Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fixing It Pretty

On the rare occasion that I ask my husband, Alan, to help me put the sheets on the bed, he unfailingly quips in a mock feminine voice, “Will I have to ‘fix it pretty’?”   He knows all too well that the flat sheet needs to be put on the bed right side down to obtain the most lovely effect when the bed is turned back.  He fully understands that the pillows in the European shams go in the back of the profusion of pillows with the points of the corners pulled up tight…but, not too.  Then, there’s the placement of the decorative pillow that serves as the centerpiece of the bed.  Just...so. 

“Fixing it pretty” is a phrase that I learned as a little girl from my mother.  It simply means that you fluff the pillows just so or fold the cloth napkins just so or that you arrange the nativity characters just so.  It’s that extra special added touch that, according to my mom, makes “all the difference in the world.”

The older I get, the more time I have to ponder life.  During recent ponderings, it dawned on me that of the many things that I learned from my precious little mother – the importance of volunteering, helping the poor, faithful church membership, how to love on people, to name a few – there is one thing that I enjoy on a daily basis.  Beauty.

My mother taught me how to see beauty in all things.  The bold colors of a sunset on a hot summer evening, the iridescent rainbow shining in a little wet, oily patch on the driveway, a joyously pink hibiscus waving it’s stamen wand of brilliant yellow in the morning breeze, sparkling raindrops clinging to the mesh of a screen door, and the stunning beauty of a field abloom with   wildflowers, wildflowers, wildflowers.  There’s something enticing about the mere combination of the words of “wild” and “flower.”  My mother can find something beautiful in all of God’s creation and most of man’s.  As a girl, I used to roll my eyes when she pulled over on the side of a highway to collect a “gorgeous” dried seedpod from a roadside weed.  Now, I have a bumper sticker on my car that says, “I brake for seedpods.”

I thoroughly enjoy studying the nuances of the colors in a rich, blue hydrangea.  I know that the very best tulip bulbs come from a special company in Holland, and that they will “make good” on the bulbs that do not bloom.  “All you have to do is call ‘em!  You don’t even have to send back the duds!”  What’s more, I tend to collect little chotchkies - the beauty of which is apparent to only my eyes…just like my mother.
Mine:  vintage fishing lures (the more garish the better)
Hers:  any cutesy little decorative item that you might find on the 99%   off aisle at Hobby Lobby.

At this point, I must interject that for the past several years, Mom has enthusiastically attended the Vanguard School Garage Sale.  Despite the fact that her home of almost 40 years is totally full of “stuff,” she greatly enjoys the hunt for treasures priced at, well, garage sale prices.  Case in point:  the resin merry-go-round decoration that still plays music.  [look closely at the photo...]  I thought that, like the saxophone-playing Santa also purchased at the sale, she was planning to give the merry-go-round as a gift.  The best part of this gifting of second hand gems is that she will tell you exactly what she found at Vanguard that would look "so cute" with your kitchen decor.  Not to worry.  She generally becomes so enamored with the cuteness of the item that you most likely never, ever actually be surprised by it on your next birthday.  This very summer, she walked from her house the almost 2 blocks to Vanguard.  After she gathered all of her purchases, she asked the volunteers if one of them would be kind enough to drive her home because she couldn't possibly walk that far with that heavy load.

Because of my mother, I always feel a pang of guilt when I sit on a bedspread.  One of my mother’s hard and fast rules along with “never sit on a boy’s lap” and “never sit on a toilet seat in a public bathroom before draping it with toilet tissue…just so”:  Never sit on a bedspread because the mere weight of a human body will cause the bedspread to age less gracefully.  She has one 20 year old bedspread that is as crisp and vivid as the day she bought at  Sanger Harris on sale at 1/2 price.  This summer Reed and a couple of his friends spent the night at Mimi’s during a brief Tour de Texas.  He was quick to explain to them appropriate bedspread and ottoman etiquette.  (Never put your feet on an upholstered ottoman unless it has been thoroughly covered by some sort of washable throw.)

One day I was doing something like talking about how much money I had saved at a Chico’s sale or putting 3 bites of canned corn in a butter tub in case I got hungry later or squealing about finding a coupon for free ice cream at the grocery store.  Perhaps I was simply marveling at the way droplets of water dance on a hot stove burner.  My youngest child, Reed, looked at me with grin and said in his most convincing mad scientist voice, “Ahhhhh.  The transformation is almost complete.”

Yes, Reed, I AM becoming my mother.  And, that’s a mighty fine aspiration, young man.  Mighty fine.  I only hope that I can do her proud.

Fix it pretty?

The answer will always and forever simply be “Yes!”

The Closet

My sister, Kathy, and I fought like cats when we were in our teens. Many of these altercations centered on issues involving begrudgingly sharing a rather small bedroom with a rather small closet in our rather small house on 25th Street. Because we shared a rather small full-sized bed and a dresser, there was really no good way to put a masking tape line of demarcation down the center of the room. My stuff leaked into her stuff and hers into mine. She was a tomboy, and I was a self-absorbed girly girl. This hormone-laced combination was at times lethal. Claws came out, and there was hissing.

When we weren’t shrieking at each other about things like my “stolen” tubes of Slicker lip gloss or Kathy’s open trombone case left flopped open in the middle of our bed, we were secretly planning devious ways to retaliate for sister-transgressions by scaring the pooty out of each other. Ha! You’ll pay for this My Pretty! Someday when you least expect it, I’ll make you howl like a monkey in a cage. Just you wait. Watch and wait. I’ll make you jump right into that trombone case with your trombone! Never turn your back on me. Ever.

We began with simple little tricks like jumping out from behind a door or suddenly letting loose a blood-curdling scream during a quiet moment on a Sunday afternoon. Then, there were the subtle mind tricks that sent chills down an unsuspecting sister’s spine. “Did you study for that test?!” "Ha! Ha! It’s only Thursday! The test is on Friday!" “Have you come up with an idea for the huge science project that all the 8th graders have to turn in before Christmas break?" "Ha! Ha! It’s really a social studies project!”

Kathy was the one who came up with the scariest of scary scares. It was so simple. It required almost no preparation other than intricate timing and the patience of Job. I remember the first time it happened. The memory still gives me cold chills. I’m shuddering now as I think of it. It was brilliant. One evening, I flounced into our room to get something out of the closet. Was it my rose-tinted, octagonal granny glasses or my polyester plaid bell bottoms with the sewn down cuff? I can’t quite remember. Anyhoo, I threw open the closet door, and there was Kathy. She must have been standing with her nose right against the back of the door. She stood there still as a stone without making a sound. Her eyes were open as wide as human eyes can possibly open. Her face was expressionless. She just stood there and said absolutely nothing. Terrifying. After my initial scream, she continued to stand there staring. And staring. In total silence. Her concentration and will power impress me to this day. My mind could not process Kathy’s corpselike appearance, so my staccato screams became louder and were accompanied with some jumping up and down. My arms and legs were quickly covered with goose bumps, and I’m pretty sure that my hair was standing on end.

Just about the time that Mother came racing down the hall to overpower the axe murderer who must be attacking her daughter, Kathy “broke character” and fell on the floor in hysteric laughter. “I thought you’d NEVER come open the door! I’ve been standing there FOREVER! It was totally worth it!” She got me. She got me good. I joined her on the floor violently laughing in an effort to release the terror from my body. From that day forward, I never opened any door without first locating Kathy’s whereabouts. I still cringe when I open a closet door. She was lucky that on that fateful day I wasn’t carrying a cup of hot chocolate or a set of hot rollers or a small, slightly warm kitten.

Fear reigned eternal in our peaceful home. There was a time when my mother kept a vintage lady mannequin in the back bedroom of our house on Rockview. She loved that brown-wigged plastic lady with her painted lips, glass eyes, and red fingernails. She liked to dress her up for each season and holiday. In October, the lady might be dressed in a black graduation gown and a witch’s hat. Mom carefully balanced a green and gold pompon in her hand and my Slime cap on her head in celebration of Baylor Homecoming. During the off-seasons Mother loved to adorn her little buddy with one of her vintage penoir sets. (She would want me to interject that the set was very modest as well as tasteful. “It’s the set that I wore in the hospital when you were born!” I was born in nineteen hundred and fifty seven.)

No matter how beautiful the penoir or how clever the seasonal attire, the mannequin scared the be-jeebers out of my then small children and most adults. During visits to Mimi’s house, Alan and I would drag the dummy into the closet at night before we went to bed. Tucking her out of site made trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night far less terrifying. However, opening the closet the next morning with barely focused sleepy eyes could make a grown man squeal like a little girl.

Kathy and I were both in our 20’s when the lady came to stand guard in the back bedroom. We both questioned our mother’s sanity and level of taste when we first laid eyes on the figure. Many were the derogatory remarks made within Mother’s hearing. “Do you think that Mom’s THAT lonely?” “Do you think that Mom talks to that lady when we’re not here?” Then, we began to have fun with the lady. We took turns hiding in the closet waiting for Mom to enter the room bringing extra pillows for the bed or searching for the ironing board. We became ventriloquists with silky, deep feminine voices. “Helen, are you lonely? Do you need a special friend? I’ll be your friend, Helen. I’ll be your very special secret friend.” “I want to wear your clothes, Helen. I want to be just like you.” Kathy and I could work ourselves into howling fits of laughter. We continued the monologue long after Mom’s indignant exit accompanied by a disgusted “Hmm!” “I’m lonely, Helen. Go to Dillards and find me a man, Helen! A tall, dark, handsome plastic hunk of a man! While you’re there, get one for yourself!”

I think it was the grandkids that convinced Mimi that sharing a house with a mannequin was shocking beyond belief. Or, perhaps the tears of a pre-school grand-daughter guided her to the decision to exorcise the lady from 2709 Rockview altogether. As mysteriously as she arrived, she disappeared. I must warn you. In the back of the closet of the back bedroom hiding behind the 300-pound Kirby vacuum cleaner with its 22 attachments is yet another human-like figure. It’s a bald child mannequin with one arm. Just ask my mother. She’ll tell you how cute the little boy looks in the front window dressed up for Halloween. Without fail, Mom changes the youth into green and gold garb for Baylor Homecoming. I know, I know. One person’s “cute” is another person’s heart attack waiting to happen.

Kathy went to heaven years ago. I rejoice at the thought of seeing her again. Oh, how we will laugh! I also cringe at the thought of her standing as still as a stone with her nose just touching the back of the pearly gates waiting for me to fling them open wide. (Hopefully, the wait will feel like an eternity to her.) I’m sure that when the gates fling open, I will scream in terror, jump up and down, and then, grab her up tight in my arms squealing with delight. You got me, Kathy! You got me good!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

If Ever I Should Leave You...It Would Definitely Be In August

I have had this song on my brain for the past few days. On my lips when I'm in the shower. You know the kind of song I'm talking about. First, a line comes into your head, then, you find yourself belting it out when nobody's looking. Oh, and in the car there's just no limit to the Broadway soundtracks I can howl along with.

I've been thinking about Mom's leaving Waco. We moved there when I was 12. It is my home. My hometown. My Thanksgivings. My Christmases. My Birthdays. My Baylor. So, not having Mom there will be the end of an era.

This morning I realized something important as I was singing in the shower, "If ever I would leave yooooooooooou, it couldn't be in Autumn. How I'd leave in Autumn, I never would knooooooooooow! I've seen you spah-cul, when fall nips the airrrrrrrrrr..." I can do a pretty much spot on impersonation of Franco Nero. Just so's you know. It would truly be hard to leave Waco in the Autumn. The leaves are so beautiful. I could sit in Cameron Park watching the leaves fall for hours without so much as moving a muscle. I can hear the Baylor Band at the Homecoming Parade. Bomp...ba-da-lada...Bomp...bad-da-lada! Nope. Couldn't be in Autumn.

Winter. Mom's towering magnolia, that wasn't as high as the gutters on the roof when we moved into the house, has provided many a bough of greenery in Christmas arrangements. Her house always glows with her Christmas baubles of soft pinks, cool blues, and pale greens. The lamp post always stands at attention so that people can admire the shimmering gold bow with a touch of deep green pine. Nope. "I couldn't leave you running merrily through the snow or on a wintry evening when you catch the fire's gloooooooooow."

Spring. My birthday reminds me of the bright promise of Mom's homemade lasagne. Her precious tulip bulbs push up mightily through the mulch towards the sun. Her azaleas burst out into a fuscia fire in the backyard. Memories of Sing Practice at Baylor. Pledge Lackey capturing my heart. Nope. "How could it be in Springtime?! knowing how in Springtime I'm bewitched by you sooooooooooooo! Oh, no! Not in Springtime!

Summer, on a totally different hand, is the perfect time to say adios to 41 years of my lifetime. The sweltering heat. The humidity that makes my readers fog up the minute I step on the porch. The traffic on Valley Mills drive that stalls making my air conditioner strain to keep up with my need for a frigid breeze. Yes, Mom's yard is at it's peak of blooming with turk's cap, Knockout roses, impatiens, and daisies. Sultry summer days leave me so lethargic that the effort of wandering around in the yard is just too much to bear. The cool evenings of Lubbock whisper my name. "Come! You can sit out under the oak trees in the front yard and feel your hair lift gently in the breeze while sipping on a tall glass of sweet tea."

If ever I should leave Wacooooooooooo, it would totally be in August. Yes, only during August I'm eager to goooooooooo. No never in Springtime. Never Winter or fall. But, oh yes, in summer it's not hard at alllllllllllll.


Meems had a very special visitor this weekend.  Our friend, Laura Ard, flew down from DC to spend time with her.  Laura lived next door t...