CHRISTMAS 2022

This is such a bittersweet time of the year for me.  Emotions will soar high one moment and then sink to the lowest of lows within seconds.  In between?  Well, it’s a rollercoaster ride at best.  This is the peak of the memory season. The holidays force it on us.  We will spend time thinking of the good memories we’ve had and allow them to fill us with happiness and high spirits.  And, just as easily, the sadness of times gone bad will sneak in and burden our hearts once more.

On Christmas morning, when I was a child, my brother and I were not allowed downstairs until my father was up and ready to lead the procession down to the living room.  Sometimes I thought he would never come out of the bathroom, put on his robe and slippers and then finally proceed to the top of the stairs.  While all this transpired in super slow motion my brother and I would lie on our bellies and slide down the first few steps to confirm that Santa, indeed, had been there.  I am sure my father got a kick out of our impatience with him.  I loved him tremendously.  On December 19, 1982 while I was Christmas shopping at a mall, my father was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.  By the time he got there, he was brain dead and in a coma that would last all through the holiday until he died the first week in January.  Yes, the highs and lows of Christmas memories.  Most of us have our very own collection and they all come pouring out at this time of the year.

My Christmases, like my life, are packaged in distinct time periods.  There were the Christmases of childhood, filled with wonder and fantasy—feelings you would never experience again but would live on as cherished memories.  I got a cowboy and Indian fort one year, trains in another and a sled along with a gazillion forgotten toys and games.  Next come the Christmases of young adulthood.  All of a sudden, clothes are actually welcomed gifts and you can’t wait to wear them when school resumes.  Hobbies and isolated interests are easy targets for gifts. I got a camera, tons of records (the round vinyl kind that played music) and books.  When adulthood Christmases arrive, they involve new family members:  a wife, children, pets.  Now Christmas involves giving much more than receiving.

Over the years, through all these Christmases, the memories and emotions grow bountiful.  There is no stopping them, both the good and the not-so-good.  And, as we each host our own personal version, there is a shared atmosphere exploding with love and care that we all experience.  It is unique and feels like none other. This is what the magic of Christmas is all about.  Often, we think it comes too quickly…but does it really?

*****

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A POST-THANKSGIVING POEM

overeat

Thanksgiving is over and everyone has gone home.

We did the dishes, polished the counters and the chrome.

Everything is back to normal; the food explosion has settled.

I returned to the gym and 12 miles on the bike I peddled.

The fridge is full of leftovers in bowls or wrapped in foil.

I refuse to cook a thing today even if it’s water to boil.

They say the remaining turkeys on the farm are relieved.

They all know for another year at least they get a reprieve.

Of course, we’ll be eating turkey and stuffing for weeks to come.

So if you drop by I’ll be insisting that you be sure to have some.

I still have extra leaves in the dining room table to uninstall

Plus put the folding chairs back in the garage along the wall.

Thanksgiving is a lot of work, certainly more than just a bit.

And for a number of days afterwards your pants will never fit.

Meanwhile it’s Black Friday and everyone’s at the mall.

The crowds are huge and I hear traffic’s at a crawl.

But before you know it, it’ll be here to do all over again.

Will this annual madness ever go away…and if so, when?

*****

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THANKSGIVING, A POEM

hapthankgv

Here’s another one of my Thanksgiving tributes from years past. This one appeared on my blog in 2013. Now remember, I never promise great poetry, but I do commit to making good rhymes!

Thanksgiving is the one American holiday that has it all.

Parades and family gatherings, the big dinner and, of course, football.

The clanging of pots and pans signal a busy kitchen with lots going on.

Cooks across the country have been up cooking since early dawn.

There’s the bird to stuff, and a string bean casserole to make

And for dessert there are pecan and pumpkin pies to bake.

No time to worry whether or not your waistline appears svelte.

‘Tis better you throw caution to the win and just loosen your belt.

I’ll watch the big parade and cheer when Santa comes at the end.

Then it’s officially Christmas with presents to buy and cards to send.

I will no doubt park myself in front of the TV and watch the big game.

And if my team loses I’ll make sure everyone knows who’s to blame.

Meanwhile, I have lots to be thankful for this year, just as in the past,

I’ll think good thoughts and build memories to make them last.

And one final Thanksgiving tradition of merit, if you want my advice,

Always be thankful to the turkey who made the ultimate sacrifice.

*****

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Let The Poems Begin!

Well, as some of you may know, I am an excellent poet when I set my mind to it and one thing that always sets my mind to rhyme is Thanksgiving. So what I’ve done is gone back in blog time and retrieved past poems written for the Thanksgiving holiday. I will be featuring them this week and–trust me–you will find that each and every one of them is a real turkey! Happy Holiday!

                             Ode to Tom (originally published in 2016)

What can I say? This is never a good time for me.

It is what it is. It is what is meant to be.

Try as I might I cannot escape the inevitable.

There’s no stopping it; it’s uncontrollable.

In some ways I should actually be content.

After all, everyone knows I’m the main event.

No doubt there will be the usual crowd

And when they see me, they’ll cheer out loud.

They’ll spent all day tending to my every need

And I always give in because I’ve got mouths to feed.

They all know I’m there not just for the gravy.

Still, they’ll stuff my pockets, all of them maybe.

There’s others things, too, they’ll bring to the table.

Oh I know they can dish it out, as much as they’re able.

And no matter how you slice it, I just go to pieces.

Keeping everyone smiling, from grandfathers to nieces.

It’s a family affair so things could get quirky.

If it weren’t for me, the Thanksgiving Day turkey!

*****

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LEARNING

Every once in a while I get to thinking about the books I have written.  They have always been a bit of a puzzlement to me, or maybe challenge is a better word. 

Each time you learn something, you usually want to put it to use, or at least store it from that point forward.  Let’s say you have finally mastered playing a musical instrument, at least to your satisfaction. Surely it is natural that you want to share your new talent with others.  When you do, the occasion may only be in your living room or perhaps even Carnegie Hall. It really doesn’t matter which—no wait!  It does. It does matter if what you have learned has transitioned through your individual creative landscape and become something that is exclusively yours. You have conceived it and you have expressed it.

It may be a book you have written, or a photograph you’ve taken, a picture you’ve painted, or a song you sing.  If whatever it is has your personal creativity embedded within it, then it does bloody well matter that it is exposed to many, not just a few and, even worse, to no one.

This is how the creative process works.  If you are successful, you are, for example, Stephen King.  If you are not successful, you are more or less a person like me.  I have written and self-published 11 books. In addition to that, I have written over 700 postings to this blog. My books have been read by only a handful, mostly people who know me.  Meanwhile, I have accumulated only a few hundred followers for my blog while other similar efforts draw thousands.

I tell most folks that I write for personal enjoyment. That’s true, but do I wish at least one of my books had sold more than a few copies? I won’t lie.  Anyone who writes wants readers—as many as possible.

So, we can’t all be successful and that is what I have learned from venturing into the writing process.  On further examination, I have learned I may not write very well, at least well enough to sell more than a few books.  Or, the lesson is that I have not been able to market my books well enough to attract more readers.

But my books are not the only a part of my life.  There are other things I spend my time on, some with success, some not. What I have learned more than anything else is that you never stop learning.  Nothing new there…although I’m not sure Stephen King has ever had the humbling response I have.

*****

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REFLECTIONS – Family Culture

This is the third in a series of “reflective” postings I hope to be making for some time to come. These are random memories I have of things and people that have left an impression on me, regardless of significance. This time the subject is “family culture.”

Because of the “culture” in which I was raised, I was placed in an environment at an early age that encouraged stability and independence.  It worked.

My mother was the catalyst for our out-of-sync family environment.  Unlike the overwhelming number of mothers of the 1950s-60s who saw their role as a cook, babysitter and housekeeper, my mother bolted.  She did not see herself as a stay-at-home mom.  Not at all.  So, when my brother was twelve and I was ten, she left the family…for eight hours a day.  She excelled at administrative and secretarial skills.  Through the years, she worked for surgeons, lawyers and judges—all big timers in their field. 

I was what came to be called a “latchkey” child long before the term became popular. Given the times, I am sure the neighbors must have thought Mom was a terrible mother and my brother and I terribly neglected.  We were anything but. 

The routine went like this.  My brother and I arrived home after school around 3pm.  We had to call and check in with my mother.  After that we were pretty much free until my parents arrived home. We may have had a chore or two to do during this time.  On Mondays, I remember, I was responsible for putting fresh linens on everyone’s bed. After all the beds were made, I’d stuff all the used sheets into a pillowcase and this would be left on the doorstep the next morning where a laundry service would pick it up and drop off a box with perfectly folded fresh sheets.

One of the more practical responsibilities my brother and I had was to prepare dinner. This was to be done by 6:20 when my parents arrived home (Dad always picked up my mother so they came home together). Early on, most of the meals were the latest frozen foods or something my mother prepared in advance.  Eventually, my brother and I honed our cooking skills and we each wound up capable of preparing pretty much anything.  In fact, when he was in the Navy, he served as a base cook most of the time.

I do not think our little family would have functioned as well as it did if my brother and I had not been reasonably well behaved and trustworthy.  I am sure we misbehaved at times like most kids, but overall, we were up to the task of watching over ourselves and not burning the house down.

So it came to be if I needed something or had to have some function performed while my parents were at work, well, I’d have to fend for myself or go without. By the time I was 15, I could wash my own clothes, mend them or sew on a missing a button; cook just about anything, bake a cake, take the train downtown and call the family doctor if I wasn’t feeling well. I’d tell my mother I’d make a fine catch for someone some day. She, on the other hand, made sure my life had balance and that I was rewarded for my contribution.

Weekends were time for family outings and much of the focus was to expose my brother and me to things that would educate, enlighten or entertain.  Museums, theaters, concerts, special shows and frequent trips to New York City, country fairs and beyond—they were all provided in lieu of a doting mother serving me milk and cookies when I got home from school.  And eventually, after the mold was cracked open and any residue was dusted off, I emerged an exceptionally self-reliant individual whose psychological profile on my Penn State entrance papers listed me as “stable.”

*****

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REFLECTIONS…The Grandparents

This is the second in a series of “reflective” postings I hope to be making for some time to come. These are random memories I have of things and people that have left an impression on me, regardless of significance. This time the subject is “grandparents.”

I never met my mother’s parents. They had both died before I came along. My father’s parents, however, were part of my life through some twenty years.  Their impact on my life was that they had very little impact. This is contrary to the usual behavior exhibited by most grandparents. My grandparents did not play a substantive role and were present only at occasional times. My father was born to my grandmother’s second husband.  She had a daughter by her first.

Indeed, my grandparents were not the doting type.  In fact, I do not remember any kind of gift they may have ever given to my bother or me on birthdays, Christmas or whatever.  So I missed out on having loving, spoiling grandparents that I would come to cherish.

My memories of my grandmother were that she wasn’t one you’d be excited about visiting.  Mostly I remember she had chronic digestive issues and was a busy factory of all kinds of coughs, belches and other guttural sound effects.  Grandfather, on the other hand, was at least social but never really extended himself to his grandkids.  He was, too, a good family representative of those who consumed a fair share of scotch and bourbon.

My father would make the 45-minute drive to visit his parents every few months.  My brother and I always went along on the trip, but not my mother (more on that later). When we visited Grandmom and Grandpop we usually stayed for an hour or two.  I played under this marvelous round oak dining table that took up most of the main room area. My grandparents, who were originally from Baltimore, always lived in a huge 3-story row home in an older section of the city. These houses were commonly called “Brownstones” and each of their three stories had commonly been converted to a separate apartment in their later years. You could always count on a massive squared-off stairway circling from bottom to top floor.  The kitchens and other bedrooms were at the rear of the house—way rear, these houses went on forever.

We never had any large meals at my grandparents’ house.  I remember staying overnight once or twice and my grandmother cooking us eggs for breakfast.  The more memorable food event always capped off our periodic visits and I patiently waited for it every time.  Across the street from my grandparents’ house was a typical corner “general store” that was a fixture in these older neighborhoods before supermarkets became popular.  Hanging over the front entrance was a large sign in the cut-out form of a mint leaf with the word “Breyer’s” scrawled across it.  Breyers was a famous Philadelphia ice cream brand that is still around today, although the ice cream was better back then.

My grandmother would give us money and send my brother and me to get ice cream for everyone.  It did not come packaged back then. Instead, it was scooped out of a five-gallon container using a large spade-shaped spoon. The ice cream was layered in a paper tray, then topped with a waxy tissue paper and then placed in a brown paper bag.  This you would run home with quickly before it all melted.

My grandparents were the annual guests at our house for Thanksgiving.  It was the only time they and my mother shared the same space.  As a child, relationship issues were never really apparent to me until I was able to piece things together as I got older and more savvy.

My parents met because my father’s family moved next door to my mother’s house in the 1930’s.  My mother’s family was Jewish.  Consequently, my grandmother did not approve of her son taking up with the girl next door and was especially vocal when their marriage sealed the relationship. Every one of those Thankgiving dinners when I was growing up must have been a significant challenge for my mother to remain polite and hospitable.  At the time, I never realized what a trooper she was.

One incident about my grandmother was a favorite story of my father’s.  Like many who survived the great depression, my grandparents never trusted banks.  In 1953 my grandfather gave my dad his 1940 Plymouth and he was replacing it with a brand new Chevrolet.  Grandmom did not trust my grandfather with such a big purchase. She asked my father to go with him. So, when my dad dropped by to pick up my grandfather, my grandmother went over to the china cabinet, opened the door, took out a sugar bowl, reached in it and withdrew $3000 in cash and handed it to my father.  Yep, she thought her sugar bowl was much safer than any bank.

One final memory about my grandparents:  they introduced me to death.  They were the first people I knew who died.  Up until then, death simply wasn’t an event I was directly exposed to.  I won’t say my grandparents’ deaths had a profound effect on me—I was 15 when my grandmother died, 24 when my grandfather passed—but both funerals are well embedded in my childhood archives.  I especially recall my grandfather’s age.  He lived longer than anyone in my family—82. I have since set that as a personal goal to surpass.  Now, for the first time, I am not so sure I will make it, but I intend to give it a damn good try.  Wish me luck!

*****

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REFLECTIONS…The Bike

first in a series of random memories

I do a lot of reflecting, looking back if you will, now that I am in my late seventies.  Looking back is what most folks who reach my age spend a lot of time doing.  It is a natural transition into the so-called golden years.  Your youth, and even most of your adult life are behind you. The future does not hold the kinds of things it used to.  Things like a college degree, a family, a career and all the material things that supplemented those benchmarks. No, none of that.  The future now is the end: how much time and effort will it take to get there and will you and everyone around you get through it with as little suffering as possible.  You may think my mindset is on a rather morbid path, but not really. 

One’s mindset mirrors the time and place he or she is in.  I grew up in a post-World War 2 suburban neighborhood in Philadelphia. So think about it.  When I was a kid I pretty much thought about exploring my environment, building my allowance, coping with school, having friends…things like that.  These items took on new form or maybe even disappeared altogether 20-30 years later.  They were replaced with a different set of items that would guide my life until the next phase. 

So, where am I going with all this?  I have begun thinking about things and people that have impacted my life and maybe deserve some recognition even if only on my behalf and no one else’s.  I haven’t made a list, though that could happen knowing what an organization freak I am.  But I do know some of these item may be unimportant, even frivolous, while others had tremendous impact.

Case in point, regarding one item in my life that was treasured beyond all value, yet easily replaceable: my bike.  Times were different when I was a young boy.  There were no video games, huge flatscreens, or cell phones. What most every eight-year-old boy wanted back then was a bike—a big bike, a 26-incher.  A bike was life changing. It meant no more endless walking and, much to parental chagrin, it expanded the boundaries of our young lives far beyond limits ever imagined.  Your bike was your most important possession.  It took you everywhere you had to go until you reached 16 and then your mindset changed once more, from two wheels to four.

I got my first bike, I think, for my 8th birthday.  I came downstairs in the morning and there it was, in front of the bookcase on the far wall.  It was a duplicate of the one my older brother had gotten previously. It was a 26” Schwinn—the Cadillac of bikes, very prestigious I might add.  The picture is my brother, Paul, and I standing with our prized possessions sometime back in the 50’s.

When I first got my bike I was too short for it.  I had to stack some bricks to build a little platform.  I kept this vital launchpad at the edge of the driveway in the back of our house and I’d have to use it to get on and off my bike, which I did for quite some time until I grew a few more inches.  If I had to dismount elsewhere, I’d have to look for a step or some other elevated platform…or else walk my bike home. 

Ironically, as important as it was in my life, I can’t remember whatever eventually happened to my bike.  I was to have another one when I reached 60—still a Schwinn, still 26”.  This bike was for exercise or merely having some “escape” time in the final, hectic years of working.  I just posted this bike for sale this week. It’s what stimulated all that I’ve written here.  Selling it simply brought back all these memories of how large a “roll” my bike played for a good part of my life. I have a few other items to pay tribute to.  I’ll address them in the weeks to come.  It’s my personal trip down memory lane…I’ll be on my bike, no doubt, for some of the way.

*****

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THE ELUSIVE CRUST

 I’ve never had a formal bucket list.  I suppose if I did, item #1 would be to have a bucket list!  Item #2 would likely be “pie crust.” Okay, not really.  #2 would be that riverboat trip they advertise that goes from Paris to Normandy Beach.  I’ve always wanted to make that trip.

But getting back to pie crust, yes, that’s an item that would get some priority.  No, it’s not really weird.  I am, by any stretch of the apron strings, a frustrated baker. Not only do I love good pastry, pies, cakes, Danish, donuts, tarts, cookies—well, you get my gist—I like baking all that stuff too.  Unfortunately, I am not very good at it, especially the pie category.

I cannot make pie crust. No matter how many crust- making demos I watch on YouTube and elsewhere I can’t even come close to getting a uniform layer of dough off the pastry board and into the pie pan. It’s either too dry, too wet, too thin—too whatever.

I watch others make pie crust and they never seem to have any problems.  They mix the ingredients into the perfect composition and wind up with a beautiful ball of dough.  This they place on a floured surface and proceed to roll it out into a near-perfect 360 degree circle that is easily manipulated and pressed into a pie pan.  When I attempt to duplicate this feat, any one of the steps can go awry…and always does.   

So last night I got the urge to give it another try. I knew well in advance NOT to do it, but I proceeded anyway. I watched three YouTube tutorials first. Yep, as usual it all looked pretty easy. 

Scene 2/The kitchen:  I measured out the ingredients and began the process of mixing them.  Eventually, I wound up with a ball of dough which I rolled out into an imperfect circle, repairing cracks and uneven spots along the way.  I wasn’t pleased with the results, especially with the mess that was beginning to spread beyond my immediate area.  For sure, a cloud of flour dust had begun to hover over the kitchen.  

I got to the point where my awkwardly-shaped slab of dough looked like it might actually fit the pie pan. Now all I had to do was transfer the dough from the countertop to the pie pan.  That proved impossible since the dough appeared to be guerrilla-glued to the counter and ripped apart anywhere I attempted to life it up.

Now, just to show you how determined I was, I actually made a whole new ball of dough and once more rolled it out into a useless noncircular glob.

Okay, I got it out of my system for another year.  Me and pie crust are just not made to be. My pumpkin pie will survive in one of those pre-made pie shells you can buy at the grocery store.   If it counts any, I still make a killer chocolate chip cookie…just say’n.

*****

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BACK IN THE CHAIR

In many of my older postings I used to make reference to my “thinking chair.”  It wasn’t really any kind of extraordinary chair and it certainly didn’t have any special or magical thought process (that was me) embedded within its structure.  Truth be told, it was an ordinary lawn chair that sat out on the patio on the back side of my house.  One true note, however, I did spend a lot of time sitting in it and, yes, thinking as I did.  Much of that thinking wound up being fodder for my postings.

I don’t spend as much time in my thinking chair since we moved across the state over two years ago. Oh, it’s still here and rests out back on our lanai.  I liked its environment on the other house’s patio more than I do where it sits on this house’s lanai.  I think it may have something to do with “lanai” vs. “patio” which I view similar to the old vase/vahse conflict by which proper pronunciation or choice of word is dictated by cost. But I digress.

The entire thinking chair process has been upended by my physical move across the state from the dark side.  That’s what Rosemarie calls the East coast of Florida. The transition has been a bit traumatic, especially since we lived in the first house for over 28 years and even more especially since it was here that I took the infamous fall that physically changed everything we used to think of as normal.

It has all resulted in a sort of domino effect in that I do not spend nearly close to the same amount of time sitting in my thinking chair since the move.  Therefore, I am not thinking as much, hence the reduced amount of fodder produced and this has led to far less blogging on my part.

Anyway, I was sitting in my thinking chair today and this is what I wound up thinking about. The irony is, it still led to fodder for a posting on my blog…whoddah thunk?

*****

Posted in blogging, creativity, Indie Publishing, Issues, lifestyle, liffe, moving, whimsy, WRITING | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments