Memoir: Collecting a lifetime of memories

 

There comes a time in any writer's life where they want to reflect. Stories emerge, lessons learned, moments that mattered and shaped one's point-of-view and one's choices. I've started collecting memories and moments, captured here, as inputs into a memoir. I share these in no particular order, just random thoughts and ideas as they occur to me.

 

FAMILY  MATTERS  ~ After the wedding of my great-nephew James Keough to Diana Kauffman Weekend of July 6, 2013 ~ 4.29.15

 

We gather at milestone events, funerals, weddings, graduations; events designated as special, all logged into heart memories, recorded in countless digital photographs, freezing moments into future stories and family history, saved for times of tall-tale telling or private grieving.

Joy and grief intermingle like the strands of a colorful, vibrant, unique tapestry. Somehow each person in this ever expanding family circle sees the tapestry differently, viewed through eyes of individual life experiences, age, and maybe just a tad of expanding or contracting memory to fit one’s personal skewed view.

 

I sit at the edge of the polished dance floor watching cousins come together in joy, joy at one cousin’s marriage, joy at bonds of connection that stretch from birth to now, 20 plus years for some and fewer years for the tail-ender cousins, some still in grade school, one not yet started, mixed with those in college or already into careers.

 

Cousins dance with significant others; the bridal couple dance, mix and mingle. Parents and grandparents keep step or not but dance that same whirl of joy. There is an empty space where the soldier cousin is missing, off fighting in dangerous places with heroic determination. His new bride folds into the family circle, loved, protected, accepted.

 

It is a scene of life unfolding. I remember the weddings of the parents of this cousin clan and now see the new cycle of weddings begin, knowing that yet another generation is not many years ahead, a new circle of cousins. Tears push at eyelashes, damp from my refusal to let them loose. It has been five years since I saw some of these great-nieces and nephews as we gathered for my mother’s funeral, GG for short to the generation where she reigned as great-grandmother, a nickname adopted for her by all her grandchildren. Just thinking that name awakens my sadness, that ever present sense that the Keough circle is no longer complete. How she would have loved this joyous party.

I too may live into my mid-90s as she did but this day I know I will not be present at too many more of these family gatherings. Travel is expensive and neither I nor Ken, my best friend and spouse, do as well with the demands that go with long trips and disruption of daily schedule. I hate that. In my heart I travel easily; I adjust to changes with a smile; I am flexible and easy going. In reality I fail at all of those and I disappoint myself.

 

I love this extended Keough family. It is the family of my roots and blood. My heart leaps with excitement and joy to hear my brother’s voice, to hug my sister-in-law. The smile at seeing so many loved ones begins at first sight and stays even in those moments where tears of mixed joy and sorrow beg refused release.

 

The touch of Ken’s hands as he draws me close in a slow dance soothe and comfort. I am so full of a symphony of emotions that I am vibrating invisibly. I miss my own grown children and their families. I know that they will never all be part of any Keough clan gathering. Time, distance and life have walled that possibility out. There was a time in decades past when they ran the streets with their cousins, racing around the Keough corner in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Today they connect infrequently and briefly. Relationships must be nurtured or they fade into memories with no new memories being made.

 

I have carefully, purposely, maintained the connections with this Keough circle. Family matters to me. I expend energy, time and even financial resources to do so. It is a selfish need. Their lives are complete with or without my presence. I know that and that is okay. But my life needs those ties, cannot just step away, and leave any of it or let any of them go.

 

I am like that with friends too and knowing my intensity about connections to those I grow to love has made me more cautious in adding too many new people. Yet I cannot be over cautious and my own circle of family, friends and loved ones expands. I wonder when I will lose the energy to keep each connection intact when there are so many. I don’t know how to be any other way.

 

I prayed from childhood to live intensely and to pay attention acutely. Now I pray that I mellow some; that I trust God more, hoping I learn to let go and let God. Still the wedding weekend plunges me into deep emotional waters and I let that be. I feel and I let the mixed feelings flow. I thank God for letting me be there even though the ever enlarging family circle and the maturing of the youngest generation leaves me awed, amazed and humbled. I ask God to help me find a way to be part of the next wedding another year, knowing nothing is really promised beyond this breath, these words on my laptop screen.

 

SEASONS OF LOVE  ~ The opening of a longer memoir piece ~ 3.31.15

 

The intensity of a passionate love affair begun in my 30s changed me, molded me like clay in a potter’s hand. I am who I am because of it. I don’t regret any of it. In fact, I am grateful for all of it. It started slowly and then deepened until my memories of who I was before it began somehow intertwine with who I am today. I cannot imagine who I would be without it. It changed me, redirected me, set me on a lifelong path. I remember each stage of this love affair vividly.

 

First I fell in love with the borderless flat fields that disappeared beyond my vision, the sight of wheat golden against a slowly setting sun, the opposite of the Adirondack Mountains that sheltered my childhood. I did not know it was possible to fall intensely and rapidly in love with a landscape. I was surprised by this fierce attraction.

 

Then I fell in love with agriculture, the fascination of the farm cycle: plant, banish weeds, check frequently, harvest, prepare fields for next spring. It soothed something, an empty spot that I did not know I had. It resided hidden in my soul brought to light the first time I watched farm equipment harvesting ripe wheat. My brain immediately linked that harvested wheat with warm, fresh from the oven loaves of homemade baked bread.

 

Next I gingerly edged toward loving the entire state and the people who called it home. North Dakota was more like a very large city geographically with a population spread out from Fargo on the east to Williston on the west, from Walhalla on the Canadian border to Ashley teetering on the South Dakota line. It was a large love for a large state. None of it was love at first sight. I am mountain born and bred, raised in a community surrounded by mountain peaks and lakes, where I hiked a serious hill to repeatedly arrive tardy at high school.

 

Moves as a young wife kept me within easy driving distance of my loved mountains until one too long wet snowy winter with four young children, all with runny noses. Their only way to go outside was for them to stand in one shoveled area on the front lawn. One midwinter thaw matched the runny noses I kept wiping. I told my husband to “get me out of here to someplace where winter is winter or where there is no winter.” He wasn’t known for listening to me or paying attention to my complaints so I was startled, maybe stunned is a more apt word, when he told me he was getting responses to his registration with a national recruiting firm.

 

Responses from firms in New Mexico and Hawaii intrigued me. I even wrote to get information on school systems in Albuquerque. But after spring turned our front yard into a slimy, muddy mess, he opted to respond to an invitation for an in person interview in Fargo, North Dakota. He returned smitten, telling me I would have to see the fields of green visible from the plane window, and Fargo had appeal. He would accept the job if it was offered. I don’t recall a discussion of pros and cons. The phone rang. Job offered, job accepted. Date set to move. Moving expenses paid. All we had to do was pack and head west. We were leaving Syracuse, New York for Fargo, North Dakota.

 

I was not totally against this new experience. Excitement warred with fear; fear challenged adventure to a duel. Trip planning provided distraction. Each day brought us closer to departure.

My mother fretted asking, “Where will the children go to school?”

My dad responded, “They have schools in North Dakota. I read it in the Saturday Evening Post.”

 

We moved into an elegant house on 8th Street South in Fargo. I was living one of my daydreams, being the genteel lady overseeing her lovely home. Looking back, I think I must have been thinking of the heroines in some western movies. Hard to tell where my romantic ideas originated.The home came with a too small kitchen and a large rose garden in the back yard. Opinions on how to maintain or improve the garden abounded, shared by neighbors who knew the history of the woman who planted the rose garden tended by her hired gardener. This was a prize winning rose garden.

 

Well, there would be no hired gardener. I would tend this rose garden. I fancied myself out in the garden, wearing a floppy straw garden hat, trowel and rose cutter in hand. Hard to balance two tools, however small, while opening the back door to wave at children on bikes and trikes while strolling to the garden. It did not take me long to accept I could cast no shadow as the keeper of a prize winning rose garden.

 

 

TEEN GATHERING PLACES IN SARANAC LAKE, NY IN THE 1950s  ~ 3.20.15

 

Math and I never formed a friendship. My dislike began with simple sums in first grade and continued right up to High School Algebra. I could dimly see the hidden value in Geometry, very dimly. But I did not speak the language of Algebra. I disliked the use of beloved words in foolish math problems. If Suzy traveled x hours on train z from Boston with a lay over for coffee and pastry along the way and Mary traveled y more hours on a train from Boston but skipped the coffee and pastry stop, then what time did Gertie arrive? I just couldn’t find a way to care.

However, while remembering my high school years in the 1950s, I realized my math inability led me astray. I was certain back then that every fellow student in Saranac Lake High School was squeezed into either Bernie’s or Meyers Drug Store to hang out after school. The only exceptions would be those involved in some sport practice, at a job or riding school buses to out of town homes. Or me. I had to go home after school. And I was the only one missing from the entire group. Now I know I was wrong. That many teenagers wouldn’t fit into those places at one time so everyone else was not there.

 

My belief that I was the only one not at either popular spot created a sense of urgency. Every day after school I rushed home to beg my mom for some money and for permission to go to Meyers. I knew better than to ask if I could go to Bernie’s. My parents were great friends with Bernie Wilson but they wanted to protect me from the very element at that restaurant that intrigued me, those boys banging away on the pinball machines. Something about those boys leaning on those machines, sending little balls on wild paths intrigued me. I liked the noise of the machines. I was fascinated by those pinball players. They seemed slightly wild.

 

When she handed me some change and told me to go, I’d battle fear that everyone had already left. I’d run the few block hoping someone I knew would still be there, someone I could join at a booth, squeezing in one more into an already overcrowded booth. Meyers featured jukeboxes, cherry cokes and a scattering of those older, more sophisticated guys, students at Paul Smiths College.

 

I’m amazed that Bernie Wilson and the management at Meyers let teenagers take over those places every day for an hour or so, not much longer as most had to be home to do homework before supper. Where did those adults get the patience for the antics of noisy, busy teenagers with only spare change to spend? All of us raised in that era in Saranac Lake owe them a huge thank you. The time spent in those places helped ease us from freshman year in high school to graduation. It helped make the four years at high school special and memorable. I once thought my grandkids lacked such gathering spots but I’m wrong. They now gather in cyberspace as they text one another or post on Facebook.

 

They gather in cyberspace like we once gathered over cherry cokes while feeding the jukebox to play music from the 50s. However, there are key differences. We had adults keeping an eye on our gatherings. I don’t think we were overly aware of that but we were truly raised by more adults than our parents. There was a collective rearing of Saranac Lake’s youth. And when my parents somehow knew something that happened out of their eyesight, it never dawned on me to be resentful. Instead I felt protected, cared about.

 

And something is lost in the teen cyberspace gathering during the summer or even after school when my grandkids are at home unless involved in a school activity. Written words are just not the same as sitting shoulder to shoulder, laughing, and sometimes quietly sharing a disappointment. We humans are wired for in person communication where we can read body language, see the eyes of the speaker. Bernie’s and Meyers provided the places for the teens of my generation to be together in person and up close. I am who I am because of being raised in Saranac Lake and the hours spent in Meyers were part of that.

 

And yes, I did sometimes sneak over to Bernie’s. How else could I remember the sound of pinball machines and the sight of boys almost blind to all but those rolling silver balls? Almost blind… because they knew there were giggling, admiring girls nearby.

 

MILK IN BLUE GLASSES ~ 2.19.15

 

When I would eat at my Grandmother Alice’s house, the milk would be served in what seemed to be huge light blue glasses. I loved the look of those glasses, the color, the shape, the way the milk looked. I was convinced it tasted better and colder than any milk served at home.

This Grandmother was far different than my Grandmother May. Grandma Alice was my dad’s mother and Grandma May was my mom’s. I loved each of them, but I was fascinated with my Grandma Alice. She was a thinker. She had opinions based on reading and news on the television. Her conversations intrigued me.

 

She owned a motel. When I was around 12 or so, I would be sent to help clean motel rooms. I think I got paid, and if I did, it was too much as I never cleaned more than a few rooms. Even then I’d spend time reading the notes left by guests. They would slide notes under the glass covered dressers and tables. According to the notes, everyone who stopped there had a wonderful time. I was too young to question what seemed to be a 100% approval rating. Now I suppose discontented guests did not leave notes, complained in person, or had a negative note removed.

 

The reason I cleaned so few rooms was because my grandmother would tell me I’d done enough work and that my sister and I should go swimming at her beach until my dad came to get us.

 

This was the grandmother who made the best baked beans, the most wonderful pies and bread. She’d give everything away she baked to my dad and his brother, leaving none for my Grandpa John. Now I see that as not so fair, then I thought it just perfect.

I used to walk the mile plus from our home to her home just to visit. If it was any season but winter, we’d sit on the enclosed front porch and chat. I loved those talks. She thought I was intelligent, and we had conversations about all kinds of things.

If my dad was too busy to come get me, my Grandpa would drive me home while I prayed silently. He chewed tobacco and kept a can to spit in. That can sat precariously close to my left foot. “Please God,” I’d pray, “don’t let him miss and hit my foot when he spits.” He never did.

My Grandpa John died too soon of cancer. I think he was in his early 60s. I was away at college and losing him sent me into a tailspin. I had come to admire and respect him.

 

My Grandma lived to over 100. I think it was 103. Her last decades were spent in a nursing home and she lost her mental sharpness. That grieved me. My response was to stop going to see her. It was just too painful. She no longer remembered me and I could barely recognize this shrunken woman who kept looking for my dad, who had died when he was in his 60s.

 

My mom passed on a half set of those glasses to me and my Grandmother’s good set of dishes. I was stunned to discover how small those glasses were. Not even eight ounces glasses. I kept both the glasses and the dish set in my china closet. The glasses and dishes traveled from the Adirondack Mountains of New York State to North Dakota and on my retirement to Florida. My children did not associate those glasses and dishes with my Grandmother Alice. They were part of visits to their grandmother, my mom. I am glad that there is any association because I have not had the pleasure of living near most of my grandchildren so they don’t have memories of meals eaten off those dishes or milk drunk out of those blue glasses while visiting me.

 

Several years ago I gave those treasured items to my eldest daughter. Now when I visit her, she sometimes sets the table with those dishes and glasses. Someday her daughter Raye may set her own table with those heirlooms. Heirlooms like those help keep family memories alive as we remember and celebrate together.

 

A HOSTESS I AM NOT ~ 2.03.15

 

My mom was a good cook and an accomplished hostess. I thought those skills and talents would magically pass to me. Mom must have thought so too because she was bewildered over my lack of enthusiasm for cooking and hosting large parties. To be totally honest I don’t even like going to large parties. All that troubled my mom who viewed it as some kind of personal failure as a mother. She told me repeatedly, “You should be able to put on a party. We certainly hosted people in our home when you were growing up.” “And you could enjoy cooking if you tried.” The truth was and is that I lack kitchen confidence.

 

While I wished that I mirrored her ease in the kitchen, I had to self-teach basic cooking and accept that any parties and events I host will never match my childhood memories of people thoroughly enjoying themselves at one of my parents’ gatherings.

 

The reality is that my wonderful mom lacked patience to teach domestic skills to this dreamy, daughter, who preferred reading books or writing stories and poems to being in the kitchen. My mom had all the patience in the world with my writing efforts and little to none in teaching me to cook. Partway through any cooking lesson, mom would suggest I go read or play and let her finish. Sounded good to me! Thus I left home knowing how to make lemon pie, sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies, a rather limited repertoire.

 

One day when I was suddenly acutely lonesome for my mom who passed away in 2008, I sought comfort by looking through two family cookbooks she’d given me. I read recipe names and some whole recipes to Ken, my husband. “There are lots of desserts in here,” I said. “I’m looking for a casserole to bring to church. There must be some of my mom’s casserole recipes in here.”

 

Indeed there were. And I have to tell you my mother is still not doing well in teaching me how to cook. Some of her recipes left me with a few questions, like the one for Dinner in a Dish. How large a pepper and is it a green pepper? How large an onion? Is there something I should do before I brown the onion and pepper in butter? I could not recall ever seeing her throw a whole onion and pepper into a frying pan. That day Ken decided we should dice both and he opted for a medium onion. I did not over cook the hamburger following my mom’s caution on that. But I did wonder why there was no filler in the dish, like macaroni or potatoes. And what is a medium baking temperature? Ken and I agreed that 325 degrees seemed medium to us. Oh, yes, how long were we supposed to bake this? I did not use the recommended cracker or bread crumbs as a topping. We used croutons instead and took it out of the oven before they burned.

 

It must have been okay as there was not one bite left in the dish at the end of the church event. Or maybe people were just hungry. Ken and I cook together when I get it the cooking mood. We do a lot of crockpot meals. Recently I invented my own version of goulash, a dish we both remember our moms cooking when we were kids. Ken loved it. The only problem is there was enough for four meals. I tend to cook as if I still had teenagers in our home. Those kids are now the parents of teenagers.

 

And I am still tense in the kitchen. I view cooking as a kind of test and am usually grumbling during the entire process. But the food turns out tasty. And Ken is always complimentary. He is our everyday cook, preparing simple meals according to my hand written menu.

 

As for hostessing parties, that just never happens any more. I become more introverted by the year. I guess I’m just not a party girl. But I have great memories of the parties my parents hosted. By the way, you can rest easy mom, your skills in the kitchen and in hosting parties skipped a generation. Your granddaughter, Jo-Anne, is totally at ease in the kitchen. She is a great cook. And she is a born hostess. Her welcome mat is always out. She inherited all your talent in the kitchen and as a hostess.

 

WHAT MAKES A HOUSE A HOME ~ 1.13.15

 

Ken and I bought this small doublewide mobile home in Port Orange, Fla. in April 2007. We still owned a very large older home in Wahpeton, N.D. but I trusted God would get that sold if our move to the warmer climate was right. We packed a rented truck in October, leaving stuff yet to be sorted in our basement, shed and garage. That house sold for cash in less than 60 days. Friends and our son, John, sorted what we had left, putting some things in storage, giving away other stuff and throwing some away.

 

That fast sale was a good thing because the house was gone before I could begin to regret leaving. Owning a four bedroom, two bathroom house with high winter heating bills no longer seemed wise. Selling was a logical choice, not one made from my heart. I loved that home. I loved the look of it; the roominess of it; the hardwood floors; the backyard; the enclosed front porch. We’ve been in this little doublewide now for over seven years and that may be a record as I moved frequently for many years. From the time I left home at 18 to the year we moved here, over a period of 49 years, I lived in 21 apartments and homes, 12 cities and four states. I’m fairly certain that my time here is one of my longest stretches in one home and yet I hesitate to say it feels like home.

 

So what makes a house a home? I still feel as if I’m coming home when I open the door to my brother and sister-in-law’s home. I only lived in two homes from the time I was born until I married at 18 and moved. Most of my growing up years were spent where my brother and wife raised their family of five. Renovations changed that large apartment but somehow I still feel as if I’m revisiting my childhood home. Memories dwell in the very walls of that lovely place. And of all the places I’ve lived afterwards I can list those that felt like home, places I still miss. Sometimes when I can’t fall asleep, I walk the floors of those places I loved. I return to the house in Camillus, N.Y. with the winding brook at the edge of the back yard. I think it was the big back yard, that brook, and the sound of children playing that made that house a home.

 

I revisit the big farm home we lived in on the edge of a small town in North Dakota. I liked living just outside Christine. I began my love affair with agriculture while living in that house. Crops were planted right up to the edge of our property. We had a closed front porch. I have a thing about porches. My four kids had adventures there. They built rafts to float on flooded farm fields. They disappeared for hours to places I only learned about once they were all safely raised, like going through the culvert under the road to play in the cemetery. Two violations never known so never punished.

 

I lived one of my private dreams when I rented a small cabin on a Minnesota lake. I loved being one of less than a handful of people there except in the summer. I left my curtains open so I could always see the lake and pondered the mystery of why people liked to ice fish, especially on nights when the ice creaked from the cold. I only moved because the owner got greedy and was going to raise the rent. My mom helped me buy a large home on that same lake. I never got to really love it because I couldn’t afford to heat it so had to sell.

 

And then there was the tri-plex I bought because it matched a short list of requirements I’d given to God in a prayer. It went something like this: in town but feels like being in the country; lots of trees and flowers; an apartment or two to help pay the mortgage; a specific amount for a down payment and a kennel for my much loved dog, Elliot. When I reluctantly looked at one house and it had everything on that list, I sighed and bought it. I loved that house. Deer came up to the first apple tree and munched away while I watched. I liked my neighbors. There was a nursery and a landscape business across the street. Talk about trees and flowers! I lived there six years. I only left because the 1997 flood lapped at the edge of my front porch. Dikes surrounded me on all sides. I evacuated over the dike nearest my side door. When I returned weeks later, flood memories that haunted my sleep. The city bought the house and I bought the house I sold nine years later to move to Florida.

 

I love my life in Florida. I have friends. I have had a busy and fruitful seven years. But I still don’t feel as if Florida is home or that this small doublewide is home. I pray that will change because to be honest I am tired of packing and moving. Getting too old for that.

 

FLOOD MEMORIES ~ 11.26.14

 

I wonder if I will ever experience a long rain without experiencing tension and fighting fear. My fear response is less intense, less debilitating, but it is still there. When others comment that it was sure a long rain, I manage to be casual in my response. Inside nothing is casual.

 

The winter of 1997 featured blizzard after blizzard. People put flags on the antennas of their vehicles to avoid accidents at corners. Snow piled so high that being able to see approaching cars was a summer memory. I thanked God I’d arranged for snow to be removed from the parking lot of my triplex and the road and driveway to my garage.

 

I knew more about snow depth, fast melts and the flat land that could turn into temporary lakes than I needed to know that winter. I’d been a journalist before accepting a position at a local cooperative’s sugar beet processing plant. I’d researched and written stories about drainage and flood control. I had experienced periodic spring floods ever since moving to North Dakota in 1968. I knew this record snow depth could create a huge lake stretching 30 or more miles wide and many more miles long. I knew which rivers and streams combined where as they headed toward the Red River of the North. A large drainage system to the south was controlled by a dam on Lake Traverse. The Corps of Engineers would release water when that lake level got too high. That water would flow north.

 

The Red River was visible from the deck off my dining room. I had this uncomfortable feeling it would be closer once the spring melt began.

 

A good friend and I sat, coffee mugs in hand, and talked about the potential disaster each new blizzard brought. She had been a count commissioner, led the National Association of Counties as president, now worked part-time for that association. We hoped our predictions would be wrong. We hoped the melt would be slow and steady; that there would be no rains during the melt; that river ice would not pile up creating floods behind it.

 

The official flood forecasts began to mirror that conversation. The Corps of Engineers measured my huge back yard for a dike meant to save the city. My house sat at a strategic place. Then I learned the dike would be built in front of my house and I would be left unprotected. I called someone I knew personally in the office of my Congressman. They could build the dike right in front of my side porch, right against my deck; I begged. They reconsidered. Building it close to my house would be cost effective.

 

The dikes went up. The flood came. Reality did too. People patrolled the dike all night. Huge lights shone into my windows. The dike had to be built higher and volunteers raised it twice with sandbags. The dike was widened until I could step off my porch onto the dike and walk less than two feet to the dike at the back. Cold black water sometimes raced where deer once ate apples off my trees; other times it stalled as ice under railway bridges blocked passage.

 

I evacuated my granddaughters, my dog, and slept fitfully. A friend stayed with me. The dike softened. An official told me people would sleep better if I would leave. My apartment tenants left. And then I packed and left. By then they had put a dike in front of my house in case the one in back failed. My friend stayed. My cats stayed shut in upstairs with a litter box; lots of water and food. I told God whatever happened it was okay. The house survived but a year later the city bought it. There is a permanent dike where my triplex once stood.
 

It was just a house I tell myself. But it was a house that met the dreams of my heart to own a home with apartments, with lots of trees and space, with flowers, and at the edge of town. Oh, yes, I asked for a dog kennel and it had one of those. I lived there for six short years. It was an answer to a prayer. I am grateful for those years. And if it had not been for that flood and the loss of that home to a permanent dike, I would likely be living there still. I sometimes walk the rooms before falling asleep. And long, soaking rains still awake some tough memories.

 

MY FATHER LOVED OPERA ~ 11.17.14

 

I don’t know if my dad ever saw an actual opera performance. I truly have no idea how he would have been exposed to opera. I think about his parents and the home of his boyhood. I just can’t imagine a radio tuned to opera. So where did he first hear opera?

 

I add the opera question to a short but expanding list of questions I wish I’d asked my parents. But it seemed natural when I was growing up to hear the Saturday afternoon weekly broadcast of an opera played fairly loudly while I did my weekly chore of dusting.

 

It’s only recently that I thought about my dad’s love of opera. I was watching a TV show where contestants had to match costumes with opera characters. That reminded me of dusting to sounds of arias and back and forth dialogues sung with great drama. It got me to thinking about my dad’s love of opera. I realized that love did not fit with his other hobbies. This opera hobby was not shared with his buddies and maybe not even with my mom. She never commented on the Saturday afternoon operas. He’d sit in a chair, head back, listening and smiling. I loved the music. I didn’t understand word one as the singers sang in some foreign language. Now I know it was either German or Italian. Then I was clueless. But I heard tragedy and triumph, could sense a drama being played out. And that intensity seemed to match my own tendency to see life as a continual drama.

 

Yet when the perfect opportunity to discuss opera with my dad came, I turned to private research instead. One summer I worked as a reporter on the local daily newspaper. I was assigned to cover an opera playing in Saranac Lake on a summer tour. No-one seemed to think I was unqualified to handle this assignment. I projected confidence on the outside while I experienced panic on the inside. My dad could have helped but I never thought of going to my dad to see if he could enlighten me. Maybe I was too proud to ask. He seemed to think I could report on anything assigned.

 

Thus I went to the library, researched the opera, made notes and then attended the live performance. I don’t think my opera loving dad attended. I wrote a story that appeared the day after the event. Maybe the editors of The Daily Enterprise were clueless about operas too because I certainly was totally unqualified to write that story.

 

My dad probably read that opera review. He read everything I wrote for the paper that summer. To this day, I try to line up his love of the opera with his other hobbies. He loved watching boxing matches on TV, was a Jackie Gleason fan, played golf and poker. He had a wild sense of humor and a loud voice when displeased. Nothing operatic about that voice other than a shared volume level. He was a complex man.

 

Eventually the strains of operas on Saturday afternoon fell silent. I think the program must have been cancelled or other interests drew my dad’s attention. I was a teenager and too self-absorbed to even notice. And though I loved my dad, we didn’t have heart to heart conversations. Even if I noticed a changed Saturday routine in my dad’s schedule, I wouldn’t have asked him about it. We weren’t friends. He was the parent and I was the daughter. We didn’t begin having real conversations until I was married and had children.

 

During my girlhood, he’d let me know if I disappointed him. He had high expectations of me as far as academics went and set high standards of moral conduct for me. I knew he loved me unconditionally. What I didn’t know and don’t know still is where his love of opera originated.

 

IN THE KITCHEN MY STYLE ~ 11.05.14

My mom was a good cook and an accomplished hostess. I thought those skills and talents would be magically passed on to me. Mom must have thought so too because she was bewildered over my lack of enthusiasm for cooking and hosting large parties. Mom told me repeatedly, “You should be able to put on a party. We certainly hosted people in our home when you were growing up. And you could enjoy cooking if you tried.” The truth was and is that I lack kitchen confidence.

 

While I wished I’d mirror her ease in the kitchen, I had to self-teach basic cooking and accept that the parties and events I host do not match my childhood memories of people thoroughly enjoying themselves at one of my parents’ gatherings.

 

The reality is that my wonderful mom lacked patience to teach domestic skills to this dreamy, daughter, who preferred reading books or writing stories and poems to being in the kitchen. She had all the patience in the world with my writing efforts and little to none in teaching me to cook. Partway through any cooking lesson, mom would suggest I go read or play and let her finish. Sounded good to me! Thus I left home knowing how to make lemon pie, sugar cookies and peanut butter cookies, a rather limited repertoire.

 

One fall when I was acutely lonesome for my mom who went to the Lord in 2008, I sought comfort by looking through two family cookbooks she’d given me. I read recipe names and some whole recipes to Ken, my husband. “There are lots of desserts in here,” I said. “I’m looking for a casserole to bring to church. There must be some of my mom’s casserole recipes in here.”

 

Indeed there are. And I have to tell you my mother is still not doing well teaching me how to cook. Mom, I have a few questions about a list of recipes, like the one for Dinner in a Dish. How large a pepper and is it a green pepper? How large an onion? Is there something I should do before I brown the onion and pepper in butter? I could not recall ever seeing you throw a whole onion and pepper into a frying pan.

 

Ken decided we should dice both and he opted for a medium onion. I did not overcook the hamburger following mom’s caution on that. But I did wonder why there was no suggested filler in the recipe, like macaroni or potatoes. And what is a medium baking temperature? Ken and I agreed that 325 degrees seemed medium to us. Oh, yes, how long were we supposed to bake this? No time given. I didn’t use cracker or bread crumbs as a topping. We used croutons instead and took it out of the oven before they burnt.

 

It must have been okay as there wasn’t one bite left in the dish at the end of the church event. Or maybe people were just hungry.

 

I still avoid too much time in the kitchen. And I thank God every time Ken and I prepare a meal based on a recipe. Ken is my prep chef. And when we are using a slow cooker, he assembles the ingredients under my instructions. Our kitchen in our small double-wide mobile home doesn’t have room for two people. Most of our dishes are too high for me to reach without using a stool and Ken puts away the groceries so I have no idea where anything is. He enjoys my company as we do our version of preparing a recipe together. I’m not sure my mom would have liked this style of cooking. She kind of ran the kitchen her way.

 

HALLOWEEN THOUGHTS ~ 10.31.14

My father had a zany sense of humor. It kind of puzzled me as a child. How could he have that wild streak when so much of his life was spent serving families of the bereaved in his career as a funeral director? And for many years he had the community’s only ambulance. That brought more experiences of tragedy and loss into his life. So where did that zaniness come from?

 

That zany humor is generational. My dad’s parents did not display much humor at all. However, my grandmother’s brothers certainly did. Some of them could have been stand-up comedians. And my brother Ron who became a funeral director and a coroner has a mischievous streak. He often looks as if there is a funny line just waiting for him to give it voice. And I’m always astonished to see my brother as part of the dance line at the annual Rotary show. His five sons inherited his crazy humor. Brendan, who is a funeral director, can be so serious. But he is also wildly funny. These brothers love to play practical jokes on one another.

 

My father liked to use the hearse or ambulance to transport my friends after a party at our home. The kids loved it and parents got used to it. I think my brother once picked up a date in the hearse. Maybe he ran out of time after finishing his assigned task of washing and cleaning it. I truly don’t know.

 

I didn’t understand their brand of humor until I worked as a newspaper reporter and editor. Reporters often have a dark sort of humor. It eases the stress, the emotions that come with seeing too much tragedy. One liners zing around a newsroom almost as fast as the speed of light, whatever that speed is. And once I joined the one liner crew, I understood my dad’s zaniness.

 

Halloween stirs up memories of my dad’s practical jokes. One year my sister and I had a joint Halloween party. I think most of the girls from our school classes were invited. My dad decided a tour of the basement would be part of the party. I should’ve wondered about that. It may have been my dad’s version of a haunted house. Anyway there on display was a casket box. Not a casket, just the box it came in. But there was a body in it. I recognized Art who worked for my dad. I think he had on some kind of gray wig and make-up so his face was pale. The girls stopped to look and just as that crowd came close to that box, Art sat up slowly making a strange ghostly sound.

 

There were shrieks of horror mixed with that delight of being scared but knowing you are really safe. Then one girl fainted with a solid thud. No long term harm done but the poor girl might not have agreed then or now. Like I said my dad had this zany kind of humor.

 

© 2014 Patricia Keough-Wilson