March 19, 2019

Vacations I have known

As summer approaches and I mull over our vacation options, I’ve been reminiscing a bit about vacations past. Warm, sunny days spent at the beach getting sunburned and bitten by sand fleas. Crazy weeks spent in log cabins hiking trails, dodging bats, and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. Long car rides to state parks with no air conditioning to a chorus of, “She’s touching me.” Fourteen sweating people in Nagshead, NC sharing a non-air-conditioned cabin. Colicky babies. Hurricane evacuations. Emergency room visits. High old times all. But one vacation sticks in my mind particularly. 

Probably because it was it was my first ‘adult’ vacation.  It was the summer of 1970 and my best friend, Linda, and I decided we would go on a real vacation by ourselves. After much mulling on what would be fun and, most importantly, cheap we settled on camping in Massachusetts. God only knows why.  

I now think of it as a learning experience. We learned rather quickly that we did not like camping. We learned that neither of us is particularly fond of the great outdoors. We learned that both of us had, and still do, deep reservations about any proximity to bugs of any kind. 

But it was an adventure. We set off one morning in late June in my little yellow Opel – the worst car in the world - loaded down with every conceivable camping accoutrement Linda could get her hands on. She was working at Atlas Sporting Goods at the time and had ample opportunity to select among other things, matches that would still light when wet. In case, I suppose, we decided to cookout in the rain. 

We set out on a bright sunny morning and wended our way up the East Coast toward Boston. Now, I must admit that my memory is a bit hazy. It was forty-nine years ago and I haven’t gotten to that stage of dementia where I can remember past events clearly, but nothing from yesterday. I simply can’t remember either much of the time. Anyway, we got to Boston and spent a lovely day walking around the city. Saw a matinee of Hair and felt quite urbane.  

From there we went to Gloucester, Salem and Plymouth. We visited Hawthorne’s birthplace, saw the Mayflower II, stood off the shore and stared at the spot the Hesperus wrecked, and watched a lobster boat bring in its catch. Word to the wise, if you see the odd lobster claw on the ground you probably do not want to pick it up, stick it in your trunk, and take it home as a souvenir.  

We spent two nights of our adventure sleeping in the car. One because we saw a large bear in the camp grounds which turned out to be a medium sized dog. The other because a vicious mosquito had gotten into our tent. We had one emergency car repair and, believe it or not, didn’t have one drop of alcohol the entire week. What were we thinking?  

However, all of these were just stops on our way to lay in the sand at Cape Cod and frolic in the ocean. When we got there, we found out that there is no ocean beach at Cape Cod. At least none that we could find. There is just an incredibly rocky shore. No wonder the Hesperus wrecked. We finally located a small sandy beach on the bay side of the cape. It wasn’t really what we had hoped for. 

The highlight of the week, if you can call being scared silly a highlight, came when we went walking on the sand dunes. The dunes in 1970 were pretty spectacular. Miles of rolling sand mountains under a gorgeous blue sky. I don’t know if they have since been eroded by wind and tourists, but back in the day they were really something. 

We seemed to be the only tourists in the area that day. We were trudging along, up and down the dunes, giving our legs quite a work-out when a man approached us from out of nowhere. Suddenly, there we were all alone on a vast expanse of sand with this weird little man. It felt uncomfortable right away. But we said hello politely because we were polite young women and walked on. But he felt the need to chat. He informed us in a, frankly, scary kind of way that four bodies had been found not long before right where we were walking.  

I now know that he was not the murderer because that man had already been arrested. But at the time, Linda and I weren’t sure just who we were conversing with. Was this guy implying that he actually had planted the four bodies and was wondering if we would like to make to six? Or was he just an ass with a warped sense of humor? Or, perhaps, a self-appointed tour guide? Whichever, we were not sticking around to find out. We just smiled goofily and made tracks back to the car as fast as you can make tracks when wading through the sand. No doubt he had quite a little laugh at our expense. 

The rest of our journey was unremarkable other than a rather exciting drive down a mountain followed by a semi without his load who really would have preferred us to go a lot faster. We made it home in one piece, and icing on the cake, have remained best friends, but have never even considered camping again.


February 21, 2019

Pride and Prejudice, the rest of the story

What can I say? I love Jane Austen. I’ve read all of her books and seen many of the film versions of them. I simply love the words. I love reading them and hearing them. I love the characters and the setting and the manners. 
My favorite is Pride and Prejudice which I just finished watching for the umpteenth time. The BBC version, of course, with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. Perfection.
As I sighed at the end – Elizabeth and Darcy’s rather chaste kiss as they were driven away from Longbourn – I got to wondering about just what happened to all the Bennet daughters. What were their lives like? Did they all marry well? Did Mrs. Bennet confine herself to her room for the rest of her life enjoying fits of vapors? These are things I would dearly love to know. I wish Miss Austen had written a sequel. As she didn’t, I have filled in the stories for myself. 
I am quite sure that Elizabeth and Darcy had a passionate marriage lasting at least sixty years. No doubt they died in each other’s arms, having had simultaneous heart attacks while attempting some rather athletic love making. Not a bad way to go.
Jane and Bingley had a long happy marriage. Not quite so passionate as that of her sister, but with quite as much love. They had six beautiful children. And as Mr. Bennet predicted the family was a happy, and luckily, quite wealthy one, for they were much too good-natured and trusting for their own benefit. 
Mary, quite naturally, married an impecunious curate in a rather obscure parish. She spent her life piously boring the congregation to tears and playing the piano badly.
A good marriage was arranged for Kitty to a dull, but suitable young man. They lived an unremarkable, but satisfactory life together. The only fly in the ointment was that Kitty threw a fit at least once a year because her husband steadfastly refused to take her to Brighton.
And then there is Lydia. She, I think, had the most interesting life. Wickham died of syphilis deeply in debt to various merchants and bookmakers ten years into their marriage. Luckily, he had lost interest in Lydia before he contracted the disease. Having estranged herself from her family entirely, even her mother had given up on her, she was left with only one hundred pounds a year and saddled with her three children who had inherited all the worst traits of their parents. One can only imagine what gems they were. While she was hopeful that her father would pass away and she would come into a portion of his estate, Mr. Bennet seemed not to care to accommodate her in this. Thus Lydia, using her most impressive talents, became a fashionable madame catering to the military stationed in Brighton under the name, Mrs. Flanders.
Mr. Bennet did Mrs. Bennet the favor of out-living her so that she should never be thrown out of Longbourn by Mr. Collins. The dear lady actually had real heart palpitations one afternoon, but no one noticed as neither Jane, nor Lizzy was there to take her a cup of tea. Afterward, Mr. Bennet found that life at Longbourn without any females in residence was so peaceful and so free from worry that he managed to make it to one hundred years old, also out-living Mr. Collins.
So, there you have it. Is Jane Austen turning in her grave or having a good laugh? I rather think the latter.


January 10, 2019

Happy New Year

Well, it’s 2019 and sadly nothing is looking particularly rosy. The world of politics is a shambles. PBS has little to offer in the way of new mysteries. The weather is unfortunate. And I think I’ve run out of stories to tell. I happen to be closing on seventy years and am realizing that most of my adventures are behind me.

I did fall down the other evening. I had a package to return to L. L. Bean and the UPS man pulled up across the street. It was after dark, so I trotted down the driveway, continued on the sidewalk, walked up to the truck, and scared the bejabbers out of the driver. I am paraphrasing his own rather descriptive words. Apparently, I move rather stealthily. Who knew?

At any rate, on my return to the house I took a short cut across the lawn because it was a tad chilly. Tom was watching my progress from the window. He, of course, turned away just as the flowering cherry in the front yard deliberately stuck out a root and viciously tripped me.  Down I went, banging the hell out of my knee and wrenching my wrist and shoulder while narrowly missing cracking my head on the landscape tie bordering our bed of ivy. No one came to my rescue because no one saw me go down.

After quietly assessing my various bumps and bruises and confirming that nothing was broken and celebrating the fact that my bones must be in pretty good shape, I limped into the kitchen. “I fell down,” I said.

My wonderful husband Tom is a master of denial, especially when it comes to my health. So, “No you didn’t,” was his response. And he believed it. Problem solved.

When I assured him that the problem was not solved and that I actually had fallen and would appreciate a bag of ice for the knee which was rapidly swelling, he got me the ice. But then had to tell me exactly where I went wrong. If I had just stayed on the sidewalk and come up the driveway instead of cutting across the lawn, I would not have tripped on a root.

I’m not an idiot. I had already figured this out. I was well on the way to understanding my mistake as I was flying through the darkness. I was saying to myself, “Why the hell don’t you look where you’re going?”

Why do men do this? It’s not just Tom. It’s well documented that men need to instruct even when it’s clear you already have the picture. I don’t understand why can’t men just give you a hug and say, “Here’s the ice, sweetie. Twenty minutes on, twenty off.”

At any rate, I have to admit that after his initial reluctance to acknowledge my little mishap, he was very solicitous. He finished making dinner and cleaned the kitchen. Which is why I’m pretty sure we’ll make it through 2019 together, politics and PBS be damned.

October 8, 2018

The one that got away

I would really like to tell you about the very big fish my husband caught – and lost – last week. Last Wednesday we decided to take our boat out for what very well might be the last time before we have to put it away for the winter. The day began well. A light breeze rippled the water softly. Puffy white clouds decorated the azure sky, as the sun gave just enough warmth to make it comfortable.

We made our way from Harbour Cove where we keep our boat, up Rockhold Creek and past the rock wall into the gorgeous Chesapeake Bay. The water level was high after all the recent storms, but the waves were gentle. Tom put out the two planers and we slowly glided north toward the Bay Bridge reveling in the quiet and serenity. We seemed to be the only boat out there. It was lovely.

The only thing marring an otherwise perfect outing was that there were no fish to be had. So, after a couple of hours Tom began pulling in his lines. He had pulled in the first line and had just picked up the second when he caught a big one! A very big one.

Now, I must preface this with the fact that I am not, by anyone’s estimation, nautically savvy. I cannot drive the boat. I cannot swim. And, honestly, I cannot even stand up on the damned thing without becoming perilously close to going over the side.

Tom on the other hand has always had what are referred to as ‘sea legs’. He’s a wonder. He can pretty much bring in fish or hand me a soda or steer the boat and do many other amazing feats without difficulty while standing up. I’m always in awe of this ability.

That day, however, just as he was pulling in the line, shouting for me to get the net, a speed boat roared past and its wake caused our little eighteen-footer to roll dangerously. Tom lost his footing and over the side he went.

Normally, I don’t do well in crisis situations. I am usually the first one to panic. So, I am proud to say that in this instance I did have the presence of mind to turn the key and stop the engine. Then I dithered around, trying to keep my balance, and wondering what to do next.

Tom, who thank God hadn’t hit his head and does know how to swim, was treading water. As he directed me with some agitation to toss him one of the seat cushions that floats so nicely and extend the ladder so he could climb back in to the (well, I won’t quote him verbatim here because my granddaughter may read this) colorfully described boat, I’m pretty sure he was wishing he had married someone a little less cerebral and a lot more physical.

However, I managed these feats without joining him in the water and he climbed back on board, dripping and not in the best of moods. The fish, after having a good laugh at our expense, departed to depths unknown taking the planer with him. On the bright side, Tom was all right. And he had managed not to lose his glasses or his wallet. And he is still speaking to me. So, I call that a win.

As I said at the beginning, I would like to tell you this story. It’s way more interesting than my real life. However, in all honesty I can’t. We did go out. It was a beautiful day. No one went over the side. Tom didn’t catch a fish. He didn’t even get a nibble. The most exciting thing that happened was my sighting of a huge stork that turned out to be some guy pulling in a crab line. I have an appointment with the eye doctor next month.

September 18, 2018

Long life to Mrs. B

Cats are curious creatures. Well, of course, they are. Who hasn’t seen a cat nose into things better left un-nosed. But what I am referring to is that cats are curious creatures – peculiar, remarkable, bizarre little animals who can be at the same time both needy and independent. They can be affectionate one moment and ready to take your hand off the next. Cats enjoy being unpredictable, a trait that I firmly believe that they cultivate from kittenhood. They are also wonderful little pets that the world would be a sadder place without.

As some of you may remember at this time last year I had three little cats. They started life under my shed, born to a feral mother. I adopted them as outdoor kitties. Alas, two met unfortunate ends within weeks of each other leaving me with Mrs. B. 

Dear Mrs. B. started life as a little male kitten known as Bigglesworth. When the vet informed us that Bigglesworth was not a he, but a she, she was renamed Mrs. Bigglesworth and, as is usual with longish names, soon became Mrs. B. 

Mrs. B. is now fifteen years old. Translated into human years she’s a grand old lady of seventy-six. Interesting how the computation is made. Cats age most quickly in their youth. The first year of a cat’s life takes her all the way from infancy to mid-teens. Second year she jumps up to mid-twenties. Then she ages four of our years for each additional birthday celebrated.

I have recently come to understand one of the more mysterious things I have seen cats do. Have you ever seen a cat jump up, run into the middle of, say, the driveway clearly with a definite purpose in mind, only to stop dead, sit down and clean his ears? I finally figured it out! They are doing what I do all the time. I am at the kitchen sink and need clean towels. I leave the kitchen for the purpose of getting clean towels. I get upstairs only to find that I have no idea why I am standing at the top of the steps. At which point I sit down and clean my ears. Not really. I go back to the kitchen and stand at the sink until I remember what I had forgotten. Maybe cats do the same.

At any rate poor old Mrs. B. is now into her dotage and getting a bit senile. And I can certainly sympathize. She’s a little greyer and a bit slower. She complains a lot. Her meow has changed. It’s a throaty meow that sounds as if she is coming down with laryngitis. She cries for food after she’s just eaten because I’m pretty sure she’s forgotten that she just ate. She’s a bit lonely. I think she still misses her siblings. With any luck Mrs. B. will be around for another few years. I hope so. Each morning I walk out the kitchen door and say, “Good morning, Mrs. B.” and she comes running from the deck to get her breakfast. I dread the day she doesn’t.

September 7, 2018

Moving on and writing again

Well, I’m finally in the mood to get back to writing – at least, I think I am. It’s been a long couple of years with enough distractions to completely throw me off whatever game I may have had. Some good things, sadly more bad things, have been keeping Tom and me up nights and running around days. But these things are settling down a bit and I feel like I can catch my breath and try to focus.
Mainly because Tom’s cousin’s house was sold last month! And Eileen herself is ensconced in a shared apartment with 24/7 help. While she is not always happy about it, she is safe, sheltered and looked after. And this is a major load off our minds.
Emptying the house was fun! I am being facetious. It was not fun. I freely admit it, Tom and I are too old for this crap. The house was dirty and dusty and there were a fair amount of mouse droppings in rather strange places, always a joy to come across. But it’s done and in the hands of some other poor schmuck who can deal with the water in the basement and the windows that won’t open. Yay!
And so, as I said, I am trying to return to writing. And I think I will begin with my list of pet peeves and just get some much-need venting out of the way. I’m clearing my mind, so to speak. And my mind could certainly use some clarity. Here we go in no order of importance whatsoever.
1 - People who back into parking spaces when they just could just pull through. I don’t understand this phenomenon, but see it all the time. A practically empty parking lot. Tons of spaces where you can just pull through to face out. But no, these people back in. Why? I would really like to ask one of them someday, but my husband fears for my life (or possibly my sanity).
2 - Bathroom stall doors that open in! Who thought this up and why? There is no room in those little spaces. We spend our time trying not to touch anything and yet to get out we must back into the toilet. It’s just yucky.
3 - Waiters who ask, “Are you finished working on that?” If they think the food they have just served you needs to be worked on, then they should just apologize for serving it. How about, “May I take your plate?” instead.
Here, I must admit that I am rather a grammar-hammer. I love the English language and it hurts to hear it used badly. So, the next few are grammar related.

4 - The use of ‘I’ when ‘me’ is correct. This misuse has become rampant. I heard our eloquent President Obama misuse it at Senator McCain’s funeral. It’s not rocket science. “Tom and I went to the store.” “Matthew went to the store with Tom and me.” When in doubt, take out the other name. ‘Matthew went to the store with I.” No, he didn’t. He went with me.
5 - ‘LIKE’ every other word.
6 - Using there’s (singular) when you mean there are (plural). Newscasters, among many others, say this all the time.
Well, now that I’ve vented and my mind is clear, I will try to come up with interesting tales of life in the slow lane to regale you with in future posts. Right now, I am running to Target run where I will certainly see someone backing into a space muttering, “It’s like real hot out there.” Wish me luck.

June 12, 2018

Forty-seven years and counting

Forty-seven years and counting. Yes, today marks forty-seven years since Tom and I exchanged vows and rings. We were incredibly young and pretty na├»ve. But we were in love and ready for our 
big adventure. 

I have to admit that after all these years there are times that I miss that crazy passion of youth when we couldn’t keep our hands off each other and everything was new. Emotions overwhelmed us. It was intoxicating and powerful.  

But then I look over at this nutty guy I've lived with for forever, belt loosened, gently snoring in his La-Z-Boy, occasionally muttering in his sleep (the other night it was something interesting about 4000 hot dogs) and I realize I wouldn’t go back there for anything. 

Because with all the passion of those first years, it’s easy to forget the angst, the hormonal ups and downs, the stupid arguments, and the tears.  

Even at its best I think marriage has a fairly sharp learning curve and we’ve certainly had our ups and downs –  births, deaths, family upheavals, illness – all the things that most of us deal with at one time or another. What we’ve learned is that simple courtesy, thoughtful timing, and keeping our mouths tightly closed lest we say something that cannot be taken back, seem to be the key to muddling through. That and remembering why we married each other in the first place.   

So, as I look over my best friend and my rock, emotion once again overwhelms me. It’s not just comfort and contentment that I feel – though I think that comfort and contentment are often under-rated – it is deep enduring love. 

Happy Anniversary, Tommy. With so much love.   

PS: Shameless promotion - for any of you who are beachbound, I will be signing books at Bethany Beach Books on Wednesday, June 20th from 6:30 to 8:30. I'd love to have you drop by.