Monday, May 31, 2010

I Volunteer...

As close as I'll ever get to Lance...sigh.

Oh, and how could I set foot on true Texas Dirt and not have a pair of these?!?

Quite a bit. Volunteering runs through my veins like the blood my mother used to help drain from other peoples bodies.  She had done Blood Drives for the Red Cross since the war, right up to a few years before she died.  She was the old-fashioned style nurse with pefectly white uniforms, and the perfectly starched - then folded and pinned- pointed cap that her nursing school adopted.  Each school, my mother had explained to my sister and me, had its own design of cap.  Style maven that she was, my mother chose a nursing school straight out of high school that was forty some odd miles away from home.  She liked their 'cap' the most.  Given my penchant for monster movies, I  personally  would have been a bit worried if a nurse  showed up at my bedside dressed like this...

Arline Constance Gifford
Graduation. 20 years old.

When I was of that certain age, I tromped down to the local Blood Drive to do my part.  They told me I didn't weigh enough for my height to give blood.  I can't tell you what this did to my fragile ego.  I had already been through the same thing at the recruiting office.  I couldn't even volunteer to be shot at. I would have been good too.  Living with my sister had made me the master of evasion. Never the less, the Red Cross Nurses put me to work emptying wastebaskets of bio hazard stuff and bringing cookies and orange juice to their victims.   On the occasion of my father receiving his first - of many -  'Gallon Donated'  pins, I asked my mother, after noticing her lack of even one little plastic drop of blood pin,  "Do you donate blood?"   Her reply was not only one of her classics, but served to show me a bit of the side of my mother I did not often see.  She said, " Oh good grief,  no.  Laying there with all that bright red blood running out of me, are you kidding?"

A few years later I was forced to be subjected to all sorts of immunizations for a job.  I drove over a hundred miles to the medical office my mother was working in to have her give me the shots. 

Three shots, all to the arms.  I didn't have a lot of excess fat on me and strange nurses had a tendency to not listen to me when I would tell them, "You need to use a shorter needle,"  while they proceeded to jab me, straight to the bone.  Ow?  If you have ever had the opportunity to experience needle-crunching-bone you know what I mean.

I should have stayed home.  My mother had all three short-needled hypodermics lined up on a tissue covered tray.  I sat down.  Then she, my very own mother, picked up the first needle, slowly fanned it in front of my face, and said,  "Do you remember... when you knocked over your Grandmother's entire butler's tray of Waterford crystal....."

Total silence ensued as the numbness of one who is feeling betrayed swept over me. I went deaf. Couldn't hear a thing, my eyes began to fog over.  But, through the haze that was slowly enveloping the room, did I see that, by now, all  too familiar twinkle in her eye trying to be repressed?

Suddenly a tall body in a shirt with monogrammed cuffs slid through the door.  My mother could no longer hold it in and was overcome by a fit of hysterics that forced her to slump in a nearby chair.  It was the doctor she worked for.

 Keeping this in perspective, this man was The Genius of heart doctors.  Youngest member at the time to ever be admitted to the American Assoc. of Cardiologists. Henry Fonda was under his care during a filming in the state (and yes, my mother got his autograph on a prescription pad).  Christian Barnard was his hero.   For a moment I thought there might be magical, invisible EKG machines monitoring my heart and all the red lights had gone off in his office, set flashing by the possible slight heart attack I may have just had, until....

He said,  "I heard nothing but silence, figured I'd better make sure you hadn't fainted!"      He was in on it too. My mother was good. Great even.   I may never live up to her.  But I keep trying.  Ask my kids.   But no, on second thought, they still are not quite old enough to appreciate this stuff.....

I maintain my Secret Blog Status.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

At Some Point...

My Grandson and Me
When he still had cute hair.

Yes Jacob, at some point you will be keeper of the stuff.  All the stuff I have been dragging around with me for too many years to count.  Stuff that hasn't been 'unloaded' on your mother already, as my mother did to me, and her mother to her long before that.  It is tradition, with the most meaningful stuff waiting until the end, and the stories that go with them.

And in case you were wondering, Grandma does have a bit of an evil side she inherited from her mother, and unfortunately your mother inherited from me. It's that part of me that just cannot let an innocent question go unanswered, that part of me that so wants to force you to remember that innocent question when you are forty years old, and wonder why you asked it.   And maybe wish you hadn't...

When you asked me last week while I was at your house visiting, why your mother always makes a growling noise when she is irritated I told you,   "Your mother was raised in the forest by a pack of wild dogs until she was three."

Knowing why I said this was the reason your mother had to race into the other room. She was stifling hysterics, and really didn't want the story told at this particular point in your life. She knew if you saw her laugh you would ask why. But just in case your mother conveniently forgets the story by the time this tid-bit that has been implanted in your fore brain decides to rear its curious head, I tell you now.  Your mother sometimes has a selective memory.

Your mother was never really happy when your uncle was born. Much like I invaded my sister's perfectly groomed nest, so did your uncle invade your mother's solitary world.   Your mother never really spoke much when she was small.  She reserved her energy for more important things.  In fact, she spoke so little that her grandmother, the nurse, said we should take her to the doctor for an extra check, just to be sure she didn't have a brain tumor in her leg or something.  The doctor said your mother knew all sorts of words that a kid her age normally didn't understand, her vocabulary was incredible in fact.  She had informed the doctor quite simply she didn't have anything to say most of the time.    This worried me a bit.  My sister was very quiet as well.  Which usually meant she was scheming and I was going to be her victim again.   Well anyway, your mother would certainly never speak to strangers.

One day when I went to the grocery store, I had your uncle in his little baby seat in the grocery cart, and your mother was seat-belted into the little child seat in the cart.  This was way back in the nice old days when a pimply-faced high school kid would bag the groceries and actually follow us to the car, then load the groceries into the car.   Well this particularly nice kid even unloaded your uncle and strapped him into the back seat.  The problem arose when he went to lift your mother out of the cart and put her in the car too.   He started to pick her up, and we heard a distinct growl.  Neither one of us was sure what had just happened and the kid set your mother back down in the seat.  We  looked for a vicious doberman that had escaped it's tether.  Hmm. Nothing.  He picked your mother up again, partially out of the seat.   Big mistake.  Your mother growled  louder this time and actually bared her teeth at the kid. 

It must have been the look of horror on my face that made the kid apologize and say he really had to go, as he raced back to the safety of the store.    I said to your mother,  "Julie, why did you growl at the poor grocery kid?"    Your mother in all her young years of wisdom and sparsity of words, replied, "It worked. I didn't want him picking me up." 

This is the lesson of cause and effect, action and reaction your mother discovered at such a tender age.  From that day forward, if your uncle dared approach a cookie that was on your mother's plate, she growled.  She didn't stop it until she went to kindergarten and it upset her teacher.   

We think this is why your uncle does not like dogs.  He has two cats that he treats like dogs. They act like dogs and follow him around the house, wait in the windows for him to come home from work.  But they are not dogs. And they do not growl. 

I should probably confess as well, that after I called my sister to tell her of your mother's growling and subsequent explanation, I had to drive your mother to Maine. My sister could not live without seeing this in the flesh.  We had to go to the grocery store, well, you get the picture.  

Friday, May 28, 2010

Memorial Day

Thank You

I'm a WWII kid.  You could even say a product of War.  Though I was born ten years after the end of said war, I grew up in an environment of Bomb Shelter Sales, as opposed to an entire living room of furniture for under $1,000.00.

Ten years is a long time for a pervasive fear to persist, yet Hitler managed it.  He invaded the minds then hearts of though not a necessarily vulnerable society, but certainly one that was looking for something different. His delusions of a perfect society, a perfect world order characterized by his - at least in the beginning - charismatic charm, evidently sunk in.

When I was in grade school my class was shown black and white films that were confiscated from the German Army at the end of the war.  Films depicting Prisoners of War being executed, bodies stacked like cord wood on lorries being wheeled to mass graves, even photos of twins subjected to bizarre medical experiments.  Our teachers would stress the shock value to the rear of these films was the point; no one should ever forget what even just one, simply out of control mind, can inflict on society. We should never forget the power  a sociopathic mind is capable of.  Be ever mindful of symptoms.

That which is lost, will always find its way home.

While I lived in the city, I had the pleasure of living next door to a victim of the insanity that the World Wars inflicted, though at first I assure you, it was not pleasant.   I had rented an apartment next door to an elderly couple that I never had so much as glimpsed  until one day...

I decided to wash the car in the sloping driveway.  I didn't even think about the runoff that would soon create a huge pile of soap bubbles in the driveway next door.   While I washed the car, the soap bubbles insideously slid down the driveway, and created a mountain of white poofy bubbles in the driveway next door, just beyond the stockade fence the elderly couple had erected long before my arrival. 

Shortly after I had finished the car the police arrived.  The same police I worked with.  "There's been a complaint from the neighbor."  "What?"  I said totally confused,  "Against me?"    "Ah, yuh," my co-worker continued, " apparently your soap bubbles are in his driveway..."   All this while he was trying not to bust out into the loud guffaws he was known for at work.   "Did you speak to him?" I asked as I wandered around the fence onto the sidewalk to survey my bubbles.  As I stared at the mountain of bubbles I said,  "Well, my bubbles are definitely trespassing, I'll go apologize."   "Um, ah, nah, I wouldn't do that if I were you, he uh, has, uh, a box..."   "A box?"   Now I was confused.  I understood elderly people in their solitary worlds, along with the self-imposed isolation of some that facilitated their irritation of anything disturbing their world, and their property, as they knew it.  But a box?   He continued,  "A box of your kids toys. Balls and stuff that ended up over the short fence in the back yard."  Jeese, I'd been wondering why I felt as though I should buy stock in children's rubber ball manufacturers since we had moved in.  Maybe even a rubber company.   Great, we were living next door to Joseph Mengala, they really had not found him, must have been an imposter 'cause he was next door.    "Well, I'm goin' over anyway, if we bother him that much something had better give."

His wife invited me in after I had explained why I was there.  She had that 'I just watched the scariest horror movie and I am still scared'  expression on her face as she led me into the living room where her husband sat in his deluxe Lazy-Boy throne.  I ended up spending over two hours in the immaculate little house they had lived in for well over fifty years.  I left after being handed the now infamous box

It would come to pass that the Mr.'s chronic health problems became life threatening. The first time his wife came to our door in tears and frantic, she couldn't apologize enough.   "I didn't know what else to do, our son is at work, he fell down the stairs, he won't go to the hospital," she moaned, wringing her hands in anxiety.   It was 7:30 in the morning, I had just gotten off a midnight shift and was tired, which meant I was not in any shape to mess around.  I followed his wife next door.  There he lay in a heap at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me with tears in his eyes.  "I can't get up myself, I'm sorry, please, would you help me?"    He wouldn't have the ambulance, so after determining he had no visible horrendous injuries, I straightened him out, picked him up and put him in the Lazy-Boy.   Girls can do things like that, especially when the subject only weighs about ninety-eight pounds.  I became the go-to kid for them.  Their health collectively declined. Since neither could no longer drive, the vintage, impeccably kept Buick - twenty-thousand original miles -  sat in the garage.  If one ended up in the hospital I would go get them upon release  and bring them home.  If they couldn't turn the valve on the O2 tank I ran over and did it.  Even when their fifty-four year old son who lived with them was home.  I could not understand this until one day...

The gentleman's wife called.  "My husband would like to speak to you."   "Oh gosh, am I in trouble?"     Hesitantly she replied, "No, I'm not sure what he needs."  When I arrived he asked me to sit.  What he then proceeded to tell me was an unprecedented act of humble courage on his part, one that not only  taught me a life lesson I will never forget, but served to debunk the myth that 'people cannot change.'

He began by slowly unbuttoning the cuff to one of the many long sleeved shirts he always wore, even during the summer, no matter how hot it got.  What his lower arm revealed was a tattoo.  Yeah, the real deal, a concentration camp tattoo of his prisoner number.  I was horrified.  I thought about my initial joke concerning Joseph Mengala.  I was glad he would never know.    When he spoke, he began with his story.  He had been young, he and his parents were rousted out of bed one night by Nazi soldiers, for committing the crime of practising the wrong religious persuasion.   At the concentration camp his parents were shot before his eyes, while the guards laughed.   It was then, he said, he began to hate.  It took a lot of energy, but he managed it with enthusiasm.  Even after his liberation from the camp. Even after kind relatives who had already escaped to the United States had come to bring him here, his hate and mistrust never faltered.

This hate he confided, had colored his entire life so thoroughly even his own children wanted nothing to do with him.   It was when he was at his most helpless, when the vision that never died of his parents being executed was foremost in his mind, when he had to ask for help from a relative stranger and that stranger did not refuse,  did he realize his whole life had been a waste.  As I sat with tears running rivers on my face, I saw for the first time, the anger that had always been so much a part of his normal expression was no longer there.  I could think of nothing to say but, "I'm sorry these things happened to you.  So sorry."    His reply still haunts me, because his children knew his story, yet still refused to see.   " No, I am sorry for being so mean to you and your family when you moved here.  I know now.  I have tried to apologize to my children but they will have none of it.  I knew you would listen." 

There was no need to assure him my behaviour had simply been what decent people do.  He knew that now.  I thanked him for telling me his story, that it had added an enormous dimension to my heart and life, a gift of such tremendous depth I didn't know if I was capable of holding onto such a treasure, and how would I use it?   But I knew I would try.   He died less than a week later.  I grieved for his sorrow in having had to leave without the forgiveness he so desperately needed from his own children.  I also realized that my grandmother's alleged 'old wive's tale' was not a fallacy.  If Grandpa hasn't been feeling well, and sends his good blue suit out to be cleaned one day, get ready for the end of the story.  Its coming soon.   I called my dad later that day to thank him for not only serving his country, but helping to free the tormented.  My mother said later the call had made him cry, he always had felt so badly for the children he had encountered overseas.  Now he knew first hand that when the war had ended, the torment did not necessarily end as well.

It wasn't until ten or so years later, the memory of the dear old man came boiling to the surface.  For all of us.  I was in the company of my second hideous mistake (now ex-husband if you wish), and one of his sons who was fast attaining the goal of  'professional student.'  The son was twenty-five years old, had been in school all his life and, in order to avoid a four year degree, continued to drastically change college majors.   He and his father were having a discussion about war, and how we should never engage, nor participate.  In front of me.  I volunteered for 9/11. The son had been in a dorm ordering pizza to watch the carnage of 9/11 on TV.    The son had already made a statement concerning the decision to land on a specific career depended on what choices would exclude him from any involuntary draft that may be re instituted.

We have learned. Thanks are given freely now.

I think I stopped breathing.  I wasn't going to be capable of intelligent verbiage.  And frankly I didn't care. The basis of my emotions, memories flooding through me of others who had suffered unimaginably, were choking me.  And then my mother took over.  The voice, so much like hers when her emotions were inflamed, that uttered words from my very own throat was low, even-toned, but not flat.  Fueled with anger and disgust I said,  " Oh, so would you like to be a police officer? I don't think they can be drafted.  But no,  those guys fight a war everyday on the streets so that people like you can walk to the store at midnight and not get mugged for your expensive sneakers.  Hmmm.  Let me think.  Teachers?  Are they eligible for the draft?   And by the way, are they teaching you that people, men like my father, fought so that you could sit here today and figure out a way to avoid fighting for every freedom imaginable?"     I knew if I stood there any longer I would explode.  I walked away.   I heard laughter behind me.   They thought it was funny.   It was not.  Neither cared about the point.   The son not wanting to be forced into a structured environment that would train him to fight in combat, and possibly be injured or killed.  The father not wanting to lose his candy-ass son.   Pathetic.    I silently said "Thank You"  to those looking down on me that had not avoided a duty of honor.

So during this long weekend, while we all enjoy the benefits of the freedom those before us have fought to maintain, please take time to thank the Veterans, in any way you can. Just buying a poppy shows you care.  Power struggles and war have existed since the begining of time.  They will not stop now simply because we want them to. . Forget about petty partisan politics, and remember you are free to live a law abiding life without fear of being dragged from your bed.   Remember how this freedom came about.

Thank You Buddy. Buddy turns nintey years old this July. The infantry company he served with was named  'SHAVETAIL.'  He saw the aftermath of Normandy first hand.  It still brings tears to his eyes. 

Thank You Mr. & Mrs. Gerrish, for opening your home to servicemen waiting for family to pick them up for leave. (The garnet pin was a gift from Mrs. Gerrish.  Worchester, Ma.)

Veterans are everywhere around you, come in all ages, shapes and sizes.  Living and dead.  Thank the Living.  Before it is too late.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I go Down To The Sea

Because it is in my blood.

When I smell the air, heavy with the same salt running through my veins that keeps me alive, I feel a certain peace that only the ocean can make.  I also needed a whole lot of these...

Mostly slipper shells.

I needed  a whole lot of these to place in the drainage creek that runs off the vegetable fields into the pond, that happens to have deficient calcium levels.  Which probably isn't making Fred, the enormous bullfrog who resides there, happy.  Slow leaching from the shells will replace the calcium without shocking Fred and his buddies right out of the neighborhood. I should mention that Fred is camera shy. I know exactly where he takes his morning sunbath.  He allows me near enough to see his enormity and always, just as I raise the camera, he lets out a loud croak, jumps about a foot in into the air while doing a full turn, then a perfect swan dive back into the pond. In about a half a second flat.  Bullfrog Olympics at its best.  I'm thinking Nanny Cam...  Anyway, after collecting the big ole smelly bag full of shells, along with a fair amount of seaweed just for good measure, I sat for a long time in the sand, just loving being there.  High tide was arriving, waves crashed against the rocks, while crabs scurried around looking for the last good eats before the tide pushed on in.

The reason I was down at the shore on Wednesday to begin with was since my son installed the tie (tye, ty, Thai, ti [?]) rod on my car, with the necessary alignment to follow, I could get the thing down to the dealership to have the recall part replaced.  And I am certainly  not going to be that close to the ocean and not go there, never mind killing three or four birds with one stone.  

The only problem was I was driving this...

This is not my car...

It is a loaner the dealership gave me to drive while they were fixing mine.  Probably not a good idea on their part. I asked them for an old truck I saw just sitting there doing nothing with a dealer plate on it, but they said, "Oh no, you don't want to be driving that old thing."    No, I'd like to own it but never mind, I drove off to the beach. 

When it was time to hike the three quarter mile back to the car, I grabbed the shells and headed off, past this.

Nice, huh?!

 Threw the shells in the trunk and headed off to visit with my daughter and watch my grandson's baseball game. Have I failed to note we by-passed spring, summer has arrived and it was 91 degrees? 

 My daughter has never lived within a stones throw of the nuclear power plant in the area.   I wonder if any of the other kid's families have.  My grandson is of average height and weight for a kid his age, falling dead center in the fancy chart the pediatricians use these days.   The teams are all grouped in age brackets.  I mention these things because of this...

My Grandson In Green Jersey.

Its definitely a "Whats wrong with this picture?" classic.   The kid looked like he was the jolly green giant compared to all the other kids his age. He could have been Herman Munster crashing around the bases.  I asked him later if he felt a bit strange, his reply was, "No Grandma, I just have to be really careful not to trip over them."  I told him maybe he should skip football in the fall.......

After the game we walked to the cars, and much like a typical twelve year old, he had to inspect the car I was driving.  It was all cool until he said, "How come your drivers seat is so dirty?"   Oops.  Well I had been sitting in the sand and seaweed for quite a while, in fact the seat of my pants was still damp.   "Ah, I'll go to your house and clean it, no big deal."  My cell phone rang on the way to their house but I don't use it while driving, so when we arrived at my daughters house I checked the message.  It was the dealership. They didn't have the part in stock and would have it Friday afternoon.  Goody, I get to go back to the beach. Yay.

Later that evening my daughter made up the couch for me and we all went to bed early, "School night Grandma." It was absolutely gorgeous the next morning, unlike the day before when I had left the farm and it was 41 degrees. This morning it was already 75 degrees and not yet eight o'clock. I took coffee out to the deck.  While staring off into space and at nothing in particular, I noticed my eyes had fixated on spots all over the red loaner in the driveway. Yuk, thing was covered in seagull poop. Oh well, have to run it through the car wash before returning it.  It was then that I noticed an odd smell...

Sort of smelled like a septic tank back up, but there was no septic tank here. Maybe a sewer pipe break? My eyes wandered back to the trunk of the loaner and as it dawned on me what I was smelling a tidal wave of horror washed over every inch of me, one inch at a time, through all six feet of me.  I raced inside to get the car key, flew to the trunk, took a deep breath, held it, and opened the trunk.  Hot, contained air immediately rose out of the trunk along with a rotting sea life odor so strong it nearly bowled me over.  Rats.  Forgot all about the bag of shells. Stuff had been cooking in there since yesterday.  Somehow I don't think the dealership will appreciate the smell of the sea as much as I do. I put the bag of shells off to the side, and instead of going back to the beach, I spent the remainder of the morning twisting little bread bag twisty ties into one long enough piece to hook between the trunk lid and the body of the car. My plan was to drive the twenty-six miles to return the car, with the trunk lid ever so slightly flapping in the breeze, hopefully airing it out some.  

I stopped a few blocks before the dealership to remove the twisty ties and shut the trunk.  They were busy, everyone wanted their car fixed before the weekend. A worker flew up to the loaner while I was putting my stuff into the trunk of my car. I said, "Um, you  might want to let that thing air out in the back lot a while, I collected stuff at the beach and it still sort of, well, reeks."  He opened the trunk and took a step back. "Don't worry about it, it'll dissipate in no time."  But he drove it to the back of the lot with the trunk wide open.

Today, work, spreading my hard earned shells through the channel I made that directs the runoff into the pond.

The moral of the story is; if someone tells you they prefer to drive an old truck with so much bondo and primer on it one cannot tell what the original color of the truck may have been, let them.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Conspiracy Theorist

A Single Event
Can Awaken within us
A Stranger
Totally Unknown.
St. Exupery

My mother was a Conspiracy Theorist from way back.  It might have started during the war, when she would receive letters from my father with the big red CENSORED stamp on the front of the envelope. The government after all, had to make sure there weren't any loose lips sinking ships out there. Occasionally, but not too often, one of my father's letters would have blacked out words or phrases confirming the censor had indeed read every word he had written.  This made my mother nervous. It also made her wonder exactly what the person behind the solid black hash marks in her letters was like. Was IT a he or a she?  Were they single, married, have children and where, for gaud sakes, were They?  Granted she had a full time job, as well as her parents and grandmother to care for, but my mother was a multi-tasker before the phrase came into existence.  In other words, she had far too much time on her hands.

So in her spare time my mother would watch movies ( The Spy Who Came In From The Cold  &  Rear Window were her favorites early on), read the evening newspaper, and hang out with other wives whose loved ones were in the armed services.  Often they would sit on the front porch and catch a glimpse of enormous war planes flying out of Pease Air Force Base.  This could be where my mother's suspicious nature peaked.  I say peaked as though the word implies a downward trend at some point.  This is not what I mean.  Peaked, in this case, means it reached its highest level, and remained there.   My father's letters, when later combined with pictures of the aftermath of Normandy he had taken, served to fuel my mother's healthy imagination into overdrive.  And so, as a result of my mother's naturally suspicious nature, my sister and I grew up in an environment of quietly 'questionable circumstances.'

This Nurture As Opposed to Nature environment was not out of the ordinary for my sister and me.  It was, however, a bit unsettling for our friends.   They tried to stay out of our mothers way to avoid disturbing exchanges.  If my sister would ask, "Are we having tuna for lunch?"  our mother would reply, "Who wants to know?"   This was disturbing because our friends were well aware she was not referring to any of us.  They were also a bit unnerved by the yellowing Rosie The Riveter and  Uncle Sam Wants YOU posters in the cellar.  Uncle Sam appeared to be pointing at whomever was fixated on the poster at the time.  Our mother would tell us it would not be out of the ordinary - directly after Pearl Harbor - while she was outside hanging up clothes to dry on the line, to have a set of work boots appear in the grass at her feet, with the body in those boots lurking directly behind the sheet she was attempting to clothespin to the line (wow, who even says that anymore the line, back then everyone just knew one was referring to the clothesline...).  In the boots would be our grandfather, decked out in his official Civil Defense Sky Watcher jacket, binoculars strung round his neck, listening for approaching planes, that were not 'ours.'

Poor Guy      Dad

Years later, during military social events, my mother would spot my father and another poor guy in a uniform appearing to be glancing side to side, without moving their heads, while talking.  Even appearing to be in a conversation one does not want others privy to was not a good thing to do around my mother (I should mention whispering was forboden). Directly upon noticing said conversation, she would immediately survey her battleground, and start slithering over to my father through the maze of  event goers simply there to socialize.  Or so they thought. This could be the greatest ruse of all time, it could possibly be an event to disguise a meeting between generals, heads of state even, who knew? Once she had successfully reached a point directly behind my father, she would say in that perfected registered nurse tone, "How are we doing over here?"    My father never got over my mother creeping up on him when he least expected it scaring the bejesus out of him.  He began to stand with his back to the wall when she was in the near vicinity, even while home.   My sister - who could never resist a snarky remark opportunity -  would say,  "Holding up the wall Dad?"   "Your mother did this to me." he would nonchalantly reply, and continue reading the newspaper.

And it is in this vein, the one my mother made sure my sister and I also flowed through without impediment,  I end with a telephonic conversation between my mother and I that occurred in 1989. She had called to thank me for the birthday card I had sent.


"It's your mother."

"I gathered."

"How could you tell?"

"You told me."

" Oh. The birthday card you sent arrived this morning. The 'She Came, She Criticized, She Left' was cute."

"Glad you liked it.."

"So what are you trying to tell me?"

"Nothing Mom, it's just a funny card."

"Your father would like a list of the Stephen King books you don't have. Hes been lurking at church bazaars again."


"Send it to the post office box."

"Why, is someone after you?"

"Very funny, you know when I lose it I'll be the frizzy-haired old lady who thinks she's being followed by a double agent."

"I know."

"I should have been a nurse for the CIA."

"I know."

"Do they have nurses?"

"I don't know, Julia Childs was a cook."

"I can't cook."

"I know."

"Call your sister, she hasn't heard from you in so long she thinks you're in a witness protection program."

"OK, tell Dad thanks for looking for the books."


"See ya."

"Yup, bye."

Incidentally,  I am still on the Colby investigation... You know, the allegedly retired agent that went out for a little jaunt in his canoe.  At one in the morning.  On the Potomac. In February.  Temperatures below freezing.  His wife said it wasn't unusual... They found his body a few weeks later. I still think he, and the Russian ex-KGB officer he was 'working on something at the time' with,  put clues in the computer game they wrote that was sold shortly before Colby assumed his 'dead' identity.  It wasn't the game.  The game was taken off the market immediately.  I had to get it through a Russian site...

And now, if you will excuse me, there has been a plain white van parked across the street for a long period of time...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thanks To The Son

We will have flowers.
In the new step gardens he made in the spring.

We may have grapes.
On the bush he found fading last year.

The back garden is marvelous.

My car is finally repaired.

And the only work to do is find homes for these babies.

But after reading a few blogs yesterday, and actually dreaming of gorgeous blue glassware, I found my mind wandering this morning while picking up dead wood in the yard.   Slowly I began to realize a collection is not truly a collection, if one doesn't add to it...   I haven't added to the bird collection in two years...  Its the only thing my son has laid claim to in the event of my death. 

This is the run off from


The cabinet is of course much too crowded.  I really need another to adequately display the bone china hummingbird, perched on an orchid, and the blue jay (my fave).   Well, you simply must excuse me. I need to sign onto my E-Bay account...................   (!)  Seriously.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Long, Long Time Ago...

My mother wisely advised me to start writing down my adventures.  We were all prolific letter writers to begin with, so writing didn't present a problem.   [ Thank You Mary McBride for teaching me how to write, somewhat...]  In fact, my mother said that someday it would serve to remind me of incidents that would long be forgotten in the wake of many more, over the course of my lifetime, possibly forever.  So I wrote.  I kept these adventures in one specific box, which I have added to over the years, said box dutifully following me through various moves.

Today I dragged the box out of the attic looking for a specific note my son had written when he was about seven.  He had left it on the table for me to find. The fact that I can't find it now, after having last seen it four years ago, is driving me nuts. My son had wanted to go on a church retreat with his friend. For one reason or another I said no.  It was the cutest thing, written in that seven year old scrawl,   "Dear Mom,   I have run away from home.  I have gone with Dominic on the church retreat.  I will take what ever punishment I deserve when I come home.  I will be home Sunday around five o'clock.  Love Your Son  Billy."

What I did find however, was my mother's favorite missive I wrote for her when my kids were little.  It was in response to a telephone conversation I had with my father.  About calling my mother so much.  My excuse had been, "It's therapy."  His reply had been, "It's cheaper to go to a head shrinker than to pay the phone bills."     This was the result...

For those who choose unconventional therapy, there tend to be unforeseeable problems. 

For centuries, siblings have been heard screaming, "I'M TELLIN," before running to their mothers, milliseconds after something trivial has gone awry, a precious possession has been demolished, or simply when there is general disagreement, the subject irrelevant.   Therein lies the reason grown women across the country turn to their own mothers, calling upon this inherent, fundamental need to tell as a form of therapy.

Women reaching the end of the proverbial rope, race through piles of Fischer Price contraptions - or leave the children in the middle of the third round -  arms outstretched making a frenzied grab for the telephone.  "I'M TELLIN," echoes through starched neighborhoods in high pitched adult voices. This frenzied grab begins the call to mother.   Mothers;  the originators of the age old curse, "Wait until you have children of your own."    I am well acquainted with the curse.

I happen to own two children. The fact of ownership constantly debated by them with such remarks as,  "YOU brought me home, I was NOT allowed a vote,"  (which would always incite an Eva Braun moment in me in which I would say "THIS, my little friends, is NOT a democracy..."). To this date I have not consciously admitted to proprietorship of these children in public though I have a tendency to expound on Bombeck's Theory of Embarrassment.   It is not easy knowing grocery store clerks quiver in my children's wake.

 My children were born running, their necks bent in a westerly direction, curiously concerned with where they have been, not where they are headed.  It makes me nervous to watch two hundred and twenty-nine perfectly stacked cans of Spagettios cascade to the tiled floor as my herd swooshes by unconcerned.  I am not amused meeting fellow housewives over the backyard fence to chat, metal detector strapped to my person.  The chats interrupt never ending searches for silverware the children constantly misappropriate as digging tools.  Through years of this I waited.  I knew when the time was right.  In fact, it rolled off my tongue like marbles down the laundry chute,  "WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE CHILDREN OF YOUR OWN,"  I bellowed.  Then I called my mother.  To tell.

In short, I have been calling my mother since the day my children developed their own distinct personalities.  I have heard rumors of other mothers beginning unconventional therapy straight out of the delivery room, but I have not met any in order to confirm this.

Having parents who live hundreds of miles away makes this unconventional therapy an expensive proposition.  I am not under the impression that my parents living so far away is happenstance.  My mother raised me to grow up and fly away from the nest, as she so romantically described what I now look at as getting me out of her hair. Calling her does not simply prevent me from committing mayhem, it serves to reinforce her belief in the curse.  That it works.   It also serves to remind me of the bizarre genes she has passed on, hoping one day she will admit responsibility for it.  Sometimes I even think that she would like me to cut my calls short in the middle of a particularly gory commentary on what the children are up to so that she can watch a full tennis match on T.V.   She will refresh my memory on the rising cost of telephone bills as she flips through the channels.  I interject.   "Why do you think they call it Ma Bell," I whine.   I back up my statement with something she can sink her teeth into.  I advise her ALL mothers are aware of the cost of the comforting little instrument (in ten color choices) that allows them to rack up more of a bill in one hysterical call to Mother than a full day of 'charging it' at Bloomingdale's.

 If there is a mother out there who hasn't had high hopes of selling her first born son to pay for these bills I'd like to meet her.  It's important.  She might not have a son.  Mine has been on the market for two years.  He's asthmatic, a fairly sickly specimen, but he plays a mean first base.

My calls were recently dampened by a request from my father.  The request being to limit my harangues to once a week.  He claims to understand what I go through.  He is glad he married a woman with such a good sense of humor, though he believes the humor seemed to appear at the exact moment I began calling home with stories about his grandchildren.  He also claimed that having Mother rolling in the aisles, literally howling for hours after one of my calls, was not conducive to imaginative dinners, nor original desserts.    I took that to mean he craved a balanced diet.

Mother mentioned my father was looking well these days, losing all that weight.   However, since his request was denied (he, after all, is responsible too), I have been able to reach my mother three times in the last four months, despite my father taking her on two unscheduled vacations, no forwarding address, and at least nine known abductions.  In spite of the problems with this form of unconventional therapy, it remains a viable necessity for mothers.
Later in life, my father would admit to whisking my mother out of the house to hit the blue light specials at K-Mart around the usual time I would call.

After he died, my daughter opened one of his bedroom closets, and just said, "Whoa."   My son and I raced in to see what she was doing.   We stopped short next to her, turned to face the closet she was looking in, and said in unison, "Whoa."     There, stacked neatly, floor to ceiling, were eighty-seven boxes of generic brand boxes of kleenex, with red sale stickers on them.   My mother had suffered from chronic sinus problems.     We split up the kleenex and it lasted for quite a few years...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

I've Been Forced To Think...

  I smell something burning, but I'll push on.

Just the other day a local program, quite a good one, had a cute little old lady on the show who was celebrating her 104th birthday  (see for yourself at, click on BETTER CT).   I stared and listened in rapt fascination.  I didn't get up to refill my coffee, wouldn't answer the phone when it rang.  It was simply riveting because this little,  really old woman not only had obvious control over all of her physical faculties (she had crocheted intricate doilies for the show hosts, and punched one of them in the arm when he made a smart remark),  but mentally she was more alert than me; on my best day.  I waited for the inevitable question, "What is your secret to living so long?"

This clearly was not the usual  'look how long this human has lived'  feature.  Lived being the operative word.   In nearly all the stories of old people and alleged milestone birthdays I see, the subject of the milestone is sitting in a nursing home staring at the camera with a blank face and empty eyes.  A nearby relative will always blow out the candles on the cake, while the chin of the  victim of said birthday slowly slides down to the chest; and they doze.  This person had lost It, a long time before.

Over the course of my career I had many occasions to listen to various individuals who had 'lost It.'    Many of these people were elderly, some - quite a few in fact - were fairly young.   Nearly all of them would refer to the infamous 'They,'  as in, "THEY are out to get me...,"   leading to the question, "Who are They?"

Which serves to remind me of a time when I was young and first introduced to 'They.' I had watched a monster movie with my sister. The one where the Mummy that drags it's leg comes alive. When it was time to go to bed, the darkness brought The Mummy back to life in my imagination.  Possibly near my room.  The fight or flight instinct my sister had  worked so hard to perfect in me was in full swing.    After my mother had confirmed 'They' exist,  ("There's no one in there."),  she  had to put a light in the closet and  leave it on all night.   Even after she pointed out that the Mummy would not mysteriously appear after the light was off, I would have none of it.  Who could tell if The Mummy would  not suddenly appear in my closet, as it had appeared so suddenly in that sand dune.  Who could predict the movement and whereabouts of a Mummy until one heard that leg dragging behind it?  It's the unknown variable that will get you every time.

It was that same fear of the unknown that was capable of instilling sheer terror in those who were subjected to my sister's infernal 'tapping' game.  She had to have at least four friends, plus me, in order to play it.   In the cellar.

The cellar had an old stone foundation, with newer sections of large granite blocks that were easier to see spiders crawling around on.   A huge boiler took up a large part of one of the main sections of the basement, blocking the view of the cold cellar with a creaky wooden door.  There were two main sections, a lot of dark, creepy, separate rooms, even an old coal cellar where the little trap door to the outside was.  The coal truck would dump the coal down a chute that came off the back of the truck, into the hole.  There remained an unused pile of aging coal in the corner.

Back to the infernal game.    One had to throw the lone, main light switch at the top of stairs to see anything at all. It was pitch black down there.  My sister would lead us all to the cellar doorway, dramatically flip the switch on, and we would file down the stairs, hit the landing, then bear right down the last few stairs.  That landing presented a hazard when the time came to escape the cellar in a hurry.

Once in the cellar, we would draw straws to see who would be IT.  That person would  return to the top of the stairs  positioned near the light switch and wait thirty seconds for the rest of us to hide in one of the many nooks and crannies of the cellar.

Then the lights would be switched off.  Those hiding would be enveloped in darkness, left with their own thoughts, the trick being not to make a sound that would give IT a  clue as to their whereabouts, hence eluding discovery.  The last one standing won.

IT'S role in the game was to enter the cellar, and tap, on the walls, beams, water pipes, anything the tool they had chosen from my fathers work bench was capable of making a noise on.  Just tap.    Sounds really dumb huh?  Try it sometime. Better yet, force your kids to play it, builds character....  Its the most nerve wracking experience I have had to this day.

We, the hidden, would start out alright. Just great in fact. Most of the time the tapping was somewhere else, not nearby. So the mind would wander. Wonder what's for lunch.  Where was that Nancy Drew mystery, did I leave it in the barn?   The tapping would come closer.   Tap, tap, tap.  The mysteries of total darkness would engulf the mind, the tapping would suddenly become  paramount.   TAP, TAP, TAP.   And for some reason I cannot explain to this day, the closer the tapping got, the more terrified The Hidden would become.  It should be pointed out at this stage, my sister was the only one who had memorized the way to the creaky cold cellar door, so that she could silently approach it, slowly move the door, thus adding the perfect monster movie creak to the mix.                    CA-REEEEEEEEK.   Silence.  Then  TAP...TAP..TAPTAPTAP.   If you could stand it the tapping might pass by.  If not, you screamed your bloody brains out and lost the game, by now out of your mind and flying towards the stairs, up the landing, smash into the stone wall, hard left to the top.   Phew. Those still hidden remained in that terrible place their minds had brought them to, made worse by the screams of the one who was caught.

Occasionally my mother would come home to blood curdling screams echoing from the cellar, followed by frantic footsteps barreling up the cellar stairs.  "They got ya, huh?" she'd say.

I am now fully aware that it was the infamous 'They' that lurked in the cellar.  The unknown that creeps us out so.  Which in no way explains my sister's other favorite game.  Stare into a mirror without blinking.  You know you are staring at yourself.  Yet stare long enough, and you scare yourself silly. No 'They' there, just You.

It's that fear of the unknown  that had my butt glued to the couch watching this 104 year old woman chatting with the show hosts as if she had not a care in the world.   What has she been eating.  (OK I admit, these days it's no longer The Mummy we have to fear, its everything, including but not limited to, the food we eat).    I waited.  The time finally arrived.

"So, what is your secret to living so long?"

"I never had any kids!"

Yup. That did it.  Answered the one question I had always pondered. Having lived through so many of my kids adventures that oft times had capabilities of giving me chest pains, I finally had the answer.    My kids were trying to kill me.

Having thus far avoided my own demise by their inadvertent hands, I have made up my mind, this wise old woman had spoken the truth.  Which must be why I memorized a button I saw a stranger wearing quite a while ago.  Deep in my heart, I knew.  The button said... 

"I want to die in my sleep like my grandmother, not yellin' and screaming like the passengers in her car....."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

When I was really young...

My sister and I had a Great-Grandmother.  She was old when my sister was born, by the time I came around she was ancient.  We called her 'Nana.'

Nana used to watch me when my mother had to work and there was no one else available.  She lived with us so it was horribly convenient.   What no one realized at the time was that Nana was slowly losing her mind to fatty deposits collecting in her ancient arteries.  When she left ironing and wandered away to another chore, only to leave the next unfinished as well, it was taken for granted that she was, after all, one of us, and for us that behaviour was not in the least strange.

We had a thing about reptiles.  Not into them at all. If it's not furry and cute it doesn't belong in our lives.  My sister had begun calling me a lizard long before I was born.  Apparently that tidbit of information made it through Nana's hardened arteries and stuck in her frontal lobe;  like a piece of gum under a chair.

Eventually I learned that if I got out little plastic toys resembling lizards (OK, I had a lot, evidently the Lizard thing was an immense source of amusement), Nana would roll up her morning newspaper and chase me around the house with it.   Years later my mother would speak of the devastation caused by the build up of plaque in Nana's arteries, but being unable to look at anything without some humor attached, she would add, " We finally figured out why  we'd always find you hiding in the closet."  

By the time of that discovery, Nana had also begun lighting matches all over the house each time she'd pass gas.  Hey, it works, burns off the odor, but one has to remember to put the matches out, and Nana wasn't. My mother would arrive home and follow the trail of burnt wooden matches to find Nana.  In the end, when her heart finally hurt more out of fear than it hurt for Nana's lost mind, she decided Nana would have to go to The Home.

It was a quaint home for old folks, three blocks, or a one minute bike ride, from our house.  Having made all the arrangements, Mother got us together and took the last pictures of Nana at home.   The one that made everyone laugh is of Nana sitting on the coffee table looking confused, her sensible shoes evident, and me sitting as far away as I had been able to get, looking away, like a cat.  If I couldn't see her, she wasn't there.  One never knew if she had that rolled newspaper in her apron pocket.

Our mother cried when she packed the suitcase with the floral dresses Nana was so fond of. Pretty, v-necked dresses with rhinestone buttons down the front.  Nana sat in the chair she had brought from my grandmother's house for her bedroom, staring straight ahead.  We knew she was in a world where she couldn't be hurt, one we could not join her in.

Nana always had a consuming fear of Mom's latest car. It might have been because she had been subjected to Mom's hair-raising motoring technique.  Get in, Aim it, and Get There.  Or it may have had a lot to do with Nana's dementia, coupled with the fact that my mother used to say things like, "Lets take the BUG out for a spin."   Cute term for a VW, but not one Nana understood. In any case, Mom took Nana's blue suitcase by its contrasting white handle in one hand, Nana's hand in the other, and off the four of us walked to Nana's last place to stay.

It was one of those summer days, when the air temperature so perfectly matches the human skin a summer breeze feels like cotton floating past. Nana stepped lively as she always had, her pace not slowing as the Home loomed nearer.  Mom had to pull slightly on Nana's hand to slow the momentum.   When she gently put the brakes on, a look of infinite despair momentarily washed over our mother's face, and was gone as quickly as it had come.

The nurses helped us install Nana in her new room.  The two big windows there overlooked a rock garden on the side lawn. My sister said it wasn't a rock garden, rock gardens were not four feet high, it was a pile of rocks cemented together, with multicolored marbles stuck in the cement between the rocks.   Our mother called it the Indian Burial Ground.

We unpacked Nana's dresses, hung them up in the cedar closet, lined up all six pairs of identical, black orthopedic shoes,  and made her bed with her own sheets and quilts, while she sat in a rocker and stared.   We kissed her  'So Long,'  filing out of her room and down the hallway.

It wasn't until we were nearly to the front door my sister noticed Nana marching right behind us; with her purse.  One of the nurses caught up to us while, a bit too briskly, taking Nana's arm and saying to our mother, "Just go. She doesn't know who you are, or where you are going."   What ensued was the first time we would ever really witness the wrath of our mother losing her temper.  Her voice got lower than we had ever heard her speak, the lower it got, the worse things seemed.  The only thing my sister actually remembered hearing clearly was our mother saying, "Do not ever say anything in front of an unconscious person you don't want them to hear."  Though Nana was not unconscious in the purest sense of the term, she was definitely on another plane.  Somehow we no longer saw emptiness in her eyes.  What we imagined was another world those of us outside those eyes couldn't quite grasp, but knew was there.

Years would pass, my sister and I always calling a temporary truce when the decision was made to go visit Nana. We were of the same mind for that mission.  We'd walk, or ride bikes to the Home, and upon the approach we would always see Nana regally sitting on the front porch in one of the wicker chairs.  Her posture always gave one the impression a curtsy would not be out of order at all.  Back straight, shoulders aligned, head slightly turned, with both hands on her purse; she sat.    My sister would say, "The Queen always has her purse, and so does Nana."   During the winter Nana always wore a thick, wool coat with a horseshoe shaped mink collar my sister said should have been ermine.  Nana's head would be covered with the handwoven, black linen hat the little Shaker ladies from Canterbury had made for her.   Here, Nana let us all know, simply by the particular way she continued to dress and carry herself,  that part of her was still there to visit.

It was for this reason our mother had such a hard time visiting.  She would always say she thought Nana was waiting for her to come and bring her home.    Truth was, in Nana's mind, though we couldn't go there too;  she was already home.

Monday, May 10, 2010

More Too Cute To Stand...

I made a mistake.  I realize this is New England, I did not however, expect below freezing temperatures, frost, and 47 mph wind gusts when I permanently opened the windows on the first of April.

We know particular, irrelevant (irrelevant because we can do nothing about them) details concerning the weather because my son has his professional weather station hooked up to this house.  I haven't a clue why it needs to work with phone cords, but that's what it does, and the cords are draped and tacked strategically to the exterior of this house, monitoring every minute change. 

Aside from walking around the house wearing his long underwear, sweats, heavy hiking socks, and winter jacket (hood-up) last night, my son was constantly giving me up-dates on the gusts (45....46....47!   THAT'S gonna be the highest, you watch! - it was -).  I broke down and shut the windows.  Took off my hat...

Got up this morning with the wind slamming against the house with heavy thuds, and decided it would be a good time to go to the laundry to wash 'nursery clothes.'  It was also a really good idea because I went out to warm up the car and tuned the heat on HIGH   (OK, so it wasn't such a good idea to start knitting that beach cover-up instead of the hand-warmers...).

Does that animal on the right look like half cat half camel to you?!

The heat wasn't on in the laundry mat, and no, the jungle motif on the walls did not make it seem warmer in there.  What did make it warmer was my two new friends in this new town, who arrived shortly after I did, Mary and Dan (nearly everyone who has well water goes here rather than have a wardrobe of permanently rust-stained clothes).  I took a picture of them in full winter regalia on May 10.  I said "Smile, you guys," while Dan tried to creep away, and Mary came out looking like a serial killer was after her.  The only way I can explain it, is that my head truly did explode from all the nice compliments I have received via this blog.  I'd rather not think of the alternative, that being when they are forced to look at me they make that face that says, "NO, you are not cutting off my left foot and using it for a limb transplant."

M.R. & D. D.

I had to take all the babies out of the kennel to replace bedding, couldn't resist trying to get some pictures, and boy was it difficult. They kept trying to wander off in different directions.

Ever seen a Black Tiger!?!

Pardon the knees!

Yay, clean,warm  clothes, everyone to the back, must be warmer there.

Ruthless is my middle name.....Countdown to needing homes 6 weeks!

When I came in to turn on the portable bathroom heater (the one that hasn't caught fire), I discovered two short hairs patiently waiting.....
Um, Hullo? This thing working or what?

And now you must excuse me, there has to be a turkey - or something huge - in the freezer.  Something to s-l-o-w-l-y roast; all day, something to heat up the kitchen and one bathroom anyway.
I really need to find some gloves...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

It was turning out to be an absolutely horrific day off.  I needed to clean the house and didn't want to spend all day doing it.  The morning went down the toilet in a hurry.   Literally.    It was the bathroom that nearly killed me.  OK, I exaggerate, maybe it wouldn't kill me, but the disaster had the capability of embarrassing me through the entire county; two towns and a city at the very least.  There was only one person I could call for help.   The one person who could possibly die laughing ( she had already had one heart attack by now), but who could tell me what to do in a panic.  My mother.



"In the flesh."

"I need help."

"Of course you do, but why are you calling?"

"Mom, this is no time to mess around, ''my toilet is on fire."

"I'm sorry, I must have heard you incorrectly, what I heard was,  "My toilet is on fire."


"It's not like you to panic, how did this happen?"

"I was cleaning the bathroom last, ran out of cleaner, figured any chemical is good chemical so I grabbed the ammonia, and dumped it in the bowl, only I grabbed the wrong bottle and it was rubbing alcohol that I dumped in."

"Um, yuh, well, rubbing alcohol and water do not spontaneously combust."

"I know that."

"Well I didn't mean to insult your intelligence; how did the fire start and is it still burning?

"Yes.  I forgot about the alcohol.  Went to make the bed.  When I went back into the bathroom to light a candle, I always light a candle after I clean, and I threw the match into the toilet, and POOF!"


"Oh you are a genius. Thank You."

"No problem, I have to call your sister and tell her."


And soooo... even if flushing won't solve the problem, call your mother, she will!


Good Ole Jim
Circa 1985

 That which has died
Does not drop out of
The Universe.
It stays here, It also changes here,
And is dissolved into its
proper parts, which are
Elements of the universe
And of yourself.
                                                                                      Marcus Aurelius
                                                                                         161-180 AD

My brother-in-law had come to my father's funeral as my escort, but only, he said, "out of respect for you, not him."     There had been a dispute I had not been informed of due to my health issues.  I would not find out until years later that it had been a result of the actions of those who had taken advantage of my parents.

My daughter and I were living apart.  We both happened to be watching the evening news one night.  The anchor came on and said that attempts to take a body down from  the top of Bald Mountain in Tenn. were being hampered by the freak snow storm that had hit the area the night before, a storm that had not shown up anywhere on national radar, but left two inches of snow and below freezing temperatures on that mountain the night before.  The body had to be brought down to a level where a helicopter could take it the rest of the way down.
Then the bomb dropped.  One of the reporters was talking to a hiker who must have been raised in a barn.  After he described in detail the "weird, gurgling noises" my brother-in-law had made during the night, he said his name.

I couldn't move.  I must have heard this incorrectly.  The phone rang.  It was my daughter.  Screaming.   "I heard but it can't be right. It has to be a mistake."    It wasn't.

 I reprint the eulogy I wrote for his funeral.     For Them.     Always.

                                                                      For Their Friends

     May I first apologize for not having a photograph of Jim alone to place in his memorial card.  I found two, most recent, photographs, the first is Jim, alone, in front of his truck.  There is no vitality in his position, nor his face.  This served to remind me, not just of how lonely he truly was since my sister left us, but that this was how he chose to be.  Without the presence of of his wife, he was a solitary being communing with her on a higher scale, his facial expression the only indication of how deeply his sorrow was rooted.

Yet in the company of those who knew both he, and his wife, he was, as my sister used to say, "Good ole' Jim."  When I compared this photograph with the one of Jim and me, I not only saw the difference - but understood - and knew the photograph of Jim smiling, showing the vitality he had for life itself, is how we remember him.

Of Memories, St. Augustine wrote  ' had not entirely escaped our memory, but part of it remained, giving a clue to the remainder, because the memory, realizing that something was missing and feeling crippled by the loss of something to which it had grown accustomed, kept demanding the missing part be restored."  My brother-in-law survived on his memories, constantly restoring his missing part, maintaining he and 'Kelly's' unity of spirit, despite the logistical deviance; his soul being anchored to this ground by gravity, a physical encumbrance "Kelly' no longer endured.

When my sisters illness had progressed to the stage of needing twenty-four hour care, Jim's uninterrupted courage at facing life's crucial challenges allowed him to calmly, firmly, assume her full care.  He was never surprised by collisions of life, understanding that the order in life is what we, ourselves, make it.  At times, I felt as tho my heart would break, yet as Jim's courage in enduring my sister's precisely worsening illness grew, so did the walls of my heart expand; and I came to know love, in it's boundless abandon.  Although he would infrequently surrender to the confusion of discouragement, he did not view the world's ability to crush and suffocate as a threat. Instead Jim drew upon the the immutable force he and my sister had achieved through their marriage, a force called love, that transcended physical properties, and entwined their souls.  Jim knew death would not be nebulous, nor could it be postponed indefinitely. While caring for his wife he realized the concept of death should not be catastrophic, nor destructive, despite it's appearance of finality.  Although it is difficult for me to accept the fact that my family's numbers have dwindled, and not in the specifically traditional order one would expect, I am able to look upon the circumstance of his death as a natural one.   For his truly heroic life here, Jim was spared any awkward physical deterioration.  His soul set free in spring time.

I am content in knowing that before he left, he was secure in the knowledge he had taken care of everything he needed to do here.  In his opinion, his selfless actions were simply what needed to be done, to prevent others from suffering, as he had watched his wife suffer.  Yet what he did in his time of suffering, was an incredible feat of determination and will power, not easily found in humans.  

When he had finished all of his official business he called us all to let us know he was leaving, to do the hike.   In the message he left on my answering machine , after giving exact dates (good ol' Jim), he stated, "I know if you need to get hold of me you'll find a way!"

Last week I suddenly needed to touch base with him.  I had nothing specific to tell him, the news he was waiting to hear from me was still unknown, yet I was overwhelmed with an insistent need to speak to him that got worse as the days went by. I had a co-worker helping me surf the Internet for Appalachian Trail sites for three days.  Finally on Thursday night, after leaving work at eleven p.m., and after three more hours of surfing myself, I found a search engine named Northern Light, based in Maine that is the server for the Appalachian Trail Message Board.   I posted my message to Jim.  Northern Light's computers had to reformat the message to accommodate it's browser, the the message was finally posted on April 29th, at 17:18 hours.  I could relax.

I knew his approximate whereabouts, figured he would be doing 10-16 miles a day, knew that foresters would post my message in huts within the parameters, so I sat back to wait, having no idea  what on earth I was going to say to him when he called, aside from,  "Hi. How are ya doing?"   The call I ended up receiving was from the police  calling to tell me my brother-in-law had passed away on top of a mountain..

After the initial shock wore off, the first thing that came to mind was a discussion I had with Jim a few years ago.  I recall no precedent being set for him to tell me the story, no context to take it from, it just spilled out of him one day and I share it with you now, hoping it will help those of us left here, but not necessarily, behind.

Jim blurted out, " Ya know Joni, I'm remembering....,"  and he went on to say he and my sister had been having a terrible argument one time, he couldn't even remember what it was about it was so trivial of a thing.  My sister walked out of the house.   Jim sat.  And sat.   And sat some more.   While he sat, darkness fast approaching, he thought for the first time he may have really blown his marriage.  He thought that way for what seemed an eternity until finally his wife, tired and bedraggled, lurched through the door.  Jim said, "Well.... what happened to you?"   His - normally  totally put together no matter what - wife's hair was practically standing on end, mud covered her  hiking boots, and her shirt was un-tucked.   They both collapsed into hysterics.   When she was able to speak coherently she told him she had gone out to climb a certain mountain near their home. Jim was incredulous as she continued.  She told him that by the time she had finished climbing, and reached the top, she realized that she had completely forgotten the content of the argument, and was suddenly clear on the reason.  She had found the answer they both needed in that climb.

Last year Jim told me that he had finally climbed that mountain.  Then he told me of his plans to hike the A.T. soon.

And so...  I realize now, if there is anything more beautiful in what happened on the Appalachian Train that night, I haven't heard of it, and don't think I ever will.  I know he found his answer, his anguish here is finished.  I know that his wife knew it was time to come and get him.  I stand here knowing that those who stand with me, are not united in death.  We are united by an everlasting love, a love united again in joy;  For Eternity.


Addendum:     Jim's heart had given out during the night, when temperatures had  dropped below freezing quickly, but he had succeeded in his attempt to raise awareness for early breast cancer detection.  He made national headlines.  The small town of Irwin Tenn., just off the A.T. put a brass plaque in his name, with his story, on a building there that thousands of hikers stop at each year to replenish supplies.

I had one more piercing done in my left ear.