My Cat History

            Growing up we never had a cat. My mother was afraid of them. She truly believed that cats could suck the air from a sleeping child. Imagine the picture this put in my naive mind! A stealthy cat climbing the bars of a crib, sneaking up to the head of the child, staring at the face, looking for the best angle of attack, then slowly, ever so slowly lowered its head, mouth open, ready to steal the air from the hapless baby.

            It was not until I married my husband that I found out that this was one of those old wives’ tales.

            My family had a beagle from the time I was about eight until I was into high school. My husband’s family had always had a cat.

            When I saw the family cat, I tensed, expecting an attack. My husband noticed, asked and then laughed when I offered my reasoning.

            Once I knew the truth, I gradually taught myself that a cat could make a good pet. I was terrified of the claws, but then dogs bite. Equally dangerous.

            My husband had a friend up in Portland, Oregon. On a camping trip up north, we stayed with them. They had two Siamese cats. Elusive, yet curious. When one came close, I tried to pet it and immediately got clawed. The deep, blood-drawing type. For the rest of our visit, I cringed whenever those cats drew near. They knew I was afraid, and seemed to relish in torturing me.

            At that point I had no interest in having a cat.

            One time my women’s guild was having a bake sale to buy something for our pastor. I had made cupcakes. My oldest son, maybe four or five at the time, came with me. The women getting things ready were a bit discombobulated. A pesky reddish cat kept coming inside, begging for food. When my son saw her, he grabbed her, held her to his chest and begged to bring her home.

            I explained that she most likely belonged to a family living nearby, but if his father approved and if she was there in the morning when we went to Mass, he could have her. As soon as we parked, he ran to the small hall. The cat was there, still begging for food. He scooped her up and held her in his lap, me by his side, while my husband attended the service.

            She was named Cupcake Eater Connelly due to the bites of cupcake he fed her. Cuppie, as we called her, was a wonderful cat. She was not quite full grown, but not a kitten either. She adapted quickly to our house and our routine. We loved her and took good care of her. When she died, we were heartbroken.

            After Cuppie came a rescue that belonged to my daughter. She named her Calie because, guess what? She was a calico cat. Not too bright, but once we finally got her housebroken (and that really tried our patience), she was a loving cat. Calie was patient and kind. She loved my daughter and then, later when she had children, her daughter as well.

            Calie lived a good, long life. Once our daughter went off to college, Calie fell in love with my husband.

            For years after we were never without a cat. There was Josie, a tiny stray that walked out of my husband’s closet. She was a sweet, wonderful cat. Tigger was a feral cat our daughter brought home, saying it was a female. Nope. I hadn’t wanted a male, thinking they were aggressive. He was not.

            I adopted sister tuxedo cats. One ran away as soon as my husband left a door open. We saw her off and on, but she never returned to live with us. The other was a sweetie. She loved petting and had an awesome purr. Then she fell ill, kidney disease.

            Next came Cole, a kitten I fell in love with at an adoption event. He loved nothing more than sitting on a lap. The poor thing got very sick, very quickly.

            Immediately after Taffy joined our home. I changed his name to Tuffy, a more masculine sounding name. He was a bit standoffish until he got quite a bit older. Then he was a lap cat. Always on me or on my husband.

            Once he died, we decided no more cats. By now we were both older and didn’t want our kids to have to deal with a pet after we were either incapacitated or dead.

            I miss having a four-legged pet. I really want another cat, an older one as I don’t want to deal with clawed furniture and poop in closets.

            Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll find the right cat.

An Unexpected Surprise

            When you grow up in a dysfunctional family, happy memories are few and far between. It’s easy to dredge up the pain and sorrow, to recall the angry words and the punishments that followed, but difficult to find just one that didn’t hurt.

            Today my husband and I went out for ice cream. After enjoying my delicious treat, as we were driving home, a sudden flash appeared: my sitting on a stool at a Walgreen’s counter.

            We seldom ate out. When you’re low income, money is tight and not spent on restaurant meals.

            When I was in fourth grade, we lived in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio. My mom had just learned to drive, which really made life better when all our doctor appointments were in the city.

            I don’t remember why I was the only one with my mother. That rarely happened. My mother must have left my brother with someone, a relative probably, as she had no friends in the neighborhood. I don’t recall taking him somewhere, but we must have.

            I’m not sure why we were in town. It was around the time the principal of my elementary school told my father that I could not return without glasses. That’s the most logical reason for our outing.

            I knew, even then, that when my mother left home at thirteen, she moved to Cincinnati to live with an older sister. She helped my mom get a job at a Woolworth’s Department Store. I don’t know what she did there as she was so young.

            Anyway, here we were, sitting on stools in a Woolworth’s in downtown Dayton. A bunch of colorful balloons floated above our heads, all tied to a long string so as not to float away.

            Like any kid, I loved balloons. The colors, the way they flew about my head, the feeling of owning something that was just mine. Until my brother popped mine. Every last balloon I possessed he popped. Probably out of meanness. Maybe out of jealousy.

            Anyway, here was a bright, colorful, happy-looking array of balloons. I wanted one so badly that all thoughts were erased from my head except for the one of owning a balloon.

            The person behind the ice cream counter told me I could have any balloon I wanted. I recall looking at my mother to see if this were true. Possible. I remember holding my breath as I waited for her response.

            When the clerk said the balloons held surprises, that each one had a slip of paper inside that would reveal what ice cream treat I could have. I think she said that a few balloons awarded a free treat. A completely free ice cream treat!

            Even at that young age I understood that nothing was free. If something good came my way it would be immediately followed by something bad. But I was a kid and kids hope.

            When my mother nodded that I cold pick a balloon, I was shocked. I. Got. To. Pick.

            I am sure my eyes were wide in disbelief. I am positive that I knew I’d never win. But, like any kid, I imagined that my balloon would give me something free. Maybe an ice cream soda, or if I was really lucky, a banana split.

            But there was a really good chance that all I’d get was a cheap sucker. One of those wrapped in cheap plastic that doctor’s give after a shot. There was a glass jar of suckers on the counter right in front of the clerk.

            I liked suckers. Any color, any flavor. We seldom had them, so winning a sucker wouldn’t be a bad thing. Just not the thing I wanted most of all: a banana split.

            My mother grew impatient as I stared up at the balloons, trying to see through, to read the slip so as to ensure that I got that banana split.

            The clerk asked what I was hoping to win. I looked first to my mother, then when she nodded, I said, loud and clear (something unusual for me), that I wanted a banana split.

            My mother laughed. Not a happy laugh, but a mocking laugh. You’ll never win that, she said. Or I seem to recall her saying.

            It seems as if my shoulders must have slumped. I bet my whole body slumped.

            I think the clerk told me to take a chance. That she thought I’d be a winner. Just point and tell her which one I wanted.

            Back then, as now, blue was my favorite color. Except for the years when my Catholic school uniform was blue. But I loved blue t-shirts, blue socks, blue shorts and really, really wanted a pair of blue tennis shoes I’d seen in the bargain store where we shopped. I’d never gotten the shoes.

            There were several blue balloons. One way up high, one to the right, one to the left, and one right on front of me, so close I could have touched it. I thought about that one. It was so close, so it must be the lucky one, right? But that would have been too easy.

            I nodded. The only balloon that might be lucky was the blue one so close to the ceiling that it brushed the tiles when the fan’s blades came near. I pointed with my right hand, my middle finger extended.

            Are you sure the clerk asked. It’s pretty far away.

            She made me question my choice. Did she know something that I didn’t? Did she know that one held a worthless slip of paper? Or was she trying to steer me away from a sure winner? The one with the biggest prize?

            It made sense that she’d trick me into making a poor choice. After all, my life had been one poor choice after another. Why should this be any different?

            By now my mother was getting impatient. I could tell by the way her eyebrows scrunched up and wrinkles formed around her eyes. If I didn’t make a choice soon, there’d be trouble later on.

            I changed my mind and went for the blue balloon right in front of me.

            The clerk popped it, a noise that always made me cringe.

            She handed me the slip of paper. My reading skills weren’t so good back then, so my mom had to read it to me.

            I’d gotten a discount on a cone of ice cream. Unsure what a discount was, I’d asked. All it meant was that it would be a bit cheaper.

            The clerk must have been clever at reading faces, for mine registered intense disappointment. My eyes filled with tears.

            Don’t you want an ice cream cone she asked.

            I shook my head.

            My mother grabbed my hand and pulled me off the stool. Sorry, she said, we don’t have enough money even with the discount.

            Choose another balloon, the clerk said.

            I turned to my mother and saw frustration and anger. She wanted to leave. I knew then that she had never intended to buy me an ice cream. She took me there for the free sucker in cheap plastic.

            The clerk repeated that I got to choose another balloon.

            I decided to take a risk and go for a red balloon. Red was not my color. I’d never liked it. But I had nothing to lose. So I pointed to a red balloon off to the right.

            The clerk pulled it out of the bunch and popped it. She didn’t give the slip of paper to my mom. She read it aloud. I had won a free banana split!

            I didn’t know what that was, but based upon the happy look on the clerk’s face, I understood that it was special. A rare treat.

            My mom said I could have it.

            The clerk peeled a banana and then split if down the middle. She placed the pieces on either sides of a glass bowl. She added scoops of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla ice cream. Not the tiny scoops I’d get whenever we were lucky enough to have ice cream at home, but huge, huge scoops.

            She added toppings. Pineapple, Strawberries. Marshmallows. The tiny kind.

            Over that she poured chocolate sauce. Not my favorite, but glorious in its brown gooiness. On top went huge fluffy swirls of whipped cream with a bright red cherry on each mound.

            When she placed it before me, I was in shock. It was more ice cream than I’d ever had in my whole life if you added up all the tiny bowls I’d eaten before. And this was all for me.

            Or so I thought.

            The clerk handed me a spoon. Then gave one to my mother.

            I really didn’t want her to have any. This was mine. I’d won it fair and square. I understood fairness at that point. Fair things seldom happened to me. To my brother, yes, if my mom was the one in charge. But never to me.

            My mother told me to get started eating before the ice cream melted. That we had to hurry because I’d taken so long to choose. That if we didn’t get home soon my dad would be angry.

            My dad’s anger was terrifying. He shouted words I didn’t know but felt that they registered disapproval. He hit hard, so hard it left bruises. He shook me until it felt like my head was going to topple off. And his spankings left belt marks on my backside.

            I picked up my spoon and got to work, shoveling in the gooey combination so fast that my nose froze. I scooped faster and faster, taking very little time to relish and enjoy.

            My mother worked from the other side, eating slower, but still chipping away at my treat.

            I didn’t get to finish it.

            When there was still more than half left, my mother announced that we had to leave. She stood, buttoned her jacket, then lifted me off the stool.

            I bet my eyes filled with tears. I am pretty sure that my body registered my disappointed anger, something I had perfected.

            It’s funny how some memories stay hidden for a gazillion years while others stay fresh year after year.

            I can remember the punishments my dad dished out as if they happened yesterday. But this one happy moment, this one time when I got a very special treat has remained hidden for well over sixty years.

Reflecting

Friends have asked what I would do differently if I could go back in time. First of all, I would never want to relive my first twenty years of life.

My early years with my family were emotional bombshells. My dad’s explosive temper often resulted in physical punishments and humiliation. My mother preferred my siblings (yes, I am a middle child.) I had been overwhelmed and intimidated so thoroughly that I preferred to sit in a corner and hide.  

Elementary school amplified my feelings of inferiority as I was the dumbest kid in whatever class I was in: I couldn’t read and my teachers didn’t help.

Middle school added new torments. Previously I had attended Catholic schools, but now I was in the public school. Because of the size differential, it was easier for me to hide. Except from the Home Ec teacher who must have seen something in my demeanor that triggered all her alarms.  After a rather awful day at home the evening before, I was still suffering when I entered her class. She called me aside and asked if everything was okay at home. I lied. After that she never asked again even though I wished she had.

High school was more of the same socially, but by now my talent for math and learning languages had begun to shine. I joined the basketball team, and although I wasn’t the best player, it allowed me to stay late after school and travel to away games, thereby reducing the amount of time I could be abused at home.

My first year of college my parents made me attend the local community college. The highlight of that year was learning that my Spanish skills were beyond the course offerings! I beamed with pride. But, because it was a commuter college and I was still terribly shy, I made no friends.

My euphoria regarding Spanish didn’t last long because I struggled so badly in my English class that I had to drop it. Back to feeling stupid.

My next three years at USC were a mixed bag. I developed friends who were like me. Somehow, we found each other in the cafeteria. None of us were in the popular group, which might have been what united us.  While we never did anything together outside of school, at least it was a safe place to eat.

Unfortunately, I just have been sending out “I want you” vibes because several of the guys hit on me. One was a prince in whatever country he hailed from. He handed me a multipage love letter detailing how well he would treat me and what my life would be in his country. First of all, I liked him as a friend. Secondly, I knew how women were restricted in his country and wanted no part of that. He accepted my refusal with grace.

Another young man, Jorge, wooed me by asking a lot of questions about what I thought about this and that. He took me out to lunch and occasionally to a movie. I liked him because he was soft-spoken and gentle.

A break came up and he had nowhere to go. I invited him home with me.

My parents were not welcoming. First of all, I failed to tell them he was Hispanic. When they learned his name, saw the gorgeous hue of his skin and heard his charming accent, it was over. They were polite, but not welcoming.

Jorge ceased being my boyfriend after that. I couldn’t blame him: he understood that my parents were prejudiced.

My next boyfriend was a hippie, like I had become. He was easy to be with, had a car, and enjoyed camping as much as I did. I figured we would get married. And then he transferred to a college in Minnesota. During winter break I flew out to see him.

His family there were warm and welcoming. They drove us around to see many of the lakes and treated us to a tasty meal. They laughed easily and seemed comfortable in their own skins.

I pictured myself as part of that family and it felt right.

And then John told a group of his grad school friends that what he liked about me was that I never had an opinion. To his credit, I did keep my opinions to myself, but it didn’t mean that I was a blank slate! That was the end of that relationship.

When college ended, I had no choice but to return home, back to being bullied emotionally and physically. It took me a while to find a job. The most embarrassing interview was when I found out that the phone company was hiring. My mother insisted on driving me, then went in and applied for the same job! She got hired, but I did not.

The best choice I made was taking the test that could lead to a job with the federal government. Imagine my surprise when it led to a job, a good job with benefits. My first post was in SF, a city with huge hills and limited parking. I was a field agent, so I traveled all over the city, up and down those hills, going in and out of businesses and homes.

It wasn’t the kind of working environment where you made friends. People came in, worked, went home. I transferred to the Oakland office which was much the same. I was given the cases the furthest from the office, so I drove all over the area. That was the best part of the job.

I did meet someone. A very pleasant man asked me out. We got along quite well. We even went skiing and few times. It was going smoothly until he invited me to his apartment. That’s where I discovered that he was married with children, but currently on a trial separation. He had virtually no furniture: only a mattress on the floor. I broke up with him shortly thereafter.

My next posting was back to SF, then to San Mateo. I loved the people at the new detail. They were kind and helpful. They welcomed me into their “family” and truly cared about my welfare. It’s also where I met my future husband.

My coworkers encouraged me to speak up. They listened to my opinions and, in time, asked me to consult on cases.

It was thanks to them and to my future husband that I developed a voice.

My Birthday Party

            I had never wanted a party. I was lucky to have been born in August when school was out. It was impossible to hand out invitations, a true blessing. It didn’t bother me when I learned about other kids having parties to which I had not been asked to attend. After all, since I had no friends, who would I talk to?

            One year my younger sister wanted a party. Unlike me, she had friends who would come. And they did, bearing prettily-wrapped gifts. They played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, musical chairs and relay races of various kinds. They watched expectantly as my sister blew out all the candles on her cake and then devoured their slices drowning in vanilla ice cream.

            She sat like a queen surrounded by her subjects as she opened her gifts. If she liked it, she’d blush with excitement and hold it aloft for all to admire. If she didn’t, she dropped it to the floor at her feet.

            She was six years old.

            Because my sister had a party, my mother decided I had to have one as well. My birthday is four days after my sister’s, which would place a huge burden on my family in terms of time and money. I didn’t want a party, but it did not deter my mother. She tried to make things equal, or at least pretended to make things equal. They never were and I knew it.

            My mother revered my sister. She placed her on a pedestal that I never had a chance to climb. Celebrating my sister’s birthday was an important event that involved days of planning. Everything stopped on her day. There was no yard work, no housework, no spending time alone. All focus was on my sister.

            So when the PARTY was confirmed, I think my mother felt guilty for not having one for me. Anyway, I was having one despite my loudly voiced opinion.

            To get ready, my mother bought juvenile-designed cards. I recall a clown with balloons. I was thirteen, too old for clowns.

            She made me sign them then ride my bike around the neighborhood delivering them to girls who never talked to me. Few opened the door when I knocked. The two who did looked at me like I was insane. They were right.

            My mother bought princess cut-outs that she made me hang in our windows. I was humiliated. No thirteen-year-old would ever tape up cardboard princesses on a bedroom wall, let alone in a window for all to see.

            I don’t remember anything about the food or the cake, but we played the exact same games that my sister’s friends played. Teenagers don’t pin things on donkeys or run around chairs. They listen to music and talk.

            My mother made me wear my best dress, something way too fluffy for a birthday party. She plastered my hair into an old-fashioned style piled up on my head, the spray so heavy that not a single strand would come loose in a tornado. I knew that I was inappropriately dressed and that if anyone did come, they wouldn’t look like me. There was nothing I could do about it.

            The clock crept toward the given hour. I stared out the window, hoping that no one would come. Then I’d wish that someone would come. I’d sit down on the couch, thinking that if I didn’t look, someone would come. Then I’d look, hoping to jinx the party.

            When I girl from down the street knocked on the door, my heart sank. There really was going to be a party. Two more came.

            My mother went into hyper-mode, telling us where to go and what to do. I spoke only when I had to, moved when I had to, blew out the candles when told and attempted to eat some cake without throwing up.

            The gifts matched the juvenile invitations. I recall a coloring book and crayons, a picture book and some paper dolls, all things that my six-year-old sister loved.

            I would like to share that time flew by, but it didn’t. It’s possible that it only lasted two hours, but it felt like four. There was no joy, not from me and not from the girls who came. It was an exercise only, a pretend party.

            Perhaps this is why I’ve never liked parties for myself. I enjoy celebrating the milestones in others’ lives, but not my own. I love buying gifts for others and watching them open them. I like being with others, watching the joy in their faces and listening to what they have to say, as long as I am not expected to speak up.

            Is that one disastrous party to blame? Probably. But maybe not. Maybe I’m just not a party person.

            What is amazing is that an event that took place sixty-two years ago impacted how I still feel about parties today.

            I wasn’t permitted to have a voice, to express opinions until I went away to college. My father was a bully who saw nothing of value in me except for the possibility of marrying me off to someone with a bit of money. My mother rejected me because I had no interest in being her. My brother was often a friend and playmate, but he could also be cruel. My sister was much younger, and due to some health issues, the apple of my mother’s eye.

            When I learned about middle-child-syndrome, at first I believed that I had fabricated the ways my family treated me. That I had exaggerated it all, that none of the punishments and constraints had ever happened.

            There is a possibility that my memories are distorted, but not to that extrent. I know that I was a victim of both emotional and physical abuse. Those things happened.

            Because of my low position in the family, I felt that I had no voice. That nothing I said or thought mattered. This was reinforced by laughter, taunts and even commands to keep my mouth shut.

            And it wasn’t just at home that I felt powerless. My teachers seldom called on me and so when they did, my mouth seized up and no words came out. My classmates laughed each time and my teachers would give me a look of derision. I learned to sit low in my desk and to keep my thoughts to myself.

            It wasn’t until a kind high school math teacher saw something in me that no one else ever had that I began to speak. Anytime someone was needed to solve a challenging problem, I was the one he chose. At first he let me work in quite, but after a while, he insisted that I explain the steps.

            It was hard, but I spoke.

            Because of his support, eventually I began using my voice in my Spanish class. I tried answering questions in my English class when called on, but somehow I never got it right.

            There was an incident in Spanish 4. My teacher criticized my ac cent. I responded in a stream of fluent Spanish that got me kicked out of class for a week. After that he called on me with great regularity. By speaking up I had earned his respect.

            When I went off to college I was beginning to develop a voice. I could speak up in some classes, but not all. I managed to major In Russian without demonstrating a mastery of the language. I loved to show off in math, but then the department chair told me I was wasting my time majoring in math. He left me both speechless and distraught.

            After college I got a job as a customer service rep for a major furniture store. Day after day I had to answer the phone and be polite as irate customers yelled at me. I had a script to follow. Without those written words, I would have been mute.

            My next job was with the federal government. I had to go out in the field and knock on doors, demanding back taxes. I was terrified the entire time I held that job. I found excuses to hang out in the office, but I couldn’t do that every day. As time passed, as I gained experience talking to total strangers, my confidence grew.

            It was still challenging, but I did what I had to do.

            I had dreamed of being a teacher since I was quite small. When I had my first child I had no idea of what to do with him. Our city’s recreation department had an inexpensive parent-child education class that gave me ideas of activities. As a participant, I also had to teach the little kids at least once a week. I enjoyed it! Sitting on the floor with adoring eyes gave me the power to speak, to sing, to dance, to laugh.

            From there I earned my elementary teaching credential. When I stood in front of my third-grade class for the first time, I felt at home. I loved being the one helping them learn. I felt a deep responsibility to take them further than the curriculum asked and that meant helping them to find their voices.

            Helping them helped me as well. We grew together.

            I discovered that I knew things that many of my peers did not. I led workshops and spoke up at trainings. My principal considered me a mentor and I took that role seriously.

            Being a mentor at work gave me the strength to take active roles in my church, in my kids’ activities and even to initiate a summer educational program. With each success, my voice grew louder and stronger.

            I’d like to report that my voice is freely used, that I have no problems speaking up, but that would be a lie. When in a crowd, I tend to sit back and listen. When with strangers I revert to my childhood silent self. But when I am with friends, I look for opportunities to add something to the conversation.

            While my voice is not loud, it does appear in comfortable situations. I am still reserved, but I am no longer afraid of sharing opinions and thoughts. I love hearing what others have to say, but I also want them to know what I have to say.

            I found my voice. And I love that.

Heat Wave Woes

            When the temperature rises, when the sun beats down on city streets, people get grouchy. Children whine. Parents yell. Teachers lose patience. Workers stuck in sweltering shops make mistakes. Car drivers honk horns as they swerve in and out of traffic lanes.

            The longer it stays hot, the worse things get. Frustrations normally held in check surface. Old hatreds blossom. Minor complaints become major sources of ire.

            Environmental problems make matters worse. Fires erupt that, if the wind is blowing, sweep across the landscape, burning houses, schools and businesses. People die, not just because of wildfires, but also because of heat exhaustion.

            Crops can’t grow or are burned so badly that the fruit is destroyed. The aquifer, which supplies water to roots, dries up. Plants die. Yards turn brown.

            When the lows and highs intersect, tornadoes are born. The high number of fans running taxes the electrical grid. Rolling power cutoffs cause food to spoil. Machines that keep people alive falter.

            So many things happen that make life miserable that it’s sometimes hard to find a single positive about rising temperatures.

            Ask a kid, however, and you might learn a thing or two.

            Sometimes fire hydrants are opened and kids run gleefully through the spray. Backyard swimming pools are blown up. Perhaps it’s only enough water to sit in, but the magic works anyway.

            Footballs are put away: baseballs come out.  Outings to the beach or lake or river are planned. School is over for nearly three months. Television becomes a major source of entertainment. Kid-friendly movies proliferate.

            Cold drinks and frozen treats lift spirits. Water guns and filled balloons cause much running around and shrieking.

            Kids get to stay out well past dark. If they live where there are lightning bugs, they might catch one so as to hold the tiny on and off of light in their hands.

            Badminton and croquet sets come out. Volleyball, too.

            There seems to be so much more to do when it is warm than in the frost of winter.

            Just like any season, summer has its plusses and minuses. How you think about it makes the difference.

            You can bemoan the heat or step outside and watch the kids zip around, smiles on their faces.

            The heat can make us miserable, but it doesn’t have to. It’s just one more thing that nature gives us to deal with as best we can.

Kitchen Disaster

            When we got married, my cooking repertoire consisted of things from boxes, cans or the freezer. I could fry an egg, but not make a hard-boiled one with any consistency. My grilled cheese sandwiches weren’t too bad as long as I stayed focused and kept it from burning.

            My specialty was a fried bologna sandwich. I used only one slice of the lunchmeat, which was cooked in a hot skillet. It had to be turned frequently to keep it from burning. While it was getting hot, in a separate skillet I fried an egg. If I was diligent, the yolk would preferably be a bit soft.

            When done, I’d layer the bologna, the egg and a slice of American cheese on two slices of cheap white bread. I loved it.

            I knew that my new husband wouldn’t want to come home from work to fried bologna, so when I found an offer for a free cookbook on a soup can label, I sent away for it before our wedding date.

            Every recipe looked easy. All relied on some flavor of soup. I had tried a few before our wedding, with mixed results. The meatloaf was excellent but most of the vegetable dishes came out overdone and soggy.

            I wanted to impress my husband with a hot meal. After turning page after page in the cookbook, I decided to make a stuffed zucchini casserole. I liked zucchini, ground beef and whatever flavor of soup required.

            I followed the recipe exactly. It looked pretty good arranged in the baking dish.

            Feeling fairly pleased with myself, when I got home from work the next night, I heated the oven while I changed clothes. When it was ready, I removed the dish from the refrigerator and slid it into the oven. Closed the door. Heard a loud cracking sound.

            Imagine my dismay when I saw the damage. The dish had separated into two pieces, evenly divided down the middle. Shards were imbedded into the squash. It was ruined.

            I broke into tears. My hopes of presenting my husband with an original homecooked meal were as shattered as the dish.

            Not knowing what I could prepare, I searched the cabinets and the freezer. I was still looking when he came home.

            Being the good person that he was and still is, when he saw what had happened, he gave me the biggest hug, then proceeded to cook dinner.

            I never attempted the stuffed squash again even though my husband had explained what I had done wrong. You see, the dish was not meant to go from refrigerator to oven. A more expensive version would have been capable of handling temperature changes. This was a cheap one. I hadn’t known the difference.

            It wasn’t the last cooking disaster, but it had a long-lasting impact.

Two souls

           

We fit together, you and I

Most times we see things, eye to eye.

For you, it’s sleeping on the right

Left is my choice always at night.

I listen carefully when you speak.

Good understanding, when at your peak

Moves us, as team, smoothly along

Seeking middle, where we belong.

When I smile, you always do, too.

And if I cry, you soon will coo.

For when one is sad, we can’t fly

No matter how hard we might try.

We love each other, that is true

For you love me, and I love you

.

Without you, I just couldn’t live.

So to you, my whole heart I give.

Cooking Malfunctions

            My mother tried to teach me how to cook, but I was not interested. She made me sit next to her while she prepared the meal, but I did so with a textbook in my hands.

            When I left for college, I could fix a sandwich, and that was it. Because I lived in a dorm my first year, I had no need to cook. The next year I applied for and was accepted into a house operated by the Soroptimist League. There were ten girls in my house, ten more in the second. We took turn cooking.

            At first, I opened cans of soup and offered plain white bread and oleo. This did not go over well with my housemates who were used to more elaborate meals. I found an easy-to-use cookbook in the university book store. It became my bible.

            Even armed with recipes, however, my staple ingredient was hamburger as that was all I could afford. I served hamburgers and meatloaf. Past with ground beef. Eggs with hamburger patties. They complained so badly that I was not permitted to return the next year.

            My senior year I moved into a complex for older students. I shared a suite with three women. We ate no meals together, a huge relief. I still relied on cans of soup and vegetables, eggs and toast, jelly and hamburger.

            My brother, who attended the same university, heard about a dented can store. We became regulars. I bought boxes easy-to-fix pastas, cake mixes, pancake mix, bisquick mix and a variety of canned goods. My meal options improved considerably.

            After college, when I could afford my own apartment, my repertoire was still limited to what came out of cans and boxes. My boyfriend introduced me to frozen, battered fish. He cooked most of our dinners, thankfully, as he was great with a barbeque. All went well until after we married.

            I now had a variety of cookbooks for the cooking-impaired. Searching for something new, I came across a stuffed zucchini that seemed doable. I prepared it the night before, put it in the refrigerator. The next night I heated the oven and put in the dish. It cracked, ruining the meal. I cried.

            I fixed pancakes that weren’t done, bacon that was fried to a crisp, overcooked vegetables and dry biscuits. My husband, being a good sport, never complained.

            Over the years I continued to ruin food. We bought a house that had a pear tree in the backyard. I made a pear cake that was so bland that it was inedible. I made pear jam that was equally bad. We also had an orange tree that I used to make somewhat edible cakes and jams.

            I relied on sales and additional cookbooks that I found at thrift stores. The first time I fixed game hens, they were pink inside. Every time I cooked chicken, unless it swam in sauce, it was the same.

            I made a pretty decent meatloaf and using boxed pizza dough mix, got pretty good there, as long as you didn’t mind thin, soggy dough.

            I quit experimenting and relied on those meals that I could prepare with some degree of success. Unlike naturals cooks, I never knew if there was enough salt, seasoning, water, or too much of all of them. I could not substitute or vary the recipe in any way.

            My family almost always ate what I prepared, but the nights when my husband cooked, they devoured the meal.

            No one went hungry except by choice, even when the meal was barely edible.

            When my husband retired eighteen years ago, he took over cooking. What a relief!

Since then, I have never prepared a meal for anyone except myself. I can microwave veggie burgers and frozen lunches. I tried cutting my own mangoes, but I found it easier to buy them pre-cut.

            Prepared salads are a staple in my diet, along with yogurt, fresh fruit and microwavable oatmeal.

            I do wonder what would happen to us if something prevented my husband from fixing dinner. Most likely I’d get in the car and go buy something from a restaurant. And if I can’t drive anymore, I’d learn how to use a food-delivery app on my phone.

            My family survived my cooking disasters. If I ever have to return to cooking, we’d survive again, although relying on already prepared food.

The Invitation

            I was not a popular kid. I never received a single card on Valentine’s Day even though we were supposed to give one to every classmate. I attended no birthday parties and was never invited over on a play date.

            I don’t blame the other kids. I was a deeply unhappy, troubled girl who couldn’t hide those feelings. My face was in a perpetual frown. My lips were thin white lines. My eyes fought to restrain the tears that poured seemingly on their own accord. I never smiled, laughed or even when on the playground, ran about as joyfully as others.

            At that time, I would have been labelled a sad-sack. I was Grumpy the Dwarf from Cinderella.  I was the cartoon character who went about with storm clouds overhead. I was Eeyore.

            Later when I became a teacher, I understood how my own teachers had failed me. In today’s world a miserable student like myself would have been referred to a school nurse or the psychologist or even Child Protective Services. The stories I could have told would most likely have landed me in a foster home. But that never happened.

            Instead, I moped my way through school, the kid no one invited to anything.

            Until one day in fourth grade a girl handed me a pretty card. She watched with bright eyes as I opened it and read. She wanted me to come to her house for a sleepover!

            I didn’t want to go but my mother insisted. She took me to the store to buy new underwear and pajamas, toothbrush and toothpaste. She made me call the girl and tell her I was coming, get the details as to what time to arrive and what time my mother was to pick me up the next day.

            As time drew near, I became increasingly anxious. I’d never slept anywhere but home. I was terrified about the logistics: where would I sleep, would I have to brush my teeth in front of others and what would happen when I had to go to the bathroom.

            I feigned illness when it was time to leave. My mother made me go.

            To my surprise there were four other girls there. None of them were friends as I had none, but all were in my class. I knew their names, but had never spoken to them.

            We gathered in the girl’s bedroom, clustered on her twin bed. Because I was the last, I got the foot of the bed. I barely fit.

            I don’t remember much about what happened that night, except for the magazine. The girl brought out one of her mother’s magazines. The girls passed around the magazine, taking turns ogling the models and the fashions. All went fairly well until they decided to read the stories.

            The only one I remember was a test to see if you were a lesbian. I didn’t know the term, so had no idea what it meant. As they took turns reading the “signs”, I realized that I fell into that category.

            I had no interest in boys (although, truth be told, I had none in girls either). I was a tomboy with muscles instead of a girly figure. And, worst of all, dark hair on my arms and legs.

            The girls began teasing me, calling me names and scooting as far away from me as possible. Although no one pushed me off the bed, I somehow ended up on the floor.

            The teasing was so bad, so insistent and so cruel that I ran downstairs and told the mother that I was ill and needed to go home. She must have called my mother.

            While I feared my mother and really didn’t like being with her, when her car pulled into that driveway, I was very happy to leave.

            Looking back, I wonder if the girls hadn’t set me up. If they hadn’t planned on taunting me. If that hadn’t been the only reason that they had invited me.

            After the disastrous party, the girls returned to treating me the way they had before. They never spoke to me, played with me, invited me to parties.

            That one invitation could have opened doors for me. Instead, it solidified my place in elementary school society. How sad!