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Dad’s Lesson or Dad’s Gift?

Wtad.com/whitepages/102017

 Bobbe White

 Dad/Irvie turned 93 Sunday. It was a simple occasion. His food is pureed now, which sort of blows the whole cake ‘n candle thing out of the water. Alzheimer’s. Grrrr. Cake, candles, gifts and photos are just window dressing we can do without anyway. His needs are small. Our quest for dignity is large. We get that in huge doses, at the Illinois Veterans’ Home. They love Dad/Irvie, awake or asleep. And that is enough for me. 

“Hi Dad!” is how it began. “Hi Babe!” he replied. “YES… this is good!” I thought. “He knows me today.” Rationally, and my sister, Cathy, reminded me, “He calls everybody Babe!” I know. He always has. He would walk in the bank and address his favorite employees, “Babe” or “Doll”. It wasn’t creepy, nor was it a slur. It was a term of endearment at many levels. The nurses say that when they get a “Babe or a Doll” from Dad in the morning, they know it’s going to be a good day. It’s more commonly called, his, “Once a week awake day.” Hence, he’s become known as “Once-a-Week-Irv.” It fits his former sense of wry humor very well.

I told him it was his birthday. He looked puzzled at the mention of 93. But the fact that he was awake to hear it at all was something. He sleeps a lot now, but he didn’t sleep through his birthday breakfast. And that was enough for me.

 Cathy visited later. He was awake for then too. We considered this a good day. We tacked a couple of birthday cards on his wall. I’m not sure why, but in lieu of all the other birthday bells and whistles, it seemed like a festive thing to do, even though he can’t see that far, nor read anymore. Okay, it made little sense, but it’s hard not to mark the day with a little fanfare.  

Cathy and I shared our visit experience and the agony of the Alzheimer’s process, not to mention the longevity. It’s not that I want him to go, but what is the purpose of his existence in this state? It’s confusing, heart wrenching and overwhelming. Then I pulled out of my you-know-what, this idea. I texted her. “I think that Dad’s final gift (or lesson?) to me to have patience with his situation. Everything runs its course for a reason, even if it’s not what we like or understand. Maybe his gift to you is to be stronger.”

 She texted back, “Good thought…I’ll hold on to that.” So, look who’s giving the gifts on his birthday. And that’s enough for me.

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BUT SHE THINKS I’M A BOY!

 

Bobbe White for wtad.com/whitepages/8.01.17/

school daze
To a teacher, the month of August is like a month of Sunday nights. Suzy Duker

 

Goodbye July. Hello School. If there’s ever a memory trigger, going back to school is a powerful one. My vivid memory is first day of kindergarten at Madison School.  My outfit has quick recall. Imagine a red and white checked tablecloth. Picture it in gold and white, made into a dress. Over top of the dress was a tent, with ties on either side. In fashion terms, it’s called a pinafore apron. Think, “Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie Style.” My bangs had been severely cut to five inches above my eyes. Before bed, Mom snapped on pink curlers on every side. This meant I slept on my face, because curlers and pillows never co-exist.  Bobby socks and saddle shoes completed the ensemble. Go ahead; say it, “Precious.”

Hand-in-hand, Mom trotted me up the school steps, then down the stairs. Something wasn’t right. The kindergarten I knew was upstairs. It was the morning class; the downstairs classroom was afternoon class. We were a morning type of family. This would never work. We scanned the class list outside the room. If a kindergartener can recognize two words, it’s his or her name. There it was:  “Robert Schecter.” Mom said, “Let’s go in.” I burst into a sob, “BUT SHE THINKS I’M A BOY!” I wouldn’t go. There’s a reason my nick-name through high school was “Stump.” Even for a five-year-old, I had strong legs. I locked my quads and poured weight into my heels. They held fast.  Mom couldn’t drag this bull-dog across the threshold. I resembled a Vietnam War protest sign, “HELL NO, I WON’T GO!” The teacher coaxed me, but saw the resistance through my tears. Mom finally said, “I’m afraid there’s been an irreparable mistake. Morning session was much more workable with our schedule.” “(AND YOU THINK I’M A BOY, YOU WITCH!)” I wanted to add. Mom explained the problem to Mr. McKinley. Everyone in the principal’s office stared at me, like I was a monster. I must’ve had a look of defiance, “Nobody puts Bobbe in the corner.” It worked out that I could be switched to Miss Kuhlo’s morning class. I knew she’d know I was a girl. And I schooled happily ever after.

Don’t think for a minute that this was the last time I was called a boy. In every college class roll call, the instructor scanned the room for a guy. I became used to it; even amused by it.  Tears bubbled up no longer, nor did I ever switch classes for mistaken gender. Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you are until you are heard. Perhaps in all of that confusion was a great lesson, because I’ve done this my entire life. Who knew my first school lesson would be the most impressionable?

In Memory: He Took My Can’t Away

written for WTAD.COM/WHITE PAGES – 7/14/17

Bobbe White

Another piece was written yesterday, but I got busy and forgot to send the accompanying photo. I finally remembered, but it was after we’d gotten the call, Jeff’s dad had died. It didn’t seem fitting to post my typical, “Silly day or thought in the life of Bobbe” post. Instead, it’s preempted by a tribute to my father-in-law, Jim White.

It’s kind of unusual when the parents of the guy you start dating are already friends with your own parents. Our dads golfed together on men’s day; our moms teed it up together on Ladies’ day. They ate dinners together and occasionally traveled together. A few times the guys even fished together. For about twenty years, our parents were even neighbors. Our kids grew up assuming everyone’s grandparents were buds as they ran back and forth between homes. It was great skipping one of those horribly awkward “Meet the Fockers” events.

I had the privilege of working for Jim at State Street Bank for nearly twenty years, until he retired. Believe me when I say, “He played fair, but he never played favorites.” His decisions weren’t always popular, but they were respected. I haven’t met many people who didn’t like him, but I’ll bet they respected him. He didn’t manage. He coached. He rarely complimented the individual performance. He always recognized a good team effort. Rest never lasted very long; he’d raise the bar a notch for the next project.

The best lesson from Jim was a tough one at first. As we brainstormed ideas for State Street Bank’s 100th anniversary (1990), he kept suggesting an antique car show on. That was about the dumbest idea I’d heard yet. Me plan a car show? So it was set. We were sponsoring an antique car show, the centerpiece of our anniversary events. My anxiety kicked into gear. I felt paralyzed with fear of how to execute. I remember telling my co-worker and sister-in-law, Laurie, that I just can’t do this anniversary thing. Too much pressure. “Tell him you can’t do it.”

In my head, I knew it was unacceptable to not try. Jim grew up understanding you can do anything if you’re willing to work hard to learn. What I learned about antique cars and their events was throttling. (Oh, good pun!) Who knew car spaces were wider than our lot’s painted stripes? No door dings at our event! Who knew there was a difference between antiques and repurposed? Who knew this was a strong, thriving culture, drawing car enthusiasts from miles away? I learned that when you can’t do something, you get an expert’s help. You learn from them. It came off without a hitch (Ha-ha – another good pun, no?) I was one proud cookie, as the “Best of Show” trophy was awarded. Jim was right. The event was a gas. (A gas!! Queue: knee slap) People loved it. I loved it.

On the family front, Jim taught Jeff many life skills. This is mainly because if you got in trouble at home, your punishment was working with Dad. It usually involved early risings and long days. Suffice it to say that of all the six kids, Jeff is the one who learned woodworking, automotive, electrical, farming and metal polishing the best. Metal polishing? Yep, one time, punishment put Jeff inside the safe deposit vault, polishing hundreds of little doors made with brass hardware. I chuckle every time I escort a customer in or out with their safe box.

Whenever I entered the White house, Jim would greet you, “And what did you accomplish today Bobbe?” I would try to recite every task and he would answer, “Okay.” My accomplishments never seemed adequate. He always said, “Okay.” I began to wonder if I told him that I’d cleaned the Taj Mahal, swam the English Channel and climbed Mt. Everest, his answer would still be, “Okay.” It angered me because I always felt like I’d disappointed him. His son, Jeff, had married a star slacker. One day, I walked in behind my brother-in-law. Jim asked Kent, “What did you accomplish today?” Kent said, “Not a damn thing, Jim.” He answered, “Okay.” What? Okay? Hmmmm…”Okay” is simply his answer. His reply. His conversation starter. He wasn’t measuring. I felt like a dummy.

Until that day, when it wasn’t obvious to me that Jim was simply responding with a word, not a judgment. Oddly enough, that question remains in my head, to make sure I accomplish something every day. And even when you don’t accomplish anything, it can still be okay. (But probably not very often.) We’ll miss you Mr. White, Jim, Dad, Grandpa, and Great-grandpa. Thanks for teaching us we can, even when we can’t. Best lesson ever. Rest well. Hit ’em straight. Hook a monster. Take that bird. Give Keith a hug for us.  James E. White (5.5.28 – 7.13.17)

 

 

SPRING MUSINGS

Wtad.com/white pages/4.13.17
peeps                                                                                                                      by Bobbe White

Spring in the Midwest is a season of surprises and contradictions. Here are a few:

WEATHER                                                                                                                                              Like any season in the Midwest – we have about seventeen of them- everybody talks about the weather. My favorite comment, “I wish the weather would just make up its mind!” This is the Midwest. That’s what our weather does best: spring into summer, then spring back to winter. BoInG! BoInG! BoInG!

YARD                                                                                                                                                        I like mowing, because of the exercise. Plus, it’s great to see instant results from your efforts. However, thick, spring grass provides resistance. I pretend I’m a football player trying to push a sled and the coach is standing on it, for more resistance. Drive by our house every other day. I’ll be mowing after work; Jeff follows behind me to fertilize the yard. Okay, let me get this straight: I mow frequently. He fertilizes to make it grow more, so I’ll mow more frequently.  How does this make sense? But I don’t complain, because I like to mow.

MUSHROOMS: a Midwest phenomenon. Many people spend hours hunting for them. The environment must line up perfectly: moisture, temperature and timber. Add ticks, snakes and spiders. It’s the best. Preparation involves frying. We seldom fry food, but with mushrooms, we eat them faster than we can fry them. Those who don’t find them, buy them from other people who found them. How do you find a seller? Just listen to conversations on Monday mornings and the finders brag, “I found 13 pounds this weekend.” However, they’ll never reveal where they found them. I have “Mushrooms” in my phone contacts. I’ve paid up to$20.00/lb. I know. It’s crazy. But they’re crazy good! Sometimes, when we have them for dinner, we even add a main course.

EASTER MEMORIES                                                                                                                             As I write this post on Maundy Thursday, I remember when our daughter, Korey was the only Jewish student in St. Peter’s kindergarten. Mrs. Kuhl washed feet, while Mrs. Wavering distributed grape juice and crackers. Korey said, “THIS SURE LOOKS A LOT LIKE PASSOVER.”  Mrs. Wavering agreed, because, actually, The Last Supper was Passover. Some years, like 2017, Passover and Easter overlap, which I think makes total sense. Other years the holidays can be a month apart. Why? It’s complicated, due to different calendars.

Because we’re an ecumenical family, we also had Easter baskets for the kids. On Saturday night, I lined up Peeps from the kids’ bedrooms, down the hall, like little soldiers, to their baskets. Those little devils were hard as rocks by morning. We figured it was a better use for them than actually eating them. One year, after Nick had rifled through his basket, he seemed a wee bit disappointed. Apparently, the bunny had forgotten to include a new tooth brush. Bad bunny!

Never discount how deeply engrained our seasonal habits or traditions are. Whether it’s mowing, mushroom or egg hunts. Now, go continue –or make- your memories. No Peeps, please!