We’ve Got Mail

“The family with an old person in it possesses a jewel.” — Chinese Proverb



Our anniversary was Saturday, and I was a smidge surprised when our mailbox held only a window-washer flyer and a Pottery Barn catalog. Just where was our card from Mom? It couldn’t be possible that she’d forgotten. Then, on Monday, there it was. Anniversary best wishes officially bestowed.

Card-sending seems to be a dying tradition for many of us. Once upon a time, I sent lots of birthday cards. Then, I got lazy and my card-sending became slapdash. Maybe I mail one, maybe I don’t. Anniversary cards? Rarely. It’s not that I don’t like cards; I do. But finding good ones is a project, and if it’s not funny or memorable, why bother? Besides, do people really care if they get cards or not? Isn’t a simple “Happy birthday!” posted on a Facebook timeline good enough? Then there’s the price – up to five bucks apiece. Yikes!

For my mother, card-sending is almost a religion. She keeps a thorough, meticulous list of recipients: her five kids, our five spouses, her ten grandchildren, their spouses, her eleven great-grands, her sister, a batch of nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews, and a sadly-dwindling bunch of old friends. Though she’s got all the dates written down, every one is filed in the Rolodex in her head. Casey? August 22. Oliver and Grayson – both seven in September. Mary Pat and Jay’s anniversary? I remember it’s June; Mom knows the exact date and year.

Now that my mother no longer drives, my sister, my brother, and I are her chauffeurs, flitting from Walmart to Walgreens, from Fair Play Foods to the bank on Roberts Road, armed with her weekly list of must-haves. Often there’s a stop at the Dollar Tree, where greeting cards are two for a dollar. Mom hands me her list of this month’s special people and we start browsing. Not just any card will do. Since macular degeneration keeps my mother from reading the cards’ messages, I read them aloud so she can decide on just the right ones.

“That one’s good.”

“That doesn’t sound like her.”

“Too mushy.”

“That one’s cute.”

“Do they have any that say ‘grand-niece’?”

Back at home, I address the envelopes, but the message and signature are hers. Great-grands get a check; grands under thirty get a check; her offspring get a check every five years for twenty-five years. We add an address label and a stamp, and this month’s cards are on their way to mailboxes in Arizona, Texas, Saudi Arabia, and Illinois.

So, on February 20 Laura gets her card, and on July 29 Brendan gets his card, and on December 16 Owen gets his card, signed “Mom” or “Grandma” or “Grosmuter.” Maybe not such a big deal, but isn’t it nice to have a little paper reminder of how loved we are?

Thanks, Mom.


Color Me Contented

”Give crayons. Adults are disturbingly impoverished of these magical dream sticks.” – Dr. Sun Wolf

When I was a kid, bliss was a fresh new box of Crayolas, pointy tops intact, and a new coloring book, the pages unsullied by sibling scrawling. A pristine coloring book, no matter what its theme, presented so many possibilities. Would I choose Cinderella in her ball gown? Donald and Daisy in their jalopy? Archie, Veronica and Betty in the soda shop? Once I decided on a page, I’d open my box of Crayolas, inhale their delicious waxy scent, and pluck out just the right shade to bring the page to brilliant, vibrant life.

Around fifth grade, I moved on to Venus-Paradise Pencil Color-By-Number. This was a bit more grown-up. Instead of crayons that ended up as flat-topped nubbins stripped of their paper labels, Paradise Pencils were sophisticated wooden tapers of color, and could be sharpened as needed. The art selections were mature and intricate. No Snow White, no Bugs Bunny, no Heckle and Jeckel; instead, there were bucolic barn scenes, close-up portraits of collies, and stalwart stallions on the western plains – my personal favorite. Ever the rule-follower, I diligently colored in each numbered section appropriately. Still, my end product looked more blotched than shaded, but I squinted at it to see the various shades of green or tan blur into a somewhat Impressionistic effect.

I assumed that my coloring days were long over, until I heard about the popularity burst of adult coloring books. The new books are intricate, beautiful, and absorbing. Coloring fans find this low-tech pastime relaxing and creative, and some psychologists are touting its health benefits as well. Books are flying off the shelves at Amazon; colorers are forming local clubs. Wow! This craze was right up my alley.

On my birthday, I received two beautiful books, Secret Paris: Coloring your Way to Calm, by Zoe de las Cases and Creative Coloring for Grown-Ups; Beautiful Patterns, and a set of twenty-four Cretacolor pencils. I dove into the Paris book and landed on a page of beaux chapeaux. I contemplated each hat. A soft blue for the cloche? A subtle buff for the Fedora? A pink rose on the green wide-brimmed vagabond? How about a jaunty orange ribbon on the sunhat? I delighted in designing every millinery masterpiece, from the understated gray beret to the flashy purple and emerald number.


I’ve never learned to knit, I don’t like pulling weeds, my cooking is lackadaisical, and I can’t play a piano. But coloring? This I can do. On to my next little gem – a whimsical threesome of wildly-patterned birds. Could it be suitable for framing? We’ll see.


Capturing August


“…. Keep your eyelids up and see what you can see.” —- from And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street by Dr. Seuss

Riverwalk sign

I wasn’t on Mulberry Street today, but I was on the Naperville Riverwalk. After I got my Diet Coke from Subway, and directed a couple of ladies to Einstein’s, I headed past Talbot’s and the Gap, and started my walk at the horse trough fountain. I nodded at the bronze statue of Jim Moser and Charles George, the two visionaries who are forever in the midst of their confab. Could they have imagined that their ideas would blossom into this? As it should be on a day like today, the Riverwalk was bustling with couples pushing strollers, sweaty spandex-clad runners, strolling pairs of women deep in conversation, Napervillians of all stripes, and day-trippers who’d heard about our gem of a spot.

On the sidewalk near the dandelion fountain, a small assembly of 99%-ers held up their “Occupy” signs to mostly indifferent passers-by. Some moms and dads lolled on the benches and sipped their Frappuccinos while their little kids leaned their tummies on the fountain’s edge so they could splash their hands in the water. Dog-lovers ambled along with their faithful companions, breeds of all sizes and shapes. Out-of-towners sought guidance from the map on the signboard, while locals like me let our feet lead us down the path we knew well.

The river was shallow near the amphitheater and labyrinth today, and in some spots its rocky bottom was exposed. Some geese and ducks hung out on the dry patches in the middle. One or two stood ankle-deep in the water and watched their buddies paddle around. I was pleased that no one was throwing bread at them today; not everyone observes the “Do not feed the wildlife” signs.

I crossed the street and passed the big red metal freeform sculpture. Under the rooftop of a riverside shelter, a cluster of boomers reliving their hootenanny days strummed guitars and belted out “Good Ol’ Mountain Dew”, a song that’s been around since before the soft drink. A big family group overdressed for a morning walk gathered for a family photo shoot. On the covered bridge, a photographer armed with a massive Nikon and a silvery screen was posing a pretty high school senior for her graduation picture.

I passed Centennial Beach. Often it’s a noisy place, packed with shrieking kids and shrill blasts of lifeguards’ whistles. Not today: it was an Adult Float morning. No one splashed, no one screeched, no one even swam. Instead of fitness buffs churning up waves, a blissful-looking older crowd drifted along in tranquil water, soaking up the warm sunshine while plopped in fat inner tubes or squishy blow-up rafts.

The playground past the volleyball courts was packed today. Lots of little kids ran around from one slide to the next, and their exuberance and the groaning of the in-need-of-oil swing chains created a cheery cacophony. Past the playground, a bustling crew was setting up the finish line for tomorrow’s Naperville Sprint Triathlon. Bubbly teen volunteers were zip-tying the sponsors’ banners to the temporary fencing. Tomorrow this place would be swarming with athletes and their fans.

Over in the water, a fisherman in waders wet only to his knees flung his line into the shallow water. Was he practicing his fly-fishing techniques, or was he really trying to catch his dinner right here in the little DuPage River? I tried to recall if I’d ever seen a fish big enough to eat emerge from these waters.

As the river bends, the path gets woodsier, and the damp, rivery aroma is most noticeable.  I know that a gray heron lives on the riverbank at this end, but this morning I didn’t see him.  A couple of months ago, the new growth allowed walkers to see into the midst of the little forest. Not anymore. The foliage is taller than I am, and in some spots it’s even hard to see the river. This part of the Riverwalk is my favorite, a scene right out of The Wizard of Oz, with the brick path, albeit not yellow, winding around a shadowy expanse of old trees. When it looks like the Cowardly Lion might pop out at any second, could it be possible that a people-packed retail center is just a short stroll eastward?

Today, I didn’t turn around when I hit Jefferson Avenue. Instead, I kept going past the Firemen’s Memorial, where a couple sat spooning on the bench near the memorial rock. I crossed the road and followed the river through the Wil-O-Way Commons Park, much wider than the narrow path I’d come from. Here, there are broad lawns and a playground nestled under octogenarian oaks. Bikes are allowed on this path, and a few riders passed me by — a mom towing two toddlers in their snug yellow carrier, a couple pedaling along at an easy pace.

Eventually I turned around and headed back to downtown. Near the Carillon, some tourists were eying the sign announcing “Tours Today”. Outside the Riverwalk Eatery, a dad was helping his three tweens chose their life vests for a paddleboat ride. Paddleboats full of happy pedalers along with two or three kayaks dotted the quarry. When I passed the amphitheater again, the 99%-ers were now seated on the steps, strategizing, it seemed. The folk musicians under the shelter were still going strong.

If I could bottle this day, I would. To my Naperville friends, I suggest you take this piece out and read it again on Groundhog Day. Then, take heart. August will return.