Archive for the ‘West Virginia’ Category

Little Guides

June 20th, 2013

geminioutlineMy maternal grandmother, Mable, had a few odd yet predictable routines. While she was quite bright, in at least two areas, she went gut and hope.

The closest the eastern panhandle of WV had to a local but city newspaper was the Cumberland Times, from 28 miles away on Route 28. While a silly and slim rag, it had area news as well as comics, advice columns, word puzzles and of course a horoscope.

If you are an astrology believer be aware that I am not and never have been. I looked through my usual combination scientific and experiential lenses. I don’t see any value with the possible exceptions of entertainment and reinforcing what you want to be so.

It’s been many years since I even looked at one, other than the spoofs in The Onion. As yesterday was my birthday, that somehow inspired me to look. The result was:

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY (June 19). In the past, you’ve had fewer options, but now you’ll find yourself in a position to be discerning and selective. What happens in July makes you more interesting and also more interested in others. A certain someone or something enthralls you in August. September brings a self-imposed challenge and a well-won victory. Capricorn and Sagittarius people adore you. Your lucky numbers are: 3, 22, 39, 42 and 15.

That’s vague enough to fit almost anyone. The specifics about my adorant one-sixth of the world was a coincidental nice touch, as in that my long-term wife was born under Capricorn.

Yet come each morning, Mable would read her horoscope and seem to get some satisfaction. As far as I could tell, she remained rational enough that she did not alter her behavior or feel any trepidation.

Later in the day, she also sat solo at the dinner table with her Bible and The Upper Room. That wee weekly magazine has cites some scripture and has a homily on it, along with some pretty specific steps for being cool with Jesus. She’d read and meditate. She was always calm and composed afterward.

We were a Methodist family and she certainly was a believer. Among other credal tenets, heaven was one she fully accepted. She fully expected a personal identity after death, including eternal bliss. Unlike say Presbyterians with there predestination, Methodists were of the good deeds and thoughts got you right with God and in line for a spot in this heaven.

I see anything destructive or particularly negative about Mable’s two foibles. The horoscope did not control her or upset her. The devotional may in fact reinforced positive thoughts and deeds.

Neither was rational, rather emotionally, a.k.a. faith, based. So what?

 

West Virginia Christmas Right here

December 22nd, 2012

For the life of me, I can’t remember the Christmas tune the white church played in our house. It had music-box works and I enjoyed winding it up, returning it to the cotton “snow” lawn, and grokking the season.

My mother, Wanda, loved Christmas and did it up right. She’s dead, but we have retained much of her joy and rituals.  I’m very sure my sister dumped the oldest fixings and does not decorate as intricately. Here, we almost do.

treemas2012Perhaps like the proverb of dubious provenance, there are no atheists in foxholes,  pleasure in and even obsession with this holiday season may not be limited to Christians. Indeed for me, I was raised as a Christian and was a devoted one when young. I got better. Yet, I generally go to a Christmas eve service, often the old-fashioned New England one, with the fillip of the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus performing, at the Arlington Street Church. There’s nothing like an apse filled with bald or gray chubby or saggy men in dinner jackets with beautiful voices singing God’s glory to scream, “He is born!”

Wanda though picked up from her father Bill, my Granddad. His often grumpy wife Mable, Baba per my sister’s dubbing as the privilege of the first grandchild (she similarly named the paternal version Bubu) was not such a Christmas aficionado.  Granddad started with the two three-story blue spruce on the front mini-lawn. He festooned them with strands of those gigantic colored bulbs we boomers knew.

Then he and I could get in Charlie Long’s pickup with him — the kind where you had to use a hammer to change in and out of 4-wheel drive by pounding the hub. We’d thump over the fields and across the shallow South Branch of the Potomac to get to his land that had evergreens. I’d pick the tree I liked, as by far the junior man-let in the group and we’d saw it down. They always let me make the last few cuts that caused the TIMBER moment.

Mable never cared for this treasure. It was work to trim, although she was not involved except for huddling, directing and scolding. It always meant she had to haul out the vacuum daily to inhale the needles. It was more trouble to undress, plus shedding seemingly half its tags on the trip out the front door before trash day. Harrumph, indeed.

miltonluminWanda was in Bill’s mode and then some. Most personally obviously, she bought presents, not only many, but exactly what people wanted or would have asked for had they been as perceptive as she. Very much unlike those who wrote checks, gave gift cards, or approximated age-appropriate gifts, Wanda looked to the soul (and lifestyle) of each recipient. She made sure you got what would delight you. Your delight was hers.

Yes, the outside of her house was lit and tarted up with red, green, yellow and white. Inside tough, it as a monument to Christmas traditions. Bookshelves (of which she had many, many and table tops were layered with chorister candles (never burnt, God forbid), creches, scenes of shepherds with angels, ice skaters, lighted model villages and on and on and on.

I loved it all.

We decorate here, replete with a substantial creche molded and painted by my late mother-in-law. My wife does the Martha Stewart deeds of garlands, lights and more. I and one or more of our sons sets out the luminarias. We get a to-the-ceiling evergreen butchered for our pleasure. We as a family and often with a daughter-in-law real or to be, rig it up with three decades of ornaments, chili lights, a porcelain angel topper, icicles and candy canes.

We do Christmas. It seems genetic now.

Boys, Girls, Cook, Chef…What’s In a Word?

December 3rd, 2012

An elegant microcosm of our fustiness appears in a Think Progress piece on a 13-year-old big sister. She’s riled because her little brother wants to use Habro’s EASY-BAKE oven, which the company markets as a girl thing. It is on the company site and catalog in “gifts for girls”, and this girl asks them to get their act together and start including boys in their ads and promotion.

I’m there with her. I’ve been a or the family cook since I was six or seven. My father was a deadbeat Army office who disappeared to Germany with his second family, ignoring all this responsibilities to his first. However, my role model and mentor was my maternal grandfather, Bill Michael, who among many talents and duties cooked and was a tailor.

Oh, he had a stereotypical “man’s” job on the B&O Railroad, but he was like a t’ai chi master, hard and soft at the same time. He saw no shame in honest labor or in food prep or in sewing. He did it all.

His wife, my grandmother Mable, was queen of her kitchen though. She did not allow her two daughters to do more than act as scullery maids. She was the cook and never let anyone forget it. My mother had to learn to cook in Japan from a book for similarly ignorant American Occupation Army wives.

On those rare occasions when Mable was visiting relatives or in the hospital with an asthma attack, Granddad cooked. He had the touch.

First of all, he grew the family veggies, in what he called “patches.” These were one or sometimes two one-acre gardens of remarkable diversity. You don’t know asparagus until you eat it five minutes after being cut, and only those with home gardens know a real tomato plucked as the ripest and most fragrant on the vine.

We loved it when Granddad cooked. We also were savvy enough never to say to her that we preferred his hand in the kitchen.

Yes, let the little boy cook.

Sandy just bruises us a bit

October 30th, 2012

Here’s best hopes and wishes for those in Sandy’s path. We had comparatively little damage here. Our flooding, lost power, and tree-on-house destruction would normally be sources for self-pity. With this monster storm though, we feel lucky.

Here are a few snaps of our hill in Boston’s Hyde Park neighborhood.

Well, there was that tree. This 40 to 50 foot pine fell without creaking or other sound, suddenly blocking the road. The car normally in its path was not and it fell both away from our house and short of the neighbor’s.
Everyone, his brother and niece seemed to have called the city. Plus a Public Works big shot lives nearby. They told us they didn’t know when they could get to it, but were there within a half hour. They took about half the tree but used a loader to move the rest off to the sides so folk could drive through.
Pre-Sandy old coot (and weatherman/woman) wisdom was it would be a waste of time to rake before the storm. That was partially true. Here is our formally totally clear patio after the blow.
On the other hand, we got trash, recycling and yard-waste pick up all on Monday. So 16 big bags or cans of leaves went to the city compost piles.
A neighbor’s R.I.P. Halloween tombstone ended up in the gutter flood of leaves and water. I retrieved it and one of the downed-tree gawkers recognized it, taking it off to the rightful owner.
Our several maples were denuded by the big winds. The three big basswoods in the back haven’t even bothered to turn color much less give up their foliage. This dogwood held on to about half its covering.
The skies still misted and more rain is allegedly coming throughout the day. Yet, early this morning, the sun tried to peak and promise.
With the big winds gone and guts down to 20 MPH, the political yard sign went back up.

Pix Notes: You’re welcome to anything useful. They are Creative Commons, so just cite Mike Ball once.

We know numerous chums who lost power and had water damage both here and in New Jersey. I hear that my WV buddies and getting a foot or two of snow as well. However, Sandy was relatively kind to us and Boston did a fine job.

 

Goofing With The Bees

June 25th, 2012

My scream, I was told, would have curdled milk. Until that defining moment, I had a serious fear of bees…apparently a common phobia.

At around 7 or maybe 8, my very intimate, in-the-shirt encounter with what I recall as a huge bee changed all of that. Previously, bees and like critters such as yellow jacket wasps hurt me physically a bit and emotionally substantially. While an outdoorsy, tent-camping, walk the woods, leas and cow pastures, garden in my grandfather’s one-acre “patches”  kind of little guy, I dreaded the next sting. I’d walked barefoot on bees, which in retrospect understandably stung me. Sitting at family picnics dripping watermelon juice, I’d get attacked by a bee or yellow jacket for no reason I could fathom. In short, the pain, itching and swelling came on me suddenly and with no malice on my part.

Then came the gigantic bee in my shirt.

My grandparents’ backyard in their house where I summered, abutted the Mytinger place (apparently the oldest house in the state and at the time very neglected property). With my family’s carefully planted and cultivated flowers, and the neighboring overgrowth, there were flowers galore. In particularly right on the border, my grandfather had planted hollyhocks, which were basketball-player height and jammed with blossoms that bees loved.

Several of us kids where playing right there when a huge bumblebee flew down the back neck of my tee-shirt and scampered way down inside.

My grandmother loved slapstick and to her the essence of humor was schadenfreude, not surprise. That evening, she said how sorry she was that she missed the event. She added immediately that the neighbors who did hear me thought I was being killed. Apparently I let out a loud, enthusiastic and, as it turned out cathartic, bellow of terror. Then I literally tore my shirt off, shredding it.

To this day, the humor to me is that not only did the normally benign (just ask a country kid) bumblebee did not sting me. Rather, the incident with its scream exorcised the fear. From that moment, I’ve had no dread of any critter in that family. I keep a judicious eye on the unpredictable bad actors, such as hornets, but bees and wasps are just other insects to me.

If I’m sitting outside and a bee or two land on my arm. Well, a bee or two landed on my arm. I might let them crawl or just blow them away. No foul.

Thus recently, I have been taking a few snaps of bees making love to flowers (as above). Those are not telephoto, rather with the lens an inch or two from the subjects. When people ask if I am afraid of being with the bees, I just tell them no. Rarely, I’ll add my tale of tee-shirt release.

The bee interplay does remind me of that charming The Point! album by Harry Nilsson. Its bee scene has the protagonists hiding in a hollow log from a bee swarm, when the log rolls downhill into the Rock Man. He looked at them and said, “Say – what’s happening with you boys . . . it looks like you’re pretty shook up, been goofing with the bees?”

I can relate.

 

Interminable Sports Dinners

May 15th, 2012

I was a jock. I ‘fess up.

Now, I was also a scholar, but I was also a wrestler, then a swimmer into college. Compounding that, I was my high school paper’s sports editor. I didn’t want that spot, but it was the one that was open. Once I got to college and in J-school, I became the the loudmouthed pinko for the world to recognize.

Regardless, in my time and then our sons’, I went to a lot of sports dinners. The boys were (#1 son) baseball, (#2 and #3) soccer. #1 did crew in high school, following my edict that he had to do three years of some team sport, any team sport. Then he blissfully announced that he’d done his time. A deal is a deal in our house. I didn’t bother with his siblings. If they didn’t get the love of team sports in years of youth soccer, they didn’t. They didn’t.

My sports-dinner evenings seems Sisyphian even then. They were seasonal, so all the fall sports together, then the winter, then the spring. My high school had 2000 students…a lot of jocks. How many damned plaques can you call out in an evening? Something a little short of infinite!

Bromances flowed. Those of us with sainted coaches (Victor Liske for me) could go on and on and on. We did. I even wrote a farewell column to my coach, as our swim team was his last after over two decades. He was so fabulous as a person and mentor, his boys still quote it.

After my first such dinner though, I knew the routine and was resigned to it. What I came to resent was the blazer.

After a couple of years of lettering, I was due a PHS letterman sweater. Then the athletic director unilaterally decided that the sophisticated, manly option should be a blue blazer instead. Pissed I was. I had the letters and the team pins to attach to them. One did not sew a big maroon P on a blazer, nor dangle it before a current or potential girlfriend.

The solution wasn’t bad — go to the sporting goods store and buy the navy-blue sweater with the proper number of maroon stripes on the right arm. Yet, we in my situation thought of getting the sweater at the dinner as a reward for the agony, bruises and many hours of practices. Somehow the heavy-handed decision rankled.

Moreover, when we got the blazers, they sucked. Turns out that the school went as cheap as possible, which meant they were constructed in New Jersey prisons…badly. I have a huge chest and shoulders. The big sizes in particular had absurd shoulder pads, giving them the effect of bad formal football uniforms.

Fortunately, my grandfather, the man of many jobs and an unbelievable skill set, was among other things a tailor. I showed up with the stupid, insulting, ill-fitting, ugly blazer and started to complain. He was on it and shut me up. He took it next door to his dry cleaning and tailoring shop immediately. He returned in less than half an hour, with an altered, customized jacket. He’d taken in the waist to suit my build as well. The shoulders were flat and beautifully contoured. Granddad was an artist. I could only say thanks and wonder why I’d been upset.