Thursday, October 24, 2013

April Violets and October Anniversaries

Today my parents celebrate their forty-third wedding anniversary.  In 1966, one of the young men my dad was serving with in Vietnam mentioned in a letter to his kid sister back home that one of his Air Force buddies could use some extra mail.  My fourteen-year-old mom dutifully put pen to paper for her big brother, my dad soon wrote back, and four years of Air Mail later, it was their matchmaker, Dad's friend and Mom's brother, who served as Best Man at their October 24th wedding.  "Some of my best work," my uncle brags of their union.  In four more years, my parents would name their first child after dear Uncle Dan.  As I like to point out to my mom, who is still upset that they don't have better pictures from their wedding day, her marriage turned out even if her photographs didn't.  
Before the autumn wedding and baby Daniel, though, there were those four years of letters, care packages, and rare visits home on-leave.  "I would complete soak all my stationery and envelopes in Yardley's April Violets," Mom always mentions when she talks about their correspondence.  She wrote my dad a letter a day.  Dad, for his part, sent letter, pictures, and love poems--"And your dad was really a poet," Mom always adds at this point in her reminiscences.  I come by my love of letter-writing naturally, I can't help but think, just as so many of "[their] songs" from the mid-late 1960s--"Crimson and Clover," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," and "My Girl," to name just a few--had become my own favorites by the time I was eleven.  My parents finally saw each other in-person for the first time during one of my dad's visits home.  High school student Mom anxiously waited at her parents' window in New York while my dad made the drive up from Pennsylvania.  "When I saw him coming down the sidewalk in his dress uniform. . . !"  Mom still gushes at the memory, blushingly trailing off each time she shares it.  "And I'm telling you, Vally," she always goes on, "I knew right away that he was a keeper:  My brother Eric was just a baby then and was playing with his toy cars, and your dad got right down on the floor beside him and started racing the cars around with him."  (How a man treats the very young and very old tells you all you need to know about a man's character, my mother advised me ages ago.) 
Perfumed mail, The Big Chill soundtrack of their pen pal days, and matchbox car races can make it all seem much more lighthearted than it was, of course.  "Come home safe" is written in Mom's teenage penmanship across the backs of so many of her old photos to Dad.  The scene in Forrest Gump that shows a safely-home-from-Vietnam Forrest reunited with his beloved Jenny is the one that always gets my parents, and being in the room with them while they watch uniform-clad Forrest and long-haired Jenny embrace after his years in the service almost feels like too personal a Mom and Dad Moment to intrude upon.  Their own love story didn't have to turn out this well, and we all know it.  Dad doesn't decorate family members' graves on Memorial Day without remembering the classmate with whom he enlisted and without whom he made it home.  

Tonight my parents will exchange cards and maybe catch dinner and a movie, while two of their grandchildren daydream about next week's Halloween costumes and another grandchild waits a few more weeks to be born.  The letters that started it all, still tucked into their red and blue-bordered Air Mail envelopes, have been carefully packed away since 1970 in my parents' bedroom closet, faintly flower-scented testaments to the wonder of true love. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children. ~ Alex Haley

  Click to enlarge. 
Grandma proudly labeled this photo "Our Gum tree, fall of 1990," I saw when I inherited her photos in 2001.  Papa and Grandma's trees and gardens were brilliant, and I always loved how their house was nestled behind the trees and Rhododendrons, but to me, the true caption for this picture is Home.  Or Love.  Childhood.  Safety.  Ever since I was a kid, whenever I've had those crazy panicked someone-is-chasing-me sort of nightmares, I've always thought "I have to get to Papa and Grandma's.  I just need to make it to Papa and Grandma's."  And in every dream, every time, their beautiful yard suddenly appears in the distance as I run and I know I just need to reach it in order to be safe.  The Bad Guys disappear at my grandparents' house, Papa and Grandma's bee boxes and raspberry bushes and tree swing serving as my dream world's line of demarcation.  People who have had near-death experiences often report that they passed through a peaceful tunnel and were greeted by a glowing light; When my time comes, I want to find myself in Papa and Grandma's yard--just long enough to get my bearings straight, you understand.  Oddly, it is almost exactly three years to the day since I last wrote here about missing my grandparents' yard.  Maybe autumn just makes me especially nostalgic.  Or maybe there really is some magic in this simple gray-shingled house and the trees that surround it, just as there is something special about every place we love that we feel loves us back.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Making Me Happy Tonight

Have I mentioned here before how much I love the little Art Deco-ish storybook houses like Hugh Comstock's famous "Hansel" cottage in Carmel, California?  I've saved images of similar cottages  in my home/decorating scrapbooks and inspiration folders since I was thirteen.  
The steeply pitched roof!    The rounded door and windows!    The stone exterior!    The crazy crooked chimney!    
 If I could jump into any of these illustrations, I would.  Ohhhhhh, I would, I would, I would.  
I've always found it fascinating that certain styles of houses simply seem like Home to us--and others, not so much.  The tiny storybook cottages--ideally set in the wild woods--make my heart ache, just as huge Victorian houses speak to Aunt Laurie and almost any small blue house will be loved by Mom.  
I love hearing about peoples' dream homes.  
In an old issue of Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion (aka Sweetest! Magazine! Ever!), a feature on a guest bedroom in Engelbreit's own home shows some of her collection of miniature houses, and the accompanying caption from Engelbreit reads:  "For me, a house is a symbol of everything good."  Yes.  And for me, a little Art Deco cottage, especially so.  
You know, then, how much I squealed when I finally found not only a vintage vase I loved for our mantel here, but also one that is a nine-inch-tall model of my dream house.    Look at the chimney!!  And the cute little window!  And how the exterior is even made to look like brick and stone!  It's the find of a lifetime. 
My patience for projects like the mantel makeover drives my mom crazy.  I'll go a year--or in this case, a year and six months, specifically--without a vase for it because I want The Right One, not just any one.  Still on my list for the mantel is The Perfect Hooked Rug for in front of it.  That search continues.  (This rug, in the fourth, fifth, and sixth photos down, made my heart beat faster when I saw it, but alas!  Someone else out there is enjoying it.  It's such gorgeous work.  )  In the meantime, a vase is finally in the spot I had set aside for one.  Bit by bit, and find by find, it is coming together.  Look at the tiny lamps to either side of the front door!  ♥ 
It is a little thing in every sense, but let's hear it for little things.  :)
I'm a happy lady here tonight.    

Friday, October 4, 2013

One loses many laughs by not laughing at oneself. ~ Sara Jeannette Duncan

Today is my dear friend Marylou's birthday.  Ahh, Marylou!  She makes me laugh.    A classic Marylou story circa 1998:  She received one of those silly quiz-type emails from a friend, and one of the questions asked her to share her Most Embarrassing Moment.  She took her time with the goofy survey questions, described some humiliating episode, and emailed it to her friend.  Soon after, a response appeared in her inbox--from a complete stranger.  "I think you meant to send this to someone else," it read.  "I guess you have a new Most Embarrassing Moment."  That made me cackle when she first told me about it, and it still makes me laugh.  Almost every conversation with (and email and letter from) Marylou contains a gem like that.  

In her honor, and as a virtual birthday present, I will remind her of--and share with you--another story from around the same time.  After making my way from my college's library to the science center halfway across campus one afternoon, I arrived at the building's door in the usual crush of students all trying to get to class on time, and as I waited to enter it, I saw the reflection of one of the students beside me in the mob:  She was dressed up in this sweet outfit--a long-sleeved white blouse under a sleeveless gray jumper-dress with white tights--and I simultaneously admired her outfit and noticed  that (poor girl!) her dress was tucked into the front of her tights.  Those realizations and my sudden horror for her--a young woman exposed from the hip down in this horde of students!--and my wondering how to tell her--seemingly all swept through my mind in a single instant, and when we got closer to the door and its reflection, I looked up and saw that--The girl was ME.  (I die again as I write this.)  I had walked halfway across campus during the busy class-change time with my oh-so-cute dress hitched up into my tights--IN THE FRONT!--and no one (no one! not even another woman?!) TOLD me.  I had passed people I KNEW on the way to class.  I had  said hello to students and PROFESSORS.  (I die again and again.)  It has been about fifteen years and I am still both laughing and blushing even as I type this.  I don't remember how or where I adjusted my dress and tights--I assume right in front of everyone and right then, since I obviously couldn't go to class like that--and I remember nothing else from that afternoon except that later on, I told my coworkers at the writing center, and they all died along with me--both from the utter horror of it and from laughter.  

A year or so later, when I was settling into grad school, a card arrived from Marylou wishing me luck on my new campus.  Tucked inside the envelope was a handful of coupons for L'eggswear-brand tights.  Ha ha.  :)  

When the Dress-In-the-Tights saga somehow came up in conversation awhile back, Marylou's only comment was a dry "At least you were wearing underwear."  Indeed!  And never let it be said that I don't thank God for small favors.  :)  But still, truly:  GAH! 
 What can you do but laugh.  :)

Sigh.  :)  

'Happiest of birthdays, Marylou.  :) 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dad Begins Buctober

Dad is on the mend from both Shingles and a cold, but he, like so many baseball fans across our home state, will be cheering on his team tonight during its first playoff game since 1992.  I've been home twice in the past five weeks, and both visits have been full of Pirates games on TV and talk of "Dad's" Buccos.  A lifelong fan, Dad is known for saying at the start of every season, "THIS will be their year!"--and then, after each of the Bucs' recent twenty consecutive losing seasons, "We'll get 'em next year!"  Finally, this really does seem to be their year, commemorated in Dad's birthday card above in August,  :) and I've been so happy that Dad's gotten to experience their comeback. 
He'll still be thrilled with their performance even if their season doesn't go any further than tonight's playoff game, Dad told me over the weekend.  The bandwagon fans will fall away, he said, but the true fans know what an accomplishment it is that the team has achieved all that it already has this year.  But you can bet Dad'll be yelling at the TV tonight back home, cheering each run and chewing out the umps over any bad calls. 
The mania is sweeping the city.  Local restaurants' windows sport the Pirates' ship, flag, and battle cry. (If you don't already have a favorite team to root for tonight, this video is played toward the end of Pirates games and may sway you toward Dad's buccaneers.)  :)
The Pirate Parrot--with whom I want to have my picture taken at a game someday, although Mike scoffs and says "That's for little kids!"--is seemingly everywhere--
--included in the toys my nephew carries around with him. 
And even Pirates beer has appeared, this bottle on a side shelf of my parents' fridge.   Dad likes baseball because it's a game of strategy--like a chess match--he explained a few weeks ago.  People think football or basketball are the real strategy sports, he said, but Dad thinks baseball is more than any other sport.  I like it when people can articulate what they like or appreciate about something, especially when it teaches me something, so I found that  interesting. 
This is Dad in 1984 with my younger brother.  Now my younger brother is expecting his first baby next month.  Time flies.  Dad's team, however, has remained the same.  Here's hoping they win it tonight--for him, even if he'll be happy either way.  ♥  Hoist the colors!