Category Archives: Memory Lane

A Picky Eater Grows Up

The year is 1974.  My family is making the annual pilgrimage from Illinois to Florida in our trusty Oldsmobile, Mom and Dad chain-smoking in the front while my brother and I fight for prime real estate in the back seat.  We finally arrive in Georgia, and I put my family through a familiar scenario:

We pull up to the drive-through window of McDonald’s.  My dad calls out the orders, three variations of hamburgers-with-everything plus French fries and drinks.  Then he adds, “And one plain hamburger.”

My brother groans and slumps back.  My mom taps her nails on the window trim.  The inevitable request comes.  “Uh, sir, can you pull over and wait?”

This was no ‘have it your way’ situation.  My plain hamburger meant that we waited an extra 10 or 15 minutes for it to be cooked and slapped between a bun sans all the junk that turned my stomach.

I’m sure many people can tell tales of their childhood food aversions.  If you’re a parent, you probably deal with this sort of thing from your own children.  What we often don’t talk about, though, is when this pickiness extends into adulthood.

I’m 51 years old, and I still don’t eat salad (or raw vegetables of any kind).  If you try to sneak Parmesan cheese into my food, I will smell it and push it aside.  I’ve come a long way, though.  Mushrooms, fennel, balsamic vinegar and Havarti cheese all now have a place in my life.  It was a long, nose-wrinkling process, however, and some foods still didn’t make the cut (sorry Gruyère – you just smell too nasty).

I was lucky enough to visit France in my late 20s.  After days spent wandering Versailles, visiting the Eiffel Tower, and watching artists at work in Montmartre, I was often famished.  I am ashamed to admit that the restaurant that most frequently got my business was none other than McDonald’s.  I was thrilled to tuck into an order of chicken nuggets with a side order of barbecue sauce.  Some days it was all I ate, after a breakfast of coffee and toast.

In front of Notre Dame Cathedral, most likely thinking of the chicken nuggets I'd eat that night - 1988

In front of Notre Dame Cathedral, 1988 – most likely thinking of the Mickey D’s I’d eat that night

I don’t know what it’s like now, but Paris in 1988 was a challenge for someone who didn’t speak French.  Add a hearing loss and inherent shyness to that, and ordering from a restaurant was fraught with peril.  After ordering a pizza that inexplicably arrived at the table with a topping of runny eggs, I avoided cafes and looked for the golden arches.

Things started changing for me around the time I had my cochlear implant surgery in 2008.  It’s fairly common for the nerves that control taste to be damaged during surgery, and I was not spared.  For about a year and a half, things like bread, cookies and cake had a strange, spongy texture and no flavor.  Water was oily; most flavors were flat.  The front center area of my tongue was most affected, so I tried to skip that area and quickly get the food to the back of my tongue.  I drank beverages through a straw.

I found that adding heat and spice livened up some of the dead flavors, so for the first time in my life I gravitated toward hot, spicy foods.  (I kept that preference once my taste buds were back to normal.)  While I was busy looking for ways to burn some life into my taste buds, we also started watching more cooking shows on TV.  I learned how to prepare and cook things I’d never even heard of before, like jicama.  I discovered Ruth Reichl’s books, and found myself curious about some of the more exotic dishes she described.

As I slowly started trying things that were new to me (and enjoying most of them), I decided to really push myself out of my comfort zone.  I signed up to become a recipe tester for Cook’s Illustrated, with the caveat that I had to try recipes with at least one new ingredient.  Testing a recipe means I have to follow everything to the letter – the ingredients, cooking method, pan size, and so on.  Instead of, say, substituting Greek yogurt for sour cream, I have to use exactly what the recipe calls for.

I admit that just last year I sat in a restaurant, ordered a dish that had pasta salad on the side (something I’ve never eaten because I hate mayonnaise), and told myself that if my kids could follow the ‘just take one bite and try it’ rule, then so could I.  It was made with aioli, which I’d never had but assumed tasted like mayonnaise.  For whatever reason, I loved it.  Maybe I like aioli better than mayonnaise, or maybe aioli tastes nothing like mayo, or maybe I actually don’t mind mayo anymore.  Who knows.  But I tried it!

So I’ve come a long way, food-wise.  In all honesty, I still wouldn’t order a burger with everything on it.  But ordering it plain wouldn’t even cross my mind these days.

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Late to the Party

In the summer of ’77 I was 12, almost 13, years old. It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade, and my parents decided to mix it up a bit vacation-wise. Usually we drove from our Chicago suburb to Daytona Beach, Florida (or somewhere around there), with a stop in Tennessee to visit my mom’s side of the family. That summer, however, they decided to take me and my brother to St. Louis, Missouri.

My brother (10, almost 11) and I were crazy about pinball machines; arcade video games were still a few years away. We could spend hours in a game room, especially once my brother figured out how to glue a string to a quarter and somehow use that to give him access to hours of pinball machine heaven. (I think that’s what he did; my memory is a little fuzzy. I do know that he was the miscreant, not me!)

My parents, smartly realizing they could get some free babysitting, chose a Holiday Inn that had a huge game room as its main feature. Of course there was also a pool, and they figured we’d go see the Arch; it would be a fun few days with less driving time there and back.

We were having a blast, but after a while my parents decided to get us out of the game room and into the city. It was pouring rain, so walking around outside wasn’t really an option. Then they figured hey, why don’t we go see this movie, Star Wars? It looks pretty popular and all.

Now, back in 1977 I had a hearing loss but I wasn’t deaf. I had probably a moderate loss in my left ear and a severe loss in my right, and I wore a hearing aid in my right ear. That was the extent of my accommodations – captions didn’t exist and my hearing loss was not really a big issue.

So we went to this movie and, I’ll be honest, I was mostly excited because Mark Hamill was in it. Mark Hamill was currently splashed all over the teenybopper magazines, and he had dreamy hair; he kind of reminded me of Shaun Cassidy, my other 1977 obsession.

star wars
I watched the screen, waiting eagerly to see Mark, and instead it was robots and, well, I had no idea what the hell was going on. So many of the characters had no lips for me to read, and there were words that weren’t part of the English language which made it hard for me to fill in what I couldn’t hear. (Hearing was often like a puzzle for me – I’d hear maybe three words perfectly in a sentence, and use common sense to fill in the gaps.)

I don’t know how long the movie played while the rain outside turned into a raging thunderstorm; not long, I don’t think. Maybe 15 minutes? In any case, the theater suddenly went dark as the power went out. We sat there for a few minutes, waiting to see if it would come back on. I was frustrated because darn it, I hadn’t seen Mark yet!

Then my mom turned to us and said, “Let’s go. This movie is stupid.”

And that was the extent of my exposure to Star Wars until last week, at age 51.

With all the positive feedback about the new movie, I decided that I wanted to finally watch the whole series. (Dave had seen the first three movies, took Eric to the fourth one and fell asleep in the theater, and then never saw the fifth and sixth movies.) I left it to Dave to decide what order we would watch them in, and he came up with a version of what he called the Machete order: Episode 4, 5, 1, 2, 3, 6 (with 4 being the 1977 movie that I never finished watching).

Speaking as a complete Star Wars newbie, I highly recommend that order. I liked seeing the original two movies, and then flashing back to fill in the back story, and then finishing with Return of the Jedi. It wasn’t confusing and it was just a fun way to be introduced to the series. And I really, really enjoyed all of the movies, even the one that ends up at the bottom of everyone’s list when they rank the movies (aka, Episode 1). Actually, the actual Machete order skips Episode 1 altogether but I wanted to see all of the movies, no matter how badly people talked about them.

As we got about a quarter of the way through the first movie, I turned to Dave and said, “I could never have understood this without captions.” I think it was meant to be for me to wait until captions existed in order to see that movie! (Of course, I could have watched it in the mid-1990s when captions started showing up on video tapes and, later, DVDs but …)

It was fun to hear iconic lines spoken for the first time (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for”). The most famous line, though, was never spoken. I kept waiting to hear “Luke, I am your father,” but Darth Vader never actually says that!

We watched one movie each night for six days straight, and it was a blast. Now we’re debating whether to see the new movie in a theater that has captioning devices (the closest one is in Mishawaka, Indiana) or just wait for it to come out on DVD.

And by the way, I have to confess … after we finished A New Hope (Episode 4), I told Dave, “Well, Mark Hamill was really cute but man, he was a bad actor.” (He did get better in the second and third movies, I noticed, but it was pretty obvious in the first movie.)

His hair looked great, though!

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun

I like to do this thing where I think ‘At this time last year, I was …’. It’s kind of amazing to look back and see how much things change in a year or five years or whatever. Dave and I were talking about this today because seven years ago at this very moment, I was in the recovery room at the hospital. This day marks seven years since my bilateral cochlear implant surgery.

Seven years ago, Eric was just about to enter college and Paige was just about to enter high school. How weird is that?

Dave reminded me that August 21, the day after I was activated, was the day we moved Eric into his dorm. I remember that like it was yesterday; I could hear sounds, but everything was weirdly robotic and voices were still very strange-sounding, especially the voices of Eric’s roommate and his family. I remember listening to the rhythmic sound of the car tires on the expressway until the sound made sense to me; same with the sound of the turn signal clicking.

So much has changed in seven years. I didn’t know back then whether the surgery would even work, and I wouldn’t hear sound again for another month. (Activation was a month after surgery, after I was mostly healed.)

My Advanced Bionics Harmony cochlear implant processor and headpiece

My Advanced Bionics Harmony cochlear implant processor and headpiece

The processors I wear (Advanced Bionics Harmony) are old news now, even though they were the latest and greatest when I got them. Since then they’ve introduced the Neptune (an off-the-ear, waterproof processor) and the Naida. I still follow the boards on Hearing Journey and offer support/mentoring to people who are curious about getting a CI, but I really can’t offer hands-on experience with the newest technology … and that’s a strange feeling. I might look into upgrading once we move and I know what our financial situation is going to be, but right now every spare penny gets saved for our future home. My Harmony processors are working fine for now (the rechargeable batteries are getting a little worse for wear though; I might need to buy some new ones).

I haven’t really been writing here that much lately. It’s not like anything bad is happening; summer is here and things are going along just fine. A couple of times I started to write a blog post and then got a sense of déjà vu, like I’ve written about the subject before. A quick search then shows me that yep, I wrote about that exact subject two years ago or whatever. I’ve gone through these periods before and I’m sure it’s just temporary. For now I’ll try to pop in and say hey even when there’s not much to say … and eventually I’ll be writing like crazy again.

So here’s to the next seven years – hopefully by then I’ll look back on this post and think ‘Wow, I was still using Harmony processors back then!’

The Feast (from 2013)

I’m re-posting this entry today because this is Feast time in Melrose Park, Illinois and it brings back great memories.  I wrote this in 2013:

There was one constant in the summers of my childhood, a family tradition that carried through until my very late teens.  Every year, in mid-July, we made the trek to Melrose Park for the Italian Feast.  We actually just called it The Feast; everyone knew what we meant.  I only just recently found out that the full name of this festival is the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in its 120th year in 2013.

You know how you can take a kid on some amazing outing and they come home and just remember things like the water fountains or the revolving doors in the building?  That might be how my memories of the Feast are now, since it’s been over 20 years since I’ve gone.  But for what it’s worth, these are the things I remember.

Melrose Park is not that far from where we lived, in the western suburbs of Chicago, but as a kid the drive there felt like it took forever.  In reality, we probably got there in 30 to 40 minutes.  I remember going on Sunday, the day of the procession, but we may have gone more than once during the week as well.  We always parked by my Aunt Emily’s house, one of my dad’s sisters; she lived right on the route of the procession.  The biggest anticipation, by far, was guessing when the procession would come into view.  My cousins and I would all sit on the curb in front of my aunt’s house, and we would watch it unfold just inches from our faces.

This parade celebrated the Madonna, and the statue was carried all through the streets.  I always looked for my Grandma Tirabassi, who walked in the parade along with other ladies from the church.  I remember them carrying their rosaries and reciting the Hail Mary.  It used to just blow my mind to see my grandma in the parade; she felt like a celebrity to me, and I was always so proud when I saw her.

When the parade ended, people from along the route would join in and walk along at the end.  I did this quite a few times; it was the only time I was ever in a parade, even though I wasn’t an official participant.  This was such a huge, big deal to me as a kid.

My aunt’s house is etched in my memory, but vaguely.  I actually lived in the lower level with my parents for the first couple years of my life.  I remember she usually had a spread of food set out in the garage; there were tables and chairs set up, and people would wander in and out.  There was a big stone or cement porch on the front of her house, and we kids made a big deal out of jumping off the side of the porch onto the grass below.  When I was young, I considered this to be very risqué and dangerous; my boy cousins (and there were many of them) liked to play Evel Knievel and do daredevil jumps.

I had quite a few cousins either my age or within a year or two of me, as well as my brother who was two years younger than me.  We were all usually there at the same time.  I was the only girl in this age range; my other girl cousins were all older than me, old enough to not be hanging out with a little kid like me (I don’t blame them).  I loved being around my cousins, who were all boisterous and laughing and happy kids.  They all treated me kindly, even if I didn’t always join in with their shenanigans.  There were always tons of people around, people I called ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’ even if that wasn’t really their relation to me.  It was just what you called the adults back then.  I would see familiar faces, faces I saw every year at the Feast, people I was happy to see even if I couldn’t remember their names.  There was just such a feeling of comfort and tradition.

I don’t remember any fights or bickering on Feast day.  The adults all seemed to be happy; the kids were all beyond excited.  My aunt lived within walking distance of the actual festival so people would walk down to the Feast area and then back to her house all throughout the day.  Sometimes my cousins would come back with gifts or treats from a stall, and I would beg my parents to get me the same thing.  There were usually balloons there, and I always got a balloon.  Sometimes I’d get the kind that had a shape inside, which I thought were just the best balloons ever.  I think sometimes they were on a stick instead of a string.

When I was very young, I always walked with my parents to the festival area.  We’d walk along the streets, some of which were actually brick and looked like cobblestone streets.  I always loved those and thought they looked so pretty and old-fashioned.  A lot of people had nativity sets and Madonna statues set up in their front yards, and we would admire these decorations as we walked.  Often my parents would know the people who lived along the route to the Feast, so we would stop and chat.  Most people had a set-up like my aunt’s, with food set out in the garage and tables and chairs filled with relatives and friends.

There was a big sign that signified the start of the festival area; when it came into view, my heart would beat faster and I knew we were almost there.  Even now, looking at a picture of that sign brings back those old childhood feelings of excitement and anticipation.

feast sign

Once we got there, it was a crush of people.  People everywhere, getting food or talking in groups or buying trinkets.  Many people had red, white and green t-shirts and Italia jackets on.  Most people were Italian, and I’d hear a mixture of Italian and accented English.  My dad always bought us Italian ice, my absolute favorite treat.  It wasn’t ice like a sno-cone, or really ice at all; it was creamy, bright white and bursting with lemon flavor.  It was sold in a little fluted white paper cup; I would finish it and then push up the bottom of the cup, trying to make sure I didn’t miss any of the sweet, tart delicacy.  I’ve never been able to find Italian ice quite like the kind I had at the Feast; what they sell in grocery stores is not the same thing at all.  Gelato comes close and, oddly enough, so does the Italian ice that Culver’s sells in the summer.

I remember my dad buying these flat, yellow beans; he would squeeze the outer skin and pop the bean into his mouth.  They were sold in little wax bags, and until I did an online search the other day, I never realized they were lupini beans.  Of course, the smell of grilled Italian sausage was everywhere; that and Italian beef were the two main things I remember besides the Italian ice and my dad’s beans.

There was a carnival as well, and we always went on the rides.  As I got older, the carnival became the main attraction for me (well, that and the Italian ice).  As a teenager, it was easy to flirt with the carnival workers and get them to give us free rides; one time my friend and I got 15 free rides in a row on the Zipper.  (Never underestimate the power of flirting!)

Since we had to cross a busy road to get to the actual festival, it was a big deal when my parents finally allowed us to go to the Feast by ourselves.  Sometimes all the cousins would go as a pack; as I got older, I’d sometimes go with whatever friend I’d brought along to keep me company.  (Once I hit junior high and high school, I almost always brought a friend along.)  We would pass a place that sold soft-serve ice cream and that was another big treat, especially getting to go there by ourselves and order whatever we wanted.

In the alleys of the side streets, people would set off huge, massive packs of firecrackers that would pop and bang for long, noisy minutes at a time.  When I was very young, I was terrified of firecrackers so I would hide in my aunt’s house along with her dog, who was as scared as I was.

Once I moved out and then got married and was living on my own, I stopped going to the Feast.  My father actually discouraged me from going in the late 80s and early 90s because there were fights breaking out – I’m not sure if it was actually gangs or just rowdy guys, sometimes with guns.  The last time I went was in 1990, when Eric was just a month or so old.  I didn’t fear for my life or anything, but it just wasn’t the same.  The magical feeling I used to get from the Feast was gone, and I didn’t want to replace my good memories with something else.  I haven’t been back since.

Part of what made it so special for me was just family, having everyone gathered at my aunt’s, eating and talking and laughing.  Part of it was the novelty of getting to go to a carnival, get yummy treats and little gifts I normally wouldn’t get.  (I still have a rosary my grandmother bought me one year.)  Part of it was being trusted to walk there with my cousins and/or my friends, that first exhilarating taste of freedom from adult supervision.

In my mind, memories of the Feast are mixed up with warm sunshine, laughter, wafts of smoke from Italian sausages on the grill, waiting waiting waiting for the procession to start, and sweet, tart, cold lemon.

Older and Wiser: Christmas Cookies

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by Christmas and how it was celebrated in other countries. I used to check out library books on the subject. It was hard to imagine following some of the traditions I read about – I distinctly remember being amazed that some people didn’t put up a Christmas tree until Christmas Eve, and then Santa was the one who decorated it. (Looking back as an adult, I can only imagine how tiring that must be for the parents. There it is, 11 pm or whenever they managed to get the kids soundly to sleep, and now they have to quietly drag out boxes of ornaments and decorate the tree without being caught … not to mention actually setting out the Santa gifts and filling stockings.)

Obviously we weren’t going to be changing our family traditions just because I thought it was cool how people in Denmark celebrated Christmas or whatever, but one thing I could do was bake some of the traditional cookies made in various countries. I remember dog-earing pages of a book called Christmas Cookies of the World (or something similar), just certain that I was going to make ALL of these cookies and try them out.

My eyes were bigger than my ambition, and I only actually tried a few of the recipes. Still, though, it was fun to read about and dream. As an adult, I still have a bit of a problem where Christmas cookies are concerned. Now it’s not so much about trying Christmas cookies from around the world as it is about trying Christmas cookies that just look so gorgeous and sound so delicious.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I tend to go overboard when I plan my baking days. When I was in my early 20s, I failed to take into consideration which recipes were the type that needed to be made and then refrigerated for hours before I could bake them. I’d get the dough made up and then get to the line that said ‘refrigerate for three hours or more’ and just sigh. Now what?!

Other times I’d be more organized; I’d make the ‘refrigerate for freaking ever’ cookie dough first, and while it was chilling I’d move on to something I could bake right away. But I’d plan to make a whole list of cookies in one day, an endeavor that would take me hours and leave me with a sore back and aching feet.

I also learned that I have no patience for cookies that have to be rolled out and decorated. Those were the types that they always pushed on young mothers as a great way to involve your children in cookie baking. Neither of my kids had any interest in this, even though they both liked to cook and Paige, especially, was into crafts. By the time we made the dough and rolled it out and started using the cookie cutters, they were getting bored. They’d wander off while the cookies were baking; usually I could coax them back to decorate a few once they cooled off, but I always felt like I was forcing the kids to join me in an activity they really didn’t care about. Decorated sugar cookies got taken off the list after a couple years of listless participation.

Really it was like this for any kind of cookie. “Want to make cookies?” I’d ask. They would shout, “Yes!” and by the time we were scooping out the dough, they’d be leaning on their elbows, sighing, looking around the room. “If you want to stop, you can,” I’d say, then watch them happily skip off to read or build Legos or whatever while I scooped and baked.

So here I am, 50 years old, and I’d like to think I’ve reached the ‘wiser’ part of ‘older and wiser.’ Okay, yes, I do have at least ten types of cookies I’d like to make this year – I have my tried and true recipes, like chocolate chips and Russian Tea Balls (also known as Snowballs, Mexican Wedding Cookies, etc. etc. – basically they should be called Round White Balls of Buttery Deliciousness Covered in Powdered Sugar). I have a couple of new recipes, because I always like to try a few new ones each year. (Congo Bars, how have I not made you before now?!) And I usually try to make at least one traditional Italian cookie – sometimes it’s pizzelles, sometimes biscotti; this year it’s frosted anise cookies. But I don’t try to make them all in one day. Now I spread the cookie-making joy over a few days, sometimes a week.

I’ll leave you with a recipe that has just three ingredients – butter, brown sugar, flour – and tastes absolutely amazing. This is one of my new recipes for this year because I’d never made shortbread before and wanted to see how they would turn out. Mine looked nothing like the photo accompanying the recipe; they would fit better in a ‘Pinterest Fail’ meme. But how they look doesn’t matter. They are simply amazing – buttery, not too sweet, and very addictive: Scottish Shortbread

Happy baking!

The Generation Gap, Music Version

Last month I wrote this (long) Facebook status:

There’s a 9 year age difference between me and Dave, although I rarely notice. It really shows up, though, when it comes to music. He recalls the Creedence Clearwater Revival version of Proud Mary; I remember the Ike & Tina version. For Dave, Spirit in the Sky is by Norman Greenbaum … but he patiently watches as I show him the (CLASSIC OMG) video for the version I know and love, by Doctor and the Medics. And I present the following conversation (which took place earlier this week as we watched The Voice, and a contestant sang ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’):

Me: Who sang that song? Was it Bad Company?

Dave: Um…I don’t know, I think it was some kind of soul/R&B group.
Me: No, it was southern rock kind of stuff. (pauses TV) Can you check? It’s driving me crazy.
Dave: (gets tablet and searches) Oh yeah, it was the Drifters. Now I remember.
Me: What? That can’t be right, let me see. (Dave hands me the tablet and I scroll down)
Me: There it is – Grand Funk Railroad!
Dave: (takes tablet back) That was in 1974, you were only 10 years old. How do you remember that?
Me: Oh, honey. All I did in 1974 was listen to the radio. I kept a cassette in the tape deck and my mission in life was to run fast enough across the room to hit ‘record’ when my favorite songs came on the radio. I probably had 5 or 6 cassettes with multiple partial recordings of this song.

Ah, those were the days.

* * *

It wasn’t just songs on the radio. I would also carefully read the TV Guide to see if any of my favorite singers were going to be on TV. This was about as close to seeing them in concert as I could get, and it was a huge deal. I’d put a fresh cassette tape in my portable tape recorder, then set it next to the TV speaker and record their performance. I think I may have taped at least half of all the Sonny & Cher shows that way; if someone had told my 10 year old self that in the future, I could push a button and record not only the sound but also the video … well, I think my little mind would have been blown.

So anyway, last night we had a replay of almost the exact same conversation that I had described on Facebook. We were watching The Voice and a contestant sang ‘Without You.’ After it was done, I asked Dave how he liked it and he said he thought it was a terrible version of that song.

“Well,” I said, “I think someone like Celine Dion covered it and turned it into a ‘diva’ song. She was probably singing that version.” (We can’t stand that, by the way.) “It was originally kind of a rock ballad from the 1970s. Who did that song anyway?”

Dave said, “LeAnn Rimes? Trisha Yearwood?”

I stared at him.

“I think maybe we’re thinking of different versions,” I said carefully. I mean, I don’t think LeAnn Rimes was even alive in the 70s, was she? I grabbed my phone and did a search.

“Okay, yeah. It was done by Badfinger in 1970.” I scrolled down on the Wikipedia page. “It was covered by something like 180 people, though. OH – it was Mariah Carey who did the diva version, not Celine Dion.”

I kept looking and didn’t see any reference to LeAnn Rimes, so I did a separate search and we found out she did a completely different song with a similar sounding name. (Makes sense that Dave thought it was a terrible rendition of her song … since it wasn’t her song.)

Then Dave was acting like he didn’t even know the original song, so I made him suffer through a tiny Youtube video played on my cell phone, lucky guy. But he did admit to recognizing it though once he heard the original.

The other day I read somewhere that Angus Young from AC/DC is 59 now. I did the math and thought, “Oh, he’s only nine years older than me.” Back when I was really into AC/DC, he seemed so much older, you know? Then I realized he was Dave’s age.

“Did you know that Angus Young is the same age as you?” I asked.

“Who is Angus Young?” Dave said, confused.

“You know, Angus Young from AC/DC.”

“OH,” he said. “Isn’t he the one who tried to have someone killed?”

“Oh my god, no. That was the drummer. Angus Young is the guitarist, the one who usually dresses in a British schoolboy’s uniform.”

Go, Angus, go!

Go, Angus, go!

And, well, then I started giggling. Yes, Dave is his age. But I can’t picture Dave dressed as a British schoolboy.

At least I don’t think there would be any confusion over who did “You Shook Me All Night Long.” It hasn’t been covered by Merle Haggard or Charlie Pride, has it?!

Pardon Me While I Freak Out Just A Bit

On the one hand, I’m all, ‘Wow, May is nearly over!’ and on the other hand, I’m thinking, ‘Wait, I thought it was June already.’ I think the really weird spring we’ve had has kind of thrown me off, because it was cold and fitfully snowing here and there for so far into May (May!) and then we started having fairly consistently warm weather, so now I feel like summer’s been here for a while.

Anyway. Things here are good; we’re trying to get back in the habit of walking outside again, now that the weather is cooperating. It always takes us at least a month to get into a nice routine of near-daily walks and then, with it being Illinois and all, after a few months the weather turns cold and nasty, and we get used to just hanging out in the house. Even if we get a walk in (so nice, the fresh air and sunshine!) I still start the day with some jogging on the mini-trampoline and always, always get at least 15 minutes in after dinner.

My oldest turns 24 next week, which is freaking me out a little bit. I remember when the kids started hitting their teens, thinking that I could remember being their age. That was a little weird. But now that they are both adults (Paige turns 20 in August) I am remembering the Grown Up things I did at their age and it’s like, how is that possible? Didn’t I just do that stuff a couple years ago? Kind of like how I feel the 80s and 90s were just about 10 and 5 years ago.

So anyway, I started counting back and I realized that I was 24, the same age Eric will be, when I bought this house. The house that both of the kids grew up in. Well, I was on the older end of 24 (four months before my 25th birthday) but still. My baby is old enough to buy a house! Not that I think he should, mind you – things are so different now than they were then – but just the fact that he’s at an age where I can remember doing such a grown up thing is weird to me. (This is actually my second house; I was 21 when I bought my first house, which seems impossible now that I think back on it.)

Even weirder, next year he will be the age I was when I had him. NO WAY. And Paige, Paige is the age I was when I got engaged to her dad. In August, she’ll be the age I was when I first got married. (Hang on, let me find a paper bag to breathe into.)

I turn 50 in August, and on our walk today I told Dave that I just can’t believe it. I mean, I used to picture 50-year-old-me in a rocking chair as a Very Old Lady. But I don’t feel much different than I did 20 years ago. Dave just laughed and promised he’d take me to the furniture store to pick out my chair.

I think I’ll hold off. Time moves fast, but I’m kinda having fun moving along with it.

Finding Love Online

I know what I was doing 16 years ago on this day. I was originally planning to go out with a friend of mine. I can’t remember if we were going to see a band or just go to a club, but she ended up canceling on me at the last minute. So I was sitting around with nothing to do when Dave called me in the early evening.

We’d been online friends for a while at that point. We were both on a hearing loss support group mailing list called the Say What Club. I joined in Sept. 1997 and Dave was already a member, so he welcomed me to the list. We were good friends, and then in early 1998 we started to kinda like each other. 😉 We chatted via IRC and talked on the phone (not our favorite thing to do, obviously, but it wasn’t bad because we both understood what it was like to use the phone when you have a hearing loss). But we hadn’t met in person yet.

My kids were young, and they spent every other weekend at their dad’s. This was their ‘Dad Weekend’ so I was alone with no plans. When Dave asked what I was up to, I told him about my canceled plans. “How about if I come over?” he asked, sort of jokingly. I laughed and then he said, more seriously, “It’s only about a two hour drive. I really could come over if you want.”

So we made plans, and then I waited to hear my doorbell ring. Neither of us had cell phones or GPS, of course, so Dave wrote out his directions from MapQuest. Then he proceeded to get very lost. He couldn’t call me, so he just kept driving around, hoping he’d find my street. (There are two streets with this name in my town; he was on the wrong one because he didn’t realize he had to specify ‘west’ in the directions.)

About one and a half hours past when I was expecting him, when I was starting to think he’d blown me off, the doorbell rang. And there he was on my front porch, wearing a black leather jacket and looking just like his pictures.

Once he came in and we hugged hello, he told me the saga of his drive from Michigan to my house in Illinois. He brought in his WebTV, which was his way of connecting to the internet in 1998, and we plugged it in so he could show me how it worked. I showed him my computer; he scoffed and said he couldn’t see why he’d ever need a computer – he could do everything he wanted with his WebTV. (I do still like to tease him about that every now and then.)

We just hit it off immediately, and all the worries I had (maybe there would be no chemistry in person, maybe he’d take one look at me and want to leave, maybe he’d have weird habits that I wouldn’t realize until he was in my house, maybe he’d be an axe murderer) flew out the window. We went to see the movie Titanic (and the ALDs in the theater didn’t work, grrrr) and went out for an 11:30 pm pizza at Giordano’s (Dave’s first taste of Chicago-style deep dish pizza).

And here we are now, 16 years later, with this date inked on our calendar every year. We always celebrate with a deep dish pizza (now it’s from Lou Malnati’s) and I’m always thankful that Dave took that chance and made that two hour drive to meet someone he previously only knew online.

Thanks, Say What Club, for introducing us!

Me and Dave, in the early days of our relationship

Me and Dave, in the early days of our relationship

The First Time I Went Deaf

For some reason, spring is not kind to my hearing.  Every time St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I remember the first time I went deaf.  Well, the first actual hearing loss that I suffered happened when I was too young to remember; I wasn’t born with a hearing loss, it was discovered when I was four.  A couple years earlier I’d had roseola and was hospitalized with a high fever, and the doctor speculated that was what caused my initial hearing loss.

But I wasn’t deaf, just hard of hearing.  More so in my right ear than my left, but I could hear sounds in both ears.  (I wore a hearing aid in my right ear.)

Spring, though, has brought deafness to me on two separate occasions.  I’ve written quite a bit about the hearing loss I suffered in mid-April 2008, the one that left me completely deaf and prompted me to start this blog.  As traumatic as it was to suddenly lose the rest of my hearing, I think the first time I lost my hearing as an adult was worse.

I don’t remember the exact day, just that it was very close to St. Patrick’s Day.  I remember taking a rubber stamping class that focused either on making cards for spring, or maybe cards to celebrate St. Pat’s and Easter.  In any case, the hearing in my worse (right) ear was fading and it made the class a real challenge.  I didn’t socialize as much as usual because it was too hard to follow all the conversations around the long table where we worked.  Instead I worked on my projects and went home, feeling worried and stressed.

Originally I thought it was my hearing aid, so I took it in to be checked out.  I was really sure this would fix things, so when I was told that the hearing aid was fine, I got a bad feeling.  I didn’t have an ENT, so I went to an urgent care clinic and told them what was happening with my hearing.  They took a look and said I had an ear infection, which was weird because I felt perfectly fine.  They prescribed antibiotics, which I dutifully took even though I didn’t believe the diagnosis.

When the antibiotics didn’t help, I found a local ENT.  This was an older man with not much of  a bedside manner.  He just did a hearing test, looked inside my ear and then told me I was deaf in that ear.  No, he couldn’t tell me why – there was no obvious reason.  Sometimes it just happens.  End of story.  He sent me on my way, furious and confused and devastated.  How had I lost all of the hearing in my ear?!  My hearing loss wasn’t supposed to be progressive.  I never, EVER expected to lose more hearing in my lifetime.

I found another clinic, doctors with a great reputation (ironically, they were the first to do a cochlear implant in Illinois) and made an appointment.  I wanted a second opinion; I wanted answers.  The doctor I saw was kind, patient, and answered all of my questions.  Besides a hearing test, I also had blood work done and a CAT scan to check for an acoustic neuroma.  (Side note:  This was in the internet’s infancy, 1993, and I happened to see on the order that they were looking for an acoustic neuroma.  I had no idea what it was, so I went to library and looked it up.  And proceeded to freak.  A tumor!  I’m going to need brain surgery!)

The CAT scan and blood work came back fine, so I was started on a regimen of steroids to see if my hearing would come back.  In the meantime, I was struggling to hear, to continue doing my job (I did word processing – on a Wang word processor) and communicate with people, mainly my then-husband (this was pre-Dave) and my son.  (My daughter wasn’t born yet.)  I was gripped with anxiety, sure that every day I would wake up and be completely deaf.  I had no idea why this was happening, and no reassurance that it wouldn’t happen again.  I didn’t have an ear mold for my left ear, so I couldn’t wear a hearing aid.  Although I had still had some hearing in my left ear, I already had a profound loss and didn’t know if it was getting worse.

In the end, the steroids didn’t help.  Hearing tests showed that I had lost all of my usable hearing in my right ear and just a small amount in my left, leaving it solidly in the profound range.  I jammed the ear mold meant for my right ear into my left ear so I could hear.  I cried myself to sleep every night.  I felt alone, isolated, and absolutely terrified.

The doctor was kind as he explained that sometimes this just happens and they don’t know why; they call it Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL).  Maybe it was a virus of some kind, maybe my hearing loss was actually a progressive one and not caused by the fever when I was a toddler – who knows.  Although he couldn’t promise me it wouldn’t happen again, he said it would be very rare.  He recommended hearing tests every six months or yearly for a while, to keep an eye on things.

I don’t remember how long it took for me to stop being nervous every morning when I put on my hearing aid.  For the first couple of years, I would panic when my hearing aid battery died, thinking I was losing my hearing again.  It was embarrassing to wipe away tears after replacing a battery and hearing sound again.

What really helped me calm down was getting new hearing aids.  I got analog bi-CROS hearing aids, which helped me ‘hear’ sounds on both sides.  I had to get used to wearing a hearing aid in each ear, but that wasn’t too bad.  The one on my right ear was just a transmitter, since I couldn’t actually hear in that ear.  But it picked up the sounds on my right side and sent them wirelessly to the hearing aid/receiver in my left ear.  When I first put them on, it was like light flooding a dark room.  I didn’t need an adjustment period; I loved those hearing aids from the first moment I wore them.  Things sounded the way I remembered them, even with no hearing left in my right ear.

It took 15 years for the other shoe to drop, for me to lose my hearing again like I always feared I would after the first time.  When it happened, though, I knew I had no more to lose.  It was a different type of grieving and adjustment, losing all of my hearing, but it was a small relief to stop worrying that it would happen again.

It happened, I survived.

Righteous Indignation

Since January, I’ve been noodling around with an online MIT OpenCourseware class called Reading and Writing Short Stories.  It’s been a lot of fun; I love reading short stories, and I thought it might be fun to try writing some because I haven’t done that since high school.

This was a short exercise, one where I didn’t take a lot of time on the actual writing.  The goal was to show how things that happened in your life could be changed and used as story ideas.  Although there were so many incidents I could have drawn from, this one from when I was very young was the first thing that popped into my head.

My problem was trying to use it in a fictional scene.  It took a while, but I decided to go with karaoke because that was sort of close to me and my brother using a microphone as kids.  I threw in a person with hearing loss because I always like it when I read fiction and there’s a character with hearing loss … it doesn’t happen often, so it’s a nice surprise for me.  Since the scene was supposed to convey strong emotion, I had the fictional character react in a completely different way than I would (which was kind of fun to write).  I had her react with the same level of out-of-proportion anger and indignation that I felt as a six year old.

Here’s the exercise:  Think about an event early in your life that is still powerful for you – that made you cry, or afraid, or angry, or triumphant with revenge.  Sketch it out – focus on the emotional power.  Now – make it fiction. Change something. Change character, change ages, change place, gender – see how this changes the center of the story.

My nonfiction and fiction scenes:

Nonfiction:

It’s 1970, and we’re in the living room — my dad, my brother Joey, and I.  I’m six and Joey is four, and we’re taking turns speaking and singing into the microphone attached to the hi-fi.  My dad was so proud of this system, and we kids loved watching the amplifier needle jump whenever we used the microphone.

We’re all sitting on the couch, which is nearly the same shade of brown as the paneled walls.  I’ve got my feet propped up on the coffee table, slouching back against the cushions, waiting for my turn at the mic.  Finally, I get to sing.  I belt a rousing rendition of Susy Snowflake, making sure to hold that last note for as long as possible.  I begrudgingly hand the microphone over to Joey, and my dad ‘interviews’ him.

“What do you want for Christmas, Joey?”

“I want a gowbidge truck!”

“A what?”  My dad grins, knowing the real answer, playing dumb to give Joey a chance to mispronounce  garbage again.

“A GOWBIDGE truck!  A big one!”

The interview ends and Joey starts to sing a song he learned in preschool.  I am apoplectic.  “But it’s MY turn!  He already got to talk!”

My dad, always calm in the face of my youthful rage, tells me that I’ll get my chance soon – just let Joey finish his song.  But I am furious – it’s so unfair!  I feel they always favor Joey because he’s the baby of the family.

I stand up in a huff, ready to stomp off to my bedroom, where I can slam my door and pull all the sheets off my bed and expend all the rage inside of me.  As I walk between the couch and the coffee table, my dad’s foot slips out just enough to catch mine as I walk past.  I trip and fall to my knees.

“You TRIPPED me!” I wail, and then the tears come.  I sob and sob, feeling unloved and unwanted, as my dad tries to cover his smile, telling me it was an accident.  He didn’t do it on purpose.

I argue with him for a minute, because I am absolutely 100% certain it was not an accident.  It was intentional.  But there is no swaying him, and finally I get to slam my bedroom door, fling myself onto my bed, and rail at the injustice.  Every sound, every word, is captured for posterity on the cassette tape in the deck.  Over the years, I could never listen to that tape without my face burning hot with embarrassment.

 

Fiction:

Becca leaned forward and shouted in my direction.  I watched her lips move, but couldn’t understand a word over the background noise of the bar.  “What?” I shouted, fighting off a wave of irritation.  I turned my hearing aid up a little more, which just made the clamor louder.

This time she leaned sideways, aiming her mouth at my ear.  I reared back, pulling my ear out of her reach.  For someone who’s known me most of my life, she should really know better.  Talking into my ear is completely useless; I need to see her face, so I can read her lips.  I twisted around to face her and leaned forward.  “Say it again, Becca.  I didn’t catch it the first time.”

Exaggerating the movement of her mouth, she yelled slowly, “I.  Signed.  You.  Up.”

“What does that mean?  Did I hear you right – did you sign me up for something?”

“Yes!  Well, I signed ME up too, but we’re both on the list now.”

I shook my head, sure that I was misunderstanding.  “The list?  What list?”

“Karaoke!” she grinned, raising her glass.  I just stared at her, stubbornly anchoring my glass to the bar.  There was no way I was toasting this insane idea.

Why would Becca, my friend who watched me suffer through years of music class in elementary school, silently mouthing the words to songs so my classmates couldn’t hear my tone-deaf voice, sign me up to sing in front of a bunch of drunk strangers?

“Are you pissed at me for something?  Is there some reason you want to deliberately humiliate me?”  I realized I was shouting.  I couldn’t hear myself very well, but I could see heads swiveling in our direction.  Ignoring them, I continued.  “Of all the things in the world, singing in front of people is my worst nightmare.  And you KNOW that.  What the hell, Becca?”

Becca looked stunned.  And a little drunk.  Frowning, she said, “I’m SORRY, I never thought you’d be upset.  I didn’t do it on purpose.  I just thought it would be fun!”

“Bullshit!” I yelled, grabbing my purse off the bar.  “I can see you trying not to laugh.  Go ahead, see how funny it is when you’re trying to get home tonight!”  I waved the car keys at her as I stood up to leave, fighting back tears.

If she protested, if she tried to apologize some more, I never heard her because I never looked back.  Slinging my purse over my shoulder, I headed straight to the parking lot.  All I wanted was the safety and the quiet of my car.

– – – – –

If you like to write, it’s a fun exercise to try.  Give it a shot!

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