Unfurling My Curls

Photo Unfurling My CurlsBeing a little girl with curly hair had its perks. I could launch into a medley of ShirleyTemple songs and tap dance my way to a later bedtime, but as I grew up I became tangled in its complexities.

My unruly curls and I were soon taken to my Titi Olga’s beauty salon for a consultation (Titi is an affectionate term for aunt, in Spanish). Located in the basement of her home, it most probably was being run without a license. Possibly affected by the strong odor of the chemical solutions, JC* lost all control of the situation and the decision was made to trust the illegal professional to give me a permanent. I left there with a lollipop and a hair style that gave new meaning to Curly Top, one of Shirley Temple’s hit movies.

As a teenager, the Beach Boys music reminded me that my curls were interfering with my goal of long, blonde, straight hair and living in California. Luckily, I had read in a teen magazine that I could straighten my hair on my own. The project required an ironing board, an iron and one important item that I had forgotten about: the towel that goes between the iron and the hair. It was a miracle that JC walked into the laundry room just at the right moment and shrieked, saving me from a 911 experience that would, no doubt, still be the talk of the police locker room today.

There was another article in that same teen magazine (they went bankrupt soon after) that said to set your hair with juice cans, the larger diameter helping to straighten the hair. Though my younger siblings were apprehensive at first, the little entrepreneurs set up shop, charging their friends 25 cents to view their alien older sister in her native habitat. And, when I awoke one morning, screaming, as I discovered that you could read the word “Tropicana” in bold letters across my rolled hair, those little devils raised the admission price to 50 cents.

As if out of a scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, I unexpectedly experienced life curl free when I became pregnant. It wasn’t pretty. My mind raced through the twists and turns of a life without those rowdy ringlets and I swore on my bubble hair dryer that if my curls somehow returned, I would never brush them off as an annoyance again.

In an ironic turn of events, Big A* was born with a bald little head and my curls miraculously returned, crowning my head, once again, with those wild twirls of hair that were and are the root of who I am.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

 

 

 

 

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The King of Queens

Photo King of Queens

Ask anyone and they will tell you that I was the one to coin that phrase years before the popular TV show. My dad not only owned a construction company in Queens, a borough of Manhattan, he spoke of it as if it were his magical kingdom.

Every morning (sometimes seven days a week), he would leave the house before we got up and regale us with fascinating facts and stories when he’d arrive home. The reason that the fruits and vegetables from Queens were larger than any we’d ever seen was because the vacant lots they were grown in contained special soil. While he couldn’t make his way around a country road, he knew of a network of back alleys which could magically transport him to any Queens destination in half the time.

Though he only stood 5 feet 6 inches, he lived life large. He had a powerful presence that was not lost on any of the Queens store or restaurant owners. When he walked into an establishment, there was always a ruffle of excitement as they welcomed Mr. Frank and he delighted in that.

Wonderful marketer that he was, he noticed that the demographics in his area were changing. Many of the Queens homeowners were now widows who were a bit fearful of dealing with rough, tough and possibly unscrupulous contractors. That gave him the idea to create the persona of “The Gentleman Roofer.” His new Yellow Pages ad and business cards featured a photo of him in a bowler hat and tuxedo. When customers would ask if the Gentleman Roofer would be wearing his hat, he started to carry plastic ones in his trunk.

The photo shoot for the new marketing campaign was created in my parent’s living room. Initially, an argument ensued when my dad, in a hurry, insisted on just wearing the tuxedo jacket along with his boxer shorts, reasoning that the photo would be taken from the waist up. With JC* as the photographer (and no experience in this field of endeavor), what happened next was another Lucy and Desi moment. For years, those outtakes were the highlight of every family get together. We’d laugh until we cried at the photos of my dad yelling in each photo as JC repeatedly took crooked images of him in his combination tuxedo/underwear outfit.

Once he visited your home to give you a quote was when the magic happened. In five minutes, he would size you up. If you lived alone, he would show you family photos, tell you about his voice lessons and leave you a tape of him singing Frank Sinatra tunes. If you were aggressive and started haggling about pricing, he would suggest another area contractor. They were not as good as his company, but there might be a better rapport. This usually led to that customer calling, begging for another chance (and paying more for the privilege)

For months after he died, I would call his company phone number at night just to hear his robust voice on the message and smile. I knew that the new owner would eventually update it, but I doubted that anyone could match his Christmas message. Recorded over 50 times until perfect, it featured JC singing “Jingle Bells” softly in the background (again, with no experience in this field of endeavor) and my dad reminding you that you will have a happier holiday if you call the Gentleman Roofer for an appointment.

Happy Father’s Day!

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

 

How Our New Home Found Us

Photo How Are Home Found Us

We love you, dear Austin and didn’t want to leave
But, home prices and no zoning had led us to believe

Our horizons should broaden, our focus widen for sure
Would any other Texas city have your allure?

So, with pen, paper and a positive stance
We compiled our wish list and then by chance

A vibrant, new friend gave us food for thought
As she regaled us with tales of the home she’d just bought

It was all she had dreamed of, all she would desire
And she was able to get in just under the wire

In her late 50s, she met the 55+ regulation
Now she’s the poster child for Sun City and our new inspiration

She’s swimming, she’s golfing, she’s dancing and that’s not all
She’s joined the hiking club, the Spanish club and is playing pickle ball

The amenities intrigued us and as her new friends were introduced
We wondered; are they actors and are we being seduced?

We pondered, we contemplated and finally our instincts we did obey
So, lookout Sun City, we’re heading your way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Random Acts of Kindness Sandwiched Together

Photo Random Acts Kindness

It had been 17 years since they had last encountered each other. From the very beginning, it was a volatile relationship. They did not bring out the best in each other. Her hope was that their association might terminate forever, but that was not to be.

My aunt knew it before the doctors did. When she told them that her Cancer had returned, they seemed taken aback. She felt as if her right breast was trying to tell her something. At first, she tried to ignore the constant feeling of something pulling inside her, but it became too hard to ignore.

She closed her eyes as the doctor spoke and all those words that she hoped she might never hear again came surging back into her mind: sonogram, tumor, biopsy. It was malignant, stage 1, but, once again, something deep inside her told her to have a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy. As it turned out, this eradicated a string of Cancer cells that were lurking behind the scenes. The doctor praised her for being proactive; she had not only found her Cancer, she had also saved her own life.

When you are ill, you can let yourself wallow in a bubble of get well cards, doctor visits and the awkward smiles of visitors who fumble for the right thing to say, but my aunt decided that she would, instead, gather herself up in her faith and not be afraid.

For the next 28 days at 3:30 p.m. each afternoon she would travel to the hospital for radiation therapy. The 10 minutes went by quickly and she mastered the drill: gown on, lie down, eyes closed, head left, angles set, lights on, panel activated, imagine the high doses of energy killing off the tumor cells as if it were a video game, get up, get dressed, repeat.

On day 29, she woke up and decided that she needed to do something special for the wonderful staff that had helped her through her ordeal. She had expected a more clinical atmosphere and not the daily welcome hugs, the smiles and the small talk that came with her 10 minutes a day. How many times did they repeat this patient scenario in the course of a day?

She didn’t care if her family thought she was going overboard, a box of candy or a tin of cookies wouldn’t do; she would cater a lunch for the entire staff. To this day, she does not know why she bypassed the restaurant she intended to enter and walked into another one down the street instead. The manager had to be called when she noted that, instead of paying with a credit card, she intended to pay cash when she returned to pick up the lunch order for 15 later that day.

Usually not considered outspoken, her arduous journey thus far had toughened her up a bit and she vowed not to leave without placing her order, credit card or not. She gave the manager the short story of her last 28 days and noticed his demeanor change immediately. In a soft voice, this big man, who seemed a bit stern around the edges just a minute ago, shared his story. As the words poured out of him as to how his wife had died of breast cancer, they embraced. Then, he looked into my aunt’s eyes soulfully and said “…You must promise me that you will not refuse what I am going to do right now…”

They argued for a few minutes, she stating that as a business man, he needed to be more practical, he affirming that it was his pleasure to pay for the entire lunch order. In the end, he won. She thanked him a hundred times and gave him two more hugs and kisses. He sat in the back room for a while after she had gone, trying to regain his composure from what had not been a typical morning.

The 28 days were a blur to her and, for now, she forgot about everything she had been through. The staff was overwhelmed by her generosity and together they enjoyed the lunch and the camaraderie.

Little by little, constant talk of her health gave way to the normalcy of life. What’s for dinner? What are the grandchildren up to? She relished those ordinary parts of life that now seemed so important and meaningful.

The bone chilling numbness felt when surprised by an unwelcome twist of fate, the warmth of a guardian angel’s guidance, the bright glow of kindness; from time to time, she would think about how a devastating diagnosis could bring about such a beautiful ending.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Considering the Avant-garde

Photo Avante garde

It was 3 a.m. and I was sitting up in bed eating a banana when Mr. Wiz* returned from the bathroom. “…What are you doing?..” he asked with concern. “…Just something for personal reasons…” I responded, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. He knew, from previous experience, not to question any of my more unusual habits and decided it was in his best interest to just go back to sleep.

Between you and me, a banana is an almost immediate cure for heartburn. That or one-half teaspoon of mustard. I have more where that came from. The day I purchased a book about folk remedies was the day that my family sensed a shift in the usually well-hidden, quirky side of my personality.

They see it as a blending of natural medicine, folk remedies and old wive’s tales in a big witch’s caldron until it begins to ooze out of the top and engulf anyone brave enough to still be in its path. But, then I remind them about eating an apple a day or a bowl of chicken soup when ill and they are pacified…for the moment.

In the spirit of keeping Austin weird (the city’s slogan), since moving here, I pride myself on keeping up my polka dot collection, my oddities collection and now I find that I am also becoming the keeper of the more unusual potions, elixirs and remedies that I have come across.

Currently, I am singlehandedly taking on the cosmetic industry with a campaign to experiment with some do it yourself, at home remedies as part of my beauty regimen. Without frightening Mr. Wiz (who, I’m sure, is curious as to just what is taking place behind that closed bathroom door), let’s just say that apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil are not just for salads anymore, Moroccan Argan oil has other uses than as a dip for bread and facial exercises are the new face lifts. I’ve said too much, but you get the idea.

Little by little, I seem to be winning over my family as they hint for a possible solution to a current malady they are experiencing. Recent suggestions have taken toothpaste, Greek yogurt and duct tape out of their respective comfort zones and into an unknown realm.

Who knows? If we can naturally eradicate those little ailments that get under our skin, it might just remind us to occasionally try thinking out of the box and consider the unconventional alternative.

 

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.

In Search of Our Soul Tribe

Photo Soul Tribe

In high school, we were the mighty 13. Our claim to fame were the dance numbers we would create. “West Side Story’s” “Gee, Officer Krupke” won us first prize at the school talent show. I remember, fondly, one rainy Saturday afternoon, when all 12 gathered in my basement to help me prepare oak tag signs for my bid for class President and then returned the next week to console me when I wasn’t elected.

Back then, my best friend and I decided to create code names using our initials to ward off any security breaches as we passed notes back and forth; hers was Ellen (L.N.), mine was Elsie (L.C.). When we needed to see each other to share the ups and downs of teenage girlhood, we would call each other and say “…Meet S.S…,” then both run to our secret spot and find the other sitting in the branches of the old gnarled tree we both always loved.

How did we all lose touch? Sometimes I wonder why all those experiences and memories didn’t do a better job of cementing us together. I admire those people that have kept up with everyone that has ever touched their lives. I wish I was one of them, but then I am reminded that it does take two to tango. While the idealist in me hates to let people go, the logical side says three strikes, you’re out; the gentler side of that meaning is that after three times, the pattern will deliver its own message.

It is said that you become the company you keep and in the broader sense I can see that. Socializing with vibrant, positive thinkers, will most likely, ignite those passions within you. But, let’s not forget about the yin and yang; contrasting personalities can fortify and compliment who we are and take us places we would never have dreamed of going alone. A symbiotic relationship packs the one-two punch of inspiration plus confidence and reminds us that there is strength in numbers.

Acquaintance, friend, pal, soul mate; at any given time in our lives, I see now that we tend to acquire just what we need. Did you ever meet someone by chance and just know that they were meant to be a part of your life? That spark that instantaneous bond can transform a stranger into a kindred spirit. Were you ever surprised that a rekindled friendship would start back up right where it left off without missing a beat?

Be open to those around you; you never know who fate might link you to. Be receptive and get to know people different from yourself. Be bold (even if it means going it alone) and step into new experiences. Be the one who can say to themselves “…I’ve made the most of every opportunity that came my way…” Somewhere between want and need, the perfect connections will arise.

All those years ago, I would never have imagined that, in time, those strong bonds of friendship would all but vanish. Maybe they were making way for new relationships that needed to be cultivated, new adventures that would lead to chance encounters. Maybe it was the universe’s way of reminding me that as one door closes, another opens.

Being a part of a community, something bigger than ourselves, and delighting in that camaraderie is what it’s all about. Those special relationships bring to mind a prayer that St. Francis of Assisi wrote over 700 years ago when he reminds us “…to be understood as to understand, to be consoled as to console, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that we receive…”

We’re never sure how all the pieces fit together; how people from different walks of life, whom we meet at different times and places just seem to complete our puzzle. It’s that strong esprit de corps that fortifies us, motivates us to continue our journey and keeps us on the lookout for new members of our soul tribe.

 

 

 

 

 

Auditory Illusions     

Photo Auditory Illusion

She was a well-dressed, middle age woman and when she smiled and leaned in to speak to me, I was taken off guard. “…I like your boobs…” she said. Never wanting to appear impolite, I remember responding with a very faint “…Thank you…” It wasn’t until the conversation continued that I realized she had actually said “…I like your boots…”

This has happened to me more than once. In grammar school, I proudly sang the national anthem at the top of my lungs each morning. I was absolutely crushed to hear that Josė, who I had imagined to be a new U.S. citizen, was really not being sung to at all. I still like my words better: “…Josė, does that star-spangled banner yet wave…”

While scientists label it an auditory illusion (a sound trick similar to an optical illusion), I’m pretty sure it’s just the comedic side of my brain having a little fun at my expense. Studies have actually shown that the brain does in fact have a funny bone. It’s located near the right frontal lobe just above the right eye. I instead picture hundreds of miniature comedians impatiently awaiting their turn to audition and deliver one liners.

Years ago, when Mr. Wiz* and I were discussing our wedding, we were in a quandary as to what to do. Having both been married before and now owning a business together, the guest list was increasing with each mention of the subject. A leisurely Sunday brunch at our favorite restaurant seemed like a good time to broach the subject. Our quick banter soon became heated. When his fruit appetizer appeared, it gave him the idea to try and diffuse the situation by uttering that old pun. “…Cantaloupe? … he said, grinning.

What he did not know at the time, was that I was probably one of the few people to not be in on that joke. I understood him to say “…Can’t elope….” After that, Mr. Wiz says all he can remember is me jumping up, kissing him and thanking him for wanting a wedding. He was still dazed, as the event took on a life of its own and wedding plans were in full swing by that afternoon.

Neurologically speaking, my system becomes nervous at the thought of those sound waves traveling from my ear canal to my ear drum. I only hope that my concentration levels are at a heightened state, so that those vibrations transmitted to my brain become words that I can live by or laugh at.

*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.