Right here waiting

Four-ish years ago, Annie developed a peculiar – and very difficult to describe – game that she called “Mark Off.” The premise was simple enough: Annie would ask a variety of questions, quiz-show style, to the game’s participants, who would then receive points for correct answers and be “marked off” for incorrect ones. (The consequence of the “mark off” was never properly explained, but it turned out not to matter anyway.) For proper effect, she stood on the piano bench (to be taller and more important, one would assume) and wielded a microphone to make things game-show-official.

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No piano bench, but you get the general idea.

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Actually, the game was a lot more frenetic – kind of like this.

Easy, right? Except, see, the issue was that the “correct” answers were entirely arbitrary, with points being awarded at random (a la “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) and “mark offs” being declared even we were sure we’d gotten things right.

To wit:

“Okay. The game is starting! What color is my hair?”

“Brown!”

“Yes! A point for you! {scribbling in notebook} What is Mommy’s first name?”

“Emily!”

“WRONG. MARK OFF!” {angry flourish in notebook}

“But Mommy’s first name IS Emily!”

“That’s another point gone for you! Mark off again!” {frenetic checkmark-ing}

“I don’t understand how this game works.”

“What is my friend Jenny’s favorite snack?”

“What? How could we possibly know the answer to that?” 

“MARK OFF!” {yet another angry checkmark}

“Is it cheese?”

“No! You get two points!” {cheerful tally mark added}

After a while, the questions themselves didn’t even make sense, and the “mark off”s becomes even more frequent (and hilarious).

“If a dog could fly, would it eat mangoes?”

“No, because they don’t smell like fish.”

“Yes! Ten points for you!” {ten meticulous tally marks scribbled on her paper}

“Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream?”

“Vanilla.”

“MARK OFF!!” {disappointed head shake and a final checkmark}

I’m not doing it justice here, because it was really one of those things you had to witness, but it was epic. We played battled our way through with Grandpa Bill and GranMary (they were visiting at the time), and by the time the game had (mercifully) ended, every one of us was in stitches. Since then, Mark Off has become something of a family legend, evoked whenever we need a quick chuckle or want to marvel at just how nutty our second born really is.

I know there are folks out there who are like, Good God, with the taking of a million photos and the saving of stuff, already. Dozens of drawings from the kids, ticket stubs, old notebooks… Who needs all this crap?? 

I am decidedly not one of these people. While I’m not a hoarder or anything (ask my kids, who look on with absolute horror as I flip through the contents of their take-home folders each day and unceremoniously dump almost everything in the recycling bin), I do save every card, every photo (as I’ve mentioned before), and enough odd scraps of paper and drawings to create my own landfill. They don’t just rot, though – part of why I save them is that I periodically go through them, and the memories make me feel damn good.

Ever since the Mark Off days, I have regretted that I didn’t think to go and pull out a camera and video Annie in action. It all was happening so fast, and we were laughing so freakin’ hard, I didn’t even consider pulling myself away (plus, it was such an organic moment, running for a camera might have broken the spell). But – especially considering that I really can’t do it justice by describing it, and also because each of our memories of the event is fading slightly – I’ve really been bummed that we have absolutely no record of it. I’d assumed that our recollections would have to be good enough.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a long-forgotten notebook in my bedroom, one that had once been a combination diary/to-do book but that had been commandeered by my young’uns for drawing and writing and coloring and generally making sure that I understood that “my” notebook was no longer “mine” at all.

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These are fairly typical entries.
I’m not sure why Nick has such thick legs, nor why my thigh is coming out of my stomach at a perpendicular angle, but whatever. 

After flipping through the pages, I came upon the following and it caused me to – yes, literally (for real) – gasp aloud:

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It’s a conversation between Ella and Bill, written in January 2010 (I did a lot of sleuthing through the other drawings to deduce the exact timing; Columbo, that’s me). The left side – Ella’s message – reads: “Thank you for visiting.” (Or, more precisely, THAK YOU FOR V ISITIN… but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She had only just turned five, people.)

The right side containing Bill’s response is a bit harder to see, so allow me to provide a close-up:

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Grandpa Bill
Ella and Annie – Thank you for letting us stay with you and for a wonderful time.

Beneath that is a drawing of a sun (I think?), a rectangle with squiggly lines, an I Love You heart from Ella, and an adorably small I Love You Too heart from Bill.

Which, in and of itself, was enough to make me gasp – a heretofore unknown conversation with Grandpa Bill? His handwriting, his sentiments, the memories of him and his wonderful relationship with the girls… And it just fell into my lap?

Amazing.

But when I looked more closely, I realized that this was even more amazing than I’d originally thought, because that drawing in the middle of the page? That’s not just a box with squiggles… Take a look for yourself:
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Scribble… OFF
Scribble… OFF

Yep, in his thank-you note to Ella, Bill included his own illustration of one of the best parts of their visit – Annie’s legendary game of Mark Off.

For the past four years, we’d all thought that there was no “proof” that Mark Off had ever even existed, as though it were a figment of our imagination. Now, there’s not only evidence that it happened – there’s evidence from Bill, in an adorable note written to his granddaughter. It had been waiting there for us all along; we just had to find it.

Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday; he would be seventy-one. Last year at this time, we were embarking on our hilariously catastrophic visit to Minnesota to celebrate his 70th. This year, the timing is just right for GranMary to come for a visit, so we will happily be spending the weekend with her (and dragging her to soccer celebrations and movies and heaven knows what else; thank God she’s a great sport!) – perhaps celebrating, but more likely simply wishing and remembering.

Whatever we decide to do, I know that the memory of Bill will be right there with us – we just have to find him. But that shouldn’t be too hard; he’s always waiting for us, all along.

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Photo taken during the infamous gameshow visit.
Why is Annie barefoot and Ella wearing Valentine’s socks? MARK OFF!

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: The Gift

Photos have always been really important to me. It didn’t matter if I took them or someone else did, if they were technically “good” or quick, blurry snapshots – I’ve loved them. While I’m not terribly hoard-ish (yes, that’s a word; because I said so) in most areas of my life, I do hoard photos. I’ve got boxes of old pictures, some containing frame-worthy gems, others with envelope after envelope (from the stores that used to offer 1-Hr Photo Development! – remember those?!) of out-of-focus images, often in duplicate or even triplicate, of people and places whose names I can no longer recall.

Doesn’t matter. They’re photos and, like books or chocolate or Sauvignon Blanc, I simply cannot bear to part with them. This may seem odd or at least not terribly practical, given the amount of space that the physical photos take up in my basement and the digital photos take up on my hard drive(s)… but the pictures make me happy. All it takes is a few moments sifting through image after image to completely lift my spirits, make me gasp (in both good and bad ways), and make me smile. Which is also like books or chocolate or Sauvignon Blanc. I may be onto something.

GranMary came to visit a couple of weekends ago, and we had a really delightful time with her. As I’ve mentioned, little gives me more joy than seeing our family and friends just soak up my children, and GranMary’s visit provided plenty of opportunities for that. I loved the way that Annie and she giggled together on Friday night before Ella got home from swimming – a little time, just the two of them. I loved how I was awakened on Saturday morning by the girls’ raucous laughter from GranMary’s bed, after the girls had crawled in with glee. I loved how she and Ella cuddled in to watch one of the Harry Potter movies while Annie was at a Girl Scouts outing – a little time, just the two of them.

I loved watching Mary and my grandmother chatting away over lunch. I loved a chilly Saturday afternoon spent inside, with the girls scarcely leaving GranMary’s side as they did projects (she always brings some; it’s a highlight of her visits) and watched more Harry. I loved the opportunity to sit and talk with her after the girls had gone to bed, while Nick was at a party for his hockey team – a little time, just the two of us. I loved how GranMary gamely participated in our scavenger/egg hunt, seemingly unfazed by the dozens of children shrieking about our backyard in search of chocolate and money. (Then again, who could blame them?) I hated it when we said goodbye for another few months and Nick drove her back to the airport – a little time, just the two of them.

I hate that Bill is no longer here to come out and see us, but I love that Mary still does. I love that we’ve made our own relationship with her, in part because she is GranMary, but in part simply because she is herself, and we want her in our lives.

And Bill is not entirely absent from her visits; we talk about him all the time, wistfully, longingly, but almost always with laughter. This visit, GranMary surprised Ella and Annie with little photo books for each of them – pictures of them with Grandpa Bill. Many of the photos, I’d already seen, but some were new to me and they took my breath away. See, I thought I’d already sifted through my Memories Of Bill, had pored over everything I could recall, turning them over in my mind and reveling in their comfort… but here were moments that I’d never seen before. Memories that I never even knew existed.

It was amazing.

The girls loved their books, too. After going through each page, asking about every picture, smiling and laughing, I wasn’t sure what they’d do with them… But then I discovered that Annie had taken her book to school to share it with her friends, and that Ella keeps hers beside her bed. It seems that they’ve inherited my photo-loving gene (and the book-loving gene and most definitely the chocolate-loving gene; it remains to be seen what they think of Sauvignon Blanc).

Mary also brought a small collection of individual prints with her, which she gave to Nick and me – all pictures of Bill, most of them with us in one way or another. I’d seen nearly all of them, and cheerfully thumbed through the pile without really paying them too much mind… until I found this one and was stopped cold.

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Bill and me, May 2013, laughing like nobody’s business

Looking at it, you might be thinking: that’s cute enough. You’re both laughing, ice cream seems to have been involved, and you look like you’re having fun. A nice picture… if you don’t count the faded smudge at the top of the photo (an errant finger? late afternoon sun?) or Bill’s compression socks or the way the cuff of my capris is practically cutting off the circulation in my calves.

I see those things, too, but I don’t care even one bit… because this is the only photo I have ever seen that contains just Bill and me. We have photos from our wedding (Nick’s and my wedding, not Bill’s and my wedding… Although I do have photos from Bill and Mary’s wedding…), from before our wedding, up North, downstate, with Ella and Annie, with Nick, with Mary – and many of them are delightful photos – yet none of them contains just Bill and me.

Believe me, I know. I looked. Hard.

Why this matters, I’m not sure. It’s not like there’s anything unspecial about photos containing other people, too. But somehow, it gives me incredible joy to have this photo of the two of us, obviously enjoying one another’s company, laughing and generally getting a kick out of life.

I hadn’t even known this photo existed, hadn’t known that Mary had surreptitiously snapped it a year ago during Bill’s last-ever visit. I’m so very glad that she did, though, and that she printed it out and gave it to us. It is, without question, one of the most wonderful – and unexpected – gifts I’ve ever received.

I can’t wait to stumble upon it again when I go through our photos (and eat chocolate and drink wine) and relive the memories of that day.

Nah, scratch that. This one’s going on the wall.
Joy that big should be shared, don’t you think?

Auld Lang Syne

There’s so much I could write tonight – stories of our trip (both fantastic and disastrous), of the girls’ escapades, of how (just yesterday!) we were standing in the middle of Times Square where the tens of thousands of revelers have gathered tonight, or thoughts on the passing of another year and the beginning of a new one…

But, right now, I just want to savor what’s right in front of me, while still remembering New Year’s Eves past.

In 2010, we celebrated December 31st with Grandpa Bill and GranMary. The girls made their own hats.

new years hat girl
We do so like to be thrifty.

We laughed and clowned around.grandpa bill laugh
Another tickle game? Must be so.

We watched videos of previous ball-droppings in order to ring in the New Year several hours early.
countdown musicBill’s face, as he delights in his granddaughters’ shenanigans – complete with homemade crown atop his bald head – makes this photo awesome.

There was much merriment, believe you me.

As we ring in 2014, we are, again, with some of the girls’ grandparents, this time my mom and stepdad, Grandma and Pops. And again, there has been merriment and celebration and goofiness and laughter and laps-sat-upon and hugs abounding and noise-making and just pure joy.

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All the coolest grandfathers wear pointy hats on New Year’s Eve.

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Excellently festive photo courtesy of Pops. 

It is sad and bittersweet, this passage of time, but it is also just plain sweet. With family (and friends) and noisemakers and hats and crowns and these two girls and more love and blessings and generosity than we can possibly count, how can it not be?

I don’t know what 2014 will bring, but with these folks by my side, it’s bound to be damn good. Crazy… loud… maddening… exhausting… chocolate-filled (one certainly hopes)… and really, really damn fine.