Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Clothes

"In your Easter bonnet with all the frills upon it, you'll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade." Irving Berlin

The Easter dresses Mom sewed for her three daughters didn't include bonnets, but they made us feel grand. I searched for the photo today, the one with the three of us lined up on the concrete front porch, wearing our light-weight nylon dresses with tiny green flowers and a narrow ribbon sash.  Judy is the tallest---she must have been about 10, and there I am with my gap-toothed first-grader's grin and cuddly two-year-old Debbie steals the show with her "love-me-I'm yours" grin. We didn't appreciate at the time how much effort it must have taken Mom to sew three dresses in time for Easter while managing four kids—no wait, it must have been five kids---Timmy was born that year in February. But it went without saying that we had to have new clothes for Easter, the time of renewal and religious rejoicing. Oh, and the time we could start wearing our white shoes.

This is the first Easter without my mom.  She died February 24. She wanted to sing the Hallelujah Chorus in heaven, and she's got a new white Easter robe for the choir, one she didn't have to sew.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Things My Dad Taught Me

My dad taught me to drive, even demonstrating what to do when the car ran out of gas—he walked to town for help. Later at home in the garage, our heads together under the hood of the family car, he instructed me on the basic parts of the engine.  He pointed out the crucial difference between the radiator cap and the oil cap, noting that oil and water just don't mix.  He showed me how to read the oil dipstick and where to add the cleaning mixture for the windshield wipers.  He wiggled the spark plugs, demonstrating how to check if they had worked loose.  "If the car won't start, it might be the battery posts are corroded. You can pour Coke over 'em to clean 'em." After the basic instruction he had one last tidbit for me.  "If your horn ever starts honking and won't stop, all you have to do is pull this plug here."  Through the years the car care tips I learned from him became part of the knowledge I used without thinking. 

One Sunday afternoon forty years later I drove several of my girlfriends up into the New Mexico mountains to look at an area where my husband and I were considering buying a home.  We climbed the rolling hills through piñon pine trees and cactus, driving each street of the small rural subdivision.  The last street ended in a turn-around cul-de-sac. Occupying that secluded spot was a house that wasn't as tidy as the rest of the homes in the subdivision. It needed paint and a few nails to bolster sagging porch rails.  Three cars in various states of disrepair lounged in the front yard.  Taking the place of pride parked right by the front door was a monster pickup truck with a gun rack mounted in the rear window.

As we neared the top of the hill and the turn-around, my car's horn started to honk. No, no, I don't want to attract attention right here in front of this place.  The horn wouldn't stop.  A pot-bellied thirty-something guy wearing a white ribbed undershirt and carrying a shotgun came barreling out of the house.  This was not a good time for my horn to be honking.  I knew what to do but didn't want to stop at this spot to fix the problem.  Holding my breath, I turned the car around.  Don't look at him.  I hope he sees we are harmless.  I drove down the hill as fast as its curves would allow.  Finally back at the highway, I parked on the gravel shoulder, opened the hood, thanked my dad for his instruction, and pulled the plug on the horn.

What did your dad teach you?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


1957. Long Lake, Minnesota. Mom's polished maple table, sturdy, homely center of my meat and potatoes life. Clichés of "Leave It To Beaver" murmur behind our family conversation. We talk about high school graduation, college plans, Sputnik and the Space Race, the threat of Communism. I'm seventeen; I believe it's irresponsible to explore space while we still practice racial discrimination on our planet. I think Totalitarianism is as threatening to Capitalism as the chasing dog is to the passing car.

1968. Hokkaido, Japan. A shiny black lacquered table presents fourteen tiny covered porcelain dishes. I sit cross-legged on the tatami mat and sip hot sake. Japanese businessmen practicing English for a trip to Chicago ask if I remember Hiroshima, and, do I think Japan should support the U.S. in Vietnam? I'm twenty-eight, what I know about the bomb comes from the searing images in John Hersey's book. No, I don't support the U.S. in Vietnam; I would not encourage involvement by the Japanese or anyone else in any war at any time.
1977. Tehran, Iran. A circle of Isfahan cloth protects the luxurious thickness of Persian carpets piled deep. My host sips scalding tea through a sugar cube held between his front teeth. He pauses to extol the virtues of everything American and to decry the recent assassinations of U.S. citizens in Tehran. He stops abruptly, mid-sentence, as his oldest daughter glides past the open doorway. She is covered completely in shapeless white, the garb of a fundamentalist neophyte. She turns her face away, loathe to look upon the infidel. I'm thirty-seven; I read the father's face and body. His daughter's dedication to dogma alienates and worries him. I wonder if my small children will someday embrace beliefs the opposite of mine.

1988. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I'm seated on the dais, plucking at invisibles on the starched white tablecloth, nervous about the after-dinner speech I'm about to deliver in Spanish to a crowd of expectant faces. This dinner celebrates the culmination of a year's effort to select and prepare rural Dominican scholarship recipients for two years of college in the States. I'm forty-eight; I know that some of these idealistic and patriotic young men and women will fail. I wish all of them could complete their two years of study abroad and return to make a significant contribution to their home villages.

1997. Roswell, New Mexico. A seat at my dining room table affords a clear view of activity outside the house across the street. A swarm of videographers crowds the gate to the back yard. My neighbor isn't there to answer their questions. They want to see the place where pieces of the crashed UFO were buried fifty years ago. I'm fifty-seven; I don't believe a UFO crashed here, although I would welcome the arrival of friendly extraterrestrials who could tell us how to fix the mess we're in. TIME Magazine announces gleefully that materialism drives Gen Xers. Not good news to me.

2008. Albuquerque, New Mexico. There's no room on my table for dinner. I spread my projects there and eat in the kitchen. I'm sixty-eight and I want the world to be a better place for my grandchildren. I'm sick of listening to the empty promises of power-mad politicians. I read Ekhart Tolle and contemplate my place in the evolution of the human race.