Archive for the ‘Endings’ Category

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about closure. At the time, I thought that if I posted about closure then it would come more easily — and maybe it did. It’s hard to tell sometimes, when the memories will take your breath away and when they will let you rest.

I made a new friend on twitter last week (oh really, can you just let it go). It’s strange to think how easily friends can be made on social media outlets, maybe I’ll conquer that post on a different day. Back to my new friend, Lisa Bonchek Adams. Turns out, on top of being really funny (which is always my first qualification), she is a writer (am I that predictable), a thinker, a survivor. I read a post of her’s recently about her mother-in-law. It greatly affected me, I won’t tell you about it here — you’ll need to visit her site and read it for yourself. But, the name alone, Barbara’s Closet, sent the closure I wanted retreating to a far away corner.

I’ve gone through most of my mother’s things and sorted them for family and Goodwill and me. There are a few things remaining that I’m not quite sure what to do with.

When my grandmother was 81, she moved in with my parents. My grandfather had passed away just a few short months earlier and given her own weakened health, she couldn’t live alone. She lived with my parents for about seven years before she passed away. I remember going in my grandmother’s closet at my parents house — it never dawned on me that my mother never really cleaned that closet out. I don’t think my mother ever gave away all of my grandmother’s clothes. There was always something of her in that closet.

A few months ago, I was cleaning out my mother’s dresser. I came across a pair of pajama’s that I immediately recognized — but they weren’t my mothers. They were my grandmothers — her favorites. I remember seeing my grandmother in those — light blue, satin, pants and a shirt. My mother kept them in her drawer all these years — 13 to be exact. What am I supposed to do with them?

The things left for me to sort in my mother’s closet don’t really amount to much, but they were hers — her favorite things. It was hard to box her things up and give away — clothes, shoes, purses. I haven’t known what to do with the things she was using when she passed away. You know, her purse with all her stuff in it — driver’s license, lipstick, compact, the tissue she was using. The clothes I had just washed for her are still on the dryer. Her make-up, perfume, a half empty bottle of scope, her hairbrush. What am I supposed to do with these things?

I think my lack of ability to “throw out” these things isn’t necessarily tied to an emotional state or memory. I’ve never been one to tie my memories to objects. I tie my memories to senses — a smell, a feel, a taste. But in the case of my mother’s most recently worn clothes, her hairbrush, her purse — I think that my mother might need them again. I keep thinking she’ll need them.

So, for me to do closure, I suppose I need to actually do something with those clothes on the dryer. I need to toss out that bottle of Scope. I need to give away that last purse.

Closure is funny isn’t it? I guess you can get by, get on, get going without really being completely accepting of the circumstance. Maybe closure isn’t about accepting and moving on, maybe it’s about remembering and staying whole.

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A new year is about to begin, I’m ready for a new year. I’m ready to create some new memories. We will ring in the New Year at Disney World — what better place to be at the start of something new (it is the happiest place on Earth).

I’ve made arrangements to go to a luau on New Year’s day. Seems like the perfect combination of sensory overload to kick things off in the right direction. There will be pineapple, and fruity drinks to be sure. A pig roasted in the ground and fire dancers — and perhaps the ever-present smell of burnt hair.

Every Christmas Eve, my family and I gather at church for the candlelight service. I know that singing Silent Night by candlelight should make me all weepy — that’s not exactly the feeling I would describe that takes over my senses — not normally anyway. Instead, this night every year has horrified me to the point of near anxiety attack. You light the candles, hold them up high, walk slowly to the front door — not blowing them out until you reach the door. A disaster waiting to happen — every Christmas Eve.

My mother was a very “made up” kind of woman, in an Elizabeth Taylor kind of way. She never went to sleep without applying lipstick and apply lipstick was the first thing she did when she woke up in the morning (yes, the complete opposite of me — Three Secrets Revealed). She wore panty hose all the time — even with blue jeans. She had enough jewelry to wear a different piece with every outfit, and she loved to shop — even if it was just to look. She had a set time to get her hair done every week followed by a manicure — and she single-handedly made the hairspray business a billion dollar venture (we won’t mention global warming).

So, every year, I strategically placed myself at her side. Making sure there was an adequate amount of imaginary bubble space so that the fumes of the hairspray never came in contact with the open flame. I did very well. There were a couple of close calls over the years (one in which, yes, she ignited her own hair) but nothing that ever caused any more damage than leaving the smell of burnt hair, wafting throughout the church.

There’s a distinct weirdness when you look around for the person you are supposed to protect, and they’re gone. I’ve had that sinking feeling of panic with my kids before. When I’ve turned around at the store and they were gone. Your insides convulse, your heart practically stops, your head spins — if only for the few seconds it takes to locate them. There’s relief at the thought of not having to worry, one day. Relief that you don’t have to stand watch — I hope that doesn’t make us inherently selfish.

Isn’t it funny how smells can bring back memories? There are times I can smell my grandmother’s perfume — as if she were standing right next to me. My children have expressed to me on many occasions how they thought they had smelled their Nanny.

I’m going to miss the smell of my mother’s burnt hair this year, I’m going to miss the stress of worrying how close she is to the flame, I’m going to miss … her. But, amidst all my missing — there’s sure to be twinges of relief, perhaps that is what scares me the most.

I’ll be at the candlelight service on Christmas Eve, again this year. And there is sure to be someone who gets too close to the flame — and the smell of burnt hair will hang in the air… just long enough.

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With Christmas only a week away at this point, I am often finding myself reminiscing about the Christmas’s of my past — really, I’ve been thinking about the presents.

I take motherly pride in attempting to grant my kids all their wishes at Christmas. Within reason, of course. Each child gets to ask Santa for three presents — Santa then chooses whether or not the present is a viable option (we like to keep things systematized at my house). But, they seem to be happy each year, so I guess Santa’s choices are ok.

I had some great Christmas gifts when I was a kid. There are a few though, that I really remember . When I was probably around four years old, I have a distinct memory of getting an umbrella for Christmas. It must have been the greatest umbrella in the world because I still remember it. I remember seeing it wrapped under the tree — and, I’m pretty sure the shape of it didn’t give it away to my four-year old self because it was the excitement at opening it as opposed to just seeing it that I remember the most. It was purple. There were polka dots.

When I was around nine, I got the most ridiculously cool race track. It came with three cars. My sister and her husband stayed up on Christmas Eve to assemble it for me (I learned this later in life). I played with that track so often that the metal clips holding it together wore out. My father, being an engineer, replaced the metal clips and attached the whole track to plywood. I was in college before I finally let my mother throw it out.

I also have distinct memories of the presents that weren’t under the tree. Two come to my memory immediately — an Atari and a moped. Oh, how I longed for that Atari. My best friend had one and we would play for hours. That little maze game was the best. The moped, well, I still haven’t let that go. My best friend and I were the only ones who did not have a moped. We had to watch all the other kids ride around the neighborhood and out to the lake — hoping someone would let us get on the back (there really wasn’t a back to moped’s when they first came out — it was more of a stand up on the pegs thing). I vow, every year, to buy myself a moped and ride it around the neighborhood.

I think it’s important to keep some things the same. The Christmas after my grandmother died, some fourteen years ago, we all still got gifts from her. And last year, my mother put her and my father’s name on all the gifts — and told my kids it was from their Poppy. I know what my mom would want me to do this year, she would want to have her name on some gifts. So, I think I will pick out some special ones and make them from her. Maybe the kids will remember those presents as they get older — maybe the memories won’t fade.

One of my father’s biggest fears was that his grandkids wouldn’t remember him — he was afraid they were too young to hold on to the memories. So maybe a gift from him for a few more years will keep his fear from being a reality — for now.

It’s strange how the memory of certain gifts stay with us… make the memory that much more real. Sometimes our memories are tied to the presents, and that’s ok. Especially if you are a kid, waking up on Christmas day.

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Elisabeth Kübler-Ross really hit one out of the park when she published her five stages of grief in, “On Death and Dying”. I have this book or, my mother had this book. My mother read everything. She was a therapist and often counseled people on grief. She was also an avid reader of good books, I would love to be able to impress her with some of my new friends. Well, back to the stages of grief:

1. Denial — Yes, absolutely — did it.

2. Anger — Without a doubt — just ask my co-workers.

3. Bargaining — Ahh yes, a tricky one — but, did it.

4. Depression — Hardest to admit to — but, yes, did it.

5. Acceptance — Hmm. Well, this one is tricky as well. I don’t think we ever accept our grief — unclear on this one.

I definitely am not going to dispute any of the Kübler-Ross stages (that would be like saying Shakespeare was a hack). But, I do think some attention should be given to some additional stages. For example:

1. Chocolate — As we know, chocolate has actual healing effects on the body. Some of which are;  benefits to the circulatory system, brain stimulator, cough preventor, anti-diarrheal. Of course, the problem arises when we combine chocolate with stages 1, 2 and 4 on the Kübler-Ross scale. This then can lead to obesity — that is bad. But, then again, we are talking about grief here — and all good bouts of grief start with chocolate. So, I think chocolate should get an entire stage to itself in the grief process.

2. No motivation to do anything for yourself — yes, I know this is similar to the depression stage but I think the dissimilarities are enough to point out. Sometimes during grief, you maintain your ability to do for others — to get the kids to all their sports, to do the laundry, to clean the house. What I’m really referring to here is not doing anything for yourself. For example, maybe you were eating well and exercising regularly before the grief. But then, you just didn’t care anymore — about your own health. This gives the no motivation to do anything for yourself its own stage.

3. Cooking — Bear with me on this one. There is something about grief that paralyzes our ability to cook. Others recognize this and bring you food — this is good. I love to cook. I used to cook quite often. I have starting cooking again. Sometimes grief can be measured in how often you cook. Therefore, cooking gets its own stage.

4. Twitter — Ok, ok. Those of you who know about twitter, know of its healing qualities. Naysayers, I say to you, just give it a try. I actually set-up my twitter account when I had to move my mother to the Alive Hospice unit downtown (I was bored, not much to do there). I didn’t start actually using it until about four or five months ago. (The previously mentioned stages of grief were in control at that time). But, once I understood it and could find people I related to — it was like being immersed in the healing powers of the Dead Sea. So twitter gets its own stage of grief (on the positive end of the healing curve).

5. Blogging — you knew it was going there. I started this blog just as a way to vent (actually, I guess that’s why all blogs are started). It was due to the people I connected with on twitter — (see how we’re still on the positive side of the healing curve). Through my own blogging, I re-discovered a passion for writing, for friendship, for sharing. Therefore, blogging deserves a stage to itself because of its ability to bring you through safely.

Back to Kübler-Ross and the acceptance stage — I still don’t know if this stage actually exists. To accept means to believe that the situation is final — it is not. A very wise friend told me that sometimes we need, “… a distraction and reminder that we don’t get to stop time, and that’s probably a good thing.” Sometimes you just need a little distraction to help you get to where you need to be — back on the treadmill, back in the kitchen, back to the keyboard.

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One of my children, (I will refrain from using names or ages to protect the innocent) has a recurring dream about Hitler. Yes, Hitler. We have tried to pinpoint what led to this dreamland interference… but, nothing stands out — no books, no documentaries, no school discussions. I know if some dream therapist is consulted as to what this dream means, he will say that Hitler represents me, the mother — it’s always the mother’s fault.

The list of things that we blame on our mother’s is endless: my clothes are too small, my clothes are too big, my hair is curly, my hair is flat, I missed the bus, I don’t like dinner  — endless.

But, we somehow manage to carry on.

I’ve decided this must be due to the thing known as unconditional love. We know that our children can blame everything that goes wrong on us and we will still love them, we will still come back to them, we will still allow them to blame us. Of course, until I was a mother myself I was on the other end of the blame.

In the 1950’s, autism was blamed on mother’s. I found this explanation in Wikipedia (What? You know you use Wikipedia too.):

The term refrigerator mother was coined around 1950 as a label for mothers of children diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia. These mothers were often blamed for their children’s atypical behavior, which included rigid rituals, speech difficulty, and self-isolation.

The “refrigerator mother” label was based on the assumption — now discredited among most, though not all, mental health professionals — that autistic behaviors stem from the emotional frigidity of the children’s mothers. As a result, many mothers of children on the autistic spectrum suffered from blame, guilt, and self-doubt from the 1950s throughout the 1970s and beyond: when the prevailing medical belief that autism resulted from inadequate parenting was widely assumed to be correct.

Can you imagine, a disorder as wide spread as autism blamed on mothers? As a mother, we really have some ground to make up. Or do we? Maybe this is our time to re-claim a guilt-free existence. To stop accepting the blame for all the world’s ill-fated ventures. To let the chips fall where they may. (Yes, I know — not going to happen.)

Today alone, I will be given and accept the blame for: my oldest daughter’s room being painted a color she no longer wants (yes, she picked out the current color just last year), my son’s unfinished book report due tomorrow (yes, he received the assignment two weeks ago), and my youngest daughter’s favorite pink Dora popsicles are all gone (ok, I do have to take responsibility for that one).

When my mother first became ill and moved in with us, she was in a wheelchair. If she needed to get up at night, she would call and I would come. This night, when she called out for me, I was completely in the state of disorient that can only be described as that lack of sleep when you first bring home a newborn and everything sounds like an echo. I raced down the stairs still in my semiconscious state and missed the last two steps. I slid down hard on my bum — it hurt. My mother immediately apologized saying it was her fault for needing my help. I laughed. She laughed. Why is it so easy for us to accept the blame?

I can still try to blame things on my mother. It’s her fault that the laundry I folded for her some nine months ago is still on the dryer, with no one to wear it. It’s her fault that her purse with all its contents is lying in the bottom of her closet with nowhere to go. It’s her fault I stare daily at that half empty bottle of perfume because I can not bring myself to toss it out.

At some point, I’m sure we all become adults and accept responsibility for our own mistakes, for our own short-comings, for our own happiness. To blame is easy, to accept is not. But, to move on is the key.

As the mother, I know I’ll be given the blame — as the mother, I know I’ll accept the blame. So, I’ll pick up paint chips for the bedroom, I’ll edit the book report, and I’ll go to the store for pink Dora popsicles. And, when Hitler makes his way back into dreamland, I will be waiting to chase him away. When it’s all done… I’ll get the hugs and the kisses and the love. Which is really what matters the most.

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First Christmas

This year, I celebrate my first Christmas without my mother. I thought about running — far away. Sometimes avoidance is the best solution. But, I’ll stay… here. The lights are on the house, the poinsettias are placed ever so cleverly, the stockings are all hung — including my mother’s and father’s. There is no where you can hide that your memories won’t find you — especially the sad ones.

I love the Christmas season. My goal is to attempt to get people to shake their heads in disbelief at the sight of my decorations — of course, that is not my husband’s goal. So we reach a happy medium. The truth is, those beautifully decorated homes only occur in magazines where the children are fake and the dogs don’t continually knock the glass balls off the tree to play fetch — and no, I’ve never seen a magazine’s Christmas layout with a cat who had partially digested tinsel protruding from … well, you know. So my motto is, why try to replicate the idea of perfection when you can have the reality of imperfection?

Every year our Christmas tree falls over — every year. We get a real tree (please, if you get a fake tree just keep that to yourself… I don’t want any fighting here), and no matter how long we let it settle into the stand — once it’s decorated, it falls. Now that’s a picture I want to see in Good Housekeeping. Each year we wait to see if this will be the first year our tree doesn’t topple — so far, the tree is winning.

Our lives are filled with so many “firsts” aren’t they? The first always gets the most celebration — first birthday, first step, first tooth, first car, first date. The first is always the one that has the most memories, the most pictures, the most elaborate stories. I have some great video and photos of my children during their first’s. They love to watch it as much as I do.

My father gave me a dvd a couple of Christmas’s ago with my first steps on it (I won’t mention the part where I continually fell down and my oldest sister continually propped me back up only to watch me fall again and again and again — wait, yes I did mention it). My husband and I have many pictures of our first apartment — it was hideous — (why do I have those pictures?). We have great pictures of our first dog — (good grief, she was cute). We have tons of pictures of our first-born (trying to continually make up ground with the other two). I was rummaging through some old papers to discover the deed to my grandparents first house. First’s are special, they are memorable.

I have scheduled a trip to Disney right after Christmas. My youngest is very excited about getting an opportunity to meet her favorite princesses. She’s been there before — it was her first birthday. We celebrated it there, with my mother and father. We always took vacations with my parents — the beach, Disney World, the Smokey Mountains (yes, I mean Dollywood). I’m sure my husband and I took vacations by ourselves, without my parents — I just can’t remember them.

The last vacation we all took together was about two years ago. My father was on a break from his chemo treatments and was recovering fairly well from his surgery to remove a lung. He wanted to visit his mother, his sisters, and his brothers. He had a great time. We went to eat with my parents high school friends, had a cook-out with his mother and siblings, and toured the town they grew up in — for the last time. I guess firsts are always followed by lasts.

The day after Christmas we will head out to Disney, for our first real vacation without my parents. I will stay to face this first Christmas — without them. I will put off my running away. I will take pictures and videos and I will laugh, and my kids will laugh… and we will be together. And perhaps, this will be the first Christmas that our tree doesn’t fall, that our dog doesn’t eat half the ornaments, and that our fuse box doesn’t just give up — but, I hope not.

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For The Love Of My Dogs

I am a dog person — no doubt about it. Oh, I’ve had cats before… two to be exact. A beautiful black and white cat — Miss Kitty — that walked through my front door one day when I was in high school and never left. The other cat was her daughter. Miss Kitty ran away during a little get-together I was having and returned three days later, pregnant. So, for a while I had two cats. But, after I had been away at college for a couple of years, my mom was tired of sneezing — she was highly allergic to cats. Miss Kitty and her kitty spawn went to live on a farm — never to be heard from again. But, this story is about the dogs.

Growing up, our family dog was a beautiful Collie named Honey. Honey was extremely smart, to us anyway. She would come when we called her. She would sit when we told her. She would play with us when we wanted — and she would leave us alone when we wanted. My parents got her when I was just under a year old. We grew up together. Honey was an outside dog. Some of my favorite memories about Honey are from when it was cold outside — when it got too cold, my mom would let her come inside. We would spread a towel in front of the fireplace and Honey would go straight to that towel. Never even attempting to move off of it until we told her. On many of those cold nights, we would sneak the towel to our rooms and place it on the floor next to our beds so Honey would sleep there, with us.

Honey got hit by a car — and survived. She got hit by a motorcycle — and survived. She stopped chasing cars and motorcycles. But, it was too late. Her reckless ways led to arthritis and eventually, I awoke one morning to discover that her back legs were paralyzed. The vet said there was nothing to be done — she was fifteen and that was very old for a dog. I said my good-byes and Dad took her to her final journey to the vet.

Now, when you have a dog as good as Honey, it really puts all other dogs at a disadvantage. I vowed then to never have a dog unless it could be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the new dog was as great as Honey.

My husband and I had rented a cabin on the lake to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary — I was twenty-four. Honey had passed away nine years earlier and still no dog had entered my life (pause for jokes about my husband being a dog and entering my life). We were eating lunch at the marina before heading out to fish and enjoy the boat on such a glorious summer day. Staring through the door into the restaurant was the cutest dog we had ever seen — she looked just like a Golden Retriever. But, she was tiny, only seventeen pounds. We commented to each other about how lucky someone was to have that dog, waiting for them to finish their meal. But, patron after patron left the marina, and the little dog stayed… staring through the door. When we were leaving, we asked the waitress if that dog belonged to anyone. She laughed and told us that it had been hanging out around the lake for a couple of weeks.

As soon as we heard that, we knew — this would be our dog. But still, we were on vacation and we had plans to enjoy the week at the lake. We left the marina, got in the car, drove around the lake back to our cabin — I watched in the side view mirror as the little dog trotted along behind us… the whole way. We got back to the cabin and ran inside, quickly closing the door. When we finally opened the door to exit, there was the dog — sitting there, staring at the door. From that moment on, she was ours. We spent the rest of our vacation taking her to the vet, bathing her (we counted 37 ticks on her little body), and running to the store to buy a collar and dog food. That was our lake vacation, taking care of our new little puppy.

We named her Lucy after Lucille Ball (her coat was strawberry blond). This was the dog who could help me get over the loss of Honey. The vet estimated her age at about two years when we found her. She was brilliant. Everyone loved Lucy. Every night we tucked her into bed with us. Everyday when we returned from work, there she was…waiting for us. She could spell — we had to spell words that would get her excited — g-o, o-u-t, w-a-l-k. But, she still knew what we were talking about. Every time we brought one of our children home after their birth, she was waiting for us at the door . She knew with each new human addition, that her role as a dog became more prevalent.

When Lucy was around eight years old, we felt bad about continuing to have real children, so we decided to get her a dog of her own. My son was just a few months old when we got Scout — who herself was only a few weeks old. A lady at work had a Husky who inadvertently had relations with the neighbors Yellow Lab — we took one of the dogs off her hands. Scout was adorable as a puppy — and just what Lucy needed to fill the void of our growing absence from her life. Scout immediately bonded with us and our kids. And, although Scout weighed about eighty pounds more than Lucy, Lucy was always in charge. Scout would wait for the “OK” from Lucy before she ate or drank. If she ran off, Lucy would bark a couple of times and back Scout would bound. Lucy had a baby of her own.

When Lucy died, we were all deeply affected. Her death came just months after my father had passed away. We cried for days… still cry now at the memories we didn’t get to experience. We buried her in our back yard. The kids all placed an item in her grave to ease her journey. I said a prayer. And Scout stood there, bewildered — the loss could be seen in her eyes, straight to her soul. For weeks, we couldn’t get Scout to eat. She paced the house at night, scared to settle down. She wouldn’t walk outside unless we walked beside her. Lucy had taken care of her all those years. Lucy was the one who woke us up in the middle of the night when Scout suffered a stroke. Lucy was the one who came and got us when Scout hurt her leg and couldn’t walk. The loss for Scout was beyond measure.

So, once again, we decided that Scout needed a dog of her own. To hopefully get her out of her depression. Just a few months after Lucy had passed, we went to the shelter — just to look. If you’ve ever been to a shelter with your children, you know that just looking is not an option. There he was, the most adorable ball of fur we had ever seen. He was shaking with fear, so timid. We spent about thirty minutes with him before I filled out the paper work to make him our own. The workers told me he was a cross between a Blue-Heeler and an Australian Shepard and would be about forty-five pounds — we had struck gold. Boo would be his name (yes, there’s a To Kill A Mockingbird theme in our house). Boo passed the forty-five pound mark when he was about four months old. Turns out the shelter worker was a little off on his breed combination theory — the vet says Great Pyrenees is more likely in his blood. Our adorable ball of fur now weighs about 120 pounds.

But, he did his job. He brought Scout out of her depression. He gave her a reason to be the adult. Scout lets Boo know when he is allowed to eat and when he should come in. Boo exercises his free will a little more than Scout ever did. And, he definitely is having trouble learning the leave us alone when we want trick. We’re still hoping the smart gene kicks in on him, soon — he’s a little over a year old now — we’re tired of waiting.

Scout is getting older, she is twelve now and not in very good condition. The stroke left her with some lingering problems. The torn ACL in her knee requires that she use the wheelchair ramp in the back of our house to get in and out. But she smiles… still, and she loves Boo — so we try to follow her prompts and love him too. We will miss Scout when she’s gone… we try to prepare ourselves for that time — we weren’t prepared for Lucy’s death.

But for now, we love our dogs. They keep us safe. They keep us entertained. They help us understand unconditional love — lessons they don’t even realize they’re teaching us. I am a dog person — no doubt about it.

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Thanksgiving is just days away. The family will be gathering at my home this year — for the first time. I love to throw a party. Without a doubt, I absolutely feed off the “working the crowd” aspect of any good party. There’s always plenty to eat — and drink. But, I will let you know now that I’m a little intimidated by the ‘Thanksgiving Feast’ occurring in my home. This will be my first attempt to host the hoopla (did I mention this?) which, of course means, my first attempt to cook a turkey — a whole turkey — stuffed with dressing. (I would advice any family members to bring peanut butter sandwiches, just in case.)

As a child, I would always help my grandmother cook. She made things I have no chance of recreating — fudge, Boston cream candy, peanut butter balls, the best pie crust… ever. During the holidays, I was always the official dressing taster. I remember pulling a chair beside my grandmother as she ever so carefully chopped celery and onions, melted butter, added a little stock and a pinch of this and that. I would always taste it, to let her know if it needed more salt or pepper or sage. I did this with my mother too, before every holiday meal — just last year.

My mom was a great cook as well — she even wrote a cookbook (in her first life, as we say in the family). My mom had this special topping she put on the turkey that we all picked off as soon as the bird came out of the oven. Not to be out-done, my father had a job during the holiday’s — turkey carver. It’s always the father’s job to carve the turkey isn’t it? My brother took over these duties when my father passed away. It’s hard… to take over a tradition that you were once the recipient of and not the creator of — it means you’ve suffered a loss. I can see the angst in my brother when he’s asked to carve the turkey or bless the meal. But, it’s his tradition now.

We had a special tradition at my family’s get together each year — an oven fire. Every year, like clockwork, about fifteen minutes before it was ready — the meal caught fire. Not in a ruined dinner way, but definitely in a freaked out the pets and kids with the fire alarm way. We really tried to avoid this, year after year. But, the yearly fire seemed imminent. One year, my father grabbed the turkey out of the oven so fast when the fire alarm sounded that he dropped the whole thing in the kitchen floor (my sister snapped a picture at just the right time or we would have never known — we still ate it, the five second rule got a bit of an extension for this case).

My husband and I were making our list for the big feast — what are we cooking, what are we ordering, what are we asking everyone else to bring. I brought up the question of whether to buy nice paper products or to use the real china. We decided it would be very special of us to use the good china. (Of course the main reason to not use it is the extra long clean up we are anticipating — formality wins.) But then he said, “What about the silverware? You know the real silverware?”

When my husband and I got married, we decided to not get real silverware. We opted for extra nice everyday ware instead — yes the same extra nice everyday ware that seemed not nearly as fashionable a few years later. My grandmother, recognizing the error in my thinking, told me to take her silverware. Her real silverware, the silverware that had belonged to her grandmother. I’ve never opened the case — she passed away thirteen years ago. So, “what about the silverware?” Well, my first response was, “No, absolutely not. Do you have any idea how much that stuff is worth?”

Yes, the stuff I’ve never even opened until now — a few days before the first Thanksgiving to be hosted at my home.

Thanksgiving is such a warm, feel-good family time. The day always starts with the Macy’s Parade. Then, there’s always some sort of football game going on. I always wanted to be one of those families that had the huge football game in the front yard. Too competitive. Once in a while we will break out the Trivial Pursuit game — I used to read the cards several weeks before Thanksgiving so I was fully prepared, my brain is filled with useless trivia. But, the day always progresses nicely. It will end nicely as well as long as we all follow the 24 hour clause (you know, the everyone can get along for 24 hours but past that it’s time to go home clause).

Then there’s the issue of who sits where. I will definitely have a children’s table — all good get togethers do. My husband and I were always relegated to the children’s table (a direct result of my being the youngest), even once we had kids of our own. It’s not that bad really, you can eat all the food from the kids plates that they don’t eat and then no one thinks you ate that much so no one questions the amount of dessert on your plate later. I think I will sit at the adult table this year — surely I get that priviledge.

I received some good advice when I expressed anxiety over recreating those special dishes of my mother’s and my grandmother’s. It was, to make it my own. I will attempt the old standards — attempt to achieve the perfect dressing and turkey topping. But, I’ll add some new in with it. We always can create lasting memories, even when our mother’s and father’s have passed on. But, I dearly hope those don’t involve a fire or the turkey splayed across my kitchen floor. So, we will opt for the real china and the real silverware — family deserves that much don’t they? Especially the ones that recognize the 24 hour clause.

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The Music In Me

My husband and I took our two oldest kids to their first real concert a few days ago. It was Paramore — haven’t heard of them? Well, look them up — it was great. But, the best part was being involved in what is sure to be a great memory for the kids.

I remember my first real concert — Chic, 1978, I was ten (you remember, Aahh Freak Out!). I went with my best friend and her dad. We stood on the chairs and danced and thought that it couldn’t get any better than that moment in time. Music plays such an important role in all our memories — good , sad, scared. Music is always there. I love those songs that when I hear them, I immediately go back to that time — to those memories. I can hear the sounds of my friends voices, I can smell the scents that were floating around (which in many cases was Obsession perfume mixed with draft which is the reason I can no longer stomach either one).

I was driving around recently and heard “Brown Eyed Girl” — there I was, sitting at that pub in Memphis with all my girlfriends, singing as loud as we could on any given Wednesday night. Never underestimate the power of an 80’s movie soundtrack. Those sounds make me long for parachute pants and mullets. I can always find a good 80’s movie on cable and when I do, most likely, “Melt With You” will be somewhere in the soundtrack. When I hear it — my thoughts go straight to every high school dance I ever attended. Then there’s always the more obscure sounds — like every time I hear a Grateful Dead song, I have an unrelenting need to twirl around with my head down and my hands waving in that weird circular pattern.

My mom told me of a story from her college days. The Beatles were playing a show nearby and somehow a group of girls found out what hotel they were staying at. When the girls arrived at the hotel they were, of course, turned away. The girls came up with an alternate plan. Unfortunately, it involved scaling a wall and my mother had NO athletic ability — at all. So, she went back to her dorm and, so the story goes, her friends wound up in John Lennon’s hotel room. I tried to convince my mother that her friends were lying to her, that this never actually happened. But, she always stood by the story — and always recounted it when a Beatles song was playing (with much longing to have been the girl who sat on John Lennon’s bed).

Music was there at some very important times in my life. Bryan Adams, “Everything I Do” was playing when I fell in love with my husband (I have it on a cassette although I haven’t owned a cassette player in a few years). I can’t hear Anthony Skinner sing “Tall Angels” without remembering my father’s funeral; or Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise” without remembering my mother’s funeral. Whatever the memories, music is always there. Weaving its way around, filling all my thoughts and senses.

When I was in college, my brother was touring with a popular singer. We took my grandmother to the concert — she was probably 82 at the time. We had to buy her ear plugs and we brought a cushioned seat for her to sit on. But she was there. Watching and listening (albeit with her hands over her ear plugged ears) and laughing — with us. We share music with people we love and people we don’t know.

So, taking my kids to their first real concert was a memory for me that I very selfishly created. I will always be a part of that story when they retell it to their friends, and their children, and their grandchildren. The downside to it all is that their favorite Paramore song is called Ignorance. So, every time they hear that song, it will remind them of their dear old mom — great.

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Free Will

When my (then) husband and I decided to build a house four years ago, we picked a house plan that was two stories, four bedrooms — all upstairs. Now, at the time, we joked about how the kids would never be able to sneak out at night with all their bedrooms so high up. Of course, this wasn’t the only reason for picking this house plan — but it was a thought.

I am the youngest of four children. Our parents could boast that we never spent any time in a correctional facility, we never robbed anyone at gunpoint, we never ran away from home (I don’t think sneaking out the window and returning before sunrise counts), we all went to college. It wasn’t ideal I suppose — strictly because I’m not sure what ideal would look like. But, I’d say we had a pretty good growing up period (despite the fact that mom and dad were divorced for fifteen years, they re-married each other… but, that’s another story).

My father had a less than good growing up period. He was the oldest of six. His biological father was never around and his mother was unable to financially care for the kids. She placed them in a “children’s home” that was located near their town. My father very rarely spoke of his time there — as best I can recall, he went there when he was around nine. He did share fond memories of the other children he met there and of at least one woman who helped out on the farm where the boys from the “home” worked. He also had some profound nightmares that he never completely divulged to me.

There was a man though — who saw the potential in a scared little boy. A man who wanted to help my father escape from the nightmares of the “home”. His name was Fielding Chandler. He volunteered in the “children’s home” and was drawn to these siblings who had arrived there so young and so scared. Pop — as we called him — helped my dad achieve in academics (he went to college to become an engineer), athletics (he was a state track champ in high school), and mostly he showed him how to be a dad. He was our grandfather. That’s what we knew. I don’t think it ever really dawned on us that we weren’t really related — maybe later in life, as we were able to piece together my father’s childhood.

When my mother passed away a few months ago, I was going through some of her things and found some letters that were written to my grandfather from the headmaster of the “children’s home”. One letter was in regards to a request that Pop had made to spend Thanksgiving with my dad. The headmaster refused (although my grandmother had approved the request) siting that he believed Mr. Chandler would help my father more if he was an outsider. The rage that burned inside of me as I read this letter and subsequent letters from the headmaster was animal-like, raw, instinctual.

I wanted to immediately Google this man (yes, I live in an age where Google can answer all questions) — although I knew he had long since passed away. But, I had a need to tell his children and grandchildren what a complete ass he was. I wanted to defend this little boy who had no one. But, of course, I did not. My father didn’t need me to reach through time and save him from those horrible nightmares. Pop did that. This was my grandfather, no blood relation, no legal relation — yet this was my grandfather.

I think it would have been easy for my father’s life to turn out very different — he made choices. He didn’t always make the perfect choice, but he made the perfect amount of right choices. There must have been a weird cycle of dysfunction that was pretty mad at Mr. Chandler for not remaining an outsider.

So, the two-story house plan. Not necessarily chosen to completely keep my children at bay — but it will help. It’s so strange how life works isn’t it? Some people parent so much that their kids have no other choice but to rebel. And other people disregard their children and they turn out great. Free will — how completely strange it is.

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