Our fascination with having a space all our own and getting away from it all begins when we are kids, when we still have little reason to even escape the world. And yet at those early ages we are fort fanciers, treehouse seekers, and bolt-hole builders (more on this fascinating term to come…).
One of the best memories I have of my dad was him crawling through a tunnel of boxes with my toddler daughter, completely forgetting the back troubles that had hounded him for years. They rested somewhere deep inside the boxes and requested snack deliveries from us peasants around them.
Just a short few years later my daughter cried when I sold some old ladder back dining room chairs with knobs that were perfect for making a beautiful canopy from a filmy opaque curtain I had tried to discard. “Where will I hook the clothespins?” she said desperately.
She typically built her fortress right in front of the television and declared it off limits to the rest of us. That pieced together palace hosted many a tea party.
I can’t say that I blame her. I myself have been a refuge seeker, way back into childhood summers. New appliances meant joy for mom, and for us it meant the best tunnel and hideout ever, as we toppled the boxes to their sides, filled them with expensive throw pillows and grabbed flashlights to enhance the mood. I draped sheets off the edge of the bunk bed my sis and I shared to enclose myself when it was my week for the bottom bunk.
In our back yard, a chain link fence was the perfect start for our lean-to tents and hideaways. My dad’s old army blanket was the best ground cover, and then all we needed was a quilt, a sheet, even some plastic to create the triangle into which we would burrow ourselves for hours, hiding away from the world, fortified with Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries.
I was fascinated with movies where there were hideaways, like Swiss Family Robinson and Blue Lagoon. To this day, one of my favorite movie scenes is from Step Brothers when Brennan and Dale retreat to their treehouse to escape a mean brother.
If you have seen Step Brothers you get it, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s a good laugh at the end of a lousy week. Truthfully, I am still mad at Greg, Peter, and Bobby for not letting their Brady Bunch sisters share the club house. I hold grudges.
By the time I was a pre-teen, you would think the hideaway fascination would have stopped, but not for me. Across the road from my grandparents’ farm lived Natalie, a friend we only got to see on our twice or three-time yearly visits. She and Sally were our best buddies away from home, and while they might have enjoyed visiting us in the city, we thought nothing was better than a trip to the farm.
Natalie’s four wheeler took us down dirt roads on the bottom land, and one day I noticed a house off in the distance, a bit dilapidated but intriguing. A family that worked for Natalie’s dad on their farm had once lived there.
We headed over to it, and opened the door, despite the fact that looking back, just like I am 110% certain that leggings are not my best look, I am also 110% certain we were not supposed to have been in it.
Some pretty dusty and ragged furniture and rugs were still in place. My vivid imagination had us all wearing head scarves, sweeping, mopping, and dusting until it was spic and span, and then spending the night there.
A racoon or some animal that had taken up residence ran from a closet we pulled open, scared me enough to scream, and quickly snapped me out of my daytime reverie. But for a blissful moment, I thought we had found our bolt-hole (still promising more on this later…is the anticipation building?).
It is possible that desiring a hideaway is a family trait. My mom recalls wishing her father would build her a playhouse when she was a girl, but alas, the months to relax are few and far between for the farmer, and he never got it done.
He chose instead to build beautiful walnut clocks, which have been a much more transportable and lovely memory of his carpentry skills than a roughed out playhouse would have been. But when I talked about a little hideaway for my daughter, Mom was just as excited at the prospect as we were.
My nephew may have inherited a little of the bolt-hole desire (there is that funny word again… I wonder when she will explain it, readers are surely thinking…). My sister has a lovely back yard, filled with all things blooming and green. When we visited one day, they had added a garden shed.
Sis is happy with her hands in the dirt, and I think she imagined the shed filled with shelves of pots and trowels and other garden necessities (I am out of descriptive words here because gardening gives me metaphorical and physical hives…). But my nephew had other ideas.
The next time we saw the shed, it had a bunk bed built in to the side, and he had officially claimed it. At first, it was furnished with a leaking bean bag and an old rug. The following time, they had gotten it wired for electricity, and he had plugged in an old lamp, quite the ambience.
What followed were some serious decorating gaffes, like a Kansas Jayhawk banner (he is adorable but has terrible taste in sports teams), and some LED lights tacked around the ceiling to wall joist.
He and his buddies had countless overnights there, their suburban camping experience, escaping their tyrant parents, and no doubt eating junk food until they fell asleep, LED lights blazing.
My poor husband appeared to have outgrown the need for a bolt-hole (see now, you are just used to seeing this crazy word…) much earlier than the rest of us. When I asked him to construct a three poled tee-pee looking contraption for our daughter for the yard one summer, he thought I had lost my mind.
“She has her whole room to herself,” he said. When I tried to explain that it needed to be a little smaller and cozy, her offered her closet. Not the same, I protested, and after I purchased the lumber and brought it home, pretending I would just build it myself, he caved.
When he climbed inside the finished tee-pee with her, his feet sticking out, my heart melted. When summer ended, we couldn’t part with the tee-pee just yet and brought it inside. She was at a friend’s for an overnight once, and I came home to find he and the dog sound asleep in the tee-pee.
I made enough noise to allow him to pretend to be awake, and he claimed he was looking for a flashlight they had left in there, but I still believe he was stepping back in time to his fort building days for just a moment.
Maybe right when some of us adults were ready to let go of the whole hideaway thing, She Sheds became the rage. Moms all over the globe were claiming a space in their back yard and decorating that space in outrageous ways, lighting up Pinterest and home improvement magazine covers. Sheryl’s She Shed was even the subject of a funny insurance commercial.
If you are driving behind me as I pass a lot where they are selling tiny homes and sheds, please move on by. I will be rubbernecking until I cause a wreck.
I am busy visualizing what shrubs or perennials I will have my sister plant around my new She Shed. But big girl dreams die, too.
My homeowner’s association prohibits me from having a fine looking She Shed. But the one in my mind has a big window that looks out over the acreage we don’t own, and my easel, where I use acrylic and other mediums to paint, never has to be folded and put away.
In another corner, I have a cozy day bed for when I tire of my artistic pursuits and take a nap, from which no one wakes me and asks me if we have any pretzels or cheese or milk (wouldn’t you know where to look for milk, for Pete’s sake?) or where I put their one good pair of black athletic shorts.
When I was watching the adorable series Grace and Frankie, even Frankie, who lives in a beautiful beach home that is another of my dreams had her own bolt-hole, which I suppose it is finally time to describe.
The English coined the word bolt-hole, and used lovely Englishy sounding words like nook, and harborage and sanctuary and refuge and lair to describe it. I first read about a bolt-hole in a flowery gardening magazine that my sis probably subscribed me to, hoping to convert me.
I was intrigued by the title, and then more intrigued by the author’s words. She actually purchased a home with a little secret passageway about which her husband knew nothing.
As they renovated and refurbished their country estate, she saved scraps of wood and building materials to shore up her bolt-hole. She worked on it when the kids were at school and her hubby at work. She presented it to them with great fanfare one rainy afternoon and announced she was spending some time ensconced there while they all stayed away.
It was the best piece of non-fiction I had ever read, though not enough to keep me subscribed to the magazine. I was teaching English at the time I saw the article, and I shared it with my students as a writing prompt.
After we got past the muffled giggles when I discovered that bolt-hole sounded a lot like butthole to them, we talked about personal space. What would your retreat look like? Why do you need one? I received some of the best writing I had read from them, all of us just wanting our own space.
I think as a writer, I will likely need a bolt-hole to escape with my thoughts. Stay tuned for the reveal, if I ever emerge from it.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
I have been laughing lately at the memes about the lies we tell ourselves. One showed a book titled, “My House is Not That Dirty and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves.” Funny, not funny in my case.
Some of the lies I have told myself have to do with food and eating habits, two of my very favorite topics. A recent fib is, “If I buy this huge water jug with the clever hourly markings and sayings on the side, I will drink all the water I am supposed to in a day.” Not only was it a lie, but now my bladder is talking about leaving home to find different work.
The one day I drank all the water I was supposed to, a work meeting ran a little long, and I was due at school to pick up one impatient 15 year old. I dashed for the car without first considering a visit to the bathroom. Statement of fact: 1-70 during rush hour is no place to desperately need to pee.
I saw a recipe this week that is for sure a lie people are telling themselves: you can take really ripe banana peels, coat them in myriad spices, and fry them to taste like bacon.
Besides the original fallacy that anything would ever rival bacon’s sumptuous flavor, there are few ripe bananas around. I think most folks got used to being forced to eat all the bananas before they became overripe, so they did not have to eat one single more bite of mom’s Covid-19 Homestead Banana Bread.
Three additional favorite dieter’s lies are 1. Fish tastes good (which just requires incredible gullibility to believe), 2. Anything fried in an air fryer is as good as pan fried (which I saw on a commercial I was watching while wiping REAL fried chicken grease from my chin), and 3. No one can tell the difference in skim and 2% milk (except that one looks like murky water and has absolutely no taste).
Still others of my tall tales have to do with my talent and abilities. Lie number one is on display every day in my house, as I apparently once told myself I could mix patterns when decorating. I boldly tossed a striped pillow next to a floral one on my plaid chair. The result is sort of a Coat of Many Colors feel, and while one of my favorite Dolly songs, the mix I have created is not a good look in suburbia.
I have also deceived myself about my ability to bring consensus to family discussions and decision-making. We have resorted to drawing straws or playing Rock, Paper, Scissors to decide even small things like dinner menus far more often than I care to admit.
I have tried everything from having a list of meals to select from, to printing out my Pinterest recipe board, to suggesting only meals whose ingredients can be purchased using that week’s coupons.
“One of you JUST CHOOSE!” I scream when no one wants to decide anything, and my lie about being a consensus builder is exposed. Decisions about college ought to be a lot of fun in this consensus-builderless home.
Other half-truths about my ability can be lumped into living too far in the past. I still peddle fiction about myself about being able to bend down without pulling a muscle, shoot three pointers, apply lotion to all parts of my back without my husband’s help, and remember people’s names.
Another genre of lies has to do with health or appearance. They can be very common ones like, “Next spring I will be able to fit into those pants again” or “Tunic tops and elastic waist pants are not only comfortable but also stylish.”
I have lied to myself over and over about getting in shape. And where did that phrase ‘getting in shape’ even come from? People need to learn their shapes a little better in pre-school. I mean round is a shape, right?
Perhaps the biggest appearance lies have to do with makeup and hair. The cosmetic companies promise us there are lipsticks and eyeliners that will not smudge, but plenty of sweaty menopausal women will attest to clown-like lips and racoon eyes.
A lie that ran rampant during Covid-19 quarantines went like this: “I can go another week without touching up my roots.” What remained in my hair after two missed hair appointments was a color that would best be called River Bottom or maybe Greige. Not pretty. When my stylist finally saw me, she wept with joy. Or maybe despair.
Some lies I tell myself have to do with habits: I can watch just one more episode, eat just one more piece, read just one more page, hit the snooze button only once.
I spout the falsehood, “I don’t need to write that down, I will remember it,” with full confidence, even though as I age this isn’t even a near truth. Today I didn’t even know it was today. Sad.
As a serial shopper, I have lied about my habits. “There is no such thing as too many pairs of black pants or shoes,” I mumble, as I reach for a perfectly cropped pair from the rack.
I am a night owl by nature, and an early riser by necessity. In my 30’s, I was not lying when I told myself, “I can stay up late and still wake up early.” Today, that would be like a Christmas miracle.
Once after supervising my daughter’s slumber party, I fell into a Rip Van Winkle snooze from which ringing phones and shouting family members could not rouse me. I am still tired just writing about it.
Oh, I can ring in the New Year, alright. But then I might miss St. Pats’ day because I am still asleep. And no one wants to miss St. Pat’s Day, because…get ready for the lie…green beer on top of corned beef and cabbage is actually good for the digestion and not at all nauseating.
Finally, there are some whoppers I have told myself that are just so outrageous, each is in a category of its own. For instance, “I can live without chocolate” should maybe be rephrased to say, “ I can live without chocolate on my scrambled eggs” or “ I can live without chocolate for 15 minutes,” both of which are far more accurate.
Perhaps one of my least believable lies is about my aversion to some animals. If you ever hear me say, “I like bats because they eat mosquitos, and I like possum because they eat ticks,” move out of the way before my Pinocchio-like nose hits you. Can’t. Won’t.
On some dusky summer nights, bats fly near our street lights. Not sure if it is my connection to Dark Shadows’ Barnabas Collins that has forever spoiled me on bats, but we had to move the master bedroom to the back side of the house, free of street lights and bats.
The only problem is now our bedroom faces a ravine which narrows into a little trickle of a stream, one that is just the perfect spot for a mama possum and her 637 babies to get a drink and then scamper back across my yard to hang by their tales from a tree I promised to trim earlier, yet another piece of fiction. I would just stay up all night to avoid these nocturnal animals, but we discussed earlier my need for sleep.
I would like to write a book about all these fabrications, as I believe I would have a best seller on my hands with all you perjurers hanging around. I have selected the title, “My Academy Award Speech Will Fit Within the Time Limit and Other Lies I Tell Myself,” soon to be available at counterfeitcopies.com
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
In another life, I am a good singer. I wear a sparkly cocktail dress, weave my way through the tables up to the stage in the smoky nightclub, squint into the spotlight, and launch into a performance that would make Babs Streisand, Judy Garland, Lindsey Buckingham, or maybe, just maybe, Janet Jackson, cry.
In real life, I can sort of carry a tune and love lots of kinds of music, the perfect combination to become a karaoke singer.
When my husband and I first dated, we ended up at a local pub’s karaoke night. It was a full house on a Saturday, and as a dare, we each picked a song to sing. While waiting our turn, we heard some folks who should have cut a record, and some who patterned themselves after the sound of dying whales.
At the pub’s long tables, we made friends with some of the regulars. Jodi, new to the area from California, had sung on public access TV. She gave free advice to those who returned from the stage to their seats.
“Next time stand up a little straighter to lengthen your diaphragm,” she told Tony. “You will get more volume and be able to hit the high notes.” He bought her a tequila shot in gratitude, but she refused it as she had heard alcohol damaged vocal chords.
We met a singer whom we later found out was 90% deaf, yet who sang the most beautiful version of “Make the World Go Away” we had ever heard.
I had almost had enough to drink to start re-thinking my song entry that night when they called my name. I made it through a pretty wicked version of “Midnight Train to Georgia,” channeling Gladys, minus the Pips. The crowd clapped politely.
A couple of songs later my brave date sang Hank William’s “Family Tradition,” and the crowd went wild. I felt a surge of pride that this was my fella, and he could actually sing.
We enjoyed a few more rounds- both of singers and of drinks- and were winding down when Betty, the pub’s aging and only waitress, dropped a yellow ticket in front of my date. “Congrats! You are in the finals,” she said.
Unbeknownst to us, we had joined in the fun on karaoke contest night. Truthfully kind of disappointed I was un-ticketed, I looked up into the eyes of a true competitor, who had already opened the massive song list book, and was busy selecting his next number.
While there is some debate these many years later between my now husband and me about the amount of the prize awarded that night, suffice it to say, he made Bobby Darrin proud with a version of “Mack the Knife” that won the big cash prize.
This was before the proverbial mic drop became popular, but it was a pretty good moment. A man who can earn a check during the week and pick up a little extra moola singing on weekends? Sign me up. He believes his boyish charm won me over. Actually, I had always wanted to marry a performer.
We spent a few (read many) nights at the pub, making more karaoke friends and introducing some of our friends to it. Along the way we learned so much about the fine art of karaoke. Here are ten things you should know, too.
First, applaud no matter the quality of the performance. You may be applauding for the courage of the person who put it all out there, possibly for the fact the song is finally over, and because it really is just for fun. And most importantly, if you stink when it is your turn to sing, they will also clap for you.
Second, some folks take their karaoke very seriously. If they change outfits any time during the night for different songs, forget about beating them in the weekly contest. Karaoke joints are not the place to get discovered, but believe me, some warblers think they are.
Third, don’t karaoke if you cannot read. The words literally light up in front of you, and all you have to do is follow them. If the crowd helps you or the K-J steps in, you are sunk. Hooked on phonics for you, friend.
Fourth, maybe it actually is time to stop believing. That Journey song is a huge karaoke foul in most places. If you hear an audible groan when your title comes up, you have a strike against you before your opening note.
Other ones you might want to put on the back burner are Adele’s “Hello” and Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” It is possibly time for a B52’s “Love Shack” return, but first check the crowd for dark glasses, go-go boots, and beehive hairdos to see if you will have any fans.
Fifth, most people cannot rap, and that includes you. A particularly saucy rendition of Baby Got Back might be a good substitute for the Eminem song you wanted to sing, but leave beat boxing and Tupac at home.
Sixth, the 4th week in April is National Karaoke week. I think that should tell you about its importance. It has its own week for crying out loud!
Seventh, the best duet for a man and woman is “I Got You Babe” ala Sonny and Cher, because they weren’t really in tune when they sang it, so it seems okay if you aren’t either. Dolly Parton and George Jones’ “Rockin’ Years” is a good one, too, if the crowd likes country. Leave anything from Lionel Richie or Peaches and Herb alone, dang it. You will never sound that good.
Eighth, “Paradise By the Dashboard Lights” is too long, as is “American Pie,” but if the crowd likes to get involved, these are sure ways to win them over. If you do launch into a sing along number, don’t be surprised if some overly-enthusiastic new friend joins you on stage or if you end up with back up dancers. It’s all a part of the karaoke game.
Ninth, deliberately performing another singer’s signature song is considered bad form. At our old place, Tammy and Jake had cornered the market on most of the duets. That was okay with us, as we both envision ourselves as primarily solo acts. But we witnessed a near thrown down the night Sheila sang Celine Dion ‘s “The Heart Will Go On,” when everyone knew it was Debbie’s territory. Shameless!
Tenth, if you can get dancers on the floor during your song, you have made it big time. We noticed that the contest winners almost always had dancers. As my friend would say about the good singers, “They sound so much like the record!”
I have to admit that our buddy’s version of “Living on Tulsa Time” and his rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues,” which both got multiple dancers last time he sang them, have tested the theory a bit. But put on your falsetto vest and break out a Whitney Houston number like “I Will Always Love You” or a Bee Gees “How Deep Is Your Love,” and the slow-dancers come out of the woodwork.
When the pub closed (read: was condemned), we were sad, and we never found another just right place to recreate those fun days. We missed Jodi’s advice and Ray the K-J’s announcing skills.
We saw Tammy and Jake at a table near ours when we were eating out one night years later. In the flickering Olive Garden candlelight, they looked just like your next door neighbors. But we remembered their power when they held those karaoke mics.
If you hummed, ran the lyrics through your mind, or sang aloud to any of the songs I mentioned, you likely have the karaoke bug. If you weren’t moved by any of my suggestions, but have your own personal favorite in mind, you have surely been bitten.
Call us if you are out and about some night for karaoke. We might just come by and dance to one of your numbers.
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
I am naturally a very curious person. I don’t remember myself as a child besides through pictures in which I mostly have very bad haircuts, but I am guessing I about drove my folks crazy with questions. And to this day, I love a good question and answer session.
I am not dangerously curious. You won’t find me ambulance chasing, rushing into a fire to determine the cause, looking too far over the edge of a cliff, or deep sea diving to open a treasure chest (although I might wait on the shore just to see what they brought up).
There are some very positive things about being curious. I read once that curious people are more intelligent, and that asking questions which connect people might just be the glue that holds our society together. Not to be a martyr, but can you imagine if my good-natured cross-examination was somehow saving the world one inquiry at a time?
Admittedly, I am a relentless speculator. Good or bad, I always have a question. When my brother and a friend visited at Christmas, we decided to get out of the house for a minute and drove around a new housing development in my neighborhood.
“Wonder why they angled that house so that the front door is not facing the street?” I asked. They both shrugged their shoulders.
“Hadn’t thought about it,” they said, nearly in unison. Clearly not curious.
When I watch a movie with my husband, I am constantly analyzing a character’s motivation or what will happen next. While I am wondering if Julia will return to the site of the murder or why she can’t stop her love of bad boys, I can guarantee you my husband is thinking more about whether I stole the last piece of buttered popcorn.
Case in point was when we watched a war movie on a chilly COVID Friday night from the comfort of our couch.
“It seems strange to me that the other guys in his unit didn’t notice the same things he did. Do you think maybe they really did know what was going to happen but just couldn’t bring themselves to talk about it?” I say to the hubs.
“Hmmm,” he grunts. “Don’t know.” That’s it? You don’t know? Aren’t you curious?
It doesn’t get a lot better with the next generation at our house. My daughter likes Star Wars movies, and I don’t. I have tried to sit down and watch with her, but she doesn’t appreciate having to talk me through all the questions I have.
“What was the problem between the Jedi and the Dark Side Force to begin with?” I ask, secretly sort of proud of myself for even remembering some of the names.
“I am not sure; we just know that they fought, the Jedi won, and the Dark Side wants revenge,” she said fairly patiently.
“But isn’t the whole thing sort of based on that feud from long ago?” I try again. “Hard for me to believe it would just carry on all these years and through all these generations and galaxies without it being something big.”
“Probably,” she says, dismissing me and my curious mind. I didn’t even get to ask about the whole Luke and his father thing I saw in a meme.
I have tried to build some curiosity into others. At family dinners, when there is a conversation lull, I coax them into playing Rapid Fire.
This is not a food fight, but a question game, where you ask a question, and the person answering has only ten seconds to answer. My family has begun calling the person answering the question The Victim, so you now have an idea of their enthusiasm level.
The last time we played, I offered them the chance to go first, but neither of them could think of a question. What? There is no burning unanswered inquiry you just have to make? Undeterred, I volunteered to go first.
“Do you think aliens exist?” I asked my daughter. And she replied immediately, no hesitation.
“Wow! Why do you think that?”
“Well, to be honest, I think they may have taken over your body, with all your weird questions,” she said. Hateful, just hateful.
My husband smiled at me sympathetically and told me he would play, but I didn’t fare a lot better with hm.
“Okay,” I said and leaned in toward him to show my interest, one of my favorite questioning postures.
“What is your favorite song ever?”
“From what genre?” he replied.
“Any genre. Just your favorite song.”
“Could it be something from a long time ago, or do you mean something newer?’
“From any time period.”
“Do you mean from a soloist or a band?” At this point, I was ready to try the hateful kid again.
I am pretty persistent with my pursuit of turning my family into inquisitors. I have unashamedly purchased 20 Questions books or Would You Rather card games for our vacations and long car rides and used them as stocking stuffers. They would rather have candy or socks.
I have been known to ask new couples friends how they met or what their first apartment or home was like. Once when I was interviewing for a job, they asked if I had any questions, and I pulled out a list. Probably not what they anticipated, but I got the job.
I don’t consider myself nosey or snoopy, like the stock characters on TV, who are just all up in somebody else’s business. I don’t really meddle or intrude…most of the time.
I can, however, tell you where my neighbor went to college and where she grocery shops, how much the parking lot attendants at a local event center make per hour, and whether the ladies at my favorite craft store have to supply their own scissors when they work or if the store graciously provides them.
You would suppose that a person as curious as me would have inadvertently discovered a disease cure or made a scientific advancement with all my questions, but thus far, I have to admit I have not unearthed anything of much significance. I am not stopping, though. Wanna’ know why?
Did you know that “Curiosity killed the cat” is only the first part of that familiar phrase? The second half is ,“And satisfaction brought him back.”
Cathy is a retired public school English teacher and Public Information Officer.
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!