Janelle Meraz Hooper
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art by Linda Studebaker

Soldiers Give Writer Reason To Be Thankful

by Janelle Meraz Hooper

(originally published in The Northwest Guardian)

 

When I was a kid, I was raised in a large military family in a small town next to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Half of my family was Catholic and the other half Baptists (don't ask!), but once a year, we got together at a large table to make a turkey suffer. My uncle, the Head Baptist, had such a reputation for praying so long every year that my grandmother always brought a rosary to the table so she'd have something to do while he blessed everyone but the pope.

But, to be fair, he had a lot to pray about that year. I had three uncles overseas. One was in Korea, one in Japan, and one in Alaska. Well, I know Alaska isn't technically a foreign country, but we worried about him just as much as the other two. So my uncle would pray and pray, then, when even his stomach started to growl, he'd say, "Amen!"

While he filled his plate, he'd start around the table, asking each person to share what they were thankful for that year. I usually said something dopey like I was thankful for my mother and my new poodle socks. And I was. Truly. It was short and sweet, and he'd move on to my cousin, who always said something that his mom had helped him rehearse, like he was thankful for the farmers who worked so hard to provide the feast we were going to enjoy.

Well, I've grown, and at fifty-five, I have a whole list of things I'm thankful for. If he asked me now, we'd be there until there was a green scum floating on the cranberry sauce: I'm thankful for a loving, healthy family. I'm thankful for this beautiful planet. I'm thankful for this country. I'm thankful for those old geezers who wrote all that We the People stuff. And I'm thankful for the men and women who protect it, everyday.

As I write this, it's weeks until Thanksgiving, and well, with the world situation the way it is, you never know. Some of you may not be sitting at your family's table this year, and I'm thankful for a strong fighting force that is able to keep the peace wherever it's needed.

Most of all, I thank God for letting me be born in this great country, enabling me to see my child and grandchildren grow up safe and healthy. Oh, sure, I crab about the politicians and what's going on with our government, doesn't everybody? But usually about then, they have a story about Kosovo or East Timor on TV. Then (too often it seems), I see an American soldier slogging through the mud probably praying he or she doesn't step on a land mine. I always think that if I'm watching, maybe their mother is too.

So, to the men and women who think you're out on a limb sometimes and nobody cares, I do. And I'm thankful not only for you, but to your families who make such great sacrifices so that my little grandson can play in my backyard without fear. Happy Holidays, dear brave men and women, from my heart to yours.

 

                   Two Windows on Ground Zero

By Janelle Meraz Hooper

(originally published in The Northwest Guardian)

 

            September 11th found me stuck at home with only a 38-inch screen TV, and a large living room window. I was going through a tough spell, and was using an oxygen tank.

 I could have done without the big screen TV. This was one time a one-inch screen would have been too big, too painful to watch. Over and over and over I watched the planes hit the WTC towers.

I felt trapped as I looked out the living room window. No sign of the tragedy was visible in the surrounding homes. Not a person was in sight. Maybe it was a nightmare, but no, there it was on CNN. On ABC. On CBS. On Fox. On CBUT, the Canadian channel. I turned to Univision and saw a blazing banner: Bajo (Low) Attack!

I must have paced between the TV and the window thirty or forty times. Looking at the TV, looking out the window. Still no sign of life.

Suddenly, A little dark blue import, driven by an elderly gentleman, raced up my neighbor's long driveway. Attached to the back window of the car was an American flag. A message was painted against the dark glass in white paint: God Bless America!

While I was waiting for him to come by again, I heard cars honking down the hill. Soon, a car full of hollering teenagers flew by my house. The car was painted all over with patriotic messages, and a young man was fully reclined on the hood holding up an American flag. He was wearing a shirt covered all over in red, white, and blue stars and stripes. Suddenly, I felt connected.

I hastened downstairs, dragging my oxygen tank behind me, to get our flag and was disappointed to discover that my husband had removed the flag holder from the front of the house. Or had it just rusted off? Anxious to communicate with passersby, I stuck the flag in a huge flowerpot that was by my front door and went back to my television and my window. The window was a lot easier to watch.

 

                           We're recovering from September 11th

                                      By Janelle Meraz Hooper

 

"We done good." My grandmother used to say that after our family had survived its latest crisis. I thought of her this morning when I realized that almost a year has passed since September 11th.

            We done good. I've never been so proud to be an American. That's really saying something, because coming from a military family, I've always been fiercely patriotic.

            The large-scale recovery that I've read about and observed on national television has been impressive. Patriotic books have been written. Songs have been composed. That's all good. But I'm just as proud of the recovery that I've noticed on a small, local scale as I am of what I've observed on national television and heard on the radio.

            The American Spirit is everywhere. We've all noticed the flags flying from porches, mailboxes, and cars. Last week, when I left a parking garage in Tacoma, the attendant took my ticket and handed me an American flag. I didn't ask her (I wish I had), but I think the money for the flags came out of her own pocket. She done good.

Did you happen to meet Linda Studebaker this year? Linda, an exemplary artist, found her own way to recover. She handled her grief by sitting and artfully painting a purseful of wooden hearts in an American flag motif. Then, she glued pins to their backs and hit the road. Everywhere she went, whenever she saw someone who looked like they needed a hug, she'd stop them, put her arms around them, and give them a pin. Yep. I said give. Linda wasn't out to make a buck. She was out to help heal some grief.  She has given out literally hundreds of stars and stripes pins. I'm so proud to know her. She done good.

            Our children emptied their piggy banks and sent the cash to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to help the children in Afghanistan. They done good. So often, our children amaze me.

            Some of us are just realizing how much we hurt from the bombing in New York. We pushed the grief so far down inside that it has taken a year for it to surface. We weren't ready for more grief. There's been so much in our lifetimes--Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm, and the rest, but we handled it, each in our own way. We done good.

If more trouble comes our way, we'll handle it too. Out of the rubble of New York and our hearts has come a fierce survival instinct and a love of country that runs deeper than the Grand Canyon and wider than the Columbia. Don't tread on me! we warn those who would take our freedom away.

Someday, the history books will have the last word on September 11th. When the next world generation grows up, let them read the record and say, They done good.

  

 

The New Un-Turkey Diet

by Janelle Meraz Hooper

 

     And now, from the chicken-wire pen behind a restaurant on Ruston Way, a few words about the season from one soon to be seasoned...

    Not again! Every year we go through this...you guys start walking briskly up and down Ruston Way with your dogs, building up an appetite. I see you out there, and from where I sit, some of you could stand to miss a few meals. But, no, you're starting to think about turkey (Yikes!) and dressing....aren't you? Then, comes Christmas, and you want to eat a goose. Easter, it's some poor lamb or pig. Can't you guys ever eat a carrot? Or how about a nice bowl of Cheerios? This year, I'm taking it upon myself to introduce the New Un-Turkey Diet...the idea is you eat anything but turkey. You won't lose any weight, but neither will I (do 'ya get it?).

Come on, folks, work with me here! While you're out on the street in those jogging funny outfits, running up and down working up an appetite, I'm pacing up and down this enclosure trying to make that old cook inside the restaurant think I'm too crazy for him eat, and all he worries about is that I'm making myself tough. Rest, he says. Take it easy, he says. He's even offered me this nice oval pan to nap in...does he think I'm a fool? I've had one foot in the roaster before.

Look, if you won't try this New Un-Turkey Diet, then I gotta go somewhere where they don't eat turkeys. I'm thinking maybe Hollywood. I hear they got all kinds of turkeys down there, driving around in fancy cars and playing in swimming pools and none of them get eaten.

People down there eat sushi...maybe you guys should try it. A little green seaweed, a little pickled red plum...festive. Add some sticky rice and youll never miss me.

Well, if I'm going to Hollywood, I'd better get movin'...I figure I'll break out of this pen, jump in the water here, and float to California...maybe I'll just keep going, all the way to Mexico. Think about that seaweed and red pickled plum, now. Hmmm...wonder if I should leave a note?

 

 

                    It All Started With That Darn Shoebox

                                By Janelle Meraz Hooper

 

       I've never been able to live up to my idea of a perfect Valentine's Day. The more I think about it, the more I think all of my Valentine's Day problems started way back in the third grade. Back then, we'd cut out hearts and cupids for a week before the 14th. My teacher was a recycler, so all of my hearts and cupids had the school lunch schedule printed on the back. We would attach the hearts to a shoebox we were supposed to bring in the next day. That was a problem. I only got new shoes twice a year, back-to-school shoes in September and Easter shoes. I knew the boxes were long gone. The next day, I tried to get my box covered with the crepe paper really fast, before the other kids found out that my box once held my grandmother's orthopedic shoes.

      This was in the days before glue guns, so decorating the boxes was an all day project. At the end of the day, we got the same lecture we'd gotten every year from other teachers: "You must bring a card for everyone in the class, you may not leave anyone out." My mom always bought just one package of valentines, sometimes it was short one or two. The year before, I'd spent all night praying that three kids in my class would come down with chickenpox before sunup. No one did.

In junior high, things started to get really ugly when our teachers gave up on the shoeboxes and began giving dances so that we could prove to everyone we couldn't. We drank so much red punch our braces were pink. The ends of most of the girls sashes were wet in back. Don't ask why

            In high school, my mother refused to make Debutante Pattern #34566, the strapless number with the optional spaghetti straps and, instead, sewed Debutante pattern #45678 that had all the parts the first pattern didn't.

 In college, I discovered Lerner Shops, Enchanted Land of Sparkly, Strapless, Backless, and Sleeveless Formals. I was in heaven; what else could a girl wish for? Unless it was a date. My roommates said I should put-out a little something, so I put out a box of chocolates. Still no date

             After I married, I missed a few chocolates because my husband was flying search and rescue missions in Viet Nam. I was too busy worrying to miss the romance.

 When I had a little girl, my real Valentine heartbreak came when I discovered I couldn't make those heart-shaped cookies with the red frosting. No matter how hard I tried. I didn't know how other moms got that frosting so red.  Mine, when tinted the right shade of passion, tasted a lot like toxic waste must taste, only sweeter.

     With my grandchild, I finally hit my true comfort zone. I made strawberry jam sandwiches on whole wheat bread that I cut into heart shapes with a cookie cutter. I even mixed some chocolate chips into the jam.

       Let Martha Stewart (on the Yearning Channel) make those cookies in the fancy shapes with the tinted frostings and silver dragées sprinkled on top.  Last year, on nationwide TV, she hung each of her cookies with imported ribbon on a little twig tree in her living room. I'll be hiding my cookies in an old shoebox (without crepe paper) under my bed, where shoeboxes--and my cookies belong.

 

    

             A New-Fangled Thanksgiving Tradition

By Janelle Meraz Hooper

 

            Thanksgiving dinner was always the same at Mom's, and that was how we liked it. In a changing world that multiplied stress by the minute, we could always depend on Mom's turkey being perfectly browned, and her cornbread dressing nicely laced with celery, pecans, and raisins. The giblet gray was always perfect, and there was lots of it. Mashed potatoes were lovingly whipped with a hand mixer and topped with real butter. Sweet potatoes were perfectly glazed with more real butter and brown sugar. Rolls were the packaged kind that came in a paper tray and were partially cooked. The cranberry sauce was canned and always served on our fancy glass tray that had been around since Roosevelt was putting a turkey in every pot (or was that a chicken?). Our peas came out of a can.

Okay, so it wasn't a gourmet meal, but it was good and again, that was how we liked it. The meal, and the large family that came to share it, was perfect. Almost every time.

But one year, when my mom and her sister were both close to eighty, my aunt showed up from California with her new-fangled ideas about tradition. Thanksgiving morning, Aunt Pat got up early and beat my mom to the kitchen, determined to California-ize our turkey dinner. The first item on the menu that she changed was the cranberries--she used real ones. Mom was suspicious when she looked at the cranberries bubbling on the stove with bits of fresh orange peel. She didn't like the looks of those orange shavings. To her, they looked like something that slipped past the food inspectors.  Mom believed cranberry sauce should come out of a can with those little ridges that showed her where to cut the slices. "No one will know what this stuff is." she worried. "This isn't what they're used to. And it smells funny."

            My aunt stood her ground. Resigned to a cranberry failure, Mom went to the living room to relax and read the paper. She didn't see my aunt pull the cornbread dressing out of the oven and stir in a bag of fresh spinach. The last thing my aunt did before she left the kitchen was replace the table butter with an unidentified soy product she'd brought from California in her handbag that didn't look, taste, or smell like butter.

            The family was sitting down at the table when Mom pulled the dressing out of the oven and discovered that it'd turned green. Her sister told her it was the latest thing in California, and much healthier. Mom was appalled and predicted, "No one will eat it."

            And they didn't. That bowl was passed around the table so often it looked like it was in its own special green orbit, and no one would touch it. On one of its last flights around the table, my cousin reluctantly put a spoonful on her toddler's plate, but the kid broke out in tears, so my cousin took it off and hid it in her napkin. Finally, my aunt mumbled something about taking the dressing to the kitchen to heat it up. It never returned.

            The cranberry sauce met much the same fate. When it was passed around the table, everyone would try to get a portion that was not laced with orange peel. No one succeeded. Soon, it entered its own orbit, criss-crossing the orbit of the green cornbread dressing. Around and around the table it flew until the contents of the bowl were just a fragrant red blur circling the Planet Table, not unlike the rings around Saturn. 

             Mom and her sister are both gone now, and I think of them often. Looking back, maybe green dressing and orange cranberries wouldn't have been that awful. I should have at least tasted them. Although, sister rivalry being what it was, I'm sure Mom would have never forgiven me if I had.

            It has been years since that dinner, but the legend of the green cornbread dressing lives on to this day. No one in our family can accept an invitation for Thanksgiving dinner without first inquiring, "What color is your cornbread dressing?"

                          

                            Thoughts on the Millennium

(this story was published in The Northwest Guardian under a different name)

by Janelle Meraz Hooper

 

I'm so sick of all this talk about the millennium, aren't you? The way I see it, we won't even be here for most of it. What we really need help with is the next fifty-two weeks. Besides, a New Years without resolutions would only be popular until we saw the mess we'd made for ourselves, because millennium or not, Pogo was right when he said, "We have met the enemy,  and he is us."

But even if this does turn out to be just like any other year to everyone else, it can be special for us if we make it special. We can make this the year we live better! Do better! Feel better!

Let's make a resolution to:

1.  Be kinder. Lets start with our families, they're an easy target. You'll probably find them in your living room.

2.  Cut out some of the stress we create for ourselves. Who cares if there's dust on the coffee table? Put up your feet and hug somebody.

3.  Get our finances in order. One big step would be to resolve to not put anything in your mouth that you've purchased with a credit card. Ideally, items purchased on credit should be around longer than the payments. Indigestion from fast food purchases doesn't count.

4.  Clear out the clutter! Clutter is the leading cause of early morning swearing. It upsets the spouse and wakes up the kids. Get rid of all that junk in your closets. Get organized. Start the day with a smile.

5.  Hang out with funny people, unless they're in jail, or on their way.

6.  Call your mom! It never hurts to spread a little happiness around. Believe me, she won't even care if you use one of those 10-10 numbers were always hearing about on TV.

7.  Put a little aside for when that unexpected personal expense comes up. One year, when I was first married, I honestly forgot to save grocery money for Thanksgiving. I had no money to even buy a bag of cranberries, and the closest thing I had to turkey was Spam. Luckily, a gracious friend bailed me out. Which reminds me:

8.  Support your local food bank. We never know when it might be us who's short a turkey or a pot to put it in.

9.  Do something nice for this poor old planet. After all, we might not be here for the next millennium, but the children carrying our genes will be. If we don't clean up our act, things could be pretty scary for them down the road.

10.  Not forget the spiritual side of the next 1000 years.

11.  Take care of your health. A little preventative maintenance now could save a lot of pain and worry later. For instance, you could stop smoking. All right, youve heard that before, but you don't want to be pushing one of those silver oxygen tanks down the beach when you retire, do you?

12.  Not to get bored, wander into a new car showroom, and get talked into buying a fancy car that you can't really afford because you know, down d-e-e-e-e-p in your heart, that the new-car buzz will wear off way before the payments and your spouse's nagging will.

13.  Not give your fellow drivers un-military salutes with your left hand, thus endangering your familys life and your own when youre driving down the freeway.

14.  On payday, buy enough food for the next two weeks first, before you wander into an electronics store that just happens to be having the sale of the millennium.

    Here it is, almost the new century, and I'm stuck with all of this leftover stuff rattling around in the bottom of my computer. Maybe I'd better use it up, just in case Y2K is for real, and my hard drive does implode on New Year's Eve.

Resolve to:

Always beat the rush at the commissary on payday; never schedule a flu shot, dentist appointment, and 10K run on the same day; never pick a fight with your first sergeant unless he (or she) is in a full body cast and sipping liquids through a straw; never miss a parade, even if you're not in it; always tip the street musician; never kick the commanding general's dog; and, most important: if you bought one of those $30.00 millennium shirts with the sequins all over it, bury it in the backyard before your kids see it. Trust me, you don't want to start the next thousand years with them snickering about that shirt!

Millennium, Spil-lennium! Let's just make it a Happy New Year! May there be peace in the world.and if there's not, may we do a good job of persuasion! Go Army!

                             

            How To Survive an Assignment in Alaska

                                   By Janelle Meraz Hooper

                     (originally published in The Northwest Guardian)

What would you do if your next assignment turned out to be Alaska? What would your spouse do? When I first heard that my husband was taking a job in Alaska, I had a fit, and I was convinced it was justified.

          For sure, Alaska has a bad reputation for most of us. Part of the problem may be the way Hollywood portrays life in Alaska as a kind of a frozen Dogpatch. Truth is, the big cities in Alaska are just like any other big cities in the United States, only with a little snow--okay, a lot of snow.

         You and your family can survive in Alaska and have a great time, if you follow these survival tips:

1.  Alaskans like to say there's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear, and it's true. Don't buy any winter outdoor clothing until you get there.  Its expensive stuff and you don't want to have to buy outerwear twice.  Then listen to the locals, they'll tell you what you really need. One hint: dont expect to be warm and toasty in a snow bank if youre wearing jeans, even if you've waterproofed them.

2.  Take your sunscreen and your bikini. Summers in Fairbanks look a lot like summers in Washington. Temperatures are often in the nineties, and people sail their boats on the lakes, hike and fish just like other real people. The summers in Anchorage are often cooler (read: a lot like Tacoma). In winter, travel agencies have great deals on trips to exotic places that grow pineapples and palm trees. You may see more tropical paradises living in Alaska than you'll ever see if you live outside (Alaskan for outside of Alaska). 

3.  Leave your creature-phobias behind: there are no snakes, spiders or other obnoxious creepy creatures in Alaska. It's too cold. This alone could be a good selling point to any woman.

4.  Be prepared to entertain yourself.  Days are short in the winter. If you're not working, plan to keep busy to avoid the winter blues. This won't be difficult. Alaska is rich in culture.  Art and history museums abound. The opera houses so important to the gold miners have evolved into elaborate facilities that attract all of the Broadway road shows.  Believe me, you won't be starved for the arts.

5.  In the summer, don't wait up for the sun to set.

5.  Be social.  Alaskans are very friendly. You will be invited to a constant stream of parties.  Accept all of them. You'll have a great time; Alaskans are the brightest, most creative, and adventurous people I've ever met. You're gonna love 'em. I did.

6.  Learn to love the great outdoors--there's a lot of it.  Thanks to a great infusion of oil money when they built the pipeline, Alaska is rich in multi-purpose trails that are used for walking, biking, and cross-country skiing, although in some cases, you may have to share these amenities with a moose.

7.  Have a big refrigerator. You'll find out why soon enough: Alaskans describe their weather as nine months of winter and three months of company. The only people who get more company have front porches facing Disneyland.  Everyone wants to see Alaska. Make a big bowl of pasta and gas up the car.

8.  Have money. There's only one down side to Alaska: it's a long way from home. You can fly someplace glamorous, like Hawaii, for what it'll cost you to fly to Sea-Tac (go figure). The problem is, most of us don't have family in exotic places. Not to worry. Those funny little plastic cards that we carry in our wallets will cover family emergencies. Also, as a member of the military, you can probably hop a flight on a northbound Air Force plane.

9.  Don't even talk to me about the earthquakes in Alaska. We've got those here, remember? Besides, they're going to make your e-mails real interesting.

     So, if your next orders say North to Alaska! my advice is to go for it.  Take the spouse and kids. Chances are, you'll have a great adventure, and when you revisit your old neighborhood, it's going to look a lot smaller in more ways than one.

 

Anybody Want to Play?

by Janelle Meraz Hooper

(Originally published in The Northwest Guardian)

 

Every spring the hamburger joints are filled with ball teams all dressed up in their new baseball outfits, their pristine new balls, mitts, and hats scattered on the tables between the milk shakes and fries. It always makes me wonder: they have the equipment, but do they have a passion for the game? Is that what baseball is about--equipment?

           Times are getting tough, and excess has been on the minds of many Americans lately. I think that the sport of baseball is a good example. Fancy stadiums. Fancy uniforms. And those players contracts--well, let's not even go there.

           We could be happier without the fancy trappings. Once, I saw a perfect pick-up baseball game that was low in budget but high in passion. It was back in the sixties, and my husband and I were taking a break from college to visit his favorite aunt and uncle in a little town in Idaho called Clark Fork (population: 125). Uncle Archie was a real mountain man who spent his days hunting, fishing, and trapping-- and his nights drinking, gambling, and barroom brawling. Aunt Frances raised pure bred Manx cats which she shipped all over the world. Her cupboard was full of home canned delicacies...for the cats. Shelf after shelf was filled with canned kamloop, venison, and elk. Enough for a year. For sixteen cats.

That Saturday afternoon, we were kicking back with Aunt Frances while she watched wrestling when her little porch was filled with the sound of scuffling feet. The screen door creaked. A little hand knocked. When my husband opened the door, a chorus of excited voices of assorted ages all gushed out at the same time. "We're getting up a game, does anyone here want to play?" Of course we did.

When they left, I said, "We forgot to ask them where were playing... " My husband answered, "There's only one ballfield in town, honey."

Going through Uncle Archie's closets we were able to come up with a mitt and a bat that may have been used most recently for clubbing kamloop. Off we went to the ballfield, which turned out to be a neglected lot with a rusty chicken wire backstop behind home plate and a cedar railing about eighteen inches high on the street side. The other sides were rimmed in tall fragrant pines.

My husband pointed to the railing and told me I could sit in the bleachers. Everyone showed up about the same time. This was a logging town, and both teams were wearing plaid flannel shirts and logging boots with their heavy work jeans. Every age group was represented. We only had one ball that I think someone had taken away from their dog, and it was so dirty it kept getting lost in the grass and mud.

The air hung heavy with mist but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm. We were overcome with joy at the sight of the ball crossing the cedar shingle we were using for home plate. Everyone got a turn at bat, with the older players taking time to encourage the younger ones.

             We stayed there playing until we couldn't see the ball anymore and it was pure joy. I don't remember who won. What I do remember is the passion we had for the game. Not the fancy uniforms, not the expensive mitts. It was the game we were there for, and only the game.

So, it's spring again, and here comes another carload of kids dressed in their shiny new gear. Structured, organized games that are listed on a computerized schedule kept on their mother's refrigerator doors. It's okay. But I keep longing to open my front door and hear a raggy group of loggers asking, "We're getting up a game...does anybody here want to play?" (Of course we do.)

 

            T-ball season brings plenty of memories

                            By Janelle Meraz Hooper

        (Originally published in The Northwest Guardian)

 

            T-ball season is over, and a good time was had by all. Of course, the weather was awful--isn't it always? The grownups sat huddled in their folding chairs hugging their thermal coffee cups and urged their little players to run out on the field and roll around in the wet grass and the muck and have fun. When it actually rained, the adults brought out the umbrellas--not for the little players--for themselves. After all, wouldn't want to get those camcorders wet, would we? No siree, Grandma and Grandpa back in Wisconsin had to see this!

In this, our second season, the parents and grandparents could see a lot of progress in our girls and boys approach to the game. For instance, the first season, our little leaguers spent more time following the snack lady than the ball. You'd think the little batters had never seen treats before.

        This year, they were way cooler. As each player arrived, he'd saunter over to an earlier arrival and quietly ask if the mom who was to bring snacks had arrived yet. When a player pointed out a mom with a big white plastic bag at her feet, you could hear a sigh of relief from the T-baller. Then, the player would carefully scan the Mom and the bag. Was the bag big enough? Could someone else's mom be trusted to bring enough snacks for everybody? Well, it looked okay.

Their mind at ease on the snack situation, they moved over to hear the coach's instructions. "No dog-piling!" he pleaded. The team broke into a chant, "No dog-piles! No dog-piles!"

Actually, I was relieved to see some dog-piles. The first year, the T-ball would run through the little players' legs on its way to the alley and they'd never notice--their eyes would be on the snack bag.

This year, the same kids jumped on the ball rolling down the middle of the field like it was the last candy bar on earth. Sometimes, kids playing in other games on the multi-purpose field broke position in their own game to run over and jump on a ball in our game. Now that's progress.

         Yep. The season is over. The baseball pants and tee shirts have been washed and put away until next season, when they'll undoubtedly be too small, the camcorder has been dried off, and the official baseball pictures have arrived in my mail.

          At the beginning of the season I wrote a commentary that said organized ball was a lackluster substitute for a pick-up game in a makeshift field. I was wrong. Baseball is baseball. Wherever. Whenever. However.

        Play ball!

 

 

Ouchy, ouchy!

by Janelle Meraz Hooper

(Originally published in The Northwest Guardian) 

 

     Now that I'm two and a half, I can't get Mom to notice that I'm starting to outgrow my car seat.  It may even be unsafe.  It, for sure, is uncomfortable.  If it weren't for my diaper, I'd have saddle sores, I bet.  I've tried to find the words to tell her that my seat hurts whenever we go anywhere because the foam cushion is worn out, leaving my backside to rub on the spot where the seat belt comes through the seat at the bottom, but I can't seem to find the words ... the best I've been able to come up with so far is, "Ouchy, ouchy ... " One day I did try a better word that I learned from Dad, "S- - -t!"  But I got in big trouble.  Next, I even tried to get through to Dad by refusing to get in the car seat, but he gave me one of his looks and said, "Look, Cowboy, you have no option, there is no choice when it comes to riding in a car seat ... it's the law."  Dad's a no-nonsense kind of guy, he talks like that all the time, even though half the time I don't understand him ... I wonder if when he says, "no option," he means I'm out of juice?

     I was beginning to give up, when Mom took me to a department store where they have a whole bunch of new car seats all lined up in a row.  Wow!  I gave them a look and started pointing and jumping up and down in the shopping cart trying my best to be both adorable and assertive, but it didn't work.  Mom just looked at her full cart and said, "Not today, Podner....they're just too pricey." 

    Well, I thought I was out of luck, but about halfway down the aisle she turned around! She did!  First, she looked at the car seat, then the price, then she looked in her basket.  It was full all right.  She had a couple of videos for me in there, some makeup for her, a whole bunch of household cleaners, and a new mop with a matching bucket.

     Well, she turned around again, and I thought I was out of luck again, but, guess what?  She started going around and putting all those things back.  Said that my safety was more important than a new mop any day!  I tried to tell her that I didn't mind chewing on the old one a while longer, but I'm not sure if she understood me.

     So, look at me now! In a new car seat with the new 5-point harness, A-lock harness length-adjuster, lift-up lever, extra-cushy seat cushion, and stretch side pockets for toys and snacks.  Yeee-ha!  She put it in the back seat of course, right in the middle. 

     I'm being a real good cowboy now.  I don't raise a fuss about riding in my seat, and I even crawl in all by myself.  Yep, I'm turning over a new leaf...I'm not even using those new words anymore that got me in so much trouble, even though it is fun to see Mom and Dad squirm...especially in front of Gramma.

    This worked out so well, I've got a whole list of stuff I'm going to start pointing out the next time we go to the store: like a bike helmet, a new swing with a safety seat, UV sunglasses, sunscreen, a wide-brim hat, stair barricades, flame-proof pajamas, and, oh, yeah, I've got to get Dad to turn down our water heater to a hundred and twenty degrees...ours is still set at a hundred and forty...Yeee-ha!

 

  

Sometimes, It Just Takes One Ring

by Janelle Meraz Hooper

(originally published in the Tacoma News Tribune) 

 

     The day my cell phone rang, I almost got flattened by a fire truck on its way to an emergency call.  I was preparing for an out of town trip. The first thing I had to do before I could leave town was refill some prescriptions at my new HMO. That's when I almost left town for good.

     When I approached the intersection near the new and unfamiliar clinic, it was under construction.  There were blinking lights, flags, road workers, and trucks everywhere.  I knew my turn was just ahead, but I wasn't sure where.  I started to slow down.  I was startled when a racing red fire truck with flashing lights and blaring horns flew around the corner out of nowhere, from behind the road trucks. 

     That's when my phone rang. 

     Now, I've had a cell phone for over ten years.  It's for emergencies and only two people have my number.  Surprised to hear it ring, I picked it up.  From then on, nothing I did was right.  My left turn came up sooner than I expected.  I moved to the left hand turn lane.  At the same moment, the driver of the fire truck decided that he might just as well go around the ditzy broad in front of him.  With flashing lights and blaring horns, the truck sped up to pass on the left just when I signaled and moved left to turn into the clinic.  All right.  I guess I did one thing right.  At least I signaled.  Just in time, the fire truck swerved to the right and barely missed mashing my little red Blazer into the pavement.

      Folks, were talking seconds here.  Seconds.  Safely in the parking lot, I was overwhelmed at the driving mistakes I'd made in such quick succession.  It would be a gross understatement to say I shook.  I was also embarrassed that for the first time in my driving career I'd failed to clear the way for an emergency vehicle.  I decided to sit there in the parking lot for a while.  I was sure that the firemen had radioed the sheriff to come and pick me up and hold me there until they could return and personally beat me to a pulp.  I checked my watch and calculated the patrol car could be there in ten minutes if it were coming.  I waited by my car, minutes passed. No one ever came.  I can't truthfully say I was relieved that I wasn't arrested.  For years, I've beat my steering wheel and sworn at drivers who failed to yield for emergency vehicles.  I deserved to be punished.  How could I be so dumb?

     Everyday, I see the rest of you out there juggling your cell phones and zipping in and out of traffic like you're in charge.  Maybe you know what you're doing.  Maybe youre more experienced and coordinated than I am.  Maybe you'll never make a mistake.  Maybe.  I don't know.  For myself, I'm convinced that the difference between life and death might be just one ring.  Is it really worth it? Riiii-ng! Hell-looo!

             

    Writer Appreciates Snow That Knows Its Place

                                   by Janelle Meraz Hooper

 

          Recent snow storms in the East have made me grateful that I landed here in a rain forest. When I first got here from Oklahoma I was very impressed with the weather. Usually, the snow stayed up in the mountains, where it belonged. In the lowlands, it rained. That was okay. I could deal with the rain. In fact, after coming from such a dry climate, I welcomed it.

More than once, in high school, I was in trouble with my teachers for staring out the window. The rain clouds were so different from the Southwest. They were--well--full of water. Our clouds in my home state were often over fifty-percent dust. The rhodies and other evergreen plants in Washington were so beautiful when they were wet. I never got tired of looking at the little raindrops that rested on the leaves. They were like miniature magnifying glasses, enlarging the leaves texture. I couldn't get enough.

            Our Ft. Lewis Teen Club took a school bus up to the mountains to ski. Yes, ski. Id never even heard the words ski lift, but I was young. And fearless. And full of adventure. I skied all day and didn't even break a fingernail. My amazing luck reinforced my opinion of snow. It was wonderful. It was beautiful. Besides, I was young and thin and looked great in my new skiwear.

 I felt like I was in one of those old fortie's movies where the leading lady breaks out into a song when the man of her dreams comes along smoking a pipe. As luck would have it, he sings too. They ski over the mountain (uphill) yodeling all the way.

            Now, Im older. After that one day of beginner's luck, I turned out to be a lousy skier and I've had my share of falls in the snow. Once, my sister-in-law told me to snow plough. I did. I ran right into one, narrowly missing decapitating myself. Through the years, I've been signed into emergency rooms from Aspen to Idaho. After my first injury, I was so disillusioned that I ate a whole pineapple upside down cake in the backseat of the car on the way to the emergency room. A whole cake. No lie.

            When I was in my thirties, I decided that I'd better switch sports if I wanted to live. I chose scuba diving. Think about it: You can do it year-around up here. And, sure, you get wet and cold just like you do on a mountain. BUT, you come home with dinner. How can that be a bad thing?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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