Thursday, July 25, 2013

When I Think of Mary

Her name was Mary.

I met her when I was about to get into our car, which was parked on the street beside her house. She was getting her mail.
I smiled and said, “Hi,” and Mary replied with her own smiling “Hi.”
We began to talk more each time our paths crossed until one day, she invited me in for lemonade. It was summertime. Hot. Humid. And I was pregnant. I already had a two year old son and Mary had a son – eighteen months old. We had a lot in common.
We soon became good friends. Some afternoons, she came to my house and our boys played while we had something to drink and conversation. Or I went to hers and we did the same. Every so often, in the evening, when our husbands were home, the four of us got together and talked, enjoyed a snack and watched a little TV while the boys played.
It was a nice relationship.
In August, when I went to the hospital to have my baby, Mary came to visit me. She brought me a beautiful yellow rose. Nurses thought we were sisters. They said we looked alike. I took that as a compliment.
Mary was very pretty! She had dark, curly, shoulder length hair, fair skin and sky blue eyes. Her ready smile exposed perfect white teeth. And she was as sweet as she was pretty! I couldn’t find one thing wrong with her.
I hoped we’d always be friends, but it wasn’t to be.
One day, out of the blue, she broke the news that her husband, Ben, had been transferred. They had to move away.
That was a sad day! We both shed a few tears. I’d never had a friend quite like Mary. It’s hard to explain our friendship. Although it was short, it was different. Reliable.
After they were gone, we wrote letters (this was before the days of e-mail and unlimited phone service), sent Christmas cards and birthday cards for a few years – and then we started receiving and sending them further and further apart until we slowly lost touch altogether.
When I think of Mary, I remember this familiar quote: 
“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

We Can't Change the Weather

It’s mid-July.
My grandfather used to say, “In these parts, July is hotter than Hades.”
As a child, I had no idea what he meant, but, as an adult, I do! The past few days have been hot enough to make me long for the coolness of fall and winter.
But it’ll be a while before I see those days again. 

It’s been a strange summer. For the past month, it’s rained at least a part of every day. And many days were dark and rainy all day long.
Aristotle said, “Nature does nothing in vain.” If we believe that, I suppose we must accept that there’s a good reason for dark, cloudy days. The only one that comes to mind is that, after a few of the cloudy ones, we appreciate the sunshine so much more than we might if all days were sunny. As with life in general, we must take the bad with the good.
August will be here before we know it and school will be back in session earlier than usual this year, leaving the kids feeling as if they’ve had no summer, I fear! We've gone from rain to extreme heat - no moderately warm, sunny days for kids to enjoy while school's out.
Happiness doesn’t depend solely on the weather, of course, but drizzly, sunless days do keep children from playing outside – going swimming, riding bikes and  other activities they normally enjoy in the summertime. And when the temperatures are in the 90’s – the humidity stifling – they much prefer staying inside where it’s air-conditioned.
As for adults, bad weather definitely has a lot to do with our moods. If I wake up to sunshine pouring through the windows, I feel much happier and more productive than if I open my eyes to a dark, rainy morning. And I don’t even consider going outside in 90+ degree temps. It would take a major disaster to get me out of the house on such a day unless I hurry directly from the air-conditioned house to the air-conditioned car!
I once read a statement that has stayed with me for many years. It went like this: “If you can’t change things for yourself, then you must change yourself for things.”
With that in mind, it’s a certainty we can’t change the weather. So perhaps we can change our thinking about the weather.
This quote by John Ruskin might be a good place to start:
“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, and snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” 
Not sure I buy it, but it’s a nice thought! 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Piano Lessons - Rain or Shine

Waiting in the vestibule just outside the sliding doors that led to the room where the shiny black grand piano waited, I dreaded going in. I could hear the student whose lesson was just before mine playing his scales perfectly – and was a little envious. That was something I couldn’t do well. I loved music but hated scales!
My teacher, Mr. Schultz, said we must practice scales to develop hand co-ordination. I can still hear his words, “Absolute co-ordination is essential between both hands as they run up and down the keyboard. Scales also help develop finger strength and a strong sense of rhythm and speed, both of which are important for playing the piano,” he said.
I nodded in agreement, but secretly detested every minute I had to spend practicing scales. And that’s why I dreaded going in for my lesson today. I hadn’t practiced my scales, but had spent my time practicing my recital piece instead. It was an energetic piece of classical musical that, when I was having a good day, made me feel like a great concert pianist!
The silence was broken when the big wooden doors separated noisily in the middle. A young boy came out smiling and hurried toward the door that led to the outside. Mr. Schultz turned his attention to me. “Hello,Peggeee” he said. “Please come in.” He was from Germany and spoke with an accent that sometimes gave me pause.
“Hi,” I answered shyly, entering the doors so he could slide them closed again. I wondered if the next student would listen through the doors and laugh when I made a mess of my scales.
But there was time. Maybe my teacher would forget the scales and let me go right on to my recital piece, especially if our conversation lasted longer than usual. You see, Mr. Schultz didn’t use the whole half-hour for the lesson. He liked to socialize. Once we were behind those closed doors, I was invited to sit down on the maroon leather sofa that was behind the piano bench. That’s where he sat; looking over the shoulder of each student as he or she played his lesson for that week.
But for now, we sat together on the sofa and, just like clockwork, another set of sliding doors opened and his wife appeared with a glass of red kool-aid. Always red. She handed it to me, smiling sweetly, then turned and left the room the same way she had come in. This routine never changed in the four years I took lessons from Mr. Schultz every Saturday, rain or shine!
There’s no nice way to say it – the kool-aid was terrible! They must have tried to conserve on sugar because it was never sweet. Perhaps they didn’t realize it should be sweetened. I was never sure of the reason; just knew it was hard to swallow. Didn’t matter. I had to make an effort. My mother would have had my hide if I’d been rude! But it didn’t take long to learn that, if I sipped slowly, my time would start getting short and he’d say, Vee’d better get started vith the lesson now.”
While I sipped, he talked. I learned of the many things he’d done and seen growing up in Germany and that he claimed to have met famous people such as the great Russian composer, Peter Tchaikovsky and Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh, among others.
Listening to the stories this 81 year old man related, while I pretended to drink the insipid red liquid, was an education far above and beyond my piano lesson.
Despite all this diversion, I did learn to play the piano.
At one spring recital, I was the only graduate. Mr. Schultz presented me with a certificate, a large bouquet of red roses and a kiss on the cheek. There was a small reception where we mingled with the other students and their families. It was very nice.
We also had cookies and red Kool-Aid! 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

I Want To Go Home!

Bad hair day!
There’s no wind. It’s not raining. Can’t use either of those for an excuse. Maybe nobody will notice.
A lot of traffic on I-64. I’m glad Mr. H. is driving.
My appointment with the eye doctor for a Visual Field Test is at eleven. I had to get up at eight. Eight a.m. doesn’t usually exist for me. When you don’t go to bed until four or five a.m., eight is the middle of the night.
Oh my gosh! Mr. H. is tailgating again! My teeth won’t clench any tighter – fingernails won’t dig any deeper into the palms of my hands. Dear God, please don't let me die in a car accident on my way to a Visual Field Test!
Mr. H. hears the noise I make sucking air through my teeth.
“You need to calm down,” he says. “The traffic’s just fine, so stop it!”
“I couldn’t stop if I tried!” I say. “You think I’m sitting here getting nervous on purpose because I enjoy it? I can’t help it! It’s a natural reaction to intense fear. I’ve been plagued with it all my life!”
We make it. Two minutes early. A new girl calls my name immediately. On the way to the exam room, she says, “I’ll check your pressure, then we’ll take out your contacts and dilate your eyes.”
“I don’t usually get my eyes dilated for this test,” I say.
Looking at my chart, she asks, “Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve never been dilated for the Visual Field Test. And I have to wear my contacts for the test. I wouldn’t be able to see anything without them!”
“Who told you that you could wear your contacts?” she asks.
“The doctor.”
She leaves the room. When she comes back, she says, “I’m going to check your pressure now and then take out your contacts, dilate your eyes and put your contacts back in for the test.”
“I checked with the doctor and he confirmed it.”
“Okay, but….”
“You haven’t had this test done since 2009," she says. "You probably don’t remember.”
I’m insulted! Four years ago? I believe I can remember that far back!
I’m reminded of the many times I heard my mother say, “When you start to get old, the younger generation thinks you’re stupid!”
Dilation done, the young lady pulls a tight elastic band over my head and brings a patch down over my left eye. And for ten minutes or more, I squeeze a little “clicker” each time I see a tiny light go on anywhere in this round contraption with a bright light in the center. My contacts keep drying out and we have to stop, put drops in and start again.
The tight elastic band is eventually adjusted to make the patch fit over my right eye so we can torture the left. The test seems endless. I’m cold. Agitated. I have a headache. My eyes’ll be dilated until late tonight. I don’t like that feeling and not being able to see well for the rest of the day.
I want to go home!
On the way out, I say, “I’ll never have this test done again!”
Mr. H. is not sympathetic. He says, “Look at it this way – if it’s another four years, you won’t remember.”
The trip home was very quiet! 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

What a Difference a Day Makes!

Yesterday, I almost needed sunglasses inside, but today it's so dark and rainy that I've turned on every light in the house. The drastic difference reminds me of an old song called, What a Difference a Day Makes. Maybe some of you remember it, too. It goes something like this:   

What a difference a day makes
Twenty-four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain 

My mother used to sing it as she did her housework. It made me happy to hear my mother sing. She could actually carry a tune, too. And so could all of her siblings. I used to like nothing better than being at my grandmother’s house on a Saturday night when my uncles and aunts got together with their guitars and sang for hours. There was always lots of laughter, food and fun! After I was married and had a family of my own, I’d take my children for visits to my grandmother’s, too. That was many years ago, but their eyes still sparkle when they reminisce about those family song fests. Experiences that bring that much happiness live in the memory forever! Thankfully, the miserable ones seem to dim with the passing of time. 

But, unfortunately, I didn’t inherit my mother’s vocal chords; certain people actually ask me not to sing! 

It’s the truth! 

The only time I can exercise my desire to belt out a song is when I’m by myself. Sometimes, when I’m alone in my car, I put on a favorite CD, make sure all the windows are up, and sing along at the top of my crackly voice to my heart’s content. Now and then, I enjoy myself so much that I take the long way home so I have more time for singing. I once had a dog that barked every time I sang. Insulting! 

Christmas Caroling?  No way!  I can go along, but only if I just move my mouth or hum. The same goes for church; I can lip-sync all I want, but no singing aloud for me! 

But, today, even though it's raining, I have this urge to sing. And why not? 

I’m alone. The cat’s asleep. And no one will hear me...  “What a Difference a Day makes... twenty-four little hours...”  

Monday, July 1, 2013

After the Last Firecracker Pops

 It’s July 1st.

Know what that means?
Exactly six months from today, we’ll be celebrating New Year’s Day, 2014! Think about how quickly the past six months have passed. If the next six pass that fast, we’re almost there!
Okay. Go ahead and laugh. But, in a very short while, you’ll be agreeing with me.
I’m tellin’ you: After the Fourth of July, which is only three days away, the stores will start reflecting: School Clothes, Fall, Halloween and Pumpkins. And once these reminders are in the stores, it’s hard not to take them seriously.
Mark my words, as soon as the last firecracker pops this Thursday evening, it’s all over! You’ll still swim, picnic and perhaps go to the beach, but for all practical purposes, we’re speeding toward fall, colored leaves and another school year.
Enjoy the moment while you can. Too soon it will be just another memory!