Sunday, June 27, 2010

August in Grandview--A Memory

Tonight is one of those hot, humid east coast nights where you put all the kids to bed on top of their covers and point a separate fan at each hot body, then retire to your own bed, only to lay awake in the prickly heat, listening to the hum of the fans, feeling the air brush across you like waves from an oven. My husband, who was up early for a church meeting, falls asleep anyway, but my mind drifts back to a summer night in ‘86 or ‘87, I’m not sure which.

It would have been late August in Grandview, Ohio. I was a sophomore at Ohio Wesleyan, and I think it must have been ’87, because I have a memory of being glad to be back at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I might have some of the details wrong. This memory might be more of a compilation of memories from various visits, but the memory of the incoming storm is clear tonight. I’m sure of that much.

I didn’t understand yet just exactly how sick Grandpa was. I didn’t understand yet that this would go fast, and by the week of finals, in late December, I would lose Grandpa John Black. On this late summer afternoon, I just knew he was sick with cancer, very sick, but I think I still thought then that he would get well.

It wasn’t yet evening, I don’t think. Maybe 4:00 pm, and I was laying in the guest room with the large bed. I loved that room and I loved the bed, with it’s clean, crisp white sheets, and the white bed cover, and the many small windows that swept around the room. The windows were all open and there was a fan in one, held in place by the weight of the heavy glass window. I lay on top of the covers, not even trying to nap, just trying not to move, letting the air from the fan lift the sweat off my neck.

I always felt so welcome, so special at Grandma Helen’s and Grandpa John’s house. Grandma would have me go around with her once each weekend and help her change the sheets on any beds that had been slept in. I liked this. I liked how smooth she got the sheets, and I found her system of moving top sheets to the bottom, and then putting a fresh top sheet on the bed charmingly economical. I never adopted the system. My own children twist and turn in bed like little blind tornados, and I have to use special elastic hooks just to keep the fitted sheets on. I can’t imagine top sheets lasting two hours under the boys, but it worked at Helen’s house.

When she knew I was coming Helen would buy orange soda and French vanilla ice cream, because once she had had those items on hand and I made an orange soda and loved it so much—after that she made sure we had those ingredients for every visit. Back then I swam on OWU’s swim team, and I could that without any harm. We ate whatever I wanted for dinner, so long as Grandpa would eat it, too. We talked about my classes, and John Black would read over my papers after the professor returned them graded. He would add two more grades to the paper—what he thought I deserved and what he thought the professor deserved for his or her job in grading the paper and giving me feedback. I always fared better than the professor. Grandpa told me I’d get Phi Beta Kappa and I said I’d never had a 4.0 semester, and he said I would soon. So I did. I did that for him the last semester he was alive, although he would die the day before my last finals. But having done it once, I knew I could do it again, and so in the end the Phi Beta Kappa was mine. Ours, really. I had needed someone to say I could do it. Someone who believed it.

All of this, their way of treating me like a special guest, like they had been waiting for me, thinking I would be visiting soon, making the trip to the grocery store and thinking, “Oh, Heather will be visiting soon, I’d better get some more orange soda,” the huge bed that made me feel like a princess, that’s all wrapped up in the memory of laying on the bed in front of the fan on that hot August afternoon.

And then there was thunder in the distance, faint at first, hard to hear over the box fan in the window, and then louder so you knew it was definitely thunder, followed soon after by the first gusts of cool air blowing in ahead of the storm, and I shivered in happy anticipation of the coming cold front and the potential drama of an afternoon thunderstorm in central Ohio. Only moments after the first cool air blew in, the rain began to fall, fat, slow drops that splattered on the roof and on the driveway outside the windows. The smell of the hot asphalt was the next sensation, and then suddenly the air was full of fat, pelting rain drops. I heard windows slamming shut down stairs and the quiet time on the bed was over. I ran around the house with Grandma closing the windows, leaving a few open a crack at the bottom to let in the cool air, but not the rain.

I was wide awake now. Grandma was making drinks for herself and Grandpa. I made an orange soda. The news came on and I abandoned the guest room to watch the news with them. The storm was soon over and we walked around again, opening the windows wide to let in the cool air. I put the box fan back in the window. Later that night I would stay up too late, reading a good book, stretching out the visit by putting off sleep. Later I would realize that this worried Grandma, my not sleeping, but at the time I took her comments about my late bedtimes in stride. It didn’t sound like worry or complaining, so I didn’t think to reassure her that I ordinarily kept fairly normal hours. I wasn’t one of those college students who never slept.

I knew how lucky I was, to be at college at a distance far enough from my parents that I felt all grown up, but close enough to my grandparents that I could call them on a Thursday and they would come get me on a Friday, always returning me to school feeling well rested, well loved, well fed, cherished, and with $20 in my pocket. I knew how lucky I was to have such a clever and charming Grandmother in Helen Harrington Black now Humbarger. I knew how lucky I was to have a Grandfather who saw in me potential I couldn’t yet see in myself.

I don’t mind the heat tonight. I can’t sleep, but it’s alright. The memories are like having them visit again for a short while. I walk around the house in Grandview in my mind, revisiting the details I remember from each room. The old bathtub. The laundry chute. The shower in the basement. Grandpa's books in the shelves on the stairs that led up to the attic. The big red chairs. The old tv. The breakfast nook. The cupboard where Grandma kept at least a decade of grooming products. The drawer with the twist ties from bread bags and the knob that dripped with rubber bands. Going further back in time, chasing fire flies with my cousins on the front lawn. Collecting them all in glass jars with nail holes in the metal tops. Somewhere around this memory I finally doze off. The heat has let up some and if I were the sort to dream, I think I would have gone on remembering. I know how lucky I was.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pool Blogging

It might be overkill, but even our local community pool has free wifi now. It's inarguably uncomfortably hot and humid today, so I promised the kids we'd go early to swim practice and Max could come, too. One of his friends lives in a house that backs up to the pool, so Max called J and they're happily conquering the water slides now. Oh, here, look. I can take a picture from my cell phone, send it to my email address, upload it to my computer and kerpow:

So, yeah, that's Park Forest Pool as the sun is setting, and now you, too, will want to move to State College.

To complete my wiredness, I have iPod earphones in my ears and at this very moment I am listening to Boomshackalak. It's on some kind of shuffle setting. Just a moment ago I was listening to Handels Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, and the song before that was a Bassoon piece from Vivaldi called Bassoon Concerto in A Mino, R. 498: III Allegro--and now it's the Mighty Fine Blues by Eel, whoever they are. The refrain is "Feelin' mighty fine, feelin' mighty fine at this time," and I am. Wait. :::counts her children::: All accounted for. Yes. Feeling mighty fine. Even if my arms are sticking to the picnic table as I write. Hee Hee :)

So Max had a good day. He auditioned in the morning and by the time they left for the day, he already knew his roles. He scored two top male roles and the director has offered him a small adult role (for all we know, it's non-speaking) in Much Ado About Nothing, which she is working on for some other performance. This is all Max could tell me. Using the magic of google I found the performance. It's the Nittany Valley Shakespeare Festival and the good news is that there are like six performances. The bad news is that they start right after I was going to take Max to Indiana for a week to see my grandmother and Aunt. I'm guessing he couldn't miss rehearsals that week. hrm. Chris will go speak to the director tomorrow.

Wow. There are a lot of kids here for evening swim practice tonight. Way more than on Monday. There are a bunch of high school kids and Ben and Milo are a little freaked. I don't blame them. The man-cubs look like they could eat Ben and Milo for lunch. Milo is practicing his starts. This looks like him leaping off the blocks with wild abandon--no actual diving involved, LOL. It's good to be 8. Ben is getting coached on his freestyle. Max is checking to make sure we rolled up the windows to the car since it's starting to rain. "A Lovely Day" comes on my iPod and I smile again :) It's not raining here under the pavillion, and I go on typing . . . skyping now with Chris at home.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

All My Worlds

I never really got into soap operas. For one, they air at a time slot when I am rarely watching tv, and then there's the fact that the story lines and acting never really appealed to me. My only exposure to soap operas was when I was home sick (and you had to really be sick to get to stay home in my house growing up) or whatever I saw on the cover of a magazine in a checkout line. That said, the constantly changing vignette style of the soap opera isn't a bad metaphor for my summer schedule. There is the family breakfast and morning chores vignette, followed by a drive in the car, followed by the children at swim practice vignette, followed by a drive in the car, followed by anything from "run errands" to "do laundry at home" to "Penn State" (for any number of reasons), followed by another drive in the car and kids to grandma's and me to work, followed by another drive in the car, then the family dinner vignette, an evening activity which requires more driving about 50% of the time, and finally, the put everyone to bed vignette, followed by adult interaction, and finally, the pass out cold in bed scene. It's been fun, a little heavy on gas usage, and actually rather satisfying. After three semesters of feeling pulled between school, kids, and work (pretty much in that order), it's nice to only feel pulled between kids and work--and because Gaye is so great about watching the kids, and because a long day at work is only 4 hours--not really feeling that pulled. We're getting scouting done, the kids are getting excercise, the family is getting our scripture study and family prayer in there, and we're nearly caught up on the dishes. So life feels kind of soap opera-ish, cutting to different camera angles and different backdrops frequently--except the scenery isn't fake, the tans on the kids are real (and there are no tans on the grownups--I burn. I hide in the shade unless I'm timing at a meet.), and the only dog hasn't been groomed in a month. Oh, and the carpet. The gross, icky, carpet. Oh, well. I guess you knew I wasn't going to take the soap opera metaphor too far.


So we just had Father's day. It was low key in this house. It's always low key. Gaye took us all out to a great dinner at Applebee's, and we all gave Chris cards. Gaye bought Chris a little helicopter. I gave him free kisses. It was good.

Tonight is an ordinary Tuesday and Chris is coaching Max through his monologue for tomorrow's summer theatre audition. Max is already in the program, and they have already offered him a full scholarship, but the performance has not been cast yet, so tomorrow are auditions for that. I am sitting in another room listening to Max and Chris talk, their voices rising and falling. Max has a deeper voice now. Sometimes this year if I was working at my desk and he came down the basement stairs and make a noise it would startle me. He would make "strange man" noises. The noises of a man I didn't know. It would about put me out of my skin, honestly. Gradually, I got used to his man-noises. I recognize them now as him. But I . . . it saddens me that I can't remember his boy voice anymore. I don't have that kind of memory. I recall the gist of things, the big picture, the message--I'm not good at word-for-word, or what color it was, or exactly how it sounded. So I keep listening to my man-cub talking, hearing that it is still a little strange to me (for one, I think it keeps changing little by little as he keeps stretching for his father's height, little by little), but unable to put my finger on exactly how it is different.

Chris on the other hand, Chris sounds as he has sounded for over 20 years. We're a couple weeks away from our fifteenth anniversary and I am grateful to him for all the ways he has changed and most of the ways he has not. I am grateful for his metamorphosis into a complete hands-on Dad. I am grateful for his willingness to first, follow me on a journey of Faith, and then to take the lead. I am grateful that everyday he goes to a job that, as the Dirty Jobs guy says, he is not passionate about, but to which he brings his passion for life, anyway. It makes him good at what he does, and with that I can pay the mortgage, which is way more important than I thought it was 20 years ago.

Right now he is making Gorilla noises. It's part of the monologue. I smile. He made me laugh out loud when I was 15. He is still making me laugh 27 years later. I am grateful for that, too.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

So Hot, Even the Squirrels Need a Siesta

This little guy was litterally flattened by the heat earlier this week. At first I thought he might be dead (although I couldn't for the life of me figure how he'd ended up dead on top of the swing set), but every few minutes he would lift his head and look around. Just his head. The rest of him remained splayed out over the swing set. He saw Max and I snapping pictures. Didn't faze him. I don't know when he finally left.

It was a busy week. Max finished up 8th grade on Tuesday. The twins had finished school the previous Wednesday. Wednesday morning swim team started for Ben and Milo and Max slept in. It may be the only day all summer he really has to do that. After swim team we ran home for Ben and Milo to quick change into real clothes and then it was over to Penn State for a new speech therapy evaluation. Max was about this age when he worked with them on ending his stammering, and it worked. So we're back in the hopes that Ben and Milo can learn and apply those tricks, too. The graduate students there are always a little nervous and eager when meeting new students, but in this case, the supervisors were convincingly enthusiastic. Ben and Milo went to the speech preschool they have there as part of the graduate student training, and here they were, a few years later, parading around their generous vocabulary and their love of interacting with other humans. They've grown an awful lot in the four years that have passed since they were there, and it was exciting for the supervisors to see them. At any rate, we spent two hours there and the time flew by--felt like maybe 40 minutes. I go back next Wednesday to get the results, and hopefully, to sketch out a plan for helping them.

From there we ran home, grabbed a bite to eat, grabbed Max, who had been doing laundry and packing for his upcoming camping trip, and dropped Max off at a friends house, dropped the twins off with Grandma Gaye, and I ran to work for three hours. Then everyone went home, we had a nice dinner, Dad went out to do some stuff for his church calling, and the rest of us played games on the computer or Wii.

Thursday Chris ran a bunch of the boys out to Zion's camp (church camp) and left him there for three days. He worked from home while Ben and Milo and I filled the rest of the week with more swimming, working, and spending time with Grandma. I had my first-ever mammogram. The technician was really quick--I'll give her that.

Today Ben and Milo's swim team had a mock meet. This sets initial times for all the kids, teaches them the flow of a meet (and a race), and lets the coaches see what individual kids will do in an actual race. Ben and Milo, who have done an awful lot of clinging to the lane lines so far this summer, both did great--in particular, they improved a LOT between their first 25 free race and when they swam it again an hour later for the relay. Ben displayed some natural competitiveness in his final race--where his new understanding of how races work and his observations of the older kids gelled together--and for the first time ever, he stopped "stopping" to breathe and started breathing on alternating sides, every third stroke. I was floored and mighty proud.

I was a timer during the practice meet, so I was pretty hot and tired by the time it was all over. In the last few races, someone else took over timing my lane, so I bought Ben and Milo and I some breakfast from the "snack" booth. We left there and headed home for an hour, and then it was over to the YMCA for their last swim lesson. After that we went to Grandma Gaye's. Ben and Milo changed out of swim trunks for the first time since 7:00 am and then we all went shopping. Grandma Gaye bought Ben and Milo summer swim passes at the pool (thanks so much, Grandma!) and then we found a game she was looking for at Target. From there it was on to Wegman's where we not only found all the groceries we were looking for, but also the UltraSwim shampoo I desperately need to turn Ben and Milo's straw hair back into something you can run a comb through.

And then Max was back home and we were all a family again. A hot, tired, happy family. The End (of today. More tomorrow :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Go, Max!

Max had a two-day Algebra final this week. This evening I got an e-mail. His Algebra teacher is the fastest grader EVER. He consistently got his test scores posted the same day he took a test. Her dedication to getting work back to him (and their grades posted online where I could see them) was a huge help in improving Max's consistency with getting his work done.

Anyway, he got an A on his final, which means he can officially go on to Geometry as a freshman in the fall. I'm very proud of him :)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Summer in Central PA, Or, I Show Off My Lovely Family

I guess I don't need to tell you that it isn't technically summer yet, but this past week has all the hallmarks of summer:

1. three day weekend
2. out-of-state visitors
3. every fan in the house plugged in and running
4. in desperation--the airconditioner run for portions of the day (mostly while we had visitors)
5. happy, sweaty boys
6. bicycles
7. bathing suits
8. an ant invasion
9. birthday cakes

My other brother, Jake, and his lovely wife, Karen, and their adorable children, my niece and nephew. She is one this week. He is four next week.

Seriously, I'm related to that handsome guy and that angel baby.

This is Alex's lovely wife. She is exceptionally good a posing for photos because my brother takes a million photos everywhere he goes, so she thinks she's being silly in this picture, but I think it captures her innate humor and beauty:

In honor of Max's 14th birthday, Jake let Max take his scooter for a spin (he did not go on the street--stayed in the alley), and so nephew O and Ben and Milo needed to take O's battery car for a spin, too. Here is a picture he captured that makes me smile. That's Milo at the wheel. (If you haven't seen Max in a photo recently--yes, he's grown. I'm not sure. 5' 9"? 10"?)

This week I think I finally stopped gritting my teeth to get through all of each day. My reward was a heavenly visit from my baby brother and sister-in-law. They were only here two days, but we got long car rides on either side of those two days to talk. We all, including the kids, really enjoyed their gracious visit. It was a long way to come--they just got back to the states after 10.5 months traveling various exotic locations of the world--and we're so glad they took the time and spent the money (that they really didn't have) to do so.

We canned strawberries. Max and I picked 15 lbs of u-pick strawberries last Saturday and then we acquired another 7 or 8 lbs of berries. Jess and I canned one batch of mixed berries (black berries, strawberries, and raspberries) and this came out wonderfully. We then did a double batch of regular strawberry jam, finishing finally with a batch of splenda strawberry jam. I always think this will take only a few hours and it ends up taking all day.

Alex and the boys playing with swords made by Max. They entertained themselves while I made Jess stay in the hot kitchen with me.

Tuesday Max had to go to school (big kids can't miss school before the Algebra final is over) and Chris had to go to work (family providers can't take vacation days when the Japanese clients are in town), but Ben and Milo are days from the end of their school year so they played hookey. We walked around Penn State--there are more photos of this, but I don't think I have those. I picked up a book I'd requested at the library and then we went to the creamery for ice cream. Emily came with us and enjoyed the attention.

We ran home and made pizza because it was our turn to feed the Sister Missionaries and Chris had invited one of the Japanese gentleman to our home for dinner. It was a total team effort with Ben and Milo helping with toppings, Jess rolled out the dough and watched over Ben and Milo's efforts. I ran around and put things where the cooks could reach them. Alex shredded the mozzarella. Oh--before this, Alex and Jess led a big cleaning effort, and so the place looked great. My brother MOPPED MY KITCHEN FLOOR. Seriously, I almost cried.

But I didn't have time, so I ran out the door to go get the Sister Missionaries and arrived moments after the pizza was pulled out of the oven and Chris and the kids got the extra table set up.

We had a blast.

Then after dinner I ran the twins over to cub scouts, Max worked on his Duty to God requirements so he could be done before turning 14 . . .

and then it was Thursday and Alex and Jess were safely in Arizona, Max was 14 and it was time for more cake.

And then it was today, the kind of Saturday you think every Summer Saturday will be--beautiful, but not overly hot, a little rain early in the morning for the tomatoes--Ben and Milo had their first summer swim team practice--and that went great. Then we ran to Target for new flip flops. The twins showed me how negligent a mother I am by moving up two shoes sizes. Jeez. I got summer flip flops, too. Yay, me! Then it was home for a quick stop and off to the YMCA for swim lessons.

I've spent all afternoon working on a baby sweater that is turning out lovely and listening to my iPod.

My. heart. is. so. full.

I know not every week can be so wonderful, but a wonderful week like this every so often really goes far to strengthen your heart. Tomorrow is fast and testimony Sunday and I think I'll use the opportunity tonight, after I start my fast, to plan Monday's FHE lesson instead of waiting until 20 minutes before like I usually do :) Now that Max is 14, I'm thinking it could be fun to do a lesson on Patriarchal Blessings.