“Fred Rogers and Me”

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Yesterday, as kind of a palate cleanser after “Breath,” we went to see the film “Won’t You Be My Neighbor.” A thoughtful documentary, the movie explores the biography of Fred Rogers, host of the long running American television show “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” While his program aired after I was grown, he was on television when my daughter was little.

The program was aimed at very young children, and it is clear from the film and the length of time the show ran that many children loved Mr. Rogers. His messages were hopeful and constructive, reminding children that they were loved and valuable just as they were. The show was free of violence, name calling, slapstick humor and meanness.

But at the risk of revealing too much about myself, I confess that I could never stand Mr. Rogers. I spent the hour and a half of the film wondering why and continue to ask myself that question. I think that at a basic level, I don’t trust people who are so very, very nice. That suggests that I have a core place which is always waiting for peoples’ real natures to be revealed, and that I think niceness is a cover for ulterior motives.

This saddens me. I am clear from watching this film that Mr. Rogers was actually a very nice person and that he wanted to convey his trustworthiness to his viewers. But that wary child within me kept waiting for the REAL man to emerge. So no; I didn’t want to be his neighbor.

 

“Surfing Movie?”

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My husband grew up surfing in the Gulf of Mexico. He loves all things surfing even if he no longer does it outside of wave pools at amusement parks. So he was excited to see the recent Australian movie “Breath.” Usually I check out movies before we go at a web site called “Kids-In-Mind” because there are many things I prefer not to see. The site gives movies ratings for sex, violence and language to allow parents(and me) to decide whether to take their kids. I have found it very useful at alerting me to disturbing parts of movies that I had seen reviewed favorably.

Unfortunately, “Breath” had no review at “Kid-In-Mind,” but I didn’t think a surfing movie would be a problem. As the movie began, it became clear that it was a coming of age movie about an adolescent boy. That was still fine since my husband had come of age himself by surfing. So awkward interactions with a girl classmate, dares from a reckless friend, and silence with his parents all seemed appropriate.

Deeply regrettably, the movie decided that an essential part of a coming of age movie had to involve very explicit intimacy with an older woman. I saw it as sex abuse as I would have seen a similar portrayal of an adolescent girl with an older man. And I am completely uninterested in watching two other people be intimate.(Intimate is not what they were, but that is the g-rated description.)

So consider this your “Kids-In-Mind” review. This is not a surfing movie despite exquisite scenes of waves, the ocean, surfing and Australia. It’s too bad that they couldn’t have left out the abuse. The movie didn’t need it. And neither did I.

“Shearing the Sheep(Dog)”

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Our Australian Shepherd puts on a very heavy coat during the winter. This morning it was time for the master shearer(aka my husband)to tackle the monumental task of brushing, clipping, untangling and removing the hair she doesn’t need again until winter. He has it down to a science, anchoring our dog Grace between his knees and patiently working away. This morning it took one hour and a grocery bag full of excess hair to give her a sleek summer look.

Grace is our third Australian Shepherd, a very intelligent and attentive dog. She can tell the UPS driver apart from the FedEx driver apart from the mail man. She has a distinctive bark for each one. She believes that each man is a threat to her flock of humans and does her best to drive each away. One terrible afternoon, attempting to get at one,  she put a paw through a pane of our French door, lacerating her foot. Since then my husband covered the bottom panels of the door with thick plexiglass to prevent a repeat. He also put plexiglass over the window sills where she sets her paws as she stands on her rear legs to threaten any passers by. We live on a well traveled street, so there are many people walking by.

She was a wonderful Frisbee catcher, but early on she ruptured her ACL tendon requiring expensive, but successful, surgery to repair it. Since then, she is not allowed to leap high into the air. Still she patrols the yard, chasing off squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and most importantly the neighbor’s cat.

She has indeed lived up to her name, gracing us each day with her ferocious attention to her responsibilities–us.

“Cooling Off In 1928”

It’s the fourth of July, it is very hot here for the sixth day in a row, and many people are heading for the beaches and parks. We are staying home, avoiding crowds, looking forward to going to the movies in what once was advertised as an “Air Cooled!” theater. I did always wonder what that meant before air conditioning came in.

After my mother died, my brother used a photo service to put all of the pictures in the family albums on DVDs. My mother was the only surviving child of her parents, so the albums also included those of my grandmother. Fortunately my grandmother, unlike my mother or me, was very organized. Her albums have carefully annotated descriptions of the people and places in each photo.

Here in 1928 her mother, my grandmother and my great grandmother, Jennie Durham are relaxing on Long Island on a family outing. My mother is wearing a bathing suit, but my grandmother and great grandmother are both wearing long cotton dresses. And someone–my grandfather?–has hauled a chair, a huge umbrella, picnic gear, blankets and all down to the sand.

Jennie sits in the chair, regal in her demeanor. I imagine she is wondering why she ever agreed to this expedition. She surely isn’t finding the beach a welcome respite from the heat!

“Hot, Hot, Hot”

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It rarely got scorching hot in Portland when I was growing up, but occasionally it reached 100 degrees F.(37.7C for my readers in the rest of the world.) In Hartford right now we are in the middle(I hope)of a seven day heat wave. It is again about 100 degrees. At my age, I am content to sit in front of a window air conditioner catching up on my posts and reading those of my on-line friends.

But when I was a kid I loved getting wet just as much as the kids at my daughter’s party Saturday. We would run through the sprinkler most of the time to cool off. Sometimes my mom would take us to a city swimming pool. But on especially hot weekend days, my father would gather air mattresses and the four of us and head south for about an hour.

The destination was known to us as Bear Creek. That was not its real name, our father told us. He didn’t want people to know about this exquisite swimming spot he had found, so he gave it a pseudonym. Here we went over a series of little falls then climbed out and walked back up to do it again. I am captured in this photo as I come down to the last deep pool on the creek. While many times my father was angry and resentful of his responsibilities, when he got us to Bear Creek he relaxed. On rare hot summer afternoons we all joyfully swam.

I’d send you there, but I can’t tell you how to find it. I don’t know its real name to this day!

“Slip Sliding Away”

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The heat really came on here yesterday just in time for my daughter’s big back yard bash. She was able to rent an inflatable slip and slide for the afternoon. This proved a saving grace for the 20 or so kids who came to the party. The water sprayed out from the sides making a slippery surface to slide along. The kids spent several hours running and splashing.

All of the kids at the party are home schooled, and they are used to being in mixed age groups. So the kids from age 3 to age 15 got along, took turns and generally had a great time. Towards the end of the afternoon, they did ask Grandpa if they could go pick blueberries. About seven of them trooped over to our house and had their fill of berries. The fortress is keeping out nearly all the birds, so there are plenty of blueberries to eat and to share.

I am taking a break from the news. So many disheartening stories one after another about our country was having a negative effect on me. I do what I can, but it is overwhelming sometimes to encounter the mean spiritedness of much of my government. I needed an afternoon of a racially diverse folks eating and playing together to remind me how much good there still is in much of this country. I will vote in November, but beyond that I will sit back and continue to feast on the good all around me.

“A Volunteer”

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We are getting our first real heat of the summer. Although it is much too soon for the seedlings just planted to be flowering, this little sunflower partly opened yesterday. It grew, no doubt, from one of the scattered sunflower seeds from the bird feeder. Even though the birds try to eat every seed, some intact ones must escape. Later in the summer this whole white picket fence will be bordered with a variety of sunflowers.

My daughter has taken over the family tradition of having a big party on, or in this case near, the fourth of July. When we lived in Oregon, our yard looked over the river at a magnificent fireworks display. We would start our party in the mid afternoon so our guests could find parking. We lived on a dead end street and people drove up and down it as the time came to watch fireworks. One extremely frustrated neighborhood kid would yell at them. As if that helped matters. After lots of chicken, beer and watermelon, we would sit on the neighbor’s nearly flat roof and watch the display.

Since there are no close fireworks, my daughter will just have lots of food including of course chicken, beer and watermelon.  We used to always have a watermelon seed spitting contest, but the new melons are seedless. So for fun the kids will throw water balloons.

We will celebrate the promise, not the current reality, of the United States. Yes we were flawed from the beginning, with slavery and the destruction of native peoples. Still we have struggled until recently to be open to immigrants and to embrace our vast diversity. May we find our way back to being a more just country.