Thoughts On Aging

DailyPrompt: Mind Reader

Who’s the last person you saw before reading this prompt? Whether it’s a family member, a coworker, or a total stranger, write a post about what that person is thinking right now.

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 Well, it likely defeats the purpose of the whole mind reading assignment, but it’s easy enough.

The last person I saw was me.

Yep…looked in the mirror about 10 minutes ago and thought, “Man this aging business sucks.”

Things are starting to sag that never sagged before, and I used to pride myself on things being firmly packed into place in my 20’s. A push up bra? Pffft. I never even owned one.

Not to mention the occasional grey hair that I used to find that has now turned into 6 dozen or more. As I was gazing into the visor mirror busily plucking them in the car the other day, grumbling each time I’d find another, my husband and daughter told me to just quit while I was ahead. “You’re going to get 2 for every one you pull”, my husband advised. Yeah, right. It’s more of a 10 to 1 ratio these days. “But why are they all thick and wavy?” I asked. I don’t even have wavy hair! Are these someone else’s grey hairs and God just made a mistake by giving them to me?

My only saving grace now is that I don’t have crow’s feet…yet. I have a 25 year old face on a 40 year old body. Thank you, Mother Nature.

I swear my freckles have at least quadrupled over the years, too. Once upon a time, you could take a pen and play ‘connect the dots’ on my face, arms, and shoulders. Now, after half an hour in the sun, you can’t even find my face under the mass of orangey-brown freckles. At least I hope they’re freckles. Could just be liver spots.

My memory is slowly going. My husband can tell me something 50 times, and I won ‘t even remember it the next…wait…who are you again?

When I was a kid, I swear I had a cast iron stomach, too. People would dare me to eat things, and I, being the ever vigilant attention seeker that I was, would gladly oblige them. Tin cans, earthworms, failed math tests…you name it, I could ingest it as my peers looked on with open-mouthed fascination. The way to everyone’s heart seemed to be my stomach, and I could trot off down the road afterward without a care in the world.

Yesterday, people… I ate grapes. Nothing out of the ordinary, just some plump, sweet, juicy, burst-when-you-bite-them red seedless grapes. An hour later, as I was curled up in the fetal position wishing for death, wondering exactly what I did to bring the wrath of God down upon my intestines, I realized that those “eat anything and pay nothing” days were long gone.

Now, if I just get a whiff of pizza, I have raging heartburn for the next 3 days. I can’t even drink orange juice without a cherry tums chaser, and I absolutely love orange juice! And tacos? Tacos are like death wrapped in a soft flour tortilla. Even the mild ones are like a stroll through hell.

Why oh why does my body have to do this to me?

Oh, that’s right…because 40 is only 3 and a half months away, that’s why.

Welcome to adulthood, sweetheart.

Maybe you shouldn’t have been so eager to wish for it when you were a kid, hmm?

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Sister Stockholm Syndrome

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My poor son just happens to be cursed.

The boy has been afflicted with 3 older sisters.

Well, one actual birth sister and 2 step-sisters, but in our house, a sister is a sister. Titles aside, they all torment just the same.

He has a step-brother, too, who sometimes crosses the line from simple sibling aggravation into straight up bullying. We put a stop to it when we know about it, but under threats of further torment, my son will opt to keep silent most of the time.

My husband has theorized, however, that some sibling oppression is good for the boy. Character building, in fact. So, he’ll often respond to my distress over any given situation with, “Well, my brother tortured me as a kid. I turned out just fine and still love him very much. Besides, he needs to toughen up a little.”

I just huff exasperatedly and shake my head at him.

We will probably never see eye to eye on the subject, but hey, I’m an only child so my views are naturally going to be different.

Anyway, I believe that the boy has weighed his options and realized that sister torture is marginally less painful than brother torture, so he’s decided to let the sisters do to him what they will and go with the flow.

I think he was conditioned by the girls at a young age when they made the assessment that he was a living doll put on this earth strictly for their personal entertainment, and would put him in dresses, complete with hair accessories and jewelry to match.

I would peek in on them to find them all staring up at me; the girls with big cheeky grins, and the boy in full female regalia with a defeated look on his face.

Over the years he’s been dressed up, made up, had his eyebrows plucked, his hair sculpted, his nails painted, and countless other atrocities committed against him compliments of his sisters.

When I would find him in such predicaments, I would go and get my camera to the tune of his screaming admonitions, “NOOOOO, MOMMY!! NOT FACEBOOK! YOU CAN’T PUT ME ON FACEBOOK!!!”

After a while, though, he gave up when he learned that Facebook was an inevitable fate.

Now he doesn’t even try. He has adopted a “just do to me what you will” attitude with his sisters, and even plays into their little brother bothering games with enthusiasm most of the time.

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This could mean one of 2 things. Either he’s been tormented by his sisters so much that he honestly genuinely enjoys it now, or it just proves how smart the boy is, because he knows that if he’s not acting like their antics annoy him, they’ll give up on him out of boredom.

If the former is the case, I see therapy in the boy’s future.

If the latter is the case, then…

Well played son, well played.

Grandmother Times Two

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Left:Grams, Middle:Me, Right:Bets

My grandmas were as diff’rent as night and day,
But both of them loved in their own special way.
I would have adored for them both just to stay,
But grandmas, I fear, must one day go away.

For some reason, I’ve been thinking about both of my Grandmothers a lot lately. I think that this dive into the memory pool is due mostly in part to the fact that during a recent vacation to visit my parents, my dad and I reminisced a bit about my Grandma Betty. “Bets” as she was called by all who knew her, had many eccentricities. My dad would always say that she was somewhat of a cross between Phyllis Diller and Lucille Ball.

The whole reminiscence was brought about by hot dogs. Yes, hot dogs.

We were preparing a dinner of what was supposed to be hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, and we realized after the hamburgers were finished cooking that we had forgotten to put the hot dogs on altogether. So, we just microwaved them instead. Bets would not have approved, for she liked her hot dogs hot off the grill, and burnt to a charcoal crisp. I mimicked her voice to my dad; that loud, gravelly voice filled with laughter that we would hear at every cook-out and function during the warmer months, calling to my dad as he stood over the grill. “Johnny, I want a black weenie,” she would say. We would all then burst into laughter at the sheer ridiculousness of that request.

We chuckled at the memory, my dad and I. Ah Bets, we sure do miss you.

So, I decided to dedicate today’s post to them; the Grandmothers that I loved, and ultimately lost.

When we’re children, we don’t stop to think about the fact that they won’t be there some day. Grandmothers just seem so eternal, as if they will always be permanent fixtures in our lives. We tend to take the quilts, cookies, and cuddles for granted until we wake up one day and realize that we aren’t young anymore, and neither are they. Then the inevitable happens; they leave us with nothing but memories of the love that they lavished upon us, and it’s too late to go back and savor every deliciously perfect moment that we were able to share with them.

My grandmothers were both very different, but they got along well. I can’t recall a Christmas, birthday, or any other major even in my life that they weren’t both there to celebrate with me; until they were gone. Then I noticed their absence even more than I noticed their presence at such events, because it left a gaping hole that had always been filled by their big happy hearts.

They both lived their lives at opposite ends of some stereotypical grandmother spectrum, but it’s hard to picture either of them any other way than how they simply just were.

Bets was a social butterfly, and after she was awake and dressed each day, she was off and running. My other grandmother, Grandma Groth, or “Grams”, was your typical grandmotherly type. She baked. She quilted. She knitted. My home is still graced by some of her lovingly crafted creations today.

Bets would start her day off with gin and juice and a morning smoke. Grams would start hers with a poached egg, toast, and coffee.

Grams gave the best hugs. Bets would cover your face in sloppy lipstick coated kisses.

If I wanted to find Bets, I knew to look at the American Legion. She would likely have beer in hand, and be perched upon the bar stool that she had claimed long ago and that had, by then, formed to fit the shape of her backside. If I wanted to find Grams, I knew that she’d either be at the local bowling alley, taking part in her senior’s league and staying young at heart, or in her own kitchen.

Grams loved to cook and bake, and her award winning confections were raved about by all that knew her. She made the most amazing chocolate chip cookies. She also made these things called “Butterhorns” that were to die for. They were basically croissants made from scratch with raspberry jam in the middle, covered with a thin layer of frosting and crushed walnuts. I can almost taste their soft, sweet deliciousness as I sit and call to mind the memory of them now. Bets, well…she could make a mean bowl of corn flakes. That was the extent of her culinary skill . She couldn’t be bothered spending her time tied to a kitchen.

Bets had this cackling, infectious laugh that you could hear from across the room. She also didn’t have much of a filter between her brain and her mouth. If she was thinking it, she said it, often to the point of embarrassment. “What are those red spots all over your face, Piggy-coo?” (Hated that name, I seriously did, especially since I struggled with my weight from about 8th grade on.) “They’re zits, Grandma. Thanks for pointing them out at my graduation party in front of all my friends.”

Grams had her “Grandma-isms”; all these silly little sayings that she’d use regularly that made no sense whatsoever.  “Kwitcherbelliachin”, which was coincidently displayed on a bright green plaque by her door, was what she would say if you were doing more than your fair share of complaining.  “Want an egg in your beer?” was given in response if you were just being too demanding. “Like poop through a tin horn.” (Okay poop wasn’t the exact word she used but you get the idea.) I think that one indicated swiftness. “Sugar jets!” was an exclamation of frustration. I’m sure that there were more, but those were the most prominent ones that come to mind.

I miss them both very much. Like all Grandmothers, though, their time on this earth was just way too brief.

Grandma Betty’s lifetime of drinking and smoking finally caught up with her, and she succumbed to her vices swollen and gasping for each shallow breath hooked up to a ventilator in the local hospital’s intensive care unit. When I was told that she had taken a turn for the worse, and would likely not last through the night, it took all the reserve I could muster to make the pilgrimage to visit her that one last time. I could hardly bear to see her like that, but I needed to say my good-byes. I knew that there would be regrets on my part if I didn’t.

She could do nothing more than move her eyes at that point, but as I held her swollen and limp hand in mine, she rolled her now kidney failure yellowed eyes  in my direction. I realized then that she was looking at me for the last time in this all too short and fragile life. As her eyes locked on mine, my tears started to flow. I read her goodbye written in those once vibrant eyes, and that brief goodbye gaze tore my heart out. I told her I loved her, kissed her clammy forehead, and made my departure. The woman that I had once thought to be immortal had fallen, and I could scarcely handle seeing her as less than the star of the one woman show that she had always been to all who knew her.

Grams went much more peacefully, and it was simply old age that finally got the better of the strong, independent, active woman that I had also thought would live on forever. It was in her sleep in the nursing home where she resided that she finally left us. I had already started my new life 1200 miles away by that time, and I received the phone call from my mother breaking the news to me.

I didn’t have the money for travel expenses, so I wasn’t able to make it to the funeral to pay my respects to Gram one last time. That fact devastated me almost as much as her passing, and I will always have pangs of regret because of it.

It was hard on me for a good long while to lose her, even though I only saw her toward the end during the 2 times a year that I made the trip home to visit. I would stop into the nursing home every time, and she would always recognize me, even though her moments of memory loss became more and more frequent with each passing year. I loved to walk into her room and hear her exclaim my name and watch her eyes light up with all the joy and wonder of one who has just spotted a celebrity in their presence. It always reminded me of just how much she genuinely loved me.

Even though I never got to truly say goodbye, I can rest assured that she knew I loved her, too.

If any of your grandmothers are still with you, appreciate them. They won’t always be there, so find the time to let them know you love them and enjoy each moment that you’re able to spend with them.

If you’re a grandmother yourself, just know that you’re loving presence is one of the greatest blessings that your grandchildren could ever receive, and they will one day realize it.

This little trip down memory lane has caused me to shed a few new tears, but they’re welcome tears. Tears of warmth. Tears of fondness. Tears of privilege at having had my grandmothers in my life.

I just looked up to see them both standing before me, smiles on their fading but not forgotten faces, and eyes filled with love.

It seems that they approve of this message.

Hot, Stale, Crazy, Rainy, Dirty, Summer, Saturday, Morning, Breakfast Memories.

Daily Prompt: Three-Tenths

Scribble down the first ten words that come to mind. Pick three of them. There’s your post title. Now write!

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I couldn’t think of a good cover photo, so here’s a monkey riding an Australian Shepherd while chasing a goat. Enjoy.

Hot, Stale, Crazy, Rainy, Dirty, Summer, Saturday, Morning, Breakfast Memories.

I sit back and look over my quickly scrawled ten word list. I then recite it out loud. I smile and decide to keep all ten words, which probably defeats the purpose of the whole exercise in the first place. I shrug. It just sounds rather awesome this way, and I like it.

I look over at my daughter sitting next to me playing a game on her cell phone at the thrift store desk. Yeah, it’s Saturday. That means it’s go time in Ghettoville. It’s been rainy all weekend, so business has been slow. I haven’t seen any crazies yet to give me new writing material for my ‘Tales from the Thrift Store’ stories, either. This deeply saddens me.

“What do I write about today, Big Red?” I ask my daughter. I call her that because she’s not only a redhead, but the child towers over me by a good 5 inches now. It was bound to happen eventually. Her daddy is 6’7. I’m 5’2. I know, I know. Given those numbers, the fact that this child was even created is a story problem in and of itself.  I’ve done the math. The answer equals Pi.

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Mmmm, pie. I realize how hungry I am. I forgot to bring something for breakfast. Lunch might just have to come early today.

“Well, what’s the daily thingy?” she asks. I relay today’s writing assignment to her. “Hmmm. Write about a childhood memory or something.” She says. “Just make it a good one, though. Something funny. Not those crappy sad ones that you always write about.”

Hoo boy. Make it hard on me, why don’t ya? I tap into my mental file cabinet and thumb through my neatly stacked and alphabetized memories (OCD, duh) for something decent to pull out. My mental fine cabinet is hot pink, to match the one in my closet. The latch sticks sometimes, too.

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Ooo, here’s one. I was probably about 7, and I saw the dogs eating grass so I figured that they must really like the way it tasted. l then set to work loading up their newly filled water buckets (compliments of my dad) with fresh cut grass clippings so that they could enjoy a nice mouthful with every refreshing lap. There. Mission accomplished.  Dad didn’t think it was a brilliant idea though. He was really angry. He hauled me over to one of the buckets and told me to take a drink and see how I liked it. I cried and begged not to…

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Ohhhkay. Maybe not the best memory, after all.

I quickly file it away and start digging for something better.

How about this one? I was maybe 10, and I was climbing my favorite Dogwood tree in the front yard. It wasn’t an overly large tree, and I wasn’t an overly large child, so there wasn’t any great danger in me thinking I was part monkey. I was about halfway up when it happened. I can’t really remember now if a branch had snapped or if I had simply lost my footing, but down came baby, cradle and all. Flat on baby’s back. It knocked the wind out of me, of course, but I wasn’t genuinely hurt. I had, however, felt the squish between my shoulder blades when I landed.

As I laid there for a second catching my breath and regaining my composure, the smell became obviously more adept than I had been at my task, and swiftly climbed right up my nostrils. Apparently, the dog would do just about anything under the Dogwood tree.

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I stood up and reached my hand around to touch my back like an idiot. I could smell it. I knew what it was. Further investigation wasn’t in order, but for whatever reason, I felt compelled to do it anyway. I guess I was just in shock. Or maybe it was denial. Sure enough, I pulled my hand back to find a tacky brown paste now coating my palm. Eww, just…eww. A large portion of the back of my white ‘Front Porch Ice Cream Parlor’ t-shirt was caked in fresh, gooey…and really, really stinky…dog excrement. It just had to be a white t-shirt, too, didn’t it?

I ran my hand under the outside faucet until I could go inside to better wash it, and went to the sliding glass door at the back of the house. Mom was in the kitchen. “What are you doing?” She asked with one raised eyebrow as I tried to sneak past her. I was pretty sure I heard an audible gasp as she turned to see the back of my shirt trying to discretely disappear around the corner.

“Oh no you don’t…get back here.” I halted and cringed. “Outside. Now.”

“But mom…” I stunk so bad. It was growing colder, too, as it seeped through my shirt and caressed my skin like a dead lover’s rotting fingertips.  I stepped out onto the porch again, where mom waited to take my clothes as she made me strip. Outside. Where the neighbors might see. I’m fairly certain that those clothes got burned afterward, too. “Shower. Now. Go.” But..but… Shower time usually meant outside playtime was over. There was still plenty of daylight left to burn. I wasn’t ready to be done for the day.

I really don’t know how this was originally going play out in my mind. Maybe I would just sneak into the bathroom with one of mom’s good washcloths, wipe the poop off my back, wash my hands, change my shirt, and be on my merry way again? At any rate, I hung my head dejectedly and shuffled off toward the bathroom…

You know, now that I think about it, maybe that wasn’t the greatest memory selection, either. I stuff it back into the file cabinet. I’ll try for one more.

Let’s see. Okay. I was perhaps 9 and we were out fishing on dad’s little leisure boat. I don’t know what else to call it. It wasn’t a speed boat; the thing maybe went 45 miles per hour tops. It wasn’t a fishing boat, either. It was baby blue, and it had 4 seats, 2 back to back on each side. It also had windshields in front of the forward facing seats, and a large, flat bow section where I could sit along the edge, and dangle my feet into the water.

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Close Enough

So, we were out fishing, my dad, mom, uncle Hose, and I. My uncle’s real name is Dave, by the way. For as long as I can remember, though, I’ve called him uncle Hose because my dad made a crack when they were younger about him changing his name to José, on account of some funky mustache that he had grown that made him look Hispanic. It was later shortened to just plain “Hose”, which stuck with him like a bad chicken pox scar for all these years.

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Anyway, I was propped up on my usual fishing perch; the top of the large, bulky Evinrude motor dangling over the back of the boat, when my uncle told a joke. Funny guy, that uncle Hose. Always had a joke or 50. I couldn’t possibly recall that joke now, but I know that it must have been hilarious, because I tossed my head back and laughed so hard that it threw off my balance, and I tumbled end over end into the murky bayou below.  I surfaced a moment later, shocked, gasping, and thankful that my parents always made me wear a life jacket while out on the boat.

My uncle grabbed hold of that water-logged life jacket and hauled me up into the boat like a sack of soggy potatoes. All 3 of them made sure I was alright, and then they stopped and stared at me for a moment before bursting into peals of laughter. Somehow, I had just made the joke that was told even funnier as I stood there and dripped all over the fiberglass.

It was funny, that is, until my mom realized that my fishing pole went right over the back of the boat with me, and all that remained in sight was my bobber innocently riding the ripples that skimmed over the surface of the water. It was maybe 5 or 6 feet away from the boat, so my mom got the oar out of the side compartment and used it to drag the bobber close enough to reach. With bobber retrieved, the excess line could now be hauled in until the pole magically appeared from somewhere out of the depths below. Problem solved.

Or not.  See, my dad always bought those cheap, closed faced, Zebco reels that you had to push the button to cast. We were a lazy bunch of fishermen, what can I say.  Apparently, I had just pushed the button on my reel and was about to cast the line before I went tumbling butt over teakettle into the lake.

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Needless to say, my mom spent the entire rest of that fishing trip wrapping hundreds of yards of excess fishing line around a can of bug spray until my pole finally emerged. She wasn’t laughing anymore by that time. As a matter of fact, she was quite hot…

Okay, maybe that isn’t some top shelf memory either.

I think maybe I stink at this come up with a “good memory” business.

I give up.

Until next time…

An Open Letter to My 16 Year Old Daughter

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To Amber, my “Berber” Baby…

Where do I even begin with the hopes and dreams that I have for your future? There are just so many things that I’d wish for your life; paths that I’d choose for you, if I were allowed to. Your life is your own, however, and though there may be rules and guidelines for you to follow now in an effort to steer you in the right direction, soon all I’ll be able to offer you is motherly advice. It will then be your choice to either heed or ignore it.

So as far as hopes go, I’ll start with the hope that you can one day see the beauty that lies in forgiveness. Finding the ability to forgive has been a huge struggle that you’ve faced for a while now. Let go of your anger toward others. You’ll love how free it will make you feel.  Always remember that people are just that; people. Imperfect beings. They will screw up. Try not to hold anyone to a higher standard than you would hold yourself. You don’t want to become a bitter, lonely woman someday because you have placed excessively high expectations on others, and are unable to forgive them when they can’t meet those expectations. There’s a saying that goes, “Bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” This is very true. It will only hurt you if you can’t learn to let it go. I’d hate to see you leave nothing but a slew of failed relationships behind you because you’re unable to finally see what it means to forgive.

I also hope you dare to dream, but hope you never have that dream where you’re standing in the high school hallway naked while the other kids laugh and point. That’s a terrible dream. Yeah, don’t have that. Dream good dreams instead and focus them into your artwork. You’re an amazing artist already, and I’m in awe of your extraordinary imagination. You can do great things and go far with your God-given talent. Speaking of God, and I know you’ll probably just roll your eyes at what’s to come so I’ll try not to draw it out…

I hope you’ll one day turn to God and seek a relationship with Him. Desire His will for your life and know that He’s genuinely there for you and wants to bless you. I know that several “Christians” have hurt you in the past and have proven to be terrible examples of His love and compassion. Now you don’t want to even consider a relationship with God because you’re afraid that every move you’d make as a believer would cause you to be thrown under a microscope and judged, so you’ve turned away from faith completely. This all goes back to forgiveness, though, and how people are just people. The ones that point fingers are no better than anyone else. Remember that. It’s not about them, anyway. It’s about you and Him. God himself is not a bad dude, he’s just misunderstood.

I’m not going to go on to tell you that I hope you find someone…a partner in life that makes you happy. Happiness lies within you, and no single person on this earth can give that to you. I do, however, hope that you find someone that treats you with the respect that you deserve. You’re beautiful, inside and out. I’m aware that you know it, now, but I hope that no one ever crosses your path that makes you forget it. Never settle, either. Your perfect guy is out there, and he’ll be worth waiting for. Remember what I said about forgiveness when you do find him. You’ll need that to make it work.

At the same time, though, don’t allow yourself to become someone else’s punching bag, either physical or emotional. Learn where to draw the line. Never ever accept abuse as a way of life.

Last but not least, I hope you strive to be something more than I was. Advance your career. Make something of yourself. Never give up. More importantly, though, if you don’t happen to achieve all that you have planned, don’t allow yourself to be filled with regret. Try not to dwell on the “what ifs” like I have done. They’ll just tear you apart.

Do you remember the 6 years that I left you from the ages of 6 to 12? Yeah, so do I. I doubt I’ll ever forget. Your dad and I both wanted you. We always have. You weren’t some possession that I could just keep in my pocket, though, and the judge said that you were better off staying where you were, with him. I left anyway. You were in good hands. They just weren’t my hands.

I’m not sorry for that pivotal turning point in my life. I can’t apologize for the choice that I made to follow my heart.  I am loved more than I ever could have dreamed. I’ve found the other half that makes me whole. I will, however, always regret that we couldn’t be together during that time because, while I may have found one piece of my heart, I left another behind with you.

I’d call you during that time we were apart, and we would sing “You Are My Sunshine” together over the phone. Remember? We may not sing together anymore, but we talk now, and it’s nice, those heart to hearts. Mother daughter bonding chats. It can’t make up for the time that we lost, but I enjoy our close relationship now more than you’ll ever know. You’re still, and always will be the sunshine that brightens my life.

I’m pleased to see that you have finally grown into your own person. I have to admit that when you were younger, you simply, and blindly, followed the pack. What the crowd did, you did. How the crowd dressed, you dressed. What the crowd liked, you liked. Now, you’ve developed your own sense of style. You have your own likes and dislikes. You form your own opinions and have developed your own personality.  You have become you.

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While I cradled you in my arms as a baby, I daydreamed of who and what you would become. Where would your life lead you? I can honestly say that while you may not fit the exact profile of the future daughter I had created in my head then, you’re even better. You’ve grown to be even more beautiful, funny, talented, and loving than I had dreamed. You’ve become a young woman that I am very proud to call daughter.

My pride and love for you will always be there. You’ve already done things that have left me disappointed in you and there will likely be more as time goes on. We’re all human beings, though. We’ve all made mistakes. Lord knows I’ve made my fair share. For me to hold yours against you would make me hypocritical at best, and not fit to call myself a mother at worst. My love for you is unconditional. There’s nothing on this earth that you could do that would make me stop loving you.

Yes, you will make bad decisions, and you will fall. I won’t always be there to catch you, either. You’ll be 17 in 3 short months, and then, before you know it, you’ll be out in this vast world seeking your own adventures and riding the wind in whatever direction it takes you.

Unfortunately, though, life doesn’t come with bumper pads, like the Winnie the Pooh ones that used to line your crib. I hope that you’ll always be able to pick yourself up and dust yourself off when life knocks you down. That’s how we become stronger. That’s how we build character. When you do fall, please try not to stay down for too long. We’re not guaranteed tomorrow, so make the most of today.

I’ll leave you with a reminder of the greatest words of wisdom that your dear old mom has ever spoken.

Quite frankly, it is what it is.

And in keeping true to your German roots,

Ich leibe dich.

-Momsie

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The Art of the Open Letter

The Bad Place

Daily Prompt: Smell You Later

Humans have very strong scent memory. Tell us about a smell that transports you.

Yesterday, I traveled 30 years back in time to a place that I had never really wanted to revisit…

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There’s nothing particularly special or unusual about what I do during the week. It’s just your average blue collar job giving painted facelifts to aging and abused apartments. It was just your average Thursday morning, and I was in my average lazy mood.

After a fifteen minute commute, I arrived at the run-down property that my husband manages. It’s not his fault that it’s in such disrepair; he does his best with what he has. The outside of place hasn’t been painted in over fifteen years, and though I offered to do the job for much less than any of the other commercial painters, the economy still won’t allow for any major renovations right now. The wooden privacy fence surrounding the property has either been pulled down in several places by the local class-cutting high school students looking for a place to hide out, or it has simply rotted away. The pool fence is being eaten away by rust. Most of the fenced in enclosures that house the air conditioning units have been destroyed by the local kids on their summer vacation. Many of the window screens have been torn up or ripped out. Several of the decorative shutters have fallen off. The parking lot needs to be resurfaced. The list goes on and on, but there’s just no money to have any of it repaired or replaced.  I tell my husband that he’s been demoted from property manager to slum lord, but he’s just too optimistic to accept it.

The insides of the places aren’t much better. I’ve come to realize that because of the deteriorating conditions outside, most of the residents aren’t motivated enough to take care of the inside, either. The apartment that I’m currently working in has a thick layer of nicotine on everything, torn up carpets with thick greasy stains all over them, and roaches as abundant as the stars.

I sat on the couch in my husband’s office for awhile, taking my sweet time nibbling at a microwaved breakfast sandwich, and trying to devise new ways to stall the inevitable. Eventually, though, I had to face the facts; 402 wasn’t going to paint itself, and I needed the money. So, I summoned up enough energy to haul my lazy rear end up of the sofa, grabbed my roller and brushes out of the refrigerator (that’s a nice little painter trick so that you don’t have to rinse them out at the end of every day), and toddled off to earn my dollar fifty and a small fry.

After fighting with the door for a moment because it’s one of those that you have to pull on in order for the key to properly turn in the lock, I finally managed to work it open and step inside. That same familiar nicotine smell ran to the threshold and greeted me, though it was admittedly not as strong as before due to the fresh coat of paint on several of the walls. I had already seen enough of this particular apartment to last a lifetime, though, so I decided to waste no more time getting started. I set my painting paraphernalia on the kitchen counter, grabbed my angled trim brush, popped open the 5 gallon bucket of white, and knelt down in a far corner of the living room to get started.

I had been avoiding that particular corner with good reason. I knew what those thick brown and yellow stains covering that matted patch of carpet were from. Sure enough, as I squatted down, my nasal passages were instantly assaulted by an all too familiar odor. Ooo, that smell. Can’t you smell that smell?

That memory smell. The one that sent a cold chill up my spine the second that my nostrils caught the first pungent whiff.

Animal urine…

I was instantly transported out of the ‘now’ to find myself gazing into the ‘way back when’.

Christmas time and a week or two of summer vacation in which I went with my parents to “The Cabin up North”, were really the only times of the year that I was made to visit my grandfather as a child. I couldn’t have been more thankful for that fact.

He was a crotchety old man. The kind that you see in the movies or on TV, waving a fist in the air on his front porch yelling “stay off my lawn!” at the neighborhood kids playing outside. I never saw him smile; at least, not in any of my childhood memories.

I was admittedly afraid of him, as would be any happy-go lucky, pig-tailed little girl whose attempts at fun were met with stern and foreboding glares and admonitions that little girls don’t behave in such a manner. Don’t run around the dogs. Don’t play around the dogs. Don’t raise your voice around the dogs. Don’t have fun around the dogs. Don’t be a child around the dogs…

The dogs.

My grandfather had 4 of them. Four Daschunds. These were NOT your average cute, cuddly little sausage dogs, either. No, these dogs were spawned directly out of the 10th pit of hell. They could not have been scarier had they had multiple heads and breathed fire. You could not make any sudden movements around these dogs, like running, or they’d tear into you faster than you could scream. You could not be loud around these dogs, for loud noises set them off and you could possibly lose a limb. There was one in particular, Schnapps, that was the meanest one of the bunch. You couldn’t even look at him, or he would growl and lunge at your face.

They behaved that way due mostly in part to the fact that they were spoiled rotten. They were the kings and queens of their castle. So much so, that they weren’t even made to go outside to go to the bathroom. There was a dog door in the kitchen that they NEVER used. They had corners of certain rooms that they had claimed as their toilets, and because of this, my grandfather’s house always smelled very strongly of animal urine. You really didn’t want to play in any of the rooms, either, unless you had to, because you’d have to dodge doggy land mines.

I remember the Christmas it happened. The Christmas that I first broke the rules. I was 8 years old. Perhaps even younger, but for some reason, my mind always reverts back to that particular age when I travel once again to the long ago and far away.

We were gathered at my grandfather’s house to exchange gifts and enjoy a holiday meal. I was “playing” in the guestroom, if you could even call it playing, with my grandfather’s wife’s grandson, Joey. In truth, it was more like we were sitting on the sofa watching TV and trying not to draw attention to ourselves.

We were kids, though, and boring TV quickly turned into some childish game that resulted in me running down the hallway. My feet had barely hit the cold, hard floor before Schnapps was hard on my heels and had his teeth sunk into the leg of my pants and the flesh within. He tore my corduroys, the ones that my beloved grandma had made for me. They were tan and had a monkey patch on the back pocket. The tears immediately started flowing, and to make matters worse, here came the grandwarden around the corner. He surveyed the scene. He didn’t really care whether or not I was hurt, he just started yelling at me because I had upset his precious dog.

He then wanted me to try to calm the vicious beast and make friends with it. “Just talk to him, just talk to him…” He’d say. I didn’t want to come within talking distance of that dog. I wanted nothing to do with Schnapps, or my grandfather, who seemingly cared nothing for me.

Every Christmas trip to grandpa’s house thereafter was just some nightmare that I had to live through. At least during the summer trips to the cabin I could hideout in the loft where my grandfather and his evil beasts wouldn’t venture, or I’d spend my time outside on the dock watching the ships roll through the channel, highlighting each new ship that I saw in my special book.

Gramps is long gone, and so is Schnapps. This still doesn’t change the fact that a filthy carpet ripe with animal urine takes me back. Back to a place that I’d never otherwise go.

Prairie Flower Memories

Weekly Writing Challenge: I Remember

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I started my morning off with a bang as my teenage daughter and I went head to head over her cell phone usage.

I simply wanted her to put the thing down long enough to pick up her room and clean her rabbit’s cage. About 20 to 30 minutes worth of work total. She proceeded to plop down on the floor and start talking to her boyfriend, which then caused my temper to flare. Before too long, there were tears and slamming doors, because she had left me with no choice but to take the phone until she did what I asked of her.

After this little temper tornado had passed and all was right with the world again, I loaded my kids up in the car. I needed to go do some work on the apartment that I had started painting yesterday at the property that my husband manages, and I was already getting a later start than I had planned.

As I sat on the sofa in my husband’s office recounting the morning’s events to him before I got started, my son walked in and started to complain about how bored he was because his sister was using the office computer.

It was at that moment that I looked at my husband and said, “You know, I remember summers and weekends as a kid, when I’d wake up, throw on some clothes,  inhale a bowl of cereal, and be off to play…outside. I just couldn’t wait to get there.” He strongly agreed, and we spent a minute or 2 reflecting on simpler times.

I remember…

My ‘Prairie Flower’ bike, with colorful plastic beads on the spokes. ‘Spokey Dokeys’, they were called. It had a horn. It had a basket. It had handlebar tassels. It had a banana seat. It had style.

I remember…

How proud I was that I taught myself to ride that bike. “Daddy, take off my training wheels, please, I feel like a baby. None of my friends have training wheels.” Whoosh. I was gone.

I remember…

Matt, the neighbor boy, teaching me how to jam a crushed soda can in between the rear tire and the fender to get it to make a sound like a dirt bike.

I remember…

Riding that bike down to the creek with my friends to catch frogs. I would bring them home in a bucket, much to the dismay of my mother who would glare at me and tell me to keep my frogs out of the house.

I remember…

Outgrowing that bike. My Prairie Flower made way for a new ten speed left in front of the Christmas tree. Years later, I felt a pang of sadness when I ventured into a corner of the shed and saw her there, collecting cobwebs and silently rusting away.

Most importantly, though, I remember…

That I didn’t need technology to be happy as a child. I was wild. I was free. I was everywhere. I was a Prairie Flower…and from dawn until dark, I was drinking in the sunshine and blowing in the breeze.

We may live in a different age now. It’s not as safe as it used to be. Kids can’t always play outside without supervision, however…

My son has no upper body strength because he’s never climbed a tree. He’s never dug a hole. He’s never built a Teepee out of sticks and branches. He’s never picked wild strawberries. He’s never chased fireflies. He’s never caught a frog. He’s never learned to ride a bike.

I blame myself. In my busy world, my chaotic life, I’ve allowed electronics to become a babysitter. I’ve robbed my kids of the pure, simple, childhood pleasures…and memories…that I once enjoyed.  Those warm, fuzzy ones that you can jump into from time to time like a big blanket pile in the corner of your mind.

I think it may be time to set aside computers, cell phones, and X boxes for some good old fashioned sunshine, fresh air, and freedom. Then maybe, just maybe… with any luck…it won’t be too late for my kids to make their own Prairie Flower Memories.

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