Pot Luck: The Weight of the World

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A curvy friend shared a meme on Facebook the other day that said, “Curvy girls are just as beautiful as skinny girls.  You know what that also means?  It means skinny girls are just as beautiful as curvy girls.  Don’t bash one to lift the other up.”

My initial response was to agree.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and all that.  Our definition of beauty is skewed by the increasingly insidious belief—which has become an expectation—that thinner is better.  But there are plenty of very beautiful women who happen to be heavy, just like there are plenty of thin women who happen to be less physically attractive than some of those beautiful curvy ones.  Weight should not be the deciding factor when measuring physical beauty.  But it too often is.

The weight-challenged have pretty much always been targets.  Our society is quick to judge, and these days, it seems judgment is passed even more quickly than it used to be on those of us afflicted, for whatever reason, with overweight issues.

Yes, I said us.  I am among those who are classified as obese.  I currently weigh close to twice as much as I did when I was twenty-one.  Well, OK, not quite, but plenty close enough.

And no, I’m not happy about it.

I’ve done Weight Watchers.  Had great success with it.  The first time, I lost thirty pounds.  The second time, forty-five.  But I weigh more now than I did when I started the program either time.

I bought a treadmill.  I honestly thought I would use it.  I don’t.

Meanwhile, as I avoid fighting the battle that I know must be fought for my health, I also avoid posting recent pictures of myself on Facebook, and when I do post something recent, I make sure my body isn’t visible.  (Since I know you’re wondering, I’ll come clean and tell you that the picture on the “About” page on this blog is only fairly recent, having been taken in 2009, which was fifteen or twenty pounds ago.)

Why do I do that?  Because being fat is BAD.  I’ve internalized the cultural expectation, just the same as almost everyone else has, and I know, or at the very least I fear, that I will be judged.  When I see recent pictures of myself, I can’t help using them to judge my value as a human being, and thus I have an unfortunate but not altogether unreasonable concern that others will do the same.  A woman’s value as a human being, in today’s culture, is inversely proportional to how much she weighs.

So for all of these reasons, I was initially inclined to agree with the message implied in the meme my friend posted.  To cheer, even.  Yes!  Yes!  Fat people are just as valuable as thin people!

Ah . . . but reality intrudes.  We aren’t.  We should be, yes, certainly–but in general terms, we aren’t.  Neither in society’s eyes, nor in our own, specifically because of the way we’re viewed by society.  Society has pretty much determined who all the valuable people are, and who is more valuable than whom.  Men more than women.  Rich more than poor.  White more than black.  Young more than old.  Thin more than fat.

I’m not saying that’s what I personally believe.  I’m saying that’s how society is.

And that was when the second part of the meme jumped out at me:  “Don’t bash one to lift the other up.”

We don’t just do this where obesity is concerned.  We do it all over the place.  This need for superiority is the foundation of all prejudice and discrimination.  All racism, all sexism, all ageism.  All the -isms.

“Don’t bash one to lift the other up.”  Thin and fat, white and black, old and young, rich and poor, “legal” and “illegal,” educated and uneducated, gay and straight, blue collar and white collar, Christians and Muslims and Jews and atheists and every other group in between—I’m talking to you.

You’re not superior.

But–and this is a big but, if you’ll forgive the pun–you are also not inferior.

You’re just human.

Is it human nature to want to be better than others? To bring one group down, humiliate them, show their real or imagined deficiencies, in order to raise our own status, both in our own eyes and in others’?

Because that’s what we do.  I love ads that show husbands changing diapers and washing dishes and doing other traditionally “female” household jobs, and ads that show both women and men in nontraditional professional settings . . . but all these ads in the past few years that make men out to be fools?  Not so much.  If one group feels it necessary to humiliate another—for example, if women feel it necessary to bring men’s status down in order to raise their own status up—then the implication is that one group IS beneath the other. The purpose should be to position ourselves BESIDE each other (neither above nor below).

Don’t bash one to lift the other up.

We’re all in this together.

Pot Luck: Yeah. It’s hot.

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Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley (CA), I’d always been accustomed to hot summers.  It wasn’t at all unusual to hit the ninety-degree mark in May and be pretty much stuck hovering right around that mark until July, when the triple digits arrived.  And August could be blast furnace hot.  The kind of heat where you don’t even realize you’re sweating because it evaporates so fast.  The kind of heat that, if there’s any wind at all, feels like a hair dryer in your face.

Our house didn’t have any air conditioning.  Instead, we had a big exhaust fan in the bathroom window at one end of the house, and every night, we’d crank that puppy on full blast and open all the bedroom windows at the other end of the house.  It was the only way to get any sleep.  If it wasn’t cool, at least the air was moving.

We could hit 110, even 115 degrees by mid-August and it never seemed to make the news.  But when a heat wave hit New York or Chicago—a “heat wave” in those parts being in the neighborhood of 85 degrees—it made headlines.  I never could understand that.  To us, 85 degrees constituted a fine spring day.

Now I know  better.

Summer in Wisconsin is short, but it can be brutal.  People complain all winter long about the cold, but come July, it’s the heat that makes us fall to pieces.  And it has been hot this week.  Seriously hot.

The official definition of a heat wave in these parts is when it hits 90 degrees for three days straight.  We’ve been in the nineties all week, with heat-index temps hovering around a hundred.

Back in California, hitting ninety meant things were cooling down.  Even a hundred, out there, is pretty normal.  Not so, here.

Everyone says it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.  But more accurately, it’s the dew point.  Before I moved to Wisconsin, I had never heard of dew point; apparently in California it’s a non-issue.

But it has great significance here.  There are ninety-degree days, and then there are ninety-degree days.  They are not all created equal.  A ninety-degree day in Southern California is a completely different species from a ninety-degree day in Northwestern Wisconsin.  And dew point is what makes the difference.

Dew point, if you’ll excuse a ridiculously oversimplified definition (feel free to google a more complex one), is the temperature at which dew will form.  That is to say, the point at which the air turns to water.  The higher the dew point is in relation to the air temperature, the heavier and thicker the air is, and the heavier and thicker the air is, the harder it is to breathe.  When dew points are high, perspiration can’t evaporate because it has nowhere to go.  The air is already so saturated that if there’s no breeze, you have little choice but to stew, more or less literally, in your own sweat.

It is a purely miserable feeling, and it simply makes you hotter than the same temperature would in the desert.

California, Nevada, Arizona . . those are deserts.  Not a great deal of water around those parts.  But if everyone knows Minnesota is the land of ten thousand lakes, they’re often unaware that Wisconsin can brag of more than a million acres of its own.  That’s a lot of evaporation going on.

As I understand it, places with more water in the ground have more water in the air as well, and thus they also have higher dew points.

A dew point under 60 degrees is pretty livable.  But once it hits 60, it gets pretty sticky.  The dew points here all week have been in the low to mid SEVENTIES.  For people with respiratory issues, dew points in the 70’s (and heaven forbid, the 80’s) can be deadly.  If your dew points are up there, you need to find someplace with central air conditioning and stay there until the heat wave breaks.  That’s no joke.

And if you’re currently suffering triple-digit temperatures in an arid climate, and you can’t understand why all these 90-degree temperatures elsewhere are grabbing all the headlines, you can blame the dew point.  In this kind of saturated air, the human body simply can’t cool itself.

I understand that you’re sick and tired of hearing people tell you how lucky you are that you’ve got dry heat, but believe me—you are.

Pot Luck: Time Warp

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“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
Dr. Seuss

My son was lamenting to me on the phone this morning about how quickly the time is going by as he watches his son grow.

“It’s going by too fast,” he said.

I laughed.  BAD Mommy!  But seriously, his kid is four months old.

“He was just three months old,” my son said.  “Just a couple of weeks ago.  And now he’s already over four months.  I don’t know where the month went.”

I forbore to point out how I feel, with my son himself now being over thirty and all.  Where did it go?

And honestly, I didn’t laugh because it was funny.  I didn’t laugh to be mean.  I laughed because my son’s remark means he now Gets It.

Life is short.  It goes by too fast.  And you never realize how fast it’s going by until well after  you hit all those milestones you held your breath waiting for, the ones you thought would never get here.

Ten:  Two numbers!  I’m a big kid now!

Thirteen:  I’m a teenager!

Sixteen:  I can drive!

Eighteen:  I can vote!

Twenty-one:  I can drink!

Twenty-five:  Uh oh.

Thirty:  Oh crap.

And that’s about when you start assessing your life and thinking the fun is all over.

It’s not.  But it does start going by faster.

I was just a couple years past thirty myself when I started to really notice it.  I mentioned it to a friend—“Why is it that life seems to go by so much faster as you get older?”  And he gave me the first and only logical answer I’d ever received from anyone:  “Because the older you are, each year that goes by is a smaller and smaller percentage of your life.”

When you’re ten, a year is a tenth of your life.  When you’re thirty, it’s a thirtieth.  When you’re fifty, it’s a fiftieth.  A fiftieth is a whole lot smaller than a tenth.  The speed of time is exponential.

The milestones change.  Forty.  Fifty.  Sixty-five (retirement?  Can I afford it?  Ack!).  Eighty.  Ninety, if you’re really lucky.  And all through these years you’re asking, What have I accomplished?  Have I set out to do all I wanted to?  Seen what I wanted to see?  Been where I wanted to go?  Said what I wanted to say?

You start making Bucket Lists.

All the things you tell your kids as they’re growing up—all the things your own parents told you as you were growing up—are true.  Or anyway, all the things in the category I’m considering here are true.

Don’t be in such a hurry to grow up.  You’ll be an adult for a lot longer than you’ll be a kid, so enjoy being a kid while you can.

But kids don’t listen.  They don’t believe you.  They don’t have the tools.  And by the time they do, they’re wearing the shoes you were wearing when you told them that in the first place, and now they’re saying it to their own kids.

Life is short.

It goes by too fast.

But—and this is a big but—it’s not over ‘til it’s over.

And the thing is, we’re so busy telling kids to enjoy being kids while they can, that not enough of us spend enough time enjoying being adults—that is, just being alive.  “Life begins at forty,” they say—but really it begins every day, the moment you open your eyes in the morning.

Every minute we get is precious, and we need to not take them for granted.  Our time here is not guaranteed.  The older I get, the more aware I am of this fact.

I don’t have a bucket list (yet) but I am hyper-aware that every minute I spend playing Candy Crush or doing something else equally brainless is a minute I won’t get back.  I’d better really want to do whatever it is.

And there’s so much I want to do.

“Enjoy life. There’s plenty of time to be dead.”
Hans Christian Andersen

Pot Luck: Oooooh. Ahhhhhh.

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When I was growing up, there was never, ever any question about what my mom and I would be doing on the Fourth of July.  Watching the fireworks together was a tradition, and it goes back as far as I can remember.  My mom loved fireworks more than almost anything else I can think of.  She would pack a picnic, our favorite picnic blanket, and a couple of folding chairs, and we’d go to Reseda Park, or sometimes Balboa Park, and stake out a spot from which to join the thousands of other revelers in uttering oohs and ahhs.

We did that every year, all through the 60’s and halfway through the 70’s, until I was fifteen or sixteen, at which point I decided, as teens do, that I was too busy socially, and too cool, to spend the 4th with my mom.  Interestingly enough, I have no recollection at all of what I did instead during those years.

Which makes it fairly easy to fast-forward though them.  Not even a fast-forward.  More like a warp.

But of the mid-80’s through the 90’s, my memories are clear.  Now a mom myself, I would pack up my three boys and head down to San Diego, where my mom now lived in a beautiful townhome.  The morning of the 4th would find the five of us parked in folding chairs on Mira Mesa Blvd to watch the Independence Day parade—small-town parading at its best, really, with homemade floats festooned with bunting and paper streamers, moms pushing strollers, middle-school marching bands, uniformed Cub Scouts on bicycles waving flags, and local fire and police vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring—and then we’d go back to Mom’s house to nap or swim.

And then, as evening approached, we’d head for the park to stake out a spot, loaded as in earlier years with folding chairs and our favorite picnic blanket, but now also armed with a portable barbecue, hot dogs and hamburgers, and s’mores fixings.  The boys would play Frisbee or baseball while Mom and I tended to the feast, and afterwards, we’d toast marshmallows until it got too dark to see.  And that that point, a reverent hush would fall over the whole park as everyone positioned themselves facing West for the best view of the pyrotechnics.

Oooooh.  Ahhhhhh.

Those were good years.

I moved to Wisconsin in 2000, and Mom followed in 2002.  The boys by then had reached that teenage stage I remember so well—too socially busy and too cool to spend the Fourth of July with Mom and Grandma.  But Mom and Grandma didn’t sit at home on the Fourth of July.  Oh no.

For the first couple of years after she moved here, I’d pick her up after dinner, drive through Culver’s to get a sundae, and unload our folding chairs in the Senior Center parking lot, which afforded a pretty good view of the fireworks over Carson Park.  But more and more people showed up there every year with larger and larger fireworks of their own, and when an errant bottle rocket zipped past right under our noses one year, we decided it was time to find a new spot.

In her 80’s now and not so mobile anymore, Mom and I developed a new tradition for the rest of the 2000’s: We’d still drive through Culver’s and get a sundae (she’d get a Turtle and I’d get a Caramel Cashew), but then instead of setting up folding chairs, I’d park in a spot with a good view of the fireworks and we’d just watch them from the car.

Our quest for the best viewing spot took us to a new parking place each year, but to be honest, none of those spots was ever quite what we’d been hoping for.  Throughout the year, as I drove through town, I’d say to myself—“Hmm, this looks like a good spot for the fireworks.”  And come the next July, we’d check that one out.

I don’t think my mom ever knew how much these evenings meant to me.

My mom passed away in 2010, the day after Christmas.  We had discussed potential resting places beforehand, but hadn’t settled on anything before she became too ill to care.

It was up to me.

I chose a spot at Lakeview Cemetery, across Half Moon Lake from Carson Park, which is the home base of the City of Eau Claire’s annual fireworks display.  I explained my purpose to the cemetery manager, and the two of us walked all over the cemetery in search of a spot with the very best view.

We found a great spot.

So now there’s a new twist on the old tradition.  My eldest son lives in California now, but my two younger boys, now beyond the “too cool” stage, will sit with me tonight at my mom’s grave as the fireworks rise above the trees and explode over the lake in glittering showers.

It’s a fabulous view.  The best.

Oooooh.  Ahhhhhh.

I will never stop watching fireworks with my mom.

Pot Luck: Do it now. Whatever it is.

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I grew up on barbecue. Nothing fancy, mind you. Our first barbecue—the first one I knew personally—was a bucket-style cast iron hibachi. Here it is:

12th bday bbq 1970

That was my twelfth birthday party with my three best friends, Mickey, Diane, and Emily. In case you don’t recognize me, I’m the one hamming it up for the camera.

But the important thing in this picture is the hibachi. That’s what I learned to barbecue on. No bells, no whistles, just you and the coals, and a need to time them just right.

As an adult, I moved up a bit in the barbecue world and got a pretty red Meco that stood me in good stead for several years.

Since virtually every photo I’ve taken since 1989 is in one of several large boxes in my office (see Confessions of a Pack Rat), here’s a generic picture of a Meco like the one we had.

Oh, how we loved that Meco. It was there that I really learned the ins and outs of barbecue, from burgers and hot dogs to kabobs and chicken satay to our fabulous marinated tri-tip. By the time we moved to Wisconsin, we’d gotten into the habit of barbecuing several times a week, year-round.

You can’t do that in Wisconsin, by the way. In these parts, you get to barbecue from May to October if you’re lucky, and more likely only in June, July, and August.

And when I moved to Wisconsin in 2000, I left my barbecue behind. Not because I didn’t want to barbecue anymore, but because it just wasn’t practical to move the dirty old thing, much as I loved it. I told myself I could just get a shiny new one for forty-some bucks after we got to Wisconsin.

But when we got to Wisconsin, I couldn’t find one. It was September, and barbecue season was over. The idea of a barbecue season hadn’t occurred to me, but in any event I had to wait until summer rolled around again. And when it did, I couldn’t find a Meco anywhere. There were imitators, of course, but all of the other charcoal grills I found seemed either too flimsy or too fancy.

The fad in Wisconsin at this time was gas. Gas, with every imaginable bell and whistle.

I didn’t want a gas unit. It just wouldn’t be the same. The key in all of my barbecue history is charcoal. Ah, the smell of a fire just getting underway— To me, that is the smell of summer. (That and Sea & Ski, which they don’t make anymore.) And the taste of food cooked over a just-right bed of glowing charcoal simply can’t be compared.

But my well-meaning husband (then boyfriend) talked me into it. It’s cleaner, he argued. You won’t need to worry about disposing of the ashes. You don’t have to wait for the coals to be ready, and you don’t have to worry about leaving it unattended—you just shut off the gas when you’re done.  Plenty of good arguments in favor of gas grilling.

I had misgivings, but I went out and got the best dang gas barbecue I could find. Well, OK, the best I was willing to pay for. It was a Char-Broil with a side burner, which was very de rigueur back then, you know.

But I hated it.

HATED it.

It felt like cheating. I was always afraid I would leave (or had left) the gas on, it didn’t smell right, and worst of all, there was no ritual. Finally, no matter what I did, the food tasted all wrong.

Tom said I’d get used to it—I just had to use it more often, he said, and I’d learn to love it.

But I didn’t. Didn’t use it much, and hated it every time I did use it. Every time I was in a box store, I’d look longingly at the charcoal grills. But we’d spent enough on this one to have trouble justifying the purchase of another grill of any kind. It still worked fine after twelve years.

Yes, I said twelve years. But then everything changed. And the reason was seemingly minor: In 2012, my youngest son requested carne asada for his birthday dinner.

After twelve years, I’d gotten to the point where I barbecued only two or three times a year, and I didn’t enjoy it. All the fun and skill had gone out of it.

But I never refuse a birthday dinner request, and I decided I simply was NOT going to make carne asada on the gas grill. So I got out the flimsy little tabletop charcoal unit we kept in the RV and put it together.

Here’s his birthday dinner cooking:

carne asada cooking 5-16-12

And oh, the joy, the rapture I got from every single step! Stacking the coals just so, squirting just the right amount of fluid on them, starting them in six different spots, the satisfaction of watching the flames flare and then die down as the coals began to ash over.

(This is the point where inexperienced barbecuers so often think the fire has gone out, and they pour more lighter fluid over the coals and re-light them. It hasn’t gone out. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do.)

And oh, the smell, the wonderful smoky smell of that little barbecue—the smell of summer!

As I cooked that carne asada, I realized that I had wasted twelve years, that twelve summers had passed without the wonderful, incomparable, fabulous odor of charcoal burning. The finished product was just what it should have been–tender, tasty, cooked to perfection–and properly smoky.

I did use the gas grill a couple of times after that, but meanwhile I spent the whole of last summer also researching charcoal grills and keeping my eye on the box-store sales. I eventually found the grill I wanted (still no Mecos in these parts, but something I think will be even better), but by the time I found what I wanted, nobody had any of them.

But this weekend I found one. It’s a Char-Broiler 2929, and it was very reasonably priced, much cheaper in fact than the gas grill I bought twelve years ago. Tom put it together yesterday. Here it is, ready for its maiden voyage:

IMG_1692

I seasoned it yesterday afternoon and fired it up for the first time last night.  Stacked the coals, lit them, and went in the house to get the burgers.

When I came back outside, my very first breath told me I’d done the right thing, and had waited much too long to do it.   The whole world smelled like summer, the way summer is supposed to smell.

My middle son has gleefully taken possession of the gas grill, which still works just fine. But as for me, I’m sticking with charcoal from here on out. There’s just nothing else like it.

If there’s something you used to enjoy, that you think you’ll never do again, let me assure you, it’s not too late. Do it now.

Whatever it is.

Don’t let another day, week, or month go by. Do it now.

Pot Luck: Confessions of an Unrepentant Pack Rat

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I should probably start by saying there’s a difference between a pack rat and a hoarder.

We’ve all heard of hoarders. These are the people who can’t find space to walk in their own homes, or who have aisles arranged in their living and dining rooms so they can. They amass piles and piles of stuff that to normal people appears to be worthless trash.

Hoarders make the news. When their collections create a health hazard or a public nuisance, the Health Department comes in and condemns their homes and hires a crew to come in and clear out all their belongings. Hoarders sometimes wind up in court, and in worst-case scenarios, mental wards. People laugh at them.

I’m not a hoarder.

Yet.

But I am a pack rat.

I come by it honestly. My parents, both children of the Depression, were also pack rats. My mom, raised on a farm where nothing ever went to waste and nothing repairable was ever thrown away, was mortally offended by the idea of planned obsolescence, and she used appliances until they were irreparable. Radios, toasters, electric mixers, TV sets, VCRs, microwave ovens—all, in her mind, could and should be repaired, not replaced, if they stopped working. She used the same hand-held mixer all my life, and it still works. I have it here somewhere.

She also hung onto a wide variety of paraphernalia related to the numerous projects and hobbies in which she involved herself over the years: A set of resin grapes she and her sister made in 1968 and the rock tumbler she bought in 1971; candle-making supplies from the early 70’s; a couple of tennis racquets in wooden frames; gold leaf from her cloisonné period; a set of golf clubs from the 50’s; a pair of wooden skis and poles from the 40’s, and skeins and skeins of yarn she used for knitting and crocheting afghans, as well as several of the afghans themselves. She kept it all because you never know when you’re going to decide to come back to an old hobby again. But she kept it all neatly stashed in closets and in the garage (which also held her car), so it was all out of sight if not out of mind.

The only thing that wasn’t out of sight was her art. Paintings on every wall. Easily a hundred of them. Some of them quite good.

My dad was also a pack rat, but for different reasons. He had a lot of space at his house—the garage, a rec room, a horse stable that in later years was empty of horses, and closets galore. He had plenty of room for stuff, which was a good thing because whenever a member of his or his wife’s family passed away, their stuff found its way to his house.

The way my dad saw it, if nobody else in the family wanted it, or if there was nobody left in the family to want it, that didn’t mean it didn’t have value—and it was up to someone to keep it safe. So he appointed himself as Someone. The Caretaker.

He had it all fairly well organized: My stepmom’s Uncle Jimmy’s stuff was in the entry hall closet; her mother’s was in a front bedroom (which was mine as a child); her Aunt Margaret’s was in the attached two-car garage, along with mountains of boxes from his own earlier years, containing, among other things, some of my great-aunt’s china, an assortment of architectural pieces from the house his grandfather built in Redlands, CA in the late 1800’s, and all of his grandfather’s now-antique tools.

I understood my mother’s need to save things just in case, and my dad’s need to archive everything. My parents are gone now—my dad in 2003, my stepmom in 2005, and my mom in 2010—but I have all of their stuff, including everything I rescued from my dad’s house after it burned down, very little of which has any value as nearly all of it is either burned or smoke-damaged. Why do I have it all? Because it’s now my turn to be Someone.

Fortunately, I have a big house with a full basement, and not one but two pole barns.

And they have aisles.

The only room in the house itself that so far has been overrun is my office, which still contains boxes and boxes of my parents’ stuff. I have no use for any of it—not in my office, not in the basement, not in the barn—but having my parents’ stuff keeps them close, and throwing any of it away feels like I’m throwing them away.

I’m just not ready to do that.

My husband, whose philosophy is that one’s memories are safe in one’s heart and soul and therefore have no need for physical representation, reminds me gently but with increasing frequency of my promise to go through all of my parents’ stuff, to donate, to throw away, to organize. I approach each summer and winter break with plans to get just one of the areas under control, just to prove that I can.

But summer break passes, and the aisles remain.

It’s no laughing matter.

Pot Luck: Happy Father’s Day

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In the United States and many other countries, this Sunday is Father’s Day. The brainchild of Hallmark or some other greeting card company a century or so ago, and entirely commercial from its inception, the day has become iconic. Millions of Americans from coast to coast will get together with family if they can, barbecuing, exchanging cards and gifts, and generally honoring the men who gave them life.

For most Americans, Father’s Day is a happy occasion. If you haven’t bought a card or gift yet, a phone call on the day itself (before ten or eleven pm, please) will sometimes suffice.

But many of us don’t have that option. For many of us, Father’s Day is a day we look forward to with tears in our eyes.

My tears decided not to wait for the big day itself. This morning, browsing my Facebook feed, I ran across the following video:

(OK, it’s not loading. It’s a one-minute video that shows a crowd of people on the beach with about five large airline kennels. The kennel doors are opened, and a young elephant seal emerges from each one, looks around, and then makes its way into the sea. As the last one heads into the waves, there’s applause from the spectators. It’s very touching.)

My father lived in Malibu, on Point Dume, mere steps from Paradise Cove, where this video was shot. We fished from the pier you see in the video clip, and once took a deep-sea fishing trip that embarked from there. I grew up riding my horse on that beach.

As I watched the video, with every frame, my vision grew a little blurrier and I slid farther and farther back in time until I was ten years old, scavenging in the Paradise Cove tide pools at low tide:

me paradise cove age nine

You can just see the Paradise Cove pier in the background.

Everything about Malibu–the beach, the sand, the tides, the wind, the salty air–is about my dad, who taught me to be independent and self-sufficient, to revere family, to be fascinated by history, philosophy, poetry, and science, and to never be afraid to try something that only boys were supposed to be able to do. My dad was awesome. Here I am with him when I was three:

dad and me, 1962

My father passed away in 2003. This will be the ninth Father’s Day I haven’t been able to hear his voice resonating across the two-thousand-mile distance I now so regret having put between us when I chose to make a life in Wisconsin. Of course I still hear it in my mind—I can imagine what we might say, if I could call him, and I can still hear his voice as if we had spoken only yesterday–but it’s not the same.

Others struggle with Father’s Day for other reasons. Perhaps there’s been a family feud of some kind, and you and your father are no longer speaking.

If, like me, you’ll spend Sunday missing and celebrating the life of a man you can no longer call on the phone (for whatever reason), you understand the bittersweet nature of Father’s Day.

But for millions of others, the day continues to be what it was meant to be: Commercial, yes, but for once, commercial in a good way. My eldest son will celebrate his very first Father’s Day this weekend, his son having just been born in March. And my youngest son will also be a father before the year is out.

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The Circle of Life must continue, with all of the love and hate and pain and grief and joy that accompany it. Father’s Day is a day of contrasts.

So I wish a Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there, but especially to my own dad, and also to my sons, with whom the cycle now begins anew and for whom it will continue until their own little sea lions swim out to sea.

How do you celebrate Father’s Day? Is it a happy day for you, or a difficult one?

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