A long time ago, I dreamed of three little girls, dressed
like Madeline, swarming out of the house.
There would have been three but there were two, and that was good, too. It
seems like the promise of little girls is a promise that is forever but in
reality the colorful plastic toys and endless readings of “Frog and Toad” pass
quickly, so very quickly, and the next thing you know they’re getting
scholarships and going off to learn more than you could ever have imagined
knowing. And so there are things that
won’t happen again, like little girls making snow forts, though I suspect the
older one will always eat snow off her mittens, and there will always be hot
chocolate to spill. There will be regrets within my control, and without my
control. I could have taken them tobogganing more often, but I couldn’t bring
them up in the world of freedom of my childhood. They learned to swim and dance and play
music, to question everything (everything!) and to be bold and strong. This is
But there are some things I miss. I miss helping them get
the second mitten on and tucking hair inside their balaclava. I miss the dark
winter nights of the last couple of years, when it was just me and one of the
girls, having a punk meal of leftovers or freezer meat at the island in the
kitchen just in time to leave for dance. I miss having time to bake cookies in
the afternoon, and surprising Hannah with her favorite macaroni and cheese. (So
when she came home a couple of weeks ago it was a joy to make waffles again.)
On the other hand, I come home to amazing hugs and piano
playing. I get to watch Rebekah’s mind expand with high school the way her
sister’s did, to watch her fill with passion and commitment. And she gets to teach me about Doctor Who. So
it’s not all over yet.
We all love telling our children how hard things were in the three-channels-and-nothing’s-on days. How we amused ourselves with refrigerator boxes, bent nails and rocks. How our electronic options were pretty much limited to a transistor radio (AM, baby) through a single earphone. And how, in those days, the simplest things passed for amusement.
In the summers of my youth, while my parents were working, my great great aunt would usually take us up to her house in “the country,” way out in the wilds of West Glenville. A few miles up in the hills from our house, it might as well have been time travel out of the ’70s and into the Great Depression. There was no indoor plumbing at all – we had to pump water at the outside pump and bring it into the kitchen (where the sink drained into another bucket, which then had to be carried out to the field). The outhouse was an experience that taught me how to hold it in until it was time to go home. On beautiful summer days, I had a delightful up there, lying in the hammock, walking up to the cemetery, wandering through the neighboring cornfields. But on rainy days, there was precious little for an eleven-year-old boy to do in a 65-year-old spinster’s house.
There was a tremendous library, left by a previous occupant, of hundred-year-old books (many of which I still have). There was a copious collection of Photoplay movie magazines and National Enquirers, much of which fed my aunt’s odd fixation with the terrible harm that Peter Lawford had done the Kennedys. (She would never forgive him.) There were exactly two editions of Mad Magazine, which I studied like the Torah. There was a tiny television that on some days could get one channel – luckily it was the channel that aired her favorite “stories.” There was a Victrola, with a wide selection of fox trots and bamboo needles that broke easily. And there were three games: Carrom, which we played in every one of its endless variations; Yahtzee, a dice rolling game; and “The Game of Peter Coddle’s Trip to New York.”
“Peter Coddle” was apparently first published in about 1889, by Parker Brothers of Salem, Massachusetts. It wasn’t really a game, but an amusement very similar to “mad libs,” except that the fill-in words were supplied by the game. Players would take turns reading Peter’s adventure, and when you came to a blank in the story, you would fill it in with words on paperboard slips pulled from the box. Hilarity ensued, especially since at the time many of the words (“pandowdy,” “a boodle alderman”) were incomprehensible to me.
I’m not sure what edition of the game my aunt had, but it was handed down to me and has been hidden away for ages. But now, you can enjoy it too – just go to Hoxsie’s Peter Coddle page. Every time you refresh the page, the blanks will be refilled randomly. (Just a note: there were exactly as many word slips as there were blanks, but three of them have disappeared over the years; I made up three of my own, and I defy anyone who isn’t a Parker Brother to tell me which entries aren’t original.)
The game was also produced by other publishers, and there were many different editions through the years. Learn more at BoardGameGeek.
As I randomly and inexplicably segue from singing a Beatles song that I don’t particularly like to “Can Do” from Guys and Dolls, Hannah sez,
“You know, sometimes the songs that are in your head don’t have to come out of your mouth.”
Summer has just been a hot blur of one thing after another, and not enough of most of them. No camping, very little swimming, not enough paddling or cycling, but too much air conditioning. Probably more potato salad and cole slaw than was strictly necessary, precisely the right amount of homemade mint iced tea and lemonade, and a belated batch of gazpacho that bears repeating. A decent amount of outdoor music (all classical this summer) and dance, a musical thrown in there, a couple of rounds of fireworks. Not enough time gazing contentedly at the stars, but generally less late-night rowdiness from the neighbors. No trips to the drive-in theater, but several to Jumpin’ Jack’s drive-in restaurant. Mix in with it the usual summer run of birthdays, work, doctor’s appointments, dance camps, etc., and it becomes hard to believe all that happened in the last eight weeks, when it felt like we were just inside the house hiding from the sun. Now, it’s nearly over. Elder daughter has already started class, and regular high school starts for both of them next week. Overnight, I’ll switch from having to avoid the noon sun for my rides to having to seek it out; already the evening light is too long and shadowy to be safe riding back home into the setting sun. Soon, my fiftieth summer will be over. It was pretty good.
Because some people in this house are too consumed with the Tour de France each night to be bothered with common housework, there is precisely one clean cereal bowl in the house this morning. It is handpainted and marked as “Mom’s Bowl,” but I am using it despite this possessive proclamation. There are, however, two clean spoons (and, if absolutely necessary, titanium sporks).
Image by carljohnson via Flickr
In the era Before Kids, I used to feel sorry for people whose lives were completely and utterly tied to the school calendar, whose every day off or week’s vacation was set and dictated by the whims of a board of education somewhere. Not only was I right to feel sorry for them, I didn’t know the half of it. The relentless and highly productive Piling On Of The Homework has made it so that missing even a day of school is pretty much inadvisable (while doing nothing for the all-important test scores, the Piling On has taught kids early that their lives are not their own, a pretty important lesson!). And now May and June have been transformed from the most pleasant months of the upstate year into a forced march as we plod from one academic or dance-related event to the next. Our dietary focus is things that can be eaten cold, from a bag, while we employ a Big Board to ensure all our troops are where they need to be, when they need to be there.
This particular march started in earnest last week with a college visit, a National Honor Society induction, a NYSSMA evaluation, and a couple of SATs. This week, in addition to actually attending school, the girls have an orchestra concert, high school prep, an awards ceremony, a high honors dinner. The dance world offers them dress rehearsal, emergency rehearsal (yes, there are dance emergencies), and recital. Mixed in with this, we’re moving my father-in-law and getting decades of collected junk ready for a Saturday garage sale. Next thing you know, it’ll be solstice and I’ll be wondering, once again, how I missed out on the loveliness of spring.
Elder daughter says, without enthusiasm, that she feels like the Energizer bunny. Not in a good way. All I can say is, it’s just a few more days.