Friday, December 14, 2018

Lucky suit


Paul sent a text cancelling the slot car idea. He’s succinct in texts so I don’t know why. I didn’t have time to follow up with him because Eve and I were up to our ears in prepping for the office party.

Our office doesn’t have a big holiday party this time of year. Instead they throw a dinner in the spring for employees and guests. This is the first year since I’ve worked there that we've had an office party. Eve and I wouldn’t mind if it was the last time.

The seven-person committee fell apart quickly. Two people didn’t participate at all, one dropped out earlier this week and one--Susannah of all people--was such a pill about everything that Eve and I decided to pull it together ourselves and let the other two could do as much or little as they wanted. That’s why the two of us were tied up with it most of the day. We had to get the room rearranged and decorated and get the games ready to go before the caterers showed up. Rearranging took time because it’s a large conference/training room with free standing tables wired together in pairs to provide electrical outlets for computers. The first thing we had to do was diagram how it all went together so we could get it back together again, and that turned out to be a bigger deal than we expected. Susannah peeked in a couple of times and flitted back out saying she would be back after all "this nonsense" was sorted. She was against rearranging and decorating so...attitude. If it sounds like I’m complaining, I am. At the same time, I think it came together as well as it did because Eve and I worked on it together. We tend to be on the same page and working together doesn't become stressful.

Susannah returned after the caterers arrived, and she pitched in from that point on. Fortunately, she was on board with the games and served as MC.

Turnout wasn’t as high as it could have been, but we knew scheduling something for the end of the day on a Friday was risky. Those who came seemed to have a good time. It took some gentle persuading to get enough people for the games, but once the games started, everyone got into it. We played a series of Minute to Win It style games. We were all surprised by one of our coworkers who is really mild mannered and quiet but who loves games apparently. He didn't want to let his teammates play any.

The games wrapped up a bit before 5:00. The nice thing about holding it at the end of day is no one lingers.

Once we had the food put away and the decorations packed, our director told us to leave the rest until Monday. I didn’t argue because I had another party to get ready for.

One of the partners at Blaine's firm always hosts a holiday party for the other partners and selected others. In other words, it's a dressy, grown-up affair where no one is going to be asked to shake 200 gumballs from one pop bottle into another.

I’ve been stressed over this party since I found out about it. I’m not gifted at small talk and don’t enjoy being around people I don’t know, plus I worry a lot about whether I’m dressed appropriately, so I placed this party under the category My Idea of Hell on Earth (right below twice weekly lawn mowing during periods of 24-hour daylight in Alaska).

Once I made it home, I had little time to redo my hair and makeup, get into the dress I bought for this party—red with some sparkle around the neckline—and force my feet into ridiculous shoes. I was starting to second guess all of my choices when the doorbell rang. Blaine is always complimentary but this time it was the look that crossed his face when I opened the door that told me I’d gotten it right.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel a pang of relief when it looked like I might slip on the icy street and break my head open like a watermelon at a Gallagher show. But Blaine hooked my arm with his just in time to keep me upright. I decided if he could do that, he could do it again figuratively. My plan became to stick to him like a dryer sheet.

The house is in the old money district. It isn’t on one of the tonier boulevards, but it’s still impressive--a three-story brick home with pretty dormers, a sunroom and, in back, the original carriage house. The area was developed during the Depression when labor was cheap and those who hadn’t lost their fortunes saw an opportunity to go big. I was anxious to see inside. (I love seeing inside houses.)

The interior didn’t disappoint. Leaded glass, marble fireplaces, polished woodwork. Floor to ceiling built-in bookcases and china cabinets. Stubby back hallways used mostly by those circulating trays of wine and hors d'oeuvres. The Christmas decorations were lush and perfect, absolutely styled by professionals. A pianist played the baby grand. It was a new experience.

I did a good impression of a dryer sheet at first. Let me tell you, with the things going on nationally and a few things happening locally, it was a fantastic time to be surrounded by lawyers. The conversations were interesting.

I was pulled away by the hostess. I had met her--and all the others for that matter--at the office party last week. She remembered what I did for a living and wanted to introduce me to someone--a retired attorney turned author. I had never met him but knew who he was. I told him I had been a faithful listener to a radio program he was part of in the late ‘90s where he and another man discussed local politics. It was on the community radio station so the listeners probably numbered in the dozens. He seemed pleased I remembered it.

When he retired, not long after that show ended, he began writing. Although I’m aware of his last book and have had it on my library to-read list since it came out, I haven’t read it. Locally, it was a bit controversial. In the ‘50s there were two people who went on a killing spree. One was executed and the other served time and was released at the end of her sentence. There was always a question about whether her involvement was voluntary or coerced. Many thought--and still do--that she deserved to be executed. In his book he argues her innocence. Even after all this time, the question of her innocence is a hot button for anyone who remembers that time. It happened before I was born so to me it’s no more than an interesting piece of local history— I have no emotional stake in it.

We talked around the fringes of what happened and why he had felt compelled to write the book. I said I’d like that case to be retried in a mock trial. How differently would the same evidence be presented and argued today, and would a jury that wasn’t emotionally affected return the same verdicts? We were discussing that when Blaine came by. They knew each other, exchanged a quick hello, and the conversation continued. When a couple approached to say hello to him, Blaine and I slipped away.

Blaine said into my ear. "I enjoy watching you when you're deeply involved in a conversation."

I'm not entirely sure what that looks like. I know I was feeling wired in part because the office party, which must have caused more stress than I realized, was over, and this party wasn't going too badly.

The wired feeling only intensified after we left. "Did you have fun?" I asked in the car.

"I have a hard time thinking of this as a 'fun' party. I enjoyed myself enough. What about you?"

Feeling ornery, I answered, "I had fun looking at you. I checked out everyone--just to be certain, mind you--and you were by far the best dressed and most handsome."

"I'll consider this my lucky suit."

He certainly should.
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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Paul's plan


Minutes after Eve left for the day, Paul showed up in my doorway. I wasn’t surprised to see him--he sometimes drops by to see Eve if he finishes work early and is nearby. “You just missed her,” I told him.

“I know. I was parked across the way waiting for her to leave.”

The last time he did that he wanted to have flowers delivered and needed the correct office address. This time he wanted to talk about a Christmas gift.

A few weeks ago when the four of us were together, Eve and Blaine discovered they each had had the same slot car racing set. Oh, the reminiscing that followed. I had never heard of slot cars and asked if they meant Hot Wheels. I offended both with the question. Apparently slot cars are way better. Faster. Cooler. Authentic.

I had forgotten the conversation as soon as it ended, but Paul has been thinking about it and has decided this would be a good gift for Eve. This is the first Christmas without her mom so it will be tough, even more so because their daughter can’t visit until after Christmas. Paul thinks she would get a kick out of the slot cars and it may help her connect to happy memories.

“I'll buy the set for Eve," Paul said. "And, if you want, you can buy Blaine extra track and cars.” I didn’t completely understand but he went on to say that once Eve no longer wants the set, they'll give it to Blaine for Eli. I suspect Eve won’t tire of it, but there’s no reason Blaine can’t buy a set if he wants, or maybe I will get it for him next year if he gets excited about them. For this year, the two can combine their gifts and race each other until one or the other can declare superiority. That, from what I recall about their conversation weeks ago, is the whole point. Bragging rights. Perhaps updated to include a bottle of Fireball for the winner. Who knows.

So tomorrow Paul will email me the particulars and I’ll order Blaine’s part of it.

I’m still going to get Blaine something else, something more personal, but I’m not sure what yet. Plenty of time! Right?

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Dear Charles

The smaller box of letters.


Saturday’s post is here and explains this one.

Blaine came over for dinner (meatloaf, mashed potatoes and the last package of fresh corn from the freezer). While the meatloaf was baking, I showed him the boxes of letters. I could tell he didn’t understand my interest, never mind my excitement, to have letters from people I don’t know. He did think it was remarkable that this family would have known Mom’s family.

I reached into one of the boxes and pulled out one of the letters, a purely random selection. It was an airmail envelope sent from Charles S. to his mother. Charles was in basic training in Laredo, Texas. His letter, which I read out loud to Blaine, told of how busy he was learning different skills including how to shoot. He wrote, “I was out on the skeet and trap range 3 times this last week. The first 2 times I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a shot gun. Saturday afternoon I got 8 hits out of 25 tries. I guess in another week or so I’ll be able to do a lot better. It sure is fun.”

He wrote that he was including a letter he had received from his friend Harry’s mother. He and Harry had met in basic training and had become good friends quickly. Harry had mentioned Charles in letters home, so Harry’s mom wanted to write to him. “To my son’s pal,” she began. There is an undercurrent of worry in her friendly words. “I have been praying, believe it or not, that you two will stay together and I still am going to do so for I think you must get along very well by the sound of Harry’s letters, which, by the way, is a great enjoyment to us at home.”

She let’s Charles know he will always be welcome to visit, whether Harry is with him or not. Then she writes, “By the way, Charles, I have two daughters that are real pretty too. Will that entice you a little? Harry may have some pictures for you to see.”

That made us both laugh. By end of her letter, Blaine was better able to see the appeal.

There were two clippings included in the envelope that must have been slipped inside years later. One is a notice about Charles’ mother’s funeral. The other reports that Charles has gone missing over Germany. He was a staff sergeant and assistant crew chief gunner on a bomber that disappeared during a mission. Later, they would find out he was a POW. Also in that envelope was a letter Charles was able to write from the camp where he was being held. Subject to censors, he simply wrote: “Dear Mother: Hope this card finds you in the best of health. I want to wish Bill [his brother] a happy birthday. Tell Aunt Neva and Uncle Fran hello for me. I am in good health. The little garden I planted some time ago is growing good. Love to rest of family. Love, Charles.”

What a letter to begin with! Blaine let it sink in for a moment. “How many of these do you have?”

“Not sure. Two boxes. A few hundred maybe.” He looked at me, a small smile there. I smiled, “You’re hooked, aren’t you?”

He shrugged. “I could listen to you read a few more.”

Not tonight though. We ate, cleaned up and agreed if we started in on the letters, neither of us would get to bed. I think we’ll spend a few evenings sorting them. Once they’re in chronological order, we’ll start reading.

I hope he’ll stay interested. It would be great to share this with him.
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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Under the trumpet section


I knew I would fail at Holidailies on the weekends. There isn't time to write and post Friday through Sunday so I cluster post as soon as I can. Tonight I posted Friday's entry. I hope to add Saturday's tomorrow.

As for today, Mica, Sophie and I went to a Christmas cabaret at one of the vineyards. One of the singers is someone Sophie knows from church. She was fantastic, as was the man who sang with her and the keyboardist. It was a mix of Christmas songs and banter, and thoroughly enjoyable.

We shared a table with a woman who was attending alone. She was friendly and lovely, but she asked me if I was retired too. I wish. But more than that, I wish I had skipped the event and gone shopping for a better moisturizer.

Yesterday, a friend gave me two boxes filled with letters and other items that belonged to a man who grew up in the same small town as my mom. From what I can tell, he and Mom were a couple of years apart but would have been in school at the same time and would definitely have known one another. I'll explain all of this in another entry. What happened tonight is I opened one of the boxes and found a school newspaper on top. It's from 1941. Inside is a listing of band members, and Mom's name is listed under the trumpet section. I also found the graduation program from the year she graduated. I have no idea if I'll find anything else related to her or other family members, but I'm going to enjoy going through everything.

The letters will be particularly interesting. They were written during the man's time in the service during WWII. It appears he was a POW in Germany for a time. I doubt those letters will contain insights, but I'm anxious to read them anyway.

I noticed some letters are addressed to him at an address in Colorado. There's no street name or number; instead, it's the name of the place, probably a facility of some kind. They all contain the charming line "c/o Dining Room."

This is the first evening I've been home since Friday. It's getting late and I have not done any laundry, so this is all the further I'm going to get tonight.

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Saturday, December 8, 2018

Christmas market in the country

There was fog this morning that left the trees along the highways frost covered. I took the picture as we were driving out of the city to reach the farm where the winter market was being held.

The temperature was still in the teens when we arrived. I don’t think Eve and Mica were thrilled with the landscape. We parked in a field, waited in a long line to buy a ticket and then were left to wander as we like. The owners had spread hay between buildings to keep the packed snow from becoming too slick to walk on. In places the hay was thick and clumped and could trip you if you weren’t paying attention. I wore snow boots for warmth and was able to walk through it with no problem but Eve had a little trouble with the boots she was wearing.

The vendors were split between different buildings. The website said the buildings were heated, and they were by giant heaters that were about the size of a trash can and looked like jet engines. The heat only dispersed so far, so sometimes it was cold enough for a coat and other times it was too warm. The buildings became too crowded and the only place to sit was in a building with only one heater and lots of gaps in the siding. So, not ideal conditions. Since it was my idea that we three do this, I felt responsible.

I think I mentioned that I have a friend who is a vendor. She and I worked together when we were both just out of college. She has since started her own business and makes a living selling at these events. A month or so ago she posted on Facebook that she had been given an enormous amount of photos, letters and other memorabilia dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. I left a comment about how that would be a dream come true for me. There is little I love more than a collection of letters and photos, especially from that period. Recognizing a kindred spirit in me, she sent an IM and told me more about the collection. It had belonged to a family that had lived in a small town in the corner of the state. That town happened to be where my mom grew up. Learning that, my friend offered to pass to me whatever she didn’t keep. And that’s how I came home with two boxes filled with letters and other bits of history related to the town and the S. family.

It was an S. family member who gave my friend all this stuff. The family had gone through it and pulled out what they wanted. Everything else was going to the trash, only it ended up going to my friend and now to me. I feel better about having it since I know it came from the family. Too often this sort of information is stolen out of houses in the country. I know because I purchased a bunch of stuff off Ebay that had been stolen from an uncle’s house. I paid a premium just to get it back.
Anyway, I would have found the letters and photos interesting regardless of who they belonged to but the fact that this man and my mom crossed paths makes it more interesting. I think he was about five years older than Mom so they may not have been friends but certainly would have known one another. I don’t expect that Mom’s name--or those of her siblings--will appear in the letters, but you never know. I’m certain the story that unfolds will be interesting. Unlike in my family where all the wartime letters are filled with weather reports and whining that there isn’t anything to write about, these people shared information with one another.

I’m trying to leave the boxes alone until after Christmas. I’m taking a week of vacation between Christmas and New Years and will dig into them then. Probably. Blaine is taking that week and the one before off so maybe we’ll do some things together and I won't have time.

Besides those boxes, I bought a stack of publications similar to the Kitchen Klatter magazines I mentioned earlier. These have a different name but are essentially the same thing. The Kitchen Klatter grew out of a radio program aimed at housewives. It’s possible these I just bought did too, only from another radio station. I’ll research that one of these days.

The one thing I really wanted to buy today wasn’t available in the size I needed. It was a kids t-shirt that said “Grandpa and I got into trouble today.” Oh, how I wanted it for Eli. They had sold out of the smaller sizes though.

By the time we arrived home, the little white dog had gone a very long time alone. I let him out to the back yard right away and then we took him to dog park. There was only one small dog there and she wasn’t interested in playing, so I chased the little white dog around for a little while. The sun was setting and it was too cold to stay long.

I ran home and got into an extra steamy shower to warm up before I went to Blaine’s for the rest of the evening. I was so pathetically tired. It was all I could do to stay upright on the couch. The fireplace was on, the icy Diet Coke he poured for me had a smidge of black rum in it, and all the Christmas lights lit an otherwise dark room. It was a lovely end to a long, cold day.

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Friday, December 7, 2018

One holiday party down


On the way to Blaine’s firm’s holiday party, he asked,  “Would you like to go to the Nutcracker tomorrow night? I can still get tickets but they won’t be great seats.”

With his eyes on the road he couldn’t have caught my knee-jerk yeek expression. “If you would like to,” I answered brightly.

He glanced over at me . “I will go for you, but please don’t say yes just because I asked.” I wonder if he was remembering the symphony.

“Then I’m going to decline but with heartfelt thanks for thinking of it and offering.” Every 10 years or so I decide I might like ballet if I gave it another try. I’m not sure when I last attended, but I know this isn’t the year for the next try.

I asked Blaine if he was trying to boost my Christmas spirit. He said he wanted to help if he could. We’re in the sweet spot of a relationship. I know it can’t last but it’s awfully good right now.

The holiday party was nice, certainly extravagant compared to what I’m used to. It was held in the same historic building where we attended the murder mystery but this time we were in a ballroom with a lot of old woodwork, marble and chandeliers. The room and tables were decorated with greenery, clear lights and gold accents.

I met more people than I’ll ever remember. During the cocktail hour I visited with Shelley, Blaine’s assistant, who was attending by herself because her husband is deployed. She’s someone who can talk to anyone, which, as someone who doesn’t have that gift, is my favorite type of person to meet. For the most part I stayed with Blaine.

One slightly awkward moment occurred in the restroom. I was washing my hands, and two women were grousing about work in the way that employees often do. But then one of them mentioned something specific enough that I knew they were grousing about Blaine. I can’t decide if amusement or protectiveness was the stronger feeling just then. I didn’t say anything, of course, but I did compliment the dress one wore with the hope she would notice me and then later notice me with Blaine and have an “uh oh” moment. This is how an introvert orchestrates what passes for a take down.

There was a short program between dinner and dessert. It was the year in review--major accomplishments, a few accolades, a bit about the great things that will occur in 2019--and the distribution of bonuses. I must admit I’m curious about the amount of Blaine’s but also know it would only depress me. I’ve never worked for a place that gave bonuses. I’ve never even received a canned ham.

So, that’s one holiday party down. Two more to go.
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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Making everyone less than happy


Preparations for the office holiday party are progressing but I wouldn’t say it is going smoothly. Committees and strife go hand in hand, never more so than when the charge is related to a social activity. For better or worse Eve and I have taken on most of the work and expense with the hope that it will be festive and fun without too many feeling put upon.

The other day I made the mistake of eating lunch while driving back to my office and I spilled on my coat. I dropped it off at the dry cleaner after work. The woman asked me for my address then asked why I was using this location when there’s one close to where I live. I explained this location is more convenient because of where I work and parking is easier. Out of curiosity she asked where I worked. Apparently there is another location nearer to my office. I said I just liked this location the best. She was OK with that.

Since I was near Mica’s, I stopped by to say hi and take the little white dog for a walk. We discussed the plan for Saturday when she, Eve and I are driving an hour to attend a Christmas market. Someone I worked with in my first job is a vendor. I’m looking forward to seeing her. It’s been 22 years.

I hope Saturday will help Mica get to know Eve better. In a perfect world they would become friends but because their personalities are so different I think the most I can hope is they will become comfortable acquaintances.

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