Wednesday, July 17, 2013

My Little Chickadee Flies the Coop (September 20, 2012)

I wrote the following September 20, 2012, but did not post it then.

My little girl left today to spend nine months teaching English in Austria. She is in the air now, probably about two hours away from Reykjavík. I cried at the airport. She cried, too. She’s not a little girl any more. She’s 28. She’ll spend her 29th birthday in Europe in December. But she’s still my little girl.
How do I feel about her leaving? I feel many things.
Since we learned in April that she got the Fulbright Teaching Assistantship in Austria, we have been planning for this trip. It has been an exciting, mad rush, especially this last week. So much shopping to do. Shoes to buy. Coats to try on. Gadgets to consider. But she’s gone. She has finally left home.
She’s left home before to go to college, but that was at the local university. As now, I dreaded her departure back then, but I was surprised that I felt an enormous sigh of relief. I had my life back! She was just across town. We could meet anytime to go shopping. Now it’s different. I will not see her for nine months. Well, except for Skype.
I won’t see her on my upcoming birthday. She won’t be here at Halloween to lament that she doesn’t have a party to go to. Nor will she be here with me to take Bruce out on his birthday to Tavern on Grand for the walleye basket. I’m not sure how Thanksgiving will be. She is my cook. She directs; I chop. We make Grandma Ford’s chicken and dressing. She makes green bean casserole with fresh green beans, fresh mushrooms, and homemade sauce. No canned Campbell’s soup for my little foodie. She won’t be here for her birthday in December. And I don’t know how we’ll do Christmas this year. It always (especially the presents) centered around her.
Sometimes it’s terrible having an only child. And it’s terrible being the only child. You alone must bear all the hope and wishes of two people, your parents. There is no one to commiserate with when your mom tries to control your life too much, or your dad is simply too grumpy. As I parent, I want her to fulfill all her dreams, and maybe some of mine. Well—she has pretty much come close to one of those. I would have loved to have gone to live in Europe when I was her age.
I’m rambling, I know. Bear with me. I already miss her, Yet again I am relieved that she is not underfoot. Again I feel freedom from being a mom. Sometimes too much of a doting mom. I can be selfish now. I only have to be at one person’s beck and call now—Bruce.
We had so much fun planning for her to go and live in Austria. We spent a lot of money. Not only on luggage, shoes, and coats, but also in going to all our favorite restaurants before she left, the ones she won’t find in Austria—Mexican food, Asian food, Cafe Latte, good hamburgers.
I am relieved to get Messy Bessy out of the house. Helping her to pack, I uncovered Girl Scout cookie money that she hadn’t turned in. (She was one of three troop leaders for a Brownie Girl Scout troop.) We got that to the troop today. There was over $10.00 in coins in her room and purse. I even found a wheat penny. I also uncovered multiple OB tampons, unused of course. She always seemed to be running out of these. Always running to Target to get more when there were at least 12 in the bottom of her purse.
I’m sure she has a stash of yarn here at the house worth at least $500.00. I found many an ongoing project. That’s not to say that she doesn’t finish her yarn projects, because she does. Looking for her laptop case, I found numerous skeins with stitches on the needles in addition to multiple pristine, untouched skeins. All natural fibers, of course. Emilia is not only a foodie. She also is a yarn snob. No polyester for this girl. 

I found more than one bottle of opened Advil. And there was receipt after receipt. My messy little girl. She seems to be so disorganized and yet so together. She got a Fulbright position. You can’t be disorganized and do that.
Yes, I’ll miss her. And I won’t miss her. I’ll relish her living her own life, without her mother hovering over her. I’ll relish having my own life back. One where I don’t feel obliged to do things with her—go to the mall or out to eat or pass judgment (requested by her) on her clothing or makeup. I’ll miss those things. They really weren’t obligations. They were things I enjoyed being a part of. But they were distracting. I look forward to being a little selfish and doing what I want, dealing only with Bruce distractions.

It’s hard to let go of your children. It’s hard to give them up to the world, Even if they are 28, almost 29 years old. You want them in your life, but you also want them to have their own life. When I was her age, I had been on my own for 10 years. But things were different then. The economy was different. And I would have never lasted that long living with my parents. I was too different from them. Emilia I and enjoy many of the same things, philosophically as well as intellectually. We are more on the same page than I ever was with my parents. She is my intellectual equal. I might even say my intellectual stimulus and challenger. Not only is she a wonderful daughter; she also is a great conversationalist and a creative human being. We’ve been down so many paths together. We’re close. Some might say too close. She is my best friend. She is a wonderful friend. And I will miss her in the days to come.

Travel well, my child. The adventure is on.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sunshine On My Shoulders

In the 1970s, during Spring Break one year at what was then known as North Texas State University (NTSU), my boyfriend Kent and I drove to Canada to see his brother, an American draft dodger living near Toronto. Kent went to Vietnam as a Marine, but when his brother Bob was drafted, instead of taking the oath to serve, as a conscientious objector he took two steps backward and made his way to Canada. When I met Kent, Bob and his wife were living in Hamilton, Ontario.

A couple of our friends decided to join us for other destinations as we head north on spring break that year. Mary planned to ride as far as Springfield, Missouri, where her aunt lived. Shaheen, a Bangladeshi graduate student, wanted to go as far as Bowling Green, Ohio, where he had been an undergraduate. 

Shaheen had embraced the American lifestyle. He grew his hair long, drank alcohol, and slept with American women. He probably was Muslim. In those days, we didn't think too much about Muslims, especially Muslim fundamentalists. I’m not sure we knew what that was. Shaheen was just like us. He just happened to be from another part of the world.

Shaheen and Mary were dating. Mary and I had been friends since living in the “Old Ladies” dorm at NTSU (McConnell Hall). You had to be 21 to live in the dorm, thus the moniker. In the 1970s, dorms still had curfews and men and women lived in separate facilities. Residents at the Old Ladies dorm had keys to the outside doors and could come and go as they pleased. No curfew. I was a 21-year-old divorcee. I had married my high school sweetheart at 18 and left him after a couple of years of physical abuse. But that’s another story. Back to Mary. 

Mary was a philosophy student. Serious and quiet with a pixie haircut and wire rim glasses. A no-nonsense, no-makeup kind of girl. I can’t remember how she met Shaheen. It must have been through Kent since he and Shaheen were friends. Unknown to Mary, Shaheen was going back to Bowling Green to see a red-headed girlfriend.

The four of us headed north in my navy blue Toyota Corolla. We spent the night in Missouri at the home of Mary’s aunt. The next day, Kent, Shaheen, and I continued north. When we crossed the Mississippi River at St Louis, Shaheen smugly asked whether we knew the meaning of Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens’s pseudonym. Kent and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. Maybe he only asked us if we knew that it was a pseudonym. I can’t remember. I just recall the absurdity of being quizzed about Mark Twain by a fellow from Bangledesh.

When we dropped him off in Bowling Green, his red-headed girlfriend screamed with delight at seeing him and leaped into his arms. She was a lovely girl, but I kept thinking about Mary. Shaheen was equally thrilled at seeing her, with no apologies to us about Mary. We spent the night there. The next day Kent and I continued north to Detroit.

This Texas girl had never been any farther north than Kansas City. Driving through Detroit, I began to understand what the term row houses meant. I had never seen a row house. In Detroit, there they were, queued up, row after row. Lots of factories. And smokestacks. The Motor City.

We crossed the border at Detroit. In the 1970s, pre-9/11, border crossings into Canada were simple. The Canadian officer asked us where we born. Kent replied, “New Haven, Connecticut.” I told the officer I was born in Texas. He frowned, shook his head, and paused before he said, “I’m sorry, but we don’t allow Texans into Canada.” He paused long enough for me to start to worry. Then he broke into a huge grin and welcomed us to Canada.

Driving north from Detroit, I began to see patches of something white along the road. What was it? Cotton? Was there a cotton gin nearby? And why would they gin cotton in March? In West Texas where I grew up, cotton gins ran night and day in the fall, creating row after row of cotton bales, leaving roadsides near the gin dusted white with cotton. Kent laughed. It was snow. Snow? Snow in March? How can that be, wondered this Texan?

We arrived in Hamilton, just south of Toronto where Bob was a graduate student at McMaster University. He and Marsha lived in one of those lovely old row houses like the ones I marveled at driving through Detroit. Growing up in the wide expanses of West Texas, a row house was a foreign concept. Bob and Marsha lived in a narrow sliver of one of them. It was charming and novel to this first time visitor to Canada.

They were lovely hosts, feeding us well and taking us to see the sights. I particularly remember the student center at McMaster University. There was a painting or a mosaic of the phoenix on the wall. I made a mental note to myself to look up the story of the phoenix so I could better understand its wonderful depiction there. Ah, the days before we googled everything.

We drove into Toronto and ate at a wonderful Japanese restaurant where the food was prepared at our table. Not quite Benihana. It was more personal. The chef cooked our food right on the small table in our booth. It was delicious. We walked up and down the streets of downtown Toronto. It was cold enough to wear a coat. Another phenomenon for me. I had never worn a coat in March. We bought chestnuts from a street vendor, the only time I ever ate roasted chestnuts in my life. It was strange to eat chestnuts in March, not in December, a Christmas tradition (at least in song). The chestnuts, the cold, and the snow blurred the calendar for me. It seems that we were there in December, not March.

We spent three wonderful days with Bob and Marsha. We got up early on our last day, had breakfast, made our way down the three flights of the row house stairs, and sadly hugged them goodbye. As we drove away, the sun was shining brightly on the snow. The radio started playing John Denver’s “Sunshine on my Shoulders.” Tears came to my eyes. I’m sure Kent felt the same. He hadn’t seen his brother in years. And his brother couldn’t come home. As we rounded a curve to get on the main road, we saw Bob. He had raced through a neighborhood shortcut to wave one last goodbye.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry . . .
If I had a day that I could give you
I'd give to you a day just like today . . .

It was a pre-VH1 moment. Every time I hear that song, I am in Hamilton, Ontario in my little navy blue Toyota with Kent, heading south to Texas. And my throat tightens.

Postscript: We drove on to Detroit, leaving the cotton-like snow on the roadsides. Soon after picking up Shaheen in Ohio, it started snowing. A lot. We had to exit the freeway and find a motel. The three of us barely had enough money to pay for one room. Nobody had a credit card. We parked the car so the motel clerk couldn’t see all of us and charge us for three. Kent and I slept on the bed while Shaheen made do on the floor.

We continued south the next day, picking up Mary in Missouri. Shaheen seemed different, and Mary noticed. I don’t think their relationship was ever the same. I don’t know what happened to Shaheen. I introduced Mary to my friend Joe, the graduate student, former Catholic monk who served as a bush pilot in Africa. But that, too, is another story.

Words by John Denver; music by John Denver, Mike Taylor and Dick Kniss

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a day that I could give you
I'd give to you the day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high

If I had a tale that I could tell you
I'd tell a tale sure to make you smile
If I had a wish that I could wish for you
I'd make a wish for sunshine for all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

Copyright 1971 by Cherry Lane Music

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Trials and tribulations on Air Canada

When I checked in at the Munich airport for the flight home, they gave me seat assignments for the two flights home (Munich to Toronto, Toronto to Minneapolis). I asked for aisle seats since I'm terribly claustrophobic and I hate flying. I asked them to please not put me in the row of four seats in the middle of the plane (the big planes that fly internationally have rows of seats that are arranged as follows: two seats, aisle, four seats, aisle, and then another two seats). Just before we began to board, I saw that I had a window seat. Crap. Why didn't I double check at the ticket counter? I begin to fret. OMG. What if I am seated next to an enormous person spills over into my space? What if it is chatty Kathy? I'm in no mood to talk. What if . . . ? I checked to see if I could get another seat, but it was too late. 

When I boarded, I went down the wrong aisle (dammit--they could have steered me a little better), so I had to go down almost the length of the plane to get to the other side, all the while maneuvering all the crap I was carrying (carry-on bag, laptop bag, snacks bag, large purse, and coat), trying to avoid hitting anyone in the head. By that time, I'm freaking out a little, especially knowing I have a window seat. I had to wait until several people get by so I can  finally get to my seat since I'm now going against the flow. 

I finally find my seat. As I struggle to get my luggage in the carry-on space and get my stuff settled, I am immediately overcome by the smell of body odor. At first, I worry that it might be me. I am sweating profusely by now. I quickly sniff my armpit. No, it's not me. It's the man sitting in the aisle seat across from my seat, one row back. OMG. I seriously think I'm gonna throw up. It was vile. He reeked. Awfully. Geez. Bathe and use some deodorant!  I immediately was grateful that I was not sitting next to him and felt a bit better about my window seat. 

For a long time, no one sat down. I was hoping that the seat next to me was empty. But the plane seemed full and soon a young man came and occupied the seat next to me. I debated about asking him to switch seats but thought I'd down a happy pill first and see how I felt. And I began to see that my window seat was not so bad. I had more room than I expected. And changing to the aisle seat meant that I'd be closer to the evil body odor. The chemicals began to do their magic. Thank god for chemistry. A  glass of wine later also helped (though I really shouldn't mix the two). I settled in, hauled out my Bose ear plugs, and started a movie, Silver Linings Playbook, an absolutely wonderful movie. Thank god for movies on the plane!

Monday, July 4, 2011


Oh, the things one finds when going through old files. Here is what I wrote for Mother's funeral (with a few edits).

My daughter Emilia never knew Mother as the active, energetic person she was before she was paralyzed. She was a take-charge, hard working woman. When we moved (which was often), she would load the truck, put up the air conditioner, set up the beds . . . whatever needed done. She milked the cows, worked in the field, and cooked a pot of beans every Wednesday. From her example, I never differentiated between women's work and men's work. Mother did both, with little complaint. She just did whatever needed to be done.

She was a tireless worker. After hoeing cotton in the hot field all day long, Rocky and I would be looking forward to that last row when we could finally put down our hoes and go to the house. Mother would say, "Let's do one more row." And, we would do one more row. She then would urge us to do another row. And, sometimes another. Mother's urging us to complete just one more row has served me well in my adult life. Many times when faced with a difficult or never-ending task, I think of Mother getting us to do one more row. And I press on, running just one more mile, completing one more task, taking one more step.

To say the least, Mother was a little obsessive compulsive about her house. We couldn't go to church until the floors were swept. My house is never as clean as Mother's. But I always wish it was.

Mother was paralyzed in November 1985. In the same month, my second child Sarah was born and died. It was a terrible time in our lives. Mother was in the hospital in Lubbock for a year. I went to visit her every day. I crocheted two afghans for her, sitting in her hospital room. They were pink, of course. Emilia, who was only two, learned how to count going up the stairs every day to Mother's room on the second floor. It was a horrible, horrible time for Mother and for me. In spite of the indignities and pain she suffered, she still was able to comfort me in my grief. Together in her room we would cry as I crocheted and Emilia played at the foot of her bed.

Mother always had a garden. Every time I see a zinnia, I think of her. Every dumpy rent house we lived in had a row of colorful zinnias in the front yard. She was into organic gardening long before it became the thing to do. Every spring, I joke that the sap rises in me, and I have to go out and dig in the dirt and plant something. Charlotte has a garden, and I know Rocky likes to garden as do I. I like to think it is a part of Mother in all of us.

Mother's gift to all of us is her strength and can-do attitude. Her last years in a wheelchair should never diminish the strong, able woman who raised all of us into capable, confident, and productive members of the human race. I hope I do as well with my own child.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

C.H. Eulogy

While cleaning out files, I found a copy of what I read at Daddy's funeral. When I reread, it brought tears to my eyes, for a lot of reasons. Daddy was a complicated man, but he was our father, and in spite of the difficulties he brought to our lives, he gave us a lot.

My remarks (edited a bit--see items in italics) from the funeral:

I have been writing these words in my head for years now. I knew when the time came I wanted say something at my father's funeral. But now the time has come, I don't know where to begin.

He was a very difficult man to live with, especially when he was younger. Though I remember hard times, I also remember him as a very handsome man dressed in khaki shirt and denim pants. He was a very good-looking man. When people would tell him that he had a good-looking bunch of kids, he would joke: "They get their looks from their mother; I've still got mine." If he had any vanity, it wasn't about his looks; it was his mind. He prided himself on his intelligence and when we thought we knew more than him, he would tell us, "I've forgot more than you ever learnt!"

Though we grew up chaffing under his critical eye, he was a central and unifying part of both our childhood as well as our adulthood. As children, I remember huddling together over the heater muttering what we were going to do to him when he was on one of his rampages. Actually, we were plotting to kill him as we listened to him beating the crap out of Mother in the next room. We didn't know it then, but he created a bond among us that remains today, a bond that is stronger than any on my mother might have inspired. We were bound by hate. We were bound together as a unit against what we saw as a common enemy. We were bound to show him he was wrong, and that we could do better than he thought we could. Even in death, he still connects us. We all have stories of him that share a remarkable similarity. He didn't have any favorites (unless you count Rocky). He distributed his no-nonsense discipline equally.

He taught us to be tough. I remember many times, especially when I was single, barely making a living on my own and going through hard times, he would tell me to "buck" up, get tough, and say, "You're a Ford." Sometimes that wasn't what I wanted to hear, but as a parent guiding my rather shy child through two cross-country moves, I have repeated those same words to her, "Remember, you are a Ford."

He wasn't a man given to hobbies. We never went camping; family vacations usually were trips to my grandparent's place. He wasn't directly involved in our lives. In fact, I think we preferred to keep him in the background. We had more fun that way. We didn't want to have to deal with him. Mother was much easier. She kept a looser rein on us, while his "No, because I said so" was always final. There was no negotiating.

He and mother fought a lot. But every Valentine's Day, there was the biggest and prettiest box of chocolates for her (which she hid from us kids, only doling out a piece at a time). On her birthday or at Christmas, he would buy her the stylish dress she couldn't afford. As a child, I was impressed with his good taste. But Mother's practicality and her down-to-earth fashion sense usually won out, and she would return it.

He loved family gatherings, lording over them with the heater cranked up high so his feet wouldn't get cold. Though hard on us, I know he loved us. I knew it as a child, though he never expressed it. Like other things, he expected us to know that.

Things I got from my father:
  • When we went to family reunions, everyone know whose child I was. They always remarked how much I looked like my father. I never saw it then.
  • My gift of gab. The "I-never-met-a-stranger" personality. While ordering in a restaurant, I hear myself making those same inane comments to the server. They come out unbidden. There's no stopping my father coming out in me.
  • My skinny feet.
  • Enormous pride in my family.

Things I learned from my father:
  • How to swear
  • How to pack a car trunk to maximize every little inch
  • How to drive a stick shift
  • How to drive aggressively

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare writes, "The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones." I'm not sure that is always true. Even in death, good things about my father are here. My father left an enormous legacy. They are all here sitting in this chapel.

He is not gone. I see him every morning in the bathroom mirror. I hear myself repeating all those little things he said such as, "I'll slap a dollar in your pocket." Every time we get together,  the talk always gets around to my father. Last night was no exception. We were up till far too late last night swapping tales about Daddy. He is very much with us.

I'm proud to say I am a Ford. And I am proud to say I am Carlos Ford's daughter. He gave me a lot.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Salmon, film, lingerie, and Les Misérables

I was editing my previous post (even editors make mistakes), when I got to thinking about the word salmon. Growing up, we (I think it was we; maybe it was only me) pronounced the letter l in salmon. We said sal-mon, not sa-mon. I still have a hard time not saying sal-mon. I guess I notice it more now since I see it a lot on menus or at the grocery store. And every now and then I order or buy some. Don't think I ever saw salmon in the grocery store in Lamesa, Texas, back in the day. There weren't many opportunities, much less  any reason, to go around saying, sal-mon.

In about the fifth grade, I remember being laughed at and teased (still to this day) by my brothers and sisters for pronouncing the word film as thilm. I don't know where I got the idea that it was pronounced that way. I remember being adamant about my pronunciation; I was a smart student. What did they know? :-)

I also remember thinking when I saw the word lingerie in the department store that it was pronounced just the way it looks: lynge-er-ee. I don't remember when I learned that it was a French word and was pronounced, lahn-zuh-ray.

In about the fourth grade, I read Les Misérables (an abridged children's version). It's a wonderful novel by Victor Hugo; I should read the unabridged version. We saw the Broadway show when we lived in Memphis. But, the whole time I was reading it, in my head, I pronounced the protagonist's name, Jean Valjean,  the way you would pronounce my middle name, Jean. Not Jahn Vahljahn. I went through that entire book reading to my self, Jeen Valjeen, thinking — here's a man with my name!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fresh Fish

Fish was novelty at our house. I never ate fresh shrimp until I was in a high school Home Economics class when we made a dish with boiled shrimp. (Come to think of it. This was West Texas. It probably wasn't fresh, but frozen.) Growing up, the only fish that we ate with any regularity was canned tuna and canned salmon. On occasion, if we were lucky, we might get invited to a fish fry where we had fried catfish, Daddy didn't fish (or do much of anything else in the way of a hobby), so catfish consumption was dependent on the good will of friends or neighbors.

In my own family, we often make tuna salad just like Momma did, except we don't add onions. But, we never have salmon patties. I made them once, and Bruce and Emilia turned up their noses. Salmon patties with gravy. Yum, now that's a dish. Bruce and Emilia don't know what they are missing. Of course, they think it's sacrilege to put catsup atop the gravy on chicken fried steak. Speaking of chicken fried steak, it often was ground hamburger meat formed into patties. Still good. Especially with that catsup atop the gravy.

Maybe I should rename this the Ford Family Food Blog, huh? :-)

Naw, I've got more things to talk about than food.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Chocolate Milk

Just saw that schools may do away with chocolate milk. Oh, no! Chocolate milk was one of the many perks of going to school in the 1950s. Sitting in the cafeteria with that little carton of cold chocolate milk, you pressed the pre-punched hole on one side, inserted two paper straws, and slurped it up. One of the best things about lunch.

I was a country kid. We didn't have chocolate milk at home, much less paper straws. Ahhh, first grade was grand.