My Grandparents Tug Of War by Heidi Thurston

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In everyone’s life there is often a person who leaves an impression so strong that he or she seems to live on forever.  Such a person was my grandfather.

One of the earliest things I recall about him was his consistent battle with my grandmother over the small coal stove in their inner-city apartment. My grandfather was a firm believer in heat of any kind and insisted that the draft on the stove remain open in order to “get the room really warm.” Grandmother, however, through knowledge obtained from books or others, used to inform him, “Too much heat is unhealthy.”  And so they went on arguing winter after winter and with the cool temperatures in Denmark this would often go on from late in the months of August until late in the month of April.

In the summer, of course, things were simple!  The just transferred their bickering during the few summer months to a battle over whether or not the windows should be open or closed. Grandfather wanted them shut and grandmother wanted the fresh air in.

I entered into their arguments many a time when my grandfather would maintain that his little granddaughter should “dress warm,” and this would be fine in November or December when you could count on freezing weather. But when in mid-April he would require that I wear long stockings, sweaters and bloomers over my regular underwear – which used to embarrass me no end since they made me bulge all over the place – I would turn to my grandmother for help.  She would quietly let me remove one of the sweaters, grandfather’s scarf, his woolen cap, and the bloomers after which she would turn around and give her husband a significant look.

About the time he was about to open his mouth and object, I was diplomatically sent out of the room; but that did not keep me from listening to the two of them argue while I stood outside the door.

Shortly after my sixth birthday my grandparents moved into a modern senior citizens apartment complex that featured central warm air. This of course meant no coal stove and no draft over which to argue!

This had my whole family very concerned since so much of my grandparents affection for each other really showed up in their “arguments.” It had been their way of communicating and in going along with their lifelong routine she would close the draft with determination when he went out of the room while he in turn would open it as soon as grandmother went into the kitchen to prepare their meals.

When they moved in to their new home, everyone in the family held their breaths for a week – waiting – and then they all drew a deep sigh of relief when it turned out that the new apartment had a small ventilation door that, when opened, would let in fresh air. It was located up high on the wall behind grandfather’s rocking chair and had a long string attached so it could easily be opened and closed.

And so with this new found ground for a hassle. Grandmother quietly kept opening the vent door to let in fresh air while grandfather, just as quickly kept closing it when she left the room.

Everything was again as usual.

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Christmas, Peace and a Soft Wool Dress by Heidi Thurston

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The aroma of the Christmas goose drifting from behind a closed door, mingling with the scent of pine from yet another quickly closed door. Coats and boots dripping with melting snow, falling on my feet and the hallway runner. Large mysterious packages quietly slipped through a door behind which nothing but velvet darkness lingered. A soft green wool dress swirling in a darkened hallway and patent leather shoes reflecting white silken knee socks. These were all part of a very special night in Copenhagen in 1945, the first Christmas Eve after World War II had ended.

Earlier, leaving our apartment with armloads of gifts, my parents and I had eased into the warm seats of an awaiting taxi and watched the holiday lights reflect on the black exterior of the moving car.

As the auto rumbled through city streets, we observed hurrying crowds bustling from store to store on last minute errands, while others, like ourselves, were carrying gifts wrapped in bright Christmas paper. All were dressed in warm coats and mufflers and everyone were headed for the homes of family and friends in order to share with them this exciting evening.

This was THE big night and it all began with the new dress, sewn from soft green wool, embroidered in red and white holiday flowers and made especially for me for this occasion. The very feel of the gown, as it fell softly around my knees, held promises of a wonderful time at my grandmother’s home where, in addition to my father’s mother, we would be joined by his bachelor brother and maiden aunt.

Traditionally, every Christmas Eve began with amber-colored sherry, sparkling in antique, crystal goblets and the bell-like clinks as five adults toasted, while a smaller glass, bubbling with red soda tickling my nose, helped heighten my festive mood.

Grandmother studied cooking in France. On this night, she served succulent goose, mouth-watering red cabbage, tiny potatoes browned in butter giving them a caramel look and a tempting aroma.

When all this was devoured, it was my turn to help in the kitchen. With a starched, crisp, white apron wrapped around me, protecting the new green dress, I stood on a small stool, chest just above the counter, and beat the metal whisk until small peaks swirled from the ice cold, heavy cream. This would be smoothly blended with fruit, nuts and rice into the rich, traditional Danish dessert.

After the holiday meal was over, I would sit on the kitchen “hot-box” filled with musty newspapers and country-fresh straw, where previously the dishes had been kept warm. Seated, I sang Christmas songs for my grandmother while she prepared steaming hot coffee for the adults and warm, delicious cocoa for me.

Then, after what seemed an eternity, my father and uncle would call from behind the sliding doors leading into the previously closed off living room. As the doors squeakingly receded into the walls, they revealed a dark fir, shining with lighted candles, gold and silver ornaments, saved from years past and now reflecting my bright eyes.

My grandmother and my father each took my hands as we joined up with my mother, uncle and great aunt, and slowly circled the stately tree. Old Danish hymns rang out in bass, tenor, and one small soprano voice while thin tinsel strands fluttered from the fragrant branches like silver rain.

Later, as a feeling of peace fell on the room, I sat on the smooth carpet, family and presents all around me, and watched the flames in the coal stove sputter against the glass window.

At the age of five I was too young to know that some day the green woolen holiday dress would become an important part of my memories. I would recall that this was a time when the tiny kingdom, the home of Hans Christian Andersen and The Little Mermaid, had again returned to a fairytale land; coming out from its long years of darkness and into the lights. The presence of the Nazi regime would be gone, but not forgotten; the King would resume his daily ride along the streets near the harbor, and my mother and grandmother would again take their Sunday stroll through the walking street in the inner city.

I would remember this time, as I still do, with a warm heart and recall that this Christmas Eve in 1945 would forever symbolize peace on earth and good will toward men.heidi-xmas-montage

Offing the Boyfriend by Chuck Thurston

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Last night my wife said to me, “I have to kill off a boyfriend.”

“Well, Paul Simon said there must be 50 ways to leave your lover. I’d stop short of doing him in, though. That seems kind of drastic to me.”

“Oh don’t be silly,” she said. “This is a character in the new book I’m writing.”

“Why do you have to kill him?” I said. “Can’t his girl friend just dump him?”

“It’s more complicated than that. They are engaged to be married. But there is a plot twist that makes it unlikely, and well – it would just work better if he was out of the picture – permanently.”

“Damn,” I said. “You are starting to sound like The Godfather here. I didn’t realize that your romantic fiction was so cold blooded.”

She ignored me. “The heroine can’t move on with her life until he is gone, and it has to be an accident.”

“I don’t see the problem,” I said. “Automobile, drowning, getting shot, let me count the ways!”

“Well – he lives in Denmark,” she said.

“Piece of cake,” I said. “You guys never cook anything. You and Gitte used to eat beef tartare all the time. Raw beef with a raw egg yolk! That is just asking for food poisoning!

She dismissed my argument. “Danish beef is grass fed, so they don’t have to load them up with antibiotics. Gitte and I have never had a problem – and look at you! How many times have I seen you put away pickled herring?”

“True, but I washed it down with aquavit. It’s a know fact that salmonella can’t swim in schnapps.”

“Exactly!” she said. “Do you have any more bright ideas?”

“You are going to make this really difficult. We could waste him in a New York minute over here in the states — sure you can’t have him on a business trip over here? Why – a little tainted BBQ at some county fair in the U.S., and his girl friend’s worries are over! She can go after that ferry boat captain she wanted in the first place!”

“I thought of sending him on a trip,” she said, “but it doesn’t work with the rest of the plot.”

I gave myself a healthy pour of a good North Carolina merlot and began some serious thinking. Finally, I said, “Ok, let’s work on this. Denmark is pretty much surrounded by water. How about you drown him?”

“That’s the catch,” she said. “Since you are never more than 20 minutes from the ocean anywhere in Denmark, everyone knows how to swim.”

“Well, perhaps a shark…”

“No sharks in the Baltic.”

“How about he gets caught in a police crossfire, while they are chasing a bank robber?”

“This story takes place in the 1960s,” she said. Danish policemen didn’t even carry guns then.”

I was getting a little irritated now. “Well, I know the Danes have cars – can’t we have him get killed in an accident?”

“I thought about that, too, but Denmark has very few traffic deaths. Most people use bicycles for short trips – or the public transportation – busses, trains.”

“Oh yeah – I remember trains,” I said. “Ran on tracks. Nice big roomy seats. You could get a meal in the dining car and then go back to that seat and take a snooze. Say – how about he is walking across the street and gets hit by a drunken driver!”

“Hmmm…drunken driving is pretty rare in Denmark. They don’t just pull licenses – they take away your car!”

“Well, I guess that would tend to make you want to bar hop by bus,” I said, and added, “Dearie, you would be better off moving this plot line to the U.S. We could get him shot almost any old place – a movie theater, a Walmart parking lot, a college classroom…you name it, we can shoot it up! Are you sure you can’t bring him over here to visit an ailing relative – maybe take the afternoon off to catch a movie?”

She did not go for this at all, and insisted that this boyfriend had to meet his Waterloo in Copenhagen. She looked dejected, and I was getting desperate. I didn’t want to abandon an automobile as an accomplice in this.

“Say, you mentioned that they do a lot bicycle riding in Denmark. Why don’t we have him get hit by a car while he is out biking!”

She thought that this had promise, but pointed out that bicycles have the right of way over almost every other conveyance. “Automobiles, pedestrians – everything defers to the bicycle; and everyone in the country knows this. There are separate sections of the roads for bikes. A bicyclist is very rarely killed by a car.”

“But wait,” I said. “Suppose it was a foreigner – a tourist! He could be from a country where the auto is king and everything else must revolve around it! Drive-in banks, restaurants, funeral parlors — a country where bicycles and bicyclists are ignored or treated with disdain – where they are viewed as pests on the public highways, routinely ridiculed for their spandex outfits, and run off the road if they dare to slow traffic down!”

“Why…a tourist…that might work,” my wife said.

mangled bicycle

“Great. I knew I could slip an American into this plot!”

 

Mother-in-Law by Chuck Thurston

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Mother-in-Law

I loved my mother-in-law. There – I said it, and I won’t take it back. The bad MIL jokes never hit home with me. We have a picture of Elli at eighteen – about my wife’s age when I first met her, and the resemblance is clear. She was a dish…the mom, I mean…and it was like mother, like daughter. So I guess my goose was cooked from the beginning.

Elli Drews at 18 1

My father-in-law was a different matter. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for him, but he could be a difficult man. When I later had a daughter of my own, I understood some of his protectiveness. His attitude was probably shaped because his daughter was an only child; my own daughter had two older brothers who required my sustained vigilance. I only had so much time, you understand.

My wife and I had only been married a few years when her parents divorced and my now ex mother-in-law returned to her native Denmark. Elli had not been particularly happy about moving here with her husband to begin with. The United States was not a good fit for her, and the marriage didn’t stand the strain once my wife left to begin a family of her own.

Ironically, we saw more of her after the split. She would fly over from Denmark and spend two or three months with us almost every year. She was the most accommodating houseguest you could imagine. She knew when to inject herself into the life of the household and when to retire discreetly and let the others go about their business without her. She insisted on buying her own beer when I went to the store, and I kicked back more than once and knocked one (possibly two…) back with her. She was worldly wise, with a wonderful sense of humor. I thoroughly enjoyed her company.

She was still a dish, incidentally, and I had no problems escorting her to whatever events we thought she would have fun at – and Elli managed to find the fun in almost everything.

Heidi_Elli_1983 1

So keep your mother-in-law jokes. Mine was a gem. And I miss her, doggone it.

Rooning it Doing it by Chuck Thurston

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Long ago I heard an expression, “Rooning it doing it!” The “rooning” was a corruption of “ruining” and it described those actions whereby we create a malfunction in the process of fixing one.

A classic case: A small electronics firm turned out circuit boards that were part of a subassembly going into a larger electronic device.

circuit board2

After fabrication, the boards would successfully pass all of the subsequent inspections and tests they were put through – visual, electrical, etc., until they were given a final “OK” stamp and installed in the larger assembly – and then a large percentage of them would fail! Why? Engineers and technicians were puzzled until they made an incredible discovery.

 OK ink stamp

The ink used in the OK stamp contained carbon – an electrical conductor! In many instances, the placement of the stamp bridged a small section of the circuitry creating a high resistance short in the circuit board! In the act of approving the part, the final inspectors were innocently introducing a failure!

My wife and I discovered that life can be like that. Last week we were headed into the Y for our morning workouts when Heidi tripped on the rubber mat in front of the entrance and fell. She managed to break most of her fall, but broke a bone in her right (naturally – she is right-handed) hand.

Now get this: Last year Heidi went through a number of trials – culminating in a terrific automobile accident in November. Another driver ran a stop sign and T-boned our van. Long story short, Heidi went through some serious rehab and began doing exercises at the Y designed to improve her balance and increase her strength and stability.

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So why is this girl smiling? Well, what else can you do? The doctors say that she will be as good as new in 4-6 weeks. Incidentally, she was back in the Y five days later. Some of her program is on hold to be sure, but she is still able to make a recumbent bike whistle, so life goes on.

 

Promises, Promises by Heidi Thurston

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While working as a reporter and weekly columnist for a local paper some years back, I suddenly began to feel like The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker; the main character in the 1959 movie starring Clifton Webb. He is a respected and charming man with a slight problem. Unbeknownst to anyone, he has two families – one in each of two cities. Before you jump to conclusions, let me assure you that I only have one; the one I have had for many years.

However, I suddenly noticed that people around where I lived and worked, began to think I had more than three children – the three I lived with and the three I wrote about. I should have suspected something was out of the ordinary when I offered to treat the kids to a movie on an evening my husband was at a meeting. This was a film they all had been anxious to see and I was surprised when they all came up with one excuse after another.

My oldest son informed me he felt compelled to do some laundry (this was a first), his younger brother said he had to find some stuff in the attic (we never had one) and their sister insisted it was her turn to walk the dog (we have a fenced in back yard). By the time I realized these were lame reasons not to join me, they were gone and I went to the movie by myself. It was not until I received a call from the boys’ homeroom teachers telling me they had requested a transfer to a school outside the circulation of the local newspaper that the light began to dawn: they had become afraid to say or do anything that I might find good column material.

I questioned their younger sister and she admitted they had told everyone that they were not the children I wrote about in my weekly column. That, of course, started the rumor of my additional offspring. After a confrontation, I promised to try to be more tactful in the future; mainly because I dislike going to the movie by myself. My husband would rather stay home and read. The problem with going solo to see a film is that I invariably need to visit the ladies room at the most interesting parts in the movie and have to be told – in a whisper – what happened while I was away.

I have, by the way, tried for many years to estimate the dullest part of any flick, to no avail – it just escapes me. Waiting for the movie to come to television does not do me any good either – for the same reason. To this day there are action parts of most movies I have still not seen.

Back to the kids who all promised to begin to relate to me again provided I gave up my weekly yell: “that’s a great idea for a column,” every time one of them did something a little different, which was quite often. I had to promise not to comment on the way they left their rooms and the bathroom in complete disarray, how they left lights on all over the house and refrigerator door open.

messy-room

I was also not to write about our daughter sleeping open mouthed on the floor in front of the TV. I further promised not to mention how our youngest went to school in second grade with his clothes over his pajamas and had to be sent home to change; nor about how our oldest son flunked singing – in kindergarten!

Oh, there was a list a mile long of promises I had to make. They all, in turn, told me that for keeping all this, and any other of their peculiarities, a secret they would keep their clothes picked up daily, turn off the lights when not in a room, and at all times leave at least one clean towel for me to use.

They promised, and I promised – while I kept my fingers crossed behind my back – knowing full well they were all just kidding. Keeping their rooms clean – never! Just the same, I removed any incriminating column from the paper before any of them picked it up to glance through. I saw no reason to provoke my best resource material.

Heidi Thurston moved up from her newspaper column to full length novels.  Her adult romance, “The Duchess, The Knight And The Leprechaun” is available on Amazon.

 

 

Kannapolis Local Authors Fair

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Dateline Kannapolis; April 25, 2015

2015 Local Author Fair Flyer

Heidi and I were there.  We spent a couple of hours schmoozing with readers and other authors.  We sold a few books.  I gathered a few more names for my monthly Writers’ Night Out meetings.   It was the first of what we hope will be an annual event.  Count us in!

Kannapolis Local Authors 2015

That’s Heidi middle, far left (with the red sweater) – talking with a visitor to our table.  I’m taking the picture.  Candie Leyvas and the many others in the Kannapolis Friends of the Library are to be complimented; Terry Prather and her staff at the Kannapolis Library were outstanding.