Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A Blast from my Ice-Skating Past

I had a great fulfilling day today, conducting one of the interviews I’m using in my brand new book project. I drove to a town about 60 miles west and spent a good part of the day there. When I got home, I was surprised to see that it had snowed, and that there was enough white stuff on my driveway that I knew I should shovel.

I felt disappointed. Shoveling was the last thing I felt like doing after having such an inspiring day. All I wanted to do was come in the house and start making notes from my interview. Instead, I sighed; then wrestled the shovel off its peg on the garage wall.
As I began plowing my usual paths down the driveway, something weird happened. Maybe it was because of the crispness of the air (my car’s thermometer said “17”), or maybe it was the fact I had a scarf wrapped around my neck and mouth, like I used to do when I was young. But all of a sudden it felt exactly like the kind of night my friends and I would have loved to spend at the ice-skating rink.
Sometimes we’d walk one block to our school, where the city would plow snow into a circle and flood a rink for us kids. Other times we walked about four blocks to another neighborhood rink. We preferred this choice because there seemed to be cuter boys there. And sometimes, on special occasions, one of our parents would drive us to a park which had a frozen lagoon. The pond had two small islands you could skate around. This choice, of course was my very favorite.
Standing here on my sidewalk, at the age of 54 years old, I had a flashback – maybe a de ja vu sort of feeling. The air felt exactly the same as a night years ago when I was maybe 14. My cheeks felt that same sting of cold, but it felt good - healthy. I remembered what it was like for cute boys to steal our knit caps and skate away fast… and for us to skate after them in an effort to get them back. Exchanging names, flirting…
I’ve shoveled snow hundreds of times and I’ve worn scarves over my cheeks for a number of reasons, but I’ve honestly never had a recollection come to me so thorough or so powerful. I looked up at the clear sky, the night so still, and I smiled. My initial disappointment had faded, replaced by the memory of teenage ice-skating escapades.
Even though I hadn’t felt like shoveling, I’m glad I stopped and took the 15 minutes to do it. The break felt good, and even, in the end, provided this blog. My advice? In life, take time to smell the roses – or if in Waukesha, Wis in January, take time to breathe in the night air. You might get a very nice blast somewhere from your teenage ice-skating past…

Katie Kolberg Memmel is the author of two books: “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born with a Limb Difference,” and “Silly Stories and Sentimental Stuff.” Both are available at  as a Kindle and a paperback version.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Holidays (and then some...)

Wow!  Wow, wow, wow! What a wonderful year for the holidays, here at the Memmel homestead, in Waukesha, Wis. Where do I even begin? Let’s see here… (rubs chin and gazes off into the distance, pondering choices…) Ahhh, I’ll begin with a story from the past…

Do any of you remember when your attitude toward Christmas and the holidays shifted from “woop de doo” parties, events, and pricy gifts, to more of the “real deal?” I’ve always loved church, especially on Christmas Eve, and I’ve never been a super good gift giver/receiver – always very nervous, hoping my choices or reactions are correct, etc. But years ago you could always count me in for plenty of the “woop de doo.” I do, however, remember the Christmas that I began to respond to the holidays more like my mother would have, than like the kid I’d been.
As I bravely shared in my book, “Five Fingers, Ten Toes…” the fall/winter of 1988 were very hectic for our little family. I had a brand new baby (born November 11th) and a three-year old. One day as I sat in the rocking chair feeding Megan, Tony stood by my side listening to his cassette tape of Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” He asked me, “Mom, what do you want for Christmas?” I said something along the lines of, “I just want everyone I love to be happy and healthy…” He crinkled his nose and furrowed his three-year old’s brow. “Nooo, I mean what do you WANT for Christmas?” …and I knew that beyond a shadow of a doubt, that’s honestly all that I wanted.
When I was a youngster that answer would have frustrated me too, but the older I grew, and the older I continue to grow, it’s truly all I want - ever. I might even add a few more frustrating brow-furrowing wishes into my responses nowadays such as, “During this season, I hope that we can all spend time together with those we love the most…” Things like that.
So this year, I got my wish (and then some). Back in October, after Megan came to town with Jakey, Joe decided he’d like to come back to Wisconsin over the holidays to see everyone. Since their little family would all be here, they thought it would be a good weekend to have Jake baptized. It was decided that we’d host the ceremony right here at our home. Joe and Megan placed several calls. One to the pastor she'd grown up with, who baptized, confirmed, and even married her and Joe. (So special!) They also placed a phone call to Tony and Lesleigh, asking them to be Jake’s godparents. I heard through the grapevine that they were very thrilled to accept that role. Tony and Les had not planned to come up here during the holidays this year, but decided to change their initial plans. Thankfully Lesleigh was able to figure it all out with her work schedule, and the two could travel up from Nashville together. The scene was set – our whole family would be together again – this time for Christmas and Jakey’s baptism.

What a joy it was for me to decorate and to get everything organized – even the cleaning seemed tolerable knowing all of the kids were coming – even our new little grandson. With multiple exciting reasons for their visits, I felt extra energized and worked each day with a song in my heart. The songs in my heart I refer to may or may not have been due to Tony and Lesleigh’s brand new album, “We’ll Be on the Radio.” ( ) Word on the street had it that Tony would be playing and singing his brand new release, “Jake’s Song” for Jake during his baptism. Any moms or grammas out there that are reading this will certainly be able to relate to the sentiment that such a combination could bring. Right?  
Everyone spent time with their other families/inlaws, and then Christmas Eve was our turn to spend time together. Church was at 5:30, so we all met there. I must tell you that one of the most joy-filled moments I’ve ever experienced was walking up to communion that night – our daughter in line behind me, followed by Joe holding our grandson. Tony stood at the front of the church, singing and playing his guitar for “An Irish Christmas Blessing,” and Lesleigh accompanied him on the piano. Wow, you know? Jake was in a great mood, and even assisted in the singing of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” by letting out a shriek at the exact right time. (So cute!) He was also very attracted to the flame on Joe’s candle during the singing of “Silent Night.” After the service we all came back here for food, gifts, chatter and laughs. Did I mention laughs? Yeah…

It has become a tradition that we host a Christmas Day brunch, so my dad, aunt, Todd’s brother and wife, my sister and husband, Lesleigh’s mom and dad, (Joe’s mom and dad couldn’t make it) and our kids all participated. We ate cheese and crackers, ham and scrambled eggs, rolls and fruit, cookies and kringle. After everybody else left, our six-some (excuse me, seven-some) sat down for a viewing of one of our family’s all-time favorite movies, “A Muppet Christmas Carol.” Jake just happened to fall asleep on his Auntie Lesleigh’s lap, and napped during the whole thing. Good timing, Buddy!
Todd had a nice idea. Before Christmas he asked the kids if they had any plans for Saturday, and if not, to clear their mornings. We bought the four of them reserved seats for an early viewing of “Star Wars” on the local Ultrascreen. Megan felt confused. “But what about the baby?” We assured her that he’d be in good hands with his gramma and grampa. The kids came back here to prep for the baptism, and Todd and I took our turn seeing the movie. When we got home, Tony and Les ordered pizza for us all, and we sat down to drink a glass (or two) of wine and discuss the movie. Joe isn’t a big Star Wars fan, but he said he had fun. The rest of us all shared our thoughts, our questions, and our theories about what is yet to come in the series. I must say, the movie passed my criteria for a good film - It made me laugh, it made me teary, and it left me with questions. Oh Star Wars – we’re so excited for the next part of your story!
And then there was the baptism. Let me start by saying that back in 1985, Todd’s mom knit a baptismal gown for Tony. I actually mention it in my book. Three years later, Megan wore it too. I put it away and stored it in its box for the past 27 years. When I took it out this fall, there was some bad yellowing on the front, up near the neck/chest. I felt terrible, and very unsure of how to remedy the situation. There is a group of women at our church with extensive knitting knowledge. They call themselves “The Knit Wits” (isn’t that fun?) Anyway, I took the dress to one of their meetings, and they each gave their opinion of how I might clean it. Once they determined it wasn’t “wool,” it opened up some good possibilities. I was able to get the garment back to its initial white, and I felt so relieved and happy. Jake would wear the same outfit that his mom and uncle had worn. Since Todd’s mom and dad have both passed away, it felt like somehow they were present and able to participate in a special way.

For the ceremony, Todd and I were both asked to do a short scripture reading. As the pastor poured the water from the pitcher into the bowl, he spoke of how God moved over the waters at creation, and it made me shiver (in a good way) to know that Jake was now also receiving this special sacrament. Joe and Megan looked so nice, standing there dressed in their Sunday’s finest, promising to raise their little boy in the Christian faith. Tony and Lesleigh also vowed to keep Jake as a special and Godly part of their lives. And all who were gathered in the room also answered the important questions of faith: “Do you believe in God the Father, Jesus His Son as your Saviour, the Holy Spirit who works among and within us…?” Tony did sing Jake his song, and I can’t vouch for anyone else, but tears were definitely rolling down my cheeks. Joe and Megan threw their son a party following the ceremony and it was so nice to talk and catch up with everyone. Some left early, and some stayed late, but one thing remains certain: Jacob is a very blessed little boy to have so many people who love him. And now he’s baptized.
Keep in mind that the Memmels haven’t all celebrated Christmas together since 2009. There have been different group variations, but not all together. As we celebrated the holidays this year, I couldn’t help thinking back to that conversation I shared with Tony in 1988. Everyone was together, and all reasonably healthy and happy. Happiness and health – two things we all seem to want most - two things we cannot buy in a store.
Here we are, with 2016 already in full swing. Let’s make a toast to health and happiness for us all... Cheers!    

Katie Kolberg Memmel is the author of two books: “Five Fingers, Ten Toes – A Mother’s Story of Raising a Child Born with a Limb Difference” and “Silly Stories and Sentimental Stuff.” Both are available on Amazon as Kindle downloads and as paperback versions.