Friday, June 15, 2018

A Dad's Legacy

          “Ain’t she cute, see her riding down the chute. Now I ask you very confidentially, ain’t she cute?” You can “google” this song if you want to learn the history.  It sounds like something that came out of the roaring twenties. Or maybe the fabulous fifties. It doesn’t matter to me. I will forever hear a booming bass voice singing it from behind the wheel of a late-sixties blue Buick sedan. Actually, not just any bass voice. My Daddy’s.
          As a girl who was raised by a single mom, all of the day to day, tough lessons are attached to my female parent. Because I only spent time once a year with my Daddy, I have only happy memories. He made a point to put his best foot forward for me and my sister during that anticipated yearly summer vacation. I was probably about ten when I pointed out to him that we didn’t need a special activity planned for every minute we spent with him. Waking up to his extra special blueberry pancakes and spending the day escaping the summer heat near a pool was perfectly fine.

          When our mother’s remarriage caused our move to Arkansas, it put a strain on these annual trips, and it took a bit for us to “hit our stride” again. But taking a look at the overall picture, we learned to accept our relationship as it was, and just enjoy every minute we had together. In his later years, I longed to cook a meal for him, and it just never worked out. One of his most treasured compliments came when we helped get him settled after leaving the hospital and he told me I “make a mean bowl of Jell-O”.
          The next Dad influence was from an Arkansas Traveler. No, not a baseball player, a real traveler. My Mom was a bank teller in our little Kansas hometown, and among the people who came in (or drove through) to cash their paychecks was one handsome welder who was working to build our new hospital. His beautiful blue eyes connected with her deep pools of brown, and the rest, as they say, is history.
          At this point in my step-dad’s life, I think he was ready to relax and have a little bit of fun after working very hard for his whole life. So, we spent weekends at the lake, with any or all of the rest of the blended family that could work it in. Without him, I never would have water skied!
          I dubbed him “Papa” since I still had a Daddy, and we hit it off very well from the beginning. Our phone conversations always began the same way.
          “Hello” I used the traditional phone greeting.
          “Hey Mert!” that lively voice on the other end.
          “Hey Gert!” Of course. What else would I say?
          The rest of the family just shook their heads.
          Shortly after James and I married, when I was working the switchboard at a Little Rock car dealership. “Gert” called in a panic.
          “I am in big trouble. It’s your Mama’s wedding anniversary, and I’m on the job and didn’t leave anything there for her.”
          “It’s your anniversary too,” I reminded him. But he was in no mood to hear that.
          I was honored to help him by calling a local florist where he had an account and making sure my Mom received a bouquet of flowers (probably a dozen roses) at her job that day. Yes, he was definitely a keeper.

          When my own Prince Charming swept me off my feet, I was delighted to learn that he came from a very stable family. After my childhood experience of a broken marriage, it was just exactly what I needed. The un-disputed head of this household was to be my father-in-law.
          His dominant trait, and the one most everyone remembers, was his genuine interest in people. He formed so many lasting friendships over his lifetime, by enjoying each experience and then relating that enjoyment in the form of telling a great story. He was a terrific listener in the bargain, and that endeared him to all.
          Like any good storyteller, repetition was key. We heard the same stories over and over, but now, we can repeat those stories to new generations. And the past lives on!
          Each family member has a favorite memory of this man. The story he told involving me was about the first time I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner as a newlywed. In our small rental house, there were only so many places to sit, and he settled at the kitchen table. He recognized that dinner wasn’t ready yet, and worried that he was disrupting my preparations. But, he was amazed that I didn’t tell him to move, and just sort of worked around him as I finished what I was doing. A simple, not very dramatic tale, but I think he retold it so often because it was the day that he and I really connected. We knew that we were no longer acquaintances, but real family from that point on.

          Happy Father’s Day to all who have wonderful memories of the Dads in your life.  Enjoy spending time with men who are a positive influence on children of all ages, whether related by blood or not. The smallest memories will last a lifetime.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Love Never Fails . . . to Amaze

 Whose idea was it to put chocolate candy in a huge heart shaped box?  And why exactly does that say I Love You?  The sweet treats inside are the focus of the gift, right? Women are known for melting in the arms of any man who brings them chocolate, so why the fancy packaging? Maybe the point really is the totally un-necessary extravagance of the whole thing. You certainly can’t reuse the box for anything. There is no nutritional value. It’s always a challenge to figure out which of the candies contains the dreaded coconut, or is dominated by a big nut. Maybe the reason we like this showy, sugary gift is that we know the giver would have much rather spent his money on something else. The fact that he picked out a great big red box with sinfully sweet candy in it just for us really means a lot. It’s motivated by pure love. Yes, that must be it.
 Valentine customs have absolutely no logic to them. When we were kids, we used to save empty cardboard oatmeal canisters, cover them with red construction paper and cut a slot in the top. Then, we took them to school, put our name on them, and waited for our classmates to drop in little cards. The messages on the cards were as corny as they were cute. A picture of a pencil and a paper that said “I dot my eyes on you.” A cowboy who exclaimed “You’re the greatest, Podner!” A hive of buzzing insects spelling “Bee Mine.” Sometimes, there were attempts at humor. “Roses are red, violets are purple. Sugar is sweet and so’s maple surple.”
 The fun in those little cards, though was in the giving. At least for the females in the classroom. We spread out all of the cards and found the one that looked the most special. The one that really “meant” something. Then, we agonized over which boy in the class would get that most special message. Would he understand that he was seriously our pick for favorite valentine? I have a feeling that the boys probably gave the box of cards and the list of names to their moms and walked away.
 As we got older, we didn’t buy cards for every kid in our class. We longed for special attention from one person in particular. If that person had no clue we were waiting, we were disappointed. So, instead, we planned dances, and got on the decorating committee. Then, on the big night, we dressed up and arrived to watch the couples dancing. It was all fun and games until the couples left and the decorating committee had to double as the clean-up crew. Oh well.
It has always amazed me that the male of our species never understands how easy it would be to make his favorite female happy on Valentine’s Day. They quite often err on the side of “getting it wrong.” All it really takes is remembering. A cheesy card, a box with a big red bow, a flower or two. It’s really not that hard. Whatever comes from the heart is sure to please.
 After our life partners are established, the customs become even stranger. We now feel that only the most special date night will fill the bill. So, everyone tries to make reservations at the most memorable spot. One that means something to our relationship. The site of the first date, the spot where he popped the question. Trouble is, so many folks share that same special place. So, the lines are long, and the baby-sitter’s tab is huge.
Hubby and I created a practical solution that involves the magical way to your partner’s heart- through the stomach. Several years ago, we decided to start cooking a gourmet meal at home on Valentine’s Day. No waiting at a restaurant, no big heart-shaped boxes of confectionary mystery. Instead, we scour the internet for a recipe, shop a couple of days ahead for the perfect ingredients, and slave away for an hour after arriving home from work. (The years that Valentine’s day falls on a Saturday are really the best.) At the proper time, we light a candle and settle in for the adventure of the year. If everything didn’t turn out as we planned, it is all okay. After all, the effort involved is the real gift. Oh, but one important step in this tradition must be observed. A picture is posted on Facebook. Why? To avoid a future argument. “It’s your turn to cook this year. I did it last year.” Thank goodness for that timeline feature.

Share your heart with someone this year. If nothing else, it makes for a great story!