Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Much-Needed Happiness


Please excuse the gap between the last post and this one--I've been busy being horrified at the national news. But today I'm turning off NPR and looking back at the recent trip to North Carolina and the birthplace of Andy Griffith.

I was SHOCKED (shocked, I tell you) that I had requests for pictures of Husband in Barney's sidecar. And because Husband is the best sport in the world, here he is, at the Andy Griffith museum in Mount Airy. What you don't see is that it had stormed the night before and the seat of the sidecar was covered with left-over rain so my dear one had to walk around for a couple of hours with water-cooled britches.

In practically all ways he embodied the original Barney's Sidecar episode:



Looking at the picture makes me happy.

Then when we got home from the East Coast we discovered that our tomato plants had finally decided to start producing with vigor. My annual (consistently-fruitless) quest to grow my own tomatoes was nearly derailed this year when my lungs tried to kill me right during tomato-planting season, but we still have three late-planted vines in containers in the only sunny space near the House on the Corner. (Okay, the three containers technically are on a corner of our neighbor's yard, but we were mowing that yard, so could we consider that rent?)

Anyway, just look at this:

We have been eating BLTs, and huevos con tomate, and all manner of dishes cooked with fresh tomatoes, and I grab a handful of the cherry variety to eat like candy every time I pass through the kitchen. I smile as I check my teeth for tomato seeds before I go out in public.

I'm looking hard for happiness moments these days, because I do not use the term lightly when I say the news is horrifying. This is not a one-run loss in the World Cup, or a pair of Hollywood stars deciding to divorce. The news of the last five days have been jaw-dropping, nightmare-producing.

Give yourself a break today. Turn off the news, and eat a tomato fresh off the vine while watching an Andy Griffith re-run.

Tomorrow, get back into the fray, and work to make us all better. But today, be happy.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Our Kind of People

Two and One with childhood friends

After the gigantic "whoosh" that was the sound of a collective release of held breath in the House on the Corner, Husband and I couldn't wait to jump in the car and travel to North Carolina so all of the Research Triangle could hear us yelling "Wahooooooo!" together. We stopped in Missouri to pick up Boy#1 to be co-pilot and for the next two days I Miss Daisy-ed in the backseat, reading and knitting while Husband and One picked out scenic side trips to break up the 1,300-mile trip. 

We were quite aware that this was probably our final trip to the Durham area, since Two already had his plane ticket toward the next (employed! Yay!) stage of his life, so we had to be selective in our activities there. What was the very most important thing we needed to do, in case we never make it back to North Carolina?

Why, Mount Airy, of course. 

What? You've never heard of Mount Airy, North Carolina?

Then obviously you are not a superfan of Andy Griffith, and you did not spend your childhood watching old black-and-white re-runs of a show that began with a whistle and ended with a laugh. Unlike you, one of our brilliant sons (*cough* Boy#1 *cough*) not only watched every episode TVLand had to offer, he can to this day quote verbatim passages and tell you which of the Darlings was the creepiest Darling. (That's a trick question. All the Darlings were creepy.)

Mount Airy is the home of Andy Griffith, also known as super-sheriff Andy Taylor, and even though "The Andy Griffith Show" filmed in California and there is precious little evidence Barney and Aunt Bee ever set foot in Mount Airy, a childhood buddy of the real Andy Griffith became the unofficial documentarian of all things Griffith. The result was (to our surprise) absolutely charming.

We expected a tiny, run-down town with a sad and dusty room holding old Griffith memorabilia, maybe a few shops filled with identical selections of t-shirts and mugs. Instead, Mount Airy has a perfectly-sized modern museum with items from Griffith's growing-up years, as well as mementos from the show (including Otis's vomit-stained coat--ick) and from Griffith's other projects (a Matlock suit, for example). I forced our Boys to pose with the Andy and Opie statue, of course, and Husband let me take his picture in Barney's sidecar outside the museum. (This shot available upon request.) 

Even the downtown was fun, with lots of individual shops that referenced the show but didn't go overboard. No one was running around yelling "Citizen's ar-RAY-ust!," which, to be absolutely honest, was kind of disappointing. 

Not disappointing was the moonshine pie shop. We had missed lunch hour at The Loaded Goat Bar and Grill so we had a mid-afternoon lunch at the pie shop, splitting pulled pork and rhubarb pies. We passed on the moonshine pie, but the Boys report the peanut butter pie was excellent. 

And then we went home and watched the full episode of The Loaded Goat,  

It was a good day, as Husband and I walked around with two of our grown sons remembering when they were little boys and we watched this show together. I think Andy would have approved.



Thursday, August 3, 2017

Per Aspera


His last day of school was last week, 21 years later.

My mother told this story about Boy#2:

They were playing Yahtzee, and Two was keeping score. He would add up the dice throws in his head and enter the results on the scorecard, and Mom reminded him gently to write the numbers neatly.

"But Grandma," he told her, "they haven't taught us how to write numbers yet."

He was three, and sure enough, his preschool didn't work on numbers until they were four.

Numbers, though, were Two's second language. They spoke to him as clearly and expressively as words speak to the rest of us. He taught himself how to work percentages before he was in grade school, and by second grade his compassionate and creative teachers (we love you, Mrs. Helzer and Mrs. Taylor) were working to keep him challenged. He was taking high school math classes while in junior high, and finished two semesters of college calculus before he got his high school diploma.

I don't tell you this because I'm bragging about Two's math ability, I'm explaining that I understand why my friends didn't understand when I told them I was worried about him.

Two's graduate school experience was hard. He had earned an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, and loved the problem-solving nature of that combination of math and theory. But doctoral research is about expanding knowledge, exploring a topic rather than solving a problem. He struggled to get the kind of results his advisor expected, and for the first time in his life he didn't like school. He began to wonder if he was up to the demands of the program and considered walking away with his master's degree.

"Don't take yourself out of the game, even if your advisor isn't happy with you," we told him over and over. "Make him take you out--don't do it for him."

So when I asked my friends to put Two on their prayer lists when he was scheduled for milestone exams or defenses, they always thought about the kid who loved numbers.

"He'll be fine, there's no way he won't finish," they would say. We weren't sure. We had never seen Two in this position of insecurity; the numbers seemed to have stopped speaking to him.

But then last week, as Husband and I paced the floor half a continent away, Boy#2 went into a room with a committee of five brilliant academicians. For the next two hours he explained and defended his dissertation, and when those two hours were done, he had been approved to receive his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from one of the top universities in the nation.

I cried when I read the dissertation's dedication page.

"To my parents," it said, "for believing in me every step of the way, even when I didn't believe in myself."

And then Two added the phrase we Kansans know and love:

"Ad astra per aspera."

To the stars through difficulties.

The little boy who couldn't write his numbers had reached his goal, through difficulties, and he was right.

We believed in him every step of the way.