Thunderstorms

It’s an August Tuesday afternoon, and I’m at work. It’s not yet 4pm but it’s nighttime-dark outside, thanks to a thunderstorm that’s passing through the DC area. My office is on the 15th floor of a high-rise in downtown Bethesda, MD, and whenever dramatic weather comes through, I can see it from my perch high above Wisconsin Avenue. To the south, beyond the tower cranes that transform the skyline, I can see the National Cathedral, the Washington Monument, and can also spy close-in Rosslyn, Virginia in the distance.

Our lobby faces the other side of the building, and as I walk through it’s still daytime there. As we listen to the still-distant thunder, a coworker asks me if I remember thunderstorms when I was a kid. We traded memories about how, if the storm was close, the adults would make us sit in the middle of a room – not too close to a window – while we waited for the storm to pass. She was speaking of her grandma, but I thought of my mom.

This caused me to remember things I haven’t thought of in many years, but with my mother’s passing just last week, some precious memories come rushing back.

Rosemary hated thunder and lightning with almost the same zeal she invested in hating cold weather, which is to say, quite a lot. She would fretfully pace from room to room, stopping to look out each window, counting the seconds between lightning and thunder.

One time, when I was a kid, she was pacing as a storm approached, brow furrowed, and, sensing her concern, I followed her, wanting to see whatever it was that was causing her such angst. But once she realized I was following her, she turned it into a game, just to see how long I would keep doing it. It wasn’t long until I figured out she was messing with me, and we had a chuckle. She teased me for years thereafter about how she “got” me good.

During thunderstorms, we were to stay out of the kitchen and bathroom, away from water faucets. Under no circumstances were we allowed to bathe or shower. To soak in the bathtub during a thunderstorm was to risk certain death by electrocution. I never quite understood exactly how the lightning might find its way inside our home to the bathtub (through the chimney? Like Santa?) but mom assured us it was possible, and therefore, better safe than sorry. Only in cases of most dire need were we permitted to use the toilet mid-storm.

She would also chase us away from the piano – something we normally spent lots of time playing. Apparently, she said, such a metal-filled instrument had the potential to lure lightning out of the sky and into our living room.

Perhaps she had watched “The Wizard of Oz” too many times as a child, but a particularly greenish sky on a summer afternoon meant mom was likely to usher us to the perceived safety of the cellar in our old brick farm house. The cellar held our furnace, water softener, deep freezers, shelves for canned goods, and was home to many, many spiders. Its floors in the dank front (underground) rooms were cool, compact earth. In the back room there were concrete floors. This room contained a few windows and a door to exit to the ground level, which was below the main-level back porch. We referred to it as “out back.” We would stay in this room watching (but not close to) the window, waiting for mom to deem the storm far enough away to return to the main level of the house.

If mom determined the storm was not of Kansas-like intensity, we would still turn off and unplug most electric items (including the TV and its antenna rotor, the stereo, and some kitchen appliances) and shut all the windows. Then we would gather in the family room, where we grabbed decks of cards to play solitaire – sometimes each to her own game, but more often, two or three of us would play with common aces in the middle. We would rush to see who might “go out” (be first to get all your cards up to the aces in the middle) first, and we’d end up racing and laughing as we frantically slapped our cards around.

Last weekend, as I was clearing out things from mom’s desk and dresser drawers, I came across one deck of cards I remember her using many years ago. I’m not one to save a lot of things just for sentimental reasons, but her hands spent countless hours shuffling and dealing that deck of cards into game after game after game of solitaire, and I don’t know how I could possibly get rid of it. I wonder if she eventually forgot about those cards at the bottom of that drawer, or if perhaps she placed it there, knowing my sister or I would come across it when we had to go through her things after she was gone.

In the time I’ve spent writing this, the storm has moved off to the east, and I can once again see the Rosslyn skyline in the distance. Mom would have hated this storm, but I’ve liked it, because it made me remember things about my her and my childhood. We encouraged mom to write down some of her memoirs, and I’m so grateful she did. I wish I could show her this one, even though doing so would be to risk additional teasing about that time I followed her around the house.

 

I’m really a dour matron

BY NOW, YOU MUST HAVE NOTICED everyone on Facebook posting side-by-side photos, their own selfie with an art portrait that the app chooses to resemble them. Like all Facebook trends, I was slow to adopt. I assume such quizzes are really designed to trick me into surrendering information about myself, or will cause malware to be added to my device. But, a couple of friends posted theirs and the portraits they were paired with were such good matches that I wondered if Google was actually generating a portrait-looking likeness based on the selfie submitted.

Intrigued, I downloaded Google’s Arts & Culture app, then took my picture and waited while it calculated. Here’s what it gave me:

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What? OK, I guess, whatever. I shared it on Facebook (otherwise, what’s the point?). My friends were quick to suggest that I looked nothing like this older, somewhat dour matron. One friend said, try again with a smile! So I did, and I got this:

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(No. If you think I look like this one, please get out a microfiber cloth and clean your glasses right now.)

I tried a few more times with different poses, but Google kept matching me with Mrs. Zeigler. And the more I look at her, I can’t really argue with the match: Unremarkable brown hair, blue eyes, resting “bitch” face (my down-turned mouth often makes people want to ask me why I’m sad), and most notably, jowls that have, after five decades, begun their inevitable surrender to gravity’s relentless pull.

I was curious about my doppelganger from another era. I was able to find more about her husband than I did about her – she is listed simply as the wife of John R. Zeigler, who was a Civil War Union Captain in Illinois. He left the war when he was injured in 1864. Both of their portraits were done at the artist’s Chicago studio in 1897, which is interesting, because her husband is listed as having died in 1896, at age 64.

If we assume she was around the same age as her husband, she’d have been around 60-65 at the time her portrait was painted; possibly younger if he married young, where “younger” = my age. Her eyes look a little sad to me, with a faraway gaze. She is a recent widow here, after all. She doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles one might expect of a woman her age (we have that in common). Also, no gray hair? I’d be mostly gray if I didn’t still color mine. I wonder if she allowed (asked?) the artist to take liberties here. My vanity manifests in my use of facial moisturizers and makeup and hair color; without access to such wondrous products of the modern era, perhaps hers surfaced as her likeness was being rendered in oil on canvas.

I suspect Mrs. Zeigler would have looked much different had she been painted with a smile on her face. My smiling selfie looks nothing like her resting gaze. If I ever have a portrait done, I want it to be of me laughing big and loud. And I want my wrinkles airbrushed and my hair brown.

Anyway, there you have it, and now Google has it, too. (Although the app does say they won’t use your photo for anything more than the portrait match.)

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Vince Guaraldi Trio Charlie Brown Christmas Album Cover

This right here is my favorite thing. I’ve probably listened to the whole album ten times since Thanksgiving. It would be great holiday jazz even if it didn’t make me think of the Christmas special.

There are so many good clips from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” but the one I love the most is this:

Kids, ask your parents about how when they were your age, this “special” would air once during the weeks leading up to Christmas, where “special” means something other than regularly scheduled programming, and “air” means that we had to check the TV listings in the newspaper (the what?) to find out which day and time it would be shown, and on which network, and we had to watch it at exactly that time because there was no DVR or streaming or on-demand or YouTube in the olden days of yore.

I tried making my boys watch this a few years ago. I was so excited to share it with them. They thought it was dumb. And maybe it doesn’t hold up all that well. I’m willing to admit that my hypernostalgic feelings compromise my ability to view it objectively. But you can’t take this away from me.

When I was young, the Peanuts gang was as much a part of our family as the Brady Bunch was. We read the daily comics, we ordered the Peanuts cartoon books from the Scholastic Book Club, and we eagerly awaited the airing of the holiday cartoon specials. They were a cultural phenomenon almost without equal.

Anyway: If you haven’t listened to the album yet, there’s no need to drop the needle on vinyl – you can stream it! Here’s a link to it on Amazon Prime Music – free to listen if you have Prime. It’s also on Spotify, but I can’t figure out how to put a link to it here. Which could be related to my hypernostalgic feeling about some crudely-drawn cartoon from the 1970s.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!