Monthly Archives: February 2011

Surviving moving day

When I was a kid, my next-door neighbors, the Schirchs, moved to a house about seven houses west. It was basically pretty simple…throw things in a truck and drive down the street. But then there was the piano. It was just a typical upright piano…a small one by most standards, but hey, pianos are heavy at any size. So after scratching his head for awhile, Reldon Schirch nabbed a couple of neighbor boys and they rolled the piano down Elm Street. I don’t remember how they got it up the steps. That wasn’t my problem. I was just a kid.

But flash forward about 40 years. This time the move involves a 6 1/2-foot Steinway and its new home is about 1/2 mile south….still a relatively simple move if you compare it to moving a 9-foot grand from North Carolina to a mountain-side cabin about one mile uphill in Virginia. Ask my brother about that. On the other hand, don’t ask him. He’ll turn green.

So anyway…there we were, pondering the best way to move the piano belonging to my mother — the one she’d taught hundreds of children to play over the past 37 years. I still remember the day that piano arrived at 430 W. Elm St. Well, actually, I remember the day it was supposed to arrive, but was postponed by a day. Which turned out to be a blessing. That night, a drunk driver missed the corner on Elm and drove his car smack into the corner of my bedroom and the music room.

But I digress. It’s 2011 and the piano movers have been summoned. On the first day, ice interferes. On the second day, snow interferes. But as they say, the third time’s a charm and the move was on. My brother kept my mom busy while I nervously stood around holding my breath as two average sized guys removed the piano’s legs, wrapped in some kind of cushioned fabric, and painstakingly moved it down one ramp and up another onto the truck.

Arriving at our house, they pondered their next move. Block the street and move it straight up the sidewalk or back {up} the driveway and trundle it over the flagstone? They finally settled on backing up, covering the flagstone with one ramp and placing another ramp on the stairs.

Their biggest concern was that we needed something under the legs to protect the wood floor. We finally made them happy by folding up rag rugs on which to place the legs. My brother told me later that he asked his builder whether his new floors would hold up under his own grand — the builder was unconcerned, saying it was like having five 200-pound persons at a party standing close together. They wouldn’t fall through, right?

So far, the floorboards seem to be holding up well. Old oak must be strong. Now, the challenge is for one of us to resurrect her rusty piano skills and the other to develop his. But hey, there’s that 87-year-old just itching to teach more lessons. In fact, the dinner table conversation earlier this week involved a lively discussion of the circle of fifths.

More on that later. For now, scales rule the roost.

Fred practicing scales

After 20 years, the Queen takes her leave

Yesterday when I got home from work, I was greeted by two four-footed creatures. One was overjoyed to see me; the other was, well, simply glad that someone had responded to her imperious calls.  Because as far as Peaches was concerned, she was THE QUEEN. She presumed that it was she for whom the rest of the family toiled.

It’s been that way since the day she showed up on our doorstep more than 20 years ago. She fooled an 8-year-old into pouring her a saucer of milk and that was that. She was there to stay.

That was the only time I’ve been grateful for allergies, because my pronouncement that she could stay but had to live outdoors was met with loud objections. But hey, if Mom’s gotta breathe, kitty’s gotta do her breathing outside. That lasted for about four months…until the cold of winter set in. We settled on a deal that she could come in when it was REALLY cold  and/or REALLY wet. But she had to be in the basement. This worked most of the time, except when Anne sneaked her into her bed. Which she did a few weeks ago.

The funny thing was, after about 12 hours of indoor life, she was ready to go back outside. She’d sit in front of the door and meow. In later years, she’d howl. We’d let her out and off she would go to do her daily hunting and gathering. Any small rodent was fair game. In fact, large rodents weren’t necessarily off her radar. It became her habit to present these to us as gifts, gazing up at us in that condescending way of hers. And waiting. For praise. Which, by the way, she did NOT receive.

We probably should have kept track of her catches, but after the baby bunny on the doorstep, we lost interest. That was the day that the girls and I had to summon Dad home to dispose of the little guy. Peaches watched Fred with disgust as he performed a bunny burial.

Oh, but she could be charming. She could purr as loud as the rest of the cats, begging for a scratch behind the ears or a belly rub. Not from me, of course. She and I had an understanding. There was to be no rubbing of a furry body on the legs. In turn, she expected me to slip her a snitch of tuna or salmon periodically.

Peaches was a walker. She often joined us on long walks. If she got tired or bored, she’d return home and wait for us on the porch, bellowing her disgust. About five years ago, she quit following us. She’d walk about halfway down the block, whining the whole way, then give up and go home to wait.

Her worst nightmare was the day I adopted Ike. She’d tolerated every other dog, but none of them were interested in her. Ike was. He would dance in circles around her, eager to play. Finally, she’d stick out a paw, claws extended, and take a swipe. He never learned.

In recent years, we could tell that she was losing her hearing she wouldn’t come when called. Her howling reached decibels of discomfort. A trip to the vet 3 years ago revealed that she was in excellent health, with the exception of some signs of dementia. A couple of rounds of “kitty Prozac” and she was humming a happier tune. The trick was getting those little pink pills down her throat without losing a finger. Even Lindsay, who could get a lemon down a dog’s throat if she had to, finally gave up. Forget trying to hide it in her food. She was on to us. She’d eat everything and spit out a mangled pill, then fix us with a withering stare.

Every time the girls would visit, they’d give her an extra hug before leaving, “just in case”. We knew 20 years was pretty unusual in a cat — especially one that spent her days roaming the neighborhood. Knowing that didn’t mean we were ready for it when it came.

Yesterday, when I got home from work, I put her out to soak up some sun. When she hadn’t returned by 9 p.m., I was getting a little worried. At 2 a.m., I checked the front porch. No Peaches. Not a sound. When my running partner showed up this morning, I told her we were on a Peaches search. If there was a lump in the road, she would have to check it out. Not me. Couldn’t do it.

When I returned an hour later, I fully expected her to be on the porch. But as I walked up the driveway, I saw her, lying on her side in the grass. Even from a distance, I knew she was gone. I wrapped her in a towel and placed her on the patio, then called Fred and told him the first order of business when he returned from his conference would be a burial. He sounded as sad as I felt.

In an odd turn of events, the girls have had to console me this time. “She was OLD, Mom.” But it was Lindsay’s Eric, who put it in perspective for me.

“Peaches has joined Fritz (another cat) in what Native Americans call ‘the great rift in the sky'”.

Perfecting the fine art of putzing

It’s funny how we use certain words in a perfectly innocent way, only to suddenly discover that there is a not-so-pleasant definition associated with the word. For example, “putz”. It’s one of my favorite past times. Technically, I could use “putter”, but I like putz so much better. I just looked up the word and I’m not going to include the definition I found, but let’s just say it’s not the definition in my book.

One day last week, my husband asked what I planned to do with some much-needed free time. I looked at him blankly. PLANNED to do? Plan wasn’t a part of my evening. This is where he and I differ. He has his whole day organized, down to the walking of the dog. I, on the other hand, can while away an entire day, putzing. Doing this and that. Whatever strikes my fancy.

As it turned out, we took a few hours to putz around my mom’s condo. If she reads this, she’ll wonder what we got into. Not to worry, Mother. We watered some plants, and then decided to look through old photos and slides. You have to understand, I come from a family with a long-standing tradition of taking photos of everything. My grandfather and his twin brother were in competition for who could take the most photos, and Grandpa passed on this affinity to my father…and on down the line. So we have a massive collection of slides that date back to the 30s.

While Fred fiddled around with the slides, I looked through photo albums. I picked out a few favorites — including one of a bunch of Suter cousins crammed onto Grandpa’s wagon. My cousin, Claire, says  just looking at the photo brings back the pungent, but wonderful, smell of that wagon…straw and manure. And we were sitting on it. Of course.

When we tired of flipping through slides and photos, we migrated to the other bedroom, where we putzed our way through another hour of weeding through old record albums and books. My dad’s old stereo, complete with tuner and turntable still produces the best sound from those old vinyl 33 LPs.

Two hours later, there we were with a pile of old photos and not much else to say for our time. But it was fun. What better way to relax that putzing with no plan in mind? Here are a few of what I found…

Mother and Dad in a 1978 Caddie...sadly, not theirs

1956 -- James, Phil, Tom, Mother, me, Dad, John

Lindsay, my niece, Ginny, and Anne...probably the summer they all had chicken pox

How many Pannabeckers and Shooks can you cram into a wagon?

Eureka! Let’s make an “antarium”!

Milton M. Levine died last week at age 97. The name doesn’t ring a bell? Think “Uncle Milton’s Ant Farm”, that great invention of the late 50s that mesmerized millions of children and parents alike. Well, at least it mesmerized my brothers and me. We spent hours watching those little worker ants tromping back and forth through the sand.

I can’t remember who actually received the ant farm as a gift, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the boys. At $1.98 a shot, it was a relative bargain in terms of Christmas gifts. Since laws prevented queen ants crossing state lines, there was no reproduction. But hey, if they all died, you could order more ants…or dig them out of your back yard.

Levine, who says his “aha” moment struck when he “saw a mound of ants” at a family picnic and suggested they create an “antarium”, similar to the ones he made in jars as a kid. What came out of that idea was the original 6- by 9-inch plastic rectangle with sand. Ants arrived separately and the antkeeper would pop them into the sand-filled container.

Levine’s company even created an executive version later on — Executive Antropolis – but it was never as popular. Can’t imagine why, given the popularity of executive toys.

Fifty-five years later, Uncle Milton’s Ant Farms are thriving and still a bargain at $10.99 each. Levine never expected his novel idea to last so long, let alone put his three children through college. Not bad for a bunch of Pogonomyrmex californicus.

*Note to my husband and children: I’m turning 55 this year. Guess what I want for my birthday?