Blind Spot

91cqujed86l.jpgI can waggle my hand at my brother, whining a sing song, “Lance” and I know he’ll laugh remembering Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. My husband and I know all the words to the Gilligan’s Island theme song. I can quote part of a Beatles’ lyric, and someone can usually finish it. It’s great to make cultural connections with others who share the same experiences and memories. And then you find out there are differences. Things other people have done, read, seen and somehow you’ve missed it.

I’ve never seen The Godfather, never read War and Peace, never watched Friends. Have I missed something essential? War and Peace has never loomed before me as a something I must accomplish. And The Godfather? Maybe I was too young when it came out, and later, I guess I never got around to it. Asking my mom about the popularity of Elvis in the 60’s, she said that she completely missed it because she had her hands in the diaper pail. I can relate. The 90’s flew by and I never watched one episode of Friends – there was no time for most TV when the kids were small.

I was deliberate about wanting my kids to see The Wizard of Oz. First, I wanted them to be old enough that they wouldn’t be terrified (I spent many nights under the covers convinced that witch was coming for me), and I wanted them to be able to recognize the myriad references from the movie that they’d encounter everywhere (there’s no place like home, click your heels, and your little dog too, surrender Dorothy, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore, oil can,the witches broom stick, I’m melting).

When everything seems available and sharable, from downloading a library’s worth of books instantly on your tablet, to viewing any classic movie or TV show on a streaming service, one could fill any gap in cultural knowledge. But who has the time? In the late 80’s The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, What Every American Needs to Know was an interesting tome that did two things: it let me feel smug about all the things I did know, and feel bad about all the things I did not know. The book was probably more concerned that we know about the three branches of government than who Rachel and Ross were, but it didn’t make me fill those voids.

Shared experience and knowledge form strong bonds and allow for shorthand communications; but I guess it’s more interesting if we don’t all know exactly the same things. Right about now, I think you’ll be looking up Lancelot Link and scratching your head.


Wash Me

After a road trip over salted winter roads, my car is encased in a crust. Unending, fine spray from the cars in front of me kept my windshield wipers busy, so that I only have front and back portholes to see through. My car is more “ambient” colored than blue. Fortunately, there’s a small break in the cold temperatures, so I’m headed to the car wash. I wish it would be so easy to tend to all the other places where winter grime lurks.

Our front hall is filled with a collection of boots and gym shoes. We try to abide by the city-living rule of “no shoes in the house” so they all come off here. Even though our condo is a significant number of steps from the outside, gunk still clings to our shoes. Stowaways in the deep grooves of the soles come: gray, melting slush, crystals of salt, small rocks, sand, and leaf litter. They make it inside the door, and, eventually, all over our unit somehow. Walking though the kitchen, there’s a crunch underfoot as a piece of salt skitters to the side, and I find a leaf in the closet. Boots have a white line marking the depth of puddle slush before it dried. My coats have dusty patches from when I brushed up against some outdoor surface.

Sweeping and mopping seem a Sisyphean task, because we keep going out into the salty world and coming back. Granted, this is a year-round challenge, but exacerbated in the winter with snow and ice. Even when I think the floor looks clean, if I bend down to wipe up a bit of water, the paper towel comes back gray every time.

When we first moved to the city, the most striking example of city dirt didn’t come from our shoes, but from the windows. Window sills accumulated a fine black dust that wasn’t immediately obvious until you ran your finger across it. I was surprised because we didn’t live near any manufacturing smokestacks, or next to the train tracks. We were up high with a lovely view of the sky, and yet, the air was filled with particulates. Invisible car and bus exhaust that turned out to be not so invisible.

So I wash. My face and hands, laundry, windows, windowsills and floors. And sometimes, my car.

Home is Where the Soup Is

IMG_2705When I dream about home, it’s my childhood home. I can walk around furniture and look at rooms from different angles. I can see out the windows, as if I’ve been dropped in a museum diorama of my youth and allowed to walk around in it. This is the correct color of the kitchen cabinet, this is the quality of light in this room in the afternoon. I can zoom in to see the texture of an upholstered chair. These are details I may have noticed once, but after so much time, it’s startling have them laid in front of me.

My childhood home was sold, but I sometimes drive by, only to see toys on the front porch, and new trees planted in the yard. Inside, it would be understandable to find they had remodeled the kitchen. I remember it with everything we needed close at hand. A cutting board that pulled out from under the counter. The mobile dishwasher, a charming artifact of the days before everything was built in. The big ceramic sink. The Spice Islands spice racks. The cold floor in the winter. The view out over the back yard. The separate breakfast nook with hanging copper pots.

This weekend I’m visiting my mom. She’s been in her beautiful home for nearly 25 years, and while it is not where I grew up, I’ve been here often enough to make memories. Christmases and Thanksgivings with young kids, summer nights with cool breezes pulled in by the attic fan, poring over old photos, shoveling the long long driveway one winter when there was so much snow. But the core of those memories is always food. Some people buy a flower arrangement to welcome guests. My mom cooks a pot of soup. And roasts a chicken. And makes Benedictine. There is always something wonderful to enjoy. A mug of tea, buttered toast and a really good scrambled egg.

When I woke up this morning, I shifted to get out of bed and bumped into the wall instead. That’s when I remembered where I was and that I’ll be heading back tomorrow. It will be a few hours on the highway, and my own soup pot beckons.


IMG_2683I’ve always thought I was a normal height. As some comedian once said, my legs go all the way down to the floor. But occasionally I’m reminded that many things are made with bigger people in mind.

At the grocery, many of the items I want are on the top shelf, so I look around for a tall grocery employee, or any tall shopper and ask if they can reach it for me. I think they should have an attached, movable ladder like you see in book stores or libraries to help shoppers reach the items they put up so high. It would be less of a risk than having me attempt to scale the shelves on my own.

Clothing stores maximize their displays by hanging clothes at least 6 feet off the ground. This means that you have to ask for help to pluck anything you’d like to see off the wall. The store employee has a pole with a hook on it that allows them to lift the hanger and bring down the item. Recently faced with that type of display in a discount store, instead of looking for someone to help me, I decided to try to get an item down by using a nearby supply of full-sized umbrellas with hooked handles. I stretched up and thought I’d snag the hanger when all I managed to do was tangle the umbrella around the display pole until it was completely stuck. Embarrassed, I left the umbrella hanging there between two shirts that I no longer wanted to examine up close.

Growing up, my mom used to tell me I was a perfect size. I take after my dad’s short side of the family, while mom is tall. Even though I thought she looked glamorous like Laura Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show, she says that being a tall girl in school was uncomfortable; she was always in the back row of class pictures, and would often slouch to appear shorter. Until at some point she surely recognized that being able to reach the top shelf was a valuable skill.

Being short has some advantages. I usually have plenty of leg room in a car or on a plane. Visiting a Frank Lloyd Wright house, the docent cautioned us to watch our heads going through doorways, but I sailed through without a care. Even buying clothes has become less difficult with petite sizing, the 29” inseam, and three quarter length sleeves. When I look at old school pictures, I was never on the back row, but I was trying to stand out by sitting up especially tall.