Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Cleaning Combat

Who likes cleaning out refrigerators and freezers?

Not me. And especially, not mine.

But I refuse to feed my garden’s fresh veggies to whatever life forms lurk in fridge and freezer.

Confrontation time.

I review my checklist. Bucket of hot water and disinfectant. Rubber gloves. Body armor. Samurai sword. Hey, past-expiration yogurt gets testy when evicted.

The apron sewn by my husband’s grandma.

I also don an apron sewn by my husband’s grandma. A gentle soul, she nevertheless fought a fierce, lifelong war against germs and dirt.

Her brave spirit pokes me with a scrub brush. “Be strong!”

I straighten, grab my sword and slowly crack the fridge’s door.

Nothing stirs, but I’ve been fooled by silence before.

I throw it open wide.

Ack! Half-filled bottles of lavender salad dressing. Pudding that resembles petri dishes. Mashed potatoes that give a whole new meaning to the term “green vegetable.”

Did something move? A-a-a-a-a-ack!

My chance of survival seems better in the garage, where I slowly open the freezer. No tentacles. I lay down my sword, though I won’t remove body armor or apron.

I summon Golden Oldies to fool my back and muscles into thinking they’re young. A rhythmic tune boogies me across the garage: “Mission Impossible.”

My Cold War almost morphs into peaceful coexistence when the song changes to the “Purple People Eater.” Will Hubby return to find nothing but my eyeglasses and piles of defrosted food? Will he weep more for my demise or the expensive loss of pot roasts?

Thankfully, the music changes to the Star Wars theme: Da, da, da-da-da da da! Retying my mighty apron, I plunge into the freezer’s alternative universe.

White, amorphous, furry-looking packages meet my eyes, their age detectable only by carbon dating. Identifiable or not, each package/container evokes a question:

  • Why did I shred four dozen bags of zucchini? My husband hates zucchini bread.
  • Do Thanksgiving and Christmas turkeys grow exponential sets of giblets?
  • Did this single serving of tuna casserole preexist with God in the beginning?

While pondering cosmic questions, I toss out piles of mystery food, moving to the pulsating background of “You’re No Good.” “A Hard Day’s Night” demands endless elbow “Grease,” but eventually the fridge, freezer and I graduate to “Splish Splash.” We revel in unfamiliar spotlessness.

I play H-O-R-S-E with the giblets, shooting them into trash cans. Alas, in attempting a three-pointer, I hit a garbage man.

He doesn’t seem to take my poor aim personally, though he dives for the truck. It roars off to background strains of “Hey hey hey, goodbye. …”

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Have you done recent cleaning combat? (If not recent, I won’t tell.)

OMG, It’s Monday! Prayer: Even Principals Can Change

O Lord, You know that when we were in high school, our principal might not have approved of this cuddly pose. But OMG, thank You that after 50 years, he seems to have mellowed.  

First Year on the Bus

On September days, I quadruple travel time, waiting behind school buses. The route doesn’t matter. My car is a bus magnet.

I’m never bored, though. A school bus at a stoplight entertains me more than Animal Planet.

I recall the first year Bus Number 3’s doors flapped open, when I scaled a steep stairway in early steps toward an education. I stopped dead at the top, nearly sending older brother Ned flopping backward.

The bus driver, Mr. Feeney, resembled a giant frog wearing a flannel shirt. Would he catch flies?

Nope. Shucks.

Instead, he nodded a silent greeting. When I dropped into a seat beside Ned, Mr. Feeney grunted, and my brother squawked. I was sitting on the boys’ side! I had violated The Aisle.

Why didn’t they color the girls’ side pink? I shrank into the seat behind Mr. Feeney. To my joy, a classmate soon joined me. Mary Jo and I sat there the remainder of the year. Why? With autumn’s arrival, the heater baked our ankles like apples.

Mr. Feeney often checked his big rearview mirror, from which he monitored the western hemisphere. He controlled our bus through the radio. When crowd noise reached 747-landing levels, he turned off “A Summer Place” or “Alley-Oop” or “Purple People Eater.”

Perhaps we six-year-olds found his big, red-and-black-checkered back comforting. Wiggly minnows in an ocean of big kids, we rode with teenagers big as God and my daddy.

Teen girls pushed cancanned skirts through narrow aisles. But these lost their goddess standing when I discovered their guy obsession. Didn’t they know about boy cooties? Still, I learned a whole new set of life skills, including “going steady,” by observing romance negotiations across The Aisle

            JIMMY’S FRIEND: Brenda, do you like Jimmy?

            (BRENDA hugs the window and stares at cows.)

            BRENDA’S FRIEND: She thinks he’s dreamy!

            (Snickers and catcalls from the boys’ side. JIMMY punches his FRIENDS.)

            (BRENDA’S FRIENDS giggle for 60 minutes straight.)

Undignified, almost indecent. Why didn’t Mr. Feeney do something?

After a girl bagged her male prey, official rules required she bring angora yarn aboard and wrap her prize: the boy’s ring. Those big, sparkly high school rings beat Cracker Jack® prizes every time.

Once, a lovesick couple sat together. The universe tilted. Mr. Feeney began to pull over, frightening the guilty parties into desperate dives back across The Aisle.

Now, waiting behind buses, I wonder if these children will follow one 50 years hence. No. By then, mothers will beam their kids to first grade.

At times, I wish I hadn’t spent hours riding school buses.

But think of all the education I would have missed.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did you ride a school bus as a kid?

Watermelon-Eating Essentials

There’s a right way to eat a watermelon. And then there’s the best way.

The right way: demote store-bought melons to chunks on fancy toothpicks or fake-looking balls. Eat in air-conditioned comfort.

The best way?

First ingredient

Order a summer day so hot that gooey blacktop shifts under your steps.

Second ingredient

Our family, uncharacteristically dressed up in this photo, are more at home lounging on this porch — one of the best places in the world for eating watermelon.

Reserve a screened-in porch with adequate waterproof seating for friends and neighbors, because the best watermelon is never eaten alone. Also, never serve it indoors. Irate mothers, who obsess about irrelevant issues like freshly mopped floors, will cut eating sessions short. Watermelon loses its flavor if eaten where consumers cannot also apply sticky juices directly to arms, legs or tummies.

Backyards, decks and parks present good watermelon-eating sites, but flies and yellow jackets — like some human relatives — come whether invited or not.

Third ingredient

Gather newspapers. My family has used these inexpensive, disposable watermelon-eating place mats for generations. If dampened sufficiently, newspapers imprint “City Sewer Plan Stinks” or similar headlines on new white shorts.

Last ingredient (but not least)

Harvest watermelons, bought not from strangers, but grown in one’s own patch — although my late father declared stolen ones the sweetest. As boys, he and his brothers patronized patches owned by Mr. Purvis Williams. Of course, when Dad amazed his Louisiana hometown by becoming a minister, he swore off such pastimes. Having returned as a 79-year-old retiree, however, he celebrated his first watermelon season back home by investigating local patches filled with fat, green-striped orbs almost bursting with juice.

The best patch’s owner: his new pastor.

Dad complimented him on his beautiful melons. The minister promptly invited Dad to help himself.

A Southerner himself, Dad understood the man was being lyin’-polite. Still posing as an ignorant Yankee, though, he took quick advantage. Dad raided the pastor’s patch. Despite tender consciences, we helped him devour the melon one sweltering July afternoon. It rated only semi-stolen, but I couldn’t imagine anything sweeter.

Still, this feast didn’t compare with those of my childhood, when Grandpa iced down a dozen from his garden in a horse trough. The entire family gathered, and every uncle, aunt and cousin received half a melon. After we finished, the adults, anticipating the imminent Watermelon Seed War, banished us kids to the yard, where we discharged our arsenals without harming any adults. Occasionally, a toddler stuck seeds up his nose. Always good for a little excitement.

Sometimes, Dad peeled thin green slices from the rind. Fashioning these into Billy Bob buckteeth, he gave us big, green-toothed grins.

Decades later, after we’d devoured the last luscious bite of his pastor’s watermelon, Dad saved the seeds to plant the next spring.

God help the rascally kid or retired minister who tried to steal his watermelons.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Is a watermelon feast one of your summer traditions?

Lunch-Packing Crunch

Packing school lunches this year?

I’ll send you a sympathy card. Plus insights gained from years of therapy.

Imagine an alien mother from the planet Zoraxx who never, in her 400 years, has packed even one lunch box. Her reaction: “Honey, what are you thinking? Sending bags of food to school cafeterias full of food?”

Interplanetary viewpoints aside, I feel your pain. I, too, packed lunches. Along with parents today, I allowed quivery-stomach, school-lunch memories to influence me. During the ’60s, school cafeterias provided no salad bars. No a la carte. Just meals that met 700% of federal fat requirements.

Sadly, my cruel mother refused to pack 25 lunches a week.

What attitude. She didn’t go to work or school. She needed activities to keep her out of trouble.

My parents also rationalized by saying a day’s worth of school lunches for five kids cost $1.25. We couldn’t eat hay for that price. They even had the gall to wish they, too, could enjoy school lunches.

Years later, I understood. My children’s school menus sounded delicious! Maybe because my own lunch consisted of a week-old Happy Meal and a half-chewed teething cookie. I tried to sneak into the school cafeteria line, but got carded. Sigh.

Given this perspective, what made me abandon the you-will-clean-your-school-lunch-plate-and/or-die approach?

Fear. My children weighed less than their tennis shoes. If each lost five pounds, teachers might mark them absent.

So, I ensured their survival by packing lunches. I remembered who ate mustard on the sandwich top, who ate mayonnaise on the bottom, and who considered Grey Poupon the devil’s recipe. Still, my little lunch police rendezvoused during recess to confirm I had not committed fraud. They measured cheese slices, weighed bologna and counted peanuts in granola bars.

I did my best, but committed the unforgivable sin: I sent vegetables in their lunches. Not just normal celery and carrots.

Turnips. I sent sliced turnips.

Only later did I comprehend the dire consequences. One piece might trigger lifetime exile from the popular tables, where everyone ate prefabricated food and jockeyed to sit beside the third grade rock star. Turnips banished my children to tables occupied by kids whose mothers had concealed dangerous weapons, such as zucchini, in muffins.

At least they couldn’t trade away the turnips. Even kids with hummus brownies refused to touch turnips.

No matter what the planet Zoraxx mama thinks, lunch-packing instilled character into my family. Later, despite living with college roommates who subsisted on Ramen Noodles with Cheetos sauce, my kids actually bought and ate fresh vegetables.

They now pack school lunches for their offspring.

I will send them sympathy cards, too. And enclose a few turnip slices.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What school lunch item still gives you nightmares?

Things Have Changed, and I’m Glad

I finally stopped refusing senior discounts. (Who was I kidding?)

Now, I find it tempting to diss the present and reverence the “good old days.” One morning, a Grouchy Old Gal stared at me from the mirror. Did I really want her to stay?

Instead, I booted her out and listed things I like about 2021. Plus a few I do not miss from the past.

  • First, permanent press is a gift from God. My mother spent hours starching and ironing my puff-sleeved dresses, dresses I wore while emptying mud puddles. I iron now only when I can find mine. The best thing about a no-iron worldview? Though manufacturers lie that their clothes don’t require ironing, everyone pretends it’s true.
  • In this millennium, we enjoy a whole new excuse for playing hooky: the computers are down.
  • Email is cheaper, simpler and faster than snail mail. Unless the computers are down.
  • Microwaves, once a figment of sci-fi imaginations, have forever banished the sinking realization: “Ack! I forgot to defrost the meat!” Okay, so they sometimes produce meals the consistency of cement, with comparable nourishment. Still, speedy microwaves helped feed my skinny physician husband at all hours. They removed gunky warm-up pans from my kitchen’s décor. Nowadays, a microwave suits our lifestyle — that of college students without food service.
  • Few potlucks still feature 15 kinds of marshmallow-Jell-O salad.
  • I’ll take Susan Boyle’s singing, as opposed to Carol Channing’s, anytime. (See YouTube — another current convenience that can take us down Memory Lane, as well as make us glad we don’t live there anymore!)
  • Thanks to technology, we no longer miss favorite programs or movies. We need not suffer withdrawal symptoms when leaving before finding out whodunit.
  • Being a grandma is way more fun than being a mom.
  • In a related thought, little boys’ clothes today are much cuter than those in 1970. This grandma lauds that aspect of gender equality, as I have six grandsons.
  • In a somewhat related thought, I appreciate bicycle helmets. Seat belts. Even kids’ car seats that demand an engineering degree and an acrobat’s body to buckle.
  • Few people drive Pintos anymore.
  • Blow-dryers and curling irons have replaced the overnight torture of brush rollers and orange juice cans. Guys, if you don’t “get” the orange juice cans, ask your wives how they prettied up for Saturday night during the 1960s. Check online photos — if you dare.
  • Men rarely get permanents today. During the ’70s, much of the male population appeared to have been replaced by alien poodles. Wearing leisure suits. And platform shoes.
  • Cigarette commercials now feature cancer victims rather than cool cowboys. In restaurants, puffing and blowing occur only when your food’s too hot.
  • I applaud painless antiseptics that soothe cuts, as opposed to this-is-gonna-make-you-scream Mercurochrome.
  • Experts now assert that chocolate and coffee are good for us.
  • I hate to admit it, but cell phones do keep us safe on the road. Also, if not for cell phones, thousands of husbands might still be wandering Meijer’s aisles, seeking the correct brand of pickles.
  • No more waiting for photos to develop. No more paying for them, either.
  • We now realize God can say both “you” and “thee.”
  • Homemade, homegrown and handcrafted items — food, clothing, even coffins — have become special again.
  • Using an effortless stain stick beats scrubbing grass stains with an old toothbrush. Just ask my kids.
  • Finally, no one sings about yummy love in their tummies anymore.

That last extinction alone brightens the 2021 landscape.

My late father, who loved classical music, would have agreed.

Perhaps I inherited my outlook from Dad. He disliked many modern trends, but he also declared the “good old days” a myth. Dad plowed too many fields behind a mean mule to romanticize the past. Riding a John Deere mower was way better.

Recalling Jim Crow laws in the South — written and unwritten — he celebrated dining with both white and African-American friends without fear.

Occasionally, Dad allowed Grouchy Old Guy to stick around.

I sometimes hang out with Grouchy Old Gal.

But mostly, I celebrate life here and now.

And welcome all the senior discounts.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What don’t you miss from the “good old days,” and what are you thankful for now?

Neat Guys

Before our wedding, my fiancé’s dorm room didn’t accumulate typical guys’ cans-to-the-ceiling décor. He actually knew the laundry room’s location. Such details escaped me then. What woman in the movies melts into a man’s arms because he deposits his dirty socks into the hamper?

But as a newlywed, already in love with my new husband’s gorgeous blue eyes and cute grin, I found such behavior infinitely appealing. He didn’t exhibit the hamster behavior characteristic of males in my family. Unlike Dad, Hubby didn’t file papers on our car’s floor. I now could enter the bathroom without donning a hazmat suit, as I did when sharing one with three brothers.

What a neat guy.

The only difficulty? He was neater than I was.

My siblings had labeled me obsessive because I wore matching socks, I’d taken pride in my orderliness, but mine didn’t match his. We still don’t mesh. The good news: he helps with laundry and would no more leave Permapress to languish in the dryer than he would our grandkids. The bad news: he doesn’t get my closet organizational system.

You have a system?” He hugs clean shirts as if afraid he’ll never see them again.

Certainly. I organize my closet according to good memories. Sparkly holiday outfits and mother-of-the-bride dresses dominate the front so I can enjoy them.

Hubby categorizes long- and short-sleeved shirts. He keeps black socks in one drawer, brown in another. He’ll wear blue/gray ensembles one day, brown/beige the next, until the Second Coming, and maybe afterward. This, he claims, frees brain cells to focus on work, with plenty left over to ponder world peace and the next World Series champion.

When a physician on night call, Hubby’s compulsions made sense. Few people can assemble a wearable outfit in the dark. Still, no woman in labor would worry whether he was wearing black socks with brown pants.

I assumed his good habits would transfer to our son. My hopes rose when our toddler begged to empty the garbage. They faded when he dumped trash baskets into the bathtub. He now lives with a neat wife, so he’s learned to take trash outside for pickup.

I’d hoped my girls could bring fresh neatnik Y chromosomes into the family through marriage. Neither son-in-law professed to be a Mr. Clean. Years later, they haven’t changed.

But they continue to love God, their wives and children — which include my six grandsons. Are any budding neatniks? Nope. Not one insists on Thomas the Tank Engine socks in one drawer, Spiderman socks in another. Still, the male line in our family is wonderful. What neat guys!

And I live with the neatest one of all.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Does your family line include neat guys?

Living in Corn Country

My taste buds are readying for a treat they’ve anticipated all year: sweet corn.

I’ve doctored starchiness in store-bought corn by sprinkling sugar into its boiling water. However, it can’t make the grade if you’ve savored the fresh, Hoosier version since toddlerhood.

Early summer mornings, my mother paid a farmer 25 cents a dozen for dewy ears he loaded into our station wagon.

Helping Mom shuck, I played with silks resembling golden locks adorning fairy-tale princesses — and my little sister. Tresses I, a brunette, couldn’t hope to possess.

The corn’s taste, however, erased that frustration. My siblings and I, dribbling melted butter, pretended to type with our teeth: chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-chomp-chompding!

Mom battled greedy little hands that pilfered from bowls of kernels she was preparing for the freezer.

Our obsession, however, couldn’t compare with that of one consumer who ate 57 ears in 12 minutes. Gideon Oji won the 2021 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship in West Palm Beach, Florida.

I’ll bet Gideon’s mom wished she paid only 25 cents a dozen. Maybe she sneaked bagsful into the freezer at 2 a.m., hoping to hide them from her son.

Good luck with that, Mrs. Oji. He’s probably microwaving them as we speak.

I don’t possess Gideon’s speed, but might compete with his capacity. I could eat sweet corn all day, every day.

So, I eagerly await July, exchanging information at church with fellow corn addicts.

Me: Does the guy on Highway 5 have any?

Fellow Corn Addict 1: Not yet, but I saw him pull his wagon into the driveway. Should have the good stuff soon.

Fellow Corn Addict 2: Maybe the farmer who sells from his golf cart?

Me: Actually, I think he was off to play golf.

FCA 1: How about the little stand at the gas station?

FCA 2: Shh! (She glances around the fellowship area.) There’s Erma Plunk, and when it comes to corn, she’s all ears. Yesterday, I thought I’d beat her to the gas station, but she’d cleaned it out.

Me: Erma’s pulled the same thing for years. Let’s all go super early tomorrow and stuff our cars to the roof. (All nod.)

FCA 1: What if Erma shows up?

Me: We’ll pray for her.

However, the corn’s real Owner reminded me He’d grown those ears for everyone. My partners in corn conspiracy received the same memo.

We shared with Erma.

Sadly, all good things — even Hoosier sweet corn — come to an end. When we visit favorite sources and view “see you next year” signs, our taste buds languish.

Still, the corn we froze will keep us going when fields are covered with snow.

Sigh. We’ll survive until another summer in corn country.

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Are you a sweet corn fanatic?

In Defense of Muzak

Yes, it’s true. Without bribery, I listen to Muzak®, aka elevator music, aka easy listening.

Writers who discuss music of any kind may as well bungee jump into a volcano. Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry learned this when he dissed singer Neil Diamond. When a flabbergasted Barry received piles of hate mail, his delighted publisher commissioned Barry to write an entire book about music he loathed. And hired an army of lawyers.

No one’s hired even one for me, so I’ll stick to easy listening’s positive aspects — though nobody admits to liking Muzak®. Like scorn for gluten, happy endings and the Pledge of Allegiance, disdain for elevator music has become fashionable.

Critics dismiss it as simple — God protect us from simplicity! — and even happy.

Everyone knows happiness is for lightweights like Jane Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who flunked Mr. Darcy’s standards: “Miss Bennet he admitted to be pretty, but she smiled too much.”

Contemporary Mr. Darcys believe Muzak® should be banished to avoid annoying unhappy people who want to stay that way.

Still, I don’t rubber-stamp all easy listening songs, Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s hit, “Somethin’ Stupid,” sounded stupid in 1967 and still does. When I am put on hold with “Send in the Clowns,” I can grind my teeth with any Muzak® hater.

Still, is it fair to label all elevator music as unworthy of elevators? Many arrangements, instrumentalists, and vocalists are superior to the originals.

While you writhe in shock, allow me to mention other Muzak® positives:

  • It sounds better than “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line for the next decade or until you die, whichever comes first.”
  • Elevator music evokes naps, which benefit all humankind.
  • It employs hungry musicians, so they’re less likely to play under our windows on Saturday nights.
  • It provides opportunities to sing along in stores, mortifying children and grandchildren.
  • Actually, elevator music brings generations together. Oldie lovers feel smug because they know what “real” music is. Critics of yesterday’s hits flaunt trendy musical taste. Everyone feels superior — truly a win-win situation.
  • Easy listening music also transports one to the past e.g., dancing at the prom. Sure, Muzak® also may provoke memories of a date painful as shin splints, or a breakup that resembled a Sylvester Stallone film. Given enough violins, though, such misery can be transmogrified into sweet melancholy at the remembrance of young love. At worst, you can congratulate yourself that you dodged that bullet.
  • Finally, Muzak®, in provoking memories, proves I still have one.

I imagine Dave Barry, my fellow bungee-volcano jumper, would agree this discussion is worth it.

“Sweet Caroline,” anyone?

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you secretly like Muzak®?