My dad arrived in NY Sunday, and the girls have been going nuts over this rockstar. He brought them a mountain of toys, including a Sesame Street space explorer, an awesome wooden train set, a Lego mountain terrain and - can you believe it - an alien outpost.
Last night, Bee cornered her Grandpa after supper and those two spent about two solid hours putting together the outpost. (sorry for the blur)
Stormy learned young that life throws you curve balls - hurricanes, influenza epidemics, indoor plumbing. If you can't adapt, you'll get left behind.
Although she didn't believe in evolution (not until you show me the missing link!) she clearly understood that the ability to adapt to a new set of circumstances separates the quitters from the survivors, and those who just survive from those who thrive.
Over the course of her 95 years, Stormy had to adapt many times - to losing her mother when she was only 6, to a stepmother and new siblings, to electricity inside the house, to new schools, to life as a military wife, to life as a single mother of four, to living all alone, to helping care for her great-grandson, to life in another city, to life in a nursing home, to failing eyesight...
That's a lot of adapting. So how did Stormy do it so successfully? She had a vigorous two-step approach.
Step One: Don't talk about it.
Why dredge up bad feelings? What are you, selfish? Don't you know everyone's got problems? What makes you so special?
When I was little, I used to wonder why she told the same stories over and over and over. The aunt who won a drawing contest, the uncle who went to the national spelling bee, the day she walked to the sidewalk to pick up the paper and suddenly realized her middle-aged need for reading glasses had cured her nearsightedness.
"The hand is the hardest part of the human body to draw? No, Grandma, I didn't catch that the 42,000 times you've said it before."
When I got older and learned about all the much more interesting, tragic, scandalous and downright absurd family stories from other relatives, I realized Stormy had a vast catalog of stories. It was just that most of them were filed away in a drawer that read "Maybe this didn't happen."
Step Two: If you can't pretend it didn't happen, pretend it doesn't matter.
Remember how Aunt Leona had that baby before she got married, and she told her husband that it was her sister's child? And remember how, when he was just a little boy, Leona would keep him at home with her all day, until she heard Uncle Leo's car in the drive, and then Little Ajax would run out the back door, across the backyard, back to his mama/aunt's house? And remember that time, long after Ajax was a grown man and Leona was long dead, when Ajax was sitting in the living room on Christmas eve at Granddaddy's house, and someone said, "Uncle Leo's here!" And poor, old Ajax jumped up out of instinct and ran toward the back door?
Oh, that was funny.
So Stormy learned her methods from some sophisticated masters. And she passed on her lessons with equal mastery.
Witness the time when she left her cane sitting in an unexpected place, and her daughter (then in her 50s) tripped over it and fell with a hard thunk on the wood floor and laid there for several minutes.
Stormy lifted her hands over her head. "Oh no!" she exclaimed. "I've killed Janie Mae!" (short pause) "Oh, well. There's nothing I can do about it now."
I got a lot from my grandmother. My height and build. My hands look like hers might have looked if she had not worked in a kitchen for many, many years, but instead worked at a desk and bought herself Bath & Body Works anti-bacterial moisturizing lotion (Midnight Pomegranate). I also have her tendency to look at the world - and myself - as something in urgent and perpetual need of improvement.
But perhaps the greatest lesson my grandmother taught me was her keen talent for passive aggression.
I've decided to share those lessons with you, here, on Fridays. You don't have to thank me. No, really, I just type this stuff because I like the sound of my calloused, aching fingers pounding the keyboard. Don't mind me.
How to Get What You Want Without Ever Asking. Ever.
There are two ways to get what you want from other people.
The first way is to examine your own needs through a process of honest reflection, then identify the most logical person to ask for assistance. Then ask.
Yeah - simple and boring. Why take a short boring trip when you could take the scenic route?
When Stormy wanted a ride to the grocery store or church or Galveston, Texas, to visit her sister, do you think she just went up and asked someone?
You know she didn't.
If she wanted to go to the grocery store, she'd call and invite you to the Pizza Hut buffet for lunch (her treat!). When you were drowsy and weak from all that cheese pizza and iceberg lettuce laced with Thousand Island dressing, she would look out the window somewhat wistfully.
"I think I'm low on bread..."
Her voice would lift slightly at the end, more subtle than a question mark, more hopeful than a period. It would flutter there in front of you like a butterfly gliding on her breath.
"Would you like me to take you to the store?"
"Oh no. You have to get home."
"No I don't. I can take you to the store."
"I'll probably just get a taxi or take the bus."
"I can take you. It's on the way home."
"Maybe Miss Marguerite's granddaughter can take me the next time she comes to church with us."
"Or I could take you now."
"I'm just afraid I'm going to run out of things, is all. But maybe I can walk if I need to."
"It's five miles from your house. Why don't you let me take you now?"
"Or if it's just bread, I can walk up to the little corner store. The one where that drug dealer got shot."
"PLEASE WOMAN, LET ME TAKE YOU TO THE GODDAM A&P!"
"Only if it will make you happy."
Note the way Stormy managed not only to get what she wanted without asking, but she actually got the other person to beg for permission to do the favor. That's brilliance, my friends. It doesn't happen overnight, but with lots of practice, you can be there, too.
I had a dream last night that I was showing my grandmother where we keep our coffee cups in this kitchen. It wasn't a particularly remarkable dream, except for the fact that my grandmother died a little over a week ago, and I have an admittedly questionable hunch that my dead relatives visit me when I'm sleeping. Or that they let me know when I'm sleeping that they visit me. Something like that.
After Mom died, I had many, many dramatic and excruciating dreams about her. I dreamed that she hadn't really died, but that I had spent all her retirement money. I dreamed that she had come back to see my kids. I dreamed that she didn't know she was dead, and that I was going to have to tell her.
With my grandmother, who was 95, I had a very ordinary, undramatic dream that she was emptying my dishwasher and asked where the coffee cups belong. I pointed to the cabinet above the dishwasher - "Up there." That was that. No drama. No hand-wringing. No choking sobs. Just putting away the dishes.
We have finally made concrete moves to get rid of the 1989 surfer wallpaper in the master bedroom. Mister Dave has been coming every day with his steamer and his putty knife, and the house's most offensive wallpaper will soon be history.
So long, rad dude.
Now we just have to decide what color we should paint the walls in the dining and TV rooms, master bedroom and girls' room.
OK, we have to make three decisions. I already know the answer to the last question is pink.
I may have to turn to my favorite time suck, Polyvore.
If you're still out there, Internet strangers, send me photos of your favorite rooms.
School's not out for summer
I'm in the middle of a writing class that has been plagued with technical difficulties, including my complete inability to either write or even read poetry. Line breaks? Huh?
There was a time when I couldn't hear jazz music. I mean, the sounds struck my ears, but every last one of them sounded like the soundtrack to an early '70s Sesame Street clip about tying shoes or sharing the equipment at the city park or walking to school with friends. It took years before I could really hear the heroine in Chet Baker's horn.
This class has taught me that, although I enjoy poetry and have an instinctive feel for it, I don't really hear it or understand how it works. This weekend, I leave for a 5-day institute on student-led teaching - also for school. The institute will be conducted according to Open Space Technology, which sounds exciting and frightening.
And it will get me in the wilds of Vermont for five days. I can taste the granola now, and I am loving it.
We love this movie
Bee has fallen in love with Enchanted, and I am totally cool with it. The princess is funny, and at the end she saves the life of that guy from "Can't Buy Me Love."