Great horny toads!

yosemitesam

I was in Texas a few weeks ago.

Despite what you’ve heard, they actually do let non-Texans into the state.  But you need a valid U.S. passport.  And a non-Hawaiian birth certificate to prove you were born in a state in the mainland U.S. or Alaska after it was admitted to the Union.  And a notarized statement saying you aren’t part of the Jade Helm 15 conspiracy to take over Texas and turn abandon Walmart’s into resistance detention centers.  With shackles.  OMG…

Some friends warned me not to go.  They were afraid some of the “Texas crazy” would rub off on me.  I’m already full up with AGMA crazy.  I wasn’t worried.

Besides, I used to live in Texas.  Sort of.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I went to college in Ft. Worth.  Back when it still really lived up to it’s nickname, Cowtown.  The massive stockyards were still in operation and honest-to-goodness cowboys walked the streets.

I went to Texas Christian University as a freshman in 1971.  Yes, I was a proud Horned Frog.  We called ourselves horny toads.  Ribbit.

Pittsburgh, PA, where I grew up, is about 1250 miles away from Ft. Worth.  But it was more like a million miles away from anything I had experienced.  It was like landing on Mars.

“Do not run; we are your friends…”

First of all, people talked with a strange accent and drank Dr. Pepper.  Then there were the folks on campus who wore cowboy hats and boots as part of their normal, everyday clothing.  Nobody understood my charming Pittsburghese, and they served Mexican food in the cafeteria.  And there were lots of girls with big hair who always wore loads of make-up and always dressed up for class.

I fit right in like Bernie Sanders at a Tea Party rally.

But, as often happens when one is cast into the big, wide, alien world from the insulated confines of high school and hometown, like attracted like.  I made friends. Good friends.  Friends who helped me grow from the awkward 17 year old who had never been on a real date (seriously…) to a confident 19 year old who had become quite the dating expert.

Yeah, you heard me – dating expert.

But I left Ft. Worth and my friends in 1973.  Evidently I needed another major dose of culture shock.  And, I was sort of running away.  I ended up in Tucson, Arizona.  But that’s another post…

This trip back was the first time I’d been back to TCU since the 70’s.  I was worried.  I’d only spent two years there, they were two of the most formative years of my life.  Two of the best years of my life.  And in some ways, the worst.  Years of profound self-discovery.  Years of love and loss.  Life changing years.

Listening to music from the early 70’s – songs from artists like Carol King, Carly Simon, Seals & Croft, Harry Nilsson – strikes hard at times, deep in my spirit.  In a place locked up tight a long time ago.  Like skeleton keys, these songs rattle around in the lock. Sometimes they get a little too close to actually engaging the tumblers.  Then I turn the song off.  No need to stir up old ghosts.

So I was worried that visiting my old stomping grounds might actually break through the lock and release the AGMA Kracken.   But it was all good.  Walking in the footsteps of my teenage self was a bit surreal, but fun.  It was a wonderful trip down memory lane, but the sleeping dogs stayed asleep.  Whew.

I came back from Texas no more or less crazy than when I left.  My friends are happy. So much has changed there over the past 40+ years, but so much was still the same.  I guess I’m much changed over the past four decades as well.  But still, in many ways, so much the same.

Mary Hopkins sang back in 1968, “Oh my friend, we’re older but no wiser for in our hearts our dreams are still the same. Those were the days my friend…”

It’s one of the songs I can’t listen to.

The Zen of Charles Schulz

CharlieBrown

So right now I could be working on Christmas cards or studying for my Personal Trainer exam or writing something for my blog. The first two are fairly urgent and time sensitive.  I’m kind of on a deadline for both.  They’re both important to me for different reasons and I know I would regret not prioritizing either one of them.

Guess you figured out which one I picked…

I heard a few days ago that A Charlie Brown Christmas was turning 50 this year.  It first aired on television in December 1965.  Not sure how the news source I was listening to worked the math on that one…    But have a feeling that NEXT December there will be lots of 50th anniversary tributes and accolades for my good buddy Chuck and his sad little Christmas tree.

I’ll just start it off a year early.

I remember watching A Charlie Brown Christmas when it aired for the first time.  I was 11 years old and had just moved to Kentucky from Pennsylvania to live with my father and step-mother.  My own, dear mother passed away just a little over two months before and left a huge empty space in my chest where my heart used to be.  I was devastated.

I had never lived with my father before that I remember.  My parents were separated when I was very young, and he moved out of state when I was six to marry his new wife.  After he moved, I saw him probably once a year.  And I had no clue he had remarried until I met his wife for the first time when they came to get me to bring me down to Kentucky after Mom’s funeral.

Surprise!

These were the days before there were grief support groups for kids who lost a parent.  The days before there were divorce support groups for kids from “broken” homes.  The days before counseling was considered an option for a child adjusting to the abrupt and sudden loss of her immediate and extended family, her school, all her friends and the only home she had ever known.  They just patted you on your back and said, “Sorry ‘bout your luck.  Now buck up!”

You were just expected to suck it up and move on.  No moping allowed.

Shortly after I moved to Kentucky, my father got me a small, used, portable black and white TV for my room.  Like all TV’s back in the day, my little portable had antennas to get the paltry four – count ’em, four – stations that were available at that time. The reception was horrible on my little TV.  Lots of snow and static and fuzzy pictures.  Those darned rabbit ears.

But I honestly think that television was my salvation.  It was something magical.  It transported me to places and into stories that made me forget…   Shows like The Wonderful World of Disney or The Ed Sullivan Show or I Dream of Jeanie would suck me in and I’d forget for a couple of hours that I was a lonely stranger in a strange land living with strangers.

Most of all, I loved the shows that made me laugh.  Red Skelton, The Munsters, McHale’s Navy, The Beverly Hillbillies, Gilligan’s Island. And Looney Tunes cartoons – they were my favorite.  Tweety Pie was the bomb.  Bring it on Puddy Tat…  The more ridiculous and absurd, the more I laughed.

There was solace in laughter.  Healing.  All those good endorphins.  I was too young to drink or do drugs to feel better, but I sure could laugh.  Probably better for me in the long run…

Enter A Charlie Brown Christmas on my little TV in December 1965. Boy, could I relate to Charlie Brown.  I was living his life.  Nothing was going right.  I was full of self-doubt and anxiety.  I had no control over anything that was happening to my life.  I felt like a piece of sh*t.  Charlie Brown was my soulmate!  And I watched that little guy try so hard to make sense of everything, and try make something really dreadful into something beautiful and happy.  He just knew down in his soul there had to be more, and that it was full of love and healing and joy.  And he was right.

It’s been a long time since Linus first stood on that stage helped Charlie Brown understand the real meaning of Christmas.  49 years to be exact.  But I’ve never forgotten the simple lessons I learned from my soulmate and my little black & white TV.  Never, ever give up hope that even the saddest thing can be transformed into something amazing, and laugh a lot.

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!!

September Yin and Yang

September

Yeah, yeah – I know I’m a little late since it’s already past mid-September.  This is a post that really wanted to be written at the beginning of the month.  It begged me to be written.  But because it’s not my normal “wry humor” (and I say that wryly…), I said no. It’s been nagging me ever since.  It would not relent.  I gave up. Thanks for your indulgence for my indulgence.

September is a very special month to me.  I always feel big changes in the air.  I can smell the changes.  September is chance to start over.  Brand new beginnings.  Most good and welcomed.

But not all.

September always means a new school year.  As a child growing up in Pittsburgh in the late 50‘s/early 60’s, school didn’t start until after Labor Day.   I was always excited to go back to school.  I couldn’t wait to see my friends again.  And back to school meant a new dress and a new pair of shoes for the fist day.  Cha-ching!

Getting a new dress was a big deal for me.  Due to divorce, I lived in a single parent household – unusual for the time – and my mother worked as a nurse in a VA hospital.  There wasn’t much money for new clothes.

Or new anything else.

But for the first day of school, not only would I get a new dress and shoes, but a new notebook, new pencils and a new book bag too.  (FYI – bookbags were the old school version of the modern backpack…)  It was a huge treat to go shopping with my mother for all my new stuff.  She was always so very busy all the time with work and taking care of the house and doing laundry and grocery shopping and cooking – we never had time just to hang out together. We would ride a trolley to downtown Pittsburgh and shop at one of the big department stores.   We always ate lunch in a restaurant.  To me, it was a thrilling adventure!

I experienced the same type of excitement at the beginning of September years later with my own kids when they started school. We’d go down the list of “suggested supplies”, head out to the mall and shopped ’til we dropped!  We all had fun, but I’m pretty sure that I enjoyed it the most…

And September was always the beginning of another year of volunteering.  I worked part-time in IT, so I was usually able to make time each week to volunteer at the kid’s school.  Yeah – I was one of those moms.  I was in PTA, helped out in the classroom, worked in the bookstore and on after-prom, baked cookies, was a Football Mom and a Soccer Mom.  All through their grade school, middle school and high school years, I volunteered.  And I loved every minute of it.

Now, every September when I feel the chill starting in the air and hear the sound of the September “critters” in the morning and see the leaves starting to put on their Fall regalia, my head and heart flood with the memories those happy new beginnings.  But September also reminds me that new beginnings can have their challenges.

My children have long been out of school.  The high school PTA and Football Moms are now run by people whose children were tiny babies back when I was involved.  September reminds me that every season comes to an end.  That very happy time in my life is over. Oh, I’ve adjusted to the empty nest and have reinvented myself several times over, and stay very busy and active.  I even started a blog!  But so far nothing has equaled the joy I had in parenting my kids when they were growing up.  September reminds me, sometimes cruelly, that time marches on.  Relentlessly.

Also, on a September day in 1965, my dear, sweet mother who worked so very hard to support my sister and I, died suddenly from undiagnosed pancreatic cancer.  She was two weeks shy of her 47th birthday.  So young…  I had just started 7th grade.  After the funeral, I was shipped off to a new city in a new state to live with my father who I had barely seen since he moved away when I was six, and his new wife who I’d never met.  I would never see the house I grew up in or any of my grade school or neighborhood friends again.

The smells and sounds and “feeling” of September remind me of new beginnings. But they also remind me that sometimes a new beginning isn’t welcome.   But it comes anyway.

I sigh and remember and mostly smile.

I’m Still Jet Lagged So I Can’t Think of a Catchy Title

5dollarsaday

We just got back on Sunday from a 12 day trip to Belgium and France.  I missed y’all and AGMA!

But it was fun.  Lots of fun.  Beautiful cities, great Belgian beer, WWI and WWII history, great Belgian beer, wonderful food, great Belgian beer, the amazing Mont St. Michel, great Belgian beer.   Brilliant!

I may have mentioned this before – I love to travel.

The travel bug bit me back in the day when, if you were a student, travel was cheap.  Like ridiculously cheap.  When you could fly “student stand-by” for practically nothing.  Remember the classic book Europe on $5 a Day?  As Archie and Edith sang, “Those were the days…”  Sigh.

I took my first international trip in 1972 when I was 18.  We flew from Dallas, Texas to Athens, Greece with a stop in Bangor, Maine and Shannon, Ireland to refuel.  Yeah – the plane had to refuel twice.  At least it didn’t have propellers…or did it?

I was hooked.

In 1976, I did the semi-obligatory post-college trip to Europe.   An organization called “The International Student Exchange” advertised a fabulous eight week tour of Europe by posting flyers seemingly all over every college campus in the US.  A lot of us took the bait.  It was run by a man called “Uncle Roland”.  Kinda creepy.

This operation was intense.  Every week for probably a month – mid May to mid June – a charter took off from New York to London. Everybody on every plane was between the ages of 18 and 22.  Yes – the inmates were in charge of the asylum…

Each planeload was divided into five groups.  After the first night in London, group #1 left on the “official tour”.  Then the next day group #2 would leave.  Yada, yada, yada until all five groups had left London.

My group was J-10 because we left London on June 10th.  Clever… So we did and saw everything that group J-9 did, but a day later.     J-11 was a day behind us.  J-12 was two days behind us.  If it’s Tuesday, where the hell are we?

Each group had it’s own bus that met them in Calais after the Channel crossing.  Our bus driver was Robert.  He couldn’t speak English and may have been a dirty old man – he was probably all of 35 – but this man had the patience of a saint.  Our guide for the eight weeks was a 24 year old man from Austria named Eric.  He was only two years older than me.  Again, an inmate was in charge…

So there we were – 36 hormone super-charged, ADHD, mixed gender late teen/early 20-somethings craving excitement and adventure, all crammed on a bus for eight weeks driving through 11 countries in Europe where attitudes about alcohol, drugs and sex are way different than the US.  Whatever you imagination can conjure up, it probably happened.  Yeah – that too.

Naturally, by the end of the eight weeks, we basically couldn’t stand the sight of each other.  Some people hated each other.  And nobody liked the girl who decided not to use the toilet and used the back of the bus instead.  Especially Robert.  Plus everybody stunk a little…

A few years ago, I found the flyer for the trip that my pack rat alter ego saved for all these years.  It advertised “Come join us for eight happy weeks in Europe!”  Okay – I’ll give them six happy weeks and two pretty crappy ones.  But 38 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday.  Good times.

Total cost in 1976 for 11 countries, 17 cities, hotels, breakfast, most dinners, tours in each city plus lots and lots of special extra events – $1195.00.  Sigh.

“Those were the days….”