Writer Wednesday: What Makes a Romantic Date?

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My idea of a romantic date? What’s a date? Oh, yeah, I remember. Vaguely. It’s been a long time. But we’re talking about ideas here, right? So I’d vote for a good meal and a long conversation.

That’s not exactly how my first date with Jack went, several decades ago.

We’d met, at least enough to nod and say hello, in an 8 AM anthropology class at Florida State. It was a graduate level class. I was a senior and had the prerequisites to be there. Jack was a junior (although he was twenty years older than me, a returning student) and didn’t belong in the class. I have no idea how he managed to register, but he could talk his way into (or out of) just about anything.

I think the class was Ethnology 401, rather sleep-inducing at that hour, and I paid very little attention to the students around me. Jack noticed me, but when he decided to look me up, he ran into a problem. My name wasn’t spelled like it sounded, and he couldn’t find me through the registrar’s office. So one day he followed me home from school. Today that sounds like stalking, but back then it was funny, not strange or scary.

I’m sure we talked a bit, maybe had a coke or something, but our first date was a visit to the North Florida State Fair. That was fine with me—junk food, animals, carnival rides, the fair had it all.

We started out by getting in the wrong line. For everything. No matter where we were, the other lines moved faster. But what the heck, it was a lovely fall night, and we were in no hurry. We wandered around, admiring enormous hogs and baby lambs, and watching the other people, as many local folk as students. We ate junk food. We went on carnival rides.

I love carnival rides (well, I did back then—it’s been quite a while), the music, the feeling of flying through the air. I didn’t find out until much later than Jack hated them. While I was soaring through the heavens, he was frantically examining the structure, looking for loose bolts or tie bars about to fail.

We topped off the evening with a flat tire on the way home, on a country road with no artificial light and a moon that insisted on hiding behind passing clouds. Good thing Jack was driving a little two-seater Fiat at the time. I watched him change the tire while I held a cigarette lighter to illuminate the detail work.

Jack, circa 1992It probably says something about our marriage that in later years he watched me change a tire or two. That first date may not have been traditionally romantic, but it was the beginning of a relationship that lasted thirty-three years, until Jack died in 2002. We must have gotten something right, to share all those Valentine’s Days.

For more Wednesday Writers and their ideas of Romantic Dates, visit Tamra Baumann, Priscilla Oliveras, Shelly Alexander, Sharon Wray, Jean Willett, KD Fleming, and Wendy La Capra.

The Debut of Writer Wednesdays

A few weeks ago a group Firebirds (2012 Golden Heart finalists) decided to get together for a year-long blog party: one Wednesday a month we’ll all write on the same topic, a bit of show-and-tell about our lives. To start off this month, we’re writing about weddings, in honor of Firebird sister Kat Cantrell’s double release of wedding-themed stories. To visit the rest of my blogging sisters, see the Writer Wednesday Blogs list on the right, and check out Kat’s new books and the schedule of future posts below.

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April’s theme is Tell us a highlight of your wedding day. The highlight of mine was probably that it came together at all, when and where it did.

When Jack and I decided to spend Christmas of 1969 in the suburbs of Miami with my parents, we weren’t planning (if you could even call our vague talk on the subject planning) to get married until the following summer, when Jack would graduate from Florida State and move to New Orleans, where I was attending grad school at Tulane. But as soon as my mother heard that idea, she decided we should get married right away, so she’d be sure to be there. (She wasn’t far off on that—some years later my brother was married by a justice of the peace in the Lafayette Parish Courthouse; my parents and I were not there.)

So we bowed to the inevitable, arriving shortly before Christmas and marrying on the evening of the 29th. My mother made me a dress (dark green and very short), Jack found a suit somewhere, and my parents’ back fence neighbors, who owned a small bakery, made us a cake. The church was still decorated for Christmas, all red and green. My best friend, Claudia, was home from Brooklyn for the holidays, as were several of my college buddies. Jack found an acquaintance to act as best man (I think his name was Paul, but I’d have to dig out the paperwork to be sure). My brother, who was about sixteen at the time, was the altar boy.

I lost Jack in 2002, but to this day I have a yellowed clipping on one of my bulletin boards: The success of a marriage is inversely proportional to the amount spent on the wedding. Worked for us, for thirty three years.

 

FROM EX TO ETERNITY:
Bride: Cara, wedding dress designer
Marital Status: Jilted at the altar
Action Required: Revenge on the runaway groom
From Ex To EternityTwo years after waiting at the altar for Keith Mitchell, Cara isn’t ready to meet him again, much less work with him as the consultant on her bridal fashion show! For his part, a misunderstanding sent him running, but now that he knows the truth, and they’re spending long days working together, he wants her back in his bed. Will Cara use their passion to gain the ultimate revenge? Let the newlywed games begin.

Buy Links:  Amazon   B&N   |   Apple   |   Kobo  |   Google

FROM FAKE TO FOREVER
Bride: Meredith, soon-to-be co-owner, wedding dress business
Marital Status: Victim, Vegas wedding mix-up
Action Required: Divorce, ASAP
From Fake to ForeverAfter one night of tequila and sex, their impromptu Vegas wedding shouldn’t be valid. But Meredith Chandler-Harris just discovered she’s still tied to irresistible businessman Jason Lynhurst. She needs out of their marriage, but to become his company’s new CEO, he needs her as a bride. Let the newlywed games begin.

Buy Links:  Amazon   |   B&N   |   Apple   |   Kobo  |   Google

 

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Department of Domestic Mysteries

We’ve had a beautiful day today here near Galveston Bay, and I’ve spent much of it catching up on yard work. We rarely have snow here, maybe once every few years, but the drifts of fallen leaves never seem to go away, no matter how often we rake. This morning I went out and mowed my front lawn, more to knock down weeds and mulch leaves than to cut the grass, which really hasn’t grown much in the last few weeks. I stopped in mid-mow to cut the vegetation growing up around a big tree stump, and stuffed a fifty-five gallon leaf bag three quarters full. I left the bag in the rolling trash can on my driveway while I went inside to change from a sweatshirt to a tee shirt and get a drink of water.

When I came back out ten minutes later, the bag was empty. I looked around, scratched my head, and wondered if I was a candidate for the nearest memory care center. There was the bag, in the can, where I had left it in the middle of the driveway, without so much as a twig in it. Finally I realized—at least I hope this is the explanation—that today was trash day (I put mine out on Tuesday, but rarely on Friday). The trash guys must have emptied the bag into their truck while I was in the house, leaving the bag in the can.

Either that or the compost goblins carried my clippings off.

A couple of days ago, when I got home and looked through the usual list of “out of area” and “unavailable” calls on my Caller ID, I found one from Jack C. Hudson at my own phone number. (Shades of that old horror movie: get out! the call is coming from inside the house!) This struck me as particularly creepy, since Jack died in 2002, but I’ve never changed the name on the account. I’m sure I would have been more uneasy if the same thing hadn’t happened to a friend recently. Here’s an interesting article about why (but not how) telephone scammers do this: Why Is My Own Phone Number Calling Me?

This morning I answered the phone out of curiosity when the Caller ID showed an actual name and phone number (albeit in New York City) instead of the usual “out of area” or “unavailable.” After all, I do get an occasional phone call, and NYC is always tempting. Maybe some desperate editor or agent is searching for me. Not likely, but still . . .

Anyway, when I answered this one, a fellow with a distinct accent informed me he was from Windows Technical Department, and he wanted to help me with my computer problem. I, of course, don’t have a computer problem, at least not one I’m looking for help with, and how would he have known, anyway? Not to mention the fact that I’ve heard this guy’s voice before, when I answered the same call at work, where we pretty much have to answer the telephone. I’m no IT expert, but I didn’t fall off the turnip truck last week, either. Someone must fall for these calls, I guess, or they wouldn’t be so common. Here’s an entertaining piece by someone with enough techno-smarts to scam the scammers: Scamming Fake Microsoft Support Scammers. And by the way, I looked up the phone number that fooled me into answering: the number and name were that of a restaurant in New York City, but I very much doubt they had anything to do with the call. Just another example of phone number spoofing.

So be careful when you answer the phone, and watch out for those compost goblins.

In Which I Excavate the Cedar Closet

Yesterday I was struck by one of those random housecleaning impulses, and I decided to shovel out my cedar closet. The house was built in the 1950s, and the lining of the closet hasn’t actually smelled like cedar (or anything else) in a long time, but it’s big, and I’ve developed an unfortunate tendency to throw things in and close the door.

I suppose it was opening that door recently that made me think of the project. I’ve been making an effort to get rid of stuff I don’t need, and the mess on the floor of the cedar closet certainly qualified. I knew my suitcases were in there, and assorted seldom-worn clothing, and my college steamer trunk, which I’ve been dragging around since the late 1960s.

I started with my luggage, an inexpensive three piece set I bought in 2011 because I flatly refused to touch, much less open, any of the near-antique suitcases in the attic. My new luggage was designed to be nested—the tote bag into the small suitcase into the larger one—instant neat.

BagsThen I started pulling out the other bags. Tote after tote.  Some of them with logos, subscriber gifts from magazines. Others with zippers and compartments and shoulder straps, the sort of thing Jack brought home regularly. One full-size duffel bag. Two salesmen’s sample cases belonging to Jack (who never sold anything involving samples). Several backpacks left from our years of archeological survey work. One tote, still wrapped in plastic, from Roi Namur in the Marshall Islands, a souvenir from one of Jack’s trips. Two wheeled luggage carriers for all those wheel-less suitcases in the attic.

Also scattered on, under, or between all those tote bags were one bedspread (wrong color), one mattress pad (not needed on my new bed), one reading pillow, a red and green storage container full of Christmas decorations (unopened for several years), and one Army surplus canteen. And, sitting on the steamer trunk, one small TV set.

Once I’d hauled all that out and swept the floor, I attacked the clothes. I’d found one box of forgotten pullover tops on the floor, and hanging on the racks I found several dresses I haven’t worn in ten years; eight shirts that belonged to Jack; seven coats or jackets, only one of which had been out of the closet this winter; two hanging organizers (each half full of sweaters, scarves, hats and gloves, none of which had been out of the closet this winter); and assorted pullovers, sweaters and sweatshirts.

Now I arrived at the shelves, where I found one VHS player/recorder of unknown age and condition. Three handbags I will never use again, and two remarkable ugly clutch purses. One empty Tiffany & Company box—I have no idea what it once contained, or why I saved it. One bonnet style hair dryer, once needed for a hair style I haven’t worn in years. One Christmas wreath (plastic). Six empty magazine storage boxes, migrants from a previous cleaning episode. Hats. Lots of hats, spilling out of a carton. Jack collected hats. One large carton containing Jack’s childhood stamp collection. Two guitars and one small accordion, which Jack never learned to play, despite the rudimentary instruction book with it. And one beekeeper’s veil.Bee Keeper

When I finally made it back to the steamer trunk, I found it full of knitting and needlework supplies. And tote bags.

Most of the tote bags are on their way to the trash, although I kept the one from the Marshall Islands. I have more totes in my office than I will ever need, including three from RWA conferences and half a dozen from various charities. Much of the clothing has been packed to donate, although I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of Jack’s shirts (most of which I made for him, from fabric he chose), and I kept more coats and jackets than I need in this climate. I combined the two sweater organizers and threw one out—the other goes as soon as I buy some plastic storage bins.

The closet isn’t empty, but it’s neat. I can see the floor. There’s more to do. The hats I’ll have to sort through—a few have some sentimental value. The needlework supplies in the steamer trunk can sit for a while; the luggage carts are in the garage. I’ll get rid of a lot of what’s left, eventually.

But I’m keeping the canteen. And the beekeeper’s veil. You just never know when you might need such things.

 

Cleaning the House With a Shovel

Last evening I spent half an hour looking for my corkscrew.  I was sure I had one, a old-fashioned wooden model, and judging from all that I found in my kitchen while I wasn’t finding the corkscrew, I haven’t thrown out a utensil or appliance of any kind since I moved into this house in 1976.

Understand that I rarely cook.  I’m actually a perfectly competent cook, or I was when I had someone else to cook for.  But I’ve lived alone, except for pets who prefer their dinner straight out of the can, for eleven years.  I’ve pretty much gotten out of the habit of using anything but the microwave and, once in a while, the glass cooktop.  The wall oven hasn’t worked in years.

I have in my kitchen four toasters.  One lives on the sink, where I use it once a week or so.  The other three are in various cupboards, and I have no idea (a) why I replaced them or (b) why I kept them.  I have two blenders, and I haven’t blended a thing in years–I think we had them mainly for mixing exotic drinks involving fruit and rum.  There’s a toaster oven, too, and various small baking tins that fit inside it.  All these hide in a cabinet that I rarely open, along with several dog dishes and accessories.  I haven’t had a dog in about four years.

In the bottom of the pantry, along with one of the toasters and a couple of gallons of very old water, is a coffeemaker that hasn’t been used since Jack drank his last cup some eleven years ago.  In another cupboard I spotted a very large electric frying pan and an electric wok.  I’m pretty sure there are a couple of full-size crockpots somewhere; I know there is a small, never-been-used one in a dish cupboard.  I bought that because it was so cute.  Maybe this winter I’ll get around to buying a very small pot roast to cook in it.

Above the defunct wall oven is a cupboard where I keep the paper towels.  It also contains a few back-up dish towels, half a dozen forgotten paper cups, and the last unused Sham-wow.  Way in the back I spotted three thermos jugs and an authentic metal saltine cracker tin, left from a long-ago career doing archeological surveys (ditto the shovels in the garage and two Marshalltown trowels in my gardening tools, but that’s a whole different inventory).  Under the oven I found a whistling tea kettle (I don’t drink tea, either) and a couple of folding Sterno stoves, probably left from some long-ago hurricane adventure.

The cupboard under the cooktop is full of pots and pans.  The Corning Ware pots and casseroles were mostly wedding presents.  I was married in 1969.  There’s a large collection of frying pans with non-stick coatings in various states of deterioration.  The only one I use in an Orgreenic pan I bought last year (I love it–it cooks evenly, the handle really does stay cool, and it’s easy to clean, although the food’s never gonna slide out the way it does on the TV commercials).  Somewhere back there is a pot big enough to deep-fry a turkey in, not that I would ever dream of doing such a thing, and a couple of those blue enamel roasting pans.

Looking for the corkscrew, I pulled a cardboard box out of one cupboard and found enough knives to open a butcher shop.  Where did they come from?  Why are they still there?  Along with at least four rice cookers of varying designs, a stack of wooden cutting boards (I only use plastic–much easier to clean), and the ice cube bucket and soda can holder from a refrigerator that died five years ago.

This mess is not entirely my fault (although I have no one else to blame for not throwing it out).  Jack was a good cook, although like many men he saved his efforts for special occasions, when he would used half the contents of the kitchen preparing his feasts, and when my mother came to live with us she brought a lot of kitchen goodies along (which is why I have two sets of silverware and three of dishes).

I really need to shovel out the kitchen cupboards.  And the garage.  And my clothes closets–I’m running low on hangers.  I wonder if I can rent a small dumpster for a couple of months.  Or leave milk and cookies out for the trash men.

Wine bottleBut I did eventually solve the corkscrew problem.  No, I still haven’t found the old one.  I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond for a new one.  Fortunately while I was there enjoying the wall of kitchen and bar goodies (the place is a toy store!), I also bought a wine bottle stopper, because I broke the cork when I used the new corkscrew tonight to open the bottle I bought Friday.  The wine is delicious.

 

 

 

Music and Memory

I enjoy music, but I’m definitely not a musician.  I can’t sing, and Jack used to tell me I even hummed off-key, although I seldom realized I was humming at all.  I guess I fall somewhere between my parents in this.  My dad played the saxophone and clarinet in high school and college (with a band that entertained at, he used to say, “bar mitzvahs and Polish weddings” in the Milwaukee area).  When I was a little girl, he bought and played a Hammond organ (I just looked that up on line, and it was quite a splurge back in the 1950s), and I learned to pick out a few simple pieces on it, but I had no musical talent.

However, unlike my mother, who had a tin ear and never understood any of the jokes in the recordings of P.D.Q. Bach, I do appreciate music, and I’m often surprised at the memories and emotions a song from the past can trigger.  Over the last week or ten days it’s been music from the 1960s, the decade I spent in high school and college.  I’m sure the music of that decade means much the same to me as Big Band Music (which I also like) meant to Jack, who was twenty years my senior.

A few weeks ago, some passing brainwave reminded me of the countless evenings my friends and I spent in the coffeehouses of Coconut Grove, Florida, in the mid-sixties, and I went looking on Amazon for my favorite album from that era, Tear Down the Walls, by Vince Martin and Fred Neil.  Somewhere in the house, I’m sure, I still have my battered copy of the original LP (remember those?  black vinyl discs about a foot across, in cardboard sleeves?), but it’s been many years since I had a functioning turntable (remember those?  I still have no idea why running a needle along a groove in the black plastic produces sound, but then I don’t actually know how a tape cassette or a CD works either.  Might as well call it magic.).

Anyway, I found the album reissued on CD at a ridiculously low price, and ordered it.  When it arrived a week or so ago, I hadn’t heard the songs, or the voices, in many years, but playing the disc  took me right back to those nights long ago, and sent me snooping around the Internet.  Fred Neil, who was probably the better known half of the team back in the day, died some years ago, but Vince Martin is still alive and (I hope) well, about ten years older than I am, which would have put him in his late twenties back when we thought he was–well, we were teenage girls.  You can imagine what we thought.

I’m no musicologist, but I think those years back in the 60s saw the transformation of old traditional folk music through protest songs into what would become folk rock.  Tear Down the Walls has some traditional songs and some protest tracks that seem, today, very rooted in the 60s, but I enjoyed them all.  Somewhere in that collection of moldering LPs, I have Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, Buffy Sainte Marie and Ian & Sylvia, but Martin & Neil were the ones I saw and heard live, and their album is special.

The 60s theme went on through this past week.  On the anniversary of the March on Washington the other day, I found myself brought nearly to tears by a story on PBS about the history of “We Shall Overcome.”  When I tried to sing along (in the privacy of my car), I choked up.

Today’s memory was happier: another PBS story about the recording of “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas.  I was sure I had a copy of that somewhere, and when I got home I hunted through my CD collection.  Most of my CDs are stored in a tower in a darkish corner behind a closet door, mostly classical albums, some jazz and rock, and I was pretty sure I was looking for a two volume anthology of 1960s girl groups.  Even with a flashlight, I couldn’t find the discs, but there were more places to look: on a bookshelf (mostly classical), in a wooden box that once held computer floppy discs (mostly rock), in a box on the table (mostly jazz), a few near my computer, and another handful in my car (mostly rock anthologies, good road trip music).

I finally found the Girl Groups, in the Dark Tower, under a small stack of holiday music, and I played them through my computer this afternoon.  The music and beat are still fun, but I was mildly appalled by some of the lyrics (mostly variations on “oh, my world revolves around my boy friend”).  I enjoyed the retro-concert, but I never did find “Dancing in the Streets.”  I’d swear it’s here somewhere . . .

 

Farewell to the Pool

When Jack and I moved into this house in 1976, the swimming pool in the backyard was lagniappe.  We loved the house, and it came with a pool, so there we were.  Even though we moved here from Florida, neither of us had ever owned a pool, or we might have kept on house hunting.

It was a nice little pool, tucked on one side of our fairly large lot, kidney-shaped and no more than five feet deep, with a concrete deck and steps at the shallow end.  We enjoyed sitting in it, paddling around, swimming a little bit, although it was never really well suited for actual laps.  Albert, the basset hound who owned us in those days, knew his legs were not meant for swimming and refused to join us in the water, but he was happy to sit on the deck and attempt to lick us dry when we got out.  Among the many quirky things about the house was the half bath meant to serve the pool.  It had a sink and a shower.  No toilet.  That is not my idea of a bathroom, half or whole, and it has long since been converted to a storage closet.

Somehow I was in charge of pool maintenance, a job I hated passionately.  Cleaning the pool, running the pump, trekking to the pool supply store with the water sample bottle, battling algae.  Never my idea of fun, but a pool service was financially out of our reach.  One memorable summer a mallard hen with a limp got tired of migrating and settled in the pool.  Ducks have no respect for sanitary arrangements.  They will poop on anything, anywhere.  And the poor creature fell in love with Albert, a passion she expressed by nipping at his toes.  The poor dog would stick his head out the back door and look for her before he ventured out, until we finally caught her and took her over to an established flock on Galveston Bay where she was last seen limping valiantly away from several interested drakes.

A few years after we settled here, my parents moved from south Florida to a nearby neighborhood, and my dad loved the pool.  I’d hear a car door slam in the driveway and look out the kitchen window to see him in an open shirt and his favorite (and hideously ugly) harlequin patterned knit swim trunks.  He was the one who tried covering the pool for the winter, succeeding mainly in trapping water and leaves on the tarp and fooling poor Albert into stepping off the edge of the pool onto what looked like a solid surface.  (No dogs were ever harmed in this pool, but in Albert’s case it was a near thing.)  My mother, as far as I remember, never put so much as a toe in the water, not even when she lived with us for a couple of years after my dad passed away.

Albert the basset hound eventually crossed the Rainbow Bridge, and we were claimed by Fred the pit lab (the offspring of a smallish labrador retriever and an unidentified traveling sales dog), whose two favorite things in the world were tennis balls and the swimming pool.  Combine the two and you got a dog who would chase a ball from one end of the pool to the other until he could barely crawl up the steps and out of the water, exhausted but happy.  Evenings in the pool with Jack and Fred made the maintenance work worthwhile.

But over the years the pool, built sometime in the 1960s, began to deteriorate.  I kept it up as best I could even after Jack passed away, although Sandy the scruff terrier, Fred’s successor, refused to join me in the water.  Keeping it clean became ever more a battle, thanks to leaky plumbing and a faltering filter system.

Shortly before this area was hit by Hurricane Ike in the fall of 2008, the technicians refilling the filter tank damaged the electrical line to the pump; one morning I realized it was smoking.  By this time the plumbing was so unreliable that I never knew where I’d find water in the yard, and the deck was cracked and tilted.  And then the hurricane hit, and I said to myself, I’ll have it fixed next spring.

Or the next spring.  Or the next.

So I’ve known for years that the pool was doomed.  A habitat for mosquitoes, frogs, and the occasional heron doesn’t really belong in the suburbs.  I wavered between rehab and removal, and finally decided I never wanted to deal with pool maintenance again.  But pool removal is expensive, and I put it off until my insurance carrier finally gave me an ultimatum.

Demolition begins tomorrow morning.

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