She married young during the World War II era, living on a shoestring in the early days of her husband's career. His military service was a source of pride. They lived in several cities far from her childhood home. Together they raised a large family and delighted in their children. While her spouse pursued his important work and rose to various leadership positions, she was content to take a supportive role. A family retreat on the water was a gathering place for fun and fellowship. A series of beloved family pets were her companions. She sorrowed over a child's fatal illness and intensely grieved the loss. Her Christian faith remained strong throughout the inevitable trials of life. She knew many people, loved to entertain, and put a high value on her closest friendships. Baseball was her favorite professional sport. She was no-nonsense, had a great sense of humor throughout life and rarely complained. A rapidly expanding legacy of grandchildren and great-grandchildren was her greatest joy. Witnessing the slow decline in her husband's health was a painful reality after decades of a happy marriage. This exceptional woman, who died in her early nineties, valued honesty, punctuality, good manners, hospitality, following the rules, and being polite. This woman was my mother, Barbara Ann (Lake) Baehren.
When Barbara Pierce Bush, the wife and mother of Presidents, died earlier this week, I began to see parallels between her life and my mother's. They had both lived through scarcities of the Depression and saw the enormous human cost of World War II. Both women valued family above all and supported their husbands as their careers advanced. While the life of Mrs. Bush played out on the national and international stage, my mother's took place in Toledo, Ohio as the wife of a pediatrician and leader in the community. Mrs. Bush lost her daughter Robin to leukemia at age three, while my younger brother Peter died of pancreatic cancer at age 54. Barbara Bush was known to her family as "The Enforcer" while my mother was often called the "Mother Superior."
As I listened to the many eulogies given during the funeral of Barbara Bush, I heard so many familiar themes. Discipline, hard work, doing for others, not complaining, self-sacrifice and love of family - these were the values of the greatest generation and of these two women, each exceptional in their own way.
The Days of DIY
Today, a nice man called Joe is coming to wallpaper our small guest bathroom. I can't wait to see how the blue/brown botanical pattern looks on the walls. It also makes me a little sad because I can't do it myself. As we've moved into our seventies, there seem to be many things we pay to have done for us, like housecleaning, lawn care, and odd jobs. We absolutely love being in our own house after years of living in condos, where we didn't have much chance to put our own stamp on things, so its fun to do it now.
When Andy and I bought our first home in Waterville, OH (suburb of Toledo), we painted every room in the small ranch house ourselves. Then I decided that we should wallpaper the bathroom. I chose a heavy paper printed with big daisies (what was I thinking?) on a green background. Andy and I pasted up and smoothed out the first strip, then stood back to admire our handiwork. Suddenly, the paper left the wall and rolled itself up on the floor. In a panic, I called my mom to find out the name of her paperhanger and the job was done in a few days.
In our first home in Denver, we papered one of the bedroom walls, difficult because the room had a vaulted ceiling. I rented a scaffold to help do the job, and remember Andy turning the air blue when he put his knee through the paper! Before Alison was born, we papered a wall in her room. I had stripped and painted white an old chest of drawers left behind in our Waterville home. We used the bright colors from the paper to paint the its drawers as well as those in a little dresser. I was always painting, papering or refinishing something. I even painted the family room just a few days before our third child was born (because my mom was coming, LOL).
After our house fire, professionals did the wallpapering, but after a decade or so, I had tired of some of it, so I re-papered and painted some rooms myself, especially as the kids grew up and wanted a different look for their rooms. I especially remember some long evenings of steaming stubborn wallpaper from our bedroom, so it could be painted. My DIY days are probably over, but I have a lot of happy memories of those times.
In my 72 years, I've made a few mistakes. Who hasn't? However, there are two that stand out in memory--ones where I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me.
When we lived in the suburbs of Denver thirty-plus years ago, I had a friend named Carol. She had been a writer for a newspaper and was now home raising kids. We enjoyed each other's company and one day Carol introduced me to a friend of hers (name now lost in the mists of time). The friend and I had lunch a couple times and went on a few outings together. Then this friend-of-a-friend invited Andy and me to dinner at her home. So we're sitting around the table chatting away and got on the subject of newspaper food sections (back when people didn't get all their news from the iPhone). I commented that the section of the Denver Post devoted to food wasn't that great and that their idea of a gourmet entrée was Lipton's dry onion soup mix sprinkled over a pot roast. When she went silent, I realized that I had made the mother of all faux pas. After my red-faced apologies, we enjoyed somewhat awkward conversation over what turned out to be a rather delicious pot roast and never crossed paths again.
Fast forward a few decades. I was Director of Development for an early childhood intervention agency near Williamsburg, VA. Their major annual fundraising event was a huge auction - both silent and live - with items donated by the community. My task was to produce a catalogue to be inserted in the local newspaper. I was writing clever descriptions for each of about 300 items, when I came to a donation that included a series of ready-to-serve meals from a catering company. One included grilled chicken, but in my haste, I mistakenly typed a word that I must have typed hundreds of times in that particular job. Although the book had been proofed by me and others, no one caught the error. Feeling quite pleased that I had completed this enormous task and sent it to the printer, the roof caved in when one of our board members called me and dryly remarked, "I've always wanted to grill my husband, but never my children." She laughed uproariously, but I was shaking because the next step was to immediately confess the error to my judgmental, overbearing boss. It did not go well, but at that point there was no going back.
The day of the auction, my daughter Alison, who had driven from Philadelphia, unexpectedly showed up at our door, saying, "I'm here for the grilled children." She too, laughed uproariously, but I was still dying inside. However, during the live auction, an apology was made for the typo, eliciting only a titter from the audience. I somehow kept the job, but my chagrin lingered for a while!
My (brief) Career as a Singer
Before I was a teacher, wife, mom or development professional, I was a singer/guitarist . When I was about 15, someone gave my dad a ukelele. I appropriated it and learned a few chords. It was the 60s and folk music era was in full swing. I played Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary albums over and over, writing down the lyrics to songs. Desperate for a guitar, I finally talked my parents into buying a Gibson for me. I taught myself basic chords, becoming good enough to solo as the "country gal" in the high school spring concert. With babysitting money, I upgraded to a beautiful Goya guitar, which went with me to Wittenberg University. Lots of people played and sang and we taught each other. The university let us turn an abandoned house (soon to be torn down to make way for the music school) into a coffeehouse called the Witt's End. I ran the coffee/doughnut concession and performers from area schools came to play--including me on several occasions. I often sang at campus events with my friend J.T. and was thrilled to perform at The Lemon Tree, a coffeehouse in Dayton, OH. In the summer, I joined Roadshow Entertainers, made up of several doctors and female singers, who performed mostly pop music at public events and at a dive called Niko's Speakeasy. We even recorded jingles for a local radio station. A couple guys I knew opened a downtown Toledo spot called The Last Gasp Saloon, which served minimal food and a lot of beer, and they invited me to perform, as well. I had a great mentor in Dave Browning, a Toledo musician who gave me a lot of encouragement. It was all such fun while it lasted.
After graduation, I taught elementary school and often brought my guitar into the classroom to enrich the social studies curriculum. I loved teaching the kids "This Land is Your Land", "The Wabash Cannon Ball" and other classics. The nadir of my singing career perhaps came when I sang on a local children's TV show with Skippy the Scarecrow (a tall, skinny radio DJ). Between his banter with a small studio audience of kids and the cartoons, I sang a song or two. The principal of my elementary school thought it was inappropriate, so I had to quit! After our three kids came along, I sang with them and often just for my own pleasure. When my son was in high school, I turned my beloved Goya over to him. A couple years ago, my daughter and son-in-law gave me a new guitar for Christmas. Unfortunately, with increasingly stiff joints, I have trouble forming chords and my once-pure alto voice has become quite rusty, but I'm trying to get back in the groove. If Joan Baez can still sound good at 77, there may be hope for me!
The Evil Herb
Call it whatever you want - cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsley, etc. I hate and abhor it. To me and about 4-14 percent of the population, it tastes like soap or something worse. In my defense, it seems there is a genetic explanation for cilantro-haters, a olfactory-receptor gene called ORG6A2, which picks up on the smell of aldehyde chemicals found in soap and, you guessed it, cilantro. I've always felt vindicated that Julia Child, my long-time culinary hero, hated it, too. TV chef Ina Garten also shares my disgust for this herb. I can't even stand to be near it in the produce section of the grocery store.
I live in Texas, which is loaded with Mexican restaurants of every stripe, from traditional Mexican fare and Tex-Mex to fast-food chains like Taco Bell, Taco Bueno and others. I actually grew up loving Mexican foods in, of all places, Toledo, Ohio. It seems that Mexicans who came north to pick tomatoes in Northern Ohio sometimes stayed to open restaurants. Our family favorite was Loma Linda's, a tiny place near the airport. The small lobby was usually crammed with people who often waited an hour or more to be seated, enjoying a margarita or two (or three) and their famous nachos. I don't remember cilantro being used in their dishes, though.
My son-in-law Reagan loves to tease me and says I moved to the wrong state if I hate cilantro so much. It's ubiquitous here, so I have to be very careful when ordering food: no cilantro! The times I've forgotten, I'm reduced to picking the leaves and stems out of my entrée. And its not just restaurant food. You know those prepackaged salad mixes? Almost all of them contain cilantro. Yuk. Soon, I will be putting an herb garden in my new standing planter. As the old Simon and Garfunkel song goes: parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but no cilantro.
A Day with Lena
I'm Chris Barabasz, retired from a 35-year career managing communications for health care development (that's fundraising for you civilians). I'm a wife, mother, grandmother and freelance writer. My husband Andy and I moved from Delaware to Texas to be closer to our daughters and three adorable grandchildren.