Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day and the Travelin' Soldier

On Friday, my husband and daughter and I were waiting to board a plane for a family trip when an announcement came on the overhead that a group of WWII veterans were there, heading to DC for Memorial Day weekend. Bagpipes began playing, and the terminal aisle cleared. Men removed their hats in respect, and people rose to their feet, some applauding while heroes in wheelchairs rolled past.

Now that we walk around with a portable time capsule in our hands at all times, I felt compelled to snap a photo but after taking this one, decided to stop and be in the present moment. That's not an easy place to be these days. As a parent, I have to consciously stop myself from experiencing everything from behind the lens of my phone's camera, and I often catch myself missing a moment because I'm so busy capturing it.

If you've ever been in a car accident or driven up on one, there's an eerie silence that happens afterwards that is almost impossible to explain. It's as if the moment of impact is automatically followed by a quiet stillness that is the direct opposite of the sound of the crash. As the parade of WWII veterans came through the terminal, I thought of that silence, because while some people were applauding and others stood still, there was a feeling in the space of that kind of quiet stillness. 

Those men served their country when they were just kids. To consider what they saw and experienced is impossible for us to comprehend. In a time where it seems to be the norm to spew insults and take the low road, being in a moment where people were gathered to show appreciation and respect was a really powerful thing.

Whenever Memorial Day weekend approaches, I am riddled with internal conflict about how to best honor the holiday. I have a utopian view of the world and would prefer that we exist without war and without conflict. You may say I'm a dreamer, but that's just how I view things. However, Memorial Day makes me think long and hard about the men and women who served willingly. I also think about those who were drafted, and what in the world that must have felt like to have your number called. My dad was drafted during Vietnam, but his poor vision kept him from serving in combat. I'm so thankful for that, because had he gone, he might not have returned, or he could have returned a very changed man. Memorial Day also raises my internal conflict about how we treat our veterans, and about mental illness, and the trauma our veterans face entering society after serving our country.

During every family road trip without exception, my family listens to the Dixie Chicks version of the song, "Travelin' Soldier." We've been listening to it for many years, since my stepchildren were little.  We listen to it every Thanksgiving to visit family in Dallas or Tyler. It's the song request that comes up most when everyone is fighting and we want to just listen to music and quit bickering already. We sing it at the top of our lungs. My daughters take the melody and I jump in with my old high school and church choir harmonies, and my husband and stepson just shout the lyrics. To me, it's one of the most beautiful sounds in the world. 

It's difficult to articulate how important "Travelin' Soldier" is to me as a parent. I know the importance of the anti-war anthems of the 60's, but this song singlehandedly teaches my children such a powerful message: war has consequences. For my kids, they will associate their feelings about war and patriotism with the lyrics to this subtle, yet extremely meaningful song. It's really big stuff.

In an odd twist of fate, when my youngest daughter entered elementary school 8 years ago, one of her classmates was the daughter of country music artists Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. The first time I met Bruce it took everything in me not to jump up and down shouting, "You wrote 'Travelin' Soldier!' We sing it every single family road trip!" But I held back. It's Austin, and we're so lucky to have so many talented musicians raising families here. Please pardon me while I humble brag, but I've had the good fortune of meeting a nice little handful of Austin's music royalty, and I like to think those people want to feel normal when they're taking their kids to school. I also figure its best not to tackle a musician in the school hallway with questions about their songs because that's just weird.

In all of the years I've known Bruce and Kelly, I have never been able to dig up the courage to ask Bruce about what was in his head when he wrote "Travelin' Soldier." I want to ask him about the writing process, and what inspired him to come up with the imagery of the young girl, tucked under the bleachers, crying when the solider's name was read. As a writer myself, I can't imagine creating something so pure and so meaningful. I'm afraid if I got Bruce to open up about the writing process, I would start sobbing, because he wrote a song that means so much to my family. But mainly, I can't get the courage because Bruce is crazy tall and he still kind of scares me.

So this Memorial Day weekend, I'll honor the holiday by playing this song for the thousandth time, and think about those brave men we saw pass by in wheelchairs. I dedicate this to the men and women who made it home, and the ones who didn't. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It's Supposed to Look Like This

My beautiful, incredible sister is getting married Saturday.

The wedding theme is vintage circus, which is very cool because my sister and her fiancĂ© are both extremely creative people who love all things vintage, and with a huge guest list and a ton of DYI projects to complete, the wedding promises to truly be "The Greatest Show on Earth." It’s a really exciting time for our families.

The bridesmaids are wearing vintage attire, including 20’s headpieces.  Mine is supposed to look like this:

As the Maid of Honor (I’m married, but I refuse to be referred to as a matron of anything), I should have ordered this lovely headpiece months ago, but I put it off because I’m picky and forgetful, which is a really terrible combination. Now, I’ve backed myself in a corner and I’m forced to make the vintage headpiece myself.

There’s just one problem here. I am not crafty.

TBH (as the kids say): I hate crafts. When my kids were little and came home with turkeys made out of traced hands glued on popsicle sticks, I had to force myself to show appreciation before hiding them in keepsake bins under the bed. I was always the mom buying juice boxes while the other PTA moms were racing each other to the craft store to make pilgrims out of cotton balls and twine. When I see “Pinterest fails,” I don’t laugh because it hits just a little too close to home.

Last week I knew I was running out of time, so I ventured out to two of the most anxiety-provoking establishments known to non-crafty types: Jo-Ann Fabrics and Hobby Lobby. For me, the only thing worse is a trip to Pep Boys, so this was a rough mission indeed.

Stop #1 was Jo-Ann, where I set out to locate fuschia feathers, some kind of pearl/rhinestone embellishment, and a stretchy headband. I started by looking for an employee to ask for guidance, but stores don’t really have those anymore, so I grabbed a cart and began in the faux flower section and meandered through every aisle, grabbing anything that resembled a feather and tossing it into the cart while I groaned audibly and rolled my eyes at the overhead cameras. Like anyone would steal this stuff!

I learned a lot during that journey. Like, for example, there so many kinds of jewelry clasps in this world, they take up an entire aisle of real estate at Jo-Ann. I stood there dumbfounded, grabbing packages and inspecting them like Brendon Frazier in “Encino Man” when Pauly Shore introduces him to Sweet Tarts and Corn Nuts for the first time.

Overwhelmed, I followed the maze of monogrammed plastic drink cups and patriotic flip flops and made my way to the button aisle, hoping to find a vintage-looking buttony thing to glue on to the headband. The button aisle borders the area where people willingly look at pattern books. A customer was there, sitting in front of a 1987 desktop computer, talking on the phone. She was a sweet-faced woman wearing a sweatshirt with a bedazzled cross.

“I thought I’d add some lace to the bottom of it,” she said happily. Her cheeks were flushed with the excitement of the creative process. “Oh yes, honey, I’m at Jo-Ann. I’ll be here all morning!”

Fully unable to relate, I made my way to the check-out. A teenager in a smock stood by the only working register. She was talking to another smocked teen who was pretending to sweep the floor while they talked. I put my fuchsia feathers on the counter while I waited for her to greet me.

“I should have called in,” said the teenager at the register, talking to the teenager with the broom, ignoring me completely.

“You need Emergen-C,” said the teen with the broom while I stepped back and began holding my breath.

“No, I’m pretty sure it’s strep,” she said, coughing into her hand, then using the same hand to swipe my feathers over the scanner. “I’ve had a fever for like, three days.”

I thought briefly about asking to speak with the manager - partly because the kid spent more time talking to her coworker than addressing her extremely reluctant customer, but mainly because she came to work with SARS and that’s just rude. But I was already weary, so I used my elbows to pick up the feathers, and while heading to the car, it dawned on me that one of those poor girls was more than likely the manager anyway. It was all so very sad.

Stop #2 was Hobby Lobby. Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I swore after Hobby Lobby’s shenanigans about birth control that I would never set foot inside a Hobby Lobby again (not that I set foot in there many times anyway), but desperate times call for desperate measures.

As I approached the doors, I checked out the clientele going inside. Walking up on my right was another woman with a bedazzled cross on her chest. Par for the course. Walking up to my left? A woman with a Bernie Sanders t-shirt and a sheepish expression of guilt. That made me laugh. Knowing we were all in it together, I entered in, prepared for the worst.

Confession: I got momentarily wooed by a cheap imitation of an Eames molded plastic chair lurking in a display of cheap beach-themed home fashions. I was so distracted by it that I pulled it off of the display and gave it a test sit.

It was cozy, as cheap imitation Eames chairs go, so I began looking online for a coupon, seriously considering buying it when the store manager approached me.

“That chair is just SO cute, right?” she beamed. “We sell SO many of them.”

She was a nice woman, but her overdyed red hair and lipstick-smeared teeth jarred me out of my hypnosis. I put the chair back into the fake beach scene while she watched on. She sweetly pointed me in the direction of the stretchy headbands and feathers, and I grabbed up more supplies and headed for the checkout.

The median age of the cashiers working at Hobby Lobby that particular morning was around 93. For a company that has a moral objection to birth control, I found it deliciously ironic that the women working at Hobby Lobby haven’t needed birth control for at least five decades. Guilt-ridden from spending $6.17 at a store that I promised not to patronize (or, more fittingly, matronize), I headed home with two bags of craft supplies, fully spent.

I know you’re expecting pictures, because they promise to be hysterical, but I have not yet started working on the vintage headpiece because I prefer to procrastinate and write about the activity instead. Be warned; I may never post a picture, because I’ll more than likely end up looking like a retired prostitute, or worse yet, there’s serious concern that I will glue my fingers together with the E 6000 craft glue, and I may never write again.

Either way, I hope you wish me luck, because I’m definitely going to need it.