Gene Shopping

I left home in a downpour this morning after looking in vain for my umbrella. I thought, “I probably left it at work – I hope my sister didn’t take it by mistake.” And I smiled at the thought of our nearly matching duck head umbrellas. Mine’s navy. Hers is forest green.

We bought them separately and it was some time before we discovered our similar tastes were showing again. I don’t know another soul who owns a duck head umbrella.

Sis and I have ended up with other similar items over the years, never our intention. We had enough matching outfits forced on us in our growing up years. It is not too unusual that we each purchased the same style winter hat (mine black, hers red) but the identical art deco turtle lamps are harder to explain away.

Are there shopping genes? Is it nurture or nature that draws us both to a love of baskets and candles? But it gets stranger than that.

Five years ago my sister and I were preparing to fly to Kansas to visit our dad. Her almost two year old daughter would be flying with us, for what we all knew might be a last visit. Dad had been fighting pancreatic cancer for over three years and was running out of ammunition.

I knew a long flight and layover would not be easy for a two year old. I went shopping for ways to help entertain her.

As we boarded the plane, I told my sis “I brought a new picture book so she has something new to look at, a My Little Pony with a comb so she can keep busy combing its hair, and a little stuffed puppy that fits in a little doghouse-shaped purse. I thought she’d have fun putting it in and out…” And my sister started to laugh.

Our books were different, but she had also purchased a My Little Pony and a dog/doghouse combo. We had purchased the same three items, using the same reasoning as to how they would entertain her on the plane. (In the long run the snack food we each brought may have been the best entertainment…)

I think it’s in our genes.


The Ties That Bind

IMG_2727(The Daily Post prompt on May 30th, “Weaving the threads”, caught my interest as it suggested writing a post with three parts, unrelated, with a common thread. Here’s where it led me.)

Sorting through generations of “stuff”, I added one of Grandma’s old workday aprons to my “keep” pile. Aprons were daily wear for both of my grandmothers, as were the dresses they protected. They had many practical aprons, dressy ones for holidays or serving company. My mom wore an apron once a week, serving roast while protecting her Sunday-best dress. My daughter occasionally wears one, because they’re cute as well as practical and seem to have comeback into popularity. It is my 60’s/70’s jean and t-shirt wearing generation that shunned using them. But I will keep Grandma’s apron along with the memory of her rolling out homemade noodles and pie crusts amidst a cloud of flour.

And because of a story I heard at a family reunion.

Some of my family lived in Kansas during the dust bowl years, enduring one difficulty after another. One summer a mini-plague of grasshoppers swarmed the area, eating what little garden they had managed to grow. As the story goes, my great-grandmother was hanging laundry on the clothesline when the cloud of grasshoppers arrived, quickly covering everything in the yard, including her. To quote the family history, “and the hoppers gobbled every green thing, including the green strings off the apron tied around grandma’s waist”. I love the picture that sentence paints, and the hard-working, apron-wearing women I remember.

We spread Dad’s tie collection on the bed and each picked one to take home. He had worn a tie to work for over thirty years as a teacher/school counselor. We laughed at the variety of styles from super skinny to Bozo-wide. Some of the ugliest may have been gifts from us, seen as cool that particular Christmas or Father’s Day. It didn’t look like he had gotten rid of any of them over the years.

I picked one that looked like “Dad” to me. I’m not sure how the others made their choice, or if anyone kept the golf tie, or the hand-painted one from Hawaii. The one he was buried in had blue-gray stripes to match his gray jacket. It looked like him.

They came to get me because she was crying. I was a third grader and my sister had just started Kindergarten. She was crying because she had wet her pants while someone else was in the only bathroom available. Embarrassed because she didn’t usually have accidents, she was afraid she’d be labeled a “baby” in her class. I was embarrassed because my sister had an accident (that baby) and because somehow the school had identified me with her! Plus she could really cry once she got going… I doubt I was much comfort to her while we waited together for Mom to come with dry clothes.

We managed to be a comfort to each other more often than an embarrassment as years went by. We live and work in the same community (by choice!) 800 miles from our childhood home. People here have only known us as adults and struggle to tell us apart. We both have worked with children and are often mistakenly greeted by the others’ name. Long tied to one another in this way, we just say hello and receive the hug from an unknown child on our sister’s behalf without correcting their mistake.

So…and that

A few years ago my adult children heard someone wrap up a sentence with the words “and that” and chuckled as one said to the other, “That reminds me of Aunt N”.

Puzzled, as Aunt N is my sister, I asked what they meant.  They were astonished I had never noticed her habit of wrapping up a sentence with the words “and that”.

Now I can’t help but notice and I smile thinking of my kids every time I hear her use those words to wrap up her thoughts.  I’m not sure what it means, other than that she is done with what she was saying.  I have not mentioned this to her.

Oblivious as I was to her “and thats” I am well aware of my own awkward and involuntary way of frequently ending a statement with “so…”.  Being aware of it hasn’t helped me break this verbal habit.  “So…” might mean I am leaving it to the hearer to draw their own conclusions about what I was just saying.  Or it may be my way of passing the conversational ball, as in  “I’m done.  What do you think?”.

Which led me to think about how often styles of conversation seem to run in families.

Many in my husband’s family need a conversational pause big enough to drive a truck through before they will comment in a conversation involving more than one other person.  My sister and I are more like cars darting from one lane to another on the interstate. One of us begins to talk as the others sentence is nearing an end, but not completed. Reverse and repeat for the length of the conversation.  (Yes, this is also known as interrupting…I try to control it …or at least feel bad when I don’t…) It works well enough for us and neither is offended.

I’ve  learned the nonverbal clues that mean my husband has something  to say, and I try to open the conversational gate wide for him at those times.  It became a nightly routine around the dinner table, the kids and I chattering away until their dad would reach in his shirt pocket and remove a fold of paper.  As the paper crinkled, we grew silent to listen as he shared something about his day, including the daily trivia question he had just pulled from his pocket to read to us.  That done, he was content for our chattering to resume.

Over the years his few words often carried more weight than my many words to the children – a good lesson for writing as well as conversation.  Our adult children are considered quiet by some, chatty by others.  They are a little of both.

My sister and I continue in our awkward sentence endings, perhaps because we are less comfortable in situations where no one is talking yet as we wrap up our thoughts.  I’m not too concerned about breaking that habit.  But I do try to curb my tendency to interrupt when I can see that it is annoying the speaker, so…………