A Christmas Story

Bundled in our winter coats my Grandfather, Mother, Father,  Sister, and I ate our Christmas meal at a rickety card table, built for two, in the breezeway of the 1930s farmhouse. There was a lot of laughter as we learned more of my grandfather’s youthful indiscretions. Our laughter drowned out the the sounds of my Step-Grandmonster’s disgruntled family eating by the fire in the expansive living room. No one could ignore when Step-Grandmonster’s daughter Gretchen started shouting. While her family quickly tried to appease the latest fit of anger, my exiled family continued our Christmas celebrations. We knew the catalyst for the Gretchen’s anger-my mother.

Gretchen was the matriarch of her family from the tender age of three, it was a role she played her entire life, surpassing her older sister,  and her own mother. The second of four girls she was a social climber. She married well and flaunted the wealth around her small town by driving expensive cars and wearing the latest fashions not found at the local Walmart or Goody’s. She was a middle-aged white woman with bleach blonde hair styled into an Afro. Oftentimes, there was a small bow (baby pink) tackily placed on the side of the ridiculous hairdo. Her constant bitter attitude began when her banker husband was convicted of fraud and served time.

Gretchen ruled a family of misfits. Her mother and father were cousins, her elder sister was legally blind, her daughter had not come out of the closet as a lesbian (we all knew) and her son was a rogue police officer. She had a more difficult time running the lives of her younger sisters and their children. Her two younger sisters were caring people that did not meet the mold of what Gretchen expected sisters to represent. The siblings were often ridiculed and excluded.

Not long after my Grandmother died of lung cancer, my Grandfather often returned to his hometown. He moved away eight years prior to live across the street and enjoy the youth of my sister and me. After my Grandmother’s  death he was filled with guilt, because he was heavy smoker. He also suffered the grief of a widower married forty-nine years to the love of his life. During his hometown visits he reconnected with childhood friends. Together they reminisced fondly regarding the exploits of their youth. Meanwhile, my Grandfather’s visits to town were broadcast on the Widows Alert Network. Elderly widows know to not wait long after the body is in the ground before offering their food, home, and emotional comfort.  A few months after my Grandmother died a local widow befriended my gregarious Grandfather.

My mother was a progressive in her time. To the dismay of my grandmother, my mother could be seen changing her own tires. Barefoot. 1955.  With a cringing mother beside her, she would express her opinions even if they were contradictory to the man in charge.

I was there the day my Grandfather bravely told my mother he wanted to remarry. My mother  wanted her father to be happy, so she immediately gave her blessing for him to wed a woman that my own Grandmother vehemently disliked her entire life. My sister quickly dubbed her; “Step-Grandmonster.”

At the marriage of my Grandfather to my Step-Grandmonster my mother was no longer an only child-she gained four adult sisters. New family traditions immediately were formed with the union of our small family to this large dysfunctional clan.  

In order to mold the families my mother had to make deals with my father and sister. My sister, who is an excellent cook, would provide our share of the food for family events so my father would attend. Step-Grandmonster’s family believed salt was one of the four food groups and green beans should taste like Vick’s cough syrup. To gain my sister’s yearly participation we played Euchre.

We celebrated the holidays with pitchin meals and games that lasted all day.  Laughter and sparring over card games were common themes for the fifteen years my family traveled, on Christmas Day, to rural Eastern Indiana. The laughter was sometimes tampered by Gretchen’s expression of how my Grandfather should spend the money she liked to flaunt as a gift to him. My grandfather’s plan was to always spend it on a night out with his grandchildren. This plan was always quite contradictory to Gretchen’s expected use of her gift.

One year Gretchen wanted to change the day of Christmas celebrations to fit her schedule–we were uninvited to be together on Christmas Day. My mother informed Gretchen that she would provide all the food and cook it. Actually, my sister would be the chef. Our family would be there on Christmas Day. Gretchen was livid. Fifteen-years of dealing with Gretchen’s dictatorship was enough for my mother and she decided to take charge.

We were excited to celebrate Christmas without Step-Grandmonster’s family. We were crestfallen when upon arriving with a car full of delicious food, we noticed the whole family did indeed decide to join us for a Christmas meal. Was it my sister’s cooking? Or could Gretchen  not stand being in charge of a family event? Other than being informed our dining seats were in the breezeway, we were ignored. My family always has the tendency to make the best of any situation so we grabbed our food and raucously begin celebrating Christmas.

It was a memorable Christmas.

Grandpa shared new stories of his life.

We watched a middle-aged woman throw a temper tantrum.

Above all, it was proof of my mother’s love. She insured her family would spend every Christmas together even  if it required a family war and eating in our winter coats.

Sadly, it was the last Christmas we shared with my beloved Grandfather.

The Teachers Celebrating Their Anniversary

The world is small, as learned through the Kevin Bacon experiment.  This social experiment is the concept that any two people on earth are connected through no more than six people, by way of introduction of friend to friend.  Never more so is this “I know your neighbor ” philosophy apparent when the folks all live within 20 miles of each other, regardless of population density.

I have a fitness membership in a local hotel with a spa. This five-star hotel is considered elite. I have encountered several celebrities within the confines of the fitness center. Most  of the time, I do not recognize any of the actors or sports superstars standing within inches of me. The hotel is also a getaway for locals due to the location and the spa.

I recently met a couple poolside that was so entwined with my own life, we were almost related. This couple was  at the  hotel celebrating the enviable milestone of being married for thirty-seven years.

I first met the lady in the locker room, as I was getting ready for my personal training session. I commented that I practically ran over one of the Celtics players getting on the elevator. She mentioned her husband embarrassed himself with another player with his gushing fan approach to conversation.

After my session, her husband engaged me in conversation poolside. It turned out they were teachers within 20 minutes of my house. They knew the following  people:

  • My childhood babysitter
  • My  cousin’s wife as she was a work colleague
  • My mother’s teaching friend was a work colleague
  • My cousins I do not claim (they understood why)
  • My cousins I do claim (they understood why)

Most importantly, they know a gal that grew up within a mile of me, as the crow flies. I  actually babysat this person a couple of times growing up myself. We will call her Kim in this story.

Kim is several years younger than me, so I did not know her well. I knew her highly respected family and enjoyed babysitting as her, and the siblings, were all well behaved. It was an easy gig.

Her father died when she was a young teenager. It devastated many of the families nearby as her father was respected and left behind a young family.

As expected, Kim still misses her Dad and wishes she had known him better. She was left with questions wondering what type of man he was, whether she was like him, and would he be proud of her.

After speaking with her friend for close to an hour, and learning more about Kim as an adult. It was quite clear my role in this story. I was to pass along information about Kim’s father to her friend.  I made sure to impress upon her friend, the respect her father held with my father (another highly respected person).  I also told her a few times I felt he was a giving person to others’.

Kim would have made her dad proud by the type of mother she had become, her loyalty to her friends, her charity work, and her chosen career. I conveyed this to her friend. Her friend cried, she believed this is all she ever needed to hear from an outsider.

As I drove home that evening, I was reminded that Kim and I are similar.  It doesn’t matter when we lose our father’s,  all we really want sometimes is to know that our Daddy’s are proud of us.


Photo Credit: http://www.comedyflavors.com

The Music Teacher

One of the most influential people in my life was a high school music teacher.   A couple decades before Glee there were those of us that wanted to be in what maxresdefaultwas called; “Show Group” where I attended high school.

I grew up in a house filled with music. My mother was the church organist and my sister loved the Beetles and the Beach Boys (in that order). I seriously doubt one single day passed that I did not sing along to either a church tune or a Beach Boys song (my preference).  Like many others at my high school I wanted to be with the fascinating upperclassmen in Show Group!

Even though my voice talent was limited, the Music Teacher selected me along with five other of my classmates my freshman year. He later told my mother that he never would select that many ninth graders again in his career. We talked too much! Ha!

Show Group was more than learning tunes and singing in perfect harmony. The Music Teacher taught us many life lessons I use to this day.

Present yourself well – We were normally the best dressed group in the county. While the Music Teacher let the seniors choose the dresses, colors, and tux styles he had FULL creative control.  Wrinkled clothing was unacceptable and students were loathe to even try to walk into a show looking a step below impeccable.

Smile – No matter what,…always smile. If your neighbor on the bleachers stepped  on  your foot it did not matter. Smile through the tears.

Fake it until you make it – Brain cramp? Forget the words? Keep your lips moving!  You will eventually catch up to the rest of the  group. Keep at  it!

Respect Your Elders – We often did shows at Nursing Homes or for elderly groups. We were encouraged (although not required) to go to the rooms and  meet with the residents or folks that came to hear us sing. I still have memories of some of the smiles on the nursing home residents faces when a sharp dressed high school student offered to push their wheelchair down to the recreation rooms. I am sure many talked about the experience for a week.

Years after graduating the Music Teacher  played for my father’s funeral. I was excited to see him and approached him with trepidation. Would he remember me?

Of course he did remember. His comment to me;

“I will never forget how we could never get your glasses to stay straight on your face.”


Thanks for the memories Mr. Music Teacher

The Dutch Lady

704568_499494480081769_1725479426_oIt’s cliche to state the obvious regarding Metamora, Indiana at Christmastime. It is magical.

One magical Christmas season was when I first met The Dutch Lady.  I do not know the backstory of how my friend arrived in Metamora. We never discussed the road that brought the Dutch Lady and her husband to the quaint village, but one pre-Christmas evening I strolled into the Duck Creek School, a collection of shops, located in my second home of Metamora.

At the time, the Duck Creek School housed a few small stalls for merchants and a huge fudge shop. It was always the most beautifully decorated building inside and outside in town. I was a surly teenager at the  time,  but always felt the existentialism of Christmas whenever I opened those large wooden doors and smelled the fresh fudge.

The Dutch Lady sold items from her native homeland of the Netherlands. I do not remember exactly, but I like to think that this
day was the first day she handed me a Dutch Almond Windmill cookie.

As time progressed the Dutch Lady had her store in her house and a 20161203_162326-1shed on her property. It was in this shed and house where I spent countless hours asking her about the Netherlands.  The closest I had ever gotten to the Netherlands was the Michigan tourist haven of Holland.

My mother and father loved the trip to Holland, Michigan. The tulips are beautiful, it is a wonderful tourist stop, and I think my mother got amusement out of putting my sister and me in wooden shoes.  I still have the wooden shoes with my name burned into the side.  When I was nine I dressed up as a native pre-1900 little Dutch  girl.   It was kismet that I met the Dutch Lady.

The Dutch  Lady arrived in the United States as  a teenager sent here for her protection before World War II.  It was the stories of her beloved Holland that I most loved to hear.  While we ate almond cookies she would point to a Delftware plate for sale and begin to tell stories of what the beautiful scene on the plate meant to her.
The Dutch Lady was seen as irritating by some folks in town, but I did not care.  She meant the world to me. She was fascinating. As I got older I learned what caused some others to steer clear of her when she walked to the post office.  She had opinions not appreciated by others and would freely share them. I knew her to have a heart of gold.

windmill-cookieThe local volunteer fire department was close to the Dutch Lady’s abode. She definitely had a love/hate relationship with the department. I cannot be sure, but I am sure she paid more than her local cost for the fire department and felt justified in her criticism of it.

Each year the fire department serves food as a fundraiser. Christmas Walk is a good time to raise money with the thousands of tourists that arrive hungry during the season.  The fire department is off the main thoroughfare so they purchased a lighted sign that allowed them to change the letters for any occasion.

At the time, the fire department did a good job of getting the sign ready, but would often leave the sign untouched until spring.   The Dutch Lady found this annoying. On a walk to the Dutch Lady’s house one early spring morning  I heard about the latest scandal in Metamora. The Someone-Stole-the-Fire-Department-Letters caper was the talk of about ten people.

It was not long in my visit that I learned The Dutch Lady had taken the letters. She was sick of seeing the phrase “Chili Supper” all winter.  It was justifiable thievery to emancipate the letters.  The letters did get returned on a moonless night by gliding under the fire department door after being set free by the stealthy elderly Dutch Lady.

Metamora has countless ducks that are kept fed by tourists and the small trade in cracked corn. The ducks irritated the Dutch Lady. They would climb on her porch and lay eggs, build nests, and became a general nuisance to her.  I always found this to be odd because it was not really in the ducks nature to be that close to the houses, but they sure loved the Dutch Lady’s house.

One day I decided to take an early morning walk and found 466356_570412909656592_2103220730_othe Dutch Lady feeding the ducks. After a brief sputtering from her she laughed at her own hypocrisy.

Not long after the great duck escapade the Dutch Lady moved to Sarasota and I never saw her again. I believe she has passed on and is in the great beyond eating almond cookies and sitting in the tulip fields of her beloved Holland.

Paying homage to the folks I meet.