Fearless. Or Not.

Monsters. Things that go bump in the night. That chin whisker that grew six inches overnight. AAAAAAH! Pretty scary stuff as far as I am concerned. Mu ha ha ha!!

So you guessed it. This is a post about fear, and what with Halloweeny around the corner, what better time for some stuff about being scared?

Now for some, fear is merely just fun. An adrenaline rush that leaves them as quickly as it comes. They would be the ones who bungee jump and scale tall mountains. And watch movies like The Exorcist, The Omen and the Blair Witch Project. Or my friend Jane’s scary movie.

Then there are others for whom fear can be an incapacitating thing. That saying “scared stiff”, well it was said for a reason. For these people, fear makes them stop in their tracks. And let me tell you from experience, sometimes, even though you are scared, you shouldn’t stop.

Last spring I found out that I was scared of bridges. Unfortunately it was when I was about to drive across one.

On our way home from Gettysburg and Antietam over spring break, I was driving through Maryland and Delaware and I saw the signs for the Delaware River Water Gap and Memorial Bridge. I was going on my merry way, my husband reading beside me and the kids all snug in their seats behind me. But then, when I saw in the distance, the top of the bridge, I started to panic. Like sweating, nausea, that kind of thing. But the shoulder had already narrowed to two lanes and there was nowhere to pull over.

I grabbed the steering wheel as tightly as I could and then blurted out to my husband “I don’t think I can do this” as I proceeded to slow to about 35 miles per hour.

I will always remember his response. “Get us the hell over this bridge!” he yelled as kindly as a husband whose wife was having a panic attack while driving his family over a bridge could. It was a mental slap in the face, a la Cher to Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck.

And believe me, I needed that.

So I did what he said. I put on some mental tunnel vision and only looked forward and tried to beat my fear of this two lane bridge that just seemed to climb higher into the sky as it spanned the Delaware River, the very river I was sure to drive myself and my family into. My shoulders were tense, my hands were cramping over the steering wheel and I could faintly hear my son in the back seat asking if I was okay.

I wasn’t and I couldn’t answer him. My fear had paralyzed nearly every inch of me except for my foot on the gas pedal and a little itty bit of my brain that screamed Snap Out Of It You Ass, You’ll Kill Us All!

Anyway, I obviously didn’t drive off the bridge. I made it to the other side with my family in tact. But my psyche surely was not.

When the hell did that fear spring up?

I remember the things I was afraid of as a kid. Losing my parents topped the list. Ghosts, scary movies and thunderstorms rounded out the rest. That was about it.

Heights didn’t bother me. I went up to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto and thought it was the coolest thing ever. Then the edge of Niagara Falls coming home from Canada was also the coolest thing ever. Bridges certainly didn’t bother me. Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel during the trip we took as a family to Florida was awesome.

But then when I was in my early 20s, I took a quick overnight trip to Seattle for work and since I had time to kill before a return flight home, I decided to check out the Space Needle. And then, as the elevator was going up, I started to sweat. I found that I couldn’t look to the edge once I got to the top. My legs felt like Jell-O and I wanted to crouch in a corner until someone saved me. Holy Crap, I was afraid of heights! Get me down!!! I am not sure I actually yelled that, but I sure thought it.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a new fear (or hell, call it what it is: phobia) could pop up now that I am getting old.

When I got home from my experience over the spring in Delaware, I googled  “fear of bridges” and found out that there are a lot of people out there just like me. So much so that some bridges even offer a service where someone drives your scaredy cat ass (and car) across the big bad bridge. I wonder if they make fun of you when they’ve deposited you on the other side. That would be scary.

Maybe one day I will use the service. I am not sure how to overcome my fear of driving across a big bridge without actually driving across one. Some smaller bridges I can do. Go figure. But I certainly wouldn’t want to have that panic again, for the sake of other drivers out there. I guess I will stick to being a passenger when it comes to a big, scary, death-defying bridge.

There is not nothing to fear but fear itself. Hell no! There is a huge and scary bridge that spans cold water!

Anyway, that’s my scary story for Halloween. It may not include monsters, things that go bump in the night or even six-inch chin hairs.

But hey, what about you? What are you most afraid of?

A Brand New Day

When I was growing up, my mother was fierce and feisty about her particular brands. It was brand loyalty to the thousandth degree. Only I didn’t realize it then. It just was.

In our house, we only used Bounty paper towels to wipe up. Our spaghetti dinners were made with Ronzoni and Ragu. Our PB and Js were made with Skippy and Smuckers. Tide cleaned our clothes and Charmin cleaned our bottoms. Electrolux (along with my mother) sucked up the dirt. Tuna was Bumble Bee, cookies were Chips Ahoy or Oreos. We drank Coke or 7-Up and my dad concocted his nightly Greyhound cocktail with Smirnoff and Tropicana grapefruit. We were Welch’s grape juice people, Marcus Dairy milk drinkers and Pepperridge Farm bread eaters.

There were literally NO exceptions. No sale, coupon or low introductory price could keep my mother from her brands. Though on a few occasions after we beat her down, we did get Wonder bread PB and Js for a field trip. (I think the bread is still stuck to the roof of my mouth. Ick.) We stayed that way even on the occasions when my dad went shopping alone. He had to hightail it back to the store for the “right” thing.

I know my mother was just a little bit frustrated by the commercials on tv that had us clamoring for whatever new item (say Frankenberry or that PBandJ all mixed together thing) hit the stores. She stuck to her guns and alas, we never got them. Unless we went to a friend’s house. I remember tasting my first Little Debbie snack at a friend’s. I was in heaven. (We were Hostess snack people and that little girl on the package of the competitor over at Julia’s house made me want to try them all. Yeah.)

I did still love to accompany my mother on grocery trips. (Even in high school. Whatever. Geek.) There was no big super sized supermarket for her. She was loyal as a Beagle to her neighborhood independent grocer. So much so that when we entered the store, the store manager greeted her and we were allowed to go into the back to the butcher’s department so she could pick out her cut. I remember always being just a little grossed out by the bloody apron on the butcher, a superbly friendly man named Nick whose sweet smile seemed to make up for the fact that he was usually wielding a knife.

Even though the store is not there anymore, it’s now a CVS, I can still remember the aisles and see in my mind’s eye where things were on the shelves. Because we only picked certain brands, it was easy.

And so my mother’s four little apples really didn’t fall far from the tree. As younger adults, out on our own, we all pretty much stayed loyal to the brands we knew growing up. My sisters became unwilling participants in a forced brand choice when they went to California. Some brands just aren’t available west of the Mississippi and they had to take what they could get. My one sister still has my mother send an occassional box of Devil Dogs because she can’t get them out there in LA LA land.

Now for me, sure I was the product of my mother’s choices, too when I first headed out on my own. I stocked my apartment with the same brands as I had growing up (when I had money that wasn’t being used for more important things like wine and beer.)

But then I came to realize that there were so many choices out there, and most were easier on the wallet than the ones I was used to. So I ventured out. And now, well, it’s a free for all when it comes to brands I use. I think my mom just might be appalled looking into my pantry.

Sorry Mom. I eat Jif now. I still like Smuckers, but your grandkids’ butts are cleaned with generic t.p. and the stains on their clothes are treated with whatever detergent is cheapest. And the pasta in that yummy lasagna you ate? It was the Stop n’ Shop brand on sale for 88 cents. Though if Ronzoni was cheaper, I’d be sure to buy that. Just for you. (Ok, just cause it’s cheaper.)

I know that brand loyalty was certainly (at least for my mom) a sign of the times. I think many housewives had the same mind to stick with the brands they knew and loved. Companies loved them back for it. There are still die hard fans of some thing or another who never waiver, I am sure. (Mac or PC anyone?) I wonder how many still do. I think in our economic situation, you sort of take what you can get. Or there’s a buyout, and well then you have no choice if you want something in particular.

I suppose I could go on, but there really was a reason for the subject of this particular blog post.  I swear.

Here it is.

With the cooling weather around here, I had a hankering for a roasted chicken with some root veggies. So I got the chicken (on sale), the cheapest carrots and a loose red onion and sweet potato (or yam, not sure), buttered (Stop &Shop brand)  and garlicked the skin, sprinkled some IGA store brand coriander over the top and BAM! Into the oven it went. I dreamed of how good it would taste as the smell of fall wafted through my house.

When it was done, I had a ton of liquid in the pan in which to make gravy. Roast chicken needs gravy, no?

I turned the burners on, stirred the pan drippings and reached for my cornstarch. I knew it was cornstarch by the familiar Argo name I remember my mother used when I was a kid. So I diluted it with chicken broth and poured it in the pan.

It bubbled a little. And I said Hmm. Oh well. I stirred and stirred and well, it just didn’t smell like the gravy I was used to. But, hey. It will be fine.

So the rest of dinner was ready and I was cleaning up as I brought my gravy to a boil. I took my little container of Argo and happened to glance just a little closer. It was not cornstarch at all. It was Argo baking powder. Who the hell buys Argo baking powder anyway? I guess it was me. It was probably on sale.

The cornstarch, I came to realize later, was in the little white and yellow box in the pantry, a Stop n Shop brand I bought on the cheap.

Yup. I got tripped up by the old brand thing, now didn’t I?

I think my mom is probably laughing at me, drinking her cup of Lipton tea as she pats her own box of Argo cornstarch.

It’s okay. My gravy was never as good as hers anyway.