My Favorite Things

How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?

Some of my happiest childhood memories involve The Sound of Music.  My grandparents had the soundtrack on LP at the family cabin in Featherville, Idaho.  Since the cabin didn’t have televisions, its primary entertainment source was the record player, on which my sister, Lisa, and I played records in heavy rotation.  Grandpa had amassed an eclectic collection in the years before LPs grew to near extinction, but our favorites were The Nutcracker and The Sound of Music.  Late at night, with the curtains flung open and moths fluttering against the lighted windows, Lisa and I leapt from avocado green sofa to sofa: hair flying and limbs flailing, like sugarplum fairies gone wild.  We waltzed on tiptoes through the kitchen, humming “Edelweiss.”  We pirouetted around the dining table, wire whisks raised in our hands, our voices warbling: “How do you solve a problem like Mariiiaaaaaaaa? How do you hold a moon beam… in your… haaaaaannnndd?”

When I was sixteen (going on seventeen), Lisa flew to Boise during a break from medical school in Geneva to join me on a tour of colleges in the Pacific Northwest.  We drove the silver Tercel that Grandpa had “sold” to me.  It was an old, no-frills hatchback, but it was mine and I named it Orby, after one of Grandpa’s mischievous brothers.  As Lisa and I left Boise, heading west toward the highway, we stopped at a red light at the intersection of Milwaukee and Emerald.  The engine hummed quietly through the floorboards.  Summer wind blew through the car, the late afternoon sun warm on our legs. I couldn’t wait to start the trip and see the Oregon coast one more time, but as I stared down at my frayed denim shorts and freckled legs, I felt intense heat rise up my neck.  My forehead and cheeks burned.  Lisa looked at me with wide green eyes, the skin on her breastbone mottled with pink blossoms.  Ever responsible, Lisa ran through a shortlist of concerns:  Was the car overheating?  Did we have heatstroke?  Was this an allergic reaction?  What had we eaten for lunch?  Was there a bee in the car?  Did we need to turn around and go to a hospital?  We cranked the AC and started to roll up the windows.  Then we saw them: two good-lookin’ dudes perched high in a jeep in the next lane, peering down into our car with identical lopsided grins.  Lisa and I had been singing “The Lonely Goatherd.”

Goatherd incident withstanding, Lisa and I were accustomed to performing because we had a captive audience of family members staying at the cabin with us each summer, among them our enabler: Grandpa. Our cousins made excuses to go down to the river; uncle Don shuffled through the papers in his briefcase, squinting behind drugstore reading glasses; and Dad sequestered himself in the attic, illuminated by a single bare light bulb, tapping out manuscripts and textbooks on the manual typewriter he kept by his bed.  Aunt Sylvia sat on the flowery corduroy couch in the corner, knitting.  Grandpa had a talent for fixing his blue eyes on the pages of whatever he read, but every now and again, he lifted his gaze to smile at us.  Grandpa remained spry well into his 80s.  On really good nights, he sprung from his armchair and joined Lisa and me, bending at the knees and hooking his fingers into the imaginary suspenders on his chest, as we bobbed and sang, “Lay-oh-de-lay-oh-de-lay-hee-hoo!”

Grandpa was the first person to believe in my ability to write and he encouraged me to explore my talents, unprofitable though they might turn out to be.  He dreamed of writing fiction, and he bequeathed his unpublished stories to me when he died; the note affixed to the large manila folder read: “Keep writing!”  I also inherited my favorite of his belongings: a big, comfortable, tufted reading chair made out of I’m not sure what.  The chair is slippery and caramel brown, and it exhales a soothing pffft when occupied.  Its generous head- and armrests provide ample space for sleeping cats and reading material.  I like to sit in it sideways, my legs flung over the armrest, an avalanche of food books fallen around me, Lilycat coiled into a tight ball of white hair and purring on my lap.  I imagine Grandpa dozing in the chair, snoring softly, a book resting against his chest.  After his death, it felt less like losing him to keep something so big and enfolding near to me, something that felt almost as comforting as the soft scratch of his blue cardigan against my face when he pulled me into a bear hug.

Even as a young girl, before I became aware that it was possible for adults to be goofy, impetuous, mischievous, charmingly self-mocking, or wryly sardonic, I admired Maria’s little whimsies.  I admired the compulsion that drove her to rush to mountain peaks, singing at top volume with her skirt a-twirl.  I admired that she walked away from her faith for a reason that felt important to her.  (Not so much that she did it – at the prodding of the Mother Abbess, no less! – for a decorated military official with a cork up his butt, but at least she forsook her religion for a true passion.)  The von Trapp children adored her.  She was the kind of woman I aspired to be: tenacious, intelligent, resolute, and given to affection, deep emotion, and song.

I watch The Sound of Music every year at Thanksgiving because it is so entwined with the things I associate with love and showing appreciation.  Maria had her list of favorite things, and I have mine.  Thanksgiving gives me the outlet to freely and openly sing praise to everyone and everything I love, which makes it my favorite holiday.  I’m so thankful for my family, children, and incredible friends; for our collective good health, our jobs, our happiness, and our quirks and talents.  I’m thankful for all the things I have learned and will learn in my life.  But most of all, this year, I’m thankful for a life history that is woven together so tightly and completely that I can’t celebrate one memory without also giving thanks for so many others.

Thanks for believing in me, Grandpa.



Filed under food, literature, travel

2 responses to “My Favorite Things

  1. Mitzi

    Absolutely wonderful, beautiful, lovely. I am renting that movie and calling Papa.


  2. Sue Brown

    Love it! Such a beautiful piece. T.S.O.M. is also one of my all time favorite movies and you are one of my favorite “things” dear Jules!


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