Friday, June 14, 2013

Dad and the Val-Mark Corporation

I don't think my dad has ever received a store-bought card from me.  Starting when I was a kid, I've always drawn his card--he's the only one in the family who gets these goofy things--and the tradition continued yesterday with the mailing of his 2013 Father's Day card and care package.  Each year's Father's Day and birthday cartoon reflects some current in-joke or happening between us.  This year's was a depiction of him proudly standing beside the mantel he built for me and Mike.  He is, of course, clad in a Pirates baseball t-shirt and denim cut-off shorts.  (This is what he's almost always wearing in my drawings.  It's part of the tradition.) 
Another--and more integral-part of the hand-drawn card tradition is my tagline on the back:  "Val-Mark:    When you care enough to make the very best."  I considered that pretty clever when I thought of it as a kid.  Now, it's just tradition, and tradition must be upheld!  Dad knows it will always be there on the back of all of his cards from me. 
This year's card was nestled in a shoe box between a letter and some recent photos, a couple wrapped gifts, and a bunch of edibles.  An Almond Joy or Mounds bar appears somewhere in all his birthday and holiday gifts from me.  Once when I was staying with my grandparents for a few days in the summer, the day my parents were to pick me up happened to be my dad's birthday, and my grandmother asked me as we were out shopping the day before what I'd like to get my dad for his gift.  She just smiled as I went to a checkout line to grab a candy bar, and I overheard her telling my dad the next day, "I asked Val what she wanted to get you for your birthday, and she said she always gives you one of those?"  She sounded bemused, but I wasn't embarassed as I listened-in because Dad's response was something along the lines of a kindly laughing "Well, yes, it's tradition."   
Dad's Beagle-and-heart-covered shoe box is winging its way toward him as I type this and should reach him tomorrow.  And until his August birthday rolls around, the Val-Mark greeting card industry has again closed up shop. 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

So Am I, Little Plant

One of our neighbors in the building set this out on the front stoop this morning.    The weather really is gorgeous here today after a week of cloudy gray-white skies and rain.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

I Stumbled, But I Never Fell: Eighteen Years Ago Today

Eighteen years ago today, I was hiking Cornell University's campus in Ithaca, New York and its nearby trails with my uncle Eric and one of his friends.  I had both turned eighteen and graduated from high school the month before and was spending six weeks of the summer living with my Ithaca family.  Eric, who has always been "Eric" and never "Uncle Eric"--a story for another day--and his friend were twenty-nine at the time, a fact that for some reason was shared in the seconds right before or right after this picture was taken.  I remember laughing ("You're not twenty-nine!  Stop!") before doing the math and realizing they weren't kidding.  This was the first time we'd seen each other since the early 1980s.  Here we are, then, at eighteen and twenty-nine, all sunburnt and nostalgic, on Cornell's Suspension Bridge in the summer of 1995.

My maternal grandmother had invited both me and my best friend Sommer to stay with her after our graduation.  Sommer died on March 1st that year, though, and in the picture above and every other one from the last ten months of 1995, I still look shell-shocked to myself, every smile tentative since happiness had become something I was afraid to feel, let alone show, for fear of having it abruptly snatched away from me as Sommer had been.  She was supposed to have been with me in all that summer's pictures and scrapbook pages, the two of us tanned and teasing and blissfully eighteen.  Instead, six mornings after Eric and I hiked around Cornell, I woke up from the first dream I'd had after Som's death in which I'd heard her voice--her voice again!  Sommer's voice!--and raced downstairs to find my family and breathlessly tell them about it.  And then the searing pain of her loss ripped through me again, because--Really?  This is what it had come to?  Being thrilled to have a dream in which I heard my best friend's voiceThis was the way life was for me now?  This was what was left for me?  Other eighteen-year-olds were spending their summer hanging out with their friends--in real life!  not in their dreams!--and shopping for their first college dorm room.  I felt like I was eighteen going on a hundred that summer.

June 5th of 1995,  though, was when I began to find my footing, both literally and figuratively, as Eric and I walked through Ithaca's gorges and hiked up and down its hills.  It was the hardest I'd laughed and the most fun I'd had in months.  Not pictured above are the high-heel espadrilles I was wearing that day.  I'm not a "shoe person," but I loved those shoes.  They had long ballerina-like laces that wrapped around my ankles, and they looked like cream crochet.  "Can you walk in those?" Eric asked as we set off on our hike that day, and I confidently said yes in that stupid way you confidently say yes when you know you're wearing beloved but utterly impractical footwear.  And then he and his friend had to walk down all the slopes ahead of me in order to form a sort of wall with their bodies that would stop my momentum as I laughingly tumbled my way down in the silly things.  To all our credit, I stumbled, but I never fell.  

Looking back, the day was clearly a turning point for me.  When we returned to Grammy's house late that afternoon, my cut-off shorts and once-cream shoes now muddy and my face red from the sun, she greeted us by noting that it looked like I had had a good time.  I had.  And if I had had one good time after Sommer's death, I now realized, that meant there were still good times to be had.  And if I had had one, then the odds were good that I would have another.  And if I would have more good times, especially with people I loved and who loved me, then this life business must still be a pretty good deal.  Eric and his friend had mentioned as we crossed the suspension bridge that day that it had been the site of more than a few suicide attempts.  I can't help but remember that whenever I remember this photo and day, and it is not lost on me that the point where others gave up is the point where I myself started to come back to life.  There but for the grace of God. . . .  And today it's been exactly eighteen years since our hike, and I am seven years older now than Eric and his friend were then.  Doing the math always drives the point home, doesn't it:  Life goes on.  And we are blessed as we go along with it, shell-shocked and sunburnt and silly-shoed as we all sometimes find ourselves, laughing despite our losses and fumbling our way forward. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Pink Pegboard Project

Like Mike and I now, my grandparents had little kitchen storage space.  The pegboard they kept above their kitchen sink was the first I'd ever seen, and I was always fascinated by it as a kid.  They keep their bottle opener and spatula on their wall?!  When we're done washing and drying these big spoons, we're just going to hang them on the wall?!  Decades--and more than a few small apartments--later, I agree with Papa and Grandma that vertical storage is the way to go.  Until I finished this project Friday afternoon, Mike and I had to paw through two green bins on top of our fridge every time we needed a utensil, so this is one more step toward a happier Mike and Val--well, I care way more than he does, but how could it not make him happier!--and a more organized apartment.  This turned out exactly as I'd envisioned. 
I wish, as I often do after finishing projects like this, that I'd taken a true "before" picture.  The pegboard is a small piece of the pegboard from my parents' garage-wall, and the frame is actually a picture frame I found at Goodwill years ago that used to hold a piece of canvas artwork.  When Mike and I made the trip to my parents' house for our first anniversary last year, I dug the frame out of my former bedroom's closet and brought it back with us, figuring I could use the frame for something.  At some point, it occured to me that the "something" I needed most was more storage space, so the pegboard idea for it was born. 
I cut away the canvas artwork last winter, ripped out all the many staples with pliers some time later, and asked my dad for a piece of 19.5"-square pegboard for my birthday.  (My wish lists are usually this simple, yes.  "What do you want for Christmas?" my parents and brothers will ask me and then quickly add, "And don't say 'Postage stamps and glue!'")  My dad gave me the pegboard and a few starter-hooks when we came home for a visit in April.  I used a birthday gift card from my younger brother to buy a few more hooks.  
Soap and water, wood glue, Super Glue, hammer and nails, and who-knows-how-many coats of green and (first paler pink and then bolder) bubblegum pink acrylic paint and protective gloss varnish later, I finished getting the pegboard together on Friday. 
 And now for us, as it was for Papa and Grandma, finding what we need in our little kitchen is as easy as reaching for its spot on the wall.  "Life is too complicated not to be orderly," as Martha Stewart says, and I agree.  Every time I walk into our kitchen now, I feel a wave of contentment come over me. 
All done.  Cue the relaxed "Ahhhhhhh!"