Category Archives: Personal experience

The House O’ Nuts

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(Note: this is not my family’s home movie, although my brother is in possession of the footage my father took, possibly on our second trip to Florida; I don’t remember. Anyhow, this does capture something of the feel of the vacation in question.)

Last week I posted a memory from my childhood, one I’d totally forgotten for decades. Old scenes are making their way back into my mind.

This week I remembered another one, also long-forgotten.

The first family vacation I can remember happened around 1959. We drove from our home in New Jersey to Miami Beach, Florida. I’m guessing it was during Easter vacation (what is now Spring Break). I would have been 6 or 7. My dad did all the driving. My mom rode shotgun. The back seat was my realm. I had my blanket and my dolls, and my mother was afraid I might get bored, so she actually bought me a few new things to keep me occupied. The only gift I really remember was a Captain Kangaroo cut-out book which with I constructed a replica Treasure House with artifacts like Grandfather Clock. (Old timers, do you remember Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans and Grandfather Clock?) There was also a cardboard box on the floor of the back seat with canned juice, cereal, bread, snacks, and a picnic lunch for the road.

We stopped for gas at a place called the House o’ Nuts. In addition to the gas pump, there was a gift shop that sold nuts. After the attendant filled our gas tank, he explained that they also offered a chance to win some money. My mother’s ears perked up. She wanted to play.

I don’t remember the exact mechanics of this little gambling operation–I can’t recall if there was a wheel, or cards, or mathematics puzzles to solve–but at the end of it, my parents were down $25. Now, this was the late 50s. I don’t think my dad earned $100 a week at his full-time job.

As we drove away, my father bemoaned the loss, feeling cheated. This would prevent us from doing some of the things he’d planned to do on the vacation.

A little while later, he saw a traffic cop and flagged him down. Dad related the story of how he had lost $25 at the House o’ Nuts. Mind you, my dad had a strong German accent, which might have motivated the gas attendant to lure them into gambling in the first place. Not everyone was very nice to Germans, especially this soon after WWII. Gambling was illegal in (Georgia? I can’t remember), as the policeman told my father. But for some reason he decided to help.

He followed us back to the House o’ Nuts, and went inside while we waited outside in the car. A few minutes later, the gas attendant came out with my dad’s $25 and a box of chocolate-covered nuts, and explained he wasn’t trying to cheat him, he’d just given him a chance to win some money. My dad said thank you, waved to the police officer, and skedaddled out of there, greatly relieved.

We stayed at a beachside motel in Miami Beach. I remember walking along palm tree-lined streets with the wind fluttering the palm branches and coconuts clonking to the ground. When I heard the wind in the palm trees in Arizona 30 years later, it launched me back in time to that trip (although I didn’t remember the House o’ Nuts until this week).

We saw the mermaids at Weeki Wachee, visited a shell museum, swam in the ocean and in the motel pool, and I’m sure we did all the typical touristy things that northerners do on vacation in Florida. But when we got home and friends asked how our vacation was, Dad regaled them with the story of the incident at the House o’ Nuts.

Miss Goody-Two-Shoes No More

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Photo by Candace McDaniel
Photo by Candace McDaniel

For most of my life, whenever I remembered my childhood, especially my elementary school years, I remembered myself as behaving according to the rules.

But now that I’m well into the last decades of my life, long-forgotten incidents are emerging from my memory that contradict my early self-image.

A few years ago I remembered this incident from when I was a Brownie.

Yesterday I remembered an episode of non-compliance in first grade.

I’ve shared that I am a child of German immigrants, and that I went to parochial school from kindergarten through eighth grade. My parents were careful to speak to my brother and me in English, so that we would grow up with English as our first language. But my mother also taught us a little bit of German, including a prayer.

There were 67 students in my first grade class. Amazing, right? Impossible. But this was during the baby boom. There had been two kindergarten classes, and when we were promoted to first grade, the school had a teacher shortage, and only one teacher for first grade, so they combined us. Our teacher, Sister Gracita, struggled to keep this vast community of six-year-olds under control, and apparently, I was one of her major challenges. She was constantly telling my mother I was “too talkative.” Moi?

I recall one time she took me outside the door of our classroom and told me there were “66 other students in our classroom who are trying to learn” and I was preventing them from doing so. My mind immediately went to arithmetic: 66 students + me = 67, and I lived at 67 Park Avenue! What a coincidence! I wanted to tell Sister, but I sensed she wasn’t interested.

Later that year, we had a visitor to our classroom, another nun. She must have been a supervisor from the diocese, there to observe the teacher, because Sister Gracita had been prepping us on our lessons and our behavior. Toward the end of the visit, Sister said, “And Andrea knows a prayer in German! Andrea, can you please say your German prayer?”

What? All year Sister had been on my case for talking too much, and now she wanted me to perform like a one-trick pony? “No.”

Sister asked again, and I refused again. She asked why, and I said, “I don’t want to.” Sister changed the subject, but later she called my mother and told her I embarrassed her in front of the bigwig. Of course, my mother was mortified, but I didn’t see her point.

Now, 53 years later, I get it, but I’m amazed that I stood my ground when I was six. I really thought I grew up with a healthy respect for authority figures. Now I’m realizing I was a little rebel.

My Biggest Regret

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Funeral bouquet

Sometime in 1978, my mother-in-law (whom I called Mom), a pack-a-day smoker for more than 40 years, discovered she had lung cancer. Whenever we asked her about her prognosis, she said, “I have to see the doctor again in two weeks.”

When Carly was born in April, 1979, my mother- and father-in-law came to the hospital to see her. We got together a few weeks later, and they both were able to hold her.

Then, in June, Greg’s dad had a heart attack.

Greg’s mom called to tell us. Greg immediately wanted to drive over to visit him in the hospital (a one-hour trip each way), but Mom said, “The doctor said don’t come; there’s nothing you can do for him.” Greg told her we’d come to see them on Sunday, Father’s Day.

A few days later, Mom called again to say, “You might want to come to see your dad.” Greg said, “We’ll be over Sunday.” He assumed that would be soon enough.

Greg’s dad died the next day.

Greg’s biggest regret is that he didn’t follow his first impulse and go to the hospital when he first learned about the heart attack, despite what the doctor said.

Over the next months, we visited Greg’s mom every weekend. Sometimes I’d hear her say to herself, “Wil (Greg’s father), how could you do this to me?” Greg mowed the lawn, we had dinner together, I washed the dishes, and we did whatever we could to help. Mom was still driving to the supermarket on her own, although she limited her purchases to one bagful, which was as much as she had the strength to carry.

Whenever we asked about her health, she said, “I have to see the doctor again next week.”

Because she was seeing the doctor on a regular basis, I assumed she was getting treatment. I also assumed she’d get better.

Meanwhile, Carly grew. She took her first steps on Grandma’s screened-in front porch, where we often sat while we visited.

It turned out Mom refused treatment. The cancer was going to kill her. But I didn’t really understand or believe it. I knew she was weaker, but she didn’t seem like she was dying.

Then, one day, Greg came to me with a proposition. Mom had asked if we’d move in with her. She wanted me to be her caretaker.

I was a stay-at-home mom. I wanted to give my full attention to taking care of Carly. I didn’t want to spend her childhood pulled in two directions. Greg said it was totally my decision. I said no.

So my mother-in-law went to a care center next to the hospital. I went to visit her once a week. Mom said, “Don’t bring the baby. I don’t want her to see me with all these tubes stuck in me.”

I brought Carly anyway. Carly didn’t notice the tubes; all she saw was her Grandma. In fact, it was in the care center that Carly called her “Grandma” for the first time.

Greg spent time with his mom whenever he could. He was there with her four weeks later when she passed away.

Four weeks. That’s all.

I didn’t really process this experience until more than twenty years later, when my brother was caring for our ailing parents. He put his life on hold for them–for fourteen years.

I was 27 when I made my decision not to care for my mother-in-law. I really didn’t have a model for elder caretaking. I didn’t observe my parents doing it for their own parents. I was young and stupid.

I was also somewhat in denial about what Mom was going through. I wish someone had sat down with me and told me that the end was near. I still thought she could get better. I thought she had years before she would die. I was so blind. If someone had told me my services would be needed for a few weeks, I could easily have done that, even with a toddler.

It is my life’s biggest regret, and it haunts me every day.

Creative Juice #283

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Creative Juice #283

A dozen articles chosen especially to spark your creativity this weekend.

The Ultimate Summer Day

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I went for a walk the other day a little after noon. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, a light hoodie, and sandals. I live in the Phoenix area, and the temperature was in the mid-60s.

(But earlier in the morning, when I took the dog out, in my PJs and terry robe, the temperature was about 40 degrees. I know, I’m spoiled. I suffer when the temp dips down below 50.)

I came home from my walk, took a shower, and dressed in denim bermudas and a long-sleeve shirt.

I don’t like any weather that involves raking or shoveling. Winter is enjoyable here, but I really like summer better, even in the desert; though in the 100+ degree heat, I’d prefer to be in the pool if I have to be outside.

Sea and sky

My ideal summer day is based on the ones I experienced as a 15-year-old growing up in New Jersey. The sky would be blue, the sun warm, the temperature in the mid-to-upper 80s (though with the typical 85% humidity, it would be much less comfortable than Arizona dry heat), and I would be at the beach. I’d have a cooler with me, with cold soda and sandwiches and snacks. I’d have no responsibilities for the day—no job to go to, no meals to prepare, no appointments upcoming, no pressing deadlines to meet. And I’d have a friend with me, preferably one of the opposite sex.

When our kids were little and we still lived in New Jersey, but closer to the Pennsylvania border rather than near the Atlantic shore, we might drive half an hour to a lake to have a change of pace from the backyard pool. But my ideal day still included sun and water.

When we moved to Arizona, we bought another house with a pool, because we knew it would play a big part in our summers. A lot of people don’t like having pools, because they see the upkeep as tedious and expensive. But we had five kids. Going on a one-week vacation during the summer would cost us more than the price of a year’s worth of pool chemicals. And really, if you invest in a good pool vacuum, maintenance only takes maybe an hour or less a week. When the kids were young, we were in the pool every day. The kids’ birthday parties were always pool parties (except for Andy’s—he was born in December).

Now, with our kids all grown, we are not in the pool every day from April through October. Greg’s not been in the pool in years. I average about a dozen dips per summer, though every time I go in, I wonder why I don’t do it every day.

Only six more months till summer.

I can’t wait.

Lost Memories

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Lost Memories

Surprise—my memory isn’t as sharp as it used to be. I feel like all my storage capacity has been filled, and it takes longer and longer to access my data, like an old worn out computer.

When I was a young adult, I could tell you the name of every teacher I’d ever had, from kindergarten to grad school. Now I can tell you only a handful of professors’ names, and few high school teacher’s names, but I do still remember my teachers from kindergarten to grade 6. Why do I remember names from childhood, but not from college?

Not that my memory was ever all that great. All my life I’ve had frequent bouts of panic when I couldn’t find my keys, my glasses, my wallet. And for decades I’ve walked into rooms without recalling why I wanted to be there.

About twenty-five years ago I had episodes while driving when I didn’t recognize where I was or remember where I was heading. After a few weeks of this, I asked my bible study group to pray for me. I was afraid I was going to have to surrender my driver’s license. Afterward, a woman asked me if I was taking antihistamines, as a friend of hers had experienced the same symptoms. At first, I said no, but then I realized my nasal spray was an antihistamine. I stopped using it, and a few days later my disorientation disappeared.

Trying to remember

When my husband returned home last year after surgical complications and an extended stay in a skilled nursing facility, I was overwhelmed with his medication schedule, his doctor appointments, his physical therapy requirements, and the maintenance his feeding tube required. Suddenly there was so much to remember, and my brain was not up to it.

A few years earlier I had started a notebook with all our medical information; I just had to remember to keep it updated and bring it with me to appointments (since I couldn’t remember what tests he’d had, what the results were, or all the medicines he was taking). I sat down with the medications Greg came home from the rehab facility with, and made a chart of when he took what. I still refer to my (updated) chart each week as I set up his morning 7-day pillbox and his evening 7-day pillbox, and made sure they’re refilled regularly.

Nevertheless, mistakes happen. I get them mixed up. So far, no fatal errors, but each one raises my stress level.

I made an appointment with the neurologist, who administered tests that show I don’t have Alzheimer’s, thank God, but I do have mild cognitive disfunction. I now take medication twice a day that’s supposed to prevent my memory from deteriorating further.

I don’t think it’s 100% effective, but I’ve stopped panicking about it.      

The funny thing is, every once in a while something will pop into my head—a vivid memory of an incident from the past that I’ll realize I haven’t thought about in decades. Sometimes it will be triggered by a whiff of an aroma, or a song from my childhood.

My oldest son has the most amazing memory. He remembers things that happened when he was a baby, and he can pinpoint the year of events that are fuzzy in my recollections. He remembers actors in movies, and which movies won Oscars in which years, and all sorts of trivia.

Maybe memory skips generations. I don’t know.

Creative Juice #251

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Creative Juice #251

A lot of beauty in today’s articles, curated especially for you.

  • Do you like Irish step dancing?
  • If you read my post about the Sirens, you know I love to sleep.
  • Georgia O’Keeffe on the art of seeing. And lots of links, if you enjoy going down rabbit holes.
  • I may have included these father of the bride photos in a previous edition of Creative Juice. You know what? They’re so beautiful, you should see them again.
  • Beautiful fruit photography.
  • Read your children some books about kindness and talk about how to make a difference in the lives of the people around you.
  • I’d never heard of Sonny Curtis, even though I’m familiar with two of his most famous songs; but I love his daughter’s essay about him.
  • Would you believe there are 800 pairs of herons living in Amsterdam? Maybe because of the canals. . .
  • Ingenious and useful creations from toilet paper rolls.
  • A mom’s June sketchbook pages.
  • I love this Instagrammer’s ICAD cards.
  • How a quilter pieced a 60-piece block perfectly!

Footwear Adventures

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Footwear Adventures

At the Catholic elementary school I attended as a child, we were required to wear tie shoes and knee socks with our school uniforms. I remember oxfords and hushpuppies; one year I had saddles shoes, and another year black velvet oxfords. Ugh! I would rather have worn pretty patent leather mary janes with ruffled, lace-trimmed anklets, and I actually think I did when I was small. (Or maybe those were my church shoes.)

How badly I wanted to wear high heels. My mother had a friend who had a daughter three years older than me, and she gave me her cast-offs, including some high-heeled shoes. I loved them and thought I was so cool.

When I was a little girl, the cheapest shoes you could wear were flip flops: they cost 50 cents a pair. You could only wear them in the summer time, because, of course, they were unacceptable for school. (My youngest daughter and I had many arguments when she wanted me to pay $20 for flip flops she called shoes. In the 1990s, Target sold very serviceable sneakers for $7, the tie kind and the slip-on kind. That was much more comfortable for my budget.)

When my oldest daughter Carly was a middle-schooler, she won a contest at a local shoe store, correctly guessing the number of jelly beans in a huge jar. Her prize was a $50 gift certificate. The only hitch was, it could only be used for children’s shoes, and she had just transitioned out of them. I thought, no problem! We’ve got four smaller kids! And we were able to buy one pair each for three of them. I realize now that was a crappy deal for Carly—I guess I ought to send her a check for $50. . .

By the time my kids were born, I rarely wore high heels, though I might wear wedgies. I am mystified by women who wear 4-inch stilettos. How do they balance? Don’t their feet hurt?

Over the 33 years I’ve lived in Arizona, I transitioned from wearing sandals only in the summer to pretty much year-round. I prefer the kind you can just slip on. Once I find a pair I like, I wear them until they fall apart, and I chide myself for not buying multiple pairs of the same shoe (because by the time they wear out, you can’t find the same model anymore, and it takes me a long time to find something worthy of everyday loyalty).

Years ago when I started hiking, I took a suggestion and bought a pair of hiking boots. Up until then, I’d been wearing athletic shoes. Man, what a difference! I felt a lot more secure and balanced on my feet. I also bought a trekking pole, which also enhances my balance, even though I hardly ever put any pressure on it. Just having it there in front of me, ready to spring into action when I stumble, is a huge boon.

Now it’s your turn. What kind of shoes do you most like to wear? What was your best shoe bargain? What kind of shoes did you wear as a kid? Do you have a favorite shoe-related memory? Share in the comments below.

Shut Up, Sirens*

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Ulysses_And_The_Sirens_by_Léon_Belly
Odysseus and the Sirens by Léon Belly

My eyes pop open, then squint, trying to make out the clock on the other side of the room. 6:30 AM. I should get up.

But the sirens cry out to me. “Andrea, stay! Don’t go! Stay in bed with us! We’ll cuddle. We’ll keep you comfortable.” I sink back into their outstretched arms and lose consciousness again.

My eyes pop open. Man, what time is it? 7:30. I really should get up.

But the voices are insistent. “Don’t go! You know you want to stay. You’re still sleepy. Relax. All is well.”

I try to throw off the covers, but they gather themselves around my neck. My eyes cloud over. I surrender.

My eyes pop open. The time? 8:30. Crap. I’ve got to get up.

The seductive voices aren’t ready to give up. “Come back! You know you want to be with us. Stay a little longer. Everything is alright. Everything is beautiful. Drift with us. Don’t go away. . .”

I struggle. I know we have no appointments, nothing that has to be done on a deadline. But even so, I can’t stay in bed all day. My husband is depending on me.

I’m in the time of my life when my husband needs my help all day long. His dizziness and limited mobility means he needs assistance to accomplish simple tasks we used to take for granted. He can shower on his own, but he needs my help to dry off and dress. He used to make his own breakfast, but doesn’t have the stamina to stand for as long as it takes to brown his sausage. If I lounge in bed, he can’t start his day. Duty calls, despite the sirens’ attempts to drown him out.

I start another long day, reminding myself what it was like last year when he was in the hospital and the pandemic prevented me from visiting him. How I longed to be the one to care for him. Having him home with me is a blessing; but most days I crash right after dinner, having to take a nap before I can even face loading the dishwasher.

I know this sounds like I’m depressed, but I’m really not—just exhausted. I try to grab extra sleep whenever I can, and be kinder to myself.

There was another time when I yielded to the sirens, right after I resigned from my teaching job. Teaching had been such a pleasure for me, until it wasn’t. Budget cuts, increasing demands, and staff reassignments robbed me of the joy I once had. I stayed on longer than I should have, thinking that things would get better. They didn’t.

When it was finally over, I spent a few months sleeping until 11:00, then watching reruns of Dog, the Bounty Hunter until I had enough energy to look for a new job or write. It took a while to get used to the idea of being retired, a state I finally embraced, though reluctantly.

Now it’s your turn. Have you ever gone through a period when you were fatigued all the time? How did you get through it?

*The sirens I am referring to are the female island creatures of Greek mythology who mesmerized sailors with their song and caused them to wreck their ships on the rocky coastline.

Creative Juice #249

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Creative Juice #249

Works of art. Personal experiences. Articles to enrich your weekend.