Word-A-Day

For many years now, one of my standard holiday gifts to Kish has been a “word-a-day” calendar.  It’s a calendar that features a different, typically unusual word each day, gives you the definition and the pronunciation — if you can decipher those weird pronunciation symbols, that is — and then provides a quote that uses the word in a sentence.

It’s an interesting thing to check out each day, and a chance to engage in a little vocabulary building.  Typically the words on the calendar fall into three categories:  words we already know and use, words that you would never try to work into a conversation, and words that you actually think could become part of your standard word-stock.  The first category is easily the smallest in size, but when the calendar does use a word we already use — yesterday’s word, for example, was rarefied — you feel a certain sense of accomplishment.  The second category is the largest.  Sometimes the words are so technical that there really is no chance to use them in everyday conversation, and others are so high-falutin’ you can’t imagine dropping them into a discussion.  Tomorrow’s word, for example, is faineant, with an accent over the e, which means idle and ineffectual or indolent.  I doubt I could even pronounce that one properly, much less find an opportunity to use it correctly.

But the third category is why you buy the calendar.  Today’s word, quiddity, falls into that category.  My favorite recent word in that category is gorgonize, which means to have a paralyzing or mesmerizing effect, and is synonymous with stupefy or petrify.  I’m saving that one up for a choice opportunity — like when one of my friends tells a long-winded story about people I don’t know at lunch and I confess that their tale gorgonized me.

 

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Focus On The Farmers

It’s pouring in Columbus right now, and the weather forecast is for more of the same — all day, and for that matter all week.

As I sat on my back porch listening to the rain pound the roof this morning, the phrase that popped into my head was: “It’s good for the farmers.” When we were kids, that was Mom’s inevitable response to a rainy summer day. Forlorn kids would be staring out the window, saddened by the fact that a precious day of summer vacation would be lost to thunderstorms, but Mom would try to put a happy spin on the showers. She was a master of the power of positive thinking In the days before spin even had a name.

Here’s to you, Ohio farmers! Let’s hope the rains produce a bumper crop this year.

Watching One Of Dad’s Favorites

Dad’s favorite actor was Humphrey Bogart.  I don’t think anyone else was even a close second.  And his two favorite movies — both of which featured Bogie, of course — were Casablanca and The African Queen.  So when Kish and I went with friends to see Casablanca to kick off the Ohio Theater Summer Movie Series last night, at the bargain ticket price of only 50 cents a person, of course I thought about Dad.

It turns out Dad had pretty good taste in movies.  Casablanca is generally considered one of the very best movies ever made, and if you get a chance to see it on the big screen, you shouldn’t pass it up.  The tale of star-crossed lovers set in exotic, desperate Casablanca, with the grim early days of World War II as its backdrop, is a terrific, timeless classic that is filled with memorable lines and characters, from Dooley Wilson’s warm and decent Sam to Sidney Greenstreet’s fly-swatting Ferrari to Paul Henreid’s impossibly noble Victor Laszlo.  The chemistry between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s Isla Lund crackles and almost jumps off the screen, and stands in sharp comparison to many of the modern romance movies where the “chemistry” is either forced or totally lacking.  And Bogart’s depiction of Rick — the tough, fearless, gravel-voiced American who will stick his neck out for nobody, but turns out to have a conscience and a heart of gold — has become so iconic we tend to take for granted what a fantastic acting performance it was.  Watching the scenes where the anguished Rick is drinking to try to forget the painful wound that Ilsa has reopened should be required study for anybody who wants to become an actor.

One other thing about Casablanca that you notice in comparison to today’s Hollywood fare:  it somehow manages to combine a compelling personal narrative that grabs you by the collar, and real potential peril from believable villains, with great humor.  Claude Rains as Louis, the jocular Prefect of Police, gets most of the laugh lines, but Bogart has some and other characters do, too.  How many modern films can you think of that successfully feature drama and humor side by side — or even try to do so?  It’s one big reason why Casablanca typically ranks right up there on the GOAT lists.

Potato Peril

A constant of my daily shower routine is using the washcloth to scrub behind my ears.  Why?  It’s not like the behind-the-ear area of a 60-something guy working at a desk in a white-collar job is constantly exposed to dirt and therefore requires a vigorous daily scouring.

g-fruitandveg-potatoes-mainNo, it’s because I remember my mother inspecting that particular area and then saying, with a tone of terrible shock and deep regret, that my postauricular regions had become “so filthy” — not just dirty, mind you, but filthy, which was much, much worse — that “you could grow potatoes back there.”  And then I would be marched off to the bathroom to wash my face and neck and the unseemly behind the ear areas, preferably with rough Lava brand soap that was made with pumice and seemed like it was taking off a layer of skin in the face-washing process.

Interestingly, it was always potatoes that could be grown in the heavy layer of dirt and grime that somehow had accumulated while I was out playing with UJ and our friends.  Not carrots, or corn, or even flowers, but inevitably potatoes.  Because, at that age, mothers seem to know everything, my natural assumption was, and still is, that potatoes must require an especially deep, dark, heavy soil if they are to grow properly.

Mom used to have a sign hanging in the house that said “my house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy,” but that just meant the house was treated differently from the kids in the family.  The house may have gotten the benefit of the doubt, but Mom was extraordinarily sensitive to any sign of human grubbiness or — God forbid! — “B.O.”  (And “B.O.” was pronounced by my mother, who never uttered a profanity of any kind in her entire life, as if it were the queen mother of curses.)

And yet, when we were doing chores around the house, Mom inevitably would tell us kids to “put a little elbow grease into it.”  How we were to do that and still maintain the expected level of spotlessness was left unexplained.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Most of us have been blessed with great mothers.  And it’s hard to over-emphasize the importance of the roles they played during our formative years.

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It was our mothers who gave us unconditional love and constant encouragement, our mothers who taught us how to read and the importance of saying “please” and “thank you,” and our mothers who were there when we came home from school, making our house a warm and loving place.    It was our mothers who bought the outfits we wore and made our breakfasts and packed our school lunches and snapped the photos that went into the family albums.  In the rankings of influential people in our lives, mothers are always going to be somewhere at the top of the list.

Many of us tend to take our parents for granted.  After all, they were always there, as our mothers and fathers, doing the stuff that Moms and Dads do, and it’s not hard to forget that they had lives before we arrived on the scene.  But they did, and at some point they made the conscious decision to become mothers and fathers and take on a crucial, lifelong commitment that would never have existed otherwise.  Without those decisions, we wouldn’t be here.  As the years have passed, with both of my parents gone, I’ve thought about that more and more, and wished there was some way I could repay them for everything they did — but of course that opportunity has passed.

I had a great Mom, and I’m married to one, too.  Here’s to all of the great Moms out there who are doing the essential things that mothers do to help mold the decent, caring people we encounter every day.  Happy Mother’s Day!

Redefining “Clingy”

Spring is the time for growing things. In our back yard, the fastest growing thing — by far — is a flowering vine next to the fence. It was supposed to stick to a wooden trellis built by our landscaper, but it’s long since outgrown that. I put an iron support for a birdhouse or hanging flower basket next to it, and the vine has eagerly embraced that. Now, its tendrils are venturing out, eagerly seeking other things to latch on to, wrap around, and grip tightly. This plant is clingier than your first high school romance.

I like to go out in the morning to marvel at how much the plant has grown since the day before and try to redirect it away from our neighbor’s yard and the little tree nearby. In doing so, however, I’m careful to keep moving. I’m afraid if I stand still for too long I’m going to find myself wrapped in those clingy green tendrils, too.