Sweet everythings

I was in the Walmart the other day when I heard an exchange that warmed my heart like only eavesdropping in Walmart could.

“So, for Val’time’s Day, you want candy or flowahs?” a guy asked his sweetie. “You ain’t gettin’ both.”

“Chocolates!” she answered emphatically. “But none of them dahk kind…too bittah. You can save the damn flowahs for when I croak!”

Something told me he wasn’t going to spring for a card to complete his shrink-wrapped valentine. Even so, I wanted what she was getting. Hearing the squeak of cellophane as he stashed it alongside his Bud 30-rack stirred something primal from deep within and long, long ago. Way back—before Hallmarks, roses, romance, and a husband—I longed for a big, brassy display of affection like that. A huge box of Luv U just for me! Then, even if the other girls got double decker, ten-pounder chocolates, I’d have the little teddy hanging off my backpack to prove that, for one special day back in February, I had a valentine.

He waited till she was a safe distance away in search of Pringles, then pondered a display of neon pink, heart-shaped boxes like a man on a mission. Deciding she really was worth something extra special, he grabbed a five-pounder milk chocolate assortment with a tiny white “Luv U” teddy bear taped to the top—a reminder of his affection long after the candy ran out.

Woah! Where did that come from?” I wondered. Spend a little time among the rows of plastic-flowered fuchsia hearts, and suddenly I was back in junior high craving chocolate nougats and a teddy bear trinket? Head down, I hurried my cart past the giant, extra-postage-required singing cards—averting my eyes to the cupid print boxer shorts and fire engine red nighties—nervous that, by the time I got home, I’d start having a hankering for Monkees reruns and my old lava lamp, too. Luckily, I managed to shake it off, making it back up the mountain to celebrate Valentine’s Day without a cellophane wrapped heart in sight. I had to wonder, though, what part of me could revert back to my lovelorn adolescence so fast and hard that I could almost feel the candy caramels getting stuck in my braces? How much could I actually blame on the mega marketing machine beating inside the Walmart, and how much did I need to admit that, deep down, I still longed for overly sweet, kitsch-coated Valentine validation?

I suspect it started back in elementary school, in the days before teachers had to mandate equal treatment during Valentine’s Day class parties. I’d peer into the paper sack taped to the side of my desk, thrilled when it held almost as many cards as the flirty girls with perfect hair got. On good years, when there’d even be candy in the bottom of my sack, I figured out the little hearts stamped “BE MINE” or “KISS ME” tasted way better than the “U R SWELL” ones.

But I’ve always  preferred all things chocolate, a passion lovingly passed down from my first favorite Valentine, my dad. The only heart health he knew was how good it felt to hug and slip each other a Snickers at the same time. In the days before high-fructose or low-glycemic anything, our father-daughter time was sweetened with Skybars, and family outings were fueled by orange slices—not the tree-ripened juicy ones, but the jellied candy kind—my dad’s idea of a power snack. It was my dad who gave me my first Whitman’s Sampler, a testament of his unconditional love and a test of my true feminine will power. How long after I ate the coconut mounds, the cherry cordials, and the other prime pieces could I let the box sit in my room before I’d cave and polish off those lingering dark ones filled with molasses and other things only Grandma really liked? Not long at all, I discovered and, by February 16th, I was using the empty box to store old photos and other keepsakes. I’m pretty sure that was the year I began associating Kodak moments—those happy times surrounded by love and family—with the haunting smell of recently devoured chocolate.

“Must be a girl thing,” says Tom, my husband of 44 years, whenever he sees me enraptured by Lindor truffles and such. Aside from the occasional sack of bull’s eyes he picks up from Mallard Mart, Tom saves his sweet tooth for blueberry pie. “This is the nicest thing you could ever do for me,” he reminds me each time I bake him one and he savors every slice. He could care less about chocolate, unless he’s playing middle man or needs a few pieces for bargaining chips. “If you really love me, just bring me a couple chocolates,” I tell him this time of year. And every year, he looks at me long and hard to see if I’m just saying no with my lips, while my very soul is shouting “Yes, please! Hand over a whole tray of Ferraro Rochers or don’t even bother!”

Yup, it’s a girl thing, all right, all tangled up in hormones, history, and borderline hysteria. And like all girl things, my man observes from a safe distance, teetering between being an enabler and waging tough love to try to snap me out of it. “Hey, don’t you really wanna save some of that for later?” he wanted to know the last time he saw my choco-holic tendencies get out of control. It was our first day of vacation in Hawaii and I was half way through a box of chocolate covered coconut and macadamia mounds.

“No,” I insisted silently, my mouth too busy and my brain too lost in luscious ooey, gooey-ness to speak. Couldn’t he see I was in paradise, for crying out loud—savoring every moment? Besides, the chocolates were a gift, waiting for me in a welcome basket the minute I opened the door to the condo. It was only natural that the pretty box with the palm trees and volcanoes caught my eye before the papayas and grapefruit at the bottom of the basket. But, knowing me all too well, he recognized the behavior. It was the same pattern he’d seen at Christmas when our daughter, Helen, made me rum balls with Godiva brownie mix and enough rum to make Captain Morgan lose his sea legs. “Yum, what a nice thing to give her Mumma,” I sighed, helping myself to just one more until, finally, the question became  less about Helen’s love and more about how much did I love myself. And, if I really did, could I stop shoveling in rum balls?

“Brought you something,” Tom announced, returning home from his last grocery run to town.  I perked up immediately. It was getting close to Valentine’s Day, after all. And, although I’d been fairly adamant about not wanting “a whole ton of chocolates,” I knew he cherished me like no other. He smiled sweetly, and I could hear the faint rustle of cellophane as he reached into his coat pocket and deposited two Lindor truffles into my hand. “Oooh…the peanut butter filled ones,” I said, “My favorite!”

He’d barely gotten his coat off before I called after him. “Got any more?” I asked, mouth full of half-melted heaven. “I’ll make you a pie!”

For more Valentine musings, see:

Terms of endearment (and other gibberish)

Twas nearly 40 Valentine’s Days ago when Tom first called me his little boogma. I was so thrilled to be anyone’s boogma, especially his, that I loved the sound of it. I didn’t even stop to think how he might have come up with such a label but, instead, took it as another sign from the universe that he was my soul mate. I had a brand new word that no other guy was saying to no other girl—one he had concocted on a whim because nothing else fit! In my mind and heart, he was already a part of my family.

Wikipedia calls this neologism—making up a word that only holds meaning for the person who first utters it, and for those who later come to understand its usage. Medical references claim it’s psychotic, probably the result of brain damage or mental imbalance. I call it good old family dialogue and say the medical exerts are full of snash. Our special dictionary is colorful, historic, and only slightly insane. And I’ll proudly add pages to it as long as I can continue to hold a thought and morph it into an expression. Following is an abridged chronology.

dockanoon (circa 1931)
“Please don’t make me go in the attic, Mommy! The dockanoon lives there!”
One of the earliest made up words in family history, this came from my Dad (Mac) when he was about three years old. Late one afternoon, he got a little adventuresome and toddled up to the attic and there it was way up under the eaves, a menacing monster waiting to prey on little boys who ventured out on their own. Much later, he figured out it was a actually a dress form his mother (my Nana) used for sewing, silhouetted by the sun setting through the attic window. He never dropped the word, though, and made sure to pass it down to me and my sister as soon as we became afraid of the dark, too.

oopergawsis (circa 1958)
“Be careful of the oopergawsis when you jump on Daddy’s lap.”
We were just old enough to get rambunctious and still young enough to be scared stiff by dockanoons and other monsters when Mac coined this one. Much later, he’d explain we hadn’t yet learned how boys were different than girls, and the proper terms for their private parts. We hadn’t even had a chance to make up our own naughty names. So, in order to protect himself without getting too graphic, he tried to convince us that an “invisible” monster sat on his lap and was easily disturbed. My sister saw through that story, though. The first time we visited the zoo, she took one look at the male water buffalo, pointed, and exclaimed to everyone within earshot: “Mommy, look at the huge oopergawsis on that one!”

snash (circa 1965)
“I know that you stole all those cookies, so don’t give me any of your snash!”
My cousins and I inspired this word when we were spending the weekend with Nana, our original neologist. We were mischievous preteens, pushing her boundaries and figuring she was too off her rocker to be wise to our antics. We burst out laughing the minute she said it, and snash went down in family folklore as Nana’s gibberish word. Very fitting for someone so easily flustered who wrapped up empty boxes and gave them to us at Christmas. She could remember coming over on the boat from Scotland, but couldn’t remember lunch, so she compensated with Nana-speak. Or so I thought, until I finally looked up snash while researching this post. There it was, right in the Urban Dictionary, common Scottish slang for “verbal insolence.” I stand corrected, Nana! Guess you brought a bit of ancient dialect over on the boat with you and your dockanoon.

gutchies (circa 1974)
“Guess I gotta do laundry so I’ll have some clean gutchies.”
The first time I heard Tom say this in college, I thought it was odd that he nicknamed his undershorts. Then I remembered my own rich history, and was kind of jealous. Why hadn’t I come up with that? It was long before anybody called ’em tighty whities, when only grandpas wore boxers, and I could have been a trend setter. Tom claimed it was his brother’s term, not his. And all these years I believed him, until I finally consulted the Urban Dictionary and learned the truth. It’s a for-real word, supposedly originating in Pennsylvania. Generally not depicting the spiffy, new briefs modeled by Michael Jordan in the Hanes commercials, it can refer to women’s panties, too. Not the Victoria’s Secret variety, mind you, the 12-pack Walmart kind. Who knew?

wlak (circa 2000)
“Jasper’s a good dog, so he deserves a long wlak.”
Some of my most memorable neologisms, including this one, come from not thinking as fast as my mouth is moving. I was attempting to verbally spell out W-A-L-K so our beagle didn’t bust a gasket hearing me utter the actual word. Well, I did better than that by making sure he could never decipher my alphabetic code! Two beagles later, we are still taking the dog(s) out for a wlak.

stugged (2009)
“The table legs were rickety, so Tom reinforced them and now they are stugged.”
I didn’t realize it till later, but when I came out with this one, I was actually following the footsteps of Lewis Carroll and other literary greats in creating a portmanteau—lumping two words together to form a new one. At the time, I thought I was simply admiring Tom’s handiwork. He made a table sturdy + rugged = stugged. Now I use it to describe everything from a well-built backpack to my legs after a long snowshoe.

slub (2012)
“What kind of a slub leaves her wet bathing suit in a lump on the lanai for the rest of the day while she sits and drinks rum punch?”
I won’t confess how many of my portmanteaus I have set free while enjoying a cocktail on vacation. Suffice to say, though, the combination seems to create a fertile environment for some of my most memorable self-expressions. Slug + slob = slub. Somehow, I seem to be more comfortable being a tropical slub than a Rangeley slub. Even with a homemade wine cooler in my drinkin’ jar down by lake, change of latitude, minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, minus rum does not seem to create the same result. Go figure.

Fredded Shosted Wheat / Shark, Puddle and Fly (ongoing)
“Before you open the new box of Cheerios, I want you to finish the Fredded Shosted Wheat.”
“We used to leave our car at the Shark, Puddle and Fly. Now we take the bus to Logan.”
I blame proficiency in this sort of word art on my mother’s love of spoonerisms.
Before Wikipedia defined them as “errors in speech or deliberate plays on words in which corresponding consonants, or vowels are switched,” I knew them as cheap fun around the dinner table. She retold the story of Rindercella and her prandsome hince so often I think it must have triggered the spoonerism synapses in my cerebral cortex. I now carry on her legacy with pride and panache.

camp frau (Present)
“In the middle of winter, when she hasn’t been into Rangeley or down the mountain for awhile, Joy begins to feel like a camp frau.”
This is my own adaptation of house frau, a term I heard my mother-in-law use when talking about living in Germany in her younger years. The house fraus in her neighborhood were stuck in a rut by choice, it seemed, Germany’s version of Donna Reed or June Cleaver without their modern appliances or naturally sunny dispositions. They wanted to be housewives, to have no aspirations greater than polishing silverware and making sauerkraut. The tone she used when she spoke told me my mother-in-law wasn’t one of them, and made me pray to never become her son’s house frau. Sometimes, though, when the days get short, the snow piles up, and I wonder if I’d be a better woman if I swept up around the wood stove one more time, I do feel like a camp frau. But then I remember: Due to temporary circumstances and wanting to live the good life in God’s country, I am a cabin-bound woman, not a camp frau. I am a lucky little boogma.

For other Valentine’s Day posts, see:

Valentines I have known

By falling in love with my high school sweetheart, I pretty much took myself out of the running for other Valentines fresh out of the gate.

But I did play the field just enough to know when my prince had arrived. Oh I’d felt the old heart strings flutter a few times before Tom came along. They might not have beaten down the doors to Rite Aid clamoring to buy me cards and chocolates, but my previous Valentines gave me some poignant memories of young love, of love ne’er spoken and love that could wait forever by the phone on Saturday night.                                   .

First there was Ferdinand, a little guy with a big name and a heart to match. We shared our dreams and secrets and our Hostess cupcakes. We’d swing together, giggling like a couple of kids, and then he’d ask if he could kiss me. I’d agree, shyly at first, but then more insistently. The place was the McClelland School playground. We were in first grade and in love…until Ferdinand got a baseball.

During pre-adolescence, I bartered for romance, hoping to counteract boys’ biological repulsion for girls with material possessions. When the cutest boy in the class said he wished he could have a neat pencil like mine—clear on the end and filled with polished pebbles from the Boston Museum of Science—I told him he could, on one condition. He’d have to tell me he liked me. A deal, he said. So, I took off the eraser and poured the stones into his palm. He shoved them in his pocket, stuck out his tongue and ran. Even with an empty pencil and a hollow promise, I never gave up trying, and neither did most of the other girls in my class. (I’d tell you his name, but he’s a respected citizen in my old hometown and probably wouldn’t want it known that he spent all his third, fourth and fifth grade recesses being chased around the jungle gym by his pack of admirers.)

My first “steady” was Steve: Blond hair, blue eyes, 5-foot-6, 190 pounds. When I was 13, “steady” only meant you’d let the guy give you his I.D. bracelet till it turned your wrist green and let him kiss you maybe once or twice if the opportunity arose (but you didn’t really care if it did or not). The relationship was, more or less, one of convenience—any warm body would do as long as you didn’t get left standing by the bleachers solo at the junior high dances.

My first real unchaperoned date was with Mark #1. It was a spontaneous thing. We both discovered we had orthodontist appointments on the same day a couple of hours apart so, what the heck, maybe we could catch lunch at the House of Pancakes while we were in the big city. My parents were hesitant…a bus ride, a boy…they weren’t too sure, but said yes. They had nothing to worry about, though. How amorous could two 14-year-olds get walking through downtown Springfield, Mass. with their braces tightened to 100 pounds PSI?

After Mark #1 came the “church camp” years. I think the United Congregationalists in my then-hometown in Massachusetts got together and decided if they wanted to keep kids away from drugs and wild rock concerts, they’d better offer up an exciting social alternative. They devised church camps where, for a nominal fee, you could spend a week at a retreat center in New Hampshire, discovering yourself and pondering God, nature and who might try to hold your hand at campfire that night. Parents loved it because it was run by ministers. We teens loved it because how else could we have gotten our parents’ blessing to watch the stars on Vesper Hill with a very special church friend we’d just met?

Trouble was, though, I always fell for the guys who lived on the other side of the state and it didn’t take too many Greyhound trips before the thrill would be gone. Like Dave, whom I was attracted to because he had hair long enough to put in a ponytail and his parents liked Jethro Tull music. Being with Dave was exciting for awhile, but not worth a month’s allowance round-trip.

Rich was by far my hottest church romance. He even lived in the same city and attended the same Sunday night fellowship. I never knew they were called biceps back then, but Rich had ’em and I was so head over heels I’d stay after school to watch him writhe around on the mats during wrestling meets. Rich kissed me twice—in January, 1972, and again in June. (I aimed for quality not quantity.)

I went to the junior prom with another Mark—two proms, I should say—mine and his at a different high school near Boston. I’d met Mark #2 a couple summers earlier (you guessed it) at church camp. He was great—my first real match-up with tall, dark and handsome. Plus,  he had a terrific personality and a wonderful sense of humor to top off the whole package. We started out as the best of friends that any two 16-year-olds of opposite sexes could be—content to walk and talk together for hours. Come prom time, though, our thoughts turned to romance. I’d dreamed about such a night with such a guy! When he asked me to go, I rendered my mother tone deaf in one ear with my exuberant shriek. But, as it turned out, that was to be my greatest emotional surge over Mark #2. I should have learned with the first Mark the folly of attempting to shift from friendship to true love. The minute he showed up with my corsage, he stopped talking to me and started sweating and laughing nervously. We danced like robots. It was a shame, really. Put a tux on him and that outgoing, witty, hunk of a guy turned into Mr. Plastic Prom Date.

In hindsight, though, Mark #2 performed perfectly that night. He convinced all the popular girls I had a cute, mysterious boyfriend from far away. He drove me and our double-date friends to the prom in my mom’s Chevelle—pretty cool back in the days when limo riding was reserved for funerals. But even if I, or my girlfriend, Cathy, or her date had our licenses, I don’t think any of us could have concentrated on driving anyway. Cathy, you see, wasn’t having much fun either, having met her true love after asking Tom to the prom. And I…well I was already smitten with Tom before Cathy asked him and after I’d said yes to Mark #2. So I spent most of the ride peering in the rear view mirror hoping Cathy wouldn’t have a change of heart and muckle onto my Tom in the back seat.

Fast forward a couple days that seemed like weeks. Tom called saying Cathy had broken up with him and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do. I had a really good suggestion, but kept it quiet while we got to know each other better. We talked for an hour and a half—mostly about his camp on Great East and my summers on Moosehead and Rangeley. His heart’s desire, he told me, would be to somehow, someday find a way to have his own place on a big, wild lake in Maine.

What’s not to love?

Rustic romance

Last Valentine’s Day, I didn’t get a card, flowers or chocolates. I did get a Hallmark moment though, in the form of a purchase and sales agreement. A nice young couple appeared almost like magic, wanting to build a future in our old house. They were ready to move in as soon as Tom’s school year ended and Rangeley mud season receded enough for us to drive a U-Haul with all our belongings up over the Height of Land,  down the Bemis track, and up the Upper Dam trail. Two dreams took flight that day we signed papers with our buyers. Theirs was about youth and new beginnings, about graduating from an apartment to a mortgage and a backyard, about breathing life back into a well-worn house. Ours was about staying young at heart, about stepping away from two houses into our one true home, about breathing a big sigh of gratitude that life by the lake was no longer happening “maybe sometime” but soon. No doubt both of us couples drank a special bottle of Valentine’s Day wine that night—excited and more than a tiny bit scared by our new-found fortune.

This year, even though it’s the first Valentine’s Day of our new life, we won’t need to celebrate with chocolates, flowers or over-priced cards filled with someone else’s words. We say the words all the time for free and make our own version of the hand-holding Hallmark couple staring off into the sunset. This year, we’ll breathe an even bigger sigh of gratitude and relief that we’re here, moved in, and figuring out that February in Rangeley is not only feasible, but fun. We do have a romantic evening planned, featuring something so special it makes my heart flutter: We are going out to eat! Out, as in away, down the trail, into town. Not for our typical night out either, which usually happens because we’re still in town and it’s almost suppertime and we know we’ll be too hungry to put away our groceries if we don’t cram in a burger. This Valentine’s Day, we’ll be enjoying a breathtaking Rangeley tableside view, a gourmet menu and some special wine with our new BFFs from the sportsmen’s club. We can do the “just you and me by candlelight” thing any night of the year. But nothing says “I love you” out here in February better than getting together with other like-minded souls over some prime rib and chocolate moose (er…I mean mousse). I already have two possible date night red sweaters picked out. One is a soft, clingy turtleneck. The other is an Icelandic cable knit good for 10 below zero.

After 35 years of Valentines, I’m happy to say the romance is still strong. I can’t imagine growing old in my Adirondack chair next to anyone other than Tom. But wisdom and a rural lifestyle have changed my definition of true romance. Unlike the TV commercial women, I don’t yearn for Tom to give me diamonds showing me his open heart or the shape of his arms muckled around me. He’s given me plenty of jewelry, and probably would have given me more if I hadn’t asked “Could I be going on a Caribbean vacation with what this cost?” each time he handed me an expensive-looking box. We did purchase ourselves a special treat this year, one that’s sure to keep the warmth in our relationship far longer than diamonds or a trip to the tropics. We’ll be anticipating it all during our nice dinner, the ride home, and our rush upstairs to get into bed. We bought each other a heated, his-and-hers, dual control mattress cover! My core body temp spikes just thinking about it.

Speaking of heat, I nearly forgot it was Valentine’s Day until I walked by the magazine display in the IGA. All the issues not plastered with snow machines or rabbit dogs shouted out: “Do you want the fire back in your marriage?” or “What’s your sizzle factor?” I just smiled serenely and walked past in my quest for produce that had as much spunk as those titles. When it comes to fire, my husband could teach those Madison Avenue women a thing or two, I figure. He’s kept one burning for me all night—and all through the day—since November. It may not generate the thigh-radiating, breast-searing heat that’s the stuff of romance novels. But, in my book, a stoked wood stove tells me I’m cherished like nothing else.

I know my version of sparks flying isn’t what sells Valentines. But, it sure keeps me happy at home, cleaved to my husband’s side. A cozy wood stove, toasty toes snuggled up in bed—it’s the little stuff that counts, right ladies? Plus real romance lingers throughout the year. Flowers die and chocolates evaporate. Things like trapping mice and spraying the hornet’s nest out by the clothesline, now those are sweet, enduring gestures that remind me why I married him. And I want to tell you, when he gets his drill out and promises to hang up new towel racks, I swoon!

Not to seem sexist to my guy readers, I must say that I know romance goes both ways. I may only bring a couple logs in from the wood pile now and again, but I do my part to make sure Tom knows he’s appreciated. His favorite gesture—a small thing for me, but a biggie for him—is when I bake him a blueberry pie. Yeah baby, homemade wild Maine blueberry pie—he loves it better than, well…anything. Also, for example, last fall I devoted myself to figuring out how to clean his favorite fishing hat. When I handed it back to him looking as good as the day he first put it on, I’m pretty sure his knees buckled.

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! May you all be cherished.