RAMBLINGS • I Like Pretty

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I like pretty.

I suppose everyone does in one way or another, so I need to be more specific. I also know that one person’s pretty isn’t the same as everyone else’s; that deserves explanation too. Also I have a disclaimer; I’ve never considered myself to be pretty. In fact, even though we live in an enlightened era, I’d be fighting mad if someone called me a “pretty boy.”

I once had a colleague who, like me, taught English and coached basketball at HHS. He was one of Mr. Ackerman’s hiring mistakes, but we didn’t know that for a while. He was personable with a pied piper charm about him. Coach Buerkett, the varsity coach, and I were at basketball camp in Champaign when the young man stopped by to introduce himself as the new junior varsity coach and the director of “Bust a Move,” a program for elementary school boys. (It was a program much needed because it stresses fundamentals; any boy who wanted to participate could, regardless of ability. We need something like that today when competition against other towns leads to cutting, which means some sensitive souls are made to feel worthless–but that’s a Ramble for another day.)

There were warning signs about the young man that I ignored because he had a high upside as a teacher and a coach. My opinion slipped a bit when he confided during a bus trip to an away game that he had been glad to have 6’5” and bigger teammates when he played college ball. He said that in opposition gyms the home team players would taunt him by calling him “pretty boy,” hinting that his virility might be in question. He depended on his teammates to intervene for him if the taunting became extreme.

I couldn’t relate. No one, under any circumstances, called me pretty–not even my mom. A few times in my soccer career I might have been called “...an ugly s.o.b.” by an opponent with whom I inadvertently collided, but I always considered that a compliment. Besides, I felt no need for a back-up; I could fight my own battles.

I considered Judy pretty once she outgrew that gawky stage of pre-adolescence we all live through; I suspect others thought she was attractive too, though no one but her father mentioned that in my presence. I last fought over a girl, Delores, during a recess in fifth grade; I bloodied Charlie’s nose, but suffered several consequences–Delores ran to help him; the teacher paddled me; my sister told my dad, who also paddled me; and I decided that Delores perhaps wasn’t so pretty after all.

Though it marks one as shallow, I probably wouldn’t have asked Judy to marry me had I not convinced myself she was the prettiest girl in the world. (I have no idea why she said yes.)

I think both Dawn and Jenni and granddaughters Kaylyn and Kamryn are pretty. Great-granddaughter Emma is too young to judge, but she is certainly cute. On a trip back to Pennsylvania several years ago, a classmate of mine (we graduated in 1961) saw Dawn and Kamryn and remarked how much they resembled Judy. She didn’t add, “It’s a good thing for them that they don’t look like you.” Some facts are understood without being said aloud.

When my daughters were in the mid-teenage range, a friend of mine said I was lucky to have such attractive daughters. He said his daughters weren’t as pretty and could have trouble attracting mates. He was wrong on several counts; his daughters had not been hit by an ugly stick and married happily when their times came. Having pretty daughters didn’t insure good judgement by them when it came to picking life-long mates, and neither wanted dad’s advice when the moment of decision came. Having pretty daughters proved to be a mixed blessing.

Pretty doesn’t describe either my home nor my vehicle. At least one Deabenderfer (I) has lived near the beginning of East Tremont Street since the mid-1970s; the house was charming but needed work when we moved in. We added two bedrooms (one for each girl) and sided it in the ‘80s. The addition was added to the second floor because that was a cheaper way to go, but it didn’t add charm to the sight lines of the house, basically leading to a box-like appearance. Little has been done since.

Still, to me it’s home; it’s comfortable. Though I seldom venture upstairs, and without a disaster (fire, tornado, earthquake), it’ll be my home as long as I can care for myself. I don’t know that anyone will want it as a home after I’m gone; it will never qualify as a beautiful house, but I’m very comfortable in it.

My truck, a 2002 Ford F-150, has 133,000 miles on the odometer. I like it. It has a stick on the floor transmission, as all trucks should, and it’s good for the light hauling (mostly trips to the burn pile) that I take. I don’t stomp the brush down to compact the loads these days. I work alone (my preference), and I can still climb into the bed (I think), but reaching ground level again without injury would be a very questionable procedure. I haven’t tricked my truck out with fancy lights or over-sized tires, and I don’t enter it into truck shows. Like me, it was built for work, not show. We may reach the end of our usefulness at the same time.

The pretty I currently prize the most are the flowers in front of and to the east of my house. The plantings were inspired by the foliage in front of the St. Agnes Confraternity Center directly across from my house, and I consider them my contribution to the beautification of my small section of Hillsboro.

The collection starts with white petunias planted in the stump of a red bud tree on the boulevard. That stump has deep roots, evidently, because each year for the past five shoots have appeared around the edge of the stump. Those shoots would become saplings if allowed to go uncut, so periodically I whack away at them.

Then I have a container next to the post that holds my dinner bell aloft. I try to plant a will-grow-tall flower variety in that container each spring; this year I think it’s particularly fetching. I have shepherd’s hooks holding hanging baskets lining my sidewalk to the front porch. The second one on the right side this year is full of small red blooms that attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. If I’m at my writing table during daytime hours and I spot the hummingbirds flitting around it, I suspect I do the work for just that view–for selfish reasons–rather than for the sake of the town.

Also on the right side of the walk is a palm tree in a pot that’s buried. It was one of Judy’s favorites as an indoor plant. Several years ago I decided to plant it outside in the spring and bring it back inside before first frost. Grandson Kyle often helps with that task because it’s unwieldy–it’s a tree, after all. This spring a late frost caught me with the tree already in its place; I feared I’d lost it but the fronds that froze eventually fell off (to be woven into a cardinal’s nest) and were replaced with new growth.

The porch has three hanging baskets exposed to the morning sun–a begonia and two geraniums that I overwinter in the house. On the ledge beneath them is a gigantic shamrock plant (a nod to my Scotch-Irish ancestors), a redwood planter box overflowing with white petunias, and a container holding a house plant with big leaves that Judy liked and Jenni has asked to have. The one cold surprise morning about ended its existence.

In the backyard east of the lilac row–in which I wage a non-ending battle with honeysuckle–is a plant holder purchased five years ago from Butler’s Larry VanMiddendorp at a street sale uptown. Made from parts of an old spring rake, it fits my sense of decor.

In the back is an asparagus fern that I bought for Judy from a flower shop uptown; it hasn’t been nearly as delicate as some professionals warned it would be. It flourishes on the north side of the house with limited sunlight. Also in the backyard is an old tractor tire that Bill Davis gave us when the kids were small and needed a sandbox of sorts. Now it contains miniature daisies.

Last summer I tried my luck with two containers of hibiscus. Sister-in-law Cindy back in Pennsylvania had beautiful plants with huge flowers, and I wanted a similar result. The experiment lasted one season. They flowered beautifully (I have pictures, thanks to Dawn), but later in the season I found a slime under the leaves, (I sprayed with a fungicide but the plants were dead before frost came. I have worked to establish a row of Rose-of-Sharon bushes against the Cozy Cafe fence to my west. To me those flowers resemble hibiscus blooms, but they are smaller. They are also weed-like easy to grow, so I’m happy with them. I’m too old to deal with the temperamental.

Most enjoyable of all, though, are the surprise lilies that fought huge odds to bloom this past August. I’d transplanted a row of them to a garden fence I’d built in my backyard when Judy was alive and the kids were home to justify the garden. Four years ago, perhaps longer, I had my garage/garden shed torn down and removed the fence; two summers ago I had the trees in my backyard cut down as they were a danger to the house in ice or wind storms. Because they were old, underbrush grew quickly where the trees had been, and the stumps made it hard to mow, so weeds and underbrush took over. Like John Henry, I decided to cut the stuff by hand, with a grass whip and nippers. It’s been a battle, but I’ve made some progress. I thought, though, I’d destroyed the surprise lilies.

I was delightfully wrong. By the first week of August they’d shoved through heavy weed growth to stand tall and wave their flowers in the wind.

Looking at them as I work outside gives me a great sense of satisfaction, especially if a Cardinals, a Cubs, or a high school game is on the radio as I work.

Robert Frost was a poet who spoke for a generation of men like me, the Boyds and the Fuehnes of the world when he wrote, “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.”

I know I could do worse now than be an admirer of pretty flowers.

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