Lyrical Laughs

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Blizzard Effect

Raise your hand if you are completely and utterly disgusted with winter and want it just to be OVER.

A little higher, please. I can't see you behind the alps that have taken over your house.

When I was a teenager still living at home in Connecticut, a winter storm like no other hit the state with a vengeance. Growing up on a main street in a large city, there was normally a steady flow of traffic day and night. I used to fall asleep to the soothing smack of car tires leaning too close to the sewer grates across the street from my bedroom windows. But on that day in the winter of 1978, no cars dared to tread through the mountains of snow that had obliterated any indication of a lane separation.

The thing about being snowed in – which can mean basically shut in - is that everyone around you is in the same boat, and being creatures of habit, we can only stay inside for so long.  In 1978 my dad wasn’t able to open his business, school and many other events had been cancelled, and the governor declared a state of emergency. What else was there to do except bundle up and take a walk in the middle of a street that, any other time, would have certainly been treacherous to say the least?

That day we encountered strangers who became nameless friends for a moment. I remember thinking how odd it was to see my parents talking and joking with people they had never met. It was as if the mounting snow had cast a spell on everyone we met that day, compelling them to stop and share their stories.

Just like in that mass of white on our Connecticut street more than 35 years ago, I found myself wandering outside this past weekend in search of – of what? Certainly not any sign of spring. What I found was better than spring. Well, at least as good as spring. It was the sight of simple connections being made, neighbors clearing each other’s driveways and walkways, or simply chatting in the middle of a quiet, deserted street. There wasn’t much street anyway, just walls of giant drifts surrounding our homes, yards and mailboxes.

The echo of neighbors taking time to greet each other, even if it was to commiserate over having no place to put this stuff, was a reminder for me that we humans still need these connections. It’s not the worst thing to be forced to slow down and pay attention to something other than our cell phones or iPads.

Some folks are lucky to live in a neighborhood that just clicks. Their children are in and out of each other’s homes, often bringing the parents into the loop where friendships are formed and potlucks become the norm.  These folks don’t have to look for someone to talk to when winter stops by for a foot or two. They probably have a phone tree to alert each other about the neighborhood snowman building competition or chili cook-off.

There is a lot to distract us from having actual face-to-face conversations these days. Thanks to the electronics that many of us have become addicted to, it’s easier to send a text than make a call. It’s more efficient to dash off a quick email rather than send a personally written note. I worry about this so-called progress and what it is teaching our offspring.  Maybe that sounds dour for a humor column. I guess that’s why, as much as I (along with many of you) have cursed the volume of precipitation we’ve been bombarded with this winter, I also welcome the blizzard effect that stops us in our tracks and finds us reaching out, if only for a few brief moments.

It may not be a neighborhood potluck or even a sign of spring, but in the midst of winter’s blanket it is nice to see a sign that we really are looking out for each other.

In the meantime, I think I'll start some chili, just in case...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

You had me at "woof"

It has been a bit of a rough week, folks. Last weekend we had to say goodbye to Cubby, our Golden Retriever. His ailment, severe pancreatitis, came on quickly and swept through his body until there was no option other than to let him go. As pet owners and animal lovers, we know going in that a day like this is basically inevitable. It doesn’t stop us from making our pets a part of the family.

We had waited two years before we even thought about another dog after losing our first Golden Retriever, Colby (yes, it is confusing), to cancer. While the Spouse and First Born, who was away at college, were more apt to welcome another cold nose, for Second Born and me it was a tougher transition. Colby was The Dog – our baby, our true puppy love - and his death was a long-burning wound that prevented us from wanting to risk the pain again.

Then this one came along, this canine whose name was too close for comfort to Colby, this short-snouted 2-year-old Golden Retriever in the same shelter where his predecessor had claimed us. We weren’t even looking for a dog that September day. He was not supposed to change our minds. He most definitely was not going to change our hearts. Or so we thought.

Oh, but he did. Cubby wrapped our hearts around his furry paw and suckered us in. He didn’t replace Colby, he simply brought to us his own sunny pooch personality, and he made us embrace him wholeheartedly. Today’s column is a tribute to the light Cubby brought into our lives, as I share with you – The Top Ten Things a Golden Retriever Would Never Say.

1.     That platter of turkey is awfully close to the edge of the table. I’d better try and warn someone before it ends up on the floor.

2.     Why would I want to climb on the sofa when I can be so close to the floor on this bed you got for me?

3.     You want to go for a ride in the car again? But we just went yesterday!

4.     I really don’t need any more toys, but if you are going to insist on bringing them home, would you please stop getting the ones that squeak? I find them very annoying.

5.     Oops, the crate door isn’t latched. I’ll just stay right in here until someone gets home.

6.     I really wish people would stop rubbing my belly. Personal space, seriously.

7.     No, thanks, I don’t think I should have a treat right now. It might ruin my appetite just before dinner.

8.     Shhh, quiet! A flock of birds just landed in the yard and I don’t want to disturb them.

9.     Hey look, someone new just came in the house. I’ll just sit calmly off to the side and wait for them to come to me.

10. Can’t you just go for a walk by yourself?

We all know the truth about dogs, especially breeds with the personality of a Golden Retriever. Everything they do is their favorite thing. Cubby was a redheaded charmer, trash sniffer, flirt and clown. Our handsome, crotch-sniffing, curly-haired boy gave his all to his family. We will miss that spark for quite a while. I am just getting around to removing the strongest reminders of his presence. Today we are taking food and other items to the animal shelter... but we won't be walking through the kennel area.

If he could be here right now, surrounded by his many mangled squeaky toys, I would tell him that I wish I had walked him more often, given him more treats and even let him up on the sofa, at least a few times.  But in his adorable, slobbery way, Cubby’s sweet nature let us know every day not to put emphasis on what we didn’t do. His response to any regrets would have been simply this.

You gave me my forever home. And that was my favorite thing.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ready to be unprepared

My friend Tammy and I spent last Sunday doing anything but waiting for the Super Bowl to start. Oh, stop shaking your head - I watched it, I just didn't watch the four hours of pre-game junk. We ran errands, stopped for lunch and shopped. A funny thing happened in between stops that shouldn’t have surprised us, because Tammy and I both admit to having been there, done that.

As we both got into the car following a stop at a favorite department store, I glanced over at the mini-van next to us. Inside a woman sat in the driver’s seat with her body twisted toward the passenger seat as she carefully placed colorful tissue paper into a gift bag before slipping something inside. I have no idea of the gift or the occasion, but clearly her trip into the same store we had just been browsing in was a search-and-seizure procedure, and not at all a pleasurable shopping trip. Tammy and I nodded to each other in understanding.

Who can relate? In this world of constantly over-extending ourselves, who can't? We've accepted the invitation, plugged it into our calendar - and promptly forgotten about it until the day of the event. Thank goodness for the local Dollar Stores that carry gift bags, department stores that sell scarves, fragrances, candles and chocolate in various forms, and Starbucks gift cards. Before the empty nest, at least once (that I will admit to) I dragged my child to the store, sprinted through the aisles seeking a reasonably priced yet wildly entertaining gift while I ignored her plea for a toy, and tossed the present into one of those gift bags on the way to a party she received the invitation to three weeks ago.

Don’t think for a minute I haven’t made an effort to be prepared for these events. I even gathered gift bags and tissue paper and put them in a safe place, just in case I need to wrap something on the run. There are two problems with this. The first is that I should really put these items in my car if this is meant to be a successful endeavor. The second is that I have completely forgotten where the “safe place” is that holds these gift-wrapping items. The last two times I need gift bags and tissue paper, I bought more. Thus endeth being organized and ahead of the game.

Not only do I truly admire those people who think ahead, I am also extremely envious of the ones who adorn their homes with appropriate seasonal ornaments. Tammy has a beautiful wreath on her front door that is cheerily decorated for Valentine’s Day. We still have the Christmas wreath on our front door. I’m waiting for one of these winter storms to rip our front door open and spew every last needle across our yard.

My dream for the decorative shelf on my kitchen wall was to garnish it with eye-catching, festive items during Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July and whatever holidays I could pick up items at the Dollar Store for (anyone else notice a recurring theme here?). At the moment the shelf displays a turkey platter that we keep forgetting to use on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The platter is surrounded by some sort of decanter, some sort of tea bag holder, some sort of handmade sculpture and some sort of dust coating them all.

We can obviously conclude that you wouldn’t want me to be your party planner or interior decorator. But out of this lack of preparedness comes a surprising benefit.

I can get you to a Dollar Store in under seven minutes.