Monday, May 30, 2011

Decoration Day

When I was a  young girl, we went every Memorial Day (Decoration Day, back then) to put flowers on the graves of our departed ones.  The flowers came from our gardens, no one ever bought hothouse flowers from the florist shops.  It was too late for the snowballs and lilacs, and too early for the dahlias, but my grandmother's peonies were at their peak and my aunt always had armloads of Madonna lilies and there were roses and irises and other early summer bloomers.  We would fill buckets and jars and pile them into the car and then Auntie Dimp, the World's Worst Driver, would get behind the wheel and we would take off in a series of neck-cracking lurches and jerks as she released the clutch.  Quite often she would kill the engine and have to start all over.  But eventually we made it to the local cemetery.

We did not have many graves to decorate in those days.  My sister, Thelma, who died at the age of 22 of pneumonia, and my Uncle Lee.  He was struck by a car late one night while crossing the street in Vancouver.  I always figured he was drunk, but whether I surmised this or picked it up from the whispers of the older members of the family, I don't remember.  He was a World War I veteran of the campaigns in France and returned home as so many young men did then, as now, damaged and anchorless. (As a side note, many years later, after my father's death,  my mother married Tom Crable, Lee's wartime buddy.)  In addition to those two, there were a few neighbors and friends.

It was not long before the graves in our family began to add up.  My grandfather, my grandmother and  my father.  Followed by the aunts and uncles and then the cousins, one by one.  My brother and sister.   My nephews.  A baby grand-nephew.  Today, except for four elderly cousins, I am the only remaining member of my generation on either side of my family.  Having good genes and living a long life has its pluses, but the minuses are many.

For many years, after I moved far away,  I sent money to my sister to buy some of  those hothouse flowers to put on the graves.  Today, it would take a truckload of blossoms to honor the resting places of my family.  Not only in the little local cemetery, which has grown into many acres, but scattered in graveyards all over Clark county, where most of them lived and died.

As  a child, I don't remember the patriotic and military aspects of this holiday.  We had not been in so many wars then.   I suppose there were parades and celebrations in the towns but we lived far out in the country and I think the height of our holidaying was the usual huge family pot-luck at the home of one of the relatives. 

Memorial Day has a whole new meaning to me now than it did in those far-off days. Members of my family have been to war and I have lost a friend in battle.  Our country is much more belligerent than it was then and we are engaged in conflicts of  doubtful merit.  But my heart is with the young men and women who  fight these battles and I am filled with admiration for their services.   While I remember my loved ones as I always have on this day,  I add the thousands of brave warriors who have died in combat in far-off lands  and I hope and wish that their sacrifices will be worthy of the courage they displayed.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Riverboat Gambler

Several years ago I spent Thanksgiving with Dave's family in a spacious guest house up in Truckee.  During the weekend, we drove over to Reno so Erin could shop.  I am not into shopping, so the boys and Dave and I spent the afternoon "gambling".  We dropped the boys in the arcade and Dave and I headed into the casino.  Now, I had never been in one of these modern casinos. I spent some time in Nevada years ago and did a little gambling, but my game was Blackjack.  I never played the slots.  What greeted me here was a dark, vaguely sinister cavern, filled with flashing lights, stale cigarette smoke and lots of noise and movement.  Dave and I bought a few rolls of quarters and then he took off. 

Now, I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb in the chandelier and I am completely flummoxed by machines and  mechanical devices, so I was at a loss.   I wandered around a little and then went looking for him and hauled him over to show me what to do.  He pointed out some slots and levers and the bucket that is designed to hold all the coins that you are sure to win and took off again.  Ok.  So I pulled the lever and watched the lemons and cherries and things roll up (always all different, aren't they supposed to match up?)   Well, I  fed the beast a couple of rolls of my quarters and it didn't even belch.  Just blinked it's colored lights and waited for more.  This is fun?

Back in my Rhythmette days, we played endless games of 3-handed pinochle and lots of poker.  The good ole honest-to- goodness games like Draw Poker and 7-card Stud and maybe a little Spit-in-the- Ocean.  After I was married  and became a mother I did not play much poker except for occasional socials with friends.  I never enjoyed these much.  They played party games where it seemed like every third card was wild and there were so many variations that you forgot what you were supposed to be playing.  Forget the strategy and bluff and that delicious little feeling of excitement and danger when you are playing real poker.  It might as well have been Rummy.

Erik did not care for cards much and so I got out of the habit and many, many, many years have passed since I have stood at a Blackjack table and instructed the dealer to "Hit me!"  I have even forgotten the rules.  But I know one thing, I am never going to take up the slots.

Some of my favorite people love slot machines and even win some money now and then.  They have favorite casinos and even machines and spend many happy hours pulling that lever.  None of these people are addicts and they don't blow money they can't afford, so why not?  Just not my thing.

Friday, May 20, 2011

All About Lulu

Somehow or other, I ended up with two books by the same author in my stack.  Even though I didn't care much for the first one I read ("West of Here" which I reviewed awhile back),  I decided to read this one and I did like it a little better.  This author will never make my list of favorites, though.

The novel concerns a hopeless love affair between two young people.   Not exactly ground-breaking material, but there is a twist at the end which anybody but me could have spotted two miles away.  I think I missed it because I was not really engaged with the story to start with, but it explained (sort of) the anguish and mystery and heartbreak, etc., etc.

This would be a good summer poolside book.  Easy to read, easy to lay down.  And a little  more substance than many summer-time novels.  About 3 1/2 stars.

All About Lulu      Jonathan  Evison      Soft Skull Press

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Bathing Suit and the Bacon Fork

All families have silly family insider jokes and  allusions that are incomprehensible and meaningless to outsiders.  A word, a glance, a nudge,  will instantly transport every family member into a special place shared and understood only by them.  As surely as genetics, or love, or family loyalties, these special intimate references bind a family together in subtle ways. 

We have a bunch of these in our family.   I am about to divulge  two of them that over the years have mystified our friends and confused even some of the immediate family members.

No. 1 is the bacon fork.  Or as it has become over the years, in hushed tones, the Bacon Fork.  The object in question is a small, two-tined fork with a bone handle.  How this humble object got it's name or the mystique surrounding it is unclear. It was never used to turn any bacon as far as I know.  Where it came from or what it's original purpose was are lost in the mists of time. It was owned by my mother, who used to wrap a piece of clean cloth around the tines, tied with a bit of twine.  This she dipped into a can of ham or bacon fat which was kept by the kitchen stove, to grease the pancake
griddle. (In those far-off farm days, we had pancakes most mornings.)  Somehow or other,  it got to be an object of some veneration among the siblings, who pull it out of the utensil drawer when visiting and ooh and aah over it's qualities.  They have suggested keeping it in the safe deposit box in the bank. They are considering a velvet-lined jewelery display case.  They do a good bit of squabbling about who is going to inherit.  (Answer:  Nobody.  I am taking it with me.)   Now I ask you, does this make a bit of sense to anybody outside our family?  Or even inside our family?

No.2  is the Bathing Suit.  One day a good many years ago, as I was vacuuming,  I found a small bathing suit on the floor of my bedroom,  of the kind worn by Barbie dolls.  I immediately assumed (wouldn't you?) that the suit belonged to of my girls' old Barbie dolls and since Erika was the only one living at home at the time, I handed it over to her.  She denied ownership.  Well, it sure wasn't mine, so I insisted.  Before long, I found the thing under my pillow.  I retaliated by sticking it into her makeup box.  Not long after,  there is was, tucked into the top of the cereal box.  So I stuffed it into one of her shoes.  War!!   Over the years, things got more sophisticated. (As, sadly, the little suit became more faded and stretched and forlorn.) Once I sent it to a friend who lived in Kenya and she mailed it to Erika in Southern California.  I didn't see the letter but  have always hoped there were a lot of exotic African stamps and foreign signs plastered on the envelope.  One Christmas which we all spent in Cabo San Lucas during Erika's stained glass period, I received the bathing suit nicely framed under glass.  Sometimes a long period of time would pass and the bathing suit would be forgotten, only to turn up out of the blue in some unexpected place.  And then it disappeared!  Erika denied knowledge of it's whereabouts and I had no idea what had happened to it.


I have stopped traveling and it has been several years since I have used any of my luggage, but one day not long ago I got the idea that I should empty out my travel kit, which I always kept packed and ready to go with essential items such as toiletries, cosmetics, a small flashlight, a bottle opener, (most essential thing of all) and so forth.  While fishing around in one of the side pockets, what should I find but a greeting card with the Barbie bathing suit neatly glued to it's inside cover!

Now, I am not a suspicious Mom type, but since my last trip using this luggage was to Seattle and since Erika was in Southern California at the time, I feel justified in thinking there must have been some collusion here.  Of course, sisters support each other and often bond together and all that,  so I am just assuming........Pretty strong evidence, though.  Eh, Watson?

While I was composing this blog, Erika posted a picture of the bathing suit on her Facebook site so you can see what all the fuss it about.  Since it is all now out in the open, I think we have agreed on a truce.  Not that I really trust her.  I would not be surprised to have the Barbie bathing suit turn up under my pillow one of these days.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bad Things Happen

I love murder-mystery novels, especially the beginnings where the plot is developing and all the murders occur,  and you sit up late at night reading because you can't wait to find out who-dun-it.

Later, when the author is trying to untangle the mess he or she had so much fun getting into, things sometimes get a little heavy.  I often wonder, do writers have the solution worked out before they start the novel, or do they just wait to see what happens and hope for the best?  So many loose ends to tie up and things to explain!  I have read books where I am sure the author was hoping the reader wouldn't notice all the disparities and unraveled clues lying about. You sometimes get the feeling that he (or she)  got so entangled that they just said, "Oh, to hell with it! Let's finish it up."

In the case of this book, the  writer has tied up the twists in the plot quite nicely.  There is a plethora of bodies (I think I counted seven) but most of the violence takes place off-stage and none of it is graphic. Ditto for the sex.  In fact, it is quite an old-fashioned book in this sense and being an old-fashioned kind of gal I found that refreshing.  It isn't stodgy, though, and the dialogue is believable and and crisp. The main character is an interesting and very different kind of "hero" and part of the fun is trying to figure out who, or what, he really is.  The detectives are smart and likable, as are some of the villains.

If you like intelligent crime thrillers, I can recommend this book.  Maybe four stars.

Bad Things Happen       Harry Dolan         Berkeley Books