Archive for March, 2012

Early Spring

March 22, 2012

I look out my open living room window and see bright spring color. A breeze, still cool, but warm enough to hold the promise of April’s temperatures touches my face. Our weather comes from the west and this is the coldest room in the house, but my view is cheerful. The trees, bare, just days ago are full and ripe with bloom. The red-pink of japonica, yellow of forsythia, and white of bridal wreath vie for attention with the purple of crocus and the lavender of violets. Days are longer. People whistle walking down the sidewalk, and smile.

It’s the first full day of spring. Sometimes, in years past it’s been so cold the first day of spring that only the resilient daffodils show their colors above the snow on the ground. This year the season came early. Dogwoods will bloom well before the town festival and the Bradford Pears have already begun to shed their blossoms. The early birth seems to be pushing time forward for me, pulling up that hope still dormant in me.

It’s Wednesday and I know in two more days I’ll see my father. I can’t help but wonder how much thinner he’ll look this time, how much of his hair will be gone, how bent he will be over the walker. I know how he sounds. I talk to him every night. His voice is scratchy and ancient. His breathing is labored. He’s scheduled for a blood transfusion tomorrow. Those make him feel better.

I pick up the phone and make the nightly call. The phone rings and rings, then the line connects. “Can I call you back in ten minutes?” Bev’s harried voice asks as soon as she picks up the phone. Something is terribly wrong, I know it. I pace the floor, looking at my watch every thirty seconds, trying to push the time forward by the sheer force of my will. He’s stopped breathing, I think. He’s fallen again. His temperature has reached that critical one hundred seven degrees that sends you into brain damage. I can see her pouring ice cubes over him to cool his hot skin. I can see his eyes rolling back in his head.

When the phone rings exactly eighteen minutes later, I am breathless. “Hey,” I say.

“I guess you think I can’t tell time,” Bev says, a smile in her voice. My heart rate calms. “That’s OK,” I say. “I knew something was up.”

“We had just walked in the door from the chemo when you called. They started the drip at 9:30 and we didn’t get in the door until the minute you called just after six-thirty.”

“How’s he doing?” I ask.

“Pretty good. For some reason his appetite increases on the days he gets the chemo. He chows down on those peanut butter crackers they give out. I packed a cooler this time to be prepared. He nibbled all day long.”

I’m glad to hear his appetite has increased. The last time I’d seen him he said everything he ate tasted like cardboard or worse. Even fudge ripple ice cream, his favorite, held no appeal. Now he was eating yogurts, peanut butter sandwiches, apple slices, and pretzel sticks. My spirits lift.

“Here’s your Dad,” Bev says, handing the phone to him.

“Hi daughter,” he rasps to me.

“Glad to hear your appetite’s better,” I say.

“Things taste more like they’re supposed to. We stopped on the way home and got a hot fudge sundae.” I imagine him sitting in the car, spoon to mouth, eyes closed, savoring his ice cream. It makes me smile.

“Yum,” I say. “Wish I was there to have one with you.”

“Me too. You still coming this weekend?”

“That’s my plan,” I say. “Anything I can bring you?”

“Some of that warm weather you’ve been having up there,” he answers. “I’ve been waiting all winter for some spring.”

I think I’ll cut some japonica, forsythia, and bridal wreath from the bushes, put the branches in a vase, and carry them to Chesapeake with me. It seems a little early spring is good for the spirit.

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Harder than Naming a Baby

March 17, 2012

My decal man finally worked me into his schedule. It’s only been five months since we received the title and registration to the boat in the mail. That’s when it became legal. That’s when we became real owners of the 1971 Larsen Shark.

We’d spent an entire summer attempting to prove ownership; and with the delivery of the envelope from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, we took our two inch thick folder filled with copies of old registration, previous owner’s address, bill of sale, New Jersey DMV forms, online change of ownership forms, certified returned letter to previous owner, official letter from the VDGIF and our temporary registration from Walmart, and put it in a drawer for safe keeping. We really wanted to burn all that paperwork and do a dance around the bonfire, but were just too afraid to chance it. We thought the official letter might be a dream. After all, the lead up had been a nightmare.

“I’ll never buy anything without a title again,” Bruce grumped as he held the new Virginia registration decal and boat number in his hand. “Who would have thought it would be such a pain in the ass to title a boat?”

“She’s all ours now though,” I said.

Earlier that month, with our temporary registration in hand, we put the boat into Assateague Bay for the first time. It was on that trip that we named her.  We toured the five marinas on Chincoteague and paid specific attention to boat monikers.  “Birthday Wishes”, “Reel Time”, “Triple R”, “Miss Daisy May”, “Island Time”, “Dream Baby”, “Crabber One.”

We sat in the truck, the boat resting on the trailer behind us, bright, refurbished and naked other than her New Jersey identification number. We threw out suggestions to each other. Bruce liked “A Fish Tale”, “Southern Comfort”, and “Crack of Dawn” (which I did not find funny). I punched his shoulder and made my own suggestions, “Dream Boat”, “Hook Line and Sinker”, “Irish Wake”, and I liked the ones named after women.

Most of the boats we saw were white. Three sported a red stripe and one was a light blue. None we saw were bright spring green, only ours. Built in 1971, our vessel was obviously made during the age of Aquarius. We had a hippie boat. We started brainstorming slang from the 60’s.  Words like cool, square, peace, man, far out, a gas, stoned, bummer, drag, flower child, funky, pad, right on, groovy.

“Yeah,” I said, “groovy.  I like that.”  I said it again, my mind conjuring visions of bell bottom jeans with hot pink embroidered daisies, a lime green peasant blouse, a peace sign.   How about Groovy Girl?”

“My Groovy Girl,” Bruce said. “Yep, that’s it. My Groovy Girl.”

I floated the name to my group of literary friends. The graphic artist of the bunch drew up some curvy letters and we were hooked. I ordered the marine grade vinyl decals the next day, and my boat name was ready for application by the end of the week.

The boat was in dry dock for winter, covered and stored in the garage. “There’s no hurry,” Bruce said. “We’ve got until spring to apply the decals.”

No amount of whining, cajoling or bribery worked. I’d have to wait until he was ready, or I could attempt the job myself. I’m a weenie. I waited.

I hadn’t thought of the decals since the week after I picked them up from the sign place. Bruce has been cleaning the garage because it’s been too rainy to work outside. “Where’s the boat name?” he asked me yesterday.

“Right here where they’ve been since September,” I said, pointing to the cardboard tube in the corner of the bedroom.

“Bring it down to the garage. Let’s see if we can get it on the boat,” he said.

We cut on the dotted lines, peeled the backing, lined up the letters, pressed, prayed, and peeled the wax covering off the decals.  When we finished, there was “My Groovy Girl”, no longer naked and un-named. She’s official now, and she’s ours. We have the paperwork to prove it.

“All we need is champagne to christen her,” Bruce said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “That’s all we need; and I’m sure that will be another story.”

“Surprise”

March 8, 2012

The problem with giving my husband too much credit for a job well done is that he takes over my project. After I found this sad little kitchen cabinet on the porch of a local antique shop and Bruce talked the owner down a hundred dollars from the asking price, I guess he felt like his bartering skills gave him special privileges.

We stopped off at the hardware store on our way home with the cupboard to pick up some sandpaper blocks and a putty knife I wanted. I planned to scrape the curling peels of paint and sand down the finish to a “distressed” look. I saw the end result in my imagination. Sometimes I don’t have the words to describe what I want. It takes action to reveal my intention.

“You want to do what?” Bruce asked.

“I want to feather out the bare spots, elongate them, flatten the edges of the paint so they don’t look chipped.”

“Why don’t we just refinish it?” Bruce asked.

“I don’t think I want to do that,” I said. “Do you have any idea how many coats of paint are on this cupboard?”  From what I could see of the layers, there were at least four different colors and probably some varnish to boot. “It would take weeks to scrape all that paint off and you don’t even know what’s under all that mess. It could be some ugly-grained wood. Besides, if I don’t like the way it turns out, I can always slather it with a fresh coat of white paint.” 

Bruce and I have refinished our share of furniture. It’s hard work, scraping, sanding, applying chemicals that burn your hands and your nose, that ruin your favorite knock-around clothes.  I have a love for primitive pieces though, and we have rebuilt jelly cupboards, lingerie chests, dressers, wardrobes, and farm tables.  My favorites are the pine pieces we’ve refinished with their warm tiger stripe grain glowing a soft golden brown when rubbed with tung or linseed oil.  With this project, I didn’t feel up to the intensive labor involved in stripping it. Besides, this was the cabinet I fell in love with, not some undressed version in Bruce’s imagination.

He bent down and looked under one of the shelves. “Might be pine,” he said, plying me with possibility, but I was trying to stand firm in my conviction. I really liked the distressed look of the kitchen cabinet, and that weary façade enhanced the chicken wire covering the areas where there was once glass.

I ran my hand across the cupboard door. I turned the wooden spool knob. I wondered about the family who first owned this piece and how proud they must have been to have it standing in their kitchen. “Look at it,” I said. “It’s charming just like it is. All it needs is a little TLC, just some touch-ups, a little scraping and sanding, that’s all.”

“It needs a whole lot more than that,” Bruce mumbled under his breath. Louder, he argued, “I don’t think it would be so hard to strip it,” as he scraped at the peeling paint with his chisel, sending little chips flying toward me and raining down on my head. He wiped away the paint dust with his hand. “See,” he said, “not hard at all.”

Once the man gets an idea into his head, it’s there. He doesn’t listen.  I tried again. “Do you see how the front of the cabinet looks?” I asked, pointing to the areas of worn paint with wood grain showing through. “That’s how I want the whole thing to look.”

“Let’s see what the wood looks like underneath,” Bruce pushed. “Here, I’ll turn it over and scrape a section that’s not so noticeable.”

“No, that’s alright. I’m going to work on scraping and sanding. You go ahead and work on that lawnmower carburetor over there.” Bruce shrugged his shoulders and turned to his workbench, picked up the carburetor, his screwdriver, and began working on the hunk of metal in his hand.

I took up my putty knife and began scraping the curls of paint. When all the loose paint was chipped off, I took the coarse sandpaper block and started the back and forth rubbing that softens the edges of chipped paint. The emerging hints of wood beneath shone gray under the paint. A fine white dust powdered the floor under my ministrations.

After three hours of sanding, the bottom of the cabinet was looking like I wanted it. I stood back, pushed my hair off my forehead with the back of my hand, rolled the tension out of my shoulders, and wiped my dusty hands down the front of my jeans. I turned to Bruce who was putting the carburetor back on the lawnmower. “What do you think?” I asked.

“Can’t see a whole lot of difference from here,” he said, getting up and walking over.  He reached out and ran his hand over the sanded areas. “Ok, I see what you’re doing. And you like the way this looks?” He asked with a frown.

“I think so, but I’m not finished yet.  I won’t really know until I get more of it done. I’m a little worried about the shelf here though,” I said, running my fingers over the work surface of the cabinet. It had suffered the most damage from years of being used as a cutting board or chopping block. “It has some places that are really gouged out.”

Bruce bent down and lifted his glasses to peer under them. “Look, the paint’s a lot thicker on this part. I don’t think it’s going to feather like you want it to,” he said, chipping at a small crater with the putty knife.

“We’ll see,” I said. “Anyway, I think I’m done with it for today. I have the funeral to go to in South Hill tomorrow. I’ll work on it again Monday.” My best friend Trisha’s mother had died and the service was three hours away.

I left for the funeral the next morning and didn’t think much about my little cabinet in the garage until I pulled back into the driveway late that evening. The light was on in the garage, and the door was open. I smelled the high-inducing fumes of lacquer thinner. I felt my stomach drop as the realization and dread filled me.  I took a deep breath and looked through the door.

There was my cabinet, turned on its side with my husband bent over it, covered in paint dust. He looked up at me and grinned with his excitement.  I stood there stunned, absolutely stunned. It was like coming home to a room whose walls had been a familiar white to find them painted purple. I couldn’t speak. All I could do was stare.

Bruce called out a hearty, “Surprise!”

Yep, I was surprised.

“ I’d have gotten more done, but I thought you were going to be gone longer,” he said.

“Oh,” I said with a weak smile. “You’ve been busy.”

“Worked on it all day long for you. What do you think?”

What could I tell him? That I wanted to cry? That I wanted to ask him what in the heck he thought he was doing? That I wished he’d stuck to repairing his lawnmowers and left my cabinet alone? That I wanted to turn back time and give his free day back to him again? That I hated what he’d done?

Half of the cabinet was down to its natural wood.  All the chicken wire had been pulled loose and was in a tangle on the garage floor, and Bruce had worked the whole day on the cabinet…for me. He was happy. He thought I’d be happy. “I’ve been thinking,” Bruce said.

From the looks of it, he’d been doing more than thinking. “Yeah?” I asked.

“Are you OK?” he asked, looking at me and frowning.

“I’m OK, just tired. It was a long trip and just such a sad day,” I said.

“Oh shoot, I didn’t think,” he said, straightening up and coming over to put an arm around me. “How was the funeral and your trip?”

“Lots of people there,” I said, hugging him and staring over his shoulder at my half naked cabinet. “She was loved. Trisha did alright. I didn’t stay for the meal afterward. I wanted to get home before dark, thought I might work on the cabinet a little before I went to bed.”

Bruce isn’t one for funerals or emotion. He doesn’t talk about his feelings or ask me about mine much. He does tangible things to show his love and support, like refinishing a piece of furniture.

“So, what I was thinking,” he went on after his brief assessment of my emotional state. “We could put glass back into the top where that god-awful chicken wire was, or do you remember the tin my Daddy put in the pie safe he made? He got a pattern from a book and punched the tin himself with a hammer and nail. We could do that.”

“I really hadn’t thought beyond sanding it,” I said.

“Well, let’s sleep on it,” Bruce offered. “We’ll figure it out tomorrow.”

Yep, tomorrow, I thought. We’ll have to figure this mess out tomorrow.