Saturday, December 30, 2006

Mantle disornamented

"Took down Christmas" this afternoon. It's a strange expression meaning the packing away of Christmas decorations for another year, but it sounds like a wrestling term. Indeed, I am struggling with emotions as this year ends. Putting away the ornaments I had set on the fireplace mantle really got me weepy.

With three full-grown sons and their friends hanging out in the condo living room watching bowl games, we need the space taken by the Christmas tree. The tree ornaments are such a powerful connection to Fritzi that it's tough to put them away for another year. It's good to know that unpacking each decoration next December will be like opening the windows on an Advent calendar to find the joy and generosity of the Christmas season.

For twenty-five years, or basically all my adult life, my mother and I shared a joy of creating or finding perfect ornaments to remember the year. Each ornament I wrap and pack away is a combination of holiday cheer, charm bracelet, time capsule, and childhood scrapbook. We have ornaments to remember teddy bears, windmills, charcoal grills, ice-skating, school bus rides, fishing trips, firetrucks, 10K races, and aquarium fishes. Many remind me of the intense and loving involvement my mother had with her little grandsons, and her appreciation of the fine young men they became.

Someday these sons will create new homes and families. I will say a sad farewell to the ornaments Fritzi chose to acknowledge each boy's accomplishments when they migrate from our Christmas tree to theirs. I pray that each son will choose a partner who appreciates such simple and meaningful family traditions. I hope each of Fritzi's grandsons will feel her love and pride in them every Christmas.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Old rose ramblings

I wore an "old rose" blouse today. Got it on sale, of course. It has sewn-in darts, woven stripes, and machine-embroidered embellishments. Fritzi would have approved, although she could have sewn a better-fitting one.

Chocolate brown has returned to the little girl fashion scene. My little students are wearing brown with pink, turquoise, or lime green, and it fills me with an irrational hope for the future. The color combo and the floral print corduroy tug deep in my core to a basic sense memory of what it is to be a little daughter safe, cherished, and nurtured.

When my sons were small I read a story written by Fred Rogers, yes, Mr. Rogers, about how our feeling of home and safety is connected with our earliest memories of colors, patterns, sounds, and smells. I've never been able to find the story again. It may be that it is more powerful to me because I can't find it, and therefore keep looking! The story told of a young woman who was seeking a Persian rug for her home. As a very young child she had moved often to places all over the world, but her parents had always taken one rug to each new location. The young woman was searching for a rug exactly like the one she had learned to crawl on as an infant, but she didn't know it. That pattern would connect with her earliest remembered experience of "home".

The annual blouse sale at the Miller & Paine Department Store Budget Shop on the lower level of Gateway Mall in Lincoln, Nebraska, just down the stairs from Kresge's, was a crazy event in the late Sixties. Women would stand in line for the chance to paw through the racks and get into the fitting rooms. The Budget Store was also the place to get day-old Miller & Paine bakery bread, cinnamon rolls, and crumb cookies, and I can smell each of them just remembering! I can also smell the tired linoleum floor tiles and a hint of sizing. The stairwell from Kresge's down to the Budget Store smelled of ancient popcorn, plastic floral wreaths, dirty snow, and parakeet cages.

Going with Fritzi to the blouse sale was an acknowledgment that I was becoming a young woman, which was very scary, uncharted territory. Fritzi wanted me to have new clothes for ninth grade. The blouses I chose would inspire her fabric choices and sewing efforts to create outfits. She would even knit a coordinating sweater vest. It was a heavy burden, given my mother's perfectionism. I knew these choices allowed no middle ground, no enjoyment of the shopping experience for its own sake. This was Red Rover all over again.

Still, I recall each of the six blouses as if the sale were yesterday. The "old rose" blouse was a simple short sleeve blouse with the sleeves folded up. I had never heard the phrase "old rose" before I went into the fitting room, and I was sure I would look like an elderly spinster great aunt. Instead, the color is one of the most flattering for my hair and skin.

My next choice was a delicate, textured pattern of pale yellow and sage green vines on an ecru background of wide seersucker with very full sleeves. Fritzi chose a sage green wool remnant to make a simple button-front jumper with brushed silver buttons. The wool made me itch, but I will keep choosing sage and silver combinations as long as I live.

The third blouse was white with tiny woven stripes of embroidered blue, pink, and yellow flowers. The leaves were pale green, so the blouse also went with the jumper. Thirty-eight years later, I seek out the embroidered fashions. Fritzi also made royal blue culottes to go with the blouse, and I was grateful they weren't wool.

I wore the olive green shirt with the exaggerated cuffs and collar for my ninth grade photo. I tied a paisley scarf knotted like a necktie, and wished I looked more like a Mary Quant/Jean Shrimpton /Twiggy-esque model in my Yardley white lipgloss. There was only so much Edholm and Blomgren Photographers could do to make me look better! The photo shows a ninth-grader far more childlike and naive than most of my current third grade students.

The fifth shirt was a simple warm light blue. The color was so satisfying with the chocolate brown skirt and the brown and white groovy mod scarf around the neck! I was definitely channeling Petula Clark here, and not sleeping on the subway!

In those days I felt the most glamorous in the button-down-the-back peach blouse with the extravagant ruffled neck that made me look like a tropical fruit-flavored signer of the Declaration of Independence. Fritzi created a peachy tweed outfit of pantskirt and long vest with covered buttons. Then she knit a coral sweater vest, and found matching coral tights. How amazing that we dressed so nicely just to crank the journalism class mimeograph machine!

That blouse sale in my Wonder Years still tints my color choices. On some deep level it feels like home, both safe and with psychic baggage.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Dewey, Dick, detectives, and delicacies

My little students often ask if the picture books I read in class are "stories or real?" What a complicated process it must be for children to sort out the fiction and non-fiction in all the mediums that bombard them from the moment they wake up until they finally manage to fall asleep at night. That's when dreams and nightmares add to their confusion.

As I read aloud, I sometimes ask, "Dzthat ever happen to you?," at the oddest parts of the story. "Does your daddy do that?," I ask with exaggerated skeptical eyebrows. I love the kids who know I'm playing when I ask, "Did you ever drive a bulldozer?" They play back by saying yes and telling me what color hardhat they wore at the excavation site. The twinkle in their eye lets me know they understand the making of a story. These kids are ready to study the Dewey decimal juvenile non-fiction books to fuel their own creative play and story-making. The more you know about real aircraft carriers, the more satisfying your imaginative play becomes.

As adults and registered voters we still watch, read, and listen to news and wonder if it's a "story or real?" Chew on that for a moment, please. Does Dick Cheney eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches in his undisclosed location? If we knew, he might seem closer to human. Sue Grafton's fictional alphabetized sleuth, Kinsey Milhone, eats PB and pickle sandwiches. Not my personal choice, but the detail makes Kinsey believable.

Janet Evanovitch's numerical New Jersey bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum, never gets zits. The girl eats the most dreadful, greasy fast food in paperback after paperback, and can still zip her jeans. Would I confuse these mysteries with non-fiction? Of course not. This is clearly as fictional as Bush's "Mission Accomplished."

Are my posts "stories or real?" Let's say they are as real as Kraft Miracle Whip is to mayonnaise. The details come from the Dewey decimal section, but the words might spring from Once-upon-a-time-Time. The recipes come from the middle drawer next to the twist-ties for Baggies and the hamburger patty-maker.

Fritzi served an occasional lunch of creamy peanut butter and bacon on toast with Miracle Whip and iceberg lettuce, Weavers potato chips, and cold skim milk. When Steve Blow wrote about family food idiosyncrasies, I related. I wanted him to try putting lettuce in his PB and mayo sandwiches. It was fun to remember Mom fixing sandwiches in the kitchen on a cold Saturday.

So many people wrote Steve Blow about peanut butter sandwiches, that he offered a second column on the subject:

PB and pickles? I'll take your word for it
06:42 AM CDT on Wednesday, September 6, 2006
I feel a little bit like a culinary Indiana Jones. I have stumbled upon a lost civilization. It's the secret society of peanut butter and mayonnaise eaters. A month or so ago, I wrote about families and their peculiar food traditions. And for the most part, I talked about my family's longtime love for avocado toast. Although I never met a single person who knew about avocado toast, I felt I would surely hear from many others who know what rapture a ripe, mashed avocado is on warm buttered toast.

But I hardly heard from any other devotees of that dish. Instead, the outpouring of enthusiastic response came to my mention of a concoction that I thought surely my father had invented – peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwiches. They sound so vile that I was a little bit embarrassed to even mention them. But I got e-mails by the hundreds from people who thought they were alone in the world with their love for PB&M sandwiches... I do need to make a correction. I said mayonnaise in that earlier column. But when Southern boys say "mayonnaise," they really mean Miracle Whip. Strictly speaking, those were PB&MW sandwiches my dad taught me to eat. But I heard repeatedly from readers that my peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise sandwiches are missing the crowning glory – cold, crisp lettuce. Apparently the crunch factor sends the sandwiches into taste heaven.

Now that my guys have returned for the holidays, I want to share this concoction with them. I get hungry for these peanut butter sandwiches at least once every winter, but the guys' dad didn't encourage my sharing this delicacy. His opinion was along the line of, "it'll be a cold day in Hell when I swallow that." That's the same opinion I have whenever Dick Cheney's lips move.

I'm going to serve a toaster oven open-face sandwich Steve Blow would like--mashed avocado seasoned with garlic, then slices of tomato,topped with a mound of grated monterey jack cheese and sprinkled with paprika. It's especially good if you have been outside shoveling snow, but the weather isn't cooperating there. It's so warm in Dallas we are tempted to turn on the air-conditioner! And that's the Dewey decimal truth.