Thursday, August 19, 2010

Aqua Velva

Aqua Velva is not the gyrating noun as described in the Urban Dictionary:
  1. A human male, usually bar-dwelling, who seems to use the trendiest cologne as a body lotion, and thinks that he is the reason every lady in the place came out on any particular evening. Sometimes known to wear shiny clothing, lip gloss, eyeliner, and enough hair gel to make his head bullet proof. Can also be identified by his Justin Timberlake "Sexy Back" ring-tone.
  2. That guy at the bar in the tight shirt with the slicked back hair and the big muscles who thinks he looks good. He may also be dancing like an idiot.
Nor is it the Caribbean blue vodka-based cocktail that contains:
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1 oz gin
  • 1 oz Blue Curacao

topped with sprite and ice that is mixed together and served with an attractive nano-umbrella.

It is, however, a line of men's grooming products, including a widely advertised aftershave. In 1929 it was originally introduced as an alcohol-based mouthwash for men. NO WAY?!

To me Aqua Velva means one and only one thing: My Dad. He was, and still is for the most part, a well groomed and hygienically clean person. He always had his nails clipped and he was always clean shaven. His hair, although a little scraggly now, was always neatly cut and smoothly combed. He had a way of gently running his hand over the top of his hair just to make sure that there were no irregular pieces sticking out. The best part of his cleanliness was the way that he smelled: Wonderful. Crisp, clean, fresh and spicy. I can smell it now, although it has been years since I have actually caught a whiff of this fragrance. I laugh when I hear all of the tacky descriptions and frankly I am a little embarrassed to say that I really only like that men's fragrance. I find all of the other ones way too annoying. Besides, it obviously has multiple uses. I had no idea about the mouthwash one but I do know first hand that it was wonderful for fixing little boo-boos and unsightly preteen blemishes.

"Marfs," he would say as I walked into the room (it astonished at how he could spot my blemishes from across the room which meant they must have been hunaucious in size), "come over here and let me take a look at that on your forehead." He was kind to never actually come out and say what that really was which was a: Big.....Ugly......Festering....... ZIT! Instead, he would look at it and then beckon me to the bathroom where he would produce the Caribbean Blue bottle of magic. He would dab a little on his finger and then gently dab it on my big,ugly, festering that. I felt better already. I knew it was working its charm and now I could go out and greet the day! Plus I had the added benefit of smelling a hint of Dad all day long.

When the movie My Big, Fat Greek Wedding came out and the patriarch of the family repeatedly used Windex as a cure-all for life's blemishes and unsightly problems, I nearly wet my pants with laughter because that is exactly what Dad did with his bottle of Caribbean Blue magic. He would dab it on here, and dab it on there and I would feel so much better! It was the kind of private care that a child received from a parent that had a way of making me feel more special than anyone else in the family. That is until our little dachshund had a slight boo-boo on his ear and I spotted Dad dabbing a little magic on our Bloody German Beast! Hey, that was for me not the "Wretched-Rotten-Worthless-No good-Stink-Breath" dog (this is what he nicknamed our dog)!

Oh well. I was special for a moment.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Ring

I am thinking that it was because I had my sunglasses on and because I was not wearing my sapphire ring. The salon sapphire ring, that is now mine, was given to me by Mom. She wore this beauty on her right hand for years until she handed it down to me. I adore that ring. Not only is it exquisite to look at and to wear but it reminds me of her. She never took the ring off. She stuffed turkeys with it, gardened with it, talked with it, administered enemas with it (a family favorite event. Not.), polished silver with it, spanked us with it, swam with it, coached softball with it, made crab soup and herb bread with it, took our temperatures with it, raised four children with it, suffered breast cancer and treatments with it, and suffered brain cancer and treatments with it all while wearing that sapphire ring. Surely this is why she does not know who I am today? I am not wearing it now. I take it off in the summer months because I am afraid that I will ruin it with all of my own activities.

"I'll give you a hint," I say. "I am your favorite child" (my siblings still think that each one of them is her favorite, but they are mistaken. I am. Why else would she name me after her?). Still no recognition. "I share your name. What's your name?", I coax. "Martha," she says. "Yes Mom! Great! Now what do you call me?" We are outside at the Barclay enjoying the beautiful sunshine. I take off my sunglasses and look into her soft blue eyes but still not a flicker of recognition. Determined I say, "My nickname rhymes with Barfie." A slow smile appears and then she laughs. "Marfie!", she says. Relieved I say, "Yes! Excellent! I knew you would remember!" Her smile fades and we sit looking at each other for a moment. I marvel at her memory and how all she needs is just a little coaxing. She knows me. I know she knows me. Of course she does. How does a mother forget her own child?

We sit silently for a moment and then I ask her what she is thinking about. She gets annoyed and says, "Why are you asking me so many questions? Who are you?"

Next time I will wear the ring. She will know me then. I know she will.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Havana, Cuba and Panama

Havana, Cuba
I am told that Havana, Cuba is still one of the most attractive cities in Latin America. Havana was one of the first cities founded by the Spanish in the New World and had one of the most magnificent natural harbors. Despite periods of great instability and a turbulent history, Havana grew substantially since it was the stopping point for most of those traveling to the New World a unique exchange of ideas existed. In 1868 the Cuban War of Independence brought a halt to the modernization of the city but the war ended in 1898 when the US intervened and a change from European influence to American influence began. In 1902, the republic was established and Havana started to blossom again. In 1940 Havana became a desirable tourist destination for Americans who were looking to escape the winter and enjoy the warm Cuban climate. The revolution in 1959 brought about tremendous social changes for the country. Although Cuba is one of the last bastions for Communism in the world, it should really be admired for its natural beauty, its rich history, and its unique urban architecture. (summarized from Llilian Llanes' book Havana Then and Now)
The Republic of Panama

The southernmost of the Central American nations, Panama is south of Costa Rica and north of Colombia. The Panama Canal bisects the isthmus at its narrowest and lowest point, allowing passage from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Panama is slightly smaller than South Carolina and is marked by a chain of mountains in the west, moderate hills in the interior, and a low range on the east coast. There are extensive forests in the fertile Caribbean area.

By August 15, 1914 the Panama Canal was officially opened by the passing of the SS Ancon. At the time, no single effort in American history had exacted such a price in dollars or in human life. The American expenditures from 1904 to 1914 totaled $352, 000,000, far more than the cost of anything built by the US Government up to that time. Together the French and American expenditures totaled $639,000,000. It took 34 years from the initial effort in 1880 to actually open the Canal in 1914. It is estimated that over 80,000 persons took part in the construction and that over 30,000 lives were lost in both French and American efforts.

To read more about the Panama Canal see this website:

White Family History
Somewhere around 1923/24 my maternal grandfather, Harold Somerset White, was in Tela Honduras working for the United Fruit Company when he was invited to a friend's house party. My grandmother, Martha Bell lived in Atlanta, GA but had gone to Tela to attend the same house party. The two met and carried on a long distance courtship for five years until finally marrying in Atlanta, GA in 1928 and moved to Honduras so grandad could continue his job with the UFC. Here is the time line as best as I can remember from my interview with my parents:
  • 1930/31, the White family was transferred from Honduras to Colon, Panama.
  • 1932 on January 1, my mother Martha Bell White was born. Martha Bell, or MB for short, had dual citizenship in both the US and Panama/Cuba.
  • 1942 they moved to Havana, Cuba in a suburb called Miramar
  • 1946 mom's brother, Chiefie ( Harold Somerset White, Jr)
  • 1949-1953 Mom attended Wesleyan College in Macon, GA but came home to Havana in the summers and then to Panama after the transfer.
  • 1949 Dad arrived from Hartford, CN to Havana to spend his summer after prep school and before entering college. He and his brother Ted lived in a fully furnished rented apartment that their dad was keeping while he worked the 3 years for the Cuban/Venezuelan Oil Co. The first apartment was in a very exclusive neighborhood called El Vedado and the second one was in Miramar. Both Dad and Ted attended summer school at the University of Havana.
  • 1949, June/July Mom and Dad met at a beach party at the exclusive Biltmore Beach Club in Havana given by Joan Condon Bear.
  • 1950 the White family was transferred back to Panama to a place called Cristobal, a port city that resides at the entrance of Limon Bay that leads to the entrance to the eastern side of the Panama Canal, and the Barnett family move back to Hartford. Mom and Dad spent the summer of 1950 dating seriously while attending summer school in the morning and sailing and attending beach parties in their free time. During the winter, Mom and Dad wrote each other and carried on a long distance relationship.
  • 1952 Dad went back to Panama for the summer and stayed one month in order to visit the White family and continue courting Mom.
  • 1953 Dad graduated from Trinity College and asked Mom to marry him.
  • 1953, September 9, Mom and Dad were married in Colon, Panama in an Episcopalian Church. Ted could not be there due to his military commitments, so grandad Barnett was Dad's best man.
Mom's first house in Colon, Panama was a wood house on stilts and was very close to the water.
The house in suburban Miramar was a little, white suburban house. They had hired help: a laundress named Beatrice and a cook named Gladys. The second house located in Cristobal, Panama was a very nice house with a back yard that backed up to the jungle much like our houses back up to woods. The jungle contained an assortment of wild animals like iguanas, black panthers, monkeys, land crabs, exotic birds, boas, and poisonous snakes. Grandmom and Grandad White owned a beautiful fresh water aquarium and raised budgies(parakeets). The jungle is where my grandmother gathered orchids and propagated them in order to sell them to local florists as well as making an exhibit out of them. They also owned a pet parrot named Lorita. She spoke Spanish and mastered the neighbors' high pitched laugh and was constantly cackling and shouting "fuego, fuego (fire, fire)!"

To me, Havana and Panama have always seemed like the home away from home. Although I have never physically visited these places, I vicariously enter these countries through my parents' stories. I hope to visit Havana as soon as Americans will be allowed to enter the country. I know I will visit Panama one of these days and trace the steps of my parents. I have read many articles explaining that it is a great place to retire. We'll see what becomes of this for me and my husband.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

pg. 106

Memories are like a series of bookmarks that we use to jump back and forth through the text of our lives, returning again and again to the past events that we hold on to dearly. It simply takes one small trigger: a whiff of something, a color, a sound, a picture.....and then suddenly the pages of our memories turn quickly to that exact spot in our distant lives and we are miraculously thrust into the past. We can taste it, hear it, smell it, see it just as if we were still there caught in time warp. As I get older, this seems to be happening to me more and more.

It was towards the end of a very long 17 credit semester (what in the world was I thinking?). Things were winding down but the work load was not. I had so many papers, projects, power points, and exams due practically all at the same time that my head was spinning constantly. Fortunately, besides gardens, libraries are my next favorite place to be. I like to research topics the old fashioned way by actually going to the library and reading a book to find my information. This is where I found myself when the unsuspecting bookmark of my brain triggered a memory. Who would have thought that researching bryophytes (mosses) could lead to such a thing?

In order to conserve space and pack as many books into this particular library, the book stacks are intriguingly arranged on movable electronic tracks. This is a brilliant idea! Not only can the library hold more books but the nerdy-library-researcher can entertain herself by moving the stacks simply by pushing a little green arrow! Realizing that I really do need to get out more since I am too easily entertained by this, I finally got to the correct stack. Feeling a little like Moses, the stacks parted and I walked down the isle in search of the bryophyte section which to my astonishment was huge. I was in search of one book in particular and with my expert elementary school Dewey Decimal System training, I was able to find it quickly but something else caught my eye. The book that I needed happened to be the last one in the moss category but right next to it, in another category, was a very familiar book titled Perennial Garden. This book sits in my own library at home, but I have not looked at it for a long time. I pulled it off of the shelf and held in my hands. When I opened it, seemingly having a mind of its own, it opened to page 106. To the ordinary person, this page boasts a lovely picture of a weathered fence line adorned with a beautiful perennial border. To the Barnett family, it is glimpse of our home and our childhood.

My mother was excited with the news that a young couple would be coming to our house to interview her and take pictures of her gardens. They were writing a user friendly book about growing a perennial garden and, not surprisingly, their research led them to my mother. How exciting! As it turned out, the picture on page 106 was one of two pictures of our garden that actually made it into the book. No matter, mom was thrilled and her name, her quotes, and her garden were portrayed. The book was published in 1985. Fast forward to 2010 and here I stand with the book in my hands with it opened to the very page of my childhood home. It only takes a glimpse and I hear the clang of the horseshoes as Dad makes one of his incredible ringers. I see Mom bending over in her colorful bathing suit, with flip-flop clad feet and wearing yellow Platex dish gloves as her garden gloves while she tends to the perennial bed along the fence that surrounds our pool. I inhale the heavy muggy air and the sweet scent of wild honeysuckle fills my nose and lungs. Ahhh, how beautiful the perennial border looks this year with the blue Echinops, and the golden Heliopsis. The Hemerocallis and the Lythrum are blooming so it must be July. My stomach growls as I catch a whiff of the turkey that is smoking on the grill. Dad has been feeding the grill with wet hickory chips all day and the succulent aroma of his smoked turkey is driving us all crazy with home.

I put the bookmark back in the pages of my memory and closed it along with the book. I placed it back on the shelf before the embarrassing flood of tears came. I will allow them to privately flow later when I can close myself in my bedroom and look at page 106 again and quietly reminisce.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Return to Me

It is another "gambling" Quaker Sunday and I find myself back at The Barclay visiting with Mom and Dad. It pains me that I can not get here that often due to my heavy course load at school, but I am happy to be here now and grateful that my husband can pull up a chair and gamble away with the men while I visit with Mom. I have missed her so much. In fact, I have missed her for the past 15 years that she has been hidden away behind a glassy, distant expression that has taken over her being. My mother was always so expressive in everything that she did: her face, her movements, her words, her laugh, and even her gardening. I miss my connection with her. A connection that grew from the moment I was a teen. I actually liked my Mom when I was a teenager. She was fun and she was a good listener. She always had the right words for me and I relied on her so much in those painful adolescent years. She was the one true friend for me. She was someone I could always count on, someone who was grounded and unconditional with her time and love.

I hold her hand and kiss her gently. She looks so pretty today with her snow white hair and her sparkly blue eyes. I am thankful that she knows me. She may not be able to name me right away but I know she knows me because in a flash her distant stare focuses on me and she gets a look of complete and utter bliss. She does this with all of her children when we come to visit her and I am eternally grateful that this has not been taken from us.....yet. This is all I need to satisfy me. No, that is not true. I am selfish and need her to be her again. I am momentarily shaken out of my self pity when there is a commotion in front of me. The boys (the gamblers) are in a frenzy. Dad has just gotten up to go search for some ice and drinks for our lunch while Scott and Phil (Dad's best Barclay buddy)are frantically trying to rig the cards for the next game. This is hysterical to watch because Phil, who suffers from early stages of Alzheimer's, can not seem to remember exactly which game of poker they are rigging. Scott is hurriedly trying to sort the cards and seems to be throwing them everywhere while saying, "It's Night Baseball, Phil." Phil responds by saying, "Oh yes!" and then he whips out his little pad that he keeps in his shirt pocket and writes this down. He is forever doing this in order to remember the goings on in his life but most of the time when he reads it back, he can't remember it anyway! Dad is back and the rigged game is on!

I turn my attention towards Mom again (or is it really towards me and my inner thoughts?) and try another tactic: conversation. Both of my parents have the gift of conversation. They could (Dad still does) engage anyone and everyone in an interesting conversation. Words flow from our mouths, a true Barnett trait. My words are flowing easily as I fill her in on the kids and my life. She used to eat this up but now it seems to fall on deaf and distant ears. How cruel this is. I stop my selfish babble and swallow hard. For now I will settle on holding her hand and sitting quietly while watching the boys play their game.

I miss you Mom. Come back to me.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Quaker Sunday

Quaker principles are simple and true. Their mission is based on treating people with a sense of equality, peacefulness, integrity, community, and simplicity. Barclay Friends is a Quaker run facility and their mission statement runs true there. Maybe this is why they do not frown upon my Dad and his entourage while they sit in the "narthex" of a Barclay aisle and play poker.... with money...on a SUNDAY! This is the site my family and I came upon last Sunday as we walked down Barclay's long hallway. Scott and I and two of my three children had just come from church and we were hoping to spend some time with my parents and my sister who was flying back to Booneyville, USA later that day. At first glance, it just looked like a few elderly people gathered in a circle enjoying a nice conversation with each other. Dad has a way of gathering people around and engaging them in quick games of cleverness whether it's a made-up word game or a card game of hearts or spades. We used to do this after dinner at home when I was young and I always loved it especially since he was so entertaining. He is famous for never really following the actual written rules and so he would always come up with a much better, more simplified version of whatever it was we were going to play. He even does this when he golfs. It's a typical, fun quirk of his personality. Today, however, he was corrupting the minds of his octagenarian friends on a quiet Quaker Sunday! It was hysterical to watch and now my children and husband were scrambling to find chairs so they could gamble their silly heads off......they were only using pennys, but a lot of them!

I walked further down the hallway to head to my Mom's room where I know I would find my sister pecking and squawking over my Mom like we always do when we gather. I had a moment to quietly reflect over the past few years of my parents' "new" life apart from each other. I gave quiet thanks for the miraculous solution to my parents' previously horrible situation that was spiraling out of control. We had come a loooooooong way since those dark and troubled days. I actually had to stop for a moment and collect myself. I realized that it was 3 years practically to the day that Mom had been abruptly moved into Barclay. We had to separate them for their own safety. It was awful. This was the second time. The first time was to get Dad to realize that he needed to move out of his home and go to a smaller home. That was awful too but we succeeded. The second go 'round was three years ago. I slept in a hotel with Mom that first night right after Christmas when we stole her from Dad in order to keep them safe. It was the only place we could think of that would be handicap accessible. After that, she lived with us for 3 days and then lived with my other sister until a bed became available at Barclay. What a miracle that someone had to die and give up their room in order to save us from our situation. That was 2 days after Mom's birthday. She's a New Year's baby. I stood there realizing that today was the exact day only three years later. Wow.

I hear them cackling and laughing at who just won the hords of pennies for that round of poker. It shakes me back to reality and I again give quiet thanks that my Dad is happily and healthily gambling, on a Sunday, with elderly people and his grandchildren, in the comforts of a Quaker environment!

Later on that week, Mattie announces that she and some friends are going to the community center to play B.I.N.G.O. She said, "Mom, do you know that you can win money?!" She won that night. 85 BUCKS!!! She said that all the old ladies at her table were annoyed with her. Thanks DAD!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Left Turns

Dad has always had an impeccable driving record. He is probably the only person I know who actually drives the speed limit. ALWAYS. We lived on a long, straight road that had a 25 mph speed limit which was tortuously slow when you were driving with Dad. It was another story when you were driving with Mom. She had a notorious lead foot and so for the longest time I thought that the speed limit on our street was much higher than the posted 25 mph time. Since most of my travels were in the car with Mom, I was always shocked at how painfully slow my father seemed to drive when I finally had to get in the car with him. Somehow this always made him seem so much older than my Mom just because he was driving like a geezer. His motto in life was to avoid any unnecessary exposure at all times which really meant to drive painfully slow and actually stop and look all directions once, twice and one more time before venturing out into more hazardous traffic situations.

I am not really sure when I became aware of Dad's aversion to left turns but I am fairly certain he never liked them. Let me clarify: left turns that did not happen at traffic lights. Come to think of it, I can't say that I have ever seen him make a left turn that would cross him into traffic. In fact, he will go what seems to be miles and miles out of his way to avoid doing this. This can be extremely frustrating for the passenger because you end up taking this obscurely circuitous route around a neighborhood, city or parking lot in order to finally make the safer right hand turn. I never could really understand this and so when I learned to drive, I saw non-traffic-light-left-hand-turns as a huge challenge; a challenge that I successfully, fearlessly, and purposely did just to spite my father.

Fast forward. I am now a parent who has miraculously survived teaching one of my three children how to drive and I am now in the process of teaching the second child (actually, I quit that job because it was causing me to have severe heart trouble so now my husband has that job). How will I ever survive teaching a third? I have now become my father. I get it now, the whole left turn thing. I now know that he was right with his seemingly stupid circuitous routes. It makes sense. Why am I forever morphing into my parents?

She starts the engine and backs out of the driveway, pausing to ask which direction she should go in order to get to our local grocery store. I casually point in the opposite direction from which we normally go and she questions this. "Oh," I say, "I just don't want you to have to make that awful left hand turn across all of that traffic with out a traffic light to help you." Yep, I am my Dad.