Archive for February, 2014

Car Games
February 28, 2014

happy motoring

Happy Motoring!Humble Oil (Esso) slogan

I love road trips, and can drive for hours and hours. Back when I was a kid, that’s how we always traveled on family vacations, no matter if it took days for us to get to our destination, whether Florida, New York, California, Wyoming or Mexico. Much of the fun and memories came during the journey, both there and back.

Being one of six children, there were always others in the back seat (or even the WAY back seat), to share, squabble or play with. There were no digital games, no iPods, no movies to watch. Nope. We looked at the scenery and played games that required us to pay attention to what was outside the window.

Everybody knows the license plate game. You look for out of state plates on passing cars/trucks and keep score. It’s kind of like “black out bingo” where you strive to see plates from all 50 states. Hawaii and Alaska were the rarest, but seeing a Rhode Island plate also led to much excitement! (Geography lessons…)

And then there’s the alphabet game. We would look for words on billboards and signs that began with each letter of the alphabet. The hardest words to find are the ones beginning with the letter X. Once I spied the word “xeriscaping” on a billboard in San Antonio, but usually I have to settle for the trucks that have “US Xpress” on them. Yes, I still play that game to myself when I drive. (Spelling lessons…)

We would also play an animal game where we’d pit the right side of the road against the left to count how many animals we’d see; certain ones had higher values than others. White horses scored the most points. (Math lessons…)

Of course everyone in the “way back” would try to get the drivers of the 18-wheelers we passed to honk their horns. (Persuasion lessons…)

There was one habit we had, although I’m not sure how it began… when we’d drive over a bridge, we had to hold our breaths over the span. This did not work when driving over the Lake Pontchartrain causeway (the longest bridge over waterway- continuous in the world, almost 24 miles). But I recall dying to breathe when we’d drive over the Lake Charles bridge while driving to Houston from New Orleans! If Dad drove really fast, we could do it! (Physical Fitness lessons)

I feel a little bit sorry for my one and only Shannon, who probably did not enjoy the long car trips by herself in the back seat over the years. But there was that one time we drove to Atlanta in my mother’s car, along with her two cousins, aunt and grandmother. The trip to Atlanta was a lot of fun for her with her cousins in the back seat. But on the trip back to Houston, it was just Shannon, me and Baba.

oldsmobile

Baba’s car was a gigantic Oldsmobile station wagon (that looked like the one pictured above), and the three of us all sat in the front seat all the way home. I tried to come up with some things that would entertain Shannon on the long drive home. Here’s what she wrote years later:

“I don’t know what possessed my mother to buy a kit for making balloon animals, but trying to create a giraffe out of a tube of plastic is extremely amusing when you’re bored out of your skull and there’s nothing else to do.

I was eight years old the summer that my mom, grandmother (Baba) and I drove my aunt and cousins from Houston to their home in Atlanta. On the return trip, my mom appeased me by buying a much sought-after ‘Littlest Pet Shop’ set. Then she pulled out the surprise- those blasted balloon animals.

Balloon dog

Since I didn’t want to sit alone in the back seat of Baba’s grey, 80’s vintage Oldsmobile station wagon, I sat in between Mom and Baba in the front. Mom was driving in rush hour Atlanta traffic, and was stressed to begin with. Baba and I were twisting those colorful hotdogs like the book told us to, but…

‘Scrunch, skwinch, sckronk, POW!!! AAAH!!!’ (uproarious laughter ensued). Actually mom ended up being pretty good at it and always said that if Dad ever ran off with a floozie, she’d go earn a living making balloon animals in the French Quarter.”

Ah yes, memories are made of this!

A Shirley Temple Sighting
February 21, 2014

shirley temple

Any star can be devoured by human adoration, sparkle by sparkle. ~Shirley Temple

As the calendar pages continue to turn, more and more icons of my childhood pass into eternity. Shirley Temple Black was one of the latest newsworthy “celebrities” to go. Although, her movie career was brief (in the 1930’s), she was such a star that her fame carried her through generations of Americans who revered her as an American sweetheart, even into the late 1900’s and beyond.

Her sunny and positive influence during the dark years of the Depression raised the spirits of her fellow citizens and cemented her popularity, even long after she had retired from the business.

As a young woman, she turned away from the movies and eventually dedicated herself as a public servant. She was a career diplomat with ambassadorships in Ghana and Czechoslovakia, and later she served as Chief of Protocol for the US.

As her website says, she was the world’s best ambassador of goodwill.

My personal interaction with her was an insignificant, but memorable moment, at least to me.

In the summer of 1976, I was 21 years old. My parents had offered a gift to each of us six kids on our 21st birthday. If we wanted to go to Europe, they would pay for the airfare and week in a nice hotel, but we had to save up the rest of the funds needed for such a trip and then plan the itinerary. And so I did, and so I went.

London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Paris and back to London. What a fabulous six weeks it was, albeit on a student budget. As an art history student, finally seeing all the art and architecture I had studied in person was well worth all the scrimping and saving.

In my student mode, I did a lot of walking and subway riding and eating on the cheap (and staying in some rather “shabby genteel” rooms). But then my dad coordinated a business trip to London to coincide with my final week there. Oh my goodness, what a difference that made to my lifestyle!

From lowly digs and food, I graduated up to the Exxon suite in Mayfair, to eating at fancy dinners at au courant restaurants and attending the Royal Ascot horse races, chauffeured in a 1976 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow (I had to go buy a hat to wear, and Dad had to rent a morning suit, complete with a top hat).

Looking back on how little I knew about fashion, privilege and class back then, my current self would have been mortified at the attire I wore to that fabulous event. I had brought all of one “nice” (knit) dress to carry me through those six weeks of Europe, and that is what I wore. But because I had had zero experience with that milieu, I wasn’t at all fazed by it. Thankfully.

Champagne and quail eggs and watching the Royal Ascot from a private suite is pretty heady when you are 21 years old. And it was extra special to share it with my dad, who was very happy to have me along.

Oh wait. I was talking about Shirley Temple Black. Trust me, all this background information is leading up to our encounter….

As I mentioned, Dad had planned his business trip to coordinate with that last week of my European adventure. Looking back, it is clear that he was thinking about me, because he booked his flight home on the same flight that I was on. And so we arrived at Heathrow together.

He was first class, I was not.

At the Eastern Airlines counter, the line to check in the “regular people” was a mile long. So Dad marched me up to the first class stand and asked them to check me in with him, as well. Which they did.

12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals

And then, when we went through the first class customs, there was Shirley Temple Black, standing in line right in front of me. I’ve never been one to exclaim over famous people when I encounter them (OMG! Shirley Temple!), and so I acted cool, as if it were no big deal that she was right there.

But I will tell you that the customs agent, who had the ubiquitous stiff upper lip that the British are known for, stamped her passport and then looked at me and sang under his breath, “On the good ship, Lollypop!”

Made me smile. Shirley Temple Black, RIP. The whole world loved you.

The Beatles, 50 Years Ago
February 14, 2014

Beatles_-_She_Loves_You

Ladies and Gentlemen… The Beatles! ~ Ed Sullivan

There’s been a lot of print lately about how this year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ American debut. It brought back a memory of the first time I ever heard them.

My dad had a dear friend in high school who married a Scot whom she met while he was training at Ellington Field during WWII. She subsequently moved overseas to live in Glasgow, Scotland with him.

Each of their five sons came to visit us in the US at some point, and most of us went to visit them when we “crossed the pond”. It’s wonderful to visit a place and stay with a native, who serves as a personal tour guide.

In 1963, the eldest Mason son, Keith came to visit us in New Orleans. He brought a gift to us kids. It was a 45 rpm record by the Beatles! “She Loves You” was on side A and “I’ll Get You” on side B.

We girls were THRILLED, and played it over and over. We’d never heard of them, nor had we heard anything like it before then. Brother Ray would mumble “turn off that racket!”, but interestingly enough, he was quite the musical collector later in his life.

I don’t know what happened to that original record… Remember when we had to use that little gizmo in the center to play a 45 rpm record on our record players?

The closest I ever came to hearing the Beatles Live was on September 16, 1964 at City Park Stadium in New Orleans. It was a Wednesday (I had to look it up).We lived maybe a mile away. Maybe a mile and a half. We went outside, and all we could hear was the steady screams of 12,000 “people” (likely all teenage girls).

Here’s what “The Beatles Bible” says about that concert:

The stage at City Park Stadium was situated on the far side of the venue, well away from the audience. However, during the performance of “Can’t Buy Me Love” more than 100 fans broke through a police cordon and ran across the field towards the stage. It took 225 police officers more than 20 minutes before order was restored, with mounted police patrolling the area of the breach.

 Around 200 fans collapsed through excitement and exhaustion. One girl broke her arm, but refused hospital treatment until the show had ended.

 The concert was recorded, and was broadcast by the WNOE-AM radio station on the 10th anniversary of the concert. The songs were mostly inaudible due to the fans’ screams, but The Beatles’ between-song stage banter was captured. A

fter the fans’ attempted stage invasion, John Lennon remarked: “We’d like to continue with our next number, if you would stop playing football in the middle of the field.” Prior to the final song, “Long Tall Sally”, Paul McCartney told the crowd: “We’d like to thank everybody for coming, including the football players.”

 The Beatles’ performance lasted just half an hour. The other acts on the bill were, in order of appearance, The Bill Black Combo, The Exciters, Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry, and Jackie DeShannon. Henry had joined the tour in Philadelphia two weeks earlier, replacing The Righteous Brothers who had complained that the crowds were more interested in screaming for The Beatles than listening to them sing.

I wonder how many girls skipped school the next day, or at least had lost their voices?

STUFF Overload
February 7, 2014

STUFF1

Originally, the cellar served primarily as a coal store. Today it holds the boiler, idle suitcases, out-of-season sporting equipment, and many sealed cardboard boxes that are almost never opened but are always carefully transferred from house to house with every move in the belief that one day someone might want some baby clothes that have been kept in a box for twenty-five years. ~ Bill Bryson

In 2005, I helped move my parents from their home of 37 years to a retirement community (big time downsizing!). What an undertaking that was! But it was a positive lifestyle change for both of them, and we are SO glad my mom made the decision to move there.

But oh, the STUFF! From a three story house with attic wings plus a full garage and garage apartment they moved into a two bedroom apartment. It was a family project, and we all pitched in and pitched OUT (all the STUFF). Thank goodness for siblings (and daughter and nieces/nephews!).

Prior to their move, I had helped move my mother in law from her home of 33 years to a condo in 1994, and then later to that same retirement community in 2009. It was likewise a positive experience, and she enjoyed making new friends and participating in the social events.

Let’s just say that each of these moves involved way too much STUFF that had to be sorted, packed and/or pitched. Much was pitched.

Then this past summer, we moved my MIL to an assisted living apartment within this same community, again reducing her space and accumulated STUFF.

Now this week, we are faced with moving her into the skilled nursing wing, once more needing to reduce STUFF.

STUFF

There comes a tipping point in one’s life from accumulation to divestment. For me, it happened in my 40’s. Prior to that, whenever my mother or mother in law would say, “do you want this (whatever)?” I would say, “sure!”

And now I have seven sets of china, too much barware to count, crystal, silver, knick knacks, decorative items, plus all the family heirlooms that are meaningful to Joel and me. All that, plus our own STUFF.

These past years have been a revelation. I don’t want my daughter to have to deal with my STUFF. So while I am reducing and reducing my mother and MIL’s STUFF, I am determined to reduce my own STUFF before Shannon has to.

My New Year’s Resolution: Toss out something daily and regularly shred old financial documents (but shredding our STUFF has to wait until I finish shredding Oma’s STUFF!)

Dear daughter, I hope I don’t get hit by a bus tomorrow, because I will really feel bad about leaving you with all my STUFF. But I promise to do my best to get rid of as much as I can, and should I be privileged to live a long life, I promise not to accumulate more STUFF! love, mom