Generational shift 06/20/2015 R.I.P.

I was talking with my mom this morning about how lucky I was to have had all of my grandparents not only alive and well up through my adult-hood, but to have been so close with them.

When my maternal grandmother died (age 96) in 2008, I remember my mom saying that the torch had been passed to the next generation. My grandfather had died in 2001 (age 92) so when grandma died, my mom and her brother, my uncle, became the heads of our small family.

My paternal grandfather died in 1998. He was the only one of the four to have had a difficult death. He had worked in (auto) garages his whole life, except for his military service. He had a difficult death caused by a lifetime of smoking. Emphysema is not one of the easier ways to go.

He had permanent grease under his fingernails, which as a child fascinated me. To me it meant that he was a hard worker and had something to show for it. I think I was fascinated by both grandfather’s hands – my memorial speech for my maternal grandfather was about his large, worn, worked hands. My grandparents were blue-collar working people, with the rough, scarred hands to show for the toils.

My grandma who died this morning was an amazing woman. Like the rest of my family, hard working and tough. She had an indomitable spirit, that I often try to channel when I’m having a difficult time.

She was the last of my grandparents to die. She was 95 years old, and even while in hospice, her same stalwart spirit was there.

Her matzoh-ball soup was legendary in our family, and we were all saddened when she was no longer able to make it. In a Jewish family, food is one thing that we congregate around. It is how we communicate. I grew up with grandma’s egg creams, matzoh brei, (often with cottage cheese mixed in), melty butterscotch brownies, a never-ending confusion from grandma as to why I didn’t like gefilte fish, and of course, her delectable matzoh ball soup.

I’ll never have grandma’s matzoh ball soup again, but my Aunt will carry on the traditions of our family and we will now congregate around her hand-hewn oak dining table.

 

 

new boots identity crisis

There are times in your life when you need to accept things as they are and not as you would like them to be. This is one of those times.

I have finally accepted that my old boots are done. Dead. Gave up the ghost. Broken. Blown-out.

However, buying a new pair isn’t as easy as it sounds. Sure, I could just go get the same ones I had before, but I’m not the same person I was when I bought this pair in 2004. It’s pretty amazing that they lasted as long as they did. I wore them ‘year round riding my motorcycles in Chicago. Frozen, wet, snowy winters and broiling hot humid summers. I wore them in oven dry Phoenix for four years, but the leather cracked long before that. The first couple of years I took meticulous care of them – cleaned and polished the leather uppers each week. But after a while, the weather just beat them down, I got busy, and the boots started showing signs of wear.

A number of years ago, I should have retired these boots, but I’m stubborn. The soles were still pretty decent, so how could I discard a perfectly good (if holey) pair of boots?

Well, that time has come. I wear my soles out in the heel more than the toe and my gait is finally mal-adjusted to the wear.

When I started my new-boot-search, I was convinced I would get some side-zip Corcoran boots, like I had when I was in my teens.

But I decided I wanted something with better tread for hiking and walking. I like a good Vibram sole, so I started looking at other boots like Logger boots

but those weren’t quite right either. I was having a hard time pinning down what exactly I want from this new boot. I want it to be tough both in quality and appearance, but also feminine and not too clunky so I can maybe wear them to work, but also be a good beat-around boot for working in my garage.

Huh?

This all got me to thinking about why I started wearing boots in the first place. I got my first pair of combat boots, used, from a back-woods military surplus store in a small town about 30 miles from my house. I was 15 years old, and full of hot temper and righteous indignation. I needed to be able to kick things. Punk rock and combat boots filled that need for me. As a girl, wearing the boots was also somewhat political (in that ‘the personal is political’). I was a tomboy punk rocker and made no bones about it.

As the years went by, my relationship to my boots changed, but the style didn’t. I lost my anger, but still liked the boots for their wearable function, protection, and tomboyness, plus the anti-authoritarianism and push-back at the status-quo that they still represented to me.

The last time I bought boots was in 2004. That was twelve years ago. A lot can change in twelve years. I’m still essentially the same person I was back then – my values and beliefs haven’t changed considerably, if anything, they are more refined – but my relationship to the larger world around me, and my own vantage point has shifted. I am no longer angry, I have less need to push-back against the status-quo but still want something that will protect me on my motorcycles, is comfortable enough to walk for hours in, still has an edge of my childhood punkness, but also provides a feminine aspect that wasn’t a requirement before.

There is also an aspect of “how do I want to be perceived?” It’s funny to me that most people I know were self-conscious in their teens, and as they’ve grown older, they’ve gotten less so. I was the opposite. I was pretty un-self-conscious in my teens and twenties, but as I’ve gotten older and have a professional career, I have been trying to find that balance between who I feel I am and how I wish to be perceived. Which then brings me back around to: who do I feel I currently am? I’m definitely not the same punk rock girl from 1987. I’m not even the same person who bought those boots in 2004.

I’ve often been accused of over-thinking things. I suppose this is a good example. It’s just foot-wear, right? But what we wear, how we style our hair, even our posture, are all things that are taken in and perceived by the world around us. It is also a self-conscious conversation with ourselves. Why do we dress up to go out on the town? It’s not just to receive admiring looks from strangers, it’s also to pump oneself up and feel good. “Daaaamn, I look good tonight!” That’s your self-esteem talking to you. We have different ways of experiencing that. In my younger years, if I felt tough, I felt good. Some people like to feel sexy, some to feel strong. And we wear clothes that reflect how we feel. If you are like me and tend to be a t-shirt and jeans person, that is a reflection too. I could choose to wear orange tennis shoes because they are comfortable too, but instead I pull on my boots. It’s all a choice.

Which brings me back to: What boots should I buy?

humble

We always lived in humble homes. In Urbana, we moved into a small two-bedroom apartment – one half of a duplex. A small horde of college guys occupied the other side. As a rambunctious pre-teen this was ideal. Their rituals like building cans of beer as high as possible fascinated me. It was kind of an early, drunken form of Jenga.

The guys were nice though, and always treated me well. Mom was in school and worked late, so I was often on my own, and those guys were there to help in a pinch. She had picked this location specifically for its proximity to my grade school. I walked the block to school, and back home each weekday.

We lived there for three years. My cat used my bedroom window as his escape route for nightly hunting excursions. The aged oak tree in the front yard was my favorite jungle gym. I could scramble up the low, wide truck, into the awaiting branches, and easily lounge in the tree arms with a good book.

In the evening before bed-time mom would make hot minty tea for me, or “more milk” – a soporific drink consisting of warmed milk, vanilla extract, and honey.

We never had much in the way of money, so pretty much everything we owned was thrift store, hand-me-down, or home-made. My single bed was some dime store find, with simple sheets most likely found in a dark cupboard at my grandparents house, threadbare, and awkwardly patterned. She would draw a magic circle around my bed to protect me from the heebie-jeebies, kiss me on the forehead, and tuck me into bed.

I wonder if that kind of comfort is unique to childhood? That particular lack of future worry and that security of knowing your parent is in the next room, just in case the magic circle doesn’t keep everything bad away.