Windows, Popcorn, and Mashed Potatoes

It is amazing how sheltered and provincial people can be. Every once in a while little events occur that bring this thought to the forefront.
I remember my wife telling me about the time she was carpooling when the kids were younger. One of the children in my wife’s favorite car, the Chevy Celebrity station wagon, wanted to have some air and asked if she could open the window. My wife replied, “Go right ahead, open it up!” The kid said to her, Mrs. Koerner, “Where is the control button?” My wife laughed, “There isn’t one, crank it open.” The kid, in a frustrated tone said, “How do I do that?” We often had the oldest car in the neighborhood, this one actually wasn’t, at the time, but the package we had purchased was without power windows. This youngster didn’t know about the other kind of windows! That kid would have freaked if he had been with us in our Ford Maverick that we bought for $1 from friends that had an actual hole in the floor!
Another story of interest was when my wife told the kids who were over that she was going to make popcorn. They looked in dismay at her as she headed toward the stove with the popper and proceeded to put in the corn kernels. They were amazed as they didn’t know that you could make popcorn outside the microwave and not in a pre-packaged container!

My final funny story is about mashed potatoes and the kids who were freaked out that we were making them on the stove and actually smashing real potatoes!
Our kids had to suffer through the most boring, weirdo parents in the whole neighborhood!

Go to Hell!

Years ago when we were visiting my mom in Cleveland it was always tough when we were leaving.  My mom, being alone and all since my sister and I left the nest, and I being the offspring who moved away, it was particularly difficult for her. She adored seeing us, cooking all of my favorite things, and seeing the boys and Mary Kay.

One time, she told us this ethnic story of some Hungarians.  Truthfully, I don’t know whether the story is even true or maybe just made up by someone, but I tend to think that it is real.

My mom told us of some Hungarians who were trying oh so hard to learn English and to use the proper expressions at the appropriate times.  We language learners know that there is nothing funnier than situations when people are experimenting with a language and just not managing to do so.  Not that we want to laugh at their mistakes, but it is just funny.  I always implored my students to be oh so careful when using colloquial expressions just for that reason, to be sure that they really understood the usage and the nuances. 

Well, these Hungarians were interested in knowing the proper way to say “goodbye” and they asked some people, supposed friends, to tell them what to say upon taking leave of someone.  They were given an expression and practiced it so their pronunciation was in order and then left.

One day, as they were taking leave of someone, they did the final small talk, were ready to leave and yelled out as they were departing and waving their hands in a goodbye gesture, “Go to Hell!”  They thought they were saying something nice.  Instead they almost got into trouble!

My mom told us the story and we took it in, this all occurring during our visit.  As usual, the day of departure approached and my mom’s eyes started tearing up.  We were all in the car, all five of us, and opened up the windows as we were ready to put the car into gear and yelled out to my mom, “Go to Hell!”  This is particularly funny because not only did my mom start smiling and laughing but there were nosy neighbors on her Parma, Ohio Street who took it in as well and wondered what was going on.  From that moment on, our family  goodbye taking always includes a good “Go to Hell” and a big smile.

Thoughts on Tolerance and being raised a Roman Catholic

This is a subject that has bothered me most of my life.  I can remember thinking about this even when I was young and surrounded by people with many prejudices and bigoted views.

I grew up surrounded by a certain amount of bigotry.  I remember even as a youngster having discussions with my family and close friends.  I remember very clearly being told, “You will change your mind about these issues when you are older and earning a living.”  I guess that something went wrong with that!  That never happened!  I remember as well thinking about what exactly it was that made them think the way they did.  I could usually make sense of that, seeing perhaps that my grandparents’ bigotry was so much a result of their ignorance and of the difficulties they had making a new life for themselves in a land that was not overly helpful to those from other cultures and who did not speak English.

It annoyed me because at Catholic elementary school, I learned all about God and about how we as human beings and descendants of Adam and Eve are supposed to treat each other.  Early on I learned much about ignorance and about how people can twist just about everything to a totally different way, that serves their particular needs all the better.

I consider myself to be a cafeteria Roman Catholic.  I was raised Roman Catholic but I have to admit that early on I realized there were some things I just couldn’t agree with.  I was smart enough, or so I thought, to realize that a large institution like a world church would have to make some rulings that might just not seem appropriate for everyone, but there was, in fact, probably a reason for them.  I therefore acted like I was in a cafeteria, I picked and chose what to believe in and what to ignore.  That worked for a long time, or so I thought.

I lucked upon a parish for my early to mid adult years where the thinking was relatively objective.  There was great involvement by the parishioners in the happenings within the local Church.  I remember long and thoughtful discussions with numerous clergy members about a variety of topics.  I remember being overjoyed that they were more in agreement with me on many different issues than I ever would have believed.  They often talked about sometimes, even though a decision I was making might not seem to fit within the parameters of the Church’s teachings, that if I made my decision thoughtfully and in a loving manner, that I wasn’t in fact committing major sins.

Things tightened up as the administration of the local Parish changed and at the same time the overall Church began to have more and more difficulty with its own shortcomings in dealing with all sorts of issues, both local and worldwide.

Being very spiritual people, my wife and I pondered our situation and little by little we saw that our needs as Catholics were not being met.  We tried and tried to adjust but finally it was to no avail. 

There are so many issues that need attention.  There are rulings that make no sense.  I understand, historically, for example, why priests were not allowed to marry.  I realize as well that the Church has not appropriately evolved with the times.  Celibacy, to me, is no longer a valid option for the Church and I feel that it has even caused harm.  Without going into it, it is easy to see how it might affect the mindset of those entering the priesthood and attract some people for the wrong reasons.

Be that as it may, the Catholic Church has had a profound effect on me and my life and I still feel as if I am a Roman Catholic.  I just don’t attend Church regularly.  I am not saying that I will not change in the future, but for now, this fits my current needs.

I am bringing this background up because this is what formed me and my thoughts.  This brings me to the idea of tolerance.  The Catholic Church may have its faults, but I truly feel I received a good intellectual formation from it.  Because of my education and experiences, I  cannot, for example, understand how there are so many so-called religious individuals of many different faiths who talk about Jesus and how to lead a good life and at the same time are so intolerant of so many things and people.  I keep thinking of my formation and how we were told that Jesus and God are forgiving.  It doesn’t matter what you do, but we, as prodigal children, if we are penitent,  shall be forgiven. 

I know someone who acts and behaves like a very religious person.  She spouts “Jesus” and our “almighty Lord” and attributes all good things that are happening to the grace of God.  This is very nice and all.  She is one of those people who has to sport her “fish” icon on her e-mail and make everyone aware of her take on religion and life.  She wears her so called religion like a tattoo, it is very obvious to all.  It is also a major sham.  She will force you to hold hands with her at a dinner table and “thank the Lord.”  She will also, if you are not in line with her, bad mouth you, give you wrong information, make every effort to make you look like bad to others.  She will literally stab you in the back.  Her efforts are self-serving yet she appears to be serving God or at least she thinks so.  She is, in my estimate, typical of so many ignorant people who pretend to be religious, but who are actually users of religion to portray themselves as better than everyone else.  The sad part is that often a person like this is actually convinced of his or her superiority and the fact that salvation is to be had because of this.  “Heathen people” who are perhaps not of the same faith will have to suffer till the end of time in damnation and hell according to them.

Under the polite guise of religion, these people have taken it upon themselves to abuse others.  How is it that a very forgiving God will deny salvation to so many people just because of choosing the wrong religion?  How is it that we stereotype and typify certain religions as being evil when in fact we are basing our viewpoints on the actions of a few people?  How is it that some people use their beliefs to deny rights to others because of their skin color or sexual orientation?

In my religious world, the God that I believe in IS all forgiving.  The God in my ideal world isn’t going to be judging people based on certain rules and regulations but will view each situation individually and take many things into consideration.  This God loves everyone equally.

I am not pro life nor am I pro abortion.  Abortion to me is a last ditch choice that I don’t feel I can legislate.  For me, for the most part, it is not an option. When I was younger, I thought I had no problem with it.  While in grad school, Mary Kay and I babysat for someone having an abortion.  She had one child already out of wedlock in a time period when this was a very negative thing.  By the time our friend returned from her abortion, Mary Kay and I were sickened by the whole thing.  Not because of the abortion per se, but because she just hadn’t used her brains and gotten pregnant again and used abortion as a form of birth control, wiping out a life for no reason.  What she did is a sin to me because there are so many deserving childless parents who were denied a child and she threw hers out.

I think I am digressing.  There are many people in this country who have morals based on religion and that is a good thing.  I think organized religion does a lot of good overall.  I think as well that organized religion could do a better job.  It should evolve appropriately and carefully with the times.  It should teach and guide its followers.  It should lead in all situations no matter how hard it is.  It should never ever espouse intolerance of any sort.  It seems to me, Jesus would be in agreement there.  Don’t you wonder what he would have to say?

Arrow to Ugliness

I am not boasting, but I am probably one of the nicest neighbors one could ever have.  I am the neighbor you would borrow from, the neighbor who would help you with the leaves when you couldn’t get to them. 

I am also a person who seems to have a certain magnetism for some of the oddest people around.  That can be good, but that can certainly go bad as well.

Mary Kay and I had several things we really wanted to have in a house.  Way back in 1976 when we bought our first house we definitely had to curtail our wish list and just be happy that we got a house at all.  We got an adorable fixer upper in La Grange Park, IL with two bedrooms and a great yard, unfortunately by the train.  The train was something that happened in house two as well, it took three times to make that go away, and much to the displeasure of our son, Richie.  We,  however, were happy that we were able to talk on the phone and not pause the conversation until the train was past.

Obviously, in a house we wanted location.  We were always pretty successful in that area.  We needed a certain number of bedrooms and little by little with successive house purchases, we got that as well.  Actually, the fourth bedroom was had by remodeling, but the remodeling story might well be another blog article to come.  Our real desires, if I recall correctly, were a staircase and a fireplace.  The staircase eluded us until house three.  By this time, we were called the gypsies since every five years we moved.  Year twenty saw us do an addition instead of moving.  We usually bought a house that was structurally sound but in horrible need of decoration.  Our third was the anomaly, actually looked pretty good other than the redwood painted yellow, but that is another blog story.  The staircase we obtained was decidedly not what was on the wish list.  Being a bi-level, the staircase was and is quite short going up and going down.  But it did have a nice, handsome banister suitable for garlands at Christmas.

So,  given the fact that we didn’t get the fireplace, procuring one was the cause of the title of this blog.  I will admit the title is odd, but then I did mention that I have magnetism for the oddities of life. 

At a certain point, Mary Kay and I decided that we would have a fireplace installed.  This required all sorts of research, decisions as to where to place it in the house, the ramifications of the loss of space in an already less than huge house with five people and a dog living in it.  We finally decided that our living room was the location, that it would afford a good place to get people together and talk, in close proximity to the dining room.  Plans forged ahead, they installed a metal box in its location and voilà, a fireplace.  Within a short period of time we found someone to put in a mantel, surround the fireplace with red brick, and we were good to go.  We enjoyed and still do many a fine family bonding moment there.

How could something as simple as a fireplace create the title of this article?  That is easy.  On the outside of the house, coming out of the roof was a metal pipe, set to code, allowing smoke to be exhaled from the fireplace.  One day, my neighbor stopped me and asked me about its exterior appearance.  I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about it, it was an afterthought.  I explained to him upon his questioning, that I was intending to have a surround made for it which would be more decorative and more like a standard chimney, either out of brick or wood to match the house.  I explained, although I didn’t really have to, that funding within the house being what it was, the chimney was on a waiting list.  After our conversation, I didn’t give it a though until…

The “Arrow to Ugliness” suddenly appeared next door on the lawn…

Honestly, I had no idea what this was.  I remember one day that the neighbors were gone, that I just had to see what the heck that thing was.  If I am not mistaken (please note the picture of it), it was made of wood about two inches wide and perhaps eighteen inches in length.  It was set vertically, on a stick and looked a bit like a model rocket pointing to the sky.  And on it, it said, “Arrow to Ugliness.”

To this day, I cannot remember if I had a conversation with my neighbor about it, but his wife sure spent a lot of time looking sheepish and doing her best at not being seen.  I cannot even remember how long the arrow was up and visible.  Numerous visitors asked about it.  We did deduce that it was in reference to the pipe coming out of our house, which was not all that ugly. I looked around our neighborhood and ours was not the only one.  Apparently, in our neighbor’s eye, our pipe was affecting the Feng Shui of the neighborhood. 

I don’t remember how much later we had the chimney installed. Since the siding of the house is redwood in vertical panels on the house, we had a similar look made out of cedar stained the slate blue gray of the house.  I think it looks quite nice.  I never did understand the concerns on the neighbor.  I must say that if the architectural police were to critique his house that…

Once again, life is far too short for such silliness!

Ode to Parma!

Sooner or later, I was going to have to broach the issue of where I am from, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio by the name of Parma.  When I was seven, my father died and my mother, doing her absolute best to take care of me and my sister, moved us from the city of Cleveland (which was experiencing white flight) to the suburbs.  My mother and father were not people of means and luckily they made sure that there was enough insurance on my dad to pay for the house if something were to happen, and it did. 

Cleveland, to me, represents all sorts of things.  First of all, I am ethnically Hungarian, by heritage (on both sides), and we lived very close to the Hungarian section of Cleveland.  I am mentioning this because my heritage and my inability to get schooling in its language caused me to set the career path I did, pursuing French (another language and culture that was very appealing to me).  I was baptized in a Hungarian church, grew up listening to Hungarian music from the local radio station, heard Hungarian from my grandparents, saw the Hungarian newspaper, etc.  I was the only grandchild who was interested in going to Hungarian school and being the youngest and moving to the suburbs, the only one who didn’t get a chance at it! 

Cleveland had two descriptions of it that I heard when growing up: “the mistake on the Lake” or “the best location in the nation.”  I have to say that both manage to fit.  It has the possibility of being an amazing place, something more on the level of a Toronto, a Milwaukee, or a small Chicago.  The cultural assets that Cleveland has are amazing:  museums, the symphony, ethnic restaurants, and the like.  It suffers from poor guidance on the part of its leaders who don’t manage to agree on anything, so nothing gets accomplished.  One of my biggest embarrassments was when I spent the year in Tours, France on my junior year abroad.  A Frenchman I met asked me where I was from and I told him that I was from Cleveland.  I figured there wasn’t a prayer that a European would know anything of my hometown.  His next question was, “Have you heard the Cleveland Orchestra play?”  I hadn’t!  I also must say that the minute I returned home to Cleveland, I made sure to make up for that.  It was well worth it!

So, my father died and we moved.  My mom had good intentions, but frankly the town she chose was a suburb of about 100,000 people at the time, Parma.  Parma was unbelievably ethnic, which can be a good thing, but in its case, it became a negative.  It had a nice middle class appearance for the most part, but I found it to be one of the most stifling places one could ever imagine.  She purchased a home outright, which was a good thing because her bookkeeper’s salary would hardly managed to maintain a mortgage and took the social security money that she received for my sister and me and banked it.  Her frugality was what sent me to college as it afforded me a fine education in a good state school in southeastern Ohio.

Explaining Parma to people is tough.  In my teen years, a Cleveland TV personality, by the name of Ernie Anderson, started hosting awful horror movies on local television.  He actually became quite popular and spawned, I believe, other personalities like him.  He called himself “Ghoulardi” and would appear during breaks of the movies.  He became a very cult-like figure.  The time period was that of the appearance of Peyton Place on TV.  Ghoulardi decided to take Parma and skewer it on his show.  It was absolutely hysterical; he called it “Parma Place.”  In it, he portrayed Parma’s inhabitants as generally Polish, as total hicks with strange habits and attitudes.  The problem is, Parma deserved to be skewered.  Men in Parma, according to Ghoulardi, sported pants that were a bit too short and showed white socks, even when they were wearing dress shoes.  It got to the point that if someone asked where you were from and you responded, “Parma,” they would check your socks.  I was well into my thirties before I could even wear white socks again!  We Parmesans were also kielbasa and pierogi lovers and we had pink flamingos on our lawns along with chrome balls (those strange ornamental metallic mirror like balls sitting on pedestals).  I hate to admit it, but Ghoulardi was right, my home didn’t have these things, but others did!

All of the previous information isn’t enough to make one detest a location but there were other things.  The people were, in general, very paranoid about dealing with each other.  When I went to visit my mom with my wife and kids (after moving away), we would walk down the street.  People who knew me would start watching us until we approached and then slam doors and windows.  Ladies were always seen with babushkas and paper bags, paper bags sometimes even being  considered as luggage!  I never ever fit in.  Parma made me want to get away!

It is funny that before moving to Parma, I had always felt relatively comfortable.  Upon my arrival there, however, all of a sudden I had to get used to new people and situations. I also found that the level of, what I would call, personal, hidden, mini violence was an issue.  At the Catholic school I attended, playground at lunch was always a major disaster, especially during the winter.  The amount of times I had to pick myself up off the ground from having been knocked down by bratty kids was unreal.  My big gripe is that the adults in the situations were always mysteriously unaware of the goings on.  This pretty much continued into my one year foray into the junior high (9th grade in Parma) and then in high school, but in a different way.  The abuses mainly happened in the hallway and/or in PE class.  I am thinking that much of this cemented my desire to be a teacher and seek to avenge the children who were victims of this.  My having been slow at developing, uncoordinated, and having skipped a year of school were not exactly helping the matter.  This did, however, firm up in my mind that especially if I had boys (and my wife and I had three) that they would be held off of school as long as possible.

The redeeming feature of Parma was the fact that even though people were seemingly across the board uncivil, the schools did provide a good education and for that I am thankful.  I had no idea how good it was until I got to college.  In retrospect, the guidance program where the counselor had, I believe, more than 1000 students to deal with, was less than great.  I am sure now that I could have set my sights higher in terms of my university career, had I known.

My biggest surprise upon my move to the northern suburbs of Chicago was that people actually said hello to each other on the street.  I have since found that people do that in Cleveland as well.  Parma was the exception.  Moving away totally changed my view on people and how they act. 

In 2003, I had many dealings with Parmesans as I brought my mother to live (she was 82 at the time) in the Chicago area.  I found that those situations were less painful than all of my previous experiences.  I also found that the provinciality and naïveté of the people were quite interesting.

I am well aware that some of my views of the town are certainly colored by the experiences I had and that not everyone goes through life in Parma the same way.  For that, I am thankful, no one deserves that, and I mean no one.  I still haven’t changed one thought though, in my fantasy world, Parma would be removed from the map!