Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Perfect Mate

Recent revelations of another 'Husband Gone Wild' have many wondering if there is indeed a perfect union anywhere. I don't know about others, but I can tell you that many years ago, I was fortunate enough to have the perfect mate! 

I was twelve-years-old at the time and new to Bret Harte Junior High School on Hoover Street in South L.A. Today, they call it middle or intermediate school, but in those days (1968-1970) it was junior high, and encompassed seventh, eighth, and ninth grades.  It was a different world for me in many ways, not the least of which was the increased interest in romance and dating.  It seemed many girls, including my friends, were intent on claiming some unsuspecting boy as their boyfriend.

I guess I was a late bloomer, because at the time I still found boys disgusting.  I'd much rather spend time with my Barbie dolls (although I could never tell my friends this).  Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that -- according to the junior high code -- not having a romantic interest was considered abnormal.  There was only one thing I could do to fit in -- I decided to invent a boyfriend!

'Stanley' was the perfect guy.  He was older and lived in a different neighborhood, which explained why no one at school ever saw him. (It's not hard to pull the wool over the eyes of Jr. high girls.)  Stanley was understanding, kind, patient, handsome and smart. And while the other girls struggled to get the attention of the guys they liked, my Stanley adored me!  I regaled my friends with stories of all the nice things he did for me.  Pure fiction, but it worked! 

I 'went with' Stanley all through seventh grade, but by eighth grade I had to have his family move out of town. The ruse became too hard to pull off by then. Of course, we stayed loyal to each other.  It was the perfect arrangement for me.  I had a 'boyfriend' and could still play with my Barbies!

As I got older, I discovered there were certain benefits to dating a real-life guy, not the least of which was that I could take him out in public.  However, I also learned that no guy could measure up to Stanley.  Fortunately, I learned this at an early age.  Some people go a lifetime without learning it.

I would not advise young girls to make up boyfriends, but I would tell them to try to stay away from schmucks when it comes to relationships. Also, I would hope they have a line in the sand that keeps out mates who abuse or humiliate them, or have no qualms about subjecting them to outside kids, or worse yet... HIV/AIDS!

Nevertheless, perfection -- as desirable as it may be -- is unrealistic and unattainable. At least in the real world.

Bret Harte friends with their 'boyfriends.'  1969

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lessons from Dad -- Learned, and Not Learned!

My dad was not my biological father.

As a matter of fact, I didn't meet my dad until I was 9 years old, although he knew me as an infant and was my godfather (another story, another time).  My parents divorced when I was small, and I only saw my real father occasionally. I was happy when my mom married this nice man who moved us from Oakland to Los Angeles, where he had a TV repair shop off LaBrea.

He was my dad from day one and never treated me as anything but his child. I appreciate everything he did for me...the time he invested in me, and the things he tried to teach me.  Some I listened to...some I didn't, but I can now admit...he was right about everything!  Read on....

10 Things Dad Taught Me (that I listened to)
  1. Always keep your car in working order.
  2. Take the time to set the table before you eat.
  3. 2 or 3 good friends are better than 20 phony ones.
  4. Never date a guy who won't meet your family.
  5. If you invite someone to your house, have food.
  6. Show up at family get-togethers, even if it's for a little while.
  7. Your mom may not always make sense to you, but respect her anyway--she's still your mom.
  8. Always have your OWN money.
  9. Let your children know they are loved.
  10. Marry a guy who respects and adores you.

10 Things Dad Taught Me (that I WISH I had listened to)

Dad circa 1968.
  1. You don't need more than 1 or 2 credit cards.
  2. A phone call should never take over 20 minutes.
  3. Always have carfare (or airfare) to get home.
  4. Don't change jobs just for more money.
  5. Check the expiration dates on your food items.
  6. You can't do everything at once, prioritize.
  7. You will wear yourself out if you burn the candle at both ends.
  8. Worry never solves anything.
  9. When you cook, fix enough for more than 1 day.
  10. Take the time to read directions.

Thanks Dad.  Miss you.

In Remembrance

To: Berman Frank,   
In remembrance of a father, it took a long time for me to know,
I wasn't there to be your daughter, You weren't there to watch me grow;

For all the years we spent apart, it sometimes made me sad,
That although you were my father, I could never call you Dad;

But, I rejoice today for the years we spent, catching up and moving on,
We accepted that so much had passed, and could not be undone;

And I've finally come to realize, although it's taken me awhile,
That you'll always be my father, and I'll always be your child;

Now it's time for me to say good-bye, and to mourn all that will not be;
And to say I'm so very grateful,
for your blood that runs through me.

(Linnie Frank Bailey, August 1995)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summertime Living is Easy

So you won't be spending seven days and six nights in a tropical paradise this summer? Your kids probably won't see Mickey and you'll be lucky if you get ten miles out of town. Maybe you have lost your job and are spending all of your free time looking for work. On the other hand, if you are employed, you may be hesitant to take time off, lest you be forgotten!

Let's face it -- this is the summer of 'staycations' (staying at home during vacation time), 'daycations' (a day trip close to home), or 'naycations' (no vacation at all this year).

However, as bad as things are, the dog days of summer don't have to be spent lamenting your dismal finances and wishing you were in St. Thomas.

And by all means, please don't do as one of the "moms-from-the-school" who spent weeks telling everyone within earshot about a wonderful Hawaiian vacation her family was taking when school ended. In reality, they had no plans to leave the neighborhood... they just stayed indoors and cancelled newspaper and mail delivery! She dared the kids to leak the truth, but of course, it got out.

Centinela Park, Inglewood. circa. 1972
There are plenty of ways to have fun on little money or limited travel options. Fortunately, children are adaptable and enjoy family time however, or wherever, it is spent! There are certain essentials for summertime fun and they don't require much money. Here they are:

1. Picnics. When I look at old family photos of my grandparents, parents, and their siblings, it seems they lived in parks during the summer! There was a time when amusement areas and resorts were off-limits, hostile, or unaffordable for African-Americans, so families and friends gathered at parks for fun and fellowship.

While most parks are still free, and open, in California, we should take advantage of them. We have small neighborhood parks and large state parks. Here's an activity: try to visit ALL of the parks within a 20-mile radius of your house this summer. Spend a few hours or the whole day. Gather up some food, blankets, and a tent (if you have one). Take cards, games, and music and have fun!

2. Grilling. What says summer more than putting some food on the grill? It doesn't have to be filet mignon or ribs, any meat or vegetable will do. You don't need an outdoor kitchen; a small hibachi will work just as well. If you can't grill at your location, go to the beach or park -- many have grills for public use, or take your own. Even if it's just a 99¢ bag of chicken franks -- grill it!

3. Water. What's summer without water? A beach, pool, lake, or river provides scenery and enjoyment. Even low-cost options offer a way to cool off and have fun. One of my best summers consisted of taking my then one-year-old to a friend's 'backyard pool.' Now mind you, this was not a lavish pool with a spa -- instead, it was a small blow-up pool perfect for two toddlers to splash around in with their moms.

Kids love water toys in the back yard, or just turn on your sprinklers or hose and let them run through the water. Children love water in the summer, as evidenced by the legions of East Coast-bred kids who have broken many a fire hydrant. (Please don't do this... it is illegal). Try a water balloon fight... fun, fun, fun.

4. Cool Drinks. Iced tea is a summer favorite, but easy access to ice-cold water is a must during hot summer days. Keep a cooler in your car and keep cold water on hand. In addition, mixing up a pitcher of margaritas is sure to get some friends over!

5. Being Outside. Who wants to be cooped up inside during the summer? Even if it's too hot to be outside during the day, (or you are fortunate enough to have a job) try the evening hours. Walk around the neighborhood, or sit outside your house on a patio, garage, front porch, courtyard, or balcony.

I remember a summer many years ago, before my parents were able to buy a house. I was around 10 years old and we lived in an apartment building in South Los Angeles. In the back, we had a covered parking spot separate from the other parking stalls. Most summer evenings, after my dad got home from work (and parked in front of the building), we took our reclining lawn chairs, food, drinks, and music to that stall and relaxed. Many times, other occupants would join us.

Over the years, I have relaxed in tropical locales and on lavish patios; however, some of my fondest memories are of summer evenings with my parents and neighbors on those concrete parking stalls.

The point is -- you can enjoy summer without spending a lot of money or traveling far. You just have to use a little imagination and redefine what it truly takes to make you happy. Whatever you want for the summer -- fun in the sun, relaxation, seeing something new, or lounging with friends and family -- it's available for you at low to no cost!

Summer... like life, it's what you make it.

(first appeared in Huffington Post 6/6/11)