Archive for the ‘Newspaper columns’ Category

The melodious sounds of a newborn … NOT

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Originally published in September 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

The stupidest dream has entertained me for the last week or so. I imagine that my 3-week-old daughter can talk, and we have this conversation:

“Father,” she says courteously in a melodious voice, “I fear I have grown hungry again. Would you please ask Mother if she wouldn’t mind nursing me awhile? I’d approach her myself, but not being able to crawl and all, it might take me some time to catch up to her.”

“I’d be delighted,” I answer. “However, your mother is preoccupied with her daily shower just now. Might you wait a few minutes for her to finish?”

“Oh, no trouble at all,” she says. “In fact, I hate to be such a bother to begin with. Please don’t interrupt Mother until she’s dried her hair and eaten brunch.”

“Thank you. In the meantime, could you use a fresh diaper?”

“Well, I’m embarrassed to confess it, but as long as you’re asking, I COULD do with a fresh Huggie. Do you have time to accommodate me?”

“No trouble,” I answer.

We both smile as the dream ends, and then I wonder why I am now pleased with the “talking baby” fantasy I find so irritating in movies or commercials.

It probably has something to do with the way many of my real-world interactions with my new daughter go.

“WAAAAH! WAAAAH! HIC! WAAAAAAAH!”

“- Lisa! -“

“WAAAAAAAH! GULP! WA WA WA WAAAAAAAAH!”

“- get AWAY from me, Effie -” (Directed to our dog, whose sensitive ears probably jangle much more than mine when the baby cries.)

“WEEEEAAAAAAAH!”

Geez. Holding a baked potato fresh off a 500-degree grill is less challenging than struggling with a shrieking infant in your arms.

A baby won’t be reasoned with or tolerate a delay while you wash your hands. Once she’s started crying because she’s hungry or because she needs her diaper changed or because she needs to burp or because whatever (good luck figuring it out), she won’t let up until two minutes after she gets it.

When I told my wife it baffled me that the little ones who need us so much make a noise that drives us crazy, Lisa said they do it so we’ll put food in their mouths as quickly as possible in order to quiet them down.

How awful is it that this is what I have to say about the new little miracle in our family?

I’ve been a father close to six years, which means I still have plenty to learn about parenting (who doesn’t?). One thing I know for sure about myself, at least, is that the kids have exasperated me most when they’re smallest.

This probably doesn’t say much good about me, especially when one considers all the extra demands motherhood has piled on my wife.

When was the last time Lisa got a full night’s uninterrupted sleep? A full night without having to deal with some kind of issue with one of our daughters?

Years. No kidding.

Fortunately, our baby isn’t always crying. Sometimes she sleeps.

And sometimes she’s just neat, which reminds me of all the things I like about kids. Sometimes she sits quietly in someone’s lap and looks around. The lamps, the trees, the furniture, her big sisters … it’s all new to her and she’s curious about it. That’s fun.

Sometimes she shows us she’s already learning, such as when she recently reached up to take hold of a bottle while she was being fed.

And sometimes, already, I look at her and know I don’t get to keep her forever.

Papers should catch messes, not be part of them

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Originally published in September 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Please, do me a favor. If you’re reading these words on a page spread out on some public restroom floor, pick it up and take it with you when you’re finished.

If you’re not interested in keeping the paper and there’s no recycle bin handy, then go ahead throw it in the trash.

Want to get my goat? Don’t bother telling me you’re going to line a birdcage with my column because I’m delighted to think my mug might be smiling under thousands of seed-stuffed parakeets. That’s a spectacular use of newsprint.

I keep a stack of old newspapers near my workbench and spatter them with paints and glues while working on model kits. Newspapers have caught the cast-off pieces of dozens of my daughters’ art projects. I’ve seen sheets of newspaper being used to protect just about every conceivable surface while work is being done nearby.

Saving carpets and tables from stains … perhaps that’s not noble, but it’s definitely handy. For only a couple of coins, anyone can have a decent-sized roll of flexible, mess-absorbing paper. What a bargain!

Plenty of experts think newspapers will have to evolve into Internet-based entities if they want to thrive in the 21st century and maybe that’s true, but if it is, I suspect a lot of things are going to get messed up in the future for lack of something to cover them with.

No, if you want to bug me, don’t do it by pointing out one beneficial alternative use for the product to which I’ve dedicated my professional life so far. It’s a good thing people turn to newspapers to prevent some nasty messes.

If you want to bug me, use the paper to make the nasty messes. Throw them in the back of your pickup and let them scatter when you drive, perhaps, or just decide they’re too cheap to bother toting around and leave them wherever you are.

Which brings me back to the floors of those public restrooms, fondly known by many as “reading rooms.” You might be in one this very moment, looking at my column because it was facing up on the page when the previous user dropped it.

I think people in general try to be basically polite to one another, so I don’t know what could inspire so many of us to just drop things for someone else to pick up later.

Even if it doesn’t come naturally, I’m sure most of us heard from someone when we were growing up that we should clean up after ourselves. My mother is the one who said it most to me.

Perhaps some of us consider it a courtesy of sorts to the next visitor to leave a newspaper spread out on the floor, but I suspect such people have never been in the position themselves of cleaning up after others. They’ve also probably never heard the sigh or seen the head shake of the custodian who has to pick up all those newspapers at day’s end.

I’ve heard that sigh, though, and seen that head shake, and felt pretty bad about only watching as a tired fellow stooped to pick up all those papers on the floor and deposited them in the trash – which was only a few feet away. The next day, and every day since, more papers covered the floor.

More than one of the jobs I’ve held put me in the position of actually being the person who sighed and shook his head. My bosses and I both thought I had better things to do than clean up messes that were made not because they had to be made or because of some accident, but because someone simply felt like making them. But it was me or nobody … and “nobody” is pretty much how I figured I was regarded by the people who put me in that position.

Welcome to the world outside

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Originally published in September 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Standing in the delivery room, with a neat bunch of people sewing my wife back together behind me, I watched another neat person checking out my baby girl. Quietly, I did the same thing I’d done with my previous two girls when they were newborns: Counted fingers and toes.

Hands are more important to me, so I started with them. Right – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Left – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Good so far, on to the feet. Right – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Left – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

All there, I reported to Lisa a couple minutes later. Our baby has all her parts, and judging by the crying, her lungs are healthy as well.

That, I figure, is as good a way to start things with a new family member as you’re going to get.

In fact, the whole day went about as well as it could, particularly considering how nervous Lisa and I were when we started it a few hours earlier.

Our baby had to be delivered by Caesarean section. We’d known for eight months this would be the case; for different reasons, our first two girls were C-section babies, so the third one would have to be as well. Naturally, even though she’d been through it before, the prospect of being opened up and having the baby pulled out didn’t appeal to Lisa, and I didn’t care for it either.

So, we got out of bed early and made brave faces while we traveled to St. Mary’s Hospital. The day I saw in front of me was one in which I figured the best I could do was not make a jerk of myself.

Lisa would spend the morning getting through surgery, then she’d spend the afternoon in pain, stuck in a strange bed with all kinds of tapes and tubes attached to her, and she’d have to do the most important beginning steps of parenting – feeding the baby.

My biggest problems would be getting a couple hours’ less sleep than I wanted and dealing with that disgusting first No. 2 diaper.

I hope that at 7:30 a.m. I was prepared to put on a reassuring face while at the same time standing up for my wife if she needed me … but I never had to find out. Things went well, and there are so many people to thank that I can’t possibly do it here. I won’t bring up names here, either, partially because I didn’t catch them all (disgraceful, I know), but more because I didn’t actually tell any of them I might write about them later.

First, the nurse who got Lisa ready for surgery threw me off guard by telling me she’d met my parents. I assumed she was wrong because my folks live 300 miles away … but she wasn’t. They’d stopped at her house when they were visiting about a year ago and bought peaches from her. Amazing.

The aforementioned neat group of people who did the surgery were the ones we feared most, and I can’t describe how many ways they made it go well. I half suspect the midwife, who has been Lisa’s primary caregiver through all three pregnancies, warned everyone about us.

The high point of the C-section was when the anesthesiologist helped Lisa hold up a mirror so she could watch our baby being delivered. Despite all she was going through, Lisa was thrilled. I wanted to look myself, but feared the blood would inspire me to make a spectacle of myself, so I stayed where I was.

During the rest of our hospital stay, we encountered many more people who humbled me by doing their jobs so well. Not only did they keep an eye on my wife and baby, but also on me, the least important person in the room.

One generous woman even put together a gift pack of hospital doodads for my older girls and made their day even better.

Sometimes it’s a bad idea to pretend you’re a cat

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Originally published in August 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Every single day, the beautiful, intelligent, energetic little blond-haired, blue-eyed girl sharing our roof proves she’s an expert at making Daddy pound his forehead against the fireplace. She’s even better at this than her mommy, even though our girl only just turned 3.

One of the many things I’ve learned from my daughters is any parent who speaks only of the joys of children is probably leaving something out.

Our 3-year-old, the younger of the two, likes to pretend she’s a cat. Most of the time I just figure, “OK.” Sometimes I play along, rubbing her behind the ears while she purrs (first time we did this, her purring sounded more like blowing raspberries and I had to wipe the spray off my glasses).

But every now and then, she chooses to meow at really bad times. For example, when we’re getting ready to head out the door in a hurry (which we seem to do at least twice every day), it’s in bad form to insist upon meowing her answer when I ask, “Did you go potty?” It’s an even worse idea to drop on all fours and slowly head to the bathroom after I finally drag a “no” out of her.

A few days ago, I looked down at a red spot on my blue shirt – ketchup that dripped from my hamburger – then looked over at the mustard and mayo dotting my daughter’s clothes. And I didn’t much care, because I now accept stains happen.

If you’ve got a little kid at the table and you’re not willing to put up with blotches all over her skin and clothing, then you have to help her out from time to time. You have to reroll burritos before beans flop in her lap. You have to intercept her hand with a napkin before she wipes it on her dress. You have to remind her and remind her and remind her to eat over her plate. You have to create a dam for spilled milk before it flows over the table and onto her.

While doing all this, you’ll spill some of your own food on yourself. If you manage not to, then the stuff on her will get on you when you pick her up later. There’s no getting around it.

Bedtime is the worst. Being a lot like me, our daughter’s sleep requirements are like mine were at her age … which means she doesn’t need much. She gets so interested in other things that she usually takes about a minute short of forever to drop off every night.

My wife and I will sit in the living room, passing time while we wait for our girl to finish singing, chatting with her dolls, reciting the poem her big sister made up (“I have a little pony, Her name is Little Grey, I bought her at the barbershop, And now I go away”) or begging us to refill her water cup.

Every night, I think I’ll be able to work on a model kit or start the next great American novel after our child gets to sleep, and every night I run out of energy before she does.
Yeah, this stuff gets old.

But man, what’s harder to describe are the things that make the frustrations so worth it. It’s stuff that’s good – great, even – but a lot of people probably wouldn’t get it.

Like over the weekend. We’re working on teaching our girl how to behave at church and she struggles. The reason for the struggle is obvious: Church is boring, she doesn’t want to sit still. I have the same problem.

But one moment – one quiet moment – we looked at each other during the service and her eyebrows went up.

“I’m being good,” she whispered. Sounded like a statement, but it was a question.

I nodded, smiled, whispered, “Yes you are, sweetheart.”

That was all she needed to hear. Her grin was so big it lifted her shoulders to her ears, then she rewarded me with a kiss on the cheek.

So worth it.

Girls share thoughts about upcoming new sister

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Originally published in August 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, CO.

The clock has ticked us into the last few days of my wife’s pregnancy. Our first two daughters had to be delivered by C-section, which means our third one has to be as well. So, unless the baby surprises us with an early arrival, she’ll come home Labor Day weekend.

Lisa looks forward to the pains that come with taking care of a newborn at the same time she’s recovering from major surgery because she figures it can’t be as uncomfortable as being nine months pregnant in August.

The baby’s birth is what I’d anticipate being the “biggest” thing our family’s got coming this year, but life has been full of milestones of late. If it wasn’t this, it might be moving to a new home, or more likely our older girl starting school.

Obviously, our girls are paying attention. One just turned 3, the other’s getting close to 6, and they’re both waiting to see what this new sister will bring to the house.

I took a few minutes to ask them some questions over the weekend while they were playing in our back yard.

First, the 5-year-old sat on the grass next to my lawn chair. We’ve done many “interviews” and she enjoys them.

What would you name your sister? I asked.

“Mary Asena,” she said.

What most excites you about your new sister?

“That I might be able to beat her with a bottle.”

WHAT?

“That I might be able to feed her with a bottle.”

Oh … FEED. My ears are getting just as old as the rest of me.

What are you most worried about?

“That her poop will smell.” She grimaced. “So yucky.”

Do you know your mommy and I love you and always will?

She nodded.

The 3-year-old agreed to be interviewed as well, but she wanted me to do it while she was swinging.

Are you happy or sad that you’re going to have a new sister?

“Happy.”

What most excites you about having a baby?

The answer took awhile to figure out. What it amounted to was that she looked forward to giving the baby a bath in our basement sink.

What would you name her?

“Dog Effie.” She answered this while looking at our dog, Effie, who was sniffing the grass near the swing set.

I also asked if she knew her mommy and I loved her, but she’d lost interest by then.

Loose tooth causes parental lamentation

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Originally published in July 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Many of the happiest moments life puts on my table these days come with a maudlin side dish of melancholy. It’s hard to say what I tasted most strongly when our older daughter, 6 this October, lost her first baby tooth last week in my parents’ home.

We weren’t ready for our girl to reach that wonderful, short-lived stage in life during which it’s a good thing for pieces of yourself to fall off, and neither, I think, was she.

It happened in Colorado Springs, the city I called home through most of my childhood. My wife, kids and I were in town a few days to visit relatives and also spend some time at the North Pole amusement park in nearby Cascade.

(A side note: Have you been to the North Pole? If not, you’re missing out on what may be the state’s most family-friendly amusement park. It doesn’t cost a fortune – particularly if you download the half-price coupon from the Web site, www.santas-colo.com – you don’t have to shout to hear each other above music blaring from speakers all over the place and the rides won’t break the little ones’ necks.)

The first night in the Springs, my parents served up a dinner of steak and “smashed” potatoes, which is what we call a baked potato after squeezing it from its skin and using a fork to squish it up with butter. Something about that meal must have been enough to jostle a tooth in our girl’s lower jaw.

Here’s what I know for sure happened that early evening: Lisa and I were on the back porch with my parents, shooting the breeze, when our daughter came out, looking perplexed.

She told us she must have hit herself in the mouth really¬† hard, although her answers to the questions Lisa and I peppered her with revealed she didn’t actually recall any kind of accident.

That’s when we realized – with that silly, stereotypical parental mix of joy and sorrow that comes every single flipping time we get fresh evidence that she’s growing up and will someday leave our home – she had a loose tooth.

Now, here’s what I think happened right before she came to us: Our girl was in my parents’ living room, checking things out. She realized her tongue was getting into the habit of pushing around a tooth, and the tooth wasn’t putting up much resistance. So she checked it out with a finger and confirmed the tooth was flexible.

She knew right away this probably meant she was about to lose a baby tooth, but having never experienced it before, she wasn’t certain and didn’t want to jump to conclusions. So she sought us out to give our own diagnosis.

Once she’d confirmed everything was hunky-dory and I got her to pose for one last picture of her smile as I knew and loved it, that tooth’s days were numbered.

She went to work, pushing and pulling at it with her tongue and forefinger until it was rocking back and forth in her gum like a pendulum. Watching it move like that gave me a case of the heebie-jeebies, and I couldn’t help urging her to give it a rest even though that was like asking her to ignore a persistent itch.

The tooth tumbled out during an increasingly vigorous assault at bedtime, maybe four hours after our daughter discovered it was loose. Shortly afterward, she took the bloody cotton ball out of her mouth to show my camera her new smile, the one with the gap in the lower front, and that night the Tooth Fairy rewarded her with a Sacagawea dollar.

I couldn’t say for sure, of course, but I’ll bet the fairy had to do a little extra looking around to find a special coin that night.

The dog’s life: From attention-getter to second banana

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Originally published in July 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Poor Effie. She’s our dog and for more than three years she and our cat, Garp, were the No. 1 subjects of attention from my wife and me. These days, Effie does no better than No. 4 and I suspect she knows it.

Effie is a smart dog, half Australian shepherd and half something we never saw. Lisa and I celebrated our first anniversary in late 1996 by pursuing a “puppies for sale” listing in the classifieds and picked Effie from a litter displayed for us on a cold garage floor. She buried her nose in Lisa’s coat on the way home and kept it there most of that evening.

We dealt with all the predictable frustrations that come with puppies – yelping when she should be sleeping, messes on the carpet, etc. – and enjoyed the playful eruptions between her and our cat, who was about 8 years old. Effie learned quickly that Garp was boss and allowed him to be in charge the rest of his life.

During one of their fights, Garp somehow managed to grab hold of Effie’s neck and start biting her on the side of her face. Effie outweighed him by 30 pounds by then and she was strong. She could have thrown Garp across the room with practically no effort, but instead she held still, watching out of the corner of her eye and waiting for him to finish chewing on her.

Showing off Effie was a standard part of any visit to the Powell household. Watch Effie sit up. Listen to Effie howl at sirens. See Effie catch ice chips in her mouth when we spit them at her.

In early 2000, Lisa and I knew there would be a new Powell before year’s end. Watching Effie pound around the yard, biting holes in tennis balls while trying to bully us into playing fetch, we knew we had to get our dog used to the idea that she had to be extra-careful about babies.

We started coddling a Raggedy Ann doll, saying “Baby, baby” over and over and making sure Effie knew to keep her mouth off it. She learned the doll was a paws-off object and she pointed her mouth to the ground every time we put Raggedy Ann near her face.

Her one offense happened when we tempted her too much. We put a piece of licorice on the doll’s tummy and left it alone in our bedroom. Effie carefully picked off the treat and started chewing; when we entered and gasped at her, Effie tried to spit out the candy, but it was caught in her teeth. Lisa and I shook our heads and fingers at her, trying to say “Baby, baby!” But it probably sounded more “Bu-huh-ay-bee!” because we were laughing so hard.

In a couple of weeks in October 2000, two big events changed the lives of everyone in our house, including Effie. First, our daughter was born. Second, Garp died.

In the months to follow, Effie got used to not being the center of attention. When company came by, we showed off the baby and put Effie outside. Part of me felt a little sorry for our dog, but no part of me ever questioned whether we were right to put the baby first.

It wasn’t too long before Effie and our daughter were friends; Lisa and I even started to feel the child was safer with the dog around. The same was true when our second daughter arrived in 2003, and I suspect it will be true again when the third girl arrives in a couple of months.

As an “always” part of their lives, our girls love Effie in ways I never could, and they’ve got energy to play with her when all I want to do is crash. Our 2-year-old occasionally drapes herself over the dog, giving her big hugs.

In the end, I suspect Effie cares more about getting attention from my daughters than from me.

Elections make it folly to answer a telephone

Friday, October 10th, 2008

Originally published in July 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

There was a time, somewhere before the turn of the century, when you could call it rude to let your answering machine pick up calls while you were home. If someone cared enough to reach out and touch you through the phone, the least you should do was pick up when it rang, right?

Not anymore. In this age of Caller ID and alleged “surveys” created to get around the rules of no-call lists, it’s almost a bigger waste of time to chance answering a phone than it is to read “urgent and confidential” messages plugging your e-mail.

This is especially true when an election is less than six months away … which means pretty much always.

Back up a second. To me, the phrase “call screening” is as much an everyday part of life as “going to the bathroom.” It’s just something I have to do every now and then (more “now” than “then” as I get older). But for the benefit of those old-fashioned enough to actually answer the phone themselves, call screening works like this:

The telephone rings. My heart clenches; I know picking it up might be the beginning of some happy contact with a family member or friend, but it will just as likely be the start of an unpleasant experience. If I decide I’m not up to the risk, I move to within hearing range of our answering machine and point my left ear toward it. The machine picks up after four rings and invites the caller to leave a message; I wait to hear what follows.

If it’s a voice I like hearing, I hurry to the telephone, pick it up and make some lame excuse about why the machine answered. Maybe I should just ‘fess up and say I was screening, hoping the person is flattered I found him or her worthy of picking up, but I don’t.

If it’s a hang-up, I assume it’s a call I didn’t want anyway but fear I’ve missed a rare chance to talk with one of my sisters.

But man, half the time lately what we get on our answering machine is a couple seconds of silence (if I’d picked up I’d be going “Hello? Hello! HELLO!”), a click, and then a recorded political message.

“Hi! I’m Petey Pleasant. Rep. X is standing up against special interests…”

“Congressman Y never skips a chance to raise your taxes…”

“You’re invited to Candidate Z’s party in the park…”

When I listen to these messages at all, it’s mostly so I can make sure to hold them against the people who decided to take me away from better things to hear them. Even if it’s someone I agree with, I get so aggravated that I figure this couldn’t possibly be someone I’d want representing me in office.

Considering how many candidates resort to these tactics, it creates a conundrum picking one come Election Day.

I’m sure these kind of phone commercials represent an escalation in political battles. It got cheap and easy to deliver recorded messages to house after house after house, and candidates who didn’t care that it was rude started doing it. Those people got thousands of calls made and didn’t have to replace volunteers who manned the phones and listened to abuse from people who didn’t like having their dinner interrupted.

Other candidates who might have resisted such tactics feared they were falling behind and started doing it themselves. I suspect all they considered was the number of calls that were being made, and since a machine won’t tell you about the people who cursed it and slammed down the phone, they don’t get an idea of how many constituents they’re irritating.

I recognize that maybe I’m simply too territorial about having my phone lines invaded. For all I know, everyone else is flat delighted when they answer the ring and hear a commercial.

Corn bread disaster and T-shirt fight

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Originally published in June 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.Two episodes of Joe Powell’s family life as recalled by his son.

THE CORN BREAD TRAGEDY

Mom makes corn bread in a cast-iron skillet, usually in triangular pieces that fit nicely in the hand. It’s crunchy, filling stuff that tastes wonderful when it’s right out of the oven, so hot you could burn your lips on it, and it’s great the next day, cold and not very crumbly.

Dad likes it either way, but he often prefers it after it’s had a little time to age.

One morning in the early ’70s, not too long before he retired from the Air Force, Dad took the last piece from a batch of corn bread on his way out the door to eat on his way to the base.

At the end of the day, he came home and told us he had accidentally dropped the corn bread out the car window that morning before he got a chance to eat any of it. As I recall, he went without breakfast that day. At the least, he went without the breakfast he wanted.

As a kid, I’d get in a twist about the strangest things, and this was one of them. I was convinced Dad’s feelings were hurt and I felt awful for him. So bad I still remember that dropped piece of corn bread more than 30 years later.

I think he felt pretty bad too or he wouldn’t have mentioned it in the first place.

We still talk about it from time to time.

THE T-SHIRT DEBATE

I was lucky enough to grow up under a roof my father shared with his family – except for a year the Air Force sent him to Southeast Asia – so naturally we butted heads from time to time. We battled over hair length, friends, bedtime, TV … you name it.

Clothing was an obvious point of contention, and when I was in fifth or sixth grade, we got into a long, serious discussion about T-shirts.

I don’t mean the kind of colorful T-shirts you buy with logos on them. I mean white T-shirts you wear under another shirt. In other words, undershirts.

Dad believed undershirts should be worn every day, hot or cold. His assertion, as I morosely understood it, was that they were necessary in winter because they helped you stay warm, and in summer because they soaked up your sweat before it showed on your outer shirt.

I looked at pictures of actors with their shirts buttoned halfway down over bare, manly chests and knew I had no hope of doing that myself with a stupid white T-shirt on.

This wasn’t the first time we’d disagreed over what I thought was Dad’s laughably outdated approach to getting dressed.

He’d come out on top in the Great Hanky Skirmish, which resulted in me being the only boy in grade school who carried a handkerchief in his pocket every day (the habit is so ingrained in me now that I feel naked without one, even if I’m in a swimsuit). Now I feared I’d be the only boy wearing an undershirt.

So I dug in my heels and spent 20 minutes that felt like an hour and a half trying to talk Dad out of forcing me to wear T-shirts every day. He made his points several times, I made mine.

It was touch-and go; I contemplated outright rebellion, such as wearing the undershirt out of the house and ditching it on the way to school.

Then we compromised: I’d wear them when it was cold and couldn’t leave a lot of buttons open anyway, and wouldn’t have to when it was warm.

That’s still the rule I live by, although these days I make sure to wear plenty of anti-perspirant when I stop wearing T-shirts come spring.

Mom’s house: Pumpkins, pilgrims and Santa

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Originally published in May 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Gnomes, rabbits, deer and I think even a couple of frogs populated Mom’s flower gardens. Shiny pots held plants all over the back porch. Ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns, a witch and black cats with sparkling beads for eyes took up residence in our living room every October. In November, two pilgrims flanked a turkey in the room. Then, in December, we shared our space with reindeer, angels, choir singers, several versions of Santa and Mrs. Claus and, most notably, a multi-piece Nativity set.

All these things were ceramics, and all were lovingly brought to life over the years on my mother’s work table.

Mom’s interest in ceramics is an “always” thing for me; I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t involved with them. While other hobbies – such as macram√© and collecting little spoons – came and went, she stuck with ceramics and learned so much about them that I’m sure she qualifies as an expert. Mixing and storing the materials, casting, tools, kilns, lighting, various glazes and paints … this is just some of the stuff I know she knows. It’s stuff I learned about through years of watching her, and also watching Dad, who took charge when it was time to work with the heavy molds.

To me, Mom’s brightly colored ceramics were the best. I remember walking through ceramics shops with her and frowning at the painted pieces on display, thinking, “Mom could do better.”

My favorite of her pieces was probably a pretty simple one to paint: a ghost carrying a jack-o’-lantern. It looked like a person with a sheet over his head, cradling the pumpkin under one arm. The ghost was all white, the pumpkin orange, and the eyes on both were holes, showing the shadows behind them in the hollow figure.

I carried that ghost around the house so much when I was little that I’m sure Mom had to periodically wash off finger smudges.

Today, that same ghost haunts my hobby room 11 months out of the year; during the 12th month – October – it moves out to our living room where anyone can see it. It’s still my favorite of Mom’s works, but it’s far from the only one we have.

In our house, we also have holiday decorations, a wizard, a carousel dragon, the clown night light Mom made when I was little and afraid of the dark and, outdoors, a glossy black horse (which I think is my older girl’s favorite).

Next time I get back to Colorado Springs, I’m going to grab the ceramic space capsule container that holds my baby teeth and collection of money Dad brought home from Southeast Asia in the early ’70s. I’m also going to finally bring home the Peanuts characters who smiled at me in my bedroom for so many years.

Reminders of Mom’s love of ceramics are still all over my parents’ home. Those gnomes and animals are still in the gardens, the pots on the porch, the holiday figures in their storeroom. The basement is full of unfinished pieces, her kiln still stands in the laundry/workroom, her paints are still on the shelf, and her table is where it has been forever.

I think she still gets downstairs once in awhile to do a little work, but haven’t seen her do it in years. Sometimes I miss that, but looking around at all the lovingly crafted pieces shared with my family and my sisters’, I know the work of Mom’s hands will be with us, our children and hopefully even our children’s children for a long time to come.

We all have a few possessions here and there that are worth a few bucks, but the ceramics … those are truly valuable.