Monday, July 31, 2006

A Remembrance

The boys had names like Woody, Zeke, Ron and Mark, in the fifties. Their moms stayed home with so many brothers and sisters, or they worked child-friendly schedules as crossing guards or cafeteria ladies. Dads came home late. The boys wore tee shirts and dungarees.

There were four seasons, one after another and then all over again. But somehow it was always hot or cold. The houses and apartments they lived in were small; the boys stayed outside. Some days they would hop the truck that took them to fields where they picked shade grown tobacco all day long. On another day they might float down the Connecticut River in barrels, or sit on a front stoop playing the knife game as they splayed out their hands on a table, stabbing the space between each finger with increasing speed and, hopefully, sustained accuracy.

In the sixties, life was Marlboro Reds, by the carton, by the day. It was police academies and rifle tournaments in faraway places, like Alabama during the Wallace era. It was women. It was bottles of whiskey on the nightstand and alarm clocks that rang and rang and rang. It was still the boys.

They played house in the seventies. Wives and babies. Me and my best friend, Kel.

In the eighties, you couldn't tell them they were no longer the boys. You could try--many did--but chances are you would've been too small, or too weak, or too oblivious to get your point across. There are some truths a boy can't hear until he's ready, and the only thing screaming will do is ensure that the neighbors figure it all out long before he does.

By the nineties, most of them got it. Then they sat back with the knowledge and watched TV. Separated by time and place and space, they'd gather every so often on a neatly manicured 1/4 acre at Zeke's place to talk about picking tobacco, or the knife game, or things I could never know. Because what I know is about six paragraphs, and this:

My best friend's dad died this weekend. Mark was a boyish 63. He taught his middle daughter how to be the funniest person I ever met. He taught her to keep things inside. He taught her sister to be a peacemaker and her brother, a protector. He taught me to ride a bike.

No legacy is pure. His is bound up in a haze of Hartford summers, in cigarette smoke and misted recall, emerging as three bright eyed children and one soul he's probably meeting again, just now.

There's little more than a half a century between the front stoop and now. The river and now. The tobacco fields and now. They were a group of boys who couldn't see beyond the low New England skyline. But there were lives there, waiting.

And now it's our turn.

Friday, July 28, 2006

My Town

Today I saw a woman walking up Main Street in her brassiere. As I rubbernecked my way through the small street lined with shops that were each one rental payment away from being crushed by WalMart, sweat pooled in the small of my back and dripped down into places I probably shouldn't mention if I'd like to reserve any right whatsoever to comment on the classiness of this situation. The point is, it was hot.

The woman in her underwear was clutching an infant to her chest. In one hand, a yellow tee shirt hung in limp disuse. Her gait was slow. She and a companion trudged heavily past the Army/Navy store. The baby appeared tiny, sucked up as it was by her cavernous folds.

I leaned forward against the steering wheel to tug my own soggy tank top away from my body, all the while staring across one lane and onto the sidewalk, as I began to question my own rush to judgement.

First of all, the woman had a newborn. That, right there, proved she was crazy. If she wasn't a little loopy before deciding to produce spawn, the act of birthing a baby and bringing it home would most certainly have gotten her there. The post-partum cocktail of hormones and the demands of caring for a human being who wants nothing more than to be reinserted into the womb will make anyone nuts. It's a marvel to me that I wasn't limping down Main Street in a pair of stretchy afterbirth panties and a nursing bra during the days following my own daughter's arrival, one long, hot summer ago.

Secondly, I knew to expect many scenes of questionable taste when I moved here. Mine is a closed-down mill town, and though more and more suburban transplants are taking root as the Boston and Providence housing markets drive them out, the fact remains that a lot of this town's residents don't care about impressing anybody. Some of them don't really care about anything, but that's a subject for many different blog entries than this one. One could say things here are a little slower than the rest of Connecticut, a little less affected by the events of a changing world, a little more resistant to change. One could say that's good. Someone else could say that's bad.

I say it's an interesting debate, but not one I meant to start with my example of the new mama on her slow march through the town center, only quasi-clothed. Mostly I wanted to convey to you the heat of this New England summer, and a town laid bare by progress. That's all.

But they say there's a strip mall going in. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Yo Mama

This is not your mother's blog. Unless, of course, your mother couldn't cook, iron, remember to let the dog out, or bring herself to attack the pile of laundry festering as high as the ceiling in a corner of the bedroom. I am a new kind of mom--the kind that makes modern husbands yearn for reruns of Leave It To Beaver so that they can salivate over June Cleaver's pointy bra cups, the steak on the table, and her single minded devotion to making her men happy.

Yesterday I attempted to iron a white dress shirt for a meeting that my husband--who will, from this point on, be referred to as The Partner--scheduled for this afternoon. Plucked cleanly from the dryer, the shirt was not so much wrinkled as it was unsmooth. By the end of my wrestling match with collar, sleeves and--dare I say it?--pleats, the shirt was very much wrinkled. The shoulders were slumped over a plastic hanger as I handed the shirt back to The Partner. "You'd better button your suit jacket all the way up," I said.

I do a lot, but I can't do it all. My husband would probably say I won't do it all, and though I appreciate his confidence in my innate abilities, I have to disagree. Sanity is a precipice on which I've grown accustomed to balancing, but this I know: it won't take much more than a Swiffer Duster, a bottle of Woolite and a pooper scooper to knock me totally off the edge.

I'm the mother of a one year old I call The Boss. I'm a freelance writer. I'm the president of the local chapter of the MOMS Club and I'm the co-president of a professional communications organization. Since The Boss came along, I can use the term "well-rounded" to describe not only my stomach and thighs, but my experience as a woman. Instead of feeling pigeon-holed by motherhood, I've discovered that it's opened up a world in which I am free to be the fullest, smartest, most sympathetic and most gutsy version of myself. Me, much improved.

This is not your mother's blog. It is not a mother's blog at all, at least not any more than it's a freelancer's blog, a hopeless housekeeper's blog, or an over-committed wife's blog.

These are the musings of a woman who's just beginning to find herself. One who knew better than to look in the laundry room.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Essence of Things

The proof of my changed life is in the salad dressing. It's the same Thousand Island Lite I've been dropping in a single, neat tablespoonful onto a bed of romaine for over a year now. It's the bottled mayonnaise product that my husband wouldn't dream of eating, not after growing up on oil and vinegar that falls fresh from two glass containers into the same salad bowl, repellant for the first time.

It's the dressing that I glanced at last night, only to realize it had expired in September 2005. Before my daughter--who will, from this point on, be referred to as The Boss--was born, a year was a very long time. Food that was old, seemed old. The digital reading on the bottom right hand corner of my office computer went so slowly from 9:06 to 9:07 that it seemed not to change at all. One season of the Sopranos was separated from the next by eternity. The idea of shopping July sales for gifts to give at Christmas was absurd.

At least I knew I wouldn't live forever, even then. But I didn't care. The fifty years that separated me from my average-life-expectancy were a comfortable buffer. I was safe.

As I sat with a spoonful of invisible mold sitting surprisingly tasty on my tongue, I realized that this never would've happened in my old life. The bottle would've been tossed, 2/3 full, into the garbage can the day August flapped open to September. There was organization, inasmuch as I could ever be considered organized. There was waste, for sure. And there was boredom, as I stared into the cold cubicle, tossed out a few old yogurts and rummaged behind the pickles, looking for something fun to eat.

They say--I say--it goes by so fast. We ask: Is it that time already? Yes. And yes. And if you eat some mold because you were too busy enjoying your dinner company to stop and check the expiration date, so be it. It's penicillin for the soul.