Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Just Whistle

If you got caught stealing an ice cream bar, my Great Uncle Dale would stop you in your tracks. 
And talk to you until your pocket became a soggy mess. 
Talk to you until that ice cream bar you thought you were getting for free became nothing but a puddle in you pocket. 
If you skipped school, like my cousin Bill did, you had to work extra hours sweeping the floors. 
The smell of fresh meat being butchered wafted through the store. 
Rows of staples like flour and canned beans were within easy reach. 
Candy was situated by the checkout girl. 
Gneckows Grocery store. 
The grocery store that my Great Uncle Howard and his brother Harvey owned after buying it from a fellow named Emery Gneckow. 
A grocery store that was never visited by me. 
Gneckows Grocery has become a shop of memories for me. 
Memories that were told to me by my dad and his family. 
My dad worked in Uncle Howard's store as a kid. 
Uncle Howard was a butcher. 
By the time that I came around, Uncle Howard was a butcher elsewhere. 
Because Gneckows had closed. 
Harvey dropped dead in the store. 
And that was the end of it all. 
I remember going to see him at the new market. 
He wore a long white apron and, as I sit here typing this, I can see him standing behind the meat counter. 
Tall, slim, and white haired with the biggest grin on his face. 
Always the big grin. 
And always doing that thing butchers do with their hands. 
Wiping the fronts and backs of his tools onto his apron. 
His tools being his hands that held the knives that dissected the animal into something you would take home to eat. 

In my memories as a child, there were only small groceries in town. 
Where everyone knew you when you walked in. 
People said hello to one another and there were only six aisles to go down. 
Standing at the big meat counter. 
The counter that soared over my head. 
But one that had a large clear viewing window. 
I could press my face against it and listen as my grandmother ordered chuck roasts, pork chops, and pounds of beef from her brother in law. 
And I would get some candy at the checkout counter. 
The days of the family grocery store are over for my family. 
But I have a piece of it in my house. 

Whistle Orange Soda was made by the Vess Soda Co in the late 1900s. 
Produced first in St Louis, then distributed in other Midwest towns. 
This clock used to reside in Gneckows Grocery. 
Telling mothers how much time they had before the kids got home from school. 
Better hurry up with your purchase, the Whistle clock says its 2:45. 
My dad got this clock from his Uncle Howard. 
And it hung in his garage for many years. 
I don't remember if it was plugged in while resting in my dad's garage. 
But I took it and used it as a source of both nostalgia and as a time piece in my apartment in Chicago after college. 
And it was working well until maybe ten years ago. 
Then it went backwards. 
The dials started turning counter clockwise. 
Was the clock was trying to go back?
Trying to go back to the past when it was vibrantly colored and full of new life. 
Was Whistle remembering its own past when it hung over the chubby checkout lady who was shoving money from the register into her pockets?
Was it remembering how useful it had been and now it just sat in a young couple's apartment collecting dust?
We unplugged it. 
But it's always moved with us. 
Around to different Chicago apartments. 
To the suburbs. 
And finally back to it's hometown.
Once my husband and I found a Whistle soda bottle at an antique fair. 
What a thrill that was.
We have since found two other bottles to add to our collection. 

I think Uncle Howard would be tickled to see Just Whistle hanging in our home. 
The home his wife, my Great Aunt Marie, grew up in. 
The home that Uncle Dale grew up in.
The home that helped raise my dad, Bobby Dale.  
The home that has stayed while everything else has gone. 
Nothing exists where Gneckows Grocery once stood. 
An alley is still there, but an empty lot surrounded by derelict homes is all that remains. 
My dad has his memories. 
His memories of stocking shelves and sweeping floors for Uncle Howard.
I'll get Just Whistle moving again. 
I'll find a clock repair shop. 
I hope. 
Those may be as hard to come by these days as are smiles from the checkout lady at the super mega grocery store. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Clockwork Chili Pepper

We have taught our children good table manners. 
We have taught them to say thank you. 
We have taught them to hold doors for strangers. 
We have taught them to give back to those who need help. 
But, I'm afraid we have failed them. 
Failed them miserably. 
I keep trying to teach them. 
Especially the elder child. 
But, she's having none of it. 
She says over and over "I can't do it!!"
It being...
she can't tell the time on a clock without numbers. 
This clock...

My chili pepper clock. 
A gift from my old roommate Bill from years ago. 
It has moved everywhere that I have moved. 
It has hung on various walls in various cities. 
It's been hung on white walls, brown walls, green walls, coffee colored walls. 
And my kids don't know how to read it. 
It's the only clock in our living room. 
The room we spend the most time in. 
My daughter will sit below it in the big comfy brown recliner that used to belong to Uncle Jeff. 
And she'll ask me "Mom, what time is it?"
"Look behind you" I'll reply. 
"There's a clock behind you."
"But I can't read that clock!"
"Try!" I'll plead with her. 
So she'll push a button on the television remote to see the time on the big screen she's been watching. 
Or she'll get up. 
Get up to leave the room to find a digital clock. 
Or to find her iPad to push the big middle button so that the time pops up in big, bold, digital numbers. 
And I cry. 
Silent tears fall slowly down my face. 
A face that prefers non-digital clocks.
A face that prefers the art of chili pepper clocks that make me think and allow me to make a cognitive decision on my own. 
Where did we go wrong?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Watch Your Mouth

I think we all know that words have power.
The power to knock us down. 
To make us feel small.
Words can hurt and words can also make us glow. 
Two simple words "I'm sorry" can be what brings us back from the brink of despair. 
And a message like "your outfit looks great today!" can get you through the rest of yours. 
Sometimes the spoken word seems harsher than the written word. 
Because a tone and an in-your-face assault usually accompanies those words. 
And while you are still physically standing, inside you have fallen to your knees. 
Unable to stand back up. 
In our current times, online typed words can pack a punch as well. 
Online bullying is a whole new assault on our psyche. 
Everyday someone gets text punched. 
Which is why my kids don't have a cell phone. 

As an adult, and now as a parent, I do really, REALLY try to watch my mouth. 
I do admit that I have a potty mouth. 
And I swear around my kids. 
Which is completely different than swearing AT my kids. 
I don't do that. 
And I'm honest with them. 
We have been honest ever since Zoe got sick. 
We didn't hide from her what was happening to her. 
From day one, we tried to explain what cancer was. 
Because 5 years old have zero concept of cancer and sickness. 
We explained why she had to get sedated and have needles stuck into her spine. 
Why she had to have a mask screwed over her face and why she had to lay motionless on a table for radiation. 
And so when she told her sister this morning "Mom doesn't care when I'm sick" I felt as if she had slapped me, spit on me, and then kicked my dog. 
Words hurt. 
Even to an almost 45 year old. 
Here's why she said this...
yesterday she had some intestinal distress. 
Also known as diarrhea. 
But she was romping it up with her sister during the day, playing, ate soup for dinner, went promptly to sleep at bedtime, slept through the night, and never had a fever. 
When I told her to get up and get ready for school she moseyed to the kitchen table. 
And looked like she usually does on a school day morning. 
Which is like she would rather go back to bed. 
We had a discussion about how she felt.  
She said she still felt bad. 
I said she looked okay. 
I asked her if she was going to school. 
She shrugged her tween shoulders. 
She went back to her room. 
I asked her sister to go see what she was doing. 
And that's when her sister came back with her message.
That I didn't care. 
My husband and I both just looked at each other. 
And gave a big sigh. 
I said "well, I guess I should call school to say she's not coming. I don't want Z to call DCFS on us."
And when I had her sister's school lunch made and had her shuttled off to the bus, I made my way to Zoe's bed.
And told her that what she had said was a bit bold. 
Because I don't want her to grow up thinking it's okay to say hurtful things and not realize how powerful those words are.
I get on her case if she tells her sister she's stupid and I told her how it wasn't fair to say "mom doesn't care when I'm sick."  
Not in this house. 

Sometimes grown ups in my life say hurtful things to me and they could care less that they've hurt me. 
That's probably their goal. 
But I don't want my daughters to use words to hurt. 
Sometimes silence is even worse than hurtful words. 
I also have adults in my life whose silence in my life is more of a lion's roar in my ear than they realize. 
Being a parent is the hardest job I've ever had. 
I'm not perfect. 
But I try to teach my kids that each thing we say to one another has power. 
And I want to accentuate the positive. 
So, if someone says something hurtful, you're going to get called out on it.
Because if you don't realize that you've hurt someone else, the words have the chance to repeat themselves. 
And it's a chance for ALL of us to stop. 
And think about each other's feelings. 
Because kids don't think moms have feelings. 
And most moms get walked on. 
Moms willingly take those soles tromping on our backs. 
But every once in a while, we need to get off of the floor and remember that we are raising the future. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Idiot Parents And Their Car

Autozena, the Goddess of Automobiles, is an oft underrated figure. 
She often helps to make your day by tossing a quarter out at you. 
In between the seats, usually. 
You look down to put your seat belt on and see a shiny quarter on the floor.
And you're like "wow!  a quarter!"
And Autozena smiles. 
Having worked her magic she moves onto the next vehicle on her schedule. 
She may snap you out of your driving coma so that you don't rear end the guy in front of you who has decided to turn.
You know about driving coma, right?
You head out to, say the store, and you get there and think "huh?  I don't remember that drive at all."
Driving coma. 
Or Autozena may be helping you keep calm when you sit in the passenger seat as your "teenager/elderly mother/husband who learned to drive at 35" sit behind the wheel. 
Reminding you to breathe deeply and to help you muffle your scream as your "teenager/elderly mother/husband who learned to drive at 35" takes that off ramp a bit too quickly and you actually feel the car riding on two wheels only. 
What a goddess she is. 

We were blessed to have a visit by Autozena just the other day. 
She worked some very special magic in our minivan. 
I think it's her biggest feat yet. 
You see, we have these windows in the rear of our minivan. 
Way back there in the third row of seats. 
There's a hinge on them. 
Last year my husband and I tried opening them. 
They looked like they would just pop out. 
We pushed. 
Tried to pop them open. 
Pushed some more. 
I was bummed. 
I swore that I had seen other minivans like ours and those third row windows were popped out. 
Maybe our minivan was the one minivan made that year whose windows weren't going to pop. 

We have had this minivan for about 5 years. 
We got it when our daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
The car that we had, a fabulous mauve Honda Civic, was not going to be capable of driving our sick girl back and forth to the hospital, that was 45 minutes away, during the winter. 
So, it was late 2010 when we bought a 2008 Toyota Sienna.
And, after driving it for about 4 years, we finally thought about those rear seat windows. 
We are slow that way.
To say that we are NOT car people is an understatement. 
Well, we were all bummed when those windows wouldn't open. 
Poor, sad us. 

Then Autozena blessed us. 
Came down from her coupe in the sky to do something amazing for us.
I was getting into our now 7 year old minivan yesterday when I saw it. 
A button to the left of my hand as it sat on the steering wheel. 
This button. 

Where did that button come from?
It was just sitting there. 
Next to the side mirror button. 
Which I have used many times. 

I wonder what that button does?
So, pushed it. 
I heard something, but still wondered what was happening?
I pushed the top of the button. 
Then the bottom of the button. 
Then the top again. 
Then the bottom. 
I pushed the top once more and looked into the rearview mirror. 
And the windows. 
In the third row. 
Were OPEN!
Thank you Autozena!

I immediately called my husband. 
Who responded by saying "what button?"
"A magic button" I said, "It must have been installed overnight!"
When my kids got home from school I had them go out to the garage. 
I told them to sit in their seats. 
And then to turn their heads to the back windows. 
And I pushed the magic button. 
They squealed "the windows open!"
My oldest and wisest daughter questioned me and asked "but how?"
I told her how Autozena came in while we slept warm and cozy in our beds and installed it overnight. 
Right there next to the side mirror adjuster. 
She looked at me, rolled her eyes in that pre-teen way, and said "wow, you and dad are idiots."
Yes we are daughter. 
Yes we are...  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Not Loud Enough

Childhood cancer. 
Two hundred plus children die daily from cancer in this world. 
No one wants to think about it. 
You don't want to talk about it unless you've been in it. 
Deep in the trenches of a possible death sentence for your child. 
I've been in it and it's damn hard to talk about it. 
Children are dying and parents are holding candlelight vigils. 
They sit at home and write letters. 
Letters to the president. 
Letters to lawmakers. 
They put gold light bulbs in their front porch fixtures. 
Make Facebook pages. 
Create t-shirts, shave their heads, sell lemonade and cookies. 
They are afraid to make too much noise. 
Is it out of respect for the young and innocent?
I think it's because deep down we are all mourning. 

When gay men were dying from AIDS no one listened. 
No one wanted to talk about sex and death. 
It was kept in the closet. 
There was shame. 
But seeing everyone around you die a slow and excruciating death, something had to be done. 
So letters were written. 
Phone calls were placed. 
No one listened. 
So they yelled. 
And marched. 
And made a lot of noise. 
They threw their dead friends' ashes on to the White House lawn. 
They made a point to be heard loudly. 
And it happened. 
They were heard. 
And they got funding. 
And the disease (in the U.S.) has decreased and treatments have become revolutionary. 
And people are surviving. 
Because of noise. 

I'm an advocate for kids with cancer. 
I have tried to make some noise.  
I'm not loud enough, though. 
People are very eager to tell me what I'm doing wrong. 
From behind a computer screen. 
Never to my face. 
It's easier to sit at your laptop and nay-say the efforts of someone else.  
But I hope they are simultaneously asking themselves "what am I doing for the cause?"
It's hard to be dedicated to one singular cause in the 21st century. 
The causes are too many to count. 
Diseases of the brain. 
Animal abuse. 
Gun violence. 
Orphans in Europe. 
Heart disease. 
There are so many ways to advocate for something. 
And our brains, news feeds, television screens are inundated. 
And when there's that much information thrown at us. 
No one listens. 
Why should people care about kids who get sick?
Your kid is healthy. 
It's easier to look away. 
Scrool past on your newsfeed. 
Change the tv channel. 
One day my child didn't have cancer. 
And the next day she did. 

I'm getting tired. 
Tired of trying to do good and getting nowhere. 
Tired of asking for help and getting no response. 
Tired of reading stories about children dying. 
I can't begin to fathom what a parent must feel like in a country where there isn't available treatment for their sick child. 
In war ravaged countries. 
People fleeing for their lives. 
There are children in these situations with cancer. 

Childhood cancer has yet to yell loud enough. 
Someone needs to go to the top of the mountain and scream. 
But they can't do it alone. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Teeny Tiny

My second child was an average sized baby upon her birth. 
Almost 8 pounds. 
She wasn't as chubby through her first year of life as her sister was. 
Her sister was a fat baby. 
A few chins. 
Tubular arms. 
So cute and squishy. 
First child was bottle fed. 
Second child was breast fed. 

Second child was fat, but not like her sister had been. 
She was by no means a puny baby. 
But, we did notice a difference in baby size for them. 
And then toddler hood. 

Second sister was petite.
Petite yet sturdy. 
Just because she was little, that did not mean she was prone to breakage. 
She was solid. 
She still is. 
And she's not as petite as she was. 
I think. 
It's hard to tell. 
When I see her among her peers she seems on track with them. 

Similar heights. 
Weights, well that is different.
The weights of 6-7 year olds varies immensely. 
There are obese children, average sized, and profoundly thin kids.
My kids are right in the middle. 
Not too big. 
Not too small. 

Now, second sister loves all things little. 
Little cats. 
Little trees. 
Little shoes. 
I think my mom has had an influence on this. 
My mom is short. 
She was sent home from school by the crossing guard in kindergarten because he thought she was too small for school. 
He thought she had just followed her siblings and he sent her home.
My mom is 4"11. 
Well, she's shrinking, but I'm not allowed to publicly talk about it. 
She also likes little things. 
Little chip clips. 
Little candy bars. 
Little ziploc bags. 
And since second sister's hair became blonde, around the age of 20 months, grandma has declared something. 
Declared it because she saw her little self in second sister. 
My mom was petite with blonde curls as a child.

So is my girl. 
And we often heard these words three words...
"Just like grandma!"

My second baby's hair has stayed blonde, but it's not as curly as it was. 
But, she hasn't lost her love of little things. 
Her favorite things are little. 
Little yogurt cups. 
Little munchkins from Dunkin Donuts. 
Little purses. 
Little, little, little. 
She recently opened up a package of her sister's Legos that had been sitting around. 

And she poked her way around in them and found her favorite things. 
A little magnifying glass. 
A little hat. 
A little shield. 

Her birthday is coming up. 
She will be seven. 
She came as a surprise to us. 
Little did we know that our second girl would be one of the greatest joys of our lives. 
Her little curls. 
Her little laugh. 
Her love for little toys.
She told me recently that she wants this for her birthday. 
She saw it at Target. 

It's full of little things. 
Little fruit. 
Little shelves. 
Little things to step on and loose under the bed. 
Little things to go along with all of her other little things. 
Like her little tiny babies. 

I'll buy it for her. 
Because my little girl with the BIG imagination will love it. 
And I couldn't imagine life without my little girl with her big ideas. 
And her big heart. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Falling For Fall. Or Autumn. Take Your Pick.

I do adore Fall. 
Whatever you call it. 
It gives you a nice respite from the heat of summer. 
Now don't get me wrong, I do love the heat of summer, too. 
As long as I'm near my pool. 
Or on a beach with the ocean or a cool lake within sight. 
But I must be able to see said water with my eyeglasses off. 
So, that liquid must be right there!
But, I digress. 
Back to Autumn. 
The cool mornings. 
The cool nights. 
The cool nights without mosquitoes buzzing your head and biting your neck. 
The girls and I played basketball last night in our driveway at dusk. 
It was perfect. 
My dad has been growing pumpkins the last few years. 
And he grew these ginormous gourds which resemble geese. 
Or snakes. 
Choose your creature, it's there. 

The girls have made some sort of gourd family. 
I have to shuffle my coffee cup around them each morning. 
They sleep in their beds made out of cardboard mattress, kleenex comforters, and cotton ball pillows right on our dining room table. 

I was told that these are "the twins."

I wonder if I have a can of pumpkin in the pantry?
I could make some pumpkin cookies this weekend. 
For some reason, they always taste best when made at the beginning of Fall. 
The smell of pumpkin reminds us of a certain time. 
A certain season. 
Memories are released and I, for one, walk around with a smile on my face when it's pumpkin season. 
It would be ruined if Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts had pumpkin this or that all year long. 

The corn came down across the street from our farm yesterday. 
Howard Buffett (Warren's son) owns the farmland. 
His giant green John Deere combines took it down within a few hours.
One minute it's up. 
And literally, in the next minute it's down. 

Halloween stores pop up around town beginning in September. 
The kids love to go in and get ideas for costumes. 
To get scared by the displays. 
Displays that get creepier each year. 
Our society isn't afraid of anything anymore. 
Which is both sad and frightening in itself.