Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Cloudy with a Chance of Geese

In mid-March the sky was overcast and the rain, steady but light at 7:00 a.m. I double-tied my hiking boots and zipped my rain jacket over mismatched sweats, stuffing the left jacket pocket with tissues. On chilly or windy days, my eyes water and my nose runs, bringing to mind Mom’s predictable quip: “Everything’s working.”

Through the spring and summer, I take a break from my indoor fitness course for senior citizens and switch to the outdoors, taking morning walks on a paved hiker-biker path. Occasionally I’ll drive to a park and walk the trails, but that’s impractical every day. It takes too much time.

I walk for my health, hoping to balance my appetite with exercise, and I walk to train. In early June I’ll be joining a group in England to hike in three of the country’s national parks. After spending 17 weeks on the Appalachian Trail in recent years, I know not to show up for a hiking vacation without  prior conditioning.

Ohio is flat where I live. The only hill within walking distance is an embankment separating a shopping center from the nearby homes. When I line it up visually, the top of that “hill” is about as high as the gutters on the nearest two-story house. In addition to serving as a buffer between retail and residential properties, the grassy embankment is a sometime meeting place for geese. I hear them barking in the sky as they head somewhere and cross my fingers it’s somewhere else. Do geese experience memory loss the way we do? Can they forget their gathering places?

I remember how the geese land: a flock of 30 or more suddenly fluttering, hissing, honking, and heading in every direction. When they arrive, they take over, pecking at the ground and chattering like cronies in a fast-food coffee club. In past years I have slunk by hoping not to be noticed, but geese intimidate me. Most often their presence is my cue to make an immediate U-turn and cut my elevation training short. 

My attitude toward geese is “Live and let live.” I’ll take ducks.

For the longest time I couldn’t tell ducks from geese, the way as a young girl I couldn’t tell lettuce from cabbage. I now know that ducks are not only smaller than geese; they are friendlier. I’m not intimidated by ducks.

One day it was raining hard, so I put on my sweats, waterproof hiking boots, and rain jacket before heading out. In hindsight, I should have worn my rain pants, too; next time. I had to walk around puddles, and two young ducks stood along the path. “Nice weather for you,” I said in passing.

Most days when I reach the other side of the hill, I see a lone duckling sitting next to the wet end of a drainage ditch outside the strip mall. Where are its mother and father? Its siblings? And don’t ducks imprint on other species in the absence of their own parents?

“We’re just friends,” I said to the duckling the first time I saw it. “Just friends.” I didn’t want it to follow me home. I had enough wandering geese and energetic squirrels in my yard.

The following day the duck was back, sitting alone beside the ditch. I could hear his soft quacking as I reached the bottom of the hill and turned around. He wasn’t afraid of me either.

Sometimes the little fellow was in the same spot, and sometimes he was gone. One day I watched him toddle away with another duckling. Maybe, like so many humans, he doesn’t want to go home for good. Maybe he favors his independence or—can ducks be introverted? Maybe he likes to visit and then get back to his alone time.

I conclude my morning walks by going over the embankment two or three times: up one side, down the other; up that side, down to where I began.

A few weeks into my training, spring burst onto the scene after a long Ohio winter. Forsythia bloomed, the treetops turned pink and white with blossoms, and the grass stood lush and green awaiting the mower. A lone bird, still as a Hallmark ornament, chirped on the tippy-top of an evergreen tree.

I continued to pass the solitary duck on my turns. Most days it sat in its usual spot, and I’d say, “Until next time.” Recently as I crested the hill I looked ahead and saw only an empty stretch of grass, but then I spied my little friend on the other side of the empty road, as though he were waiting to cross.

Now it is the second week of May. The grass is mowed, the walking path resurfaced. I no longer need to wear a sweatshirt on my walks. Today I hiked over the embankment twice—four times up and four down--without slowing my pace. My hiking trip is less than a month away.

The little bird still sings on the tippy-top of the evergreen tree, but the duck has been gone lately. I read that it takes a baby duck 50 days to fly; is my little friend still grounded, or has he taken to the sky? I hope he is safe. The geese have not returned. If they do, I will find another hill to climb.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mont St. Michel

“Somewhere in the center of a huge sky-sea with only a single road leading out is a circular city. A church like a castle rises above the rest and dwarfs all the cars and houses, and something which looks like a stream flows to the right of a yellow-brick wall. This wall surrounds the small city and seems to force it upward, keeping it from sinking into itself like batter in a cake pan. If a person could suddenly transport himself to the winding dirt road ending at the castle it would be a hot day and he would feel very small looking up toward the spires and high walls of the building. He would be kicking dusty pebbles and trying not to get dirt on his socks and shoes. The loose rocks would crunch under his steps and he would be tempted to seek shade but somehow never would, thinking he was almost there. The city would seem large enough if he were there, and not like a small island in the middle of a cloud, not really big enough for anything but a picture on a calendar.”

I was 22 years old when I wrote that. It was 1967 and I had begun my second real job, as a newspaper reporter, after finding that teaching a bunch of hooligans did not agree with me. One day as I sat in our dingy newsroom listening to the clack of the AP wire, I looked up at a wall calendar and saw the image that would tease and fascinate me for the next 50 years. What was it? I could only imagine what went on in such a magical setting.

Mont St. Michel (when in France, “Le Mont” if you don’t want to sound like a tourist) is a tidal island in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy. It was built on a dream. According to legend, St. Michael came to Aubert, Bishop of Avranches, three times in dreams ordering him to build a shrine off the foggy coast of France. That was centuries ago. Now millions of visitors each year cross a causeway at low tide to visit Le Mont, since 1979 a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In April 2017 I was one of those visitors.

At 22 I knew nothing of the archbishop’s story or the shops, cafes, and even two hotels that now line the cobblestone streets within the walls of Le Mont. Today crowds wind upward toward the abbey, whose spire rises toward Heaven topped by a gold-plated statue of St. Michael. A person can walk along the top of the sea wall and look out over the mud flats to the bay—sand, sea, and sky. Sheep graze in a distant pasture. Tides dictate the traffic flow. I crossed the causeway to enter Mont St. Michel on a perfect spring day under a bright blue sky. Was it the most gorgeous place I’d ever seen?

In 2008 a work trip took me to India, where I was fortunate to visit the Taj Mahal in Agra early in the day and watch its marble colors change as morning fog gave way to sunshine. Until I saw Le Mont in person, the Taj Mahal was the most beautiful structure I’d seen. Now I don’t know.

In India I couldn’t bear to leave the Taj Mahal, turning again and again to look before it was out of sight. I took my last photo of Mont St. Michel from our coach after miles of looking back at the coast of Normandy to see it one more time.

Some dreams are so big they seem impossible. Think of the archbishop, who ignored the first two dreams tasking him with building an abbey on a pile of rocks in a tidal basin. The stories say St. Michael finally poked him in the head during the third dream, and that did the trick.

My dream took a while to percolate, too. When I got home from France a few weeks ago, I got out the metal box that held my musings from my year as a reporter, including the piece on Mont St. Michel. It was fun to compare my first impression with reality. 

Those newsroom musings were written on a manual typewriter in spare moments. The newsprint is curled and yellowed, the edges fragile. Why did I save them? Ask any writer.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fangirl at 71

My granddaughter was here for a visit last week. At 14, Annie is devoted to her favorite teen idols. She spends hours listening to their music, watching YouTube videos, and catching up on concerts and other news. She writes fangirl fiction and posts it on Tumblr under a different name.

During the same week I received a Facebook friend request from the man who had been my favorite teen idol when I was about Annie’s age. He is still famous and still performing. A thousand women respond when he posts.

The friend request looked real. I went to his fan page, a page I was already following, and saw the same profile photo that had been sent to me. Could it be? I knew better, but the past came rushing back to me, sweet and irresistible.

As a girl in West Virginia I rushed home when my teen idol was scheduled to sing on American Bandstand. My heart would race with love and excitement, tempered by a cold fear that I would be interrupted during those precious minutes he was on TV. Please, I prayed: no phone ringing; no Mom coming in from the kitchen; and, most of all, no failure of the picture tube in our black-and-white set. I would pull the vinyl-covered ottoman close to the screen, sit down, and make sure the volume was just right. How I loved that boy’s moves, his hair, his twinkly eyes, his voice, and the way I could hear his smile in the music.

I’ve kept the record albums I bought and memorized. I’ve seen my idol in concert twice. The first time I was a screaming teen-ager thrilled to be present for Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars at the Charleston Civic Center. I was too young to drive, so Dad chauffeured my friend Mary Jo, my little brother, and me to the show. When we sat down, Dad stood out in his gabardine topcoat among the squirming, screaming kids. The second time I saw Bobby Rydell I was a senior citizen, still thrilled and screaming like it was 1959.

I deleted the fake friend request and decided to do what I would do for anyone I thought was hacked. I sent a PM (personal message) from his fan page.

He responded, advising me not to accept: “I do not send requests.” A second message came the next day thanking me for the heads-up.

“Your grandma had a teen-age idol too,” I said to Annie. “I still do, and guess what? He’s writing to me on Facebook!”

“Grandma, that’s really exciting!” You said it, Sister.

He posted a SCAM alert. On the private side, I wished him luck and got a “thumb up” in return. I thought that was it, but we had another couple of exchanges about the fake account.

Was he really writing all these notes? It was fun speculating with Annie about whether the messages were real or had been generated by someone hired for the job of keeping up the star’s social media presence.

I then noticed "he" was one of my 83 personal page followers. What? A follower is someone who chooses to follow another’s public posts. Was it possible? After all, we had corresponded--if all of that was real. I compared photos, and the “follower” looked as real as the “friend” had--but no. It was not possible my teen idol was following my Facebook posts. I decided to write again to let him know the fake account had turned up on my page. I thought that would be the end of it.

“I think it’s over,” I said to Annie. “My messaging romance is over.”

To my surprise, he replied again with a lovely note. I was suspicious, though. How could he take that much time to write to me?

I asked Annie’s dad, “Do you think it’s him?” and showed my son the string of messages. He studied the latest one while Annie and I waited.

Greg said, “I think it’s him.”

I have other idols. I’ve been introduced to a few. Fabulous performers, some are also known to be aloof or demanding. Surely they grow weary of the attention from time to time. One star’s stage makeup failed to cover his five-o’clock shadow before scruffy beards were fashionable. Another performer shook my hand and gave me a photo signed “Love.” Honey, I thought, if you love me, put an expression on your face. When we learn to expect and excuse giant egos in exchange for entertainment, kindness is a surprise.

After his last message, ending with “It is a pleasure,” I found myself love-struck again, the way I’d been at 15. I could think of nothing else. Messaging with my idol had provided more than a memory; I was once again immersed in the experience of fan love. I figured I was on the brink of becoming a pest by then, so I sent a final message and mentally signed off.

My buoyant feeling persisted the next day as I listened to oldies on XM radio while driving to a local mall in the spring sunshine. I was filled with a sense of well-being. I knew exactly what emotions had prompted those love songs.

At age 71 I was floating on a fangirl cloud like the one I remembered—one like Annie’s. It was fun and wonderful. I got a “thumb up” to my last private message, a perfect ending to my week of fan love. And was that really B. R.? I say yes. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Window Dressing

I recently put up a decorative curtain rod and hung new floor-length floral curtains in my master bath. Putting up rods is stressful. The task brought to mind a few “curtain fights” with significant others over the years. Now that I live alone, I attempt simple household tasks by myself with my limited supply of tools.

Getting those curtains into place was important, as my only line of defense for a few weeks was the translucent blind on the window, hanging slightly crooked from worn-out strings. Every morning during those weeks I took my shower with the lights off; thus, I had to wait until it got light enough outside to see where the soap and shampoo were. I could find everything else.

Every day my process brought to mind a scene from “Seinfeld” in which George Costanza visited his mother in the hospital. As I remember it, she was hungry and asked him to go to the cafeteria and bring her a sandwich, but George stayed put because he was mesmerized by what was happening in the next bed.

“It’s six-thirty. Time for your sponge bath,” the nurse said to her patient, pulling the curtain closed between the beds. George then enjoyed a “cinema in silhouette” as the nurse slowly sponge-bathed the shapely female patient.

I didn’t want to be backlit and displayed like a shadow puppet as I went about my morning routine. A viewing audience outside my house at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. is unlikely, but people do walk their dogs and get their newspapers. My neighbors and I share sidewalks, and most of my home is on the ground floor.

When I moved into this condo, the previous owner had left mini-blinds on all the windows, so I didn’t put up curtains right away. One day a neighbor told me she could see me in my room at night. She was doing me a great favor, letting me know my mini-blinds with their gaps and bent slats were not affording me complete privacy. Live and learn.

The recent curtain installation went smoothly after I exchanged the first rod I bought. (Note to self: Measure the window before buying the hardware.) I have no power tools, but my hammer and screwdriver did the job. I left the blind in place. The curtains not only added a layer of privacy; they also look pretty. Because they match the ones in my bedroom, they visually define the space as what it is: a master suite.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

Popsicle Parts

At age 70 I may have solved one of the little mysteries of my childhood.

When I was young my grandfather was the postmaster of Glen Ferris, West Virginia. The post office was located within our company store, so Grandpop also ran the store. If he wasn’t sitting at his desk behind the postal cage, he was standing behind the counter of the store in a white butcher’s apron waiting on customers.

I loved to go into the store and visit Grandpop. I also loved popsicles. Against a back wall of the store sat a long, low freezer like the one Aunt Bea had on her back porch in The Andy Griffith Show. It contained varieties of ice cream. I would open the heavy top and look into that freezer often because I had noticed that sometimes one or two of the popsicles were broken.

Two attached “pops” on sticks constituted one popsicle, but sometimes only one half remained in the wrapper. I called them “extra halves,” and when I found one I knew no customer would buy it; therefore, it was free. My friends and I enjoyed many extra halves as well as the thrill of finding them in Grandpop’s freezer.

This morning I was remembering those days and I thought: How did the extra halves get into the freezer? Who ate the missing halves of the popsicles? A customer wouldn’t have paid for a popsicle and left half of it in the store.

It had to be Grandpop!

Maybe my grandfather munched on part of a popsicle while he stocked the shelves or had a few minutes between customers and then put the rest into the freezer for later. Or maybe he did it for me, knowing I had discovered a great treasure in those abandoned pieces. That mystery won’t be solved, but either way, imagining my grandpop in his store apron, bending over to put popsicle parts in the freezer so many years ago, gave me a smile.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Dick Clark

Dick Clark was the Oprah Winfrey of his time—or, more accurately, of my time. If Dick Clark sold it, I bought it or asked my parents to buy it.

I was trying a new shampoo this morning when I remembered my long-ago loyalty to Pink Pamper shampoo. As a teen-ager it was my go-to brand. Why? Dick Clark. I believe he also advertised Tame cream rinse, the product I applied to my hair after the Pink Pamper shampoo.

Clark hosted two television shows, “American Bandstand” and “Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show.” In the days before commercials were big productions offered as entertainment, Clark was a spokesman for his sponsors. The spots were simple; he held a product, looked into the camera for the sales pitch, and talked right to me. I’m sure of it!

The title of Dick’s Saturday night show was a huge clue to my hoarding of Beechnut Spearmint chewing gum. We were supposed to save the green wrappers and send them in once we accumulated a certain number. I don’t remember why, just that I kept mine in a paper sack on top of the bookcase in my room. In order to collect a sack full of gum wrappers, I chewed Beechnut Spearmint exclusively and often, despite the oft-repeated advice of my high school French teacher:

“The only difference between a girl chewing gum and a cow chewing its cud is the thoughtful expression on the face of the cow.”

Dick hawked another product I knew I needed the minute I saw the commercial. “When you learn to talk with your eyes,” Dick said, “it’s time to curl your lashes with Kurlash.” Of course it was. I bought not only the eyelash curler but also its companion piece, Twissors, used for grooming one’s eyebrows. One end was a tweezer and the other, scissor-like handles that were pink to match those on the Kurlash. The eyelash curler is long gone, but I still have my Twissors!

I loved Dick Clark and his TV shows. As a girl I used to write letters to him, pouring my heart out about which Bandstand regulars and songs I liked. One day my mom and I stopped at the Glen Ferris Post Office on our way to some appointment. In the mail was a postcard for me from Dick Clark! His signature was at the bottom. I was ecstatic. It’s all I could talk about. After that I wrote more letters to Dick and collected more postcards, each with a different message. The fact that they were mass-produced did not occur to me once.

I met Dick Clark at a car show in downtown Cincinnati in the mid ‘80s and got his autograph on a piece of paper I was sure I put in my jacket pocket. When I looked for it later, it was gone. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hair Au Naturel

Month by month, my hairdresser is cutting the blond from my hair. I’ve wondered for a long time what would be left, and yesterday I saw my natural colors emerge. I’m now sporting a mix ranging from dark brown to light gray.

Perhaps this change is appropriate and well timed, as I’m having a significant birthday in a few weeks. After all, when one’s child, age 44, has gray hair and Mom does not, something is askew.

A practical decision triggered the change last March before I left to hike the Appalachian Trail. Knowing it would be months until I had a haircut, I opted for a short do a la Jamie Lee Curtis. Instructions for creating her haircut can be found on the internet.

In addition to the cut, I chose to have my hair highlighted in order to minimize the glaring contrast of roots vs. ends. Why some women think exposed roots are fashionable escapes me.

My hair was easy to manage on the AT, even as it grew out. I woke up, ran a brush through it, and moved on, having no idea of the result. In the woods there are no mirrors, and the one I’d brought with me was sent home during a pack shakedown shortly after I hit the trail. I did not shower, shampoo, or see my own reflection for days at a time—a fact of life for a long-distance hiker.

It’s freeing to go without mirrors. I was happy to do so, as my hair wasn’t the only wild thing. I wore no makeup. My nails were a disaster, jagged and ringed with dirt. I could be picked out from a distance by my outfit, which I wore every day and laundered about once a week.

By the time I’d made it to Hot Springs, North Carolina, I was in full-fledged hiker mode. In particular, I’d embraced my natural self. I vowed never to color my hair again.

When I returned home after three and one-half months, I high-tailed it to the nail parlor but left off the makeup. I got my hair trimmed, but not as short as Jamie Lee’s. A good deal of the blond color had remained. Until yesterday.

Will I keep my vow? It’s been only a day, but I’m thinking I will.

If I was good at selfies, I’d show you my new look. Oh, what the heck…