Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bristol Baby

I was a Nascar Nerd.  Notice I said, was, as it is sadly almost totally past tense.  A decade ago, I awaited the two Michigan races with salivating anticipation.  I could honestly, not wait to hear the engines roar and smell the gasoline.  I had never encountered an atmosphere so testosterone charged and so manic.  Nascar fans were nuts long before the Cheeseheads started wearing milk curds on their heads, or Redwings followers were tossing Octopus on the ice.  They were fanatic when fanatic wasn't even thought of, let alone cool. 

Now it seems everyone has jumped on the overboard bandwagon, in nearly every sport.  Nascar purported to be different and it was for a long time.  I started watching finally because Kurt went to a race in Dover with my brother and other family members.  He was excited by it and the very next race he watched with renewed enthusiasm, though to be honest the man would watch underwater synchronized swimming if it were on a sports channel and his favorites could not be found.  We now possess about 20 channels of nothing but sports all the time, and if he had his way there would be twenty more.

The first race I watched was pretty much cars going in circles and turning left.  Kurt told me to find one car I liked and to follow that car through the entire race.  I picked a bright orange and white car, I have no idea why as I don't like orange normally, but I consider it now karma, and so I followed that car the entire race.  While Tony Stewart didn't win the race, he did finish well and since I had picked a car, I was officially hooked.  Thereafter I read everything I could find on my chosen car and driver.  Everything I read made me like this driver even better, as he was so anti-everything, I normally considered right about the world.  He was an aggressive, but born to race driver.  He got into vulgar shouting matches and fights with everyone from other drivers to Nascar officials, but had a heart of gold for charity and for keeping the sport of racing alive at the grass roots level.  He was a racer through and through.  If I was going to immerse myself in racing, what was not to like?

It wasn't enough to now have a driver to follow and watch races every summer and fall weekend and attend the ones I could, which meant MIS, twice a year, I also had to read and find out more and more about my new passion.  Luckily the wonderful world of the internet had opened up and along with that racing forums, fan clubs and racing boards.  Always one to express an opinion, and not shy about it, I at first just lurked at the Speed Board, honing my base of Nascar knowledge and bowing to those who obviously knew their rpm's from their torque levels.  But as I soon noticed, there were a great many females on this board and it was more about the fun of expressing opinions on all the aspects of racing.  I soon became a regular on the board and an avid commentator.  Through cyberspace I met several people that remain friends on other mediums.  I have never met any of them, save one, but they remain dear friends as our love of Nascar forged deep friendships.  I know, I know, I went overboard on it all not being able to get enough of the discussion or following Tony every weekend.  I was as big a Nascar Redneck as if I had been born and raised in a salvage yard in Alpharetta, GA.  I think I even began to write with a southern twang. 

But somehow, life got in the way and after a couple of years things changed.  I could blame it on Nascar introducing the hated Chase.  In an effort to make Nascar the number 1 sport, (it previously had been number 2), kind of amazing when you think how regional it always seemed, Nascar instituted a playoff system, where 10 drivers were awarded enough points ahead of every other driver that the rest of the field could not catch up.  These 10 drivers raced each other for the Championship in November, but with all 33 other cars still racing as well.  It lasted 10 races.  The glitches and kinks in the Chase showed up fairly early and while the first year was exciting with a down-to-the-finish, dramatic win, the next year's were not so much.  Jimmie Johnson won 5 straight Championships, a feat that had never been done and will likely never be repeated.  The problem was, no one cared except for the Johnson fans.  The rest of us thought this was just dull.  A new car was introduced by Nascar taking virtually all of the control of how these cars would race out of the hands of the team engineers.  These cars are not somebody's brainchild in a dark and dirty garage over the winter months.  They cost hundred's of thousands of dollars and sponsors who once lined up to have their names on a winner's car, started fleeing Nascar in droves.  The economy faltered, and while all sports were hurt, Nascar especially took a beating when race tracks became unaffordable for the average family who used to make the trek to their favorite race every year. 

So many things happened, but mostly I think passion just can't stay at that peak forever.  We are doomed to lose interest at some point.  I was struck how little Nascar now means to me, (we quit going to both MIS races a few years ago), when I didn't even care to watch the Michigan race last Sunday.  You see, I found out in church that morning that an old schoolmate of mine had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer.  I had no idea when we prayed for him in church and when I stopped to kid him about going to the hospital, he whispered it was cancer and it was bad.  This was my childhood friend, born exactly 3 days after me.  Our parents had all went to school together.  Jon was my first car date.  We both had gotten our driver's licenses and Jon's mom would only let him take me to a Disney cartoon movie, 101 Dalmatians.  He drove his parent's big old red station wagon, which had the aroma of the dairy herd, his family ran. 

Jon and I grew up, went to college and settled into marriages and now grand kids.  It was funny that he got his first two grandchildren right around the same time, I got mine.  Others in my graduating class have fought illness, even cancer.  A couple have fought the battle and died.  But somehow Jon is tied up with all those sweet, fuzzy memories that seem so innocent looking back.  He is the sweet boy, I always knew. Never as nice as his older brother, or as smart as the next younger, or as social as the youngest brother.  He had his dad's wit more than any of his siblings, and grew to look much like him.  Jon left for Houston the next day, and my prayers went with him.  Just when I think I may have life figured out, it trips me up. 

Our passions for everything become but muted memories if we live long enough.  The relationships we took for granted become diluted but precious.  I will look back on those early years of my Nascar fix as fun and adventurous, but as we like to say now, that ship has sailed, and what once was fun is now just something I remember enjoying.

Godspeed Jon, and I hope Houston holds some miracles for you.  Its Bristol Baby, a phrase every Nascar fan knows down to their core and one of the race tracks on everyone's Bucket List.  But much like everything else it has been compromised to be just another race before the Chase begins.  I think I'll take a break from the few ties that still bind me to Nascar and just do some heavy remembering and praying....

Friday, August 17, 2012

Grandparenting---21st Century

This grand parenting thing isn't easy.  I guess I should have known, but somehow, I believed, and this seems to be my philosophy of life, I would just fall into it.  Not so much....

Most things in life, at least my life, we learn by observing and then just doing.  Aside from the book learning that may get us a job in life that pays money, or teaches us, (sometimes), how to learn a new skill, I am of the "wisdom is experience" bunch.  So, I naively thought being a grandma would somehow just happen over the course of about a week.  But no, couldn't be that easy. 

My teachers of grand parenting are, well duh, my grandparents. I remember what they did and how they did it and what I felt like as the grand child.  I had two distinctly different sets of grandparents.  My dad's parents were old and had been around the grand parenting block for 20 years when I came along.  Even in their early years of this title, they were hard nosed German-American stock, where surviving and making a living were their chief concerns.  I don't remember ever, really cuddling with either of them, heck, I don't  remember even sitting on Grandpa Walter's lap.  My mom's parents, on the other hand, were the exact opposites.  Mom was the eldest child and I was the first grandchild for Grandma and Grandpa Laurenz.  They were thrilled.  My brother and I had them all to ourselves for almost 5 years before my sister and then my cousin came along.  I believe they treated all their grandchildren well, because they just delighted in being grandparents, but I hold true, in my heart of hearts that I was their favorite.  I am told, though my memory is a bit blurry before my sister came along, that I would climb into my Grandpa's lap on every occasion to explore his bib overalls for the piece of Juicy Fruit gum that resided in his top, front pocket.  He told me that there was a time in his life, (I later learned it was a cancer scare), that he didn't care about much, but that he and I would sit under a tree and while away many a summer afternoon.  These non memories always bring me great comfort, and I can honestly say, when my grandpa passed it was one of the most wrenching experiences of my life.

I can't remember a time when Grandma and Grandpa L. were not a part of my life.  We spent countless hours with them, (even more the first years of my life that I have no real recollection of), and I would guess they were the Norman Rockwell ideal of grandparents or the television epitome of  Grandma and Grandpa Walton.  They came to every birthday and always brought a small toy for my brother if it were my birthday and the same for me when it was his, so no one felt left out.  Birthdays then consisted of the immediate family and Grandma and Grandpa L.  Occasionally, because my birthday was so close to Christmas, we would combine a party and a few more aunts and uncles and cousins would be in attendance, but for the first decade of my life, Grandma and Grandpa were it.  I never lacked for a big party, no one I knew had big birthday parties.  I had lots of love all around me and that's what mattered.

When my own children came along birthday parties had evolved into our nuclear family which included brothers, sisters and the grandparents.  My kid's cousins were always in attendance.  And my grandparents still came to every one of the great grand kid's birthdays. But we still pretty much stuck to immediate family and get together s were always a chance to see one another for the adults as much as the kids.  We lived farther away from each other and these times were our excuses. 

There were kind of unwritten rules for watching the grandchildren.  Neither grandmother was ever asked to watch the kids for a night out at our house.  That was when we hired a teenage girl.  It is how I made money in high school before I could drive and how the neighborhood girls of my baby's time made their money.  Grandparents took our kids on the overnight stay when WE, (Kurt and I), needed a vacation.  It wasn't often as we were more home bound parents back then.  Once the kids were old enough to be involved in youth and summer sports our world narrowed down to that time frame.  We went out less if that is possible, because most of our recreational activities centered around their sports activities.  We took family vacations.

Now I am a grandma and Boy, have the rules changed.  We spent months before the grandchildren were even born deciding what should be our monikers.  Grandma and Grandpa were too old fashioned. MeeMaw, MiMi, MeMe, Nana, Nanny were also discarded.  (If you notice, apparently what I would be called was much more important than Grandpa).  Now a year later, I have decided that whatever they call me as long as they call me, (a bad joke, I know), is fine.  I am leaning toward Minga with Vittoria as that seems to be her favorite word right now and since her time with me is short and my affection rating with her is kind of low it might be the "in" I need.  Luca, on the other hand, is pretty willing to go to everyone when he doesn't want something specific, like climbing my stairway.  He'll likely call me Grandma and that's OK. 

One of the unforeseen complications is being the mom of the sons when grandbaby's come along.  Naturally, as I did and as I now realize my mother did, we as the mothers gravitate to our mom's. Its as it has always been, but still doesn't make it always easier to swallow.  With Vittoria living out of state, my time with her is always short.  I seem to be trying, perhaps too desperately, to get her to like me.  I understand that now she is used to mostly 3 people in her life, her parents and her wonderful nanny, Diana.  She recognizes those people and can now make distinctions of who she wants to go to.  I understand all of this, still it doesn't assuage that deep pang when the other grandma walks in carrying her, and I can't even get her to hold my hand.  Understanding is one thing, but the heart always feels that tug. 

I can choose to wallow in some self pity or decide its the new way of being a grand parent.  I can't be there with Vittoria, and no amount of books with my picture and voice, or "Face Time" is going to make up for her knowing me every day.  It just won't.  But I also am not defined by being a grandma.  It is not my life, and wouldn't be if they lived next door.  I can't go to NYC once a month and just visit.  Its not the same and won't make a grandparent out of me.  This too, I shall have to learn as I go along.  I am willing to try and I just hope everyone has patience with me as I stumble and fall and cry crocodile tears of self pity.  Its a new world and being a grandparent is becoming new also.  I guess I'll just rely on some of the old for a while longer....

Monday, August 6, 2012

Saturday in August

Funny how half of the week now seems like weekends.  When you retire, or at least your other half retires, (I seem to be more busy now than ever, ironic isn't it?), there is no longer the weekday routine that establishes your day patterns.  Friday was always marked as the end of the work week and the "out of work" early day.  Saturday and Sunday were the weekend.  If nothing was scheduled as plans, it always meant trying to cram in as much that needed doing as possible.  And that was generally a miserable failure.  After a hard week at work, (and by that I mean mentally hard, as it sure as heck wasn't physical), Kurt wanted nothing so much as to relax and do only what he wanted to do, which if it wasn't summer and dog time, or fall and hunting time, it was sit around and watch television shows about dogs, fishing and hunting, not necessarily in that order.  The fact that we live on a farm and be it only a hobby farm in the broadest sense, it still has fruit trees and out buildings and an old farmhouse that need maintaining, much of it routine and yearly maintenance.  We are finding out now that things pushed away until we had the time, are now more than yearly maintenance and are demanding of attention before a few things crash down around our graying heads, (at least Kurt's graying head).

So we do things when we feel like them now.  Kurt's started to establish a new routine, at least one that works for summer, including sunrise walks of three miles or more every day. It gives me a brief respite from the togetherness that is our lives now and gives him time to just think and I hope just be.  He tries to work the dogs most mornings before the summer heat kicks in.  That one will be adjusted as the summer falls to its close, but for now those two things and inevitably meal times with him are his only routine in retirement.  We're working out the kinks but sometimes its slow going, almost like being in mud.  I have always run the farm end of this deal, and decided what repairs and things need to be done on a year to year basis.  I repaired what I could and kept the place up and running for the most part.  I was in charge of gardens, fruit trees, simple repairs and all of the painting.  In winter I shoveled the deck and walks clean.  Kurt was in charge of lawn mowing and running the tractor in winter if the driveway was snowed in.  That always came after work though and I was crap outta luck if I needed to get out before he got home.  His 4-wheeel drive truck always got out.  But that has all changed now, and I become impatient when he seems to be settling into retirement as every day is now a weekend kind of deal, and he does only what he did in the past with more sitting and more playing on the laptop he has taken over.  Yesterday was one of those smack him upside the head kind of days.  I had put the second coat of paint over two coats of primer on the railings and spindles of what will be new front porch railings.  After 22 years and snow and water damage, some of the railings had simply rotted away.  It seemed better to replace them all and get another 20 years, and hope we're no longer doing this kind of philosophy, than to just leave them another year.  Of course, this brought up porch flooring that has rotted in spots on one end and should we replace that while the railing is being replaced, but that's a whole 'nother story for another time, as they say.

After painting, Kurt wandered out looking for something to do I presume, but more or less watching me paint.  After shooing him off to pick blueberries, something he had promised to do and apparently needed a not so subtle reminder, I hauled out the stepladder and began cleaning gutters over the back deck, another thing I had asked him to do but knew would be forgotten.  I had cleaned two sections when he got home and graciously, since I had the ladder out, decided to help me finish.

In the afternoon we went to Home Depot and bought a new screen door for the back deck.  The one we had now featured broken hardware and some broken stiles in the ribbing.  Rather than replace the hardware, I decided it was time for a new door.  We only had two choices in styles in our size, but even that Kurt wanted to debate upon.  Since I had looked at all of this before I was in no mood.  Decision made, and door somehow loaded.  Pop cans collected from home and returned to Meijer.  Gas has taken a 30 cent jump yet again, and is just wearying to a public made numb by the constant fluctuations of this market.  Another thing to worry about or just put behind us and try to live as best we can. 

By the time we finished dinner it was a quiet, very muggy sunset.  Weather predictions were for storms later around midnight.  While I wasn't excited about more thunderstorms, we are to the point we will take all the rain we can get.  We went for a sunset bike ride and the tension of the day slowly melted away.  Another day of learning to adjust to our new life and another lesson in patience.  I will be making up a Kurt's weekly list, of things he can do every day now that he is home every day.  It will free me up to do some other things and help, (I hope), get him into some kind of a year round routine.

A Saturday in August and summer's leaving us more swiftly now.  We still have over six weeks of summer officially with us but I feel the shortening of the days and know that it is going.  I am trying to look for the season's change as a welcome thing as I used to do, and get back that spirit of the child who loved autumn and then winter for the quiet times it brought.  Perhaps if I just shut off the television more and ignore the electronic world I live in and just be.  Its worth a try.....