Just Me

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Our grandson, Grady, spent time with us recently. Sitting on the living room floor next to windows overlooking a lush canyon below, he was engrossed in his toy cars. They talked, he talked back, jet planes landed in their midst and the Elmo phone babbled. As I padded silently barefoot behind him I said. “It’s just me, Grady,” so I wouldn’t startle him.

It was then I remembered a similar interaction with my dad toward the end of his life. I saw the episode play out in the rear view mirror.

After brain radiation there were numerous undesirable side effects. One was evident in Dad’s startle reflex; it became very sensitive. I could startle him even if he were looking right at me as I walked in a room. The knob turning, the sound of the door opening, the whoosh of air as one walked through might cause him to jump. Lost in his own world, emerging was sometimes a fright.

So I would say, “It’s just me, Dad,” in my most reassuring voice and settle my hands on his shoulders, trying to soften his landing into our world.

On this day, his voice strong and emphatic, he replied, “It’s never just you. Just as though it’s not someone special walking in. It’s you!” His crooked grin wide and satisfied. He’d made his point.

I knew as it happened I’d been given a gift. One that would last long after I lost him. An invaluable treasure I carefully wrapped and tucked in my heart.

From time to time I take it out and admire and touch it again, melt into my dad’s memory, and secret it back in its resting place, remembering it’s never just me. I’m special and so was he. Mostly we were special together.

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Dedicated to my dad, and Meghan McCain’s dad, too.

Sawbuck in My Pocket

I didn’t date very much in high school. Too nerdy. Spent more time with my best friend, working, shopping, listening to music, going to school. Day dreaming.

But there were occasions.

And on one such my mother stuffed a sawbuck in my pocket.

shopping

She said, “Never go on a date without money. Money means you don’t have to stay where you don’t want to be. Don’t have to rely on someone else. Don’t have to do what you don’t want. Leave.”

All these years later I always have a hidden Ben. And a credit card.

Because. It means I can leave.

Checking the rear view mirror I see Mom so serious about this. Where and how did she come to hold this so dearly? Given her generation and her Italian home with a mama who spoke broken English. Did Grandma Fanny do the same with her?

Gotta wonder.

Did Mom know about #metoo.

Meyer Lemon Pie, and My Mom

This morning’s baking adventure took me to a recipe, a flavor and texture, I haven’t experienced for years. Five for sure, because that’s how long Mom’s been gone, three before that because my folks were in assisted living, and probably three or four before that. When Mom declared she’d cook no more.

IMG_6650Her Meyer Lemon Mousse pie. Tangy to make your eyes water, smooth as my new grandson’s bum. Add a flaky crust and little dollop of sweetened whipped cream, a blackberry or blueberry garnish. Heaven. Silky heaven on a plate, served with a tart blink while taking in its beautiful, pale yellow hue.

I loved this pie and Mom would make it for my birthday and sometimes, just because.

It’s not hard to make but it’s a bit of a pain. A dozen juiced lemons. Meyers, of course, a cross between lemon and Mandarin orange. Two kinds of zests. The easy kind for the mousse and long curled threads for garnish.

A double boiler’s involved, constant stirring, an ice plunge and more stirring beforeIMG_6652 folding in whipped cream. Then the pie hits the fridge for a nice little rest.

Not difficult. Not many ingredients. Time consuming. Plenty of clean-up. Doesn’t even include the pie dough flour and fuss.

As I was making it I was also noticing the mess in my wake — which I was okay with.  Not normal for one with obsessive-compulsive personality traits. Messes not welcome.

Because it’s for my kids. Coming to dinner tonight. My kids. And after this mess will be the bigger one, fried chicken, followed by the chaos the kids bring. The noisy, loving chaos of diaper bags and baby bottles, crayons and toys, cell phones and keys, sweaters and shoes piled at the front door.

Mom must have felt that way, too. In the rear view mirror I see her standing at the stove stirring, wanting nary a lump to disrupt the velvety perfection of her lemon custard. Because it was for her daughter. She would want it just so. She would want to best her own record pie-baking prowess.

with thanks to therubygrapefruit.com – my pie is still cooling

She would have made the pie not for pie prestige or baking kudos, or even a thank you but for my smile and the gleeful words, “Mom, my favorite pie!”

In truth all of her pies were my favorite pies.

A smile and a twinkle would have been her thanks.

In the rear view mirror I see I missed that. I smiled and I thanked but I missed her key ingredients. Love, joy, and the fun of creating a delicious, little surprise. All these she added. I missed appreciating those. Many times over.

I hope you knew, Mom, when we traveled our road together.

I hope you knew it was all my favorite.

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Handshake Theory

One night after a new boyfriend offered my father a floppy handshake, Dad had a talk with me about his handshake theory.

“Always offer a firm grip. Not a tight one. You aren’t arm wrestling. Just a firm one.” Then he demonstrated what he meant with a resolute clasp.

“You’re a female so men are apt to offer a softer hand. But you still grip firmly so they know you aren’t a pushover.”

In the rear view mirror this was a pretty enlightened stance for someone of his generation. Then again, his one daughter and two sons all took turns in the household rotation of dishes and lawn mowing. No one spared or given a gender specific task.

But I know he thought I’d be an English teacher, my first brother an engineer and my little brother a professional athlete.

Par for the 1950s course.

After we practiced a couple of solid handshakes Dad sealed his deal.

“A handshake is about character, not gender. Don’t offer a fish-hand even as a woman. Show ‘em what you’re made of.”

And that’s exactly what I do.

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“If a man’s handshake is no good all the [legal] paper in the world won’t make it good.” ~ Mayor Richard J. Daley

Lessons, Blessings & Anecdotes

In the rear view mirror the road traveled looks different. Bumps seem to disappear in the distance and become merely part of scenery left behind. Funny how in the moment a dip seemed to rattle the car, and me, significantly – only to be left behind as a dusty memory.

I try to stay in the moment, in my lane, eyes fixed on the road ahead. That’s where new experiences on this trip play out. But the truth is, there’s more road behind me than left in front and where I’ve been helps me put the where, whys and hows of my journey in perspective.

Sunday afternoon I remembered a funny thing my dad said years ago and needed to tell my brother. A little bit of nothing that had us laughing together in a shared moment of amusement.

I don’t take giggles for granted. Or the stories that spawn them. Especially not my brother.

Let’s face it, lucky for us some places on the road are worth revisiting. Linger in memory. For their lessons, blessings and anecdotes.

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