Tales from the “way back”

This is for you, Steph.

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in the late seventies and eighties in a tight-knit neighborhood full of kids. In those days, my best friends and most everything I loved or needed was a short walk away.

We played outside for hours at a stretch – in the creek, trees, streets, backyards, and basements.

We lived by simple truths:

Older brothers and sisters were in charge.

Mr. Rosenberg made the best pancakes.

The O’Connors had the biggest kickball team (11).

But perhaps one of the greatest but forgotten places to be during my childhood were the far flung regions of my friend’s parents’ station wagon – what we called “the way back.”

1970-Kingswood-Wagon“Can we sit in the ‘way back’?” was our plaintive plea at the announcement of every road trip, grocery store run, or rainy day ride to school.

In literal terms, the “way back” was so physically far from the front seat it may has well been in a different universe, which I suppose, lent it its magic.

I remember crawling over the back seat to the “way back,” the scratchy feel of the avocado felt, like the fuzz of a new tennis ball, wiry enough to give you a rug burn, soft enough for hours of travel or adventure.

1976_Chevy_CapriceSometimes we leaned against the leather-covered sideboards. Sometimes we lay on our backs, heads close to the back door and watched the sky whisk by, thin clouds racing, sunlight and shadows making patterns across our faces. On long trips, we made beds out of sleeping bags and pillows in Stars Wars and Muppet Show pillowcases.

The “way back” was a safe zone. You were much less likely to get pinched or punched or kicked or glared at by an older sibling if you were there.

On some summer evenings, while our parents sat in lawn chairs, talked and smoked (it was the ‘70s) in the backyard, we kids hung out in the front yard and driveway – sometimes sitting in the parked “way back” with the door open, like a kind of club house.

What I didn’t realize when I started digging into my “way back” memories is that the station wagon was much more than fun for us kids. It was a literal vehicle of empowerment and independence during the ‘70s. It was a call to take to the open road.

Don’t think so?

Think of The Brady Brunch journeying to the Grand Canyon.

snapshot200911012324144109

Think of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, the movie on which the sitcom “Alice” was based. Alice packed up everything she owned in her station wagon, and she and her young son set out on a journey to find a better life. The station wagon their transitional home, big enough to hold all or most of their possessions, big enough to sleep in if they had to.

alice_p3

Think of One Day At A Time. Ann Romano as the quintessential ‘70s single Mom divorcee. She dumped her husband and packed up her girls and her life in their station wagon – and unpacked and remade them all in an apartment of their own, on their own.

bonniefranklinAnd, let we forget, perhaps the most memorable station wagon of all, from National Lampoon’s Vacation.

national-lampoons-vacation-1024x576

I’m assuming the station wagon went out of fashion fast when the gas crisis hit, and when times got better, someone came up with the next generation: the minivan.

God, forgive us.

I guess the “way back” is gone forever. Children without seat belts romping around in the backs of fast-moving cars? Well, no.

tumblr_m940947KW31r1x71p

Oh, 1970s, we miss you and your cavalier attitude, your winged hair, your independence.

Kristy+Mcnichol+11

But mostly, we miss the “way back.”

Hey Fella

Dad in the middle.

You put yourself through college playing gigs and working odd shifts at the local hospital.

Were you buddies with the other guys in the picture?

Is one of them actually Al Anderson?

In my head I hear you say, “They were all nice fellas.” That was one of your words.

Years later, when I was about eight, you said to six of my boy friends who were playing a bit too rough for your liking, “Hey fellas, take it easy.”

To this day I’m not sure if they stopped because of the inherent authority of your presence, or because they were so startled by the word “fellas.”

You called Steve, my brother, “Ace.”

Even me, once in a while too.

Neither of us knows from where that came.

I imagine you taking a break at that gig in the picture. Outside the back door of this school auditorium? Dance hall? It’s freezing cold, and you’re all hunched over in stiff tuxedos with smoky breaths rising, cigarettes cupped in your hands. You talk about what song to play next, which girl is the prettiest, how much snow will fall.

Isn’t it funny, this life you had? I’ve spent countless years trying to understand the Dad you were. These days I wonder about the younger you…before you were a Dad, a husband, a businessman, a coach. When you were just a horn player. Just a fella.

Love

Love is patient, kind…and sometimes wears a monkey hat.

download-7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is not proud…unless it has a mink stole and a walkin’ stick, y’all!

download-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love keeps your food delicious…and free of extraneous hair.

download-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is a DRAG QUEEN.

Duh.

Everyone knows that.

download-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is freedom and equality for all.

download-6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love is the Pig Power t-shirt your Grandma did not understand, nor approve of, but never said a word about.

download-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours.

A portrait of the loud laugher as a young child

My Dad was a sensitive guy.

Sometimes it seemed like the whole world was too much for him.

Too loud. Too odiferous. Too crowded. Too bright. Too fast.

When overwhelmed by his senses, he raised one eyebrow in disapproval, lowered his newspaper, looked over at whoever was nearby, shook his head, muttered something inaudible, raised the paper again.

Mom called him, “The Nose,” because he could sniff out even a hint of spice or seasoning the second he walked in the door.

“Is that garlic?” he’d bellow, nose wrinkled in disgust.

Hardly.

Due to his sensitivity, we were raised on the blandest food, only ever-so-slightly salted.

Which might explain my lifelong longing for flavorful food.

Please, pass the garlic!

One night at home many years ago, I laughed hard at something and saw him out of the corner of my eye, fake-wincing in pain at the decibel level of my guffaw.

Which made me laugh even harder.

I said, “Sorry, Daddy,” not really meaning it.

He smiled broadly, shook his head in disbelief and said tiredly, but with love, “You’ve had that laugh since you were a little, little girl.”

Young loud laugher
Young loud laugher

What I’m Digging

Listening, reading, and watching much right now. The world provides much rich fodder.

Image

Excerpts from President Obama’s Inaugural address. Here’s the full transcript.

For we, the people, understand that our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it.

…We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

…Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

Image

From Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem:

The willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life is the source from which self-respect springs…

To have that sense of one’s intrinsic worth which constitutes self-respect is potentially to have everything: the ability to discriminate, to love and to remain indifferent. To lack it is to be locked within oneself, paradoxically incapable of either love or indifference.

…I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.

Image

Jodie Foster, accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes. Full transcript.

I hope you guys weren’t hoping this would be a big coming out speech tonight, because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago, back in the stone age. In those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family, co-workers, and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met.

…I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle.

ImageFrom Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim At Tinker Creek:

It snowed. It snowed all day yesterday and never emptied the sky, although the clouds looked so low and heavy they might drop all at once with a thud. The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light on paper inside a pewter bowl…

…My mind has been a blank slab of black asphalt for hours, but that doesn’t stop the sun’s wild wheel. I set my coffee beside me on the curb; I smell loam on the wind; I pat the puppy; I watch the mountain.

Citrine & Hillary

Last week, I had a 10 cm dermoid cyst removed from my ovary. For those of you not as well-versed in the metric system, allow me to put this into a more relatable image: a grapefruit.

df-grapefruit_300

I had a grapefruit-sized TOTALLY BENIGN (thank heavens) dermoid cyst removed. Also, they removed the ovary on which the dermoid was perched.

Yes, it’s weird that was a citrus-sized intruder hanging around my reproductive organs without my knowledge, and might, I add, permission.

I am very glad it’s gone.

If you Google “ovarian dermoid cyst,” I’d advise you do it on an empty stomach, because dermoids are gross, gnarly even. They often contain…are you ready?

Hair. Gobs of it.

Also, sometimes teeth.

How did I manufacture this?

No one knows.

In an effort to keep my sense of humor about this situation, I shared the news of my “grapefruit baby” or “my lost twin” with friends and family.

My brother’s response: “You always wanted a little brother or sister!”

Photo by Flickr user chicks57
Photo by Flickr user chicks57

My friend Will named the dermoid Citrine: a nod to its citrus size, but more European in style. Will surmised that Citrine wore a bowler hat and held a cigar stump between her teeth.

Yes, teeth.

I added that she had a Madonna-style British accent and always showed up uninvited. I wish I had a sketch to share with you.

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 11.00.54 AM

My friend Anne thought Citrine looked more like the Mad Balls that were so wildly and grossly popular during my 1980s childhood.

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 10.50.12 AM

An ex was convinced the dermoid was a manifestation of a baby I’ve yet to have, and rather than stress about the thousands of dollars in surgical costs, I should consider the delusion that Citrine is actually a freshman at Brown University, major undecided. And I am footing the bill.

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 10.52.41 AM

Days after the surgery, I lamented the loss of my ovary. Thankfully, my friend Heather brought me back to reality.

When you lose an ovary, the other does the same job as two, so rather than grieving the lost ovary, you should be proud of your super-ovary! She’s doing two important jobs for very little recognition. We should call her Hillary Clinton.

Screen Shot 2012-12-06 at 10.56.03 AMSo, while I hate to be the bearer of bad news, I must inform you that since Hillary is very busy being my super ovary, she will be unable to run in the 2016 election. She has very important eggs to make – scrambled, hardboiled, I can’t know. She’s Hillary Clinton.

Sorry, America.

Giving Thanks

The Thanksgivings of my childhood had much tradition tied to them. The origins of some remain a mystery; others are burned into my brain as “the way” to do things. I’ve collected a few scenes from the turkey days of my youth.

Here’s to the people, food, rituals and familial idiosyncrasies that make each Thanksgiving so wonderfully perfect, flawed, complicated and simple. Happy Thanksgiving.

The night before Thanksgiving:

Mom thaws the semi-frozen turkey in bit of tepid water in the kitchen sink, which is scoured to surgical-level sterility. I periodically walk into the kitchen and poke at the thawing turkey’s naked self, presumably contaminating the otherwise sterile environment.

A scene from Home For The Holidays

Thanksgiving morning:

Mom wakes us early to help with the polishing of the silver, setting of the table (good tablecloth, pressed cloth napkins, china, water and wine glasses), and the washing of cooking utensils, pots and pans (Mom is a “clean-as-you-go” cook).

We watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade (whilst dusting, vacuuming and fetching).

We de-vein shrimp. I don’t know who started the shrimp cocktail Thanksgiving appetizer tradition, but my Mom insisted on it. Related: I could eat shrimp cocktail all day long, as could my brother. Reality: Everyone got five. Lesson: Shrimp is expensive; Get a good job!

We never light the politically incorrect but TOTALLY CUTE Pilgrim and Native American candles. Why? Because then we couldn’t use them every single year, silly! We handle those candles with the same care and reverence as we handle the family china. Do. Not. Break. Do. Not. Drop. White bread Hallmark heirloom? You decide. Mom still has them.

Thanksgiving afternoon:

The family, now faint with hunger and overwhelmed by the heady smells emanating from the oven and stove, is warned against eating anything that might “spoil your appetite” for the eating extravaganza that awaits.

Dad sneaks a butter and peanut butter sandwich. We are all jealous.

Time for the feast:

Dad is beckoned to carve the turkey. His brow furrows in deep concentration at this mighty task. Also, his tongue sticks out ever so slightly: evidence that this feat requires the precision of an expert marksman.

We fill water glasses. (Hand blown red glasses that my parents received as a wedding present. Reserved for holiday use only.)

We fetch serving dishes and utensils for Mom who is frantically moving from one burner to the next to the stove to the refrigerator. She barks orders and physically moves us where she wants us to be.

We WASH OUR HANDS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! Thanks, Dad.

We usher grandparents, aunts, uncles and other guests to the table like royalty.

We help Mom serve the shrimp cocktail. Did I mention that everyone gets five? Savor ’em, people, because that’s it until next year!

We eat:

Lots of “please,” “thank you,” “this is delicious,”and “are you sure you want that last shrimp?”

We kids have a moment of quiet dread when we realize that we have to hand wash, dry and put away every single plate, glass, salad fork and hand blown water glass that sit before us. We die a little.

Mom rises to clear the dinner plates and gives us the eye to help her.

Coffee is brewed and served; dessert plates are carried to the table.

The pies are presented. There are always several. The most popular response to the question, “Pie?” is “I’ll try a sliver of each!”

Homemade whipped cream, people.

Post feast:

There is a massive clearing of the table that enlists the help of all females present. The men retire to watch football. I realize how antiquated this seems, but that’s how it was in my house when I was very young. Years later, there was much more male participation. And by participation, I mean dish washing.

Tupperware madness. Mom has the uncanny ability to size up the leftover food in a bowl and find the corresponding Tupperware into which it will snugly fit. It’s a gift.

There is endless dish washing, dish drying, dish putting away. We go through at least eight dish towels and steam up the kitchen windows from the hot dish water and ceaseless activity.

Finally satisfied, Mom releases us from our servitude, and we collapse onto the floor of the family room where Dad and all the males are watching football/slipping into turkey comas.

And for every bit, I am grateful.