Category Archives: holidays

My Worst Birthday Ever

Over the years I’ve had some pretty terrible birthdays. Ones with surprise parties that flopped. Ones with unwanted presents. One when I woke up in excruciating pain from a back injury.

Usually, however, I have small, quiet birthdays, with my husband giving me thoughtful gifts that he has sometimes hidden away for almost a year. (If he can remember where he hid them, of course.)

But the absolute worst birthday I ever had was one when my husband wasn’t even there. He had gone to Pennsylvania to visit his mother. He had also sworn that he would be home by my birthday. One would think he meant that he would leave the day before and would be home for my whole birthday. One would be mistaken.

My husband likes to drive at night when the highways are less crowded. By this theory, he should have been home early on my birthday and been able to spend virtually the whole day with me (after, perhaps, a nap). That theory, also, would be incorrect.

Instead, what he proposed to do was leave Pennsylvania early on my birthday morning and be home in time for a nice birthday dinner. This theory was incorrect as well.

By this time, I was getting agitated. My birthday rendezvous with Hubby seemed to be slipping away.

It slipped even more when on the morning of my birthday, it turned out that he had to stay longer and do a few more handyman chores for his mother (in my opinion, the main reason he goes to visit her). That would have him leaving Pennsylvania at lunchtime (or after) and arriving before I went to bed. Technically still my birthday, but I tend not to do much celebrating after I’m in bed.

Eventually, he got on the road. The snowy, slippery road. (It was December.) He called me from along the way – though he knows I hate when he talks while driving – to report his progress. Passed through the tunnel. Over the mountain. How many miles closer to me.

Then I got the phone call that meant he wouldn’t be home on my birthday at all – and that immediately became the least of my worries. He had crashed his car on a bridge covered with black ice, going through a guardrail somewhere near a tiny town in PA, and was at the hospital.

In other words, I had to bundle up on my snowy birthday night and drive to Pennsylvania to meet him at the hospital. He couldn’t remember the name of the town, but he was able to tell me what exit it was just after.

Now, I’m not the best at driving in a raging snowstorm at night in the first place. Add the stress of knowing that my husband was in a hospital – somewhere – made me forget all about my birthday. Instead, I had to drive about 300 miles just to find out what had happened.

Once I found the town and once I found the hospital, I found Dan sitting up in an office, chatting pleasantly with a social worker. Not that he needed a social worker’s services, he was just wandering around the hospital, bored. There was not a scratch on him and his nerves were much steadier than mine.

We found a local hotel, since there was no way I was driving all that way back to Ohio in the snowstorm. We were hoping it would clear by the next day. And the hotel gave out chocolate chip cookies, so there’s a plus. Not a birthday cake, but at that point, I was satisfied.

When I finally did get a chance to see the car, I was amazed that the front of it was so smashed in, yet Dan was unharmed. I’ll say this for Jeep, they really know how to build in crumple zones and passenger capsules.

So, in a way, I can thank Jeep for the best birthday present I ever got, even if it was the worst birthday of my life.

Planning the Normandy Invasion

Hubby and I are going to take a little three-day getaway this month to celebrate our anniversary. No problem, right? You forget that I have my obsessive moments, and when I don’t, Dan takes over.

Packing for a three-day trip to a b&b/working farm should be no problem, right?

Guess again.

Clothing is not a problem. T-shirts and jeans (or shorts). Undergarments. Shoes. There, the list is done.

Not hardly.

We only signed up for one huge country breakfast, so the rest of the food planning is on us (unless we want to leave our cozy cabin and go searching for a restaurant or pay big bucks for elaborate but homey farmhouse fare – and we don’t have big bucks just now).

We decided on a picnic like the kind we used to have. Cheese. French bread. Summer sausage. Apples. Carrot sticks/celery/radishes/whatever. Crackers. Wine.

Thus began the debates. Do we really need a styrofoam cooler to transport these delicacies, or will a paper bag do for a three-hour drive? Should we bring dip for the vegetables, which would require a cooler, or just some peanut butter, which wouldn’t? Should we take the tabletop ice maker, even though the cabin has a complete refrigerator/freezer – indeed, a complete, if small, kitchen plus bowls, plates, utensils, and the like? (The ice maker was Dan’s idea.) Should we toss in a couple of cans of soup just in case we eat our way through the picnic and still have the munchies?

Now consider us planning for a trip abroad which we hope to take in the spring. Dan is much more casual about long-distance trips where any eating difficulties can be solved with money. But then there’s the rest of our kit, and my anxiety kicks into overdrive. I have already begun planning, purchasing, and, if not actually packing, deciding which things need to go in the carry-on and which in the regular suitcases. (And OMG, the weight limits! And we have two CPAP machines!)

First, there’s the issue of money. Will we change some US currency at the airport? At a bank for a better rate? Will anyone there accept US dollars? How much cash should we get for a ten-day trip? Will our credit and debit cards work overseas? Will they charge exorbitant fees, plus a rate for foreign exchange? (Our bank does. See, I’ve already begun checking these things out.)

What else will we need? Rain slickers? Check, and ordered. Power converters? Check, and ordered (the kind with USB ports so we can recharge our electronics, including my absolutely necessary e-reader so I can read myself to sleep). Road map of the entire country. Check, and ordered. Extra underwear. Check. (I have a dread of running out without a laundry handy.) Multi-compartment pill case that holds day/night and day-of-the-week drugs. Still looking for just the right-sized one. (I know that should be easy, but somehow it isn’t.)

And what other problems might we encounter? Need to make a phone call, either locally or to home? Should we buy a sim card? A burner phone? A phone card (once we get there)? Pay for an overseas plan with our regular carrier? Would it be cheaper to get the pay-as-you-go plan or sign up for unlimited service? (All that hinges on how many calls we’re likely to make, which I just don’t know. This requires much perusing of our carrier’s website, calls to them, and some tricky math on my part.) And dear God, we can’t forget to make reservations for boarding the cats! Plus, who knows what COVID restrictions will be in place then?

My hope is that I can get all these questions answered, purchases made, and Absolutely Everything Prepared For, so that, finally, we can just jump on a plane and be whisked off to the vacation of a lifetime.

I’m sure as soon as we do, I’ll realize that I’ve forgotten something. My friend Robbin always used to tell me that as long as I had underwear and my meds, I’d be okay.

Good thing we never traveled together.

More Kentucky Folks

Last week I wrote about Kentucky relatives on my father’s side of the family. This week’s reminiscences are of Kentucky folks on my mother’s side.

Our Uncle Sam (yes, I had an actual Uncle Sam, and an Aunt Jemima whom I never met) and Aunt June lived on a farm outside of Campton, Kentucky. We took the Bluegrass Parkway, which was then a toll road, to get there. Every summer, we vacationed there for a week or two, along with visiting other relatives in the area.

We often stayed a night in Campton, where my Aunt Thelma ran a small hotel (Roses’ Hotel) and general store right across from the town diner, which had much to recommend it, including jukebox access at every table, and a pinball machine. (Note: I have no idea whether Uncle Sam, Aunt June, and Aunt Thelma were actually my aunts and uncles. They could well have been second grand-uncles and great-grand-aunts twice removed, for all I know. The only titles we used for any relatives other than Granny (Coburn) and Grandma (Rose) were aunt, uncle, and cousin. But I digress.)

The general store was notable to us kids for having a wide assortment of penny candy where we could get root beer barrels, red hots, and Sugar Daddy pops. There were clothing and tools in the back, but we never made it farther than the candy counter.

Uncle Sam, down the road a ways, was a sharecropper. He owned the land where the house was, on one side of the road, and farmed the other side of the road for some other owner. He had cows and chickens and a horse. When I brought my then-fiance Dan to visit, he and Uncle Sam went off to bring in the cows. Dan, having no experience with cows, wandered along behind them with a stick, while Uncle Sam made polite conversation by pointing at various plants and asking, “Do they have those where you come from, Mr. Reily?”

Sam’s wife, Aunt June, was a round, comfy woman with bright, black eyes, who was at least part Native American. She was famous for her biscuits. Dan won her heart when, just before we left, he stuffed his pockets full of them.

We had, I would say, a strained relationship with the chickens. We would try to gather eggs for breakfast, but were never assertive enough to reach under the squawking and pecking fowl and collect the eggs. An adult had to be summoned for that. I was also mildly traumatized when I saw Aunt June wring a chicken’s neck for that night’s dinner, and I learned what the saying “like a chicken with its head cut off” really meant. I still ate the fried chicken, though.

The horse was another matter. We loved to ride it, but once when I was on its back, one of the farm dogs came yipping at its heels and the horse took off at what seemed to me great speed toward the barn door. The closed barn door. I bailed off sideways into the cornfield and the horse sensibly stopped when it got to the barn door. But for a moment, it was terrifying.

There was lots to do at Uncle Sam and Aunt June’s. There was a fishing pond. The path to the pond was lined with blackberry bushes and if we visited at the right time of year, we picked the berries on our way to the pond. I don’t remember catching any bluegills longer than about three inches, of which we enormously proud, but which were fed to the barn cats.

Another notable feature of the house was the plumbing, or the lack thereof. There was running water in the house for washing or cooking, but there was no inside toilet. Instead, we had to make do with the outhouse or, at night, with the “slop jar” under the bed. The bed was cozy with handmade quilts and it seemed a shame to leave their warmth to grab a flashlight to trudge to the outhouse.

Living along with Sam and June were our cousins, C.B. (Benny) and Betty Sue. C.B. was kind of a hellraiser and too old to be interested in young cousins, but Betty Sue, although among the shyest persons I’ve ever met, liked to hang around with us. Later in life, she became an attendant in a senior care facility.

The farm was a special place, with a traditional porch and rocking chairs. If it wasn’t too hot – and it often wasn’t, this being in the Kentucky hill country – we would sit and rock and drink lemonade from Mason jars.

Perhaps my memories of these idylls are why Dan and I choose to spend weekend getaways at a bed and breakfast called The Farm, where we get a small cabin with a porch and rocking chairs, beds with patchwork quilts, chickens and goats and rabbits that have the run of the barn and the yard, and huge country breakfasts. We’re going again this August, and I can’t wait.

A Gift for Mom

I remember what Mother’s Day was like when I was a kid. My sister and I always gave my mother perfume. Well, my dad bought it and my sister and I gave it to her. (We didn’t get much of an allowance back then.) We always got the same kind, a scent called Tigris. I rather think we got that one because it came in a cool bottle with a tiger-striped fuzzy cap. Now I don’t know if she liked it or even if she wore it much.

I wanted to learn about other people’s memories of Mother’s Day, so I asked my friends on Facebook what they gave their mothers. I also asked moms among my friends what were the best gifts they had ever received. I didn’t get many responses, but enough to establish a pattern.

In 1992, Dr. Gary Chapman wrote a book about The Five Languages of Love, five ways that people can share love with one another. The book was originally intended for spouses or those in romantic relationships, but I thought I’d apply it to Mother’s Day.

The five “languages” are

• words of affirmation

• quality time

• physical touch

• acts of service

• gifts

In relationships, problems arise when two people don’t speak the same “language.” For example, one person would like quality time together, but the other thinks giving gifts is the way to express love. Or someone who would like words of affirmation but receives only physical touch.

What surprised me from my unscientific poll is that the persons who gave gifts were mostly children. Usually they had no money, or not enough to buy anything nice, so they relied on arts and crafts. Many a mother has received the venerable gift of a loomed potholder or the neighbor’s flowers. But many of the answers I received showed real thought and imagination.

One guy, for example, said, “I started sewing as a youngster. I once made an apron, though she didn’t wear them as a rule.” One mother particularly remembered – and still has – an acrostic poem that her child wrote and illustrated for her. (For those of you not familiar with it, an acrostic poem is one in which the first letter of each line spells out a word, in this case “MOTHER.”)

Many of the other gifts fell under the heading of quality time or acts of service. For quality time, the clear winner was the mom who remembered, “For me it was my daughter surprising me and showing up at my church plus spending the day with me. We’ve also gone to movies or gotten massages/pedicures together. Mostly just time spent together.”

One response spoke of both affirmation and a gift. This mom remembers, “It was the first Mother’s Day after my son moved to England. Honestly, I don’t remember what the gift was, but the fact that he remembered the day (it is on a different day in England) meant a lot to me.” She added, “Last year, he took the time, from England, to arrange for a delivery of Brock Masterson’s Mother’s Day quiche meal for me. That was above and beyond, I think.”

The categories of food and service overlapped at times. One former child remembers, “I made her breakfast in bed. Usually burnt crap.” I’m sure mom appreciated the thought, at any rate. Another idea was given by a guy who, as a teen, did “some extra chores so she could have a day off.” Another person responded, “We took her out to eat,” which if you think about it, combines quality time, act of service, and gift.

The most comprehensive, and most touching, came from a mom who said that the best Mothers Day gift she received was “All of them because they honored me in so many ways.”

No one mentioned expensive gifts, like jewelry. Gifts of touch were also seldom mentioned, though I suppose the mani/pedi would qualify. And I’m sure a lot of the gifts and remembrances were delivered with hugs and kisses.

This is not to say that moms settle for little, but that the little things are the most fondly remembered.

Dressing for Work

Of course, since I now work at home, I wear pajamas. Or maybe scrubs, as my latest pair of pjs looks like I could walk into any doctor’s office and riffle through their files. I wouldn’t be caught unless someone noticed that the cute sheep in hats and scarves were saying Baaa Humbug.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today. Once (or twice) I worked in a regular office where I wore regular clothes – skirts, blouses, sweaters, slacks. If I was lucky or awake that day, they even matched. I was also fond of drop-waist dresses. I had at least four, in solid colors and florals.

But that’s not what I’m here to write about today either. Once I was assigned to interview a woman for a temporary job. She answered my questions shyly and monosyllabically. Desperate, I asked her a version of one of my go-to questions, “If you could dress up as anything at all for Halloween, what would you be, and why?”

(This was a version of a question I always swore I’d ask an official giving a press conference. Once I was able to ask my remedial English students to write a paragraph on the topic, and they all wanted to be birds of prey or cats of prey. Once I asked Jenny Lawson this question and she said “a tapeworm,” because she wouldn’t have to walk around and people would feed her, which I guess shows you how her mind works. But I digress. Again.)

Back to the drab woman I was interviewing. When I asked her my Halloween costume question, she instantly lit up. “Oh, Cinderella,” she said with sparkling eyes. “The ball gown and the shoes and the carriage and the whole thing.” She waxed rhapsodic for several minutes. She didn’t get the job, but I learned that it’s sometimes the goofy question that can unlock a person’s personality.

Our office did dress up for Halloween, though. One memorable year, the accounting department wore white sweatsuits with black spots. Then they each put a newspaper outside their doors, colored part of it yellow with highlighter, and deposited a tootsie roll on each one. The 101 Dalmations cosplay was cute, if disgusting.

My costumes were a bit esoteric and usually no one “got them.” One year my mother had made me a floor-length nightgown in a camo pattern (my mother could be whimsical). I asked her to make a matching nightcap, powdered my hair, and went as Rambo’s Granny. No one guessed what I was. I had other notable non-successes. Once I dressed as a pirate and the office guessed I was a motorcycle mama.

One year they understood what I was, but all stepped away from me and didn’t make eye contact. I was “Indiana Jan,” complete with bullwhip. If anyone was brave enough to ask me about the bullwhip, I replied, “Oh, this old thing? We just had it around the house,” which did not detract a bit from my reputation for oddity.

Then, every Halloween, rain or shine, we had a march around the outside of the building, led by an employee who called herself the “Grand Poo-Pah.” I didn’t have the heart to tell her that it should have been “Grand Poo-Bah.” Those were the days!

Now, of course, I shun Halloween and all its trappings (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-Yu). This year, if I answer the door at all, I’ll probably wear the Baaa Humbug scrubs.

 

New Year’s Sweaters I Have Known

Christmas sweaters, both ugly and pretty, have come and gone for this year. But for me, sweaters are inevitably evocative of New Year’s. Let me explain.

Once upon a time, I worked in an office that didn’t go in for Christmas sweaters. The telemarketing department wore Christmas sweatshirts, mostly handcrafted. My department, fortunately, left the exercise to them. I’m not at my best with hot glue, sequins, and ribbon. Not to say I end up wearing the appliques, but let’s just say they adhere to something other than the sweatshirt.

Later, I did work in an office where Christmas sweaters were a Thing. (Ugly sweaters were not a Thing. Yet.) Everyone, it seemed had a closet- or drawer-full of festive holiday wear.

I had exactly one handed-down-from-a-friend Christmas vest. That was fine, as far as it went, but it didn’t go very far. Everyone else had complete wardrobes of Christmas sweaters, perhaps not one for each of the 12 Days of Christmas, but enough for the entire week before. I had a hard enough time fitting in with the work crowd, so I decided I would play the sweater game too.

Being frugal (that is to say cheap), I saw no point in paying good money for a sweater or multiple sweaters that I could wear only once a year. I had a dilemma. The answer soon came to me. I would shop on New Year’s Day, when the Christmas sweaters had all been put on the clearance sale table. I scooped up about five, including one I particularly liked. Instead of being red or green, it was dark blue, a night scene with Santa and his sleigh flying over rooftops and across the moon. I tucked them away in a drawer, anticipating how I would wow the office the next year.

Inevitably, and given my luck, I was let go before the next Christmas season. I went freelance, which meant that my usual work clothes were pajamas. My beautiful sweaters languished in a drawer and so did my snowflake and wrapped presents earrings (I picked up some of those too at the sales). One year I tried to be festive and dressed up for Christmas, but no one at the Chinese restaurant was impressed.

I did have one other adventure involving New Year’s sweaters. One year, some of my friends and I were determined to crash a fancy party in a local hotel. I did have a black sweater with gold and silver beading around the yoke. (I forget why. Maybe my friend, she of the Christmas vest, gave it to me.) At any rate, it was simple enough to buy some shiny gold fabric and ask my mother to sew it into a simple skirt. My friend had a similar outfit, and the guy accompanying us rented a tux, which I thought was overkill. But it was fun to stand next to him in my white faux fur coat and shed all over him.

We had it planned just right. We wandered into the hotel ballroom precisely at 11:30 p.m., when no one else was expected to arrive, and mingled. (We knew one of the band members and decided to claim we were with him if challenged.) Then we indulged in the open bar (this was many years ago, when I sometimes indulged in dodgy behavior) and I spent part of the evening necking with one of the waiters. (He was trying to convince me to take a hotel room. I declined.)

Afterward, we went to a nearby diner in our finery and sobered up on coffee and waffles. We tried to hold down our obnoxious glee, but I suspect we failed. 

This year for Christmas, my husband presented me with an assortment of sweaters – the kind meant to keep one warm. Not a sequin or reindeer in sight. He did also give me a pair of Christmas earrings (cats in stockings), which I made sure to wear when we went to the store to pick up a bottle of champagne for our New Year’s celebration. Maybe next year I can get him to dress up as a waiter.

Happy Pandemic Birthday to Me

Today is my birthday, and we are in the middle of a pandemic. How does this affect my celebration? Hardly at all. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with birthdays and am perfectly happy celebrating them with as little fuss as possible. In fact, my idea of a really good present is for my husband to tell the waitstaff not to sing when they bring my birthday cupcake or sundae. I rather imagine that they enjoy the singing as little as I do.

This year, it’s even more minimalist than that. Since we no longer go out to eat, I am expecting to get a surprise bag of Taco Bell takeout, with maybe a candle in the quesadilla, or, if I’m really lucky, Long John Silver’s chicken planks with a candle in the cole slaw.

Of course, my husband still gets me presents. He buys them in July or so and hides them till December, then gives them to me – if he can remember where he hid them. For this Pandemic Birthday, he hasn’t had the advantage of following me around stores to see what I like, then sneaking back later to buy it. He does work in a department store, so I’m pretty sure he’s gotten me something and hidden it in the back of his car.

Since the store he works at also has a day-old baked goods table, I can reliably expect some form of leftover cake or pie, sometimes with whipped cream, but hardly ever with a candle. And when there is a candle, just one is fine, thank you very much. I may also, of course, receive the proverbial bowling ball named Homer.

In my teens, I tried to disown my birthday altogether. In my dysfunctional way, I told people that it was on March 1, rather than in December. This was a stupid coping mechanism, not unlike the time prescription Ibuprofen caused me stomach trouble in college and I sat by the door in my classes, hoping that the burping would be less noticeable there. Don’t ask me why. My birthday didn’t go away (the burping didn’t either), my family still baked me cakes, and I still got presents or cards.

Eventually, I reclaimed my actual birthday. As the years went by, I barely celebrated at all. Then Facebook came along and now I have the opportunity to count the number of people who wish me happy birthday. As excitement goes, it’s not much.

There’s likely to be even less excitement this year. A surprise party would be out of the question, even if I liked them, which I don’t. First of all, I almost never leave the house, so it would be difficult to sneak people in without my noticing. Also, having masked people jump out from behind furniture and yell at me would resemble a home invasion more than a party. Besides, a good many of my friends live out of state and even the ones here in town are social distancing, which is part of why they’re my friends.

I’m content these days just to let my birthday slide by with an emotion that ranges from meh to Bah, Humbug, depending on the year. I have a feeling this is going to be a meh year.

 

 

Thanksgiving Memories

It all started with my sister. Once she and my mother and I were driving around and talking about Thanksgiving. She was waxing rhapsodic about how it would be wonderful to give our cats little bites of turkey.

“Actually,” I said, “we’re having lasagna.”

The gasp from the back seat was audible.

“It’s going to have ground turkey in it. Does that count?”

Apparently, it didn’t.

Since that time, we have avoided turkey every year (except the one time Dan’s work was handing them out), just to piss off my sister, the uber-traditionalist.

Fortunately, we now have our own traditions.

Entertainment

This is really the heart and soul of our Thanksgiving. Every year we watch the “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati  (thank goodness for the internet!) and listen to Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant,” singing – or rather reciting – along. One year we also had a DVD of a cozy fire in a fireplace. It was so realistic that, in the middle of it, someone from offstage came in and put another log on the fire.

Skype

One year Dan and his mother were particularly lonely, as they lived in different states. We taught her how to Skype – no easy task from hundreds of miles away – then set up our feast on a utility table in my study. At least we were able to have conversation and watch each other eat. (I think that was the turkey year, or at least the turkey breast year.) For an approximation of the Skype problem, go here to listen to my friend Tom Smith’s song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5XfjUPqj9M).

Food

The lasagna we had has not been our only departure from traditional holiday fare. One year we had spaghetti; another, salmon poached in orange juice. Our most memorable non-turkey meal, though, was the year we had ratatouille. It has been immortalized on my blog in an older post (https://wp.me/p4e9wS-2z), but here’s the gist of it.

Dan was visiting his mother that year, so Thanksgiving luncheon would be only me, my mother, and Dan’s best friend John. Doing a whole turkey for three people seemed excessive, and I wanted to make another nontraditional dish, so I settled on ratatouille, with the addition of some sausage for John, a carnivore.

Imagine our surprise when, after taking just one bite, John choked and couldn’t breathe. The rest of the afternoon was a flurry of Heimlichs, emergency equipment, the emergency room, several doctors, and an x-ray. Turns out John had swallowed the bay leaf, which I had neglected to remove, and it had lodged on top of his vocal cords. The highly technical medical procedure required to remove it was a very hard cough. We then went back to my mother’s house for ice cream.

Read the whole thing, if you have time.

Pandemic Thanksgiving

This year, the year of the pandemic, we didn’t have anyone over for Thanksgiving. Not only did we think it was safer, but both my mother and John have passed on. And not from any encounters with rogue bay leaves. I learned my lesson and now use a bouquet garni.

What we did this year combined the traditional and the nontraditional. We didn’t try to teach Mom Reily to Zoom this year. It would take longer to do that than to roast a full-sized turkey.

No, Dan and I continued our nontraditional tradition and at the same time supported a local small business by patronizing them. This year, we had a jolly feast of take-out sushi and Kirin beer. Arlo and Les Nessman were invited, of course. We have to keep up some traditions.

 

 

We All Know What Labor Day’s About. Or Do We?

Labor Day is the day when we don’t have to work. Instead, we have picnics and barbecues and sit on our lawn chairs drinking beer. There might be a parade with classic cars for the grown-ups and clowns for the kids. Some businesses close their doors for the holiday. Others run special Labor Day sales and back-to-school specials, and deck their stores and commercials with red, white, and blue. It’s a national holiday, so someone must have once thought it was a good idea to give everyone a day off to mark the end of summer. In fact, it was such a great idea that someone made a whole weekend of it.

All of that may be true now, but it wasn’t how Labor Day started. It began as a holiday to celebrate the labor movement, trade unions, and the ways workers have contributed to building the United States. Take a closer look at that. It means the little guys – workers – who dared to pit themselves against Big Business – the bosses – and march, protest, and yes, sometimes riot in pursuit of ideals such as a living wage, weekends off, the eight-hour day, pensions, the ability to strike, and other changes.

(May 1st was also a candidate for “International Workers’ Day,” but conservative president Grover Cleveland felt that May 1st would celebrate a bloody confrontation in Chicago called the Haymarket Affair; socialism; and anarchy. In the fashion industry, Labor Day is considered the date past which one should not wear white or seersucker. But I digress.)

The labor movement and trade unions have fallen on hard times, what with politicians trying to gut their effectiveness, minimal concessions from bosses regarding rights, and the prevailing sentiment that “unions were useful once, but now have gone too far or been taken over by the mob.”

One of the heroes of the labor movement in the 1960s and 70s was César Chavez, a leader of the United Farm Workers’ trade union, which used nonviolent tactics such as strikes, pickets, and boycotts to advocate for better conditions for agricultural workers. He was posthumously given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Other people have been associated with the labor movement and conditions of workers, nearly all of them leftists in their politics. In 1974, U.S. author “Studs” Terkel wrote Working, subtitled People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. And Barbara Ehrenreich’s gritty 2001 book Nickeled and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America chronicled her three-month journalistic experiment of working at minimum-wage jobs like waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Walmart clerk.

This year’s COVID crisis has caused us to focus on who really are the essential workers in our society. To many people’s surprise, it turned out to be manufacturing workers, truck drivers, shelf stockers, and nursing home workers. Whole industries suffered from the lack of waitstaff, bartenders, cleaners, and cooks. Mom-and-pop shops took a bad hit. And of course, police, doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other hospital workers were deemed the most essential of all. Some workers were offered “hazard pay” if they continued to stay at their posts during the first months of the pandemic. Many, if not most, workers, unless they were working from home, wore masks and were abused by those who did not. Masks and other personal protective equipment were in short supply in many hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes.

This year’s Labor Day celebrations should be a celebration of these essential workers, not just an end-of-summer opportunity for beer, parades, and speeches about how workers are the backbone of the country and, oh, yeah, what a great country it is, with the stock market (i.e., the bosses) doing so well.

At the very least, we should thank the people who keep society rolling in good times and bad, who manufacture and provide us with the necessities of daily living, and who remain largely unsung until a crisis forces us to pay attention to them – the workers. The laborers for whom this holiday is named.

 

Halloween? Bah, Humbug!

I hate Halloween.

Mind you, I have no problem with the pagan event (Samhain) overtaking the religious one (the eve of All Saints Day).

I have no problem with skeleton cookies and other trappings of Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos).

I have no problem with children dressing up as witches, vampires, devils, or anything else they want to be, whether it smacks of evil or not. (I do hate the “sexy” trend in adult costumes. Sexy crayon. Sexy Mr. Rogers. (No, really.) Whoever thinks these up has too much time on their hands and too much weird on their brains.)

What I hate is the trick-or-treating. (It should really be called treat-or-vandalism.)

When I was doing the trick-or-treating, it was different, of course. There were still difficulties. I wear glasses, and back in the days of plastic dime-store masks, my choices were to wear the glasses but have the mask slip around and make me functionally blind or to wear the mask without glasses and be functionally blind.

Later on, I put together my own costumes out of old clothing and other things around the house. That was fun, though occasionally baffling. I think most people guessed “gypsy” from the bandana and necklace of gold coins, but what they made of the pink flowered dress and tan plush toy snake I just don’t know. Even I don’t remember what that was supposed to be. (The g*psy outfit came long before we all learned about cultural appropriation and ethnic slurs. But I digress.)

Around that time, the first round of tainted candy scares went through, when children took their goodie bags to the ER to be x-rayed for razor blades and had to throw out apples, Rice Krispie treats, and homemade fudge. That took a certain something out of the playfulness. Halloween parties became a trend, where treats could be supervised and stupid party games involving cold spaghetti and peeled grapes could be played. I think those parties have now taken over from door-to-door begging.

My mother loved the trick-or-treating. She would ooh and aah over the cute little kids and their costumes. What she didn’t like were the teenage boys who went around with pillowcases and didn’t even bother to dress as anything. They didn’t even smear on charcoal beards and pretend to be hobos. (Mom always kept a special bowl of last year’s left-over bubblegum just for them. It was unpleasant, but not actually poisonous.)

I think I started hating trick-or-treating when my Mom got older and couldn’t pop up and down to answer the door, so I had to do the popping and dispensing of candy and old bubblegum and describing of the costumes. But I did it for her.

Later, when I was on my own, I lived in upstairs apartments and other locales that didn’t see a lot of costumed traffic, so I had time to think it over and discover how much I disliked the custom.

Over the years, I’ve grown more and more antisocial, nearly to the point of waving my cane at youngsters and calling them “whippersnappers.” We live in a cul-de-sac at the very back of the neighborhood, so we don’t get many visitors anyway. My husband always buys too much candy and we eat our favorites both before and after the fact. (I have to remind him not to get Butterfingers. I hate Butterfingers.)

Actually, buying too much candy is a defense mechanism for him. One year we didn’t have enough, and he didn’t even have enough loose change for everyone. As the kids were departing in sorrow, he yelled out the door in desperation, “Does anyone want some Coke?” He meant the soft drink, but the shocked look on their faces was priceless.

Now I simply refuse to participate, curmudgeon that I am. I stay in the back of the house and turn off the porchlight, the universal signal for “Don’t stop here. Keep moving.” (Though I don’t know why we bother with porchlights, as trick-or-treating is now always done during daylight hours to cut down on car accidents and candy-muggings.)

These days I’m the one with knees that don’t like popping up and down or creaking up and down, really. I get depressed when I see how many little girls have bought into the pink princess-y thing. Opening the door makes me tense, as we have a cat who is a door-darter. Every other year my husband says, “I did it last year; now it’s your turn.” Sorry, not falling for that one. If you like it, fine. If you don’t do it, I’ll just read a nice zombie novel like Feed to mark the occasion.

This year there is a slightly encouraging lately – having a teal-colored pumpkin outside your door if you will be giving out non-food treats, such as small toys, colored pencils, glow sticks, and the like. It will cut down on food-allergy-related deaths, but it will also result in a lot of stomped-on teal pumpkins. The older kids already have made a sport of stomping pumpkins and running. Imagine their annoyance at receiving a pinwheel or a Koosh ball.

The start of the pumpkin-stomping craze was when I stopped decorating too. You can save Christmas ornaments from year to year, but last year’s pumpkins are just sad. I suppose I could find some nice cobwebs in the basement, but getting them intact to the windows upstairs would be difficult.

Honestly, I could just skip Halloween and be perfectly happy. In fact, I do and I am. Call me a spoil-sport or a party-pooper if you will, but spoiling sports and pooping parties are how I celebrate.