Category Archives: In someone else’s backyard

Frying Pan Green Tomatoes

We, the sisters, the daughters, try to go to Mom’s every Saturday to help with chores around the house. Jim’s not doing well right now (he’s sick, too. He thinks it’s leftover shingles, we think it’s a likely alien infestation in is body cavity but he thinks we don’t know what we’re talking about. Like we don’t read books and watch movies, or something. Sheesh) so he’s not quite as energetic as he had been.

Most days, we go over, do the chores, Jim makes us lunch, then we sit around and visit for awhile before finishing up and heading home.

Unrelatedish thought: You know, this is the best way to lose someone. That might sound like crap but I cannot begin to express how thankful I am that we get to spend this time with our mom as a family. She said she knows that she is loved and she hopes we know that we are, too. We do. We wouldn’t have had this had she not gone through chemo; it would have been really ugly. The ugly will still come but now we’ll be better prepared because we’ve had this time to buffer, to say the things we want to say, but, most importantly, just to be together and be a dysfunctional, loving family. It’s the end of the party for her but we all get to stand at the door and chit chat for a little while before she leaves and…man, it’s been amazing.

Back to the story: We kept telling the grandkids that it was important for us all to make good memories right now. I don’t think any of us bought into that, I think we were just trying to make this all a little less horrifying for the children. But you know what? We actually have done just that, enjoyed some shining moments.

The first happened early on. Mom hadn’t started chemo yet but she’d had her hair buzzed in order to prep for the hair-falling-out part. Noelle – and let me just take a minute to say that Noelle has hair vanity like you wouldn’t believe – wanted to do something to support Mom so she suggested we all buzz our own heads. We agreed. On the day we had planned to go baldish, our uncle Charlie, Mom’s brother, and aunt Paula came out for a visit. Uncle Charlie did the hair-butchery for us. He has three boys and a girl and he was in charge of keeping those boys buzzed up all summer long for many, many years. In other words, he was old hat at this game. Speaking of hats (and heads), Charlie and Paula brought pink ballcaps for us all to wear afterward, you know, so we wouldn’t burn our fragile skulls since they’d be mostly naked, and all. Thoughtful!

It turned out to be a fun day. Mom hated it, at first. She didn’t want her daughters to look like Marines. Now, though, she references that day and loves the pictures we took.

Before

Before

After

After

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Today was another memory-making day, though totally by accident.

Our chores included tearing the tomato plants out of the greenhouse and inspecting the bodies to find any tomatoes that hadn’t been hit by the cold snap. Most of them had been frostbitten, were holey and wormy, or were too underdeveloped to ripen on the windowsill. We put all those bad tomatoes in a bucket and decided to throw them over the fence for the fun of it. But then Noelle remembered how much she loved fried green tomatoes and how do you fry green tomatoes? IN A FRYING PAN! So Britt ran off to get the fying pan that lives in the sandbox and we started a game of Whack-a-mater. It’s like if you mix cricket (the game, not the bug) and tennis…only with tomatoes and a fying pan.

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It was such a random thing but we all had the best time laughing, getting tomato splatter all over ourselves, and enjoying each other’s company in the late autumn sunshine.

Had Mom and Jim been able to do the tomato-clearance themselves, this never would have happened but because it was our job, we made a delightful memory, one we’ll talk about for years.

These are the beautiful moments that will carry us all through.

 

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Haunted Highway

You know what I hate most about having lived such an amazing life? My memory is completely shot. Too many awesome things have happened to me and I can’t keep them all in my head. That’s going to mar today’s story somewhat. We can only hope April comes over here and helps to clear things up.

This eerie little tale takes place along the A1 in Australia! (Hi, Michelle! Your forests are creepy! Well, at least one of them.) For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to say these facts are true and accurate to the best of my recollection. In reality, I think I’m making 90% of this up because I can’t remember what really happened and I didn’t write it down anywhere, which is odd in itself. Obviously, something didn’t want me to tell this story.

April and I went to Australia and it was delightful. Except for the one night when it was terrifying.

We were driving The Golden Arrow (that was our rental car’s name) from Cairns to Sydney down the A1, over the Pacific Highway, along the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. Somewhere along the way, we stopped in a scary little hillbilly town in the backwoods for petrol and supplies and, from there, planned to drive until we found the next larger, not-scary town that would be able to provide a place to stay. We figured we’d just drive through the forest and when we came out the other side, it would be night, we would find a motel and we would rest our weary heads to start fresh the next day.

Oh how wrong we were.

We left the scary little hillbilly town a little before sunset, laughing about the gas station’s mostly-toothless attendant who was unintelligble to us, to me especially. April was able to figure out some of what he was saying after she made him repeat it a few times. Me? I never got it. We entered the forest, chortling and carrying on. It was lovely until it started to get dark.

Foggy Woods by Matthias via Flickr http://bit.ly/Foggywoods

Yeah, it started like this and then it just got worse. (photo from Flickr, courtesy Matthias https://www.flickr.com/photos/theowl84/)

As the light faded, the woods started getting thicker, deeper, darker and there wasn’t a bit of civilization in site, no signs telling us how far to the next town, nothing. I don’t remember which one of us was the first to crawl into the back (The Golden Arrow was a station wagon) for a nap. I think it was me. At any rate, by the time it was full-on dark, I was catnapping when, suddenly, the car swerved and April shrieked. Something had jumped out into the road to end its life and probably ours. April, though, amazing driver that she is, swerved and we all survived. The thing is, she didn’t know what it was. All she could say was that it was big and it didn’t look like any animal she recognized, not a kangaroo, not a moose, not a goanna. I didn’t think I’d be doing anymore sleeping so I slithered back up to the front seat and noticed that the trees were really crowding in and it was incredibly dark out there. A mist was creeping along the trunks and stepping gingerly onto the road. We passed something bloated and dead on the shoulder and to lighten the mood, we discussed it, settling on it being wombat road kill.

That didn’t really  help at all, though. There was something out there in the woods and we were miles from anywhere. There were no other cars on the dark, eerie two-lane road and the trees were bending over, just waiting to nudge us, prod us, send us caroming off into their trunks. There was constant peripheral movement, the mist clung as we passed through it, things were readying to jump at us as we crept through the dark.

It was like every horror movie. We expected the car, unreliable as it was, to break down and strand us, leaving us to the mercy of murderers and mythical monsters. We were so tightly strung, jaws clenched, eyes peering as hard as they could to see beyond the murky light cast by the headlamps. The road started sucking at the tires, pulling us off and into the trees. April slowed down but slowing down meant it was easier for whatever was out there to catch us. We were breathing hard, our hearts beating too fast. April was fighting to keep the car on the blacktop. She told me to keep talking, do not stop talking. But what can you talk about when you’re traveling through a nightmare?

That road, that forest, the dark and the mist, the jumpy animals and serial killers, it all went on forever. We drove and drove through the night, terror mounting with every kilometer. The constant thrum of fear bore down upon us as the mist drifted through slow-ink dark and we drifted down a lonely, forgotten stretch of highway.

I don’t know how we made it out. As the sun began to come up and the world began to turn gray, smoky, quiet, we finally emerged from the longest night of our lives. Once we were clear of that horrible, haunted forest, I took the wheel and April took the back for some much-needed sleep. We had made it out alive.

Looking at Google Maps, I would guess the forest in question would probably be Toolara State Forest, Beerburrum/Beerwah State Forests, Devils Pulpit State Forest (based solely on the name. This forest isn’t actually big enough to have taken us so many hours to drive through), or Glenugie State Forest. But your guess is as good as mine. Wherever it was, I don’t recommend driving through at night after making fun of toothless hillbillies.

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The cold soiled doves

This story makes me feel like maybe I’ve gone insane. I keep trying to find source material and I can’t, nothing exists. Maybe I dreamt it all?

When I was 13, my extended family was out for a visit. We took them to Cripple Creek, a favorite destination for visitors even before it was a gambling town.

On this particular trip, we decided to visit a whorehouse. There were more than one brothel in Cripple Creek’s heyday; now there’s only one remaining, the famous one. That’s not the one we visited. The one we went to was off the main drag (Bennett) to the southwest. It was in back of a much larger building and there was a weedy lot next door. It was a two-story red brick affair and it didn’t look like much.

There were tours of this old pleasure  house on weekends so we signed right up. I believe our group consisted of my large family and another smaller family. The tour commenced, the kids were bored and the adults were just happy to be out of the heat. However, once the stories started, we were all captivated. The rooms were roped off; we could only stare in from the hallways as we heard about the happenings throughout the house. It was exciting and interesting. I remember the wallpaper, handmade and opulent. Imagine making wallpaper!

Colorado soiled dove

Upstairs, we viewed the girls’ rooms, heard tales, and when we came to one room at the end of the hall, my mom stopped. My sister stopped. My grandmother stopped. They all lingered. Finally my grandmother and sister moved along and I joined Mom at the little fence in the doorway, peering around her to see what was so interesting. It was just another room. Mom said, “Do you notice how cold it is in here?” and I said, “Not really.” She said, “This room should be hot. It’s a late midsummer afternoon on the second floor of a brick building that’s had sun shining on it all day. This room should be much warmer than it is.” I rolled my eyes and moved along.

The tour was soon finished and a new one had begun; we listened to the other tourress begin her story. Our delightful guide, a retired woman who loved Cripple Creek history, bade her group members farewell. My mother lingered, as did my grandmother. Our guide, seeing no one else in the room, told them they were correct – the upstairs room was cold. A girl had died of a belladonna overdose in that room. There had been a murder in there, as well. I don’t remember if the man killed the woman or the woman killed the man but someone had died violently and restless spirits remained.

Colorado soiled dove

One of Colorado’s soiled doves.

My mother looked at me smugly. I hurried out of the whorehouse.

I went back years later when I was in my 20’s. The building had been torn down to accommodate parking for the new gambling hordes. Only The Homestead House remained. I cannot find mention of my brothel anywhere. Was it just a dream?

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A profound compliment

Compliments are funny things. Some people want them, seek them, love and need them while others shun them and are flustered by them. I ride that line. I like praise and even seek it but only when I feel I deserve it, otherwise it freaks me out. I’ve found that when someone says something nice to me, I have one of two reactions, neither of which are “Thank you.”  If I agree with the sentiment, I tell a story. For instance, if someone says, “That’s a darling outfit,” I say, “I know, right? I got the skirt at the thrift store and the shoes were on sale and the top was a hand me down and my great grandmother made the sweater during the blizzard of ’43.” It’s like I need to explain why the praise is true even if my explanation has nothing to do with the original compliment. If I don’t agree with the sentiment, I argue. I’ll act all demure with a, “Oh, that’s so nice, but I had nothing to do with it,” or “It just happened this way,” or something equally vague and somewhat insulting to the praise-giver. I know I’m just supposed to smile, accept the compliment and move on. According to childhood lessons in etiquette, I should return a compliment but that’s even worse than accepting one. A forced compliment is hollow, isn’t it?

There was one compliment, though, an off-hand remark that had nothing to do with anything I did but that left me speechless, nonetheless. It was, and remains, the best compliment I have ever received in my life.

Back during our early high school days, my BFF, T, began to conserve her syllables both, I think, as a matter of communication efficiency and also maybe a little due to verbal laziness. During the school day, we had a lot to say, so much so that every moment in the hallway was spent chattering over each other at our lockers and when we were apart in separate classrooms, we wrote notes to one another. When we finished our homework in the evenings, we’d call each other. This was back in the days when the house had a main phone because cell phones were a thing of science fiction; we’d tie up the line for hours. I still don’t know why our parents let us do that but I suppose it was a good way to keep telemarketers from disturbing the peace. So knowing there was a lot to be said in a short amount of time (because, really, we probably only had 4-5 actual hours per school day to express our thoughts), T started shorthanding her speech and, as a result, my name lost two syllables and simply became “Er” (as in Eyre, Jane Eyre) This easy-to-say new name stuck and I am still “Er” to T and a few others, including my Longest Running Friend, April. April’s been calling me Er since T coined it so by the time she and I got to Korea, it was my default name. I don’t think she could have added the “ica” if forced.

South Korea was my first legitimate trip out of the country. It was scary and culture shocky for the first month or two but we eventually found our places in the environment and functioned appropriately as young twenty-somethings abroad. So one night midway through our year there, we were out with our co-workers/friends and were the only non-Koreans in the group. I was walking out of the bar with Michelle (real name: Sae Kyung), April and Julie (I don’t remember her real name) right behind us. I heard Julie ask April, “Why do you call her ‘Er’? Is it because as your friend, she is so important to you, like the air you breathe?” I think we laughed, April and I; Julie’s logic seemed hilarious. April explained the shortening of words for the ease of communication. Obviously, the name had nothing to do with anything I’d done, nothing to do with me at all, really. It was just a question based on linguistics and the desire to understand our tradition of nicknames but it hit me hard and has stuck with me all these years, the thought that I could be as important as the air someone breathes, I could be that necessary in a life and that my necessity was apparent to another individual. What a wonderful thought, this gift of belief in the worthiness of one single regular human being and her potential impact upon another. I’d like to say I try to live each day with this beautiful sentiment in mind, that I try to be as important as air, but I don’t. I don’t believe that’s how life works, that any one person is truly irreplaceable. We can’t be; there’s no guarantee any of us will be here tomorrow unlike the air which will most likely be here for all of our tomorrows and probably our great-great grandchildren’s tomorrow if we don’t jack things up too badly. No, of course, our air won’t last forever, either, but we know we’re transient and the air, in comparison, is probably more permanent. Also, I never had a child, probably the only instance in which that statement of importantce is true or as close to true as possible. So, no. I am not as important as the air we breathe. I just have friends who don’t speak my full name. And yet, that is the best compliment, the most meaningful sentiment, I’ve ever received.

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Stuffing Kills Family of Five. More at eleven.

It’s funny how the family dynamic can shift and change like sands in the wind. A delightful friend of mine, matron of her family, is experiencing just such a shift this year. We’re going to call this friend Maithair Mhor because…I said so. I asked her to write this post and she gave me the gift of the story, instead.

Mrs. Mohr has been cooking Thanksgiving turkey since she was 18-years-old. Her family is robust and though people have come and gone over the years, those seats around the Thanksgiving table are always filled and then some.

But this year is different. This year, she will have five, maybe six, people in her home for the upcoming holiday, herself included. She’s not sure how to cook a feast for just a handful of heads. Well, and their bodies, too, I assume.

I told her I never have to make the turkey because I was smart enough to ruin it three years running. She bemoaned the fact she  never thought of roasting that bird to a beautiful golden-brown only to leave it raw inside. She probably would not have had to cook 50+ turkeys over the years had she been a little more devious in her youth.
I told her such mischief pays off: I only make my grandmother’s cranberry relish and whatever other side dishes are needed, usually a veggie casserole of some sort. Mrs. Mohr mentioned that her kids and their kids and their kids love Love LOVE the canned cranberries, though she’s never been a fan. Because they’re gross. But this year…this year, she thinks maybe it is high time to make a real, uncanned cranberry dish. Because, after all, there are only 4 people to disappoint and that’s totally easy to live down.

This is where she started getting excited. If she can push the boundaries with cranberries, what about other forbidden foods? Like, say…stuffing?

I know, I know. You’re thinking what I thought, “What? Stuffing? How can that be forbidden? Gluten allergies? But there are alternatives. How can stuffing not be on the table?” Well, you see, years and years ago, there was a warning issued, one that said not to stuff the cavity of the turkeybird with dressing because it would not get thoroughly cooked thus enabling foodborne pathogens to invade the dinner table and next thing you know, everyone dies. Mrs. Mohr eliminated traditional stuffing from the menu and went with the Stove Top Stuffing instead.
I have never been a fan of Stove Top, myself. I think it’s horrifically salty and unstuffingy. But I also think it’s wonderful for anyone who has been told bird-stuffing is dangerous OR who doesn’t know how/doesn’t have time/doesn’t want to go through the effort to make the real thing because, let’s face it, that’s a lot of work. And if you’re like me, it’s also alot of sore and sliced fingers (from crunching up the dried bread manually. Yes, for those who don’t know, traditional bread stuffing has dried bread – no, not toast – as an ingredient)

Peligro! Achtung! Beware of stuffing!

Peligro! Achtung! Beware of stuffing!

This year, Mrs. Mohr is going to make stuffing the old-fashioned way.

Her logic: If she winds up killing everyone with turkey-borne illness, it’s just four people. Who is going to notice? Now is the time to try out new things because IT’S JUST FOUR PEOPLE! I’m beginning to wonder if Mrs. Mohr wasn’t a mad scientist in a past life. Then again, I can’t argue with her. This truly is the perfect time to try new dishes, to experiment, to bring back the traditions of Thanksgiving! Because, really, if you have to have a massacre, it should be small and easy to clean.
However, it’s still a win-win situation. If all goes well, Mrs. Mohr will bring her successes to the next Thanksgiving meal; they’ll become the new traditions. If it’s a disaster, we only have to attend one funeral and the survived-bys will get a family discount. There really is no downside, here.

You may think this sounds morbid, especially on the eve of one of our few actual Made-in-America, For America, By America holidays, but really, it’s joyful. It shows that there are many ways to be grateful and that if you can put a positive spin on everything you do, you’ll be much more open to trying new things. Like cranberry relish and traditional in-the-bird stuffing.

To the family of Mrs. Mohr: I wish you a happy and successful Thanksgiving. Should it go awry, I’ve been asked to sit down and explain the whole thing to the investigating officer. To everyone else who will be celebrating the day of food, the day of football, the first actual day of the Christmas season, the day of thankfulness tomorrow, may it be fruitful, enjoyable, delicious and relatively death-free.

Edit, December 2, 2013

This just in, straight from Mrs. Mohr, herself:

Everyone survived the ordeal. The homemade stuffing was ok but I added too much seasoning.  Stove Top would have been better.

The HIT of the entire day was [your] Grandma’s cranberry sauce.  Everyone loved it!!!!!!! However my children were not in attendance so who know what will happen when they do come for dinner. Will they be rummaging through the pantry looking for a  CAN of cranberry sauce, will they crawl into a corner and cry or will a food fight break out in the dining room????????????????????? 

Stay tuned for another installment of Thanksgiving Drama. See you same time, same place, next year!

You can totally see why I adore this woman, right? She’s awesome.

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