Secrets and Surprises

I wish to pat myself on the back for raising you all to be very adept at being sneaky and secretive, which was proven for the second time this past weekend. Although I am uncertain when the plotting began, I do wish to acknowledge that even the four-year old of the family has been trained in the art of duplicity.

For Bryce, it began when he announced that the car needed to be cleaned—“While I am at school.” That did not happen. Kelly handed him a bag and had him clean it himself. (Good job Mommy for not bowing to the demands of a child!)

They did not have a functioning dustbuster, so Bryce asked to borrow ours when they came to the house to get some basil for soup they were making for us that day.

I should mention that we have not had dinner with them for quite some time, but suddenly Kelly was very insistent on having dinner with us this week. So on Thursday Bryce stormed into the house after school and was quite excited for both of us to come outside to witness the results of his cleaning. “You will be so impressed,” he told us.

We were not suspicious of any funny business going on, so we headed for the car and were shocked when Jamie and Geoff popped up from inside the car. Dad and I were truly both surprised but more impressed that Bryce could keep a secret than clean a car.

We also felt so fortunate to have seen both our distant daughters two weekends in a row.


Every Little Move Matters

Two years ago, I wrote about a conversation I had with Bryce about a train accident Grandpa was involved in when he was in the army.  Two civilians and one soldier were killed. Grandpa said the man who died had been sitting in his seat and had asked to switch seats before the fatal crash, so that man, Corporal Thomas Vest, died, and Grandpa survived with just a back injury.

I recently read a book which involves time travel, so I got to thinking about what would be the implications if one of Corporal Vest’s three brothers had climbed aboard a time machine and had boarded that train in order to prevent him for switching seats with Grandpa. How many lives would have been affected by that action?

In the most basic analysis, one could argue that the number is seventeen—Grandpa’s five children, ten grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. But what about the eight spouses, who may have married others, producing a different set of children?

We can’t just stop there, because each never-born life in that alternate scenario touched countless other lives. How would the lives of those people be altered if those seventeen people had never been born?

Would the world still be taking selfies and communicating on their cell phones if I had never been around to invent it? As a nurse, Aunt Ar has dealt with countless patients in the hospitals she has worked in over the years, so I believe that a world without her may have erased a few lives from this planet. She will argue against this theory, but I stand firm in my belief.

We all remember a favorite teacher, whether it be because of a lesson they taught, an unfair punishment they imposed upon the class, or a private conversation we had with one of them. Jamie has taught hundreds of students in her short time as an educator. Her absence may have been, or may someday be felt by at least one of those students.

Is there job that Casey’s company may not have won had it not been for her attention to detail? Is there a bride whose wedding photos may have been ruined that rainy day when Kelly went to Plan B to ensure the weather would not destroy those precious mementos? How many soldiers were comforted by the family pictures she provided them before their deployment?

How many fish may have died if Chris had not rushed into work to feed them when bad weather prevented his coworkers from doing so? And will the world be robbed of watching the inauguration of President Lily and the Mars landing of Astronaut Bryce if Grandpa had remained in that death seat on that train??

I can go on, but I think you get the idea.

Grandpa claimed that he continued to be reminded of that November day in Georgia for the rest of his life because his back hurt whenever he tried to pick up his children and grandchildren. The thing is, he had fifty-six more years—“the rest of his life.” Corporal Vest did not, but that one request gave the rest of us our lives.

Each of us touches the lives of so many others in ways we may not even know, and one small change of course can profoundly alter the future of countless individuals. It’s mind boggling when you think about the implications!







Knoshing Around the World

My recent trip to Silver Spring with Dad was like attending an international food festival. We began in Korea, and by the end of the weekend, we had visited eateries representing Venezuela, China, the Mid East, and Russia. Looking back on our choices, those all represented hot spots in the news of late, but that was not intentional.

I was most excited to dine at the Russian restaurant—conveniently located less than a mile from the White House and one block from the famous Mayflower Hotel. (I encourage you to Google the hotel and you’ll see what I mean.)

You’d think the fact that Grandpa had lived in Russia for ten years would have made me familiar with the cuisine of his people, but that was not the case at all. The only time I ever went to a Russian restaurant was when we accompanied Grandpa and his cousin, Misha, to a restaurant in New York City, where I believe I feasted on Chicken Kiev and mashed potatoes.  I ordered the same for old time’ sake.

I always have a glass of wine with dinner, but it I felt it would be wrong not to order some sort of vodka-based drink in a Russian restaurant. I ordered a strawberry-infused vodka cocktail. Delicious!

Within seconds of opening my menu, a wave of emotion swept over me and I began to cry. I don’t know why, but after spending so much time writing my book about Grandpa, being in a place I knew he would have loved just caused those tear ducts to open and begin to flow.

There were plenty of Russian-speaking patrons slurping their borscht and sipping vodka, and the bar was showing Russian cartoons. It was cozy, and the bathroom was decorated with Russian newspapers., which added to the ambience.

While my meal was not my favorite on our food tour around the world, the atmosphere affected my soul the most.

My Long Lost Musical Career

You all came from a family of artists and musicians, so I find it interesting that only one of you chose a career which is artsy. That, of course, is our family photographer.

Dad’s grandfather was a musician when he immigrated to America, my grandmother and mother were pianists, Dad played the trumpet, and each of you played an instrument while in elementary school. If my memory is correct, Kelly chose the clarinet, Jamie played the violin, and Casey chose the quietest and least annoying instrument for a beginner, which was the flute. If I am wrong on any of these, then I need to think seriously about ending these stories.

I have left out the best for last, which was my choice of the glockenspiel. I did a bit of research and learned the derivation of the name: Glocken is German for bells and Spiel means play. I chose this instrument because I enjoyed the sweet sound of the bells, but I don’t believe I gave much thought to the practicality of the glockenspiel. It was big and awkward, and according to several websites, weighed anywhere from eighteen to twenty-nine pounds.

I have no memory of ever bringing it home but will ask my sisters for verification. My only memory was standing on the stage in junior high with the one other glockenspielist, a girl named Gretchen. Neither of us ever became a very good player of the “bells,” but the sounds of the other instruments in the band most likely hid all of our mistakes.

So I remained in the band for just two years, and when I went off to high school, I abandoned any thoughts of continuing my musical career. I think I was smart enough to recognize that I really could not read music very well, so I turned in my glockenspiel and the accompanying mallet. I never regretted the decision.

Trick or Treat

I have always enjoyed Halloween. As kids, I don’t recall wearing fancy costumes like we see on today’s children. During the 60’s we just threw on a hodge-podge of clothes we found around the house or donned cheap plastic masks from the five and dime store, which were held to our heads with a thin elastic band. These masks were hot, and visibility was not the best. Then we’d hit the streets and fill up a pillowcase with full-size candy bars and razor-free apples.


It was not until I was an adult that I wore a costume of which I was truly proud. Dad and I went to a neighborhood Halloween party where we bobbed for apples and went on a scavenger hunt around town.

Each year, I would outdo myself by pulling out my sewing machine and create an amazing work of art. One year we went as Sylvester and Tweety, another time we were salt and pepper shakers, and a third time, we went as the Tin Man and Scarecrow.

To create the look of the Tin Man, Dad wore a gray jogging suit covered with aluminum foil. Had he gone missing that night, the police could have tracked him down by following the trail of foil throughout our town.

That year, one of the items on the scavenger list was to return with a couple you did not not know—with extra points given if that couple came in costume. Dad’s team was the only one who won that category.

Those days are now behind us, but we still enjoy accompanying the grandkids to the pumpkin patch, carving our pumpkins (Dad carves and I direct), and opening the door to all the adorable trick or treaters after first having a photo op with the wee ones of the family.

Happy Halloween!

Special Squeezes

We all know the family secret handshake—4 squeezes, 3 squeezes, 2 squeezes, and finally a really hard single squeeze— but I don’t know how it originated. Grandma taught it to all of us when we were young, and all five of us taught it to our spouses and our children.

About two years ago, I asked two of my cousins if they were familiar with the handshake, and one knew it while the other did not. Today, I posed the question to cousins representing the children of Grandma’s four brothers. None were familiar with it, so I have concluded that it must have been a thing between sisters.

At what point in a relationship do we all feel secure enough to share the secret with that special person in our lives? It is very special and should not be taken lightly.

Do you love me?

Yes I do.

How much?

(The final two squeezes is followed by a very tight squeeze which shows the depth of your love.)



I hope you all continue the tradition.

Fighting Progressive Toys

When I was going to first become a grandparent, it had been many years since I had been shopping for toys. By that time, even the youngest cousin had hit the double digit age of ten. I don’t know what I expected, but I must admit I was taken aback in discovering just how many toys required batteries and made noise. In some cases, the only way to stop the annoying sounds was to remove the batteries. I even recall going into a store and asking to be directed to the quiet toy aisle. I was met with a blank expression and a shrug.

This observation zoomed me back to the time that one of you received that irritating rabbit—the one which skated to the song “Easter Parade.” Dad and I realllllly hated that bunny!

I have been out in the world and noticed how many young children are plugged into some sort of electronic gadget, and I find that to be quite disturbing. As someone who had earned a living in the computer industry, before practically everyone in American had one, I appreciate the convenience and marvel at what they can do. However, when it comes to children and toys, there is something to be said for simplicity.

Children have vivid imaginations and can enjoy playtime with simple toys. I remember babysitting for a neighborhood boy, and I was worried since I had no toys at that time. But he happily spent the entire visit playing with the pots and pans in my cabinet.

My Tupperware nesting measuring cups and spoons are quite entertaining to a toddler, and I have spent many hours under my kitchen table with a snack, flashlight, and a game of good old fashioned Candy Land. Hide and seek never gets tiresome except to me, and bubbles, chalk, and coloring books are quite fun as well.

While I admit to sometimes turning on the television mostly for “Grandma rest time,” I think I am doing quite well with quiet entertainment without batteries, which are also a lot better for the environment when you consider the need to eventually dispose of them. I am not saying no to all television, by the way. I look forward to watching the classic Charlie Brown shows and Disney movies that we all enjoyed together with my grandchildren.

But I am going to see how long I can go before caving into progress. Is this old fashioned? I would argue not, because I truly believe that too much electronic engagement with children not only squashes the imagination, but it also stifles socialization.

Any thoughts from the kindergarten teacher of the family?