Friday, July 1, 2016
I think about home most of all at this time of the year. It's most likely age, but holidays are just "days" now; time off from work. Those questions people like to ask when they don't know what to ask -- what's your favorite color? Favorite TV show? I don't know; ask me tomorrow and I'll most likely have a different answer.
What's your favorite holiday?
Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July is when I miss Mom and Dad the most. It's not as if our family had some written script we followed on Independence Day, but we had traditions. We would gather the kids and drive to Mom and Dad's place early that morning. Mom would be in the kitchen, slicing boiled potatoes into a big bowl for her potato salad, jangling baking pans from out of the low cupboard, tipping open the oven door to check on her cherry pie; Dad would be in his recliner sipping black coffee, jazzed and waiting for everyone to arrive so we could drive over to Mandan and stake out a prime viewing spot for the parade. Kids of varying sizes would tumble about, antsy for the real fun that would come later -- firing up those punks so they could sizzle off their fountain cones and bottle rockets in the middle of the street. Mom never attended the parade, but the rest of us did -- we locals and whichever far-flung sisters happened to travel home to enjoy the holiday that year.
Our prime spot was the Mandan McDonald's -- my sister-in-law worked there and we'd all pile in and push our way through the throng to buy a ham and cheese biscuit that we didn't really want, but we figured we needed to eat something. All the tables were long occupied, so we hovered and waited, and then sat down for approximately five minutes before heading outdoors to sit on the curb, everyone excited, yet playing it cool, waiting for the parade to start.
Mandan has an absurdly long Main Street, ripe for marching bands and cheesy floats -- a polka band riding by, pumping out a German tune on their accordions and snare drum, their butts parked precariously atop metal folding chairs. The Viet Nam Veterans of America marched past in a ragged formation and we all stood up and silently saluted. A clown whose makeup was melting in the hot sun paced down our side of the street and hefted candy out of a plastic pail, and the little kids darted out and scooped up as much as their hands could hold, while my sister and I tried to herd them back before the horse cavalry clomped them. The Mandan High School marching band with their uniforms of black and white came by, and I stood up and hooted and clapped -- my alma mater after all. The farm implements. Dad would be standing with my brothers behind my sister and me and would invariably say, "I had one of those." It became our running joke. "How about that one, Dad? Did you have one of those, too?" My sister and I snapped pictures of anything that struck our fancy, and of each other.
When the parade ended, we'd hike the mile or so over to where Dad's Lincoln was parked (last open spot!) and then wait our requisite half hour behind all the other cars revving up to go home.
Back at Mom and Dad's, Mom was cool as a cucumber in her air-conditioned living room, while the rest of us were dripping sweat and dying for a cool drink. Mom was no fool.
The guys would invariably stretch out on the couch or floor or whatever was available and snooze. Men seem to have some sort of switch that allows them to float into semi-consciousness anytime the mood strikes. We, on the other hand, were busy corralling our kids away from their most recent dangerous bright idea (ours was a family of boys).
Mom's potato salad and macaroni salad and hamburgers freshly sizzled off the grill were excellent, and we went back for seconds and thirds and topped it all off with a slice of cherry lattice pie.
As darkness fell, we settled on the concrete stoop with cups of coffee and watched the kids dart in and out of the street, setting off their booty of fireworks; the grown men unable to resist the lure; bounding out to "supervise".
The air was warm. Sometimes lightning would flash in the west, but it was far away and it only added a light touch of danger to an already electric night.
When all that was left was the soft scent of sulfur in the night air, we'd start to gather our things and linger for a final goodnight.
On the drive home, the kids fell asleep stretched across the back seat, their breath puffing like sated kittens.
We'd carry them off to their beds and I'd settle outside on the step for one final smoke.
I didn't know that feeling wouldn't last forever. I never gave it one solitary thought.
Now I do, when July rolls around. Remembering makes my heart hurt; makes me miss them more.
My favorite holiday?
Well, let me tell you...
Sunday, June 17, 2012
My mom and dad used to host card parties sometimes. I'm not exactly sure how many times, because all I have to go on are some hazy memories and some black and white photos that I purloined from my mom's photo albums.
But sometimes, on a Saturday night, my mom and dad would invite everybody over to play cards ("everybody" being, brothers, nieces, nephews, in-laws; but only the cool ones. The snooty ones were never invited, because they were wet blankets, and who needed them? They could just sit home on their party lines and gossip about how decadent their relatives were, and how they were disowning them; yes, disowning).
My mom would set up card tables in the living room (or, as I told you before, "front room"; that's what we called it, perhaps because it was in the front of the house. That seems quite logical, really.)
My mom, my little brother, Jay, and me ~ in the "front room". I was the ugliest child ever.
Soon, all the guests would arrive and go upstairs to throw their coats on my bed. Around the time that watching the excitement became just too much for me to handle (i.e., I was sleepy), I would trundle up the stairs and fall asleep beneath the overcoats.
I'm not sure if it was the card games, which consisted of Smear and.....well, that's it.....or the drinks that people enjoyed more. I do know that we never had pop in our house (yes, we called it "pop") unless it was 7-UP or Squirt (or, as the grownups called it, "mix"). And the only time we ever got to drink pop was when we secretly snatched some "mix" from the fridge when the grownups weren't watching.
At one of those parties, around age 3 to 5, I'm estimating, my parents cajoled me (which didn't take a whole lot of persuasion) to get up in front of the group of guests and do my singing and dancing routine. I shudder to think about that now. If my kid did that, I would be eternally embarrassed, which is probably why, to this day, the only advice I ever remember from my mom is, "Don't embarrass me". But, at the time, my mom and dad were beaming, as if to say, "Look at our little idiot savant! Isn't she 'special'?"
(And to this day, I try to always keep a low profile.)
Unfortunately, along with the card-playing guests came their children (my cousins). I say "unfortunately", because I was rather discerning regarding who I chose to spend my time with, at age, oh, five to ten-ish.
My best friend (if I knew what that meant) at the time was Aunt Barbara's daughter, Karen, who I spent a lot of time with; because of the whole proximity thing. The rest of them, well, I could take them or leave them. And frankly, I mostly left them....to their own devices.
But, as children do, because they love to pick special allies, Karen and I would wander off on our own, on those nights.
Various cousins & me (Karen is standing on the right; I'm kneeling in front of her).
I, or she, had one of those magic eight-balls. You remember those!
And we got into the biggest argument that we ever had, over what "outlook good" meant. She, for some reason, thought "outlook good" actually meant "bad". I don't know if her interpretation was "overlook" good, or what exactly. I was thinking the other day that if I could somehow find her on the internet and contact her, I would ask her if she still thinks that "outlook good" means something bad.
I kept arguing with her, telling her that "outlook good" meant "good", but she was so adamant about it that I began to doubt myself.
Funny how the strangest, most inconsequential things stay with you. Today, if somebody says, "outlook good", I think, oh, Karen said that was bad!
Bottom line, I was not only an idiot savant, I also was way smarter than Karen, even though she was a better singer and she had sky-blue eyes, while mine were a nondescript muddy brownish-green color.
Those card parties, too, hosted a whole ton of smoking. Everybody smoked. Well, not my mom. Most of the women didn't. But the men would be shuffling those cards with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths, smoke wafting out of their nostrils. Yea, yea, smoking is bad, but I remember my dad smoking, and it makes me feel closer to him, remembering that.
Of course, my baby brother was asleep in his crib in the adjacent bedroom, but it appears that the prodigious smoking had no lasting ill effects on him, since he, like Karen, has those sky-blue eyes, and a clear complexion.
The next morning, there would be Sunday mass that we were compelled to attend, although my mom was pretty good about herding us out of the church at communion time. It's not that she was a heretic; she was just practical. Get out of the parking lot before everybody else exits the church, and we'll be on our way home; home to a roast beef dinner (never really liked roast beef; still don't, but still...)
My big brother sitting at one end of the table; my dad at the other. My baby brother in his high chair, my mom getting up and down to bring more dishes to the table. Me, there in the middle (I've always been in the middle). Ice cream for dessert.
My folks never exhibited any signs of a hangover from those Saturday night card parties.
We obsess too much nowadays about everything being in its place. Compartmentalize everything. We don't actually have too much fun.
I thought I would consult the Magic 8-Ball about the meaning of life.
It told me:
So, I'll get back to you on that.