Monday, June 25, 2012

My Summer Vacation

I dreamt of Italy, Greece, and England, but I never once thought the first stamp on my passport would be from China.

HoneyBunch’s oldest son has taught in Shijiazhuang for almost three years and he married a wonderful, young Chinese woman over one year ago. He brought her to the US last summer to meet our family, so HB booked just the two of us on a travel tour of China then extended our departure a few days so that we could travel inland on our own for a short family visit. 

On the tour, we visited Shanghai and sailed up the Yangtze. We flew to Xian and Beijing and walked on hallowed ground reserved only for holy monks and dragon emperors. In the old days, we would have been killed instantly for such sacrilege (and it wouldn’t have been pretty or quick).

We snapped flashbulbs into the eyes of thousands of unblinking Terra Cotta Soldiers. We climbed The Great Wall of China and looked out for miles and miles as it stretched out on either side of us.  We visited museums with priceless treasures, went through the five gigantic locks at the Three Gorges Dam, and ate all kinds of delicacies with our chopsticks.

When the tour ended, we said goodbye to our fellow travelers, and HB and I trekked off on our own, armed only with a couple of phrases written in Chinese (in case we needed help) and dependent on the kindness of others. The further we ventured off the tourist path, the less English we encountered around us.  We would point to our written phrases and folks would point us in the right direction. 

Once we met up with our son’s family, we were safe once again.  They turned out no different than our family and friends here at home.  We instantly liked each other despite the language barrier. Our children acted as our translators.  The men talked of manly things; the women asked me about makeup and jewelry.  They hinted at taking me shopping, but my luggage was already at its weight limit. The time with them went too fast.

Now at home, I put away my passport and I wonder how to fit all my memories into one, tiny stamp. Pictures and words cannot describe it all. Everything was overwhelming - six thousand years of China’s past compounded by the astounding economic future ahead for them.  Even the landmarks heralding all of this are immense.  

And what about all the wonderful and amazing people we met? Folks we may never see again, face to face.  We could not have asked for kinder fellow travelers or a nicer family of in-laws to call our own. For one tiny, moment in time the world seemed a kinder, friendlier place, one in which we all truly liked each other.  

Monday, June 18, 2012


The moment the last school bell rang, it announced the start of summer. Goodbye school books and school uniforms, hello freedom.

Up until the ninth grade, I wore Catholic school uniforms intended to discourage sin, so summer meant no more confining, white blouses with Peter Pan collars, no more heavy gabardine skirts that hung below our knees, and no more clumsy saddle oxfords. It was time to go native – sleeveless tees, short shorts, and bare feet. 

Our sissy feet would toughen up after months of confinement. The white marks the Bobby sox left on our ankles from lack of sun would soon brown up like the rest of us. We bombed all over the neighborhood.   

Since we went to bed as late as the grownups, Grandma let us sleep in until nine every morning. We were pretty much on our own most of the day as long as we did our chores and showed up for meals. 

Summer days were a time for play, exercise, and discovery, but the evenings were the best.  The day would cool down and all the parents came home from work. They brought out lawn chairs and watched us romp until the mosquitoes got too thick. 

The neighbor kids and my brother, sis, and I played a succession of games and made up others – Mother May I, Red Light/Green Light, Freeze Tag, Hide and Go Seek. . . . We formed teams and played Front Yard Baseball like pros. Our Sycamore tree was first base, the Ligustrum across the street was second, the Mountain Juniper next door was third, and Mom’s mean, old rosebush was home.

We zigzagged around, chasing dragon flies and fireflies.  We hooted and darted catching grumpy bumble bees.  We dug up worms and ant lions.  We had doodlebug races and confused the parades of ants. We were fearless until it was time to go inside, wash up, and go to bed, then we whined like the kids that we were. We didn’t have air conditioning so we slept with our windows open, the cicadas serenading us to sleep.

On Sunday our fat summer feet refused to squeeze into our patent leather church shoes. Our dress up clothes felt tight and scratchy on our tanned bodies.   We laughed at each other (behind Mama’s back) when our hair refused to obey her attempts to comb it into chic, little hairdos.  

We dreaded when Mom started loading up with new uniforms and school supplies.  It heralded the end of all that fun. Self-discovery and play is a lost art in a society full of electronics.  It should be as vital as formal schooling.    

Monday, June 11, 2012

Happy Father’s Day

The old, Catholic cemetery where family is buried is mostly Hispanic.  Whenever we would go to place flowers on graves, my father would make fun of all the seasonal decorations others would place on their loved ones’ plots.

If it was Christmas, there would be holiday decorations and twinkly lights; if it was Valentine’s, there would be heart-shaped Mylar balloons and cardboard Cupids shooting arrows.  Whatever the holiday, so was the tribute.

Dad made us promise we wouldn’t do this to him when he was gone.  He thought these were tacky and disrespectful.

Daddy died in January 2006 and we were so broken-hearted that we went back often to stand in silence by his grave site.  Mom made sure the headstone was set right, and afterwards we stayed away for months until Father’s Day approached.

No more ties, chocolates, or new shirts. This year we would all buy flowers as gifts.  As the day approached, we decided, one by one, to ease back into visiting his grave, and the first to go was appalled at what was there.  The ground had settled and it had sunk into an uneven hole.  Dad’s headstone was askew.  There was no grass, only weeds.

The alert was sounded.

Mom called the cemetery and made her complaint.  She demanded they fix his grave site immediately, then she supervised as they filled in his plot and straightened his headstone.  We showed up with carpet grass squares, garden tools, and water hoses.  We set to work.   

By Father’s Day, everything was as it should be – a fitting tribute to a good man. We all stood around his headstone in remembrance.  We placed our flowers, said our prayers, and (just for fun) we staked an oversized toy windmill in the center. It was big and red and tacky.   

Happy Father’s Day.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Seven Lives

In 2006 when HoneyBunch proposed marriage to me, I suggested we wait on making wedding plans until we met each other’s grown kids.  He argued that we didn’t need their permission, but I insisted and he relented.

He adores his sons, and I cannot breathe without mine, so if we were about to create a new family (one that liked and loved and got along with each other), we had to make sure we were all in agreement with our decision.

Seven lives were at stake.

He called his sons and asked them to come down for a visit.  One was in college nearby; the other worked in Dallas, but they came to meet me within the week.  That get-together went well. They were happy for their father and they liked me and I liked them.

Getting my kids to cooperate was another story.

All three knew I was dating HoneyBunch, but the marriage proposal came as a shocker.  They couldn’t believe that someone actually wanted to marry their Mama (and take her away from them).   

I lured them to a neutral location - a local restaurant where everyone would be forced to be on their best behavior.  

HoneyBunch brought flowers and presents and charmed my daughter, daughter-in-law, and grandson, but my two sons were not so easily bought.  They eyed him like a thug in a line up.

The girls giggled.  The grandson sat in his lap and looked up at him with big, blue eyes.  My sons waited for him to screw up.

He surprised them instead.

He talked to the boys about his love for me and how seriously he believed in marriage.  He asked for their blessing because I would not marry him otherwise. They melted like big, soft marshmallows and shook hands.

Seven separate lives were about to become one family.