Gas AND OIL??

I’m not very mechanical.  That is actually an understatement.  I am not mechanical.  That is actually also an understatement.  I am like negative-mechanical.

I like numbers and I enjoy people and I can bake a fairly crusty pound cake, but I can’t fix a dag gone thing. 

Stuff with nuts and bolts, screws and gas – just not my thing. 

I try.  When I first purchased a house I painted the entire inside – 2,500 square feet.  I intended to coat the walls and ceilings.  I did as well as the floors, bathroom fixtures and myself.  It’s not for lack of trying.  I have every tool you could ever imagine – thanks to my father who desperately wants me to be a fixer.  He got that in my brother who can change car oil and install a garbage disposal.  Man, I wish I could do that.  If I could I’d have one in every sink in the house just because…

The other day I pulled out my lawn mower to cut the grass.  It was difficult to crank.  It’s only like twelve years old – why would it be so difficult to start?  I don’t ask a lot of it, just crank once a week, cut and then it can sit around doing nothing the rest of the time.  I even give it like four months OFF every year.  How happy I’d be if all I had to do is work a couple of hours a week in the warm months.

Julie, who is .05% more mechanical than I am, suggested I check the oil.

I put gas in it, and now, now after only a decade, I have to ALSO check the oil?  I took it to the shop several years ago for a tune up.  It just seems like this mower is expecting a lot considering its output.

I screwed off the oil cap, and it did indeed look a bit dry.  Sort of like my skin in February.

I had oil, so I filled it, screwed the cap back on and again tried to crank.

It did start, but a huge poof of white smoke billowed from its undercarriage.  It looked like a smokestack from a tire manufacturing plant.

I was told by my woman that perhaps I’d overfilled.  That seemed unlikely to me – I just put as much in as the container would allow.

A neighbor walking his dog passed by as the plume wafted away from our drive.  He had a smile on his face.  Julie’s brow was furrowed.  Our neighbor said in a supportive way, “Don’t worry.  He’ll figure it out.”

And I did.  I siphoned ¾ of the liquid out and gave the mower a rest.  Thirty minutes later she was cutting like her typical old self.

Julie thinks we need a new mower.  I think she will make it another year or two.  We have a small yard.

One might think that a guy who couldn’t fix things might be more prone to buying new stuff when in a situation like this.  However, more than my disdain for fixing, is my disdain for spending money. 

Even I can see the contradiction in my philosophies.  And yet, it’s unlikely I’m going to change.  Engrained. 

Ain’t no cobras round here…

My mother called me twice on Tuesday during the workday and called Julie once.  I was in meetings.  I was fearful when I saw the alerts on my iPhone.  I called back quickly.

“Mom, is everything ok?”

This Fayetteville, NC, native (well she’s lived there sixty years anyway) informed me that there was tough news:  “A Zebra Cobra has escaped his owner’s house in Northwest Raleigh.  Are your doors closed?”

Big news indeed.  Especially for a woman who would rather have a lobotomy than run into a garter snake in the yard.

I pondered how a snake might make his way from NW Raleigh to my house in Central Raleigh.  I imagined crossing the I-440 Beltline might be a challenge.  But in her defense, my mom has no sense of direction.  If she was standing on the North Pole she would be pressed to point south.  She once headed from Fayetteville to her parents’ house in Florence, SC, a direct 1.5 hour drive south on I-95.  A trip she had taken hundreds of times before.  Half-way to her destination, she got off at an exit to use the restroom, got back in the car and headed north on I-95 back to Fayetteville.  She realized her mistake AFTER she had passed her hometown.

My mother then gave me every detail she could remember from the news report, and I suspect a little added commentary based on her imagination.  She shared that the cobra would spit poison in my eyes if I ran across him (i.e. keep googles on at all times until capture is announced).  She informed me that the nutcase who owned the cobra also had other venomous snakes that he kept in cardboard boxes about his home.  She told me he had been bitten by his pet Black Mamba but survived. 

Her call did implore me to pull up the news story and watch the squirrely creature slither across my “neighbor’s” deck.  It was disturbing.  And I agree with her that the man must be a nutcase.  I guess we all collect odd things – stamps, old notes, we have an affinity for decorative pigs – but venomous reptiles is a bit extreme. 

On Wednesday after work I rang my mom.  I told her I heard on the news that the Cobra was spotted in Benson, NC, headed south toward Fayetteville.

She hesitated… “I hadn’t heard that.  I’ll have to ask Wayne (my dad) if he’s seen it on the news.”

She was on speaker phone and my soon to be wife, Julie, yelled out to my mom, “He’s a liar!  The snake is NOT headed your way.”  She then told me I should be nice to my mom.

I am, usually, nice to my mom.  But sometimes, I just can’t resist to poke at her a bit.  And sometimes it is very well deserved.

Blessings…

I struggle with the phrase “I’m blessed.”  Maybe not generally, but to be blessed with a great house, or plenty of food or health seems to imply that God has withheld these things from others.  Why would he bestow all this on me, and not on my neighbor?  I most certainly didn’t do anything to deserve what I have.

What I do know is that my kids, actually our kids (Julie’s and mine), are a blessing to me.  Each has their own personality, their own quirks and take on life.  None are the same.  Yet I find all intriguing.

Michelle, the youngest, graduated from high school in May.  She’s headed to UNC-Chapel Hill on August 13.  She is a humorous, fun-loving, smart, salty, pretty young woman.  A times a bit reticent, but when she wants, she can light up a room.

I’ve spent so many years zeroed in on raising this kid – actually all three!  I remember times when I would stay up until 1 AM completing the online school health forms (those reminder emails to TURN IN THE PHYSICAL were like a scolding from Mrs. Buie, my fourth grade teacher).  I remember packing lunches at 10 PM so I could sleep a couple of minutes later the next morning.  I remember bra shopping and 12 girls at my house combing out their, at the time stylish, “side bangs” readying for the middle school dance.  I remember spending too much time crossing off my checklist and not enough time just being with them.  I remember snuggling and tickling and dancing in the kitchen. 

Now, they don’t need the same level of attention they have demanded over the past decade.  I suppose I don’t either.  They spent a lot of time making sure I was OK, worrying that I might be alone on a Saturday night or stressed that I didn’t have enough presents to open on Christmas morning.

We still need each other.  There are insurance premiums to pay and weekly updates required by dad.  But the intensity of the reliance is less – a sad relief.

As I look back on the past eleven years, I can see God’s plan unfold.  We grieved for a time.  I met someone special.  The girls grew up.  And then, seamlessly, at just the right moments, all of the houses sold, all of the jobs worked out, all the kids began to create their own futures. 

In the aftermath of horrible, there can be beautiful. That is a blessing indeed.

Oh So Funny

Zeila

The final kid has made a decision.  Michelle will attend UNC next year!  It breaks my heart because I attended NC State and that too was an option.  But she’s going baby blue.  Her mother would be proud.

She has also reconnected with a friend from middle school who will be her roommate.  I don’t know her well, but my recollection from the early years is stellar.  One mutual friend told Michelle, “There is going to be some fun had in that dorm room.  You are the funniest two people I know.”

As I ponder my youngest kid’s personality, humor pops to mind. 

I recently ran across a note I’d scribbled in 2009.  It listed several quotes from Michelle, my then precocious five-year-old.

Each night the girls would choose a book to read before bed.  A favorite was not really reading.  It was the I Spy book.  Each page had hundreds of items and the text tested your searching abilities.  There might have been a Christmas theme and your challenge would be to find four santas, six stars and a mistletoe wreath.  One page held trinkets from Halloween, and we were searching hard. 

Michelle (reminder, she was five):  “I want to find that damn bone.”

Me:  “You shouldn’t say that.”

Michelle:  “At least I’m at home.”

On a flight back from Wyoming that same year, a Sci-fi movie was being projected on the overhead TV.  Michelle was sitting with her Nana.  At one point in the movie, a guy pulled off his mask and his head had no eyes, nose, ears or mouth.  Michelle looked at her grandmother and said, “Now that’s not something you see every day.”

On that same vacation, Lisa was working to get Michelle to stop sucking her thumb.  It was incessant, and we had tried numerous tactics to quell her urge.  At bedtime one night, Lisa said, “Michelle, you have to try to stop sucking your thumb.”  Michelle replied, “I can’t sleep without sucking it.”  Lisa responded, “You have to.”  Michelle’s come back?  “Some parent you are.  I’m not going to sleep tonight.”

She spoke as if she was 82 yet she was trapped in a kindergartener’s body.

Her humor has continued and kept me in stitches a good portion of her life.  I will miss the daily chuckles.  UNC will gain.  It will be a funnier, happier place come mid August.

Packing It Up

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The packing has begun.  I’m not 100% sure I’m moving yet.  We’re in that due diligence period where the buyer and seller have to argue about who is paying for what.  But I am beginning to organize just in case.

We moved Julie out of her house in March.  She’s in an apartment temporarily while we figure out our next step.  What we’ve discovered in the process is that we have A LOT of stuff.

Mattresses, we have mattresses for days!  Most of hers are younger than mine, so I’m tossing mine out.  The one in my guest room was in my grandmother’s guest room.  She moved out of her house and into a retirement community in 1996.  She built that house, oh, I’d say in the mid 70’s.  My best guess is that the bed was purchased upon arrival.  Although, come to think of it, perhaps she moved that one from the house my dad grew up in.  The queen set is somewhere between 46 and 83 years old.  Who cares?  My guests never stay that long.

The bed in Michelle’s room, which all of my kids have lived in at some point, is much younger.  It was purchased in 1993. 

I have a difficult time throwing things out.  When a pair of boxers no longer has enough elastic to stay up, I synch them for as long as possible.  One day I was jogging and I felt something around my knees.  My boxers had fallen on either side and the waistband was dangling below my thighs. 

I was a sad day when I tossed those little guys.  They had been through so much with me.

For the second time, I cleaned out my koozie drawer in the kitchen. 

Julie: “Honey, why do you have a drawer full of koozies?”

Me:  “I might need them.”

Julie:  “Why would you ever need 35 koozies?”

Me:  “Well sometimes Brad and Tim come over for a beer on the porch.”

Julie:  “So maybe keep three?”

We don’t even use koozies when they come over.  But I hate to see them go.

Julie has about 25% of the cabinet space in her apartment that she had at the house.  And yet, somehow, a popcorn maker the size of a Volkswagen avoided storage and made it to the new place.

Me:  “Why are you taking this enormous popcorn maker to the apartment?  Shouldn’t it go into storage?”

Julie:  “I think I might need it.”

Me:  “We have microwave popcorn.”

Julie:  “I need it.”

It’s ok.  This past weekend as I was packing, some people in my family were trying to toss the massive popcorn tub I won at the movie theater several years ago.  I told them I needed to hold onto it for all of the popcorn Julie was gonna make in our future life.

Together we have 6 hatchets and four axes.  There will be no shortage of firewood at our house.  We’re like a Boy Scout troop.

We’re gonna have to buy a big house.  Or maybe a mini-storage business.  Goodwill, here we come!

“I’ve Got The Memories…”

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The Folks

Vaccinations abound!  We were finally able to celebrate Christmas this past weekend with my parents.  Although masked, I walked into their house in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and gave my mom and dad a BIG, FAT hug.  I’ve seen them a couple of times over the past twelve months but not much, and the only physical connection we’ve had was a slight bootie bump at departure.

My folks are aging, like us all.  They’re pondering a downsize.  This is great news for them!  They will get all of the Christmas eating without nearly as much fuss.  I turned 55 this year, the minimum age for most retirement communities, and if I could get Julie to go, I’d sign up tomorrow.  Food, food, food!  BINGO and a built in Uber.  Who could ask for more? Some even have a a soft ice cream machine with all-you-can-eat sprinkles. My mom will be in heaven.

It may be this year or maybe the next, but they’re considering options which is good I think.

As I watched the seven grandchildren this weekend, I pondered the good times we’ve had on Meadow Wood Road.  And, I pondered the memories from my grandparents’ homes.

One had a screen porch with a black swing, and as I remember it, a patterned orange and green plastic cushion that would withstand nitric acid.  My brother and I would sit on the swing and count the many cars that flew by on Hoffmeyer Road.  We would each pick a color and could only count our colored vehicles. Each car was one point. Most points won. Chad would always choose white.  He’d encourage me to go with my heart – a color that fit my personality – like orange or yellow or purple.  Who wants to count boring white cars?  I’d think to myself.  In an afternoon, he would rack up 80 points rubbing it in as the hours passed by.  I might have one, maybe two if the Dukes of Hazard drove by.

At my other grandparents’ house, I have distinct memories of a powder green naugahyde couch, my brother and I in matching blue silky pajamas my mother had made for us, trying to knit.  My grandmother was a master and looking back on it was likely working to break typical gender roles.  Why couldn’t a boy enjoy knitting?  I concur.  But this boy did not.  It’s actually hard.

As I begin to ponder moving from the house where I raised my girls, occasionally I find a hint of melancholy set in.  The same is true as I think about my parents’ and my grandparents’ homes.  My eldest niece said it best on Saturday, “I have the memories.  That’s all I need.”  Pretty sweet.

CURAD Ouchless

My fiancé, Julie, finally sold her house.  We moved her out this weekend into a temporary place in Charlotte.  Now, it’s my turn.  It’s like dominos – one step forward puts the next in motion.  When we finish, the plan is marriage and ONE house.  After five years of dating, it’s probably time.

I’ve had workmen at my house shoring up odd jobs, and I’ve been cleaning out like a crazy person.  I’ve watched Julie do the same.

It’s interesting what you find – it’s fun, it’s dirty, and sometimes it pierces a heartstring.

Last night I was shoring up the Rubbermaid band aid container.  Does everyone have a band aid box with various shapes and sizes of stick ‘ems and gauze?  In my quest to clean out, I came across an old tin of CURAD Ouchless Bandages.  I started to toss it without looking in.  But that’s not my style.  No, I look in everything to see if there is any feasible reason I might want to save something.  I hate to throw things out – what if I could reuse it?  An old towel could become a new rag.  What if someone else could use it?  My junk is another’s treasure.  What if it conjures up a memory that I might otherwise lose?  A hand drawn card from Michelle dubbing me the “best father” of all time!  That’s like an Oscar for me.

I opened the can and there were no boo-boo strips.  Instead two bills, one dollar and a five.  On the dollar, my grandmother had written:  This bill was in my father’s wallet on the day that he died, July 30, 1965.  On the five the same message but for my great-grandmother, This bill was in mama’s wallet on the day that she died, June 21, 1970.  Also rolled up with the money was a note in my great-grandmother’s writing saying keep this bill always to remember your dad.  I was not yet 1 when my great-grandfather died and only five when his wife passed.  But how cool to have a physical remembrance of their love and our family history.

It is hard to move out of a house that you’ve lived in for nearly thirty years.  The laughs that we’ve had.  The tears that we’ve shed.  The victories and losses.  The weekly totes in of the groceries.  The fall nights on the screen porch.  All are special.  Comfortable.  Warm.

And yet, the danger of gripping so hard to the past is the possibility of foiling the future.  We have to pack our CURAD tins in a cardboard box, and take them with us as we move forward.  Our past can stagnate or add delight to what comes ahead.   I choose delight all day long!

TikTok Nuggets

I hate to admit this, because I long to be cool, but perhaps… I’m not.  And frankly, I thought, maybe, if parent-cool was on a one-to-ten number line, perhaps I was a seven.  I’m a little too Type A to ever be an eight, but still, compared to other middle agers I know, I felt like my cool factor was above average. 

There have been several moments over the years that have made me ponder my coolness.  A while back when I was dating, a “cool” guy at work told me I needed to stop dressing like a 50-year-old man if I ever wanted to find a woman.  But I was a 50-year-old man, and I scored a pretty fine lady even in dad jeans, a V-neck sweater, and a button down shirt.

But this month, Michelle turned 18.  Two weeks ago to celebrate, Julie and I set up our porch to host a couple of her friends.  When we asked about food, she requested a smorgasbord of chicken nuggets and French fries.  Yes.  Julie and I were each assigned three fast food restaurants.  We were instructed to purchase chicken nuggets, fries and dipping sauce. 

I was timid about requesting too many sauces.  Julie, not so much.  Chic Fil A gave her 30, six of each kind.  She’s a salesperson, not afraid to ask for what she wants. 

We brought them home, masked ourselves and dumped them all on a tray. 

I soon discovered that the food choice had nothing to do with chicken or potatoes.  Apparently, this meal is a TikTok trend. 

Some of you are wondering, what is TikTok?  I’m learning it is a video sharing app.  You take 15 second videos and the world can see them. 

So before wolfing down the nuggets, and drenching them in Polynesian, everything stopped.  Videos were taken.  Videos were retaken.  And only then, did they partake.

I don’t understand the TikTok.  I like TV shows and movies.  And thus the divide:  18 vs. 55. 

Oh To Sleep…

I’ve not slept well the past decade.  I don’t know why.  I’ve tried everything imaginable to help.

I turn the TV off early.  I read.  I don’t drink caffeine after 2 PM.  I limit alcohol.  I take Melatonin.  I’ve tried Chamomile Tea.

Julie heard from a friend that hypnosis helped her battle insomnia.

Why not try?  I thought.   I got nothing to lose.  Well, except for $75 which is what the recording cost me.

The hypnotist told me it could take 21 days to feel the effect, I’m on day six.  The recording is a full 25 minutes.  I listen.  When she is finished, I take my Ambien and Melatonin cocktail and eventually conk out.

The first night of “hypnosis” was odd.  I did actually feel a bit like I was in a trance.  My arms and legs were heavy – my body felt asleep.  But my mind knew exactly what was going on.

My hypnotist actually snapped her fingers and told me every time she snapped and said the word sleep that I would fall more deeply into her trance.

I did not listen to the recording prior to my first try so I was a bit anxious.  As I tried to relax, I considered what she might make me do if I fully went under.

What if she instructs me to disrobe and run down the street in flip flops?  What would my neighbors think?  I wondered.

Why would she do that?  I argued with my awake mind.

People have done crazier things.  I warned myself.

According to this woman, who puts me to bed each night, sleeping is MY RIGHT!  She told me when I was a baby I slept in light and dark, in quiet or in noise.  I guess she’s right, but you’d have to ask my mom to be sure.

She has me walking down staircases, staring up at my own eyebrows, and intentionally relaxing my forehead muscles.  I didn’t even know I had those.

As soon as she tells me to relax, invariably something on my being starts to itch.  Not like a tiny itch, like a baboon at the zoo itch.  And yet, I’m afraid she’s gonna be mad at me if I scratch.  So I lay there – arms and legs heavy as tree trunks, armpit itching like crazy and my mind trying to figure out if I need to relax my knee caps or dig into my underarm.

The other night Julie and I were staying at a friend’s mountain house.  She agreed to listen to the recording with me.  In approximately 15 seconds she was out cold.  That is exasperating.  At one point I talked to her.  She did not respond.  The next morning she said she could hear me but that her psyche told her it was inappropriate to talk.  Her psyche was probably right.  Besides, she was long gone by then.

I am hopeful this will eventually work for me.  Julie tells me I just need to let the force take over.  I will try.  But I’m not going to like it.

The Summer of ’74

Julie always says my childhood sounds like Sandlot.  We weren’t playing baseball, but there are some similarities.  As I described our summer activities to the girls recently, I think they were surprised by the simplicity of our long summer days.

Boy Land and Girl Land were a favorite of our crew.  If we played Boy Land, the guys would chase the girls, catch them and take them to jail where they would have to do anything we instructed them to do.  Our general antics were jumping jacks, eating grass or stepping on a stack of sandspurs.  Much to my father’s dismay, our yard was full of them.  I preferred Girl Land for some odd reason.  Because there were fewer girls on our street than guys, and because we could run faster than they could, they typically couldn’t catch us until we willingly gave in.  Which we always did out of pity and a desire to see what sort of dares they would have us participate in.  It seems that ours were always better – they lacked the creativity that my brother and I brought to the table.

If it was horribly hot or rainy, we would head to the basement of our split level house and play Seven Minutes in Heaven.  One person would be It.  I always resented that the older kids chose It.  I dreamed of the day I’d hold that power.  It never came.  We moved before I aged up.

It would go to the closet and the remainder of the group would use a form of “one potato, two potato, three potato, four…” where we’d all put both fists up while standing in a circle while the group leader counted us out.  My favorite counting rhyme was:  Ink a bink a bottle of ink, cork fell out and you stink.  It was so much faster than One Potato.

The last one standing entered the dark space through the dark brown, louvered, bi-fold doors to meet It.  My favorite It was Tracy McDonnell, a skinny girl who lived on the cul-de-sac with her very strict military father.  Everyday at noon, regardless of what we were doing, she would have to immediately head home to feed her three dogs.  It was like Cinderella and the striking midnight clock.  Apparently Rounder couldn’t wait ‘til 12:08 for his dog chow.  His feeding time was noon.  She was always on restriction.  I don’t know what she did to deserve her ongoing punishments, but I do know we avoided playing at her house whenever possible for fear we’d do something that might get her in trouble.  Her dad was omnipresent.  He knew if one little dust speck was out of place.  She and her sisters always seemed happier when he was in Vietnam.

Tracy would kiss me in the closet – which was very exciting for a nine-year-old boy.  The other Its might shake my hand, pass gas for a good laugh, or smack me in the head if they couldn’t get their bodily functions to work on cue.

When I was It I always wanted to kiss Jennifer Fair, she was beautiful.  But she was also three years older and my brother’s love interest.  Had I kissed her she might have vomited, and my brother might have punished me in his own, cunning way.  My mother did not tolerate fights, not even verbal spars.  But he could get to me, and I knew it.  He was sort of like the mafia boss of Berkshire Road.

My kids are too old for those kinds of activities, but facing a summer where they may not have their typical camp experiences made me think about my dog days.  We had no camp.  The most exciting thing I ever did on summer vacation was get my tonsils outs.  But I wouldn’t change a thing about my experiences.  I can still taste Vienna Sausages and my mom’s cherry Kool-Aid (from a powder pouch) popsicles.

Dang, we had fun!

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