Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day

I couldn't let this day go by without posting at least a little something about my father. This is one of those weekends where Father's Day and his birthday fall on the same day, followed the day after by the anniversary of the day that he passed away. He would have been 73 today, but unfortunately he died the day after his 59th birthday. These kinds of weekends used to be very raw in the beginning, but it's been 14 years now and it has mellowed to merely a remembrance.

My father wasn't perfect and it wouldn't be right to turn him into a saint. He had really grumpy moments. It was my father who once, when he didn't want to speak to his mother when she called, added the phrase "tell her to go sh*t in her hat" to the family lexicon. (In his defense, she wasn't very nice.) He rigidly held to the attitude that his opinion was always the right one. He was not very patient at times.

There were many good things about him, too. Even in the grumpiest mood, he was never, ever negative. He could be lots of fun and he definitely knew how to laugh at himself when it was required. For example, he and I went food shopping during a trip to France and he bought a huge can of what he took to be mixed fruit ("Apples and apricots, what an interesting combination," he had said at the supermarket), but when we got back to the chalet, my brother took one look at it and said, "Dad, do you know what you bought? 'Confiture' is jam." Now realizing what a silly mistake he had made and faced with the most enormous can of jam that any of us had ever seen, he laughed, got out four bowls, dished out several spoonfuls of jam in each bowl, poured mineral water over his and sat down to eat. "Come on, kids, it's great with mineral water!" Of course he didn't expect us to eat it, but we gamely took a bite each when we weren't laughing. Making light of these kinds of mistakes was really his way of dealing with them.

He devoted himself to his family despite not having much patience for the nuts and bolts of child rearing. Instilling honesty, a good work ethic, cultural appreciation and excellent manners were of utmost importance to him. Academic achievement was really important to him. Over the years, he made a lot of sacrifices for his family and always worked really hard. When we were younger, he would often be gone for work before we got up and come home from work after we had gone to bed so that he could support his family. Weekends were always about family and because of his love of the outdoors, much of our childhoods were spent in the Adirondack Mountains, hiking, kayaking, x-c skiing, or camping, all on a shoestring budget. When we were a little older, he finally switched to a corporation which eventually gave him the opportunity to work overseas, which, with the excellent pay and hardship benefits, would earn enough money to pay for college and offer the opportunity to show us some of the world. He strongly believed in trying new things and he encouraged me to take flying lessons, learn to scuba dive, and study abroad during college.

I have many really good memories of my father, but I'm going to share one of my favorites. Right after I graduated from high school, I met my parents in Vienna, Austria, before we headed to the middle east for the rest of the summer. Early one evening, we went to the Stadtpark (City Park) for some cake and wine. There's an ornate, old building there where a small orchestra plays on the terrace where they've put a dance floor and my parents got up to dance a waltz. My father was a really wonderful dancer and I sat and watched them disappear and reappear amongst the other couples. At other times, I watched the peacocks wandering amongst the beautiful flower gardens and across the lawn. It was lovely.

As the sun was setting, we finally got ready to go and were only a little way down one of the gravel paths.

"Why didn't you dance?" he asked me.

"I don't know how to waltz," I confessed.

"You don't? Here, let me show you." He showed me where to put my arms and hands and there on the path in the twilight, to the orchestral music that was floating across the gardens, he taught me how to waltz. Of all the memories of my time with my father, those several minutes, dancing on the path in the twilight with my father is the one that makes me smile the most.

Happy Father's Day and Birthday, Dad, and Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Night of the Living Food Protein

I was standing in the waiting area at my son's gymnastics class on Monday, uneventfully waiting for the hour to tick away. It's a comfortable waiting area with spacious, carpeted riser-like steps for you to wait and watch the classes through the wall of windows that looks into the gym. From there you can see your kids do their graceful cartwheels and handsprings or, alternatively, trip over their own feet and fly through the air in an impressive display of flailing limbs. Whichever.

Anyway, the first thirty minutes had gone by quite uneventfully. That was until I glanced over to the entrance of the hallway that leads to the front door and I saw it on the floor:

The Cheez-It Square of Death!!! (cue Psycho shower scene music)

My pulse raced and my breathing quickened. I broke out in a cold sweat. I kept looking over my shoulder at the bright orange, one inch square cracker. It sat there looking all innocent as it mocked me, just waiting for the right moment to strike! Aaaaagh!!

Okay, so that seems a little bit extreme, but it really is true that those things really wig me out. Cheddar cheese goldfish crackers? They're like the piranhas of the snack world to us and they and their inevitable shower of crumbs are simply everywhere where you find kids.

Still seem a bit extreme? The bottom line is that it's hard to have a child with a deadly milk allergy in a world that's littered in cheddar cheese cracker crumbs. They're everywhere from playgrounds and sports venues to regular retail stores where they're knocked off the stroller trays of snacking children and then are selectively ignored by the young child's parents so that someone can step on them and spread the crumbs all over the store from the bottom of their shoe. And if anybody's going to find that trace bit of crumb, it'll be my son. He finds them often enough that I lament that Benedryl doesn't come in a multi-vitamin supplemented formula, y'know, to kill to birds with one stone, so to speak.

Anyway, the place where my son goes for his gymnastics class is no exception to the ubiquitous goldfish cracker rule. The carpeting is a veritable smorgasbord of cheddar cheese cracker crumbs, cookies, sandwich crumbs, and spilled milk. We watch the kids scarf down all this milky goodness and then go running into the gym without so much as wiping their mouths or hands on a napkin, subsequently spreading all that milk-protein all over the equipment. This is why my younger son can't take a gymnastic class even though he'd be quite good at it, but has to sit out in the waiting area in a stroller the entire time.

Yes, he's turning five years old and he still sits in a stroller while we wait, but only because the last time that he was out of the stroller at the gymnastics place, he was gagging on his tongue by the time that we got home. There's nothing like giving shot of epinephrine into your kid's thigh, taking a scenic ambulance ride, and enjoying the hospitality of the hospital overnight to give you the reason to dread kid snacks when you see them.

So, as we got ready to go at the end of the class on Monday, I looked back and the cracker was gone. Gone?! I hustled off to the car just in case it had snuck off and was waiting to pounce.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Musical Interlude: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

Ooh, two posts in a day! I really like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and when I found this, I knew I had to post it. Hope you enjoy it.

(Oh, and if you liked that, check out the video on the bottom of the video screen for "Gatemouth Brown- Pressure Cooker". It was a toss-up which one to post.)