Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Taco Tuesdays

We celebrate Taco Tuesday
under the picnic shelter
beside the football field.

Around us,
rain slices through the gray day.
Drops ping on the pavilion roof.

In the distance,
seventh graders slosh across the sidewalk...
trudging, skipping, stomping toward electives.

We unwrap foil-covered tortillas
filled with spicy chicken,
thick with cheese.

We lift our plastic water bottles...
a toast to Tuesdays
and rain-soaked leaves.

We make a second toast
to our newly retired math teacher
who looks ten years younger...

and who misses us enough
to bring us tacos
even on a rainy day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Corduroy Season

The weather is lovely; and though I don't want to rush across this bridge from summer to autumn, I can hardly wait for corduroy season. In a few weeks, it will be chilly enough for me to slip into my favorite cords. I have several pairs.
Last season, I went to the mall to buy a new pair. Some of mine were ragged around the hem and worn thin in spots. I was pleasantly surprised to find several stores with various styles and colors on display. As I sorted through the stacks of pants, looking for my size, the teen-aged sales girl said, "Corduroys are coming back in style again."
"That's wonderful!" I exclaimed. My cheeks were doubly pink, equal parts enthusiasm and embarrassment. I never realized they went out of style.
I have loved corduroy for as long as I can remember. My great grandmother stitched a corduroy crazy quilt, pieced lovingly from fragments of overalls and jackets and winter jumpers...all worn by her 12 children and some grandkids, too, I'm sure. Though she made the blanket long before I was born, I spent many nights curled under it on Granny's couch. Its weight meant good dreams, a warm sleep on a cold night, wrapped up in memories.
When I was 12, I convinced my mother to buy me a full-length, burgundy corduroy skirt. I wore it to our family's typically informal Thanksgiving dinner. I loved it.
It was so long, it dragged the ground.
Papaw said, "Why are you all dressed up, girl? Are you going somewhere after?"
"No, Papaw," I explained. "It's brand new. It was in the window at Watson's. It's corduroy."
"I hope you're comfortable in that get-up," Papaw said doubtfully.
I was. The brand new skirt was stiff, and I had to pick off a few dried leaves that had stuck to the hem on my way in; but I still felt pretty, in an old-fashioned way.
And now Fall is here, and the night breeze whispers promises of bonfires and sweaters and pumpkins...and corduroy. How could the fabric of hard work and family and teddy bears and crazy quilts ever go out of style?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015


"Boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada, boom," I sang, plunking out the familiar chords.
Randy sat beside me.
He sang in falsetto, batting his eyelashes, "I love the mountains. I love the rolling hills. I love the flowers. I love the daffodils. I love the fireside...when all the lights are low."
Randy played the melody on the higher notes.
"Boom de yada, boom de yada, boom de yada, boom," I made my voice an octave lower.
We played and sang in rounds for a few more minutes.
The side of his left hand nudged the side of my right hand. He bumped his left hip into my right hip on the polished piano bench. We laughed.
It was fun...singing with Randy, goofing around at the piano (vivace-lively). Randy was my across-the-street-neighbor, sometimes babysitter. Conscientious and kind, he carried the world on his shoulders; so when I was with him, I never had to worry. I just had to play the notes; and Randy could carry the tune.
* * *
It was Christmas Eve. Aunt Betty stood by the end of the piano, her hand curled around a cup of coffee.
"Let's all sing some carols," she suggested. "LoLo can play for us!"
I sat at the piano, the raggedy hymnbook opened to "Joy to the World."
It had a few too many sharps. I hated sharps; but I knew nobody would mind if I stumbled over some notes. Aunt Betty led the carols. I played along, holding some notes a little too long. Aunt Betty slowed down to accommodate.
We all sang too loud (fortissimo-very loud). We were all off key. Our timing was bad; but it was Christmas, and I was the only one who knew how to read the music. I played; and we sang our way haltingly through "Silent Night," and "Hark the Herald Angels," and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."
I just had to play, and everyone sang, and it was Christmas Eve; and even though I was concentrating on the notes on the page and the position of my fingers, I was smiling.
* * *
I was not a musical kid. Eight years of piano lessons, eight years of struggling through John Schaum's relentless collections of music, and still, despite my progression from book to book, my timing was not very good. I spent six years with Mrs. Lindon, who looked at me with disdain, her metronome ticking accusingly from the top of her Baldwin, when she thought I had not practiced. For two years, I worked with Terry, a younger, friendlier piano instructor, who tried to teach me to play chords and let me order some current sheet music. I still struggled. I was a dedicated student; but I couldn't "hear" what I was doing wrong.
Recitals were agonizing. I practiced for hours, red blotches blooming over my chest and up my neck as I imagined the silence of the dark auditorium...the only light shining on me...the unfamiliar piano, the flimsy sheet music that could drift off the piano with the slightest puff of air...leaving me wondering what note to play next. For years, I dreaded recitals with the angst I usually reserved for trips to the dentist. Twice a year, once in fall and once in spring, my piano teacher selected a song that I would play for the recital. I labored over the notes when I would much rather have been reading a novel instead of reading sheet music. I practiced until my fingers were sore.
The recital date loomed ahead, as ominous as a dark cloud. On the day of the recital, I was frantic. My heart was a metronome on the fastest tempo setting (prestissimo-quickly). The beat was fast and loud in my ears; but the day dragged (grave-slowly). My dress was too stiff, the venue too quiet. Someone coughed when I sat down at the bench. My skirt was stiff and uncomfortable. The bottom of my patent leather dress shoe felt slick against the pedals. I went through the motions, cringing when my foot slipped awkwardly, flinching when my tangled fingers thumped out a sour note.
"You did great!" my mother exclaimed from her spot offstage, just behind the velvet curtain. Her own cheeks were flushed. "It's over now. You can relax."
But I couldn't. I couldn't relax because another recital would be in the works almost as soon as this one had ended...and then another...and another.
After eight years and 16 recitals, we sold the piano. I missed "Boom De Yada" and "Joy to the World;" but I relished the huge relief I felt when the moving men rolled the piano out the door.
* * *
My parents live and work on a summer camp now. Sometimes when I visit, I slip away from their house and play the old piano that sets in the camp dining hall. I plunk out "Boom De Yada" and sing both parts. I open the hymnbook to "Sweet Hour of Prayer." I sing and play badly until nostalgic tears roll down my face and drip off my chin. I remember the moments when I loved the piano and dreamed of playing with abandon. I play the old, out-of-tune piano alone. The acoustics are bad in the low-ceilinged dining hall. An overhead fluorescent light blinks, just a little off beat. I wear jeans and a sweater, my tennis shoe pressing the pedals confidently...no pressure, just playing (allegretto - a little bit joyful).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


I was stuck.
The entire long weekend had been a struggle, capped off by a laborious Labor Day. The first part of the weekend was monopolized by an out-of-town soccer tournament. On the way home from the tournament, my housekeeper called and canceled; and I found out we would be having unexpected company. The house was a disaster, we were totally out of food, and I needed to buy a semi-formal dress for an upcoming charity event. I had set aside the whole day Monday as a shopping day. The best laid plans...I fell into bed after midnight Sunday night, fretting over my lengthy to do list. Labor Day dawned.
After making a quick trip to the grocery, fixing a big breakfast for the boys after morning soccer practice, cleaning the kitchen, throwing dinner in the crockpot, taking my older son shopping for a new necktie, and walking the dog, I peeled my greasy hair back in a ponytail, instructed my husband to pick up his mom at the airport in an hour, and I raced to Macy's.
I tried on at least 40 dresses.
I was stuck.
Nothing looked right. Everything was too tight or too saggy, too revealing or too matronly. I was beginning to feel panicked.
On dress 41, I noticed that the zipper on the back was only about 12 inches long. I checked out the seams on both sides of the dress, looking for a hidden zipper. There was no hidden zipper. The dress was my size, theoretically; but it certainly looked awfully narrow. It was a black sheath dress. It was already slim; so I reasoned that it should be slimming.
I forced it over my head. I tugged it past my chest and stomach and hips, stopping every inch to tug on the silky liner of the dress. It felt bunched up somehow. I sucked in. The determination I'd felt all weekend kicked into high gear. I was going to get this dress on or die trying. I tugged and smoothed and tugged and smoothed, finally stretching up onto my tip toes and patting out the last stubborn wrinkle. I turned to face the mirror. I was sheathed, alright. I was encased. Every bite I had eaten for the past several days was clearly visible. I had to get that dress off.
I tugged it back up over my hips and then to the middle of my chest. The fabric was bunched in my fists. My arms were crossed at the elbows, with my right hand grabbing the left side of the dress and my left hand grabbing the right. I needed to pull this thing off with force. I tugged until my neck was red with nervous effort. I could not get the dress off. It was stuck in a lumpy bulge around my breasts. I tried again and again. I was breathing hard with the effort and keenly aware of the other shoppers in the stalls beside me. Would I have to call out for help?
My bra had been forced up and was trapped inside the bunched up dress. I was standing in my underwear, shockingly exposed, a too-tight dress wrapped around my upper torso like a boa constrictor.
With some effort, I got the dress tugged back down over my body. I stood with my back to the mirror, biting my lip, weighing my options. I checked the time on my phone. My husband and mother-in-law would be back at the house by now, wondering what to do with the stuff in the crockpot.
I thought about calling my husband. It was a 20 minute drive from our house to the mall.
I saved that plan as a last resort.
I thought about putting my shoes on and walking out of the dressing room with the dress on. I could go to the checkout and act as if I loved the dress so much, I wanted to wear it home. I could ask them to scan the tags while the dress was on my body. I dismissed that idea as crazy.
I thought about ripping the dress, buying it, and then taking it to a tailor to repair the damage. The dress cost $79 on sale. What if the tailor still could not make the dress fit? My self-confidence could not handle a blow like that.
I labored over my choices, systematically rolling the dress up as far as it would go, then smoothing it back down again. I tugged as hard as I could, stopping short of ripping the seams. Tears had begun to pool in the corners of my eyes. I regretted ever eating anything.
I wriggled and squirmed. I watched my progress in the mirror and then turned away dramatically. I spun in circles. I unlatched and relatched the dressing room lock. I was traumatized.
I dug my fingers up under the ill-fitting bulge of the dress and groped around, trying to find the sticking point. Finally, after about 15 minutes of struggling, I found a loose hook on my bra trapped in a thread of the dress. I felt triumphant. With my hand turned at an awkward angle, I spent five more minutes freeing the thread. By now, my upper arms were sore and weak from the effort. I was winded; and my face and neck were mottled.
With one last, great yank, I jerked the awful dress over my head. Free at last, I thought about flinging the dress onto the floor; but instead, with trembling fingers, I put it carefully back on its hanger. Then I humbly exited the dressing room, the store, and the mall. I climbed in my car, gave a shuddering breath and headed home without a dress. I'd try later in the week, when the embarrassment had faded from bright red to pale pink.
It was a Labor Day to forget...with too much labor to enjoy the day.