring and reading (we’ve already discussed the reading part). Alas, I doubt that any examples of my highly developed coloring skills have been preserved from this year.

I’m also amused to note that my “school days” book was filled out by myself, and in cursive. Judging from my progressively more mature handwriting samples in the rest of the book, I learned to write cursive in the third grade (I asked Mom to teach me at home so I could read the notes I carried from my classroom to the principal’s office!) and backfilled the pages from there.

As satisfying as all these memories are, I also remember the confusion and disorientation I felt on the day when the morning and afternoon kindergarten classes switched time slots. I can understand why the powers that be thought it was a good thing to do, but boy am I glad they only did it once. It was probably intended as a gentle orientation to change, but a longer period of that kind of change would have exposed my deep reliance on routines that would, in some cases, evolve into ritualistic behavior.

And I remember the fear and nervousness I felt at the thought of the trial I would have to undergo; before the year was up, I would be expected to stand up in class and count aloud from one to one hundred. In front of Mrs. Medland and everyone! I don’t know how many times I rehearsed this act in my head before finally getting it over with. Was I already someone who shrank from the spotlight and avoided attention, believing all attention to be negative? Accomplishing this task sure didn’t make me feel more brave or confident.

I accomplished one other task this year, not that I had much to do with it: having my tonsils removed. Society has not yet come up with an accurate name for my generation — I was born between the Baby Boomers and Generation X — but I was born to that narrow demographic of children whose tonsils were removed at age 5 whether or not they had been troublemakers. This window was so narrow that by the time my brother, born just three years after me, turned five years old they simply weren’t doing this any more. (That was so three years ago.) It really was like being on an assembly line: turn five, go to the hospital, go to sleep on a table, wake up with a sore throat and be told that you could have as much ice cream as you wanted. (Totally worth it.) I recovered in the hospital next to my best friend Joe, who was born two days earlier and lived two houses down the street. (The only reason he didn’t make it to my list of kindergarten friends was because the book asked for new friends.) My mother sat up all night in the same room with us, nervous. Joe’s mom, more experienced than mine at this motherhood thing, had come prepared, and we should probably just leave it at that.

In 1972 the world was busy turning inside out and upside down, but I was finding my groove. My inside world was developing, and the outside world wouldn’t have a measurable impact on it for years to come. There were now books to read, bicycles to learn how to ride, and trees to climb.


Knitwise, I seamed up the four slippers last week and have mailed them off to West Virginia without even a thought as to Actually Taking a Picture of Them for the Sake of Posterity. As a matter of fact, several items got shipped off today. I have good intentions, then I search for the right-sized box, and then somehow it’s five years later and the only thing pressuring me to finally send the gosh-darn whatever-it-is is my remaining shred of honor. Over the weekend I prepared five packages that ranged from almost-timely to three-years-late, and a friend took them to the post office today and launched them into the mailstream. Safe passage, tardy objects! May you be appreciated on the other side. I also pawned off the baby blanket items to my crocheting friend, who will make the rest of the squares. We might have to arm wrestle to see who has to gets to seam them all together for Oliver.

Meanwhile, as an apparent delaying tactic to avoid making the finishing touch to a knitted object begun three years ago, I cast on for an Olympics project. I used to participate in Ravelympics and Knitting Olympics events, but have fallen away. But this year I had to do something, as a high school classmate’s son almost qualified for the Olympic speed skating team (you’ll go next time, Austin Kleba!) and I just felt I had to have a project on the needles while I watched my favorite events. I have habitually watched ice skating in all its forms, and gradually expanded my viewing to include skiing and snowboarding events, but for the last few Games curling has been my new love. I wish I could play. Anyway, I chose the Sochi colorway from Cephalopod Yarns and cast on for a slip-stitch cowl. I’ll try to remember to take some pictures of this one, as the pattern shouldn’t get lost in the admittedly vibrant rainbow colorway.

Published in: on February 12, 2018 at 9:43 pm  Comments (2)  

1971: Before I could read

A few decades ago, my father asked me if I thought it was possible that someone who knew how to read could view text in their native language and not be able to read it. I never asked him why he had asked the question, but I believe that my answer at the time was No – I didn’t think that a literate person could not be able to read something.

I still think that answer is basically true. A stroke or a bout of aphasia could impair your ability to read for a certain amount of time, and acute trauma could impair your perceptions to a degree that might include reading or speech, but I don’t know that personal literacy is something you can voluntarily disable. (Officer: “Didn’t you see that stop sign back there?” Driver: “The red sign? I saw it, but I decided not to read it. Did it say something important?”)

How_to_Read

When I went off to kindergarten at age five, I could not yet read. I remember the thick workbook that we used that year, full of colorful pictures and words and phrases in simple black type. I remember the meaningless, the flatness of it before I was able to crack the code. I also remember the thrill that came over me when I realized that I could do it — I could read the words! I could read all the words, including the ones on the previous pages. Yesterday I was going through the motions, but today I could really read!

Epiphany

Because my birthday is in the middle of summer, I can guess that I learned to read when I was about five and a half. But I had been surrounded by words much longer — probably all my life — and my parents thought I already knew how to read. I was outed during a visit to West Virginia, when I sat with my great-grandfather and we read my favorite book, “Hop on Pop.” Everyone was impressed with my precocious abilities until Grandpap turned two pages at once and I proceeded to recite the text printed on the skipped page. (You would think that my family members would have been even more impressed by my ability to memorize an entire book, but that was apparently not the case.)

After I did learn to read I was rarely without a book, or any other collection of words. I strayed from the shelves of books at my reading level so that I could try something more advanced. At the public library this meant moving from the children’s books room to the shelf just outside that held the Encyclopedia Brown series, and later to a book on how to write Chinese characters. At the school library this meant leaving the Matt Christopher sports series (and exciting titles like Catcher with a Glass Arm and Slam Dunk!) for the thickest book on the nonfiction shelf (which turned out to be a stultifyingly dull book about wildflowers or botany or something; ugh). I read voraciously in the two newspapers that came to our house every day, the Columbus Citizen-Journal in the morning and the weightier and more conservative Columbus Dispatch in the evening. I typed up my own attempt at a neighborhood newspaper on my manual typewriter in the fourth grade (there was only one edition; it’s quite the rarity) and eventually I began writing my own short stories and longer pieces.

Kids these days are a bit quicker on the draw than I was, and all of mine learned to read before I did. My third child, probably out of sheer boredom, taught himself to read at age three by playing Pixar movies with the captions on. His younger brother thought this was normal, and duly copied him. But all four of them have discovered, enjoyed, written, and illustrated stories much more complicated than “Hop on Pop,” to which dozens of homemade chapbooks detailing the adventures of Toilet Man, Captain Chale, and the TIME HOLE attest; the elder two are writing fan fiction and moving on to create their own complex and realistic fictional worlds, for which I occasionally serve as a sounding board and consultant.

No_Pat_No

Can they look at something and not read it? I’ll ask them without telling them why I want to know.

 


 

Knitwise, I have finished the two pairs of slippers for my grandmother; I only have to seam them up. That’s close enough to actually being done to let me think about the next project I should finish: Oliver’s blanket. I will have some crocheting to do for that blanket to realize my original vision. (Actually, my original vision called for someone else to crochet the squares.) Alternatively, I could frog the squares I’ve knitted and just knit a regular freakin’ blanket, which might take less time but would have more joins. Where’s the fun in that? (To hasten my work I’ll try to think about how cold that poor newborn child must be during our round after round subzero temperatures, and I’ll ignore all the cuddly, snuggly Facebook pictures already posted by my friend, his doting grandmother.) When I’m done with the baby blanket it will finally be time to finish the Swedish Surprise.

Published in: on February 5, 2018 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

1970: The very creaky chair

NOTE: As I find, or take, pictures of this chair I will use them to illustrate this post.

In my home library there is a rocking chair in which no one ever sits. Its spindled back, these days, is draped with a blanket I knitted a year ago; on the seat rests a round gold cushion that I use on the extremely rare occasions I decide to sit zazen. A tote bag with my current knitting projects hangs from one of the back posts. At night, my discarded daytime clothes lay atop the gold cushion; during the day, my pillows sit on the seat after I convert my futon from bed to couch.

The chair is positioned in the corner of the room, in front of a bookcase that houses sheet music for piano, guitar, and saxophone; books about musicians ranging from John Denver to Leonard Cohen; books about guitar building, playing, and repair; and at least a hundred compact discs, a few cassette tapes, and dozens of record albums. The cherry-laminate bookcase is topped with stereo components and flanked by speakers. If I want to find a disc or an album, I must first drag the rocking chair out of the way; that’s when I see the grooves that the rockers have pressed into my carpet.

Why do I keep this chair in such an awkward spot? The short answer is that it literally won’t fit anywhere else. It’s too wide to fit through the doorways of the upstairs bedrooms (I’ve tried), and none of my sons has expressed a desire to have it in his room. There’s not enough space for it in any other room in this house, and moving it to the basement would probably destroy it through heat and cold cycles, floods, and vermin.

A longer answer is that this chair isn’t something I want to use every day. It’s a family heirloom, and I’m afraid that if it were used more often it would break. When my children where little, just big enough to climb into it and really get it going, I was terrified that they would over-rock it and topple over backwards (they came close). I don’t even remember how it came to be my chair; perhaps when I started living on my own in my twenties, I had room for it when others did not and never subsequently gave it up.

There’s nothing particularly special about this chair’s construction. In fact, if you sat in it you might be convinced that its construction was about to fail at any second. It creaks when you sit in it, creaks when you rise from it, and practically screams if you rock in it. Yet it has surely been in my family for at least a century.

At some point several years ago I did a bit of research and found that this type of chair is called a grandfather chair because of the breadth of its seat; narrower chairs are called, predictably, grandmother chairs. In my family’s case this is a bit ironic, as the story goes that my father, now within one moon of turning 84, was rocked to sleep in this chair as an infant in his grandmother’s lap. I’m not sure which of my father’s grandmothers it was who did the rocking. Grandma Grace had four sons, including my grandpa; Grandma Naomi had two sons and three daughters, including my grandma. Either way, the chair had probably been used to rock many babies before my father came along – perhaps even the entire previous generation.

My great-grandmothers passed on in the 50s and 60s, and then Grandma passed on in the 70s. Her youngest son – of eight boys! – was just twenty years old when she died. Many years later I told him that I had the rocking chair. A smile spread across his face and he asked, “Was it really creaky?” He couldn’t have heard his brothers being rocked in the chair; perhaps he watched and listened as my cousins, his nieces and nephews and maybe even myself, were rocked in it. (If it were that creaky by the 1960s, it must have given us Lamb babies a tolerance for high levels of ambient noise, which is not necessarily a bad thing.)

It’s not a Windsor chair, an Adirondack chair, a Bentwood rocker, a Mission rocker, or anything you can call up on the first (or second) page of a Google Image search. It could be oak, might be maple, might be store-bought, might be homemade (generations of woodworkers and cabinetmakers run through all my family trees). But it’s irreplaceable to me and I will continue to take care of it.

This chair is the source of my first memory. My mother sat in this chair in the summer of 1970, rocking something in her lap that I thought at the time was a kitten. It turned out to be my little brother, and life would never be the same.


In my knitting life, I did in fact miss a day of knitting at least one stitch – last Friday, when all was chaos. That’s not so bad over the course of a month. There’s been more than enough going on to keep me busy and cause plenty of stress, which has driven me to do more with my meditation. It can’t hurt, and neither should the knitting.

I have finished knitting three of four slippers for my grandmother; after I finish the fourth slipper I will seam them all and then work on squares for a baby blanket for a friend who recently became a grandmother. Why is it that I am constantly knitting for grandmothers? I suppose that the blanket is really for Oliver, not Jenny. When Oliver’s blanket is done I will have some project choices to make: cast on for a local knitalong, or finish a project that was promised three years ago? Cast your vote in the comments.

Published in: on January 29, 2018 at 9:50 pm  Comments (1)  

1969: To the Moon

Two years after the Summer of Love, it was the summer of ’69. (For those of you who like to keep track of such things, Bryan Adams was a lad of nine years old and Jackson Browne actually was twenty-one.)

Woodstock poster

My parents weren’t hippies and they certainly weren’t about to run off to Woodstock. (In fact, I don’t even know anyone who ran off to Woodstock. When I was in my thirties I worked on a magazine with a senior editor whose hippie friends had invited him to come along with them to this little concert in upstate New York. He considered it, but the date conflicted with his first day of boot camp and he chose the Air Force instead.) My parents did own a couple of Peter, Paul, and Mary albums and a record entitled “Summer of 70” that I might break out for next week’s story, but their form of counterculture was the mid-60s folk song parody as rendered by, variously, Tom Lehrer, the Smothers Brothers, or the New Christy Minstrels. (These performances prepared me for Lehrer’s later work on “The Electric Company,” the fractured fairy tales from “Rocky and Bullwinkle,’ Monty Python, and, ultimately, Weird Al Yankovic. But I digress.)

The other big event in the summer of 1969 was, in some ways, the biggest event of the millennium: the moon landing. Of course, I don’t remember any of it. And by the time I was old enough to remember such things, NASA wasn’t doing such things any more; I wouldn’t see anything so spectacular until the Space Shuttle Columbia’s thrilling launch and safe landing in 1981. I learned about it in two ways: a book about the space program (over which my brother and I later fought) and my stamp collection.

Explorer stamp album Freedom stamp album World Wide stamp album

Didn’t everyone have a stamp collection in the 1970s? My stamp albums, Harris Grab Bags, and glassine hinges all came from the Woolworth’s hobby aisle. I spent countless hours soaking them in the bathroom sink, drying them on paper towels, sorting them, and mounting them. I learned that Hungary and Poland had the coolest stamps (thank you, Magyar Posta!). The Queen’s profile, often in silver, was on every stamp of her provinces. Some countries even issued stamps in the shape of TRIANGLES. The mind reels. I traveled around the world on these small pieces of paper, which I catalogued on larger pieces of paper.

When my parents saw how careful I was with my stamp collection, they entrusted me with something precious – a first day cover of the moon landing stamp. I was in awe.

Moon landing first day cover

This one isn’t mine, but mine looks an awful lot like this one.

“Thank you!” I [hope I] exclaimed. Then, after a careful examination of the date on the cancellation, “Did I see this?”

“Yes,” they told me. “It was important, so we sat you down in front of the TV and you watched it.”

When Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, I was watching. My parents had made sure of it.

Curiously enough, I never actually imagined myself an astronaut or took any steps towards becoming one. I don’t think anyone would have discouraged me – certainly it would not have been the most improbable career I ever entertained – but my goals just didn’t go in that direction. When I was a bit older I saw myself as a scientist, but one doing pure research in a lab somewhere, wearing a blindingly white lab coat. Nevertheless, the moon and the stars have remained objects of fascination for me.

Apollo movie launch

That fascination resurfaces whenever I come across “Apollo 13” and feel compelled to watch it to the end. It resurfaced when I waited for months to watch “Hidden Figures” in the theater, and bought it as soon as the DVD came out. It shows itself again whenever the stars are clear, the moon is dramatic, or the sun is eclipsed.

Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad.


I didn’t give a knitting update last week, but I have finished a sideways striped scarf, a hat to match a scarf previously made, and one pair of slippers for Grandmother (to be honest, I still have to seam them up). I promised myself that this year I would knit at least one stitch every day, and so far I have kept that promise. That does mean that I shall have to knit at least one stitch tonight, and I have had slightly more than my allotment of fermented grapes. Nevertheless, she persisted. Maybe I’ll break out the bubblegum-pink yarn and start knitting a special hat. Who needs?

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 10:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

1968: Wee Bonnie

While teenagers were fighting in Vietnam, college students were protesting in Ohio, and athletes were protesting in Mexico City, I was turning one year old. My parents’ photo album has a few pictures of me from this time, happy beyond reason and chubby beyond belief, being held upright by my father in the kiddie pool at Wee Bonnie Swim Club.

As I grew up I spend most of my summertime outside, usually in the immediate neighborhood or just a block away at Westgate Park. But terrestrial charms would inevitably fade as the temperatures rose, and when we could bear it no more we would be gathered with our beach towels and sunscreen to be driven to Wee Bonnie for an afternoon in the water. It was less than two miles away but it felt like going to another world.

Wee Bonnie high dive

Not my photo. Not my dad. And that diving board isn’t half as tall as it is in my memories.

Wee Bonnie actually consisted of a golf course adjacent to a swimming pool. My father, in a previous life, had managed the golf course and also worked as a lifeguard. Whether or not we had an ‘in’ at the place I’m not sure, but in those days Dad was still lifting weights and doing amateur bodybuilding, so he was rather buff. Mom knew she would be able to spread out her beach towel and relax for a little while as my brother and I splashed in the shallow end of the big pool; Dad would keep an eye on us.

As far as amenities go, Wee Bonnie didn’t seem to have very many. There was a large L-shaped pool with a high dive at the deep end, a few lifeguard chairs, and a concession stand. The only building was of cinder blocks, and I remember feeling disoriented at being separated from my family as we passed through the changing areas. Then, ready to swim, I walked out into the sun, and the brilliant green of the grass and the whiff of chlorine pulled me into the chaotic scene of swimming, splashing, running, and yelling.

There must have been music coming from somewhere, but I don’t remember it; I recall, perhaps erroneously, that periodically a siren would sound for a ten-minute rest period. All the kids had to leave the pool, and adults could swim for ten minutes while kids rested. We always hoped to time our arrival at the pool so that we didn’t get there just in time for the rest break.

Wee Bonnie was where I had the snacks I never had at home. After my Wee Bonnie days were over it was many years before I bought a pack of Twizzlers; when I opened that first package I could almost feel the sun on my skin and smell chlorine in the air (and my hair).

twizzlers-ad

Wee Bonnie was where I dared to swim underwater with my eyes open; where I thought that lifeguards were the rulers of the world, and I lived in fear of being the subject of a blast from their whistles; where I eventually climbed up the tall, tall ladder and inched to the end of the long, long board and finally jumped feet-first into the water, going deeper under the water than I had thought possible and emerging, underwhelmed, with a nose full of chlorinated water. It was more fun to sit on my beach towel on the grass and watch Dad do jackknife after jackknife from the high dive.

And Wee Bonnie was the answer after a summer vacation during which my brother and I, without any conscious attempt at synchronization, simultaneously and individually went beyond our depths in the hotel’s swimming pools. Dad pulled me from the pool as I went down for the third time (I remember counting); my brother made a valiant attempt to fight off his rescuer but was, ultimately, rescued. The next year we took swimming lessons at Wee Bonnie; at the end of the summer we posed, grinning, with the patches that proved we had surpassed Tadpole and Minnow status.

We moved away; Wee Bonnie went on without us until times changed. One year we drove past, visiting the old neighborhood, and saw that the gates were locked and the pool had been filled in. Now Wee Bonnie has a Facebook page where the Westgate Park area kids of the 60s, 70s, and 80s can share their memories of the pool, the concessions, and that awe-inspiring high dive.

Published in: on January 15, 2018 at 8:48 pm  Comments (1)  

1967: Silver anniversaries

Launching a series of stories with one from the year of my birth put me in mind of the scene in “Gone With the Wind” where Melanie Wilkes begins reading David Copperfield to pass some tense hours when her and Scarlett’s husbands are in peril. “‘Chapter One. I am born,’” she reads aloud from the first page of Dickens.

I read Gone With the Wind when I was in high school, which was [ahem] very many years ago. I decided to check my memory against the book. Surprise! The same scene is present in the book, but Melanie picks up a worn copy of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and begins from the middle.

This is a surprisingly fitting introduction to my first story, as will become clear eventually.

First, however, I would like to note that stories have many perspectives and memory can be fickle, spotty, or dead wrong. For that reason I will do my best to tell my own story and not someone else’s when I sit down at the typewriter-keyboard each week. The family skeletons will stay in the closet; if you and I had a past, your secrets are safe with me. For the early stories, though, keeping my cards so close to the vest will require some creativity, as my first real memories won’t be made until I’m about three years old. So this first story is something that didn’t happen to me, as well as something that didn’t happen to my mother.

1966_Mustang_bronze

Not my mother’s Mustang.

I was born in the summer of 1967, to a father from Ohio and a mother from West Virginia. When I was six months old she would be bringing her baby girl back to her parents’ house for Christmas, in her 1966 Mustang. (My father had a 1966 VW Beetle. They were people of their times.) The journey from the West side of Columbus to the east of Charleston took, at that time and on those roads, more than four hours. We made that trip two to three times a year while I was growing up; although the roads improved, the distance shortened, and the halfway point changed, the original Route 35 is still present in bits and pieces within sight of the new and improved one. Now it’s a potholed connection between gravel driveways. Then, it was the only way to my grandparents’ house.

Ohio_map_1967

The transition from central to southern Ohio was marked by the emergence of low rolling hills south of Chillicothe, and higher hills once you passed Jackson’s apple-painted water tower and its legendary “10 ham sandwiches for 99 cents” that we never stopped to buy. But the transition from Ohio to West Virginia was marked by our passage over a magnificent silver bridge that connected Gallipolis, Ohio, with Point Pleasant, West Virginia, just south of the very visible (look to the left) confluence of the Kanawha River with the Ohio.

Ten days before Christmas 1967, the unthinkable happened. The Silver Bridge failed, collapsed in less than a minute, and sent 46 people plunging to their icy death in their cars. The bridge failed during the evening commute, and the locals which had come to depend upon the bridge that let them travel easily between work and home became its victims.

My mother still made it home for Christmas, but had to drive several miles north to the nearest Ohio River bridge at Pomeroy, only to follow the river south again and cross a different bridge over the Kanawha at Henderson. This may have added an hour to her trip, and I can only imagine that her nerves were shot by the time she was finally able to carry the infant-me into her parents’ house and relax.

I have a few postscripts to this story. One was that, while I was researching the Silver Bridge collapse a few years ago, I stumbled across documents that pinpointed the location of each car that sunk after the bridge plunged into the river, along with a brief description of its occupants. One of those cars was a 1966 Mustang, enclosing a mother and her daughter. May they rest in peace.

Another postscript is that the dramatic and heartbreaking collapse of the Silver Bridge initiated the modern era of industrial inspection, a world I discovered when I began working for the American Society for Nondestructive Testing in the early 1990s as the assistant editor of its monthly journal, Materials Evaluation.

Another postscript is that my department manager during my time at ASNT, Paul McIntire, told me once that he’d actually stopped in Jackson once and tried those cheap ham sandwiches. If I remember with any accuracy his description of the sandwiches in question, they were rather small.

Another postscript is that my daughter Colleen was born on the thirty-fifth anniversary of the collapse of the Silver Bridge. Tonight I consulted her 1938 edition of Gone With the Wind, which used to belong to my mother, for the fact checking of the introduction to this story. One of the books she’s currently reading is Les Miserables.


In other news, I have been knitting each day of the new year. One of my resolutions was to knit at least one stitch every day. If you haven’t made this resolution, but wish that you had, don’t worry: I carried a few stitches for you. You can start tomorrow with no guilt. Keep calm and knit on!

In fact, I’m actually knitting with pink yarn, despite my extreme allergy to the color. The mother of one of the members of my Whitewater knitting group has been redistributing the yarn donated to her church to be crafted into hats, scarves, and mittens for cold persons. As I think that cold persons should be converted at every opportunity into warm persons, I agreed to do my part and accepted the yarn given to me (even though it was Red Heart). So far I have crafted a hat and almost a scarf, each striped off-white and pale pink. I don’t know what I’m going to make with the remaining half skein of pale pink acrylic, but I hope it passes quickly.

When I’m done with the scarf I need to shift back to hats, making a mate for a scarf I knitted as a silent auction item for a March of Dimes fundraiser in February. Then I’ll have time to knit the pair of slippers requested by my grandmother in West Virginia.

 

Published in: on January 9, 2018 at 12:16 am  Comments (2)  

A year and a life

It’s New Year’s Day and time to ensure that I have thoroughly overbooked my next flight ’round the sun.

Resolutions? Check! I have a crap-ton of them shoved hastily into my carry-on bag that I know will absolutely fit into the overhead compartment if you give me just one. More. Minute. No, that’s okay. I got this.

Responsibilities? Check! Full time job, health concerns, four children, and a terrier who is slightly…off. That adds up to many mouths to feed. May I have an extra bag of peanuts, please?

Reading list? Check! Tremendously out of control, with bookcases double stacked and groaning more loudly every day. (Currently Actually Reading: Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. The fact that I’m reading it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they are filming the movie version now and David Tennant is playing the lead. Well, hardly anything. Well, maybe a little bit. Well, maybe it’s none of your business. But it’s a wonderful book.)

Running out of alliterative subheads? Check!

Each year brings me closer to the end of my string (one might say rope, but one would not want to indulge in histrionics). Less time to knit up my stash, cook up everything in the pantry, go to all the places, do all the things, write all the novels, and save the world in my spare time.

If we knew the length of our string, we could set an appropriate pace. However, the passage of time occasionally reminds us that, in the absence of an accurate measurement of the length remaining, we should just get off our butt and do a few more things before we go to bed each night.

Last summer I turned fifty. I didn’t dread it, not was it effusively celebrated by anyone (other than 73 birthday greetings from Facebook Friends, for which I am grateful), but it eventually led to a time of introspection (i.e., this morning) at which time I realized that fifty is almost fifty-two. Let’s not dwell on the fact that it took me six months to figure this out.

Here’s what I’m going to try. Once a week I will sit down and write a story about something that happened in one year of my life. By the end of the year, I should have covered the entire time up to now. (Except that now it’s called then, and then it will be called now. Oh, never mind.) And by the end of the year I will be fifty-one, so the yearly installments and the introduction add up perfectly.

I will also, as the urge strikes me, write about other topics, let you know how the knitting projects are coming along, and even write in another of my blogs (the one about baking; I’ll provide a link to it when there’s new content to read).

So. Happy new year. Keep warm. And buckle up: next week we’ll be going to 1967.

Published in: on January 1, 2018 at 9:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Second thoughts

Recently I read an article that explained why, when we’re driving, we can sometimes get lost in our rambling thoughts yet still arrive safely at our destination. Apparently the brain can construct some sort of parallel structures so that one process (in this case, driving) can go on in the background while another activity (pondering) seems to rise to the foreground until some action occurs to bring the background function to the fore.

That immediately brought to mind a question that my high school Government teacher asked my class of seniors in 1985: “Did you ever just get in the car and start driving, then suddenly realize that you were at your destination with no memory of how you got there?” At the time, we all laughed and said no, of course not. Who would admit to being such a distracted driver that they didn’t remember the trip? Some of the students teased him and called him a stoner, and he just laughed. In retrospect, and with the perspective of many more years, it was incredibly brave of him to put that question to a room full of irreverent teenagers. These days, it might cost a good teacher their job.

But he was right. Anecdotal evidence and science happen to back him up. I have my own data set, because it’s youth basketball season and I’ve been doing more driving than usual — to practice and back, to games and back, to tournaments and back. And forth. And back. And forth.

I find that driving on familiar roads, which I am wont to do, eventually begins to serve as a sort of Zen activity which permits the wandering thoughts to become firmer and bolder. I have come up with some deep thoughts worthy of Jack Handey, but there seems to be no way to record them while I’m driving. And by the time I arrive safely home, they have faded in contrast to the thoughts of parking the car, unpacking, and starting a new set of urgent tasks. Sometimes they disappear.

ferris-blink

I’ll have to find a way to catch these gossamer thoughts before they drift away. Will it be an app on my phone? Will it be a pen and notebook kept in the car? Will it be my frustrated shout, “I have to remember that! Shut up until I get home!”

Sometimes my thoughts do give me another chance, like a Girl Scout making a second visit with the order sheet if you weren’t at home the first time she was out peddling Thin Mints. At that point they’ve been more than generous, and it’s imperative that I do everything to record them and develop them, to think about their implications. (Thank you, I’ll take two boxes. One for now and two for the freezer.)

I have certainly surrounded myself with enough notebooks, pens, Post-It notes, pencils, writing pads, crayons, backs of envelopes, calligraphy pens, and reams of copy paper with which to take down these mental notes. I also have an incalculable amount of computing power in the house (incalculable for the most part because not all of it still works, but the potential is certainly there).

The hardest things to find are quiet and time. Time is difficult enough to obtain, but I’m not yet skilled enough to block out all distractions in order to develop some of these thoughts. And if I’m punched in on the Parent time clock, I have to stay alert and responsive to the changing needs of the other members of my family. They may not be interrupting my reading and thinking to ask for a cup of juice these days; they might be unable to sleep because they’re wondering about their purpose in life. I’m not saying that I have the answer, but the point of being a parent is to be there when your child asks the question, and let them know that it’s something worth talking about. So, checking out from that responsibility isn’t the way I’m going to get a novel written.

alcott-writing

Yet I still have to write a novel. One of the thoughts that did recently occur to me is that there are many things about me and about my life that my children do not know, in many cases simply because they have not asked me. They are busy navigating their transitions from childhood to young adulthood, and it’s quite possible that it will never occur to them to ask those questions. Maybe someday their own children will ask those questions about me, and my kids will have no idea what the answers could be. But they could know me, a little bit, through the characters, experiences, and thoughts I could weave into a book.

At times, being around finished books is hard to bear. I recently had to leave a bookstore after realizing that I was surrounded by the work of people who had actually finished their books, and I felt inadequate and ashamed. Yet at other times, the same experience is inspiring. Look at how many people have felt the same urge to write, to record, to create! Look at how many times they have been successful! When I read poor, sloppy writing I feel upset, as if that author has taken a place I should have had, as if their printed book has crowded out my unwritten one. (Of course, that’s not true — they have put in the work and I haven’t. Yet.)

But when I read truly great work, it seems to make more work on the bookshelf for whatever I may be inspired — and driven — to write. Literature isn’t a competition between writers, but more of a test that takes place within a single creative mind. How will I perform on that test? Will I work hard enough to succeed? Will I make the time? Will I nourish the thoughts? Will I develop the skills? I sure hope so. I’d love to read the kind of book that I think I could write.

Published in: on January 16, 2017 at 8:33 am  Comments (1)  

Apparently I am the 90 percent

In the previous post I mentioned that I have occasionally been accused of not finishing what I start. Now, that’s a bit unfair to make as a blanket statement, because I certainly have proof that I have completed some of the things I have started. Including blankets.

Well, most of them, except for the blanket project I just started a year ago, and THAT blanket project I started several years ago, which nobody in my knitting group had better throw in my face — AGAIN — because, after all, I don’t have a bed big enough for that blanket any more. But I will still finish it anyway. Eventually. So there. (I’m not sure that this proves my point.)

The point is that some things I start, I completely finish. That should give the lie to the statement that I never finish anything I start.

And it probably would, except that it turns out that most of the things I start only get mostly done. And by mostly done I mean really, really close to done, like 90 percent done.

90 percent used to be a really good grade. Sigh. Back in the days of junior high school and part of high school, before I had Mrs. Beathard and her math classes and her 93-100 “I have higher expectations for you” grading scale, 90 percent was a solid A. 90 percent was great, and certainly more than good enough.

asiandad

I never gave a thought to that other 10 percent. How neglected it must have felt — abandoned after the 90 percent had been bagged and tagged. But after a while it found a companion: another 10 percent. Even side by side, they didn’t look like much, especially next to an 80 percent. Who were they kidding anyway? They weren’t important.

Now, however, they are legion. While my 90 percents are cowering in project bags and storage boxes waiting for free time that will never come, those 10 percents have gotten together, sent petitions around, and freakin’ unionized. You get enough 10 percents hanging around, and eventually they add up to about 2000% of some seriously unfinished business. And if you’re only running at 90 percent efficiency in the first place, you’re never going to finish 2100% in a day. And the next day it will be 2110%.

Those pesky 10 percents.

They are the three missing photos I need to complete my firstborn son’s baby book. (What’s the rush? He’s only seventeen years old…and ten months. Crap.)

They are the five minutes’ work of knitting I need to do to finish a project for a friend who lives on the other side of the planet. (It’s only two years late. I want to get it riiiight.)

They are the books that lie sideways on the shelf because they don’t have a proper place to go because I buy new books faster than I finish reading the old ones. (Maybe I’ll break both my legs and have to stay home in bed for several months and then what will I do if I run out of books to read?)

They are the bills I’m going to pay tomorrow, the clothes I’m going to fold tomorrow, the refrigerator I’m going to clean tomorrow. (Guess what’s going to happen tomorrow?)

I have finally realized that nobody cares about what I plan to do tomorrow. Heck, I’m not even that crazy about it myself. I’ve had plans before, and assumptions, and bought-and-paid-for concert tickets. I know what can happen. I know what has happened. I could have all the best intentions in the world and it doesn’t matter if I put them all off until tomorrow.

It doesn’t matter if I have a great idea for a novel, a series, heck, an entire franchise! It’s just an idea and it’s going to fade away if I don’t tackle it and give it 100, yes, 100 percent. Even worse, it might leave me and go attract the attention of someone who will give it 100 percent on the first go-round.

It doesn’t matter if I’m the kind of person who wanted to take Latin or be a professional baseball player or have a de-scented skunk for a pet. Wishes are wishes, and I didn’t do any of those things. Could’ve, maybe should’ve, but didn’t.

I’m not trying to just dump on myself here. I’ve done some pretty neat stuff, and I don’t think that I’m a failure. But I can’t take credit, even in my mind, for the things I merely wanted to do but didn’t have the courage and strength of character to accomplish.

And tonight, I have some bills to pay.

Published in: on January 9, 2017 at 9:03 pm  Comments (2)