Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tilly falls down. I apply a Band-Aid.

The first bike accident of the season is always a moment of mixed emotions--I'm sorry it happened, but I'm happy to be around with the band-aids. Last night I was on the porch, lost in a book but happened to look up just in time to see a little girl crash into the municipal garbage can. I shouted over offers of help, and the bedraggled family appeared on my steps. Tilly had a big scrape along a bony knee, and an older brother who wanted to tell me how much he'd suffered when he stubbed his toe while getting into bed the previous night. Men.

I'm starting to feel like an EMT (mini-sized Parkway version), because nothing the rattled mom said came as a surprise: "We just had dinner and decided to take a ride." (Got it; you weren't planning on an accident, no one does.) When she started berating herself for not carrying band-aids on her person at all time, I put a hand on her arm. "That's why I'm here," I told her.

It reminded me of my favorite accident victim of all time, Theo, so I dug up this blog to mark the occasion.

SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2013

Living at the Bottom of the Hill

I live at the bottom of a hill. More specifically, my front yard faces the base of one of the steepest slopes in what’s called “The Grand Rounds” of our municipal bike path. On uphill cycling journeys, the sight of this hill generates gritted teeth, groans, and, often, the decision to hop off and push the bike up on foot. On the downhill side, the swift ride to the bottom seems to demand an exclamation from even the most taciturn Scandinavians -- “whee” being the standard utterance for someone who is letting go and letting gravity take over on West Minnehaha Parkway.

One of the happiest harbingers of spring is on that first Saturday afternoon when it’s warm enough for the windows to finally be open all afternoon, not just for a brisk morning airing. With the open-windowed house facing the path across the street, I’m once again connected to the community that’s passing by my door – the wisp of a baby’s wail, being shuttled past by an exhausted parent, the jingling of a heavily tagged dog trotting by, launching my dogs into an agony of “no trespassers!” warning barks.

But when I hear the first exultant “whee” from a cyclist flying down that hill, then I know in my heart that spring has finally made its way to Minneapolis. People cycle on  these paths year-round, but it’s only in spring that the “whees” return.

With every joy there is a sorrow, and, mixed in with all those happy-faced, delighted encounters with terminal velocity, there are also a goodly number of brutal examples of the essential vulnerability of our mortal selves as we combine machines, speed and gravity, fancy bike helmets notwithstanding. When you live at the bottom of a steep cycling hill, you not only hear a lot of “whees” – you see a lot of accidents, too.

I always have big band-aids on hand, and gauze, and ice packs that I can hand off -- for the woman who broke her ankle when a teenaged boy, racing his friends, decided to take a shortcut on the pedestrian path and plowed right into her last August, or for the boy who tipped over his handlebars, cut his lips badly with his own braces, and lost his eyeglasses in the underbrush a few years ago. Ambulances have been called. Seriously bad things have happened, right outside my door.

By those standards, what happened on Tuesday night, even if it resulted in twelve stitches administered to a tiny, but valiant, chin, was pretty mild. I had just stepped outside when I heard a boy’s cry, then looked across and saw the telltale signs – a bike lying flat, a Mom kneeling down over a small figure, an older sister standing by. “Do you need ice, a towel or a band-aid?” I called out, my usual First Aid Menu, here at the Accident Cafe. The mother’s face that appeared, her head snapping up at the offer of help, was wide-eyed, beautiful and worried. “A towel,” she called back, “and thank you.”

By the time I’d raced into my own house and come back out with a dampened towel, the trio had made their way into my front yard, as the injured often do. Bikes were tossed in the grass, the boy sat on the curb, and the mom began to dab at spots on his arms and legs. “Do you think he’ll need stitches?” she asked, tipping his chin up and revealing a very deep and ragged gash. I was conscious that both of them were looking right at me, so my first reaction -- "For the love of Jesus!  Don’t show me that! Now I have to go upstairs and lie down; goodbye!” didn’t seem like such a good idea. I tried to keep my face neutral, because I could tell the boy was watching it closely. “Tell you what,” I said, “Let’s put a few band-aids on it and see what happens.”

The older sister began to assert herself. You can’t be five years old, the ordained boss of a younger brother, and not begin to let everyone present become aware of your opinions on the matter. “This would be his fifth set of stitches,” she archly confided, in a tone that indicated that she was hoping for some tsk-tsking on my part. I just nodded, noncomittally. This is a man, I thought, who leads with his chin.

Once the sting from that first hard slap of reality had begun to wear off, the practicality of dealing with the aftermath of an accident began to emerge. The question is always the same -- what happens next?

“Do you think you can ride your bike home, Theo, or walk it?” the mom asked, in a jolly of-course-you-can manner that fooled no one. Let’s just say here that “Theo firmly declined this offer,” and draw a veil over the actual words that transpired.

“We can drive you home,” I suggested, “and put your bikes in the back of our car.” She thought this over for a moment, then looked up at me with her big, lovely eyes. I could tell I was talking with a woman who had read every single brochure in the pediatrician’s office, twice. “But you don’t have car seats in your car,” she said. Right.

Finally, it was decided that she would run the four blocks back to her house, get the car (with the car seats, thank God), and drive the kids home, then figure out how to have that chin stitched up. As she started to go, she realized that the one hitch in this plan was that she was forced to leave her children with a complete stranger, and she looked back to me for mother-to-mother comfort. “We will not leave this spot,” I promised, patting the very safe-looking grass of the front yard. She hesitated, then turned and ran off.

And that’s how I got to spend some time with Flora, age five, and Theo, age three, who, while a bit battered by recent events, were really the nicest part of my afternoon. “The first order of business,” I declared, “is Fruit Roll-Ups and some glasses of water.” Flora’s eyes got very big. “I’ve never had a Fruit Roll-Up before,” she confessed. As I handed over the shiny little packets, their eyes gleamed with the zeal of kids who have seen a lot of baby carrots in their day. I almost said, “Let’s not mention this to mom,” but quickly realized the folly that lay down that particular rabbit hole. Instead I cheerily declared, “First time for everything,” and watched the two of them ravenously gobble down the little packets of sugar and dye. Top that, baby carrots, I thought.

“I think Theo’s teeth are bleeding, too,” Flora said, peering in at him, but closer inspection revealed a gummy chunk of roll-up between a crevice. She was used to looking at him very closely, I realized, probably out of the corner of her eye, when she didn’t think anyone else noticed.

For his part, the injured party was having a pretty good time. I had an ice pack on his knee, and I kept applying fresh band-aids to a chin wound that can only be described as “gushing.” In the meantime, he busied himself patting the small dog and looking at the big one.

“I think that big one looks like Scooby Doo,” I told Flora. “We’ve never watched that, but I’ve heard about it,” she told me. Oh, you darling children, you've been raised on PBS and baby carrots, and now here you are at the witch's gingerbread house, I worried. Well, they'd have a lot to talk about at dinner tonight.

Theo, I noticed, was wearing a bead bracelet, which spelled out, it was revealed, “Worm.” Asked why, he declared matter-of-factly, “Cause I wuv em.” Flora’s bracelet, appropriately, said “Love,” and she hadn’t forgotten the silent “e” when she’d spelled it, either.

We talked about school, about what books they liked to read. Theo told me he loved a series about pirates who wore “dirt perfume made out of dirt,” and Flora was compelled to tell me, “that’s not a real book.” “But it could be,” I said, “and maybe he’ll write it.” She thought about that for a while, as Theo continued to bleed bucketsful onto one of my kitchen towels.

I wondered what it was that seemed so remarkable about these children, and then I realized:  they were relaxed. Even though something bad had happened, their mom had told them she was going to fix it, and they were going to be okay. They were spending time with a stranger, but, based on their lived experience to date, strangers turned out to be pretty nice, with sugary snacks and dogs to pet. No matter what had happened so far in their short lives, it was clear to me that they have always had a place they can lean into for a bit of rest and comfort. So far at least, there has always been a set of loving hands to hold them up and give them peace.

“Mom should be here soon,” Flora said, and lo, there was mom, hustling up the sidewalk. You have a need, and the answer appears. What a good way to start out a life.

I hugged the kids goodbye and told them to wave the next time they rode by, but carefully, please. As they walked away, I could hear Flora telling her mother, “I have something to tell you. She gave us Fruit Roll-Ups.”  I hustled inside, quickly, put away all the band-aid papers, wash off some spattered blood, and said a small prayer of healing for Theo’s battered chin. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

You can stop using the "B" word now

Perhaps you promised to get those edits to me overnight, and now it’s next week, and you need the final story an hour ago. Or maybe I asked you to participate in a service project with me, or attend a fundraiser for a cause I care about. It could possibly even be several days after some social gathering I hosted, to which you’d RSVP’d, but did not show up.

In any case, I know the magic word you’re going to lob in the air, one that will float over to me and instantly extricate you from further discussion or repurcussions. You know it, too. It’s your all-purpose pass for ignoring, forgetting and blowing off anything, everything and everyone.
       “I’m just so busy.” 
      “I’m crazy busy.” 
      “It’s insane right now.” 
     “You have no idea how busy I am.” 

You’re right. I don’t have any idea how busy you are. Even if you’re a very close friend, I don’t have an opportunity to observe how you order all your days or fill your time. But you don’t have any idea what’s happening on my end of the exchange, either, and, to be honest, I’ve never noticed you asking.

That’s why, lately, whenever someone wails about their “crazy busy” life, the more I hear something else – “I’m the busiEST. I have the most jam-packed schedule, and my life is way bigger than yours. And, now that I’ve invoked the “B” word, you are hereby obligated to murmur sympathy and offer condolences on my lamentable busy state. All eyes, please, on poor, poor me.”

So, yeah, I’m starting to feel the weight of that a little bit – to be tugged down by the crazy-busy-ers who seem to fill up the airwaves all around me, competing for space and sympathy. I don’t even know if I’m busy or not, because it’s so hard to hear myself think above the drone of everyone else’s hyper-full lives.

But here is what I do know – I’m not going to tell you every detail of my obligations, my burdens and my deadlines, even if that’s all I can really think about right now. Instead, if you ask me to do something or be somewhere, here is what I will do. I will look at my schedule and make a silent decision about how I can and want to allocate my time, and then, with all due haste and as little drama as possible, I will tell you: “Yes, I can come to the party, or help you paint that room, or sit with you when you're getting the next round of chemo. When should I be there and what can I bring?” Or, “No, I can’t be there, I’m sorry, but what else can I do to help?”

 And then, my friends, I will shut up about it.  So you can have some more time, bless your heart, to tell me about how crazy, crazy busy you are.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Food Valentines that Missed: The Yam, the Herring and the Abused Cow

In addition to writing about college professors and clinical research studies and the latest innovations in fireplace design, I also write about food. I write about chefs and restaurants and trends and recipes, and I never get tired of it, although I sometimes get very, very hungry.

This Valentine's Day, I went off searching for some vintage Valentines that might be fun to share. I found a blonde mermaid insisting that there was “nothing fishy” about her love; sledding kids declaring there was “snow doubt” that they wanted the recipient to be their valentine; a pony-tailed teen, lying prone, telephone in hand, somehow rhyming “yak” and “it’s a fact” that she wants U to be her valentine. I was in heaven.

Then I found the food valentines, but the really odd ones -- clearly made the day the office staff went out for lunch and had too many cocktails, or perhaps when one of them just snapped at all the unmanageable rhymes for garrulous adolescents. Perhaps the artist was simply a victim of her own success. One day, feeling hungry, she came up with giant, romantic fruits, declaring they’d be “a peach of a pair.” She followed that up with a bowl of salty snacks and the line, “I’ll pop a corny question and ask you to be my valentine.”

Perhaps those cards were huge hits. The public loved them. The boss demanded more food-related valentines. The artist was stuck. Then, in a fit of desperation, she created this:
 An orange-fleshed tuber in a valentine?  Hey, it worked with the bowl of popcorn. For those who think Mr. Yam is wielding spud privilege with a menacing cane/weapon, I will state that I believe it's more of a walking stick/accessory. This yam is probably best buds with Mr. Peanut.  When he isn’t sweet-talking lady yams, he and Mr. P. probably take long strolls down the boulevard, stunted arm in stunted arm.  I imagine the yam has been saving up for a monocle.

But back to our desperate artist. The boss accepted the yam-entine, grudgingly, so now where should she turn? Why, to Omega-rich oily fish, of course:
 Our love can be pickled, our love can be smoked, but it will last forever, said this genius card.

By this point, I imagine that the boss was getting angry. No one wants a valentine like this, he shouted.  Go back, literally, to the drawing board. And then, our artist created it:  a valentine that combines cruelty, red meat and love in a perfect trifecta of Valentine’s devotion:
Did the boss fall for it?  I like to think that the artist was carried around the office on the shoulders of her adulatory co-workers, and that she eventually took over the company and sold it to the Japanese in 1965 for one million dollars.

Or something like that. Happy Valentine's Day, by the way.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

This Thanksgiving, I’m trying micro-gratitude

A mother of young children recently shared this story with me about her favorite part of the day, and it certainly wasn’t what I expected to hear. “When I strap both my kids in their carseats, I close the door and walk to the driver’s seat, and that’s it, that’s what I try to enjoy. Because everyone is safe and secure, and I get to walk those few steps knowing that they’re okay, but really, really, enjoying the quiet.”

At first, I thought her story was just about the saddest thing I’d ever heard. How long does it take her to walk around that minivan – 15 seconds? And that’s it, this tiny moment, that’s her highlight? This is just something that’s too small to be grateful for, I decided.

And then I thought again. I wondered about myself on my grumpiest, crabbiest, most entitled-acting days, and thought it was likely that I didn’t spend even one second being grateful, let alone 15. I thought about how this young mother had managed to find the tiniest moment of blessing in an otherwise raucously chaotic life.              

On second thought, I realized, this wasn’t a sad story after all. Once I knew that, it was clear I needed to find my own moments of what might be called micro-gratitude--moments that seem so insignificant, and pass by so quickly, that I had barely noticed them before.

This season, as trees have been laid bare and the days have gotten darker, I’ve been trying to pay attention to those slivers of sacredness that are right in front of my eyes. Instead of the rote repetition of the headlining gratitude all-stars--family, friends, food, blah, blah blah—I’ve tried to fix my eyes on split second wonders of just-for-now blessings. It might be something as fleeting and mundane as lugging a few more books to fill up the Little Free Library I received as a birthday present in September. As I stack up the spy thrillers and chapter books and knock-knock joke compendiums, I imagine the joy on the faces of people who will revel in coming across just the title they needed most, without ever realized it.

Or, as I walk along Minnehaha Parkway on my way to errands or exercise class, I’ve been forcing myself to stop—a full-on, no-fidgeting-allowed stop—to watch the creek, forcing myself to count to ten. “Pay attention,” I tell myself. “It’s all going by as fast as this water is passing, so spend ten seconds to take it in.”

If your family is of the sort that’s inclined to go around the table and say what each member is thankful for this holiday, I urge you to follow the lead of that young mom and split the atom of gratitude to its finest possible point. Do it until you can come up with the tiniest, most precious parcel: on the family’s newest member, the crescent of an infant’s thumbnail; the one perfect spoonful of your mom’s most delicious dish; the warmth of the dishwater on your hands when you volunteer to be the one to clean up this year, no prodding needed. 

All those milliseconds of gratitude might not add up to any great insight for you this Thanksgiving, but they might help you get a little closer to the truth: all we have is today, and all we can be grateful for is what’s happening this very second, and that’s reason enough.  

Saturday, October 21, 2017

I really thought this post would be outdated by now

Six years ago, I wrote about how Anita Hill's bravery had improved my own personal working situation. But, you know, not enough. Here's a repost. Hope it's the last one.


“Dear Ms. Hill” An Eighties Survivor Offers a Long-Overdue Thank You

It’s been twenty years since Anita Hill told the Senate Judiciary Committee that then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her. In a recent interview, she mentioned that she’s received tens of thousands of letters since then, and that reading them inspired her to write her new book, Reimagining Equality.

I could claim that my letter to Ms. Hill was lost in the mail (remember mail? It was all the rage twenty years ago), but, the sorry truth is, I never wrote one. At the time, I didn’t realize the importance of her testimony, nor did I understand what the impact of that testimony would be. So here’s my belated letter, delivered with many thanks:

Dear Ms. Hill,
I started working when I was 16. I’ve worked in a public library, an all-girls’ high school and several advertising and marketing agencies. Except for my stint at the school, where every employee was female (except for the janitor), there was never a time when there were not men at my place of work who took every possible opportunity to engage in smirking innuendo, smarmy double entendre and blatant sexual discussions. The culture of the time dictated that everyone should laugh at, and pretend to enjoy, this talk, for to do otherwise was to be labeled “uptight.”

There was always at least one female in each of these work groups who indicated that she loved this sort of thing, and whose giggles and sidelong looks always encouraged the men to even greater feats of Hefner-esque blather. I noticed that these were usually the girls with the very large breasts. I suspected that if I also had very large breasts, I might think that the guys were just as funny as these girls did. In fact, I thought the men AND the girls were stupid, but I tried not to say so. To be uptight was a terrible thing, back in the eighties.

After working at a number of perennially failing local ad agencies (profits were low; cocaine costs tended toward the high side), I landed at a regular, mainstream marketing services agency, the largest operation in town. I was assigned to provide support for the all-male sales staff located in our Detroit region, where, I was told, women would need “a thick skin” and be able to “take it” from those rugged guys. I realize now that big breasts would have helped me a lot more than a thick skin, but I possessed neither, so it was, as one of those Detroit geniuses used to say, “a mute point.”

Since you’ve worked at law firms and universities, Ms. Hill, I suspect that you might not have met any men like these in your professional life, or at least until you ran into Justice Thomas. In any case, let me paint a picture for you of my world at that time, the time before you testified, using one fellow as an example of the archetypal behavior in that Detroit group. We’ll call him Bob, because that was his name, and we’ll skip over a detailed description of his beady eyes, his protruding jaw, or his tiny, mean mouth. We’ll just head right to some scenes that pretty much sum up my working life with him.

Scene One:  During a Presentation. We are gathered in a conference room, poised before flip charts (remember them? They were like cumbersome and unchangeable PowerPoints, just a step up from carved stone tablets, and even heavier). I am the only female present. Bob circles around the table, introducing each of “the guys.” He pauses a beat at me, then moves on. “What about her?” the customer asks. “She does the typing,” Bob spits out, looking very, very pleased with himself. 

Scene Two:  After a Presentation. We are packing up the slide trays and the flip charts after a presentation to GM Body Parts, and discussion begins about where we will be eating our celebratory team meal. I am the only woman in the group. Bob studiously avoids looking at me as he says, “Let’s go to the Men’s Grill at the Detroit Country Club.” Steve Maritz, a prince among these swine, points out that this will mean that I will be forced to eat, alone, in an anteroom.  Bob’s shrug indicates his lack of concern for this eventuality. I have heard, in fact, from other women upon whom this stunt was pulled. Joyce Irwin, a kind-hearted and creative member of the measurement team, told me that she once ate her entire dinner, alone, outside the confines of the Men’s Grill. “It was sort of fun,” she said, without a lot of enthusiasm. Steve suggests that we go somewhere else instead, and, mostly because his family name is on the building, we do. I never do see the women's anteroom, nor do I eat in it. But Bob continues to suggest it every time dining suggestions are being entertained.

Scene Three: During a Rehearsal. I use this term loosely, because “rehearsing” for an upcoming presentation to one of the big three auto manufacturers would seem to warrant an occasion for review, discussion and practice. At this company, at least back then, it was time for rushing out of the room on urgent phone calls, wandering around the office anxiously, and issuing graphic threats to the salesperson, who is frequently reminded that his genitals will be "on the chopping block," should the business not be won. By this time, I am used to the Betsy Ross craft work of making changes to the hefty flip charts, and rechecking the million-dollar budgets on a calculator. During this particular rehearsal, for GMC Truck, it becomes known that one of the salesmen in the office has accepted a job as a Regional Manager in the San Francisco office. This is a cause for great gales of homophobic hilarity. San Francisco, get it?

Bob tells the man, “Better not bend over to get the soap in the shower,” and everyone guffaws. Then Bob uses the speakerphone to share the news with several colleagues, always making sure to include his soap/shower warning. By the time the day is over, I have heard this remark dozens of times.

I keep at my work and I keep quiet. After a few years at this company, I have made a good friend. He is gay. I’ve always known that this talk is stupid, and I'm sure that, on several levels, it's just wrong. But to consider that what Bob is saying is illegal -- that people in business should not be allowed, by law, to be talking this way?  It’s not a concept I can even entertain.

Scene Four:  October, 1991.  Cue you. I watch every bit of the hearings. I know you are right.  I suspect that you are brave in ways I cannot imagine. And then I have to get back to work.

Final Scene, One year later. I am back in Detroit, preparing for another presentation, this time for Pontiac.  The group has grown weary of running around the room and threatening the safety of each other’s genitals, so we’ve gone out for lunch. There are maybe eight people at the table.  I am the only woman. Sometime during the course of the lunch, the smarmy freelance consultant says something. The funny part about this memory is that I cannot tell you what it was that the man said– it must have been so like what I heard every day from these characters that it became background noise.

But the moment we rise from the table and start to leave, the Regional Manager rushes over to me, smarmy consultant in tow. “Don didn’t mean anything offensive by what he said earlier,” the man says, “and he’d like to apologize.” The man then apologizes. To me. Because, he says, he hoped that what he said didn’t offend me. At first, I want to tell them that I don’t even know what they’re talking about, but I decide to keep that to myself. Grimly, I say, “I won’t report it. This time.”

When I see the relief on their faces, I feel as if the earth is shifting beneath my feet. I am in Detroit, a place where I have been demeaned, devalued and dismissed over the course of many years. And, Ms. Hill, because of you and what you were willing to do, these vermin are worried enough to behave politely towards me.  Not because they have suddenly sprouted souls, of course, but because the company’s corporate counsel has painted them a grim picture of how expensive a lawsuit from a mouthy, small-breasted bitch like me could be.

Work changed. It changed at that moment, and it changed every day after that. I’m not naive enough to think that these men are any different than they ever were.  When you put a lid over the sewer gas in a conference room, it just leaks out in different places, like talk radio, or Fox News. But, at least in the conference rooms I frequent these days, they have to watch their mouths.

And for that, Ms. Hill, I can only say – Thank You. 

God Bless You,
Julie Kendrick

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Barefoot again

Everyone is back in school, and I'm well shod at all times. Still, I miss those barefoot days some times. A blog post repost.

Give Me Your Shoes

“I have to be there [quick look at clock] five minutes ago. Take them off, now.” When your 17-year-old warrior-to-be is pointing at your flip-flops with this level of intensity, there’s only one thing to do. Take off the shoes. She slips them on and runs out the door. (Oh, no need to close it, honey, I think it’s much better to blast air conditioning into the backyard; it keeps the squirrels calm.) She squeals out the driveway. As the car vanishes, it's time to ask, as it often is with Emma:  what just happened? 
As best as I can piece it together from the soon-to-be-issued Coroner’s Report, Summer Happened. Here in the dog days of the official When Does School Start? season, I have found myself living with a couple of teenagers for whom the term “of the moment” seems a little too well-thought-out. Planning ahead? Devoting a brain cell or two to the concept of what might be needed for the journey that lies ahead? That’s not the way we roll. It’s so much more fun to race back to the house after a dashing departure, panting, flapping and screaming out a litany of lost objects in tones of rising pitch:  Phone! iPod! Money! Shoes!Cranium!
Gosh, it’s all so … hmmm, I think “impromptu” might be a good way to put it, don’t you think?  At least, that’s what I’ll call it after I pop another Xanax and have a moment to lie down.
It wasn’t always like this around here, I’ll have you know. I used to start the dinnertime drill every night promptly at 6 p.m., thus allowing for two hours of full-bore mommying and four more hours of Fielding Complaints, before defeat was declared and sleep won out. This household was a haven of order and ritual and a big old boatload of beginning-with-the-end-in-mind, none of which seems to have made the slightest impression on either of them.
Exhibit A is the Car Meal, a recent trend that gives me the whim-wams, but who’s asking what I think. The Car Meal is a result of the inability to count backward in any credible way. Let’s say, for example, that you are a peppy little ingénue who is currently in rehearsal each night from 6 – 10 p.m.  Your ride usually arrives at 5:30 p.m. When, then, should you enter the kitchen, with a plan toward preparing an evening repast that will sustain you until you return home at 11 p.m.?  If you said “4:30” or “5:00,” take a look in the mirror right now. You Are Old. NotGood for your Age or Well-Preserved, just Old. Here’s why -- the correct time to start thinking about dinner, when you have a 5:30 p.m. ride coming, is 5:25 p.m., and not a minute sooner. 
Here’s the procedure. Swan into the kitchen and look around, beseechingly, at all the appliances, as if a fully cooked meal might be popping out of one of them at any moment. Sigh and say, “I guess I ought to have some dinner,” pausing for a long, sad look at mom. Watch her spring into action. Think to yourself that there’s a little pep in the old girl yet.

Four minutes later, leave the house with your Car Meal in tow, and make sure it’s a good one. Fiala girls do not go for foldover bologna sandwiches or spotty bananas. Insist on nothing less than a freshly baked ciabatta with thin-sliced turkey, or perhaps a perfectly warm bowl of pasta with homemade pesto.  What about a hot-off-the-griddle batch of potstickers, along with a container of dumpling sauce?
I watch more cutlery and pottery head out my door each day than a Steak ‘n Shake car hop.  It’s only a matter of time before they begin demanding white tablecloth service, all delivered on a little lap tray. “And mom?  Those votive candles were getting a little dim last time, so try to use fresh ones tonight.”
I’m not quite sure how this happened, how I ended up with children so behind-schedule and lacking in vitality that the thought of running upstairs to get one’s own shoes is purely unthinkable. But here I am, barefoot, just counting the days until the first day of school.

Friday, March 17, 2017

How to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, according to Katherine Clifford Kendrick

Thinking today of my mom, she of the Clifford and Dalton clans. Here are my thoughts from a few years back on this St. Patrick's Day.


And the Rest of the Day to You

It wasn’t until twenty minutes into Zumba that I realized today was St. Patrick’s Day.  I noticed how many green shirts there were in class and had to cogitate on that for a few moments (to be fair, I was doing a tricky salsa step at the same time) before the light dawned.

I asked my mother, wherever she is, to forgive me.

It was not a holiday to be taken lightly in my house. I can still remember my mother giving me a shamrock-covered handkerchief, one of her best, to take with me to school on St. Patrick’s Day. “You can always tell a lady by her handkerchief,” she would say. She had a whole drawerful of handkerchiefs, all beautifully pressed and smelling of Chanel No. 5 and the sweet, pre-smoked tobacco of her Chesterfields. I don’t think I ever saw her blow her nose in anything but a Kleenex, but that was beside the point. To her, the epitome of ladylike behavior was the holiday hanky, the one that showed you were not only Irish, but classy.

I can also remember her teaching me little bits of Irish lore that she thought I could share at school. She had a misinformed idea of what happened at Buder Elementary, but I appreciated the effort. The hayseeds and crackers with whom I spent my grade school years were more interested in pinching people who weren’t wearing green than in hearing a rendition of “Harrigan” that my mother had taught me that morning,  “H-A-double R-I, G-A-N you see, it’s a name that no shame ever has been connected with, Harrigan, that’s me.”

Of even less usefulness was her insistence that I learn the proper way to greet someone on St. Patrick’s Day:  I should say “Top o’ the mornin’ to you,” and the person was to reply, “And the rest o’ the day to you.” She suggested that I try this ethnic charm on my teacher, who year-to-year, was a harried and sour child-hater just slightly above the cracker class herself, one who gave wide berth and the occasional fish-eye to a neurotic little twerp like me.

I never did of the things that my mother suggested.

Instead, I came home in the afternoon, hanky still pressed, song unsung, greeting undelivered. I suppose we ate corned beef and cabbage, yuck, but I don’t really remember that. My Aunt Fran was said to serve only green food on St. Patrick’s Day, including mashed potatoes. My mother thought this was disgusting, as bad as a cake with blue frosting. She trotted out the yellow food coloring to mix in her watery, Miracle Whip-y potato salad, but there was no need to get carried away. I thought green food sounded wonderful and exotic, but I never got to see it for myself.

The most enthusiastic Irish celebrant I ever knew was my godmother, Thelma Kelley (“k-e-l-l-E-y!” she would spell, showing what sort of Kelley she was, and separating her from the déclassé "y-only" crowd). There were two St. Patrick’s Day Parades in St. Louis, the product of a feud between the “true Irish” Hibernian society, whose parade was always on March 17, and the sellouts from the suburbs, who held a big parade on whatever Saturday fell before the holiday. There was a great deal of finger pointing between the two groups, and dark mutterings about IRA connections, but Thelma rose above the fray. She attended both parades, arriving early with a lawn chair, and, in later years, her walker.

As for me, I’m not fond of crowds, so I usually pass on the parade action. I think beer tastes like liquid Wonder Bread, and I’d be happy to drink whiskey instead, but I’d need to do it five feet from a place where I could lie down quietly as soon as I did. So the holiday has waned in importance to me, especially since the values I love most in the Irish – garrulousness, eccentricity, the ability to laugh at oneself, and a willingness to look people in the eye – are all in somewhat short supply where I'm living now.
Still, I thought about Thelma today, and my mother, and the song. I sent out a silent “Top o’ the mornin’ to you” to both of them. And I swear, just under the salsa music, I could hear them wishing the rest of the day to me, too.