Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Two Reasons To Celebrate

It is an unseasonably warm and windy day here in central Missouri. The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are knocking at our doors. But this day stands as an occasion to slow things down--to pause and reflect. To give thanks and due respect. Today I take this brief moment and this tiny splinter of cyberspace to celebrate my husband as a Vietnam War veteran and to honor the memory of my dad, who would have been ninety-one years old today.

This is the man my grandkids call "Pa-pa," my husband of nearly thirty-five years. Here, you see him in the uniform he wears when he serves on our local VFW firing squad to honor deceased veterans at the grave site. It is a service he performs out of selflessness, respect, and a genuine empathy with those who served their country.

Pa-pa himself was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving from 1966-68. In that last year (which he always refers to as "eleven months and twenty-five days"), he was with the First Air Cavalry. He followed in the footsteps of his own father, who was awarded a Purple Heart in World War II. My children and grandchildren inherit a rich background of service to these United States.

My dad, shown above with Sooby in 2010, was not able to serve in the military, but was born on Nov. 11. Sooby and Pooh remember him, but Bootsie was only a year old when he passed away four years ago, and Beenie, Zoomie, and Heero weren't yet born. Dad knew Beenie was coming, but never got to meet him. He bore the burdens of his terminal disease stoically and selflessly, and was, in his own way, a different kind of hero.

Mom is OK today, Dad. I had lunch with her, and we duly noted your birthday. She has demonstrated some bravery herself these past four years. You would be proud. As for me, I am proud, honored, and blessed beyond measure to have shared a family with both of these men that I love dearly.

Today is  Nov. 11. Happy Veterans' Day, Pa-pa, and Happy Birthday, Dad.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Metaphorical Musings

The poet in me loves metaphors. For me, the fresh, thoughtful comparison of something ordinary to something surprising involves the ultimate creativity. With metaphor, that comparison is implied rather than directly stated, and that makes it even more thought-provoking as a figure of speech.

For instance, if we describe Aunt Lucy as "the queen of Saturday night Bingo," that brings to mind a vivid mental picture of her--complete with crown, robe, and scepter--turning the drum to mix up all those little balls and then calling out, in her most regal voice, "B-4!" We find that interesting partly because the Bingo hall is about the furthest thing from a palace there could be. So we chuckle at that irony and think of Aunt Lucy in a fun and memorable new way.

Recently I happened on a list of "Quotable Quotations" about reading, and I couldn't help noticing how many of them use metaphor to compare books to other things. Because I have spent so much time reading books with the grandkids over the past eight years, I found these especially interesting, and here, right below one of our typical reading photos, I choose four of them to share with you.

According to a Chinese proverb, "A book is like a garden, carried in the pocket." What a great thought--that printed words are somehow like seeds that take root in fertile little minds. That the vitality of a writer's thoughts is something portable that can be worn on your person and go where you go.

This metaphor suggests that our time spent reading is an investment of sorts, with potential to grow beyond what we can imagine. No wonder Robert Louis Stevenson called his book of kids' poems A Child's Garden of Verses. I still remember "My Shadow" and "The Land of Counterpane," as seeds planted long ago in my own mind. I hope the time I spend with the kids in this little plot of land will someday come to similar fruition.

Garrison Keillor, of Lake Wobegon fame, claims that "A book is a gift you can open again and again." There is nothing children like more than presents. To think of a book as a gift is to acknowledge that it is something given out of love and with no expectation of reciprocity.

But a book is not the kind of thing that will break or run out of battery power. Unique among gifts, it has the potential to be opened numerous times and to offer a richness that only compounds with subsequent readings.

Who could be a better expert on the child audience than the great Walt Disney? "There is more treasure in books," he says, "than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island." Books become treasure chests, then, in Disney's view.

This is especially admirable coming from a man who made his fortune in the motion picture industry. But his comment here shows his understanding that, in order to have the movie, there must first be a story. Stories are treasures that we mine or discover with our kiddos when we read.  

For my last metaphor, I look to the great poet Emily Dickinson, who begins one of her poems with these lines: "There is no frigate like a book/To take us lands away." Here, a book becomes a vessel that transports us. It becomes a ship whereby we leave the land we know to sail to places of adventure and imagination.

A garden. A gift. A treasure chest. A ship. A book can be all of these things and more. I dearly love this time when the kids are all still young enough to want to help me plant seeds, unwrap presents, dig for treasure, and sail away.

I will close with a metaphor of my own: Books are boxes of Cracker Jacks. You open them to find things that can be sometimes sweet and sometimes nutty. But one thing is for sure: there is always a prize inside.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Mickey Mouse Operation

If you hear something described as "Mickey Mouse," that might not be complimentary. Maybe it refers to a college course that was too easy, or a procedure considered incompetent or ineffective.

But neither of those meanings refers to the operation Pa-pa and I got to share with little Heero last night. In our case, "Mickey Mouse" describes hats, plates, napkins, and cups featuring pictures of Walt Disney's lovable rodent. These wonderful decorations expertly celebrated the fact that our youngest grandson turns two years old today.

I, for one, was happy to see our party table alive with the Mickey Mouse theme. I cut my own teeth on "The Mickey Mouse Club" back in the late 1950s and early '60s, when that iconic black and white TV program (under the leadership of a big mouseketeer named Jimmy) burst like a party into my living room every afternoon. I even had my own hat with those furry felt ears.

But--tempted as I am to take off on a one-way trip down Memory Lane here, I will resist (for now, anyway) and keep the focus on our birthday boy. Here, you see him preparing to extinguish the candles on his birthday cake (frosted orange, by his decree).

Happy birthday, little guy! As you hit the two-year marker, Pa-pa and I love watching you learn and grow. You amaze us with the things you can do, say, and figure out at barely two years old. We had a great time at your party and hope you and brother Beenie enjoy all your new toys--your "puter," Sesame Street letter puzzle, farm set, and mega blocks--and I'm sure there will be more to come as your birthday unfolds through the day.

Let me close with those infamous words of the mouseketeer song. "Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company: M-I-C (See ya real soon!) K-E-Y (Why? Because we like you!) M-O-U-S-E." Karen and Cubby got it right, little guy.

Happy second birthday, Heero. Pa-pa and I look forward to helping you celebrate many more.