Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Courtroom drama

Appeared in The Chronicle Jan. 22, 2007

The clock on the dashboard said 8:48.
I had 12 minutes.
I put the car in park and grabbed my umbrella. It was snowing that kind of snow that makes a woman look like a wet dog when the flakes in her hair melt.
I walked as fast as one can walk in pumps across the parking lot and down the alley.
I got to the door. I could feel my heart beating in my chest.
Elyria Municipal Court.
I walked in and through the metal detector.
It beeped.
Of course it was going to beep. I was carrying an umbrella and my purse that was so full I couldn’t pull the zipper closed.
The officer came over, took my belongings from me and set them on a table.
“Walk through again,” he said.
I stepped back through, swiveled, stood up straight and walked though.
No beep.
I picked up my stuff and looked around for the courtroom of the judge to whom my case had been assigned.
I won’t give you the gory details as to why I was summoned to court last week – I’ll save those for Nancy Grace if she calls. Let’s just say I don’t think I was as much to blame for a minor traffic accident as did the officer who wrote me a ticket.
I found the correct courtroom and took a seat outside of it.
A sign said the courtroom door was to be kept closed – and that it was.
I dug my cell phone out of my purse and dialed.
“Paul,” I whispered, “It’s Patti. Are you coming? I’m here. In court.”
“Who is this?” my lawyer-turned-friend asked.
“It’s Patti Ewald.”
“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ll be there in about 10 minutes.”
We hung up and I sat there. There were no other people around. I spotted papers on a table outside the courtroom door.
I walked over and — as nonchalantly as I could — scanned the list of names the paper contained, looking for “Ewald.” Well, actually, I was looking for “dlawE.” The list was upside down.
“Can I help you?” a voice called from down the hall.
I moved away from the table and toward the uniformed court guy who had spoken to me. “I was supposed to appear in this court at 9 and it’s 10-after.”
“What’s your name?” he asked.
He looked at a piece of paper in his hand and said, “You’re supposed to be downstairs.”
Downstairs. Unchartered waters. I looked at him.
“That way,” he pointed.
When I got down there, it was apparent where everyone was. Both sides of a long hall were lined with chairs filled with people, people whose eyes were all on me.
A gauntlet.
I gulped and walked to the end of the hall and took a seat.
And there I sat. With nothing to read except the label on my umbrella.
I remembered seeing newspaper boxes outside the front door. I went to get one.
Once back downstairs, I took a seat in a short hall leading to the hall filled with people. I read my paper. Paul showed up a short time later. I was feeling much better.
“Just sit here. I’ll be back,” he told me.
I occasionally caught a glimpse of him darting in and out of different rooms. Finally, it was time for the attorney-client chat.
“Well, we’ll probably have to get a continuation. There are a couple things I have to do,” he told me.
“You know,” he said, “I didn’t mean for you to waste your whole morning here. You should have called first. You didn’t even have to come. I’ll take care of it.”
Now he tells me.

Patti Ewald is (not a criminal) managing editor of The Chronicle. You can reach her at pewald@chroniclet.com.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

800 miles away, a mom can still back-seat drive

Appeared Jan. 15, 2007

“If one more person calls to tell me that it’s snowing in Denver, I’m going to drive off this bridge.”
Those were the first words out of the mouth of my older son when I called him this week as he drove from Orlando – where he had left a job – to Denver – where he has taken a new one.
He was in his Jeep somewhere between Nashville and Kansas City.
In an ice storm.
Well, you can bet I wasn’t calling to tell him about snow in Denver.
I was calling to make sure he was still alive.
Yes, I was living yet another chapter you’ll never find in any parenting book: “What to do when your child is driving across the country by himself — in an ice storm.”
I had gotten up early that morning (before my son put the kibosh on phone-delivered weather reports) to chart his course on The Weather Channel.
He was about to embark on Day 2 of his three-day journey to Denver. This leg? Nashville to Kansas City.
I turned on the little TV in the kitchen and stood there staring at the screen for a couple minutes, scrutinizing the weather lady’s hair (it was gelled into oblivion), her outfit (where do people even buy red sweater vests anymore?) and the silk scarf tied around her neck (what’s that all about?).
And then she started saying some words that made me forget about the awful plaid shirt she was wearing – words like “Kansas” and “slow-moving storm” and “bad road conditions.”
And “ice.”
I took a few steps closer to the TV and watched as she swiveled and pointed to an amoeba-shaped splotch of color that depicted the ice storm. The amoeba was at an angle, with its tail somewhere in Texas and its head somewhere in Illinois or Indiana.
And cutting right through the mid-section of this splotch amoeba ice storm was the path my son would take that day.
In his Jeep.
By himself.
I dialed his cell phone.
“Hello, Mother.”
“I just got up.”
“You probably better turn on the TV. They keep talking about ice storms …”
“I’ll check it out – but it’ll be OK. I’ll be fine,” he told me.
“Did you buy new tires?”
“My tires are fine. Really.”
And that’s how the conversation continued for a couple minutes: A burst of mom panic followed by a son’s calm reassurance. And then we hung up.
Well, not much left for me to do. I walked over and turned off the TV, cutting off the weather woman in mid-sentence.
And then I left for the office.
I got busy and aside from the occasional panic that washed over me, I forgot about my son on an icy highway in the middle of nowhere.
My phone rang late that afternoon.
“It’s bad. It’s real bad. There are cars all over the place and I’m going about 30 miles an hour,” he told me.
But the funny thing was, I was less worried about him as he told me that than I was when he was confident and reassuring.
Now, what’s with that?
I guess I knew he had things under control – or perhaps I just finally realized there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
When he finally arrived at that day’s stopping point – a friend’s house in Kansas City – he called to tell me he had made it.
“Wow. I’m so glad you got there safely. Now what about tomorrow? Be careful.
“You know … it’s snowing in Denver.”

Patti Ewald, managing editor of The Chronicle, can be reached at 329-7142. If her line’s busy, she’s likely talking to her son who is calling from his new house in Denver.

Moving heaven and earth and a TV for the Buckeyes

Appeared Jan. 8, 2007

“Let’s move the TV,” I tell my husband.
Groan, grumble, mumble.
“I don’t want to move the TV,” he says. “I like it where it is … plus, do you know how hard it is to move that TV?”
An hour or so later, I’m hanging onto the large-screen television as he is on his hands and knees nudging its metal and glass stand out of the corner and flat against the wall.
This TV-moving is just another in the long line of bright ideas that over the years I have convinced my husband to go along with.
But because I’m never sure if he relents because he sees the wisdom of my ways or because he knows I won’t stop badgering him until he does what I want, I keep up the chatter to keep his mind off the task at hand.
“This will be good. It will make more room for people to sit,” I tell him.
“Hold onto that TV,” he says.
“We can square up the couch and there will be more room for some extra chairs,” I say.
“Are you holding onto that TV?” he says.
“We can bring down that new chair from …”
“Now, what’s this? He asks as he holds up a round metal object. This fell off of something,” he says.
We feel up and down the metal stand and find no hole matching the object in his hand.
Hmmm. That’s odd. He sets down the mystery object and I go back to securing the TV while he moves the stand underneath it.
We are setting up for tonight’s big game, the national championship game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Florida Gators.
I’m not sure how many are coming over to watch it but I want to be sure there will be enough room for everyone to sit.
Finally, the TV stand is flat against the wall.
“There,” I say.
“Why is the TV pitching forward like … hey, that’s what that piece is for,” he says. “It levels off the front of the stand. We have to take the TV down.”
Take the TV down?
I think if you put all the wires attached to the back of that TV end to end, they would wrap around the earth. Twice.
“Are the wires long enough to do that without coming undone?” I ask.
He bends over the back of the TV, gathers the wad of wires and shakes them gently like a person would shake a pom-pom to get all the strips straight.
“I think so. Now you grab that side while I grab this side and set the TV down in front of the stand,” he says.
We pick up the large television – which weighs about 23 ounces – and, as we set it down, I see half a dozen plugs – those yellow, red, blue, white, green plugs – hanging there, attached to nothing.
Gulp. I’m starting to get a little nervous now. My husband has been a good egg up to this point but – as with any good egg – you never know when it’s going to blow its top.
He never did, though. Even though this bright idea didn’t exactly work out. We ended up putting the TV back where it was in the first place.
I even reconnected those colored plugs while he was searching for his glasses so he could do it.
“There,” I said when he came back in the room. “All fixed.”
“So, what do you want me to do next? Move the three-piece sectional?” he asked sarcastically as he pointed to the massive sofa across the room.
Well, I wasn’t going to bring it up but since he mentioned it …

Give me $10 on 2-0-0-7 -- and box it

Appeared Jan. 1, 2007

I am the Grinch of New Year's Eve.
My dashing husband likes nothing better than to don a tuxedo and trip the light fantastic.
Me? I bah-humbug my way through the balloons and the confetti and especially through Auld Lang Syne.
I don't understand what a person is supposed to be feeling when the ball drops?
Is it hope for a new beginning? A clean slate? A fresh start?
To me, it signals lost hopes and dreams, the beginning of the end.
How grinch-like is that?
I don't even like to think about the fact that it's New Year's.
One of my brothers called about noon yesterday to see what we were doing for the big night.
“I don't know,” I said. “We were thinking about going to a movie. Why?”
“I was thinking we could get together,” he said.
“There is a catch, though,” he added.
“We have kids,” he said.
Kids? On New Year's Eve?
Oh, well. Maybe that's not so bad. After all, how can one get all melancholy and depressed about lost hopes and dreams when there are kids around?
There will be much more important things to fret about - like, say, cheese dip spilling all over the pool table.
I Googled “New Year's depression” and one of the pieces of advice I found (right after “don't have such high expectations”) is “live in the present, live for today.”
And there is nothing like small children to get you front and center in “today.”
My sons are much older than most of their cousins because I'm the oldest of five kids.
I often wonder what those young cousins think of Aunt Pat. They probably look at me as that eccentric, oddball aunt. You know the type. Every family has one.
Sometimes when I see the little darlings, I think that maybe I could be more involved with them, take them shopping, have them for sleepovers. But, alas, that thought is fleeting.
I do have a New Year's wish, however. And I'm sincere about it. (Hey, even the Grinch showed he had a little bit of heart.)
I wish that all those people who play the lottery at the gas station would win.
Yeah, it's aggravating when the line winds around to the back of the store because all the people in front of me are reciting their Lotto numbers to the clerk or are buying those scratch-and-wins.
But I really, truly wish they would win - and win big.
Last week, at a gas station in downtown Elyria, the woman in front of me bought $15 worth of assorted tickets and then right before she walked away from the counter, said to the clerk, “Give me $5 on Number 3.”
She bought $5 worth of gas that cost $2.29 a gallon presumably because that was all the money she had left after her lottery purchases.
Hmmm. That amount of gas might get her to Lorain and back.
But she probably didn't even think of that. She was too busy dreaming of winning the lottery.
A Harvard University student named Emily Oster did her senior honors thesis a few years ago on “Dreaming big: Why do people play the Powerball?”
She concluded that it was for fun and entertainment and even though critics suggest lotteries take advantage of people, they actually set up a win-win situation.
States get money for worthwhile things such as education while consumers get a chance to have fun and dream big.
And what's so bad about that? Because if life is, as I suspect, a lot of looking back on lost hopes and dreams, those dreams might as well be big ones.

The true spirit of Christmas is right beside you

Appeared Dec. 25, 2006

He had Christmas under control - and then the letter came.
It was from his great-aunt. Stop by, she wrote, if you have a little time. I'll make us some Christmas tea.
He didn't want to go. She was old. She was crippled from a stroke. He wanted to remember her as she was when he was little, when she was the life of the party at Christmas time.
But in the end, his guilt won out and begrudgingly he drove from the suburbs to her house in the older part of town.
He hardly remembers walking up to her door. He felt disembodied. But then, he rang the bell.
“And just as I was thinking I should turn around and go, I heard the rattle of the china in the hutch against the wall. The triple beat of two feet and a crutch came down the hall.”
There was the click of the latch and the door opened. There she stood, his old great-aunt, tiny and fragile with a brace on her leg.
She wore thick glasses and her eyes seemed bigger behind them and were milky like old eyes often are. But as soon as she recognized her great-nephew, those old eyes lit up as if they were young again.
“Come in! Come in! She laughed the words. She took me by the hand. And all my fears dissolved away as if by her command.
“We went inside and then before I knew how to react, before my eyes and ears and nose was Christmas past, alive, intact!”
Christmas was spilled around the room. There were wooden soldiers and a porcelain nativity scene - and the room smelled of oranges and cinnamon and pine.
“Like magic I was 6 again, deep in a Christmas spell. Steeped in the million memories that the boy inside knew well.
“And here among old Christmas cards so lovingly displayed, a special place of honor for the ones we kids had made. And there, beside her rocking chair, the center of it all, my great Aunt stood and said how nice it was I'd come to call.”
Nervousness, excitement and guilt were all twisting around inside him so he began blathering about the weather and other impersonal topics. She listened patiently, but when she could get a word in, she smiled and said, “What's new?”
As if those two words gave him permission to be himself, he relaxed and opened up. He told her about his life and she told him about hers, about how the stroke had changed it.
She spoke with candor and humor about her physical limitations. Then suddenly, as if able-bodied, she got out of her rocking chair and scurried to the kitchen to brew the Christmas tea.
“I sat alone with feelings that I hadn't felt in years. I looked around at Christmas through a thick hot blur of tears. And the candles and the holly she'd arranged on every shelf, the impossibly good cookies she still somehow baked herself.
“But these rich and tactile memories became quite pale and thin when measured by the Christmas my great Aunt kept deep within. Her body halved and nearly spent, but my great Aunt was whole. I saw a Christmas miracle, the triumph of a soul.
“The triple beat of two feet and a crutch came down the hall, the rattle of the china in the hutch against the wall. She poured two cups. She smiled and then she handed one to me. And then we settled back and had a cup of Christmas tea.”

Father Mike Ausperk told that story at Christmas Eve Mass at St. Joe's several years ago. It has haunted me since.
Father Mike is now at St. Vincent de Paul in Cleveland. I called to ask him about it.
It was a story called “A Cup of Christmas Tea,” he told me.
It was written 25 years ago by Tom Hegg, who was then a 29-year-old teacher in Minnesota. His pastor had asked him to write something for the church's 125th anniversary.
I tracked down the author in Eden Prairie, Minn., where he still teaches drama at Breck, a private school affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
“It's based on my grandmother and my great-aunt,” Hegg said. “We lived with them when I was little. It was a big Victorian house in Minneapolis. My grandmother lived on the second floor and my great-aunt lived on the third floor.”
The book has sold 1.7 million copies and remains a holiday favorite. I recently spotted it on the table of Christmas books at Barnes & Noble.
“You wouldn't believe how many people say, ‘You have to be talking about my mom,’” Hegg said.
Or, in my case, my grandma. This is our first Christmas without her. She died last January. And, although I can no longer have a cup of Christmas tea with her, I can still think about her when I do.

Cat between a bed and a hard place

Appeared Dec. 18, 2006

Charlie fell out of bed last night.
He made as much noise as any 15-pound Siamese who slides off a bed and becomes wedged between the bed and the nightstand.
I reached my arm over the side, looped my hand under his belly and pulled him back up on the bed.
It was kind of like the time my husband fell out of bed in a hotel on New Year’s Eve, except my husband became wedged between the bed and the wall and I couldn’t loop my hand around his belly and drag him back up. He was on his back like an upside-down turtle. Charlie was wedged standing upright like one of those little plastic reindeer on the mantel.
My husband was no easy loop-and-drag, he was more like a pull-and-tug.
It sure seems to me I’ve had an inordinate occurrence of wedging in my family.
Well, anyway, Charlie didn’t start immediately purring once safely back up on the bed last night and that scared me a little.
I was pretty sure he was just freaked out - as anyone who was sound asleep one second, a wedged plastic reindeer the next would be.
The only way he could have gotten hurt in his short fall was if he had caught - and chipped - one of the fangs that hang out of his mouth and make him look as if he has a Fu Manchu mustache.
But there were no chipped fangs and Charlie was soon lying next to me once again with his head on my pillow purring away.
He is a very cool cat (somewhat of a pest but an affectionate pest - he has pest-ed his way onto my lap as I write this) so when a friend of mine was looking for a cat, I wanted him to have a cat like Charlie.
Now this is the kind of friendly “help” that gets me in trouble - as my husband the turtle will tell you.
But I never learn, so I went in search of a Siamese on the Internet.
Purebred Siamese kittens cost about $250 so that was out of the question.
Cats from Siamese rescue groups were available for about $80 but money didn’t even become an issue here because the closest rescued Siamese was in Atlanta.
So I kept looking. I finally found a F-R-E-E Siamese - and he was in Parma, even.
I was thrilled. I told my friend and soon, he was the proud owner of a Siamese cat.
You can probably guess where this story is going from here - downhill.
The cat immediately went into hiding in my friend’s apartment. He finally found it up inside the bottom of the refrigerator. He did not loop-and-drag or pull-and-tug the creature, figuring it would come out when it was ready.
Well, it wasn’t ready 14 hours later when my friend went to work. He still held onto hope it would come out when it was ready.
Well, 24 hours passed and if the cat did get ready and come out, it didn’t use the litter box or eat its food.
Didn’t. Use. The. Litter. Box. Five words no cat owner ever wants to mutter.
It was becoming increasingly clear why this Siamese was free.
So, my friend called the cat’s former owner in Parma and she came and took it back home - back home where it lives out of doors, a little piece of information she didn’t tell me or I didn’t catch in the beginning of this episode.
Trust me, all the stories that start out with me butting into other people’s business don’t end this happily. But I sure was relieved this one did.
Now, does anyone know where I can get a Siamese -- cheap?

Christmas is a go-go at our house

Appeared Dec. 11, 2006

The small gathering of 30 in my immediate family is gearing up for another Christmas Eve.
I’m never the host - I put the turkey on the table at Thanksgiving so at Christmas, it’s somebody else’s turn.
The last couple of years, it has been at my youngest brother’s house.
Last year we brought Grammy from the nursing home.
She was a good egg, all right.
We helped her along - one of us at each of her elbows - but she walked up the driveway and took the couple of steps into the house.
We sat her down at the table and got her a plate of food. She ate it all and, while she didn’t participate in the conversation much, she seemed to enjoy herself as she took it all in.
Then we helped her into a reclining chair in the living room.
We made it lean back and covered her up. She was thrilled to see all the little kids jumping around excitedly as they waited for gifts to be handed to them.
Finally all the packages were handed out.
And Gram was asleep.
She slept through the rustling of paper as everyone opened their presents.
She slept through the squealing kids. She slept through the “oohs” and “ahhhs” and the “thank yous.”
This year she’s gone. She died last January.
She’s just a happy memory now like my other grandmother.
My other grandma, my father’s mother, died years ago. We didn’t know her as well as our other grandmother.
She and my grandfather got divorced when I was very young and she moved to Los Angeles.
But she never forgot us at Christmas.
I was thinking about her gifts the other day when someone was talking about the last day to mail packages.
According to the United States Postal Service, you better get your packages in the mail by Dec. 13 - which is Wednesday - if you want to make sure they get where they are going by Christmas. (Unless of course you want to pay for Priority Mail - then you have until Dec. 20 - or the much more expensive Express Mail - then you have until Dec. 22.)
Anyway, my California Grandmother that we didn’t know very well would send us a HUGE box every Christmas, and what fun it was.
She apparently (my father told us) loved sales.
She must have shopped sales all year long and gathered up the fruits of her labor in early December to ship them to us. Every year, a week or so before Christmas, a HUGE box would come to our house - and you never knew what was going to be in those packages.
She would send cufflinks with the letter “W” on them. Now, we have no Williams or Wilmas or anybody else with a first or last name that starts with “W” in our family.
But the letter “W” was what was left when the cufflinks went on sale, so that’s what she bought.
One year, she sent these white go-go boots with flowers embroidered down the side of them. They were very cool. And, one was even the right size. Yes, ONE of them. It was a PAIR of go-go boots but each boot was a different size.
My sister and I were disappointed - but only for a second.
You see, there were still a lot of treasures to be unearthed in the box the size of a trunk. Just because the go-gos were a no-go didn’t mean there weren’t many wonderful things still to come.
She would always send pink dress shirts for my father. Back then, my father wasn’t a pink-shirt-wearing kind of guy (not that he’s crazy about them now). But, once again, pink was likely the only color left in a 17-inch neck when the shirts went on sale.
Those didn’t go to waste like the “W” cufflinks, however. My sister and I wore them as nightshirts.
I think what made those Christmas boxes from our California grandma so fun was the total irresponsibility that went into filling them.
And that was very different from the grandma we knew. The grandma who slept in the chair last Christmas.
She was practical and frugal and bought us pajamas and knitted us mittens and fed us wholesome food.
The pajamas SHE bought us were flannel and in our size ... we didn’t have to fashion them out of pink dress shirts my dad didn’t want.
So there you have it. That explains my three brothers and my sister and me.
What it explains I don’t quite know, but if you ever see me hobbling down the street in one brown boot with no heel and one black boot with a high heel and wearing hand-knit mittens that are keeping me from getting a firm grip on a big brown box I am schlepping to the post office, don’t feel sorry for me.
Because I was lucky enough to have two grandmas.
And not everybody can say that.

Parents behind the eight-ball at Christmas

Appeared Dec. 4, 2006

It’s almost Christmas and we all want to give each of our children a “Red Ryder BB Gun” moment.
But granting a fondest wish, like the one Ralphie got in “A Christmas Story,” is a tough thing for a parent to accomplish because you have to have a child who wants something so badly he speaks of little else in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
And there is a very narrow window of opportunity because there are only a couple years when a kid is old enough to want something very badly but young enough to have not yet copped the teenage entitlement attitude. And when they are older than that, they have already learned they don’t always get everything they wish for.
Sadly, it never happened with my two boys. I don’t know ... they never wanted anything so badly they could burst.
Not that I didn’t try. I stood in line at Toys “R” Us at 6 a.m. to get the elusive Marshmallow Man “Ghostbusters” action figure for my younger son.
And my older son ... well, he was not only our first child, he was the first grandchild on both sides. His pile of presents was so high on his third Christmas that he was too overwhelmed to even go near it without some serious coaxing. I don’t think he ever wanted for anything.
But I remember my own Ralphie moment. I must have been about 12.
Of course, I was a greedy Ralphie. I wanted two things: A Spirograph and a tape recorder.
Remember Spirographs? You made beautiful geometric designs by putting a pen tip in a gear that fit inside of a larger ring you had pinned to a piece of paper. It was amazing to me.
And the tape recorder I got had two reels inside of it and I had to actually thread the tape through one of the wheels to get it started. I taped music off the radio and my little would-be Barbra Streisand sister taped herself making up songs (much to her later embarrassment).
It was a great Christmas.
This year, I’m predicting a Ralphie moment for my 7-year-old nephew Ryan.
Ryan is the third child - first boy - of one of my brothers.
And Ryan wants a pool table.
Yes, it’s a little more expensive than Ralphie’s Red Ryder - but what do kids know about things like that?
And guess who inadvertently introduced Ryan to the game of pool.
Yep, Aunt Pat. That’s me.
His arm was in a cast this summer - he had hopped a fence to retrieve a baseball - when all his cousins were splashing around in our pool.
Bored with watching his cousins try to kill themselves (or each other) as they jumped off the diving board, Ryan went looking for some other way to amuse himself.
He found the pool table, picked up a cue stick and became a different kind of shark than his aquatic cousins.
Then it started.
“Can we get a pool table?”
“When are we going to get a pool table like Aunt Pat’s?”
Soon his parents realized they couldn’t deny Ralphie, er, I mean Ryan his fondest Christmas wish.
Shhh. Don’t tell Ryan but the pool table sits unassembled undercover in his basement.
And now it’s his parents - not Ryan - who are ready to burst waiting for Christmas morning.
Anticipating that Ralphie moment when it becomes crystal clear why it truly is better to give than receive.

Not all turkeys are on a platter

Appeared Nov. 27, 2006

I have a fancy Jenn-Air cooktop in my new kitchen.
I think it can do anything but send a man to the moon.
It has a grill that becomes a griddle and there is a whole cupboard full of gadgets and gizmos for the thing that I haven’t even explored yet.
The pictures in the instruction booklet show amazing feats of cooking being performed by a beautifully coiffed woman in a dress and high heels.
She is the picture of cool, calm and collected as she watches her chicken cook on its rotisserie (another amazing presto-chango of the grill-griddle).
Well, at 7 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, I was standing at my Jenn-Air cooktop, but that is where any resemblance to the June Cleaver woman ended.
It wasn’t a lovely sight.
I was wearing cutoff sweatpants and a T-shirt with my hair pulled up and no makeup on trying to figure out how I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people on a stove with one burner - one ELECTRIC burner.
I really did not go walking up and down the street inviting every stranger I saw to Thanksgiving dinner. No, 30 is the number of people in my immediate family. But that’s OK. The way I look at it is if you have to cook for more than two, you might as well cook for 30.
And, sadly, it wasn’t 31. This was the first Thanksgiving without my grandmother. Even though she had some problems the last couple years - like serving utensils would pile up on her plate because she would forget to pass them with the platters - at least she was with us.
But we were able to bring my mother-in-law home from the nursing home for dinner so that gave us something to be thankful for.
Anyway, I knew there was a problem with the stove two weeks ago so I called a repairman.
He was there bright and early the next morning. He was this old guy with gray hair who said he was helping out his son who owned the repair business. That was nice, I thought. He must have retired and was looking for something to occupy his time.
We chatted - me, the youthful Jenn-Air owner and him, the old repairman - while he yanked and tapped on the cooktop, stopping occasionally to mop his brow.
The conversation came around to the question all conversations with repairmen seem to come around to: Where did you go to high school?
Come to find out, we went to the same high school.
And graduated the same year.
Good thing the stove wasn’t working, I would have choked on whatever I had cooked on it. But I don’t think I gasped and I recovered quickly, storing that little piece of information wherever middle-aged people store things that freak them out.
Anyway, he said it was just a loose wire, and he fixed it.
I repressed the overwhelming urge to tell him I didn’t believe it was that simple - a move I lived to regret when, on Thanksgiving morning with only six hours until dozens of hungry family members would descend upon me, I only had one working burner.
Well, there was some judicious potato-cooking and I baked and nuked everything I could and, of course, everything came out fine.
Preparing the meal was more difficult this year - burner problems aside.
I attributed it to being in a new house and not being able to find some rather important Thanksgiving things - such as tablecloths and the good china - but maybe there’s another reason I had a harder time preparing Thanksgiving dinner this year.
Wait, let me get a towel to mop my brow while I think about what it could be.