Lunch at Dad’s

I called him this morning and his phone was turned off. I’ve told him a dozen times he doesn’t have to turn it off when it’s charging but he doesn’t listen. It makes me crazy when I can’t get through to him. He didn’t answer his landline either so I was heading for my shoes—he never leaves the house before 9:00 a.m. I called his neighbor to see if he’d mind checking on him as I was one half making the bed and brushing my teeth, and one half telling myself I was overreacting.

“No problem,” Terry said. “I have a key.”

The phone rang as I was grabbing for my coat. It was Terry. “Debbie, his car is gone.”

“Oh….(Car accident on the way home last night? I ponder.) “….maybe he had an appointment this morning….thanks for checking Terry, I really appreciate it.” I texted dad, Call me.

“Dad! ” I say twenty minutes later into my phone.

“Hi, sweetheart, I had an appointment with the foot doctor this morning, then I stopped at the grocery store.”

“……..” Gosh, thank goodness, phew. “Wow, well you were busy! Charlie and I wanted to take you out to lunch but we can come there if that’s easier.”

“Great, I have lots of food to eat up.” He hates having extra food in the house as much as having extra money. We hang up and the phone rings again before I can put it down. “Debbie, can you stop and pick up two buns? I have Sloppy Joes but only one bun.”

Charlie and I walk in with a bag of buns just as Dad is lifting a cookie sheet with three pottery bowls of soup out of the oven. Keeping the soup warm?

“I called Kay (his cook) to tell her I was having guests for lunch and asked her how to turn my icemaker back on. She was the one who turned it off. She didn’t remember and told me to serve cold water.”

Charlie opens the freezer door and pushes a button. “You gotta hit the ‘on’ button, Grandpa.”

The table was set at the little bistro table in the kitchen with a third chair pulled in from the dining room. “Look at my dining room table and you’ll see why we’re eating in the kitchen.”

I know why but look anyway—one half taxes, the other half stacks of donation requests which make me crazy. “Doing your taxes? “I ask ignoring the requests for money. ‘All these good causes, how can I say no?’ Always his answer.

Have a seat,” he says. “If I was organized like you, Charlie, everything would be ready.”

“We’re ten minutes early, Dad.” I watch him lift one hot bowl at a time with hot pads off the cookie sheet then precariously place each one unto a placemat.

“What else do we need..?”

“Butter, pickles?” I ask.

“Oh, right, butter and pickles. How’s the soup?”

“Cold,” I say giving it a taste.

“I was worried about that.”

We microwave the soup for exactly three minutes and after lunch divide a chocolate chip cookie three ways.

“Thanks for coming by.” He says giving my son a big hug. “It was so good to see you, Charlie. Give my love to Lauren. We have to get her up here.”

I look at the two of them and know I have just had a priceless lunch.

My dad and son

My Dad and Son

Charlie and I open the door to leave and see a seven inch stack of mail with a rubber band around it at our feet.

“That’s a lot of mail, Grandpa……you won’t get bored.”

“That’s right,” Dad says with a chuckle as he walks away. “I won’t get bored.”

Tater Tots on Tuesday

Anyone who’s lived in the Midwest knows how brutal the winters can be. Dad’s doctor started recommending he spend the cold months in Tucson with my sister. This is the second winter he’s gone and the trip was hard on him.

There are other things to consider besides cold weather and I was relieved when I heard he’d be coming home a week early. Two weeks ago, when I found out that he was in the hospital after his legs had given way and he’d fallen, I was afraid he wouldn’t make it home. I picked him up at Mitchell Field last Friday and the first thing he told me was how pleased he was with the airport wheelchair service. He thought he’d be able to travel anywhere in the world.

It’s good to have him back in his condo—just three blocks from my office and three miles from where my husband and I live. And it was special to be together again this past Sunday with Dad.

Today, when I was making his lunch, he was crushing his pills and said, “There will be no pills in heaven!”

“Or grief or anger,” I added as I put extra butter on the bread for his sandwich. He’s down to 130 pounds.

“I really don’t have any anger,” he said after a  moment’s thought. “When the Lord is ready to take me, I am ready to go.”

“What about patience?” I asked and he smiled. “You might want to focus on that or you’ll have to stick around until you get it right.” I smiled.

“You know, I’ve lost twenty pounds since my surgery in 2007.”

“You’ve also lost four inches of height, Dad.  You don’t need the weight.”

“Oh, right. I forgot about that. You always make me feel better.”

(No, Dad, you always make me feel better.)

I had called him on my way to work after a meeting this morning. He told me his congestion was back and had let his doctor know but they hadn’t yet called him back. “Are you taking your Mucinex?” I asked him.

“No, I stopped that.”

“Why?”

“Because I had put myself on it and then I took myself off it.”

“Well, put yourself back on it.”

“Can I talk to my doctor first?”

“Sure, if they call you back. If they don’t, take it.” He chuckled.

“Well…I left it in Tucson.

“I’ll pick some up.” Walgreen’s didn’t have any on the shelf so I went to CVS and picked up two bottles. I was leaving the store when I saw his text asking me if I could pick up his Warfarin prescription and turned around to head back to the pharmacy.

I get immense joy out of solving the little challenges my Dad faces these days. There is always an answer if you take the time to look—even if it might be that you’ve only found some distraction from the fact that you are facing your parent’s mortality. As with my mom, I try not to think about losing him.  He is full of life, in spite of the fact that he weighs 130 pounds, has no appetite, hobbles and coughs. He’s a fighter, a soldier, and carries around a copy of “Onward Christian Soldier” with him in his briefcase.

I love him.

Tonight after work I went by and made a Tater Tot casserole like my mom used to make for our family because he likes it. I made enough for our family because that’s the way Mom made it though it was just the two of us. I lit candles and he said the prayer. When we had finished and the dishes were done, the leftovers put away, he worked his way over to his chir with his new walking stick, slowly lowered himself into it and told me to sit down. “I have something serious to say to you.” I took a seat on the couch beside him. “I know I am getting weaker and won’t be able to stay here in the condo much longer.”

“Oh, I’ve thought about that, Dad. I think we can find someone to come in and help out a little more. They could prepare all your meals and just watch over things.”

“Well, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“One day at a time, Dad.”

“Okay. You always make me feel better.”

No, Dad, you always make me feel better.

Lunch at the Counter

My family is big on rituals. Growing up, it was the Meadow Inn on Friday nights, Solly’s Coffee Shop on Saturdays and Marc’s Big Boy on Sundays after church. We didn’t always go out to eat but when we did, that’s where we’d go. When Mom and Dad went on a Saturday night date, it would be to Jake’s for steaks.

Friday nights during high school, then in college and afterwards, we’d meet up at Kalt’s on Oakland Avenue. (My brother had his wedding rehearsal dinner there and I had my first one there too.) We would sit in the dark wooded and mirrored lobby with the aromas of fried fish wafting through the air, accompanied to the sounds of conversations and laughter coming from the long bar around the corner, as we waited for our name to be called.

We were always greeted by Henry—Mr. Kalt’s son—with menus we didn’t need because we all had fish fries. Henry would escort us back through the restaurant of tables with the red and white checkered tablecloths, to the back room where he’d slide three of four tables together in order to seat us all. Before long we’d have our drinks and a couple orders of onion rings, yelling down the table in cross conversations, as we waited for the fish to arrive.

Kalt’s Restaurant was next door to the J. Pellman Theatre. It was kind of a Milwaukee version of Sardi’s—a spot where all the performers gathered after shows and caricatures of famous people hung on the walls. No matter what, that’s where we’d all meet up at the end of the week. And I always looked forward to it.

Poor Todd. He married into it like it or not. We have developed our own personal rituals like Beans and Barley and Colectivo—a little healthier. But yesterday, we went to Solly’s.

It’s nostalgia. As you wait for a seat at the counter, you can see the guy in the back, grilling, throwing huge slabs of butter on the burgers and salting them with a large metal shaker. To some, it’s an acquired taste. I usually order a salad but the shakes and fries are awesome.

Solly’s opened up in 1936 as a family run restaurant by Kenneth Salmon, a.k.a. Solly. It’s still owned and run by his family. Ladies in their seventies wait on you and you feel bad that their legs must hurt.

I guess for me, walking into the room with counter seating is more about the memories than the food. Long ago, after I finished my Saturday morning piano lessons at the Wisconsin College of Music, I’d wait, sometimes an hour or more, for my dad to pick me up after whatever meeting he had that morning. I’d entertain myself on the front steps of the grand old building, by running up and down them, heading back inside to bother the receptionist for a while, then out again to look down Prospect Avenue for Dad’s orange convertible Carmen Gia. When he finally did show up with his briefcase on the passenger seat, he’d apologize, tossing it in the back, saying the meeting ran longer than he had planned and then we’d head to Solly’s.

Years later, when the doctor told Mom there would be no more Chemo because it wasn’t working any longer, she sat quietly for a moment before picking up her purse and coat and heading out the door with my dad and sister. When Dad asked her what she’d like to do, she stopped, turned to him, and said……..…“Well, let’s go to Solly’s.” She was too weak by then to sit on one of the counter chairs that have replaced the old rotating pedestals that were great for doing three-sixties, so they sat and had their burgers and fries and malts together in the car.

Dad’s been going there since 1946 and still eats there several times a month. People know him by name and if he happens to forget one of theirs it’s okay because the name of each of the waitresses is stitched  into their shirts. He says it’s his home away from home.

Solly's burger

Be advised if you go there, you’ll probably over-tip.

 

 

 

Island Dinner

Roasted vegetables crisp from the oven with fresh herbs, sea salt and olive oil.

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Bread dipped in lavender rich Island vinegar—thick as syrup. Buttery Chardonnay, sipped. Just an evening meal, near the water as the sun is preparing to set. The vibrant colors, textures, layers, warmth around us, are reflected in the food and wine, suggesting the complexity of emotions. Food savored, words unnecessary. Thoughts of the day pondered.

Can I find this peace everywhere please? Can I quiet my spirit in the midst of interruptions…….can I carry home with me the gentle lull of a mood created by my surroundings far north from the city?

It takes time to appreciate the goodness in simple, honest things like vegetables, herbs, oil and vinegar. “A good honest meal,” my mom would say about her mother’s slip-downs and dumplings made from flour she had ground, broth rich from the marrow of bone, served with vegetables she had canned, cream she had drawn from the cow into the bucket herself, and meat butchered from a steer they had raised.

For a long time, I knew as little about the ingredients in the food I ate as what was inside the people I was drawn to.

Food, like people, calls for a sensitivity to its subtleties. An understanding of each ingredient’s unique character, delicacy, power. A respect for all that it took to make its way to the table. From seed to plant, grain to loaf. Birth. Growth. Life.

It’s the sound of the wind off the water that transfixes my thoughts on what matters to me.

A meal prepared for someone you love is a wonderful thing. Tonight I will make Dad pork chops. Yellow squash the way Mom made it—sauteed until golden brown then flipped one slice at a time and sprinkled with lemon pepper. Mashed potatoes. Butter.

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The wind changed direction off the lake and I suddenly have goose bumps, even in my new hoodie. It’s time to go inside for a glass of wine and cook.

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Little Black Dresses?

Late last fall, Dad and I were in the car on our way to the Sunday service at a church he had designed. He’d been asked to give a talk on it for Doors Open the following week. It was a church designed with a hill around it, a solar tower and grass covered roof—green before too many architects were thinking green.

It probably would have been good to have asked him a question about the church that morning but instead I said, “I’ve been thinking about starting a new blog—one of my own—a place where my stories can live so they aren’t randomly mixed in with yours.”

“I think that would be good,” Dad responded.

“Really….?”

“You certainly are moving in several directions with your writing. Why, I think you’re going to end up with a series of books.”

“Really…? I’ve thought about a title for it, Not According to Plan……reflections on love, life and little black dresses.”

“…..Little black dresses…? I don’t think I like that. That’s what got Clinton into trouble.”

What? “…..I think that was a red dress, Dad….” But who cares?

“No….I don’t think so. I don’t like it.”  I will always be my dad’s daughter.

I turned and looked out the car window. Why that’s my most practical wardrobe staple! It can be worn day or night with boots, tights, jeans, heels, sandals, flats or…. I’ve worn little black dresses my entire adult life. I’ve learned to pack a suitcase with little more than a black dress. I felt accused of having dressed inappropriately for decades. My father’s opinion can do that to me.

“I’ve got my mind on my talk.” He said then. “I can’t think about this right now.” I let the subject drop. For months.

It had become clear not long after we started Sundays with Dad that the path we had started out on had turned into a landscape. I was writing more than Dad’s stories—which didn’t really go with the blog title. I could hear him thinking, why is that story there, stay focused Debbie.

I didn’t know when we started out that I was about to discover I liked writing stories as much as Dad liked telling them. So the space we shared became a little crowded. It amused me that even a cyber-home occupied by parent and child could reach a point when it was time for someone to pack up and move out.

We continued on though, with our shared blog space. I weaved my stories around his. We had fun. We made it work. I recorded the memories that shaped him into the man he is and some about me into who I am.

After writing my last story, My Baby’s Getting Married, I realized it was time for a change…one where I get to be the parent too.

If you want to follow me there, you can do it here Not According to Plan…..reflections on love, life and little black dresses..

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Dad has a new project in mind too, so Sundays will still be here.  I love my Sundays with Dad, and I love sharing them with you.

My Baby’s Getting Married

We turned into a long drive with pasture on either side of us. A horse stood with her foul in the distance on one side of the road. A mother protecting her child, I thought to myself as the gravel spit out from under the back tires. Lush green grass and trees spread all around us.

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We passed a stately old farmhouse before veering right to be met by a romping Golden Retriever. Jackson, my son’s dog. Charlie’s home is on a horse farm in the rolling foothills of the Virginia Mountains.

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The front door was open giving it the feel of freedom. He walked through it then. I smiled. Thirty-one years ago he was born five pounds, six ounces. He stood there—six feet, three inches, about 195 pounds—and would be married in three days.

The breeze blew through the soft white curtains in the kitchen.

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The table was set with a small potted rose in the center—simplicity—a flower that would continue to bloom for as long as it was cared for. Like a marriage.

Charlie was making dinner. He walked out the back door to cut some fresh herbs from the pots that sat on the deck. Nothing artificial. Like him.

His artwork hung on the walls around us and this meal was being approached just like his art—a careful blend and balance of mediums, textures and colors. This was an artist’s home.

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As he stood on releve′ to reach for some spices, my mind flashed back to all the dance classes he had waited for me to finish.

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All the stage wings he had hung out in with stage managers. So much hadn’t gone according to plan. I didn’t give my child the life I had hoped I would. Can a mother’s love make up for all her mistakes?

Jackson led me out the door as Todd and Charlie talked. This was a setting not unlike the places Charlie had lived as a little boy. His father loved the Blueridge Mountains and took me there not long after we were married. That’s where Charlie was born.

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Jackson led me down the road, past the farmhouse that was semi abandoned now, and over to the horse and her foal. She let me feed her grass and pet her little one.

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Jackson did a couple laps around the farmhouse before we worked our way back.

“Did you see the flowers, Mom?” Charlie asked as I walked up the steps of the deck. White and purple irises had suddenly popped up days earlier. I had painted irises when I was pregnant with him. He had sat in a stroller beside me at a street fair as his father sold hotdogs with my paintings on display around us. We had made our grocery money that day.

“Yes, they’re beautiful,” was all I could manage to say as his bride to be drove up. White irises for Lauren I thought.

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The dusk light gave the setting a hue of lavender light. Lauren walked around the corner with a glass of wine and we clinked our glasses. “You have given me the best gift, loving my son,” I said hugging her. I gave her a kiss on the side of her head.

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“I’m marrying my best friend,” she responded with her smile.

“I married mine too,” I said.

We joined Todd and Charlie in the back yard. Todd was throwing the basketball for Jackson.

“So when are you going to have a baby?!” Todd chortled.

“Ha!” Charlie and Lauren both laughed. “We think it will be great when the time is right.”

“When the time is right?” I asked. “That doesn’t usually happen.”

“You didn’t want to have a baby when you had me, did you Mom?”

“Oh, I couldn’t wait to have a baby!” (Your dad and I had been hired by Steamboat Springs Repertory in Colorado. We had spent years in NYC and the mountain air did something to me. Suddenly I found myself picking up magazines with pictures of babies on the cover. All I could think about was having a baby. Towards the end of the season I was stopping at Wendy’s for Frosties on my way to and from rehearsal. I thought my costumes were tight because of the ice cream…you are right though, we hadn’t planned you. Get my point? Oh beloved child of mine.)

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My sketch of Charlie

We ate our salads on the deck as a light rain fell—the tomatoes tasting earthy and rich against the spicy Thai peanut dressing—then sat down at the table. Charlie presented plates of Mahi-Mahi—marinated in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper—served with roasted asparagus and rice, slow simmered in a mushroom broth with herbs.

“Why can’t you make asparagus like this?” Todd asked. “I would eat it.”

My son is a chef.

The next day, Lauren drove to DC to pick up a friend. We took Charlie for a beard trim. We ate a late lunch—Charlie and I splitting guacamole and chips, crab cake bruschetta and a roasted veggie sandwich. Afterwards, we drove back to the farm and walked together to see more of the farm’s horses.

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We were in the car ready to leave for the night. “I miss Charlie,” I said before Todd had even started the engine.

“Well, go say good night again.”

My chest was tight, my throat thick, my eyes burned back tears as I jumped out of the car. “Charlie?” He met me at the walk.

“Mom?”

“I love you, sweetie. I’m so proud of you.” I held him in my arms then, all six feet, three inches of him and kissed the side of his head. I couldn’t let go of him as I thought how he had received the gift of my prayers—a wife to love and be loved by.

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Setting the Stage

A sliver of morning light appeared above the roof of the house across the street. I leaned forward in my chair, separated the filmy white curtains and squinting against the brilliance, watched the sun come up. I finished the last of my coffee, closed the books in my lap, stood up and stretched.

High above in the heavens, I wondered if the sun, in all its glory, is but a speck of glitter to God.

Absorbed in my thoughts, I had to dress quickly for work. Fortunately, jeans are fine for my job. I grabbed a black jacket, pulled on some boots, then adjusted the shoulder strap of my briefcase and hopped on my bike.

But as I passed the bluff overlooking the lake, I had to stop. I laid my bike on the curb and walked over to look more closely. Something was missing. A hazy white sheet, cascading like a curtain, appeared to have been thrown down from above, concealing the horizon. There was no visible division between water and sky.

What divides us from heaven, I wondered. What if it’s right here, separated only by a veil we can’t see beyond with our human eyes?

Just then, a string of shimmering light appeared on the water. Like glitter. I stood still, thinking of the words from my devotion that morning …. I am with you, I am with you, I am always with you…..
October 30, 2013

I came across this journal entry as I was preparing to write my next story, The Seven Days of Heaven. The day, October 30, was the day proceeding those seven days in Mom’s life in 2011.

Mom and I, as well as all the women in our family, had been reading the same devotion that year—Jesus Calling. It was a gift given to Mom by my sister-in-law, Georgine, after my brother Ed died. Reading it together, connected our hearts.

I didn’t realize at the time, that the book’s entry for October 30 referenced the first scripture Mom had ever memorized. I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:14). It was the scripture her pastor, Reverend Bernwirth, had read to her on the Sunday she had been baptized.

As a brave ten-year-old, when the pastor had asked the congregation if there was anyone who wanted to come forward to be baptized that Sunday, without any cajoling from her Uncle Willard who she sat beside, she rose, and walked down to the water. She would step into it—wearing her best dress—and in front of all those present, surrender her heart to Jesus.

A lot happened on that Sunday before the seven days. I’ve already written about some of it in my post entitled Morning Buns. If you haven’t read it, you might want to as background for my post on Sunday, April 20, The Seven Days of Heaven.

Oh….and just one last thing for today, I can’t help but share what I read from that same little book this morning afterI finished writing……

If I pulled back the curtain to allow you to view heavenly realms, you would understand much more. However, I have designed you to live by faith, not by sight. I lovingly shield you from knowing the future or seeing into the spirit world. Acknowledge My sovereignty by giving thanks in all circumstances. April 16 entry from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young

Dolores Rahn in her Sunday best

Dolores Rahn circa 1940

Diary of an ADD Shopper

Marriage is an endless stream of compromises—for those of us into conscious coupling, as opposed to those of us who are married and unconscious. Does that make any sense?

Todd and I went shopping for tiles on Saturday afternoon.

You need to understand, my Uncle Gordy tiled our bathrooms over forty years ago. Each tile had been so carefully laid it was a big deal for me to consider having them replaced.

Todd was set on a bathroom upgrade.

We have two bathrooms side by side. It was originally one large bath that Dad converted to suit a family of six when he renovated the house in 1970. The boys and the girls we called them. Todd and I bought the house from my parents when they downsized to a condo in 2004. It’s been a project for Todd to keep up, but I think it’s worth it.

He wanted me to go tile shopping at Menard’s. I wasn’t too excited about that but when he proposed lunch at Colectivo beforehand, and a stop at Banana Republic afterwards, I was up for it.

The parking lot was packed with cars and people—Menard’s is a happening place on Saturdays. And friendly. We were greeted with smiles and welcomes as we entered the monster of a store. I noticed Chocolate Fudge Trail Mix on display and picked it up thinking it would make shopping more fun but remembered we had just had lunch and put it back.

We were headed towards the shower heads aisle when I stopped and admired an array of Swiffles. Don’t ask me why. I never dust. I decided I really wanted a Swiffle ceiling duster with an extended arm to use on the third floor which, as noted above, I have never dusted. Not in the ten years we have owned our house. “You’re an ADD shopper,” Todd said and pulled me along.

Once we picked out the shower head and were finally advancing towards the tile department, I happened upon a lovely display of really large packages of Bounty paper towels. I decided we needed one. “Look! A bounty of Bounty!” I said as I heaved one from the top. It filled our entire cart, leaving no room for the upcoming tiles, but that hadn’t dawned on me yet. Todd kept walking.

I had a white bathroom in mind—white tiles, white towels, white candles. Todd was set on a matte finished light tan which he said better matched the rest of the house.

“That’s too light,” he kept telling me as I pointed to the tiles I liked.

“Oh, look here!” I got excited. “I’ve always wanted a bathroom like this.” Black and white glossy squares.

“We’ll need to get a new house for those.”

“It can be my own little corner. Who’s going to care?”

“The next buyer maybe?” Todd is always practical.

He wanted the new tiles to match up with the ones he had put into the ‘boys’ bathroom last year. He had picked them out and hauled all five hundred pounds of boxes up the stairs himself. Once they were laid there was no turning back but neither one of us was sure about them. Too dark, we thought. Fortunately they lightened up after the grout was added.

A nice young salesman named Marcus helped us figure out quantity as we settled on a tile color. Todd quickly stuffed my Bounty into one of the shelves. I told Marcus I thought Menard’s must be a nice place to work as I retrieved it. He agreed, and shared that he was in his final semester of studying Architectural Technology at MATC. Todd was busy loading boxes into our cart as I stood there with the Bounty. Marcus said he’d get us a flat.

With the Swiffle and Bounty on top of the tiles, we made our way to checkout where I discovered a rack full of dark chocolate covered berries. I couldn’t decide between pomegranate or blueberry so I got both. I opened the blueberries while Todd started checking us out.

This is when he discovered we were two boxes short and left me there with a stern looking man in line behind. I introduced myself to Melba, our cashier, and started handing her our items, bar code up, to speed things along. When Todd hadn’t returned, I paid for two extra boxes of tiles. Melba circled the rebate number on our receipt and directed me to the customer service counter to fill out our 11% mail-in rebate.

It’s good to have a bag of chocolate along for distraction when you’re waiting around with a 6′ x 4′ flat and cart in tow at a crowded Menard’s.

Todd finally appeared, telling me they were out of our tiles. Then just as fast as he had reappeared he disappeared again. “Maybe they have some in the back,” I heard him call back to me.

We should have gone with the black and white squares.

I noticed Melba smiling at me as I tried to stay out of everyone’s way. I smiled back. Todd arrived with the two boxes when Melba was in the middle of a big order. I watched her make sure the cashier next to her knew we had already paid for them.

I was a little nostalgic about leaving Menard’s as I pulled the flat to the car. Goodbye Melba, I thought. Good luck with your new career Marcus.

As I write this story, the Swiffle lays in the hall resting on the floor waiting for someone to put it away.

I’m thinking about opening it up and clicking the extended arm into place after I straighten out my closet this morning. But the sun is out. I might go for a run first….

© All Rights Reserved

Afraid of Balloons

Some people wait for years to replace a beloved pet. Not us.

When we had to put down Pisgah—my fifteen year old Cocker Spaniel—I couldn’t go back  home without her there to greet us. She had been through my first marriage with me. After my divorce, she was with my son Charlie when I couldn’t be.

20131216_211037_resizedShe was my jogging buddy—always beside me, leash-less. When her years began to add up and she started to lag behind, her long silky ears flopped all the more from the extra effort. She began to surrender on her squirrel chases. She became deaf and found her way by scent.

In spite of it all, as she aged, people would still ask if she was a puppy.

20131216_211355_resizedAfter a bath one night, she shivered and was short of breath. I thought it was from the cold but it didn’t stop. We soon discovered that her heart was enlarged. It couldn’t contain all her love.

20131216_211054_resizedTodd stood by my side as I held her in my arms and she looked up at me. The vet gave her the shot that put her into a sweet, deep sleep.

It was too hard to walk back into our house after that so we went for lattes. We came up with the idea to take a drive to the pet store where my brother had found a puppy.

We walked in and I immediately noticed a teddy bear. He sat up with a stick-straight dancer spine and looked me square in the eyes. Hopeful anticipation…..Please love me ma’am (get me out of here!). I asked to hold him and the salesperson took him from his cage and set him down in an observation pen.

20131216_211644_resizedI watched him play, rubbed his belly, let him lick the tears that were still fresh in my eyes, and tried to stop him from gnawing on my fingers with his sharp teeth.

20131216_211454_resizedBy the time Todd found out we couldn’t afford him, it was too late. Without any research, we made an impulse buy and busted our budget. We were so sad and Sam was such fun. We returned home with a big pen and all the dog accouterments—poorer but puppy rich.

20131216_210942_resizedI sobbed through that evening, playing Puccini in Pisgah’s honor while Sam scooted around.

20131216_210735_resizedHe chewed the legs of all our furniture but was particular about the shoes he ate. They had to be new and bone colored. He destroyed our rugs and carpeting and ate anything—including a lighter. He was a butane hose for days and had to spend them all in his pen.

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Frozen in snow after playing with his best friend Cookie Dermond

Garbage cans scare him. He is a sniffer not a jogger and can easily spend thirty minutes on one block. He was hard to train and still jumps up on guests. He snarls at some dogs but only after I have assured the owner he is friendly.

He got his certificate from obedience school because the trainer was relieved to be done with him. “This is how you walk a dog,” he would say taking Sam by the leash and proceed across the room. “Heal! Heal!! HEAL SAM!!”  Sam does not heal.

20131216_211813_resizedHe is strong-willed but sweet and confused about being a dog. He sits on the stairs like a person—upright on the step. He has made our furniture his own and when Todd gets up in the morning, Sam immediately jumps up beside me and lays his head on Todd’s pillow.

20131216_211743_resizedWe work all day so we got a kitten to keep him company and named her Rose.

20131216_211621_resizedHer alley cat mom weaned her too early so the former owner’s dog had become her surrogate mother. When Rose met Sam she attached her mouth to a nipple. He stared at us, What the heck? but they became best pals.

20131216_211539_resizedI eventually got Sam to walk to the lakefront and home again without a leash. I would carry Rose along in a papoose. The three of us would do the full two and a half mile circle together…until the day Sam saw a parachute.

He stopped, turned and took off across the beach, running past honking, screeching cars. He was covered with the lake’s algae and tends to look rabid when wet. No one could catch him. He disappeared into the ravines. I called for hours. I was almost home when I noticed him sauntering along a couple blocks ahead of me.

I keep Sam on a leash now most of the time and have never been successful with getting him to walk leisurely on the lakefront. He’s always looking for that parachute.

So, when we brought balloons home from an event last night, Sam escaped up the stairs and hid in the bedroom.

He just has a thing about floating aberrations.

BalloonsI sometimes wonder what would have happened to Sam if we hadn’t been so impulsive that day at the pet store. It doesn’t matter….Sam has Pisgah to thank for that….and I’m sure he will one day.

20131216_210826_resizedHe’s just not ready yet to join her.

2011 Oct 18 Camera Download 001

Disruption to Joy

Students set the gym mats on fire in the school basement and tables and chairs were flung through the windows of the third floor cafeteria. There was obvious tension created by bringing kids of different backgrounds together and it blew up not long after we arrived at Riverside in 1970. I remember the day teachers had to lock the classroom doors from the rowdiness filling the halls.

I sat at my desk and watched the anger on the faces of the mob of kids passing by and looking in the glass window of the door. Our teacher kept teaching. Todd was in French class and some kids smashed his classroom door window and came in. One of the kids danced with Mrs. Lynch, the French teacher. “They ballroom danced,” Todd said as we remembered the day together. “She was really cool about it. They just danced and the kids left.”

I thought to myself, once again, if there was more dancing there would be less fighting.

Dad had heard about the school disruption that day and was coming up the front school steps when he ran into Mr. Kennedy, one of the four assistant principals. The kids causing the disruption were all in the auditorium by this time with a local radio announcer who had shown up because he heard about the school ‘riot’. Dad started to go into the auditorium.

“Don’t go in there, Bill.” Mr. Kennedy said. “You’ll only make it worse. They’re meeting together. Let the kids talk it out.”

“I’m going in Joe. They can’t just take over the school like this.”

“Let it be. You won’t help.”

I’m going in.”

“Bill. I’m asking you. Let them be.”

Dad gave in, “Alright, I won’t go into the auditorium today. But I will never come back to this school and be told where I can and can’t go.”

The days passed and things calmed down. Mom and Dad were at the school a lot, walking the halls. They got to know the administration, teachers and eventually some of the student leaders like Rodney Drew. They went to the SPTA meetings and tried to help the school raise money.

20140301_192200_resizedBrookfield fundraisers had been ice cream socials where everybody baked things and brought them to sell. When Dad suggested something like it, the kids laughed—‘Ice cream? Why not sell barbecue?!’ And so Riverside had its first barbecue fundraiser.

“Usinger’s was a client at the time,” Dad said. “I talked to them about getting a good price on spare ribs. We had no idea how many people would turn up so Usinger’s agreed to stock Sentry on Oakland Avenue which was a couple blocks from Riverside. We would be able to easily pick up more meat if we needed it and avoid having a bunch of ribs leftover.

We needed a big grill and I remembered a client who had had a barbecue grill made out of a horse water trough. So I found one of those and took it to Riverside Park on the top of our Ford station wagon. The idea of having the barbecue was a risk because there was such tension at the time between the white and African American students. But everybody agreed to try it as a way to bring the Riverside kids together and hopefully raise some money.

We lost $275.00—I should have known you can’t make money on meat—but it went well. A newspaper reporter from the Journal came and wrote a story on it. I could not believe his headline:

Races Stay Separate at Barbecue

I just couldn’t believe that. It was such a great opportunity to make a positive story—from disruption at school to a barbecue picnic…..from disturbance to joy. Of all the things he could have said, that’s what he chose. I did call him but it was such a missed opportunity.”

I reflected on what Dad said about the reporter. I’m sure he just wrote about what he saw that day. He was probably right—friends hung out with friends. The point though, was that we were all there together. Compared to what we had all just been through, it was a hopeful step in the right direction.

I was sitting at my desk this past week scheduling my visits to our Ballroom and Tap classrooms throughout Milwaukee. This is no small task—there are eighty-seven of them in fifty schools this year. Each school, like each student, has a personality and history all its own and deserves special attention. I like to ride my bike to the schools, though many are now out of riding distance. Last year, I got lost around Hadley and 1st Street on one of my trips and asked a lady on the street for directions. She said, “Honey, you have to ride your little fanny right back up that hill you just came down, take a right at the top then go about six blocks.”

One of the public schools in our program is Lloyd Barbee Montessori. Lloyd Barbee was one of the most important figures in the Milwaukee Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. He started his own law firm in 1962 and headed up a number of civil rights organizations including the Madison NAACP. He was a longtime advocate of total school integration and led the struggle to desegregate Milwaukee Public Schools. His daughter Daphne Barbee was in our class at Riverside—she was a cheerleader and in Todd’s AP (Advanced Placement) English class.

In the 1970s, Riverside High School was one of the first MPS schools to bring kids from different neighborhoods together and try to make it work. For the most part, it did, though some may feel differently. Today, Milwaukee teachers and administrators are working hard under difficult circumstances. When I think of Danceworks faculty traveling throughout the city to bring ballroom and tap into the classrooms, I think of Lloyd Barbee’s work in the 60s to bring students together. I wonder what he’d have to say about seeing our students working together today and our schools coming together through a dance program. I think of the Riverside Barbecue.

Maybe it took a little longer than you would have thought Dad, but maybe, just maybe we are moving in the direction from disruption to joy. It takes time to get to know and understand and love and trust each other. You have to give it time.

“Human progress never rolls on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” Martin Luther King Jr.

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