Summer always brings back memories of my father; having fun, outings with friends, dancing, picnics of ham sandwiches and fresh fruit, dining al fresco on fresh lobster, driving in a convertible, and sun drenched skin with trips to the beach. But Winter is my Mother’s season. She symbolizes home and hearth, family, singing, gift giving, Christ consciousness (love) cozy blankets, luxurious sweaters and savoring hot Mexican chocolate. In case you’ve never had it, remember the Aztecs invented chocolate. I recommend Ibarra made in whole milk- I promise you, you’ll never drink anything else again.
Last night when I heard about the incident in Berlin, I recalled browsing through the aisles at the marketplace hot apple cider in hand while choosing a gift for her. Despite the fact that she’s always been and still is fashion-conscious, unlike me she’s easy to shop for. Perhaps it’s her mother gene that appreciates any gesture I or anyone else makes, but her receptivity produces a pleasure in giving her things.
In Macy’s http://www.macys.com/ last week on a hunt to buy her a Christmas gift, I mentioned to the sales clerk that she likes color and described her style; flats, skinny jeans, nautical striped tees, and scarves topped with her bob hair-cut. Despite her youthful appearance she never has looked age inappropriate. In fact when I was growing up I once asked her, “Why don’t you wear shorter dresses,” her response was matter-of-fact, “I can’t show my knees, I’m a mother.” The sales person naturally asked her age. But that’s for me to know and not for others to ask.
When I found this video, Christmas with Love from Mrs. Claus, I thought of her. Perhaps it’s because she lives by the Jane Austen quote; It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.
On Sunday at The San Gabriel Mission Playhouse I saw a silent film that had an organ accompanist. Your probably wondering why I’m writing about it now? Because the humor hasn’t left me. Every time I tell someone about it the words don’t come out because I’m full of snorts, cackles and tears. So I’ll share the story-line and what made it special.
The 1928 film Speedy stars Harold Lloyd who plays Speedy. He can’t seem to hold down a job. Because of his love of baseball, he gets fired from his job as a soda-jerk, then spends the following day and all of his money with his girl at Coney Island. On Monday he becomes a cab driver and delivers Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium, where he stays to see the game. There he overhears of a plot by a railroad executive who plans to hire thugs from a gang to try to run the last horse-drawn trolley (operated by his girl’s grandfather) out of business. Speedy organizes the neighborhood old-timers who play cards with Grandpa to thwart their scheme. But it’s their shenanigans and how they go about it that’s hysterical and pure slapstick.
There’s a blacksmith who throws horse rings around the thugs necks and stops them in their tracks. The cobbler uses his hammer to bruise fingers. But it was the Chinese launderer that comes out with a steam iron to smooth out a few bottoms that had me in stitches. Now I have to admit I liked the Three Stooges, I know they were a little rough, with their face slapping and eye poking but I enjoyed their antics. But watching Speedy I didn’t identify with the Stooges but my own slapstick tactics growing up.
One summer when I was ten two cousins came to visit. One was male, 4 years older than my brother. The other was female, 6 years older than me. Our days were consumed with fun and trips to the plunge, water balloon fights, bike rides, games of kick the can, a trip to the beach on public transportation that was an adventure and of course, Disneyland. We even set up tents in the backyard, boys against girls.
Every evening we ended our days with a good pillow fight. Knowing they could wipe us out, I had to think quick and was determined, we had to win. I wasn’t going to go down like a good little girl or a scaredy cat. I knew all we needed was one good hit so I suggested that we each stuff one of my father’s wing tips into each pillow. My cousin obliged and seeing stars and a black eye ensued. I was grounded for thinking up the scheme but laughed all the way to my punishment sentence.
What outrageous schemes did you pull as a kid that can still make you laugh now?
I’m going to share a story with you today. It took place while I was grocery shopping, as I was about to leave the produce section. To one side of produce is the bakery and deli of the supermarket. Nearby are huge displays of the supermarkets own baked goods and those which they are trying to sell. Most likely they have the highest profit margin. It’s where snacks seem to override our senses. As I was about to turn the corner an average looking lady of about 70 stood in front of a display, stopped me, and asked if I could give her my opinion.
Perhaps it’s the way she was looking at the packaging. She was confused. There were so many choices. She held up a box and asked me, “have you tried these?” Caught off-guard, I hardly qualify to be a spokesperson. My response was; “when I was a kid, I wouldn’t eat one now.” Realizing that my comment sounded like a criticism, I backed it up with, “when I eat sweets, I bake them myself. I asked, you’ve never tried them,” she shook her head.
That I couldn’t fathom. Then I didn’t know if I should feel sorry that she was denied a rite of passage as a child to taste sugary snacks, or if I should applaud her caretakers dietary choices.
My mother had and still has such a wild sweet tooth that she never denied us trying anything sweet as long as we ate our meal. In our house, sweets were a way of life. It’s probably why I have so little desire for them now. Besides I’d rather fit nicely into my clothes than eat caloric sugary snacks.
But I also learned through living history to make an association with the snack product; a shooting spree and an assassination.
And so if your dying to know what the product was; they were Twinkies.
I remember the yellow baked snack, packed into the plastic packaging, and unwrapping them, the sponge cakes appeared billowy soft, their filling so creamy.
And later on I recalled the Moscone Milk assassination http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscone%E2%80%93Milk_assassinations and the Twinkie defense.
But today was the first time I stopped and actually read the ingredients. It read like a scroll. Long. Normally, you need butter, milk and eggs to give a cake moisture and tenderness.
But butter, milk and eggs spoil, and they aren’t ingredients to be found, so Twinkies needed a way to defy the laws of baked-good longevity. That job is filled by ingredients like monoglycerides and diglycerides, and emulsifiers. — and palm oil, and sodium stearoyl lactylate, and corn syrup and on and on.
It’s pure junk. Stuff that makes your stomach bloated, hits your pancreas like a rock and can either kill a testing animal or produce a form of cancer.
She asked me which one she should try. I wasn’t aware that they came in flavors, “why not go for the original,” I said knowing she was intent on purchasing a box.
“For every now and then,” she added. I smiled thinking that maybe trying Twinkies was on her bucket list. Or perhaps it was a desire to celebrate a missed childhood treat or a way to reward herself. Whatever her reason, it’s her business, not mine.
Have you ever found yourself asked to give your opinion on a product at the supermarket?
This week my niece had a birthday. When I shared the news with my husband for some reason my mind shifted to my mother. My mother has always been a character, a sweet lady with the best of intentions but some of the things she did when I was growing up were daffy and rival Lucy Ricardos’ antics. She married my father in the 1950’s, a conservative era that resonated with him but not as much with her. As a businessman he would have been content for her just to be a housewife, instead her stubborn streak and constant striving for independence and need to go to work got her in the strangest situations.
For example, when we lived near a high school, she found out that they offered adult education and that she could learn to write in English. She immediately signed up, asking me to help her. Given the fact that I was seven years old and had no idea what it would entail, I devoured the intrigue and agreed. After all, she was my mother and happened to look like a movie star! The night of the first class, as I was about to go to bed, she came into my room (it was small and had large windows on two sides having been converted from a sewing room into a bedroom) looked at me sternly and said, “lock the door, I’m at Mrs. Flory’s.” Dumbfounded I watched her lift a window and slip out. Even as I adjusted to this adventure, I reassured myself that my mother would not run into the bogeyman!
I fell asleep and later, when she returned, she, at least, retained her innocence. For all I know, she was wise to the truth that my father would try to stop her and this way there would be no fuss, or squabble. Maybe she found the class fascinating. Maybe she didn’t like it. Maybe it wasn’t stimulating. Or maybe she just enjoyed sharing a piece of her girlishness with her daughter.
About a year later, another one of my mothers’ escapades that I remember clearly: it was a spring afternoon, and I had just gotten off the bus, coming home from school. A herd of kids surround me. We’re waiting for the crossing guard. As we walk southbound, and reach the corner, northbound driving zig-zag, here comes a bright yellow car with the California Driving School decal, goes up the curb. The car approaches in our direction. The crossing guard hovers over us and yells, “watch it lady.” Then one of the kids yells out, “Hey Linda, is that your mother?” The car windows are down. My eyes bug when I see my mother drive lopsided, knocking down two metal trash cans, their noisy tops spinning in the street. Looking straight ahead eyes cast down, my soul shivers, “No” I yell back. “But she looks just like you, Snow White!”
My mother tries again to learn to drive, so that she can go to work and takes lessons. Only this time she buys a used car. Early Sundays mornings when it’s quiet and the sun has just come up, we secretly take the back streets to Santa Anita racetrack for driving practice. I give her moral support, but when she panics her speed increases, “Brake.” I call out. She doesn’t oblige and I hit the floor pushing on the brake with my hand. When she gets her DMV study guide, I memorize the booklet and walk around the house saying, “Green painted curb is for limited time parking only, ” hoping the rule will sink in.
My mother isn’t a quick study but all I had to do was repeat and what I taught her remained for all time. I was thirteen when I went with her to get her license, “You can do it, you can do it–I know you can,” became my mantra and the look on her face when she passed was like a sun coming up.
I often felt like I was more her mother than she was mine and resented her for it. Now I cackle at everything she did. I’m grateful that she’s alive, mobile, alert and healthy. And that we have those memories; back when the world was simpler, and as a celebration we would set aside an afternoon and we’d settle ourselves on the couch with milk shakes she made from homemade ice cream and gorge on old films and musicals. The films were corny, and even seventy years ago the music was nostalgic. Those operettas became the soundtrack to my summers; to this day, I can’t hear them without a Proustian rush of nostalgia. But she loved them when she was a little girl, and as a part of her, I too, adored them.
I’ve spent the last year around kids and have observed the differences between children and adults. It’s no secret kids are happier beings; and one of the advantages about being around them is we get to relive the child within us. Based on re-creating that essence, I compiled a list on what I feel that we as adults have lost.
Kids are really good at enjoying the moment. Adults are addicted to thinking about all the things we have to do tonight, tomorrow, next week. Where you are is where the fun is.
Kids are constantly mastering new skills. Adults need to make it a point to continuously be learning something, anything.
Kids take risks all day long. As we mature, we tend to stay in our safe place. Your day will be so much more exciting if you expand into the unknown.
Noise levels. While adults find loud noises obnoxious, a child will dance to the rhythm of the beat. Seek out the symphony in whatever beat you hear.
Smile more. I once heard that children smile 400 times a day and adults, only 15. Smiling is the catalyst to having fun.
Notice nature. Every child is in awe of ants, birds, and dandelions. At some point, we become creatures of the concrete jungle. Allow yourself to be enamored by Mother Nature.
Climb things. As soon as they discover their legs, kids start climbing everything. There is something about being above ground level that is somewhat thrilling. Climb a rock. Climb a tree. You’ll feel like the master of the universe.
Embrace and find humor in your your flaws. Being self-conscious is stifling. Children bring more attention to their Buddha belly than an adult ever would and it makes them giggle endlessly!
Use your imagination. A child can get lost in a make-believe world for hours. Imagine riding an elephant in Thailand. You’ll have so much fun pretending that you might want to make it a reality—which leads to more fun than you can imagine.
Be unpredictable. There is no knowing what a kid will do next. Step out of your ordinary routine and you’ll feel liberated.
Create. Paint, draw, build, dig, write. Kids clearly enjoy those activities. Fun is being in your creative element.
Break the rules. Fun doesn’t follow all the rules. Neither do kids.Kids don’t let a day evaporate without making it fun. What are you waiting for?
One of the things I enjoyed most in Berlin was KaDeWe’s window displays during the Holidays. Going up for Pfeffernüsse and cup of Glühwein warmed me against the cold and was a pick-me-up to continue shopping. A delightful treat for all the senses.
I saw the same creativity in the store windows at the wonderful Galleries Lafayette in Paris http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galeries_Lafayetteand at Bon Marche. And in New York, Lord & Taylor carried-on the tradition and would have toy trains and moving Santa helpers in the windows. It was whimsical, fantasy and pure Art!
I have some of these memories from my childhood before retailers spread into suburban bland and created mall boxes. When I was five, I remember seeing an animated Alvin and the Chipmunks singing this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiNmVdFlIL4. Tears welled in my eyes and I kissed the window out of sheer happiness.
My mother who was a quality shopper demonstrated her love through acceptance of everyone’s personalities without complaint. She browsed endlessly to find my father’s hard to fit size, satisfy my oldest brother’s finickiness, my middle brother’s replacements through the rough and tough wear of his clothes, and as for me… I was her youngest and only girl. She went shopping sketch book and pencil in hand and copied designer dresses on display. She duplicated outfits in another color adding original touches. All this without a pattern, and her creativity shined through. Her creations were admired for their precise stitch and keen attention to details. We spent hours at Bullocks. And in San Francisco, at the Emporium.
Going to a department store back then was a day’s adventure. There was the thrill of riding a streetcar, then seeing a huge display and being treated to lunch in the dining room. Going up each floor on the wooden escalator felt like a magic carpet ride. And the finale was the much anticipated visit with Santa where you recited your list, and the trip to Santa Land sealed with a photo. It was a unique attraction. Simply spectacular!