Good Movies Make Good Memories: I Saw Elvis

Movies 1

My dad was a Sinatra fan, said he could sing anything. Then, along came Elvis Presley, a different kind of performer who ‘rocked’ the country and attracted fans of all ages, including my dad.

It’s an understatement to say Elvis was unique.  From his slick black hair and long, wide sideburns to his trademark hip swinging, Rock ‘n Roll singing genre of music,  Elvis was the new king of entertainment.

When Elvis hit the silver screen with his first film, ‘Love Me Tender’, my dad took us to see it, my first movie experience with him.  We blended with a crowd of young and old at the Park Ave theatre in Worcester to see this ‘all American boy’ who had the girls screaming with every gyration and lip curling lyric that accompanied his guitar strumming.  I enjoyed the movie, but the priceless memory for me was catching a glimpse of my dad, generally a serious man, surrounded by excited youngsters and enjoying the Elvis experience along with them.

We’ve had fun at the movies with our two children, making our special memories. My son didn’t notice the tear I shed when we saw ‘ET’, he was 5.  We saw the first ‘Star Wars’ in 1980 at 6, and came away thrilled. We saw the newest episode, accompanied  by his wife this time, 35 years later, and got goosebumps, again
Movie Tickets

My daughter and I saw ‘Titanic’, a tragic love story with a beautiful score, and ‘Jurassic Park’, a fantasy adventure with life-like dinosaurs that kept us on the edge of our seats. She laughed when I jumped during a scary moment, then we both laughed. And today, we’d laugh again when remembering it.

Together, the family saw the hilarious comedy Beetlejuice while vacationing in New York’s Adirondack region.   Not only were we entertained, but the memories of going together are enduring and we still say, ‘remember that scene in …..!’

The movie theatre is one of the early entertainment experiences for kids. It’s an opportunity to introduce them to a simple cultural event while teaching them to become discriminating consumers, understanding good product from bad. And the bonus, it’s a wonderful way to spend a few hours bonding, watching the event and critiquing it later, together.

I recall my own childhood and rememberances not of ‘things’ I got, but of what we did together as family: ballgames, fishing, rides to the country, stopping for ice cream, and going to an occassional movie.

Times are different, life is faster, people are easily distracted, all the more reason to get together and do something to enjoy each other’s company. Go to a movie!  You won’t see Elvis, but you just may discover something better, each other.

Today, I Stopped the Bleeding: First-aid in the Locker Room

Styptic 2

I have become the purveyor of Styptic pencils in the locker room at my health center. This past year I dispensed personal ‘pencils’ to three different gentlemen who apparently have not mastered the art of shaving and sliced themselves on the lip, neck and earlobe.

As an experienced blade shaver, I understand a nick on the neck, but a laceration of the lip and excision of the ear, or portion thereof, befuddles me.  It’s awkward, if not impossible, to have a conversation with a man whose blood is squirting down his cheek, cascading off his chin and splattering onto the floor like ink leaking from a cheap fountain pen. If not for the grey hair and loose skin that is a curse of us ‘senior citizens’, the bleeding gave each man the look of a pugilist who stepped out of the ring with the great Carmen Basilio*.

However, quick action saved the day, when I offered my Styptic pencil and stopped the carnage.  For the uninitiated, the Styptic is a pencil thin chalk-like instrument packed with astringents that “contract tissue to seal blood vessels”(Wickepedia).  A short stinging dab on the cut and the bleeding stops quickly. Every blade user should have one in his kit, or medicine cabinet.

Understand, the Styptic pencil is not ‘loaned’ to the bleeder.  On the contrary, it’s a giveaway with the proper response, “no, keep it” when he offers to return it.  Then, buy a replacement to make sure you keep supplied, as I did.

Styptic pencils are not expensive and last a long time, unless, of course, one spends his workout session during the peak ‘senior hours’ when shaky hands and diminishing eyesight contribute to cuts and nicks that call for a Styptic pencil, as they’ve called for mine, 3 times.

My ‘heroics’ wasn’t life saving but it still was first-aid.  And, over time, my embellishment might just make it seem so.

Everyone who shaves with a blade must have a ‘cut story’. What’s yours?

*Carmen Basilio was a boxer who won both the welterweight and middleweight crown in the 1950s.  He was well known for being a tough fighter who would wear down his opponent as the fight progressed into late rounds.  Carmen certainly was accustomed to getting cut or bruised on his face and his ‘cut man’ would stop the bleeding between rounds. I wonder if he had a big Styptic pencil among the tools of his trade.

 

“Today, I Shoveled Snow…”

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow…” RW Emerson

Winter Street

Today, I shoveled snow. Yesterday, I shoveled snow. And the day before that, I shoveled snow. It’s winter in western New York and we live with a steady diet of snow

Along the winter shores of Lake Ontario, steady snowfalls are the norm and removing it is more than a daily ritual. It’s a right of passage for youngsters and an absolute necessity for adults who get up, get out and get to work. Commerce doesn’t stop for weather, here.

Growing up in central Massachusetts, where measureable snowfalls also were a common occurrence, kids there learned to shovel at an early age, too. It was not an option in a blue collar neighborhood where dads had to be at work early and on-time.

All able bodied males in the house, young or old, manned shovels, clearing driveways and walks to help get workers on their way. Plow service and snow blowers were an unaffordable luxury for most families.

All that was heard on eerily quiet, ‘three decker’ lined streets the morning after a nor’easter, was the scraping of metal shovels over frozen pavement, and dry, fluffy snow squeaking underfoot with each twist of our black buckled boots. The task of finishing a job fell to the young school boys with nothing but time on their hands. Time and energy.

Snow shoveling is a low skill task, even the tools are simple and aptly named, ‘shovels’.  Bend, scoop, lift, toss, use your legs not your back. But those weren’t instructions my dad gave. He was more direct, knowing that I could figure out the mechanics, myself.

“I expect this driveway and sidewalk shoveled by the time I come home from work”, he announced, without mentioning my name or even looking at me. It was understood whom he was addressing, the skinny kid and the only one left home after he and big brothers went to work.

My dad’s directives were always clear and concise. The fewer the words, the stronger the message. Besides, mother always made sure the work got done, as prescribed.

And when the jobs were done, the neighborhood became a bevy of street hustlers, as I and other like-minded junior entrepreneurs with shovels slung over our shoulders, eagerly slipped and slid through heavy snowdrifts, knocking on doors with wet mittens, competing for whatever snow removal opportunities were left at neighboring houses.

We had no business plan or even understood the value of our labor. Regardless, we would shovel walks clean to the pavement, keeping tempo to imaginary cash registers ringing in our collective minds, totally dependent on the client’s generosity. Sometimes it was good and other times, not so good. But the greater lesson of work and reward was invaluable.

Now, I still find myself taking on the task of snow removal. It rekindles frigid memories of finger and face freezing days under the watchful eyes of my father and the lessons he ‘taught’ me.

One thing is certain…I can’t wait for the return of summer in western New York!

Snow 2

srbottch

Winter

The Bar Chronicles: #2, Coal Was King

Bar Night 2

‘Coal Was King’

It was coal country and there were bars on every corner. My dad came home from work, black face, sometimes unrecognizeable. I had to get outta there…and I did.” (A friend)

We had our second ‘bar night’ recently, my friend and I, leaving the house for a couple of hours of ‘senior bonding’.  Two beers, this time. The choice, again, Guinness, and the setting, Thirsty’s, a small but vibrant ‘watering hole’ in the heart of Pittsford, NY, across from Starbucks and steps from the Erie Canal.

Thirsty’s doesn’t have a sign over its front door, doesn’t need it. On a week night in December, business was brisk, with patrons of all ages in good spirits, days before the Christmas holiday.

It was unusually mild weather for the start of a western New York winter and the crowded pub was warm.  We arrived just as two barstools were vacated.  With dark beers in hand, we raised our mugs to the other’s good health and the conversation began.

Personal stories that take us well back in time are often fascinating. Telling them with the background din of other ‘spinners’ and patrons reaching between us for their beers, added to our evening experience in this iconic village bar.

My friend’s narrative was no exception and the pictures he painted are still unfolding in my mind’s eye. He took me deep into the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania while offering a glimpse of a young man’s life in a mining family. All of this ‘time travel’ while perched on wooden stools, a beer in one hand and the other stretched out and anchored on the bar to mark our borders from the pressing crowd.

Coal was king in eastern Pennsylvania in the 1930s. The mines flourished while the earth gave up its mother lode of solid black gold, albeit reluctantly. Miners, often immigrants, worked tirelessly in an environment fraught with danger, scraping and shoveling, removing coal layer by layer, loading it into ‘cars’ to be hauled above ground.

In the shortest days of winter, workers entered mines in early morning darkness, leaving their frozen breathes at the ‘drift portal’, like a gentleman checks a coat. At day’s end, the pitch darkness welcomed them out, camouflaged as they were with dust, black coal dust, on them and in them.

“Another round, fellas?” The call snapped us back. Without a word, we threw down the last bit of beer, paid our ‘cash only’ tab and relinquished our prime seats. It was late, two beers down and our eyelids were heavy. I reached back for a last handful of bar snacks as we put another good evening behind us.

The streetlights cast feint shadows over the historic canal, empty now, reduced to a mere ditch in winter when it’s murky waters are drained.  As we walked, I looked at my friend through tired eyes and thought about the different paths we’ve traveled. Life is an adventure and it makes for good stories, good bar stories.

srbottch

Dedicated to my friend, Steve P, and story tellers everywhere.

The Prettiest Christmas Tree Ever…a Holiday Tradition

Christmas Tree 2    I have fond remembrances of our family Christmas trees and the tradition of selecting and decorating one every year . Odd, but they always seemed bigger at home than in the field.  Often, it was challenging just getting it through our front door and into the stand.  Invariably, the very tip of the evergreen would brush the ceiling, leaving sticky sap spots on the flat white finish, a convenient reminder for the exact placement the following year.

Our adventures began with a chorus of Christmas carols while driving to the tree farm. There, we scattered about, sometimes laboring through snow in our heavy winter boots, or catching snowflakes from a sudden squall with the tips of our tongues, as we weaved among hundreds of evergreens in search of the perfect one to take its place in our home. If ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, our choice was more difficult because we had four sets of eyes, each with its own sense of beauty. But in the end, we’d agree on one and tag it as ours

.Christmas Tree 4

The back and forth sawing quickly heated my body and I would shed my jacket and hat. Surely, I silently cursed the sharp needles pricking my cheeks while kids and mom laughed and threw snow. After the “timmmber’ stage, came dragging, hoisting, and tieing it to the rooftop with enough rope to hold down a ‘big top’, then driving it home slowly, every knot I made pulled taut by the challenging headwinds.

Our efforts produced a beautiful Christmas tree each year and we would proudly gather to admire it with wide open eyes reflecting the twinkling of the lights and ornaments.  As we enjoyed the beauty of the moment and our traditional ice cream Yule log, the annual declaration was made…

“This is our prettiest tree ever”

And it always was, ‘the prettiest tree ever’.

Christmas Tree

Times change, children move on, traditions wain, but the Christmas tree remains the centerpiece of our decorations. It brightens our spirits and sends a joyous message of the season to passers bye who see our window.  It stirs fond memories earlier Christmases, growing up with my large family and our different traditions.

And while this year’s tree is an artificial one that has no sticky sap, it still gets turned one way and then the other until just right. And I still hear the words, “It’s the prettiest tree ever”, and it always is.
Christmas Tree 5

Do you have memories of Christmas trees and family traditions that are special?  Its fun to share them…

srbottch

Dedicated to my wife and children who helped make our Christmases special.

Christmas Tree 3

My Father’s ‘Pearls’, a String of Old-fashioned Wisdom and Advice

“Flush the toilet while you’re going, so others don’t hear it”

Pensive Dad

My father had a way with words. He wasn’t eloquent. He wasn’t flowery. He didn’t mince them. He was a plain talker who chose his words randomly, then delivered them firmly. Sometimes, they revealed his temper, but more often they reflected his wisdom. Many were gems that I still recall. Not sure if that’s a good thing but on the whole, I think, yes, it is.

While funny now, the bathroom message was a poignant commentary about life in a large family, living in tight quarters and being considerate of others.  I never questioned him and followed his direction by emptying accordingly.  Today, I chuckle about it ‘a few times a day’.

Like many men of his ilk, he didn’t subscribe to ‘there are no stupid questions’.  He was ‘old school’, and would tell you if it was a stupid question.  He was blunt sometimes. Yet, there was a side of him that espoused his ‘old school’ philosophy as a life lesson, to pass on to me and others.

“Walk on the outside when escorting a woman”
(Lesson: be a gentleman)

“Watch me, some day you’ll have your own house and can do this yourself”
(Lesson: be self reliant)

“Go to school. You want to be a painter the rest of your life, like me?”
(Lesson: education is a stepping stone to success)

“Don’t smoke, drink, go in debt or lie”
(Lesson: be healthy, physically and financially, and be an honest broker)

“Don’t fish in another man’s waters”
(Lesson: be respectful of others)

“Life is hard, don’t add extra baggage”
(Lesson: make good decisions)

Having a limited formal education didn’t handicap my dad, or prevent him from improving himself, and he always strove to do that, whether at work or play. He gave his best daily and expected the same from others, especially his children.  He followed his own ‘rules’ and over the course of his life, became a better man to himself, his family and friends. This is his legacy, and it’s reflected in the words he spoke and how he spoke them, his ‘pearls of wisdom’.

Do you have one or more ‘pearls’ from your dad?  What was the message, or lesson, in his words?  I invite you to share them in the comments.

srbottch

Dedicated to dads everywhere and their ‘words of wisdom’, their pearls.

Today, I Smell Gingerbread…a Holiday Story

Bread

It’s not just the calendar that puts celebrators in the Christmas and Hannuka spirit. It’s a host of sights and sounds that makes these holidays special: the change to wintry weather; the hustle n’ bustle of gift shoppers; colorful decorations and lights illuminating neighborhoods, windows and shops; the gaiety of passersby offering holiday wishes; quiet moments spent in reflection and prayer. All help create a festive mood.

One of my favorites is the aroma of freshly baked desserts and treats filling our home and signaling the start of this special season. Yesterday, it was almond crescent cookies. The day before, I sniffed roasted walnuts and candied bark, white chocolate with craisins. Tomorrow will bring something new that tickles my senses and rewards my taste buds. But, today, I smell gingerbread.

What a pleasure to be awakened on a brisk winter morning with the smell of ‘just from the oven’ cranberry bread or molasses cookies wafting down the hall and finding me stubbornly stirring beneath the cover of a cozy quilt. My wife, an early riser, is eagerly preparing delicate desserts to be shared with friends and enjoyed with our meals. Yes, I know, I’m spoiled.

Walnuts

Later, the chilly air on a new December day welcomes those escaping kitchen aromas that intoxicate me with spices and sugars, as I finish some outside chores. My work can wait, I decide, and hurriedly make my way inside for some hot coffee and a sampling of today’s treats. Ahhh, I smell gingerbread.

These holidays have a ‘baking season’ like no other, where the kitchen is the arena and the clashing of the cookie sheets, muffin tins, bread pans and mixing bowls tells us that it’s ‘game on’, while the cook builds up to the highly anticipated call, ‘Bon Appetit’. It’s a race to blend, stir, beat and mix ahead of the beginning of the Hannukah and Christmas Day deadlines. The desserts and special dinners seemingly roll out of the kitchen and onto the dining table in a tsunami of meats and greens, biscuits and breads, truffles and spritz.Dishes

When the calendar turns to January, the cooking slows, the menus change, and the emphasis is on dietary needs to help our bodies recover and prepare for spring. Is that possible? Yet, through the dark, cold winter months, I still yearn for the smell of gingerbread.

Pumpkin Pie

Spring rains roll into summer heat, and a warm kitchen loses its appeal. Quite unnoticed, the oven begins a period of involuntary hibernation. Delicacies are not a priority and a cold beer on a hot day will suffice. But nature is a wonderful thing. In a matter of time, the baking season will return in all its glory, and, once more, I will savor the smell of gingerbread in our home…

srbottch (11/23/2015)

Dedicated to my wife, who keeps our shelves filled with wonderful desserts during the Christmas holiday, and to cooks in their kitchens, everywhere.