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Get it while you can

This should be a short and scattered post, if all goes as planned. I just have a little time, lots to discuss and lots to do. So, since you always need to get it while you can, here goes:

Last night I finished John Cooke’s brilliant On the Road with Janis Joplin. I knew the ending – lived through it – but, though I was shocked and saddened when JJ died right after my 16th birthday, reading about it as an almost 60-year-old was much more disheartening. So young and so talented.

Yet in many ways, so predictable. Damn. Who knows what she might have achieved had she lived past that unlucky age?

But overall the book is joyous, so don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. (Next on my list is her sister’s book, Love, Janis by Laura Lee Joplin. The two are said to be bookends, one business life and one family – and, since I’m a Laura Lea, it seems like the right thing to do.)

Before jumping to the next topic, let me just add that the link above, if you choose to listen/watch, is to one of Janis Jopln’s appearances on The Dick Cavett Show, her second of three, I think. My son got me a great DVD boxed set years ago of Dick Cavett’s musical guests – a super treat to own, and Janis truly is a pearl in her appearances.

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So, the reason it took me as long as it did to finish OTRwJJ is because I’ve been requiring myself to spend some of my off time studying Italian in preparation for the trip with Mother in aprile. Or indulging myself – it’s pretty fun. And, by the way, that’s not a typo. Months and days of the week are not capitalized in Italiano.

So much to learn. But I think I’m on the right track. Signs are pointing that way. Bear with me and I’ll try to make sense.

My great Zio Giovanni Blaiotta, who married my great Zia Opal, moved to the U.S. (and ultimately to San Francisco) from Italia when he was 10 years old. We always talked about him teaching me Italiano, but since he died much too young of emphysema when I was 15 – and didn’t move to Arkansas until a few years before that – we didn’t get to it while we could.

That always made me sad. Aunt Opal, whose ring I wear every day and whose cedar chest sits at the foot of our bed, had gone to San Francisco from Russellville to make a more interesting life for herself (and after four unsuccessful marriages in a time when that was scandalous, I might add). They fell madly in love and lived just off Haight Street for years before retiring and moving to Russellville.

berlitz Anyway, long story short, last night I got out Aunt Opal’s 1950 copy of The Berlitz Self-Teacher Italian to add it to my instructional pile – I liked to look at it at Aunt Opal and Uncle Johnny’s house as an adolescent but haven’t pulled it out in all the years I’ve owned it.

The inside is stamped in red: “A. Cavalli & Co. (SINCE 1880) 1441 Stockton, St., San Francisco, Cal. GArfield1-4219.” (That’s old-school for a landline phone number, for you younger readers.)

Oh, my goodness. That’s still the phone number at Cavalli Cafe.! If only I’d known that when Mother and I went to San Francisco for her 75th birthday and looked up Aunt Opal and Uncle Johnny’s former apartment, the one where she spent a couple of summers.

You can bet your boots I’ll go there next time John and I are in that great city.

The city where he used to work before coming to Arkansas. And where many of Janis Joplin’s happy times took place.

And the next time John and I go to Italy, we’ll visit the Calabria area of very southern Italy, from whence my dear Uncle Johnny came. And to Sicily, where I’ve dreamed of going since I was young.

Oh, well, makes sense to me.

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Let me wrap this not-as-short-as-I’d-hoped piece up by saying how thrilled we all are that Silas is thriving and growing now that his food allergies have been isolated and eliminated. Out, out, damned milk and eggs. Peanuts, be gone.

You can call him little James Brown much of the time now.

Buono notte. Until next time …

Every little thing

Just a little thing (and very first-world, I know), but when you haven't had one for a decade, a toilet paper holder is pretty damned exciting.

Just a little thing (and very first-world, I know), but when you haven’t had one for a decade, a toilet paper holder is pretty damned exciting.

Seven years ago today, 17 days after he turned 54, our dear friend Tom died of pancreatic cancer. He was a good-looking guy, but his short horrible time of dying was about as ugly as they get.

But through most of it, except for times of extreme pain, he maintained his chipper disposition and continued to appreciate and be grateful for every little good thing that happened.

That was one of his favorite mottos, one John likes to quote with each baby step we take in home improvement – “As my good buddy, Tom, would say,” John says, “it’s the little things that matter.”

How I wish he were here to see how all the little things have added up. Tom would totally appreciate my excitement at having a toilet paper holder attached to the wall, after 10 1/2 years of not having one. He would totally dig our fancy new Toto toilet in the downstairs bathroom (already have one in the fancy upstairs bath).

New Toto, next to new wall next to new shower. Before photo below.

New Toto, next to new wall next to new shower. We hired out the structural and tile work, but painting, all us. Toilet installation, all John. (Go ahead and laugh – that just came out that way. You can’t talk about toilets without potty humor, evidently.)

The old white tub was sinking from wood rot before we got it ripped out – and you can see the old bathroom colors.

The old white tub was sinking from wood rot before we got it ripped out – and you can see the old bathroom colors.

And things would’ve added up a lot faster if he were still here. Tom was as perfectionistic as John and I are – and since he had his own key to our house and knew our vision, he could come and go as he pleased. Though he spent long spells just at our house, we were also his fallback position in between big gigs and got the friends and family rate for his excellent work.

Sometimes we’d come home and find something finished, changed.

Tom stored things in our house – with or without our knowledge. Fed our dogs if we weren’t home. Would yell, “Laura? You decent?” Or, “Honey, I’m home,” before coming to the back of the house where I was.

Tom was a master remodeler – specializing in historic homes – but he also remodeled his life. Once a hard-partying, highly successful hair dresser and salon owner, the Tom we knew and loved had thrown that kind of artistry aside for resurrecting old houses, another form of artistry, one that he loved.

Though it still needs lots of grout removed, you can get the gist of the new shower floor.

Though it still needs lots of grout removed, you can get the gist of the new shower floor. Sadly, we had a communication gap with the crew on the grout to rock ratio. Tom would’ve done it perfectly. And he’d really dig it.

He needed peace, he said, and less stress. His health had been suffering in the fast lane.

Cancer got him anyway. Self-employed before the Affordable Care Act, Tom was also uninsured – as the custodial parent of a teen in private school, private health insurance was not in his budget. When he finally went to the doctor, as an uninsured patient, the doctor merely treated his symptoms, instead of doing any tests – despite knowing Tom’s father had died of pancreatic cancer.

That was during the summer. I was worried sick about him and told John repeatedly that Tom had cancer – I’d seen it before, and the sicker he got, the more he bore an eerie resemblance to Daddy. When he rushed to the emergency room in severe pain on Thanksgiving, he was finally diagnosed and it was too late.

Tom and John made a pact that IF Tom encountered something on the other side, he’d do his damnedest to communicate – to give some kind of sign. If anyone had a big enough personality to do it, it was Tom.

We waited and listened. No sign that we could detect. Then one day more than a year after he was gone, we suddenly noticed a bag of peanuts in the shell, partially gone, in an area where he’d been working and often left his tools. We still wonder.

Late last week, as I was getting ready for work in the upstairs bathroom (the downstairs remodel is still in process), I heard a man’s cough in John’s office. I thought he’d come back home, but when I went to see, no one was there. Hmmm. Honey, you home?

Tom was already a sick man when my now old iMac was new and I showed him the photo booth feature (and snapped this pic). Now the old iMac is mainly for the grandkids to watch videos and play games – and for storing photos. Tonight, pout of the blue, it tried to die on me – got that scary multi-language "You need to restart message." Tommy, is that you?

Tom was already a sick man when my now old iMac was new and I showed him the photo booth feature (and snapped this pic). Now the old iMac is mainly for the grandkids to watch videos and play games – and for storing photos. Tonight, out of the blue, it tried to die on me – I got that scary multi-language “You need to restart” message after the screen went gray. It started right back up, fortunately.
Tommy, is that you?

All those years ago

The 42nd President of the United States announces that the Razorbacks have defeated LSU! Woo pig!

The 42nd President of the United States announces that the Razorbacks have defeated LSU! Woo pig!

Last Saturday found my young friend Wiggy and I among hundreds – thousands? I didn’t inherit Daddy’s estimator proclivity – in the fanciest tent you ever saw celebrating and feeling the joy of all those years ago when the Clinton Library opened.

That day in 2004 was unforgettable for the torrential rain, among other things.

But more than that, I was celebrating the Clinton presidency years and hope. And young people who care.

Missing the Arkansas/LSU game was a hard call. I knew in my heart and bones that the Hogs were going to win – I wanted to be part of the 10-year celebration but I was torn. The rest of my family went Razorbacks. But when I learned Wiggy (Elizabeth is her given name) was eager to attend, I knew we had to go.

I’d gotten tickets the first day they were available, after all.

What a good decision. We had a great time.

Kevin Spacey did his Bill Clinton impression a couple of times. He's one of my favorite actors.

Kevin Spacey did his Bill Clinton impression a couple of times. He’s one of my favorite actors.

People assumed we were mother and daughter. I’m 41+ years older than her – which, in my family could make me her grandmother.

My beautiful young friend. People around us thought we were mother and daughter. We didn't try to explain.

My beautiful young friend. The people behind us thought we were mother and daughter and said this was the “best picture ever.” We didn’t try to explain.

 

And we got to hear the king of Arkansas announce that the Razorbacks had decisively ended their longest SEC losing streak ever.

And see Hillary calling the Hogs along with the crowd while Bill bro-hugged Kevin Spacey (be still my heart) in celebration.

Hillary Clinton calls the Hogs with the crowd.

Hillary Clinton calls the Hogs with the crowd.

I also got to sit across the aisle from my dear old friend Gary Bunn, whom I taught with at NLRHS but haven’t seen, outside of Facebook, for years. What a treat that was!

So let me explain this relationship – Wiggy is Julia’s youngest daughter. She’s smart and witty and wry. A sponge for knowledge and culture. She even enjoys it when her mom, my sister and I nerd out for musicals – we’ve been introducing her to the greats one at at time on Sunday evenings. And we’re going to expand our list to include just basic need-to-see-to-intelligently-exist movies interspersed with musicals (The Usual Suspects and Twelve Monkeys are on that list).

We’ll also do Audrey Hepburn movies – and other classic greats.

So far we’ve watched The Sound of Music, Camelot, Oklahoma, South Pacific, My Fair Lady and The Music Man. This Sunday is Chicago – with Marie-Noelle, who arrives tonight for Thanksgiving. Hooray! And my Liz, who pops in from time to time.

Wiggy has enjoyed them all and we love having her young perspective. She gives us hope for the future.

Here’s to you, my huckleberry friend.

L&W

That’s a Breakfast at Tiffany’s reference, Wiggy. We’ll watch it before long.

 

 

Love her madly

Here's Barbie

After much searching, I finally found “Here’s Barbie” in a misplaced box of books this morning.

From the first time I saw her, which was probably on a commercial during The Mickey Mouse Club, which I watched every day when I was 3, (followed by American Bandstand, which I never missed), I knew I’d love her madly. Had to have her. I was an immediate convert.

Barbie, the teenage model, was my ideal – a sultry (but sweet) beauty who had it all: glamour, limitless possibilities and fabulous clothes. I begged, insisted, had to have her. Mother, who says she thought at the time that a baby doll would have been more appropriate, told me I could have her if I bought her with my own money.

Since Christmas of 1958 was my last as an only grandchild on Mother’s side, I just happened to have the $3 a Barbie cost, and buy her I did. Mother says considering Cathy was born January 27, 1959, and I got my Barbie within weeks of her birth, she’s sure I had my blonde beauty before April.

She’s also almost positive I had a No. 1 Barbie, the Holy Grail of collectors, the Barbie with the holes in her feet that held her up on a tiny stand – the only model made that way before the switch to the wire under-the-armpits stands.

The reason we have to speculate is that my first Barbie was wantonly, deliberately beheaded by a girl who was visiting across the street in late summer of 1961, just before I started first grade. For the early Barbies, heads weren’t readily removable. I don’t know what possessed that girl – or who she was; Mother and I tried and tried to figure that out today, but we can’t remember.

Good thing, or I’d name her here. I think she might have been visiting her grandmother, but whoever she was, she asked to hold my buxom beloved,  then – crack – snapped her head off. I could hear the sound and my heart broke with Barbie’s neck.

I burst into tears and ran crying across the street, my own blonde ponytail flying behind me. “Mooommmmyyyyy!!” We don’t remember if she took any other action, but Mother did take me to the store to buy me a replacement Barbie. Maybe it was too traumatic to go for another blonde, or maybe at almost 6 my preference had just changed, but I got the silky-haired brunette.

Betty Page-raven her hair is. And, though it had gone dull with age, today it’s shiny and sleek again – that’s because last night about 11:30, I shampooed and conditioned her hair.

Let me explain.

We’re launching a super-fab vintage Barbie exhibit at Esse Purse Museum the end of September, so I’ve had Barbie on the brain, between research, talking to Mattel, and sorting through my friend Marsha’s glorious collection of Barbie and friends. That made me decide to face the attic to dig out my Barbie, Midge, Ken, Skipper and my perky mod friend, Francie, Barbie’s younger cousin.

All my dolls had been passed on to Liz, who loved them as much as I did and played with them as much as with her own more modern (but less cool) Barbies.

Excuse Midge's immodesty, but this is their "before" picture. Barbie was actually naked in the box, but her bathing suit was there too.

Excuse Midge’s immodesty, but this is their “before” picture. Barbie was actually naked in the box, but her bathing suit was there too.

I immediately found Barbie, Ken, Midge and – surprise! – Tutti, whom I’d forgotten might still be around. She was an afterthought at the end of my Barbie years, but she was so stinking cute that I got one anyway, even though at about 11 I considered myself much too old for dolls. Lots of Liz’s dolls were there and the fabulous clothes my grandmother made for the girl dolls (and quite a few of Ken’s clothes, which were store-bought and dapper) but no Francie. No vintage Skipper (Liz’s later model is there).

One or more boxes of Barbie paraphernalia is missing. I have torn this house apart – all we can figure out is that years ago, when we had a storage unit broken into, the thief who took Ben’s most valuable baseball cards must have made off with Francie and all her Carnaby Street clothes. Along with Skipper and some of Liz’s Barbie clothes and accessories.

I did find Ken’s case standing alone in the back of the attic. All the others are missing, but at least his survived.

Anyway, back to the late-night shampoo: Years in a dusty attic are not kind to toys in cardboard boxes. A red rubber band had melted into Barbie’s ponytail, and they all were musty and dusty. So what do you do?

You bathe, shampoo and condition. Or, in Midge’s case, bathe, Febreeze and brush like mad. Her curls make washing prohibitive. Barbie lost quite a bit of hair to the red goo, but some menopausal hair loss is normal, and she is 53.

Tutti's little dress had a definite beige tinge before a hand washing. Midge's purple velvet dress, which is lined and in perfect shape, was made by my grandmother over 50 years ago.

Tutti’s little dress had a definite beige tinge before a hand washing. Midge’s purple velvet dress, which is lined and in perfect shape, was made by my grandmother over 50 years ago.

Ken's lost some felt hair over the years, but Ben gave him a head start by adding a racing stripe to Ken's head via my treadmill wheel.

Ken’s lost some felt hair over the years, but Ben gave him a head start by adding a racing stripe via my treadmill wheel.

I had plenty of things I needed to do this weekend, but after spending hours grooming dolls and searching through the house – which was fruitless for missing dolls or accessories but turned up other surprising things – instead I hand washed Barbie clothes (and some Ken shirts), repaired a few things and Febreezed Ken’s suit and tuxedo jacket and vest. (His tuxedo pants, sadly, are missing.)

My hands are dry and pruny, but it was worth it. John was supportive (the shampoo and conditioner was his idea, in fact) and seemed to think seeing his 59-in-one-week-year-old wife playing with dolls was cute.

And I realize once again how masterful Mama, my super young grandmother was. Her sewing puts me – and most others – to shame. We couldn’t afford many store-bought Barbie clothes, but my Barbie and Midge were some of the best dressed in town.

The pink skirt, black skirt, yellow pajama top (missing pants, sigh) and white pants were made by Mattel. The rest were made by Mama, Verna Tackett.

The pink skirt, black skirt, yellow pajama top (missing pants, sigh) and white pants were made by Mattel. The rest were made by Mama, Verna Tackett. The white satin dress is a replica of Mother’s wedding dress, made with scraps from her dress (which my grandmother made, of course). The lace overcoat is with the other missing things, sadly.

 

The pink frayed-collar dress is all that remains of Francie and the little pink dress was the original Skipper's, when she was a little girl. The rest were made by my grandmother. They're way beyond fabulous.

The pink frayed-collar dress is all that remains of Francie and the little pink dress was the original Skipper’s, when she was a little girl. The rest, except the blue-and-white stripe, were made by my grandmother. They’re way beyond fabulous. Now I’m making some clothes for my 3-year-old granddaughters’ Barbies, but they are definitely bush-league in comparison.

One unexpected thing I found today in the mad hunt was this sweet picture of my grandmother and me, taken in 1998 when she came for Liz’s high school graduation. She was 82 and died three years later, perky and living at home until the end.

At one time, my grandmother and I were just about the same height – at 5'4", I was a smidgen taller. We shared green eyes and mutual admiration. She was a doll herself.

At one time, my grandmother and I were just about the same height – at 5’4″ I was a smidgen taller. We shared green eyes and mutual admiration. She was 39 years old when I was born and a doll herself.

 

Sister Suffragette

"So cast off the shackles of yesterday ..."

“So cast off the shackles of yesterday …”

Disney’s Mary Poppins had a lot to do with it, I suppose, but I don’t remember ever not knowing that women had to fight for the right to vote. I was 8 or 9 when our entire family went to see the movie at one of the glorious downtown theaters and 9 or 10 when I was playing “Sister Suffragette” (in my Mary Poppins‘ songbook for piano) and singing along. It really struck a chord with me.

I can still burst into SS and march/dance around the room for my grandkids (OK, just because I feel like it):

“… Political equality and equal rights with men,

take heart for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again!

No more the meek and mild subservients we –

We’re fighting for our rights militantly – never you fear! …

So, cast off the shackles of yesterday,

Shoulder to shoulder into the fray,

Our daughters’ daughters will adore us

and they’ll sing in grateful chorus,

‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!!'”

 

Only they don’t and they’re not, sadly. At least some of them. I’ve noticed over the past few years how young women blithely take women’s rights for granted. I was dismayed by some of my female students’ lack of knowledge or caring about women’s rights/women’s issues when I taught high school journalism at Central High from 2005-2010.

Just the other day a sweet young woman told me she had no idea women had to fight for the right to vote until she saw something about it on Facebook.

Don't take it for granted, girls. Women are still alive today who were born before we could vote.

Don’t take it for granted, girls. Women are still alive today who were born before we could vote.

All very disconcerting. But you girls/young women who’ve started the “anti-feminism/I’m not a feminist because …” movement need to wake up. Let me tell you a few things. Bear with an old lady of almost 59.

Though the assumption from my family and my guidance counselors was always that I’d go to college, I had perfectly bright girlfriends who were told – in 1972/73 – that their best bet was to find a good secretarial school. Or a good husband.

A slightly older friend, whose brothers were all assumed to go pre-med, was told by her father that she could go to college if she majored in teaching or nursing. That was actually quite common.

We couldn’t wear pants to school until I was in the ninth grade.

Girls who got pregnant in high school had to slip off out of state for an illegal abortion or drop out of school because pregnant girls weren’t allowed to attend. Their boyfriends could still play varsity football but the girls were denied an education.

Speaking of sports, if you were a girl at my school, other than cheerleading or drill team, we had volleyball and gymnastics. You can thank Title IX (and some feminists) for all the sports available to girls today.

stepfordI remember reading Ira Levin’s Stepford Wives and finding it chilling (read it in one sitting, which I repeated in my 30s – and it was still scary). After my boyfriend and I saw The Stepford Wives when I was 19, the good one with Katherine Ross and Paula Prentiss, he, whom I loved dearly, scoffed at me for calling it the scariest movie I’d ever seen. He said I was being silly. I said the movie was every man’s fantasy and that’s what made it so scary.

Then in 1986, when I was 30 and married with two kids, Margaret Atwood published The Handmaid’s Tale. I still  have my first-edition copy. During the Reagan years and with the climate change really entering my radar, that was the scariest book I’d ever read – still seems almost prophetic at times. I’ve loaned it/foisted it on several women over the years.

Maybe it’s too hot a subject, but at least for college lit students, THT should be required reading.

My battered 1986 copy of Margaret Atwood's masterpiece. Read it if you haven't.

My battered 1986 copy of Margaret Atwood’s masterpiece. Read this book if you haven’t.

What brought this up now is that one day last week as I was working out to The Today Show, a segment came on about the “I’m not a feminist because …” girls – with photos of young women holding signs telling why they’re against feminism (from their social media platforms, which I refuse to look up).

“I’m not a feminist because I like men”? Seriously? Most of us do. Most of us are married and many of us have sons. Most of our gay sisters like men, too. This is not the point.

“I’m not a feminist because I love my boyfriend.” What? Whatever.

“I’m not a feminist because I like it when a man holds a door open for me.” I like that, too. Unless his hands are full, in which case I’m more than happy to open the door for a man. Manners are nice.

“… I like for a man to open the car door for me.” Yes, that’s sweet. I feel very special and loved when my husband carefully tucks me into the car. But I do the same thing for my mother now that she’s old. Irrelevant, girls.

“I’m not a feminist because I want to stay home with my children.” Um, I did that for a while then went to work. And naively expected to be paid the same as men for the same jobs.

Today in Arkansas women doctors with more seniority than their male counterparts, at least at one hospital, make $14,000 per year less for having ovaries. How is that fair?

I’m old enough to remember the “women don’t need to make as much as men because they have husbands drawing a salary” argument. That never held water – in addition to being ridiculous, some women aren’t married. Some are widows. Some have unemployed husbands.

Sigh.

Anyway, “I’m not a feminist because I like to look pretty/wear makeup/shave my legs.”

Silent scream. Silent scream. Silent scream.

NONE OF THOSE THINGS have anything to do with being a feminist. You can be feminine and a feminist. Feminine feminists are all around.

Look up what it means, anti-feminist young ladies. Read a little women’s history. Read current events about the atrocities still happening to people all over the world because their genetic roll of the dice made them female.

Then decide if you’re still an anti-feminist. At least be informed.

Feminists come in all types. We’re everywhere. We’re not out to destroy all things girly.

You can even be a feminist and love Barbies. I got my first Barbie at 3 in 1959, the year she was born. I’ve loved her – and Midge and Francie – ever since. I’ve been making matching dresses for my two 3-year-old granddaughters’ Barbies from vintage fabric using my grandmother’s pattern from 1964 that she used to make clothes for her granddaughters’ Barbies.

That’s pretty traditional female behavior. But I’m doing it by choice, not because someone expects me to fill a certain role.

Feminists can love Barbies – and love to sew. We can be girly-girls or tomboys.

Feminists can love Barbies and love to sew. We can be girly-girls or tomboys. We come in all shapes and sizes and demeanors.

But I bought my granddaughters a copy of I Want to Be President before I bought them Barbies.

book

P.S. Just wanted to let you know I waited for days to see if I really had to write this post – I try to keep it life, lifestyle and light in The Lolly Diaries. But an old girl’s gotta do what an old girl’s gotta do.

Moonlight serenade

The July 12 super moon shot with our Nikon D70, normal lens, no tripod, at about 9:30.

The July 12 super moon shot with our Nikon D70, normal lens, no tripod, at about 9:30.

The first of the three-months-in-a-row super moons gave us quite a moonlight serenade the other night, the same night a PBS show we’d recorded gave me a big surprise earlier in the evening.

John and I had recorded “The Disappearance of Glenn Miller” on History Detectives recently and decided to watch it rather than rent a movie. Cathy and I grew up on Glenn Miller – Daddy was a trombonist and piano player and Glenn Miller was his idol.

Miller died over the English Channel on Dec. 15, 1944, a World War II casualty, when Daddy was 11 years old, but Miller’s music was Daddy’s favorite to play on the trombone, which he did in a dance band.

Daddy was also a huge WWII buff, so I was wistfully but calmly watching and thinking how much I wished he could see the episode – a fascinating story, even if you’re not a Glenn Miller Orchestra fan. (Miller was at the height of his fame and popularity – and drawing in some serious bucks for the day – when he enlisted in 1942.)

Calmly until I wasn’t.

The show cut to footage of a 1940s black telephone ringing on a desk, and, bam – “Pennsylvania 6-5000” started playing in my head (click on the link if you don’t know the song). And I was sobbing. Wailing. For an awful few seconds until I gained my composure.

My father died in 1982.

It gets better, but you never know when you’ll be waylaid by loss.

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Oldest granddaughter gave me a surprise at lunch time the other day. She and her brother were sitting side by side at our bar eating lunch and I was between and behind them. Somehow the conversation turned to babies, and  THE question.

“How do babies get inside mommies’ tummies?”

OK, 3 years old, need-to-know basis – and I’ve done this before. I told her mommies have eggs inside them and when it’s time for a baby to come along, the eggs start growing into babies, until they’re ready to be born.

Sorry, guys, I left you out of this abbreviated version. That satisfied her. Except for one more question: “How do the eggs get in there?” I told her the mommies grow them. “Oh.”

Then we talked about how all living things start as eggs then turn into egg babies, then they “get born.” I explained that chickens actually hatch, which they found quite interesting, then the conversation drifted.

Later that afternoon, though, when baby bro woke up from his nap, the elder put it all together.

“Lukey was an eggbaby, then he turned into a baby, then he got born, then he was Lukey!”

Pretty much.

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Speaking of grandkids, they’re one of the main reasons I was hellbent and determined to go to New York in September for the People’s Climate March. My cousin Karen and I bought our airline tickets this morning. We’re almost 10 years apart in age and separated by a couple of hours of driving but close in other ways – and both of us were so influenced by our loving, liberal-minded grandmother that it makes perfect sense for us to do this together.

For the kiddos. And for Mama.

Good old days

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44.

Mama, Verna Jewel Tackett, and Papa, William Doyle Tackett, with their first-born grandchild, fall of 1955. She was 39, he 44, upon my arrival.

With the spate of recent craziness in the world and U.S. – and my concerns for my grandchildren’s futures – I find my thoughts turning frequently to lessons learned from my grandparents in the good old days.

Though time and circumstances are very different a half-century later, I hope someday my grandkids will remember love and lessons from me.

Since we didn’t live in the same town, every summer from the time I was 2, I – and later Cathy and I – spent two weeks in Russellville with Mother’s parents, Mama and Papa. Daddy’s parents, Nana and Daddy Lou, also lived in Russellville until I was 9, so it was a bit of a twofer, but the Tacketts were the custodials, and the Cartwrights the day-visits.

Mother pretty unashamedly did the happy dance upon dropping us off, but she has told me it stung a bit that we were so happy to go. The last year I made the pilgrimage  was the summer after the eighth grade, 1969. By that point, friends, the pool – and mainly the lack of a rock ’n’ roll radio station – plus my many babysitting jobs made it a no-go.

I vividly remember reading Farenheit 451 for the first time that last summer in Russellville. I remember also meeting some young teen neighbors to hang out with, but, oddly, I thought, considering they were a small town crew, they were too wild for me, the sophisticated city girl. Working mom, brothers hanging from the rafters – I’ll just go back across the street and hang out with my creative grandmother and little sister, thank you very much.

I learned many lessons during the years I did go.

One was that I was a little ray of sunshine who would always be the center of someone’s universe, at least as long as my grandparents and great aunt and uncle were alive. John seems to take that position now, which would make Papa very, very happy. After he died, Mama told me Papa would’ve never thought any man worthy of me, but I think he’d approve.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family emigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa's older (by two years) sister. She called him "Cookie," and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on us. Just have to include them because they were so stinking cute.

Uncle Johnny Blaiotta, whose family immigrated from Italy to San Francisco when he was 10, and my Aunt Opal, Papa’s older (by two years) sister. Aunt Opal called Uncle Johnny “Cookie,” and they were childless lovebirds. They doted on Mother and Uncle Bill then doted on all their children. Just have to include this picture because they were so stinking cute when they came back to visit from California in 1957.

Having such crazy-young grandparents meant that we got to have them for a very long time – and that my children got to know them, love them and even go spend the weekend with them a time or two.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is -he loved a good time and a big laugh.

This has got to be their 70th and 75th birthdays, judging by the hats and the ages of Liz, Ben and Robert. Look how tickled Papa is – he loved a good time and a big laugh. April 15, 1916, and April 24, 1911, were their birthrates.

OK, I’m short on time, so let me focus:

From my grandfather I learned how to vegetable garden. I didn’t realize that I was learning at the time – I thought we were just hanging out. But later, after becoming a gardener myself, I realized just how much he’d taught me, and he was a ready reference for any question I might have.

I learned that a good sense of humor can take you a long way. And that a little mischief never hurt anything, especially if you don’t get caught. But if you do, if you’re crafty, you can finagle your way out of too much trouble.

Example from one of his favorite stories about when I was 2:

Papa: “Laura, am I going to have to spank you?”

Laura: “Now, Papa, you wouldn’t spank your sweet little granddaughter, would you?”

Turns out, no, he wouldn’t. He laughed hard instead. 

But he would give Cathy a quick firm swat on the rear when she stood up in the fishing boat on Lake Dardenelle after being repeatedly cautioned against standing in the boat.

Turns out our grandfather who could do anything couldn’t do one critical thing, and that was swim. Cathy nearly gave him the heart attack he had in his front  yard years later – one from which he did recover and live another decade.

I don’t even know if we were wearing lifejackets. It was the early ’60s and times were lax. Oh, yeah, he taught us to fish.

Papa took us to see Von Ryan’s Express at the drive-in movie, something we thought was ubercool. He taught us that even though you hung the moon and stars, you still go play in the yard and get out of the adults’ hair. You do get homemade chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but you don’t sass or interrupt adults.

He taught me that sitting on a limb of the mulberry tree in my great-grandmother’s backyard next to the train track – that I wasn’t allowed to climb – to wave at him as he passed by driving the train was our little secret and didn’t hurt anybody, as long as I didn’t fall.

Never fell. I did sport lots of blue lips, though. And denied to high heaven having eaten unwashed mulberries.

The berry doesn’t fall very far from the grandfather, from stories I’ve heard about him.

We had him until he was 80. Wasn’t long enough.

From my grandmother I learned to sew. I learned to cook. I learned that I could do anything, make anything, be anything, if I just studied it enough to figure it out.

She had no education beyond high school but was very smart, creative and talented. She exuded love and taught us that, ultimately, it is indeed all you need to have a successful life.

She had an innate wisdom and an old soul. She was zen and Papa was zest. They were a perfect balance.

Mama used to counsel me on being married to a slightly older man and told me that in some time spans the difference wouldn’t be noticeable but at other times, it would and you just had to have patience.

Oh, yeah, my grandmother taught me about patience. And acceptance. And second chances. And hope.

She used to pull Cathy and me aside when we were pulling our hair out over our wild little sons and tell us, “Your mother means well, but she doesn’t understand – she never raised a boy.”

She taught me that politics count and voting is a duty, no matter how small the election. She and Papa worked the polls every election that came around after he retired.  She respected the president, whoever occupied the office, but she she was a proud, self-proclaimed yellow-dog Democrat who believed people needed to take care of each other.

Though we were sick to lose her, we were all glad she was spared living through Sept. 11 and the invasion of Iraq. Her heart full of love would’ve shattered over those events.

She died at 85 in the summer of 2001. Still lived at home. Never drove a car. Never raised her voice.

She never needed to – we could hear her loud and clear. Still can.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville.

This is one of my favorite pictures in the world. Liz and Papa hanging out in the kitchen on South Laredo in Russellville. They’d been playing some kind of wooden game that Liz is holding, I think.