O my God, thank You for my grandchildren, a sevenfold blessing I could never have imagined. Once, though, I told them I remember when the U.S. flag included only 48 stars — and OMG, one grandson asked if I knew Betsy Ross.
“What’s that smell?” I asked my mother.
“Lilacs.” She took several long, luxurious sniffs, too.
Mom and I disagreed about short skirts, curfews and whether Herman of Herman’s Hermits needed a haircut. Lilacs made us one in heart, spirit and nose.
I didn’t know the Greek mythology behind lilacs — that a beautiful nymph named Syringa (now the botanical name for lilacs) was pursued aggressively by Pan, god of field and forest. Frightened, she hid by turning herself into a lilac bush.
Who was she kidding? No one remains in cognito smelling like that.
Case in point: few spies practice this form of espionage.
Sadly, no lilacs graced my subsequent homes. I indulged in sniffing them at church, where an enormous grove dominated the side yard. Every year when the allergic choir director threatened to dynamite my beloved bushes, I trembled.
Eventually, I married and moved to apartments and houses with no lilacs. Fortunately, many neighbors owned bushes covered with bouquets of blossoms. While walking with my toddlers, I cautioned that we couldn’t pick the lilacs. However, if we were very, very careful, we could borrow the smell. If you had followed us on our regular alley rounds, you would have seen little girls — and their mommy — standing on tiptoe, hands clasped behind backs, sniffing lilacs.
Once, I discovered a new neighbor had axed my favorites. They lay beside the road crushed, like green and purple roadkill.
“You may be chief lilac sniffer, but your name is not on the deed,” Hubby reminded me.
So instead of vandalizing their house, I moved into a home with a big lilac bush. Every spring, I filled my dining room with luscious fragrance.
Supposedly, no one can kill lilacs, yet I did the impossible. Inconsolable, I figured if we could conduct a dozen hamster funerals in the flower bed, we could hold a lilac funeral. But no one agreed.
My husband planted another lilac. But the following year we moved, and I had to say goodbye.
We now live in a house with a rather reserved bush that poises its large lavender parasol of blossoms far above sniff level. Still, it perfumes the garden and even graciously offers a few clusters for my olfactory pleasure.
One sniff on a busy morning makes all the difference in my day. Amazing what a little lilac love can do.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite sniffing flower?
When spring showed up for real, our mother would no longer imprison my four-year-old brother and me in snowsuits. She’d stop slathering us with Vicks® VapoRub ®. She’d let us go outside.
We didn’t dislike the tiny yellow trailer we called home. The kitchenette smelled like bubbling bean soup and love. Our play area: the closet-sized living room. We slept on the sofa, Ned at one end, and I at the other. Long before ESPN’s kickboxing competitions, we conducted world-class foot fights at bedtime — until the Head Referee called emphatic fouls on us both.
Finally, a hundred robins outside sounded an all-clear. Before sending us outdoors, Mom drilled us: Thou shalt not play around the railroad tracks. Thou shalt look both ways before crossing the drive to the playground. Thou shalt never speak to strangers. But the First Commandment eclipsed them all: Thou shalt not shed thy jacket.
Fully catechized, Ned and I darted to freedom. We stopped and looked both ways before splashing across the gravel road that circled the playground, the center of the trailer court and our world.
Paradise awaited, with a clangy old merry-go-round that spun us into an ecstasy of nausea. Ned and his buddies defied God, gravity and their mothers, walking the teeter-totters instead of sitting. Kathy and I soared on swings, singing Perry Como’s hit, “Catch a Falling Star,” as we touched heaven with our toes. Sometimes, we all simply galloped like a wild-pony herd around the playground.
As suppertime approached, Ned and I picked up dandelions like golden coins to take to Mommy. When Daddy’s old blue Chevy turned into the drive, we raced toward it. Daddy stopped and threw the back door open. Ned and I rode home, waving to friends as if in a parade.
Eating soup and johnnycakes, we fought sagging eyelids like an enemy. We wanted to watch Rawhide, with our favorite cowboy, Rowdy (a very young Clint Eastwood). I wanted to sit on Daddy’s shoulders, eat popcorn and comb his wavy, Elvis-black hair. But it had been such a long, wonderful … spring … day … zzzz.
What do you mean, fall asleep? Not me! It’s springtime! That lazy, good-for-nothing sun has finally shown up. I’ve got more to-do items on my list than candles on my last birthday cake: garage to clean, closets to organize. Plus, a new book to write …
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What childhood spring memories warm your mind?
O my God, thank You for people who help us laugh. For Jim Davis, the creator of Garfield, who grew up on a farm in our county. And, OMG, thanks especially for special people who laugh with me!
We suffered through everlasting classes of English and arithmetic, drooling at the prize: a chocolate bunny with a yellow bow tie.
As we sallied forth to the playground, I dreamed of delectable treasures I would discover: yummy jelly beans (all but the black licorice kind), chocolate eggs, fat pink marshmallow chicks. Where would I conceal my Easter loot from my siblings?
The kiddie crowd’s roar at the starting point dissolved my blissful sugar fantasies. Only our omnipotent principal kept us from rioting.
He boomed, “Ready. Set. Go!”
A horde of barbarians, we attacked.
I could run fast. However, with zero sense of direction or strategy, I dashed randomly within the hunt’s borders — not unlike the way I now seek parking spaces — arriving just in time to see others grab the goodies.
I complained, loud and clear. Why did the Easter Bunny put us through such agony?
While I stood by the merry-go-round, debating the hunt’s constitutionality, two kids found a nest of pink, blue and yellow eggs under it.
I stomped across the playground — and smashed an egg left in plain sight.
By hunt’s end, I found only jelly beans. Black licorice ones.
Some did. I received more black jelly beans.
I survived Easter-egg-hunt trauma. You did, too. But as all grown-ups know, adulthood does not immunize us from empty-basket syndrome. After a steady diet of motivational speeches, we may improve our egg-finding techniques and even win a chocolate bunny or two. Often, though, we watch others celebrate success while we count black licorice jelly beans. And we ask God, “Why?”
To us empty-basket wonders, He says, “More than you can imagine. You don’t have to hunt for Me.
“Actually, I hunt for you. You’re the lost coin I treasure, the clueless, obstinate lamb I love — yes, I’ll even leave 99 winners to search for you, no matter where you wander. Stop fighting Me and let me hold you close.”
I still dream of finding the chocolate bunny with a yellow bow tie. But if I don’t, that’s okay.
My basket already runneth over with His love.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you consider yourself an empty-basket wonder?
O my God, when I’m with grandsons, I lose decades. Such fun! But after a museum-sprinting, pizza-eating, pillow-fighting weekend, I feel 157 — and look it. Still, OMG, thank You for every tackle-hug — and the sweet time warp of being a grandma!
During my childhood, Christmas cookies had such a short life expectancy that baking them hardly seemed worth it. The December appearance of a mixing bowl at our house ignited a war to determine who would “help.” When Mom or I dared take a restroom break, the kitchen was plundered by cookie-starved barbarians.
The first holiday stay at my future in-laws’ home completely muddled my Christmas cookie worldview. Perfect reindeer, Christmas trees and Santas were baked, with no fear of masked marauders. After decorating them like a culinary Michelangelo, my future mother-in-law openly displayed her creations on kitchen counters.
It was like visiting an unguarded art museum.
A kind woman, she chose not to prosecute me. When I married her son, she gave me her recipe!
Forgetting my brothers now lived hundreds of miles away, I baked a typical triple batch. My new husband and I ate little stables and mangers until Valentine’s Day — and loved it.
When our eldest, aged two, took her debut Christmas-cookie-baking lesson, the initial batch of dough hit the floor. Experimenting with the mixer’s beaters, she distributed another batch on the ceiling. Finally, I shoved a bowlful into the refrigerator to chill. She parked in front of it.
Toddler: Cookies ready yet?
Mommy: No, honey. They have to get cold.
Toddler: (Yanking on fridge door) Don’t want cold cookies!
Mommy: We’ll bake them, but first, they have to get cold.
Toddler: (Suspiciously) Okay.
Mommy: I’ll set the oven timer—
Toddler: For the ’frigerator??
Mommy: (Looking heavenward) When it dings, the cookies will be cold.
Toddler: Okay. (Sits in front of oven.) Timer ready yet?
Later, she mixed frostings so that her mossy green and dark blood-red Christmas cookies could have graced a vampire’s holiday table.
New sons-in-law, however, scorned cookie cutters as insults to their rugged individuality. They custom-designed mutant mittens, alien reindeer and Christmas carburetors. With the appearance of additional little helpers over the years, we once again turned out dozens of Christmas vampire cookies.
Worst of all, Grandma sneaked store-bought dough into the equation.
Now, a few years later, the grandchildren make their own — circumventing Grandma’s appalling shortcuts — and bring them to family gatherings.
With them taking charge, our family’s Christmas cookie history should flourish for generations to come.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What favorite cookie will you bake (and sneak) this Christmas?