Apr 19, 2007

A Few of My Very Best Memories

Yesterday, you got one of my worst memories. I need to go to bed shortly but I'd like to share a few of my very best memories - take them for what they're worth.

  • I'm in college. I hadn't been for ages and finally stopped worshipping St. Mattress and got my ass out of bed to go to St. John's Episcopal where I belonged. I'd been feeling really stressed out, under the gun. I walked out of that church after the service feeling like an enormous weight had been lifted off my shoulders. That day, God ceased being an abstract.
  • I'm in grad school in Rochester, NY, and singing with the Eastman-Rochester Chorus. We're doing Handel's Messiah (that season, we did the entire Messiah, the Resurrection Symphony, and the entire St. Matt) with the Eastman Philharmonia in the Eastman theatre. Now, you have to understand that I grew up outside of Rochester and went to this annual performance of the Messiah more than once. I remember overwhelming thrilled and astounded to be on *stage* and not in the audience. I've sung some beautiful stuff in some lovely places but that is, hands down, my favorite musical memory.
  • I'm in 9th grade and the school year is drawing to a close, bringing the 9th Grade Banquet (a Very Big Deal) with it. I knew that my folks were deciding each month whether to pay the mortgage or the electric bill; I knew that we had a vegetable garden not just to teach us kids to weed. I was in Ames with my dad and we walked through the teenage section and I saw a dress that I would've killed to own. Didn't say anything, just looked at it, fingered the fabric, then followed my dad. My dad... (I'm getting all teary eyed here), my dad who is as typical a clueless guy as they come... my dad remembered which dress it was and he and my mom bought it for me to wear to the Banquet. This is my very favorite memory of all.

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Apr 17, 2007

In Memory Of...

I was listening to NPR on my way to rehearsal this afternoon. As they discussed yesterday's horrific events in Virginia, the sociologist they were speaking with (I think it was a sociologist) noted that this event will become a defining moment for the kids who are in college at this point - not just the ones at Virginia Tech, but throughout the country. It got me thinking a little (always a scary thought) about the tragic defining moment of my college life - an event occurring before many of today's collegiate scholars were even born. To them, it's a note in the history books; to me, it was the moment when I realized that, sometimes, things just aren't going to be ok.

It was January and I was a freshman at Smith. It was just before lunch and I was waiting around for the dining room doors to open at Ziskind House. The day was nice enough - sunny as I recall - a pretty winter day; just another normal day as the term got underway. At 11:38 a.m. on January 28, 1986, the Challenger blew up, taking with it 7 astronauts: pilots, scientists, engineers, a teacher.

NASA to me was the domain of no mere mortals. These were people who walked among the very stars and came back to share that experience with us in the limited way possible. Gods and titans, these.

I had always wanted to be an astronaut. I watched the stars, read science fiction avidly, poured over pictures of the 1969 lunar landing. Fates worked against me: I'm awful at math, I get motion sick very easily, I'm clearly no athlete. But, in my mind, there but for the grace of God went I. And I am ashamed that part of me was still a little jealous that they got to go. That, for that one moment, before things went all to hell, they knew they were going to space.

The poor kids at Virginia Tech will bear no such shame, I am certain. I mourn with them and their parents and teachers and the police responders. I mourn with the parents of the gunman and the community. I mourn for the loss of life; I mourn for the loss of innocence and faith. I mourn with the people for whom this will ever be a moment that separates before from after.

Take this moment and make something of it. Use this to teach yourself to count every day, every person with whom you come into contact as precious and important and as worth reaching out to. Remake this undeniable tragedy into something from which something good and fresh and new springs. What better memorial for the loss of innocence can there be than renewal of purpose and spirit and love?

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Apr 11, 2007

On My Honor

I will try
to serve God,
my country,
and mankind,
and to live by the Girl Scout Law.

And so said I, every Tuesday, with my right hand upraised in the Girl Scout sign.

I joined GSUSA as a Brownie in second grade (they didn't have Daisies then nor were first graders considered old enough yet - much has changed). I remained a girl scout till I left for college. And, I suppose, at heart, I still consider myself a girl scout.

I remember making butter by shaking cream in a jar seemingly interminably, as a Brownie. I remember us putting on a Fly Up play for the Brownies that came after us, once we were ever so old and wise Juniors. I chose the name Priscilla for my character - it just seemed so fun and girly whereas Kelley was just not feminine in the slightest (we had a boy in our grade whose name was Kelly). I remember making felt ice skate ornaments with paperclips for the blades - they are still proudly hung on my Christmas tree every year.

I remember being so frustrated when camping - my mother was one of our troop leaders and, whenever some scout bagged out on her duty, guess who got to do it for her. I still think this is immensely unfair. My mother wasn't much liked in our troop - she didn't let people get away with much and she was rather sharp-tongued and bossy about it. My dad, who went camping with us, was much beloved.

I remember sleeping with Cynthia Her-Last-Name-I-Can't-Remember in a tent at Mendon Ponds and it pouring pitchforks and hammer handles. Our tent leaked and her side flooded. I remember her trying to climb into my nice dry sleeping bag with me - humph! I remember our patrol trying to bake pigs in a blanket over a fire on another camping trip. A fruitless effort until my dad finally suggested (gently) we consider using their reflector oven and not try to do it like they were corn dogs or something. It did work much better. (Thanks, Dad!)

We didn't just camp. My Juniors troop went to Niagara Falls, my Cadette Troop went to Albany, and, best of all, my Seniors troop went to Cape Cod. What fun that was.

Not so fun was the grudge Mrs. Kuhn had against my mother that she took out on me. Mrs. Kuhn's daughter wasn't all that inclined to do as she was instructed in juniors and we've already demonstrated my mother isn't one to take that lightly. Mrs. Kuhn was one of those "my child does no wrong" kind of people and I think you can guess the rest. This came to a head when I was working on my Gold Award project. I had submitted a proposal and Mrs. Kuhn, as my advisor (lucky me) said, "terrific - that will do it for sure". Well, I completed the project and the council firmly rejected it. So, for the first time, I discovered that grownups, too, could be petty as she wanted her daughter to get an award that I didn't so as to get back at my mom. I got "held back," so to speak, and watched most of the rest of my troop get their Gold Awards from the sidelines.

I *loved* the other two of our three leaders for my senior troop - one in particular. Mrs. Schueler. Mrs. Schueler, God rest her soul as she unfortunately passed away a few years ago, was a very sweet lady who liked me a lot and understood I just wanted to be liked but wasn't of a temperment to be liked by other teenagers. She understood thatMrs. Kuhn didn't like me and she tried to make up for it. She was a saint in human garb and made a big difference in my scouting life. She took over as my Gold Award advisor and I got the award my senior year. (In case you're curious, I created a puppet show to teach kids about reading music, recruited junior and cadette girl scouts to man the puppets as part of a Music badge and took it to our district's elementary schools.)

In high school, I was lucky enough to get a campership to go to National Center West for 2 weeks. National Center West is in Ten Sleep, Wyoming, population 320 (at the time). I had never been in an airport so big (Chicago, Denver) or so small (Worland, WY). I remember that I had been supposed to change in Pittsburgh but there was a thunderstorm that hit their tower so we were re-routed through O'Hare. I had no layover - well, about 3 minutes. The businessman who was sitting next to me and who was continuing on to wherever the plane was going next, debarked with me, and talked to the gate agent to get them to hold my flight as I ran through the airport in my girl scout uniform. He also gave me his newspaper to read. (Thank you, whoever you were; I really appreciated (and still do) your help.)

But my most ubiquitous girl scout memory is the songs - oh the singing. I think the part I remember, love, and miss the most is the singing. From The Brownie Smile to the Comstock Camp Song, Music Alone Shall Live, Make New Friends, Taps, song after song after song will live in my heart until the day they put me in the ground.

On my honor,
I will try
to serve God,
my country,
and mankind,
and to live by the Girl Scout Law.

All in all, not such a bad creed.

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Apr 10, 2007

A Mini-Dose Because It's Late

How could I have forgotten to share this when I was talking about road trips, I surely don't know, but I need to share it now. I don't even know what made me think of it but anyway. So, as I mentioned, we ate from point a to point b and, when not eating, we chewed sugarless gum. Well, let it be a lesson unto all of you not to fall asleep with gum in your mouth lest it get stuck in your belly button.

What's that you say? "I have an outie, so I'll be fine..."? Oh, noooooooooo....

My sister, proud possessor of an outie, fell asleep with chewing gum (Trident for anyone who cares) in her mouth. Said chewing gum somehow made its way into her bellybutton where it proceeded to get very, very stuck. To this day, I cannot figure how it could have gotten there without having gotten stuck in her hair, her shirt, or whatever. She stridently claims (claims, mind you) that she did not stick it in there for safekeeping.

Just in case you're still thinking you might try this because it's so improbable as to be nigh on impossible and wouldn't happen to you. Trust me on this one. You don't want to try to get chewing gum out of a belly button - innie or outie. You don't. Honest to God, it's not worth the risk. (Although, if anyone cares to try it and wants to post pictures, please send the link!)

Oh, and a brief update... I may, next summer ('08), get to SEE RUBY FALLS and, thank you MJD for the reminder!, SEE ROCK CITY as well! Woohoo!

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Apr 7, 2007


But I'm posting another dose of Let's Remember instead...

Ok, the vice grips - I've promised this story twice now and haven't delivered so here it is. Bear in mind this is probably one of those things that is funnier when you're a participant than a bystander... or my sister.

So, I'm about 13-14, which would make my brother 11-12 and my sister 9 or 10. My dad was working on the plumbing (which, of course, entails vice grips). My brother and I tell my sister, very convincingly that the term "vice grips" means a certain female body part beginning with a V. She's convinced beyond a doubt that this is the case. My father yells out to my mother, "Susan! I need the vice grips!" You can imagine how confused my parents were at my sister's horror. My brother and I found this absolutely screamingly funny. Still do. My sister, as one might expect, didn't find it nearly as funny. Still doesn't. (stifled Mwahahahahahaha going on here!)

Now we've gotten the vice grips (hee hee!) out of the way...

My family traveled on vacation. Now, I don't mean we took grand and glorious vacations - my parents had months where they had to choose between the mortgage and groceries (thank God for the garden) - but we took car trips, camping at nights on our way from point a to point b.

Over Easter vacation, we'd go to my grandparents in South Carolina. Eastertime in Upstate NY is frequently still winter and we'd often leave at 3 or 4 a.m. in a snowstorm - the snow flashing white in the headlights in the pre-dawn dark. It was fascinating to go from dark and gray and gritty south - first the snow would disappear, then the redbud and the forsythia would come out, then the azaleas and rhododendron. By the time we got to West Virginia, it was really obvious which cars had come from "up north" - we all had a heavy layer of salt!

From where we were, it was quickest to take U.S. Route 15 down for quite aways even though, at that time, much of it wasn't divided, limited access highway. I remember there was one place where you could see a covered bridge from the road and we always looked out for that with anticipation.

We kids had our own ritual from crossing from state to state. We'd wait until we could see the "________ welcomes you!" sign and start our state-changing chant... "We're in _________ riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii (and this would continue until the exact moment we passed the sign) iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight NOW!" And, of course, if we were crossing into West Virginia, we'd break into John Denver's Country Roads in 3 part harmony (the song made a regular appearance in our elementary school choral concerts).

Like most, we played the typical car games - mostly License Plate Bingo - and, perhaps unlike most, we ate our way down the Eastern Seaboard. My mother believed (a belief which I firmly hold myself) that to travel was to eat - we'd start off with hardboiled eggs, celery and carrot sticks, and an enormous tin of chocolate chip cookies. (It was a very hard transition when I realized that the love of my life dislikes eating in the car and, for a long time, forbade eating of any nature in his car. Fortunately, that has loosened now that he has leather seats.)

We went to Washington, D.C.; we went to Minneapolis; we went to the Black Hills in South Dakota, Glacier National Park in Montana, Maine, Georgia, Tennessee - going through such exotic places as Niagara Falls, Bar Harbor, Detroit (which, honestly, was very interesting - the trainyards and all). We backpacked in state after state, camped in innumerable state and national parks, went on many nature walks - to this day, I have an abiding appreciation for forest rangers. We've hiked many a section of the Appalachian Trail and seen underground caves, creek walked to falls, and sat on huge quartz outcroppings at Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina.

I have just one complaint about all this travel. I have never gotten to SEE RUBY FALLS! As we'd drive south, we'd pass billboard after billboard - very plain green ones with large hand painted letters - exhorting to SEE RUBY FALLS! And we never did. I understand Ruby Falls is near Chattanooga somewhere and, goldarnit, before I die, I am going to SEE RUBY FALLS!!

Still to come... girl scouts, music, the 9th grade banquet, college.

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Apr 2, 2007

Only 3 Weeks

And it's time for another dose of "I remember"...

When I was in elementary school, they were putting in phone poles up the road from us (yes, I did indeed grow up in the sticks) and my dad got ahold of one of those giant spools they put telephone wire on for stringing from pole to pole. He sanded and painted it up in whatever colors happened to be lying around in the basement and gave it to the three of us to play with. What a great outdoor toy. It was probably 4' in diameter. You could roll around the middle part, chase people with it, flop it on its side and stand on top. I remember that we used to get scolded for leaving it on its side because the lack of sun underneath would kill the grass. It was a great toy and I'd make one for Katie in a heartbeat if I could get one of those spools.

We lived in a really rural area - a small town in the fruit belt on Lake Ontario. We lived in a house that was 160 years old at the time and was the original farmhouse for the area. When I was very small, there were only 2 other houses that you could see from our house. On one side of the road was a sour cherry orchard and we lived amidst the apples. The orchard owner used to live in our house before moving into the cobblestone house just up the road to the northeast and let us pick all the apples and cherries we wanted. I remember sitting on the screened porch pitting sour cherries with an unfolded paperclip (you don't need those fancy cherry pitters!) knowing that cherry pie, jelly, or crisp would follow.

Our house had large lilacs on all four corners and a couple extra to spare. The old owner figured they'd been there for near on 100 years. The air smelled so lovely in the spring. (I'm allergic of course, so I was stuffy most spring but I love it anyway). When John and I moved into our house, the first things I planted were two tiny lilacs. My mother had beautiful flower beds of iris along the south edge of the yard, and ones around the house with annuals and the few tulips that managed to survive and peonies - the second thing I planted were two small peonies (that are no longer small). She also had some ferns and ivy from the house on Yorkshire Road (the house she'd done most of her growing up in once her peripatetic parents had settled down for a while). I had a piece of that ivy for a while but I'm not easy on potted plants.

At any rate, our house was surrounded by apple trees and there was one in particular we kids called the "pee pee tree". It was the subject of many a dare among us and our cohorts to sit on the extended branch about 5' up and pee. First, you have the balance issue - it's not exactly easy to balance with one's bahooty hanging over the branch or, for that matter, relax enough to pee! Then, of course, you have the "pee in public" issue. But, most of all, it was the "If Mom catches us, we are so beyond dead" factor that both made it incredibly difficult and a great dare at the same time.

Anne Shirley was right about her Snow Queen. Apple trees are wonderful - they're beautiful in bloom. I'm not talking about the dwarf trees that so many orchards plant now because they're easier to pick; these were the real deal. Probably 30' tall with branches cascading to the ground, creating a veil of privacy around the trunk - and ideal spot for hiding. By fall, the branches, once loaded with delicate white flowers, were loaded with greenings, tolman sweets, and cortlands - big apples in clusters just calling our names. But be careful of the poison ivy underneath and the worms inside. (Not nearly as gross as it sounds, honest!) My grandfather's wake was held out under those apple trees as was every one of our graduation parties. I'd always thought my wedding reception would be there but, by the time I was married, my parents had moved out of state when my dad was laid off. Thus, my "apple blossom time" never came and my wedding reception was at a hotel in Massachusetts.

As I grew, the road grew in population. First, there was the house on the corner of Lincoln and Whitney but that was ok, the people are wonderful and are very, very dear to us. Then there was a house across the street and then one next to that. By middle school, we didn't have easy access to the cherries anymore but we made do - the neighbors let us cut through their yards. When I saw Lincoln Road last year, it's pretty well filled up from stem to stern. Whitney Road was paved when I was in middle school, I think. Or part of it was at least. It's not the place I remember but I suppose there are many people who would say that.

It has been hard for this girl from a cow town (yes, it really was - we had several dairies in addition to the fruit) to adjust to life in suburbia. But my emotional journey from nowheresville to wethinkweresomethingsville is another post altogether.

Still to come... travels with the family, girl scouts, music, the 9th grade banquet, the hilarity of vice grips (honestly, they are *very* funny).

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