Friday, April 23, 2010

Cloud 8

As Dad and I approached the buffet at a Mother's Day brunch, he pointed at a little girl all decked out in lacy white tights.

"Y' know, Joan- they shed those in the spring."

Well into my teens and equipped with a fully-functioning adolescent attitude, I did my best to dismiss his comment as ignorant and inappropriate. Stifling the laughter swirling inside my chest, I moved along the steam table, filled my plate and walked past the corn chowder. I knew I'd never make it back to the table with both the thought of his remark and a bowl of soup intact.

What the teenager chose to ignore is what fills this adult with the warmth of humor. No doubt about it, my father was one funny son of a bitch.

His delivery was direct and dry. Governed by common sense, he made no apologies for uncompromising opinions or close-minded commentaries. "If someone has a problem with it, they can shit in their hat." I never understood how that would benefit either party, but it did put and end to more than one blossoming argument.

Dad's culinary tastes were basic; he rarely strayed from his comfort zone. The mention of garlic brought a curl to his lip and an exaggerated shiver to his spine. Although he generally stuck to his script when dining out, my mother might convince him to try something new once or twice a year. "Y'know- I like that French Onion soup with the Maserati cheese on top." His review may have been more Grand Prix than Food Network, but at least the old man gave it a shot.

My father had a low tolerance for upper-crust affectations and the putting on of airs. He had no interest in elevating his social standing or mixing with the society page crowd. "They think their shit's ice cream."

One scoop or two?

Fashion placed no pressure on Dad during his retirement years; the suited executive became the "regular guy" in a plaid shirt, tan pants and slip on loafers. No alligators, no pleats, none of those crazy "moon shoe" soles. Keep it simple, stupid, and top it off with a bucket-shaped "Go to Hell Hat". I have no idea where he came up with that one, but I'm sure you wouldn't find any shit in it.

He may not have shared my obsession with fitness, but he understood its' importance. "I saw on TV that Tina Turner takes pierogie classes." Proud Mary, keep on rollin' that dough and filling it with potatoes.

My mother loved Dad's description of the end of one his youthful romances. "She sent me a John Deere letter." What a pain in the grass.

When one of my father's employees received a promotion, he told us "He was so happy he was on Cloud 8". I joked and said, "Well, I guess he wasn't really THAT happy." Now I know better.

See you on Cloud 8.

Dad would have been 84 years old on April 17. He left behind a tired pair of loafers and a "Go to Hell" hatful of memories.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

If I Had a Hammer

My mother loved Easter. As a matter of fact, she was on the front line of any holiday celebration. An Olympian in the shopping arena, her ear was finely tuned to the desires of her loved ones; a passing thought about a lovely blouse could propel my mom towards the mall in search of it. She was relentless in her pursuit and rarely came up short.

Once she had her prize, she spared no details in its presentation. Our gifts were impeccably wrapped; I have yet to achieve the perfectly folded corners that were a trademark of her packages. For that matter, my bed making skills are not up to her standards and I may never iron a T shirt- certain practices are best left to the masters.

"That Joan- she's always into something..."

At times my mother may have uttered that phrase with a hint of exasperation, but she used my "cyclical obsessions" to her advantage. Her shopping expeditions were fueled by a purpose and the results of her hunt were creative and often humorous.

I was fortunate to grow up in an era unbound by the overwhelming fear of abduction and Amber alerts. A three hour bike ride or an afternoon hiking expedition gave our parents little cause for concern. No eyelashes were batted when I announced that my friends Laurie, Jennifer and I would be building a fort in the woods; dolls and dresses had long ago given way to more unconventional interests. We were told to be careful and were off on another adventure.

As the self-appointed project manager, I went over the plans with my friends; we could outdo ourselves on this one. We would find four trees to use as our corners and layer about two feet of field stone to connect their bases. Walls finished with pine trees horizontally nailed into the corners supported a sturdy roof doubling as the perfect hi-rise patio, complete with safety railings. Of course, our project should be kept under wraps to avoid sabotage by the neighborhood boys. We quietly crept into the woods after school and went to work.

Pooling our financial resources, we were able to buy enough nails to begin construction, but the tools were another matter. I knew that I couldn't casually borrow from my father's arsenal without consequence; his was a territorial tribe that frowned upon lending. We could make do with one saw, but we each needed our own hammer to make any serious headway. While grocery shopping with my mom, I saw the answer to my fort-building prayers.

"The Ladies' Hammer" caught my eye as we made our way down one of the aisles. It had a dainty head and the handle grip was a soft shade of red. Hanging from a card decorated with a goofy 70's cartoon of an aproned housewife brandishing her very own cartoon hammer, it was perfect. I pointed it out to my mother, who responded with minimal interest while moving on to the Tastykakes. Her apparent indifference threw me for a loop; she was generally an easy mark. Deciding against my usual display of theatrics, I quietly headed toward the checkout, sans hammer.

Stumbling down the stairs on Easter morning, I couldn't wait to see my basket. Overflowing with sparkling green grass and adorned with a big shiny bow, it was filled with coconut nests, jellybeans, speckled malted eggs, marshmallow peeps and an over-the-top assortment of solid white, pink and milk chocolate bunnies and chicks. As I emptied the contents and prepared to bite the head off my first victim, a silver glimmer shone through the grass. Delighted and surprised, I reached in and pulled out "The Ladies' Hammer".

Wait until Laurie and Jennifer see this.

The hammer in Grace's basket is indeed "The Ladies' Hammer". Its chipped face and bent neck give testimony to many years of use, reminding me of childhood dreams and one very cool mom.