Tag Archives: grandparents

December 2016 column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Shoot The Dog

garage         My grandfather believed in putting production into everything that he did. Although he never performed onstage, he possessed the personality of a vaudeville showman and he never missed an opportunity to infuse a little “razzmatazz” into all of his projects. Never was this more evident than the year he bought my grandmother an automatic garage door opener for Christmas.

It was the early 1970s and a time in which such a gizmo was viewed with the same kind of gee whiz wonderment we reserve for keyless ignition systems and talking refrigerators. Garage door openers were expensive. They were considered a luxury and not something everyone could afford. In fact, it you were fortunate to possess such a device, it was a sure sign that you had saved your pennies.            Grandpa decided that the best way in which to surprise grandma with her gift was to install it that morning and then take her out to the driveway for a demonstration after the family arrived that afternoon. Unfortunately, he ran into a few technical problems and had to call in the reinforcement: my father. Needless to say my mother was none too pleased that dad had to go over to his parents’ house on Christmas morning while she was left to get herself and two kids ready, pack the car with gifts and cook her contribution to the holiday meal.

However if my mom was angry, that was nothing compared to grandma’s fury! She was so mad that grandpa and dad were holed up in the garage that she kept up a running monologue about her displeasure for most of the day. She only stopped when the dynamic duo came in to eat dinner and participate in the gift exchange. Then she said nothing at all.

Finally, when the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows were cleared away, grandpa led his thoroughly ticked off wife to the driveway where she was greeted by a stuffed toy poodle laying in front of the garage door. Grandpa handed her a small plastic water pistol. “Go ahead Ruthie, shoot the dog.” He stood behind her and pulled the small remote control from his pocket.

Grandma took aim and pulled the trigger as grandpa hit the button in his palm. The garage door opened and the stuffed poodle rose, revealing a sign that said, “Merry Christmas.” She fired again and grandpa closed the door. Up and down, up and down…I don’t know how long it took grandma to realize what her present was or what was really causing it to function, but her anger melted away and she was delighted by grandpa’s thoughtfulness.

Though I have never instructed someone to shoot an animal (stuffed toy or otherwise) I have been known to organize holiday scavenger hunts, pull out last minute surprise presents and conceal something extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary. You are never too old to enjoy the enchantment of the season, so it’s important to create a little Christmas magic whenever you can.

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November Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Belt Sanders, Boy Scouts and Bad Judgment

Belt sander           I was only upstairs for a minute when I heard my oldest son scream.

“Julie, come quick! Chris’ leg is caught in the sander!” My mother yelled.

I raced down the basement steps as fast as I could and when I reached my father’s workshop, there was my child, tears streaming down his face and the fabric of his sweatpants twisted around one of my father’s power tools.

If there were two things my father loved in this world it was his power tools and his grandson. He could do anything with the former and God knows he would do anything for the latter. So when the boy asked him to help him craft a Pinewood Derby car for an upcoming Cub Scout event, naturally my father said yes.

I only had one rule for this caper: No power tools. Cancer had made dad a little loopy and after his medications caused him to declare himself Batman, it seemed safer not to let him operate a major piece of machinery.

He disagreed and from the moment we started the project, he lobbied for me to lift the ban. “It would go a whole lot faster if I could just use my tools,” he commented.

“No dice,” I replied.

“Oh come on,” Dad pleaded. “It’s taking him a month of Sundays to make a cut using a manual saw, if I could fire up the jigsaw…”

“You could lose a finger,” I shot back. “I’m sorry. It’s not happening.”

Assuming he subject was closed, I went upstairs for a minute and sent my mother down to supervise the operation. However, in my absence, my father turned on the charm and convinced my son to let him break out a sander to smooth down their vehicle. What happened next is a bit of a blur, but from what I understand, dad bypassed his harmless, vibrating palm device and went right for his giant belt sander, which was about two-feet long, loud and dangerous. He gave the machine to Chris to hold while he leaned over the workbench to plug it in. When he reached for it, his hand hit the power switch causing the machine to come alive while it was still in Chris’ lap.

Dad felt terrible. He wouldn’t hurt that child for the world. It was a lapse in judgment and we all knew it even Chris, who was unharmed but convinced he would have to go through life with a belt sander stuck to his trousers.

“No baby, we’ll cut your pants off. It’ll be all right,” my mother promised.

“Why don’t we let him take his pants off and THEN worry about getting the fabric out of the sander?” I suggested. “Let’s not further traumatize the boy by coming at him with a pair of scissors.”

Admittedly it was not my father’s finest hour but it was a memorable moment and nearly 20 years later, even Chris has to smile when he hears the story retold. After all, time heals all wounds, that which does not kill us makes us stronger and humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.




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June Column Michiana House & Home Magazine: Making a joyful noise

My grandmother was a unique woman. I don’t know if she didn’t get the memo about spoiling grandkids rotten, never enjoyed entertaining children or if I simply came along too late to experience her hosting skills in their prime but no one could describe her home as “kid friendly” and it wasn’t a place I liked to spend a lot of time.


Note: This was not the organ at my grandmother’s house.

Her toy selection was limited to a deck of Uno cards; a few back issues of Highlights Magazine, a box of die cast cars, and exactly one doll. When she acquired a VCR she added a videotape of Peter Pan to the cache, but that was it. Our conversations centered on her inquires into my personal health and the status of my education and she never had normal snack foods such as Oreos or Ding Dongs on hand to placate the under 10 set. Instead she offered up oatmeal cookies with macadamia nuts and Town House Crackers topped with Philadelphia Cream Cheese (aka Old Lady Food.)

However, she did have one thing no one else in the family had and that one item was enough to make up for an otherwise lack of amenities in her abode: a Hammond Organ.

It was a glorious instrument with two rows of keys, a recording device, a host of orchestral effects that could be summoned at the flip of a lever, and additional pedal accouterments that my legs weren’t long enough to reach. (No one was sad about that, I assure you.) While the grown-ups chatted in the living room, I gave grand concerts in the den, making up songs as I went along and trying to teach myself how to play using a cardboard guide to tell me one note from another.

My show stopping number, and the only song I could actually play was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” which I performed in oboe mode and paired with a jaunty little backbeat. It didn’t sound very patriotic. In fact it was off key and full of mistakes, but no one ever mentioned it to me. Either the adults in my life were tone deaf, happy to have me out of their hair, possessed an unusual affinity for creative expression or realized I was six and were willing to blame it on the Bossa Nova.

Unfortunately, the good times couldn’t last forever. When I was 12, Grandma decided she wanted more space rather than stuff and sold her precious organ. I was devastated. Not only did this thwart my music career for the time being, but horror of horrors, it actually meant that I would have to find something else to do whenever we visited. I tried not to take her move personally, but it did occur to me that the timing coincided with my growth spurt. My grandma was a very smart woman. Perhaps she noticed my feet were getting closer and closer to those “power pedals” and what was once a joyful noise was about to become a terrible racket.

Of course, I’ll never know for sure.




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Glo Column for August: Little Pitchers

Me and Mom     It was the scariest sentence ever uttered by the woman who brought me into this world. Five simple words that gave me a complex and caused me to scrutinize my facial features out of fear that history would repeat itself:

“I look like my mother.”

It all began on a Sunday morning in which my mother stood before the full-length mirror in the hall closet teasing her hair into the shape of a brown football helmet just prior to making the pronouncement that caused me to fear my genetic future. It wasn’t what she said, but how she said it. A look of horror crossed her face and her tone became so terrifying it convinced me that this was not only a fate worse than death, but that I should spend the next hour in Mass praying for a biological intervention. Are you there, God? It’s me, Julie. Please let my father’s DNA dominate my chromosomes. Thank you.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of beautiful women on my mother’s side of the family, but apparently my grandmother wasn’t one of them. I have an aunt who boasts a petite frame and platinum blond hair, cousins who could pass as super models and extended relatives who had classic 1940’s pin up features before age and gravity got the best of them. However, my grandmother who died when I was seven was small, sickly and sported shocks of snow white hair. It’s the kind of thing that can freak a kid out, and not the kind of family tradition one wants to carry on.

In the brief time that I was around my maternal grandmother, I never saw her in real clothes. She always had on a housecoat and pajamas. Her hair was never styled. Her posture was hunched. Her fingers were stained with nicotine and once, while playing on the floor near where the grown-ups were sitting, I got a peek at her toes poking out from her slippers. Not only was the second toe significantly longer than the first, but also they were purple for crying out loud. Purple! Every four-year-old on the planet knows that’s just gross!

Though my mother still had her brown hair and only faint wrinkles at the time of her statement, I understood why she was so panicked. If she was already seeing the similarities then I knew we were both doomed! She was the daughter of the crypt keeper headed for a life of bad circulation and chronic illness while I was an innocent victim drowning in the gene pool. From that day forward, if anyone commented on my resemblance to my mother, I was quick to point out that I looked more like my dad. I seriously hoped that if I said it enough, it would turn out to be true.

In actuality, I am a pretty good mix of both of my parents, something I later learned that I have in common with my mother (who knew?) After my mom died in 2008, I discovered a bunch of old pictures of my grandmother I had never seen before. Prior to the orange fingers and purple toe era, my grandmother was quite average looking and possessed features consistent with a blue-collar woman living in a rural farming community. She may not have been a beauty queen, but her looks were nothing to be ashamed of either.

I never told my mother how her comment affected me as a child, not even after she apologized to Boy Wonder when he inherited her hairline and bone structure after his birth. Maybe I should have. After all, people are sensitive about the way they look. Words can hurt, off-the-cuff comments can make a big impact and little pitchers have big ears.

Chances are they inherited them from you.



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