Friday, October 26, 2007

Entangled parade balloons

Called Dad at 5:35 this evening, but he was anxious to cut the visit short. He needed to switch from Lou Dobbs on CNN to a local station for the weather report. I had interrupted one of his tethers.

If we are all inflated balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade (and I have acquired the figure over the years), then we all need tethers--those lines that keep us from floating away into the stratosphere or crashing down in a New Jersey landfill. We all need handlers to hold the tethers firm however strong the wind. Talking to Dad, the first parade balloon that comes to mind is Underdog. The Underdog balloon first appeared in the Macy's parade in 1965.

Dad is an Underdog. He has surpassed the odds. It has been nearly three years since my mother passed away. "Conjugal bereavement" is a huge stressor related to mortality risk for men. Depression related to grief impacts the immune system. The stress of caring for my mother during her six month illness also took a toll on Dad, emotionally and physically.

Dad broke the same hip twice in a six month period, but is able to live in his home and get around well with a walker. He has aides that come to the house everyday. The homemaker aide who comes in three mornings a week is one of the strongest tethers for his Underdog balloon. This incredibly patient and competent young woman is a friendly anchor for Dad. She also makes it possible for me to keep my Bullwinkle balloon tethered several states away. If my dad is losing helium or whipping around street lights and spectators, I can't do my job or keep my own balloon afloat with its marching band and celebrity commentator.

Weather, news, and sports are vital anchors for Dad. He needs his golf and baseball on t.v. The Weather Channel with "locals on the eights", and the Lincoln station weather reports keep him looking forward, no matter how dorky or annoying the forecaster. I'm not sure how to categorize the news. Mostly, the news keeps Dad angry and/or empathetic. He shouts at the war reports. "Bush lied. They died!" Amen. We should all be shouting. Dad gets tearful about car crashes, calamities, catastrophes, and climate change. We should all be less jaded.

Dad isn't as interested in the activities of his descendants as he once was. He doesn't hear very well and his personal hurdles take up most of his energy. Family is still a tether.

Dad's blessed to live in a tree-shaded neighborhood made up of young families, long-time elderly homeowners, and everybody in between. To have been part of that community for nearly fifty years is a powerful pull, although Dad misses those years not so far back when he and Mom were the official neighborhood grandparents.

Food fills us up, but it also holds us to this daily life, and fuels our spirit. Meals, foods, scents, and tastes, past and planned, are the warp and weft that connect us to life's parade route. The bands are playing. I see the tassels on the drum majorette's white boots. We march forward toward the piece of peach pie, the Healthy Choice microwave dinner, the Stouffer's stuffed green pepper, or the expertly-toasted English muffin.

My evening phone calls and letters are another Earth-to-Howie:Howie-to-Earth (come in, Howie) connection. Sometimes, I need to check the strength of my own balloon tethers, and make sure my handlers know their ropes. My Bullwinkle balloon occasionally gets boffled-about by the winds whipping around street corners between skyscrapers. My over-active mama mode nags the balloon handlers to wear their mittens and gloves.

What keeps me floating along the parade route:

Family--My wonderful sons and Dad
Writing--Blogging and letters
Teaching--Wise coworkers and entertaining kids
Curiosity, wonder, learning--Opera, spiders, art, genealogy, ......

Curious George had an adventure with parade balloons. If you are a curious little monkey, and you have the Man with the Yellow Hat for a friend, life is full of fascinating knots to untangle.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Lullaby of Birdland

Hummingbirds limit productivity. They prevent multi-tasking. When hummingbirds visit my cannas and feeder, I can't seem to do anything but watch in amazement.

An egret flies over just when the sky is at maximum Maxfield Parish. It seems to have captured all of the late sunlight, glowing intense white against the pink and blue.

Just before dark, my little wren puts in an appearance, hopping along the crossbar of the fence, and showing off its white eye liner. Out comes the bird book to compare Carolina wrens and Bewick's wrens again.

Limiting productivity enhances restorative relaxation! A song is in my head, though.

Oh, lullaby of birdland
That's what I always hear,
When you sigh,
Never in my wordland could there be ways to reveal
in a phrase how I feel

Have you ever heard two turtle doves
Bill and coo,
when they love?
That's the kind of magic music we make with our lips
When we kiss

And there's a weepy old willow
He really knows how to cry,
That's how I'd cry in my pillow
If you should tell me
farewell and goodbye

Lullaby of birdland
whisper low
Kiss me sweet,
and we'll go
Flying high in birdland,
high in the sky up above
All because were in love

Here are some links to watch and listen to George Shearing, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald: © 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

Friday, August 10, 2007

Brown and white wren

Wren leaps in stage right
Over storage shed
& patio umbrella
To land on the fence rail
/flick tail/perpendicular/
Just as the last orange moment
Turns crayon Prussian blue
/90 degrees/pivot/flick tail/
Did you notice me?
Did you notice yet?
Next hop south
Right out of sight hop
& brown hot night
/Pivot tail/
Making sure you caught the runway model
In her vintage spectator shoes
To write home about it

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Wren Sent

Shortly after I spilled my juice, I got a call from a nurse sitting with my dad. It was very embarrassing to spill my juice at lunchtime in front of all the preschoolers, but there was no use crying over it. The nurse was called by Dad's housekeeper when she couldn't get into his house this morning. Dad was extremely weak. He's in the hospital now, apparently with the beginnings of pneumonia. I'm extremely grateful that my brother could get there quickly to be with him and keep tabs on Dad's clarity of thought.

This evening amidst the flurry of phone calls, I kept seeing bird movements from the corner of my eye. This bird really wanted to call attention to itself, walking along the crosspiece of the fence and making Olympic hop-skip-jumps. It's vertical tail let me know this was an unusual visitor. I don't know if I've ever had a wren on my little condo patio. You might identify it as a Bewick's wren, and that would be correct. I know it was a message from my mom letting me know whatever happens with Dad will be good. This odd hopping visitor brought me comfort, courage, and permission to be a little bit weepy.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Betsy McCall paper dolls

Mom subscribed to McCall's Magazine for many years, and I looked forward to the arrival of each new issue in hopes of finding a new Betsy McCall paper doll and story. Mom sewed nearly all our dresses and playclothes, using McCall's, Butterick, and Simplicity patterns. On a few occasions she made a dress just like Betsy's paper dress. It was great when Mom decided quickly on a Betsy McCall dress pattern. We spent so many, many, many hours of childhood seated at the pattern book tables in fabric departments agonizing over selections.

Mom made a brown dress for me just like Betsy's with the button-on yoke from McCall's September 1962 issue. Mom made it again in a royal blue border print with a white button-on yoke. 1962 was a wonderful year. I adored my second grade teacher, Mrs. Sandra "Cotton" Meier with her prematurely white hair. She encouraged me to write poems and stories (about three sentences long on lined newsprint paper) and to illustrate them with crayon drawings. My hair was cut shorter than Betsy's, and it was the last year I really liked my appearance for a long time.

Thanks so much to the Betsy McCall Paper Dolls web page for a lovely trip down memory lane.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Cantaloupe 1971

I'm allergic to pollens of the ragweed botanical family. Bananas and chamomile tea really set me off. I never know if cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, or sunflowers will send me sneezing. I hope not, because I want to know what is different about a Dulcinea cantaloupe.

Kroger had Dulcinea cantaloupe on sale, so I got one. Dulcinea is the name of Don Quixote's envisioned female perfection. Funny that buying a cantaloupe with a brand sticker can send me on a memory trip to 1971.

Fritzi and I had planned to attend the Nebraska Repertory's "Man of La Mancha" together that summer, but she had to have "some female surgery". As a young teen, I had only the vaguest uncomfortable inklings of the complexities of female plumbing. These days my contemporaries have ongoing story sagas with their "female plumbing". Cantaloupe is a memorable scent. So is the smell of the House of Bauer's Bavarian Mints that I took my mom in the hospital.

Dulcinea... Dulcinea... I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea, And thy name is like a prayer An angel whispers... Dulcinea... Dulcinea!

PADRE: To each his Dulcinea
That he alone can name...
To each a secret hiding place
Where he can find the haunting face
To light his secret flame.
For with his Dulcinea
Beside him so to stand,
A man can do quite anything,
Outfly the bird upon the wing,
Hold moonlight in his hand.
Yet if you build your life on dreams
It's prudent to recall,
A man with moonlight in his hand
Has nothing there at all.
There is no Dulcinea,
She's made of flame and air,
And yet how lovely life would seem
If ev'ry man could weave a dream
To keep him from despair.
To each his Dulcinea...
Though she's naught but flame and air!

My students are unaware of windmills, and as unlikely to tilt at them as they are to dial a rotary phone. A Bauer's Bavarian mint would taste great right now.

Mom sewed this dress for me that summer.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Peanut butter

Dad and I finally got around to having peanut butter and bacon sandwiches with lettuce and Miracle Whip on whole wheat toast this week. "This is for Mom," I said, and he agreed. The taste and texture sensations were even better than I had remembered.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Roses en route

Don't know why I decided to drive north up US highway 75 instead of I-35. Backward justification made me search out road construction advice to avoid the Ardmore section of I-35. My first hint at the real reason came when I picked up a tourist ad for the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa at a gas station.

Contemplating the Gilcrease set me to pondering a detour to Claremore to visit Will Rogers' home. Fritzi would have had this drive planned and researched. I was just flying by the seat of my capri pants with color-coordinated sandals.

Crossing the river I spotted an exit NOW sign for the Philbrook Art Museum, and took it. Mom had enjoyed a visit to the Philbrook collection in the opulent estate of oil baron Waite Phillips. Still, she would not have advised crossing two lanes so quickly, even under sparse traffic conditions.

Nature and nurture wholloped me with Fritzi's perfectionistic over-packing and over-planning tendencies, right down to the barf bags and accordian-folded plastic rain bonnets that fit into your purse. My mom's best moments were when she got so caught up in her enthusiasm for art museums, architecture, gardens, and golf tournaments it balanced out her anxieties. Those were some really outstanding vacation experiences for everyone along for the ride.

These roses were almost "glowing in the dark" on an overcast noontime in the formal Philbrook garden:

After this good month of rain and a quick pruning, Fritzi's long-suffering rosebushes had nice flowers. Mom rarely had time or inclination for gardening. The rosebushes baked on the south side of the house by the old television antenna, barely daring to hope someone would rip away the bindweed and spurge. Still, Mom loved floating pretty, fragrant roses in bud bowls on the card tables for bridge club.

Oh! I once heard a poem that goes:
"A rose is a rose is a rose"
Well I don't agree,
Take it from me,
There's one rose sweeter than any that grows!
That's my Rosie
Life is one sweet beautiful song to me.

It's good to take life's spur-of-the-moment side-trips. It doesn't hurt to recast your parents as Dick Van Dyke and Janet Leigh, either!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Owly wake-up call

Garrison Keillor was telling his weekend tale of Wobegon this morning as I was driving along Arapaho. It was a pretty good tale until one of his characters became "owly". Slam me back to 1960! Garrison rambled on without me. There I was, left on a sidetrack.

Mom used to say we were "being owly", but I haven't heard the expression since kindergarten. "Crabby" is the sort of grumpiness children develop when they need a nap. To me, "owly" is the type of grumpiness children exhibit when they have been so, so sound asleep under their special blankie that they resist adult efforts to get them awake and moving in the adult's required direction.

Hearing "owly" didn't make a letter-spelled mental word-recognition. It made a strange sound like a stylus scratching a 78 rpm record combined with the blank air just before the local radio station's test of the emergency broadcast system. This was only a test. Owly is when you are being rushed, your shoes are on the wrong feet, your fuzzy tights are riding really low in the saddle, and your room smells like the first furnace run of the chilly, wet autumn.

How is "owly" spelled? Does it have something to do with birds, or is it a more preliterate stomach growl of a child sent to fetch something from a Bohemian root cellar?

I blink my eyes, and swivel my head almost 360 degrees. My limbs are wrapped tight by a boa constrictor. Still, it's satisfying to have been plucked from throwing wooden building blocks and plunked into bed on account of crabbiness, having put up a good fight against the tyranny of naptime, but ultimately waking up more irritable than before.

Don't want to make Colorforms designs on the cold living room windows. Don't want to be zipped in a jacket for a quick trip to the Hinky Dinky, a visit to the pediatrician, or a sibling's dance lesson carpool. Just want to snuggle back down into the nest of acrid-smelling warm feathers and furless stuffed animals.

"Owly" is exactly right. I will look at the little preschoolers struggling to wake up with a wiser, softer lens.

I'm not the only word junkie out there trying to find out about "owly". Maybe Garrison Keillor will post a comment and let us all know more about this rare word--after he wakes up from naptime!