Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Anniversary Cake -- Judgment

“Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.”

Any man and woman who put up with one another for 50 years deserve a party.  My sister, Holly, and I agreed that was especially the case with our mom and dad, who had eloped during World War II after a one-month courtship, skipping all the non-essential trappings of a wedding—like guests, a reception and a honeymoon.  They'd had their honeymoon to Hawaii after they had grandkids, but they'd never had a wedding reception. Now, we reasoned, they could have the party they couldn't afford when they were barely 21 and not quite 18.

So we rented the hall, booked the band, ordered the hors d'oeuvres and sent the invitations.  Holly, a professional caterer, would drive up a few days early and use my kitchen to bake and decorate a special cake to take the place of the wedding cake they'd never had.  It was going to be beautiful. (Bad judgment call #1.)

I had only one oven, strictly amateur-sized, so the cake had to be baked in shifts.  Holly started early in the morning, reasoning that although May in Illinois is usually cool, because I didn't have central air, there was no point taking chances.  She'd get a jump on the sun.

It was the hottest May 13 on record.

As layers and layers of cake accumulated on the dining room table, heat accumulated in the kitchen, spilled out into the dining room and started to intrude on the living room.  All the windows were open and fans running. 

My sister is a trooper.  She worked on until she had a multi-layered tower with roses filling the top, spilling over the edge and down one side.  Then the icing, turned into sweet lava by the sun pouring in the glass patio doors and the heat pouring out of the oven, began to flow.

"Let's put it in the basement," I suggested.  "It'll be a lot cooler down there."

We carried it carefully down the stairs into the cool, dark quiet and placed it on a fold-up table in the middle of the room.  The icing firmed up, my sister repaired the sags, and we shut the door and went back upstairs, relieved that it had worked out so well and we could now finish up the rest of the preparations for the big party the next day.

But before we could continue our work, we decided that my sister's dog, who'd spent the morning shut in the guest bedroom, needed to get some exercise, not to mention relief.  Thumper was a docile, friendly little dog who seemed sublimely ignorant of the fact that some of his ancestors had been bred to subdue stubborn bulls.  He coexisted happily in my sister's house with three cats, a rabbit and a bird.

My dog, Vargi, was a golden ball of fluff with a curled, feathery tail and a little pug nose who was the sweetest, most enthusiastic, most affectionate dog you'd ever want to meet.

With people.

When other dogs approached, she morphed into a hairy pit bull.  That's why Thumper had been in the bedroom, which, judging from his stretching and yawning when we let him out, hadn't been especially taxing for him.

We kept them apart and made Vargi be, if not nice, at least distantly aggressive.  Then, when my husband came home from whatever errand he had been on, we went to do our chores, instructing him to "watch the dogs." (Bad judgment call #2.)

When I returned about 15 minutes later, I saw Thumper in the back yard and no sign of Vargi.

"Where's Vargi?" I asked.

"She wouldn't leave Thumper alone, so I threw her into the basement."

"The basement!" I shrieked.  "That's where the cake is!"

I ran down the stairs, nearly crashing through the door at the bottom, my husband only a step behind me.

It was too late.  Vargi sat there looking up at us innocently through the bangs that nearly obscured her big brown eyes, daintily licking her pink nose and protruding lower teeth. Nearly too small to reach the table top, she had nevertheless taken a large doggy bite out of one side of the bottom layer of the cake.

I broke the news to my sister when she returned a few minutes later.  "The bad news is" I said, explaining how the dog and the cake had come to be in the basement together.  "But the good news is, she's a small dog, so it's not a very big bite."

She gave me "the look," rolling her dark eyes at me the way she had when we were kids and I'd said something she considered typically big-sisterish. Then she sighed and went down to inspect the damage.

"You're right," she finally admitted.  "I can fix it so no one will ever know.  We can put this side in the front because we'll be cutting from the back, and we can just work around it. (Bad judgment call #3.) But Mom and Dad will have a cow."

"They never need to know," I said softly, with a wink, “and neither does anyone else.” (Bad judgment call #4.)

And they never did—until they read this essay several years later.

And neither did the person who, in spite of all our efforts, cut himself a big piece of cake from the center of the dog bite. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Dirty Old Woman

Dirty Old Woman

OK—so I’m fortyish and soft in all the right places
To be instantly identified as someone’s lovely mother,
Well endowed with all the good housewifely graces.
And I am.

OK—so I’ve been married for twenty-four good years
To the same dark-haired man who thrilled my twenties.
You might even wonder if I’m as contented as I appear.

Well, I am.

OK—so when that tall and sun-tanned youth goes jogging by,
You wonder if I’m turning my head to watch his rippling muscles,
Especially when you see that certain sparkle in my eye.
You bet I am!

Just because my own flower garden fulfills all my wishes
For beautiful bouquets to pick and carry home with me,
Can’t I still admire the blossoms growing on my neighbor’s bushes?
You bet I can!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Year Ago Today--And Ten

Hubby was not happy. He isn’t that crazy about travel, and this time I was dragging him onto an airplane for an eight-hour flight across the ocean to a foreign country. For me, it was the trip of a lifetime, the vacation I’d waited 20 years to take. We were on our way to Scotland.

Neither Hubby nor I care much for cities. He’s interested in geology and astronomy, and I’m interested in archeology and anthropology. So while we’d be passing through Heathrow Airport, it was all of London we’d see. We’d spend the night in Glasgow, then go to a lovely estate where we’d learn about the archeology, geology, ecology and history of the northern Highlands. It was going to be wonderful.

So we boarded this HUGE airplane for the overnight flight. We walked past the really cool seats that were separated by privacy screens so you could lay them down flat and sleep comfortably. We walked past the seats with ample room to stretch out and take productive naps. We wound up in the seats with barely enough room to squeeze between the rows. And the woman in front of me was determined to make the most of the reclining feature, slight as it was.

Intellectually, I knew that timewise, Scotland is six hours ahead of us. I didn’t internalize that knowledge until we were served breakfast at midnight. I had dozed off and on for about four hours. We landed, and ligaments popped and cracked as we climbed out of our seats to a bright and cheery morning of once again going through security—this time in a miasma of sleep deprivation. We were not to get to rest until nine o’clock.  We had no trouble falling asleep at what was 3 in the afternoon CDT. The next day, on September 11, we boarded a bus with the other members of our tour and rode to Aigas Field Center near Beauly, where we’d be based for the next two weeks.

(It got better, as you’ve read in an earlier blog, “Growing Wild.” I hope to write even more about that at a later date. Hubby, however, has told me, “If we can’t get there by car, I don’t want to go.” I’ve told him I’ll miss him.)

And like most of the writers who participate in GBE2, I feel a need to say a few words about this day ten years ago.

I was at a worldwide conference for communicators who worked for the company where I was employed. Attendees did indeed come from all over the world. I remember meeting a woman from Russia, another from Brazil, and men and women from all over the U.S., and I didn’t even get to meet all of them. I was just getting ready to go into a talk being given by a former manager of mine. As I passed the televisions in the hotel lobby, I noticed people standing around them, so I stopped to watch what was going on. I don’t think any of us could really believe what we were seeing.

Those who had come from other countries knew they were going to have an extended stay, and a couple didn’t get home for more than a week. Americans who had flown in were stranded for several extra days. The facility where I worked was only about an hour and a half drive from the conference location, and I had a full tank of gas, so I knew I could get home later that day. And thanks to technology, I was in touch with both my office and my husband almost immediately and continuously until I did.

Later I would watch videos of people leaping from the top floors of the Twin Towers to their deaths to escape the flames. That is the image of that day that will be forever burned into my memory. But even more deeply burned into my memory is the moment when, standing in front of those televisions with my co-workers, I realized that the entire world paradigm had just….shifted.