Olympian dreams

There is a major disconnect between my head and my body. My head thinks it’s 18, my body? Well, my body knows it’s closer to sunset than sunrise. So, it is in the dark of night when that older me is in repose that I can indulge the dreams of that perennial teenager. When I can stroll the Olympic Village and weigh which sport I will grant the reward of my considerable athletic talent.

As a young child, growing up a lefty, I dreamed of being the first female Whitey Ford, the left-handed pitcher for the New York Yankees who was a 10-time MLB All-Star and played in six World Series. Funnily enough, it never occurred to me, then, that that was an aspiration worthy of Don Quixote. Never, never, never would a woman play in the major leagues, and never for the Yankees. The handicap of my girl-ness would take years to seep past my thick-headed resistance to gender politics. In the meantime, I spent hours perfecting my pitching skills playing catch with my father in the backyard, including learning how to throw a fast ball, a knuckle ball and even the illegal spitball. Another odd thing: He never mentioned, never let on at all, that there would be absolutely no place, not the majors, nor the minors, nor the Olympics where it wasn’t an official sport yet, not even high school, for me to take the gift I worked so diligently to perfect. That was probably his cockeyed optimism shining through — his best hope for a professional athlete wasn’t a son but this scrappy daughter. Just like he was all for women at Princeton if it meant I could attend. When it turned out PU wouldn’t take transfers upon becoming co-ed, he masked his disappointment in a change of heart about girls at his beloved alma mater.

When I came home dejected one day when I was about 10 and complained too my father that my best friend, next door neighbor and first basketball coach wouldn’t play H-O-R-S-E with me anymore, my father folded me in his arms. This was his method for absorbing my big disappointments when justice went south and the world was too seriously askew for my meager coping skills. ‘Why not, kid? Why won’t Charlie play with you anymore?’ When I explained that I had won the last 30-odd games and that Charlie had stormed off the court propelled by his own form of discouragement, my father held me at arms length and said in perfect earnestness, ‘Can’t you let Charlie win just once?’

Throw a game? Lose on purpose? Why would I do that? Wasn’t his mantra always Try Your Hardest? Do Your Best? The mark of a true sportsman, he had opined on many occasions, was to always go for the gold. Then either win with humility or, if necessity and the score demanded it, be gracious in defeat. But deliberately lose? Wasn’t that as bad, if not an actual form of, cheating?

It was years before I understood my father’s sympathy for poor Charlie, for his counsel to put another’s self-respect above my own need to win. That to do so was even bigger than another notch on the gun barrel. A concept too profound, too grown-up for me at that point. I didn’t want to win the Largesse-of-Spirit trophy, however desirable my father hinted it might be; I wanted to win. Period.

Of course, it was also sexist, my father’s advice. I accept that. Male honor, and all that. Nowadays, I don’t care so much about winning. No wait. That’s a lie. I care very much about playing to win. The ‘don’t care’ part is because I recognize that on the playing fields of real life, my time on the starting team has long gone.

But the dreams live on.  I drag around this battered old body by day but at night, in the sacred dark, I am dribbling toward gold.

— Belle Songer



Belle of the ball

The only ball I’ve ever been belle of is a basketball. So, it is with some consternation that I have accepted the English Wedding Challenge. Were it not the wedding of a godchild, were it not the wedding of one of my dearest friends’ daughter, were it not an excuse to get back to my spiritual home, I might well have declined.

But the challenge was on. Which brought me abruptly to: What To Wear?

Have you noticed, American women don’t do hats? But the Brits, well they delight in them, concoct occasions to require them, have ‘Hat Hire’ purveyors where one can go to rent the perfect head couture. Think of it: a store full of just hats. It was in England when I was a guest of British friends at Royal Ascot that I learned about ‘fascinators.’ Downtown in boutique-laden Concord, MA this morning, two of three chic women’s shops did not know what a fascinator is.

Perhaps I should define this fashion statement: it’s a mini hat, adapted to a headband and usually just a large feather-laden flourish worn at a jaunty angle on the side of the head. Small as they are, they can be extraordinary, a mixture of whimsy and elegance.

Which brings me back to the shop owners here in town who’d never heard of them. Proof, if any need be made, of America’s lack of hat consciousness. But I needed one. Believe it or not, only an ugly American would show up at a British wedding without a hat. A bare-headed, tall, white-haired woman would shout out: Hopeless Hayseed! So, it was the third shop owner who not only knew what a fascinator is but had them for sale who saved my bacon.

Sort of.

The problem with getting all dolled up when you have as much doll in your soul as a horned toad is the incongruity of it all. To put it another way, this is so not me. It doesn’t help when you husband declares he won’t be seen in public with you, much less at an English country wedding, if you wear a hat. Any hat. But particularly this little head bobble thingamajig. Nor does it smooth the rough edges of the shopping experience when you yourself think the one you just purchased, although the best of the lot, looks ridiculous.

Perhaps I should describe it: it is black (goes with the shoes and the bag, dontcha know) with little black feathers zinging out all over its flower-shaped flourish. Add five enormous rhinestones as the flower’s pistils and attach all this to a little black skullcap reminiscent of Minny Mouse and — well, you get the picture. Or maybe you’d rather not get the picture.

Whether it is genuinely ridiculous or just my fashion anxiety is a matter of opinion, I guess. The shopkeeper (with an agenda) and my friend who accompanied me on this mission, both assured me it was just ‘wonderful.’ Still, for me to wear it, husband’s opinion or no, is going to require an act of public courage.

Which is worse? To be the classless American and feel inconspicuously conspicuous? Or attempt a leap of fashion commiserate with Superman and his tall building?

The rhinestones, I know, have to go. I couldn’t swing that close to out-and-out tacky, even though the overall effect is, counterintuitively, rather cheerful and certainly whimsical. So, I found a child’s headband, a string really with little red daisies strung along it and have decided to dismember the headband, steal the flowers, get the rhinestones gone and replace them with a daisy bouquet. Red daisies match the dress.

Beginning to look like an outfit, no? Red dress, red daisies. Black shoes, bag, fascinator and pashmina. Ho, ho! Look out Kate Middleton!

— Belle Songer


The power of words

I’ve always had a weakness for words. When I was a kid and my mother told me to ‘look it up’ rather than providing me with the definition I knew she knew, I was only annoyed for show. Indeed, I often lugged around an unabridged dictionary under one arm, waiting, eager even, for the next word I heard or read and didn’t understand. I’m an idiot for idioms, have a passion for colloquialisms, adore word play and am ever-curious about the origins of expressions. A row of books in the reference section of my library is devoted to books with titles like When A Loose Cannon Flogs A Dead Horse There’s the Devil to Pay. Those who know me well know I create my own. I do not put on shoes, I put on hooves.

I love alliteration, delight in homonym multiples, relish spelunking for etymological roots, think in iambs and bask in the glow of a well-turned phrase, no matter the author or the vessel, be it in a newsletter or The New York Times, Shakespeare or Sadie Smith. I don’t listen to music, I listen to books. The song in my heart has lyrics.

I argue with TV and radio commentators who don’t speak the Queen’s English, who don’t know the difference between rout and route or between less and fewer. It irks me that these high profile representatives of the press get it wrong. Because they are, or ought to be, the standard bearers of proper usage. It’s a losing battle but battle on I must, even while falling on my knees in praise before a good malaprop. Or a headline or public sign that is inventive with puns. Like the dog grooming business Laundro-Mutt or the construction company, Oedipus Wrecks. Like the golf headline “Tiger Puts Balls In Wrong Place Again” or this from the L.A. Times, “Big rig carrying fruit crashes on freeway, creating jam.”

I am a wordsmith. Words are lifeblood to me. Written or spoken. They are the magnificent and magical offspring of language, the crucible of understanding, the foundation of knowledge. Without knowledge, we spin in a chaotic world. Words are my anchor to reality, my most cherished source of amusement, the links in the fence that give order to my world.

So, when I read the blog post of a young friend in trouble, I was brought up short. She mused about the power of words in a way I’d not carefully considered before: how a word is a word is a word until it applies directly to you in a deeply personal way. Think: Rape. Or: Missing in Action. Or: Cancer. And how one’s world and one’s sense of self can be turned on its ear when a vocabulary word suddenly becomes about me.

Here’s what she wrote:

We know lots of words. Words have a lot of meaning and a lot of purpose. Some words are part of our daily life and some simply are not. We are constantly learning new words and expanding our knowledge. New words are everywhere. You probably learned a new one today. But until that word has value to you, it’s just a word. It’s funny how one day a word, like… oh, let’s say…LEUKEMIA, can just be a word and the next minute it has lots of value. Then you find yourself with other words that suddenly have lots of meaning… chemotherapy, infusions, transfusions, blood, biopsies, platelets, cells, vitals, hemoglobin, etc…

Never under estimate the power of a word.

A latter post built on the earlier one:

I’ve decided that I’m going to describe my days as “cruddy”, “better” or “good”. Saving the words “bad” and “great” for the days that truly deserve them. I simply have not had a bad day yet. Cruddy yes. Bad no. Things could be a lot worse, and they are not. A great day would be a day with no side effects from anything (chemo, a medication, low immune system, etc…) A great day would mean my numbers were at or near normal and the sign of discharge would be in the future. So I’m saving the word “great” (and many more wonderful words) for such a day that deserves them.

Whoa! Never under estimate the power of a word, is right. It took my young friend to make me rethink my love affair with words. They can hurt, terrorize, shake one’s foundation. No matter that even these hard words are the building blocks of information and information is, to my way of thinking, the powerbroker of knowledge.  But who would wish this kind of knowledge on anyone? Her words do not make me smile. They do not amuse. They are not the lyrics to any song I want to hum.

I remember being made to write my vocabulary words 100 times each as punishment. I remember the rote memorization of endless school lessons from Hiawatha to the Pledge of Allegiance before I was old enough to grasp the concept of what any of the words actually meant. Just as I recall the days when one or another Big Word — Driver, Byline,  Husband, come to mind —  leapt free of a dictionary existence and owned me to the core. Just as I now will never forget when LEUKEMIA leapt off the page and took on life, in every sense of the word. That was a cruddy day.

— Belle Songer



To adopt or not to adopt . . .

To adopt or not to adopt, that is the question. Whether tis nobler to maintain a one dog household, sure to have one’s heart broken in time, or to ease that inevitable loss by integrating a second dog now; dethroning the one by consciously putting her successor in place.

Oh, there are arguments for both sides of this conundrum. Cajun, who will be eight in October, would be re-energized by a younger companion. Cajun, who will be eight in October, ought to have a lifetime of adoration and not be asked to ‘share’ at this stage of the game.

For two years now I’ve had it in mind to adopt a second dog in April or May. In the spring of ’15, I broke two toes and ended up in a boot for weeks. In the spring of ’16, a humongous dog took out my right knee trying to sprint toward a playful puppy. I’m 15 weeks into that recovery as I type. Both injuries waylaid my plans to add to our happy family. Is this fate? Or a determination test?

On a fairly regular basis, I torture myself looking at pictures of dogs I could, if only I would, rescue. Gnarled faces, gnome-like faces. Adorable faces, faces only an adoptive mother could love.  Puppy faces and old-lady faces. Desperate faces and faces cocky with their own winsomeness.

I think I know exactly what I want: a female, lab mix, on the young side, abandoned but not neglected, a swimmer. This last might seem an odd requirement but we live on a river and have the ocean in Nantucket. To be in our family and not swim is both a sad state of affairs given the proximity of so many opportunities to do so and a harder row to hoe for this human when it comes to exercising a young, energetic beast.

But. But. But . . .

What’s with the buts, I ask myself? Yes, we are not spring chickens. Yes, we will have to adjust. Our staid, old-person rhythms will be upended. There will be walks in the rain; walks in the frigid cold; double the poop to pick up; double the trouble when we want to go away. Things chewed; piles thrown up; maybe even, horror of horrors, our newbie will go suddenly, scarily AWOL. There will be twice as many ways for one or the other to scare the bejesus out of me.

But. There will be twice the love. Two, not one, heartbeats at my feet. And when one of those ceases, there will be the remaining one to need her bowl of food each morning; to carry on the work of personal trainer, getting me up and out no matter my broken heart; to walk and romp and laugh. That’s the thing, really, she will make me smile each and every day when not a single human can work that magic.

So? To adopt or not?

For the record, here are this week’s candidates. Either is mine for the asking. Neither is what I think I want. Sweet Georgia Brown, a 2.5 yr-old chocolate lab abandoned at a Louisiana hunting camp:SGB.jpeg

Or, Jessie, a 4-month-old hound mix. About whom virtually nothing is known. But ya gotta love those eyebrows!


Apart from the fact that both are females, neither fits the description of my perfect dog as listed above. Will the hound swim? Will she stay close to home or follow her nose into the wild blue yonder, leaving us to chase after? Is the lab, a 65-lb’er,  too much dog at this point in our lives? Is she inbred and so destined for as yet unknown health issues? Will Cajun accept a little sister?

Am I conflicted or just confused? Motherhood! It’s really hard to be deliberate about it.

So, what should I do? You tell me.

— Belle Songer