My Family (a long time ago)

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Vacation 2016

I was on vacation a couple weeks back and went to my favorite place, Martha’s Vineyard. I enjoyed spending time with my wife and daughter, my in-laws, and a few cousins, aunts and uncles. Unfortunately, my son couldn’t make it due to his work schedule and I missed having him there with us. Despite him not being with us, it was a great week and brought back some memories for me.

Coming over to the island on the ferry, there were a lot of families with young kids and I couldn’t help but think back to when my kids were little and we made the trek over. Both my kids loved being on the boat and we’d either be outside or right next to a window. We’d watch the seagulls floating on the air, keeping pace with the boat and swooping in and grabbing a snack from a passenger’s outstretched hand. We’d talk about what we were going to do, which always included the beach, ice cream, and The Flying Horses. Those were some great times.

My wife and I walked up town our first evening there and got an ice cream. There’s nothing like an ice cream on a summer day. It made me think of my childhood and how special a treat it was to pile all the kids in the car, go for a cool off ride, and get an ice cream at the end. Even if our hands and arms were sticky with melted ice cream, it was worth the two hours or so of cooling off before we went back to the house where the only air conditioning was open windows and a big blue fan. Those were also some great times.

As I sat waiting for the fireworks to start on the 4th of July, I was like a little kid, sitting and fidgeting, wondering why it was taking so long to start. When I was a kid, the town had our fireworks at the Little League fields. We’d walk up as a family, set out a blanket and wait what seemed like an eternity, and finally get to see them. It always seemed like it was too short a time for how long we waited. At some point, they stopped shooting off the fireworks in our town, probably realizing that it wasn’t safe enough where they were doing it. Those were some great times, too.

For the most part, I spent the week without shoes on. As soon as I got to the house, I pulled off the sneakers and socks and just let my feet breathe. It felt so good to go outside and feel the grass between my toes and be in direct contact with the ground. I had to put something on my feet to walk places, but that was it. It reminded me of being a kid and fighting with Mom because she wanted us to always have something on our feet and we didn’t want to. Running around in the yard, why would we need sneakers on? Playing wiffle ball in the yard, who needs sneakers? I knew I could run faster with bare feet. Just sitting around in the shade in our front yard and reading comic books certainly didn’t require something on our feet. Maybe Mom just hated having to clean our dirty feet after a fun day. Those were some really great times.

Vacation is over and it’s back to the real world, but I’ve been trying to go barefoot a little more than I was. I’m going to enjoy it as long as I can because in a few months we’ll have to be wearing socks and shoes, or sneakers, or (gasp) boots. By then my week in paradise will be but a distant memory, but I’ll have some happy feet. And some more great memories. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Box of Nothing

As I went past the kitchenette area where I work, I noticed a box on one of the tables, the kind of box that looks like it holds some kind of treat. It could be cookies, or cake, it doesn’t really matter at 2:00 in the afternoon when something sweet would hit the spot. I put on the brakes and made a quick left into the kitchenette to get something before it was all gone. Yes, it was a bakery box!

I took one last look around to make sure no one was watching, like I was doing something wrong (it must be some kind of learned response from my younger years), opened the box, and…it was empty. Empty! Unless you count a few measly crumbs in the corners of the box, it was empty. What a letdown. I thought I was going to get at least a little sugar energy to help me through the afternoon, even if it was just half a cookie or pastry, or even a sliver of a cake or a pie. I felt like the box was taunting me, laughing at me as I walked away.

Why do people leave an empty treat box sitting on the kitchenette table like that? It’s such a tease and such a disappointment. One minute your imagining yourself eating a piece of chocolate cake, or munching a chocolate chip cookie, or being lucky enough to find even a quarter of a cinnamon bun, and the next you get air. A handful of nothing is what you end up with. I guess if you’re desperate, you eat the crumbs, but I wasn’t. Truth be told, I have too much pride to do that anyway.

I had lots of experience with finding something empty growing up in a big family. I cannot even tell you how many times I came into the house to get a cold drink of water, opened the freezer, and found one ice cube in the multiple trays. I’d take the one ice cube left in the top tray, and go to get another out of the next tray, only to find it empty. Someone actually left an empty ice cube tray in the freezer! If I complained to Mom or Dad about it, they told me it was wrong for someone to do that, but could I fill up both trays so the next guy didn’t get the same problem.

For some reason, my parents insisted on buying the ice cream that has vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry in the same package. None of us really liked strawberry, so when you went to get some cold, refreshing goodness in the summer, the vanilla and chocolate were totally gone, like they were never even there. I know, you’re thinking that the container wasn’t empty, that there was still some ice cream left, however, as far as we were concerned it was empty. None of us kids were going to eat the strawberry ice cream.

Mom also liked to get us the variety pack of cereal with the small boxes, which was great for the first week and maybe the second week. After that the only cereal left was Raisin Bran. I don’t know any kid that would take Raisin Bran over Frosted Flakes, or Sugar Pops, or any other sugar-laden cereal. The Raisin Bran would sit in the cabinet getting stale, unless one of us was desperate enough to take it and pick out all the raisins, throw a couple of spoonsful of sugar on it, maybe some sliced banana, pour in some milk, and only then eat it. That’s how you start your day with a good breakfast!

I could go on. There were 99.99% empty potato chip bags; containers of milk, Zarex, or soda with, at most, a mouthful of liquid left; toilet paper rolls with one square left on them and paper towel rolls with no sheets left on them; boxes of holiday chocolates with the only leftovers the kind that old ladies like (my apologies to all the Grandmothers out there). Letdowns one and all.

Over time, though, these letdowns have faded into the background because over time I’ve learned what is more important, that being family. Tasty treats, ice cream, ice cubes, even toilet paper, won’t always be there, but I know my family will.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Farm in the Country

I was watching a television show last week and there was a reference to a dog being taken to live on a farm out in the country, where he would be able to run around all day with the other dogs. This, of course, was not true. The funny thing about this is, it is the exact story I was told when I was a kid about one of our dogs and I totally bought it, hook, line, and sinker.

I was just a little guy then, I couldn’t have been more than six or seven at the time. I don’t really even remember too much about our dog at the time, other than he was a Shetland Sheep dog, he was getting older, and his name was Tuffy. From what my older brothers told me, he was a great dog. Back then, there was a place called “the Pit” (short for sandpit), which was just outside the woods behind our house and was a bunch of sand piles and large rocks. My brothers would go out in the backyard and say, “To the Pit!” and Tuffy would take off and wait for them at the Pit. As you can imagine, dogs weren’t tied up or kept in the house all day when we were kids.

Somewhere along the line though, Tuffy turned into a dirty dog and started trying to do things with us kids he ought not to have been trying. To top it off, Tuffy tried taking a bite out of anyone that didn’t like his actions, and that was the end of the line. Fortunately, I don’t recall any of this happening. I do remember being told that he was getting the treat of a lifetime, that my parents were going to bring him to a country farm where he could run around and play all day with a bunch of other dogs. I saw that as Dog Heaven. They assured us “Three Little Ones” that Tuffy would be very happy there, that he would have room to run, and he’d have a bunch of dog friends.

I imagined it always being sunny and warm there, with fields of grass to run through from morning to night. I would think about it from time to time and smile to myself, thinking of Tuffy hanging with his new friends, and figuring he wouldn’t even miss us due to all the fun he was having. For years, I believed that Tuffy was just about the luckiest dog in the world. Well, along with the other dogs on the farm.

It wasn’t until I was in about eighth or ninth grade (into my teenage years for those who don’t want to do the math) that I learned that Tuffy had been put to sleep. I was shocked that my loving parents could do such a thing, I was horrified that my older brothers were okay with this, and I was totally embarrassed that I never figured out that there was no farm in the country where dogs go to live out their last years in complete and total bliss. I guess it was one of the last vestiges of childhood that was torn down, the last of my innocence. Old dogs don’t go out gracefully; they go out suddenly and permanently. Maybe this is why I never got a dog as I got older.

Ah, to be able to go back to those days when everything was right with the world. Santa came every Christmas, the Easter Bunny came every Easter, I was going to be a baseball player when I grew up, and old dogs went to live on a farm in the country with a bunch of other dogs. At least in their world it’s sunny and warm all year round.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Spring Time in December

The Christmas trees are up and decorated, the houses and trees are lit up nightly, and the stockings have been hung by the fireplace with care. The malls are jammed with stressed out shoppers, the lucky few have already bought and wrapped their gifts, and the college football bowl season is underway. Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like…spring time?

Here in the Northeast, it certainly doesn’t seem like it’s the end of December this year. It actually feels more like spring than winter. Daytime temperatures have been in the high-40’s to mid-50’s, instead of the 30’s. It’s even gotten up to 60 degrees around here! For those that use the Celsius scale, that would be temperatures in the 7 – 15 range. In December! While it has gotten cold a few days, I’ve worn my winter jacket only about 5 times this year. And instead of snow on the ground, the grass is still green. It looks like we’re not going to have a white Christmas this year.

As an adult getting along in years, this really doesn’t bother me. I don’t need to drag out the snow blower or shovel the driveway to be able to go somewhere. I don’t even need to scrape frost off the car windows on the majority of mornings. I don’t need to bundle up to just get the mail from the mailbox and I don’t shiver through the first 10 minutes of my daily commute to and from work. If this is the result of global warming, then bring it on because I could get used to winters like this.

As a kid, however, I would have been going out of my mind, maybe even devastated. Winter break from school would be coming up and there’d be nothing to look forward to. There would be no way we’d be playing ice hockey at the pond from early morning to the time darkness made it impossible to see the black puck any longer. The only pause in the games would be enough time to go home and eat some lunch and slightly thaw out the feet and hands. If it wasn’t cold enough to freeze the ponds, there would be no way we’d be spending most of the day sledding down the big hill in the back of my house, punctuated by a hot chocolate break and finishing up warming next to a roaring fire, because there wouldn’t be any snow.

Sure, we would have found stuff to do. We would have probably played street hockey for a few hours, perhaps switched over to football since the grass wouldn’t have been rock hard, and maybe even rode our bikes somewhere since it wouldn’t have been so cold. But it wouldn’t have been the same. Winter break from school was meant to be spent freezing our little behinds off, doing stuff in the snow or on the ice – and we liked it that way! I don’t remember any of us even hinting that it was too cold to go outside during our time off from school in December.

I have no shame in saying that I’m enjoying the holiday season so far. I don’t need a pile of snow and below zero temperatures to feel the joy of the season, and I certainly don’t need to get numb by running out to the mailbox to know that Santa is on his way. This year, I’m dreaming of a green Christmas. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Penny Found

I went into the men’s room at work last week and as I went to do my thing, I noticed there was a penny in the urinal. It didn’t disturb me or gross me out, but it did make me stop and think. My thought process went something like this:
“Why would anybody drop a penny into the urinal?”
“Is this supposed to be funny? Because if it is, I don’t really see the humor.”
“Is this supposed to tick off the cleaning crew because they’ll have to get the penny out?”
“Is someone going to check every so often and see if the penny is still there?”
“Why would anybody drop a penny into the urinal?”

By then I was about finished what I had gone in for and probably thought a little too much about it. Here’s the sad part about all this: I’ve looked in that urinal every day since, just to see if it was still there. For those of you who can’t stand the suspense, the penny is still there, with poor Abe lying face down at the bottom. It bothered me that the penny was still there after more than a week, not because someone is wasting money (hey, it’s only a penny), not because no one is removing said penny from the place where us men relieve ourselves, but because I couldn’t figure out why it was there in the first place.

So I did what most people do today, I Googled 'penny in a urinal'. To my surprise, there is a game people play with pennies and urinals. It used to be that people left it on the urinal and would see how long it took for someone else to take it. Then people started putting the penny in the urinal. I can pretty much guarantee that the penny in the urinal doesn’t get taken anywhere near as much as the penny on the urinal. Go ahead, Google it yourself and see what you find.

The whole coin in the water got me thinking about the library in the town I grew up in. No, people didn’t leave pennies in the toilets or urinals at the library, but they did have an area with fish swimming around, not a fish tank, but a mini-pond in the middle of the library. People used to throw coins of all denominations in there and it was very tempting as a kid to reach in and grab some change. It still looks pretty much the same today:

My wife has confessed that as a kid, she occasionally reached in and grabbed some change. And as I mentioned in this post, back in those days a quarter was all you needed to get a soda and a candy bar at the gas station near my house.

I always liked to read, so I’d go to the library with my Mom to get a couple of books. While I was downstairs in the Children’s area choosing my books, Mom was upstairs looking for something for herself. When I was done, and I was always done first, I would go find her and she’d tell me to go sit at a table or in a chair and start reading one of my books. Only I’d go sit by the fish (and the coins) and strategize on how to get me some money. There were two problems, however, that held me back. First, the fish freaked me out. They were big and in my overactive imagination they’d bite into my arm and pull me under the water. Second, there were a lot of adults around and they all seemed to be watching me, like there was a conspiracy to make sure no kid got any of their money. Needless to say, I never even got one penny out of the fish pond.

Needless to say, I’m also not going to get a penny out of a urinal either. At some point it will get taken out by someone. Maybe that’s why some bathrooms include a sign saying “Employees must wash their hands before returning to work.”