by Cathy Allie
As if COVID-19 hadn’t dealt us enough new challenges, the pandemic is taking place in an election season, which in and of itself is generally so distasteful that most of us turn our heads. The 24 hour news cycle has us almost unable to avoid seeing or hearing about the election.
It has me thinking from time to time, however, that maybe I missed my calling, and I should have been a politician. While I really wouldn’t want to have debates or run a campaign, I would really like some of the parts of it—kissing babies, one of my all-time favorite things to do; attending dinners that other people prepare; expressing my opinion in long-winded diatribes that mostly no one will read or listen to; and attending inaugural balls in fancy dresses and big earrings. If I only had a platform on which to run!
The origin of the word platform comes from the French, who I don’t particularly love (here’s hoping that did not offend any of the Grain Valley News’ French readership—it’s just that you all are snotty). It literally means flat form and most likely referred originally to the boards that a candidate stood on to deliver his or her remarks at election time.
I suppose my platform would have to include some foreign policy. My first legislative effort would be to have everyone’s passport weight reduced significantly. “Oh, you weigh 157? I think you look more like 142,” the perky passport issuer would say, and the traveler would suddenly be thinner in stature.
Another significant foreign policy move would be to drastically reduce the price of flights to seasonally appropriate destinations. Flying to the Bahamas in January? $50 should get you there and back. Last minute anniversary trip? “Why yes, we can get you to Italy for a cozy dinner for two for about $100 a piece. Will that fit your budget?”
Any good platform needs something about conceal and carry, I suppose, as well. In the case of a middle to late middle age woman, the only conceal that is important is that of the bags under her eyes and age spots from teenage sun worshipping.
In a brilliant stateswoman like move, I would provide way stations of various shades of concealers, placed right next to electric car charger stations, satisfying not only the woman who had little sleep the night before but those hoping to control automobile emissions. Plug in and charge the car, grab a little squirt of concealer and apply it while waiting, as everyone knows the best mirror and light for discovering all your facial flaws is the rearview mirror of a car anyway.
Climate change has also been an area of great debate in politics the last few years. Is the ozone layer actually thinning? Do we have global warming, or is it just a hoax? Let me assure you that any 50 something woman can tell you that she is having personal summers nearly every day, so global warming surely exists.
In my platform, women would be granted the right to have permanent control of the thermostat in any office or home setting. Those who attempted to adjust the temperature without the permission of the HHWIC (Hot Head Woman in Charge—read that for her current temperature and not her attitude, although the two are often interrelated), would be automatically fined. The money from the fines could be applied as energy credits, and pay for most folks’ monthly energy bills.
“Honey, the thermostat is set at 60 again. We just cannot run the air conditioner in winter,” an unenlightened spouse might say. “Senate Bill Fahrenheit 451 actually says we can,” the HHWIC would respond and issue the fine.
My Domestic Policy area would be one of great relief to the female sector, as well. Washer and dryer manufacturers would be required to have automated hands which reach out and poke offending family members when they mix bright colors and whites in a wash load, or attempt to dry something wool.
Also in Domestic Policy areas, dogs would have more freedoms and more say in how things run. I once saw an episode of Judge Judy where she let a dog decide its own fate about who would own it, and ever since then, I have been fairly convinced they are about as smart as humans.
As proof, I offer this: with few exceptions, dogs only “speak” when they have something really urgent to talk about, like the approach of a squirrel, mailman, or Amazon delivery; they don’t fuss too much about the meals they are served; and they go outside to use the bathroom, saving domestic goddesses tons of time not having to clean bathrooms.
If they really ruled the world, we would have to figure out how to stop everyone from sniffing other’s butts, or hiking our legs to mark our spots, but that is behavior I have seen politicians engage in anyway, and perhaps a column for another day.
In my pup-based administration, in homes everywhere, family members would be excited to go on car rides. Naps would be done in sunny window wells. Friendships and political alliances could be formed just over who smelled the most like steak that day.
My platform’s health care policy would have a great deal of focus on “cankles,” the area where our calves connect to our ankles. Research labs around the states would look into reducing swelling in that area, creating happier women, in turn creating a happier everybody.
On the education front, I would insist upon a common sense curriculum, something which seems to be missing today in our country. In fact the phrase common sense seems to be a bit ironic, since as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not that common.”
The curriculum would include things like when you open a drawer, shut a drawer, or if you drink the last bit of milk, don’t put the empty carton back in the fridge.
The bulk of the curriculum would focus on our youth, who perhaps still have time to be saved, as I have primarily give up on adults. The online textbook title would be, “What My Mom Would Do in this Case and Why She is Right,” followed by resources lessons titled, “Yes, Mom Did Tell Me That and I Didn’t Listen” and “Thank You, Mom, for Your Good Advice.”
The cause and effect lessons with video demonstrations would be called “Damp Towels on the Floor Create Mold” and “Hot French Fries Can Burn Your Tongue.”
Finally, no platform would be complete without at least a nod to economics. I read once that individuals can improve the economy with just small acts, like purchasing from a local entrepreneur once a week, outsourcing when you can, and investing in what you believe in. Clearly those are all tied together for me in the restaurant industry.
To improve the economy, I will propose that we order carryout from a local restaurant once a week, outsource our cooking to a local catering company, and purchase stock in donut stores. So simple and yet so effective!
If my “manifesto” seems a little shallow to you, remember that it is all in fun, unlike the very serious decisions we have ahead of us in the coming weeks in our country’s election. Vote wisely, but whatever you do, VOTE!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
I have spent an inordinate amount of time in my life thinking and often worrying about things other people would never give a second, possibly even first thought.
I saw an overthinking meme this week that truly describes the kind of things occupying my mind. It said, “What is the exact right amount of eye contact so that someone knows I am listening but not trying to steal their soul?”
This overthinking has increased during COVID isolation with my extra down time. If you aren’t scared yet, here is a peek behind the curtain for some more of my overthinking.
Many of my thoughts center around family members and my dog, where one thought rabbit trails into many more. For instance, recently an entertainment program announced the birth of a celebrity’s son, that he and his wife named Wood.
Within moments, I am thinking, “Should we have named my daughter something different?” My husband and I have both been educators, which significantly narrows the name pool from which to choose. It only takes one ill-behaved Dustin or an eye-rolling Ashley to mark them off the list.
I check the popular baby names list, half hoping my daughter’s name appears, to prove I have made a good choice, and half hoping it does not, so that it retains its unusual quality. Of course my daughter would prefer another name, as I would of at her age. And before I know it, I am thinking about what other names I could have had.
Would I have made a good Phyllis? Could I have pulled off Victoria or Vivian? I know deep down I have not been that good a Catherine, but a passable Cathy.
Still later, I am wondering how other people chose names for their children, and shamefully, thinking of better ones for them. Just this Saturday at the neighborhood pool, I watched Darrin splash his sister. He seems more like a Devin to me.
That night as I head to bed, I call my dog into the room. I used one of several cutesy nicknames we have for him. When he didn’t come, I called him by his full name, including his middle name. “Do other people give their dogs middle names?” I thought. Clearly I didn’t sleep for a while as I mulled that over.
Some of my overthinking is about my house. My siblings and my mom can quickly visualize a room and how the furniture can perfectly fit into it. Apparently, that gene skipped me, and I find myself asking, “Will that couch fit there?”
I truly wish I had a dollar for each time my husband has come home with me in the middle of pushing a giant hutch or table into a space that is about 6 inches too short for it. Measuring tapes are for the weak. I wonder if I can angle it a little, I think, as he heads into another room to not overthink anything at all.
This past fall, I had a moment where I became obsessed with sectionals, which I thought would allow me to move pieces in so many ways, ignoring the fact that I cannot figure out anything for the current five pieces I have, much less those seven pieces including a giant ottoman.
Other household musings have included “What is that smell?” and “If I pass away tomorrow, will people make fun of my messy garage?”
My most recent overthinking about my house has to do with ceiling fans. Some of you are probably thinking that I am worried about how to clean them. I know how to clean them; not saying I do it often enough, but I know how.
Actually, I am constantly wondering if the fans are rotating the right way. I read that they should rotate counter clockwise in one season and clockwise in another. But I can never remember the rotation for that particular season, as my Google search history would for sure confirm, with multiple hits on the topic.
I find it again and am reminded that in the summer, I should have my fans rotating counterclockwise to push cool air down to the floor. I check them all, and I am good. But then I begin to wonder if there is a certain date by which I should change the rotation.
Should I just make an annual ritual of switching the fans as I put away my white pants so as not to wear them after Labor Day? And pray tell I don’t go to Home Depot after this search, as I may stand for several minutes making sure they have all theirs set to correctly rotate.
Some of my overthinking happens around situations in which I will never find myself and highly unlikely scenarios. What would I say if stopped by a national news crew and asked what I think about our current political climate?
What if Publishers Clearinghouse shows up at my door and the dog runs out when I open the door and I have to chase him? Will they wait to award me my money?
What if my college calls and wants to honor me as alumnus of the year, and then realize they have called the wrong gal (they were probably looking for a Vivian…)? Would I take the disappointment well?
Would I rather sing a duet with Chris Stapleton or James Taylor? Would they stick me with harmony or graciously offer the melody?
Are the towels in my car trunk clean enough if I have to help a passing motorist give birth? When the baby comes, should I suggest a baby name we didn’t use so I have a second chance?
I overthink a great deal about things passing me by, and that some of my pop culture references have kind of lost their pop. Case in point: A young friend was talking about her nosy neighbor. She described her watching them out the window, always appearing on her deck when they are in the back yard, and even commenting on how many grocery bags they carried into their house.
“Wow! She sounds like a regular Gladys Kravitz,” I said and laughed. Nothing. My young friend had nothing. Not even from beloved Bewitched reruns.
Some of the thoughts are more in the moment, like, “Should I put on pants for the Zoom meeting? “ or “How do seedless watermelons grow if you can never plant a seed for one?” (and by the way, if you know this answer, I am interested).
My latest in the moment overthinking happened after reading a Facebook quiz. It listed about ten smells and said, “Which is your favorite?” Am I supposed to have a favorite smell?
That sounds like something they would have asked a couple on the Newlywed Game, perhaps another pop culture reference without pop. “What is your husband’s favorite smell?” and I answer barbecue, when in reality it was my perfume. Bob Eubanks rolls his eyes.
One a side note, I used to worry about how my husband and I would do on the Newlywed Game, but this many years in, there is so little we don’t know about one another. So little.
One friend suggested homemade apple pie as her favorite smell. Another said a baby after a bath. Still another said fresh cut grass, and a dear sorority sister said wet cement. Further down the list, someone enthusiastically championed bacon. Now we’re talking.
Was I wrong not to have a favorite smell? I asked my daughter, my husband, a co-worker, a large group in a Zoom meeting. They all had their own opinions, ranging from gas (ewww) to latex paint (I won’t be going to Girl’s Night with this friend anymore), to suntan oil from the 70’s, when the Coppertone line ruled.
Before the suspense kills you, I have decided not to choose between my final two, which are freshly baked molasses cookies and the air right before a rainstorm. I want to overthink it a little more.
In honor of my daughter’s entry into high school marching band, I would like to dedicate this tribute to Mr. Leslie S. Anderson, my high school band director. Little did he know all these years later, that I finally figured out most of my useful life skills were learned in marching band.
Initially a flute player, I drifted to the challenge of a piccolo, not just because it sounded all 1776’ish drum and fife like, but selfishly because the case was so small it could fit in my bookbag.
Later, I joined the percussion section (certainly not based on a sense of rhythm, but more likely a crush on a bass drummer), where I flashed the biggest set of cymbals, creating pecs and shoulder muscles the likes of which I have not seen again on this aging body.
I made some lifelong friends. My bandmates from back in the day are doctors, lawyers, dentists, actors, singers, parents, teachers, and columnists. Their lives well-led bring me joy.
I traveled to some fabulous places for competitions, and I fundraised fiendishly. I learned the obvious things like discipline, teamwork, sacrifice, dedication to task, and that competition is healthy. A few more really important lessons, however, have served me very well through the years.
Be on Time
We practiced early in the morning on the day before our shows, and that meant being at school by 6:00 a.m. Mr. Anderson had the advantage of a very large band, and he told us at the beginning of the season we might not march if we were not on time, as he had plenty of subs.
I made the rehearsals on time despite having to get up early enough to carefully apply my Love’s Baby Soft lotion and perfume and my bubble gum flavored Kissing Potion lip gloss.
Mr. Anderson’s lesson was that being on time shows respect for the person you are meeting or the event you are attending. I like to be on time to this day, even though I have learned to give myself and others grace for tardiness.
Measure Your Steps
One of the beauties of marching band is that musicians have a designated number of steps to get to the next place they are going, and others are counting on them to be there to continue the show. And that is not just metaphorical waxing—literally, someone is counting on them to hit that mark.
“Hey, Piccolos, by measure 48, you need to be at the 30 yard line. Got it?”
A fellow marcher, Danny, was always in a hurry to get to the space, and my marching shoes and heels felt his rush as he bumped into me more than once along the way. I always wished Danny would measure his steps a little more, and I have no doubt I let him know or returned the pain on occasion.
There is a beautiful simplicity to having someone help you set a goal and expect that you will achieve it.
Feel the Rhythm
Every once in a while, Mr. Anderson had us practice with our eyes closed, just to feel the rhythms (and no doubt to encourage the required memorization).
“We have done this show so many times, you ought to be able to do it with your eyes closed,” he would shout into the megaphone from his perch above the field. That was the intro to what we knew would produce some pretty comical outcomes, as the lead marcher misjudged the yard line and created a scene not unlike the one in Animal House, where row after row of the band just marches right into one another on the dead end street.
But there was a method to Leslie Anderson’s madness. I literally knew that music by count and by step, its rhythm firmly entrenched in my brain.
It took me a long time as an adult to realize that our lives are just a series of complicated rhythms, to which we should pay careful attention, and when we have our rhythms interrupted, we usually end up off track, looking to catch back up with the beat.
Look to Your Colleagues to Stay in Line
The difference between a championship performance and second place in many band competitions is something as simple as staying in line. We practiced staying in line all the time. Mr. Anderson would stand at the end of a line and look down it, hoping to see us in one myopic string.
But there were lots of marchers over the years who just couldn’t stay in line. They would drift a little, and before you knew it, our line looked like a garden snake wending its way through the yard. We tried to gently adjust those out of line marchers, and sometimes we purposefully moved them back in line.
Knowing how to stay in line myself, and help others do the same, came in handy in many jobs over the years. It doesn’t make me a wimp or an over-zealous rule follower, rather one who escaped without reprimand, by fixing my eyes on solid colleagues who towed the line.
Pay Attention to Appearance
Despite the fact that my Farrah Fawcett hairdo didn’t fit too well under our marching band hats, which were the tall British soldier looking ones with white fur and a maroon feather plume, I loved my band uniform.
We cleaned our white spats, worn snapped over our unattractive black shoes, until they were Clorox white. We actually brushed the fur on our hats, and we routinely did epaulet checks on the beautiful gold braided parts of our jackets, right before parade marches.
Rain or shine, Mr. Anderson also dressed the part, wearing a collared shirt and tie to our performances as well, usually under a snappy looking windbreaker.
And always, there would be a mention of how nice our band looked in the judges’ remarks, encouragement enough to give us the pride to keep up that appearance.
Later, in the work world I noticed that neat appearances were appreciated and noted. It isn’t that we have to look a certain way to do a good job, but rather that by taking pride in our personal appearance, we create a culture of taking pride in other things we do as well.
Lots of Small Parts Make a Pretty Good Whole
Marching band taught me a sort of patience for the evolution of small parts which eventually join to form a whole. We trained in sections, and then eventually joined each other to run the whole show; not to say that our curiosity didn’t sometimes get the best of us, and we would peak at what the other folks were doing.
Perhaps you can relate if you work jigsaw puzzles. I will stay up into the wee hours of the night just to finish a section because I know the next day we can find the piece that hooks it into the adjoining section.
On a side note, my mother-in-law calls those puzzle pieces hookers, which I think is hilarious, especially when she says, “We just need to find a hooker, Cathy!”
There is real satisfaction that comes at the end of a finished project, where I can see all the small parts that made it a whole. It has helped me as a parent, to teach my daughter to take small steps toward big things she hopes to achieve.
Be Prepared for Unexpected, Perhaps Unfair, Outcomes
Every year, my band competed in the Lion’s Contest, one of the fiercest battles in the world for bands. That may be a slight exaggeration, but it was “bigly.” For weeks, we would tweak our show and add stunning details which were designed to boost us past our arch nemesis, Lafayette High School, and their crafty director J. Larry Moore.
There were whispered rumors that Lafayette sent spies over to watch our practice. It seemed like someone’s cousin always marched for our big rival, and they would report that Lafayette had stolen our music or our formations.
During that cold, crisp October, certainly families were divided over which band would hold the title that year, and even local businesses were asked to take a side and support a band in their advertisements. The contest winner would be named Kentucky’s Musical Ambassadors for the year.
For weeks before the competition, Mr. Anderson hinted at an element of surprise he would add to the Saturday show. On Thursday night after rehearsal, he called us together and asked if we would be willing to practice on Friday night after the football game.
“Yes!” we cried in unison, abandoning visions of Shakey’s pizza dates with boyfriends and best friend sleepovers!
Mr. Anderson’s elaborate surprise involved our flag corps. My high school was in Lexington, Kentucky, and our corps wore white go-go boots, white shorts, and then the authentic thoroughbred jockey silk of a local horse farm as a top. Their flags matched their tops, the corps brought tears to people’s eyes, as people in Kentucky take horses seriously.
The demo Mr. Anderson showed us with a couple of privileged seniors who had been in on the planning shook us to the core! At one point late in our show, the flag corps literally laid down on their backs on the field, where we stepped over them at the last minute, and then their flags shot immediately in the air behind us after we passed.
Surely with this kind of pageantry, nee magic, we would beat Lafayette! We practiced well into the night, with parents posted like vigilantes in wood paneled station wagons at the chain link fence around the field to make sure no one knew our secret.
The Saturday morning of the competition was sunny and cool, the perfect October day. Our rifles competed well. The drumline battle was masterful. And our parade performance was without flaw. All the was left was to march our newly revised show.
We were second to last to compete, with Lafayette, as host school, holding the coveted last spot. Our drum majors led us onto the field to the showy stick work and cadence of our drum corps. Rap tat tat tat. Boom bah bah boom bah bah boom.
We launched into the show of our lifetimes. High steps, side steps, all crescendoing to the big moment where we stepped over the flags. I could feel the whip of wind that came from the flag directly behind me.
The crowd went wild. At least my parents and a few others did, I am told by legend.
We retreated to the side hill to watch Lafayette perform. They plodded through their show, in our minds, shocked by our outstanding performance. We anticipated our big win. That is until the very end of Lafayette’s show, where they had a twist of their own.
Instead of a fully advancing big brass sideline finish they were known for, they launched the beginning notes of a song that we all knew by heart…. Queen’s We are the Champions, while they marched into the shape of a #1. It was a snarky reminder of their win from the year before and a portent for the eventual outcome.
Lafayette beat us that night, by a point. One point. Fair or unfair, they had played the same game as we did, and they beat us.
Gentle readers, you can likely tell that I hold no enmity toward Lafayette, Lion’s Grand Champions that fall. But I did learn a valuable lesson.
Our best efforts are just that-efforts. They may or may not produce the outcome we hope for. And we must cope. And not some decades later write a whiney review of their performance.
Mr. Anderson, thank you for the dedication you showed to band, to your marching family, to promoting good musicianship, and to the multiple life-lessons you taught, with just a wave of your baton.
Harper Grace and band companions, you are in for the treat of having great fun marching, all the while learning truly valuable life lessons. I will be there to cheer you on!
I am guessing it just started as one trip to a ballpark on one of their vacations, likely to catch that team playing his beloved Cardinals, which led to my dad to decide to visit almost every major league ballpark in the country and one in Canada, all with my mom as his co-pilot.
My parents made swings out west and swings to the northeast, and many swings through St. Louis, dutifully pin-marking each stop on a map displayed at home. Friendly patrons snapped their photo at each game, and dad frequently reported back to me on the beer and peanuts quality at the ballpark.
Mom was a good sport through that and his many adventures: repairing old MGB and Triumph cars, a brief stint with camping, a two round a week golf habit, and learning to play a couple of instruments. He returned the favor by supporting her interest in the arts and music.
We lost my dad to this earth in December, but sadly, we had gradually lost his spirit and his mind to dementia prior to that. It was arduous, particularly on Mom, who had to provide almost round the clock care the last couple of years, and to see the man we loved reduced to sometimes garbled thoughts and speech. The cruelty of diseases effecting the mind is almost unbearable.
My dad was a patient, yet impatient man. He had the patience to research and publish a book about his beloved hometown country club, the patience to faithfully rehab his arm after a shoulder surgery, and the patience to apply fertilizer, winterizer, and weed and feed to his yard each year, a task I have yet to accomplish.
He was patient enough to fly fish a little and to hunt quail and ducks, but told me he never had the heart to hunt deer. He loved a good piece of fried quail with drippings gravy. So do I.
He was patient when letting grandkids pull on his ears and nose and crawl all over him or when giving them rides on his John Deere lawn tractor. He enjoyed an occasional episode of Peppa Pig or Thomas the Train long after the kids no longer watched them.
He was much less patient with drivers who failed to use turn signals or obey traffic laws, students at the medical school where he worked who didn’t want to study, and occasionally his children, who for some reason could never remember to turn off lights when they left a room.
My dad was a funny, yet serious man. He loved one-liners, waited for the minister’s joke each week during the sermon, and wrote clever song lyrics to sing while he played his guitar. In his younger days, according to Mom, he and his college buddies got a kick out of The Three Stooges and their antics, so he wasn’t above some of the sophomoric stuff. In later years, he loved Cheers and could recite many of Norm and Cliff’s lines from memory.
He was not stand-up-comedian type funny, but he was mischievous, and he had pretty good timing. I can picture his face and a little sideways smirk he gave right before cracking wise. He loved a funny greeting card almost as much as the present that accompanied it.
I remember he would answer the phone when my sis and I were in junior high and high school by saying “Colton’s summer home. Some are home and some are not. Who do you want?”. Or maybe if a boyfriend said, “Is Cathy home?” when they called, he might just say, “Yes, she is” and hang up. After all, he had answered the question, right?
He invited a couple of my dates to the back deck to have a beer with him while I finished getting ready. The ones I was able to forewarn refused the beer and made it through the test, but a couple of really cute ones couldn’t resist a sip. Here’s to potential lost loves!
My brother is an absolute hoot, and I can’t help seeing a little of dad in him. Somebody told me the other day that I was funny, and somehow it made me miss my dad a lot. I would do anything to hear him tell a joke again.
He was more serious about his faith, first as an altar boy, then as an usher, and always a regular attender at church. He was also pretty serious about being on time. He was always the first one ready, urging us all out the door (see reference to impatience here…).
And I bet I could count on one hand the number of times he didn’t work his 9 to 5 shift, at his desk in at least a sport coat and a worst a collared shirt, shoes with a coat of polish applied the night before, taking exactly one hour for lunch. I can attest to the fact that if Dad worked for you, you got your money’s worth.
My dad was loyal, almost to a fault. You learn a lot about loyalty when you are a Missouri Tiger football and basketball fan. A season ticket holder at Mizzou for many years, sometimes my dad’s misery over their performance was almost palpable. But when he passed away, his closet still contained plenty of Mizzou gear, and he wore a Tiger watch on his frail arm until the very end.
My dad was also loyal to his St. Louis Cardinals and spoke fondly about games with his dad and grandad at old Sportsman’s Park. I have a highly treasured picture of my dad and me on the way to probably the last game he watched at Busch Stadium, his ball cap placed jauntily on his head, clothed in a Musial jersey.
You would have been hard pressed not to find a Card’s game or pro golf event on his TV at home on a Sunday afternoon, the time of day when he checked the insides of his eyelids for cracks. He saw many of the greats play golf and proclaimed Scotland to be too beautiful to describe after he went to St. Andrews. His collection of books about baseball and golf would embarrass most sports libraries.
My dad was a purist, but he liked to try new things, too. He followed the rules of golf the way they were written in Bobby Jones days, scoffed at baseball’s designated hitter rule, liked a baked potato with his steak, and told me once he preferred a wrapped gift to a gift bag delivery.
But when KFC came out with crispy chicken in addition to original, he would have a piece of both. And he had a Callaway and one of those fancy longer putters in his golf bag, even though he preferred the old clubs he had re-gripped multiple times.
My dad gave me lots of gifts, both the tangible and metaphorical kinds. He gifted all of us with intelligent conversation and the knowledge that home was a safe, loving place to express an opinion or learn one. He enjoyed the gift of music, and in particular James Taylor and saxophonists who could play jazz, but he could name lots of classical pieces by ear.
He and mom gifted me my first car, a yellow VW Bug, whose heater was questionable and whose floorboards were thin. I loved that car and the freedom it gave me, and he piddled with it just enough to keep it running.
He gifted me the example of strong work ethic, and my own work ethic has been a point of pride through the years. He gave us the gift of believing in all of us. The best story I have about that was when as a young driver I was in an accident that was not my fault.
The adults involved blamed me, but Dad believed me. He turned into Perry Mason, entering a plea in small claims court. We sat at the intersection, timing the traffic lights, had my engineer uncle help us with a to-scale diagram of the accident site, complete with tiny moving cars, and rehearsed his opening statement. We ate Chinese at the fanciest place in town to celebrate our less than $500 victory.
Perhaps the greatest gift he gave our whole family was loving my mom. Even this last fall, when many things were hard for him to do, he attended her choral concert and almost cried when he heard their beautiful songs. He claimed he could hear mom’s voice amid them all, and my guess is he truly could.
I wanted to type this column before he passed away and never did it, a regret I will live with a long time. I have been telling myself that it was perhaps because my dad was hard to quantify, but in reality, a tribute seemed such a small gesture of what I felt for him. I can only hope that by sharing him with you now, near a time we celebrate our fathers, I have honored him in some way.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
When my stay at home work began due to the Coronavirus, I have to admit I was pretty jazzed. I quickly renovated (read moved stacks around) my office space to accommodate my computer and supplies (read bag of Hershey’s miniatures and a box of those yellow mechanical pencils), and went straight to work.
I dutifully downloaded Zoom, brushed up on Google Meet, and tackled task after mundane task. But a few days in, I realized I was missing something: my co-workers. I have seen all the funny memes about the husband, kids, and pets as co-workers, and I have plenty of those, too.
But I miss the people I interact with daily. In fairness, they may not be missing me with the same fervor.
I started thinking about how lucky I have been in the co-worker department, and for the most part, I have enjoyed being around all of them. I have loved their hearts and their good intentions, have been touched by their gifts and help, and laughed so hard with some of them, that I think they should have their own comedy shows.
But a few from my past jobs came to my mind that were very memorable, and maybe in not such a positive way.
I had a co-worker who made me feel very lazy every day, because she literally narrated her entire day as she went. We were in a cubicle type situation, where we could hear one another pretty well, and while I became adept at blocking out much of the surrounding conversation and noise, Amaryllis (name changed to protect the guilty) was pretty hard to block.
Starting early in the morning, she narrated her trip to the staff kitchen to make her coffee.
“Let me get that cup out of here and rinse it. Well, that looks clean, now let me get this dry. I guess I will start with just a half cup since I have been making so many trips to the bathroom. Now let’s see. Where is that creamer? Right where I left it. Well, that’s good. Okay, got that cup of coffee going, let me get back to my desk and get started on sorting those files.”
Back at her desk, she sorted through the files, and her line of thinking was clear, as she told us all about it.
“Wonder if the best way to sort these for Trevor would be alphabetically or by date? I think I will call him on his cell and see if he has an idea about what would be best. Now let me see if I can find that number. Right here it is. Hmmmm. I thought his number started with a 6. Sandy, do you know if Trevor’s cell is right in this directory? Let me walk over to you with it to let you see.”
By around 11:00, we knew that she had sorted the files, the five phone calls to agencies she would be making, how cold the water in the bathroom sink was when she went to wash her hands, and how many more tasks she would tackle before she broke for lunch, when she would narrate how many seconds she would need to heat her meal, and what magazine she was reading that day.
We also knew not only whether the new sandals she had purchased were pinching her bunion, and how much cyan and magenta toners were left in the copier, but also how it was going with her boss that particular day.
“Okay, if he can get those papers signed, I can bring him the file to review and maybe he can get that phone call done before my afternoon break so that I can get those mailings done and get to the post office before four. But if he doesn’t…”
It was endless and it was exhausting. I felt like a slug for just sitting quietly at my desk and plodding away. There were two breaking points with dear Amaryllis.
The first was when she shifted to stopping on her way back to her desk from the break room and recapping for us, even though we were quite aware of what she had done.
“I was working on those files today and just couldn’t decide whether to do that alphabetically or by date, but I went ahead and called Trevor, and…”
People started timing their bathroom trips for her break times, so that when she peered in the cubicle we weren’t there. That didn’t stop her.
“Anybody know where Cathy went? I was gonna’ tell her if she was copying anything in color that the magenta and cyan were low.”
The second breaking point is perhaps what drove another co-worker to request an intervention with Amaryllis’ supervisor.
The copy machine jammed. And it was a major glitch to our day. Amaryllis was about the only one who could make it behave. And she did. But only after narrating all the rollers she turned, and the doors she shut and reset, and counted each piece of paper she unjammed out loud.
“Forty six, forty seven, forty eight…”
After the supervisor’s intervention, Amaryllis was wary of the rest of us, unsure who had reported her daily narration. Wish I could say it stopped her, but all it did was shift the approach slightly.
“Guess I better not report this coffee break out loud. I will just step back here as quiet as I can and then get right back to work on those files,” she said in a stage whisper.
The Copy Cat
I might not have noticed the Copy Cat’s behavior if a friendly co-worker had not pointed it out to me.
“Have you noticed that Joyce is wearing almost the exact same outfit you wore yesterday? Seriously, she is. Right down to the shoes. I think she is copying you.”
Flattered that anyone thought an outfit I put together in the dark of the early morning, with a still sleeping husband, whose entire morning routine took about seven minutes, I pondered this new information. Dressing in the dark had produced some dazzling results and now someone liked how I looked?
Should I branch out into something a little different than black pants, white blouse and a cardigan and see if Joyce followed? I did it.
I broke out a dress, tights, and cowboy boots and scooted right into work. It was a look. Perhaps not a good one, but it was a look. A couple of other co-workers commented on the boots, and Joyce keenly observed.
I was disappointed the next day when she did not come to work looking like Calamity Jane. But I had not been patient enough. By week’s end, she had adopted my look.
Some of you are mentally scolding me right now, thinking I should have just let it go, but others of you know me better, and are sure I behaved not so nicely.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I wore turquoise jewelry mixed with gold (gasp) and a new shade of bright red lipstick, with Joyce in hot pursuit. I shifted the part in my hair to the opposite side, and she mirrored. I parked in the sun instead of the shade, and she pulled in right next to me. I went from drinking tea to drinking coffee and she caffeinated accordingly.
At some point, my co-worker and original conspirator suggested something drastic, like piercings or a tattoo to see if she would follow, and when I considered it, that is when I knew maybe I was the one with the obsession instead of Joyce.
Case in point. We had a torrential rainstorm, and my already frizzy hair had taken on a life of its own. I dug around in the depths of my purse for a brush or something to fix it. First I found a Zero bar left over from Halloween and ate it immediately. So good.
Wait. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, my hair. Candy bars often interrupt my thinking. Back to my hair.
I found a claw clip and whipped into the bathroom to contain the mess. I ended up with a sort of Cyndi Lauperesque hairdo that would have to suffice. I rushed into the meeting, and the only seat was directly across from Joyce.
She very carefully observed my new do. And I was keenly aware of several snickering co-workers watching that interaction as well. I began to think they assumed my clip was a set up to tempt Joyce.
At the first break in the meeting, I watched her head to the bathroom. Guilt finally got to me, and instinct told me she might come out of the bathroom with a clip, and I just couldn’t let her.
“Joyce! How are you?”
“Good! Hey, I want to tell you something.”
I was sure that Joyce was going to confess to having copied me for weeks, but instead she looked at me with the same look I give my daughter when I have to give her bad news.
“I know it is rainy and all today—but that clip is just a bad look. I noticed everyone watching us, and I think they were hoping I would say something to you. Sorry.”
The Butt Kisser
Do I really have to spell this one out? You all have had a butt kisser co-worker unless you are self-employed, and then it is probably you. I don’t want you to see yourself in this narrative and quit reading. End of story.
The Shady Lady
I was absent for a couple of days for a work conference, and during that time, a co-worker borrowed my laptop. We were for sure not good enough work friends for her to do that without permission, but what comes next is the real horror story.
When I returned from the trip I noticed many of my settings were changed, but I attributed it to updates tech had pushed through while I was gone.
The following day, my immediate supervisor requested an early morning meeting and when I arrived, she was waiting for me with a Human Resources rep. There is little that strikes fear in even the most innocent than an unexpected HR visit. They questioned me about my trip and asked if I traveled with my computer. I left it here, I told them, figuring I should have taken it along for some reason.
Then they asked me to get my computer and boot it up. Next they asked if they could look at it. Several minutes passed while I sat across the desk and they looked at the computer and took notes on a legal pad. Both very professional ladies and nice people, their shocked, distasteful looks as they perused the computer had me sweating.
Before the suspense kills you, just let me start by saying the co-worker who had borrowed my computer had some curious web surfing habits which had come to light with online monitoring. And let me finish by saying I will never look at bearded Amish men in the same way again.
The Post-It Note Queen
I once walked into an office where Post-It notes were everywhere. They covered the computer monitor, were stuck to the desktop phone receiver, and marked random places in books and on documents.
Some of them contained one word reminders, some had phone numbers, some had cryptic codes or lists. The system of Post-It notes was either sheer genius, as they could be thrown away with each accomplished task, or sheer madness, in that they displayed just how much had to be done and the occupant’s random thinking.
It was me. I was the Post-It Note Queen. And it was a Post-It note that reminded me to finish this column today, so the system is working pretty darn well.
Here’s to all my fabulous and not so fabulous co-workers through the years! May you “office” with people who give you all the respect you deserve.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
We are on week 78, or thereabouts, of our COVID-19 isolation. I have had a lot of time to clean house (and point my finger at projects my husband needs to do). And I would like to say that my cleaning style could best be described as, “There appears to have been a struggle.”
I have been scouring counter tops, polishing sink handles, mopping floors, brushing toilets, and sanitizing door knobs. My fingertips have an eerie white glow from where bleach has seeped through my gloves. We are clean over here.
But I have lost the Stacks and Clutter War. And I don’t mean just narrowly lost, like a closely contested ball game. I got decimated, ruined, undone, whipped, destroyed, wasted, ravaged. Are you following me?
The first part of the defeat and carnage came in the form of work spaces. When we all came home to work and go to school, we all needed a place to put our “stuff”. I mistakenly thought that each night, folks would just gather up their stuff and put it away.
“But we will be using it again in the morning,” they said. “Seems silly to completely put it away! Here! We will just stack it neatly.”
In hindsight, I should have emptied a drawer, carried in a backpack, or even a milk crate and firmly said ,”Let’s start storing it here.” But I was weak from shopping everywhere for toilet paper, and I caved in.
At first the stacks looked pretty neat and tidy. But after a few days, they literally looked more like burial mounds. I did an about face and waved the white flag.
The next phase of the loss was closer to the front lines, in the form of counter tops. When we all came home to work and go to school, we all came home to eat as well. No more neatly packed lunch boxes heading out the door and then refreshed each night to head out the door the next day again. Instead, we grocery shopped, and our pantry became full and the counter tops held the overflow.
The super-giant bag of tortilla chips took up one corner. There were now two fruit bowls instead of one. Seemed silly to carry the soldier-like lines of bottled water all the way to the garage, so they found a counter top seat. Before I knew it, and literally overnight, there was no place for my important things like a bag of caramels, coffee pods , and nail polish colors I am choosing from the much needed pedicure I can’t have.
What room was left went to devices and chargers. I think I counted five computers, two I-pads, a Kindle, and four phones all lined up on the counter. Anarchy!
Then I lost the Battle of the Blankets. People who have come home to work and go to school, and then eat, often land on a couch or chair to watch TV. The 70 degree days have been few and far between, so the blankets have gotten used.
But late night movie binging means they don’t get folded or put away where they normally are, so when the next person goes looking for one, it is much easier to just grab another one. Exactly three of us live here (unless you count the dog, who as I shared last week is the only one I still like), and there were 11 blankets. Eleven!
I called a cease fire, and we spent about five minutes folding the ones that didn’t need a thorough de-lousing. My water bill will be five million dollars this month at this rate, as I am laundering everything in sight.
Sadly, I also lost the Battle of the Bedside Table, one of my usual strongholds. The offensive launched when Dr. Fauci said I would need to take my temperature, so I placed the thermometer there, nestled in next to a tank-sized box of Kleenex I was forced to buy at a warehouse store when my little square packages weren’t available.
I have recommitted to reading, so two novels joined all the medical supplies. I can’t sleep because I am worrying about the mess we are in, so I added a couple of crossword puzzle and sudoku books to the already crowded space. None of the pens I picked up worked, but instead of throwing them away, as is my habit, I left them on the table to try repeatedly in the wee hours of the morning.
I want my phone to be fully charged and not miss an important call during this insurrection, and I am now so desperate for adult conversation that it bunks on the bedside table also. On Sunday night, right before I went to sleep I propped the phone against the books, and sometime in the night, everything toppled over, making a great noise.
My husband jumped up and grabbed a baseball bat from his side of the bed, ready to swing at whomever was trying to steal our thermometer…that is after grabbing his reading glasses to make sure he didn’t miss. Now the baseball bat has joined the mess on my side of the bed, along with a nail file, in my own weapons cache, because Lord knows I don’t trust him with it.
Perhaps my final humiliating defeat came in the form of the stairs in my two story home. Something always needs to go back upstairs when you live on multiple floors. My mom made us an adorable staircase basket into which you are supposed to put things during the day, carry them up at night, and begin the process over again the next day.
But our basic training failed, and we cannot seem to do that. Items are stacked on the stairs like a crazy Jenga game, ready to roll all the way back to the bottom step when someone treads near them. I have been carrying up a load each time I go, and I encouraged the savages that live with me to do the same.
At first I thought it was my imagination, when I noticed things being moved up one or two stairs, however not all the way to the top. Hmmm. Wasn’t that on the third step yesterday, and now it is on the 5th? I spied on the members of my unit.
My suspicions were confirmed when I got to the second stair from the top last night and there sat two items. Are you kidding me? You couldn’t have carried them up just One. More. Step?
No one has confessed to the insolent stair moves, but I was reminded of an Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Debra and Ray wait each other out. They both know they have to put away a suitcase sitting in the middle of the stairs, but rather than taking the initiative, they wait to see who will finally cave and do it.
Hey, I am on Corona lockdown. Like a gunner with her howitzer, I can wait. And wait. And wait.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
My mom and grandmother both sewed and luckily, somewhere along the line, my mom taught me some sewing basics. I have a serviceable sewing machine, tons of thread, some supplies passed down from her and some of my own.
Like many other frustrated designers, I threaten my family routinely not to use my sewing scissors to cut paper, even though I rarely use them at all. I have a special shelf and box for all my bobbins, my seam ripper, elastic, bias tape, ricrac, and extra needles.
I am not designing haute couture fashion or something you will see on a runway, and my daughter won’t pass on any clothes I made for her to her own children. My expertise lies in small, one afternoon projects; I can make a straight stitch and can follow a pattern.
So over the course of this quarantine time, I have been sewing face masks. Some of them are made from a very special fabric provided by St. Luke’s through a group One Mask at a Time, begun by a friend. My mom and even my husband helped cut them out, and I pray over each one I sew, that a professional healthcare worker will be safe and can continue to care for the infirm.
Other masks are from cotton fabric that has just been waiting to be included in such a special project as this. Boy, if that fabric could talk. Anyone who has been to Joanne’s on a rainy Sunday afternoon may relate to my fabric stash. In fact, if someone says you have too much fabric, stop talking to them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
Much of my fabric stash was purchased with good intentions. There is a cheery Hawaiian look cotton print that thought I would make fun, matching mother daughter skirts with. My charming then four year old would come out of her room, dressed in some wild looking outfit, and say, “Match me, Mom! Match me!” I tried. I really did.
When I could not re-create her special brand of pattern mixing, I decided I would sew some things for us to match. She is 14. Trust me when I tell you, she no longer wants to match.
There were various, beautiful deep purple fabrics that were meant to pay homage to my alma mater, Truman State University (just FYI, when I attended, it was Northeast Missouri State University, where my piddly ACT score was still perfectly acceptable).
I visualized myself sitting in Stokes Stadium on a beautiful fall afternoon, under a handmade quilt of many purple shades and hues, taking compliments on my loyalty to my school as well as excellent sewing skills. “Bulldogs, Bulldogs, bow wow wow!” I yelled, as I stood up to cheer on the team, gathering my quilt to place it back across my lap, a potential future alumnus of the year, just waiting for the call.
I haven’t been to Homecoming in about five years, due to the aforementioned 14 year old’s schedule, and the fact that I cannot hold my liquor like I used to, and reunions tempt me to try. Well, that and the fact that I never finished the quilt.
There are whimsical fabrics in my stash as well, like a black and white cow print, cute little cowboys standing near a covered wagon, and a yard or so of red bandana like cotton. I feel like they were going to be a part of a Halloween costume that likely got purchased at the last minute and not handmade after all (think Toy Story’s Jessie).
Or maybe I wanted cute scarves or headbands for a trip we had dreamed of taking out West. Turns out the farthest west I have been lately is Olathe, Kansas, and it seemed like such a long trip that I had to take snacks.
I must have gone through a bird phase as well. My flock of fabric included owls, eagles, and the cutest fat breasted bird in a repeating pattern. I can’t remember any reason for having purchased these at all. I am guessing that I got to that section and glanced lovingly at the bolts, unable to leave any of them behind. Or maybe they were 50% off. Yep! That’s it.
My plaid phase is a little easier to explain. You see, the plaids were going to serve two purposes. The first is, like many ill-informed middle class moms, I assumed I would own a cute little lake house or country retreat by my late 30’s, where my family would go each weekend every Friday, right when we got off the clock, and where we would stay and commune with nature until late Sunday afternoon, where we would grudgingly head back to our daily lives.
And, like all good woodsy retreats, it would be decorated in homey, comforting plaids. I mean, that’s what’s in the movies, right? If not a house or cabin, at least a back yard She Shed, like Sheryl’s right? Silly little things like a mortgage on a real house, a car payment, and the need for groceries got in the way of that dream. But the plaid evidence still exists.
The second way I wanted to use the plaid was for an ill-conceived conversion for my husband from regular ties to bow ties, ones that I would of course make. I have written about my husband The Coach before, so many of you are wondering if you missed the chapter where he trades in his baggy elastic waist shorts and screen printed t-shirts and becomes a dapper businessman, who eschews tradition of boring long ties, and shows up at his appointments in a neatly pressed oxford cloth button down with a bow tie and matching pocket square.
You did not miss that chapter. But I did miss the mark. As with many of my mistakes, I blame Pinterest. Darn that perky housewife who talked her husband into wearing bow ties and then posted her finished projects, complete with a PDF of the instructions.
When I approached my husband with the idea, after he checked for all the signs of me having had a stroke, determined I had not, realized I was quite serious, and then took a deep breath, he explained what I had missed. He said it was not that he would not want to wear anything that I had hand-sewn, but more that he felt the longer ties really made him appear thinner—you know, vertical lines and all. The plaids took their place in the stash.
And finally there were dog prints in my stash. I love dogs. In fact, after having been in the house for almost a month with my family, my dog is easily my favorite family member.
In a well-trained stash of fabric were French bulldogs wearing jaunty scarves and long-legged greyhounds frolicking with Pekinese on turquoise backgrounds. There were dogs wearing glasses and ties, because who doesn’t like dogs who look like people?
There were dogs with Christmas wreaths and dogs breaking out of Easter eggs. There were no dogs who had been COVID-19 quarantined and desperately in need of grooming.
Since I had apparently been working on my PhD (projects half done), all these fabrics and a few more from my Oriental phase, made their way into cotton masks for family and friends. If you got a mailbox or driveway delivery, maybe you will read about your fabric here.
I can promise you, each mask was made with only a little regret over the project it was originally meant for, but with much love and hope for the person it was made for.
I will leave you with a poem that I wish was my own, but for whom I can find no attributed author:
Soft Fabric, Warm Fabric,
Buy it by the Yard
Happy Fabric, Pretty Fabric
Here’s my Credit Card!
Please stay safe and at home!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
My phone screen is crowded with apps that I have downloaded either because I believed they would make my life easier, or my kid forced me to, to keep up with her myriad activities. Through my apps I follow my church, two school districts, my neighborhood, my bank balance, my car dealer’s recalls, two local craft stores, local high school sports, my realtor, the high school band, and our dance studio. I can get and give cash to friends via an app, and I can track my favorite baseball team’s progress in real time—that is if they ever play again.
I can be sound asleep and a notification from an app shoots me straight up in bed. I search frantically only to find it is telling me that overnight my app has updated and has more new features I will never use.
I have a Paula Deen app that I don’t remember downloading, and I cannot get rid of. I have removed it from my screen several times, and it just reappears. Kind of like she does after her latest weight loss or newest hairdo. At least every suggested recipe has butter, one of my lifelong friends.
And more new apps appear on the horizon every day. My daughter’s school even offers a class for our brilliant youngsters to design new apps and figure out how they might work. My daughter has never taken the class, and I have to say I am kind of glad. I would imagine her first venture would be an app that provides snarky, single syllable, monotone answers for any parent inquiry with just the tap of a button or methods for increasing eye-rolling stamina.
But since I have been cleaning closets and drawers during our COVID-19 induced isolation, I have been thinking about cleaning up my apps, or at least replacing them with some I might just enjoy and not need.
Why hasn’t someone invented the cattle prod app? I think it could be called MOO, and here is how I envision it would be used. I would load my contacts list and then I could ‘gently’ prod someone to complete a task or finish a thought. I think the app could contain a numerical attachment for the strength of the prod. For instance, if we are two days into waiting for my daughter to clean her bathroom, maybe she gets the prod at level five; four days in and the intensity increases to seven.
Most commuters could surely use an app to help them on their morning drive. Oh sure, I have seen the apps that help us with the traffic flow, sending us alerts for road closures and backups. But someone needs to invent one that predicts what stupid thing the driver in front of us will do. While I am sure they will still do the stupid thing, the app might automatically launch calming music in the car or release a lilac vanilla scent through the car vents to mitigate the road rage.
I would love an app called WTH that scans a stain on my family’s clothing and not only identifies it, but also suggests a pre-treatment method before it goes into the wash. I have spent hours determining the difference between chocolate and blood, simultaneously willing myself not to ask the offenders questions about how the stain appeared.
And while we are on the subject of laundry, what about an app that matches socks by color, size, and owner? I hate that task so much that I have been known to buy new ones rather than match them.
What about an app that we turn on the first time we meet a person to help us determine right away if we should invest time in being friends, maybe called Besties? I visualize the screen giving me a little read out: 40% appreciative of sarcasm, 50% likely to overeat at a barbecue restaurant, and only a 10% interest in yard work of any kind. Yes! She’s a keeper!
Some apps could be helpful to me in my older age. If I have my phone in hand, maybe the You Always Screw Up Names app tells me the name of the person I pass by in the grocery BEFORE I call them by the wrong name. Perhaps another one scans drug store shelves for things I might need when I injure myself putting on a pair of those mismatched socks because I bent the wrong way.
My friend has an app that suggests side dishes for main course meals she wants to prepare. She has another one that allows her to enter ingredients in her pantry and it comes up with a recipe for her to make. I would like an app that then further encourages that friend to double her recipes and bring them to me and my family to eat. It’s the neighborly thing to do.
I will conclude with my best idea for an app: one that dispenses a common sense pill for me to share with a friend who has been making questionable choices. I would just say, “Here, you have been acting stupid, and my app tells me you need a pill. Take this.” Only people who had previously shown good common sense would be able to download this app, so the market might indeed be rather small.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
My baby hasn’t asked for any toys for Christmas again this year, not even any techy thing I could consider a toy, and I am heartbroken. Granted, she is almost 14 and hardly who anyone would consider a baby anymore, but some of the magic of Christmas morning leaves when there is nothing to steal the batteries from the remote for, argue with my husband about assembly directions, and then watch my daughter rush to it on Christmas morning.
I was glad last year when llamas were all the rage because it gave me the opportunity to buy a stuffed one, which she snuggled on Christmas day then placed in a closet bin to bond with the other 6,304 animals residing there.
Oddly, when we try to purge those, she can tell me where or who each one came from, pleading with me to spare the poly-filled friends, and yet cannot remember to grab her lunch from the refrigerator for school about three of five days.
The year before, when she determined she was no longer interested in toys, I was determined to interest her in games again. I put together a basket with all my childhood favorites, like Uno, Candy Land (with funky looking bright colors and not the beautiful pastel candy I remember), Clue, Racko, and some newer game gang members like Left Right Center, Five Crowns, and Apples to Apples. I had visions of laughing teens at my kitchen table, merrily competing with one another, just like are pictured on the Mattel commercials.
My daughter’s response to a basket of fun was--well--best described as underwhelming. She was thankfully polite, and later in the day when I suggested some games, she suggested a movie. Her suggestion won.
When she was 11, I tried craft kits as a sub for toys. She made several string bracelets, a couple of very odd smelling candles, and a beaded keyring, always a popular accessory for a middle school backpack. Later, I found the candle wax tangled up in some of the string when I vacuumed her room, successful clogging the vacuum hose. I guess we are done with crafts.
Art supplies seem to be the one whimsical thing she loves. She feels about them the way I feel about office supplies, so I get it. But the marker pens I bought for her last birthday, with which you can blur lines and create shading the easy way, were the same cost as a root canal. I am currently busy squashing every artistic notion she has, to avoid bankruptcy.
I have done the next best thing in my fervor to purchase toys, moving on to children of friends who are young enough to appreciate them. I have to be careful with my four present rule friends (something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read), so as not to interrupt their careful parenting.
And maybe I won’t find anything for the kids anyway, because I long for toys of old. Where did the plastic vanity dresser complete with fake lipsticks and a styrofoam stool go? We converted the top of the vanity seat into an amusement ride, starting at the top of the stairs and sliding all the way down. We could fly on that old olive green sculpted carpet.
Where are the Baby Secrets of the world? She had a string on her side to pull, and her lips moved as she spoke to you. Granted, some of the phrases now seem a little weird in today’s world. “I want to sleep with you” and “ I know a secret!” may be the two most egregious. Never mind on Baby Secret. Don’t even Google her if you don’t want nightmares.
I also had a Baby Tubsy, with two little teeth on her gum line and a big smile, who came complete with her own terry cloth hooded towel, washcloth, and plastic pink tub. And her arms moved up and down and splashed water everywhere. Great fun!
The one flaw? The batteries to make her arms move were in a compartment on her bottom, which was submerged in water. After about two baths, Baby Tubsy began to leak battery corrosion, which appeared to be very baby-like diarrhea.
What about a Rings and Things plastic toy and ring maker? The concept was very hot metal plates with molds, into which you poured colored plastic from bottles that looked like Elmer’s glue, then you cooked them at a high temperature to firm up the plastic. What could go wrong with that?
The outdoor type? How about Jarts lawn darts? The really sharp, metal tipped missiles were fun to throw underhanded. That’s how we ALWAYS THREW them, I swear… Not into Jarts? What about a set of Clackers, acrylic orbs on a string that you banged together and whipped around your head in patterns, like an Olympic ribbon dancer with much less safe equipment?
Or maybe a Chinese jump rope, one continuous loop of incredibly strong elastic that hurt so bad when it snapped you cried. Made of the same thing as bungie cords, those jump ropes were wicked. I was pretty good at jump rope, and I suppose personal dexterity was not the reason.
Pretty much everybody I knew either had a Go Go the Burro, which was a precursor to the western comeback of bull riding in the bars, where your ride was dictated by your ability to hang on and to bounce (and later in life how many Tequila Sunrises you had consumed), or a Radio Flyer horse, usually named Blaze, attached to crazy bouncing springs.
I saw a version of Blaze at a big box store the other day, and they had carefully covered the huge springs which trapped many a sibling’s finger and either injured it badly or snapped it completely off when one rider wanted on and the other didn’t believe his or her time was up.
One day I will be a grandmother, God willing. I can tell you right now my daughter will be mad at me all the time for the toys I am going to drag into her house to make really cool memories. Four present rule be damned!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
by Cathy Allie
I recently read an entry from a blogger who had done a take-off on the old Then God Made a Farmer, and called it Then God Made a Coach’s Wife. I felt my eyes mist over, and I looked around to see if anyone would witness my tears. It was not that I was so moved by the blogger’s words, but I was so hysterical with laughter, I had reached the point of tears.
The beautiful story tells how the wife smiles with pride at her husband as he coaches, greets family and friends at the game, and prays with him over dinner for the success of his team and for his profession. I suppose I have done each of those things once or twice, but the life of a coach’s wife is a little different from my perspective.
Most people assume that it is like Friday Night Lights, where Coach Taylor and Tammy breeze through the season with reckless abandon to win a championship despite romanticized hardships. Or perhaps people were fans of the Craig T. Nelson sitcom Coach, and assume my husband is just a dumb, fumbling jock. Most seasons don’t really end in championships, and most coaches are actually very smart tacticians. Through it all, coach’s wives build a resume and skill sets no one could ever imagine.
High on the resume would be the ability to bite through one’s tongue to keep from speaking out of turn. I have holes the size of craters in mine, but I also have some failures at holding back. I have successfully NOT expressed my opinion to my husband on offensive strategy and special teams play, to 6th grade parents who tell me about the future Division I athlete who lives with them, and to the uninformed friend who believes there is an off-season.
And for the MOST part, I have not replied to the bleacher critics who throughout more than 23 seasons have called my husband everything except tall. A couple of my comebacks to critics would have earned me a sideline warning for sure. I have also had to tell the truth to the adorable, perky girlfriends of the young coaches, who don’t yet realize this life is not for the faint of heart. “Run! Run like the wind! Get out while you can!” I whisper in their naïve ears, as they don jerseys and wave pompons despite the perils that await them.
Also high on the resume would be the ability to pack a car for everything from 95 degree game starts to freezing weather. Once when my husband’s team was deep in the playoffs, there were actually cattle warnings, which to those of us not from rural areas means your cows could die if you leave them out. I can visualize their hooves frozen to the ground as I write, a piece of icy grass cud breaking off one of their molars. But I watched that game from start to finish because that is what coach’s wives do.
I have waterproof clothing, blankets in school colors, blankets with thermal linings, seat liners, cleaning wipes, waterproof boots, extra stocking caps and hand warmers. Likewise, I have cooling towels and fans that attach to cell phones. I have an assortment of seats ranging from cushioned to pop up to canvas chairs, as you just never know what you will need. My favorite football accessory is an umbrella hat. Yep, a hat with an attached umbrella, in my current team’s colors.
On my resume you will also find the ability to double and even triple recipes and use a crock pot to make enough food to feed coaches and their families most weeks following the game. This means my house has to be clean on Fridays, after a full week of everybody dropping clothes and bags on every available surface. Whose house is clean on Friday? It takes away all the joy of making everybody hustle around on Saturday mornings to clean up, like my mom did back in the day.
I never knew my sharp elbows would come in handy, but they are now on my resume, as I have used them in the following manner during football season: to elbow my way into a crowd rushing for seats at the state championship when my daughter was in a stroller, to push my way forward at the meat counter to grab enough pork tenderloin to feed 25, and sadly, to keep my husband awake at church on Sundays, because frankly we love Jesus, but the season is a tiring grind.
There are some perks to being a coach’s wife for sure. You never have to worry about whether there will be enough space on your DVR to record any shows you want to watch because A.) it is already full of games he is recording, and B.) you are home alone enough to be able to watch whatever you want whenever you want. Another perk is exercise. Most weeks I climb the full height of the bleachers to find the one space where when the wind is just right, I cannot hear all the bleacher coaches. My calves are fabulous!
Being a coach’s wife has developed my sense of humor, as well. I crack up at the shirts that say things like Dibs on the Coach, It’s a Coach’s Wife Thing, Mrs. Coach, or Bleachers and Bling, I Wear the Coach’s Ring. No coach’s wife I know really wants to have her identity known. We are just walking around hoping not to be recognized by the smell of testosterone that clings to us from kissing and hugging the coach goodbye that morning so he can head off to spend another 8 hours with somebody else’s kid (this is where a sarcasm font would be so handy).
On a somewhat related note, I have had a recurring dream lately where I am opening my front door, and I let my husband in and introduce him to our daughter. “This is your father,” I say in a Darth Vaderish voice, because he has hardly seen her since Tuesday. She finds it very funny, and he does not.
I also find humor in those moments like during the NCAA basketball tournaments when the camera zooms in on the coach’s wife during a particularly close game or an overtime contest. I just wish they would show the thought bubble above the wife’s head, because I already know her internal dialogue. “Are you serious? Regulation time is not enough time to get this done?” or “I can shoot better than that kid!” or “I cannot remember if hubby’s contract has bonuses for the next round, but it isn’t looking good”.
One of the best laughs I have had about coaching was when once upon a time, a now defunct local sports station did a feature on a coach’s wife, and how it felt to be in the midst of all that excitement. Her husband was having a record-setting, winning season and was receiving accolade after accolade.
She was so cute, and all her kids were dressed in appropriate spirit wear. The interviewer asked her if it felt good to be reaching such a lofty goal. She didn’t miss a beat, surprising the interviewer when she said, “Well, that’s my husband’s goal. I am just trying to get the kids on regular schedule for bed time and get laundry done.” Hilarious! And that was during a winning season. If you want a juicy interview, come see me some time when we are in the throes of a 3-6 campaign.
My second best laugh happened just a week or so ago, when a friend forwarded me a funny quote from Coach Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and an actor (go figure). He said, “Hollywood made a movie of my life. In one scene, they had me proposing to my wife on the football field. I would never misuse a football field that way.”
My husband isn’t quite as much of a fanatic as Crazy Legs, but when he complained about our annual family picture being taken in beautiful wooded settings or against an urban feel brick wall, I let him choose our next photo shoot location. Once I convinced the photographer that we were actually taking our photos at the football field, she did a great job of capturing the 50-yard line and goal posts for the perfect contrast to our smiling faces.
I have some fond memories from my years as a coach’s wife. When my husband used to have to maintain an old grass field, and sometimes place the white yard lines on it himself, he would strap our daughter’s car seat to the field liner with elastic ties, and the two of them would set off to make the marks. They were a funny and heartwarming, if not janky, sight.
Many of my husband’s former players are now coaches, and I love seeing them in action. Tons of fall Saturday afternoons have been spent road-tripping to see a college game of a former player, and for many years I kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings which we flip through once in a while. My husband’s glass-half-full-optimist attitude has served him well and made me proud.
At a football field far away, a wife is sitting in the bleachers, smiling down at a coach and waiting patiently for him to look up at her and wave. Dramatic, movie score quality music is playing in the background, when he turns and sees her, and she sheds a tear which she quickly wipes away with a rally towel from the Booster Club. The musical score hits a discordant note as we realize it’s an assistant coach who is waving, and her husband is already in the locker room. Better luck next season, Tammy!
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.