Friday, December 8, 2017

The Cookie Lady

I just got back from running some errands at the grocery store.  I needed some things, regular stuff - eggs, some produce, stamps - and then I went to check out.  I usually wait for a cashier, I figure they don't pay me to self check, and I'm not really in a hurry.  Sometimes it is Jane, who always asks about the boys, or Dianna whose been there as long as I remember, or Pearl who always gives me a hard time about the fried chicken I get there now and again.  Today it was the very chatty, and opinionated Rose.

The woman ahead of me had a pretty full cart, lots of baking staples and cute green and red storage containers.  There was lots of decorating stuff, sprinkles and icing, flour, white and brown sugars, and, well, you get it.  I was thinking about how much fun it looked like she would have, maybe making cookies with her kids or something.

I was trying not to listen in on her conversation with Rose, but, sometimes people talk so loud, I think they want strangers to hear them.  Here's the thing, she wasn't a stranger to me.  I know who she is, the mother of a girl the boys go to school with.  I'd volunteered with her a few times in the library at the elementary school and I've seen her on the sidelines of a few soccer or baseball games, maybe a band concert, I'm not sure.

That being said, she is not the sort of person who remembers others, especially others that have nothing to offer her.

"I am soooo busy," she was saying, "I have to make a bunch of cookies for my son's church class that I teach and more for the Cub Scout den, I'm the den mother, you know.  Of course I need a bunch for the cookie exchange in my neighborhood and then more for the family.  And those I'm going to have to take to Florida where we Christmas."

(Is "Christmas" a verb, and, if so, do I capitalize it?)

"And of course, everyone likes different ones so I've got to make a bunch of different kinds.  And, I've got to get them all done by Saturday," she kept on.

Rose, who doesn't really have much of a filter, said, "Sometimes when I've got a lot to do, I use the cookies in rolls, or even the frozen ones."

Aghast, the cookie maker, said, "Oh, no, they simply must  be homemade.  I not going to bring cookies from frozen to a cookie exchange.  It's not as special."

Now, I heard that as a sort of slight to Rose, so I interjected, "They really can be quite good, the frozen ones.  I also like the peanut-butter chocolate chip ones in the tube, they..."

"Oh, no, I can't bring peanut butter ones, so many are allergic these days."

"... right."

Rose, who had been slighted, looked my way.  "You do a lot of cooking, Big Guy,"  she always calls me that, "What kind of cookies do you make?"

"I make Oatmeal Craisin, everyone really likes them," I said, I think we were both trying to stop the woman from going on more.  She made a quick sour face, no doubt oatmeal cookies were too pedestrian for her high standards.

"I like to do cookies I can decorate," indicating the sprinkles and such Rose was scanning.

"Craisins instead of raisins, that sounds good.  What's your secret for those?"  The woman was getting on her nerves, which Rose doesn't hide well.

"Well honestly, I just follow the recipe on the Quaker oats box and substitute the craisins.  I would say that it is really important to get everything out early and bring it to room temperature.  You know, the butter and the eggs, even the flour and sugar and the milk and...," I said.

"Oh, who has time for that?" baker lady interrupted me as she was fishing in her fancy purse for her card.

I leaned a little to get her eye and said quietly, "I do."

Rose smirked.  I smiled.

"Well, I've got to do so much today, I've still got to go to Target and, hopefully get some more presents bought and... Do you think the groceries will be okay for a while in the car?"

I said, "It's forty degrees out, they should be fine in the trunk."

"Well, I don't have a trunk, I drive a Yukon."

"Of course you do," Rose said under her breath.

And, with that she was off.  Off to her world of self-congratulatory, self-absorbed busyness.  No, 'goodbye' or 'thank you.'

I sort of felt sorry for her.  Rose, well, didn't.

"Well she's full of herself," she said.  "What're you gonna do with these pork chops?"

I remembered to thank her when I left.

Listen, I can't tell you how to do your holidays.  Some people like all the hustle and bustle of it, thrive on it even.  But, if you're complaining about all the cookies you have to make, or the shopping you must do, or the traveling you must do... well, maybe you're doing it wrong.

That all sounds a little preachy, doesn't it?  A little judgemental?  Well, then, I guess I'd better call it a day...

I went to Costco right after I went to the grocery store.  It was right at ten when they open.  I parked a ways back and watched as folks were getting out of their cars and vans.  I've never seen such hurried, harried looking people.  No smiles, no laughing, just grim determination.  I went towards the door but hung back.  The line for returns was forming, a huff of folks.  Everyone had carts and their little red cards ready to show the gatekeeper.

The whole mood was one of agitation and dread

I left.

As I walked back, against the angry grain, an old man with a cane was headed my way.  I moved aside to give him some room in the parking lot.  He asked me if the store was open.  I told him it just had.  He looked me up and down and asked where I was headed.  I told him it was just too crazy for me, I told him I panicked.

"Seems like you're the only sensible one here today," he said and patted me on the shoulder, "It'll be better next time.

Actually, this all happened yesterday.  I went again today, the mood was much happier... or, was it just me?


Wednesday, December 6, 2017


Nick did this one time.  All he said when I asked him why was "I felt like it."

Life's like that, ain't it?

He also made a cake for a dinner we made for a meeting at the church.

He's a good boy.

Zack is a deer boy as well.

That's all I got.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Noni's Black Apron

I remember her hands, mostly.  Thin, once elegant I'm sure, the knuckles now arthritic.  Her hands were amazingly soft in contrast to the angles and sharpness time had twisted them into.

She wore black, always a dress.  On Sundays she wore a black lace widow's veil.

Her face was pinched and drawn, deep wrinkles on olive skin.  Twinkling, sharp green eyes shone out from her weathered face.

She lived down the hall in a three-family apartment I once rented in Astoria, New York.  Nineteen-hundred-and-eighty-eight.  Her family owned the house, she'd raised a family there, three boys, but, so many years later, she lived alone.  She was well into her eighth decade.

She went to Mass most mornings, seven, noon on Sundays.  Sometimes we'd pass each other on the sidewalk or steps in front of the house, me coming home from an evening's work and night's partying, she off to pray her black and silver rosary that hung around the high collar of her black dress.  She seem to not notice me.

We were unlikely friends.

The house shared a common entry on the side for the two upstairs apartments.  We'd pass each other, I'd try to say hello, but, short of a quiet sort of sighed greeting, she didn't say much when I first moved in.

Honestly, we would never say much, but...

One cool fall day, I came in from running errands and, as I was about to open my door, I noticed hers was open.  The hallway was full of a scent I was unfamiliar with, like licorice sticks but prettier, purfumey.  I couldn't figure it.

I lingered in the hallway.  She saw me standing there and walked a little outside her door.  She shrugged a 'what' look my way.  I smiled and inhaled deeply.

"Ah!  The cookies.  Come, come."

They were little shortbread cookies, flavored with just a hint of anise.  To this day I hate licorice, but those cookies were so perfect.  She invited me into her kitchen and she showed me how she made them.  A pinkie-sized, flat oval, that she gave a little half twist before she put them on the tray.  Brushed with egg whites, they were golden, tender at the ends and crispy at the twist.

I'd visit her kitchen many more times from that afternoon on.  At first it was cookies and treats, but soon she was making lasagna and Alfredo.  I watched as she made noodles and gnocchi.

One day she was cutting some onions and she set the knife down and rubbed those tired hands.  I took up the knife and continued chopping them.  She was delighted when she saw I knew what she was doing.

I was working evenings in those days, long ten, twelve hours shifts, but only four a week.  I was home most afternoons and some nights.  She took to leaving her door open when she was cooking or baking, and sometimes she'd knock me up and ask, no, tell me to come help her.

It's imperative that you understand we had no way of communicating.  Her English was minimal and heavily accented, my Italian was non-existent.  We gestured and smiled and winked.  I remember cutting the roasted red peppers she'd scorched on the gas stove, covered to sweat, then peeled - a process I'd never seen before - too large for her liking.  She pushed me away with her hip and showed me how she wanted them.

She always had a bottle of limoncello and she'd offer me a bit every now and again, in a classic sherry glass.  She asked me to help her one time and the day was hot, I went to get a beer out of my apartment, when she saw it in my hand, she grabbed a little pony glass off her shelf and had be pour her a few ounces.  We'd repeat that little ritual dozens of times.

In the crazy, wild world of New York City, she offered me quiet and stillness.  She worked slow and carefully, so different from the frenetic kitchens I watched in the resturant where I worked. She showed me tradition.  She had me taste sauces and pastas, soups... and beans.  I had no idea about the diversity and difference in beans - giant cannellini, tiny pinto like beans, dried Limas and peas - so much a boy from the Midwest had never seen.  I came to treasure our time together and I hope she did as well.

She sent me once to the Salumeria just down the street - the one I was afraid to go in because the proprietor looked so rough and ill-tempered, the one with sausages and pepperonis hanging in the window - with a note in loopy, shaky Italian.  I opened the door to the dinging bell that markets had in those days to the scowl of the butcher behind the counter.  I timidly handed him the note.  I was suddenly his best friend.  His English was better than Noni's and he filled me in a bit, same sad story, children gone, busy, never visit.  She made food for church, socials, funerals, parties and such.  He seemed sweet on her, I know I was.  From that day on I was a regular in his shop.

I carried home to her a bag of sausages and meat and who knows what.  I watched as she turned it into meatballs, spicy, hot, delicious.  She baked them in the oven, flipping them half way through.  She called the sauce she made for them "arrabbiata" and it made my eyes water and she teased me about it.

That's what brought all this to mind today.  I made meatballs recently. 

When I form the balls I always coat both my palms with olive oil, just as Noni did.  I often remember her when I make Italian food.  I remember standing next to her, watching her form the meatballs, thinking of my Dad's hands forming hamburger patties, of my mother's hands peeling potatoes or carrots, of my sons' hands, stirring sauce, browning meat.

One of the last times I cooked with her, she caught me in the hall and showed me that her hands were stiff and she needed some help chopping some canned whole plum tomatoes, the only kind she used.  I was going out and had on a pair of jeans, cowboy boots and a white dress shirt.  I went into her kitchen and indicated I was afraid I'd get the shirt dirty.  She took of her black apron, trimmed in black lace, and put it over my head.  It hung on me like a cummerbund, I can't imagine how very silly I must of looked.

She offered me a glass of sherry, and kept giggling like a school girl, at me in that black lace apron.  I danced a little cowboy jig for her, I remember, and she laughed until she had to sit down.  I'll never forget how happy she was that evening.  I wish I could have kept that apron.

We were unlikely friends.

When I finally left that apartment and headed back to Ohio, she cried.

So did I.

It's nice to think of old friends.  I'm sure Noni is long gone.  I never knew her last name.  I never thanked her.  But I honor her often, I think of her often.

Oddly, this is not the first time I written about meatballs.  Here is that piece.

I hope you've enjoyed meeting Noni, she lingers long in my memory.

The day I left one of her sons was there, the one who still managed the rentals and sometimes checked in on her.  My then girlfriend, a girl named Howell, was there to see me off.  It was the first time Noni had ever seen her.  She had an animated conversation with her son, lots of hushed voices and furtive glances my way.  Noni gave me one last hug, we both knew it was our last.  She looked at me, tear in eye, a slight smile and said something to her son.

"She wants you to know that all this time she thought you were gay.  She'd have never let you into her home if she'd thought you were straight."

We laughed, and our tears fell again.

See, there's always more.  

Peace, and, I'll see you next time.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Sackful of Memories

I recently came across this bag of images, like, real old time photos, you know, the kind you had to have developed and wait for.  I was looking for a headshot for the post I did earlier this month, Forward Looking Back.  The bag was in a chest I've been trundling about for most of my adult life.

I'm afraid to look at them all.  Is that silly?  I guess maybe a little.  Honestly, I like looking back on my life... usually.  But, I know that these are from the eighties and nineties, maybe the early aughts and, well, I wasn't always happy in those days.  I was lonely and I thought life was not really going my way and, well, sometimes that can be hard to admit, hard to think about.

Also, these days, as a parent with all the activity and responsibility that entails, I wasn't ready for the onslaught of memory that looking through these photos might bring on.  I was afraid I'd cry or laugh or recoil or, actually, be physically overwhelmed by them all at once.

But, I know there is a lot in that bag, images I should see again, just, you know, not all at once.  Let's do this, I'll pull one out at random and I'll tell you about it.

Well... okay then.

I was right, this is gonna hurt a little.  That's me in the fall of 2002.  Marci and I went down to the Smokies and were tent camping.  We had a lovely site, right on a creek that ran through the campground.  It was a beautiful trip.

So, I guess the question is, why does it hurt?

I have to tell you, I had to stop working on this post.  I started it this afternoon and it is now well after dinner.  You see, I couldn't figure out why it hurt so much.  I mean, I look happy, fit, slim, pretty macho there with the water pouch strapped to my thigh.  The photo itself didn't bring up any of the negativity I was afraid it might.  The background is lovely, the creek, the fading fall colors.  I know I was having a good time.

I think I know.  I'm not sure I want to tell you, but, I will.  It's hard, especially as an older parent, to realize that your children will never see you in your prime.  They've always known me wrinkled and gray and heavy and, well, old.  I doubt they'll have many memories of me under fifty considering that they were six when I turned over that half century mark.

They'll never see that I was young once, vital and full of life and energy.  They'll never know that I wasn't just the life of the party, I was the party.  I was funny and happy, hopeful and bright-eyed (most of the time), carefree and careless.  Actually, I sometimes forget that as well which sort of doubles the hurt.

To them, I'm afraid I will always be old, done, tired, sore...

I really shouldn't admit to all this.  I should try to regain that attitude, I guess.  But, I am who I am, this is where I've arrived.  I know, truly, that old isn't the only way they see me.  They see me happy and funny and sort of vibrant, but, dammit, I wish they could have seen me shine.

I did once, you know.

I guess that's all for today.

Hopefully, next time a reach into the bag, I'll get something less, well... sad.

Peace, as always, and, hey, thanks.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Doves in the Kitchen

Yesterday I thought on hawks, today I'll speak of doves.

For as long as I can remember, my Mom put up Christmas cards on the cabinets in the kitchen.  There was an old box of cards she'd been sent over the years - she still has the box, and many lovely old cards - and, when Christmas season came around, she'd choose some to put up.  Delightfully, she had a family friend whose last name was Partridge who'd always send a pear tree themed card and Mom would put them all together on a pantry door or such.

When I started out living on my own, I decided to do the same thing.  For a number of years I simply put up what I got, as I think my mother did when she first started doing it, but over the years and with the influx of cards my lovely wife received I had more to choose from.  I like to group them by theme, if you will.  Some angels here, Santas over on the cereal cabinet doors, a group of beautiful cards from the Arizona artist DeGrazia my Mom always sends on the spice cabinet.

I like doing it and it's a nice way to get Holiday cheer into the kitchen.  But, this year the boys finished trimming the tree early - they wanted only balls on  it this year - and they were, well, in the way, as Marci and I tried to finish getting up the creche and the Swarovski crystal ornaments we've been collecting since our first year in this house, now home (I tell that story in this Christmas post from a few years ago called The Best Half.)

So, I put the bags, three full quart Ziplocs, onto the table and told them to pick out forty or so they liked and I'd hang them.  Truly, I was trying to distract them - a strategy I'd honed in their toddler years - but, something pretty cool happened.  They embraced it wholeheartedly. They discussed - calmly, I might add - each card.  Laughing at ones they hated, discussing why they liked the ones they did.  They even began to pile them into themes and such.

Now Zack is really into Christmas decorations, always asking when we'll put them up.  I think he really likes Thanksgiving because we always do the decorations the day after... he's not a Turkey fan, sad that.  He especially likes the cards in the kitchen.  Nick's a tree guy, he likes that it brightens up the living room on dark and cold winter nights.  But, what I didn't know was that they both knew that I worked on themes and such for the cabinets.

A good forty-five minutes later, well, they had a plan.

Santas as usual by the cereal, as usual.

A "naturey" theme by the serving bowls and platters.

A "Three Wisemen" them for the cup cabinet, the cupboard, I suppose you'd say.

Christmas trees for the plate cabinet.

There's these two above the stove, a grouping I particularly like.  One is a Madona and Child by an artist unaccredited (thanks Hallmark) paired with a "Mother Reading to Child" by artist unknown but in a sort of Toulouse Lautrec style.  I really like them both together, and, honestly, I'd have never thought to put them together.

They even remembered the DeGrazia's I always put on the spice doors, which was thoughtful.

And finally, a very pretty set on the chip and canned goods door.  "Doves and Peace and Blue," I think Zack said.

I gotta say, well, I expected puppies and kittens and cartoons and Santas.  I was wrong.  They worked hard, together, carefully and purposefully embracing and remembering the mood of this advent season.

Never underestimate the children.

Never think they aren't watching.

Always honor them.

It's important.


(It occurs to me that if you're eve around during the holidays, you'll know where everything is in the cupboards.)

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Hawk in the Yard

This fall a hawk has come to the back yard.  I see him every day.  The hawk hunts for worms most of the time, listening like a robin does, perhaps even feeling the vibration in his feet and suddenly plunging his beak into the soil and pulling out a big fat one.  But sometimes that sleek black beak comes up with something larger, plumper, a mole or a vole, usually.

He swoops in and out so royally I've gotten to where I imagine a little fanfare for him.  He's probably, one, one-and-a-half feet tall and his wingspan must push four.  Hawks come in fast, quietly and elegantly.  He lands so softly and straightens up.  Hawks have excellent posture.

He just showed up, I swear.  He stood for a while and headed into the maple tree, Nick's maple tree, the one on the right.

Serious looking fellow, ain't he?

It's interesting to watch him back there.  He gets a lot of grief.  Smaller birds, jays and such, squawk and fly at him, trying to chase him away.  The squirrels chatter and fly around the tree near him, safe, I'd guess, protected by the limbs and branches from his wide wings.

I know the science of a lot of it.  Predators and prey, the circle of life.  There's aeronautics and lift.  Tangible things, talons and sound waves, entrails and blood.  Tufts of fur left behind will, some season soon, line nests and burrows.  It's nature, it's codified and explained.  For instance I assume this guy is a Cooper's hawk, Accipiter cooperii.  There are pages of information about them.

Here's the thing though, people have been watching hawks since before men could remember.  Sometimes I see them through those eyes.  I see a raptor soaring on the wind, I see it sweep down, I watch it labor away into the sky, prey dangling.  I marvel at its ease and comfort, the surety of it all.  I can understand wanting to be that hawk. 

I will wear a chest plate and stand up straight and proud, unafraid.

I will fashion a helmet for battle and it will look like a hawk's head.

I will wish for his wings, wish for his freedom, speed and courage.

I will want to be him.

We know so much, we've explained it all so well.  But, sometimes...

...sometimes, I am just a man, at the dawn of time, looking up at a soaring beast and sensing that I will someday fly.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Forward Looking Back

I used to scan and photo a lot of things for this blog.  When I first started doing this I had the notion that a "blog" - a word that no longer has meaning - should be image driven.  So, I included these visual elements.  It was fun.  It served the mission at started with, and... it was easier.  Here's an example, Postbituary.

As a result of that, my computer (the one in the cold basement) desktop was littered with folders, poorly marked, sometimes labeled by date but more often called something obscure like "freeelies" or "PLOVIES".  It's just as bad on the "Tooshba", the aging Toshiba I use these days.  I've run amok here as well, littering the screen with folders and random homeless images, sometimes a draft or two.  I pretty sure it drives Marci nuts.

I should have been more organized.  I wasn't.  I know why I wasn't.  You see, sometimes there is a urgency in the creative process.  To stop mid-project and carefully archive something...?  not gonna happen.  Painters leave paint-tubes unlidded, potters leave wet clay uncovered.  I watched so many musicians just drop the sheet music onto the floor after song.  I've seen actors forego a break to continue on, dancers decline a much needed break.  I, personally, write mostly indecipherable notes to myself.  Nobody wants to loose it, the vibe the process the energy the... whatever.

I am so profoundly off track here I am about to get lost...

Earlier, I opened my computer, waited, waited a little longer and, when it finally came up, I was looking around and noticed a folder marked "9.17tempim".  I'd not noticed it before, scrunched up into a corner and also because it was relatively new.  I'd scanned some stuff in September and shoved it all into this file and, well, completely forgot about it.

Whaddya say we take a look?

What fun!  I'd forgotten all about these.

First there is this.  We'd forgotten to take pictures of the boys on their first day of seventh grade.  I rendered this for the obligatory FB post about the first day of school.

Here is an actual picture I took when they got home.

I think I nailed it...

There's this.

Dude is weird, but, that is a snappy scarf.  I'm not really sure what Z was going for here, but this squirrel-bear has a pair of kaleidoscopic glasses - although he's not looking through them, safety concerns I'd guess - and I believe he's thrown a love-bomb there in the foreground.

This still has me baffled, I see what's going on, but, well... why?

"Chariot" won, right?

I'd forgotten all about this disturbingly cute family portrait Nick made.

Zack is on my head working a Rubik's cube, Marci is on Nick's head holding the banner and laughing.  Nick and I are below.  Those are frying pans in our, well, not hands... at the end of our upper sticks, and we are flipping a steak back and forth.  It's a T-bone, because it has a 't' on it.  It's really... odd.

Just a few more.

It's a full-sized sheet of paper with a little cat not centered on it.  I hate obscure symbology.  Is this about Z's cat, the emptiness that surrounds it - and us all - or is it just unfinished, which could mean something, too?

This was an abandoned idea for his skin on his school-issued Chromebook.

It's interesting, don'tcha think?

There's just two to go.  But...

You know how I always says there always more.  Here's these images "more" first.  (What a delightfully horrid sentence.)

If you want to get into a fun conversation with an actor, ask them about their "headshots" over the years.  They'll smile wistfully, maybe chuckle out loud at just the memory of some of them.  She might tell you about the big wall of hair in one, or the sultry makeup in another.  He might remember the slightly cocked head of one that went too far and he looked like a cocker spaniel or the one where his hair actually looks like a helmet.

I had a few over the years.  I don't have a single one left.  They were expensive and you only got a few printed and ended up giving them all away and... you never really liked it in the first place.  Actors are funny that way.

I wish I had a faded, crumbling one of mine in particular.  Remember, it was the mid-eighties - I looked very stern and serious and was sporting what I thought was a stern and serious looking mustache.  I was wrong about that.  I pretty much looked like an emaciated, dirty-blonde, Confederate drummer boy from a Civil War textbook, or maybe I looked like Billy the Kid on the run and hungry.  I was supposed to look rough and tumble, Marlboro-mannish.  I ended up more, sort of, cute, in a "bless-his-little-heart" sort of way.

I imagine having a lifetime of headshots, I know many actors and former actors who do.  It would be hard to look back on them, I'd think.  Not just the way they'd age and gray and droop with years, but the memory of the hope and dreaming that they inherently project could sting a bit.  I'd compare my first to my most recent and try to fill in the time in between.  I think I am glad I don't.  I sometimes wish that someone would have been taking pictures when I was in college and thereafter, it'd be lovely to see those faces again, young and eager, but secretly, I'm glad there aren't any... I think.

Nick and Zack worked on the crew for the fall play, something called "Toto, Too", and seemed to enjoy the show.  For the program, they wrote a little bio about themselves and next to it was a grainy black and white photo of each of them.  I didn't know it, but there were also prints of each on boards in the room they held a reception in after each performance.

They got to bring them home.


And Zack...

These may look off for some reason, it's because they both don't have their glasses on which they've had for the past several years.

There's something about these a really like.  They look happy.  They look confidant.  They look... well, whole.  They look like they know who they are right now.

They shine.

I hope they never regret looking back at them, and, I hope they will always look forward with this kind of joy.

I've just recently entered my sixth year of blogging and this is my 470th post.  That seems crazy.  For the past year or so I've been trying to not focus as much on the boys.  I've explained why in numerous posts including this one, Transitionings.  I may have been wrong on that.  I asked the boys about using these images, they said they didn't care.  Listen, the truth is only a few dozen folks will see this.  I'd post any of these images on FB and, with the "likes" and such, a few hundred might see them there.  I think I'm fretting over it more than it's worth.

So, that's all I've got today.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate it, really I do.