The Coming of Summer

Summertime…. and the livin’ is easy….

So goes the old tune. But that was a long time ago.

In these days of hustle and bustle, there is never any time for ‘living easy’… every day is hard work and a struggle to get by (unless you’re fabulously wealthy, in which case you have nothing to worry about in the first place.)

As a kid, summertime meant walks to the public swimming pool. Dad’s backyard full of rose bushes and green spongy grass to play upon. Music playing from the AM radio that dad installed on our garage. Bike rides and sandboxes and Matchbox cars. “Mother May I” and “Kick the Can” and “Red Light Green Light.” Swinging on the the swingset.

That’s when the living was easy.

As I approach my 35th summer on our fair planet, I can’t help but recall, once again, what it was like to run outside of my parents’ back door and know that the world expected nothing more of me but to play. And play I did.

My dad put a swingset at the far south end of our backyard when I was about three years old. It was one of those wonderful metal sets, the kind you can’t get anymore, since everyone now fears them tipping over or rusting and falling apart on the little ones. It never happened — save for one time when I was standing on a crossbar and slipped. I landed in a not-so-comfy spot. If you know what I mean.

We had two swings, a teeter-totter, and a swinging horse. A couple of years later, Dad added a slide. Each morning, my sister, Beth (when she was old enough) and I would wolf down our breakfasts and burst out the back door for a day of fun.

The backyard, and moreso the swingset, was where every day started.

After a while of swinging and jumping and pumping the set til it nearly tipped over, (Dad had put anchors into to ground at each post, which was actually fruitless, since they only anchored into the soil and not into any type of concrete), we would decide what to do next. There were no schedules. no hours, no appointment books or daily planners. We just made everything up as we went along.

Most days involved running next door to see if our friend Becky could play. Of course, she always did. Becky was one year younger than me, and one year older than Beth. The three of us were inseparable. We did everything together. If we built a fort, Becky was there with us. If we played wiffle ball, Becky joined in. If we rode bikes, we always did it together. It was almost like I had two sisters.

Of course, that probably explained a lot about my toy preferences. I never much cared for G.I. Joe dolls or smash-em-up cars or anything extremely boyish. I played with Barbies and Little People, just as often as I played with Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars, because Beth and Becky liked to play with those, too.

Fortunately for me, Beth and Becky weren’t girly-girls. They liked to play rough. They got their fingers dirty. They scuffed their knees.

There weren’t many boys my age in my neighborhood. The closest was a boy named Brian who lived a few houses away from me. He was a year older than me, and although a Super 8 film shows that we were friends once upon a time, as long as I can remember, he and I were at odds. He teased me about anything and everything, and I retaliated by slugging him. That pretty much ended any chance of a friendship.

There was another boy named Mike who lived a few more houses away. He was also a year older, but he was closer to Brian than anyone else, and whatever Brian did, he did too.

Kitty-corner from where Mike lived was where Timmy and JoAnne lived. Timmy and JoAnne were the youngest in a fairly large Italian family and were often at our house, and we were often at theirs. We went to the same Catholic school, and carpooled with their mom in the mornings, and our mom afterward. Their mom was the neighborhood busybody. She knew everything about everyone and wasn’t shy about it. My mom never liked her much. She always said “If Yolanda could print a newspaper, she’d make a killing.”

As we all got older, I eventually befriended Mike, and suddenly my sister and I were invited to play games with all the neighborhood kids. This usually involved a game like “Kick the Can” or “Stuck in the Mud” or some other variance of “Tag”… but it was always so much fun.

The neighborhood kids all got along fine for a couple years, and then one day, it all stopped. Beth got into a huge fight with JoAnne about something — what it was, to this day, I still have no idea– and JoAnne went home crying to her mother. From that day forward, Timmy and JoAnne were forbidden to come to our house, and upon hearing that, our parents likewise forbade us to go to theirs. A rift was started, and we never played with most of the neighborhood kids again.

Becky remained our friend. We switched Catholic schools when I was in 6th grade and started going to the same one as Becky. We carpooled with her just as we had done with Timmy and JoAnne before.

And as grade school progressed to high school, the swingset, that was always the center of everything for us, finally was taken down. The worn spots where our feet dragged in the dirt were filled in, and we planted a crabapple tree for my mom that following Mothers’ Day. Life was changing, and summers would never be the same again.

When I wander through my parents’ backyard today, and I see the grand tree that has grown where the swingset once stood, I can still hear us laughing, and playing, and enjoying the precious summertime. I can still smell my dad’s roses blooming, still hear the music playing from the garage speaker. I can still see the sheets and towels drying in the summer breeze on my mom’s clothesline, and I can smell the freshness of the dried fabrics after an afternoon of soaking in all those wonderful rays and smells.

And I’m reminded of those summers as a kid, when the biggest drama in life was whether or not to play in the sandbox, or to take a bike ride. When my greatest concern was whether the kids would play a game or we would go swimming.

Everything changes, and we all grow up. But memories of when “livin’ was easy” will never escape us.

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Happy(?) Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day.

Do you know what your plans are?

OK so it’s not really Memorial Day yet. We have a few days to go. But still. It’s that time of year.

The whole concept of Memorial Day is designed to make us reflect. To make us remember.

Remember those who we’ve lost. Remember those who sacrificed themselves so we can be free. Remember those we have loved. Remember those who we never knew, but were instrumental in our being here today.

As a kid, the family would make three stops every Memorial Day. Three cemetaries in two cities. Our first stop, after picking up my Nana, would be to drive out to St. George’s Cemetary in Kenosha to visit the graves of my dad’s family– his grandfather, aunts and uncles on his mother’s side (my Nana). I remember one very vividly because it was an aunt who died very young. They had attached a photograph of her to the headstone.

Since my Nanu’s family was all in Italy or Canada… these were all my Nana’s relatives. So the last names were all Scarlato and Savaglio. Good old Italian names. All were family that I never knew.

We’d plant the usual assortment of Geraniums, Petunias and Agerateum near the stones and walk to the water pump, where my sister and I would take turns filling up the watering cans. After the flowers were watered and the mess cleaned up, we’d say a short prayer and be off to the next set of graves.

The next stop was All Saints Cemetary, where, at the time, just my Nanu was buried. All Saints was a fairly new cemetary when he died in 1969. It was one of those where you didn’t plant anything, you just pulled up this magical urn from the ground, filled it with water, and put cut flowers inside. Even as a child this seemed rather impractical and cold to me, but those were the rules and that’s what we did. Even the gravestones were ordinary– all were flat, recessed into the grass, almost hidden from view. Of course, there were variations in design and color, but there were no monuments, no crosses, no large messages. Just a name, a birth date, and a date of death.

Back then, Nanu’s grave was a lonely oasis among the others around him. As the years went by, neighbors began to appear around him. But there were always two spots next to him that remained open. These, I was told, were for Nana and my Uncle John, the priest, for when they died. I didn’t like to think about that, but I always remembered.

Nana took her place next to Nanu in 1992. When they laid her stone, my Uncle laid his as well. It always struck me as slightly odd, and creepy, when people would pre-lay their gravestones; showing the birth year, but leaving that square of untouched, polished granite where the year of death would be engraved when it happens. It seems so pre-meditated. Expected.

After dropping Nana back at home, the last stop would usually mean and driving out to Antioch, IL to pick up Grandma and make our way to Hillside Cemetary to visit my mom’s family. Hillside was like St. George’s – large monuments and headstones, and we could plant whatever we wanted. For years we did the same as Kenosha, and brought the Geraniums and other annual assortments. But one year we decided that since my parents were rose growers, we would plant an old garden between Grandpa’s stone and where Grandma’s would go. The rose we planted was called Therese Bugnet, a pink, very fragrant rose that grew vigorously all by itself– no excess watering or pruning needed. It seemed like the perfect idea. We still planted flowers at my mom’s aunts’ and uncles’ graves, as well as her grandparents.

I always liked Grandpa’s marker because it wasn’t granite or some obnoxious monument. It was a simple, tasteful marker with a concrete base and a brass plate. Mom said it was a military style marker, since Grandpa had served in WW II. Over time the brass aged to a beautiful green and purple patina, with the letters and numbers retaining some aspect of the brass color.

When Grandma died in 1985, we placed the exact same style marker on her grave. When it was new, it was bright and shiny and would gleam in the sun. But as the years passed, it, too, developed the patina that matched Grandpa’s.

It’s been a few years since we’ve been to the graves. With my parents’ failing health and everything going on at once in all of our lives, it just isn’t easy to make the trips anymore. Uncle John still cares for the Kenosha graves, but nobody has been out to Antioch in a few years.

Last week, after our Chorus retreat ended, I decided to surprise my parents with a visit. Delavan is only about an hour west of Kenosha, and I had to pass through Kenosha to get back to Chicago. It just made sense– I was in the area anyway. They were so happy to see me, and my surprise was much appreciated. I was so glad I did it.

It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so I went out in the yard behind the garage and cut some lilacs and picked a huge bouquet of lily-of-the-valley for my mom. Because of their location, mom can’t appreciate them as much as she would like to because it’s too hard for her to walk back there. So each year I try to make it home in time so I can bring them to her. Soon the house was filled with fragrances from fresh-cut flowers.

We talked about Memorial Day and how she would like to visit the graves in Antioch this year. So I think I’m going to drive her out there on Sunday. We’re curious to see if the rose is even still alive. Even if it isn’t, it’ll be good to visit with Grandma and her family again.

So this year, instead of partying it up, hitting the bars, going away for camping excursions, or visiting the leather mart at IML (International Mister Leather, which occurs in Chicago this weekend), I am going to pay tribute to my family. I’m going to remember those who are still with me, such as my baby cousin Taylor, whose first birthday will be celebrated on Saturday; and think about and remember those who have left us.

Perhaps that’s something we should do every day, rather than just one weekend a year. But in the grand scheme of things, once a year is better than never at all.

Happy Memorial Day to you all. I hope you spend it with someone you love.

I know I will.

Unrecoverable Posts

If I had a nickel for every time that I started writing a great, insightful and meaningful post, only to have the power go out, or the computer to crash or some other oddly unfortunate accident to occur, I would be a terribly wealthy man.

OK maybe I’d have about $0.55. But still.

Uninteresting Observations

Here’s a few things that I found myself pondering this past weekend. Maybe you can help me figure out why these things happen.

Why is it that when someone says he’s really sweet and easy to talk to and really is into the idea of having wild monkeysex with you; when you go to his apartment to meet for an afternoon of said monkeysex for the first time, he mysteriously disappears from behind his door and is therefore conveniently unable to open the door?

Why is it that every time the chorus goes on its weekend retreat, everyone talks about all the sex and laviscious happenings that occur, but the one and only time you have ever had sex in the 5-6 years you have been going on these retreats is when you were dating your roommate? (And no, that wasn’t this year. Dammit.)

Why is it that when you add the words “GOD DAMN” before any noun– or for that matter, any particular place in a sentence– you instantly sound like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford? (Try it, it works! Pick up your GOD DAMN mess! Walk like a GOD DAMN Egyptian!)

Why is it that whenever you feel like your head is about to explode because you drank yourself stupid the night before and you would much rather be in bed with ten pillows OVER your head, your chorus director sics one of his choreographers on the ENTIRE chorus; teaching them a number that starts with EVERYONE JUMPING UP AND DOWN.

Why is it that whenever I see someone online and I send him a message saying “Hi!” he never responds, but if I walk away from my computer for just five minutes, I instantly get 15 messages from cute guys wanting to chat with me?

And Why is it that when I try to reply to said cute guys, they’ve suddenly signed off in obvious frustration with me because I didn’t respond quickly enough?

And Why is it also that every one of those cute guys is from someplace impossible to drive to in one full 24-hour day?

Why is it that whenever the weather is absolutely gorgeous outside, I am either driving from some far-away destination or stuck at work watching everyone else enjoy themselves?

And Why is it that these people do not have jobs like me?

Why is it that whenever I blog about something that I pour my heart into, I get zero or one comment; but whenever I blog about something worthless and silly much like this post, I get zillions of comments?

Why is it that I use such hyperbole as “zillions of comments” when I’ve only ever had maybe, at most, 10 at a time?

Why is it that I use words such as “hyperbole” in my posts, knowing full well that I’m going to have to search Google to make sure that I actually know what it means first?

Why is it that I am still typing this post at 3:45 in the morning?

I dunno.

Joy through the pain

First, thank you to everyone who gave their support, either in comments or in Email, regarding the previous post about my ex. I have talked to him a few times since then, and while there still isn’t any change in his condition, his spirits are decidedly better. I think as he talks about it with more people and gets it out in the open, he will find that people will be supportive rather than destructive. Because people care… and want only the best for him.

Also, I want to say “I am sorry” to anyone and everyone who has had problems lately with Haloscan’s comment system as of late. Either you have tried to comment and the screen never comes up, or the comments aren’t being saved. Either way, they are just full of problems lately and it’s driving me nuts.

Which brings me to my next subject.

Remember this?

A few months ago I presented a challenge to someone with the skills and the patience to redesign my blog. I am still looking for this to happen. There were a few of you that said they would give it a shot, but aside from one of you (and I won’t name names), I haven’t heard of any progress. So… any progress? I would really REALLY like to get this blog off of Blogspot and on to my domain www.rcktman.com using either WordPress or TypePad or some other system. Please contact me if you are willing to take on the challenge!

Finally, I am heading out of town today with CGMC for a weekend-long retreat in lovely Delevan, WI at the Lake Lawn Resort. I’m looking forward to a relaxing and fun-filled weekend with all my friends, music, and the lovely sight of trees and lake outside my window. And a spa day sounds nice too. 🙂 So have a great weekend and be good to each other til I return!