Family history

Whatever Makes You Different Makes You Pretty

I’ve been going through my drafts folder and inadvertently publishing ten-year-old posts about caulk and LeBron James, which is kind of a funny glimpse back into the mind of the person I still, basically, am. I saved the title of this post on September 19, 2007, and “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” was probably a notion that struck me while I was doing the dishes or photographing action figures pretending to talk about Downton Abbey. (I only have the dialog from that particular post I was paid to write for Babble.com, and sadly they’ve taken it down. I wish I had backed up the photos I took of the entire cast of Twilight action figures I once purchased so I could pose them talking, in character, with Hulk and Iron Man about the new maid who was lying about her past to Lord Grantham.)

My mom having a good time by a lake in Minnesota in the early 1950s.

As far as brain secretions* go, however, “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” has some merit. It might have come out of remembering the time when I broke my nose, and after it healed it had a bump in it. My mom wanted to pay to have the bump removed. I declined her offer, because I sort of liked the change, to be honest. I liked feeling that my face had been roughed up a bit, that pretty wasn’t as important as the lesson I learned about my own ego after being a showoff on a bike and having my face ground into a stucco wall. My mother’s own nose was scarred after a childhood run-in with a door frame, and she never seemed to mind the way it looked. She had a tiny bit of a pug nose. Maybe she owned that nose of hers, maybe she realized that was part of her work, not to be bothered by the scar from a split nostril. She also had one eye that was half blue and half brown.

If we listen to the Taoists, we’ll see that when some things become pretty, then others become ugly. If you start dividing things up into good/bad categories, all you’re doing is creating a lot of suffering.

* Uchiyama Roshi said,

“Thoughts are the secretions of our brains, the same way as stomach acid is the secretion of our stomachs.” The brain is a bodily organ with a job to do. It digests the impressions it receives the same way the stomach digests the food it receives. We don’t pay close attention to every little thing the stomach does to get on with its work, and we don’t need to pay close attention to what the brain does either.

But we’ve all developed the habit of being obsessed with the content of our thoughts. It’s not easy to break that habit. People often want to learn some special technique that will change that habit.

This is part of a larger discussion on meditation technique that I found really useful. It’s also useful if you’re working on impulse control, or just being a more peaceful person.

Anyway, I finished reading True Grit yesterday, and every time I think about the end I start to choke up. It’s so good, honestly. I might read it again as soon as Jack finishes it, because I pressed the book into his hands with the kind of silent gravity that made him look taken aback and assure me that he’d start reading it right away. Because he’s probably going to spend the day on the couch taking his antibiotics and watching football anyway, so he might as well turn off the sound and read a novel instead, right? Ha ha, yes, that’s the way husbands work. I just rolled my eyes so loudly I could hear cartilage crunch.

I've got ants in my pants and I need to talk to someone in Finance

So, ants. I don't know if it's because we spent the previous 17 years living on the second floor and we're new to this whole ground-floor business, but suddenly we seem to have ants just streaming through the house. What did we do? What do they want? To hoard delicious crystals of sugar (if Chris Van Allsburg is to be believed), and to have me slap the shit out of myself when I feel one crawling on my neck? Jack inadvertently discovered that ants hate Pledge, so he keeps spraying the lip of the garbage can under the sink with Pledge, and every time I take out a full bag to replace it I'm newly surprised that my hands are slick and lemon-scented. I recently realized that I have Alzheimer's disease on BOTH sides of my family (my dad's brother, Harry, and my mom, who I was told had dementia but whose doctor wrote Alzheimer's on her death certificate, which suggests to me that the two are interchangeable? I must remember to Google that when I'm feeling less vulnerable). So while I'm trying to take care of my brain health, I'm also trying to accept that I'll be hiding my own Easter eggs sooner or later, and I'm working to be okay with that. It's a pretty awful thing to try to accept, though. To the people of the future who might read this and wonder how all these words came out of the angry, withered husk drooling under a moth-eaten lap robe sitting before you: maybe playing some Elvis Costello will calm me down? Try anything from Taking Liberties or Get Happy! and I will probably stop yelling at you. Recently I had to go to our storage locker to look for my tax stuff because our taxes are due October 15 and I always like to do important things at the last minute. We got an extension instead of filing in April, and when we moved I'm sure I did something clever with my W-2s and my 1099s ("I know, I'll put them here in this special place I will have completely forgotten about in six months") (the one thing that consoles me about losing my mind is a quote from Meryl Streep I read once where she said that when she hit 50 she became unable to memorize scripts anymore, so either this memory bullshit is a normal part of aging or I have Streep's disease, in which case I will become progressively blonder and be offered amazing roles as a sign of Hollywood's shift toward featuring more mature women HA HA HA HA HA). But while I was digging through our storage locker, looking for tax stuff, I happened to find another box that I'd been looking for for seven years:

Yay, old photos! That is my kindergarten class, helmed by the lovely Miss Jackson. I did not name my son after her but it would not be weird if I did, as I remember her as a wonderful teacher who once helped me put an Archies 45" (which I'd cut out of the back of a cereal box) onto the classroom record player, and then laughed when I did the Mashed Potato to "Sugar Sugar." I have clear memories of at least half the kids in this picture, thanks to the fact that a lot of them continued at the same schools with me for the next ten years. (For example, the boy on the left side of the front row in the blue sweater's name was Bobby and his father played for the New York Jets. The girl on the far right side of the second row was named Phyllis, but the boys called her Waffles. :-( Sorry, Phyllis.)

Anyway, I ended up finding my receipts in our garage, in a box supporting a table saw (?), and then I spent half of yesterday begging various freelance agencies to go back through their records and e-mail/fax me the rest of what I needed. I'm already planning on hiding next year's 1099s in an empty Comet can under the sink. Financial time capsule!

How to be a fan of problematic things

I've been Popcorn Whispering again.

Barack Obama can swear like a motherf*cker.

Day Two!

Today is my fifteenth wedding anniversary. Fifteen years ago today it was a Saturday morning and I was in a cold sweat. Our neighbor, Linda, was arranging chairs in the backyard, Jack was standing around laughing and being far too relaxed about everything, and I was on the phone yelling at the bakery that had no record of our order for a four-tier cake and finger food for 50+ guests. It takes a lot for me to yell at someone. I sound exactly like my mom when I do, my voice drops a register and comes from somewhere deep in my chest. I think it's hilarious that anyone takes me seriously in that state. It's like I'm trying to sound like a yeti.

As soon as he heard that our cake was M.I.A. our other neighbor, Lance, ran to the grocery store and bought and decorated a sheet cake for us, which was ten times better than any four-layer strawberry-covered monstrosity I could have dreamed up.

Oh my God we look so young.

(The whole cake story is here.)

It seems like everything worked out because here we are, 5,475 days later. We've had some amazing times and some extremely rough times. But I'm not big on public displays of affection, I'm afraid, so there will be no sentimentality here today.

Yes, we were wearing sunglasses. It was bright.

I took down the tree and then I made a video about it

As a kid, it was my job every year to assemble the plastic Christmas tree. I was also in charge of decorating it, baking cookies, being excited about the yearly broadcast of Ruldoph on TV, and ignoring my father when he got inexplicably pouty and demanded that nobody buy him any presents. Now, as an adult, our Christmases are extremely quiet affairs, and though I don't actually take much delight in sacrificing a live tree once a year to appease whoever it is we're appeasing (my husband's ancestors?), I still enjoy the process of putting it up, plugging in the lights every morning, smelling it occasionally, taking it down, and then finding stray pine needles in my shoes for the next six months.

Music: "Linus and Lucy" by Vince Guaraldi

Just One Nipple!

This is a page from a magazine my mother received when she left the hospital with her first child in 1953. The drawing accompanies an article called "So You Can't Afford a Nurse!" I don't know anyone who brought an actual nurse home with her baby, did that used to be a thing you did? For normal, healthy babies? It sounds like a thing that Modern, Scientific People would have done when faced with the medical anomaly that is a helpless, pre-verbal human. And God forbid you'd put your own unsterilized nipple in its mouth.

The Piggy Bank Gang

I spent the whole weekend on the phone with Alice finishing editing book pages and adding images and updating photo credits and such! And then sending the book back to New York via UPS! And now I'm drinking Champagne and I'm not about to try to post anything substantial! So here's a good one from the archives. My parents' house in Chicago was robbed in 1955 and apparently this was big enough news to make the Tribune. My dad lost his Heidelberg ring in the robbery.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen Marriott misspelled over the course of my vast lifetime. I also can't tell you who John Litel was.

Veterans Day

I don't know what to make of holidays that can't seem to be appended to a Sunday, but here we are, Veterans Day. I honestly did think of my dad this morning and to honor him I put on some Warner Bros. cartoons (he loved Daffy Duck). On the way to the mall to celebrate our nation's sacrifices with a 40% discount on all name brands, Jackson started grousing about what a stupid holiday it was. After a brief discussion on the origins of the word holiday ("Holy day" "You're making things up again, aren't you, Mom?"), I felt obliged to give him an overview of World War Two, which went a little like this:

  1. Most of Europe was fighting the Nazis but they were getting tired
  2. They asked America to help and we did!
  3. America's volunteers helped to defeat the Nazis, which I mean, wow, can you imagine if we were all speaking German right now?
  4. But a lot of people died fighting Hitler so this is a good day to remember that war is a giant drag and that some people made huge sacrifices to take a stand against tyranny

And then we moved on to Jackson's latest fascination: Astrology! Yay! Change subjects!

My dad was in Japan at the end of the war, and he totally transferred his fascination with Japan on to me.

Posture, Marriott! I have no idea how he laced his boots like that.

No idea. Hokkaido?

Paratrooper humor.

Meanwhile, my mom's brother Al was in the Navy, which makes sense for a landlocked boy with a sense of humor. Minnesota has a lot of lakes, you know.

Almost-wordless Wednesday (1)

From the same photo album as the others:

On the back it identifies them as (top row, l to r) Keith, 11 yrs; Scott, 8 soon; Billy, 9 yrs 9 mos; (front row, l to r) Lowell, 18 mos + getting over the flu; Lyle, 4 yrs 9 mos. It was taken in 1961 and Lyle's had just about enough of this nonsense. This has got to be one of my favorite family photos of all time and, again, I have no idea which side of the family these boys belong to.

Uncle Louis

My great uncle Louis sent out this Christmas card I'm guessing around 1952. He must have been getting a lot of photo cards from couples and families so I'm proud of how he responded: he took a double exposure photo (could a digital camera even do this? I guess we have Photoshop now) and made himself into a family of two.

Louis worked at Wonder Bread in Minneapolis for 30 years. He married a nice girl named Dottie and instead of kids they raised standard poodles and dobermans. I only met him once or twice. I remember him being tall and rather taciturn, but my dad could break him up.

Uncle Louis was born 16 years after his sister, Rose. Rose, my grandmother, had my dad when she was 19, so my dad and Louis were only about three years apart, and consequently they grew up more like brothers than an uncle and nephew.

The men in my family always look like celebrities to me. Louis reminds me of Sid Caesar. In certain photographs my grandfather looks just like Humphrey Bogart. My uncle Harry was a perfect cross between Jack Lemmon and Johnny Carson. My brother Tim is a cheerful mix of Tom Selleck, John Travolta, and Will Ferrell.

Apart from my mother somewhat resembling Ingrid Bergman, however, the women in my family exhibit nothing more than a tendency to snort when surprised by something funny.