Tag Archives: memories

Spring Break, Eighties Style

Scan“Don’t crush the groceries!” I yelled as my teenage son smashed the car top carrier lid closed. With everything for our family spring break trip packed, we piled into our salt-hazed minivan and hit the road.

I wondered if all this rigmarole was worth it for a few days of so-called vacation. I’d worked myself into a pre-trip frenzy, making lists, doing laundry, kenneling the dog, getting the oil changed, packing, double checking, and packing some more.

All that hassle just to spend military leave time stuffing ourselves like sardines into our minivan for eleven long hours. And once we get there, we’ll be unpacking, making beds, cooking, cleaning and managing the kids just like we always do. Same work, different location.

Is Spring Break really worth all this hassle?

As we passed through the Naval Station Newport base gate and headed south, I recalled an easier time. It was 1986, and I used my new credit card to buy a Spring Break trip with my college roommates. I was broke, but all those Citibank sign up ads around campus promised a $1,000 credit limit, and all I had to do was pay a little bit off each month. “Wow, what a great deal!” I thought in my youthful ignorance.

After curling our bangs, my roommates and I boarded a bus, chartered by Sigma Epsilon Fraternity, headed from chilly Ohio to sunny Daytona Beach, Florida. The frat brothers thoughtfully included a six-pack of Little Kings Cream Ale in the trip package price, just in case the passengers got thirsty on the fourteen-hour ride south.

“Ohmigod,” my roommate exclaimed halfway through Tennessee, “like, I totally can’t find Lisa anywhere!” “No way!” “Way!” They didn’t know that I’d crawled up in the overhead luggage compartment to sleep off those Little Kings.

On the day of our arrival, I promptly burned myself to a crisp laying out on the beach. Later at a Bud Light Belly Flop contest at the motel pool, I tried to hide the pain, sipping wine coolers with my roommates while dancing to “I’ll stop the world and melt with you” – a la Molly Ringwald in “The Breakfast Club” — in our stone washed denim and Wayfarers. We took note of one particular college boy moonwalking in checkered Vans, red Birdwell Beach Britches, and a blonde mullet. He was the kind of cool guy who probably drove a Camero.

The loudspeaker blared as he climbed the high dive, “Next we have Mad [expletive deleted] Mike from University of Maryland!” We cheered with the crowd, but in the end, his svelte torso was no match for the linebacker from Mississippi State with a gut tinged pink from multiple flawless flops.

By the time we boarded the bus for our return to Ohio a week later, I had sloughed off the first three layers of my skin, lost my Jellies shoes, survived on happy hour nachos, been totally ignored by Mad [expletive deleted] Mike, and maxed out my $1,000 credit limit, totally unaware that I would be paying off the debt for the next eight years.

And it was totally worth it.

There was something special about the Eighties. Was it the big hair? Orange Julius? Hackey Sacks? Mr. T? New Wave music? Shoulder pads? Hawaiian pizza? The Cosby Show? McDLTs? The Sprinkler Dance? Tri-color pasta salad? Parachute pants? Boom boxes? Frosted eye shadow? Deely-bobbers? Alf? Fried potato skins? A carefree state of mind?

Whatever it was, the Eighties was fun. A lot of fun.

“Honey,” I asked my husband as we entered the New Jersey Turnpike, “find that Eighties radio station, would you?” The kids groaned, and began arguing over whether we were getting lunch at Wendy’s or Chick-fil-A, but I leaned back in my seat, put on my sunglasses and said, “I think this might turn out to be our best Spring Break trip ever.”

Like, totally.

Scan 2

I found these in my basement. Note the girl in the red two-piece, or is it a one-piece? And that’s Mad [Expletive Deleted] Mike in the long red trunks with the mullet. That’s me in the cool faux Vuarnet shades – you can see my skin sloughing around my neck. Turns out, guys are not into that kind of thing. The last photo is a party on our motel balcony — Good times!

Scan 1

These are my Miami of Ohio college chums, looks like they’re doing the Van Halen Jump! That’s me piled on the bed with my roomies and their boyfriends – notice my stone washed jeans and shoulder pads! Ah, to be young and stupid again!

Father’s Day: Keeping it simple

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My 40-something brain regularly forgets that my sunglasses are perched on my head, can’t remember where I parked the minivan, and compels me to walk around my house mumbling to myself, “Now, why did I come in here again?”  However, for some unknown reason, I have an incredibly detailed memory of my childhood.

I don’t have a perfect chronological recollection of my upbringing; instead, I have an almost photographic memory of certain mundane, seemingly unimportant occurrences like climbing my neighbor’s tree or eating dry Tang out of the jar with my licked finger. It’s as if I can transport myself back in time and re-experience all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings all over again.

Sometimes, if one looks at snapshots or home movies, one can artificially remember the events depicted. However, other than a couple shaky 8 mm films in my mother’s attic without a workable projector to watch them, and a few yellowing photo albums — with a clear preponderance of shots of my older brother, I might add – my family did not regularly memorialize events on film.

Therefore, my childhood memories are totally legit.

A couple weeks ago, I was at Walmart buying cards for Father’s Day. Our kids think their Dad is the greatest thing since Double Fudge Cookie Dough Blizzards, so they were happy to help. While they looked for cards, I figured I’d get one for my own father.

I read card after card, but could only mumble to myself, grimace and shake my head. None seemed to fit my complex circumstances. None described our complicated relationship. None communicated the vastly mixed emotions and unique bond that my father and I have.

The kids were done, so I sent them to find a gallon of milk to buy me more time. “Stop overthinking this,” I said to myself, “there must be something here that you can send to Dad.”

Before picking up another card, I tried to remember how I felt about my dad when I was a kid. Before my marriage to my Navy husband emptied my parents’ nest. Before my parents got divorced. Before my Dad resented me for not speaking to him for five years. Before I resented him for breaking up our family. Before we butted heads trying to form a new relationship. Before we had to forgive each other.

I thought back to a time when I was just a kid and he was just my Dad.

As the details of my childhood awoke from hibernation, vivid scenes began to flash in my mind. Dad taking out his false tooth (college football accident) on a family road trip, and talking to the tollbooth operator with a fake hillbilly accent, just to make my brother and me laugh. Dad letting me skip school to go with him to Pittsburgh for business, and me throwing up peanut butter cookies in the A/C vents of his Buick on the way.

Dad lying shirtless on the floor so my brother and I could draw on his back with ink pens while he watched golf tournaments. Dad lecturing my brother and me at the dinner table on report card day. Dad explaining to the police officer why he was teaching me how to do doughnuts in the icy natatorium parking lot after swim practice one night. Dad handing me an old tube sock filled with tools – a small hammer, screwdrivers, pliers – before I left for college. Dad nervously walking me down the aisle at my wedding.

One memory lead to another, and to another.

Then, my mind was seized by one final recollection, which ended my paralyzing over-analysis. I could see my father lifting me from the back seat of our station wagon. I had fallen asleep on the way home, but woke up when my parents pulled into the driveway. I kept my eyes closed and pretended, lazily allowing my arms to drape around my father’s neck and my head to lie upon his shoulder. I bobbed gently as he walked through the house and into my yellow bedroom, where he laid me in my mock brass bed, removed my shoes and tucked the covers around my chunky little frame.

I felt him kiss my forehead, and then, he stood there and waited a moment before he turned and left the room.

Suddenly, there at the Walmart, the Father’s Day cards on the rack had relevance.

My father raised me, protected me, cared for me, loved me.

I love and appreciate him.

Enough said.

Father

Winter Wondering

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January 2013. My back yard in Florida.

I love snowy white winters, but ever since the Navy moved us to Florida, the only flakes we see are floating in milk-filled cereal bowls. So, I sit on my sunny screened porch in January, surrounded by green grass, ocean breezes, and palm trees, and I dream of snow.

I know, I know, that’s nuts. Crazy. Certifiable. But I can’t help it. Something was imprinted in my psyche many years ago, something that makes me associate winter with snow, and snow with pleasure.

As a child growing up in Pennsylvania, my heart filled with anticipation at the first snow. To us, snow, especially in copious amounts, meant FUN. Snowballs, sled riding, hot chocolate, and one of the most joyous occasions in a child’s life – SNOW DAYS.

I can recall falling off my flying red plastic sled in a puff of white on the hill behind our house, and laying a minute or two, to make sure I was still in one piece and to listen to the silence – how the snow absorbs noise and brings a soft quietness to the air. Packed and padded in protective layers, I felt swaddled like a baby, watching my breath ascend over me into the air. It was pure joy.

Ironically, a serious sledding accident in the winter of 1977 only strengthened my positive association with snow.

I was in the fifth grade, and it was the last night of our winter break from school, and also my father’s poker night. While the men played cards in our basement rec room, my brother and I listened to radio reports of a blizzard, and hoped for school closures.

Fueled by bravado (and a few beers), my father and his buddies decided it would be a good idea to take our 12-man wooden toboggan out for a run down the hill behind our house. My brother and I couldn’t believe our luck, and eagerly followed.

With my legs crisscrossed under the toboggan’s wooden curl, I sat in the front, four men and my brother behind me. Visibility was nil due to the blizzard and dark night, but there was a wide path between the houses for our ride. With the weight of the men, we took off like a bullet, and I pulled the ties of my parka hood tight to keep the snow from hitting my face.

About halfway down the hill – WHAM! The rest came in flashes: my father’s friend looking down wearing one of my hats, someone saying “I think it’s broken”, riding in the back of a truck, being carried on the toboggan into the hospital, three layers of pants being cut off, wanting my mom and dad.

I had broken my femur. Apparently, our toboggan had drifted off course, running into a white flagpole in our neighbor’s yard. I spent the next two and a half months in a hospital bed, with a weight hanging off the end of my foot.

To add insult to injury, during my lengthy hospital stay, the historic 1977 blizzard blew into town. Schools were cancelled for over two weeks, and I was stuck in a hospital bed watching Don Ho and eating    Jell-O.

One might think that the experience would have caused me to associate snow with pain; however, the pain of my broken leg paled in comparison to the envy I had for my peers who spent two glorious weeks out of school, sucking on icicles, throwing snowballs, and drinking hot chocolate.

So now, like Pavlov’s dog, when winter rolls around, I begin to drool.

Sometimes the Navy sends us somewhere that fulfills my nostalgic longings, like our last tour in snowy Stuttgart, Germany.

I must admit, there was a downside. Bundled up like the Michelin Man, I would trudge four flights down our military stairwell housing to our minivan, hazy with salt residue and laden with blackened hunks of snow behind each wheel. Despite spraying de-icing compound into the locks, the doors would often be frozen solid, requiring me to climb in from the trunk.

But now, even with the memories of crusted, frozen, gritty car doors still freshly juxtaposed against this balmy pastel Florida winter, I can’t help but long for snow. Big fluffy, white hunks dropping from tree branches. Delicate crystalline flakes drifting slowly from the sky.

Cold to the touch. Warm to my heart.

My girls, Anna and Lilly, in 2010 while stationed in Germany.

My girls, Anna and Lilly, in 2010 while stationed in Germany.

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March 2007. Anna savoring a late spring snow while visiting Grammy back home in PA.

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Hayden trying to break the land speed record.

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Lilly reaching maximum happiness level.

Sentimental Sofa

When I met my husband almost 20 years ago, he had a couch. It was his “bachelor couch,” and even though it may have looked cool back in 1990 when he bought it to furnish his bachelor pad, the upholstery pattern on that piece of furniture can only be described as a cross between a Bill Cosby sweater and the wallpaper in a gynecologist’s office.

However, I came into the marriage without a couch, so on our limited budget, I was thankful to have one at all. For the first couple years of marriage, the couch was a useful piece of furniture, despite her crisscrossing shades of teal, gray and mauve, and the outdated honey oak embellishments on the armrests.

Moving with the military every few years, I thought my husband’s bachelor couch would eventually be jettisoned like other outdated items from our past – my black and white TV, his old girlfriend’s wine glasses, the kids’ worn out stuffed animals, my stirrup pants – somehow that old bachelor couch just never went away. Sure, we bought other furniture, but the old bachelor couch stuck around in a spare bedroom, or waited in a storage unit until we could find another use for her.

More than a decade into the marriage, I suggested that we donate my husband’s bachelor couch to charity. “But she is so well built and still has so much use  – we can’t get rid of her!” he replied, incredulously. I never brought it up again, and as I sit here in my office writing this column at my desk, that 22-year-old bachelor couch sits just two feet away, made tolerable with a striped slipcover.

I could feel threatened by the fact that my husband has had a longer relationship with his bachelor couch than with his own wife; in fact, when I am alone in the room with his couch, I sometimes feel her mocking me.  But I have learned that, as much as I dislike her distasteful appearance, my husband’s bachelor couch symbolizes something for him, something with which he is not yet willing to part.

Perhaps, the couch that my husband purchased in his mid-20s reminds him of his youth, his virility, his long-gone full head of hair and former waistline. Or perhaps, she reminds my husband of buddies from his squadron days, who sat upon its sturdy cushions to watch football in unspoken camaraderie.

And as much as I don’t like to think about it, perhaps she reminds my husband of old girlfriends, who were probably tacky, wore too much make up, drank wine coolers and did God-knows-what with him while lying on her garish upholstery.

I guess I can’t blame him for grasping onto bygone virtues. Heck, I have two file boxes out in the garage that contain a useless jumble of high school yearbooks, photos, diaries, artwork, playbills, swimming ribbons, and even the bronze Junior Firefighter Badge I sent away for from a Smokey the Bear advertisement in the back of Highlights magazine. If anyone tried to throw those file boxes away, I’d turn from middle-aged housewife into vicious cage fighter faster than you can say “aggravated assault.”

Why? Because those scraps of crumpled paper and corroding metal symbolize a simple, carefree time. A time when my greatest worry was curling my bangs right or whether my parents were going to let me have the car on Friday night. So, on days when the minutia of my middle-aged life as a housewife and mother of three bogs me down, it’s nice to know that I still have in my possession, in two moldy file boxes in the garage, the hope that life can be simple and carefree again.

So, I will not begrudge my husband his reminder of days gone by, even if his “little memento” has had a longer relationship with him than I have and takes up eight feet of wall space in my office.  Besides, she has provided the rest of the family some consolation by facilitating many an afternoon nap.

Labor Daydreams

Today is Labor Day, a day dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. But who are these so called “American workers” anyway?

The current US unemployment rate is the worst this country has seen in over 25 years, with 9.1 percent of our workforce out of work. This dismal state of affairs takes a bit of the celebratory feel out of the holiday, and lessens the compensatory nature of a day off work.

But perhaps the meaning of this traditional American holiday should be expanded during these difficult economic times to pay tribute to those Americans who are simply hard workers. Today should honor those people who get up each day and work to the best of their ability at whatever they do. The quality that should be celebrated and admired is hard work, not paid employment.

Today should be for anyone who works hard, from cocktail waitresses to computer consultants, from plumbers to paper boys, from homemakers to heart surgeons, and even those people who are currently unemployed but are working very hard to find a job.

I didn’t walk five miles uphill to school and back or anything like that, but no matter what my endeavor, I have always been a hard worker. Like most people already in the throes of middle age, I was raised to understand the meaning of hard work, and was expected to apply it in a variety of situations.

Back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, kids had real chores and I was no exception. I’m not talking about clearing the table after dinner, mind you. To my parents, chores were only worthwhile if they involved hours of tedious detail or backbreaking labor. My friends were used to me being tied up on the weekends with “yard work,” “gardening” or “house cleaning.”  But these typical childhood chores were different in our home.

For example, cutting my parents’ three and a half acres of grass involved a Yanmar tractor with a mower deck attached, supplemented by a push mower to get around trees and tight angles, and at least two days.  And “gardening” really should have been called “crop tending” because of the hours of weeding, watering and fertilizing needed to cultivate my parents’ gargantuan 40 by 15 foot vegetable garden.

Growing up in a small brick ranch house meant that housework was lighter duty, but in keeping with my parents’ work ethic, these chores were also quite time consuming. I recall my mother teaching me the proper way to dust a room, starting from the angle where the wall meets the ceiling and working one’s way down to the baseboards, wiping all flat surfaces and moving all objects along the way, so that one can start cleaning the floors. Needless to say, I hate dusting to this very day.

And then there was the dreaded silver polishing. Despite the fact that we lived in a 1950s brick ranch on a dead end road off Route 286 in a small Western PA town, my mother had enough silver serving dishes to host the Duke and Duchess of York and their royal entourage for brunch. I toiled for hours rubbing silver polishing creams and pastes into the intricate nooks and crannies of my mothers pieces, which included three large trays; a full tea set with pot, sugar, creamer and biscuit dish; water pitcher; ladle, covered butter dish; candlesticks; fruit bowl; wine cooler; rectangular chaffing dish; and round chaffing dish.

I’m not really sure what a chaffing dish is or why my mother needed two of them, but suffice it to say that the only thing getting chaffed in my mother’s dining room was my hands. Once silver was properly cleaned, rinsed and polished to a bright shine, it would sit on my mother’s buffet, slowly collecting dust and turning yellow until the next time I polished.

After I went off to college, my mother got rid of much of her silver, and the remaining pieces still sit on her buffet today, looking more like brass than silver, because I am not around anymore to take on the unenviable job of polishing it.

My three kids, on the other hand, wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it hit them in the head with a toilet bowl brush. I tried to start them off right, by making intricate laminated chore charts with velcroed stars and X’es to indicate job completion. When that didn’t work, I resorted to store bought Spongebob chore charts with little yellow stampers. When that didn’t work I tried ranting and raving. Then we tried withholding allowance. And on it went until I was threatening to send them all to military school if they did not make their beds.

Why is it so hard these days to teach the meaning of hard work? Did we work harder when we were kids because we got spanked? Or was it just that there wasn’t anything better to do because the only thing on TV was Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?

Whatever it was, I, for one, am ready to once again recognize the value of an honest day’s work. In fact, even though I am still wearing my pajama pants and haven’t brushed my hair at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, I actually used my Labor Day off to get a hell of a lot done.

I got up at 7:30 am, emptied the dishwasher, loaded the dishwasher, mopped the floors, vacuumed the carpets, dusted the family room (still hate it), cleaned the toilets, stripped the sheets, tried to install a printer disk on my son’s laptop, folded laundry while I was on hold for 45 minutes with Dell Tech Support, put in another load of laundry while I told the Dell Tech Support representative from New Delhi to take a hike for trying to charge me $129 for asking a question, made lunch for the kids, watered my tomato plants, prepared the hamburger patties for tonight’s barbecue, called my mother so we could reminisce about her silver, and wrote this column.

So here’s to hard work whatever form it takes. In the home, at the office, or on the construction site, an honest day’s work is to be appreciated, whether one receives a paycheck for it or not.

As American actress Bette Davis once said, “To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy.”

A Midsummer Night’s Scheme

At the Drive-In

Image by Jim Rees via Flickr

On any given summer night, the teens of our great nation take to the streets of their respective towns in search of something fun to do. They can be seen outside pizza joints, ice cream stands and movie theaters, doing what teenagers do best – hanging out.

Except for certain insignificant differences like parachute pants, banana clips and Pat Benatar, things were pretty much the same when I was a teenager.

After summer chores like grass cutting and weeding green beans, usually tempered with an hour or two of laying out coated in tanning oil, I was released by my parents to find whatever fun was available in our little town.

The first step in hatching a plan for the evening was a telephone call to my best friend, Patti (except for that boring summer when she had a boyfriend.) Such calls were always made from the candlestick phone in my bedroom. The second step was to confirm that neither of us was invited to a party (a rarity) or had a date (almost never happened.) The final step was to decide on transportation, which was almost always my dad’s enormous 1977 Chevy Blazer.

I picked Patti up at her house, and after applying copious amounts of lip gloss and making sure our bangs looked just right, we would cruise the town.

Our journey usually started with a drive by the local arcade. “Games 101” was a hangout of sorts, and although Patti and I didn’t really give two shakes about Asteroids or Ms. Pacman, we knew that the arcade was a veritable Command Center where all information on teenage social events was collected.

Sometimes we scored big and received word of a bonfire in Bennett’s woods or a party at the house of a classmate we all referred to as “Meatball,” but usually, Patti and I drove around for hours, all glossed up, trying to not look too desperate.

Some nights, Patti and I would scrape together a few of our fellow goofy girlfriends to pile in the Blazer and go check out the Drive In Movie Theater. The Palace Gardens wasn’t cheap; however, and we refused to spend our hard earned grass cutting/ice cream scooping money on overpriced admission. There were certain well-known strategies of avoiding the normal fees, and we employed them all at one time or another.

On nights when the Palace Gardens offered a one-price-per-carload special, we discovered that we could pack nearly a dozen teenagers, big bangs and all, into the Blazer. On regular admission nights, we would stuff two friends into the dog crate my father had built into the back of the Blazer in order to reduce our expenses, and had a great time trying to keep a straight face while driving by the ticket booth.

If we were feeling particularly daring (or cheap) we would sneak through the woods surrounding the Palace Gardens, and crawl through an opening in the fence to gain cost-free entrance into the theater. On one such occasion, six of us made the attempt as a group.

We had heard the rumors that the management was cracking down on teens who refused to pay by lacing the fence with some kind of foul concoction made from watered down cow manure. We all knew that nothing could ruin one’s chances of getting a boyfriend like stepping in poo, so we were all particularly cautious that night

Using hand signals as if it was some kind of special ops raid on an Al-Qaeda compound, we snuck through the woods and permeated the fence without being hit. Or so we thought.

The nightly double feature included the new hit “Porky’s” but we weren’t interested. We headed straight for the large group of loitering teens near the concessions. Just before we reached the group, we realized that one of our comrades had been hit.

“What’s that smell?” Peggy whispered. Our sniffing noses quickly found the source of the pungent odor – Andrea’s Jordache jean cuff had been tainted by the enemy’s foul biological weapon.

Poor Andrea was a goner, but the rest of us had a great time mingling among the cars under the stars on that balmy summer night.

And now, when I see today’s teens acting out their own version of A Midsummer Night’s Scheme, I remember my youth, smile, and hope that all their dreams of summer fun come true.

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