Sunday, December 12, 2010

A long time ago, in a blog far, far away…

 

A couple days ago, my youngest sister Courtney sent some photos our way from her life in Florida.  It was sort of a big deal, as she doesn’t have an email address, let alone a computer.  She said she plans to eventually, but it’s a reminder of how accustomed most of us are to staying in touch these days.  No one has seen Courtney since Dad’s funeral, ten years ago. 

My sister Courtney, 1977   

Seeing her face again though, especially at this time of year, reminded me of this early photo, one of my all-time favorites.   I used it several years back when I’d written a blog titled ‘Christmas with the Morris Family’, a pretty long-winded account of our farmhouse Christmas years (in the Seventies).  That blog is long gone from the internet now (well, hopefully) but to be honest, I’ve been half tempted to pull it back out & hang it up on the teepee again, like an old Christmas ornament. 

 

Courtney, today; I can’t believe she’s 35 years old, but she looks terrific

 

I don’t think it’d be fair to just do a cut n’ paste of the old blog though (besides, it was too long & in retrospect pretty boring) so instead I thought I’d just share a few of “My Favorite Farmhouse Christmas Memories” to get my teepee in the holiday spirit.  So without further ado…

 

 

1. Morning Mayhem—Mom, you never looked so good

 

Our beautiful mom with Donda & Shawn, Christmas morning, 1971

Mom scrimped and saved all year long for us, and had her shopping done by Thanksgiving.  We got her up at 5am and she still managed to look this good!   

 

 

2.  Nothing says “I love the Seventies” like this

   

I love this picture—Donda is pretty as…well, a picture and if you examine it close enough you’ll find a ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ doll, ‘Starsky & Hutch’ puzzle, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ board game & wait what’s on the floor beside her?   I’m not sure but it has ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ on the cover!  

 

 

3.  Holiday Smackdown from Grandma 

 

Dad & Grandma Morris, Christmas Eve, 1972.  We are truly blessed.  Not only is it Christmas tomorrow, but it's snowing heavily outside, Grandma is trapped here for the duration and being a Friday night, ‘Brady Bunch’ is on the tube.  

GRANDMA:  Oh no, we're not gonna watch this fool show are we...oh Lord have mercy.

DOUG:  Grandma, what the--

MOM:  May, I'm with you.  But these kids never miss it.

GRANDMA:  Oh I hate those foolish Bradys.  I really do.

DOUG:  GRANDMA!!

GRANDMA:  I'm sorry McDougall, but it's Christmas and those Bradys aren't wrapped too tight!

4.  You have your space, and I have mine

 

Here’s a picture of my brother Steve with his holiday plunder; when we came down those steps Christmas morning, we didn’t look under the tree—we looked for our section of the livingroom!  “Shawn your pile is the couch, left side!  Steve, yours is the big chair!”  If it was wrapped & under the tree, it could wait. 

 

 

5.  One picture says a thousand words—or fifty

My first Christmas with a big money gift

 

What can I say?  When you’re a fifteen year old getting a $4.00 weekly allowance, a fifty dollar bill was like winning the lottery!  Of course, Shawn’s earnest expression of happiness here (for me) is the best thing in this picture. 

 

 

Well, like I said--this is just a goofy sampling of those years.  As for now, I’m just happy to see my little sister Courtney again, and know she’s well.

 

Merry Christmas, Courtney

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Tale of Two Brothers: A Death in His Family

 

Three days ago I received this brief email from my brother Steve:

“I just saw that John Roberts that I graduated with died Friday.  He was Danny's brother and I was wondering if you had heard how he died or anything about it.”

No, I hadn’t.  I located the obituary online, and couldn’t believe what I saw.  John Ira Roberts, 44, of Point Marion had died unexpectedly on Friday at 3:05am.  The funeral had taken place on Sunday.  

I went to the funeral home’s website & signed the guestbook, and sent my old friend Dan a condolence note.  I may or may not hear back from him, as it’s been a long while but I hope I do.   I still don’t know what happened, but I am guessing “unexpected” means something sudden, like a stroke or heart attack.   While I knew John was once a truck driver for many years, I did not know he was married and had children.

Just to clarify, John was the younger brother of my oldest friend Dan Roberts.  Dan & I met in the fourth grade and were best friends for 25 years.  As kids, he spent as much time at my house as I did his, and we ‘parted company’ sometime in the mid 90s, after Dan married and had a couple more kids, and I moved to Pittsburgh.  (I’ve only seen Dan twice in fifteen years, sad to say.) 

 

John Ira Roberts, Nov 14 1966 – Nov 19 2010

 

When I showed the obituary and funeral write-up to my sister Shawn, she asked me how well I had known John.  Not very well, I’m afraid.  I remember going to Danny’s house often after school or on the weekends, and thinking how much John reminded me of my own little brother Steve.  They were born the same year, and were both your typical farm kids, though John had an “ornery” side to him, and an infectious laugh.   This is a dumb memory, but I remember sitting at his family’s dinner table one evening & declining an offer of broccoli because they reminded me of “little trees”, and John broke out in hysterical laughter.  He liked to tease me about it for a couple years afterward.

I only wish I had more memories to share of ‘John Ira’, as growing up, his family was pretty much my second one.   Dan was like a brother to me of course, but I felt close to all of them.  Their parents William & Freda, their sly older brother Bill, and their lovely sisters Yvonne & Jean Carol. 

It’s been many years but the loss is felt just the same.  Rest in peace, John.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A little gray matter, and I’m not talking brains

Gray Indian

 

 

This all began a couple days ago, on Friday.  I was at the office, plugging away, when Linda (a coworker) walked past and remarked that she was surprised at how gray my hair was, and said (with a wink) “don’t let this place age you!”   I knew my hair was showing it’s age, but was still surprised when I fished a small mirror out of my desk & saw my noggin under those florescent lights—where the hell did all that gray on top come from?!  

The lighting there is a lot brighter than my bathroom mirror at home, but I wasn’t expecting such a drastic change at work.  I made a mental note to stop at CVS on my way home & pick up some ‘stuff’.  It had been over three months since my last dye job, I knew I was overdue.

I confess—a little over eighteen months ago, I began noticing a graying at the temples.   I hated it, it reminded me of Ward Cleaver from ‘Leave it to Beaver’.  I worried that if left untreated, I’d look like Paulie from the Sopranos, with those big white wings on the sides of my head!   So after doing some exploring at the drugstore, I thanked God I was a man (I’m sure you’ve seen the endless rows of women’s hair color) and basically had three colors to choose from--light, medium or dark brown.  I began touching up my temples, usually once every other month.

Just for Men - Medium Brown

I kept up the practice for awhile, and when the gray began creeping upward, I simply poured the concoction over my entire head. I never had a bad experience with the stuff, and in fact was always surprised at how nicely it turned out.  It made me feel like ‘my old self’ to have a head of dark hair again.   And when the silver started making its way back faster, I switched from 8 weeks, to six, to once a month.

When I informed my barber what I was doing, he said “You won’t keep that up forever, it gets old fast.”   Nope, I thought—I’m no Richard Gere or George Clooney, I won’t get better looking with gray hair.

 

July 2010, about 2 weeks after my last dye job; those sides are stubborn!   A lot has changed since this too

 

Anyway, my barber was right; I picked up a box of Just for Men on Friday, but it’s been sitting on my kitchen sink ever since.  I feel like I’m fighting a losing battle, and I’m wondering if it’s a good time to throw in the towel (the one stained with Medium Brown hair color) & admit defeat.  I recently read a quote that struck home:  “Forty is the old age of youth, and fifty is the youth of old age.”  Well, I’ve got another year to go before I hit that fiftieth milestone, and if I’m not going to act my age, the least I can do is stop hiding from it.

1980… it was a very good year.  For hair, at least!

Shawn & me, 1980

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Don’t worry, just read & be happy

 

I’m in a love-hate relationship with Barnes & Noble.  Recently I purchased one of their ebook readers, a “Nook”.   This wasn’t an impulse buy either, as I’d been wanting one of these contraptions for some time.  Originally my heart was set on an Amazon Kindle, after seeing a woman on my bus with one; it looked private and convenient. 

So last winter, around the same time I decided on buying one, B&N said “Wait, before you buy a Kindle, look at this!”   They were rolling out their new e-reader, the Nook.

I liked what I saw—it was similar to the Kindle, but included an MP3 player and a beta web browser.  It was a little smaller, a little heavier, but was getting great reviews (and okay, looked pretty stylish too).  But what really set it apart was a color touch screen below the reader that also displayed all the books in your e-library.  I was drooling!   At the time though, it was kind of pricey ($249) and bound to have bugs being a brand new product and all, so I made myself wait at least 6 months before buying one.  

 

My ‘e-library’; I currently have around thirty books, but it can hold thousands—also magazines, newspapers,songs, photos, etc.

 

I’m glad I waited, because they worked out the kinks and lowered the price too.  So last month I finally decided the time was right & bought one.  It’s a cool device, and renewed my interest in reading (which has been on the decline for the last couple years.)   You can browse the Barnes & Noble e-Bookstore right on it, there’s ‘Free Ebook Fridays’ and it only takes a few seconds to download Mackenzie Phillips drug-laced tell all.  (Or ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, better?)

To be honest, when I first got it I found it a bit peculiar that I needed a reading lamp, just like a regular book—but then I visited an online forum of Nook fanatics, who explained to us newbies that it uses “e-ink” which is supposedly easier on the eyes, and besides your “real” books don’t light up either, do they?  Well no, but they’re not electronic.   It would’ve been nice though.  Maybe someday, in the far future…

And then last week, after I’ve had my Nook a total of 4 weeks, I get an email from Barnes & Noble:   “As a Nook owner, we thought you’d like to know—on November 19 we’re releasing a brand NEW Nook, the NOOK COLOR.  Wait, what?!  If I’d only held out a little longer!

 

The whole screen is now a touchpad, not just the bottom; you can read magazines in full color & without any external light source, son of a—!

 

Of course, the Nook forums are now full of Nookies (you know, Nook Groupies) telling everyone not to panic, this is not replacing THE Nook, it’s just another model to the B&N lineup.  “And besides, for reading the e-ink is best!”  Uh-huh.   

So after spending a couple days sulking over the lousy timing, what could I do?  I shrugged my shoulders and got back to reading with my Nook.  And y’know, the more I use it, the more it hit me—I love this simple thing.   (It also helped when I learned the new Color Nook only holds an 8 hour charge—my Nook’s battery lasts at least a week.)   So fine, Barnes & Noble—unveil your new reader in a couple weeks, I hope you sell a million of ‘em!

(And I’ll just wait six months or so until they work out the kinks and drop the price some…)

Smokin_Tipi

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010: Something Wicked This Way Comes

 

Just wanted to share these pictures of my six year old niece Sophie, dolled up & ready for some serious spell-casting tonight!

 

“I’ll get you my pretty”—oh wait, she’s only showing off her fake nails…

 

One more—on the front porch, Sophie with her lifelong friend Sheldon as Mario; this boy’s obviously a playa Winking smile

Happy Halloween, Sophie!

 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (as for the rest of me...)

Lone Indian on Hill

 

A few weeks ago, I was up later than my usual bedtime & watching David Letterman, and was ready to hit the off button  when he said something that made me sit up and take notice.  He remarked that New York City was facing a crisis of sorts--it seems the city’s cemeteries are approaching full capacity.  There will soon be no space left in NYC to bury their dead.  I wonder what they’re going to do.

While I’m sure they’ll figure out something, I found this a bit ironic for a couple reasons.  As a kid in the early ‘70s I sometimes wondered (okay--worried, actually) where everyone was going to go after they died.  (I’m not talking souls here either; there’s only so much Earth, y’know!)   I know that sounds a bit odd, but I had my reasons.  First, my Dad’s old Navy buddy, Willy Sutton, often visited Saturday mornings & always had interesting stories to share.  He told me once that real estate in Japan was at such a premium, only the wealthiest could afford to bury their loved ones—and even then, they had to go in vertically.  Who wants to stand on their feet for eternity? 

Secondly, you have to remember the times.  The “Population Explosion” was a fixture on the evening news, and even Hollywood was responding with movies like ‘Soylent Green’ & ‘Logans Run’.  (In the future we were either vaporizing people on their thirtieth birthdays or turning them into crackers and eating them.)  So I couldn’t help but wonder what would become of us.  Well, most of us.  I’ve always known where I was going, because strangely enough, my family has their own cemetery.

 

My Dad & Grandma Morris; behind them are headstones from the 18th century, all Morris descendants or married into the Morris family

 

The Morris Family cemetery sits high atop a hill overlooking my Aunt Dena & Uncle Bill’s farm (which originally belonged to my grandparents, and my grandpap’s grandparents).   As kids, my siblings & cousins often climbed the steep hill from our Grandmas’ place below, while Mom reminded us not to “mess anything up up there”.   I always saw the fenced in area as a curiosity at best, and sometimes would wander among the earlier headstones, trying to find which one was the oldest.  (The markers went back two hundred years or so, too.)

I don’t think I saw it for what it really was until I was 19 years old & my Grandpap Morris was buried there.  I can remember sitting on my Grandma’s porch during the wake, and looking up towards that hill, and realizing it was no longer some page from our family’s history book, but who we were right now.  It took on a new meaning for me that day. 

My sister Shawn at the entrance to the cemetery; check out that view

It would be fifteen years before I saw another loved one laid to rest there, when Grandma Morris left us in 1997.

And then sadly, all too quickly--an uncle, a second cousin, my own parents.  For a long while I dreaded that hill, but it feels like home there now; it’s more than loved ones laid at rest, my family’s origins are from there too.   I’ve always felt more at peace on that hill than anywhere else I’ve ever been, and I know that someday I will be with my loved ones again, hopefully in more ways than one.

My mom’s place of rest, shortly after the delivery of her headstone.  Rest in peace, Mom.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When all else fails, eat Soup (echh)

Sophie loves soup 

While I’m waiting for my brain to come up with something interesting & original for the new Teepee, I’ll just share this.  Last Sunday my sister Shawn (and her husband Jim & my niece Sophie here) came to visit.  It was Sophie's sixth birthday on Tuesday, so we were celebrating a little early. 

After we walked up the street for pizza and returned to my apartment, I leaned against my dining table to rub my sore leg and lamented to my niece I was an old man.  Sophia (who was sitting on the floor, playing with her birthday gift) looked up and said "Uncle Doug, you're not old."  I said "Aw, thanks honey!  But I sure am getting big, y’know…"  Sophie went back to playing and matter-of-factly said "Then stop eating so much junk food."

 

Sophie on the floor in her soccer uniform, with her gift from Uncle Doug

 

What!  Well, I don't know why that took me by surprise--she's such a tenderhearted little girl, but she's not old enough yet to understand the subtleties of patronizing someone who WANTS to be patronized.  She’s all about the truth, God bless her.  And because of her, I need to find my motivation to stop lugging around all of these extra pounds.  I’m making it my life’s mission to hear “Uncle Doug you’re not fat” come out of this kid’s mouth! 

Don’t get me wrong, I want to lose the weight regardless of Sophie’s approval—but I’m constantly fooling myself into thinking I’m not that fat.  Why do I keep doing that?   I can go for weeks at a time thinking things aren’t that bad, but it takes just one photo to jar me back to reality.

Who is this gorgeous little girl hugging?  Someone who needs to eat more dreaded things like soup

This pic surprised me, and not in a good way--when Shawn asked if she could post it on Facebook I nearly had a stroke.  (So why is it here?  Because this isn’t Facebook.)

I currently weigh 200 plus plus lbs., this is the heaviest I’ve been since mom passed in 2004.  I haven’t weighed under 200 pounds since my sister’s wedding in 2000, so I’m not even sure I remember what it’s like to be that thin.   I know what I have to do, though, as this isn’t the first time in my life I’ve tried to lose 25-30 pounds.  I did it once before in the mid-90s, and after trying diet pills, ‘sweat belts’, self hypnosis, sprinkling tobasco sauce on everything & even prayer, I finally discovered the secret:

  • Sweaty exercise (3-4 nights a week)
  • Treat red meat like Beluga caviar 
  • No potato chips, ice cream or white bread—ever.  And eat soup until it’s coming outta my ears.  (I’d rather it go in that way as well!)

Sophie, I hope you had a nice birthday & thanks for the hugs & good advice.  I’m going to try & do just as you said, your job is done!

Friday, September 3, 2010

You are woman, I am man--it wasn’t always this way, but these things happen


The final episode of Star Trek in the 1960s was memorable for two reasons:  it was the final episode of Star Trek (choke) but it was also the one where Captain Kirk became a woman. 

Yeah, he really did; Dr. Janice Lester (an old flame from Kirk's Starfleet Academy days) lucked upon some ancient alien technology that allowed her to trade bodies with him, against his will.  Janice now had command of the Enterprise, and Kirk found himself in a lovely pink and black caftan, looking somewhat bewildered.

Captain Kirk filing his nails?  That can only mean one thing

Fortunately, the effects were temporary; and I have to admit that actress Sandra Smith made a much more convincing Kirk than William Shatner in his attempt to play a vengeful woman pretending to be Captain Kirk.  (Did you get that?)

The reason this particular episode comes to mind is because very recently, an old friend of mine resurfaced, apologized for not being around for the last year or so--and explained they had been using the time away to become a woman.  He--I mean she--wasn't joking.  If it was anyone else, I'd suspect I was being punk'd, but I've known Robin for about five years and he--no, she--is not the kidding type.

 

Robin in her former life with William Shatner—that’s right, Captain Kirk

 

How we became friends is precisely because of Star Trek; we met several years ago on an online discussion board, and had a tongue-in-cheek competition of who was 'Trek Master'.  I had a library of custom dvd Trek covers; Robin had a lifesize bust of Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard as Locutus of Borg.  (If you're not a Trek fan, nevermind.)  And then one day Robin posted this photo & I knew I'd lost the battle; you can't compete for the title of Trek Master with someone who is posing for a picture with William Shatner. 

I think the only thing more surprising to me than Robin's sex change was the blasé attitude from some of the other guys we share & exchange thoughts with.  It's an intelligent group of men for the most part, but they took this in stride without a second thought.  Meanwhile I am still trying to get my head around it.  Seeing Robin share thoughts like "I will admit that a lot of this transition has been pretty fun. Women have so many more clothing options than men do! I'm finding shopping for clothing a pleasure now, where once I found it one of the most odious of chores"  and "Taking a week off of work, and returning the next Monday wearing make-up, jewelry and a skirt, not to mention sporting freshly dyed and permed hair... now, that was a day I'll never forget!"   Oh really.  Oh really.


The important thing here is how Robin feels of course, and I have to say that she seems like a happier person now.  As a man, Robin sometimes seemed a bit closed off, at times somewhat terse.  Now she's talkative, cheerful & even referred to me recently as "schnookie-lumps"?! 

This is not the Robin I once knew, but I say that in a good way. 

(Of course, she is still hanging onto that bust of Captain Picard; when I offered to take it off her hands, she told me to take a hike.) 

 


Well, I suppose if legions of fans could accept Kirk's feminine side, let alone Captain Picard being assimilated by the Borg, I can handle my friend in her new role as a woman.   Live long and prosper, Robin.DC17796lg

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sitting in the darkness, popcorn on your knee… let’s go to the Opera House, wait & see

  The Opera House, 1981

Friday morning at work, I got this brief email from my sister Shawn: 

"While you enjoyed ‘Tokyo Sonata’ and Disgrace, I finally got to see a movie too. Flipper, with Elijah Wood and Paul 'Crocodile Dundee' Hogan."  I knew she had read my latest movie reviews and figured where this was going, then I noted the subject line of Shawn’s message:  "But I love being a mom". 

I had a good chuckle over that, but sympathized for her too.  Ever since my 5 year old niece Sophia came along, Shawn's movie watching has pretty much been limited to the films with Tinkerbell welcoming you to the show.   (I can still remember our first Disney experience--the summer of 1966, when Grandma Morris carted the two of us to the Opera House to see 'Mary Poppins'.  Shawn, who was not quite 3, wouldn't stop crying once the lights went down.  I was not quite 5 and just remember feeling bewildered at the bright screen and the booming voices.)   Of course we shared many happier movie experiences after that, and those memories could fill a book--or a very long blog, at least. 

The more I thought about this however, the more I realized that my favorite movie memories always came from our hometown's small theater, the Opera House.

Opera House, 1889

 

The Opera House, 1889.  For fifty years it hosted theatrical, vaudeville and opera troupes, as well as lectures from famed orators, including William Jennings Bryan, known for his involvement in the 1925 Scopes trial.   In 1939, the Opera House was remodeled & movies became its main attraction

   

The Opera House closed its doors in 1986, but several years later was bought & reopened as the Waynesburg Theatre.  While it thankfully retains most of it's original charm, I'll always remember it best as it was in that photo at the top, with that tall red electronic sign (which was removed over 20 years ago, hard to believe.)  Unike today's cineplexes, it could only show one movie, but contained a wonderful art-deco interior, with Italian frescos that framed the screen and large velvet drapes that slowly parted as the lights dimmed.  For a small-town kid growing up in the 70s, it was always such a grand experience. 

Interior, before the remodel

This was the interior 'back in the day'; note the balcony, which for years had a sign at the stairwell, 'Restricted to Couples Only'! 

I had a variety of experiences there, depending on who I was with.  In 1971, Shawn & I were allowed to go (by ourselves, for the first time) to see 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks', and I can still remember our mutual gasps over the special effects.  Around 1974, 'Gone With the Wind' was re-released and my Grandma Morris invited me to see it with her.  I balked at the idea of going to "an old peoples movie" but later sat there spellbound, as Atlanta burned in front of us. 

And thanks to my older brother Duke, I was treated to cinematic masterpieces like 'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' (where I burst out crying when Cornelius & Zira were shot), 'The Towering Inferno', 'The Poseidon Adventure' & 'Soylent Green'.  

Opera House ticket booth

 

Children 50 Adults 75 cents--those days are long gone but the ticket booth remains

 

I'm sure everyone has special memories devoted to particular films, and I certainly have too many to list here.  If I had to pick my favorite ones though, they were always with Shawn--and nothing quite says love like a sister sitting through 'Star Trek III' so her brother wouldn't have to go alone.  

Well, it seems fitting that my last movie there was my most memorable one.  It was November 2001 & I was staying with my mom for Thanksgiving; we'd been shopping in town earlier and been given free tickets to that night's movie.  When we arrived, we noted with dismay that 'Harry Potter' was playing.  We shrugged & went inside.  Halfway thru the film I turned to her and said "What do you think of this movie?"  Mom whispered "You first".  I said "Well..."  Mom said "Oh thank Jesus, let's get out of here!"  We tiptoed out of there, laughing and shushing each other all the way.

      Music: Opening score to "Bedknobs & Broomsticks"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

It’s another beautiful weekend & I’m alone again, naturally (but that’s okay)

 

This morning I got a call from a couple friends, asking if I had any plans today, and did I want to meet them on the Southside & hang out.  (Do fortysomethings still "hang out"?)  I passed on the offer and said I already had plans for today.  After having a cup of coffee on my balcony and doing some laundry, I planned to head to the local library (seen above) & donate some old books, then take my new sketch pad (a gift from my niece Sophie) and find a quiet park bench & do some people-watching while I "doodle".  (Drawing has always relaxed me.)   After that I supposed I'd walk to the drugstore and then to the Chinese restaurant for lunch.  Come home, take a nap and watch an old Joan Crawford movie I taped off TCM the other night.  

My friend Tom joked that it sounded nice but I lived like an old man.  (On the other hand, a special friend I later chatted with said it sounded like the perfect day.  I am very partial to that special friend, a little more on that later.)

 

Here's my favorite bench in the park up my street, a quiet spot to draw and be alone without being alone

 

Anyway, that's just what I did--the only difference is that I stopped at the bakery for a miniature lemon pie, and had lunch at the Bellevue Cafe instead.   I haven't watched that movie yet though.   Are you really reading all of this?  Anyway, it's been a good day, and other than a long phone call earlier this evening, I spent the entire day alone, doing a whole lot of nothing and that's okay.  

Actually, I wasn't supposed to be alone this weekend.  My sister Shawn and her husband Jim went on an overnight trip to attend a wedding, and my little niece was going to stay a couple days here with me, eating hot dogs and Oreos (and anything else she wanted); but work & other time constraints got in the way of things, so Sophie and Uncle Doug's adventures will have to wait. 

 

Sophie (bottom right) on a recent test run riding a real school bus, for when she starts kindergarten in the fall

 

That's pretty much it.  We're already into the second week of July and it's been a very quiet summer.  Well... quiet, but not boring.  I've recently become rather special friends with someone in the last couple months, it's just not something I'm ready to write about here just yet...

 

A surprise package in the mail from that special friend, filled with goodies

 

I have no vacation plans, but there is talk in the office of a few of us getting together and going to Las Vegas in the fall.  (Las Vegas?!)  Normally I'd pass on something like this without giving it a moment's thought, but I dunno.... the people who want to go are real friends, and I've never been further west than Ohio.  I'm more comfortable with libraries and quiet parks than bright lights and gambling, but I almost feel like it's something I have to do.  (Not for them, for me.)  I told them I appreciated the invite & would like to go.

Well, I know I didn't really have anything worth sharing here, I just felt like I needed to write something.  It almost seems appropriate, given this time of year when everything seems more relaxed and slower than usual... I remember summers as a kid, after Bible school & the annual family vacation, having nothing better to do than lie in the yard and chew on grass and be bored out of my skull.  I enjoyed every minute of it, and that's pretty much how this weekend has been.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Just a few words about Dad and myself, this Father’s Day


This morning I was sitting here sifting through old photos of my dad, and wondering whether I should write a Father's Day blog or something else entirely (or perhaps nothing at all as it's been a pretty uneventful summer) when I stumbled across this picture. It wasn't in my "Dad" collection, but in a file marked "assorted" and it took me a moment to remember why. 

This was my fourteenth birthday (my dad would've been 38 here) and while I thought he looked his typical handsome self, for years I was embarrassed by this photo.  I was going through a "chunky" phase at the time, and I believe those were Sears 'Husky Jeans' I was wearing.  I can still remember seeing this picture shortly after it was taken and looking at my then-life of too much junk food and too much tv and too many comic books, and wondering if my dad was disappointed in me. 

I didn't share his love for music or western books or football;  I'd spend hours in my room, caught up in my own world of starships, monster magazines and Batman.  I always imagined he'd be happier if I had a dried snake or rock collection, or traded baseball cards or built model cars instead of models of Frankenstein & Star Trek.  I had an older brother who was considered an official "genius" and was pretty much excused from the rigors of American boyhood, and a younger brother who spent his childhood reliving "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" (complete with straw hat & fishing pole, darn it).  I looked at myself & really did sympathize for my old man.



Dad was too cool even in his Navy days; in the 1950s he served as a radar operator on the real USS Enterprise, a Navy battleship


Of course as the years went by, I began to understand that his quiet moods & 'staring right thru me' wasn't a disappointment in who I was, but just a man caught up in his own problems and worries of feeding his family, making ends meet, getting older, and trying to keep my mom happy while battling his own personal demons.  I wasn't the only one back then with a lot on my plate, so to speak.



Dad & five of his six kids at Ryerson Park, 1972 (Donda in the lower left, Shawn, me, Steve & Duke); Dad had just turned 35 years old


There is so much more I could say here about the man, other than I love and miss him.  I didn't even touch on his music career (that's one of his songs playing while you're reading this).  I guess what's important to me this Father's Day is remembering that he was always there.  As a kid I absolutely idolized him, tolerated him in my twenties, and loved him as a somewhat flawed but always good man in my thirties.  And that's what is most important, because until his passing in 2001, he was always a part of my life.  He still is.
                                                                 
Well, this may seem like a trivial thing but it is something I'll always treasure.  The night of my birthday in that top picture, Mom & Dad took me shopping in Washington PA for my present.  I was allowed to pick out anything up to a certain dollar amount.  I remember going down the hobby aisle & my dad picking up a model of Mister Spock firing on alien lizards and saying "Doug what about this one?" and my mom saying "Oh Don, that was one of his Christmas gifts from last year!"  but the fact was, he knew what was important to me.  And  that was enough.

Happy Father's Day, Dad
 

Saturday, May 29, 2010

There’s something about Marty (and a coupla other thoughts this Memorial Day Weekend)

 
 
Well, it's Memorial Day Weekend and I don't really have any plans.  A dozen years ago I would've been up to my eyeballs in things to do, five years ago I'd be happy just for the long weekend, and now I can only wonder what's going on & if things will always be this way. 
 
I don't mean to sound like I'm down... I suppose introspective would better describe it.  Earlier this week, I saw that TCM was airing the unedited version of "Marty", a favorite movie of mine. (I don't think I've ever seen the full version.  When MGM initially released this, for reasons unknown they edited out certain scenes.  It's still sold that way.)  I've just finished watching it, and I admit it--there wasn't a dry eye in the house, so to speak.
 
For those unfortunate few who haven't seen it, Ernest Borgnine plays a lonely Bronx butcher who lives with his Italian mother, his brothers and sisters all married.  He's loved by family and friends, but has long accepted the fact that women just don't find him physically attractive, and he'll always be alone.
 

"Marty, please; you go to da Stardust Ballroom, it has plenty of the tomatoes!"
 
 
His mother worries that he'll die alone, and when she hears of the Stardust Ballroom (a popular gathering place for both couples and singles) from her younger newlywed son, she convinces Marty to go. 

And it is there that he meets Clara (Betsy Blair), a female counterpart to his own, plain and unassuming, who had come to the Ballroom on an arranged date, only to be rejected after arriving and is now alone.  Marty witnesses the rejection, and feeling sorry for her, asks Clara if she would like to dance.
 

"Clara, us dogs, we gotta stick together and look out for each other!"
 
They spend the rest of the evening in a small coffeeshop talking, comparing notes and offering advice to the other.  (Clara wants to take a teaching promotion but is afraid of moving far from home; Marty wants to buy his own butcher shop, but worries about a new supermarket moving into the neighborhood.)   And in those quiet hours, a romantic interest evolves, and when he takes her home she asks him if he will call on her again.  He shyly answers yes & says goodnight, walks quietly for a bit, then runs to the bus stop.  He stands at the sign, happy and surprised; he can't believe his good fortune.

After Marty leaves, Clara enters her home & knocks on her parents bedroom door to see if they're awake.  She sits on the edge of their bed and quietly tells them she met a very nice man that night, and how they spent the night talking--just talking.  And he'll be calling on her tomorrow afternoon, and he is apt to be nervous as he is a butcher, and considers himself in a lower social class, but he is a good & kind man, and a very good butcher.  She is glowing.  Her parents lie there, not saying a word.  When she says goodnight & leaves the room, her father murmurs "I hope he calls."  


Without giving away the ending, the movie ends on a hopeful note & was masterfully done.  (It received the 1955 Academy Award for Best Picture, and Ernest Borgnine won for Best Actor.)  

But who really moved me was Clara (Betsy Blair), real life wife of the legendary Gene Kelly.  She somehow managed to portray 'the plain girl' yet was poised and radiant, all at the same time.







Betsy Blair with husband Gene Kelly, they were married from 1941-1957.  She left him and moved abroad.  She later remarried & became a speech therapist.

The film also serves as wonderful time capsule of the era, considered overrated for years, then vastly underrated & now hopefully not forgotten.  Written by the brilliant Paddy Chayefsky, it's an American treasure.
 
When I was reading about Betsy's marriage to Gene Kelly, I found this excerpt from a 2003 interview she did with The New Yorker.  When asked why she left Gene Kelly, she said this:  “How could I have left Gene, this wonderful man, after 16 years of marriage?  This perfect husband, father, friend, protector, provider, hard worker. I loved and admired him as a brilliant actor and dancer as well as a good, good man! To this day, I can’t explain it.  I preferred freedom."
 
We always want most what we don't or can't have, I suppose.
 
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