I'm Gonna' Be How Old?

Dear Angelene,

You're gonna' be one year old, that's how old! And your grandparents risked life and limb to get your backyard ready for the birthday party next week. Grandma J had a hard time with the heat at the nursery when we picked out flowers for the flower boxes (105 degrees heat index today in Chicago). And Grandpa Dave and Grandma Esa got battered when the brand new party tent they put up decided to fall over.

But we soldiered on, got all the flowers planted (Grandma Esa and your mom began planting, and then your dad took charge and finished). Your mom swam with you in your little pool, and she washed more fish-themed dinnerware than she probably wants to see in a lifetime (Grandma J found a good sale). And we decided on final tasks for the week: cake, balloons, flowers, party favors, last-minute items, and, of course, live goldfish to give to all your friends. Grandma Esa is exhausted (she worked on your birthday party since 7:30 this morning), Grandma J almost had heat stroke, and Grandpa Dave hauled, drove, assembled, and gardened -- all for Angelene's birthday. Whew! We're almost ready for your big day!

I have no wise message to slip into this letter, no family memory to tell you about (other than the one we made today). I just want to let you know how much you are loved, how everyone is making this birthday special for a special little girl, and to post this wonderful picture of you!

All my love, Grandma J

Princess and the Pea

Dear Angelene,

When you read the story of the Princess and the Pea, you'll know why I got you this fish rug to sit on at your birthday party. You hate sitting on the grass because it prickles, and you might have to sit on grass because your party will be a fish-themed swimming party in your backyard. The rug will be our secret. Not everyone may understand the importance of your having a fish rug. But Grandma J does.

In the Princes and the Pea, a bedraggled girl shows up at the Prince's palace during a storm. The girl says she's a princess, and the Prince believes her. Plus, he thinks she's sort of cute. So he invites her to stay at the palace that night until the storm ends.

The Prince's mom doesn't think this girl is a princess, but mom needs proof she's right. She's afraid her son might fall in love with a non-princess. So mom puts a pea under a stack of mattresses. Mom knows the girl won't feel the pea if she's used to sleeping on straw. And if she sleeps on straw, then she's not a princess. But the girl feels the pea! She's a real princess!

Angelene, you're a real princess, too. That's why Grandma J wants you to have a soft rug to sit on at your birthday party.

A word of warning about this whole princess thing, though. You notice how the princess showed up at the palace bedraggled because she was out in the storm? Well, Grandma J knows she was out in the storm helping people who wouldn't be able to crash at a palace at the end of the night. Princesses are kind, gracious, and hard-working. Like your mom, Grandma Esa, and Grandma J.

When my son first introduced me to your mom -- she and your dad must have been on three or four dates by then -- I knew immediately your mom was a real princess. No Princess and the Pea test for her. Grandma J knew right away she was the real deal.

My dearest granddaughter, if you ever find this fish rug in an attic or old box some day when you're grown, please remember that it represents how much your Grandma J loves you. She didn't want the grass to prickle you at your first birthday party.

Love, Your Grandma J
P.S. Angie: Here's the picture that sent me to Target to get your fish rug. You were NOT happy sitting on the grass this day!

Door to Destiny

Dear Angelene,

Your papa took lots of photos at the Congress Theater on Saturday night. Your mama titled the black-and-white photo above the Door to Destiny. It leads to the stage -- to her destiny.

The photo has a stylized 1950s feel to it -- maybe because the man wears a white shirt and tie. I like it.

My favorite is your mom's band -- The Right Now -- getting ready to go through that door. The hallway comes to life in the second photo. Those are 1960s acid colors. I do love the sixties -- I grew up with the Beatles.

I also love the last picture of the band's back-up singers. They're in the dressing room getting ready to go on. Grandma J's favorite color is orange, but I'd like the picture even if it weren't tinted orange.

Your dad won awards in school for his photographs and paintings. He comes by his talent naturally from your great-grandfather Edward Jackson (my father). When my dad died, I discovered in our basement thousands of photographs that he had taken. I did not know the pictures existed. Uncle Bruce and I hope to catalogue and electronically preserve them for you and your children.

I'm not sure if my dad once believed that photography was his destiny. I do know he believed it saved his life during World War II. His platoon was lined up on a field, and an officer asked if anyone had photography experience. My dad raised his hand and was removed from his platoon to become an army photographer. Sadly, he said that everyone in his former platoon was killed during the war. I wonder if that's why he stopped pursuing his destiny -- if that's why we didn't know about the photographs in the basement.

Music, photography, art, writing. Ms. Angelene, whatever your destiny, you have creative genes.

Love, Your Grandma J

"I'm with the band."

Dear Angelene,

When I was a teenager, I always wanted to say "I'm with the band." I figured any girl who could say those words was popular and had a boyfriend. But the closest I came (and it wasn't very close) was going to the Cellar, a teenage nightclub in Arlington Heights, where I was both the secretary of the Shadows of Knight Fan Club and the hat-check girl. There weren't too many hats, but I also collected everyone's dollar as they came through the door.

But last night, at your mom's spectacular performance at the Congress Theater, I got to say those words, "I'm with the band." I arrived at the Congress early, could not stand too long in line waiting for the venue to open, and I said those magic words. They worked, I got in, and the experience was just as sweet as if it had happened 50 years ago.

Your mom's band, The Right Now, performed as the opening act for another band -- but everyone said The Right Now should have been the headliner. Your Grandpa Dave said "The Right Now owned the Congress Theater last night"! And I said that the band "conquered the Congress"! The Right Now was golden. It was quite a night.

The picture at the top of this post shows your mom on stage at the Congress last night wearing her beautiful Betsey Johnson dress with a purple tutu. There's also a picture of The Right Now poster, a portrait of your mom, and a shot of the entire band during the soundcheck.

After the concert, I felt high on the triumph of the band and the wonderful little family made up of your papa (my son), your mama (my daughter-in-law), and you (my Angelene). There's also your Grandpa Dave and Grandma Esa, your Uncle Bruce and Uncle Ryan, and me.

I'm with the band.

Love, Your Grandma J

Left Hand Turns

Dear Angelene,

My mother (your great-grandmother) would only make right turns when driving in the little town we lived in, Arlington Heights, Illinois. She was afraid to turn left in front of oncoming traffic. She could get all over town making right hand turns in her Buick -- but she never left the village boundaries when she was at the wheel.

I wrote a short story about this in college called "Left Hand Turn," so now you know what the title of this post means.

My intention in writing this "Dear Angelene" blog is to tell you things I would like you to know. You are not quite one year old, so you can't understand these things now. But maybe this blog will be here when you're old enough to find interest in these words.

For now, I just want to tell you to make peace with left hand turns so that you can face the oncoming traffic without fear. There's more I want to impart to you, but that's a good start for today.

Love, Your Grandma J