by Cathy Allie
I have a friend who always finds the best videos of people dancing and she posts them to her Facebook profile with regularity. She usually just writes, “Let’s hear it for dancing!” or a similar sentiment. And they are the best videos. With admiration in their voices, mutual friends say things like, “Oh my gosh, did you see the tap dancing video she posted?” It’s her thing.
My dad polished his shoes each Sunday night, readying them for work the next week. Sitting in his comfy family room chair, with newspaper spread out below him so as not to make a mess, he burnished the leather to a beautiful shine with an old rag and tin cans of polish. Sure, it was a little bit of habit and an old school pride in being well-groomed, but it was his thing.
We know a couple who are so good at trivia, that it frightens us. They are not the folks who answer Wayne Gretzky for every hockey question because there is a good chance it was him who broke a record. Instead, they are the folks that know it was Gordie Howe, and they know the year it happened. It’s their thing.
My daughter can untangle any necklace, ball of yarn, or Christmas ribbon almost instantly. She can divine the beginning and the end of the snarl with a single look. It’s a scary thing, but it’s her thing.
Some things are a little quirkier. My brother-in-law can be counted on to play a high numbered domino in the wrong place very nonchalantly in some of our wee hours of the morning games, just to see if any of us are still watching. He is not truly a cheater, but he loves to see if he can pull one over on us. It’s his thing.
And along the lines of quirky, a dear friend is the best Haiku writer I have ever known, and as a retired English teacher, yes, I have known a few poets. A much underappreciated artform, her Haikus capture the moment in the allowed 17 syllables. It’s her thing.
The same friend writes her message and signs her greeting cards only on the left when you open it, so the right remains unscathed. People used to frame beautiful greeting cards, and I always figured she wanted me to know what I was framing, with her signature on the back. She has two things, which hardly seems fair.
My young realtor friend literally has the best GIF game I have ever seen. If we are texting, she will answer me with a GIF that has me laughing hysterically. I cannot believe she can do that without practice. How does she know what I am going to write? It must just be her thing.
If you have not guessed by now, I don’t have a thing. I mean I do a lot of things, many of them annoying to family and friends, but I don’t have a thing that is just my thing. And trust me, I have attempted to find my thing.
At first I thought my thing might be a signature look, so I picked red lipstick. “Oh my gosh, look how pretty her lips are in that picture. I love that she always wears red lipstick!” they would say about me.
I took it pretty seriously, researching everything from Chanel to MAC reds, snatching up samples and even enlisting the help of a former student turned makeup artist.
“Look,” she said. “I need to tell you up front that not everybody can wear a red lip. You have to take into account skin tones, how white your teeth are, colors reflecting up from your clothes. White shirts and black shirts give red a chance to shine.”
When she launched into cool and warm tone discussions and the base I would need to keep that red lip at maximum capacity all through the day, I lost interest. Just wasn’t my thing.
I thought always wearing a hat might also be my thing, and some of the frivolous evidence of that still exists in my coat closet. But my ‘the higher the hair the closer to God’ mantra didn’t leave much room in a hat for my hair masterpieces. Another thing set aside.
On the short list of things I have tried out to be my thing are: making last minute unplanned meals from just pantry essentials, pancakes with broccoli and cheese as an example; executing a weekly cleaning routine, where each room of the house gets a swipe on a certain day of the week, which has not worked during COVID, where I am often uncertain of the day of the week and one time even the month; and organizing greeting cards by date to send to family members and friends, surely not my thing when I sent a ‘congrats on your retirement ‘card to someone who had been summarily sacked for misconduct.
Desperate to have a thing, I polled my family. They gave me many answers, the bulk of which I cannot share with you here. But they pretty firmly landed on me turning down the volume on the TV or on the car radio when I am looking for something (likely trying to find my phone, which they also shared was my thing) or belting out mistaken song lyrics. Ugly. Just ugly.
I am going to keep searching—for my phone, of course--- and for my thing.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
I love Christmas. Singing Silent Night while we pass candle light to one another always moves me to tears. When the pastor retells the story of Christ’s birth, I listen as though hearing it for the first time. One chorus of Oh, Holy Night, and it is a joyous noel for me.
I don’t complain about shopping because I visualize the face of the person opening the gift I have carefully selected. I don’t mind the inevitable paper cuts from wrapping gifts or the fact that my husband uses nearly a whole roll for a small package. I stockpile tape throughout the year like toilet paper hoarders in 2020. I bake sweet treats and place them in tins for delivery to neighbors.
This is my adult behavior around Christmas, and this is not to say I don’t get a little Grinchy once in a while. But I come by loving Christmas quite naturally, I think.
My snapshots of Christmases past are so wonderful, that I cannot enter this time of year without a walk down memory lane.
-a ham the size of a small town on the table each year, weirdly, served with spaghetti, a tradition we keep to this day.
-a pre-requisite huge box of chocolates on the baby grand piano, and my Grandy helping us poke holes in the bottoms of candy until we found an edible caramel or creamy filling; none of that nougat for us.
-a Rings and Things toy maker. Metal plates that heated ridiculously high, into which we poured an Elmer’s glue-like substance of colorful plastic and waited for the beautiful rings and necklaces it produced.
-eating candy from our stockings on the sly then not being hungry for breakfast.
-heavy pajamas and bathrobes and bad haircuts with bangs, all captured in Polaroids.
- my dad’s response to every present, where he made it seem like you had delivered the original gold, frankincense, and myrrh right to his doorstep
-peppermint ice cream, sometimes in the shape of a Christmas tree or Santa, to be consumed only at the kitchen table.
-noises on the rooftop that were surely Santa, and a Grammy who showed me footprints in the snow, verifying the reindeer had been there.
-divinity and peanut butter candy stored on the back porch to keep it cold and butter horn rolls, fresh roasted turkey with dressing.
-begging anyone and everyone to play whatever new board game we had gotten that year.
-snuggling on bed pallets on the floor as all of us poured into my Nanny and Pa’s small farm house, listening to the adults’ late night conversation until I drifted to sleep.
-the squeaky sound of a Styrofoam vanity seat, one that opened for storage and pulled right up to the hard plastic vanity with the aluminum foil mirror.
-spray snow and stencils on December Saturdays, wiping the window with a cloth diaper to remove any dampness before we created our designs.
-finding a stray piece of tinsel in July, tying it into my hair around my ponytail, then rushing inside to count the days until Christmas.
-pulling out the beautiful pink and purple advent candles to place in the fresh pine wreath to start the season leading to Christ’s birth.
-unwrapping a baby doll with eyes that opened and closed, long eyelashes and beautifully painted lips, and promising to care for her forever.
-white opaque tights that never seemed to stretch quite long enough to tuck themselves in neatly below my Christmas dress that matched my sis, and black patent leather shoes, to which we often added Vaseline for an extra gleam.
- the anticipation of Rudolph and Frosty, without updated animation on the television.
-hard candy ribbons in a tin
-trying to stay awake for 11:00 p.m. church, which ended right as Christmas day began
- my mom’s Danish pastry and it’s buttery goodness.
- the organ at my Nanny’s house, with Christmas carols sung with extended family
-Pa sliding his finger under the tape of his package wrapping to get ready for his turn to open a gift.
-Lifesaver story books.
-kids’ table meals too numerous to mention and graduation to the big table
I hope 2020 finds you making some special snapshot memories with your family! Merry Christmas from Musings from the Middle.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
My daughter is a Daddy’s girl. I understand why. I mean, I liked him well enough to let him convince me to marry him, so I am not surprised that she likes him a lot, too.
They are peas in a pod, with lots of shared interests. They play their trumpets together. They watch all that Star Wars stuff that I don’t get. They use ranch dressing for everything from salad to dipping pizza crust.
They talk about and play video games with hard to pronounce names. Their favorite apparel is usually a t-shirt that I would only use to dust my house and an equally grungy pair of shorts. They can nap sitting straight up in broad daylight.
They laugh like hyenas at puns and fart jokes. They both do a pretty good impression of me, albeit not a very flattering one.
Most Daddy’s girls assume Dad is the only one who can solve a problem, and mine is no exception. A stuck trumpet valve? Ask Dad. Expired milk? Check with Dad about the milk’s actual shelf life. Need a toilet plunged? Well, this one is actually one time when I am glad her Dad rushes to the rescue.
Sometimes her assumption that Dad knows it all is a little frustrating. Even though I wash, dry, and fold almost all our household’s laundry, when I asked her to start washing some of her own clothes, she wanted to wait until her dad got home so he could show her how, to which I replied that I would need to be home at the same time to show him where the washer was.
Lately, as she takes multiple practice tests online to obtain her driver’s permit, she will read the question out loud to her dad, despite the fact that I am the only one in the house with a safe driver discount, and I only speed when driving to bakeries or when there is chocolate involved.
I see the television commercials with the moms and daughters who curl each other’s hair, finish each other’s sentences, shop at the open air market for flowers. They smile at each other and hold hands. But I don’t visualize us in those commercials in any lifetime.
I understand that favorite parent status diminishes with each reprimand or in-house fight. My husband often leaves before daylight for work and many days returns after the sun has set. So he misses her messy room or the cereal bowl she left in his recliner.
He often comes in at the end of the hour I have spent cajoling her to proofread the answers to her math problems or to put on something besides another pair of black leggings and Vans to wear out to eat dinner.
I vaguely remember a time during my teen years when I didn’t think too much of my mom either. “It’s just a phase,” friends say. Maybe so.
And I am not totally without wins. After all, I am the only person who can make a grilled cheese just the way she likes it, and I can find the pipe cleaners she needs for her next project in our crowded art room. We have had some fun times getting pedicures or fancy nails together.
And once, when she got a late invitation to a dance, I was the heroine who brought home four dresses from the clearance rack at Gordman’s, all of which fit and all of which I let her keep with little pleading.
I am great at finding the funny socks she likes to wear with her Birk’s, and much to her joy, I am a pushover when it comes to letting the dog sleep with her. But I know I will finish a close second to good old Dad.
Except for… The Day My Daughter Liked ME Best. It started out like any other Saturday, with me banging dishes around in the kitchen, just loud enough to wake her, and yet not personally wake her up, shortly after ten. She stumbled in, grunted something unintelligible and made herself some toast and fruit.
I waited patiently for her to fully drain my hot water tank with her shower and then we ran a couple of errands, took the dog for a walk, watched a cooking show (that she recorded so she could see it again later with her dad…), and wrapped a present for a friend’s baby shower.
She tossed me the empty cardboard tube from the wrapping paper, and I caught it and twirled it. She stopped in her tracks and stared.
“Do that again,” she said.
“Catch something you threw at me like a missile?” I quipped.
“No. That twirly thing,” she said, without rolling her eyes, and I knew intuitively this might be my moment.
I spun the tube, tossed it into the air, narrowly missing the ceiling fan, caught it before it hit the ground and finished with a spin.
“What is this? What are you doing?” she howled.
“Well, it’s sort of like twirling a baton,” I said.
“And you know how to do that?”
“Sure. Watch!” I said, and sprung into a routine worthy of a spot in USC’s marching band. Hot summer afternoons spent tossing a cheap heavy-ended baton in the yard as a ten year old came back to me, and I performed as though auditioning for the Rainbow Girls talent show.
“Oh. My. Gosh. What is happening?” she said, genuinely impressed. “Can you do that to music?”
After a brief pause during which she found my requested number—one Vicki Sue Robinson’s Turn the Beat Around—I resumed displaying my secretly held talent.
I did a little diva-like complaining about the width of the tube and not being able to complete my finger rolls. She ran (like actually moved fast) to grab a light saber from her Disney trip, but when I did my signature shoulder shrug, the end of it popped out. She grabbed electric tape and wrapped it up so that I could continue.
By now, completely out of breath and out of baton twirling shape, I begged for a little reprieve.
“No! You have to show me more,” she said through a genuine smile.
I spun my way through Sousa marches, did my elbow pops, executed a fishtail leg kick and twirled underneath it. She was mesmerized.
Before long—but not before a couple of well-timed toss and cradle catches- I had exhausted my minimal repertoire, and gracefully exited the parade route.
That night I was a little sore, and on my way to soak in a hot tub, I heard her talking to her dad.
“Did you know Mom can twirl a baton? She just whipped out that skill right in front of me today. It was so much fun! We kept picking songs, and she just kept doing tricks.”
She described in great detail all of the things I had told her about being a young girl bonking herself in the head until she could catch the metal tube, practicing all the time in the back yard and even in PE at school. She demo’d a couple of the tricks I showed her for her beloved dad, although clearly not with the level of expertise us long time twirlers display.
When I think about that day, I smile. It was The Day My Daughter Liked ME Best.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
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.
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.
by Cathy Allie
Every writer gets the gift of a topic once in a while, one that just falls right into her lap and practically writes the column itself. Sometimes the topic is a ridiculous politician (plenty of those for fodder), sometimes it is a speaker’s gaffe or facial expression which leaves us laughing, or sometimes it is fad or challenge that catches our attention. But in 2020, Enter Queen Coronavirus.
Once we moved past the funny memes connecting the Queen to Corona beer and the funny songs to the tune of My Sharona, I got bored with the online stuff. Until we were encouraged to stay home, and suddenly things got interesting.
First there was the viral thread where we were asked to tag our spouse, kids, or pet as a co-worker in our home office and describe their behavior. I couldn’t get enough.
One friend posted that his ‘co-worker’ had paraded into the room, not wearing pants and demanded that he hug him. He had taken his case to the director of Human Resources (his wife and not by chance the co-worker’s mother) and she had said just hug him and help him put his pants back on. Reasonable enough.
Some co-worker reports are closely related to 7th grade boy humor. There was the co-worker who was reportedly licking his private parts and laying in the sun all day. Another co-worker believed he could handle ‘number two’ all on his own and got it all over the bathroom and himself. A very troubling report said the co-worker kept farting and asking for lunch and playing on his tablet while the adult co-worker did all the work. This time when the complaint went to HR, HR replied, “Leave my grandbaby alone.”
There were a number of posts (sometimes accompanied by pictures) of co-workers drinking on the job. Guilty as charged! But my personal favorite was the ‘co-worker’ who clipped her toenails on the carpeted stairs then brought ten clippings to her boss to prove she had picked them all up. It is possible I am related to this co-worker.
Soon we had all the different ways people pronounced and mutilated the name of Queen Corona. I heard it called ‘coronaryvirus’ , ‘coronation virus’ (probably initiated in sadness about Harry and Meghan shedding royal titles) and then later ‘The Corona’, kind of like my grandmother used to say, “Can you take me up to The Walmart?” as though there was just one.
Just in time, they grabbed a name which did not refer to any geographical location, animal, individual or group of people, COVID-19, which just simply means the coronavirus disease, discovered in 2019. But folks didn’t get the message.
It became The Ghost Virus, the illness, the silent problem, the China virus, the Wuhan virus, the novel virus, the invisible threat and many others. In line at CVS, of course six feet away from the lady in front of me, I heard her say,” I am just picking up some supplies in case this cerveza virus gets a lot worse.” Now that is the kind of virus I could handle.
Next came all the 20 second hand washing songs for practicing cleanliness during this time. We were tired of singing Happy Birthday two times through. Newsflash: We needed playlists of 20 second songs! I heard them all from Baby Shark to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline. But how can I wash my hands to Sweet Caroline? Aren’t my hands supposed to be swaying back and forth in the air during that time as I sing along?
Some of them were not quite so funny—Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer, Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive and Lizzo’s Truth Hurts, to name a few. My favorite 20 second handwash is a nod to my former career as an English teacher.
Little known fact: If you recite Lady MacBeth’s Out Damn Spot speech at a measured pace, it fits the bill: “Out, damned spot! Out, I say! One, two. Why, then, ’tis time to do ’t. Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! A soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account? Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him." I realize just by letting you know I have this memorized, I run the risk of you never reading another of my columns.
There was moment when I did not see the humor in any of this corona virus mess. One morning, I woke up in a sweat. I mopped my forehead, certain I had a fever, and charted the best course of action. If my fever was high enough, should I drive myself to the doc or risk my husband being exposed? It was a mere five minutes later when I realized the dog had bumped the controls on the electric blanket to high. Crisis avoided.
Through this, I have learned some new tricks to working from home. For example, as long as you wear a different shirt, you can wear the same pants from the day before for teleconferencing. And since your family never paid any attention when you talked to them about work, they have no idea what you are doing. You can pop in ear buds and point to your computer as though you are very busy. Fearful they might be asked to help, they will surely stay away.
If you are able to find anything on the grocery store shelves except lime Jello and Tuna Helper, you can try any weird recipe and tell your family that you saw on TV it was good to eat this particular food during the pandemic. I have learned to appreciate reheated coffee—didn’t I just brew a pot this morning?
We have reacquainted ourselves with family game night. The only difference from before is wash the dominoes in soapy water after our nightly game. And I now know why my dog is a nervous wreck when I come home at the end of the day—there are lots of suspicious noises on our street, and he has clearly been on patrol.
Frankly this social distancing thing feels like Christmas break, where you lose track of days and wear a lot of flannel, but without the promise of presents at the end of it all. I know people are saying how much they like the time with their family. I admire those people. I think it is also possible they are liars, but I am not pointing fingers.
Queen Corona has, however, given me one really good present. My best old person story used to be that we had to get up and walk across the room to change the channel on the television. But I am thankful that years from now, I will have some corona virus stories about this time to tell my grandkids and young co-workers, since I lost most of my savings in the stock market and am now on a fully retire at age 85 plan to recoup it all.
Stay home, stay safe. Wash your hands, make some memories.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.