Saturday, July 31, 2010

Make Me Laugh

This evening I watched Julie and Julia with my mother-in-law. She gave us a scare this week when her blood pressure shot up. After bringing her home from the hospital, resting, and making her dinner, it was nice to enjoy a chick flick…just the two of us.

When I was a kid, Julia Child’s TV show was common entertainment in our house. I don’t know why it appealed to my sisters and me, but it did. There was something about the combination of food, her personality, and the sound of her voice that made us tune in…and want to imitate her.

There were many nights when we were young that all of us girls would pile into one bed. I remember a time in particular that mom pushed the twin beds together in Susan and my room so that we had one king-size bed. Casy, the oldest, had her own room (with her own bathroom!) and Lisa, the baby, had her own room (with horrible pastel-striped shag carpet) while Susan and I shared a large room between them.

Our favorite bedtime game was one that we made up. It was called, “Make Me Laugh.” One of us would stand at the end of the bed and try to make the rest of us laugh. Whoever laughed first went next. We told dumb jokes, sang goofy songs, acted like clowns, and Susan would pretend to be Julia.

She had the imitation nailed! But what really made it funny was Susan’s own little twist. As Julia, Susan would pretend to steal nips from the cooking sherry. If you’ve ever heard Julie Child’s unique voice, it’s easy to imagine it belonging to someone who is half inebriated. Susan would really play it up…and, oh, we would laugh.

Right before Lisa went into the Navy, we all met in Hugoton to spend time with Dad and Mom. While there we went in to Raycolor to get a “sister” picture taken. As we were driving back out to the house that afternoon in dad’s pickup, Susan spoke up, “Those pictures aren’t going to be very good.” Casy asked, “What? Why not?” Susan’s response was, “Well, I didn’t smile.” We were all confused. Casy asked, “Why didn’t you smile?” None of us will never forget Susan’s answer. As serious as a heart-attack she said, “They didn’t say anything funny.” A moment of dead silence passed as we all processed this bit of information, and then the three of us burst out laughing. It is one of our favorite private jokes.

Apparently the years of making each other laugh spoiled Susan. Maybe we should’ve given her a few nips of cooking sherry first.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Let There Be Rock

I knew it was a CD, of course, before I pulled off the paper. After all, it was the right shape and size. Todd looked pretty excited for me to open it, too. Hmmmm. When I unwrapped it, the new AC/DC Ironman II CD (don’t forget the bonus DVD video footage!) was in my hands. Todd reached out and grabbed it, “Let me see! Oh look, there’s a little book and pictures!” He was all over it. Music blared from different CD players throughout the day as Todd worked on his different projects. The next morning as I was headed to work I texted him, “Where’s my CD?” His response, “In my pickup.” And a minute later, “Oops.” Tuesday morning, however, when I turned the ignition, Bon Scott was screaming at me in time with the guitars and drums.

In 1986 “Who Made Who” along with the Stephen King movie, “Maximum Overdrive”, was released. I’m a huge Stephen King fan so when it came to the Showtime Theater in Hugoton, I was there. Now I was raised with three sisters but my parents were introduced by Gary and Janice Porter so our families grew up together. Jim was the closest thing I had to a brother. As kids we played baseball, fished, swam, and often pretended we were the Six-Million-Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman. As teens, I remember when he got that powder blue step-side Ford. I think he drove it straight to my house to show me. Well, he offered to go with me to the show. As I think back, I’m sure he was more interested in the soundtrack than the movie itself. And I became an overnight AC/DC fan.

Julie and I made lots of trips to Liberal in those years. During one trip soon after purchasing the AC/DC album that first caught my attention, I decided to buy an older release. So the second addition to my AC/DC collection was “Let There Be Rock”. As we drove home, I had it cranked up (as usual). After all that loud music (my dad was great at picking vehicles with awesome stereo systems) you would think that I would be hard of hearing. Julie often got tired of the blaring guitars but I didn’t take kindly to people messing with my volume knob. I remember pulling into the drive, turning off the pickup, and Julie and I both commenting something like, “That sucks.” Then laughing. But, that cassette often ended up playing on those crazy high school weekends…and we soon knew the tunes and the words.

My life took some unexpected turns over the next several years. When Tiff caught up with me in college and talked me into getting a babysitter and going out with the girls, I’ll never forget cruising to the Golden Q in her red 1988 TransAm with “Thunderstruck” vibrating our seats. For the first time in a while, I felt young and alive. Little did I know that within the last several months she had went to see AC/DC in concert with my future husband and his buddies. She introduced us to each other on a blind date a few months later.

They had gone to the “Razor’s Edge” concert in Manhattan. I’m not sure who all was with them but I’m pretty sure of Andy (Jack), Jeff (Macster), Wade (Hipper) Todd, Todd’s girlfriend (I won’t name names to avoid embarrassing her), and Tiffany. There may have been others but, of course, I was not around yet. The Scrüe made their way to the front row. Brian, Angus, Malcolm, and Cliff were close enough to drip sweat on them occasionally. Somehow (and honestly I don’t want the details) Todd ended up with his girlfriend’s black, lacy, strapless bra in his hands. After getting Brian’s attention, he threw it up to him. Mr. Johnson wiped the sweat off his face and threw it back to Todd. The poor girl’s underwear immediately became a trophy and hung on his dorm wall until she came to get it after they broke up.

This past year when I saw that AC/DC was coming to Kansas City right after Todd’s birthday, I bought the perfect present--tickets. Sadly, I can’t keep a good secret so he found out pretty quickly. After waiting through a six-month postponement, we walked into the Sprint Center.  Although there was an opening act, it was completely unnecessary.  They took the stage and "they, they, they blew our minds." As we watched and sang and danced, memories flooded both of our minds. When they played their new song, “Big Jack”, I looked over and tears were streaming down Todd’s face. How can it be that music can touch you so deeply that you can completely relive moments from your past? We weren’t just there with Kris and Lisa, all of our friends were there with us…grinning like fools.

Tonight as I tore down wallpaper, Todd came in and said, “Hey, do you want to watch the AC/DC special bonus DVD while you’re doing that?” “Sure,” I said. Throughout the next hour or so, I listened and sang and stopped to watch every now and then. But my favorite part of the evening was periodically glancing at Todd to see him mesmerized by the live footage and smiling at his own memories.

And it came to pass that rock 'n' roll was born.
All across the land every rockin' band was blowin' up a storm.
And the guitar man got famous. The business man got rich.
And in every bar there was a superstar with a seven-year itch.
There was fifteen million fingers learnin' how to play,
And you could hear the fingers pickin' and this is what they had to say…

…Let there be rock

--Bon Scott, 1977

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Larry Tyler: November 23, 1939 to April 25, 2010

Jeanette rolled Beverly into the hospital room and right over to Larry’s bedside. We had been waiting for the last sister to arrive. She immediately stood up out of the wheelchair, leaned close, and said, “Larry, Beverly’s here. I’m here.” Then she started to sing. “One glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away…”

He was the 6th of 8 kids and grew up poor. By 8 or 9 he was driving a tractor to help support his family. They were an ornery bunch. The sisters tell stories of Marty and him playing tricks on them while they were in the outhouse and riding the girls’ tricycle until it fell apart. He had a dog named Queenie (who ended up being a tripod) and then many, many more pets after her. Larry loved his pets. According to the sisters, one of the dogs was riding with him when he was pulling a plow once and jumped out. Before Larry could do anything about it, the dog had been killed. He was so upset that he couldn’t even tell anyone. For three days he was physically sick and wouldn’t even talk until they finally got it out of him.

His nieces and nephews didn’t call him Uncle Larry…it was Uncle Red. And it’s no surprise! Larry was always a tall, thin man with a shock of red hair and an ornery smile. It’s no wonder he caught the eye of a petite, dark-haired beauty—Carol Hayden. The two of them must’ve made striking young couple.

God gave Larry many gifts, but one of the most extraordinary was his musical talent. Without ever having a lesson, he was able to pick up a guitar or sit at a piano and play a tune. But it didn’t end there, he could also sing. And he wasn’t the only talented Tyler…they could all sing! My goodness, Beverly could play any instrument she ever picked up. How many family gathering were filled with the blessing of the Tyler kids playing and singing gospel and bluegrass?

After Brenda came along, Larry and Carol struggled to have more children. It broke their hearts when Bruce was stillborn. God blessed them with Todd a few years later and the doctor let them know how much he looked like his older brother. What adventures he and Carol had with their two children! When Todd was only about 3, Larry decided it would be a good idea to take the family out for a drive…on the motorcycle. That’s right! All four of them went for a ride out on a motorcycle. All would’ve probably been fine, if a spray plane hadn’t been out doing a job. Carol looked back and started hollering that there was a plane coming. Brenda remembers is vividly. Larry gunned it and they sped down the dirt road trying to outrun the plane. Apparently the plane pilot never even saw them because, before it could hit them, Larry laid the bike over with his whole family on it to avoid a collision. The good Lord must’ve been watching over them because nobody was injured. But they sure had a hard time convincing Todd to get back on that thing to go home.

Larry worked for more than 20 years for City Service which became Williams Natural Gas. He was a good provider for his family and was always willing to help those in need. Through those years, he walked his daughter down the aisle, welcomed a new daughter-in-law into the family, and became a grandpa 7 times over.

Each grandchild was special to Larry. Of course, Tyler was first and given his grandfather’s surname as his first name. He was beautiful with his blond hair and bright blue eyes. Soon after, Joel came along with his shy and loving personality. Nevin was third—such a stressful pregnancy and tiny little guy. It was a relief when he entered the world and both he and his momma were safe and healthy. Larry inherited his next grandchild when Todd married and became an instant father to 5-year-old Heath. Larry and the whole family took in Heath as his own. The three older grandsons got along famously and looked like brothers with their blond heads and tanned skin. Before a year passed, a granddaughter (Tana Carol) stole Larry’s heart when she entered the world on a cold, snowy day. He doted on this precious granddaughter and she loved to spend time with him. Finally, the last two grandchildren came along. Andrew and Annie were a handful but, although he wasn’t willing to change a diaper, he was always willing to hold or play with them. He enjoyed watching his son be so involved with each of his babies. The world was certainly different than it was back when Brenda and Todd were small. Andy reminded him so much of Todd…quiet and shy, while Annie was always crawling up in Grandpa’s lap. Just like Tana before her, Annie was crazy about him.

The twins weren’t very old, however, when Alzheimer’s started stealing grandpa away. By the time that Tyler left us too early and so suddenly, Larry was confused enough that he really struggled to understand what had happened to his beloved first grandson. Over the last several years, Larry has forgotten how to play his music, the names of his family members, and even his ability to communicate with others. However there have been rare times of clarity when he has plucked out parts of a favorite song on a piano or sang along to one of his favorite old tunes. All have been thankful that through his battle with this disease, God has blessed him with a happy-go-lucky disposition. Larry never lost his gift of gab…even when he called you by “Honey” rather than your name.

Larry’s legacy was made long before Alzheimer’s stole his mind. It was made through his years of hard work, love, generosity, faithfulness, humor, and responsibility. He will be remembered, not as a confused old man, but as the happy-go-lucky “Red” of his younger years. His gifts will stay with those he loved the rest of their lives. We were so blessed to have him.

His last night on this earth, Beverly continued to sing to him and the other sisters joined in—Sharon, Jeanette, and Kathy along with Sam, Ranee, Brenda, Carol, Todd, and I. Even the nurses out at the nurse’s station said they were singing. Yes, there were some missed notes and forgotten words, but it was still beautiful…and perfect.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Childhood Evenings: Quilts, Boots, and Mom's Hair

Evenings in our home when I was growing up were cozy family affairs. We always had sit-down dinners with each of us having our place at the table. (Casy sat beside my dad in what he called the “training seat”.) Even after Casy and then Susan left for college, we continued to sit in the same places with their seats left empty. After dinner, we retreated to the family room to watch TV as a family.

I remember primetime including Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and The Waltons. (Saturday nights we watched Love Boat and Fantasy Island.) If you left your seat, someone else was likely to steal it while you were out of the room. Dad usually lay on the shag carpeting with a quilt made by our Great Grandma Mostrom. (I still have mine and was snuggled under it tonight!) Of course, dad was also famous for kicking back in his recliner and then asking the daughter who happened to walk by, “Would you pull off my boots?” He always wore boots. My father very rarely wore tennis shoes when I was a kid.

My mother, however, almost always sat in front of one of us on the floor and asked, “Do you want to do my hair?” We had containers of barrettes, curlers, combs, brushes, pony tail holders, and bobby pins. I wonder how many hours each of us spent fixing my mother’s hair. Sometimes we tried hard to make her look beautiful while other times we did our best to make her look silly. She didn’t care—she just loved the feel of her girls playing with her hair. Her famous line when we handed her the handheld mirror was, “Now if we could just do something about the face!” This just made us chuckle. We knew she was beautiful with her perfect smile and adorable dimple.

As I think back about it, I can almost feel and even smell her hair. She always kept it fairly short and I don’t remember a time that she didn’t color it. We had these horrible black poky curlers with pink plastic pens to hold them in place. I remember filling her hair with these and then pretending the curls were set so I could take them out, style her hair, and spray it with hairspray. We had Dippity Doo to hold stray hairs in place and Happy Hair to help get out the tangles.

When we go home to visit now, my mom often sits in front of one of the granddaughters and asks, “Would you like to do my hair?” My girls have both had the pleasure of styling my mother’s hair as she sat patiently and enjoyed the attention while they watched something together on TV.

Yesterday at Tana’s first swim meet, Annie sat in front of me in the bleachers. After a while, she turned around and asked, “Mom, will you mess with my hair?” I didn’t have the brushes, bobby pins, or curlers so I just used my fingers to comb her hair. When I would get distracted and stop, she would turn around and beg me to continue. She’s so much like my mom…especially when she flashes that dimple.