Columns

Can’t do 55?

I stood in the middle of the bedroom and spun in a slow circle.

A few minutes earlier I’d left my desk and rushed upstairs to get something. Something really important. Something I needed immediately. But darn, if I could remember what that something was.

Walter, our tabby kitten, sat on my feet and looked up.

“Meow?” he asked.

“No, I didn’t rush in here to cuddle you,” I replied.

He padded over to the closet and sat by his food dish.

“Meow?”

“No, you’ve already had lunch.”

Flummoxed, he hopped onto our bed. That’s when I saw the notebook I’d left near my pillow.

“That’s it!” I said. “Thank you, Walter.”

When you have to rely on a 10-month-old kitten to keep you on task, you know something has shifted.

My husband thinks he knows what it is.

That evening when I told him about my memory lapse, he grinned and started singing, “I can’t drive 55, oh no!”

Knowing his penchant for belting out Sammy Hagar songs, I waited until he’d sung through the chorus twice, and let him get in a few air guitar licks.

“What does my lead foot tendency have to do with why I can’t remember what I went into the bedroom for?” I asked.

Derek pointed to the calendar.

Ah. We’d just celebrated my 55th birthday.

“So. You’re saying I’m old? That I’m having senior moments?”

He wrapped his arms around me.

“Look at it this way, you’re not old, you just need to start shopping at Fred Meyer on Tuesday, so you can get the senior discount.”

Actually, those forgetful moments have been happening to both of us for years. We’ve begun texting shopping lists and errand reminders to each other. Of course, that means we have to remember to check our phones when we’re out.

And lately we’ve become one of those couples who fill in each other’s blanks.

“What was the movie we saw when we were first married?” Derek asked. “It was a part of a horror triple feature with Ronnie McDowall.”

“Fright Night,” I replied. “And it was Roddy McDowall.”

“What was the name of that restaurant where we used to eat at after church?” I asked.

“Rancho Chico,” he said.

“No, before kids.”

“Oh! Mr. Steak.”

Shared memory is one of the perks of a long-term marriage. And speaking of perks, I was really excited to realize I now qualify for the senior discount at the movie theater. When my friend Carol and I went to see “The Call of the Wild” recently, I proudly asked for the discount.

Honestly? I was a bit disappointed the cashier didn’t express surprise at my request, or even ask to see my driver’s license, but the cheap ticket was worth it.

Carol and I headed to the restroom before finding our seats because that’s what you do when you’re 55. As we left the restroom and headed toward the line I reached into my coat pocket for my ticket. No ticket. I checked my other pocket, then my jeans. No ticket!

I went back to the bathroom to see if I’d set it down while washing my hands. Nope. I dug through my purse. Derek calls it the Black Hole for a reason. It’s large with lots of pockets. I scoured it. I shook it. No ticket.

Mortified, I explained my dilemma to the manager.

“And it’s the first time I’ve used the senior discount, too,” I said.

He graciously waved me through.

Meanwhile, Carol was laughing so hard, it’s a good thing she’d already used the restroom.

“Your first senior discount and your first senior moment,” she chortled.

Well, one out of two of those statements was correct.

We took our seats, and as the previews began, I unzipped the cellphone pocket in my purse to ensure my phone was on silent.

“Carol,” I whispered. “Look, I found my ticket.”

Thankfully, we were able to get our hysterical giggles under control before the movie started.

Looks like Sammy Hagar isn’t the only one who has issues with 55.

All Write, War Bonds

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I rarely blog book reviews, but this lovely book has a World War II theme and I adore a good love story with some deeper historical contexts.

Plus, we just watched the recently-released Netflix movie and to my joy the movie was wonderful and very much in keeping with the book.

Until I sat down to write this, I hadn’t realized that the author, Mary Ann Shaffer, died before the book was published and that her niece helped her finish it.

The added poignancy made the story feel that much sweeter.

So. Surprise!

This isn’t a book review. Just a recommendation to read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society AND watch the movie. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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.

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.