Last One to Leave, Bring in the Dock

cabin

We are selling the family cabin this week, the last thing my father left us. He built it in 1968, with the same independence and drive he showed in everything else. He pored over plans for vacation homes, contracted the work himself, and kept meticulous records of it all. I know because forty-six years later, I still have the receipts, stapled together in thick stacks and tallied in his neat handwriting, detailing every purchase from the stones in the fireplace to a 45-cent package of nails.

The plan he chose featured a spacious layout, with huge beams in the living room and a wall of windows overlooking the lake. And although the decor is classic ’70s and the furnishings just as dated, it still stands as beautiful and solid as it did then. Good bones, don’t you know.

On Jan. 4, 1970, at age 45, my Dad died in a horrible accident. He spent one summer at the lake, doing the things he loved and putting up with a host of friends and family. And now that the cabin too is passing away, it seems like someone should tell his story. Not the whole story, but some of it. I wouldn’t want anyone telling my story bit by excruciating bit after I’m gone. I’m sure you wouldn’t either.

dad army

My father’s name was Andrew Simon. He grew up in Northeast Minneapolis, the second of six children of Lebanese immigrants. They owned a small grocery store where all the kids at one time or another were compelled to work. Northeast in the 1940s was a patchwork of immigrant neighborhoods. Dad was the rebellious kid. He ran around with his friends, got in trouble and in general just caused a world of grief for his parents, who weren’t the most patient people in the world to begin with. I’ve heard some stories; there are many more I haven’t heard and never will.

I know Dad was kicked out of a Catholic high school for boys and had to finish up at the public school. I know once he got mad at a streetcar, stopped his car on the tracks and refused to budge, throwing the streetcar line off-schedule and all the passengers into a tizzy.

When World War II came, he joined the army, serving most of his time on steamy little islands in the Pacific. At the age of 19, while still in the service, he married my mother, the smartest thing he ever did. She was a farm girl, sweet, lively, independent and good good good.

Lu-Andy-in car_2

After the war, with a wife and two small daughters, my father worked all kinds of jobs. He had always been smart, but who knew he was industrious and ambitious too. At various times, he sold vacuum cleaners and sewing machines, owned a nightclub (briefly) and a successful insurance agency (for several years). He opened a liquor store. He bought a small plane and learned to fly. Finally, he started a business installing coin-operated equipment in apartment buildings throughout the Twin Cities. The business grew and grew until he became, for his place and time, a rich man.

June 1963 #2

Dad wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t a perfect husband or a perfect father. But those stories don’t need to be told here, I think, if ever. He was fair and generous to a fault. He understood human frailties. He took care of us and left my mother well off. Well, she never loved any man but him her entire life. With only a grade school education, she kept the business running for 25 years after he died, always underestimating her gifts.

And Mom kept the cabin. In the summers we raised our kids and grandkids there, watching them swim and ski, fish off the dock and paddle around in the paddleboat. We cooked, played games, sang along to country songs and watched hundreds of sunsets.

At the cabin there is a little Jesus shrine near the lake with a plaque engraved with Dad’s name. I imagine the new owners will take it down now. I have no desire to go back. Losing the cabin is a hard, hard thing, but let’s face it, families are about loss and families are about building up. Memories fade, memories are made. Really, that’s all it’s about.

June 1963 #2

•••••••••••
Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

All Together Now…

So, long time no post. I feel guilty. I do. It wouldn’t bother me except that I’m supposed to be chronicling my grandchildren’s formative years. If I don’t do it, who will? Nobody, that’s who.

It’s January, so obviously I didn’t get around to reporting on the annual school Christmas programs in a timely manner. I have five grandkids attending that grade school now. You’d think there’d be a prize or something, but so far zip.

Bret Jr. Is Enthusiastic

BretXmas

Boy Bret performed admirably in the preschool Christmas program. He sang when he was supposed to sing, sat when he was supposed to sit, and when it was time to hold their paper trees and stars aloft and sway to the music, he could have been conducting the William Tell Overture.

Cosette Speaks

CosetteXmas

The elementary school program, meanwhile, put all the classes on stage at the same time. None of that tedious shuffling back and forth we’ve seen in the past. Lined up front and center were the kindergartners, clueless as cattle, a pair of animal ears or horns stuck on each little head. Cosette was a cow. It was a speaking part. Which makes a lot of sense if you know her.

Grace Endures

GraceXmas

The second-grade girls were little angels. No, really. They had wings. At one point between songs, I looked over and saw Grace sitting on the riser, chin in hand, looking about as bored as anyone wearing wings and a tinsel halo can.

Christian Is Good

ChrisXmas

There was less poking, nudging and tittering among the third grade boys than you might expect. Christian isn’t usually what you’d call a model of decorum, but he stood up straight, sang and didn’t cross his eyes once … which is more than I can say for some of his friends.

Oh My Maria

MariaXmas

So there they were, the entire student body (it isn’t a big school) gathered on stage. I expected to be somewhat moved, surrounded as I was by progeny. What caught me off guard was seeing Maria wearing a little black dress and standing with the other seventh grade girls. I remembered her first Christmas program. She had her elf hat on backwards so the bell on top dangled down in her face. I looked over at Cosette standing amid a herd of pint-size sheep and donkeys. And I’ll tell you the truth, I could have wept.

•••••••••••
Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Just a Little Christmas Horror Story

Such a busy weekend I had. I shopped for toys and gifts, baked bread and made soup, played Christmas music and danced around the kitchen. I did all these happy things so that I wouldn’t have to think.

I haven’t been watching TV or going on news websites. I turn the front page face down before reading the rest of the newspaper. I tune the car radio to the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time channel, and I don’t even like most Christmas music.

I won’t look at pictures of the first graders who died in Connecticut on Friday or the adults who died with them. I don’t want to know their names. I don’t want to hear the comments from their families. And I don’t want to think about the phone calls that went out to all the grandmas.

Because I am a grandma, of a sweet, smart, thoughtful first grader, and also a preschooler, second grader and sixth grader. I don’t want to think about what it would be like to know they wouldn’t be at my house on Christmas Day or any Christmas Day in the future.

I am angry and sad and sick to death of it all. Of mass killings that have become commonplace. Of turning on the local news and learning that another child was gunned down in their own neighborhood. I’m sick of the NRA and the enormous power of the gun lobby, the excuses and convoluted logic. I’m mad at people like me who didn’t fight harder for gun control.

I am going to two school Christmas programs this week. They will be fun and silly, and the kids will do what kids always do. But this year I will bring tissues.

•••••••••••
Subscribe to this blog under Email Subscription in the right column.

Shades of Christmas Programs Past

JUDGE NOT. REMEMBER THE HERDMANS.

Dec. 20, 2006
If I hadn’t had to work yesterday, I wouldn’t have been exhausted at my granddaughter’s Christmas program, even if it did go on and on…and on. Because why settle for one rendition of “Jingle Bells” when there are three? And if you’re paying good money for trombone and cymbal lessons, I suppose you want to hear the school band play 10 or 20 tunes with a general holiday flavor. Anyway, it was worth it to hear the kindergartners get through “Elfie the Elf.” Maria was the elf with her hat on backwards, so she was easy to spot. I have no complaints.

Dec. 21, 2007
Went to the always surprising school Christmas program last night. You may remember last year’s event, when the school band played no less than three versions of “Jingle Bells” and Maria distinguished herself by wearing her elf hat backwards with the bell dangling in front. This year I’m happy to report that the band was restricted to playing the overture and Maria not only sang but also attempted to keep the boy next to her on task despite vigorous resistance. This year’s program had a soccer theme – kind of a stretch, I thought, but having the advantage of minimal costuming, since jerseys and shorts took care of almost the entire cast.

So the evening should have been, and probably would have been, straightforward were it not for my other grandchildren – three under the age of four now, and all with no sense whatever of acceptable audience behavior. Christian ate all the candy meant to sustain them for the night in the first five minutes, while Grace never lost her fascination with flip-up auditorium seating. And you might think a three-month-old child somewhat limited – they sleep, they lie there, they cry. Not so. Cosette sings. Infant singing is a sort of unearthly sound that’s hard to describe, but it’s loud and won’t be deterred by some stupid pacifier.

All in all, an entertaining evening, and no more than I expected.

Dec. 29, 2008
Made it through the annual Christmas programs again. The elementary school put on a play about the true meaning of Christmas, which I’m sure inspired every parent and grandparent to rush home and return all those toys in the closet. It took me a long time to figure out what the girl in the bell costume was supposed to be. Until she started ding-donging, I was pretty sure she was a lampshade, but if you think about it, that makes no sense. Maria was in the choir. She is an excellent choir member.

Being an equal-opportunity grandma, I also went to the preschool Christmas program, where you can always count on seeing three- and four-year-olds not follow the script. There’s always one little girl who knows the words and motions to every song, a bunch of little ones who give it a half-hearted try, and a kid who won’t do a thing. I was pretty sure that kid would be Christian, but I was wrong. He sang and he didn’t fall off the steps.

When Christian first started preschool, my daughter Jill was a little alarmed by what you might call his anti-social behavior (I wouldn’t call it that but no one ever sides with me). Anyway, we were all happy when Christian made a friend. Elliot wears glasses and comes about to Christian’s chin. Elliot was the kid who wouldn’t do anything. Not one word, not one finger twitch. Elliot was a statue. I like Elliot.

Dec. 18, 2009
This year’s preschool Christmas program lived up to every expectation, largely due to the boys in the Teddy Bear class, who are three and four years old and have no attention span worth mentioning. My favorite kid this year was the boy who had his back to us for the entire concert. I suppose if you don’t plan on singing anyway, why look at your parents (and grandparents who came all the way from Burnsville) sitting hopefully in the audience?

Then about midway through “Building up a Temple,” another Teddy Bear, who apparently found just being there exhausting, decided to sit down on the step. This caught on quickly, of course, and pretty soon the boys on either side of him were sitting on the step too…until one of them decided to climb the steps to see how the boy who wouldn’t face the audience was doing. At this point Mrs. Olsen, the Teddy Bear teacher and no dummy, went on stage and restored order.

Meanwhile, the girls kept singing. My granddaughter Grace, who has a very small speaking voice, sings really loud, so we had no trouble at all hearing her. She had every word and gesture down too, and after the program Mrs. Olsen very kindly called her “our star,” which I think is pretty much what Gracie sees when she looks into the future.

After the Teddy Bears sat down, it was time for the Frog class to sing. Most of them are five and have been down this road before, so while the girls still carried the load, the boys endured. There was the kid who kept us up to date with announcements between each song (“This is the last one!”), but at least nobody gave up and sat down. Christian is big now. I waved at him like a lunatic and got half a smile. I still gave him lots of kisses afterward and told him how great he did. He didn’t care.

So that was it, and I don’t think you could spend a more enjoyable hour during the holiday season.

December 22, 2010
I went to Maria and Christian’s school Christmas program last night, which is usually one of the happier things I do during the holidays. This year’s performance had everything you’d expect and then some. You haven’t really heard “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” until you’ve heard it played on the recorder by a bunch of fourth graders. And the school band was in fine form, although the lack of a bass drum player meant one of the female flutists had to take over that instrument for “Here Comes Santa Claus.” The girl’s utter disdain for the bass drum was truly impressive. She could barely get out of her folding chair and drag herself over to it. And then you’d think the mallet weighed 50 pounds. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard “Here Comes Santa Claus” played more mournfully.
 
The bell ringers went on a little too long (four holiday tunes with no verses omitted), but I am loathe to criticize them lest Maria have bell-ringing in her future.
 
Christian’s kindergarten class did a commendable job, particularly on “Jingle Bells,” where they got to ring the little bells hanging around their necks at all the jingly spots. As they had to wait for their turn a good long while sitting on stage, the bells became objects of great fascination – first you examine your own bell, then you study your neighbor’s bell, then you hang the bell from your ears. 
 
In the finale, the fourth graders sang. That’s Maria’s class, and while most of the classes looked more resigned than merry, the fourth-grade girls were almost bouncy. They smiled, they knew all the words and they sang loud. I concluded that fourth-grade girls are a good way to wrap up a Christmas program.

“When grandparents enter the door, discipline flies out the window.” –Ogden Nash

It was Grandparents Day at Maria and Christian’s school on Wednesday. I like Grandparents Day. Everyone is just so doggone happy to be there. Every grandparent is beaming. Every kid is proud as punch. “This is my grandpa!” they’ll say, like maybe you couldn’t figure that out. The hugs, the kisses, the handholding. For boomers, it’s a little like Woodstock but without the sex and drugs.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger gathering of adults who couldn’t care less about discipline than on Grandparents Day. Not our job. During a musical assembly that lasted about 45 minutes, I never saw one person frown, shush or tell a kid to stop doing anything. This is unheard of when parents are around. Yet in the face of obvious misbehavior, grandparents will stare straight ahead, oblivious and happy.

Christian got hold of two magnetic chip clips and spent the entire assembly sticking them to the seats in front of us and clipping them to various spots on our clothes. I saw no reason why he shouldn’t. Maria and her friend Maddy, who were sitting between Maddy’s grandma and me, played a hand-clapping game in time to the music. It was obvious that Maddy’s grandma had no intention of telling them to stop. I know I didn’t.

We visited their classrooms and saw their desks (cleaned for the occasion), looked at textbooks, oohed over artwork, drank juice and ate sandwiches and cookies. But mostly we just marveled at the talent, imagination and resourcefulness of grandchildren. Really, it’s hard to know what there is for their parents to find fault with.

 

“The idea that no one is perfect is a view commonly held by people with no grandchildren.”  –Doug Larson