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.





hands down

24 06 2009

hands

We were at a friend’s house the other night, sipping wine and catching up with a couple that has moved to Morocco to started a custom, sustainable furniture business there.  At one point a half a dozen or so of us had landed in the livingroom and the subject of Shop Girl’s bump came up.  “So, how’s it going Grandma?”

I have to admit – I was in the middle of hugging the hostess when I almost continued the motion to put her in a full headlock till she cried “uncle”.  “No, I don’t think so…” I continued – she quickly got my point.  I can’t be Grandma.  Not because I’m not going to technically be that but names are everything.

So the discussion started.  GiGi, MiMi, Nana, Noni, Yaya…the list began and we were trying them on for size.  I like Monkee myself.  Got mixed reviews.  How about Queen Mother of the Universe?  Try as we’d like – sometimes we don’t get to choose.  Out of the mouths of babes come the best choices.

There was always a distinction between the two sides of my family.  There was no maternal grandmother alive so we only had the name for my mom’s dad – which was Grandpa Cummer.  The watchmaker.  Thick glasses, bushy squared off moustache, hearing aids with the little amplifier resting in his shirt pocket, honky-tonk piano player – and the one that would plaster his whole body in front of the TV if while babysitting a beer or cigarette commercial would come on.  Seriously.  Like Superman – arms firmly planted on his hips, inflating his tiny chest to do whatever he could to avert our innocent eyes from the evils of the world.

On the other side – was the Granddad – who died before I was 8 or so.  The black and white squares from a Brownie camera show us frequently gathered – separate shots of the grandkids (I was the youngest of 14), others of the siblings and wives/husbands.  I don’t remember the early years but I do remember after he had his stroke.

My dad would go various times a week to shave him.  He’d been left almost completely paralyzed and bound to a hospital bed that replaced a dining room table.  Having spent time working in a rehab hospital myself – I now wonder about a million more details of his situation and can’t for the life of me figure out how my grandmother and aunts’ hands managed his 24 hour care.

The hands of grandparents…the things they do and the memories they shape.  Soon enough someone will have a new perception of me.  The Mrs.’ hands that once stroked my eyebrows and traced the outlines of my face as I dozed away sleepy Sunday morning sermons…did the same for my kids.  The same hands that labored making my wedding dress made some of my kids’ favorite “dress-up” costumes.  Nothing beats her recipe for the best chocolate cake with cream cheese icing from her mother, Georgia’s hands to the Mrs.’ to mine to Shop Girl’s.

Maybe I’ll get to teach Baba Louie how to blog…

You can re-read some the history of the mix here.