LETTING GO OF MOM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

As I get older, I’m expecting less from myself, at least in some ways.

I’m less judgmental. My standards have relaxed … some. I think this is good, but I’m not completely comfortable about it. Although I no longer expect myself to look my best every day — yes, I used to need to look “just right” even if all I was doing was running errands. Now, I go days without wearing make-up or curling my hair. I don’t automatically wear earrings and other jewelry. My husband barely notices. He’s fine with a more ‘au naturel’ version of me.

Mom at age 41

I still wear ‘nice’ clothes every day. I don’t even own sweatpants or a sweatshirt. So I haven’t utterly abandoned my 1950’s, early 1960’s dress codes completely.

I do worry, though. What if being more relaxed and forgiving about my appearance will morph into giving up? Not caring anymore? Am I going to turn into one of those people who goes out wearing pajama bottoms? I don’t ever want to be that person, but I’m afraid it might eventually happen to me, somewhere down the line.

On the other hand, I know that I am way too self-conscious about my appearance. My mother ‘dressed up’, with full make-up, every single day. She was appalled when I went to the supermarket looking anything short of stylish and polished.

“You always want to make a good impression on people,” she said. I thought she was over the top. But some of those judgmental attitudes and standards rubbed off on me and I’ve never been able to entirely escape them.

Mom at 65 years old

So I usually believe I’m just letting go of some of my mother’s baggage, but sometimes it feels like I’m just letting go. I prefer to believe I’m becoming a more well-adjusted person, with a better self-esteem. That other part of me feels like I’m crawling slowly down the path to dilapidation.

I hope I’m becoming a more enlightened, confident person. Less fixated on outward appearance. Accepting a modern-day, more casual sensibility about dress and appearance. And still, I hear my mother’s voice in my head saying “You’re going out looking like THAT?”

Mom at 85, six weeks before she died of cancer

Changing long-held values is hard. So is silencing your mother’s voice in your head. The change is welcome and overdue. It’s very late in coming. Which, surprisingly, doesn’t make it easier.

TWO SHORT STORIES – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I love stories about clever solutions to thorny problems. Here are two of my favorite family stories about creative problem solving.

THE DIVORCE DILEMMA

My mother was a psychologist. In the ‘60’s, she got a call from a famous divorce lawyer in New York City. His name was Louis Nizer and he wanted her to testify in a society divorce case. He represented the wife who was suing for divorce. The problem, to put it bluntly, was that her husband only liked having sex with her shoes. Not with her.

Nizer wanted Mom to testify to the severe emotional distress the wife was suffering because she was being deprived of her “conjugal rights”. But the lawyer was worried because the judge was an old school, devout Catholic. Nizer was afraid that his argument would fall flat on this particular judge because of his religious beliefs, which didn’t include women “needing” sex.

Mom thought for a minute and suggested that Nizer change his tactics. She asked “What is the only time conservative Catholics believe that sex is appropriate?”

The answer is, to have children. Children, who will be raised as practicing Catholics. So, my mother argued, why not claim that the reason the wife needs a divorce is her husband’s practice of ejaculating into her shoes is depriving her of children. Good, Catholic children.

Nizer thanked my mother profusely. He used her argument and won the divorce case on motions. No trial and no need for my mother’s testimony. No credit for her brilliant idea either. But we know the truth!

THE MEDICAL DILEMMA

My mother’s first husband was a physician. His name was Abraham Otto but he was always called A.O. A.O., who was Jewish, had a Jewish friend who was overseas as a soldier in World War II.

A.O. received a letter from him asking for medical advice. The friend had been told he needed non-emergency surgery – a gall bladder or appendix. Something minor today but which required major surgery in the 1940’s. His friend wanted to know if he should let the field doctors do the surgery or if he should request a flight home to the states for the procedure.

A.O. felt strongly that his friend should have the surgery done in the states, but he also knew all letters were read and censored by the military. He worried if he told his friend not to trust the overseas military doctors, the letter could be confiscated and would never reach his friend at all. So, A.O. wrote a glowing letter about how wonderful the overseas army doctors were and the total faith he had in their abilities.

He signed the letter “Dr. Kim A. Hame.” “Kim a hame” in Yiddish, means “Come home!”

A.O. knew his friend spoke Yiddish. The army censors didn’t. Problem solved!

LINES AND CREASES – RICH PASCHALL

Faded Photographs –

by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


People still collect them.  Perhaps not as ardently as they once did, but they still get them.  They order them online.  They print them at home. They might even go to the store to order them.  There is something about having it in your hand that beats looking at it on your phone or even your desk top computer.  At one time, taking your film to be developed and having pictures printed was a big thing.  A really big thing.

I guess there are still stores that specialize in printing pictures, but they are all online shops.  I can download pictures to the drug store and go get prints.  I can take a flash drive to Walgreens where a teenager will print my pictures and might even thank me for coming (okay, probably not the latter).

I have used online services to print vacation pictures in the past, but not so much anymore.  I usually keep them all on SD cards, flash drives and folders on my desktop.  This means I am not likely to find them if I need them in a hurry, unless they are still in my camera or phone.

Despite this drifting away from the printed photographs, I still have plenty of pictures.  I don’t mean hundreds, I mean countless thousands of them.  I know I could probably hold them all on a large flash drive or two, but that is now.  Then we had no other way to enjoy our pictures but to take the film to the photo shop (Fotomat?) and have them developed.

faded photograph

After dropping off a roll or two of film, we would anxiously wait up to a week to find out if we actually captured what we saw in the view finder.  If we really wanted a picture of something we might take more than one shot, but since there was no deleting a bad one and taking another, we would just hope for the best.  Film cost money, and prints cost money too.  There was no buying an SD card and using it over and over.  We had no built-in flash on our cheap cameras so we had to buy one use flash bulbs, flash bars, flash cubes or whatever was in fashion for the camera model we had.

My mother had every type of cheap camera there was over the years.  She used every film format that came along for small “pocket” cameras.  There was 110 and 126 film.  There were film discs, a short-lived idea.  There were cameras that had to be wound and others with auto advance.  When the camera broke, we would get another.  For a while there was even a Polaroid camera for the joy of instant prints.  The joy faded quickly, like the prints themselves.

When my mother passed away, we found a camera that had 126 film in it and most of the shots had been taken.  There is no telling how many years the film was in the camera.  It is a good bet she had not used the camera in 15 years, perhaps much longer since she had an odd collection of cheap, working cameras.  I could never find anyone to develop that film, and I do not live in a remote location!  I am sure there is someone who would do it, but I doubt it was worth the money it would probably take to get it done.  Perhaps it is washed out by now anyway.

Still, we have countless pictures from my mother.  The number tailed off at the beginning of the century.  A stroke in 2003 put an end to the picture-taking hobby.  By then, she had boxes and bags full of pictures.  Many were in the photo envelopes you got back from the developer.  Fortunately, most of those were dated.  If the date was summer but they were Christmas pictures, then they were from the previous Christmas.  Mom was not too quick about getting to the Photo shop or Osco Drug to get them developed.  Was the joy in just going around family events with a camera in hand?

Mom in early 1920s

In the year that followed my mother’s death at the age of 88, I spent a lot of time shipping off hundreds of pictures to my brother, sometimes in frames, and organizing the rest into bags.  There are the 1920’s and 1930’s, clearly taken by someone else.  The 1940’s were not a particularly big collection, but the decades that followed contained many pictures.  Despite the ones my brother now has, I am left with more than I could count.  What to do with all these pictures?

Mom (left) and sister, circa 1950

The months organizing them into decades and shipping some off was all the nostalgia I needed from this group.  I doubt seriously I will ever haul them out of the closet to look at them again.  In whatever years I have left on the planet, I can not imagine spending time gazing at these memories, especially since some are best forgotten.  But I could not imagine dumping them either.  What would you do with thousands of prints?

After contemplating the matter for a while I realized that the parents of my living cousins are in many of these pictures.  Many faded photographs may be welcome at the home of these first and second cousins for the memories they contain, even if they are “covered now in lines and creases.”

SPENDING TIME WITH TELEVISION FRIENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve found that I like watching weekly series on TV because of the people, not the plots. The storylines are an important part of the overall picture. But the reason I’m drawn back, week after week, is because I love hanging out with the series regulars.

Some series have an amazing ensemble of characters and actors. There’s magical chemistry between the fictional characters as well as between the actors who play them. I enjoy watching how my TV friends deal with each week’s crises and plot twists. I wait for the tidbits we’re thrown regularly that enrich our understanding of the characters’ psyches and the relationships between the characters.

One of my long time favorite crime shows is “NCIS”. The original one. It involves a team of Naval crime fighters in Washington, D.C. The team banters and sleuths its way through each episode’s case. The relationships are complex between the people on the team. The layers have layers after all these years. And over each season, you learn more and more about the personal lives of all of the main players.

Long running shows like “NCIS” have stayed successful all this time — despite cast turnovers –because they keep the group dynamics constant. You hate to see your favorite actors leave, but the replacements manage to integrate into the show seamlessly. Crimes are still solved the same way. The teasing, joking and office gossiping go on, uninterrupted.

Two of my other favorite shows revolve around extended families. “Life In Pieces” is a half hour comedy and “This Is Us” is a one hour drama. These shows have amazing character development and deep, rich, interrelationships.

“Life In Pieces” is incredibly well-written! It deals with three generations of a close-knit family – older parents, three grown siblings, their significant others and their children. Much of the humor is based on character. The family members are quirky and over-the-top enough to be funny, but they’re also believable. So are the jokes and situations.

I love these weird and wonderful people! I can’t wait to see what they’re going to be up to each week. I used to feel this way about “Modern Family” but for me, it has crossed the line into caricature these days.

“This Is Us” is a drama about a set of triplets and their parents. The story is divided into two timelines, an interesting device. There is the present when the triplets are in their thirties, and the past which follows their parents through courtship, marriage and parenthood, into the kids’ teen years.

Again, superior writing and character development. The timelines are woven together subtly and cleverly. The time I spend with these people flies by and I’m always shocked when the hour is up so soon. There are some mysteries about the past which are revealed slowly, of course. Still, the main reason the show was a big hit in its first season, was because of the interesting, real, multi-level people who populate the show.

More and more I turn on the television to spend time with my old TV friends. Like the gang on “The Big Bang Theory”, the bickering partners on “Hawaii 5-0” who go to couples counseling, and the present day Sherlock Holmes and female Dr. Watson on “Elementary”.

I miss these people when their shows go on hiatus. I’m excited to see them again when the shows return. The murders, mysteries, plots, and punch lines are great fun. But I’m in it for the characters. They are all part of my life now.

A FACE-TIME FUNERAL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

On February 2, 2017, I wrote a blog about my husband, Tom’s, Aunt Helen. We went out to Rochester, Minnesota to celebrate her 100th birthday with her incredible and devoted extended family. Aunt Helen luxuriated in three generations of love and support from her two daughters and son-in-law, her four grandchildren and in-laws and her seven great-grandchildren.

Everyone loved Aunt Helen. Feisty and full of life at every age. A Red Hat party girl to the end. But after the big 100th Birthday Bash, she seemed to lose steam. One of her grandchildren many years ago told her that she had to live to 100. She made that her goal in life and achieved it. But having achieved that landmark goal, she stopped eating, lost contact and started to deteriorate. On April 12, she died.

Our Favorite Aunt

Of course Tom and I planned to go to the funeral. We knew in January that the next time we saw the Minnesota gang would be on this sad occasion. We bought airline tickets that got us in the night before the Saturday 11 AM funeral service.

Thursday night I woke up with a sore throat. By Friday, the day we were scheduled to leave, I was coughing non-stop, despite generous doses of cough medicines. I knew I couldn’t make the trip. So I drove Tom to the nearest airport and went home and got into bed.

A short time later, the phone rang. It was Tom. They were on the plane but there had been a delay. Some baggage apparently dented the outside of the plane and they had to wait for approval to take off. He was worried that the delay would cause him to miss his connecting flight in Chicago.

A half hour later the phone rang again. The flight had been canceled! Tom was now on a long line of irate passengers, all waiting to be rebooked on another flight to their destinations. Okay. Bad situation but probably not fatal.

The next phone call, at around 6:00 PM, had the really bad news. There was no other flight, direct or connecting, that could get tom to the funeral in time for the service the next morning at 11 AM. Not on any airline, from any airport in the tri-state area. Now neither of us was going to be with the family to officially say good-bye to Aunt Helen! Tom was dejected.

I picked him up at the airport and we drove home. A few hours later, the phone rang. It was one of Aunt Helen’s daughters, Tom’s cousin Barb. She had a brilliant idea. Barb’s daughter, Lisa, a pastor, had recently been able to watch her son’s basketball game in Minnesota, while she was on a mission in Africa, by using Face-time! We could watch the funeral by Face-time! The glories of modern technology! What a great idea!

So Tom in Connecticut and the pastor in Rochester coördinated their computers. Tom hooked his iPad up to the television in the bedroom so I could watch from my sick-bed. It was awesome! We saw the family and heard the beautiful eulogy that two of the granddaughters, Lisa and her sister Jennifer, presented together.

To top it off, they quoted my February blog about Aunt Helen in the eulogy! I was so touched! I had referred to the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. After watching Aunt Helen’s family in action, I had realized that it also took a village to get someone to the age of 100. They agreed.

Another grandchild sang a hymn in the magnificent voice we had heard about but never heard. It was wonderful to be able to be part of the service, long distance. Later in the day, Lisa texted photos of the family out celebrating Helen with a beer. Her favorite drink.

I’m not very tech savvy. But I’m in awe of what can be done today to connect people through their personal devices. Maybe it’s the strength of this particular family that makes connecting so much easier. It is fantastic to be a part of this warm, welcoming and wonderful family, through sickness and in health, in person and by Face-Time.

I WANT TO BE A CURMUDGEON – BY TOM CURLEY

I want to be a curmudgeon. I’m the right age. I’ve paid my dues. I’ve earned the right. Problem is, I’m having a hard time doing it. I want to be able to yell at kids to “GET OFF MY LAWN!” You know, traditional curmudgeon stuff. Unfortunately for me, I can’t do that. I live in the middle of the woods.

Nope. Not a kid in sight.

The nearest kids are at least a mile or so away. In over 20 years not one Trick-or-Treater has come to our door on Halloween. And who wants to walk over a mile just to play on some stranger’s lawn? And if they did, why would that bother me? I mean if they were blowing up my lawn, or stealing my lawn I’d be pretty pissed.

Photo: theketog.org

But just playing? What’s your problem?

That never stopped my Grandpa. He loved yelling at kids. I think he looked at it as sort of a sport.

OK, my Grandpa wasn’t really Yoda. I just thought the picture was funny. Photo: Imgflp

The problem I’m having with being a curmudgeon is that I’m too tolerant.  I think it’s a generational thing.  Us baby boomers  are a lot more tolerant than our parent’s generation. We let our kids get away with stuff our parents wouldn’t put up with. This has made some things tougher for our kids. For instance, pissing off their parents.

amessageinabottle

It’s a kid’s job, especially in their teen years, to piss off their parents. It’s a rite of passage. Part of growing up. In my day, it was ridiculously easy. All I had to do was grow my hair long. And by long, I mean as long as the Beatles. The early Beatles.

PHOTO: The Beatles, left to right, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr and John Lennon (1940 – 1980) arrive at London Airport February 6, 1964 (Photo by Getty Images)

Long hair was responsible for every evil and ill in the world. Crime, Communism, the canceling of the Lawrence Welk show, etc.

Photo: gigoid.me

But our generation is way more tolerant. Kids today have to really work to piss us off. A while back I was in a shopping mall when I saw a group of teenagers walking by. One was wearing what I think is called a “side mullet”. One half of his head was completely shaved and the other half was a mullet. Yes, a mullet, the hairstyle of the Gods.

Photo: MachoHairstyles – Hipster Mullet

He was wearing a studded dog collar around his neck. He had pierced ears, a pierced nose, he had one pants leg rolled up above his knee and he was wearing his underwear on the outside of his pants. All I could think was, Wow. That poor kid. Look how far he had to go before his parents finally went: “That’s it! Your grounded!”

Not the actual kids. But close.

And here’s another thing. That kid got up that morning, got dressed like that and looked in the mirror and thought to himself “Yeah, that’s cool. I’m rocking this look.”

Which brings me to the flip side of this equation. While it’s a kid’s job to piss off his parents, it’s also a parent’s job to embarrass the hell out of their kids. Mostly when they are teenagers. Here, the advantage goes to the parents. The best my parents could do was to show naked baby pictures of me to my prom date. Embarrassing? Not really. Today? I’m sure the parents of that kid I saw in the mall have a Pinterest account devoted just to him. It will live in the cloud forever and will pop up at every family gathering for the rest of his life. And what the hell will his kids have to do?

What does any of this have to do with me wanting to be a curmudgeon? Nothing much, other than it makes me realize that all the traditional things I should be yelling at just makes me laugh.

So, I guess I’m out of luck.

Oh wait, there’s always Trump.

OVER AND OUT

A short story by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


It was not like Billy’s dad to just walk into his room. At 17 years old he really expected his parents to knock first. He quickly closed out of his chat and turned around to see what his father wanted.

“What’s up, dad?” Billy began.

“Son, I think there is something you should tell me.” Billy’s father paused and waited for a response. Billy was clueless. He could not think of a thing he should say, so there was this long awkward silence as the two of them shot puzzled looks at one another.

Billy’s father had noticed over the last two month’s the nature of his son’s friendship with a handsome young classmate named Josh. They went everywhere together. They studied together and they spent hours on the phone together. Going to the movies on a Saturday night was just like the dates Billy’s dad had with his wife when they were teenagers. Billy would spend a lot of time getting ready. He picked out his best date-night type clothes and he absolutely lit up when Josh appeared at the door. Dad felt he could not be mistaken.

empty chairs

“No, dad, I can’t think of anything,” Billy finally said in his best “I’m innocent” voice.

“Are you gay?” his father shot back. All of a sudden something heavy fell on Billy’s chest. It must have been the weight of reality hitting him. He was unprepared.

“Yes dad,” Billy responded as boldly as he could after the truth was already out there anyway.

“And this Josh fellow, is he your boyfriend?” Billy did not want to out Josh to his father but he figured that he somehow knew so he gave up that truth too.

“Yes, dad.” Once again they stared at one another until Billy could finally throw that weight off himself and speak up.

“So, it’s OK then?” Billy asked. His dad did not want to say “yes” because it was not alright with him, but he did not want to say “no” because he recalled how difficult teenage love could be and just figured that gay teenage love was even harder. After a few moments deep in thought, Billy’s dad had a course of action in mind.

“Son, I want you to tell your mother this week. Am I clear about that?”

“No dad, please,” the boy replied in horror. “Can’t you tell her?” If his dad was not all “open-arms” about this he could not imagine his mother’s reaction. She was far more right of center than dad.

“Billy, if you think you are old enough to be making out with another boy, you are certainly old enough to man-up and tell your mother exactly who you are.” At that, Billy’s dad left the room and quietly closed the door on the way out.

For the rest of the week, Billy was a nervous wreck. Every time he saw his mother he could feel a knot in his stomach. His father started shooting him angry glances for failing to tell his story. Billy did tell two people though, Josh and his sister, Mary. The latter was a tactical error, to be sure.

One night when they all happened to be at the dinner table at once, a rare occurrence for two busy parents and two teenagers, Mary could not hold her brother’s secret any longer.  “So, little Billy, did you tell mom yet that you’ve been kissing boys?”

Billy’s mom immediately looked like she had seen the ghost of her dear departed mother glaring at her. “Robert, did you know about this?” Billy’s mom shouted across the room at her husband. He did not respond but she could tell after twenty-three years of marriage what the response would be. “How dare you!” she screamed at either Billy or her husband, neither was quite sure, and then she stormed out of the room.

Over the next few weeks Billy parents argued often about why the boy was gay. Each thought the other had a hand in it, but only mom was mortified and angry beyond reason.

“If you had been a stronger father,” she took to telling him almost daily, “This would not have happened.”

To which he frequently responded, “I tried to discipline the boy but every time I did he would run to you and get off the hook. I would say you are the reason he’s a mamma’s boy.” From there it only got worse.

After one particularly stormy session, Billy’s mom finally declared she was through. “I want a divorce.  We can not continue these fights in front of the children.” Robert agreed and went to their room. A stunned Billy, eavesdropping in the next room, began to cry.

Robert called his brother and asked to stay a few days. He packed a bag and prepared to leave when Billy ran into his room. “No dad, please don’t leave. I am sorry, it’s all my fault.  I’ll change, I promise. I won’t be gay any more. Please.” Billy buckled at the knees and went down to the floor. His dad helped him up and sat him on the edge of the bed.

“Look son, my marriage was over years ago. It took something like this to point that out.  You can not change this anymore than I can change who you are.” At that he reached over to hug the boy. He planted a kiss on his forehead, got up, grabbed his bag and walked out the door.