Green Hush Puppies

The Hush Puppies the salesman brought out were grayish green suede. In the 1960s, Hush Puppies weren’t ‘geek chic’ like Doc Martens or Uggs. They were shoes suitable for an old lady, not a 9-year-old. 

The Hush Puppies’ black crepe soles were quiet, but I wanted the click of leather heels that made the wearer sound important, grown-up. The suede was soft and comfortable on my toes—not that I cared. I craved shiny brown penny loafers like my 4thgrade classmates wore. Unfortunately, my AA-width feet slopped around in those B-width loafers, and they slapped my heels with every step. The shoe salesman and Mom ruled them out. 

The idea of wearing those terrible shoes brought tears to my eyes, and I might have begged for a reprieve. Mom was sympathetic but unyielding. I had to have a pair of school shoes that fit properly.

Shoe shopping got easier by 7th grade, when I could wear women’s shoes, which offered a bigger selection. I’ve inherited narrow feet from my mother, and all of her life, she’d faced the same difficulty with finding attractive shoes that fit. Mom and I both trod the path of cute but cruel shoes and endured blisters and corns.

When she was in her 80s, Mom succumbed to wearing plain sensible shoes for most occasions—big white sneakers or boring taupe lace-ups for everyday wear. She hated them but her feet hurt. With dress shoes, she did her best to work a compromise between style and comfort. 

Over the years, I have spent hundreds of dollars—guilt-free—on stylish shoes and sandals to make it up to that sad 9-year-old and delight my grown self. Nonetheless, my closet is full of failed experiments. All too often I’ve discovered pairs which seemed fine but hurt my feet if I needed to really walk, not just stroll into a restaurant or party.

I’m still trying to thread the needle: find shoes which aren’t too ugly but meet my feet’s many picky requirements. However, during a recent vacation my feet hurt every day. So, I bought some brown leather lace-ups reminiscent of Mom’s. I’ve got places to go. I need comfortable shoes to get there. At least they aren’t green suede Hush Puppies.

One Heck of a Hot Dog

Volunteering with Jody and friends.

It starts before we even leave the house. My breathing becomes short and rapid. I’m fidgety. “I’ll meet you in the car,” I tell her. I insert the key into the door lock.

“You can’t hurry me,” Jody responds. “I’ve got 5 more minutes.”

In the car we high five. “To a good game.”

This cheer is needed. We will spend the next 6-10 hours together fundraising for Juan and Crystel’s education.

Jody, Crystel, Juan and I began volunteering in April to serve food and beverage at concession stands. We’ve worked at the Excel Center, Target Center, US Bank, Allianz, Huntington Bank stadiums, Canterbury Park and others.

“Did you just push me?” Jody asks as we step out of the elevator. I thought I was guiding her through the security gate towards the check-in stand.

You learn a lot about yourself and each other at these events.

I will be amped up until we return to the car for the ride home. I’m in a flight or fight mode to get the customer his/her/their slice of pizza, hot dog, chicken tenders, or fries.

Jody feels the same adrenaline rush. We both become serious and determined. Sometimes we must remind ourselves, It’s just a hot dog.

There is no bigger distraction or challenge than working an event. From the time the doors open, and you serve your first customer until the ball is touched in the 4th quarter, 3rd period, or the hour before the venue closes, you will do nothing else besides attending to the task in front of you.

Usually, it’s a brief 20 second pleasant interaction with a customer.

Sometimes it doesn’t go well.

“Is this how big this all-beef hot dog is?” I was asked at the Vikings Cardinal game. The customer held high his still foiled hot dog. It did look especially small in his large fist.

“Dude, I’m a volunteer. I don’t make the hotdog.” Don’t squeeze it, I wanted to add. You’ll just make it smaller.

I’m not always at my best. At a Twins game, this guy and his two friends, who’d all had one too many, kept beeping the register scanner without waiting for his payment to go through. “Motherfucker, stop doing that,” I told him. He looked at me. I looked at him. “I guess I shouldn’t call you that,” I said. “I could get fired from my volunteer job.”

It can get a little dicey at alcohol cutoff time when a customer isn’t ready to be cut off. At the Minnesota hockey game against North Dakota, a customer demanded that I call my boss. She knew about these things she said loudly. She had worked in concessions before. A hard cutoff was not really a hard cutoff.

“I’m just a volunteer,” I said. I busied myself restocking as she explained to the concession managers how these things worked.

Sitting in our living room, Jody and I will go over the event. Laughing until we cry. Sometimes it’s about how we acted towards each other during the evening. Me telling her how important it is that she marks a Twin burger a Twin burger and not a Capitol burger. She in turn will tell me that I need to stop putting the pizzas in the oven one after another as she doesn’t have enough time to take them off at the other end.

The challenge, the unpredictability, volunteering with friends, and the variety of social groups we encounter make concession fundraising enjoyable.

Not a bad way to spend an evening. This year, we are well on our way to raising tuition for both Juan and Crystel’s education. Now that’s one heck of a hotdog.

Stuff Happening

Climate change is moving ahead without human intervention. Even the Mighty Mississippi is drying up leaving commercial traffic stranded in low water. Record temps, record rains, record wild fires aren’t as easily resolved as heavy winter snow.

But in the Midwest this fall, that same weather has meant beautiful lazy sunrises and warm days that give us opportunities for another walk, a bike ride, one last cookout. Sitting outside feeding grandbaby a bottle, the late morning sunshine feels even warmer without a leaf canopy. My arms store memories of bottles and burbs and giggles and books read in this chair during the second six months of her life.

All is not easy on this idyllic day. There are difficult physical weeks ahead including the possibility of serious surgery. Except for C-sections and babies, I’ve never had surgery or stayed overnight in a hospital. A date is on the calendar for the initial stage of this process. Part of me is calm, almost relieved to know what must be done and how. Calm until about three in the morning when a busy mind chases down unknown alleys.

Family and friends have had their times under anesthesia in 2022. One was the result of past athletic injuries, another fell, the others faced cancer with chemicals and radiation as well as surgery. For me to have sports-related surgery would be kind of funny. And I’m relieved to not be beginning the cancer battle. Most of us will face a few days in our lives wearing drafty cotton gowns and trying to sleep surrounded by noisy machines. I’d rather be crammed into a tight airline seat trying to sleep surrounded by noisy kids. That was not a choice.

For now the seasonal discussions about who will be at Thanksgiving and what day is best for Christmas festivities have been displaced. Stuff is happening.

Learning a New Language: Love

“Every household has a first language, a kind of language of the home,” says Alex Kalman in The Art of Noticing: 131 Ways to Spark Creativity, Find Inspiration and Discover Joy in the Everyday.

If that’s true, the language of the home I grew up in was chaos.

My dad worked long hours in a Honeywell factory, assembling parts for our nation’s space program.

Sometimes he came home after his 12-hour shift. Often, he went out drinking. Sometimes he got drunk. Occasionally bad things happened. Like the time a buddy who was driving plowed into the back of a parked car, sending my dad through the windshield and to the emergency room to have his scalp stitched back together.

I learned about that the next morning when my mom sent me into my parents’ bedroom to wake my dad. I was in sixth grade at the time and, nearly 60 years later, can still picture his dried blood on my parents’ white sheets and the rows of stitches that ran up my dad’s forehead and into his balding scalp.

There was also the time my dad drove his car off the road and into a house. And the many times he just didn’t come home. By then, he owned a neighborhood bar where he and his favorite customers often stayed drinking until the wee hours of the morning.

And, no surprise, there were the frequent fights his drinking caused, fights he often didn’t remember but that I still find hard to forget.

Although there’s a lot about our COVID-induced isolation that I resent, one thing I do appreciate is that it’s given me the time and space to think more deeply about the patterns of behavior I grew up with and which ones no longer serve me.

Therapy and a supportive partner are a big help. So is Dr. Gary Chapman, whose work centers on helping people learn what he refers to as the five “love languages”:

  1. Affirming with words
  2. Giving gifts
  3. Offering physical touch
  4. Performing acts of service
  5. Spending quality time together

Although I wish the language of my home would have been different when I was growing up, I’m working hard to make love its language–and mine–now.

In Praise of Older Women

Most days I’m fine with donning my invisibility cloak (the uniform of people 60 years and older) and going about my days. I’m content to fly under the radar, doing what I love. However, recently I’ve been reminded that too often the world doesn’t see older women and when it does, it’s with a lot of inaccurate assumptions—supposedly we aren’t good with computers or cell phones, we’re frail, we’re clueless about financial matters and the workplace, and so forth.

Except those caricatures don’t resemble any of the women I know.

I’m 68 and have friends ranging from 60-78. A quick review of approximately twenty women I know turned up a more realistic and positive profile—

  • Several friends are still working although most have retired from paid work.
  • Some volunteer as nonprofit board members (helping run the world for free). 
  • Many of my acquaintances volunteer in other ways—at a blood bank, rescuing abandoned dogs, tutoring, at homeless shelters, doing environmental projects, and more.
  • The women I know do some or all of these activities: biking, camping, kayaking, hiking, yoga, pickle ball, walking, lifting weights, and swimming.
  • Some of my friends are childless. Others are mothers and inspired grandmothers. Although they enjoy grandmothering, it’s just one aspect of their lives.
  • Most of us have traveled extensively. Some are probably planning their next adventure right now.
  • We are smart, capable people who know how to get stuff done. 
  • Several have published books and many have published shorter work.
  • We enjoy learning new things—maybe tap dancing, a craft like rosemaling, a Coursera class on the psychology of purchase behavior—whatever.
  • We know the pros and cons of long-term care insurance, how to time starting Social Security, how to roll over IRAs, write living wills, etc.
  • We are fun-loving but not carefree. We have plenty to worry about, but try not to let it swamp us.
  • Most of us read several newspapers online and are well-informed about political issues.
  • We are philosophical about aches and pains, but doing our best to hold the line and stay healthy.
  • We are sympathetic, kind, and good listeners. We have lots of loving advice for each other, but we try to resist dispensing unasked for advice to younger people. Mixed results, there!
  • We have good senses of humor, but get tired of being underestimated and don’t suffer fools gladly.

There isn’t a helpless, clueless woman in the bunch.While these women are all wonderful, they aren’t rare exceptions. They’re typical. I wish more people saw us for who we really are—strong, smart, capable, and fun.