Too Many Runs Down a Snow-Covered Hill

My mother taught me to play fair, be honest, treat people the way you want to be treated and say please and thank you. She forgot to teach me life is sometimes unfair, individuals can be dishonest, people will crap on you, and don’t expect a please and thank you from others.

As an undergraduate of a small, all-woman’s, upstate NY college called, Russell Sage College, I remember my dorm buddies telling me, “Lucie, you need to close and lock your door when you’re out of your room and tooling around. You’re gonna get ripped off some day and someone is going to steal your TV or stereo system. Lock your door, ya damn fool. This ain’t the country, Girl!”

Uh-hun.

I never did understand how someone could take something that didn’t belong to them and claim it as their own. Never made sense to me. I worked for it. I earned it with my hard-earned money. My logic said that if you wanted a portable TV or a stereo system; go out and get a job and earn it.

I was clueless.

Still am to some degree.

I was an education major in my undergraduate days. My friends were at Sage for nursing and physical therapy, so we didn’t see much of each other in our classes throughout the day. Evening meals were special because we’d gather in the cafeteria and swap sundry stories about our eventful days and express our various displeasure with the over-demanding instructors and talk about everything and anything important to young women of our time.

We studied hard, laughed often and shared our hopes and dreams of a promising future. On those rare occasions we got a snow storm and the urge to get silly in the snow, my friends would devise a plan to steal the food trays from the cafeteria to use for sleds. And off we’d go with our contraband and head for the snow-covered hills surrounding the school’s historic brownstone buildings for an evening of sledding and snow-angels.

Being the hell-raiser and prankster that I was, of course I was involved in the whole sordid scenario and was racked with guilt because we were doing something dishonest; something totally against what momma taught me.

“Relax,” Jonesy said, “and walk through the line real casual-like. I’ll put a tray down the back-side of your sweats and nobody will notice. I’ll walk real close to you. Just make sure you don’t walk funny, for Pete’s sake, or we’re all gonna end up in front of J-Board and put on probation.”

Yep.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized my special walk stayed with me well into my high-heeled, corporate days at San Francisco’s Bank of America. Nader, one of my co-workers and buddies, teasingly commented one day, “Benedetti, you need to learn to sashay like the other girls. You walk like you’ve got something stuck up your butt!”

And just in case I didn’t get what he was trying to tell me, he proceeded to imitate what I looked like when I walked; and what Sylvia, the office flirt, looked like when she walked.

Sylvia never walked around with a food tray in her pants.  I, however, was a master. Apparently, I was so proficient in the skill that it came second nature to me.

Served me right. I should have never taken that food tray. It was dishonest, and it was wrong. And I ended up with a funny walk that stayed with me well after my corporate days.

I did have a hell-u-va good time sledding that night, though. Laughed and had a blast until the tray cracked with one too many runs down the snow-covered hill.

We never did get caught stealing the trays that winter. Or at least the cafeteria lady never ratted on us. I always felt she knew what we were doing, but saw no harm in it, ‘cuz more often than not, we returned them, slightly battered and used, but still good for their original purpose.

I’m 61 years old and still can’t sashay like the other girls.  And on those occasions when I’m at a salad bar and spot a food tray, I find myself smiling with fond memories of a time when I remember how important it was to be honest and fair and treat people kindly and courteously.

As we go forward into the next four years of this country’s new administration, may we all be honest, kind, courteous and fair.

And lovingly remind those among us who aren’t, they need to be…

In the meantime, I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

We Were Home

When I feel the need to go home and hanker for something good to read, I reach for Jan Karon, Fannie Flagg, and Janet Sheridan. The following Christmas story was written by Janet Sheridan. I hope you enjoy it. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

 

 

The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising, imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.

Our pioneer-era house in Lake Shore, Utah, had elusive drafts, cranky doors, freezing bedrooms and a bathroom made hazardous by the ongoing battle between its faulty plumbing and our frustrated father. But it offered us the comforts of sitting sleepy-eyed in the morning by the living-room oil heater, crawling into the freshness of line-dried sheets on wash-day and listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock that echoed through the rooms like a heartbeat.

At Christmastime, glowing multi-colored bulbs lit the ornaments we carried home from school to hang on our tree and shimmered on the tinsel we dutifully hung strand by strand until, discouraged by the task’s endless nature, we decided tinsel looked best when tossed on by the handful. The smells of Mom’s baking and the sounds of the Christmas carols we pumped out on our player piano drifted through our days; and at night, the moon reflected softly off the smoothness of the surrounding snow-covered fields.

When we moved from Lake Shore, Mom and Dad said they’d bought a place in Spanish Fork, the nearby town where Lake Shore students attended junior high and high school. I didn’t want to move, but losing my status as a bus-riding country bumpkin eased my pain. So when we drove through Spanish Fork and two miles beyond, my teenaged eyes gazed with dismay at the sparsely-populated, rural area where our new house sat: no sidewalks, no corner grocery store, no ice cream truck tinkling by and no leisurely strolls to the movies, the Dairy queen or the junior high. I’d still live with three cows in a field behind the house waiting to be milked, a school bus with a pecking order to dictate seating and no way to get to town other than whining until someone agreed to give me a ride.

But the new home held the beauty of my mother’s creations: bright quilts, colorful braided rugs, the wood-glow of refinished furniture and the sparkle of fanciful tree ornaments cut from tin cans. It also had the convenience and warmth of a coal-fired furnace. True, the furnace sometimes burped smoke and gave up, but Dad always managed to coax it back to work by banging its pieces about and using his words from the steel mill.

After we moved in, Mom and Dad became hardworking partners, developing an area for a large garden plot and preparing the soil along the perimeter of the property for the fruit trees they planned to plant. After Mom went to bed on Christmas Eve, Dad sneaked her present into the living room. The next morning, cries of surprise and delight from Mom and pleased laughter from Dad awakened us. In his words, “Lesser women would have been dismayed, but Myrl thought the best present I ever gave her was that wheelbarrow.” The memory still makes me happy.

When I was in college, my parents followed a job to Lander, Wyoming, and the house in which they would live out their lives. It had an extensive living room with a wood-burning stove, warm lamps and sit-awhile chairs and couches that welcomed their adult children home. When we entered to the warmth of Dad’s fire, the smells of Mom’s cooking and the smiles on their faces, the love that flowed through our childhood Christmases enveloped us again.

We were home.

Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.

 

 

A Tradition Slightly Tweaked

Tradition.

Tevye sings about it in the Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

And the Benedetti’s live and breathe it every holiday.

Christmas Eve in our family means a traditional meatless dinner of fish and spaghetti. Christmas day you make lasagna and you carefully shape and fry the meatballs for the lasagna. It doesn’t matter that the meatballs are pulverized beyond recognition before you put them into the lasagna.

It’s tradition.

You mold and cook the meatballs before you cut them up. Period. You don’t mess with tradition.

So, one year when I was just a wee one and watching my Nonnie make meatballs for our Christmas meal, I asked her, “Nonnie, why do you roll up the meat and fry it, and then turn around and smush it all up before you make the lasagna?”

My Nonnie, never one to waste words when she didn’t have to, slowly bent her balding gray head to peer over her Ben Franklin glasses and said, “Lucie, non-ja bother Nonnie right now. I’m a busy makin’ a meat-ta-balls. Go outside and make-a-ta-snowman.”

Hm…

Years go by and I’m watching my Mom make lasagna one holiday. She makes the meatball mixture, gets out a small cast iron frying pan, puts some olive oil in it, and starts heating the pan to fry the meatballs.

I decide to bring up the meatball question again and ask my Mom, “Why such a small frying pan, Mom, for so many meatballs?”

“Because, Lucie,” she says. “You want the meatballs to fry evenly and you don’t want to waste olive oil.”

By this time, I’m in college and have some education under my belt, so I ask her, “Ma, why waste time, energy and olive oil? Can’t you just make a big meatball patty, fry it up in a Teflon pan, not use any olive oil and have a healthier meatball mixture for the lasagna? It doesn’t make sense to spend all that time making meatballs and then break them apart for the lasagna.”

Cazzo (Ot-so!), Lucie!” Mom responds. “You drive me nuts. Ya wanna leave me alone and go put up some Christmas decorations?”

Un-hun.

Eventually, I move out to CA from my home in upstate NY and start my own Christmas traditions and decide to make lasagna for my friends. I’m prepping the lasagna in advance, so I can just pop it into the oven on the night I serve it, and I catch myself standing over a small frying pan; carefully turning the meatballs in the olive oil. Suddenly, it dawns on me, “Cazzo! I’m doing the same damn thing my mother and Nonnie did for years. What the heck is wrong with me?”

Yep.

Today I’m old and balding like my mother and Nonnie before me, and I’m making lasagna like tradition dictates, but my meatball mixture is frying up as one monster pancake in a large Teflon pan as I write this. And the last time I tested it, the meatball tortilla tasted just as good as Mom’s and Nonnie’s.

Traditions are important. Carefully woven, they make a family a family, and certainly make for good memories and storytelling. Sometimes, though, traditions need to be tweaked, or we need to start a new one.

This was one of those times.

Hopefully, Nonnie’s looking down from the heavens – over those silly Ben Franklin glasses of hers and grinning from ear to ear – watching her pesky granddaughter still carrying on a Benedetti tradition; a tradition slightly tweaked, but a tradition steeped in love and years of family history.

Have a great Christmas, People, and a blessed, healthy New Year, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

Turkeys Aren’t What They’re Cracked Up To Be

I love roasted turkey. Love it with gravy. Love it in a sandwich. Love it with bread dressing.

Momma Benedetti hates turkey. Hates preparing it. Hates stuffing it. And especially hates cleaning the carcass after we’ve polished off the holiday meal. So, being the imaginative, quick-witted mother that she is, she decided one year – at an age when all of her offspring were pretty clueless – to set up a little white lie and told each of us that the other hated the bird, and that we were pretty special and instead would be treated to a delicacy called Cornish game hens.

And for years we accepted this reality and never questioned Momma’s explanation.

Many years ago, while living in San Francisco, my oldest brother and his family agreed to drive up from Southern Ca. and spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me. I was totally thrilled to have the family visiting and wanted everything to be perfect. After making some brief inquiries, it was discovered that my brother and I were not among the siblings that disliked turkey and that we both actually liked it – liked it a lot.

Before they arrived for the holiday, I asked my office staff for recipes to prep this gobbling, beard-sporting bird.  And everyone agreed that the best and juiciest recipe involved putting it in a Crisco-lined paper bag, and cooking it on high.

Yep.

I meticulously lined the paper bag with Crisco, cleaned the bird, seasoned it; plopped it into the bag, placed it into my spanking-new blue, enamel roasting pan and slid it into a blazing oven.

My family and I settled into the living room to watch the holiday parades, and I snuggled into my rocking chair and smiled; envisioning a meal fit for a king, with a lip-smacking, juicy turkey coming out of my oven a few hours later.

One parade and a football game later, I opened my oven, tore open the paper bag with visions of a Rockwell turkey dinner dancing in my head only to be shocked to see before me a dried up, leather-looking football with scorched stuffing bursting from its seams!

Yep.

Wanted to cry.

Had five hungry people to feed and there staring at me from my shiny, new turkey pan was a skinny, dried-up, leathery piece of jerky.

Cazzo! (Ot-so)

Standing behind me, as I carefully pulled out the blue enamel casket containing the remains of the bird, my brother quipped, “I don’t know about you, Luce, but I’ve always been partial to Cornish game hens for the holidays.”

“Turkeys,” he continued, “aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.”

Uh-Hun.

That was my first and last year using a paper bag to roast turkey. Now I just undercook it, or leave the giblets in their plastic bag and cook everything together until the turkey, giblets and bag are a nice shade of putrid brown.

Did I mention that my siblings and the Princess’s siblings have been volunteering to bring the turkey to our gatherings, lately?

Yep.

I just love cooking for the holidays.  Makes me break out in a rash every November that doesn’t clear up until after the New Year.

Have the Merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Year, People, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

A Time of Thanks

Dusting never came natural to me. Mom tried teaching me the finer nuances of the activity, but I wasn’t a very adept student and continue to have difficulty with the skill to this day.

My paternal grandmother never liked dusting, either. I think my dusting aversion was acquired genetically, or at least that’s what I told my mother. I can remember writing out my name with a smiley face in the dust on Grandma Hattie’s end tables a number of times when I went up to Caroga Lake to visit her. The funny thing, though, I really didn’t care one way or another about her dusty furniture. I just remembered the blue enamel turkey roaster that she kept loaded with popcorn on her kitchen cupboard, and how you never went hungry in between meal times at Grandma’s house because you always had access to popcorn and butterscotch candies. A candy, mind you, that I learned to hate after choking on a piece, one afternoon when I was 7 years old. Guess I laughed and swallowed at the same time and got the stupid thing lodged in my throat. It stayed there for most of the day, despite numerous glasses of water and attempts to force it down by having me eat bread. To this day, I avoid butterscotch candies like the plague and find my throat contracting every time I see them on the store shelf.

Grandma Hattie wasn’t a wealthy woman, by any stretch of the imagination. She lived in a tiny home with one bedroom and a bathroom that was later converted into a bedroom to accommodate my older cousin, Kip. And when Kip grew up and moved out, we kids slept in it for sleep-overs and felt pretty darn special.

Yep. Had a cozy bed and warm, comfy blankets strewn all over the lumpy mattress, and I felt like a princess in that room with a toilet in it. Sounds a little weird to have a bedroom in a bathroom, but I haven’t really moved up in society all that much, lately. My bathroom is still a stone’s throw away from my bed. Only now-a-days, it’s called a master suite with an adjoining bathroom. And my old body is grateful for a bed that isn’t lumpy these days, but I miss the quiet and the calmness I felt in Grandma’s country home on those winter, Adirondack nights; nights when the snow quietly accumulated, and my sleep was momentarily interrupted by the clanging of the tire chains on the town’s snow plows, as they whizzed-by, scraping it from the packed roadway.

My Grandmother never dressed in the latest fashions, and certainly didn’t have the money to spend on things other than the bare essentials, but she certainly made me and my siblings feel loved and wanted. Every summer, she’d load up her old, beat-up baby buggy with the youngest of the brood, pack our lunches and make sure we each had a beach towel and a swim suit and off to the lake we’d head – big kids holding onto the hands of the little kids and some of us littler kids holding onto the side bars of the baby carriage – brothers, sisters, cousins, alike. And off we went with Grandma for an afternoon of swimming; an afternoon of being a kid.

I remember the smell of the freshly tarred road that we walked on and the laughter and teasing and how patient Grandma was as we peppered her with questions:

“Why’s the road stink so, Grandma?” I’d ask as we walked and our sneakers stuck to the road. “It’s sticky and stinks; not like our roads at home,” I continued. “Why are country roads stinky and rocky and city roads smooth?”

“It makes my feet hot, Grandma,” my cousin chimed in. “Can’t wait ‘till we get swimming, Grandma,” he’d add on. “Are we almost there, Grandma?”

She’d smile and nod and acknowledge each one of us, and down to the lake we’d waddle, baby carriage, kids and all. And today when our local freeways are jammed and the news is overwhelming, I think back on those moments and think back to those times; when the roadways were stinky and my sneakers were hot, and I smile with the warm memories of a less hectic time and remember my Grandmother and am thankful she cared.

Those were good days; days of innocence – days few in number – but days remembered and treasured.

May this season of thanks be one that is joyful, and may you be blessed with the memories of days past when your sneakers were sticky and your grandma was kind, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

Language of Kindness

Our landscaper, Marcos, is a swell guy. In order to provide for his wife and twin girls, he commutes 4 to 5 hours a day from a more affordable area in the Bay Area of Northern Ca. to a more affluent community that can afford to pay him living wages. He gets up around 4 each morning, gets home around 7:30 or 8 at night, rain or shine, and never do I see this man in a foul mood.

Most of the time, I’m not home to see/hear him and his whiny leaf blower, but on those occasions that I am, I’ll venture outside of my rabbit hole and swap stories with him. Inevitably, he greets me with the largest of smiles and is always upbeat. Last week I hopped out to see him and he told me of a special award’s assembly he attended at his girl’s school and was so excited and so very proud – their teacher informed him that his girls are doing so well that they’re skipping first grade and going straight into second – what a proud moment for him; what a gift, unexpected.

This immigrant from Mexico, with little money for school, came to America to find freedom and a better life for himself; has twin-girls that are smart, has twin-girls that are talented. This landscaper by week and chef on weekend, has twin-girls that could eventually cure the most incurable of diseases or make a social contribution to the world to make our lives better someday, because their Popi was brave and their Popi was steadfast; in his journey of self, in his journey to freedom.

Never have I heard him complain. Never have I heard him say a bad word about anyone. He’s worked injured and sick and hungry and tired; and all through the pain and all through the fatigue, he’s had one solitary goal – one solitary prayer: let me be a good Popi to my girls, let me keep them safe and provide, and I’ll continue to work hard and I’ll continue to make do.

In between times, he takes English class at night school and makes sure he reads to his girls; they go sledding to Tahoe and cook meals together, too. I don’t know when the man sleeps and sometimes wonder how he makes do, but of this I am certain, of this I am sure: He is a man of integrity and a man I respect, and I’m proud to have met him and thankful that a wall didn’t keep him out of my life.

I don’t speak Spanish and he speaks little English, but his face and his hands speak a language we both understand – a language not taught in our schools – a dialect of kindness and a tolerance of mankind.

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the undocumented immigrant and repeated felon who accidentally shot 31-year-old Kate Steinle while she was walking with her father on a SF pier in July of 2015 has only two things in common with my Marcos – his Mexican birthplace and an accent.

I don’t know if Marcos crossed the border legally or illegally.  I do know that he is a loving father and husband and a kind person to most all.  And I know that building walls will not protect us or our children from unkindness or hurt. It will not promote understanding or forgiveness or further our cause.

The walls that we build – the walls of brick and mistrust – are walls that will fall, because they’re walls made of fear and fear will not stand.

Compassion or understanding or acceptance will not solidify. What we fear most will come true, and what is true is simply this: Ignorance is not blissful; it is hurtful and wrong, and ignorant people can only foster more hurt.

If we build walls, let them be walls to hold back water from rivers and seas, and let’s instead build a gateway – a gateway of acceptance and opportunity.

Let the gateway have laws and rigorously enforce them, but let’s make certain we build trust and promote kindness and well-being for all who enter and give; let’s make certain we’re fair and allow others in to share.

As we go forward into this future of uncertainties, may we take heart in knowing that we go forth as a nation built on liberty, equality, opportunity and diversity; and pray that our newly elected representatives take serious the positions they hold and honor their commitments to represent all……

In the meantime, be kind to each other and be kind to yourself, and I’ll catch ya next time, looking at life from my shoes.

 

Let Everyone Play

In 1984, many of us remembered Sally Fields holding onto a coveted Oscar for her role in “Places in the Heart” and declaring, “You like me. You really like me!” In actuality, what she said was, “I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me.”

Like most of us, I’ve come to hold onto the first quote as the real one. For me it has accurately summed up my need for belonging and acceptance over the years, and explains why I felt so giddy last month after receiving my yearly t-shirt and hat from the Veteran’s Senior Center of Northern Ca.

I felt like some smilin’ 5-year-old, that day, who lost her first tooth and was eagerly awaiting a visit from the tooth fairy. And if the truth be told, I continue to feel that way.

You would think at this age that I’d be able to buy myself as many blue t-shirts and baseball caps as I wanted, and technically you’d be right. But there’s something that makes me cry with happiness when I think about what the shirt and cap mean. There’s something that’s so deep and primal about what those two items represent, that in one instance it overwhelms me with an unbridled joy and a feeling of unconditional acceptance and love. And in another instance, I travel back to my childhood, and am engulfed in a down-to-my-toes sorrow and a feeling of exclusion and dislike.

No matter how old, how rich or poor, how educated or uneducated we are; where we were born, or the color of our skin…we all have the need to belong and be accepted.

When we’re young, having friends is so important to our development and well-being. But maintaining friendships as we age sometimes becomes difficult. Our careers, family demands, and health restraints – all pull us in different directions – all pull us further away of what is truly important; truly valuable to our survival.

As a child, I keenly remembered being left out of play groups and study groups. According to a group of neighborhood kids, my family was poor and our father was crazy. So, it gave them a reason and justification to exclude me from playing kickball and hide and seek in the Cherry Street Park on those sultry, Adirondack nights as the lightening bugs dotted the sky.

“No newcomers,” Rosemary yelled as I rounded the corner from Orchard Street to Cherry, smiling with the anticipation of a naive 10-year-old who just finished her household chores and was ready to play. “No newcomers,” she yelled as I innocently looked behind me until the reality of her comment struck home.

Slowly my smile faded, ever-so-slowly my pace slackened. I was crushed – my spirit deflated – my self-esteem kicked in the stomach. But I knew then, as a 10-year-old that those kids weren’t going to get the best of me. So, I smiled even broader, straightened-out my young shoulders and walked right by them ignoring their jeers and taunts because I knew who I was – even as a 10-year-old – and I knew that I was better than their insults and abusive remarks, and I wanted nothing to do with them or their unkind ways. Or at least that’s what I told myself, as I walked around the block and went straight home to curl-up in my closet and sob myself to sleep, comforted only by the quiet and darkness of a long, summer night.

The fact remains: we were poor and our father was crazy. Killing guys on Pork Chop Hill during the Korean Conflict and leading men into a battle that took many of their young lives can do that to a person. There’s no doubt in my mind that my dad suffered from PTSD; no doubt in my mind that his self-imposed isolation and sitting for hours playing basketball with a small plastic, hand-held toy after he came home from the war were both signs of a mentally unstable young man; a man not able to appropriately parent four children and be a good husband to Mom. His demons were many and all went untold. So he’d thrash-out at my mother and beat-up on us kids and the more I’d watch shows like, “Father Knows Best,” and “Leave it to Beaver,” the more I thought something’s not right with this family, something’s not right in our home. But my mother would feed us, iron our clothes and try her best to keep smiling between my dad’s constant blows.

My mom would divorce him and eventually he died young – died alone and on vomit from an illness unknown, and I and my siblings went on with our young lives and turned into good people in spite of our poor start.

We had something more than money could buy – we had something more than fashionable clothing and all the newest toys – we had a mother who loved us and believed in us and taught us to be compassionate and fair. We had something that no one could give us or take from us; we had something undefined.

Our survival as a community, a nation, a world and a species, all depends upon our ability to make friends and play nicely together in the sand box that we call life. No matter who wins this election come November, may we all go forward and graciously let everyone play, because it’s necessary and it’s needed and it’s the right thing to do.

And in the meantime, I have a nifty new cap and a pretty blue shirt and I’m hoping that someday that everyone does, too. Have a great day, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.