A pack mentality

by Lorin Michel Friday, January 23, 2015 9:14 PM

My grandparents on my mother’s side evidently moved a lot. My mother often referred to them as gypsies. My grandmother was always restless, always looking for something else, but never quite sure what it was. While they moved a lot, they never moved far. They were always in the vicinity of Pittsburgh and its suburbs. It’s one of the reasons why when we went to Pittsburgh to visit, we always stayed with my mother’s aunts, Beryl and Eleanor. They were always in the same house and there was always room.

My grandmother on my dad’s side never moved. My dad was raised in the same house that my grandmother lived in until she died. My parents friends Charlotte and Ed, who bought the house next to us in Fairview, Pennsylvania when I was about six, still live in that house, though my mom just told me that Ed is in a nursing home, recovering from a fall. He’s in his 90s.

When I was a kid, we moved quite a bit because my dad kept getting promoted and transferred. We started out in a very small apartment in Eldred, Pennsylvania but I think we only lived there a year or two. Then we moved to Erie, PA, to another apartment. My brother was born and we moved again, though I don’t think he necessarily had anything to do with it. We still stayed in the Erie area, moving to the aforementioned Fairview. From there we moved to Staatsburg, New York, then to Hyde Park, New York. We were in New York for about six years before we moved to Columbia, Maryland for a year, then to New England where all of my family – save for me – still resides. I moved to Durham, New Hampshire to go to college. Immediately after I graduated I moved to San Diego where I lived for a year, then to Scottsdale, Arizona where I lived for another year, then to the Los Angeles area where I moved a total of six times in 27 years.

In 2013, we moved to Tucson. Now we’re getting ready to move again, to the home we moved to Tucson for.

Each of these moves, whether they’ve been mine, or my family’s or my grandparents before me, have one thing in common: they all entail packing. I would like to state for the record that I absolutely hate packing. I especially hated it when we left Oak Park because we had to have every. single. thing. out of the house because we were moving so far away. There was no, well, we’ll move a few things this weekend, or after we move the furniture, we’ll go back to the house and clean it.

Nope. Everything. Every thing had to be wrapped, boxed, stacked and moved.

I don’t know how my mother didn’t go insane for all of those years when she had to pack not just a house, but three kids worth of stuff, too. I suspect that she didn’t get much help from my dad because he was usually traveling for business. He also was probably already in his new position in the new city to which we’d be moving. When we packed up the Oak Park house, we thought we were on schedule and everything would be fine. It wasn’t. We didn’t end up sleeping the night before we left to drive for 10 hours. It was a nightmare.

And now we’re getting ready to do it again. Hopefully in about a month, we’ll be moving to our forever home. That means packing. Again. Granted we didn’t unpack everything from when we packed and moved 18 months ago because we knew this place was temporary. Still, it’s amazing how much needs to be packed again. Everything in the kitchen, the laundry room, the bedrooms and the baths. The offices. The living room.


It occurred to me the other night, or morning, rather. It was about 2:35 am. I was staring into the darkness of the bedroom, listening to the occasional woot from my dreaming dog, and the quiet of the wind outside. And I thought: we’re moving in a month. And I’ve done nothing to prepare. I haven’t packed a box. I haven’t even pulled boxes out to get ready to pack. The closest I’ve come is thinking that I need to start packing soon.

Soon has arrived. The big hand is on the S and the little hand is on the oon, and boxes will be deployed this weekend. For another move, another trip, only this time it will only be across town. And this time, dog willing, will be the last time.

I’m ready. I’m channeling my grandmother on my mother’s side. I’ve got the pack mentality. Let the wrapping, boxing, taping and stacking begin.

I goat the store

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 15, 2013 10:11 PM

My dad’s mother was named Mary. She was born in a very rural part of western Pennsylvania and lived there her whole life. She married Donald Shields, my dad’s dad, some time in the early 1930s and they bought a little house in Eldred for somewhere around $4000. They had Beverly in 1935 and my dad in 1938. She was thirty years old when my dad came along. I don’t know what Donald did for a living, but he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at a relatively young age, so my grandmother started teaching school to make money. She took care of the two kids and her ailing husband for years until Donald died in 1949. My dad was just 11 at the time.

Mary continued to teach school in Eldred. I’m not sure what grade she taught initially, if they even had grades. Eldred was a very small town and the school was equally small. My dad always joked that he graduated 13th in his class. Pause. Of course, there were only 14 people in the class. Ba dum bum.

Eventually the town grew a bit and became big enough to have a bigger school with individual grades. Mary taught 1st grade then, and for some thirty years after. The kids loved her, so did the school district. But she developed a way of completely tuning out when you’d talk to her. Her cornflower blue eyes would glaze over and she would make appropriate noises like she was listening but she never completely engaged in a conversation. When I got old enough, I came to understand that she did so because she had learned long ago to tune out the chatter of six year olds, and conversation became synonymous with school children. I couldn’t really blame her, not after teaching for as long as she did.

She had impeccable handwriting, a gentle cursive script that looked exactly like it did in the school books. She had the same highly legible writing until she died from a stroke and complications of leukemia when she was 92. The only change was that the sentences started to slant down to the right rather than stay straight across even an unlined page.

She had a college degree from St. Bonaventure, just over the border into western New York and remained dedicated to her alma mater’s basketball team until the day she died. She was smart and spoke well, and yet there were certain phrases she used that always struck me as odd. She mispronounced certain city names and no amount of correction would change her phraseology. One of my favorites was “Pokipski,” instead of Poughkeepsie. She also used to “goat the store.” I was reminded of this for some reason today when I went into the grocery store. I have no idea what it was that reminded me but walking through the automatic sliding doors into Pavilions, I could suddenly hear her gravelly voice in my head. I smiled.

When I was little, we always had to “goat the store.” I think it might be a western Pennsylvania thing, a twist on the phrase “go to the store.” It’s a conservation of syllables, really, and one of the many things I remember about my grandmother. I also remember her dusty cocoa beehive, the Ponds cold cream she slathered on her face at night and her remarkably unlined face, even as she edged ever closer to the inevitableness of old age.

I also remember that every plate and coffee cup she owned had at least one chip. She was 5’ 1” tall, 5’ 6” with her hair, and an absolute whirlwind. She was always slamming things on the counter because she was in such a hurry. She could stand at the sink and whip a pot of fudge into submission like no one I’ve ever seen, all 120 pounds of her shaking with the effort.

My cousin Kim, Beverly’s daughter, still lives in Eldred. We’re not close and never have been though I looked up to her when I was a kid. She’s nearly five years older than I, so when we were kids, I was nothing more than an annoyance from out of town. Beverly died when I was a baby and Kim was five. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for her and her dad, Jack. Jack eventually remarried and they had two children so Kim also has a half sister and brother to whom she’s very close.

One of the phrases Kim always used when we were kids was “prit’near,” short-speak for pretty near, as in “we’re pretty near there.” I never used it myself, though I always thought it was so cool the way she could combine two words into one that didn’t really exist, and wasn’t even technically a contraction, and have the same meaning. I saw Kim in 2001 when Gram died. She still says “prit’near.”

Where my mother grew up, near Pittsburgh, the locals always use the word “yuns” for you all, similar I suppose to how the south uses “y’all” for the same purpose. My Aunt Barbara, my mother’s sister, who continues to live relatively close to Pittsburgh, still uses the phrase, as do at least some of her kids. When my mom’s mom passed away several years ago, and I flew back for the funeral, I heard many speak of “yuns.”

Yuns wanna goat the Olive Garden for some spaghetti?

I find the little colloquialisms we all use to be wondrous, charming and part of who we are. It makes us individuals even though it’s also a bit conforming. We pick up phrases and sayings, words and pronunciations from those who are closest to us. It brings us together, gives us but one thread to sew us up as one, no matter if we see each other only once in a great while, no matter if we only speak on the phone; even if we can only hear the phrases in our minds. It’s comforting. These phrases are places I like to goat. 

Tags: ,

live out loud

Blackberries in the bramble

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 29, 2012 8:25 PM

When I was little, I liked to spend time at my grandmother’s house. She lived in a very small town called Eldred in northwestern Pennsylvania, very close to the border of New York. Eldred’s population when I was a kid could only have been several hundred. By the 2000 census it was just 858, for comparison sake. She had been born and raised nearby and when she married my dad’s father, they bought a small house on Elm Street where they raised my dad and his sister, or at least they did until my grandfather died when my dad was just 11. My own parents lived there for the first year of my life, after I was born in the much larger town of Olean, just across the bridge and up the road into New York.

As we lived in Pennsylvania and New York for the immediate years following, we were never far from Gram’s house. Usually about 3 hours or so. To make the trip was something we did often. The family would pile into my dad’s latest four-door company-issued sedan, the parents naturally in the front, the three kids separated in the back, and off we’d go. When we arrived, I honestly can’t remember where everyone slept as again, the house was tiny. I think my parents may have slept in my grandmother’s room. The kids slept upstairs in an attic room that had been converted into two bedrooms and separated only by the stairs. I have no idea where my grandmother slept during these visits.

In the summer time, the days were spent running. Gram’s house was just down the street from a park. I remember it as being huge. I have no doubt that it has grown much smaller in the years since. The park had a covered pavilion where classes for kids were held. I think I remember doing something with crafts. But crafts didn’t really interest me. I was more curious about the stream that was just up and over the hill, flowing water that was both muddy and clear, and was teeming with tadpoles and crawfish. Many hours were spent standing on the banks in my dirty white Keds scooping both out of the water with an old coffee can.

Once that task was complete, I would move on, often accompanied by the kids I had come to know in the town. Some, like the Petruzzi’s, were the children of my father’s closest boyhood friends. I no longer remember their names but I do remember afternoons spent up in the hills above their homes, off Barden Brook Road, winding our way through high grass and flowers, moving towards the big bramble bushes, tangled shrubs of thorny stems, dripping with blackberries that grew wild.

We’d fill up basket after basket of these huge, juicy, wild berries and then take them home to Gram. I seem to remember jam being made. I also remember handfuls crammed into my mouth, staining my fingers along with my teeth, the seeds getting stuck.

I was reminded of all of this last night when I went to the grocery store and saw blackberries for sale. Huge, juicy, fabulous blackberries. Suddenly I was 8 years old again, back in Eldred, remembering.

Remembering lazy summers when the only thing I did was play and the only thing that mattered was picking blackberries with friends.

I hadn't been back to Eldred to visit with everyone since I was about 18 and in college. My grandmother passed in December of 2001. She had a stroke at 92. Up until then, she had lived in the same house where my father was raised, the same house I visited when I was a child. I visited it again after she died, when I was back for the funeral. It was exactly the same as I remembered, complete with her bedroom slippers still in the bathroom along with her bathrobe, hanging from a hook behind the door. I didn’t have time to walk to the park, to climb on the swings and pump my legs in an attempt to reach for the sky. I didn’t see the stream though I wondered if there were still crawfish and tadpoles. I didn’t get up to Barden Brook Road though I got close. My grandmother’s younger sister lived just down from Barden Brook, on King Street. We spent some time at her house that December. She has since passed as well, just a few years ago.

Tonight, as I pull out the plastic container, open it and pop a blackberry into my mouth, I’ll remember again a time when I was young and the end of the summer meant blackberries growing on bramble bushes in the wilds above Barden Brook Road. 

Tags: ,

live out loud

christian louboutin online discount christian louboutin wholesale jerseys from china replica oakleys wholesale jerseys cheap michael kors cheap replica oakleys oakley sunglasses sales cheap jerseys free shopping michael kors handbags nike nhl jerseys cheap nhl jerseys cheap replica oakleys oakleys sale cheap jerseys from china christian louboutin outlet 2016 cheap fake oakleys WHOLESALE AUTHENTIC JERSEYS fake ray bans fake cheap oakleys cheap christian louboutin cheap christian louboutin online cheap jerseys cheap oakleys cheap jerseys from china cheap michael kors wholesale mlb jerseys replica oakleys store cheap jerseys china fake oakleys authentic nhl jerseys cheap wholesale nfl jerseys discount oakleys cheap oakleys fake oakley sunglasses replica christian louboutin cheap oakley sunglasses authentic jerseys cheap cheap oakleys outlet wholesale oakleys christian louboutin online wholesale cheap jerseys wholesale nfl jerseys fake cheap oakleys discount jerseys sale cheap ray bans fake cheap oakleys michael kors outlet cheap wholesale jerseys replica ray bans wholesale jerseys outlet wholesale nba jerseys fake cheap oakleys fake cheap oakleys outlet ray bans sale christian louboutin outlet oakleys sunglasses wholesale authentic jerseys discount ray bans fake cheap oakleys cheap christian louboutin online nhl jerseys cheap nfl jerseys discount ray bans wholesale jerseys cheap ray bans michael kors handbags outlet replica michael kors wholesale oakley sunglasses ray bans outlet cheap jerseys china cheap nba jerseys fake cheap oakleys cheap oakleys cheap ray bans cheap christian louboutin discount oakleys wholesale nfl jerseys cheap michael kors handbags fake cheap oakleys discount christian louboutin wholesale nhl jerseys michael kors on sale discount ray bans cheap jerseys wholesale cheap michael kors cheap replica oakleys cheap michael kors bags replica ray bans cheap sunglasses ray bans authentic jerseys authentic jerseys from china cheap oakleys outlet replica oakley sale red bottoms shoes on sale wholesale oakleys cheap nfl jerseys cheap replica oakleys wholesale oakleys cheap christian louboutin outlet cheap oakleys store cheap michael kors cheap ray bans cheap authentic nfl jerseys paypal cheap fake oakleys cheap oakleys cheap michael kors outlet fake ray bans fake ray bans cheap authentic nike jerseys cheap authentic jerseys fake cheap oakleys fake oakleys store replica oakleys cheap christian louboutin fake oakley cheap cheap jerseys wholesale cheap replica oakleys cheap michael kors outlet wholesale jerseys china cheap oakleys online replica michael kors cheap ray bans jerseys wholesale cheap fake oakleys discount ray bans cheap michael kors store cheap ray bans ray bans sunglasses jerseys wholesale wholesale china jerseys cheap mlb jerseys oakley sunglasses wholesale nba jerseys christian louboutin outlet wholesale oakleys wholesale authentic jerseys wholesale mlb jerseys cheap michael kors outlet cheap jerseys online shopping cheap ncaa jerseys michael kors bags cheap fake oakleys cheap jerseys wholesale cheap fake oakleys cheap replica oakleys cheap michael kors cheap discount ray bans ray bans sunglasses cheap jerseys free shopping cheap nba wholesale jerseys fake oakleys replica oakleys cheap nhl jerseys cheap christian louboutin cheap oakleys official jerseys replica ray bans cheap michael kors outlet wholesale jerseys cheap cheap authentic ncaa jerseys michael kors on sale cheap fake oakleys cheap elite jerseys discount oakleys cheap replica oakleys cheap michael kors online wholesale and retail oakleys fake ray bans cheap wholesale jerseys
Filter by APML