Somethin’ to smile about…

31 10 2011

The house is silent save for the sounds of the dog as she re-positions her weary old bones on her bed.  There is nothing I have to do today – at least until sundown.  A bowl of candy perched by the front door, not as full as it once was, stands ready.  I know what day it is -it’s Halloween.  AKA : my Dad’s birthday and the birthday of a few other friends of mine.

My very evangelical, protestant upbringing doesn’t bode well for what I’m feeling today but I’m not about to entertain any kind of discussion about the matter so kindly keep dissenting comments to yourself – thank you very much.  The day in August (3 years ago) that Billy’s soul passed through the roof of that hospice facility doesn’t do much for me.  I have to stop and think about what date that actually happened.  In contrast, on the day he was ushered into the world some 89 years ago today– I am surrounded by his presence.

Maybe since the house is so quiet and I have no one to attend to – nothing pressing to do except clean up a half dozen shows stored on my dvr – maybe that is why I’ve been surprised by tears today.  Then I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing out my coffee cup and looked up, only to be met again by his gaze as it stared back at me via that silly cat.

There was no such thing as “take your daughter to work” back in the 50’s and early ’60s but I know of at least a time or two that I was inside theNipsco building in downtown Gary.  I remember a central staircase that was very ornate that stretched up through the center, floor after floor , like the spine keeping the building erect.  Somewhere on the first floor, toward the back of the building was an open space where it seemed to me that our basement was replicated.  Work benches piled with tools – the space smelling of grease and hot metal.  Over his “bench” was hung this little photo of “Smile! Kitty.”  There was great irony in that since I remember him to be distinctly vocal about his dislike of cats.  Nonetheless, it seemed that his whole life long was driven by that juxtaposition – something he disliked reminding him of something that he should do – and eventually something that would become a hallmark of his life.

Joy.  Laughter.  Joker.  An avid whistler.  Friendly.  Outgoing to strangers.  Generally a very pleasant guy to be around regardless of the circumstances.  Cool under pressure.  Not prone to lose his temper except when watching a Cubs game.

It is fitting that Jack-o-lanterns sport silly grins as he did most of his life.  Happy Birthday, Billy!  We miss you more than words can express but we know what to do to really honor you – we’ll smile instead.

p.s.  Picked the King of Pop to honor our ‘hood.  Here’s to Gary / Westside!!

My apologies to Emil Richter – 50 years after the fact…

14 07 2010

Starting at the South Shore tracks and 2nd Ave (or 3rd Ave. depending on the map you look at) on our side of the street was the Jimenez’ house, then the guy who owned Thunder (the 150 lb. Great Dane), the Ortiz family, our little green aluminum sided abode, (click on the aerial view – then the bird’s eye view to see the ‘hood), the Richter’s, then the Fedorchak’s.  After that, it didn’t matter much because Judy Fedorchak was my best friend and with the exception of the house of the old crazy lady we thought was a witch…we just moved between my yard and hers.  That was unfortunate for Emil Richter.

How did he know that just between the houses on our side of the street there would be over 2 dozen kids?  Granted, most of the Ortiz bunch was older and not playing in the street by that time but with my brother and the youngest 3 boys, there was always a street baseball game going on or some other schnenigans.  All I knew about the heavily German-accented Mr. Richter was it seemed he hated kids and our very “wichious” dog.

Our yards were relatively small patches of green on the far westside of Gary and ours was the smallest house on the block.  But when you’re small, even if the kingdom is small, it swells in your mind’s eye.  My parents worked hard to own a home and keep it up, just like the other blue collar workers that surrounded us in the Steel City.  All Mr. Richter wanted was nice grass and he had to do battle with brats and baseballs and bikes day in and day out, summer after summer.

I got an email from my cousin who runs the service department at a large car dealership near where the Mrs. lives now some 25 miles away from where she and Billy first started out.  “Does the name Emil Richter ring a bell?,” he asked. He and his wife had been in to service their car and recognized my cousin’s last name and made the connection to their old neighborhood.  Oh yeah…I was teleported back 50 years with just the mention of his name.

And I haven’t been able to get him off my mind as I stand, hose in hand – three times a day – nursing a fragile new lawn to life.  It is beginning to show signs of life – sprouting up here and there like whiskers on a 16 year old’s chin.  After the hydromulch was globbed on, we were handed a few sheets of paper instructing us how to baby this thing along.  The responsibility is now 100% ours.

I’ve been feeling very frustrated lately with my left hand all braced up and waiting for surgery a week from Friday.  I never realized how much I use the tendons in my thumb till I wince in pain with the slightest movement of my hand this last six weeks.  So, I feel like I’m biding my time…feeling depressed because I don’t feel like doing anything.  But then maybe all this has a rhyme and reason.  The Zen of Watering has become my daily friend.  Nurturing.  Coaxing something to life.  I need to be available and give it the proper attention.

Reminds me of the times when as a new mom, in a foreign country with two kids 18 months apart, feeling like I wasn’t making much of a difference.  Even today, glancing at Facebook status updates, I can ask myself why I’m not driven enough to be like her…or her…or her…or…

So here I am this summer, 50 years after cutting across Mr. Richter’s lawn one too many times, I just want to apologize to him.  It takes a slow, steady hand to grow a nice lawn.  It’s all you had and you made it really special.  It’s taken us 10 years of neglect and of being too busy to care less – to finally get to the point in our lives when it’s become “important”.  I’d like to stop and go back to that place in time but with these years under my belt and get to know Emil Richter.  What did that house mean to him?  Had he come from Germany after the war?  Was it a piece of heaven on earth to have a home in a “peaceful” neighborhood?

I need to quit.  It’s time to water again and time to watch Donny Diva while Shop Girl goes to the dentist.  If I get nothing else accomplished today, I will call it a good day.  Caring for living things ain’t all that bad even if it’s not worthy of a good status update.

postcards from the edge

15 07 2009

central5Months ago the letter arrived in the mail – the reservation check was sent in- the dates marked on the calendar.  Little did I know how important this outing was to her but when I discovered that she had made an appointment not only to get her nails done but also her hair – I started to get a clue.

To me, the effect was more like having to go back to the dentist for a root canal without the fun little gas mask.  I faced it all with the tune of “The things we do for love…” running through my mind.

The DAY was finally here.  Before dawn I could hear her digging through her closet for just the right outfit…but I wasn’t planning on leaving until 5:30 p.m. and that was about 45 minutes earlier than we REALLY needed to leave but I knew better than to make her wait any more than that.  Meanwhile, I got a couple of hours of good hard demo work done in the basement with every ounce of anxt pushing the hammer through those shelves.

It was the 100 year anniversary of the church at we had attended in Gary back in the day.  The church where she met and married Billy, the church where I slept through innumerable 8:30 a.m. Sunday services and learned “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam”.

As I had warned, we were there before the tables were done being set up in the gym.  It didn’t matter – she needed time to visit with her people.

centralWe meandered through the church library where there were things on display…things that were causing my brain’s hippocampus to explode like someone had injected it with a 5 lb bag of Pop Rocks.  The pulpit, the “beama” seats, photo albums, framed pictures of THE missionaries…



We finally found our way to Table 15 and our assigned seating with me  next to a woman I’d not seen in 50 years but she was sure I was friends with her daughter Patty.  “Sure…I remember!” (liar!)

It took everything I had after the mediocre buffet of rubber chicken and green bean mush to keep from choking during a “special number” by a man strumming a ukulele and singing “There’s a Hole in the Bucket, Dear Liza”.  When he was done all 170 or so of the other guests applauded as if they’d never heard the song and thought it was appropriate for this occasion.  “It must be the kool-aid…they were all drinking the kool-aid!”, I thought as  I quickly switched to drinking water for the rest of the night as a preventative measure.

I just kept deep breathing and trying to keep the Mrs. from drawing too much attention through her stage whispering about her brother-in-law nodding off across the table.  I didn’t blame him a bit.  I only stayed awake by excessive doodling on the scratch pad that was part of the schwag (i.e. promotional items – not to be confused with the same word that means “low grade marijuana”) we were given – matched set with the book mark and program.

This used to be a universe that I was familiar and comfortable in – a place called GARB.  No longer true.  I’ve spun off like a supernova and am in a whole new orbit in galaxies at the dark, unexplored edges of the “religious” solar system.  But for just a few hours on a Saturday night in mid-July – I was able to sustain life long enough to take in  the rarified air of this place but glad to escape and re-board my own Battlestar Galactica.  Still feel a little stretched from the time warp.

I leave you with a view from the portal as I escaped with my life.  Only those of you who have visited this distant planet will recognize the vista…you two know who you are and you owe me big time!  Oh – and bonus points if you name all the missionaries who are pictured…