Columns

Magic Under the Big Top

Sawdust. Greasepaint. The wire stretched tautly high above the center ring.

The circus was never about the animals for me. It was about magic, make believe and those daring young men on the flying trapeze. Once upon a time it really was “The Greatest Show on Earth.”

Last week’s news that after 146 years, the curtain was coming down on the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, triggered a flood of memories.

While the industry’s sordid history of its deplorable treatment of animals is undeniable and inexcusable, the circus of my childhood was more than bullhooks and elephants.

I can still remember clutching my dad’s hand tightly as we went through the turnstile at the old Spokane Coliseum. My parents had taken me to the El Katif Shrine circus before, but this was my first exposure to the crème de la crème of circus magic – Ringling Bros. – the big time.

Even as a kid I loved old movies, and I’d seen the glamour and pathos of the circus in films like the Academy Award-winning “The Greatest Show on Earth” and Disney’s “Dumbo.”

But I’d recently seen “Trapeze” on television and I was enthralled with the idea of flinging myself through the air into the waiting hands of the well-muscled Burt Lancaster or pretty boy Tony Curtis.

My friends and I played “circus” on the playground at recess at Jefferson Elementary. We’d swing higher and higher, until the swing set rocked with our rhythm, then we’d let go of the chain and sail through the air to land in the gravel, hoping to nail a dismount worthy of Ringling Bros.

Mostly, we just got rocks in our shoes and occasional bloody knees and skinned palms.

Under the big top of the Coliseum, I sat entranced. From the red-coated ringmaster with his shiny black top hat, to dozens of clowns in a tiny car, to the lovely ladies in sparkling costumes riding atop high-stepping steeds, the circus held me in its grip. My eyes glittered like the sequins on the tightrope walker’s tutu as I tried to absorb the pageantry.

And then Gunther Gebel-Williams and his big cats took the floor. He strode into the center ring with a leopard around his shoulders, dimples flashing, blond hair flowing, bronzed abs rippling under the lights. Pure showmanship and undiluted magic.

I saw several other circuses, but nothing ever measured up to the first time I saw the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

However, by the time I reached my teens my Gunther Gebel-Williams poster had been replaced by Andy Gibb and Leif Garrett posters – the gaudy glow of the circus had dimmed, replaced by the flashing lights of disco fever.

Later, as a busy mom of four sons, my home often seemed like a three-ring circus complete with roaring animals and stunts as breathtaking as a toddler scaling a teetering bookcase. I had neither the time nor the inclination to leave my house to see one. My parents took my oldest son once, but my youngest at 17, has never been to the circus.

Now it looks as though he never will.

I’m OK with that, but I wonder what his generation’s equivalent will be. Running away to appear on “America’s Got Talent” doesn’t have the same allure.

Sure, they can watch death-defying stunts on YouTube, but seeing Johnny Knoxville catapulted in a Porta Potty will never equate to watching an aerial acrobat soar high above the ground, spinning into a triple somersault, stretching to grab his partner’s waiting hands.

In fact, today’s kids seem to have their eyes on electronic screens from the moment they wake up until the moment the clock on their cellphones, Kindles or iPads tell them it’s time to go to sleep.

Perhaps that was the best thing about the circus – it got us out of our houses, away from our screens and caused us to look up for just a moment.

 

Cindy Hval can be reached at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Advertisements
Columns

Soup’s On

Trying to count my blessings during our current Snowpocalypse has been, well, trying. I got my white Christmas, but now I am so over snow.

The one good thing about Snowmageddon is that it’s perfect soup and stew weather.

There’s nothing more soothing on a snowy day than slicing and dicing an array of vegetables or meat, concocting a savory broth, and then letting it bubble on the back of the stove or in the depths of the crockpot.

Delicious aromas fill the house and serving the hungry hoards is simple. All you need is a bowl, a spoon, and a side of crusty sourdough, flaky biscuits or tasty cornbread.

At least I thought this was a good thing, but the other night, Sam, 17, asked what we were having for dinner.

“Steak soup,” I replied.

“You sure have been making a lot of soup, lately,” he said, sighing.

In my defense, January is national soup month. Also, I’ve been working hard on two book projects, so planning five-course menus is a bit of a stretch.

And honestly, the only time soup doesn’t sound good to me is on a 90-degree summer day when we’re dining on the Delightful Deck, and even then a chilled cucumber soup tastes yummy.

The other night as white chicken chili simmered on the stove, I thought of our son Alex who lives in Ohio.

I texted him, “Guess what’s for dinner?”

“Oh, man!” he replied. “I LOVE your white chicken chili. I miss it so much.”

Which I interpreted as, “Oh, Mom! I love you and I miss you so much!”

My heart was as warm as my tummy during dinner that night.

In fact, Alex enjoys that soup so much, it was what he always asked me to make for his birthday dinner. His birthday is in April, and my chicken chili and from-scratch apple pie isn’t exactly seasonal, but it’s his favorite meal. Cooking my kid’s favorite meals makes this mom happy, so it’s a win-win.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I asked my firstborn what he wanted for his birthday dinner on Sunday, and he replied, “Potato soup!”

“You want soup for your birthday?” I asked. “Not steak or ribs?”

“Nope,” he replied. “I want your homemade potato soup and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting.”

So, that’s what he got, plus a container of soup to take home with him. Single guys need all the homemade food they can get.

Though Sam professes to be weary of soup, he’ll always clean up a pot of my beef chili. While technically not a soup, it’s still a one-pot, slow-simmer meal. A bowl of it topped with corn chips, olives, cheddar and chopped onions can satisfy even an always-hungry teen.

Zachary looks forward to Thanksgiving, not so much for the turkey and trimmings but for the huge vat of turkey noodle soup I make the next day.

Soup can be served in celebration, but it’s also appropriate when solace is needed.

After I miscarried our first child I couldn’t eat. Nothing would go past the lump of grief in my throat. Then my mother brought over a container of homemade soup. Suddenly, my appetite returned. I slowly spooned a mouthful, its taste a bit saltier for my tears, and I knew my mom had probably shed a few of her own as she chopped, sliced and simmered. I ate an entire bowl and understood the true meaning of comfort food.

In fact I often think when there’s a death in a family, instead of the flood of fried chicken and casseroles people tend to bring – a big pot of soup might be more palatable.

As I write, the ingredients for tonight’s hamburger soup are ready on the kitchen counter. Sometime between now and deadline, I’ll assemble the soup, and while I finish today’s assignments it will slowly simmer on the back of the stove.

That’s another wonderful thing about soup; it may be labor intensive on the front end, but once it’s cooking you can sit back and let the flavors mingle and evolve on their own, until it’s time to sit down and enjoy the results.

Just like raising children.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns

Decorations hold decades of memories

She’s still radiant at 65. Her blue satin dress shimmers, matching the glint of her round cerulean eyes. Silvery wings arch above a crown that has a distinct tinfoil gleam. A slim silver belt circles her waist and a glittering star adorns her collar. Her prim red lips are pursed in permanent pucker.

moms-angel

My parents bought the angel at a downtown drugstore for their first Christmas in 1951. They purchased a tree at a nearby lot, and Dad hefted it over his shoulder and they walked the few blocks to their first apartment on Pine Street.

Several weeks ago our youngest son, Sam, helped Mom unearth her decorations. She stopped putting up a tree when Dad died, but she still displays the angel every Christmas. Sam hung lights around her front window while she regaled him with the angel anecdote and tales of Christmas past.

I’ve been thinking about those stories while preparing to pack away my own decorations. What goes up must come down, including Christmas trees – especially fresh trees. The needles are starting to fall and it’s time to take the tree to the curb. But I linger over the ornaments – it seems each one tells a story.

A laminated blue star features a kindergarten-era, gap-toothed smiling Sam. Next to it dangles a silvery orb with a photo of 6th grade Sam – his childhood documented in decorations.

Zachary’s snowflakes are suspended next to a bejeweled ball, each gem affixed with copious amounts of glue. Zach’s always been an if a little bit is good, a lot is better kind of guy.

Alexander and Ethan angels hang with a multitude of heavenly hosts near the top of the tree, and speaking of angels, our tree is topped by one in a gold-trimmed burgundy gown.

Unlike Mom, I no longer have our original angel. One year when the boys were small, our tree topper threw herself from the tree to the stairs below, cracking her head beyond repair. The boys insist they saw her fly, it was just the landing she failed to nail.

Her aborted flight came a few days before Christmas, and we needed an angel ASAP. In haste, my husband and sons decamped to the Dollar Store and returned with a replacement. This golden gal was lovely to behold, but when Derek plopped her atop the tree, our oldest son burst into laughter and pointed out with glee, “She has two left hands!”

Indeed, she did.

Her awkward appendages distracted me, so during the post-holiday sales, I bought our current, more anatomically accurate, angel. However, I wrapped her afflicted sister in tissue, and the next time all the boys are home for Christmas I plan to give her another shining moment at the top.

Many of our ornaments reflect our interests, like my stack of antique books suspended from a blue satin ribbon. And one that always gets front-of-the-tree honor – a string of gingerbread hearts that reads NOEL. It’s the only craft I actually completed during the many years I was a member of a Moms of Preschoolers group. I’m craft-impaired and glue gun-challenged, so this was a major accomplishment.

Derek’s cross-country skier and a ball featuring the Norwegian flag honor his heritage and his love of the slopes. For some reason he always forgets to hang his 2007 ornament that proudly proclaims “Real men like cats.”

I hang it for him in a prominent spot, preferably where the light can catch it. I’m thoughtful like that.

Mindful of these memories, I’ve been taking lots of photos of decorations cradled in piney boughs before I pack them away for another year.

More than dated ornaments dangling from a tree, it’s the reminders of Christmases past they represent that add joy to the present and brings hope for Christmas future.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

 

 

Columns

Real? Fake? The great tree debate continues.

Dazzled, I gazed at the 7-foot pine trimmed with glittering lights that switched from colored to white with the flip of a switch.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” my husband enthused.

I prodded the prickly branches, testing their strength. In a surreal almost out-of-the-body moment, I heard my voice as if from a great distance.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I like it. I think I’m ready.”

Derek beamed. He’s been lobbying for an artificial tree for years, but the boys and I have been unwilling to compromise our Christmas cheer. They have fond memories of traipsing through deep snow out in Green Bluff to find the perfect fir. When they got too busy to devote a day to tree-fetching, they happily agreed to spend an hour with their dad at our neighborhood tree lot.

But when Zachary moves to Nashville this spring, we’ll lose our designated tree-picker. Zach has the gift of the perfect pick. From forest, to farm, to tree lot, he’s always been able to discover a symmetrically pleasing pine – one that’s just the right height and width, with branches that will bear heavier ornaments and no unsightly holes to hide.

Derek rushed to get a cart before I could change my mind. He didn’t rush fast enough. Thoughts of our third son gave me pause.

“Wait,” I said. “We should talk with the boys, first.”

Sighing, he put the cart back.

It was a good thing too, because Zach was horrified at the thought.

“This is probably my last Christmas at home,” he said. “You can get a fake tree when I leave.”

His younger brother sighed.

“Great. I’ll be the kid who gets to pull a tree out of a box every year,” Sam muttered.

I knew we’d made the right call when the three of them came home with a stunning natural beauty. Our home filled with the glorious smell of pine.

Then we heard a slurping noise.

“Thor!” Derek yelled. “Quit drinking the tree water!’

Thor is a connoisseur of fine water. Nevermind that he has an actual cat water fountain that continually splashes fresh water into his bowl. No, Thor prefers more exotic refreshment. The bathroom sink is his preferred source of liquid, until the Christmas tree arrives. Then he is obsessed with drinking pine-scented water from the tree stand.

At first, we were sure he would die from his unseemly addiction. We tried wrapping the bowl in foil, plastic wrap, etc. But no matter what method of prevention we used, Thor found a way to satisfy his thirst. It’s been five Christmases and he’s still here, so I guess it’s not a deadly habit. It’s just annoying.

After the tree was decorated, we plugged in the lights, turned off the house lights and sat down to enjoy its splendor. Then we heard a chewing sound.

“Who’s eating in the living room?” I asked.

We all looked at each other. No candy canes, no chips, no snacks, but still a steady munching sound filled the room.

“Milo!” Derek shouted. “Stop eating the tree!”

Sure enough our older cat seems to have developed a taste for tree. Maybe he needs more fiber in his diet.

Cat irritations aside, the next afternoon as I began my holiday baking, I filled my lungs with the wonderful scent of freshly cut tree.

“Take a deep breath,” I said to Derek. “A fake tree won’t smell like this.”

He shrugged. “So, we’ll put out a couple bowls of Pine Sol.”

Horrified, I said/shrieked, “Pine Sol is a disinfectant! It smells like hospitals or toilet bowls!”

Undaunted, Derek replied, “OK. Get a bunch of those pine tree car air fresheners. We can hang them from our tree.”

I refused to dignify this with a response, but as I worked in the kitchen rolling out sugar cookie dough, the words that escaped my tightly clamped lips sounded remarkably like the Old Man in the “Christmas Story” movie, as he battled a recalcitrant furnace.

When I pulled a batch of nicely-browned cookies from the oven, I called to Derek.

“Don’t these cookies smell divine?”

He followed his nose and snatched one off the cooling rack.

“Mmm …” he said as he munched. “There’s nothing like the smell or the taste of your homemade sugar cookies.”

I smiled.

“I’m glad you’re enjoying them. Next year, I think I’ll just buy some at the grocery store. After all, with just three of us home, why go to all the hassle.”

He choked on the cookie.

I handed him a glass of eggnog.

“I know store-bought cookies won’t taste the same, but I can buy a Christmas cookie scented candle.”

Warming to my theme, I continued, “And I’ll hang a few vanilla scented car air fresheners on the fake tree. Really, you won’t know the difference.”

Derek sighed and grabbed another cookie.

“So, are you thinking pine or Noble fir next year?” he asked.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval

Columns, War Bonds

Of Boys Lost and Boys Found

Spoiler alert: This week’s column has a happy ending. I wish all stories about lost children could end the same.

Stepping lively, I dodged traffic cones dotting the street, thankful the end of roadwork season is almost here.

I savored the glorious October sun, knowing my regular treks around the neighborhood will soon be replaced by boring indoor workouts at the gym.

Adjusting my headphones, I cranked up my walking music and my pace. A tug on my arm startled me. I’d been so focused on boosting my heart rate, I had failed to notice the approach of two small boys.

“Do you know where Standard Street is?” one of them asked. “We’re lost.”

If this scenario sounds familiar to readers, I’m not surprised. I seem to collect lost boys the way other folks collect license plates or trading cards. From a tiny autistic boy who’d escaped from his house to play on a busy street one Sunday morning, to Ricky who got confused when he got off the school bus one afternoon, I seem to be a lost-boy magnet. This time there were two of them looking at me with anxious eyes.

I’m embarrassed to admit my route is so familiar I don’t pay attention to street names.

“I think we’re on Standard,” I replied. “But there’s a sign on the corner – let’s check.”

We approached the sign and verified we were on Standard, but the boys weren’t reassured.

“Actually, we need to know where Lyons Street is,” the spokesboy said.

“What’s your address?” I asked.

Two pairs of eyes stared at me blankly.

“I don’t know it,” the smaller boy said.

“Me either,” his friend admitted. “But it’s apartments.”

Taking a deep breath, I asked them their names and ages.

“I’m Marc with a ‘c,’ and I’m 9,” the taller boy said.

“I’m Luis, and I’m 8,” his friend replied.

I asked them how they got lost.

“Well, we got off the bus at a friend’s house after school,” Marc said. “But he couldn’t play, so we decided to walk home, but we don’t really know where we are now.”

“What school do you go to?” I asked.

“Linwood Elementary,” he replied.

Linwood is about 2 miles away from my Shiloh Hills neighborhood and across bustling Division Street. They couldn’t remember where they’d gotten off the bus.

As we chatted, we kept walking because I assured them that Lyons was north of Standard, and if we kept walking north hopefully they would be able to spot their apartment building.

“How about I call your parents?” I offered as we walked. “Maybe one of them can come pick you up.”

It was 4:20 and the boys said the bus usually had them home by 3:30.

“We’ve probably been walking for HOURS,” opined Luis, who didn’t know his phone number.

Marc said his mom was home and gave me her number. I called repeatedly from my cellphone as we walked, but no one answered.

“She has MS and sometimes she doesn’t answer the phone,” he said. “Especially if she doesn’t know who’s calling.”

By this time we were almost to my house, and I estimated they still had at least a half-mile to walk.

“If I give you guys a ride do you think you could show me your apartment building?” I asked.

“Yes!” said Marc.

“My legs are really tired,” Luis admitted.

I offered them some water, but they declined.

“I’d like some crackers if you have some,” said Luis.

I dashed inside to grab my purse and discovered we were out of crackers.

“What are you doing?” my son, Sam, asked.

“Taking some lost boys home,” I replied.

“What? Again!?” he said, shaking his head.

The boys buckled up and Marc opined that my car was similar to his mom’s. He knew the make and model of her car. It would have been more helpful if he knew her address.

However, as we approached the neighborhood park, they got excited.

“Hey! I know where we are now!” Marc yelled. “We’re almost home!”

Sure enough, he spotted their apartment building and I dropped them off.

When I wrote about my afternoon adventure on Facebook, a friend said, “I hope you gave them a lecture about getting in cars with strangers once you safely delivered them home!”

Honestly, I was just so relieved I’d been able to get them home; I never thought to scold them. I did lecture them about learning their addresses.

“You need to know the name of the apartment complex and the street address,” I’d chided.

They’d both just shrugged and nodded.

My relief at the happy outcome gave way to dismay. I wished I’d scolded them about getting off the school bus at someone else’s house without first making sure they had permission. I was horrified that they seemed to think it was acceptable to go to a stranger’s house and then get into her car.

They were so trusting and sweet and had absolute confidence in my ability to get them home. And that’s what really made me sad.

Because I’d like to think we live in a world where grown-ups are trustworthy. Where parents have confidence that when their children are out of their sight, other adults are watching out for them.

And mostly, I want to believe that all lost boys return home safe and sound.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast “Life, Love and Raising Sons” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Third place isn’t so bad

044Today is my #3 son’s birthday. In his honor I’m posting the column I wrote for his 14th birthday, which seems like it must have just been yesterday.

When your mother is a writer, your life can be an open book. Just ask my sons. Their names regularly appear in this space as well as in books that are sold all over the world. And readers often ask if the boys are embarrassed to have their lives discussed so publicly. I get a kick out of that.

The fact is they love to see their names in print. “Am I in this column?” they’ll ask, and if I say no, they don’t bother to read it. I often run stories by them to make sure they’re OK with the content, and not once have I heard, “Please don’t share that.”

However, when I look through my files and clippings, I see that one name doesn’t appear quite as often as the others. That would be Zachary. He’s a middle child. As I type this I can almost feel the collective sighs of middle children all over the world. They can relate.

Our firstborn gets lots of print because even at 18, everything we experience with him is still new. He’s the first to do just about everything – including being the cause of my first gray hairs.

The second-born is the family athlete. He’s a bit on the wild side and accumulates adventures like other kids add Matchbox cars to their toy collections. He’s got the scars to prove it.

Then there’s the baby – everything he does has added poignancy because he’s my last glimpse into the world of childhood.

But Zachary was the third child added to our family in a five-year span. His brothers expressed mild interest in his arrival. And though I remember every excruciating detail of his birth, the months and years that followed seemed to whirl and blend together in a kaleidoscope of bustling boys and sleepless nights.

Thank God for video cameras. The magic of Zack’s first bite of solid food, first giggle and first steps are preserved on tape. His birth is also on tape, but as Zack would say, “It’s best not to talk about that.”

This middle child has always had a way with words, though his vocabulary got off to a shaky start. His first word was uttered from his high chair as he watched his two older brothers attempt to communicate entirely through belching. Frustrated that he’d not mastered that skill, he hollered, “Burp”

That provoked gales of gleeful laughter from his siblings and only encouraged the now verbal tot. “Burp!” he yelled. “Burp, burp.”

Fortunately, he’s continued to sharpen his wit. A few weeks ago, after his younger brother’s birthday party, we waited in the car for Zack, who was still somewhere in the bowels of Chuck E. Cheese.

Finally, the van door slid open and Zack announced with great disgust, “They didn’t want me to leave without a parent!” He slammed the door shut and added, “However, negotiations were brief.”

He’s always been full of surprises. When asked to share what he learned on his first day of kindergarten he was momentarily stumped. He pondered the question deeply and finally had an answer. “I learned this,” he said, and jumping up from the table he inserted his hand under his shirt and began flapping his arm wildly. He’d mastered the art of armpit flatulence.

“He’s gifted,” his oldest brother opined.

But for all his words and talents, what I most appreciate about this middle son is his affectionate nature. Our firstborn was reserved, and we could never catch the second-born long enough to cuddle. But Zachary’s warm and loving heart spills over into hugs, kisses and spontaneous bursts of affection.

Last week I was driving the kids home after school. Traffic was heavy and my temper was short. “I love you, Mom.” Zack said. “I love you, too,” I replied distractedly.

We were quiet for a few blocks and then Zack said, “I want my last words to you to be ‘I love you,’ because you never know how long we have.”

He has a knack for reminding me what really matters.

His Sunday school teacher once said that Zack has the soul of a poet, and I agree. I’ve worried about his tender heart, watching the way unkind words can wound him. I’m torn between hoping that he’ll toughen up so he won’t get hurt so often, and praying that his heart stays soft. The world could use a little more tenderness.

A couple of years ago he asked for a guitar for Christmas. With wonder, I’ve watched the way he’s made a place for himself through music. He plays beautifully. Each afternoon, strains of Marley’s “Redemption Song,” or Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” wail through the house as our son unwinds from an arduous day of middle school.

Today is Zachary’s 14th birthday, and this column is for him. Zack, every home needs music, and I’m so grateful that you are the song in ours.

Columns

In which I enjoy being a girl

Today’s Spokesman Review column finds me attempting to update an old song.

If there’s one remark guaranteed to rain down the wrath of Mom upon my sons, it’s when one of them says to the other, “Don’t be such a girl!”

Using gender as an insult is a nonstarter in my house.

Besides, as Doris Day famously sang, “I enjoy being a girl” – at least most of the time.

The 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune is fun to sing, but the lyrics are definitely not contemporary.

I’m a girl, and by me that’s only great!

I am proud that my silhouette is curvy,

That I walk with a sweet and girlish gait

With my hips kind of swivelly and swervy.

Let’s be honest here. After birthing four sons and reaching my fifth decade my silhouette’s curves are decidedly more pronounced. Are spheres curves? I’m not sure. I didn’t do well in geometry.

Also, my gait is no longer girlish. In fact, many mornings I limp to the kitchen to get my first cup of coffee due to a strained Achilles.

I still take the stairs two at a time, if by two at a time you mean carefully placing one foot and then the other on each stair before descending.

I adore being dressed in something frilly

When my date comes to get me at my place.

Out I go with my Joe or John or Billy,

Like a filly who is ready for the race!

We’ve already established that I’m not racing anywhere. I also no longer wear something frilly due to the aforementioned dangerous curves.

Fifty may be the new 30, but 30-year-olds are dressing like teenagers, so shopping is complicated. I recently bought some trendy jeans, artistically ripped in strategic places.

My husband said, “I could take a razor to your old jeans and save you a lot of money.”

“But, I’ve got bling! On my butt!” I replied, twirling around to show him my jewel-encrusted back pockets.

He started humming “Rhinestone Cowboy.”

I hummed “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed.”

Game. Set. Match.

When I have a brand new hairdo

With my eyelashes all in curl,

I float as the clouds on air do,

I enjoy being a girl!

My sons used to pluck out a stray gray hair whenever they’d appear. A few years ago, my youngest announced, “I don’t think we should be pulling out your grays – you’re gonna get bald.”

So, now my new hairdo involves regular appointments for highlights – not to cover the gray, but to camouflage it. It doesn’t cause me to float on air, but it does lighten my wallet considerably.

When men say I’m cute and funny

And my teeth aren’t teeth, but pearl,

I just lap it up like honey

I enjoy being a girl!

Men do say I’m cute and funny and I love that. Of course, the men who tell me that now are generally over 70 or under 20.

Also, my teeth aren’t pearls, but there’s definitely some silver and a few crowns involved.

I flip when a fellow sends me flowers,

I drool over dresses made of lace,

I talk on the telephone for hours

With a pound and a half of cream upon my face!

OK, here’s the deal. I learned long ago, that while flowers from a guy are sweet, I can buy my own roses any time I want – no need to wait around for Valentine’s Day. And I like lace as much as the next gal, but not necessarily where it can be seen by the public, if you know what I mean.

I’ve come to terms with moisturizers, eye cream, toners and “miracle” repair, but I draw the line at a pound and a half of cold cream. Actually, the only cold cream I have is in the refrigerator and I pour it in my morning coffee.

Who talks on the phone for hours anymore? Texting and instant messaging are much more efficient. However, I rarely use emoticons. Especially after I sent what I thought was a chocolate cupcake to a friend on her birthday. Apparently, there are poop emojis. Lesson learned.

And one lesson I hope my sons have learned is that “being a girl” is not an insult. After all, without this girl, they wouldn’t even be here.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” You can listen to her podcast, “Life, Love and Raising Sons,” at SpokaneTalksOnline.com. Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns, War Bonds

Magic, Make-Believe and Me

In this column for the Spokesman Review, I address the importance of keeping magic and make=believe alive for our children– especially now.

I was smiling as we walked out of the movie theater into the warm summer night.

“That was absolutely magical,” I said.

My sons, 16 and 21, nodded, but they didn’t seem as enthralled by “The BFG” as I’d been. The movie, based on the book by Roald Dahl, tells the story of an unlikely friendship between an orphan girl named Sophie and the Big Friendly Giant. The two join forces to rid the world of mean, nasty giants.

I loved the retelling. It brought back memories of curling up and reading the book with my second son, who was notoriously difficult to get to sit still and read anything at all. Dahl’s books were just scary enough and just off-kilter enough to capture his imagination and still his ever-churning legs.

 The week before, we’d seen “Finding Dory,” and both sons preferred that movie to “The BFG.”

Not me. While “Dory” was a fun film with great visual elements, humor and a compelling message, it lacked the heart of “The BFG.” It lacked magic.

For me, the best part about being a parent has been the ongoing permission to indulge in my love of make-believe. From sharing beloved childhood favorite films and books with my boys to discovering new stories and new adventures with them, parenthood has allowed me to retain a bit of the ability to believe in the impossible.

Perhaps that’s why I reacted so strongly when my youngest got in the car one day after kindergarten and announced, “There’s no such thing as Santa Claus.”

Furious, I whipped around and gave his older brothers the “look” – you know the scary glare meant to stop even the naughtiest child in their tracks. My offspring have dubbed it “Mom’s Death Ray.”

“Don’t look at us!” said Zack, then 11, “We know Santa is real!”

Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Why do you say that, Sam?”

“Tyler’s mom helped us with Christmas crafts today, and we were talking about what we wanted Santa to bring us for Christmas. She said, ‘Santa Claus is a made-up character, and he doesn’t take presents to children all over the world.’ Is she right? Is there really no such thing as Santa?”

I looked into his troubled blue eyes and tried to gauge his desire to know with his longing to believe.

So, I reminded Sam of the story of St. Nicholas and how he used his wealth to give to the poor and needy. I told him the story of Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas’ and asked him what he thought.

He scratched his head, looked at his brothers and then replied, “Oh, he’s real all right, but I think he has help getting all those presents delivered.”

Crisis averted. Magic preserved.

I know not all parents agree that a healthy dose of make-believe makes for a happy childhood. For instance, one of my sons told me of a millennial parent in his acquaintance who told him that allowing his preschoolers to believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is the same as lying to them, and he will never lie to his kids.

But children are not miniature adults. The brain, body and emotions of a 5-year-old boy are not equivalent to those of a 30-year-old man. Fairy tales and make-believe allow imaginations to soar. They create a sense of wonder and possibility.

These past few weeks have made it difficult for many of us to hold onto any sense of hope, wonder and enchantment. The world can be a harsh, unlovely place. Maybe that’s why we need stories of magic and mystery all the more.

In a darkened theater we can watch a blue fish with memory problems cross the ocean to find her family, or see a little girl have tea with the queen of England and help banish evil giants from the land.

Stories offer us a respite from ugly reality and fan the flames of flagging faith, encouraging us to believe in the unbelievable, at least for a little while.

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.

Columns

Saying goodbye to Betty

Today’s Spokeman Review column.

Betty Schott (seated) wears a lei at a ceremony in 2014 to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I loved to listen to her talk.

Though soft-spoken, Betty Schott, 98, had a sharp mind and an even sharper sense of humor. She smiled easily, laughed often, and called me “honey.”

But when her husband of 76 years died in May 2014, her smile faded and the quips didn’t come as quickly.

Adjusting to life without her beloved wearied her.

On Sunday, Betty died, 80 years and one day from the anniversary of her first date with Warren Schott.

I met the Schotts in 2007 when I interviewed them for my Love Story series. It was the start of a friendship that spanned eight years and immeasurably enriched my life.

From the beginning, a no-nonsense Warren assured me their story was no romantic tale. In fact, all those years ago, when a friend offered to set him up on a blind date with Betty, Warren scoffed, “Don’t do me any favors.”

He was a young sailor, not in the least interested in finding true love. But on July 4, 1935, love found him in the form of a beautiful, petite North Central High School graduate named Betty Forest.

They were married April 2, 1938, at the Wee Kirk O’ the Heather chapel at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles.

When I attended their 75th anniversary celebration, Betty quipped, “Well, we got married in a cemetery and honeymooned in Death Valley, so we got all that out of the way!”

But as Pearl Harbor survivors, the Schotts saw more than their share of death.

Warren had been sent to the Naval Air Station at Pearl Harbor shortly after their marriage. Betty was determined to join him and worked until she earned her passage. She arrived on Ford Island in 1939 and they settled into a tiny apartment near Battleship Row.

Their bedroom overlooked the island’s runway, so they were accustomed to noise, but the sounds that woke them on Dec. 7, 1941, were unlike any they’d heard before.

Betty pulled on her robe and looked out the bathroom window. “Warren!” she called, “there’s smoke and fire at the end of the runway.”

Warren went to another window and spotted a plane flying low overhead. “I saw the red balls on the wings of the plane,” he said. “I watched that plane torpedo the USS Utah. I said, ‘Betty, we’re at war!’ ”

While Betty filled fire extinguishers with other civilians in a supply warehouse, Warren had the grim job of pulling the dead and injured from the harbor. The men he pulled out of the water were covered in oil. Afterward, Betty discovered, “They got rid of every towel in my house trying to help clean them up. Finally they took down my kitchen curtains and used them.”

Over the years, they talked about everything, but on one topic Warren remained silent. “He never talked about the people he pulled out of the oily water that morning,” Betty said. “Never.”

It was often painful for them to share their memories. “Slamming a door for days after the attack would make you jump,” Betty said, recalling the terrible noise and confusion they experienced.

But the Schotts felt it was their duty to tell their story and to honor those who died that day.

Though they didn’t think their 76-year marriage was anything remarkable, they were tickled that their story was included in “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.”

When I visited with Betty in December while working on a story about the 73rd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I returned some photos she’d let me use for the book.

She reached up and patted my cheek with her soft, timeworn hand. “I’m so proud of you, honey,” she said. And it felt like I’d received a blessing from my grandmother.

What I remember most was my last visit to her home – the home Warren had built, the home they’d shared for 65 years.

The plaque I’d seen years earlier still hung in the kitchen. It read, “Happiness is being married to your best friend.”

Warren’s death had left her adrift. She missed him so much, and she swore sometimes she could still see him sitting in his chair. She’d blink or turn her head and he’d be gone, but his presence was so real to her, his voice so compelling. Her own voice quavered when she said, “Every night at 11 p.m., he’d say, ‘Honey, now it’s time to go to bed.’ ”

That’s why I would not be at all surprised if on Sunday morning, Betty heard him whisper, “Honey, now it’s time to come on home.”

And of course she went to him. How could she not? She said, “He’s been my best friend for 77 years.”

Contact Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com. She is the author of “War Bonds: Love Stories From the Greatest Generation.” Her previous columns are available online at spokesman.com/ columnists. Follow her on Twitter at @CindyHval.