Storms, and Bookstores, and Accordions…Oh My

There are days where you start out with a plan.  Maybe you have a goal in mind, errands to do, an outing, etc.  You decide on a course, confident you will follow it and accomplish what you set out to do; and then fate steps in.

My Sunday started out like this; the goal was to acquire activity books for my daughter to be used during our plane flight on our upcoming vacation.  There is a Half Price Books store fairly near our house, and they often have new ones for cheap, so this was the intended location of the morning.  (A little background…  The weather here – Ohio state – has been volatile lately.  Very hot, humid, and stormy.  Two nights ago we had a particularly nasty storm; 80 mph straight-line winds, power outages, downpours, lots of damage.  Many areas of town were still recovering through the weekend.)  My daughter and I had already wandered over to Half Price Books on Saturday, only to discover they were closed as a result of no power.  However, I was again in the area later that day, and the traffic lights and a couple of businesses looked operable.  I assumed the grid was back up, so we decided to try again the next day.

With our mission in mind we again headed out Sunday morning for our destination.  Unfortunately, they were still closed with no power.  A little frustrated but undeterred, we decided to head a bit farther out to another HPB location so we could acquire our intended loot.  After 20 more minutes in the car and some overly dramatic radio sing-a-longs, we arrived.  There were markedly few cars in the area, and upon inspection we learned that this location was also out of power.  Ugh.  The plan for the day was unraveling quickly…

Given that our trip was looming, and I didn’t have the luxury of more HPB locations nor lots of time to wait for power fixes (some areas at this point were estimating 5-7 days before repair), we broke down and decided to head for the full-price shelves of Barnes & Noble which was very nearby.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite fond of B&N and browse there often.  But for activity books that my girl will use and abuse on a plane and then dispose of quickly, I would really much prefer the budget route.  However, with a little selective browsing and a trip through the sales rack, we wound up getting out of B&N without breaking the bank.

After a nice girls lunch full of laughs and funny faces (not to mention odd looks from other patrons), we decided to meander over to Whole Foods before heading home.  Shortly after we walked in, I noticed the familiar strains of accordion music drifting through the air.  Leaning over to my daughter, I whispered in her ear, “Remember the accordion man I showed you the picture of not too long ago?  He’s here.”  “NO WAY!!  WHERE?!?”,  was the loudly excited reply.  It took a few tries, but I finally convinced her that where he was located was outside of the checkout area, and we needed to quickly gather our purchases and pay for them before we could go see him.  The plus side of this was it helped to get her to be uncharacteristically helpful while we shopped for the few things we needed, and kept her from being as handsy as she normally is.

We checked out quickly and made our way over to the same spot I found him in before; a chair in the corner of the eating area.  I wasted no time walking up to him today, and saying a hearty hello.  The big grin I remembered from the first time I saw him (you can read about it here) was just as sparkly, and he was obviously happy to have company.  I reminded him I was the woman who took his picture a few short weeks ago, and apologized for not having caught his name.  “It’s Burt!” he said excitedly.  I introduced myself and my daughter, who was suddenly very shy.  He pulled a chair up for us and encouraged us to sit down and listen, which we did, my daughter on my lap.  It was so sweet the way he showed her his accordion (“64 years old with lots of duct tape, but it still plays just fine!”), and picked out songs he thought she would know (such as ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’).  My daughter relaxed and opened up once the music began into play.  She loved the tunes immensely, and I loved watching her listen and smile.

What I didn’t expect was to be caught off guard when he started playing ‘When Irish Eyes Are Smiling’.  I found myself tearing up as I was suddenly my daughter’s age, sitting in my childhood living room, watching my father play the accordion as I marveled how he could work such an amazing contraption.  Somewhat of a surreal experience as I held my own daughter on my lap.  As Burt shifted to ‘Tura Lura Lura’ the memory continued, and was compounded by thoughts of my large Irish family and my grandfather’s funeral.  I had no sooner started to dab at my eyes when my daughter turned and asked, “Momma, are you crying?  You’re not supposed to cry, dry it up lady!!” She said it in the funniest way I just had to laugh, then we both laughed, and then Burt laughed because he probably had no idea what happened but thought laughing was a great idea and joined in for the heck of it.

We listened a little while longer and then said our goodbyes.  Burt asked us to please come listen again, and we promised we would.  As we exited the store I mentioned to my daughter that it was probably a good thing the power was out in the Half Price Books that day, or we never would have run in to Burt and his accordion at all, for we would have been nowhere near the Whole Foods store.  Our original plan would have had us in, out, and home in a flash.  As it turns out, the revised events for the day held much more adventure and richness than my original plan could possibly have garnered.  I supposed plans aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, now are they?  Often times it’s the unplanned that yields the biggest rewards.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Today

Today I was in a bad mood. I’d had a rough week with my head (migraines), work was a pain, we were having challenges with my daughter’s school, and all of it was feeling like a lot of weight resting squarely on my shoulders alone. It was clearly not helping my attitude. Then at lunch I happened to be shopping at Whole Foods and, while in the checkout line, I noticed the strains of accordion music wafting through the air. I questioned the checker about it, and she said it was an elderly man who happened in a couple of times a week on his own to play; they believed he was a little lonely and liked the company. I found myself compelled to stop and say hello to this stranger before I left the store. He was cheerful as could be; sitting alone in his chair, playing for whomever chose to listen. He shook my hand and patted my arm, thanking me for coming by. I told him my father used to have an accordion when I was little and that his melodies reminded me of that; my reminiscing seemed to cheer him even further. He shared that his favorites were the religious hymns because he could remember them better, and proceeded to play the intros of a couple for me “testing” to see if I could guess them. He seemed pleased that he could stump me as he chuckled to himself. I asked if I could take his picture and had to laugh at his response of “Sure, but I might break your camera!” I told him I needed to leave, but encouraged him to keep on playing and thanked him for his time. He shook my hand again and I left him with not only a big grin on both of our faces, but a much improved countenance on my part. It’s amazing how a random encounter with a total stranger made my “today” so much brighter.

Open Wide

I have amazing spit.  No, really, I do.  You see, as of yesterday, I had the ability to proclaim that at 39 years of age, I had acquired only one cavity in my otherwise pristine mouth of filling-less teeth.  (The only one I did have was waaaaaaay back in a wisdom tooth, so it really wasn’t even my fault; those suckers are so far back there, my toothbrush really doesn’t stand a chance.)  Supposedly, this is somewhat due to my saliva; I have been told that some people produce saliva that helps to ward off cavities.  (Technically, it’s the sugar complexes in the saliva that aid in repelling the cavity-causing bacteria, but I digress…).  Apparently, my mouth is lucky enough to produce said saliva, thus providing me the opportunity to skate by many a year with dental visits that included nothing but a run-of-the-mill cleaning and standard x-rays.

What is unfortunate for me (or fortunate for the rest of the world, depending on how you look at it), is that there have been many advances in the Dental industry in the past forty or so years.  Gone are the days of the routine cleaning with the black and white x-ray film, supplemented by visual cavity checks alone in a stark, white, sanitized office with a small packet of hermetically sealed instruments that double as standard-issue interrogation devices.  Nowadays, you have ‘theme’ offices with tropical fish or rock memorabilia decorating the walls, complete with a flat-screen television for your viewing pleasure while you recline in the exam chair.  X-rays are taken digitally and even projected on the flat-screen for discussion purposes (what, you didn’t want to see your teeth and gums super-sized?  You don’t say!).  Super-saliva alone is no longer the best defense for a cavity-free life; there is now a method of highlighting tooth decay that rivals a military infrared system where the normal surface of the tooth shows up in green, and any decay easily stands out in bright, glowing red.  I was treated to this lovely display on my last visit to the dentist when they helpfully pointed out that there were a couple of shiny red areas of “early decay” that they were concerned about, and recommended I have them filled preventatively so that they would not become full-blown cavities.  Reluctantly, I agreed.

That is how I found myself in the dental office this evening, in the procedure area (an offshoot of the cleaning area, for in this office the procedures are so darn special they get their own separate wing!), smiling nervously as I anticipated the worst.  Did I mention I only have one filling?  One filling.  One.  And it was forever ago, so I don’t really even remember it.  I am not a fan of dental work; I diligently attend my 6-month cleanings because I love my teeth and would like to keep all of the originals, thank you very much.  But I will admit I am somewhat of a white-knuckler with all the picking and scraping and polishing, etc. that goes on with just the cleanings, alone.  I’m not terrified by it, I just don’t like it; it creeps me out.  Looking towards even more invasive work is clearly not a picnic for me.  So you can imagine how thrilled I was when the hygienist blithely mentioned that as soon as the doctor popped in, we would get started on my four fillings.  FOUR!?!?  I thought the loud screechy question was only in my head, but it had actually come out of my mouth that way, because the hygienist calmly smiled and backpedaled in an effort to calm what was obviously the “patient-most-likely-to-bolt” sitting in her chair.  Talking like you would to the four-year-old who is on the verge of meltdown, she soothingly said we could simply wait to talk to the doctor and review her notes to make sure that was the plan, and that we were all on the same page before proceeding.  I just tried to use my best ‘big girl’ voice and croak out ” Uh, okay”.

As it turns out there were four total spots they wanted to fill.  Apparently I have deep grooves in my molars and, after 39 years, even the super-saliva isn’t quite cutting it anymore.  Two molars and two wisdom teeth were on the drill menu for the evening; I prepared the knuckles for a long ride.  I was not relishing the fact that I would now have fillings in all of my wisdom teeth, but what are you going to do, right?  Wimp out and actually BE the patient that bolts?  I don’t think so.  Instead, I said “aaaaahhhhh”, gritted through the novocain shot, attempted to mentally slow my racing heartbeat, and tried to think of other things when the drilling began.  (Of note: you would think that with all of these amazing “advances” in dentistry that someone could invent a drill that was a bit less brain-jarring as they gouge away at your enamel.  I’m just sayin’…)  The flat-screen helped a little, but not as much as I would have hoped.  Fortunately several of the areas were very shallow and only required minor surface fillings, thus shaving much time (and agony and shots) off of the whole ordeal.  I did still go home with my lower right face/tongue completely non-functional, which is a sensation I would have preferred to not remember.  I felt the need to keep touching my chin and lip to ensure they were in the correct position and not drooping on my chest.  And when I said goodnight to my daughter, I had a lisp that would rival that of Cindy Brady.  As I leaned in to kiss her on the forehead, she literally shrank back and looked at me as if I was the most freakish sight she’d ever seen; and, really, who could blame her?  The fun continued about two hours later when I got hungry.  Wanting to eat when your face clearly isn’t planning on helping is really just a cruel joke.  Yogurt?  (I’m not a fan.)  Soup?  (It’s 85 degrees, people.)  Oatmeal?  (Takes too long, per the sound in my stomach.)  I settled on cereal which, while trying to get the first spoonful in, I realized was a hilariously poor choice.  But I was determined to win out over my uncooperative mouth, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t finish the whole small bowl without spilling a single drop.

An hour later, hungry again.  Crap.  Too tired to fight with any new food groups, I’ve decided to sleep instead.  I figure I should be able to eat by morning, right?

Quick aside:  yes, for those counting at home, I do only have three wisdom teeth and they are still very much in tact.  In addition to having super-spit, I also have genetically freakish chompers.  I am missing my adult upper eye teeth, as is my father, and my daughter (take that, Darwin).  Because of the extra space up top, I never had the need to have my wisdom teeth removed, as the braces I wore for four years pulled everything together all nice and neat-like.  I am also missing one of my lower wisdom teeth, as is my mother; as luck would have it, I have somewhat smaller teeth and had room for the other lower one, negating the pulling of that one as well.  One rite of passage I am happy to say I never had to endure!  But I now have passed the genetic teeth mutation on to my offspring.  And as per the new fancy schmancy x-rays tell us, I’ve compounded the freakishness – not only is she missing her upper adult eyeteeth, she’s also missing her lower…so the money I saved my parents in dental work I will undoubtedly spend on her.  Yay!  My only saving grace will be if we can offset the missing teeth with a lack of cavities; let’s hope the super-saliva doesn’t skip a generation…

Fruit From The Tree

Branches, twigs, leaves and limbs…

Family trees are interesting. They stretch and grow with their multiple limbs; branches bud from blood relations, from marriage, even from choice. Some are small, only stretching out over a limited time; others are large, spanning multiple generations.  Frequently these limbs are produced from a completely new breed of tree; as if you took two (or more) different types, spliced them together, and created an entirely new species that never before existed.  More often than not, they are complicated structures; the branches twisting in awkward directions, with twigs sprouting off this way and that.

What’s even more intriguing about familial trees is often the fruit that falls from them. By ‘fruit’ I’m referring to the traits we inherit from being a part of these intricate creations. What grains of wood flow through our veins as we sprout into our own little seedlings? What colors of leaves do we produce? For me, it was interesting enough to learn about myself as I developed along my own path in life; but I find it even more interesting to compare myself as I look back and learn about the other branches of my tree, and the other offspring that came from it.

Certainly, there is always a visual comparison. For example on one side of my family, there is a striking physical resemblance running through many of our generations (my father’s side, specifically). I would hazard a guess that if you put a large number of us in a room with several hundred other strangers, an unconnected observer could pick out the family pairings pretty darn quickly without much effort – we really do look that much alike, even several generations removed.

Then there’s the ‘behavior’ comparison; I sometimes wonder if this is genetic, as well. For example, I have my father’s temper; that quick-lit Irish ire that is easy to rile, and hard to quell. But my grandfather had it, too, and from what I hear (though I haven’t witnessed it first-hand, so I border on conjecture here) my uncles also exhibit it. Not only do we have it, we struggle with it in a way that makes it a little unique in our family. It makes me wonder – hearing that it trickles through the generations – is it learned, inherited, or both? Did the apple fall into the next tree, or did we pick it up and carry it because we saw it lying there? Maybe a little of both is true. I think sometimes these things are inherent in our DNA and sometimes they are learned (such as the wicked knack for guilt conjuring that my maternal grandmother always had, my mother carries with her, and I have conveniently picked up as well – that, most certainly, seems to be an observed skill much more than innate).

I find the DNA comparison often carries with it questions of a more clinical nature, such as the uncertainty of potential disease issues in a family. In my father’s lineage, there seem to be frequent incidents of cancer, though they present themselves inconsistently – breast, prostate, ovarian, skin – none seem to repeat themselves, but many branches seem to be afflicted. It makes me wonder if it just hides amongst all of us like a sleeping beast and morphs to suit itself when it feels like showing its fangs. It’s even found me already, in what was fortunately an early identified and quickly removed form of melanoma; I often hope that I’ve already faced down my own monster and I won’t encounter another in my lifetime, but who can ever be sure? I surmise that is why my family has always been so vigilant by proactively checking for things that we are wary of – you just don’t know what fruit you will get, or if it will perchance be rotten.

But sometimes the fruit you get is just the opposite; it is exquisite in its ripeness and richness.  It’s often not even genetic in nature; in fact, it is frequently more nurture-based.   It’s the kind of fruit that bears the seeds of character, helping to shape us into the beings we become as we grow, reaching towards the sky and sun.

Branches, twigs, leaves and limbs; each one unique, each one important.  They all create the distinctive flora from which our family trees grow, from which we grow.  Exceptional in their challenges and their gifts, we would not be who we are without them.

The Whistle

Summer is most definitely upon us; the days are getting longer and lighter.  It’s the time when children linger outside after dinner to play and run and laugh “just a few minutes more” and, despite your better judgment, you let them.  It’s not an everyday occurrence, certainly, but some days just beg for it; the ones where the sky is a bit bluer, the clouds a bit whiter.

I have to admit, I love to let my daughter (currently a spirited six-year-old) bask in these extra evening moments, in spite of my normal “strict bedtime” mom-ness.  You see, we didn’t have many of these occasions for her last year, as she was challenged with figuring out her pecking order amongst the neighborhood kids.  Being an only child herself, she tended to desperately want to be the ‘best friend’ of everyone, and sometimes took it a little overboard, never really sure when she should let up on the intensity pedal just a bit.  As a result, she wasn’t invited out to play very often, and it was heartbreaking to see her long to be included.  Fortunately, this year is vastly different; she’s really found her niche, becoming one of the pack.  In fact, one of the girls she struggled with the most is now, basically, her BFF, and it amuses me to no end to see the two of them pal around together.

What does not amuse me, however, are the times when I have to retrieve her to come home – for dinner, bedtime, to run an errand, whatever.  Pulling a cat from a well might be more enjoyable, really.  Even if I’ve given her a heads-up about how much time she has left, it never fails that she will “mysteriously” disappear shortly before she needs to return.  Most of the time, I simply dread the 20-30 minutes I will inevitably spend just looking for her.  Don’t get me wrong, I keep a pretty keen eye on her when she’s playing outside; but she has a knack of turning into a gold-medal sprinter as soon as she sees me coming for her, and she has about eight different escape routes already mapped out.  I’m also convinced that she and her friends have developed some form of scatter-pattern devised solely to confuse the parental units on which child went where, simultaneously increasing our frustration level, and enhancing their enjoyment.

It’s usually around this time that I remember my own summer evenings of years past, and desperately wish I had learned The Whistle.  Not “to” whistle, mind you, I mean THE Whistle.  I’m referring, of course, to the legendary Mr. Harold Whistle (Mr. Harold being my father, for those unfamiliar).  You see, when it comes to tools on the parental belt, my father had a whistle that was truly unparalleled.  Ask any child growing up on or near Royal Street circa 1985, and they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  Any given summer evening, just around dusk, you would hear his fairly high-pitched, two-noted, quick-tempo whistle – up, down up.  It would echo through the neighborhoods, easily reaching a 6-8 block radius.  Everyone’s head would pick up at the sound, and everyone knew what it signaled – the Harold Girls were supposed to go home.  He would usually do it once, wait about 5-10 minutes and then do it a second time.  If he had to whistle a third, there had better be a darn good reason why we weren’t home yet, or my sister and I were probably in big trouble, for there was really no excuse to ignore The Whistle.  We knew what it meant – everyone in the neighborhood knew what it meant – so we certainly couldn’t feign ignorance.  We’d even get status updates on the way home, practically block by block…”Hey, did you hear your Dad whistle?”, or “Your Dad’s looking for you, better hurry!”.   Rarely was there an occasion that my parents had to come and search us out to bring us home, because The Whistle was so darn effective; either on its own, or indirectly because it caused everyone else to seek us out for them (clever bit of parental strategy, if you ask me).

The Whistle did have additional uses, such as warnings of danger (i.e. riding bikes in the street near oncoming cars), stopping sibling arguments (teenage sisters can be rather loud when trying to kill each other), or rounding up scattered family in a grocery store (to the confusion of all the nearby patrons as to why some strange man was standing in the middle of a row whistling his head off).  However, I highly advise against using The Whistle in small, confined spaces; the deafness/ringing that results lasts entirely too long to make any usefulness worthwhile.

To this day, I still don’t know how exactly my father does it.  I’ve watched him at this craft for over 30 years and have yet to really figure out anything except that it’s only with his tongue and lips – he does not use his fingers.  Unfortunately for me, the whistle gene seems to have skipped a generation; I can’t even whistle normally, let alone produce anything remotely resembling THE Whistle, so I’m plumb out of luck on this one.  Which is really disappointing, because I can only imagine how useful it would be with my little summer-evening Houdini.  I suppose the best I can hope for is that perhaps my daughter will pick it up and maybe, some 20 years from now, there will again be that familiar “up-down-up” echo in a distant neighborhood that causes all the children’s ears to perk.  I can only imagine her Pops would be so darn proud…