Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remember This

Of all the words in the English language 'three day weekend' have to be right up there as some of the best.  A break is so very needed around my house.   Like most every other American this weekend I will spend it in peaceful relaxation.  My family and I are planning an invasion of my friend's pool, and of course, the traditional grill out.  Sometime this weekend I will sneak in a trip to a little spot right around the corner from my house.  A tiny bit of green protected by black, wrought iron fencing.  A Revolutionary War cemetery.  There is one grave in particular I go to visit.  Israel Gilpin, a Colonel during the Revolutionary War.  I don't know him, obviously.  He isn't related to anyone in my family, either.  When I'm placing a flag on his headstone and reading the words engraved there I won't even be thinking of him.  Those thoughts belong with someone else.

They belong with Ralph Laue, a poor Irish boy, dumped in an orphanage by his stepfather when his mom died, along with his older brother and two younger sisters.  They were the only family he had.  While he didn't yet know it, shortly after his eighteenth birthday he was about to help seal the fate of our nation. 

World War I was raging across Europe.  Although America stayed neutral through most of it, the Zimmerman telegram had just been intercepted and relayed to President Wilson.  The Germans were proposing an alliance with Mexico.  If Mexico would fight America on the home front, then Germany would throw their weight behind our southern neighbors and win back the states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona for Mexico.    The war machine went into propaganda mode and 3 million men were drafted for the Great War and sent overseas to halt Germany. The untried troops marched into battle.

With a few minutes of down time Ralph penned a letter home to his brother and sisters.  The first page read almost like a tourist's postcard home.
     "France, sisters!  You wouldn't believe how beautiful this countryside is."
There were some funny anecdotes about the trip overseas.  A few lines about the food.  Very different from what a boy, raised in a city nicknamed Porkopolis, was used to.  The young boy tried valiantly to describe the sites of this foreign country to his siblings back home.  It was on the second page that he wrote,"Chester, please don't read this part to Luella and Hazel.  We are told that we will meet the enemy in less than a week.  I will be in the front line facing gunfire.  I'm awful scared."  Within three days of writing these words he was killed by enemy gunfire.  The telegram announcing his death arrived before his letter did.

Ralph fought at Belleau Wood.  One of the most deadliest battles the Americans would participate in, though they ultimately won.  When Marine Captain Lloyd Williams is advised to withdraw his troops, he replies, "Retreat, Hell!  We just got here!"   Captain Williams will not survive the coming battle.  The fighting lasts most of the month of June.  Six hundred and fifteen men along with nineteen officers are killed.  Six months later in November of 1918, the worst war in history is over.  Ten million soldiers were killed.  Ten million civilians die as a result of disease and starvation. 

Now, the only thing that remains of young Ralph, the orphan enamored with the French countryside is an unmarked grave in foreign soil and his letter.  The paper is yellowed with age and creased from being taken out and read so many times.  Ralph was my grandma's uncle.  Her mom's big brother. The Luella in the letter that he tried in vain to protect from worry was my great grandma.  She never talked about him, but she did save his letter all these years and my grandma has it still.  It is because of him, and so many like him, young boys fighting for their country, that I am able to get on the Internet and write any old thing I feel like without fear of search and seizure.  I can't go to his grave and place a wreath upon it.  So, I do the next best thing.  This weekend I'll go to Colonel Gilpin's grave and decorate it, careful not to obscure the words cast in stone:

               A soldier's ashes sleep beneath your feet
                 a patriot's heart once in his bosom beat
            that freedom which in youth he fought to gain
                he leaves to thee to cherish and maintain.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010


     Recently, the husband and I celebrated our thirteenth wedding anniversary.  In honor of the event we got a babysitter and treated ourselves to a date night that was looong overdue.  A fun time was had by all, or so I thought.  During the drive home the hubby turns to me and asks, "Do you know what the best thing about tonight was?"
"No.  What?"
"We only had to spend $19. of our own money because of those gift cards we had."
Be still my beating heart
"You're lucky you married me, you know." I tease, "Most women expect expensive gifts for their anniversary."
"Most people don't celebrate their anniversary."  He counters.
"Yes, I know.  And that's why the divorce rate is so high."  I say this solemnly, as if I am imparting the secret of life to him.

     Do I really believe that if a couple would only go out to dinner every once in awhile there would be no more divorces?  Nope.  But, I do believe that people need to take some time out every now and then to celebrate themselves.

     We may have wined and dined at rock bottom prices courtesy of some gift cards we had stashed away, but what we were really doing was celebrating. 
Celebrating the endless parade of pets.  Misty the cat, who was with us from the very beginning and whom we had to say goodbye to this year, the two dogs, an orphaned baby raccoon we took turns feeding with a medicine dropper, the box turtle that went on a hunger strike the minute our son brought him home, a tree frog that lived in a box in our laundry room for about a week, and too many fish to count although they all had names.  Where we've all called home has changed over the past 13 years.  From a one bedroom apartment to the first house we ever owned to the place we call home now it's been quite a ride. 

     We've experienced life's ups and downs as any longtime married couple has.  Time needs to be carved out of a busy schedule to celebrate it all.  Like the years that infertility seemed destined to break us, but we muddled through and came out on the other end wiser, stronger and a family of three.  Here's to a lifetime of agreeing to disagree over the best way to load a dishwasher.  Let's commemorate one more year of overlooking the fact that he never gives me my messages and I leave my shoes laying where ever I kick them off at.  

     Life is more interesting thanks to plans that go awry.  All those camping trips with unseasonably low temperatures and we were icicles in our sleeping bags, when raccoons tore through our site leaving it looking like a frat house the day after a kegger, or the trip to Niagra Falls where I left my purse with all of our money hanging off the back of a chair in a restaurant in Buffalo, should be remembered fondly.   Everyone needs a good story to tell and we have plenty.  Mostly thanks to me.  But we're still here, reveling in it together and that's an accomplishment worthy of celebration.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sign Of The Times

Top Ten Ways To Tell You're Getting Old

10.  The boy at the checkout counter calls you "ma'am".

9.  Favorite teen heartthrob is balding and recently appeared on show titled, "Where Are They Now?"

8.  When grocery shopping the first thing you do is scan each and every label searching for the sodium and cholesterol count.

7.   Your high school's 20th reunion is a pleasant memory.

6.  All the clothes you wore in high school are back in style again.

5.  You couldn't get carded for alcohol even if you tried.

4.  Saturday night's all right, all right, all right - for getting to bed early.  You were up at the crack of dawn chauferring the kids around town to their different sporting events. 

3.  All the songs you rocked out to as a teenager are enjoying a second life on the oldies station.

2.  This winter you found yourself telling your child, "When I was your age we didn't have snow days.  We went to school in the middle of a blizzard!"

1.  Your mother gives you the magazine, "Arthritic Living" and you can't wait to read it!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

What Makes Mom So Special

With Mother's Day coming up it's obvious what this is going to be about.  I considered writing a clever essay of the gift I'm most wishing for.  Somebody to come clean the floors behind my toilets, if anyone is interested.  But then, I got to thinking - What is it about mom that makes her so special?

Every baby is born knowing that there's no one else quite like mom.  She can be summoned with just the smallest effort.  In fact a new mom rarely has to be summoned at all.  She's the one standing over the crib marveling at baby while he sleeps.  Never mind that she should be sleeping herself.  Once a woman becomes a mom she's amazed at what one can accomplish with very little sleep.

No other person on the face of the earth will come into the bathroom to cheer your toilet bowl deposit.  No other person on the face of the earth even wants to think about that.  A mom dedicates hours of her life to thinking about it, smelling for it, studying it and discussing it with the doctor.  

A mom will sit through every horrible choir production.  She's the one sitting on the sidelines while your team loses 50 to 2 and cheering extra loud so that you know she's proud of your effort.  She'll say, "you'll get them next time" and you'll believe it because mom said so. 

Moms know everything.  Like each time you say that you washed behind your ears but didn't.  When you come in past curfew and blame it on a broken clock she's way ahead of you.  A mom knows what keeps you up at night, makes you smile or laugh til your side hurts.  She knows when you need a nap, snack, hug or time out.

A mom will run alongside your bike, holding on but knowing when it's time to let go and let you find your balance.  When you go away to summer camp and send home a postcard begging her to come get you she knows that the homesickness will pass and soon you'll be having so much fun you won't want to leave.  Mom knows that if she sits through your high school graduation bawling like a baby it will embarrass you beyond belief.  But, she'll do it anyway.  She also understands not to take it personal when you skip off to college without a backward glance.  

Each mother is a fountain of information.   She knows that recipe you're searching for, the best way to get a stain out of your favorite shirt and how to treat a sunburn.  Because of you she has known joy, happiness, pride, frustration,  fear and a love no mere words can ever convey.  She realizes that when she is eighty and you are fifty she will still consider you a work in progress.  If you know nothing else, know that a mom can be a lot of things:  your greatest teacher, strongest role model, insufferable nag and the only babysitter that you truly trust with your children.   Chief amongst these things is irreplaceable.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Endless Possibilities

I have a dream, be it ever so humble.  Be it ever so strange and goofy.  My dream is to one day shop the Great American Yard Sale.   A yard sale that begins in Ohio and follows highway 127, ending in Alabama.  Yes, you read correctly.  Some people dream of mansions by the sea, or fancy sports cars.  Not me.  I'm way to practical.  Big houses simply mean more to clean.  Sports cars have never been my cup of tea.  Thanks to my dad I grew up surrounded by cars of all makes and models.   They hold no appeal.  Besides, the faster a car goes the more it costs to insure.  No hefty bills for me, I'm a cheapskate.  Hence my love for yard sales.

My love for other peoples' cast offs began with my Grandma.  As a small child she took me to a yard sale and gave me a quarter for a stuffed dog.  I was hooked.  Over the years my Grandma and I have spent many, many hours together at yard sales.  Some we have held ourselves and some we've shopped.  Until last year if you had told me that my neighborhood was having a street sale you would have sent me into a state of euphoria.  To dig around in my basement unpacking boxes of junk gave me unmitigated pleasure.  A discarded toy of my son's covered in dust would be lovingly wiped clean and smacked with a bright, yellow sticker proclaiming it's value a dollar.  Computer monitors and keyboards that belonged to yesterday's technology lived to see the light of day once more.   

Bright and early on the day of the sale my Grandma, mom and I would set up our lawn chairs amongst our unwanted items.  We'd perch there all afternoon, a  trio of garbage guardians.  Sometimes, we would be joined by another family member.  Over the years those members stopped pitching in.  They began to speak to us of places like Goodwill and City Dump.  The fools.  They didn't understand that to sit in the summer sun for hours on end was worth every bit of the $30.00 we made.  Because it wasn't really about the thirty dollars.  It was about  possibly making way more than thirty dollars.  It was about just hanging out and talking and meeting new people. 

Until last summer.  My Grandma, mom, aunt and I joined forces at a yard sale the local town hall was putting on.  Maybe it was the heat.  Maybe it was the fact that I didn't even live in the state anymore and had further to haul to my stuff.  Maybe it was the fact that I didn't even make enough to fill my gas tank,  (that's most likely the reason) but I told my Grandma I was through with hosting yard sales every summer.  I think I broke her heart that day.  We could still visit.  If she liked we could even prop open her garage door and sit in lawn chairs in the drive.  It would seem almost like old times.  She wasn't biting.  

So, my days of holding yard sales are over.  Hello, Goodwill.  Still, the dream of shopping the Great American Yard Sale persists.  I'm not sure why.  My mom and aunt have done it.  I've heard their stories.  I've seen the stuff they've bought.  I may not be missing out on much, but I'd like to see it for myself.  To wander around other peoples' yards and sift through the things they no longer want is to peek into their souls.  Once I've flipped through their old cookbooks and pushed on their discarded bookcase to test it's sturdiness, even though I have no real intention of purchasing it, I would move on to the next yard.  Always searching for a great find.  Something that would be worth breaking a five dollar bill for.  It's the endless possibilities that hold so much appeal.  Possibilities that stretch across 654 miles beckon.  For me it's the stuff dreams are made of.