Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spring fever recall

Today, I stole a few minutes and reminisced.

My sweet boy and I were outside, minus one fishing Daddy, and we'd been blessed with some unexpected sunshine on a rainy-forecast kind of day. Marcus was playing contentedly in his sodden sandbox, and I moved a patio chair into the sun's rays and sank blissfully into it; I leaned my head back against the top of the chair, and I allowed my eyes to close and my mind to wander.

I'd applied sunscreen earlier today, so that beachy, oily scent wafted up from my own skin as I daydreamed. With that smell, with the warmth of our loving, fire-spitting orb, I thought back to all my sun-loving moments. In a second, I am on the roof of the chicken house at my parents' home with some girlfriends, a heavier coconut scent hanging over us as we try to entice rays onto our pasty winter flesh. A radio plays songs of the hour, and we discuss recently purchased swimsuits for our band trip to Florida, and venture into the premature discussion of prom dresses. The heat of the tin roof blurs my line of vision when I look across it at my nearly naked gal-pal neighbor.

Wait, now I'm in college and we're all on a weedy hill across the road from our dorm, stretched out on blankets and baking our whiteness in the first ultraviolet evidence of spring. This time I recall the exact music: Def Leppard's Hysteria. Remember that one? We are singing along, feeling so hip and cool, talking profs and parties and plans for summer.

Suddenly, I'm a teacher in a high school classroom, and the windows are open for the first time in months and butterflies are fluttering by them and my students are asking, begging: Please, can we go outside for class today? And I tell them, Yes, of course. It's a sin to be inside today. Let's have our sustained silent reading in the school yard. We all troop outside, books in hand, and some of the books will actually be enjoyed by the light of our kind star; other volumes will be held as cover in front of sleepy, dreamy faces that simply absorb and worship. I pretend not to notice either way because, honestly, I will be the latter.

And now I'm a student again, having left my summer class in a rush to hurry to the warm, wondrous beach at Lake Erie. The waves wash ashore, again and again and again, wiping away the horror of the school year, the stifling discussions of authors and styles that take place in graduate English classrooms. I watch the clouds, the water lapping at my feet, I take a cold sip and speak aloud to myself just to hear the words swept away with such absolute insignificance that I am reassured of and by my own smallness.

Then, I'm in one of many apartment yards; I have scurried home at lunchtime from my office job, and I'm sitting in a folding lawn chair, fish-belly flesh exposed, trying to proofread check codes for a catalog while I love love love the sun streaming down on me. The breeze is warm, the birds provide the soundtrack, and I doze before glancing at my watch and rushing inside to don again the garb of professionalism. Such a silly, pointless performance except for the need of income.

Ah, the sun. Provider of warmth, of rays, origin of photosynthesis, encourager of defeated, winter-dead bodies. It has been, and will be, an ever-present wonder for me as long as I grace this globe.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Early Mother's Day present

Being the only anal-retentive, borderline-OCD person living in my home, and sharing that home with two less compulsive types, I’ve found pretty much all basic daily home maintenance to be quite challenging. Add to that the fact that our house is tiny, and you get the picture: I’m doing a lot of nagging about tidying up. Daily. Several times a day, sometimes.

To further complicate matters, with all the changes in our family's home, work, schedules, and income timetables, this past year has truly been an experience much like walking on sand dunes. Stepping, finding footing, then sliding awkwardly, stumbling. Making your way up a sand dune is quite a trial; the dune doesn’t look so high, nor does it look very steep, but don’t be fooled—it is both. Because climbing a sand dune is so difficult, a small gesture during that time means a lot. A proffered hand, a smile, a tiny sip of water. After all, little things mean so much more to you when you’re struggling.

So...ever-looming messes and housework, plus the sand dune kind of year we’ve had, results in a cranky Mel who incessantly chatters about picking up, putting away, where-does-this-belong? My boys, both big and little, are quite weary of me. They don't understand why I can't spend my days tripping over Legos and Matchbox cars, garden books and utensils, giant muddy boots and teeny soccer cleats.

The other morning, I was haranguing my son about the importance of clearing the floors, and telling him with some annoyance that I'd be vacuuming the living room while he was at preschool that day. I needed for him to clear the floor completely and make certain he'd left no tiny Lego pieces for the vacuum to eat. I had to remind him several times, as he got distracted quite easily from his pick-up tasks. When he begged to leave some of the creations he'd built on top of the Lego box, I reminded him that I needed everything up off the floor and that his many Lego creations wouldn't all fit on the box top. At that point we were hurrying to get out the door, and I recalled that his shoes were in the basement, so I grabbed our coats and we hurried downstairs to don footgear and climb into the car through the garage.

I abandoned my rant on clear floors. I drove the boy to preschool feeling sorry for myself, wondering why the entire world regarded mothers as invisible, benevolent forces to cook, shop, stock, do laundry, write lists, and vacuum. I wondered how quickly the universe would fall if mothers ceased to save the day, if they all chose to work for recognition instead of the martyr's pay of unappreciative consumption of services.

When I got home after dropping off my son, I scurried into the house, had another cuppa, and pulled the vacuum cleaner out of the closet where it lives. I plugged it in. I prepared to vacuum. And then, I saw it.

Perched in one of the living room chairs sat my son's Lego bin; piled high atop the bin's lid were all his carefully crafted little creatures. He'd balanced them all painstakingly before placing the bin in the chair. Or, perhaps he'd placed the container lid and then arranged the creations on top. It didn't matter, the details—what mattered is that he'd listened. He had heard me. He had not tuned me out, but had instead gone out of his way, in a hurried moment, to do just as I'd asked. Even though he thinks I clean too much. Even though he is oh-so-tired of my incessant whining about tidiness. He'd put the stuff where I wanted him to, even though he did not want to nor did he think it a worthy cause.

I almost wept, seeing that Lego collection placed with such care, up high.

Call me what you will, but that precise placement of Legos gave me a happy hiccup in a testy, PMS day. That small gesture was a gift from my child. Not only had he heard me, not only had he done what I'd asked, he had done it in spite of the fact that he thinks I'm silly. Now that, my friends, is true sacrifice. That box of Legos set so carefully on a chair means more than you know.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The true harbingers of spring

Not a springtime dawns without my fondly revisiting memories of Grover C. Hughes.

I can't say I ever really knew Grover, although I might have seen him many times when I was a child. He operated a little farm supply store right next to the railroad tracks in my hometown; the store sat across the street from a big, red brick feed mill.

Grover Hughes's store was a fun place to visit anytime. He had a variety of gardening tools, I believe, and of course he sold seeds; all the merchandise was arranged rather tightly on shelves that ran along the walls of the place. My memories are fuzzy; I know that it always reminded me of an old general store from ages past, sort of dark inside, everything made of wood, and the whole place contained in a long, narrow room that ran the length of the first floor of the building it inhabited. Going there was a fun diversion any time of the year.

But the most delightful part of Grover's little shop arrived with the balmy winds of the vernal equinox: on that breeze came the spring chicks.

Grover's old building featured big, deep windows on either side of the entryway, his shop's display space if you will, and that is where he kept the chicks. Because the windows were so large and level with the sidewalk, a little kid could see right into them with ease. Climbing the steps into the store afforded an equally close view, and once inside? There was no barrier other than the foot-high wooden partition that held the newly hatched babies in safety.

We had a clear view into those front window compartments, even from our family car as we drove past, and each spring we would watch for the telltale fluffy yellow window-dwellers. Then, we'd park the car and hurry in to gawk and pet.

I think I recall a few little ducklings mixed in there, too. I can't remember if we ever bought any; I don't believe we did, although I'm certain my sisters and I begged relentlessly each new hatch season. It was enough, really, just to be that close: to hear the sweet peep-peep sound those tiny creatures issued forth, to pet a tiny fluffball, to watch the beady-eyed cuties scurry around their sunlit window home.

I'm sad to say that Grover's store has stood empty for many years now, that the feed mill across the street burned to the ground some time ago; the rebuilt structure is so stubby, plain, and functional, it doesn't hold a candle to the stalwart beauty that stood in its place when I was small. Things change. Fires happen. Store owners grow old and close their doors forever.

But I still steal a glance at Grover's empty windows with a spark of hope every time I drive by that place.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My secret fantasy

I don't spend a lot of time imagining. I'm not a very imaginative person, have little to no appreciation for fantasy novels or sci-fi or strange hidden worlds with small people who may or may not be winged... I don't even play the lottery. Never have.

And yet, every now and then, my mind steals away to a little dream of mine. The dream used to come to me each time I was planning a move in my old, single days (I used to move quite a lot—apparently I tire easily of living arrangements). Nowadays, this dream usually occurs when I've found a bulky piece of furniture I want from a craigslist seller or in the IKEA as-is room. The happy dream may come to me when I'm yearning to rearrange the living room yet again, and I'm weary of dragging heavy, unyielding items across the floor. It creeps into my mind when I'm eying large yard ornaments or second-hand swingsets for my boy.

What's the dream, you ask? Why, that I'm a big, burly, not necessarily intelligent man with much strength.

A strange fantasy, you think? Well, think of it this way: I despise dependence. I try and try to be independent, self-sufficient, a strong and capable independently functioning unit. And then, I am stopped short by a base need for brutish abilities. Some task arises that I am simply inadequate to perform. I need to lift great weights, or unscrew a screw that's been put in place years ago by a much stronger person. Perhaps I just need to work on something up high, and I realize that the step stool will not even nearly suffice for my measly vertical stretch.

It's a frustrating life for a short, weak person with the agenda of a hulk.

I imagine not only the joys of being able to lift that bale and tote that load, but also the sheer glee of being able to touch ceilings and door-frames without assistance. What heady delight one must feel while hoisting something huge or loosening a tightly turned bolt. How invigorating and empowering it must be to do that sort of thing for oneself, without a single sniveling request, manipulation, or trade-off. Oh, to be the one to whom others must humble themselves when the job requires big and powerful; to be the begged, instead of the begger.

Not to mention the absolute rush I'd get just standing in a crowd and overseeing the tops of heads instead of the less-than-glamorous views of chins and nostrils.

I don't think I'd really need too much in the brains department. Incredible bulk is sort of like beauty, I believe—in the end, when technology fails, it'll be the large, strong men and beautiful women who remain. Unless nuclear clouds erupt and reduce us all to cockroach treats, those two groups will always prosper, because they will always be revered and honored.

The small, feeble idea people? Not a lot of reverence or honor coming our way. Ever. Not that I'm bitter.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Our tiny, cozy city

So, you already know I'm a craigslist addict, as I've detailed my little problem here.

I found a huge blanket chest on craigslist. I mean huge. Immense. Monstrous. Voluminous. D) All of the above. I loved it. It was too expensive for me to justify to myself and to my husband, to whom I am always delivering sermons on thriftiness.

I emailed the seller. I explained that I could use the giant chest, but could not spare the full expense of said chest. I explained that I am an artist. I sent her some snapshots of my work. (Digital, of course.)

The kind, kind woman took the bait. She lived nearby. I made a plan to stop by with selected paintings. And then, lo and behold, she turned out to be—wait for it—my blogging friend's sister.


How weird is that? My very own blogroll buddy has a sister who's selling a behemoth blanket chest, and she is actually interested in bartering for my paintings.

It gets better, people.

We made a deal, and my husband picked up the chest and brought it to our home. I arranged to take the final painting choices to the chest lady's house, so she could select her favorite. I took them there this morning. And whom should I see as I exited this lovely woman's even more lovely home? Why, an old pal from my choir days at church. She happens to live next door.

Now, how weird is that? Honestly? That we're all so strangely, inextricably connected? I know that Pittsburgh is no super-metropolitan area, but still... There are a few hundred thousand people hanging around this general region. So how come I keep bumping into familiar faces? Familiar names? Why are we all experiencing six degrees of Mel, here?

It's part of the reason that I love Pittsburgh, but also part of the reason that it freaks me out a tad. I moved here for anonymity, following a very damaging period of years spent under surveillance in a small, northwestern PA town that was so bored it investigated its single teachers to determine whom they were dating. And now, just as I'm feeling safe and unnoticed in my bigger hometown, I realize that I'm actually living in a large, clear bubble... I'm starting to see what's up. Guess I'd still better watch my back, eh?