Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

Multiple Marriages Bring Multiple Perspectives

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

I couldn’t resist. After writing a (pretty bad) poem that spoofed the elaborate strategies for perfect eclipse viewing, I am myself headed to a spot two hours south of Portland, Oregon along the Path of Totality.

“The perfect tribute to Bill Hurley!” friends have exclaimed. And they are right. My late husband, an amateur astronomer and believer in Carpe Diem! would have not missed the August 21 event. Since he died last August, it does make the perfect anniversary tribute.

The more I thought about my adventure, though, the more I had to smile. The Bill mode of eclipse-viewing vs. the Pat mode is strikingly different.

With Bill, it would have been precise advance calculations, escape plans via low-traffic highways in case of cloud cover, sleeping bag, tent, telescope. I know this because he was already planning it.

With me, it is a hotel departure in an air-conditioned motor coach with bathroom (I asked), box breakfast, quick hike to the viewing site, then off for lunch at a winery.

I could say I’m taking the easy way because I don’t have the necessary skill or equipment to do it the hard way, and that would be partially true.

But the real truth is, at this stage of the game there’s more to the story. My mode of eclipse-viewing – and many other modes – is influenced by being married 40 years and not to the same man. To three, to be exact.

While Husband #3 inspired a love of stargazing and carpe diem adventure, twenty-six years with late Husband #2 inspired an appreciation for keeping it simple.

“Knock yourself out,” he’d say when I came up with some cockamamie scheme. “Tell me how it all worked out.” This passion for simplification extended to grocery lists ordered according to supermarket aisles and written vacation post mortems designed to plan the perfect experience in the exact same location the following year.

Somehow, living with these two different styles has morphed me into a weird sort of hybrid that I’ve gotten to like. Isn’t the box breakfast on the air-conditioned bus on the way to an eclipse actually the best of both worlds? Haven’t multiple marriages sort of taken things to the next level?

At least that’s what I tell myself as I stare longingly – twice widowed and once divorced – at the Facebook couples from my high school class who are celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss, all to the same person.

I count backwards and realize that if I’d stayed with Husband #1 (the high school ex) all these years, I’d have been inching my way toward 50 next year. His death this summer caused me to call up long-forgotten conversations from our too-early marriage, a tutorial sort of relationship that too much resembled the likes of Eliza Doolittle and Professor Henry Higgins.

At one point – I can still see it – he scribbled instructions to Drink More Water! on a legal pad. It was actually not bad advice.

Maybe in #1’s honor, when I board the bus on my carpe diem adventure, I will knock myself out and pack a water bottle in addition to the provided breakfast.

But only if I write it on a list ahead of time.

Copyright 2017 Pat Snyder


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Family History Buff? Try Pocket Edition

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017


When you’re grounded with foot surgery, what could be better than a compulsive genealogy project?

Chocolate, probably. Or binge-watching The Crown. Or ordering Pad Thai online.

But I’m happy to report that I took the high road and wrote the story of how my dad’s family came here from Czechoslovakia at the turn of the 20th century.

Truth be told, it was not so much the high road as a time-honored compulsion to discover one’s family story after the children are grown.

I remember when the genealogy bug bit my mom. Newly widowed and down-sized into an independent living facility, she ordered that all her family pictures and letters be crammed into four plastic under-the-bed chests.

“I am going to write my family history before I meet the neighbors,” she said.

An extrovert to the end, she produced one type-written page and left behind a myriad of snapshots labeled, if at all, with the date on which the picture was taken. Happily, a cousin of hers took over the project and hungrily grabbed all the bits and pieces she had for her side of the family.

Left behind were remnants from my dad’s side: some naturalization papers, a few birth certificates, more unidentified pictures, and a riveting description by a distant cousin of life in Czechoslovakia.

A quick glance at revealed that the family name – Ondo – was extra common in Czechoslovakia and that the Ondos had a bad habit – as my grandparents and their parents did – of naming every male in the family John, Paul, George or Michael.

“Good luck with that!” said a responsible genealogist friend. “You’ve got a lot of digging to do.” She said something about consanguinity charts and libraries and graveyards in any state where they’d ever mined coal, forged steel or raised chickens – all early occupations of my forebears.

I said “Of course!” and thought “No way!” To date, the most family history my children have absorbed is the family tree I’ve scribbled on a cocktail napkin in flight to a reunion.

So how to hook the Twitter generation on family history? Easy. Write a pocket edition that satisfies the universal hankering for in-the-genes brilliance.

With apologies to genealogists everywhere, I stuck to the generations of Johns, Pauls, Georges and Michaels I already knew about, pictured them once and threw in a few good stories. Not because I’m lazy. Certainly not!

Who cares to see a chart of third cousins once removed if you can know instead that great-great grandpa was a village blacksmith, smoked his own sausage and may have owned a tavern? Or that great grandpa skinned rabbits and made wine? Or that his oldest son (“the black sheep”) was a daring racecar driver? Or your second cousin (honest) is a rock drummer in Portland?

Isn’t it more important to know your great-uncles rose through the corporate ranks with elementary school educations and your grandpa was a stickler for hard work?

My dad, I might add, would have endorsed my pocket edition approach to his family. He had an opinion about genealogies.

“Don’t look too hard,” he always said. “You might find a horse thief.”

Copyright 2017 Pat Snyder




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Fidget Spinner Outs Me

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

I like to think I have each of my grown children figured out and properly categorized: The wise, contemplative oldest. The never-knew-a-stranger sales guy in the middle. The sensitive, empathic youngest.

I thought this game was a comfortable one-way street till Mr. Wise One sent a care package to entertain me after bunion surgery.

“I think you’ll like this stuff,” he said. “It’s the real you.”

I could hardly wait to find out what that was.

A smashing collection of classical jazz? A volume of Chekhov prose? A Black Belt Sudoku book?

When the box arrived, it contained three things: a novel about a widow with grown children who got bored and joined the CIA, a 550-piece travel puzzle and a little white box with a three-sided thing-a-ma-jig in it.

My granddaughter, 7 (sales guy’s daughter), gasped when she saw it. “A fidget spinner!” she cried, and grabbed it out of my hand. Seems she and all her friends have these, buy them by the fistfuls, stash them in their backpacks.

In seconds, she had it spinning between her thumb and second finger. “Watch this!” she said. And suddenly it was spinning perfectly on the tip of her thumb.

“This is a really good one,” she said. “It will help you when you’re fidgety.”

The more I read about fidget spinners, the more sobering all this became.

It’s not just that Wise One believes a toy invented to calm down children with ADHD is the perfect thing for me. It’s also the fact that I’d somehow missed a craze that has spun through the national media like a tornado for at least two months.

The calming part makes sense. The first time I spun it, I couldn’t take my eyes off the thing.

“This could be the perfect meditation tool,” I told him. And I meant it.

How could I leave the present moment when I was totally absorbed in watching a whirligig?

“Is that why you sent it?” I asked him. “So I could focus?”

“Use it as you will,” he said. Did I mention he is also superbly polite?

But the more I ponder this, I’m thinking that the real me it has outed, is someone who despite ardent post-election efforts, is still living in a bubble. I’m in my own little world, uninhabited by fidget spinners or news reports, fake and otherwise, that have warned of the dangers of these whirligigs gone airborne.

Some schools have banned them. Classroom teachers have seized them. ADHD experts have wrangled about their usefulness. All off my radar screen. All on my seven-year-old granddaughter’s.

After awhile, I was bothered less by the idea of being fidgety than the fact I had missed all of this. Was it a generational thing? Was I aging at an alarming rate?

My only comfort is that when I mentioned the fidget spinner, my Sensitive and Empathic Youngest had no idea what I was talking about.

“So he gave you a “Sit ‘n Spin?” she asked. “How is that good for your foot?”

She went on to ask if I had heard the news that Ohio farmers were producing camel milk – a topic she said everyone was talking about. In Oregon, where she lives.

At least living in a bubble is not about age. It’s apparently genetic.

Copyright 2017 Pat Snyder




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Bunion Surgery Squelches Errand-Running High

Friday, May 26th, 2017

Everybody’s good at something.

My personal best is jamming a dozen errands into an eight-hour day.

When I pass a Jiffy Lube, I wonder if I might be able to work an oil change in before the dentist, where I’m due in 15 minutes.

I can cram a trip downtown with intoxicating possibilities for detour– to the hardware store for epoxy, the PO for a Priority Mail box, the pharmacy for the perfect birthday card for my cousin in Kansas.

If time and space are kin, my day would look like one of those craft cupboards pictured on Pinterest – 1,400 tubes of acrylic paint, 1,200 paint brushes, and several reams of multi-colored construction paper jammed onto sagging shelves.

So compelling is the thrill of the chase that when my doctor, scheduling me for bunion surgery next month said five weeks no driving, I was stunned. I’d expected the pain. But five weeks with no errands?

Sure. Several kind friends stepped up. “We can run to the store for you,” they said.

But I suspect they were not thinking of doing this at my usual pace – five minutes from the bright idea till I pull into the Kroger parking lot.

So I decided to stock up ahead of time – only to discover that 36 rolls of extra-wide, Ultra-Soft Charmin won’t fit in my hallway closet.

“Try Amazon Prime Now!” someone suggested. (The Now is part of the name, not necessarily when I was supposed to try it.) I checked it out.

It was sobering to learn that if I’m willing to hold my horses for two hours, at no charge, I could have chilled wine delivered to my front stoop, along with the glasses to drink it from. Also, a 49-inch TV, 214 dairy, cheese and egg products, 84 kinds of chocolate, 72 kinds of produce…and I’m just getting started.

I should be elated, but instead I feel like a factory worker sidelined by technology. My errand-running skills have been replaced by warehouse workers near my zip code rushing around like frantic worker bees, carting products from place to place, getting them ready to rush out the door for this two-hour window.

In my fantasies, I’ve thought it might be fun to join them at the warehouse after my five-week sabbatical. Imagine the thrill of organizing so much stuff, the adrenaline rush of the two-hour window, the satisfaction of the perfectly packed box!

But from what I read, it’s grueling work with none of the errand-running highs I’ve grown to love.

Instead, maybe I’ll try savoring the time saved. With everything just dropped on the front porch, maybe I’ll finally learn to meditate, read more poetry or – egads! – binge-watch some of those shows my friends keep recommending.

At the moment, I’m making a to-do list of possibilities that don’t require driving: unwritten letters, unread books, unwatched movies, an unwritten genealogy on my father’s side, unmade edits suggested by my poetry group, an unwritten transition memo for a bar association….

The adrenaline is kicking in. It’s starting to get exciting. I’m not sure five weeks is long enough.

Copyright 2017 Pat Snyder


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