Coming Out of Hibernation

“You have been asleep since November,” said Frog. “Well then,” said Toad, “a little more sleep will not hurt me. Come back again and wake me up at about half past May. Good night, Frog.”

Arnold Lobel, Frog and Toad Are Friends

Did you ever wonder why the famous February groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, retreats into his burrow, or when he does, what happens in the seclusion of his home? It seems to me that if the sun was shining, he’d want to take advantage of it, not spend more time in darkness and isolation. Either way…sunshine or shadow…he heads back underground. The only difference is how long he stays there. So what’s the deal? Once he’s ventured out, why doesn’t he just stay?

Maybe, just maybe, this is what is going on.

Phil peeks his little nose above the edge of the burrow just to check things out, assess the weather, and perhaps grab a cup of coffee and a muffin before waking the Mrs. He’s not expecting company, yet, suddenly he’s hoisted into the air on full display for the paparazzi. He just woke up, for heaven’s sake! He’s lost at least half his body weight during the winter, and his coat is a mess. Back down the tunnel, he goes where he gives his partner, Felicity, a shake. While she yawns and stretches, he finds a mirror and begins to take stock of his appearance. Together they agree that they’re definitely not ready to face the world and vow to remain below the ground until they’ve spruced up a bit. With the goal of a Rubenesque physique, Phil and Felicity put on some pounds with the food leftover from their winter hibernation and try to bulk up a bit…probably lifting weights and adding protein powder to their planet-friendly plant-based diet. They finally emerge six weeks later to greet the sun, green grass, and delicious Spring flowers with a bright coat, plump figure, and a smile. Too bad the paparazzi left weeks ago.

I’m Ready for My Closeup
Photo credit: Pixabay

Of course, I spent the major portion of my life in the company of children and I still often see the world through their eyes…so…perhaps that’s not be exactly what transpires down there in the burrow…but…it could happen.

Lately, I have been empathizing with hibernating animals, which are just waking up after a long period of inactivity in northern climes. The other morning I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and immediately thought…Mama Bear. Granted, my hair was without the twigs and leaves present after sleeping in a den, but it was totally unruly. Unlike Mama Bear, however, who was shocked at her weight loss after my forced hibernation of the past year, I’m shocked at how easy it was to pack on that extra Covid-19.

As the time approaches when we can venture farther from our burrows and dens, many of us are spending time getting back to our before-time selves or at least working to be able to snake into a pair of blue jeans or slacks with a zipper.

Along with extra pounds from recreational eating and lack of mobility, I developed Covid-feet. Yes, I thought it was just me, but evidently, it’s a real thing. Who knew that after a year of wearing slippers around the house without supports, my poor feet would suddenly rebel. The discomfort is real but can be assuaged by forcing my tootsies back into my trusty Keens. The first challenge, of course, was digging out my shoes from the back of the closet, then…squeezing my splayed feet into them. Oh, I so empathize with Cinderella’s sisters!

After the shoes, I moved on to a new, multi-step skincare routine suggested by my daughter-in-law, Jenna. I love how the products feel on my face, and I was quite pleased with how young my skin looked. I learned a bit later while preparing for a Zoom meeting that the disappearance of 70 years of lines was probably due more to good lighting than the beauty products I was applying. Still, it’s become part of my daily routine, so I keep smoothing it on and hoping for a miracle in a bottle.

A Miracle in a Bottle?
Photo credit: Pixabay

Once the skincare routine was underway, I began a plan of making better choices with my diet and exercising more. I track my steps and try to steadily increase the number I take in a day. When I can’t get outside, I have developed a route inside my little condo. I walk with small weights in time to an endless variety of Beatles’ songs, but to pick up the pace, occasionally I crank up the volume for a little Lynyrd Skynyrd and zip around the place to the 70’s version of “Gimme Three Steps.” It’s the perfect length between the eyedrops I was prescribed after cataract surgery…yep, check that off the list, too… and I get a five-minute mini-workout. I suppose to the neighbors, I look like one of the shooting gallery ducks going back and forth past the window, but hey, I’m getting steps in.

I’m almost ready to venture out and be seen by the world again. The problem, of course, is that just like Phil and Felicity, I’ll soon discover that the paparazzi is not waiting for my triumphal return. My wise and funny friend, Suzanne, said, “Never worry about what you look like in a group photo. No one is looking at you. Everyone is looking at themselves.”

No One’s Looking at You
Young ladies of Notman’s printing room, Miss Findlay’s group, Montreal, QC, 1876

As the world begins to spin once again and the momentum increases, the group photo shot philosophy will become more apparent. We’re all going to be more concerned about taking our own steps and finding our own balance and equilibrium than worrying much about anyone else.

It’s amazing how quickly our brains were able to sort and reorder the information of our everyday lives. The ability to judge six feet of distance, make sure you always had a mask, and safest place to get groceries suddenly took precedence over whatever occupied our thoughts a year ago. The fact that as time went by, it became more difficult to even remember our time pre-pandemic daily activities was astonishing and a bit disconcerting.

When I haven’t used an app on my iPhone for a long time, it is transferred to the cloud. Nothing is lost; it’s just not taking up space on my device. When I need it again, I simply call it back. Our memories work in much the same way. Those folders full of the minutiae of my life have been filed in the far reaches of my memory. When I need them, I’ll just call them back from the cloud and replace all that no longer useful information…where to get the best masks and hand sanitizer…with how to interact with other humans…the how-to for tasks I used to take for granted. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy, but I’m confident it will happen…eventually.

“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

The pandemic is far from over, but our lives are gradually returning. We’re almost ready. Before we know it, just like that Punxsutawney pair, we’ll venture from our burrows, slink timidly to the edge of the field, and hurry across the lush green grass until we find ourselves once again back in the familiarity of Farmer Brown’s garden.

“And the secret garden bloomed and bloomed and every morning revealed new miracles.”

―Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Gardenal
New Miracles Everyday
Photo credit: Pixabay

A Handful of Pieces

“A marriage, willy-nilly, requires you to trust that your spouse will tell your story truthfully and lovingly when you are no longer around to tell it yourself.” 

Kate Braestrup, Here, If You Need Me
Spring Break on Cape Cod
Photo credit: Fiona Rollins

In what now seems like another lifetime ago, my sisters and I met in Chicago for an evening of amazing theatre. For two hours and fifty-five minutes, we were mesmerized by the story, the music, and the fast-paced lyrics of Hamilton. The musical is jampacked with memorable moments; however, it was the final song…the final scene..that reached in and grabbed my heart. Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story. At the time, having been a widow myself, for a scant six months, I immediately connected with Eliza who accepts the responsibility of telling Alexander’s story and honoring his legacy.

Every life is a mosaic of tiny bits and pieces. When it comes time for our story to be told we can only hope that the storytellers scoop up the shiny, brightly colored bits. Then too, it would probably be nice to have some of the dull and broken tesserae thrown in as well…just to add some contrast and perspective.  In the end, the chroniclers can only use the tiles they have collected and the way the light shines on the bits they hold to tell our stories.

Covid-19 Spring
Barbara Abraham

It makes me a little sad, to think that there are many people in my life who never met my husband, Dave.  I’m sorry, too, that I can only tell his story with the pieces I have.  Granted, after forty-three years of sharing a life together I’ve got an awful lot of pieces, but after decades of living side-by-side, our individual bits have all been dumped into the same box. I’m afraid that trying to separate the jumble of my life from his would be a rather dusty, time-consuming, and ultimately futile endeavor.  

So, with a mound of those tiles cupped in my hand, I’ll give you a tiny glimpse into one part of the man I knew.  There’s still an abundance of pieces remaining in the box for another day.

Dave and I both come from families where a sense of humor is held in the highest regard. Storytelling, practical jokes, playful innuendoes, quick retorts, and snappy comebacks were what we were both raised on.  We have a professional comedian in our family for heaven’s sake and several other family members who can probably hold their own with him.  In fact, my mother’s final words were the punchline of a joke she liked to tell. Humor and laughter are in our DNA.

Over the years, the two of us sometimes worked as a comedy duo. We often played off each other with the hope of making our friends laugh.  Our repertoire ran the gamut from Archie and Edith to Lucy and Desi, often switching roles between the comic and the straight man. The biggest challenge and the most fun was getting the other to laugh or catching them in a joke.  I have to say, especially since Dave isn’t here to object, but I know he’d agree, that in this game I was most often the victor. I think Dave was just too naive and trusting.  I’d get him to fall for the easiest stuff…hook, line, and sinker.

“I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can”.

Linda Ellerbee
Do You See a Resemblance?
Entrance to the Kröller-Müller Museum

In a recent documentary, I watched a group of archaeologists trying to reconstruct the floor of a Roman villa. Most of the clay tiles were missing, but there were some sections that were bright, beautiful, and close to being complete. There are stories about Dave that are much like that restored section of that ancient mosaic floor.  They have been told so many times that they have been worn smooth but they are so funny and familiar that they are continually repeated.

Ready for Duty, Captain
Jamestown, VA 2011

On Valentine’s Day, 2007, a massive snowstorm hit Vermont dropping between two and three feet of snow in a twenty-four hour period. For several days people were clearing snow from sidewalks, driveways, and rooftops.  On the third day,  after hours spent on the roof, Dave came in to give a report.  He had worked his way to the front of the house and was vigorously moving shovelful after shovelful from the roof to the drifts below.  As he worked, instead of warming up from the exertion, as he expected, he was getting colder and colder.  What he had failed to notice was that with each shovelful he tossed from the roof a fair percentage had blown back and collected in the pockets of the pants he was wearing.  When the pockets reached maximum capacity…weight, gravity, and maybe just because the snow wanted to return to the roof…Dave’s pants slowly slid down his legs and gathered around his ankles. Our house was on a fairly busy street.  One wonders how many people he mooned before he realized that his arse was on display for the entire world to see.

Dave was not a small man and he frequently used his size to great comic advantage. When our church instituted an annual Christmas Pageant, he was one of the Wise Men. After several years in the role, he decided to mix it up and play the part of an angel.  I assume that angels come in all shapes and sizes, but I’m pretty sure that until the moment he appeared on the chancel no one in Montpelier had ever seen anything quite like his rendition.  To complete his angel ensemble he and his cohort, Bob, also dressed as an angel, carried small bells that they’d ring occasionally and then look to see if either of them had gotten their wings.  “Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.”  

He’s The Angel In The Christmas Play

I supposed his greatest achievement at visual humor was The Great Shower Caper. One summer, while I was spending a week at Star Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, he got together with my friends, Bettie and Nancy. The three of them were aided by my daughter-in-law who photographed the entire escapade. Nancy, Dave, and Bettie, posed in such a way as to create the illusion that the three of them were enjoying a playfully nude romp together in our outdoor shower. I can’t imagine that this was Dave’s idea, but the fact that he was willing to go along with it was classic. The rest of the plot involved having prints made for each of the participants to hang surreptitiously in their house to see how long it took their spouse to discover it. I can only imagine how much fun they had creating this bit of visual hilarity. I keep a framed print in my bathroom. I look at it every day and always smile.

Ain’t We Got Fun
Nancy, Dave, and Bettie

When you are a joker you have to be ready to take a ribbing as well as dish it out. Dave was always a good sport when it came to being the butt of the joke, so to speak.  One of his favorite stories involved his friend and surgeon, Larry.  We were living in a small Michigan town where everyone knew everyone else.  Dave had gone to the doctor for a cyst that had formed at the base of his spine.  The doctor, Jack, told Dave that the best course of action was to have it lanced.  “Just go over to the hospital. Larry is still working and he’ll take care of you.”  Dave arrived next door at the hospital and sure enough, Larry was ready to take care of the problem. 

The set-up for this story also involved Larry telling Dave that although some of the numbing-agent had gotten into his eyes he was sure he could see well enough to complete the procedure at hand. As a now nervous Dave was bent over the gurney with his drawers once again around his ankles…I’m beginning to see a pattern here…Robin…remember it’s a small town…came into the room and began to prep Dave for the procedure by shaving his behind. Embarrassed, Dave asked, “Does Robin have to do that?

“No,” replied Larry, “But she asked if she could and I didn’t see any harm in it.”

Dave would roar with laughter telling that story.  He loved it.

Of course, Dave was much more than jokes and funny stories… I still have lots of tiles left in the box…but it was the part of himself that he liked best. In many ways, it was the essence of his being. Who he was.

We never talked much about what happens when we die. I really don’t know if he believed in an afterlife or not, but when I read this quote from Kate Braestrup, I always hear it in Dave’s voice. “Ah! To be able to make someone I love laugh years after I’m gone, that is all the immortality I could ever ask for.

Laughing Death in the Face

“Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you all. If you can only remember me with tears, then don’t remember me at all.”

Michael Landon, Little House on the Prairie

I am becoming quite the movie buff. My new condo is literally only five minutes from the local multiplex and I’ve discovered that going to the movies is a rather enjoyable solo activity. In fact, I’m pleasantly surprised to learn that I almost prefer going by myself. I can decide to go at the last minute, I can sit wherever I choose, no one talks to me during the feature, and if I decide to leave early, there’s no one to disappoint.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, however, I went to the movies with my sister’s family which was great fun. After purchasing our tickets, drinks, and popcorn we moved to the butter and salt station where my nephew showed me a trick he uses for making sure the butter is on all the kernels not just those on the top of the bag. He took an extra straw, put it into the bag, pushed it down near the bottom and then deftly placed it under the spout for the melted butter. As he released the warm liquid into the straw he carefully pulled the straw up through the popcorn and voilà the butter was distributed evenly throughout. Great idea!

Movie Popcorn is the Best!

The next time I ventured off to the movies I thought I’d try the new butter technique. I place the bag of popcorn under the dispenser and then positioned my straw into the bag and aligned it with the spout. It was a tight fit getting my straw in the proper position. It looked easy when my nephew did it, but eventually, I had everything in position and pulled the handle forward and began to fill the bag with rich, creamy butter. It was then I noticed the butter dispenser to my right. I wasn’t aligned with the butter. I was filling my bag of fluffy white popcorn with Vitamin B & C-Pomegranate-SoBe-Water! Yes, the entire bottom of my paper sack was filled with vitamin water!

Not to worry, I put some butter on the still fresh kernels at the top of the bag and headed into the theatre. It’s true, most of the bag was really wet and soggy almost to the point of saturation, but hey, the top third was delicious!

“If you can laugh at yourself, you are going to be fine. If you allow others to laugh with you, you will be great.”

Martin Niemoller

One day, not long after the popcorn incident I was baking brownies to take to my brother-in-law. The scent of chocolate was filling my small kitchen with the promise of deliciousness. Near the end of the baking time, I took a peek into the oven to see how they were doing. Something was very wrong. There was a pool of oil floating on the top of the semi-solid brown batter. What had I done? I reviewed the directions. I hadn’t added too much oil as I first suspected. I had omitted the egg! Quickly, I retrieved the brownies from the oven and stirred the half-baked mixture with a fork. They were still wet enough that I could easily add the eggs and then return the pan to the oven. Without hesitation, I cracked first one egg and then the other into the warm chocolatey concoction. Do you know what happens when you add eggs to something hot? They begin to cook! OMG! I began to stir frantically in an effort to combine the eggs with the brownie glob before they turned to scrambled eggs. I’ve come to terms with chocolate wine, but huevos con chocolate…I don’t think so. Never fear, I was beating those eggs hard, fast and with great determination. In the end, the only evidence of my culinary blunder was a few very small white flecks of egg marbled throughout an otherwise perfect pan of brownies.

He ate them with delight.

“Never be afraid to laugh at yourself, after all, you could be missing out on the joke of the century.”

Barry Humphries
Remember the Eggs

My late husband, Dave, would have loved those stories. Humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves and each other sustained our marriage for forty-three years. In many ways, the two of us led parallel lives. We had very different interests, attitudes, and styles, but we both loved to laugh and we considered it quite an accomplishment when we were clever enough to get the other to “fall for” one of our many jokes. Not to brag, but I “got” him most often. Laughter was a very important part of who we were as a couple and who we were…are…as individuals. For many people the trauma of loss has them questioning whether they will ever laugh again. Many people wonder if, in their grief, if it is inappropriate or unseemly to smile or laugh. Thankfully, that wasn’t my experience. Telling Dave’s stories and jokes is a way to keep his memory…and him…close and alive.

As much as I wish it were otherwise, Grief has become an omnipresent fixture in my life. It hides in the shadows and rises unexpectantly with the specter of Death, his co-conspirator, to fill me again and again with unspeakable sadness. I have learned, however, that I am pretty resilient and when I can look Death in the face and let loose with a hearty guffaw, Grief can not defeat me and Death does not win!

Finding the ability to laugh isn’t always easy. There are days when joy can remain an out-of-reach, unattainable goal, but Happiness and Laughter also live at my house where they are constantly working to keep the sadness at bay. Often when I least expect it, I’ll find a picture, or remember a funny situation, or come across an object Dave unintentionally left behind for me to discover causing me to smile, chuckle, or dissolve into fits of laughter.

“Ah! To be able to make someone I love laugh years after I’m gone, that is all the immortality I could ever ask for.”

Kate Braestrup, Here If You Need Me

Soon after his death, my sisters and my daughter-in-law were helping me pack Dave’s clothes for Goodwill. “What is this?” my daughter-in-law asked incredulously. The look on her face was a mixture of bewilderment, disbelief, and hilarity. Pinched between her thumb and index finger she held a piece of navy blue knit material. Suddenly, right there in the midst of this very sad task, the four of us began to roar with laughter. She was holding the remnants of a long-forgotten practical joke….her father-in-law’s rather ample…underpants with “Chick Magnet” emblazoned across the bottom.

Chick Magnet Undies

Thanks, Dave!

And…Take that Death and your little buddy Grief too!

Someone Move the Cookies!

“You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing.”

Maurice Chevlier

Dave and I both enjoyed playing cards although he played more often than I did. Throughout our married life he played in a weekly poker group. In retirement he added weekly cribbage matches and the occasional pop-up Texas Hold ‘Em extravaganza to the list. Together, we played Spades, Hearts, Do Dirt to Your Neighbor, Ninety Nine, and lots of Euchre. Euchre is very popular in the Midwest where we grew up. If you played cards and you lived in Michigan chances are you played Euchre.

Rank of cards in a game of Euchre

When I decided it was time for me to reach out to friends and add some fun back into my life, playing cards, Euchre in particular, seemed like the perfect way to begin. We’d start a women’s card group. There are lots of expats from Michigan living in central Vermont, so it wasn’t difficult lining up friends who knew the game, were excited by the idea, and willing to play. We’d just need to find a night that worked and get started. That should be easy.

Remember when Friday and Saturday nights were reserved for nighttime fun? In retirement every night is Saturday night. One problem…there’s a twenty year age spread between the four of us so although technically, by the local senior center standards, we’re all senior citizens, half the group is still employed. We’d have to plan around their work schedules. Then of course our calendars are also filled with volunteer commitments, family obligations, and previously planned fun of various kinds, but we eventually found a date that suited us all.

As the hostess, I had certain responsibilities. I had to be sure to clear a path through my house to the kitchen table where we’d play, but these were good friends who wouldn’t mind a little dust and since I’d had workmen in my house the previous week …stripping wallpaper and painting…there was a fair amount of dust to be found. Have you ever noticed that when you dust it just all comes back? I think that’s God’s way of letting us know she wants it there. Who am I to question divine wisdom?

OK, dust or no, I’d concentrate on the snacks. The days of popcorn and soda or pizza and beer appear to be over. I’d have to put some thought into this. I settled on wine…red and white, lemon-ginger ice tea and I had the handy Keurig as backup if someone wanted coffee, but we’d need finger food too. Something easy to hold along with a handful of cards. Between us we had…vegetarian, no dairy, no gluten, no eggs, no soy, and one who was game for anything. Bless her heart. The spread was an interesting combination to be sure including olives, peanuts, carrots, cookies, chocolate of course, hummus, and corn chips. Seemed about right…and besides there was wine.

MFinally, we were ready to bring on the cards and get the game underway. Euchre has many variations, so our first order of business was clarifying which rules we would follow and how we’d keep score. The game is played using only the cards from nine and above. That leaves the fives as the perfect counters for score keeping…a talent in itself. The bottom five pips…suit symbols…would count for the first five points. Then the top card would be turned over exposing the final five. We’d just need to remember to actually take our points.

“We use the twos to keep track of trump.” I’d never heard of that, but it sounded like a good idea. When trump was called the two from that suit would be on top of a stack of four. What a clever idea.

“Do you play that the dealer can steal the deal?” Having the deal is a great advantage and you have to be sneaky, quick, and clever to be able to pull it off.

“Of course, ” we agreed. With all that decided, it was time to let the games begin.

Finding the rhythm and refreshing the rules took a bit of time but soon we were all playing like Las Vegas card sharps. As the game progressed it became evident that I was sneaky, clever, and an accomplished deal-stealer, much to the annoyance of the more trusting players. “OK. I have an idea. Let’s put the cookies on the left side of whoever is supposed to be the dealer.” Of course, that plan depends on someone actually moving the cookies.

“Wait. Who called trump? We need a little figurine to put in front of the person who made trump.”

“Nothing compares to the stomach aches you get from laughing too hard with your best friends.”

Unknown

Picture it. We now had glasses of wine, small plates for our snacks, fives for counters, twos for keeping track of trump, and a rotating bowl of cookies as well as the actual cards for each hand all vying for space at the table.

Playing Euchre as senior citizens is more complicated than those games we played in our youth. In addition to remembering whose turn it is, which card was led and how many tricks were needed we also have to flip the trump-tracking-twos, remember who called it, and of course… move the cookies. More of a challenge to be sure, but with an even greater reward…joy. Oh, we all wanted to win, but that wasn’t necessarily our final objective. Levity, laughter, and hilarity were the order of the day…not competition. We just wanted to have fun! Our laughter was unrestrained, genuine and bountiful. My tummy hurt and my cheeks ached by the end of the evening, but my spirits were lifted and I felt lighter than I had in quite awhile.

Anne Lamott says that “laughter is carbonated holiness”. That seems like the perfect definition to me. I am so blessed to walk my path in the sacred effervescence of laughter. We’re playing again next month. I have the perfect figurine to help us keep track of who called trump. Her name is Remembrance.

Her name is Remembrance
A gift from Kathy, 2019