Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Step Aside, Garfield!

A sleek set of bathroom scales discretely occupies one quiet corner of our front bedroom.  It's a sheer piece of heavy plastic with bright aluminium strips on each side.  A small computer must be housed under one or both strips.  Registration is required before you can weigh.  You have to confide your gender, age and height with this computer by pressing buttons on each side before stepping up on the scales.  It then calculates your weight, percentage of water, and percentage of body fat. 

At least two people are supposed to be able to register with this new fangled doo hikey.  I share the scales with our son who is 36 years younger and five inches taller.  He registered himself as the first user.  I've struggled unsuccessfully to sign on as the second participant and finally decided to brazenly masquerade as User Number One.

I press the start button to begin the process.  The scales then announce my son's age and height before registering zeros.  This is my cue to plant a foot on each of the indicated marks.  There's always a short dramatic pause before it states my weight.  This is immediately followed by an almost audible gasp from the powers that be within as though it's saying "Who the expletive deleted are you?"  Then it almost screams "Error!" and rolls back to zero.

Those who live in our house don't get out much and learned long ago to find the humor in the little dramas of daily life like harassing the bathroom scales. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

First You Hafta

It's August in Memphis, Tennessee.  This is my least favorite month of the year; can't stand the heat and humidity.  Most people would define a "bleak" scene as one of a cold, dark winter day, but mine would be a late summer day in the south with the sun burning down with such intensity that the asphalt of the streets shimmers in the heat as though it's about to melt.

Experience has taught me that cold is easier to bear than heat.  You can always add another layer of clothing to get warm, but there's only so much modesty will allow you to remove.

This August has been a particular trial.  We're in the middle of downsizing and have discovered the frustration of dealing with  "first you hafta."  One bay of the garage is stacked with boxes demanding to be unpacked.  Several of the larger ones are marked "lamp shades".  The first impulse would be to unpack these since they take up so much space, and the contents should be easy to put away.  Unfortunately, a number of our lamps are geriatric and did not fare well in the move.  They had to be taken to the lamp shop for repairs before they could be put in place.  It would only add to the clutter inside the house to unpack the lamp shades and then leave them setting about until their lamps have been returned to working order.

The books presented a similiar quandry.  We gritted out teeth and pared down our collection to only the most essential.  It should be easy to dispose of these, but the used book store that will probably buy some of our first editions and my collection of McGreevy's Quarterly publications also stocks text books for all the local parochial schools.  They're too busy now selling text books to consider buying collectible books.  We're going to have to live with a pile of boxes packed with books in a corner of the living room for at least another week.  Every room in the house sports at least two or three piles of "stuff" waiting for the proper time to be processed.

Our ultimate example of First You Hafta is the storage bin we rented for temporary storage of several rooms of furniture.  This is primarily furniture we fell heir to from my husband's mother.  It no longer fits our needs.  The time has come to pass it on to the next generation, but first they hafta move.  One has just sold her house and is moving shortly, but the other child hasta have a baby first.  This could take a while.

There are a couple of boxes of china waiting to be unpacked.  Our first dining room set was too big for the current house and was given away before we moved.  I spent all day Saturday in the antique malls (aka used furniture stores) trying to decide what would fit our dining room and life style.  I finally settled on a dark oak English set that's simple and durable for our growing grandchildren.

I contacted a mover to schedule transporting my furniture.  It seems he loaded his truck this morning with furniture to be taken to an annual chairty sale only to find the shop isn't open on Mondays.  He has a doctor's appointment on Tuesday and an out of town funeral to attend on Wednesday.  It will be Thursday before he will be able to unload his truck, and Friday before he can get to my furniture.   My "First you Hafta" was trumped by his.

As always,
Jackie Lee




Thursday, August 16, 2012

Princess or Witch?

Imagine yourself as a gorgeous young woman with generous curves, a beautiful face, and hair to die for.  It's the middle ages. Deep down inside you're not terribly intelligent or sensitive or thoughtful or caring, but it's the middle ages and not a heck of a lot is expected of women.

It isn't considered a good idea to educate girls.  You have never had a serious thought in your entire life. You are a political pawn for your family. Deep down inside you are shallow. Nothing beyond dancing and embroidery and reproduction is expected of you, and you lack the intellect and/or drive to cultivate more.

Your father or your brother or your uncle, whoever is the head of your family, arranges a marriage for you with  a prominent man,  a widower with two or three young daughters.  It is an astute political alliance for the two families.

So you marry the man and have a child or two.  There is no pretense in this relationship.  Your husband often calls you by the first wife's name.  You always feel like an inadequate substitute.  Your children inherit the recessive genes of the least attractive ancestors on both sides of the family while your step daughters blossom into beautiful young women with gracious manners and beautfiul bodies.  They marry well.

Your body and family betray you at about the same time.  Your husband dies of something avoidable or stupid like a battle wound or an infected blister.  Your children have social and political aspirations of their own.  They move on in their lives with no time for a destitute parent.   The male relation who arranged your marriage is deceased or out of favor with the current governing body.  The family has fallen on hard times.  Money is scarce with none to be wasted on an older woman with no political clout.

Osteoperosis and arthritis combine to bend your body while age spots and an unfortunate wart or two mar your once flawless complextion.  Gray streaks appear in your hair.  Its texture changes and becomes a wiry, unmanageable halo that stands out from your head in every direction.  Once your greatest asset, even your appearance has abandoned you.

Someone in the family hierarchy has enough residual affection for you or sense of family responsibility to provide a small cottage in a remote area.  There you are expected to live out the rest of your life quietly without inconveniencing the rest of the family.

You are alone in the middle of no where with no resources and no longer useful to anyone.  You've never felt particularly loved or special to anyone.  Now even your own body has betrayed you.

Time slips by. The cottage gradually falls into disrepair.  Your once adequate clothing grows tattered.  You have no skills to either feed yourself or maintain the property, but you are still mindful of your social position and too proud to interact with the nearby villagers.  They in turn are resentful of you.

Once in a while the more foolhardy local children hike out to spy or gawk.  Some of the older are brave enough to shout catcalls or throw stones.  You're hungry and lonely and angry and in pain and have no patience for childish taunts.

Your miniature tormentors are fat and well dressed.  The final straw comes when two of these malicious tourists grow overly confident and slink hand in hand up to the house.  You instantly succumb to temptation.  With hair flying in every direction you chase the children away screaming threats to cook them in a pot and suck on their bones.

The transition is complete.  You're now a witch. 


Monday, August 13, 2012

Musical Chairs

After forty plus years together, my husband and I have come to recognize a mutual objective.  There may be a trail of vanilla wafer crumbs from the pantry to a certain easy chair holding down the center of our sitting room, but our mututal peace of mind requires a certain level of orderliness in our surroundings.  A path must be cleared to the door before retiring every night in case of fire.

Our lives are currently on tilt. We're in the process of combining furniture and household equipment from two houses into one.   Boxes and total disorder dominate our household.   It's a challenge. 

The situation is further complicated by changes within the extended family.  Our eldest child is scheduled to have a baby in September.  At the end of the month, our second daughter will be moving to a larger house.  The goal is to "keep your head when all about you are losing their's and blaming it on you."

Our newest best friend is the local moving company, Two Men and a Truck.  They are joining me later this week for a rousing session of musical furniture.  Half the day will be spent swapping furniture and room sized area rugs between our house and our storage unit and our son's apartment. 

There's just so much to be sorted through and pared down.  The new house has less wall space than the old.  Just what in the world do I do with all the framed and dearly cherished snapshots of family and friends? 

It was easy to start this project with the goal to discard everything that hasn't been used in the last year.  Then I found the baby dress my father bought me in Japan at the end of World War II.  What do I do with this fragile hand embroidered garment? The family Bible that's fallen apart from dry rot is another emotional challenge.

I have my great grandmother's sewing basket and her set of mixing bowls as well as the family butter mold, a lop sided square of badly weathered splintered wood.  Great Granny died before I married.  My children respect her memory but have no great sentimental attachement to her belongings.

There's a fine line between aging gracefully and getting mired in the past, and I'm stradling it.    

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake

My husband and I are drowning in our possessions.  We can't live our lives for taking care of "stuff".  I've spent the last two weeks going thru drawers and cabinets and closets to weed out the few things we want to keep from all the things that have become extraneous. 

During the process, I found a small tin cake box in the far corner of a closet shelf.  It had a strange rattle when I moved it and an even more unique odor when I opened it.  Inside was an assortment of Strawberry Shortcake dolls our daughters collected in the 1980's.

For those of you who either have forgotten or missed out on this childish fad, the Strawberry Shortcake dolls were a series of chunky plastic figures about three inches tall.  There was a wide variety.  Each was named and dressed in the color of a fruit.  All were also heavily infused with the odor of their particular fruit.

Two or three spent one summer riding around under the seat of my car.  It added to the challenge of summer driving in the mid-south.  The interior of the vehicle would be so hot the buckle of the seat belt could burn a small child.  And the odor of the Strawberry Shortcake would make everyone's eyes water.

The house where we reared our family had a modest in the ground swimming pool.  The linning gave out and had to be replaced a couple of summers after these dolls joined our household.  We decided to deepen the pool while we had the chance to prevent any diving accidents.  The extra dirt was neatly stacked like a short terrace behind the wooden fence that surrounded three side of the pool.

The girls enjoyed digging in the soft dirt that summer, and one afternoon decided to bury the Strawberry Shortcake dolls there.  My sinuses and I thought it was a great idea.

The dolls were forgotten for several years until our family was transferred to New Jersey.  While I prepared to pack, the girls started digging for their buried dolls.  It was our family's version of  the No Child Left Behind Program.  I encouraged the project.  It gave the children something to do; kept their minds and bodies occuped.

A dozen or so of these odoferious toys surfaced within a couple of weeks.  Two or three years of heat and rain and frost had left them caked with grime.   They spent the rest of the summer in one section of the silverware holder of the dishwasher where they rode through the sani temp wash and dry at least once every day.  At the end of the summer, they were packed in the round tin cake tin for the move.

That was 1991.  The dolls had remained closed in the tin until a few days ago.   They look pretty good considering their history.  Some of the original fragrance still clings to the plastic.  I think I'll divide them three ways and give them to our daughters for Christmas.  One has two little boys.  Her dolls will probably endure further adventures from a second generation.

As always,
Jackie Lee