Friday, December 21, 2012

Lepley 2012 Family Christmas Letter...

            “New jersey?”
            “No, it’s not new. No I’ve had it for awhile. It still fits.”
            “No, New Jersey!  Your sweatshirt says New Jersey on it!”
            “Oh, yeah, right.  Sorry, I… well, my cousin lives there, she gave it to me. I‘m not from there.”
            “I know you’re not from there, you’re my Dad. I know where you’re from! I’m Bryan, remember?”
             “Oh, yeah, so how ya been?”
            “Waddaya mean, ‘how ya been’? I see you every day. You’re losing it.”
Three winter hats in search
of snow.
            “Did I lose something? Not my fault. ‘Course if you tell me what you lost I can help you find it.”

            “Kathleen, Dad’s losing it. Does Mom know?”
            “Yeah, she knows. Well, sort of. She just thinks he’s deaf”
            “Ya know what I think? I think he’s milkin’ it. Ever since he got his Medicare Card he’s been acting like all the old guys he hangs around with. I think Mom will eventually do the same thing but she’s too busy right now to get older.”
            “Ha! Well, I hope she keeps that up ‘cause baby Andrew loves his three days a week with her.”
            “Yeah, GavBoy’s crazy about his Mondays. Never wants to go home! And Ellie’s art and piano get a big boost from her, that’s for sure.”

             “Roger, are you going to write a Christmas letter this year? You know, Christmas is next week and they’re not going to delay it just for you!”
            “Kristy, geez, I get no respect. All these years I’ve put up with Christmas being on the 25th, with no complaints. Just once I would think we could maybe jam Christmas and New Years onto the same date and I know I’d be ready for that!”
            “Ha! I bet you wouldn’t. Did you take out the garbage?”
            “OK, I’ll write the letter tonight. Yep. Tonight I’m gonna write the letter AND take out the garbage! A double-header!”
            “There you go with your new sports-talk again! I’ll bet you don’t even know what a double-header is?”
            “Well, that’s true, but Ryan mentioned it one time this summer while goofin’ around with his iPad and I swear it had something to do with basketball or rugby or something. Anyway, doesn’t matter, I can still water ski. That’s a sport, isn’t it?”
            “I think so. Well, go write your letter. I need to get my cookies made, finish painting that chair, compose another Shutterfly album, needlepoint a Christmas stocking for Andrew and quilt a new bedspread, all by tomorrow.”

             “Hi Suz, Roger. Yeah, good. You? Say, I gotta write a Christmas letter tonight and you’re the only one I can ask this of ‘cause the rest of the family thinks I’m losing it and I know you can keep a secret. Well, yep, it’s true. So, the thing is, I can’t remember some stuff. Yeah. Well, like, do we still have the cottage on Sylvan Lake? Yes! That’s cool! Did we, like, have a great time there this summer like we always do? Really? That’s great, I love that place. And, Ellie learned how to water ski and Gavin went tubing and caught a bunch of fish? What about Andrew? So, he flopped around in the water and loved it? That’s really nice. Well, is there anything else I should mention in the letter? Yep, you’re right it is a great family. OK, I got it. Thanks! Bye!”

            “Kristy, I got the letter done.”
            “Well, that was quick.”
            “Yep. You know me. Ya get me talkin’ and I just won’t stop.”
            “Hmm, maybe I don’t know you!”
            “Very funny. So, instead of stuffing it into an envelope I’m just gonna post it on my blog and tell people about it on our Christmas card. So, if they wanna read it they can and if they don’t, well, it isn’t cluttering up their recycle bin.”
            “Well, aren’t you my brilliant, loveable, kind, handsome, generous, modern, high-tech, compassionate, brave, loyal husband?!”

 Editors note:  The dialog above is an absolutely accurate, unedited, transcript of true conversations except for the last sentence, which I added at the last minute. R

 Whoops. Forgot to take out the garbage.





Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reflections on Dining Alone in a Chicago Bistro

               The encounter started with a simple nod and a simultaneous exchange of smiles. We both opened our mouths at once as though getting ready to speak, but both laughed with that recognition. His waiter had appeared, as had mine, to give menus and enlighten us of the chef’s specials. Our booths in the dark bistro were opposite each other with our waiters back to back, no doubt almost colliding. The servers then left to gather up our drinks.
                I had earlier removed my glasses but replaced them to study the menu, moving them around for the best focus in the low light. That’s when I saw that he, too, had glasses and was adjusting them. We nodded and smiled again, at our concurrent actions.
                We finished ordering at the same time and chuckled at all the coincidences. The bistro’s dim ambiance seemed a bit extreme, lit only by soft candles and minimal spots scattered about.  I glanced over to see that he had glasses on as well and we nodded again. After ordering, I removed my glasses, resting my eyes, allowing my brain to melt in the resulting fuzz. Dining alone after having spent a long day at the trade show, this was a special time for me to drift away into my own world, letting my mind and body cool down. After the repetitive chatter working solely at the convention, I longed for this quiet time, away from the incessant booth traffic. It had been a good day, a busy one. But the thought of just me having dinner with just me was welcome and cherished. And, I was very tired.
                Not by any means am I a hermit or loner, but I appreciate these rare evenings to think and create and garner up new thoughts or just plain back my brain through long-lost thoughts from times past. But also, it’s enjoyable to meet new folks in this sort of setting and chat if only for a cluster of minutes thrown together by fate. In just these brief moments, the nodding and smiling fellow across the aisle seemed as though, perhaps, in another life or time he might eventually be a good friend, even one for life, who knows, but here in the bistro’s din we simply acknowledge some time shared. Perhaps without words, only smiles and nods. His suit and tie, like mine, signaled a business fellow who probably also had a busy day, perhaps at a similar pace, who may enjoy time alone.
                 Although it was difficult to see, I was struck that his blurry form did look somewhat familiar and I almost got up to chat. At that moment it appeared he was going to do the same when both our waiters appeared, trays in hand, to dole out the welcome food. I was hungry and ate in earnest, trying not to glance over too often as I felt self-conscious that I might be acting a little too friendly and perhaps he would find that uncomfortable. As the meal went on, with both of us simultaneously ordering more beer, I began to lose interest in what might result in a long conversation. My weariness was getting the best of me.
                When we finished our meals and our bills arrived, I replaced my glasses to tally up and sign. While gathering my coat and briefcase I dropped my credit card under the table. In the turmoil of finding the card and securing my belongings,  I didn’t glance back, although I knew by a shadow or form that he was nearby before I walked to the dark, wood-paneled entry way. I looked back but he had disappeared - disappeared as in vaporized. Gone. Searching around the amber dining room, I saw only diners’ heads and waiters’ silhouettes in the room and revealed in the golden, mirrored walls, but not my dining companion. Too bad. I think I would have liked to at least exchange a word or two. I had convinced myself that he was probably a lot like me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Thanksgiving Memory - Grandpa's Great Oyster Circus

“The turkeys are up, Gran’pa!”

          Hundreds of chattering birds echoed in the chilly Pennsylvania meadow as dawn glowed beyond. Grandpa and I crunched cautiously through his frosty, sparkling pasture, my pint-sized shoulders gently guided by his hand. Our breath ascended in foggy puffs. We laughed at each other's steam as we chatted, just the two of us. He carefully steered me toward the flutter and clatter of his turkey pens behind the warm, coal-fired farm house. Looking east to the sunrise he said, "Corky, looks like God's making marmalade today!" I stopped in wonder, to think about that, then looked up at him, my mouth open. He just smiled and clutched my shoulder. I'll never forget my feeling that morning as he pointed out the glowing and glistening wonders around us. He wanted me to be as captivated as he, to have my young brain absorb it all. A shivering lad I was, but the escapade was too embracing to give in to the nose-tingling chill. My tall, lanky pal had coaxed me out of the snuggling feather bed to rise early that Thanksgiving Eve to “help” with the bird-raising chores. My first movement that morning was having my eyes pop open with his tender shake to waken me. Even though I knew it was early and it was cold, I was instantly ready to join my wonderful grandfather.
            He was a full-fledged hero to me; as animated as a circus clown who could easily be the ring-master when opportunity arose, but also full of down-home compassion and skills. Our family trips from Michigan to grandma and grandpa’s farm didn’t come often enough, that was certain, so I clung to my grinning, energy-packed grandpa at every chance.
            The next morning was Thanksgiving and I knew I was in for even more adventures. As the sun cleared the sill, I rolled from my downy cloud and snuck step-by-step descending creaking, wooden steps for my first glimpse of Grandpa’s Amazing Breakfast Show extravaganza! He’d already been dancing and juggling pans in his kitchen for some time, before I caught the Second Act. Customary hot, smoky-blue clouds swarmed around his balding head like the bees in grandma’s garden. He masterfully tended skillets, waving huge forks and spatulas around as though directing the band like John Phillips Sousa himself! Right there in the Big Top, a mighty performance was already on the go. Breakfast bacon and ham sizzled and chattered away, all under the enthusiastic director, while eggs sang and danced a different theme, huffing and puffing and bouncing around their hot cast iron pan, straining desperately to leap out! What a sensuous blast to my tender head. Grandpa’s kitchen was the center ring of his funny, homespun circus and he loved having his peanut gallery watching every move. With butter dish in hand, he’d stretch his arm out to me, “Here Corky, take this.” I’d reach up and he’d thrust it to me so fast that my little fingers ended up halfway into the soft, mushy butter. “Ha! Gran’pa!” I giggled, “You got me again!”
            Except for the warm, yeasty pleasures of grandma’s pies and breads, he did most of the cooking. It was like watching three rings in the big top for the very first time; action from every cupboard, drawers flying open and objects swirling around, as he smoothly lassoed everything back into place except the bull that he laid on us kids. I never really knew if all this high-pitched action at breakfast was his way of accomplishing a perfectly timed meal, or his guarantee that the entire family was up and ready for his hot feast and the freshly squeezed orange juice, warm biscuits and grandma’s honey and peach jam. Whatever grandpa’s motive, we were all out of bed and ready to dig in!
            Of course, for this country chef and turkey farmer, Thanksgiving was the day all the bangin’ and clangin’ would climax with an exuberance of culinary experiments and old favorites. One special thrill of his, besides having his grandchildren around to cheer him on, was to prepare each year’s new stuffing recipe. This was the year of the now family-famous, Oyster Stuffing Recipe that my Mom had discovered for him in Better Homes and Gardens. To be sure, an oyster recipe calls for oysters, which were generally hard to find in rural Pennsylvania in the Fifties. But, grandpa had planned ahead and made sure to reserve some at the market in Lewistown, just 10 miles up the road. So, on that adventure-packed day before Thanksgiving, after our turkey trek, he bopped me on the noggin and said, “Corky, let’s go to town!” “Sure, Gramps!” Off my brothers, Johnny and Ronnie, and I bounded for the big city in the dusty, wired-up old Dodge for frozen oysters. When back home, grandpa placed his prized oysters into the cellar’s turkey freezer, ready for tomorrow. All the family knew he was mighty proud of the rare delight this year’s stuffing promised. Oyster dressing had probably never graced the Juniata Valley before this very event.
            Later, on Thanksgiving morning, after the Amazing Breakfast Show finale, he intently mixed his special stuffing, with three grandchildren helping or watching or crawling underfoot. At a precise moment, the treasured frozen oysters were carefully added to the bread mixture, the bird stuffed and slid carefully into the hot oven. He then directed all to cut, chop, crack, boil, mix, bake and spill all manner of ingredients with no concern as to the after-tornado appearance the circus arena eventually gained.
                        The colliding kaleidoscope of action and potent aromas reached its conclusion about 2:00 PM. We were summoned to wash up, get the year’s official photograph taken, and then say the prayers, in which Grandpa, Dad and Uncle Gerald all thanked the Lord for turkey and oysters and asked that He pay special attention to keeping the children healthy. With nine pairs of hungry eyes watching, Dad skillfully carved the golden-brown bird and spooned out grandpa’s gourmet stuffing with fanfare and hushed anticipation, as though the tightrope walker high in the sky had just stepped onto the wire. The sparkling-eyed, little kid in Grandpa was waiting anxiously for a taste of his uppity, cosmopolitan, fancy-dancy, oyster-enhanced masterpiece. Of course, Dad let Gramps take the first taste. His eyes widened then closed then one opened slightly, but he didn’t say anything for several seconds. He then turned his head, looked around and grinned his big Grandpa-grin. At the expected announcement of triumph, he began laughing and said, “Al, you’d better try it too.” Dad curiously spooned up some stuffing for judging and immediately bit into a still frozen oyster.  Well, gramps, being the funniest character I ever knew, promptly decided that the joke was on him and declared that that was the best Thanksgiving ever! 

(Note: My grandparents, Homer and Eva Lepley, lived in the Alfarata, Pennsylvania area all of their lives. After retiring from working at a nearby iron foundry, Grandpa raised turkeys in large pens behind the farm house.Grandma was president of the local Women's Christian Temperance Union and head of the local Women's Auxiliary of the Republican Party.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Kauai's Roosters Can be Demanding!

       Three determined jungle roosters have been paying special attention to the home of Kapa‘a artist Fanny Bilodeau, according to Ron Bilodeau, Fanny’s husband.
       “I believe these birds have been intent on telling us something, but I really think they’re trying to talk specifically to Fanny,” said Ron when this reporter visited their home to learn more.
“She’s the one who’s known to paint Kaua‘i’s roosters in both real and absurd situations. So Fanny asked me to investigate the hullabaloo outside her studio,” he said. “It’s as though they actually know what some of her paintings portray and they seem to want to talk with her, I think. Although, that sounds nuts, doesn’t it?”
       To determine what just may be sparking the rooster commotion, this reporter researched further and was reminded that some of Fanny’s artwork features roosters performing amazing and unbelievable feats.
       I first admired her art a few years ago while munching on banana macadamia nut pancakes at Kountry Kitchen in Kapa‘a. For example, Fanny’s rooster art includes one with a rooster flying an airplane, another surfing.
       Knowing that Kaua‘i Deputy Robert Moakane may be of some help with deciphering the mystery I asked him to meet with me, along with the Bilodeaus and the roosters. The deputy is known to be a “rooster whisperer” and to actually be able to communicate in some way with the jungle fowl.
This reporter has documented his unusual talents in a few stories in The Garden Island, where Deputy Moakane was able to use his special skills to assist with rooster-related dilemmas.
       The meeting was set for last Wednesday at mid-morning when the roosters had finished their well-known, self-appointed “wake-up” services for the island. The seven of us gathered in the Bilodeau yard around an outside table. Some of us were in lawn chairs while others pecked on the ground nearby. As soon as the deputy had arrived, the roosters took notice and glanced back and forth at each other.
       Then they slowly backed away as if to say, “Uh-oh, what’d we do now?!” The deputy immediately put them at ease, crouching down to their level and offering a handful of chicken feed while staring intently into their eyes.
The roosters lifted and cocked their heads a bit, then began chattering or chirping —or some such noise — directly at the deputy. He nodded knowingly, got up from his crouch and pulled up a chair to address Fanny.
     “I’m pretty sure that the roosters are looking for some type of royalty payments from you. You know, for you using their images in your paintings,” he said, in a noticeably serious tone but smiling at the same time, obviously attempting not to laugh and put the roosters off, who appeared glued to his every action and statement.
       “Really?! Oh, well, I guess I can understand that,” Fanny said in a thoughtful way that seemed to reflect on the odd, but interesting information.
       “Well, then” she said talking directly to the roosters, “how can I do that?” Ron looked at her as though she was nuts. The roosters looked at her as though to convey appreciation for her understanding. They approached her slowly and maybe, I might add, even affectionately.
       “Well, I’m not sure what to suggest” said Deputy Moakane. “Perhaps it would be appropriate to offer them what they value most, which is food and respect. I’d say you set a bit of grain out each day, away from the house, and see if that does the job. Of course, feeding the wild fowl is, shall we say, frowned upon, but I believe it will be OK under the circumstances.”
      “So what you’re saying” asked Ron “is that some of Fanny’s models for her paintings have been and will be working for ‘chicken feed’?”  
       “Yep, that’s about it. It may not seem like much to you or me but for them, chicken feed is perfect”
       The roosters nodded in apparent triumph, bowed to the deputy, then to Fanny, looked each of us in the eye and strutted off with their heads held high.

Story © Roger Lepley
Illustration “Roosters Surfing” © Fanny Bilodeau