Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Wallets and Understanding My Father

My paternal grandmother - rest her soul - hoarded wallets. When she died, she left behind a remarkably large number of new, never used wallets, many still with tags on. There were billfolds in all colors, and change purses galore. Some were in okay condition, but most of them were sort of musty and crackly dry from being stored in an place that had no air conditioning for years and years and years. My theory is that she bought them, put them away and then forgot she had bought them. Her daily all day drink of choice, after all, was Vodka and Tang.

After my grandmother died, my dad took each and every wallet and put it in a box in our house. He was a child of the depression and could not abide waste of any kind. For years afterward - and I mean years - every time my mother or one of my two sisters or I would even mention getting a new wallet, my dad would drag out the box of musty wallets dating back to the 1940's, 50's, 60's and 70's and try to force them upon us. We were not allowed to purchase any new wallets - at least not with my dad being aware of it. It got to be kind of a joke between my sisters and me over the years. I really thought my dad was being unreasonable. Those wallets were old, dried up and not very functional. New with tags or not...they were way past prime. Or, at least that was how I saw it. Looking back, I allow that there were probably many that were okay and functional.

The other day, when the markets were tumbling down, down, down, and Chris and I had been having talks about the possible depression that might occur, I was in the basement looking for something. While rummaging, I came across several wallets in perfectly fine condition in one of my daughter's boxes. I won't mention her name in order to protect Katelyn.

Immediately, I began to channel my dad. What were these perfectly fine wallets doing in this box rotting away in the basement? Why weren't they being used? I became indignant remembering my recent trip to NY during which Kate mentioned that she wanted to buy a nice new wallet. A new wallet?!!! When there were a few perfectly good ones right here for free? Shameful.

Those thoughts flashed through my mind without one thought of my dad. Then, a moment later, I remembered his wallet mania and I began to laugh. It was the very first time I understood his frugality on more than a mental level. I really got it. Faced with the possibility that the bottom could drop out of our financial system, I started to think about everything differently and the wallets were the symbol of all of it. Today, I don't think that the bottom will drop out, but I allow that it might happen. Nothing is certain and I don't think anyone can agree on how bad it will get before it gets better. I tend to be an optimist and I'm just going to keep my fingers crossed.

And, I'll send Kate those wallets.

Monday, October 13, 2008

How Cute is This!

Loyal Readers, my husband spent many hours last week scanning in old photos for a slide show that will be shown at Katelyn's wedding party at the end of the month. Katie and her husband eloped but they are having a little shindig in Manhattan to celebrate the event. This picture is of Kate (left) and Meg a million years ago. I did not know them yet when this photo was taken. I met them when Kate 10 and Meg was 9.  An entire lifetime ago.

I was looking through the slide show and I was bowled over a couple of things. First, by how time flies. Second, by how weirdly painful it is to look at old pictures of kids that you love -- your own kid or any kid you have loved. When you see photos of them, it's like the little person in the photo is gone.   For instance, when I see the three-year old Jack, I get a little heartache for him.  Even though I see the eight-year old Jack every day and love him an infinite amount, I miss the three-year old, four-year old, five year-old and six year-old Jack.  Why not the seven year-old Jack?  Because seven was a, well...let's just say seven was challenging for this mother.  

In the past, I've asked my own mother to recall certain things about my early years.   I used to be surprised at what she couldn't remember.  I thought,  how could you not remember every single thing about your kid?   That was before I had kids of my own.  Now, I get it.  The childhood of your kids goes by so fast and you are so immersed in it that it is almost impossible to keep it, to hold it close in memory.  It's sad, but there is a nice aspect of it;  you tend to forget the hard stuff much more than the good.  That's been my experience, anyway.

After I married Chris, one of the girls  -- I won't mention her name in case it is Meg-- gave me a big run for my money.  The other one had given me that run right before I married her dad.   I  was prompted by my initially rocky experience as a step-mother to call my own mother and tell her how sorry I was that I had given her a hard time when I was a kid and how I was especially sorry that I ever talked back to her.   (Loyal readers, I really was awful to my mother growing up.  I am not exaggerating.  I was very mouthy and defiant.  I know, it's hard to believe that about the shrinking violet that is your BloomingtonGirl, but you're going to have to trust me on this.)

Do you know what my mother said to me with completely sincerity?  "Oh Joni!  You never gave me any trouble."   At the time, I thought she was just being nice.  But, as time has passed, I understand from my own experience that you honestly forget the tough times with your kids.  Okay , maybe you don't forget them completely,  but time really softens them in a BIG way.

When I look back on those first few years after Kate and Meg's mom passed away and Jack was born (those two events within two months of each other), I remember how much we laughed and I remember the feeling of a happy home.  I think that the girls remember it that way, too.  

I know though, that time was enormously difficult for all of us.   Chris, Kate, Meg and I have sometimes remarked how we can't believe that each of us came through it all not only intact, but thriving.  But, whenever we talk about that time, we remember it happily and with great humor.   

It's a blessing, this softening of memory.  Sort of like good lighting for your life.

Below are some of those well lit moments.  (That's Kate's now husband Phil in the pumpkin patch, by the way...).  The last photo of Kate and me might be one of my favorites of all time.  We were at an event connected with her high school graduation and the picture was taken while someone  - I cannot for the life of me remember who - was saying something completely ridiculous to us - and I cannot remember what.  Kate and I were doing everything we could not to burst out laughing at this person and the camera catches that wonderfully.  We both remember the moment but none of the specifics.   

Off to bed to read and think about my next play.  


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yes, I'm Still Alive

I have heard some rumbling lately from Loyal Readers about the absence of posts on this very site. For the three of you who are still checking my it is! A brief post from a BloomingtonGirl who has had the best of days and the worst of days all in this very day.

First, the best thing. I finally completed a play! Yippee! Hooray! Granted, it was an assignment for a class at IU that I am taking, but still, I feel pretty good about it. It is a ten minute play (maybe less) called "The One". I got to have mine read in class today by some other students who played the various parts and it was really gratifying to hear it. More gratifying than that was that it resonated with the 20-year old kids. I didn't expect it to. I was so happy about having finished a play that I felt like I was walking on air the rest of the afternoon.

Then, things went terribly south in my day for no single reason. The tipping point was when I dropped a Pyrex measuring cup in the sink and it shattered all over and I mean ALL OVER the place. It was the second one I've broken in about a week. I hate when that happens. I pathetically began to cry about all the things that have been bugging me for weeks, months, maybe my whole life. Who the hell can tell, really? Nothing in particular, every thing in general. My poor husband was completely baffled. I would have been baffled myself but I was putting all my energy into a world class cry so I had nothing left for self reflection. It's probably for the best. Self reflection may be flawed by an inherent conflict of interest anyway. Think about it.

In other news, Jack is acing his times tables tests in school and I find myself wanting to ask him what everyone else in his class is getting on the little tests they have to take. It is amusing to see this petty little competitive parent side of me pop up from time to time. I mean, really. Like it matters what other eight year-olds are getting on the tests. I'd love to say that I am not one of "those" parents, but isn't every one of us deep down, one of "those" parents?

In other, other news, my husband's garden continues to yield a bounty of peppers, sweet and hot. I have eaten more peppers in the last month than in all of my 46 years on this planet. We read that a chemical in hot peppers releases endorphins in your brain much as a long run does. If that's the truth, I should be elated.

Off to bed to read and count my blessings. They're like sheep, only better.