Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Jolene, Jolene

The last time my mom and I went out to eat while I was home, the restaurant's hostess turned out to be a woman who had graduated a year or so ahead of me in high school.  She recognized my face right away, and I thought "It has to be her!" as soon as I saw my her name badge--she's the only Jolene I've ever known--and we caught up as we headed toward a booth.  After I'd paid the bill awhile later, I waited until Jolene had a free moment and told her something I'd been wanting to tell her since the ninth grade.  

For weeks of what was my freshman year, I and however-many other students rehearsed after classes and on weekends for the school musical tryouts, learning song lyrics and dance steps for Bye Bye Birdie.  I'd been singing in chorus for the past few years, but picking up choreography was new to me.  After hours and hours spent practicing in the school gym and cafeteria surrounded by so many other students, though, I felt as ready as I could be when Audition Day rolled around.  Up on stage, the school musical directors grouped the first group of students into maybe four rows before taking their seats in the auditorium.  I was in the back row as we began, and it all felt just like it had in rehearsals:  People dancing to either side of me and in front of me.  After the students in the front row were judged, they would be dismissed, and the next row's dancers would move up for their official audition.  My row was finally front-and-center, and as soon as the music began and I found myself looking at the judges and the high school auditorium seats for the first time, as opposed to the dancing students I was used to, I realized I didn't know the choreography at all:  I had just had been keeping up with everyone around me before.  I stood frozen as students on either side of me continued to dance, and my choir director called out, "Val!  Just find your place and keep going!  It's okay!" I  nodded and apologized and actually laughed, still thinking that surely, the steps would come back to me, but no, they never did.  I really didn't know the number at all and remained frozen in the otherwise-dancing front row throughout it.  I remember wondering if it would be any less embarrassing just to walk off the stage, but I decided to stay up there instead. 

After what seemed like an hour, the song ended, and my next memory is of standing in the girls' restroom cringing from the almost flesh-eating mortification one can likely only feel as a teenager.  Jolene was in there there too and asked me what was wrong, and although I barely even knew her--it was her brother with whom I would graduate; I only knew Jolene from the bus rides to and from school--I spilled out the whole humiliating story, telling her I felt so stupid, just so stupid.  This kind and wise-beyond-her-high-school-years girl snapped, "Val, don't you ever let yourself feel stupid!  You don't have anything to feel stupid about!  You tried to do something, and it didn't work, that's all.  It's okay!  A bunch of people probably wanted to be in the musical and were too scared even to sign up!  At least you tried!"  She was right, of course.  I still blush when I remember it--I was the only student who froze like that, after all--but my appreciation of Jolene's kindness and wisdom has always outweighed that embarrassment.  And finally, more than twenty years later, I got to tell her how much that has meant to me all this time.  She thanked me for telling her--and admitted that she didn't remember the story at all--then made me and Mom laugh when she gloated, "It's so funny because I tell my kids all the time that it doesn't matter if you win or lose as long as you do your best--And now I can go home today and tell them someone said I was right!"  Dear Jolene.  :)  

Working on Bye Bye Birdie would provide me with some of my happiest high school memories.  I ended up in the chorus as one of the singing-but-decidedly-not-dancing "townspeople," right where I belonged from the start.  The following school year, I knew from the get-go to sign up as a "villager" and not as a potential dancer for Brigadoon.  Both my choir director and Jolene were right when they said it was okay:  This is just how we learn sometimes.  Jolene's generosity that afternoon is one of the best of all my high school memories, and how sweet that I got to tell her. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A Childhood Reading Mystery I Thought I'd Solved

One of my clearest and funniest memories from first grade--the 1983-1984 school year for me--is the morning I skipped into class with a book from home in my hands and bragged to my teacher that I'd read it all by myself the night before.  This teacher, Mrs. G, was so sweet and pretty and encouraging--I just loved her--and she oohed and ahhed over my accomplishment and asked me if I'd like to read my book to the class.  Oh, yes!  Pride overcame shyness that morning, I guess, because soon I was sitting in The Teacher Chair with my book with all my classmates fanned out around me as I began to read.  The book had a How-I-Spend-My-Day theme, and its final page showed the narrator settled into bed for the night.  My classmates looked awed by my reading skills--"Wow!  Val can read a whole book!  Just like the teacher!"--and I, who had decided as soon as starting kindergarten the fall before that I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, was having a ball.  The last sentence of the book was something like, "As I fall asleep at night, I hear the owl" or "Outside my window sits an owl."  Since I hadn't read the book out loud before, I hadn't known until reaching the final word on the final page that I couldn't pronounce "owl."  I stumbled and stuttered and "oh-orrrr-ahhh-owwwwrrrruhhhlllllll"-ed as I tried to shape the letters into a word with my mouth, but no.  My teacher, looking puzzled, came over and gently whispered, "Owl.  Owl," but I still couldn't pronounce that word.  ("Horse" was another word that took me awhile, for whatever reason.)  My classmates didn't laugh and didn't seem any less impressed, and I remember nothing else about the experience except how baffled I was by what had just happened.  If I was already, at six years old, as hard on myself as I would be decades later, I likely focused more on the one missed word than the fact that I'd just gotten to "play Teacher" and read aloud to my entire class.  :)  In any case, I have been trying for ages to figure out what that book had been, and I thought I'd finally found it last week.  The book above looked so promising:  The koala bear character takes us through his/her day, and the final page even ends with an illustration of the bear in (a darling patchwork) bed.  Alas, though!  The story ends without a mention of the owl that tripped me up, and the search continues.  I know, we're all thinking, wouldn't it be funny if this IS the book and I'm just not remembering its final page accurately after all these years, but I really don't think so.  :)  Maybe one of these days, as I hunt down and research 80s trivia like this for the memoir, I'll solve the mystery--and send a copy to sweet Mrs. G, as well. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Puff Quilt

This morning's sky is dreamy. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Two Charming Things

My dear little Stuffed fell asleep with his paw in his leftovers, I noticed as I walked past the bathroom window-perch, and he was in a deep enough sleep that my coming back with a camera didn't disturb him. 
In another happy window scene, tonight I am getting to see my faux-stained glass roses again:  Finally, a night that is cool enough to be comfortable with the window closed!  I'm not a summer person so am utterly thrilled with this change.  Autumn:  Bring it! 

Monday, August 10, 2015

It's the 80s Every Day Here--Or How I'm Writing My Book

As I mentioned in my birthday post in May, I decided awhile back to buckle down and really dig into the 80s childhood memoir I'm writing.  And so I have.  Most days/nights these past few months, I can be found for at least an hour--usually more, because I'm truly loving the whole process and am just determined to keep at it this time until a book comes out of it--sitting here at my green gingham tablecloth-covered table with my seemingly-endless piles of notes, my 1980s diaries, all sorts of memory-jogging ephemera my mom and I have saved all these years, hometown maps, old photos, packages of blank index cards--Mead-brand 3" x 5", and as with the green gingham tablecloth, and my usual black Bic-brand pens and ever-present glasses of iced tea, I'm almost afraid to shake up my routine now by changing any of these details, so I buy these index cards a few packages at a time--and a wide assortment of spiral notebooks--one for each year the final memoir will cover, plus one for family recipes I think I'll be including, is the plan--writing and remembering.  I've never enjoyed writing anything more, which is saying something for this one who has always loved finding the words. 
The old diaries mention all the personal girlhood and family memories, of course--Christmas wishlists, what we ate for dinner, who got in trouble for what, first bra, first deaths, school assignments, school book orders, Papa and Grandma's 50th anniversary party, Dad's local races, Mom's country decorating magazines, my younger brother's new stuffed "Pound Puppy," my older brother's new "Miami Vice" poster, and my proud "I learned how to do a front walkover today!"--
--but also record the drought and scorching temperatures during the summer of 1988, former First Lady Nancy Reagan's mastectomy, and that Michael Jackson's video for "Bad" is really more like a movie.  :)  Diaries are such treasures, and mine are, for this project, a most-amazing resource.  
It makes me happy every day to be getting somewhere with this.  I have a number of other writing projects here that I've started and stopped, and re-started and set aside again, but I'm in such a beautiful groove with this one, it just delights me. 
My parents have been answering the most random questions--"Where did our neighbor Paul work?" and "What model of car was that beige-ish one we had that had the backseat that folded down?" and "By ANY chance, do you guys remember who lived in our house before we loved in?  You DO?!  Oh my goodness!!"--   
--and I have been in touch with others recently who have helped me piece a few more memories together.  When I was three or four, I would spend the hours my mom worked outside the home at sweet fifty-plus-year-old Bobbi's house.  This heart-of-gold had been recommended to my mom as simply the best with children, and she truly was.  I loved my days with her.  She had Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and a big jar filled with marbles, but it was Bobbi herself I most enjoyed.  "Maybe the two have nothing to do with each other," I prefaced a query with a few weeks ago, "but I always associate the smells of lumber and manure with her home.  I've always liked the smell of manure!  It's a good memory for me."  My former babysitter's grown daughter--I am now in touch with this woman's daughter!  I'm having a blast, I tell you!  --responded that this all makes sense because they had, after all, lived on a farm.  And her dad had owned a construction business.  :)  When I reported this to my parents, they immediately said, "Well, yeah.  We could have told you that."  They hadn't known that I'd been wondering all these years.  In this case, though, both the memory-confirmation and the contact with Bobbi's daughter were more than worth the research. 
Bobbi's daughter actually remembered me and my family, it turns out.  I hadn't known until I started looking into it that my dear babysitter had even had children of her own--let alone that her children had known my family--so this was all news to me.  "I remember you and your brother as well as your dad, can't remember your mom," Bobbi's daughter wrote in one of her emails last month.  "I sold the family farm to a couple from New Jersey. It is something else now. My mother is 87 now. . . .I remember your curly hair."  Ha!    This woman I'd gotten in touch with online not having realized we'd ever met--and until finding her name online I hadn't even known existed--remembers my hair!  I laughed out loud when I read that, and I alternately smile and shake my head at the wonder of it all. 
Picture me at my gingham table, then, with a full-to-bursting heart and ever-growing stacks of index cards as I make notes on 1977-1980 and recapture my memories of 1981-1989.  
One of my earliest memories has always been that of my maternal grandmother's asking me a day or so before my birthday party in 1981 if I was excited to be turning four.  The more I think about it and write about it, the more it's struck me how poignant it is that one of my first memories is of being asked if I'm excited about something--and such a celebratory something.    A most-beautiful beginning to the lifetime ahead. 
I write, and I write. 
The days/nights that I don't write, though, I read a little more and listen to extra 80s music--"extra" because I'm all about the 80s music, anyway  :) --and just let myself think. 
I can't attend this one--most unfortunately for me, while I work on this--but my twentieth high school class reunion is this summer--so this is very much a season of nostalgia here. 
Many of my former classmates will be hearing from me in the days ahead, of course, even if I can't join them for drinks and dinner just yet. 
And I intend to be at the twenty-fifth reunion, whether I attend it with research questions to ask or a finished book to share.  :)
I have been in touch with a few favorite former teachers recently too, and each bit of contact means the world to me.  Sweet Mrs. T read Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to my class during second-grade afternoons.  Mrs. R, Kindergarten Teacher to Beat All Kindergarten Teachers, would remember me and my mom even when we'd run into her in town when I was in high school.  And wonderful Mr. V encouraged my artwork and turned me on to science too.  I feel so much love for these gifts of people. 
There has such a blessing of love in my life all along, and I feel more grateful for it all the time.  To connect all the dots now, page by page, and note by note, is pure joy. 
The recipe for Grandma's fudge--or "Gramma's," as I spelled it in February 1988--mentioned two photos up is here, by the way.  "Yum!" is right.  And Paul Simon's video for "You Can Call Me Al," one of my favorite songs from the 1980s, noted in the photo above, can be seen here, (speaking of pure joy).  :)  ♪  "A man walks down the street, he says why am I soft in the middle now, why am I soft in the middle, the rest of my life is so hard. . . ."  ♫  Ahhhhhhhhh, the 80s, truly!  Love, love, love. 
The process--or at least, the process so far--is to gather all the 80s-related memories and thoughts I've jotted down onto scrap paper, in my diaries and journals, here on the blog, and sometimes even quickly onto paper towels fast-before-I-forget-this and transfer them to the index cards.  This has taken most of the past three months, and. . .many notes to go before I sleep.  A few years ago, before I'd really declared my intention, even to myself, to write this book, I was jotting down memories onto scraps of paper and saving them--thinking, I suppose, that I could elaborate on them here on the blog or at least transfer them into my journal to record them, so now I have a huge number of scraps and pages to sort through--and in some cases, decipher, if I scribbled the notes too quickly--and rewrite onto the cards.  When I know which year--between 1977 and 1989--the memory is from, I write that onto the index card.  Eventually, I'll rewrite all the "1987" index cards into the "1987" spiral notebook in a more organized way, for example.  And then it will be more writing and rewriting to turn each year's notebook into "Real" Writing.  The 1981 index cards' notes have almost all been transferred into the 1981 notebook now, which is encouraging to me. 
And yes, the (twelve?) spiral notebooks are all different 1980s-themed ones I've been collecting at thrift shops and online.  Mike thinks that's excessive, but why not have 80s supplies around me while I'm otherwise so immersed in the era, says I--and "You're not the one writing it, so what do you care!?" I retort as I return to my Care Bears and Lisa Frank rainbows and Mrs. Grossman stickers. 
I'm still aiming to have a finished draft by my next birthday.  And then the work of submitting it to potential publishers will begin. 
In the meantime here, it is index card-by-index card and a decidedly enthusiastic Val . 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

"Nothing is more difficult than waking a cat." ~ Jim Davis

Sweet Stuffed.  This actually strikes me as a creepy picture of him, but it still makes me and Mike laugh every time we look at it. 
The black/white divider-line down his face never fails to delight me.  And his nose always reminds me of The Wizard Oz's Scarecrow's.  :)
Floofy, to be sure, but he still spends as much time in the box fan-cooled bedroom as in the air conditioning-cooled main room on days like this, so the heat must not bother him as much as it does us. 
He jumps up onto the bed beside me every time I begin writing in my journal, sometimes resting his soft, warm head across a page until I gently and ohhhhhh-soo-sloooooooowly slide the book out from under him.  Dear little soul. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

"I am in love with the commonplace. I love to make it shine--by holding it in the right light." ~ Jim Wayne Miller

'Making up my oatmeal "packet" for work when I noticed how pretty my gathered supplies were.  The rest of the apartment still feels chaotic and in need of a good sort after last weekend's trip, but this tiny corner, at least, looks sweet.  Temperatures in the high eighties and low nineties this week, and a big BLECCCCHHHH may I say to that!  But!  I try not to complain, so. . . !  I've lost ten pounds since deciding once again to get back on-track this summer, so there is that, and there is Mike's thirty-ninth birthday tomorrow, and my days off tomorrow and Wednesday, and a healthy cat currently curled up beside the patchwork cupboards, and both a family reunion and a visit with Aunt Laurie in the weeks ahead (assuming I get the days off, but I'm hopeful), and now, brown sugar-cinnamon oatmeal and almonds packed into my work bag.  

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Bathroom-Painting Begins

Yesterday afternoon was entirely too humid a day to begin this project, but I wanted to take advantage of my day off by at least starting it.  Off and on for about four hours--breaking only for iced tea, lemonade, a chocolate brownie (thank you, Mom), and a zucchini-Parmesan omelet (thank you, Dad)--I finished most of the first coat.  This shade is "Rally Green" by Sherwin Williams, and even after so much painting, I'm finding it hard to describe to my mom.  "Kind of a springy green with some aqua in it?  More vivid or a deeper shade than old jadeite dishes, but kind of like that?!"  Then the light changes, and the color above becomes more like this,
and what I had almost wanted to describe as looking tropical now seems more workaday vintage green.  I like the color, in any case, and am about to begin round two of the painting.  I'm still so surprised that our apartment's building manager has given us permission to paint at all, I almost couldn't help but be delighted to see just about any color on the walls.  :)  I actually love the whole barely-there shades of white and pink and pale-pastels-in-general in shabby chic decorating and did my bedroom in my first all-to-myself apartment in 2002 in the softest pink, and if we had more room here, I'd likely decorate a guest room or something that way again.  For now, though, and in the little space we have--our entire apartment is only 542 square feet--I like the rainbow of bolder colors we have here.  More iced tea, then, and back to my springy/tropical/ jadeite/etc.-covered paintbrush. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

First Game at Yankee Stadium

Mike and I took a bus to Yankee Stadium this weekend, Mike's first time in New York and my first visit to the Bronx.  The Yankees are Mike's and his dad's team, and since my mom is from New York, more than a few people in my family are Yankees fans, so it was especially sweet to see the stadium finally.  I thought the six-hour bus trip would find me and Mike featured in a "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" magazine column, but we experienced both the travel and the heat-index-of-103°-temperature and lived to tell the tale. 
Mom made up a gift basket and this cute Snoopy card for us and arranged to have it waiting in our hotel room.  The card was one of the first things Mike unpacked when we got home this afternoon.  :)
 We got to visit with both my parents this weekend, as well, so it was a sweet weekend all-around, with Dad loading up our rental car with vegetables from his garden before we got back on the road. 
Mike got to see Alex Rodriguez warming up for the game.  This was the only player we saw signing autographs for the kids before the game too. 
In my favorite photo from the game, Yankee Stadium's rooftop lights and flags are reflected in Mike's sunglasses.  A happy accident.  This trip was both our vacation-ish thing this summer and my birthday present for him, so to look at our pictures later and see Yankee Stadium in his eyes was great fun. 
And as a final sweet post-game surprise, we discovered while looking up video online of one of the game's home runs that we can be seen in one of the crowd shots that aired on TV after the game, since a guy sitting in front of us caught the ball.  'Not bad for our first visit to the stadium.  :)
And another two days off before I have to go back to work.  'A most refreshing and much-needed break.  Next on this summer's to-do list is painting the bathroom and bedroom.  Yes, the building manager gave me permission to paint!  Onward and upward.  :)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mom Memory

Seeing the Queen Anne's Lace in bloom each summer reminds me of how my mom showed me, when I was probably four or five years old, how to tint its petals by letting it sit in a glass of food color-ed water awhile.  In its normal cream-colored form, it is one of my favorite flowers, but revisiting childhood for a bit as I watched the tiny flower clusters take on color has been sweet too.  A blue bloom for me today, then, and I'll pass it on to Mom when we see each other tomorrow. 


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Aunt Cathy

One of my friend Sommer's aunts died on Thursday, I learned Friday afternoon.  Aunt Cathy used to work at the little café inside our local Walmart store--back in the early 1990s when the hometown Walmart was not a "supercenter" and still had a tiny café near the entrance--and Sommer and I would always stop in to visit her while out running around in high school, gabbing with her between her serving other customers and really gabbing with her on slower evenings when she had more free time. The first of their family reunions that I went to, this sweet lady offered me a chair in her backyard and I sat down only to have it crash and splinter into pieces underneath me.  After various relatives helped me up off the ground, I don't know whom amongst all of us laughed the most.  Even though I had just met some of the family for the very first time, it was almost too funny to be embarrassing.  :)   When Sommer died during our last few months of high school, it was one of Cathy's daughters who was the first family member to come out to my parents' house the day it happened to talk with us, and it became my mom and I who would visit Cathy at Walmart, the three of us catching up on family news and helping each other through those horrible first weeks and months.  I last saw her in 2010--randomly bumping into her a hundred miles from her home, which made it even funnier and sweeter to us.  A huge hug, then, at our last meeting, and more laughter and family news shared before we parted.  My heart has been with her family this weekend, and I send them all so much love.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Happy Birthday/Anniversary, Hope

My younger brother's wife had just finished her nursing school exams and I was home for the wedding on a weekend-break from packing up our old apartment to move here, so I'm surprised we look as carefree as we do in this 2011 picture.  It is one of my favorites.  Happy birthday to my sister-in-law, and a happy anniversary to her and my younger brother.