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Archives for : September1954

Lunch Pail Blues

I had no idea what to pack for Stevie’s lunch. Lately, he had entered this strange picky phase. He asked for the crusts cut off his peanut butter and jelly. Or he wanted only carrot slices and no sticks. Or the chocolate milk had to be extra dark. I was worried that what I packed in his thermos and lunch pail would go uneaten or traded for some food of unknown family origin. Stevie had previously been my good eater. Rarely would he not finish his breakfast or dinner. He almost always wanted a snack in between meals and would accept an apple as easily as crackers and cheese. I tried to vary what the children ate. There were so many good things to eat nowadays that I felt great pressure to insure that they had good meals. Daisy had gone through a long spell during which she would not touch meat at any meal. She would wander to and from the table and graze on vegetables or salad. I was concerned with her weight and took her to the doctor for a checkup. The verdict was that she would resume eating meat when she wanted to and I should just wait it out.

With school starting, the struggle was on to pack a great lunch every day. When the cold weather started, I knew that I could put soup in his thermos, but it would be warm for a month or two before I could start that. I got up early one day and made macaroni and cheese and packed it warm in his short thermos. When he got home from school, I was dying to know what he thought of his lunch. He nonchalantly shrugged and say it was good. I bought a more expensive brand of bologna and smoothed the mustard out to the sides of the bread. No response. I packed folded slices of ham topped with American cheese with a nice coating of mayo on white bread. I even packed individual pickles on the side. Nothing. I was at my wits end and finally lost my cool a little after school at the end of the week. “Isn’t anything I pack for you good enough? I asked him. Stevie just looked up at me with no idea what I was talking about. “Sure, my lunches at great,” he said. I was surprised at his answer and had no idea what to say next. I explained that he never said that he enjoyed them. Stevie told me that he didn’t know that he was supposed to. He thought that he was just supposed to eat them.

The mystery was solved. Stevie hadn’t thought as hard as I had about his lunches. In his easy-going way, he just trusted that whatever was packed was to be eaten. His earlier requests for preferences only occurred when he was sitting at home at the kitchenette. When dining with his friends at school, the food didn’t get the attention. Whatever antics befell them prior to lunch were as important a subject as what game they would play after eating. The food was just a bridge from one activity to another. It was a sound philosophy. I probably needed to learn it. I thought I was being judged on my lunch-packing abilities. The talent at the lunch table wasn’t packed away in the lunch pail thermos; it was packed in my kid. I hope he stays this age forever.

The Gray Ladies

You see them in special places. Their snow white, gun-metal, or streaky salt-n-pepper hair gives them away. The gray ladies take their time reading the backs of cans of vegetables looking for important information that I had no idea existed. They are often seen eye-balling the clearance racks in the basement of the department store. In nicer weather, they leave stores with their pull-carts full of treasures, bargains, and necessities.

I imagine that their handbags are required to carry a compact with lipstick, tissues, mints, keys, a pair of good gloves, a case for glasses, coin purse and a wallet for cash. This bag is so heavy that a bodybuilder would have trouble carrying it around all day and it can be used as a weapon if attacked by some stupid upstart. These women have stood the test of time, endured some challenges, amassed a lot of wisdom, and often go unnoticed or worse, ignored.

I was at the hosiery display at a downtown department store trying to choose between two different shades of black stockings. They looked identical to me but were named Midnight and Nightcast. A gray lady dressed in an slightly oversized wool dress coat watched me with circumspect. I turned my head to smile at her and she looked up into my eyes with a question. “What’s the difference, right?” I realized that she might think me silly to be wasting time trying to choose from items that had no choice involved. She hesitated for just a second and told me to choose the Midnight stockings. Her choice seemed certain and I was slightly jealous that she could make the decision so easily when I was wasting time pondering the differences. I wanted to ask her why she chose Midnight so I could figure out how she came to that decision. I looked at her with my quizzical face and she smiled sadly at me. “Midnight sounds like more fun,” she said. She was, of course, right. Nightcast was gloomy. I thanked her and nodded my head in understanding. I wanted that kind of smarts.

I spend a fair amount of time trying to figure things out and make the right decisions. I like to be right when I make choices for the kids. Steve tells me with certainty when he thinks I have made the wrong decision. I always try to gently persuade my gal pals when I fear that they may choose in error. Mags has no issue with telling someone that they are wrong, dead wrong, and somehow the way she delivers the message with such authority is easier to believe. I sound insecure saying that but I’m not. I’m just careful. Very careful. Next time I need to make a decision, I’m heading out to find myself a gray lady. Now that’s a good decision.

Put on a Happy Face

The wind kicked up the leaves and swirled them around the park. Daisy and I had stopped off so that she could play on the swings and slide. She was wearing a new orange sweater with embroidered leaves on the pockets that she had picked out herself. She wanted to try out the new see-saw but there weren’t any other children her size around, so I spent some time pushing down on the opposite seat while she excitedly flew into the air. Her curls were flying and she giggled every time the plank went upward. She is so easy to please. I hope that she always finds ways to giggle.

I was really thinking of Gail and how hard she had been to please lately. Our card parties had started back up as soon as the children went off to school but Gail’s heart just wasn’t in it. I knew she was still mourning for that little life that got away from her. She smiled when she needed to and even joined the gossip between hands, but her former interest in winning wasn’t there and her smile dropped as soon as she thought no one was looking. I was wracking my brain trying to find a way to bring up the subject without sounding meddling, but hadn’t found a good way yet. I knew that Gail’s life wasn’t full enough for her. For me, I felt like a lucky duck every day. My husband and family were great and I woke up every day knowing that another adventure was beginning. Gail had a different level of fullness and her glass was getting less and less full. Even though we were different, I thought that we should be able to talk about it. We talk about everything else, and this seemed a little more important. It involved happiness. I knew other women in the neighborhood who weren’t always happy. Some even had their doctors prescribe vitamins and pills to help them overcome it. I didn’t think that overcoming her sadness was what was bothering Gail. Her happiness glass wasn’t full. I was going to have to find the right time and place to start a conversation with Gail about it, even if it was uncomfortable for me. Gail was good friend, smart as a whip, and deserving of all the happiness she could get.

As I watched Daisy’s curls bounce along against the blue sky, I thought of how important it was to talk to Gail soon. Giggling should never be put off for tomorrow.

The Moving Picture Box

Steve had been making noises about getting a television for a few months. Mags and Harold already had one and I know that put some pressure on Steve to consider buying one also. I had seen television sets in the store windows for a few years but wasn’t sure if we really needed one or not. Our nights were full of fun already. We played cards or board games, talked, and listened to the radio. But I could still feel this increasing pressure that television was going to be a part of our home. The ladies magazines even started to show articles on how to place your new television so that it could be seen comfortably by everyone in the room. I know that Mags had moved some of her furniture so that we all faced the television set while seated in her living room. I began to envision how I could redesign our living room in anticipation.

It wasn’t that I didn’t give my thoughts to Steve on the purchase. I was sure the children would love being able to see television shows, and I looked forward to the entertainment of the new shows that were featured in the newspaper weekly. But I couldn’t tell if the televisions were watching me too. They seemed to just sit there following your gaze as you walked past them. I’m not so paranoid to think that they were really watching me, but I wasn’t sure how they worked and it gave me the creeps to think that some kind of signals were flying through the air and could possibly wind up in my living room. It’s hard to keep up with modern devices sometimes.

My questions about when television would come to the Jones’ ended yesterday. Steve arrived home early from work accompanied by a man with a long ladder. The man was holding a large antenna. Steve was followed by the delivery of a brand new beautiful television set. The wood and dials are shiny and new. It blends in with our current furniture but I’m not sure what will happen in the future when we get new furniture. Does a new television set come with every redesign of the living room? Seems wasteful. Steve had it up and running in no time and we were able to watch a couple of shows with the children before they begrudgingly went off to bed. The picture is amazing – you can actually see people speak as you hear them. I guess my fears about television are unfounded. It’s just going to be another way to be entertained and enjoy spending time together as a family. I’m sure that Junior’s inability to hear me when I was telling him that it was time to go to bed was just the excitement of the new set. It’s not like it goes everywhere with him; this is entertainment that we can control at the turn of a dial.

What a Girl Wants

The annual rite of school clothes shopping always creeps up on me and highlights my reluctance to ending summer. Stevie Jr. is usually excited to be going back to see his friends and hasn’t gotten old enough to fear the wrath of teachers with non-Renaissance teaching styles. Daisy had recently become very opinioned about her clothing choices, so I was anticipating more resistance to the usual way I shopped for her. In the past, if I held up something in front of her and remarked on how cute it was in my sing-song voice, she would also get excited. She has a closet full of dresses that wash and wear well and look adorable on her. She’s always been my little doll to dress. I cringe a little thinking about my choice to dress us in matching outfits that one time, but it seemed like such a good idea then. In hindsight, she still looked adorable; I looked like the fool. But that’s in the past.

We picked up the expected number of pants, shirts, socks, and sweaters for Junior. Boys clothes mimic men’s in their simplicity. Stevie Jr. was only a pain when it came to shoes. He just does not like trying them on, walking a few steps and having his toes crushed to see if they fit. Jimmy at Mr. Cobbler’s always takes his time with us and tries to get on Junior’s good side early on in the process. I’m not sure how Jimmy does it, but we always leave with a pair of shoes that fit well with a little growing room to spare.

With Daisy’s new interest in what she wears, I realized that we had come to a new crossroads in her development. She was becoming a shopper. I know part of her interest in her clothes was just that she didn’t like the way crinoline felt or wanted to wear her Sunday hats to play in the sandbox. But it was still a sign of her female development. I could envision lots of shopping trips in our future. Mommy/daughter teas would follow long sessions in department stores, and I could paint her nails a dainty pink. The future looked bright and I changed my attitude about the annual school shopping trip.

I couldn’t decide on Daisy’s shoes, so we bought two pairs. I’ll balance that expenditure somewhere else in my budget. I actually heard myself whisper “You only live once” when handing the money to Jimmy. Jimmy nicely reminded me that he hadn’t seen me buy any shoes in a while, and I told him that I would be in soon to check out the new styles. Actually, I had been trying not to notice a beautiful pair that he had in the window since this was supposed to be shoe-shopping for the children. Shoe salesmen have a keen sense of what women really need.

Boxers on the Block

Steve was finishing up his shower. He had worked up quite a sweat setting up with the guys. I had the percolator on low so he could have a hot cup of coffee when he finished. The kids were excitedly running around wanting to go outside with their friends. I was finishing up the wrapping of my two casseroles for the community table. My flaky fruit hand pies were perfect for picnics because they could be eaten by hand, hence the catchy name. I had experimented with a couple of casseroles, and settled on a Pizza Casserole. It could stand sitting out for a couple of hours and everyone liked pizza. There weren’t exactly prizes for the food, but there were always plenty of remarks on the food that didn’t taste good. Steve sat down at the kitchenette and I brought him a cup of coffee and some fried eggs and toast. I knew that he wouldn’t eat much after working outside so hard, but he could make up for it later at the party. Daisy looked so cute with her little white bow in her curls and she sidled up next to Steve for a hug. She gave him a sweet kiss on the cheek and asked him when they could go outside. Classic move. If mom won’t let you, try dad. I silently gave her points for understanding how to manipulate us at her age. Steve told Daisy to check with me. Good man. He knows the way we work. Team up against them and we might have a chance. Might.

We finally walked outside to the party, put the food on the table, greeted our neighbors, chatted with those who we rarely saw, and then took to our web-laced chairs that the guys had set up for our little clique. The smell from the charcoal grills was delicious and the men were enjoying their beers while tending the meat. They all had different methods to their process and liked to freely give advice and “constructive” criticism. The critique usually became more critical as the afternoon lingered on. I was sitting with Mags, Judy Anne, Gail, and our crew when I spotted Mr. Morgan walking around down by the children’s area. He was wearing off-white shorts and a flowery shirt. There was something about the shorts that just didn’t seem right. The others noticed that I was staring in that direction and turned to gaze also. Gail realized first that Mr. Morgan was wearing his boxers without shorts. Oh my gosh. We couldn’t help but giggle a little, some of us a little more than a little. Mags said that one of us had to go and handle the problem. I suggested that she go speak to Mr. Morgan. Mags got up, put down her drink, and headed toward the men. I saw her gather them together and then saw them all turn their heads toward Mr. Morgan. There was laughing and some shoulder shrugging. I could hear Mags tell them that they had to go and speak to him so he could go put some shorts on before he got too close to the kids. That got their attention. Dads like to protect their kids. The men huddled up and then one of them started to walk toward Mr. Morgan. I saw Steve casually approach Mr. Morgan and take his arm gently. They started to walk slowly toward his house. Mr. Morgan lived with his wife close to the end of the block. As they got to the house, they both entered and disappeared. Steve was officially “the handler” in my mind. He knew how to handle kids and old men. A few minutes later, Mr. Morgan reappeared with a strange pair of plaid shorts on with his flowery shirt. Steve was right behind him, arm in arm with Mrs. Morgan. He was walking them towards us. When they got to our circle, Steve asked if Mrs. Morgan could join our group and we pulled a chair up for her to sit. Steve excused himself and asked Mr. Morgan to join him and the guys at the grill. It was quiet for a long moment. Mrs. Morgan apologized for not having anything to bring to the picnic. Gail poured her a drink and she took it with a thanks and a smile. We continued to make conversation about the kids, the beauty of the day, and the great food. Mrs. Morgan finished her drink and asked if she could have a second. Gail refilled her aluminum glass. She thanked her and remarked on how good the drink tasted. I didn’t know if we should let her know that it had alcohol in it, but she remarked that she hadn’t enjoyed a drink in a long time due to Mr. Morgan. She shared quietly that he had been a lot to handle lately. He had become forgetful, had burned himself a couple of times lately in the kitchen, and had even wandered out into the back yard without knowing why. We were quiet while she spoke. I felt a little small that I hadn’t taken the time to speak to them more often. When the kids were little, I would walk along with them as they rode their trikes up and down the sidewalk. The Morgans were always sitting on their little porch waving and talking to us as we passed. Now that the kids didn’t need me to walk with them, I didn’t see them. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time that I saw them out on the porch.

I asked Mrs. Morgan if she would join me while I got a plate of food. Although she gave me a reluctant look, I reassured her that there was always too much food and she was welcome to eat with us. We walked the tables and filled up our plates. Mrs. Morgan made pleasant comments about each casserole and dish. She took one of my fruit hand pies, a couple of cookies, and a piece of fudge along with small tastes of a few casseroles. She stopped me at the end of the table, looked at me closely, and thanked me with great sincerity. She told me that Steve had rescued Mr. Morgan and brought him back to the house while she was dressing for the day. They had no intentions of coming to the block party since she didn’t feel it was safe to bring Mr. Morgan. I told her I was sorry for not stopping to speak to her more often and told her that we would change that in the future. We sat down, ate our lunches, laughed, and told stories all afternoon.

From time to time, there were little scraped knees and bumped heads to kiss. The children had a wonderful time, the guys had a great time with each other, and our group had more fun than any other year. Mrs. Morgan entertained us with funny stories and we were lucky to have her join us. Later in the afternoon, Steve and I walked the Morgans back to their house so Mr. Morgan could take a nap. We promised to check on them more often and encouraged Mrs. Morgan to call at anytime for any reason. Scraped knees were easy to kiss away; bruised lives took a little more work.

We returned to the block party. A couple of the dads had some fireworks to set off when it was dark enough. Our group was a little quieter now that we had talked the day away. We’re really lucky to have our neighbors. We just need to be reminded that as we grow up and older, our needs change. As neighbors we spend time watching the comings and goings of each other, judging along the way. It wouldn’t hurt to do a little more checking along with the watching.

Laboring for Fun

The men folk were up early this morning moving sawhorses into place to keep drivers off our street. They hauled the tables out of the garages and set them up in two rows in the middle of the road. Those would be for the food. Michael had a map that Jane had given him to follow. Generally, the men were quiet as they worked due to the early hour. Gradually, the wives came out with coffee cups for them and spent a few minutes with the men watching their organization. They were comrades in the heavy work. Their second duty was to set up the annual bike obstacle course. A few years back, one of the dads put a few stacks of wood up and made a little spot for the younger children to drive their metal cars and trikes around. It was a great way to keep them entertained. It grew into a fun way to teach them safety, and the course got bigger. The bigger kids wanted to ride their two-wheelers also, so it expanded. Now the men met casually during the summer to talk about how they were going to set up the course and what they could add to it. They were definitely making it to their liking on how they would have liked to play in an obstacle course when they were young. Now the little ones and the older kids had to take hourly turns on the course, but it was always a big hit. We regularly saw new big kids who didn’t live in our neighborhood at the course during the party, but they were welcomed. We did throw a great block party.

The women were all busy preparing their specialties in their kitchens while the men worked. When the street was all set up, Jane checked the map with Michael and they adjusted a few tables, but it looked great. The tables were covered with whatever tablecloth you didn’t mind donating to the cause, and it was a colorful display of bright summer fruity hues. Clothespins pinched at each corner kept the covers in place until the food would start to arrive later this morning. The goal was 11:45. The time goal came from an unfortunate incident that happened two years ago when some watermelons were left on the tables early in the day before the party began. A couple of dogs from another neighborhood were running through and spotted them. It didn’t take much for the dogs to knock them off the table and begin to eat the fruit. They were eventually spotted, scared away, and the mess was cleaned up. But we stopped bringing out food until later after that episode.

I was trying to keep Stevie and Daisy from fighting while cooking. I sent them to get dressed in the outfits I had laid out for them. Their crisp clothes wouldn’t look good too long due to the strenuous play and games. The older kids on the block were in charge of carrying out the games and Jane had set up the equipment for the games next to the obstacle course. There was a good supply of hula hoops and balls.

I grabbed my smokes and headed for the back doorstep to indulge in a quiet moment before starting the dishes. Our neighborhood was becoming a pretty close-knit group of adults. We worked together to give our kids a good place to grow up free from the fear we faced earlier in our lives. We could be serious when it was required, but we knew how to have some fun too. All in all, we labored for love. I turned around to go back into the kitchen to get ready for the fun.