Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The letter 'A' is for...

    
     In an extreme fit of writer sleep deprivation one morning, I began listing all the words that came to mind that began with the letter A.
     Apple, atlas, apartment, AC, accountant, accompanist, accordion, acupuncture, acorn, appendix, apricot, aspirin, afternoon, auto, August, activist, allowance, advocate, advanced.
     The list was substantial, but I won’t bore you to tears with my failed experiment supposedly meant to stimulate my brain.
      Nothing. A preschooler could have done better making the connections and writing something…anything.
     I put the list away and moved on to other projects. Certain assignments are time-sensitive, and a deadline is a deadline all fooling around aside.
     Still, I kept returning to the first letter in the alphabet, and I must admit that it became a minor obsession. One of those words should trigger a thought, wouldn’t you think?
     I became “curiouser and curiouser” like Alice from “Alice in Wonderland” fame where Lewis Carroll has her speaking with astonishment at her plight.
      Alleluia. There is my word: Alice.



     Since I was the one making up the challenging game, why couldn’t I use proper nouns? You know that annoying, competitive person who changes the rules midstream? That’s never been me up until now.
     Alice and I were fast storybook companions when I was growing up, and unfortunately she isn’t quite as popular today. Alas, Dora, the Explorer and The Little Mermaid have made Alice swim upstream to catch children’s attention.
      It’s a shame the story is off the radar screen as it is a classic tale of a child going into an imaginary world meeting all sorts of mad – extremely “foolish” as the Brits would say - nonsensical characters.
      There were books for children before 1865 when Alice was published, but they were almost all written to make a moral point. Good children behave like this; bad children behave like that. They are punished for it, and it serves them right. In Alice, for the first time, you find a realistic child taking part in a story whose intention was entirely fun.


     I had the great fortune to see the stage production of Alice in Wonderland at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the Lake, and I traipsed down the rabbit hole willingly for an afternoon of whimsical memories, lush costumes and fantastic modern technology tricks from the production crew.
     There were a lot of children at the performance. I overheard one grandma in the ladies room tell her granddaughter a couple rules of theatre etiquette, and the little girl assured her grandma that her mother had told her all that stuff that morning. I got a kick out of what the grandma replied. “ I’m glad she remembered herself.”
      I asked the teenage boy sitting next to me about his love of Alice, and he said that he didn’t know anything about it, or the back-story of how the book got written. He was enthusiastic, though, and went right to his program notes only to discover that Charles Dodgson told stories on afternoon boat rides to Alice Liddell and her two sisters, which Alice insisted he write down.
     I have a couple favorite parts including The Mad Hatter’s Tea party, which has one quip after the other, and the Queen of Hearts is as wicked as wicked can be at the croquet tournament.


     “Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
     "I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
       "You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
   "Nobody asked your opinion," said Alice.”
     In fact, out of all the quotes during the play, the one that made me giggle the most was this one: “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cheshire cat. “We’re all mad here.”
     “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
     “Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
     “How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
     “You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
     “The best people are mad.”



      I found a t-shirt stating, “We are all mad here,” in bold lettering in the gift store and I had to have it.
     We Americans think of someone crazy as a synonym for mad and take the darker road with the meaning of the word. I’ll stick with the Brits on that one.
     Well, it got one reaction right away when I went to check out and a young man in his twenties working the counter said, “Oh, my mother says each of us needs one of these in our household. We’re all mad.” He smiled and checked me out. “You’ve bought the perfect shirt.”
      If you think about it, you know families that are a hoot to be around. They make a laughing matter out of family gatherings, birthday shenanigans and just about every social event in-between. There’s never a dull moment, nor a gap in the entertainment like a vaudeville troupe gone mad with glee.
     One family’s style of humor is never the same as the neighbor’s across the lawn. It grows as the combination of family members increases through marriage and birth with their idiosyncrasies and flaws. Every generation raises the bar a tiny bit, but still, grandpa usually wins hands down every time as the master of the art of wit.
    Those families recognize that no one is perfect and life is nonsensical to a degree anyway. What’s the point of taking it all too seriously?
     How about the rest of us?  About face and rethink silliness like Alice and friends. 
    
    



    






Friday, August 12, 2016

Early morning wake-up call



      At 5:30 am when I get up, the birds are going about their daily business. They are one chirp ahead of me. I fly into productivity at a considerably slower cruising speed.
     The sunrise is peeking through the uneven tree line scheduling another scorcher for Mother Earth. Daily heat and humidity have become as predictable as baseball games and hot dogs.
     My sleepy eyes need a few moments to acclimate. Never having been a quick  “rise and shine” type of person, I literally stumble about at my own pace. My body parts are similar to a car’s engine, which functions best fully lubricated. No snap, crackle and pop today, so I must be good to venture forth.
     The crack of dawn is the magical hour  — quite possibly earlier  — for writers of all sorts. My optimum writing happens then. There is no competition for pulling out my most inspired stuff as long as I stay away from my social media accounts.
    Allowing my thoughts to wander introduces me to more thoughts. You might say then that my writing is a wandering as if an adventure on an uncharted path.
     In fact, my book, “I’ll be Honest With You” came about from those few extra moments in-between other assignments. By the end of several months, I had collected enough short pieces for a book without so much as realizing what was happening, and all before 6 in the morning.
     First though, I have a little routine after I do my daily meditation.
     I sit for a few minutes in semi-darkness and just listen.      Possibly I have a few of the more common birds identified after all these years, especially the plentiful woodpeckers that circle our woods for the most desirable trees.
     The conversations can get pretty animated and I wonder if a neighboring cat is slithering nearby on dawn patrol and mama birds are protecting their young ones.
     My cat has been staying a little closer to the back porch these last two weeks with a fox taking up a transient location in the woods. The fox will move on, and until then my boy will keep vigilant when stepping outside on the back porch.
     Our yard has several birdfeeders, and often it is a full house. Swallows can invade our specialty bluebird homes, and then rooms are up for grabs. Filled. No vacancy.
     Staying still in a chair is not an easy thing to do without a lot of practice of letting your mind and body go. I find it is beneficial to breathe in and out deeply and watch how my facial muscles relax, a smile comes on and I sense an overall positive attitude.
     In the early morning it is amazing how everything feels possible and I am determined that I will be able to conquer whatever falls in my lap today. There is such strength to be had all for the taking.
     5:40 am a neighbor down the road bikes before the roads get crowded and the temperature rises. He has a giant loop he follows and part of it is on the main highway. The clicking of his wheels says he is passing by. I don’t have to look out the window and I continue with my meditation.
     Like the rest of us, he is not regular in his routines, and often days will go by before he rides by again. He’s had health issues, and on a “good day” he says he takes advantage of his endurance.
     He has had a string of healthy days lately and I pause to give thanks for his family and him.
     The neighborhood dogs bark in chorus when he passes, or could it be for a few deer crossing the road? They are permanent residents, too, and early morning is prime time for movement.
     The sound of birds is soothing to me, and especially in the message – enjoy summer. The days are longer, and more and more outdoor activities take on interest. Possibilities. I like that.
     I don’t allow myself to think about the weekend’s plans, or the vacation in Canada coming up soon, otherwise my anxiety level will rise and defeat the purpose of quiet and calmness in the morning. This is the world’s way of getting me off step and into its hustle and bustle.
     At 5:45 the steady stream of cars commuting to Rochester and Corning parade by on four wheels. I stand at the window and watch the red backlights brake before disappearing one after the other down the hill.
     Many folks have left for work before I even got out of bed, and this is the second round of vehicles. I wish them safe travels and successful days.
     At 5:50 I grab a large glass of water with lemon, my daily vitamins and unsweetened iced tea to fortify me until I take a break about 8 am for breakfast.
     Breakfast has never been a big deal for me; although, I do get nourishment as I recognize its important for the body.   
      Within an hour the highway department will be parking trucks at the top of the hill and working their way down clearing out brush.
     The crew can sneak up on you in their efficient way, and often I only hear a slamming truck door, or the high steady beeping of their back-up signals.
     It’s 6 o’clock and I am at my desk ready to begin another round of writing for the day. As much as I have a plan set out for what I hope to accomplish, frequently I go off in a different direction like I am doing now putting this column under my belt.  
    

    
    

     

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Meet the world's best daydreamer

  
     After turning in my column, Monday afternoon I went out for a boat ride on Canandaigua Lake and declared, “I am going to do nothing.”
     Could that be humanly possible? My Type A personality fought the idea like an octopus grabbing hold of its prey and not letting go.
     I wasn’t steering the boat, nor was I planning on doing anything active like waterskiing or tubing.
     My mind dove into slow mode in between bits of conversation with my friend, the boat’s captain; I permitted my thoughts chart their own course.
     By the way, don’t invite this writer out on a boat if you want a chatty afternoon. My friend, a writer also, understood and we saved our major talk until later on her patio.
     Summers are meant for relaxing and appreciating our surroundings.




     Certainly, cruising along the shore there is a lot of observing – gawking might be the better term – at the huge mansions commanding a view of tiny specks of humanity in party boats, cruisers and kayaks in comparison. Water equipment for every whim is lined up neatly at the docks beside giant urns filled with seasonal flowers covering every inch of real estate.
     Bucketfuls of earth had been rearranged for a number of these structures nestling into the tight space between water and road. As a longtime resident of the area, my friend gave me a running commentary on why certain of the homes were built to accommodate zoning laws vs. nature.
     Gazing out to the southern part of the lake, I am reminded of how the Native Americans must have worshipped the serenity and natural beauty of the landforms and waterways. I “see” pictures in my head of paddling canoes and fishing expeditions while women are along the shoreline starting fires for cooking.
      Never one to take anything for granted, I appreciate the lake so much for what it gives us. I am big into the conservation of our natural resources, and water being one of them for future generations.
     Little dips up and down from the wakes of boats racing past – I am a person who easily gets seasick unless I am breathing in fresh air – and I retreat into myself.



     Oh, my. My mind takes me back many years ago when I lived one year on East Lake Road in a modest dwelling overlooking the water, and I was in hog heaven. Glorious sunsets every evening shimmered across the lake through my large picture window.
    That particular winter was brutal. I had a steep driveway, and it is where this woman – I grew up learning to drive on flat land ‒ taught herself how to safely creep down and steer tightly onto the road. Otherwise, I would slide into the lake clutching the wheel in all earnestness. 
     After three days of closed highways due to a major storm, the afternoon the roads opened, two neighbors invited me to pile into their pickup truck destined for Canandaigua to replenish essentials.  We were like chickens escaping the coop to free range.  
     The thing I remember the most about that impromptu adventure was that I got to know neighbors that had just been waving ones before.
     Today, there are still smaller rustic cottages dotted around the lake, and no doubt those have been in families for generations. Owners either deal with higher taxes and all the maintenance, or sell in older age.
     At the harbor in the City of Canandaigua luxury condos are being built to attract more tourists, although the framework for a hotel is stalled looming over the port like a giant winged seabird unable to launch and casting an eerie spell over the lively port.



      Allowing my mind to go free on the boat reminds me that as a kid I was the world’s best daydreamer. If there were a trophy with my name on it, I would have a collection on my bedroom shelf. Maybe I would have taken more pride in dusting off my bookcases if that were the case.
    My mind was somewhere else. I would get popped back into reality when I heard my full name, “Kathryn,” called out.     
     I exasperated my parents and teachers, and even more so because I finished my schoolwork on time despite preoccupation with my thoughts. Those large windows in the classroom with the pull down tan shades were no barriers to where I was in my mind at any given moment.
     If daydreaming wasn’t an acceptable pastime, then I believed punishment was in store for me being a lazy person. It took a while to understand that idleness does not breed laziness.   
     I had my share of bruised knees from not paying attention to the shifts in sidewalk pavement and “talking” to such characters as Huck Finn and Bilbo Baggins out of the pages of favorite novels.
     Readers are great daydreamers, too. I didn’t discover that until much later.
     On the lake I spy a lone teenager hanging out on a raft positioned perfectly on his back for a retreat from the adults. No electronic devices are noticeable.
     Well, of course, as a teacher I recognized the great importance of daydreaming as it relates to creativity and learning. The greatest thoughts need time to jell in the mind.
      A considerable number of ideas drift around in your mind like they did for me on a Canandaigua Lake boat trip. A few are acted upon. Others are thrown out in the water to drift away. Keeping the possibilities afloat are essential when coming in to dock.   



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The remedy for what ails you




     Santa Claus nails it. Chris Rock has no trouble with it. So does Woody Woodpecker. They laugh whenever they feel like it. What’s wrong with the rest of us?
     We get so tied-up into knots that we forget—yes, we forget to take time for a little laughter each day.
     It’s free for the asking and has tremendous mental and physical health benefits.
     Like the old saying, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, a little laughter is just the stress reliever for a lightness of being.
     There is a time to be serious, and there is a time for a little chuckling, giggling and pure hysterics.




     We’re in the longest election season in history, and it will wear us down without a few late night cackles fortifying our souls. Come on, folks. Doom and gloom should not be the forecast.
     It is all fine and dandy to be politically correct, but let’s not carry it overboard and become so sensitive that we can’t laugh with one another of opposing views.
     Watching Jimmy Fallon’s masterful imitations of first Donald Trump, and now Bernie Sanders, takes the edge off the solemn campaign rhetoric. And to be fair, Kate McKinnon of SNL has Hillary Clinton down pat. Both comedians are top-notch, and they are just two of so many others out there in cyberspace that work at making folks laugh.
     A veteran teacher told me at the beginning of my career that there should be room for at least one spontaneous laughing episode in the classroom per day student or adult initiated.
     When children see their teacher in a more natural way as a fellow human full of uncertainties and questions about life, it keeps things together in a desirable way. 



     I believed her and it became a practice. I could feel the pressure roll off my students-- and me, generating a better atmosphere for learning together.
     As a result of laughter, I noticed fabulous plays and stories created by budding authors in a room free of anxiety. Those former students are out there now in the world with pen—or computer, hard at work at obtaining an MFA in Writing, owning a consulting company and in public relations for a major non-profit.
     There are several former students that keep blogs relating to their professions – a music listeners’ club blog comes to mind - and each is outstanding writing and highly informative, too. I read them and respond when I am able to let these young adults know that their teacher is keeping in virtual contact.
     The failed science experiments in the classroom are the ones our future researchers and doctors –I taught many now in the medical field - learned from the most, as is usually the case.
     There was a twist of laughter ringing out in the classroom when something went pop, crunch or simply nothing happened at all after careful manipulation.
     Boy, did we have fun, and we learned a heap about taking risks and repeated failures breeding success eventually. It was always about the hypothesis and science all around us.  




     There are certain types of people that I admire for having a personality filled to the brim with humor.
     I love the person who can laugh at his mistakes graciously and   take a little ribbing from his colleagues.
     Everyone nearby rolls into a fit of giggling over a stupid error that no one will even remember two hours later. There is that potential to fret over your image, and this person is secure enough to not care when it comes right down to it.
     I love someone who can make me laugh when I don’t even feel like I want to smile.
     When I have a terrible head cold and can hardly breathe, laughter is the best medicine next to plenty of fluids and chicken noodle soup. Clever and articulate friends are great at making me howl with their one-liners.
     Better still, I do appreciate my husband who listens to my sadness attentively, and then prods some smiling out of me although I may be hurting dreadfully inside.
     I love the sole person who laughs himself silly at the movies over a ridiculously poorly made comedy.
     No. It isn’t rude in my book. I marvel at someone releasing whatever he has to let go of, and fading into the screen’s action. He might be an off-duty EMT, firefighter or policeman chilling.
     I love the store clerk who enjoys his job so much that he lets the little irritants from customers roll right off his back.
     His witty comments make it worth it that you are waiting in line to get to the cash register. You can hear him bantering with the other customers, too. You turn will be soon, and what will he say?  
     I love a person who laughs at his mortality.
     You’re positive that is one person that has it all together like my friend on her 92nd birthday told me that she felt no different than on her 18th except for lack of ability to get around on the dance floor. She’s passed on now, and still, when I think of some of her quips, I get my laugh in for the day, and a couple more, too.
     Go ahead. Be silly. The reward is huge, I mean, HUGE. A big belly laugh once a day is a super dose of a mega-vitamin for what ails you.


    
    
    

    



Thursday, June 30, 2016

Columnist enters 35 word story contest



     Writers & Books invited submissions for a story competition of 35 words. Flash ideas burst forth from talented writers like an eruption leaving the judges breathless at the conciseness of character, plot and setting. (35 words)

     During the slow, dreary winter months, I make it a habit to practice writing 35 word stories. By springtime, I have quite a collection. I submit my best work, and forget all about the contest. (35 words)

    Here are a dozen or so examples of my writing. Writing short, tight and oh, telling a vivid story, also, is tough. It takes practice.

*******

     An author’s ideal morning is a creative frenzy of locution. Words slip out in beautifully formed phrases faster than fingers can shift over the keyboard. Two hours later, the writer shuts down.

     A woman walks down the aisle of a plane and every person seated is a familiar soul from her past. She turns back. She is not ready for her final flight to heaven. Ticket refunded.

     Once upon a time a noun met an adjective and together they subjected a verb, which in turn, hung out with an adverb. All parts of speech lived happily ever after in a sentence.

     The horror movie scared the wits out of a woman and she left the theatre holding what was left of her head in her hands. Her comforting husband put his arms around her. The End.

     Once upon a time a prince went searching the kingdom for his latest conquest. He met a fair maiden and melted. She rejected his brutish ways. Truth be told, he discovered the meaning of love.

     Thoughts drive the writer’s fingers on a computer raceway. A distraction stands on the starting lane waving a caution flag. Fingers slow down. There is too much fuel left in the engine to stop writing.

     Once a man lost his toupee during a burst of wind. He imagined passer-bys were staring at him until he looked at his own handsome reflection in a storefront. He faced reality head-on.

      In the early morning frigid temperatures the woman leaves home, gets in her car and goes to work. In the dark afternoon she leaves work, get in her car and returns home. Winter blues.

     The desk feels weighted down like a repository for scraps of a writer’s valiant efforts. Its legs struggle to hold up under the pile of books and notebooks. The writer is not bothered one bit.

     A mature woman looks at her reflection in the mirror and turns away. She doesn’t want to see the wrinkles and graying hair. No sense crying over her lost youthful appearance. She’s going skiing instead.

     One time zone said to the other: I am more important in the eyes of the Creator than you. You’re behind me in seeing the sunrise. The other time zone was in darkness about it.

     A woman wakes her husband after she hears footsteps on the stairs. He gets up, grabs the baseball bat and goes to check. The two cats stop playing. The man has interrupted their evening romp.

    A kindle and a book were discussing which one of them has a bigger fan club. They decided to take a survey on Facebook. Results came in. Kindle: YES. Book: YES. To each his own.

     A woman inserts the toilet paper roll in the holder for pulling over. Her husband puts it in for pulling under. Opposite attract. War or peace? Love trumps the trivialities of co-existence every single time.

     A sentence didn’t want to make a full pause with a period. A comma is better for a partial stop before moving forward. That confused the writer, and he paused to check the AP Stylebook.

     The weather forecast is unpredictable. A woman dresses for the day in layers. A man wears a short-sleeve shirt and hopes for the best. The best ending is the one that makes each person happy.

     Accents, you give us away by letting our true identity out when we would rather hide behind our public personas. Our elongated syllables and regional vocabulary catch us every time. Pronunciation sentences us to hard labor.

     Girl meets boy. “He’s the one for me.” She sets her sights on him. Boy ‘s immediate reaction, “I don’t get what’s happening to me.” Venus and Mars in love meet for the first time.

     This is a true tale about an early spring arrival. The buds got a false start and pushed through the earth. A surprise cold snap arrived. The puckered leaves were encased in sheaves of ice.

     Your brain freezes when the employee makes you choose your pizza toppings quickly. What if you change your mind? The solution is selecting a regular pizza with no additional ingredients. Life in the fast lane.

     Spotting a bag of Oriole cookies in the men’s undergarment aisle at Wal-Mart reminds the lady that her priorities are in all the wrong places. She leaves the store and ends her unsatisfying relationship.

     A writer notices something odd about his habits. “I’ll be honest with you.” No matter what I write, my first pause in thoughts always comes after thirty-five words. Sometimes it is best to end there.


********

    And one more thing…my entry is one of the 35 finalists selected by Writers &Books in June out of 1200 submissions. I won a year’s membership.

      An unmarried teenager and her boyfriend are having an argument in front of The Dollar General. She’s clutching the baby stroller. He smokes a cigarette. She decides to walk away forever from his abusive ways.









































































































Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Dealing with a friend's death



     Often it is said that the dying has uncanny ways of teaching the rest of us how to live life.
     I lost a friend recently to complications from brain cancer. It’s not the first time, nor will it be the last time, that I assume a comforter role.
    Some times I have been involved deeply – my sister passed after lymphoma – and it was a daily struggle of ups and downs. Other times, I have been there from a distance giving support.  Visits. Cards. Prayers.
     You have loss, too. Cancer doesn’t escape any of us. It shows no regard to age, circumstances or gender.
     Each death hurts. It is draining emotionally hanging in there with a dying loved one during the transitioning period, and there is nothing that can be done other than dealing with the reality of the situation.
     My friend had one personality trait that I greatly admire. She laughed despite her adversities. And the last couple years were tough for her family and her, too. She tried all sorts of treatments, and there would be a glimmer of hope temporarily before it would be snuffed out after another CAT scan.
     I sighed. I would deliver up more encouragement and often, just be silent, giving her the opportunity to share her stories and feelings without interruption or comment from me.



    Listening is the best way to be present with a person lying ill.
    Once my friend said that she would make sure that the doctors and her would laugh together all the way to the end no matter what. She didn’t like morbidity one bit. That was right after she tried an experimental approach to keeping bad cells at bay, which did give her more time on earth. Frankly, she saved that moment from being awkward for me when she chuckled in her lovely way while I sat nearby.
     I can hear that belly laugh right now and the smile that comes over her face. She will be with me – and the rest of her close friends and family- forever.
     My friend’s infectious spirit might just have been the legacy she left behind. I hope that we take her advice and lighten up a bit. She’s winking at us from wherever she is right now, and experimenting with a new recipe.
     It is hard to walk the path with someone facing adversity. When you are not part of the immediate family or inner circle of friends, you feel at a loss over what is the appropriate thing to do. In my opinion, what comes naturally works, as you are only one part of a community of folks lifting the person up. That teamwork is important.
     Looking outward beyond your own needs, and offering compassion is a true gift, which takes a lifetime of practice.  


     I remember the time my friend told me that she just had no energy after a round of chemo treatment. It reminded me of advice someone had given my sister, and I passed it on: Don’t sluff around in your slippers. Put on your shoes.
     I shared it with my friend in hopes that it might help her. It must have done the trick.
     When I would see her after that, she would say, “I put on my shoes all week when I really wanted to throw in the towel and give up.”
     We’d laugh. My sister would be glad, too, that she helped a fellow person through the dark days offering lightness to her step.
     You might say that my friend was an unassuming person with a strong religious nature. She didn’t care for big fusses. She planned a moving celebration of life after her death with special hymns and readings. She wanted a happy occasion honoring a life well lived.
     One morning she said to me that there was so much more that she had planned to do and she was running out of time. She wanted to see her young grandsons grow up. She wished that she had…
     I replied, “Look what you have accomplished, and be glad. Think on those things.”
     That was easy for me to say from my perspective. I wasn’t in her situation.
     She raised her sons well –each one is unique – and she had many rewarding years with her husband, the love of her life. She had an artistic flair about her in her paintings, cooking and her style at home. She was blessed with a clear soprano voice that would captivate you, the listener, as if you were hearing a nightingale sing. You can’t get any better than that.
     The last time I saw my friend in the hospital – I had a feeling it would be the end and she knew that, too – I put both of her hands in mine and told her to be at peace and know that God cared for her.
      I spoke with sincerity, and I won’t apologize. Those words weren’t a feeble cliché, one you put to use when nothing better comes out of your head.
     You weep the tears and are sad for a time, and life goes on. The presence of that special person comes and goes into the front of your mind. You have reminders that show up when you are least expecting them.
     I am glad that my friend entered my life for a brief few years,
    I think that I am hearing her say,  “Kay, get out there and make the most of this day.”
     For all of us, my friend exclaims, “ A little laughter goes a long, long way.” 
     
    












      

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Remembering childhood birthday parties



     It simply wasn’t fair. I threw a fit every year like clockwork. My birthday came the day after my best friend’s and there was no way to change matters.
     Two separate parties. Same set of classmates. My fete was like an encore, or repeat performance. I stomped my feet in protest.
     It’s a wonder my mother didn’t get mad at me – I was an annoying complainer - and give up putting on her one-of-a kind themed party extravaganza.


     Of course, enthusiasm was dampened on the second party go round. Kids showed up antsy from too much sugary food from the day before, and also, they were lacking in desire to see each other so soon. They’d go through the motions, but were their hearts in it?
     Well, that’s the way my young mind perceived the situation. Those insecure gremlins were holding on to me fiercely. I had one nagging personality trait, too: I was a competitive kid.  
     Fortunately my mother was creative. She had a couple tricks up her sleeve. We had the crowd pleasers – hide and go seek and candy hunts – and kid foods to keep things mixed up culminating with a gala cake befitting royalty.
     You see, our house was a big roomy older home, and perfect for parties with such games. We had the nooks and crannies, and a big upstairs, too. A dozen girls storming up and down the stairs didn’t make that much noise.



     On the other hand, my friend’s house was a ranch home and party antics had to be contained. Funny thing, of the two of us, she was much more boisterous.
     Then again, kids at my friend’s house were well behaved without being told by their mothers before they left the car. Her dad was our elementary school principal, and he knew every single one of us by name. Most of the time our principal stayed out of the way on party day, anyhow, except for scooping out the ice cream.
    I loved our principal a lot, although I had the necessary standoffishness. I didn’t want to take any chances outside of school.
     Kids never realize that parents talk to each other, and often work together to make the best of a situation. My friend’s party might include lunch, and mine would be an ice cream and cake affair. It varied from year to year thanks to our moms on the phone together.
     Pin the Tail on the Donkey was a favorite game and it could be played all the time. I don’t know what was so magical to a young child about having a blindfold put on and encouraged to roam around a room groping for the paper cut out of a donkey to stab with a pin while the party goers screamed in delight.
     There was always a poor soul who never could even remotely get in the right direction, and would attack our best lampshade. We would hoot and holler until finally she gave up.
     I was a born organizer – and teacher, too – getting right into the plans for what should, or should not, happen at the party. I would tell my mother which child that I had coming might be a slight problem – a high- maintenance type is the term I would use today.
     Also, I was a little different from my friend in that I always invited one or two girls on the fringes of our social group. It made me feel better to include everyone in my classroom. Often my mother would have to rush out to pick up a girl that didn’t have a ride, and take her back home after the party was over. No one ever knew.
     What made it worse in my childish mind was that my birthday was seven days before Christmas. A birthday party had to be sandwiched in between school, Girl Scouts and church events. Kids and adults alike were partied to death, and one more birthday became a drudge. At least, that was the feeling I got when I handed out my invitations at school.
     I often thought how much luckier the kids were that had birthdays in the summer time until someone told me how hard it was to round up a few not on family vacations.
    My friend and I decided when was the right day to deliver the invites, and she went first and I waited until after lunch, or the next day. I believe, if I am correct, that we checked that we didn’t use the same invitations, too. How confusing that would be.
     Too often relatives would hang on to my birthday present and give it to me Christmas, although in most cases, it did have the appropriate birthday paper. Thus my birthday stretched out over the holidays.
     December is the month of colds and flu bugs, and I never knew if the kid showing up to my friend’s party perfectly healthy would be down with a stomachache and not appear at mine. Thus the guest list could diminish greatly in twenty-four hours. Moms rolled with the punches.
     There was one and only year that my friend and I did combine birthdays, and it was a last minute endeavor. A snowstorm cancelled her big day, and we all met at my house to share two little girls’ happy days.
     By junior high, birthday parties were no big deal anymore. My elementary school friend and I outgrew each other and traveled in different circles anyhow.
     Looking back, I realize that parties are special when you are young, and our mothers wisely kept our celebrations separate.