Friday, May 25, 2012

Decoration Day

It so happens my 19th year,
I was at my Grandmother's home on "Decoration Day".
I knew the day to be "Memorial Day" but since that was a name change in the late 1960's my grandmother paid this "no nevermind" preferring to maintain loyalty to the original label.

I had noticed in the week leading up to this day there had been an unusual amount of telephoning in my Grandmother's life. In her house there was one  land line phone with a very long cord so she could move all around the house and not be "tied to the wall"  in a single location. It worked well for her but required astuteness on the part of those sharing the house with her. The unaware could find themselves kissing the hardwoods without notice. Since I had been stellar at jump rope on the school playground I was not often the one face down on the floor with depleted lungs.

In addition to all the telephone traffic there were numerous trips to the grocers, butcher, baker. I was dispatched to the alley way garage to find and organize for transport baskets, gloves, hats, gardening implements and old blankets.  Eventually I got around to asking why we were all so busy?

" It's  for Decoration Day."
" Isn't that a parade with horse drawn cannon and old men in funny uniforms?"
" Mind your manners Fishy."
" Huh?"
"Ladies do not say 'huh?' and it is impolite to disrespect the dead who suffered for you"
" Yes ma'am"

She went on to explain on Decoration Day every one got dressed up to attend  a 9am Mass
 in honor of "the Fallen", followed by a progressive Brunch from house to house of family members on all sides. Most of the telephoning  and other busyness was about who would be progressing and who would be hosting, the menus, the flowers and the all important question of who would be wearing what.

" Well then, why do you  keep sending me out into the alley to organize and pack  all the gardening stuff?"

" Because after Mass and Brunch we will  dash home to change, gather our picnics and our gardening equipment to meet up with the others at RoseLawn by two."
" RoseLawn?"
" The cemetery"
" Did you say picnic?"
" Really Fishy, have  you never been to a Decoration Day before?"
" Apparently not. I am sure I would remember picnicking in a graveyard "
" Watch that mouth Fishy!"
" Yes ma'am"

Exceeding all expectations I loved this day. The Mass and Brunch were pretty typical. Not much different from a normal Sunday schedule. Since this was in the days before the South allowed boozing and retailing on Sundays most of the time we had  family gatherings or went visiting.

RoseLawn is a beautiful old fashioned cemetery with huge moss draped oaks and family plots defined by azalea hedges,  roses, camelias and  statuary.  This was long before the days of flat markers and plastic cone shaped floral insults.  These were gardens of eternal resting.

When we reached the cemetery we joined a long winding caravan of cars slowly making the way to a chosen spot. We were bound for the grave of my Grandmothers second  husband
 (not my grandfather). He was not one of the "fallen" from military confrontations he had fallen to heart disease a decade before. His placement is graced with a life size angel statue so it was easy to find. We left the picnic in the car, but unloaded all the gardening gear and hiked over to the grave site. Hundreds of other families were doing the same thing. The common purpose was to first groom then decorate the grave sites followed by story telling and honoring of the occupants with food and music. It was a very festive and very social occasion. There was friendliness toward the neighbors families there for the same purpose. There was the sharing of the stories of the departed; some riotously funny, some  piercingly sad. Once the  headstones and statues had been scrubbed new, the graves  weeded, pruned, clipped, and nourished;  we hauled all the debris and tools back to the cars then returned with the blankets, our picnics, fresh flowers, flags and musical instruments.

Every grave was groomed and decorated.
Even those looking forlorn and abandoned on the perimeter of the grounds.  If there was a site with no family there, then those in proximity did the grooming and the decorating. And the talking. I don't mean talking about those resting on the other side of the grass, I mean talking to them. In the South, talking to the dead is a common practice. Now that my Mother is gone I completely understand this.  I talk to her often. Out loud. Which is a concern for Blowfish. He is a Yankeeman who does not walk around talking to his parents.  He thinks about them,  prays for them, but he does not talk to them as if they were right there with him. I suspect he thinks I am a  bit "off ".  If he had ever been to a Decoration Day in the South he would not think anything of my chatting up the departed.

Younger children were given flags to plant next to the graves of those with no family present to do the duties. Children being children, they interspersed these duties with impromptu games of hide and seek or tag or jump the stone.  There were a few injuries. Many of them had been told to read the name of the occupant and say a little something to him/her while placing the flag. Kids are kids everywhere so what was heard were things like, "here lies Fred because he's dead!" or " Old Mr. Hopper told some whoppers!" I doubt these were the sentiments parents had hoped to hear but then they would shrug and grin and say something like, " Let's hope Fred has a sense of humor."  My favorite was one which said,
"It is best to carve  love into hearts before granite"

As day passed into dusk the musicians started strumming guitars, banjos, fiddles. There were plenty of  plaintive wails from harmonicas and more than a few singers who had obviously broken the Sunday drinking bans. Children danced between the headstones waving their sparklers  while the seniors quietly  reminisced.  In our group  there was a lull in the conversation when a brother in law of my grandmother stood up and started to sing,

 "My Country Tis of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty."
 May this forever be true.

                                    God Bless You Each and Every One

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Bear of a Haiku

Half ton brown fishes
at waterfall precipice.
Mother's "Fresh Market"

Salmon for breakfast?
Waterside service for two!
Mind your manners Bear.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Sonoma Drooler

One of my siblings gave Blowfish an online Williams Sonoma gift certificate for his birthday last month. It has changed the man. Maybe forever. Blowfish does not "shop" unless you count going to Concours D' Elegance car shows.  He has lived a life where what he needs magically appears with no effort on his part. He does fuel his own truck and will go to the  grocers or stop in at a bakery or florist shop to bring home the apologies but that's about it. Until the transmission of his online gift certificate he had never, ever shopped online. In fact the old fish had no idea what to do with such a gift.

One morning he was wandering around  restless and grumbling  until he  eventually ended up in my studio.
"Hi "
"Hi "
" Can you help me with something?"
Over the years I have learned to not just automatically agree to these seemingly innocuous requests.
" Probably. What is your issue?"
" I don't know how to use the Williams Sonoma gift certificate. Do I print it out and go to a store?"
" I think you can use these in an actual store. There isn't one here but  there is one in BigCity.  If you want to go we can certainly do that. However, if you want to preview your options you can shop online."
" How do I do that?'

And thus was Pandora's Box opened.

In his young mans career Blowfish worked his way through Manhatten's world of artists in the publications business making a splash by becoming an executive art director before reaching 30. He is a serious, ummm make that a very serious critic of all things graphic, typographic and photographic.  Blowfish's other great passion in life is food. The Williams Sonoma website is a joy.
It is  photographically beautiful. Especially the food pictures which,
trust me, speak to the foodie of our household. There are beautiful
screen layouts, beautiful graphics, great typographic choices and there is even a section on Chefs with interviews and recipes. And there are books. Very beautiful cook books. The man drools.

For weeks now I have been summoned to his office to once again have a look and extended conversation about his latest "find" on the website. This is the old mans version of the young mans wishbook from Sears.
Like so many of his generation he spent hours perusing the pages and thinking a million "what ifs". Now he has discovered he can not just "wish" but actually "shop" without ever leaving his executive  leather womb.
My sister has no idea what she has given this man.  Or me.

In our home we each have our own office or studio. Mine is upstairs, his is downstairs.  Since his discovery of the Williams Sonoma website I have no need to go to a gym.  Trust me when I tell you I no sooner climb the stairs  when he calls out, "Fishy! I need you to come look at something!"  Somehow these requests are always urgent.  Like about a Kitchen Island. He wants one. Williams Sonoma has one called "The Bastille" which I am sure looks awesome in Wine Country decor but it is not a fit for our Pond house. Also his gift certificate will not buy this thing and certainly not pay the shipping. I reminded the starry eyed fish man that in order to have proper clearance for an island we needed to change to a counter depth refrigerator. To do this would require  remodeling part of the  cabinetry because the new refrigerators are too tall for the current opening.  For a while he looked dejected but then it was  back to  the  website for him and back upstairs for me.

While my fanny was still hovering just above my drafting  chair the call came out,
" Fishy! You have got to see this!"
" Busy!"
" Come on down here!"
I stomped over to the  stair landing knowing he would be at the bottom landing eagerly awaiting my appearance so he could shepherd me off to see his latest find.  I love that he still has enthusiasm for life and experiences but his timing could use some prudence.
" Blowfish, there are things I need to get done now. How about I come and look at all your choices later?"
" Okay. We can do that.  But right now I need you to come downstairs and look at this find!"
" No"
" What?"
DramaFish clutched his chest and began buckling at the knees to illustrate his discontent with my response.
"Blowfish, please, no drama. I will be down later and you can show me then. Okay?"
Grinning he said, " This will only take a minute and you probably need a break."

 I definitely needed a break.

As I descended the stairs I said, "I am coming to have a look because your inability to choose a gift and send a proper thank you is  bordering on rudeness. You really must make a selection and call or write your thanks for the item selected"

As I came through the door of his office there on the screen was a beautiful photograph of cookware. Ruffoni copper cookware with the cast ornamental  knobs on the lids.  I turned to look at that fool of a man I married and  there he was looking all puffed out and proud. "Blowfish. This is like going to the Concours  where I assure you  we cannot afford the hood ornaments never mind the automobiles.  Ruffoni is fabulous cookware but if we brought home even one piece of that you would want a new dual fuel stove and a complete appliance change out and a Kitchen remodel. Could you please just try to be rational ?"
" It is not all that expensive".
" Right. So you did not notice it cost more than the Bastille!"
" Well then will you please help me make a selection? I seem to be unable to choose."
" Start with what you might actually need, not want."
" Oh good idea! I have been missing waffles since you declared the old waffle iron a health hazard.  Maybe they have some good choices."  While he sat down to his giant I-Seek screen,  I slipped back upstairs hoping he would be so busy studying every word and every image about every waffle iron known to mankind ...I could actually get back to my studio and produce something creative.
No such luck.
" Fishy! Come have a look at this!"
As I again went down stairs I thought about the sister who gave Blowfish this gift.
As little girls we would sit  together on our Mama's Chippendale sofa sharing a magazine where we would pick our favorite thing on every page. Hours of our lives were  spent on this past time.  Sometimes we were  companionable, sharing our thoughts and expectations of a life in the making. Other times we generated nothing but friction as our diverse interests began to be expressed. I am ashamed to tell you how old I was before realizing the  life I picked on the magazine pages was never to be.

As I once again entered his office Blowfish said,
 "This is it!"
There on the screen was Cusineart's  Griddler for making pannini and other grilled wonders. The marvelous thing is the grill plates are interchangeable  with Blegian waffle plates all of which are removable for cleaning. Anyone who has ever seen Blowfish make a waffle will understand why I celebrate this feature. I am sure he will order it soon. Right after he finishes reading all the recipes for Pannini and Waffles. He wants to have an inventory of things to offer when he invites my sister to breakfast.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Cinco de Derby Moon

Have you ever been caught up short by just not thinking?
That was my Saturday. THE Saturday which was host to
Cinco de Mayo
Kentucky Derby
Pleine Air  events
and the occurrence of the
Super Moon

Yes well.
I did not attend any festivals, parties, competitions or celebrations.

My week has been knocked off kilter a bit  by several events.

The appliance man was called last Monday and came on Tuesday to discover the washer was flooding my house because the main drain was impacted. This meant pressure of water with no place to go had  ruptured the drain tubes for the washer. This diagnosis meant I could not get any laundry done before  moving the appliances  out of the utility room before the  new floor gets installed.The plumber could not get here until today. The tile installer and his idiotic assistant were here Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings. I have a rush design job in progress in the mountains an hour away. So it's been necessary to be here in the mornings for the tile installation and then get to the job site to check the trades, etc. in the afternoons. I like busy but this past week was not the kind of busy I enjoy.

My house is filthy.
Like days of  my youth I am wishing for the power to twitch my nose and  voila! a perfect house. Sigh.

Blowfish and the appliance man, in their wisdom, moved vacuums,  floor scrubber, brooms, mops, cleaning supplies out of the utility room in order of smallest to largest . For some unfathomable reason they chose to use the guest bedroom as the store room. (A room with hardwood floors does not seem to me to be the best place to park leaky equipment.)  So they took all the stuff I need to maintain this house and put it along the far wall of the guest room then placed in front of it one dryer and, smack in the doorway, one washer. Effectively making it impossible to enter the room or fetch any of the cleaning equipment necessary to maintain our home. This overall is not a good scenario. It is especially difficult for a woman who deals with stress and anxiety by doing laundry.

Since being inside was not productive, and concentration impossible, I decided the best use of my time would be spent in the yard. Spring is a time of many chores in Zone 7. Many.  Not the least of which is mulching. Over the three mornings I trimmed hedges, pulled weeds, dead headed flowers and then raked and hauled.  Then  raked and hauled some more. Progress felt good but as I was working I realized this long term, unrelenting drought was already causing signs of distress around our property.

One of my biggest fantasies is to have all the mulch I want. Well. that is half of the fantasy.  The other part includes the mulch accompanied by  heavy equipment and laborers. Mulching is hard work. Most of our Springs here at the Pond we have  ordered a  ginormous truck load of mulch be dumped at the end of the tennis court then have pitchforked and hauled it all around the property. It cannot be done in a day or even a weekend. It is backbreaking labor.
So a few years ago I went down to the Fafard plant and had them load my cargo bay with bags of mulch. Then I drove around the property with Blowfish throwing out bags where  they were needed. A quick X with a blade followed by flipping the bag put most of the mulch where needed and the only thing left to haul was empty wrappers. It took multiple trips to Fafard but overall this was a more manageable approach.

Saturday morning  I decided I would finish trimming and hauling the holly hedge. This is an undertaking because it's 2oo linear feet of hedges and uphill hauling.  As the clock rolled around to mid afternoon I noticed some of the bushes were looking droopy. This is not a good sign. I never get too worried when the annuals go to drooping  but when the shade growing bushes get the droop it is an indication of urgent need.  So I turned the sprinklers on and went to fetch bags of mulch.

 Did I mention Blowfish was not available?
 As in  not on the premises so there absolutely was no laborer but me? I realize my yard will never look like a magazine ad but I was hoping to  maybe  get enough  mulch out  to keep the moisture from evaporating around the bushes. Hours later I came in to get cleaned up thinking I would join friends and festivities at the local Irishman's Pub. As I was toweling my hair dry I turned on the tv and realized they were calling "Jockeys up!".  No way could I get hair, make-up, clothing and driving to the pub done in a few minutes.  So I went to fetch a beverage and watch the race thinking I would still meet up with friends for the Cinco celebrations.

It was some time after 9pm when Mother Nature woke me up by the brilliance of the Super Moon shining  through the window. So, that was my  Cinco de Derby Moon Day. How was yours?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Monkey Post

On Sunday I blew Blowfish's mind.
Seriously the man put down his power tools and just listened . Actually he looked sort of like a fella having a conversation with an alien. The differences between our ages and our backgrounds is often a difficulty we are forced to acknowledge. Like all couples, sometimes those differences are the foundation of the attraction and equally  often  the foundation of fierce battles.  When I or my siblings are speaking of our childhood, Blowfish is just incredulous at what he hears. Our history is so different from his. He will never understand Southern culture or accept the realities of  being loyal to this culture. It's like the saying, "A Fish can love a Bird but where will they live?"  Blowfish can never live where I do in spirit.

We are trying to re-train our dog Will to stay in our fenced side yard.  It sounds simple doesn't it?  That little rascal has for years been able to jump his way out of the yard which has a 6' high fence. We have lost him 3 times in 12 years. Once it took us 10 days of searching, flyers, newspaper ads, haunting the shelters and lots of walking, clapping and calling  before the reunion.  One year, when we were going to Mermaid's without Will,  we sent him to the country to stay with a friend of Blowfish who raises and trains awesome hunting dogs. He has professional kennels with 8'  fencing between the runs.  Upon our return Brian mentioned we were lucky to still have a dog.  We were then told every morning, when he came out to feed, Will was in a different run visiting with the occupant. ( He is very social )  "The thing is", said Brian, "that dog could have gone anywhere but  he chose to stay. This here is a smart dog. Irritating. But smart. That's a busy road out there."

In our retraining program we put him out in the "dog yard" when we are home  and mostly working outside.  He protests. He is older now so he cannot just jump out which frustrates him. We are talking a big area, with both sun and shade, a long view of the roads in front and behind our property and a common fence with the beautiful Golden retriever girlfriend  next door. There is fresh water, a doghouse with a surround mulched in cedar chips. He has access to part of the deck and can look into one of the garden room doors to keep an eye on things. He even has his very own box fan. Fwe dogs are this lucky but Will is an ingrate on this issue.

 Seriously, none of this pleases him. None of it. So he complains . He does not bark, yip or  yowl. He makes a terrible sound  like a monkey having an anxiety attack. Repetitively. It is not a sound I can stand.

So when Will transforms into "Monkey Dog" one of us will admonish him to stop. Blowfish is largely ineffectual in this mission. Will might stop with the monkey chatter for ten or twelve seconds then it is right back to the horror noise. 
On Sunday in desperation Blowfish said, "That dog is just like you, he never listens to me"
"Are you calling me a dog?"
"No, but you and that dog of yours are two of the stubbornest creatures on the planet."
"Did you lose your mirror?"
"What? Why?"
" You seem to have forgotten the true face of stubborn".

In the background the monkey chatter was escalating. 
Blowfish said, " I am done with this, you make that dog shut the heck up".
I loathe it when Blowfish tries to order me to do a thing. Anything. But, I hate the monkey dog chatter worse.  I am an alpha so out I went to  Will  where I made him sit, got his full attention and told him there would be no more monkey dogging. I take my alpha duties seriously. I believe in the intellect of animals and I absolutely believe in the importance of eye contact when communicating with other species. I told Will in my most stern Alpha  dominating demeanor I hated monkeys and their chatter and that no monkey dog was welcome. Once I was sure he understood me I left him in the dog yard and returned to the gardening.

After a brief pause Blowfish said, "Why do you hate monkeys?"
"They are horrible creatures".
"Have you known many monkeys?"
"Two. Which to my thinking is two too many".
"Will is quiet"
"How do you do that?"
"Most animals understand intent. Well, except for monkeys."
"Tell me."

" In the social South , Sundays were for calling or receiving. On a typical Sunday  I would endure the tortures of the curly hair comb out, get beautifully dressed in itchy finery and be  marched to Church where I was admonished to sit still, pay attention, not scratch from  those itchy clothes and for God's sake this week not get sick or faint  from the incense. After church it was off to Sunday Lunch either at the club or at a relatives or friends of my parents. There you had to be quiet, as in seen not heard, not itch, have manners and not spill anything. This sounds simple. But if you are seated at a linen draped table crowded  with fine china, crystal, silver and mountains of food, perched on slippery phone books stacked on an armless chair one wrong move can create disaster. The worst Sundays were when we went to call on the parents of our mother's former beau. The one she was expected to marry before her whirlwind courtship and elopement with Dad. This couple referred to we kids as "the children"  because our dad was the presumed reason they had no grandchildren. Instead they had a monkey. When we came calling they always wanted to have us  interact with the monkey. They even would pose us for pictures with the thing. Seriously Blowfish, you have no idea how hard it is to smile while you are suffering from  a food overdose, wearing starched itchy clothes  while a long tailed rat like thing in clothes sits on your shoulder, picks trough your hair and breathes on you."

I pretty much said all of that run together. Like one sentence, without pause and maybe without taking a breath. Blowfish had that look of incredulity he has every time I speak about my early life. I went on,
" On some of those visits our arrival would be  the impetus for that monkey to go nuts. Careening around the room jumping from lamps to curtains, breaking treasures left and right all the while shrieking that  monkey chatter at a level which made my ear drums vibrate. Do you know monkeys have fangs? And they hiss as well as chatter and shriek?

 I guess to have our family invade it's normally quiet territory was a threat to that monkey. It certainly reverted to normal behavior for it's species. If those people had a lick of sense they would have put that monkey in a quiet safe place and would not have  subjected it to the trauma of visitors.

I think having monkeys must have been in vogue  for a while because one of my classmates also had a monkey. The Dad in that household was a mean, mean man. He said awful things to his wife and kids, and would kick a dog so hard it would go airborne. But he loved that monkey.  He would sit in his dark,  shuttered den stroking and sweet talking that monkey for hours. If any of us kids passed by the den that monkey would commence with the shrieking chatter and the man would go to yelling and threatening us. The thing was you could not get to the bathroom without passing the den  and disturbing the monke. I  liked my classmate but I loathed going to her house for a play date. 

Did you not have Monkey Grinders on Staten Island? Funny men with accordions and monkeys  on chains dressed liked Shriner's?  Creepy. People would gather round the musician while the monkey would make it's way around the circle  collecting tips. I don't  know if it was because I was little or because my hair is curly or what but every monkey I ever encountered wanted to nest on my head. I hate the damn things. They seriously creep me out."

Blowfish looked like he had been frozen in amber he was so still and quiet.
After a pause he said, " Fishy, one day you have got to write  down all these memories".
" Why? No one would read them. I am pretty sure they are selling more copies of Hunger Games than Little Women. People like to look forward more than they like to look back.  Not to mention I am a designer not a writer "
" You write a blog"
" I've been a right serious slacker on that front lately"
" Blog about the monkeys".
" Blowfish, no one wants to read about our conversation on a Sunday afternoon."
" This is more than a conversation. Write about the monkeys."
" Why?'
" Mermaid agrees with me. We think there  is more we do not than do know about you. We have had conversations on this after reading one of your blogs. Mermaid will call and say, OMG Dad, did you know this about Mama? We often are amazed by the things we have learned about you. You tell the blog world, not us"
" Well, I've told you about the monkeys."
" Blog it"

Mermaid, do you care why I don't like monkeys?