Fancy Pillows

While I’m a child of the city, I was fortunate to have grandparents that lived out in the country. One set lived on a farm, and the other lived 3 miles away in a very small town, where they were related to almost everyone there and had a town motto of “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much”. (Don’t worry, I’ll get mileage out of that someday!) My mom’s dad was a real corker, even taught me a curse word in Dutch when I was little (“tsk, tsk Grandpa Cornie, you should have been ashamed of yourself.”)

Beth and Grandpa Cornie

Me and “the corker”, about 1963

My dad’s parents were a bit more on the stoic, German side. Kind of the no-nonsense, hard working farmers you expect to find in the midwest. Growing up we called them by their last names to differentiate which grandparents we were talking about, but as we became adults and the grandchildren started having children, somehow they picked up on Grandpa’s nickname as a child. His first name was Albert, but his nickname was Abby and somehow, he and my grandmother became Grandpa and Grandma Abby, probably because our last name was a long, difficult German name to pronounce.

I remember some of the stories from Grandma Abby, although not as many as I’d like and now that I’m older, probably not nearly as well as I’d like either. I’m a little hazy on the one about how and why she caught her bloomers on a fence, and I seem to recall something about a finding a rattlesnake in a bale of hay when she took lunch out to the men one day during hay baling season. I remember too, Grandpa Abby saying how proud he was that he paid cash — cash (can you just imagine?) — for everything, except for the time he bought a cream separator on credit, for which I think he paid a nickel a month, and it bothered him so much he never bought anything on credit ever again.

Beth w Grandpa and Grandma Abby

Me with Grandpa and Grandma Abby, about 1962

I do remember, very well, grandma telling me about the fancy pillows they used. She said that they had every day pillows on the bed, with regular pillow cases, but that when company would come to stay they would take the everyday pillows off the bed, and put them aside, take out the nice pillows and put on the really nice, embroidered pillow cases with the hand crocheted lace edges on them. They called them “fancy pillows“, and those were the ones that would be out for guests. I always kept that phrase in my head, and knew I’d write about it someday in a book or blog.

I thought about all this tonight when I was talking with my mom, after I had asked her what she remembered about some places in downtown Minneapolis that were tickling in the back of my memory. The area is called “The Theater District”, and I believe I’ve also seen it called “The Lower Loop”. My dad worked downtown near 13th Street and Hennepin Ave for a number of years, and the two places I remembered were the Gnostica Bookstore and the Pink Pussycat. I asked mom what she remembered, and she thought the Gnostica might have been an occult bookstore but she wasn’t sure, but she laughed when I brought up the Pink Pussycat. With a name like that you can take a wild guess what kind of business this place was, and you’d probably be right! Apparently his employer had purchased the land that the building sat on, and was going to use the building for something else. Some of the ahem – dancers – lived upstairs, and my  dad was given what he saw as the less than desirable job of telling these lovely young ladies they had to move out. Imagine in the late 1960’s, a 28-30 year old, ultra conservative young man going to tell strippers to move out of their apartments. He wasn’t terribly keen on this assignment and ended up taking a co-worker with him to get it done.

Speaking of downtown Minneapolis, my mother also told me a funny story about coming into downtown with her dad and mom, and younger sister. Her father owned a general store in that small town I mentioned, and came into Minneapolis from time to time to buy dry goods. Apparently they arrived late and when they got to the Hotel Andrews, it was full. Well Grandpa Cornie, the aforementioned corker, has them get ahold of his friend who was perhaps the manager, they find a room for them and get settled in with a second floor room facing Hennepin Avenue in about 1945. (If you ‘re unfamiliar with Minneapolis , Hennepin is the main drag through downtown, and has always been the central street for the bars, theaters, bums, pandhandlers, etc. It’s much better now, but always has been the focal point of downtown, and a great place to people watch.) After dark, on a rainy night. Across from the Gay 90s.

 

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1958 Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While today it’s most well known for being a gay bar, back in the 40’s  the location was first a restaurant called The Casablanca, then Shanghai House before becoming the Gay 90’s in 1948, and turning into a “striptease and jazz music” bar (info courtesy of Jeanne Andersen).  So my mom would have been 8, her sister 6, and she said she and her sister just sat and watched, and watched and watched for hours, all the drunks coming and going from the bar, their eyes so wide they about fell out of their heads!

 

 

I’m so glad I found the time to have that conversation with my mom, and to remember the stories from my grandparents. It’s sad when we don’t capture those moments and they’re gone.  I stumbled on some incredible resources tonight, with old photos of Minneapolis. Historyapolis is an amazing trove of old memories, as is Thomas Lowry’s Ghost on tumblr and this Minneapolis history site on Flickr. If you haven’t sat down and talked to your parents and grandparents about what life was like when they were kids, take the time to do it. It’s amazing what you’ll learn. Go through old website archives, take a stroll down memory lane. Start a journal or blog and write it down, before memories are gone, and along with them, the stories. Shortly after my dad died, I started a journal that was for memories of him. I wanted to capture those unique things that I knew I’d forget over time. I pulled that out today and added the story my mom just told me, and was looking back at some of what I’d put in there. What a gold mine! (And rich treasure for future blogs too.)  I am so glad I wrote those things down because I had forgotten some of them, and reading them made me smile and made me feel very, very lucky. It reminded me my life was full of moments of fancy pillows, even when I forget they’re there.

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Miss Betty and Miss Manners

Romper, stomper, bomper boo.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.

Magic Mirror, tell me today,

Did all my friends have fun at play?

How many of you remember that  rhyme, and Miss Betty (in the Minneapolis area) holding up that magic mirror, so we could ‘see’ our
friends? It was a special time, when we learned manners, table prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance and general courtesies. She had her viewers do exercises too.

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Me doing calisthenics with Miss Betty on Romper Room, age 3

 

I miss that time. Not that there aren’t polite people in the world today, there certainly are, (holding up my own magic mirror, I see Rachel and Ryan and lots of their friends!) but it feels like manners and courtesy are exceptions rather than rules now, and that makes me sad. I wish it wasn’t so uncommon for people to hold doors open for a stranger, or to smile and say hello, just because you can. Did that go away when we got scared to say “Merry Christmas”?

How about etiquette? What’s the proper way to set a table? Does the knife blade face the plate or away from it? Fork on the left or right? I can still hear my Grandma Abby saying “This is the proper way to eat soup. ‘Whenever I go out to sea, I dip my spoon away from me'” so that you would remember you’re supposed to dip your spoon in your soup away from you at the far side of your soup bowl. Of course, no one does that any more. Are things like how to set a table  even taught anymore outside of the restaurant industry?

How about this one – “elbows off the table Mable” (with all due apologies to the Mables in the world). I said this to my hubby a few months ago, he just looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “What?” I asked him. “Where did that come from?” he wanted to know, as  he’d never heard that expression before, thought I’d made it up on the spot. Not a chance, that was another Grandma Abby-ism. So was “make sure you have on clean bloomers every day” but no one knows today what bloomers are. (They’d be your britches! And if you don’t know what those are, for heaven’s sake, look it up.)

People used to write to Miss Manners, asking how to behave in a given situation. “Dear Miss Manners, my boyfriend’s sister is a being a brat. When I go there for dinner, blah, blah, blah. What should I do?”  and Miss Manners always had great advice on these angst filled life dilemmas. Or you’d consult Emily Post, for the guidelines of good behavior in any given situation.  She once said “The attributes of a great lady may still be found in the rule of the four S’s: Sincerity, Simplicity, Sympathy and Serenity.” Serenity is a little hard to achieve now, as is simplicity, but sincerity and sympathy are attributes all of us should posses, and goodness knows they don’t cost a thing. What’s really amazing, I just googled Emily Post, and found out there is a website emilypost.com (of course!). Guess what’s on the landing page? References to the importance of a handwritten thank you note and a good handshake. (See my prior post, Word of Advice). I didn’t even plan that, I am just that darn good.

Emily Post also had some valuable advice for men. “A gentleman does not boast about his junk.” Of course, given the time in which she lived I’m fairly certain it didn’t mean then what it means now, however it’s apparent to me that it’s still relevant, particularly if you’re running for public office. 

And on that note…

The Music Box

Celebrating my 25th post,  a small milestone, and go with my first crack at fiction (that I’m willing to publish and share!) So with o’ tip of the hat to Diane, Brenda, Kristine and the Professor…

Her laughter was soft, lilting, like dappled sunlight through old lace, drawing his heart to her as she moved lightly about, her feet almost seeming to not even touch the floor. “Music of the Night” played in the background from the music box as she dipped and swirled in time to the tune, stopping only when he stopped to wind the mechanism. Moonlight streamed in the windows and the air was heavy and still, no breeze to move the curtains.

It was his favorite time of day, when everything was sleeping and the world was his alone. The occasional sound of an owl or other night creature hunting for food broke the otherwise still silence of the darkness.

As always she didn’t speak but reached down and took his hand, and as he stood they began to dance. Together they glided soundlessly and effortlessly, feet barely touching the scuffed floor. Without her, trying to dance with anyone else, he felt as clumsy as an ox but when she put her hand on his shoulder it was if magic went through him and he felt alive in a way he never did with anyone, graceful, leading her around and around the floor, dipping, swirling, waltzing around and around. A sensation similar to the feeling of bumping his elbow just right would go through his whole body at her touch, but so faintly he sometimes wondered if he imagined it, that little zsst of energy.

The music box had been his mother’s, given to her by his father when they realized she was first pregnant with him. After their death in “the accident” as it was referred to, it was all that was left of her that he wanted to keep. It happened when he was 9, and he didn’t remember much about the time right before it, bits and pieces really. His mother crying, both of them yelling, slamming doors, several voices, some loud sounds, then they were gone. After that he’d tried to live with his grandmother in her big old house for a little while before they brought him here. “It’s just for a little while”, they said, “it’s for the best”. But a little while had become years now, and he no longer knew who to believe, and sometimes even questioned how much of what he remembered was real. The only reason he thought it must be is that he was still here, otherwise he would be home with his parents, and this would all be a bad dream.

He no longer listened to the music box as much as he used to. For a while it was every night but then he became afraid he would wear out the mechanism, so he had to work to make himself listen to it less and less, until that summer he came to think of as ‘the summer of magic’, when she came into his life. That summer, he was listening to the music and sitting in the window seat, staring at the stars, wondering if his mother were watching him from somewhere up there, when he became aware of someone next to him. Her sudden appearance didn’t frighten him like he knew it should, but him feel more intrigued and excited. She put her index finger to her lips to indicate silence and motioned him toward the middle of the room, and there first danced for him to the music played from the music box.

They never spoke, and he never knew when she would appear but always, she was there when he needed her to be. For a long time she danced alone, as a ballerina, pirouettes and releves, her long hair falling over one shoulder then the other, as she went en pointe. She danced only to the music from the music box, or would sit quietly with him at his side and hold his hand. Eventually, she taught him to dance with her and he found a sense of completeness and peace that he’d never known in his young life.  Near daybreak, they would sit quietly in the window seat, until his eyes grew heavy, and noiselessly she would slip away.She was glad she could ease some of the hurt he felt with the loss of his mother, but it was difficult to not being able to say anything to him, not being able to tell him anything about her secret. If she did, it meant her time here had to end and she wasn’t ready to let go yet. There was a freedom here for her, to share her gift to help those that were mourning and in stasis move on.

Toward the end of summer, she knew that he was closer to not needing her any more. He’d made friends with people his own age, started being away in the evenings, coming back to his room later, sometimes looking a little flushed and happier and she knew he’d met someone special. He didn’t sit by the window as often anymore, didn’t have the look of melancholy on his face. She knew it wouldn’t last, it never did here, and that when it ended it wouldn’t end well and he wouldn’t want her comfort then so perhaps now was as good a time to make the break as any. So even before he knew he would feel his first heartbreak, she went to him for one final dance.

With the moonlight streaming through the window, they twirled around the room, lighter than air, the shafts of light sparkling as if lit with diamonds. Around and around, breathless with the joy of dancing, through the night. As night turned to day, however, he knew something was different when she didn’t leave like she normally did. Gray light filtered in, and slowly shadows began to appear, and with them she looked different, almost as if she were shimmering.  His arms slowly fell to his sides as she moved away from him and toward the music box and as she did so, she seemed to be growing smaller. He was certain he was imagining things, and blinked hard before rubbing his eyes and suddenly he wondered why, after all this time, he hadn’t noticed the dancer wasn’t in it when she was there dancing in the room with him. He closed his eyes, and when he opened them again she was no longer in the room, and when he looked at the music box, the ballerina dancer WAS there, looking exactly like his beautiful dancer who had been coming to him all these months, and taking him in her arms to dance during the night. He moved closer, wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him. As he did so, she pressed her fingers to her lips in a kiss goodbye, and resumed her position so quickly he was no longer sure if she’d been there with him in the room at all. He stared until other sounds began to penetrate his awareness – the rattling of keys, muted voices, a telephone, shoes on a tile floor, confused with the improbability of it all even as the orderly spoke his name, beginning another day.

The Next Level

A big thanks to Tom Merriman for this month’s theme of “The Next Level“, which is timely for me as I’ve just completed my annual performance review at work, and as some of you know it hasn’t been that long since I finished grad school and transitioned back to some facsimile of normal human again.

So that’s gotten me to thinking what’s next? Where do I go from here? I’ve laid out my work goals with my manager, and have picked up some of my old hobbies again, but I also know myself well enough to know that I need a challenge. I have no doubt work will provide that in one area, but that’s the only the obligatory challenge. I also need voluntary ones, the kinds of things you do just to see if you can. I learned to scuba dive in my 30’s thanks to acquaintances who brought their dive gear along to a party at a lake, and when I asked a few too many questions, finally said to me “oh for God’s sake, here, put it on and get under water!” After a few minutes of breathing under water I was hooked, and those acquaintances, Mary and Mark, have become some of my dearest

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SV Mandalay

friends and traveling companions. They are also guilty of introducing  me to the best vacations I’ve ever had, sailing on a Windjammer ship.

 

 

But I often wonder, how many of us busily go through every day without moving to the next level in anything? You keep on doing the same things over and over, in a rut because it’s easy, or you’re just too busy to take the time to try something new, or too tired, or stressed or spread too thin or whatever. When was the last time you pushed yourself past your limits? It could be for something good, or scary, to get a good outcome or past a painful one. If we never try, we never find out what we’re capable of. I’ve had so much fun when I’ve taken a deep breath and taken a leap into the deep end, and I feel like my life is only just starting to unfold in front of me. Don’t misunderstand me, ain’t no way I am EVER, EVER getting on roller coasters. It’s not happening any more than bungee jumping will. Pigs will fly first.  I mean, I have to draw the line somewhere, be reasonable for heaven’s sake. Scary good, terror stricken bad. Writing this blog was a little unnerving, scary came when I realized I actually had to tell people I was writing it in order for anyone to actually read it. Then I got a like, and another and another from a stranger, and from a couple of  published authors, one of whom seems to be even more sarcastic than me (how is this possible, you ask? One of the great mysteries of life, right up there with “where is Jimmy Hoffa?” and “did Lee Harvey Oswald act alone?”)  Suddenly, it was FUN! (Thanks everyone, you like me, you really…sorry, I watched the Academy Awards the other night, and just couldn’t help myself there for a moment.)

Last week my mother went to the funeral of one of her aunts who was 101. She sent me this summary about her Aunt Bernie: She went to college at the age of 55 and got her degree, then applied to the Peace Corp but was rejected because she was too old! After that she taught school at the Indian Mission in Zuni, New Mexico, and then got her Masters in Bi-Cultural Studies. All of that after the age I am now, and now I’m feeling the pressure. Oh no, must Level Up! Achieve More!

Thanks to a lifelong dream, encouragement from Brenda, Diane, and the Professor who gave me a big verbal kick in the keister a couple of weeks ago and the voices in my head (don’t anyone even go there) my Leveling Up means my next post will be fiction, and I’m going to start writing the book I always said I would (yes, Brenda, I still have my idea notes.) Of course, now I’ll have to create an Aunt Bernie in it. And Brenda, Diane and the Professor. (music-notes-clip-art-musical_note_3_clip_art_12287 with Gilligan, the Skipper too music-notes-clip-art-musical_note_3_clip_art_12287…just kidding. Gilligan and the Skipper won’t be really be in there. I’m just checking to see who’s paying attention. As for the rest of you, I make no promises. )

What’s your next level ?

 

Unreality TV

One thing that I’ve noticed and quite honestly it’s bothered me for some time, is the lack of medical consultants for television. I think they say they have them, and probably do for terminology or for accuracy of a diagnosis, but that’s all information that can be obtained via email. I’m talking about an on-set consultant (ahem, calling all Hollywood producers, I could be available as a consultant, let’s talk). Some of the things that I see that leave me feeling very frustrated include blood that looks like someone poured ketchup on the actor, scars that are supposed to be years old and yet are made to look as pink as fresh ones, and oxygen tubing that’s never placed correctly.

It’s all about artistic license and what looks good on camera, right? Details, details, let’s not concern ourselves with educating the public on what’s right or real. So here’s the deal, and producers, it’s your one “get-out-of-jail-free” card. After this you have to pay my consultant’s fee, and to paraphrase hubby I’ll be cheaper than some, more expensive than others.

Blood – unless you hit an artery, blood isn’t bright red, it’s more like dark maroon. I get it, it shows up better on camera as bright red. It’s still wrong, wrong, wrong. When it dries, it’s even darker. But it’s never the color of ketchup.

Scars are only reddish pink when they first heal. After a few months, the color fades, and by about a year they are faded to white/barely pink, which is more of the permanent color. 6 years after the knife fight, they aren’t still red. I get it, you want your viewers to always be reminded every single time he’s on screen, of the fact that your hero was knifed in the face. Find some other way. Give him a knickname. Better yet, work it like Days of Our Lives did back in the day, when the character of Steve Johnson got in a fight. He lost an eye, and wore an eye patch. Now THERE’S a scar.

Scene: The lovely, young ingenue has been suddenly and tragically been given a diagnosis of heart failure. She must now lay in a hospital bed for the next six weeks during sweeps, with oxygen tubing under her nose and over her head, full make up, hair perfect, nails done, face slender as ever. Which of these is wrong and/or completely unrealistic? Answer: All of them. It’s a trick question. The oxygen tubing is always positioned wrong, and it’s bugged me ever since I learned how to place it as a student nurse. Gah! It’s so easy. (I’m not going to tell you, that’s part of my fee. ) And I’ve been in the the hospital as a patient, and after a couple of days there, trust me, you don’t care so much about make up. You’re sick, you feel like crap and can’t breathe. Producers, you need try this: Stick a straw in your mouth and breathe through it, and only through that. How long did you last before you felt like you couldn’t get enough air? 2 minutes? 4? Keep going, wait…..come on, maybe another 15 minutes. Now, do you give two hoots about makeup, hair or nails?  Yeah, didn’t think so. That’s kind of what it feels like to breathe with heart failure. The medication needed to treat it makes you blow up like a balloon. How about writing that reality into the story for once, what real people struggle with.

See, if I were there with you, I’d make sure you got these details right. Instead, medical professionals all over the world are laughing at you.You’ve never gotten it right, but at least in the days of Marcus Welby, MD, the broadcast quality was so poor we missed a lot of the details. Now with everything in HD broadcast, and everyone having 70-inch screens in their living rooms, you can count George Clooney’s nose hairs, so details count.

Oh, and by the way, if you have someone hooked up to a respirator, you probably should have the machine actually on, and the bellows moving. Younker’s corollary, is that if the bellows are moving and the machine is on, the patient better be hooked up and not speaking. Did you all hear that? It was the sound of the stampede of 272 producers all rushing to their archives, as they all said “oh shit”. Busted.

You know how to find me.

 

Tribute

I’m saddened this morning to read of the passing of Pat Conroy. If you’ve never read any of his work, you’re missing out on an amazing experience. I only recently discovered that, having tried to read his work many years ago and finding myself not ready to appreciate it. When I picked up The Prince of Tides a few months back, perhaps because I am older, or wiser (I hope!) for whatever reason, it was the right time.

What a gift he had to tell a story! I found myself so immersed in the book that I alternated between wanting it to never end and needing it to, so I could get on with my life. It’s as if each word had been selected so as to maximize the effect and nuance, not wasting them needlessly, so I’ll do the same.

As is often said, gone too soon.