A Flame in a Manger

 

For years my parents had been christening our one-acre front lawn with a set of those plastic Nativity figurines frequently seen huddled together during the holiday season.  When I was younger, the novelty of having a complete set—two lambs and a camel along with the full cast of characters including a shepherd—was enough to keep me feeling special.  As I got older I comforted myself that, because ours were vintage, displayed in a tasteful hay bale barn, and illuminated from above with a floodlight rather than garishly from within, my family had narrowly escaped being hopelessly tacky;  we instead rested firmly in the camp of whimsical nostalgia.  Regardless of the taste level, the annual appearance of the gang on the front lawn was something that provided a sense of continuity and, no matter the chaos going on inside, a sense that a certain Christmas serenity still reigned.

manger scene 1

I must have been photographing this particular moment, as only mom, dad, Katie, Louise and Pete are pictured.

manger scene 2

Louise with vintage (read–really old and chipped) Mary and Jesus.

It was my senior year of college that everything changed.  There were only a few days left of the term, and I slogged through finals with the promise that a comfortable, familiar Christmas on County A awaited me in a few short days.  Mom and I were wrapping up our once-weekly call that Sunday night when she offhandedly mentioned,

“Oh, and the Manger Scene burned down the other night.”

Coming as it did, across the phone line to my door room a couple hours’ drive away, my mother’s comment seemed even more incongruous.  True, we certainly did edit our traditional Sunday evening calls down to a skeletal minimum.  On my part, this was to spare her the details of the questionable choices that I was making during my last year of undergrad—a decision that she was more than happy to go along with.  This approach formed the crux of her parenting after age 12:  don’t ask any questions that you don’t want to know the answer to.  On her part, the lack of foreshadowing and leaving out of key details was more routine.  She never has been very good at foreshadowing things.  Dropped in your lap like an unexpected, squirming baby, her pronouncements were often without context and, similarly, without clear instructions on where to proceed next.  Luckily, it took very little to get her going, relating the story that now exists as a legend.

Apparently they’d gotten the manger scene set up a few days before.  It was a typical weekday night, and they were settled down in the family room for the evening.  A bright floodlight swept across the back of the family room as a sheriff’s vehicle swung into the gravel driveway.  They immediately assumed that this had something to do with the family’s newest driver, my sister Louise, who had already had one hit and run incident to her credit since getting her license in September.  (Fear not, the victim was the bumper of another car in the parking lot at dance).  They hustled to the kitchen door and stepped into the crisp, semi darkness of a winter night on the Wisconsin prairie.  The only light came from the manger scene, the dusk to dawn light having been ritually unscrewed to provide center-stage billing to the front lawn tableau.  The light seemed a bit brighter than usual however.  And and it was throwing off heat.  And crackling.

The nativity scene was completely engulfed in flames

The sheriff’s deputy exited his vehicle, glancing perplexedly from the Biblical inferno to my dad in his then-uniform grey hooded Janesville Fire Department sweatshirt.  Oh, have I forgotten to mention that he was the Janesville Fire Marshal at the time?  Must have slipped my mind.  The young deputy glanced nervously between the two and asked the only logical question:

“Sir, are you aware that you Christmas scene is on fire?”

An interesting question.  Perhaps my parents just were tired of that particular decoration and couldn’t see taking a trip to the dump.  Trash burning was not uncommon in the township, and who needs a burn barrel when you have a snow-covered front lawn as a fire ring?

His mind already reeling ahead to the implications of this very public display of the fire dangers inherent in Christmas light displays, dad wearily asked while rubbing at his furrowed brow, “Sheesh, please tell me that this hasn’t been called in.”  He was answered by the crackle of the deputy’s radio coming to life.  Oh, it had been called in.  And heavily discussed by all on duty firefighters that evening.  Dad told the deputy that he had things under control, no a hose truck wasn’t needed, and PLEASE don’t say any more than you need to about this on the radio.

As the deputy pulled away into the quiet night, dad wearily pulled on his barn boots and walked over to the fire.  He unplugged what proved to the be the inciting culprit:  a 50+ year old extension cord festooned at various points along its length with electrical tape.  Using a piece of scrap lumber he knocked the haybales apart, attempting to dissipate the the now roaring blaze.  Haybales really can go to town, once they get started.  They burned for several hours and smoldered into the night, long after my parents went to bed.  In the morning all that remained was a charred circle in the center of the lawn, melted plastic lumps marking the former positions of the holy family and their retinue.  Unfortunately it didn’t snow again for several weeks.  County A is a fairly heavily traveled road, and between the the dispatch radio and the road’s usual traffic, word of the incident spread quickly.  I think that dad took the ribbing in stride, and several poems commemorating the incident were delivered to the house, all set to familiar Christmas tunes.  The best was clearly “A Flame In a Manger.”

I didn’t quite believe my mother until I saw the evidence for myself.  And for those of you who have heard the story before, perhaps you didn’t believe it either.  But while dad put out the flames, mom had the foresight to document the proceedings for posterity.  Thanks mom!

Flame in a Manger

The next Christmas, mom went out and got a new set of figures at the Farm and Fleet, but things were never really the same.  The manger scene’s magical allure was diminished somehow.  One good thing, though, they didn’t need to purchase new wise men.  You see, the year of fire brother Patrick–he would have been around 8 at the time– had added some theatrical flair to the proceedings and was having the magi approach from the east, set to arrive on Epiphany, 12 days after Christmas.  Every morning he trudged across the acre-wide lawn in his boots and hauled the three statues several feet closer to the scene.  At the time of the fire, they were still far enough to the east to have been saved.  It took a couple of days for him to give up on the project, and for awhile the three plastic wise men were seen to be slowly approaching the burned patch of lawn little by little, inching their way through the blowing prairie winds toward the greasy plastic disc on the lawn of my childhood home.

 

Shame Shelf

I’m going to tell you about something that, until a few years ago, I didn’t even have crystallized as an actual concept.  I’ve only discussed it with a few people, most notably my therapist.  Are you not in therapy yet?  You really should be.  It’s the best.  It’s like meeting up with a friend to chat, but no one will judge you / accidentally tell your mutual friend / look bored / require you to stop talking at any point to give them a turn.  And if your therapist is especially good–which mine is–you end up feeling completed gutted but with a brand new concept or understanding.  Why we’re all not just assigned a therapist at birth is beyond me.

I’ve known for years that I have a specific cache of memories that create palpable discomfort.  They usually involve me embarrassing myself.  The earliest one occurred outside a Walgreens in Janesville.  I must have been maybe 6, it was summer.  I had just climbed out of the passenger side of the van and mom was busy getting someone out of the car seat, and I was jabbering about how strange the car next to us looked.  She frantically attempted to mime “shut up!” to me as I went on and on about what I remember as a rusty sedan that was somehow fuzzy.  Only as she came around the hood with one of my infant siblings did I look up and see the driver and his family in the car.  With the windows rolled down.  Looking at me.  I can still feel the rush of heat that immediately enveloped me–even hotter than the hot, humid, sticky day.  We walked into the air conditioned drug store and  I didn’t ever want to leave.  I wanted to be absolutely certain that they’d driven away.

This is but a small sample–an amuse bouche if you will–if the vast array of memories that I have available at a moment’s notice to really solidify and dig into a crappy feeling.  Worrying over a disagreement during the day?  Why not drift off to sleep with a special memory of similar embarrassment, just to gild the proverbial lily.  My therapist pointed out that the unifying link of these memories (and so many of my other issues) is SHAME.  A complex concept that I best sum up by remembering the mantra:  “Should is a shame word.”  Are you worried that something you do or have done will be externally judged by what should or shouldn’t be true?  It’s shame.

So, I christened my collection of memories The Shame Shelf.  Perhaps you, too, have a Shame Shelf.  It is full of precious little baubles that can be periodically lifted down, stroked, polished and admired, conjuring up all sorts of awkwardness.  It doesn’t matter how remote the event–the Shame Shelf has an eternal freshness guarantee.  It’s practically impossible to remove and or smash up anything from the Shame Shelf.  They’re hardy little baubles.

shame shelf

My shelf is a little bit more linear, but this is a pretty close approximation of the mixed bag of items displayed therein.

Here’s the most recent incident that sent me back for a perusal of my Shelf.

I practiced some piano accompaniment songs this morning.  I’m playing for the middle school choir concert on Wednesday.  Whenever I practice accompaniment music I pull off a trophy from the Shame Shelf that still holds some significant toxic memories for me.  It has to do with my brief foray as a music student as Lawrence.  That short time did more to drive down my confidence than anything I’ve ever experienced.  I didn’t know how unprepared I really was, but I did know that I could accompany.  It’s what I still enjoy best.

Freshman year, a fellow student who played cello asked me to accompany her for a master class performance.  As near as I can remember, we rehearsed together a couple of times, and I think I played for her at a cello lesson.  Then we performed at the master class, and I remember that the visiting professor who was there to give cello instruction actually gave me some constructive criticism on my playing.  This was mortifying, as accompaniment always keeps me nicely in the background.  What’d I do that warranted attention?  On a stage full of people?!?!  You mean I wasn’t perfect?  Ugh.  Then I went to a piano lesson the following week and learned that I’m not allowed to just go wandering about playing in public that I should (see that word there?) to inform and prepare with my studio teacher.  Now, my logical brain says that this made absolute sense.  However. The thing I was good at became a source of shame.  Pretty ridiculous, huh?  Even more ridiculous, I spent the last 3 1/3  years of my college career slinking around attempting to avoid eye contact with the woman who was my studio teacher for those first two semesters before I basically stopped playing for 3 years.  

I started playing for choir and soloists a few years ago, and turns out I’m OK for the local scene, so it all worked out.  And yet…the embroidered sampler of that memory is apparently still there, collecting dust on the Shelf.

So, now you know.  I have a Shame Shelf.  It’s kind of funny to talk about.  I’m sure everyone has some stories that continue to cause discomfort.  But I wonder, has anyone else invested in a complete Shame Shelf????

Eine Botschaft aus der Heimat – A message from the homeland

It seems like just yesterday that I was on the Bier trip to the homeland.  However, it was actually four months ago!  I have some interesting updates to share, most a result of some letters that I sent back to Koclířov.  I sent a thank-you to our guide, Pepi, along with some pictures of the Bier family farm, the emigrant Valentine Bier family, and snapshots from the trip.  To simplify things, here’s a F.A.Q. summary of recent updates:

How is Pepi doing?

About two months ago, I heard back from Pepi.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to see a note slipped into the storm door from the USPS indicating that I needed to sign for a package from the Czech Republic.  The package contained some photos of his family and farm, a commemorative book on Koclířov and a note:  

“Dear Angela, belatedly, we are thankful for your latter, he came alright.  We were wery happy.  With love, Pepi from Koclířov with family.”  

Pepi's letter

Greetings from Pepi

 

So, I think he’s doing well.  To Pepi’s family, thank you for sharing him with us!

 

Pepi's family

Pepi’s wife, Miluska, and granddaughter, Emma

Pepi's farm

Pepi’s home & stunning gardens

Pepi's house winter

Pepi’s farm in winter

 

Did you figure out why “Pepi” is his nickname?

You may recall that Pepi’s actual name is Josef, and I wasn’t able to figure out how he acquired this seemingly unrelated nickname, despite asking.  My sister, Louise, was telling the amusing story of how Pepi answered my question of how got his nickname with a seeming non sequitur (“How did you get your nickname?”  “Well, Josef is a very common name…”).   Her colleague explained that Pepi or some variant thereof is a common nickname for Joseph in many countries.  Turns out, in Latin, Saint Joseph’s name is always followed by the letters “P.P” for pater putativus (commonly accepted) father of Jesus Christ. A Pepe / Pepi variant as a common nickname for Joseph / Josef is found in many countries.

Didn’t you send some additional materials to Pepi?  What happened with those?

Why yes I did, thank you for asking.  I sent some basic genealogical information on the Valentine Bier family to be shared with Pepi’s “professor friend” in Berlin.  What I gathered through our translator was that this professor friend was interested in the story of displaced Germans following WWII.  Well, that professor friend must have shared my information, because about two weeks ago I received an email from a (presumed) relative in Berlin, Stephan Bier.  Talk about excitement!

Well how on earth did you read it?  You ain’t got no German.

True.  Luckily I have a friend and retired professor named John McSweeny who helped me with translation and interpretation of the information that Stephan sent.  Those of us interested in learning the story of the Biers out of Ketzelsdorf (Koclířov) owe a debt of gratitude to Professor McSweeny.  He not only translated, but provided background materials and recommended reading.  You know what they say: you can take the professor out of the research stacks, but you can’t take the research stacks out of the professor.  Or something like that.

You’re killing me, Smalls!  What did the email say?

Stephan’s original email contained a translated first paragraph with the remainder in German.  Here, for your reading pleasure, is the message as translated by Professor McSweeny:

I am Stephan Bier, born in 1936 in Ketzeldorf , House No. 48.   [recall, the Valentine Biers were in number 78]  Pepi has sent your family document to me in Berlin.  BTW, Pepi grew up in House No. 35, which is his family’s home, and which is in the same neighborhood as my parent’s home. Some Ketzeldorfers ended up here in Berlin after several detours. Most of the people were victims of the “wild expulsion” of June 28, 1945. On June 29th we were aimlessly transported under guard by rail from Abstdorf in open coal cars in the direction of what was then central Germany and is now eastern Germany. That was eight weeks after the end of the devastating Second World War.  The country was devastated and there was no functioning German administration; chaos reigned!

Thanks to the list of residents of Ketzeldorf in June, 1945, produced by the Czechs, I can see that there were 280 house numbers with about 1600 persons who were all German.  In 69 of the house numbers there were 250 people with the name Bier! This level of concentration of the name does not appear anywhere else. My compatriot, Franz Kössler (Born 1931), House No. 60, has looked at the documents a little more closely and has already written a draft for an article in the Schönhengster Newspaper.   We hope that it will be published soon.  The newspaper is only published monthly in Göppingen.

Under the direction of Dr. Franz Kössler, and with my collaboration, we published a small booklet in 2015 entitled   “Memories of Ketzelsdorf in Schönhengstgau” in memory of the expulsion 70 years before.  The booklet is probably no longer available.  However, I have almost the entire printed version in the computer and so this could be made available electronically if desired.

I am sending you my findings about your family from the Ketzelsdorfer birth register, which you can see on the Internet. I am also attaching two short overviews or summaries that I created for myself.

Best wishes from Berlin,

Stephan Bier

 

Wow, that’s amazing!  I have so many questions.  First, are we related to Stephan Bier?  Unclear.  I’m sure that somewhere in the past we had a common ancestor.  He provided a nice link to a slightly more navigable version of the Zamrsk archive, so that’s a good starting point.  It’s still in German though, so this is going to be a long term project.  I’ve already replied to Stephan and asked whether he knows the origin of the name “Bier”–famous producer or consumer thereof.

Fair enough.  What’s Schönhengstgau? And who’s this Dr. Franz Kössler?  Remember how I kept describing the region in which Ketzelsdorf is located as “an area comprised of regions of Bohemia and Moravia where a majority of ethnic Germans lived that’s now in the Czech Republic”?  Well, IT HAS A NAME and that’s Schönhengstgau.  Of course, this region now only exists historically.  Schönhengstgau is roughly translated as “Beautiful Stallion Shire” in English.   A “Gau” was an administrative area in Germany roughly equivalent to an English shire.  With a new search term in hand, a research community can be discovered.

Schönhengstgau

Symbol or crest of Schönhengstgau

Enter Dr. Franz Kössler.  As Stephan Bier’s letter indicates, he is a fellow displaced Ketzelsdorfer.  HIs Wikipedia entry indicates that he has worked professionally in areas including botany, radiation biology, environmental biophysics, musculoskeletal disorders.  And his hobby in retirement is Ketzelsdorf specifically and, generally, Schönhengstgau.  I presume that this is the “professor friend” that Pepi mentioned.

Dr. Franz Kössler

Dr. Koffler from a website listing his curriculum vitae:  https://www2.informatik.hu-berlin.de/~koessler/Vati/LebenslaufVati.html

 

Hmm, interesting.  If I want to learn more, what do I do next?  And why are you hogging the information that he says he shared?

Thanks again to Professor McSweeny.  He identified a few great options, such as a family research forum, and a dedicated website.  Also look at the Wikipedia entry for Schönhengstgau which includes the Schönhengstgau Homeland song.  Finally, I’m not nearly so selfish as I seem:  here is a link to the two translated chronologies that Stephan Bier provided.

I see that Stephan Bier seems to think that Ketzelsdorf holds the record for Bier concentration.  What about Southern Wisconsin?  Where are we at?  That is a good question.  I realize that my family data is not particularly up to date as far as recent generations go.  I can identify at least 140 “Biers,” assuming a 50% rate of marital name changing.  So, we’ll have to take a roll call.  I’m looking for anyone with the last name Bier.  In the Vincent V. Bier family (son of Edward, son of Valentine), we have:  Thomas Bier, Janice (Cousin) Bier, Angela Bier, Catherine Bier, Louise Bier, Peter Bier, Mary (Schwichtenberg) Bier, Liesl Bier, August Bier, Patrick Bier, James Bier, Tim Bier, Amy Bier, and Kelly Bier.  So that’s 14 to start with.   Please comment.   I guess I have to add “recent family activity” to the ever-expanding list of things to do.

It sure sounds like you’ve got a lot of work to do.  Truer words.  But at least it’s fun!

 

 

 

It Has Happened

I’m pretty sure that I officially crossed over a divide this past weekend.  I think I’m officially on the “older” side of divide.  Now, as has been previously addressed, I’ve always secretly (or not so secretly?) been an old soul.  However.  That didn’t necessarily translate into a complete outward manifestation of this fact.  As difficult as it will someday be for my children to believe, I was young once.

I was chatting over dinner with my sister and her husband (who, interestingly, had just finished inquiring as to whether my sister had always been 90.  Apparently this “old soul” thing is somewhat familial).  He mentioned that the next day he was thinking of going to see Thor Ragnarok.  And I asked whether that was a friend of his.

thor ragnarok

What he really meant when he said “Thor Ragnarok”

thor

What I was thinking when he said “Thor Ragnarok”

As soon as I said it a little voice in the back of my head was screaming “movie!  character!  stop!”;  but it was too late.  We all had a good laugh about the mix-up, but I mentally acknowledged the fact that It Had Happened.  I’d seen the signs for awhile.  Here’s a few that I’ve noticed:

  1.  I’ve started shopping from Land’s End.  A lot.  This catalog has been around forever, but the practical, timeless comfort never appealed before.  Now all of the sudden I’m all about supima blends, practical down vests, and more turtlenecks than I could wear in a week.  I’d like to think that these pieces are still subtly blended into my wardrobe.  When I start layering my turtlenecks underneath appliqued sweatshirts we have a real problem.
  2. I rarely wear heels over 2 inches anymore.  Ever.  I remember waltzing into the NICU during a residency rotation in pointy-toed slingback heels and laughing breezily at the nurses’ astonishment at my wardrobe choice.  I’ll never be that painfully practical, I thought.  Well, let me just say one thing:  orthotics.
  3. I’ve started sighing and saying “well, whatcha gonna do?”  Also “golly.”
  4. I make a lot of noise when I get out of bed in the morning.  Between my intentional and automatic joint cracking, it sounds like I’m attempting to break free of a graphite prison.  Jimmy is much the same, although he’ll deny it.  The bonus is that the first person up always wakes up the other,  and we now spend some pleasant time alone over coffee every morning.
  5. I don’t spend too much time about how I look anymore.   No matter where we’re going, it’s highly unlikely that any strangers will spare more than a passing glance on my appearance.  I’m in the “older lady” category, and am valuable mostly for my droll wit, wicked dance moves, and open bar tab.  I don’t mean this to be a sad meditation on the state of female ageing.  To my mind, it’s totally understandable and definitely a relief.
  6. That being said, I spend a lot of time on how I look.  The number of skin care products on my bathroom counter is amazing.  I have my roots touched up every 6-8 weeks.  I have multiple types of foundation and concealer that are applied with an artist’s precision.  All of this to avoid being asked “what happened?” “are you tired?” or “were you on call last night?”
  7. In those magazine articles where it’s “hairstyles (or whatever) for every age, I have to flip ahead a few pages.  You know the ones.  There will be a section for 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and then 50+.
  8. And speaking of magazines, who on earth is that?  When I’m at the hair stylist every 6-8 weeks, I will indulge in a trashy magazine, and I really don’t know who most of these young starlets are.  And the really funny thing is–I don’t WANT to know.  As long as I’m not the “youth ringer” on the trivia team, it’s not my problem.
  9. I’m hoping that technology just stops.  I actually wish progress would have stopped about 10 years ago because I just can’t learn anymore.  When my grandfather died a couple of years ago, I was amazed to look back and realize that he’d been born in a house without running water or electricity, and when he died he was posting on Facebook and emailing his family.  This will NOT be me.  Luckily I have a technology obsessed husband.  However, if he goes before me, I’m pulling my old Palm Pilot back out and reverting to 2002.

So, It Has Happened.  But, whatcha gonna do?  And, while I’m thinking about it, if anyone wants to see Ladybird with me, let me know.  I’ve always been a huge LBJ fan.

Mad Libs: Kid Car Version

mad libs

My kids like to to Mad Libs in the car.  I’m sure you remember Mad Libs–someone asks for random parts of speech, and they’re transcribed blindly into a story, the results of which are invariably hilarious to anyone under the age of 12.  I think my kids are learning something from Mad Libs.  For example, I’m fairly certain that they both know what a noun is by now, and that an adverb usually ends in -ly.  And I’m glad that they’re doing something somewhat creative in the car and not just staring at a screen or bickering with each other.  And it usually keeps me in relative peace and quiet.

Generally they start by trying to involve me in the Mad Libs activity, but after a few words I’m generally deemed unworthy and my turn is routinely skipped.  You see, I always break the rules of Juvenile Car Mad Libs, which are specific, predictable, and unvarying:

  1.  All nouns will be something immediately visible out the window.  So, “tree” “mailbox” and “WalMart” are all fine.  Intangibles such as “happiness” or “sanity” are not and rapidly disqualify one.
  2.  All verbs will be dramatic actions such as “jump,” “run,” and “punch-in-the-face.”  Quieter, intransitive (like that, mom?) verbs such as “become” are frowned upon.
  3.  All adjectives will come from the usual descriptor set for an ogre.  Examples would be “hairy,” “stinky,” or “gross.”
  4.  All adverbs will be similarly disgusting
  5.  If the category “part of the body” comes up, you will dither dramatically for about 15 seconds before answering “butt.”  Alternatives are acceptable only if butt has been used two or more times already, and must be another potentially stinky body part.

Resulting Mad Libs are as follows: (taken from the kids’ book, but typed for legibility purposes.  This one is apparently a short dialogue.)

Actor #1: Why did we have to come to this warty old castle?  This place sends shivers up and down my butt.

Actor #2: We had no choice.  You know all the windows in town were filled because of the tree convention.

Actor #1: I’d have been happy to stay in a smooth motel.  (mom was included at this point but summarily dismissed after this answer.)

Actor #2:  Relax.  Here comes the bellboy for our stopsigns.

Actor #1:  Hilltop!  Look, he’s all bent over and has a big PetCo riding on his butt.  He looks just like Natalie from that horror flick.

Actor #2:  No.  I think he’s my old buttocks teacher.  (“What’s buttocks?”  “It’s what those tea drinking people (the British) call a butt”).

Actor#1:  I’m putting my armpit down!  I”m not staying in this ridiculous place.  I’d rather fart in the car!

Actor #2:  You’re worrying stupidly.

Actor #1:  Really?  Look at the bellboy.  He has my traffic in one hand and your Toyota Camry in the other, and his third hand . . . His third hand . . . Ahhh!

 

This was read with gales of uncontrolled laughter, pure comedy gold, and the whole “farting in the car” thing rapidly crossed the line into nonfiction.  Gotta love a Kid Car Mad Lib.

 

 

Halloween Do’s and Don’ts

I love Halloween.  It’s the beginning of that frantic roller coaster ride that starts mid-October-ish with the need to turn on the furnace and burn apple spice scented things and continues through January 1.  While there are plenty of lists out there about how to make Halloween safer / more nutritious / more crafty / less sexy-costumified, I’m going to focus on how to do Trick or Treating right.  (This is a completely subjective list.  I’m married to someone whose idea of the right way to Trick or Treat involves getting back with the kids ASAP and changing into sweats to watch football).

  • DO yield to your children’s wishes in terms of costume complexity.  Did I really want to make a “tree” costume two weeks before my due date with the second child?  Absolutely not.  Did I do it?  Yes, because Halloween should be associated with fatigue, hot glue gun burns, and insanely cute pictures–not guilt.
    Peri-Evelyn birth 030

    You want to be a tree you say?  No problem.

    Now, the following year she wanted a $9.99 costume from Walgreens and I had to bite my tongue and let it happen.  The kid gets to drive the boat on the costume issue.  Here are a couple more of my greatest hits:

     

    Where did this ridiculous standard come from?  As with most things (at least according to my therapist) the blame lies squarely and wholly on my mother’s shoulders.  While I can sew straight lines from a pattern reasonable well, she can just make stuff up and it comes out looking great.  Mom would routinely wait until a couple of days before Halloween and begin taking requests from the five of us–and she delivered on ANYTHING. Between her mountains of scrap fabric, the refrigerator box housing previous years’ dance and Halloween costumes, and sheer ingenuity she created costumes including:  Minnie Mouse including padded shoe covers, Robin Hood, The Man in Black, Little Bo Peep, and Pepe Le Pew in addition to scores of witches, vampires and ghosts.  So whenever people suggest that I’m creative with costumes, I just roll my eyes.

  • DO dress your infant to toddler age child as a doll.  The caveat to the “kids drive the costume boat” rule outlined above is that this only applies once they are able to form really good full sentences.  Before that–they’re yours!  And kids as dolls are just too cute to pass up.  Their cheeks are so round and translucent for such a short period, that highlighting the fact through a well-timed doll costume is just too deliciously irresistible. 

    Like my mother, I went for Raggedy Ann.  Unlike my mother, I did NOT handmake my own yard wig in the days before You-tube tutorials were a thing.  Guys, she MADE UP her OWN version of a yarn wig.  I remember that she used leftover denim scraps for the underside skeleton of that red yarn wig I’m wearing above.  The woman is a technical genius.

  • If the baby is bald, DO take advantage of this with a costume highlighting the baldness.  We chose Shaolin Monk. 

    There are plenty of options however.  How about a Bruce Willis baby?  Mr. Clean?  Larry David?  Steve Harvey?  Rough time in her life Britney Spears?

  • DO NOT let Wisconsin weather be an excuse for staying inside.  Layer, layer, layer, and make sure that the headpiece at least gives a clue to the costume because chances are good that the rest won’t be seen at all.2011 November 035
  • DO let them trick or treat for as long as they want to.  This applies both to the day (a rule I find easier to apply since Jimmy is inevitably the one traversing the neighborhood in Wisconsin Halloweens) and over the years.  I will give out candy to anyone as long as they say “trick or treat” and are willing to let me identify their costume as “disaffected teenager.”
  • DO encourage a healthy sense of competition by opening a trading floor for the neighborhood children after trick or treating.

    20171029_182204

    Cordani House Trading Floor after the opening bell, Halloween 2017

  • DO NOT insert yourself into this floor.  Despite the fact that my children will literally bicker about anything (example from today’s backseat:  does the “beginning of time” mean the beginning of the universe or when humans started keeping track of time?  Because this affects the argument about “most awesome since the beginning of time.), they will manage to both create and enforce their own set of rules and norms in this bartering system.  DO NOT be tempted to suggest that their trade of 6 fun size Butterfingers for a full size Hershey is dumb because nobody really likes Hershey.  You will be met with a look of utter disdain and exasperation.  Stay upstairs with the adult beverages.
  • DO dress up yourself.  DO NOT worry about how silly you look.  I find great delight in dressing up for Halloween, and  I think I come by this honestly, given my family history.  Check out this snapshot of my Grandma on the right from 1946:
    Halloween 1946

    Ann (Recchia) Yench, Philip Yench, Nell (Yench) Cousin, a.k.a., “Grandma”

    I’m fairly certain that whatever is happening to her right is completely inappropriate by modern standards, but it certainly lends a certain devil-may-care attitude to the whole scene.  My mother also still enjoys dressing up, and 10 points for whoever can name her spirit-animal as whom she dresses every Halloween.  Hint:  she is a teacher, and it’s a book character…

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    For those curious, yes, I believe she made this yarn wig too.  If you could see her stockings, they’re striped…

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Grandma and the girls before getting lost on the way to the school Fall Festival and having to wait for help outside the car in this getup.

  • DO NOT let work keep you from dressing up.  Now, as pediatrician, it was perhaps somewhat easier for me to justify wearing a full costume to work.  However, I did not let concern for my patients’ literary fears affect my choices, as evidenced as two favorites that, yes, I wore to work:  Evil Queen and Dolores Umbridge.

 

Christmas 008

The year that I was senior resident during Halloween and “encouraged” the team to dress up as characters from Grease.  I can’t figure out why the reviews from my students were never higher…

  • DO let them eat the candy til they puke on Trick or Treat night.  It’s one night a year and provides a real sensory lesson on the notion of gluttony.   That whole consume-til-you-puke phenomenon is why I can no longer partake of either banana chips or Bailey’s.

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    Natalie, Halloween 2007.  FYI, no evidence of candy desensitization as of yet

Wedding Dancer

The younger of the girls, Evie, is a lot like me.  We both hang out quite a bit in our heads and enjoy worrying about things completely out of our control.  We also enjoy exerting the maximum control over those things we can.  For example, last night she was interested in ranking, in order of likelihood and severity, natural disasters.  You see, we like to have some sort of a thoughtful approach to our rumination.  As you might imagine, this can get a bit taxing at times.

That’s why I will forever cherish a certain, newly-formed memory for the rest of my sentient days.  It is already nestled safely in that Jewel Box of Perfect Memories.  The metaphorical box is populated with those crystallized moments that exist in perfect, freeze-frame clarity.  If my life were a long bunch of film, these moments would make up the highlight reel.  My newest gem for the collection is Evie as wedding dancer.

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated a family wedding, and pretty much all of my mom’s family was there.  Now, this family loves a wedding dance.  My Grandma and Grandpa Cousin (my mom’s parents) were famous for cutting a rug at any opportunity, and the entire bunch of us are unabashed wedding dancers.  My childhood is littered with memories of relatives’ weddings and us as kids cramming the front of the dance floor before we retreated, bleary with sleep, to the tables to watch the grown ups dominate the scene.  One of the best include my Great Aunt Helen, my Grandpa’s sister, who was also a recreation square dancer.

Of course, at some point I entered into that bleak, black period of childhood wherein we I was too embarrassed to freely dance.  What a waste of good dancing time this was, but there you go.  To truly enjoy wedding dancing, you can’t give even the slightest concern to how you look doing it.

Wedding dancing 1988

I’m pretty  much in that bleak, awkward period here as evidenced by the hand snapping.   But at least my glasses aren’t as large as my mother’s

In everyday life, Evie has this same burden overwhelming concern about what people think of her.  However.  This absolutely does not apply to wedding dances, where she truly lets her freak flag fly.  She comes by this honestly and was taught by the best…

And she was in rare form a couple of weeks ago.  The girl couldn’t get enough, and she simply embodied joy.  It was perfect.At one point, right around the climax of the party when everything is at its peak and you know that it’s probably only downhill from here, they started playing a loooong Santana number.  Something about the Latin rhythms, the thrumming guitar, spoke to Evie.  She flung herself wholly into the music, threw her head back and DANCED.  And, like moths to a flame, we were all drawn to her.  Without discussing it, we began following her childish moves that translated so easily into dance.  Every eight bars she’d switch her move up, the circle of adult acolytes would grin, and we’d pick up the beat.  She didn’t miss a step, and neither did we.  If nothing else, the girl has a future as a Zumba instructor.

So, if you want your day made, get a load of this gem from the Jewel Box of Perfect Memories: