Category Archives: Stories

Grannie Sands, the Surviving Teapot and Sirens with your Supper

They always bombed at tea time.

Not the pass the cookies, pinky finger out thank you very much kinda tea; but the this is the real meal, pass the plate, wash your hands, elbows off the table,  kinda tea.

They always came together, the sirens with  the supper. It was as if Hitler didn’t want the English to ever have a hot meal.

Sirens sounded, chairs pushed away from the table, leave everything,  and remember to close the blackout curtains before you go.

Then with gas masks in hand, the family, the block, the entire city, would walk,  not run to their designated bomb shelters. Not easily rattled, those  English.

The children carried children sized gas masks in little boxes tied with string. Hand in hand, down they would go, each family to their assigned spot, each spot marked with a mattress propped against the wall. The mattresses were lowered onto the floor and they all sat and waited.

First they waited for it to start.

Then they waited for it to stop.

The all clear sounded, the mattresses were propped back onto the wall, and hand in hand they all emerged and went home.

Life went on in Liverpool.

Juxtapose  that with my house,  present day where life just  isn’t worth living if the cable, internet or electricity are out. All three would sign the beginning of the apocalypse. I shudder to think what would happen if everyone should be in the same room, at the same time, talking, and forced to have actual eye contact.

My father-in law, Griffy was one of those children, the ones with the little boxes tied with string.

The night his house blew up, the sirens went off but the supper wasn’t the only thing left behind.

That night, the last night in the house, Griffy was bedridden  and coughing and Grannie refused to go until the tea he had a cuppa tea to sooth his throat.

“We will be right behind you, ” she said as the rest of the family left for the shelter.

Grannie put the kettle on, and as she went to close the curtains, she saw her neighbor across the street writing  a letter at her kitchen table. Her boyfriend was away at war, and afterwards Grannie liked to imagined the young woman’s  last thoughts were filled with love.

The whistle of the kettle and the bombing were simultaneous.  Grannie Sands filled  the Brown Betty teapot with hot water and then collected Griffy from the bed.  Teapot in one hand and child over her shoulder Grannie Sands made for the shelter.

She  made it to the front door before Hitler landed a direct hit on the neighbors house across the street.

Griffy was blown into the alley and landed unharmed. He stood and ran to find Grannie Sands.

He found her in the street, sitting straight up, arms out, with her ass wedged into the street drain.

The teapot  still clutched in her hand.

and she hadn’t spilled a drop.

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Filed under Griff, Humor, Immigrant, Life, My Husband's Parents, Stories, True Life, World War II, Writing

The Night of Two Christmases and the Hassle of Hogmanay

I was 9 the night of two Christmases.

Not two, gotta go to both grandma’s house Christmases. Or two open presents Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Christmases.

Two Christmases, in one place on the very same night.

It was the clocks fault.

The mantel clock with the Westminster chimes  my Nana got as a wedding present.

It sat on her mantel, then on my mothers, and now it is on mine.

It was  hurry, hurry go to sleep.

‘Cause sleep was like magic.

Magic sleep  is the kid kinda sleep.

The kind when you close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, its morning.

Magic sleep won’t come with wishing or squeezing your eyes closed real tight.

Not tonight.

The sooner you sleep , the sooner it comes.

When you wake, it will be Christmas.

The magic isn’t working.

I am thinking about my stocking.

Stocking are Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Black Cherry and Tangerine.

Stockings are Loves Baby Soft, lavender soaps, licorice whips, Life Savers books, and the little rose flavored candies that come in a metal tin so pretty you can’t ever throw them away.

Stockings are new crayons, trace the outline first then fill in the color new coloring books.

They are new tooth brushes, socks and undies.

But mostly stockings are chocolate.

Chocolate only appeared three times a year in my house.

Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

Solid chocolate Santa’s, in milk and white, gold coins and candy canes filled with M&M’s.

That was the American kind.

Then there was the other kind.

The British kind. Cadbury’s and  Fry’s Turkish Delight, Flakey Bars, Roses Assorted, and Black Magic. There was Terries All Gold with creamy orange or strawberry filling. The best part was, you could eat as much as you wanted. Chocolate for breakfast, chocolate for lunch, and chocolate for dinner. It doesn’t get any better, even now.

You could open no presents on fear of death before my mother woke up with her instamatic little light cube  flash camera.

Before parents were up,  presents were piled by recipient, mounded and counted always equal,  always.

But sorting piles and seeing stockings will not come, not until I sleep and wake.

Stop thinking about the chocolate, count things instead.

One minute my feet are seeking cold spots in the sheets and the next magic happens, and I am asleep.

Then it is jump out of bed, gotta be first, round the corner see the tree…

see the  stockings are slack and nothing is wrapped.

The clock, it says 6.  I skip a beat,  feel it stop.. sink a bit…. then start again.

I see  the yellow Caterpillar dump truck with the real shovel and bed that dumps, Baby Tender Love, Barbie dolls with the bendable knees, click click see her sit… a pile of books, crayons and coloring books, packages of undies, socks and toothbrushes…

I see and know.

Really know.

I  see then what my parents said, saw the lists and letters I wrote to Santa. The  folded letters I had thrown into the blazing fire…. that is how you reach Sanata..they said.

I see the letters  dissolve into ashes; they rise and fly up the chimney and across the world to Santa’s workshop.

Right.

No more would I wonder why Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents, why his writing looked like the notes I took to my teachers and why Santa always seem to know exactly what I wanted.

No more.

See the wrapping paper, tape and ribbon and  just start. Start to wrap.

I know but the others should not.

I wrap and guess who get’s what until there is nothing left sit back and see, the piles and packages of the first Christmas after, knowing.

The door opened, parents laughing, next door for a drink,  they laughed at my worry laughed and shoo-fly my tears, go to sleep, back to your room, back to bed, back…but I can’t really go back , not all the way.

The kids will be up soon I say, look to the clock, it no longer says 6, but 1230 instead.

The magic sleep comes quickly the second time around.

My second Christmas I do not bound,  I do not want to be- the- first- to- see just what is underneath the Christmas tree.

I have already seen.

My second Christmas, the packages are piled, and the stockings are full the others are laughing, and counting, and the chocolate is just a little less sweet.

Christmas is here Hogmanay yet to come. My father has the giant green Hefty bag at the ready for the boxes, the wrapping he tosses into the fireplace with glee.

Hogmanay.

The time to ready,  the time to clean,  the time when the house must be, what it will be for the coming year.

Every Scottish housewife knows, the house will be,  what ever it is when the New Year comes.

If it is dirty, dirty it will be.

If it is tidy at the New Year, then tidy it will be.

New Year. Hogmanay.

The way you end the year,  will tell you how you will be in the next.

The dressers are cleaned, the clothes folded, the trash taken out.

The laundry is done, and baskets are empty. The fridge is full, the rooms are cleaned, toilets scrubbed, closets cleared, and garbage out, and no stuffing anything under the bed.

The way you enter the New Year, is the way it will be.

Hogmanay meant cleaning, and hassle and hiding out till the work was done.

When the sun went down on New Years Eve, the feast began, the friends came, the scotch flowed, and Hogmanay really happened.

It was ceilidhs…Kailey’s… dancing and  laughter.

Hogmanay was meat pies, and dark-haired first footed strangers after midnight at your door.

The darker the hair the stranger, the better the luck.

A hold over from the days of unlucky light-haired Nordic Viking blondes who raped and pillaged; the darker the stranger the better the luck.

Mom always looked for a dark-haired man enter the door first after the New Year. First foot was not to be ignored.

It meant the best of luck, the best of things to come, even  now 40 years after the year of the two Christmases, and the clock who told the wrong time, I look for a dark-haired stranger to cross my threshold at the New year, and bring the best of things; it means the best is yet to come, in the New Year.

Slainte! (Slan-ja) To your Health,  all you dark- first- footed- strangers, imaginary or not.

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Filed under Children, Family, Humor, Life, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing

Phoenix

Vivid blue crayon sky.

Camelback, Praying Monk, and Squaw Peak, familiar shapes rise from the desert floor.

Lunar landscape pink Papago with worn holes through and through, the place to ride bikes watch the sun set and the stars rise.

Giant saguaros marching, stopped forever in their uphill climb, arms  ever reaching.

How could you forget such things.

In town for a reunion, driving east, new roads fast and paved in basic black,  extra wide lanes with solid bright white lines, stay on your side please

Rear view mirror,  look behind, see the sun set, it never fails to impress, only see it in pieces, and curse the luck of my direction, always going the wrong way.

Invite for pizza at a childhood friends house, meet her kids, see her mom, her brother always a huge crush.
Standing around the kitchen granite gleaming, spic and span, glass shines, so unlike my own, where I consider myself lucky to have floors the color of dirt.
It is not unusual to have some foreign unidentifiable substance stuck to your bare feet…. last time it was a gummy bear.
The patio something out of Pottery Barn, a little living room, sofa- chair-tables lamp, all complete with drapes, hold the warmth in.
Here he was, the golden-haired boy of summer, how many times did I sit in the bleachers hoping he would see me?
Stories began…
His stories were crude, his language base and biased.
Jew whore, bitch, slit..I took a breath, sat and just listened.
…. we  had lit a fire outside,
I had forgotten how cold it gets when the sun goes down in the desert.
Then they both really started talking…
their  mom used to leave them for days at a time. 10 and 8 no food, mom gone… imagine.
Mommy was off for the weekend with different boyfriends.
He remembers sitting in the back of a car with his sister while their parents were in the bar  gett’n their drink on….strangers knock on the window and
laugh….
After working with children in foster care for a decade, I knew how damaging neglect could be they don’t even care enough to beat.
I watch him, but his voice is drowned out in my mind,
Coldplay Fix you….I will try to fix you…plays instead.
No way social worker girl….this is not your problem..
His story was drugs,  38 years worth, everything you could imagine. The longer he spoke the more broken he became, splintered and scattered.
I was given tours of scars and injuries, DUI’s…
I sat and listened, as rants of political views vastly different from mine began,
I hear some Fox news one liners spouted with ease.
Only when they started on immigrants did I speak.
“I am an immigrant”
She seemed shocked.
The rant became one of foreigners serving in the military,
“I wasn’t a citizen when I was in the Navy, ” I said.
She was agape.
“But you were born here, your parents had a mortgage, how could they do that not being citizens?”
The basic civics lesson ensued….one can be a legal immigrant, tax paying with all the rights and duties except holding office and voting.
It almost stopped the ranting, having a familiar face be the unmentionable, immigrant non-citizen scapegoat for all of the country’s ills.
Almost.
They ranted on, he gesturing violently punching the air, Michele Obama the intended target.
Calling Barrack, Barry, a child chiming in, age ten looking up for approval.
I watched in two worlds, seeing the boy, hearing the man.
I realized their view comes from a place of fear, distrust, and ignorance.
Not my view, I chose another way.
Yes,  I voted for Obama, I said when asked.
Yes,  I am in Law school.
“You’re not going to work for those ACLU assholes are you, those lying un-American Civil Liberty Union pricks”
It almost turned uncivil when I showed them my ACLU membership card.
My childhood friends, different paths different world views, here they were with a Democrat in the house. Don’t think there is enough bleach in the world to clean that up…suddenly I have the image of them hosing down my chair when I left.
I let them rant, the rants only outpaced by the number of bottles of beer, I lose count.
No thanks I am driving….
He asked  me for a ride to his mother’s house.
I blink and remember we are both 48 years old.
I swallowed my judgment, smiled and nodded.
He wanted to stop and get beer, wanted me to drink  a tall boy in the parking lot, I just laughed, and said I didn’t roll like that.
What else could you do?
I pulled up to the house, he opened the door, and then paused.
He turned and looked me straight in the eye and said,
“I love you, I have always loved you, and always will.”
Then he left.
I cried all the way back to the hotel,  deep sobs, and had to calm down with hot bath and an overpriced mini bar shot of  Grey Goose.
Fix you,  still playing, this time on my ipod….they seemed so splintered, and the pieces are scattered…even social worker girl knows…
There is no way to fix that.

.

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Filed under Arizona's Immigration Law, Immigrant, Law School, Stories, True Life, Uncategorized, Writing

The Dinner Table, the Burping Alphabet Bet and The Peter Pan Collar

The table was always set, every night, fork to the left of the plate, knife to the right, paper towel napkin folded in half tucked under the knife.  The fork was always in the left hand, still is, the knife in the right, and napkin always stayed on the lap. Under no circumstances was said napkin to be balled up, held in the hand or otherwise disfigured before the end of the meal and it found it’s way to the trash.

Mom do we need spoons?

You always asked, one didn’t want to have to set and wash spoons that were not used and more importantly;

Spoon meant jello, or custard or canned fruit or on very special occasions, ice cream.  

Spoons meant  dessert.

The fruit cocktail single half a red cherry mined and fought over;  the pears packed in syrup juice drizzled over the warm Birds custard a half a pear on the side; the frothy rectangle jello, scoopable and smooth;mix the can of evaporated milk, pour it through the hole in the top the moving blender,  the whirling teaches patience as the jello orange or strawberry creamy treat takes a while to set. Listen to the roar,  the foamy layers settle;  see them forming in the glass 8×10 on the refrigerator shelf, shake the dish still not ready,  close the door!

Will we need a spoon?

Yes,  we need spoons.

Never is the fork  to be switched the right hand  and turned up  in the- too busy shoveling to hold both required utensils maneuver; the knife was never used and then simply set aside across the plate. The knife was to be held and used with every single mouthful.

That along with  a hand around the top of your plate, guarding it as if someone was about to walk by and steal it before you finished were uncouth, common and ill-mannered and got you either a slap with the flat edge of the knife across what ever flesh was available, or if particularly egregious, a full-out stab with the tines of the fork.  In my father’s defence, he usually only gave you the  loud silent stare, a clearing of the throat, and left the stabbing ritual for my mother as she was within reach most of the time.

These things were never spoken, but clearly understood, the social moray’s of the meal.

Among the other verboten table manners were burping, spilling, chewing with your mouth open, using your fingers, cramming in or eating too-fast, and serving yourself.

My mother always served.

There was always enough, but just. 

The portions filling, but never outside of  the Thanks Giving Turkey, and Christmas Standing Rib Roast were there any left overs.

Milk,  the only beverage, salt, pepper,  the only acceptable spices.

We five sit and wait as my father brings in the evening paper,  and turns on the news. 

Noise of any kind was strictly forbidden at the table, including talking…

The news is on.

“I canny hear the news!” the usual single warning uttered before temper flared.

Above all he must be able to hear the news.

In his defense my brother was easily led a stray.  One could actually egg him into doing almost anything before the age of ten.

Something this especially evil older sister did with regularity. 

“I bet you can’t burp ten times in a row before dad gets here,” I offer.

Honestly they came so quickly I really couldn’t count them, so I had him do it again.

Never once did the boy ever ask to what I was betting, what he would get in return, never once.

He just innocently accepted whatever challenge I could think of.

Sucker.

“ok…I bet you can’t say the entire alphabet while burping.”

It took him two glasses of milk, three attempts but he was able to do the entire alphabet in two long consecutive burps.

Laughter was uncontrollable. My brother was laying flat on the floor as his stomach was distended with the large gulps of air he has swallowed to produce said entertainment, when my father finally entered the dining room.

Silence in hind-sight was too much to ask.

Silence upon the sight of  brother rolling on the floor in pain was just impossible.

“QUIET!” came the single warning.

My brother cames out from under the table, proceeded to take another gulp of milk, look straight at me,  and giggle mid swallow.

Milk upon meeting a closed throat due to laughing proceeds to exit ones nose.

Milk spewed.

Mayhem ensued.

Laughter reined.

My father lost it. Unable to hear Walter Cronkite, he roared,

“Enough!”

My father then began ejecting children one at a time, the sequence of which were based both on the timing of who laughed next and the proximity to his chair.

My brother has lost his seat at the table first, quickly followed my older sister, baby sister, and then me.

All except one were ejected pre dessert.

With each ejection my father rose and pulled out the chair, and pulled you up from your seated position by the arm, and generally motioned toward the direction of your bedroom.

He never really uttered the words, “Go to your room”

So I didn’t.

Instead I laid in the hall on the floor army crawl style and spied on my sister the last remaining laughter hold out.

I don’t remember what made her laugh, or even if she ever did.

My father rose and stood behind the last remaining hold out.

Instead of grabbing her arm,  he grabbed her collar instead.

The collar gave way with a rip, bouncing my sister back down into her chair, leaving him standing there with the peter pan collar in his hand.

From the four corners of the house, laughter broke free.

My father defeated, tossed the collar aside, returned to his chair and finished his supper alone, fork in the left, knife in the right, napkin on his lap.

The sounds of our laughter drowned out Walter Cronkite that night.

They still do.

And now you know the story of the dinner table, the burping alphabet bet, and the peter pan collar.

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Filed under Family, Life, Stories, True Life, Writing

Assembly Required

At the rehearsal dinner Griffith Lloyd stood and put spoon to a water-glass.

Griff then raised his glass and said, “I have a word of advice for the bride”.

The loud laughter quieted those gathered at the table looked up at the man standing at the head of the table,  and fell silent waiting for him to begin to speak.

“I have a word of advice for the Bride”,   he began again, “it was advice I was given myself many years ago upon the occasion of my marriage,”  He looks toward Hilda, his wife. 

Hilda doesn’t smile, a quiet woman, not prone to toasts or jokes, she is serious and she would have made a perfect poker player  if she approved of poker that is.

“Here we are all gathered to celebrate the upcoming event,  the night before my son marries,” he clears his throat.

All within ear shot have stopped what they are doing at the down town Chicago pub, waitresses pause, bartenders stop tending, other diners and drinkers watch waiting. It’s the accent I think,  a standing man with glass raised is a spectacle, but a standing working class man from Liverpool with a rather Beetles like accent tends to draw a crowd. He likes this, and with chest puffed, starts again, even louder this time.

“So this being the night before my son marries, I would like to give a piece of advice to the bride”

“There is something you must do,” he says looking right at me.

“I want you to get a jar,  a big jar, the bigger the better, something like a pickle jar.”

The entire pub is on the edge of their seats, thinking that a worldly  man of wisdom is speaking, and something learned will no doubt follow. I think a few people even put pen to paper.

” SO you have a jar, a big jar,”  He can’t fully  gesture as his Guinness would spill. 

 ” what you do next is very important, are you listening?”

I nod.

“I want you to put a penny in the jar every time you have sex for the first year of your marriage. One penny now, no more. But a single penny goes in the jar every time until your first anniversary.”

“And then after the first anniversary, every time you have sex, I want you to take a penny out….YOU’LL NEVER EMPTY THE JAR!” 

The pub exploded with loud back slapping beer spilling  laughter. 

Laughter and Griffith Lloyd reined that night.

Although I never officially had a jar, or placed pennies in it,  he was absolutely right.

There are no toasts anymore, and Hilda left us first.

He sits now, almost always sits. His breakfast, lunch and dinner are carried to the couch.

Through it all he remains seated, but always says, “Oh this looks tasty!”

He rises only when he has too, bathroom breaks, and when he shuffles off to bed.

The couch back and seat remain in his shape, a placeholder, empty until morning when his physical form fills the space and we begin again.

He is melting before my eyes, each smaller pair of pants eventually begin to gather and sag his limbs lost in the folds of fabric. 

His  undies, are the same. I have not seen undies this small since my son,  long now grown,  was in grade school.

It’s the Multiple System Atrophy, arguably part of Parkinson’s, arguably not.

I really don’t give a shit what you call it. I see what ever you call this,  in action. He is smaller and smaller each and every day, with less movement, shuffling steps, curved hunched over shoulders, and such dizziness upon standing and movement that he passes out.

Autonomic Dysfunction. Things that are supposed to work, breathing bladder, bowels, walking and blood pressure just don’t work anymore.

Friday night he stood in the kitchen drinking a glass of water, and his eyes rolled back into his head, and passed out. He was caught, and the glass taken away, and placed upon the floor, choking.

Yes, one can not swallow in the middle of being passed out.

 He regained consciousness and always embarrassed, never seeks an audience now, always says,  “I’m ok… I’m ok..”  he says.

But He isn’t, and he wont ever be again.

A while ago I noticed his small form  is no longer comfortable on the big downy couch, he folds pillows sticks them behind him, under legs and across his neck.

The box came before Fathers Day. Huge sitting on the front stoop, he sees it and says, “There is a box here for you  Mrs.”

“No…that box is for you.”

“Me!”

I open the double doors, slide the box inside, a picture is on the side, a chair is inside, a leather recliner in a european style that spins on a cherry wood base and has a separate foot rest,  all in wonderful toasted brown butter soft leather.

Assembly required.

“Its your Fathers day.”

I know he wants to put it together, I also know he really doesn’t have the energy anymore, nor the eye sight, or strength.

“Why don’t we wait for Gary?” I suggest.

“No, this is easy I’ve done this kinda chair before,” he replies.

Shit. I worry about his frustration, like giving a child a toy way beyond their ability, but he is not a child, he is a man I remind myself.

I know then my days plans have just been put on the back burner, he will not wait for Gary.

6 hours later the chair is together, we had to stop for breaks, lunch and snacks, and I tried to read the instructions in my best  non bitchy manner, but after the first three hours I took the instructions out of the clear wrapper and read them aloud to him.

“Oh I get it now!” he said.

It was done before Gary came home, and he was happily sitting and spinning, in the soft leather chair that fit him like a glove.

No longer does he need the pillows placed, no longer does he have the hanger pain across his shoulders from muscles worn out holding up his head, no longer, for now.

Like Captain Kirk, he sits front and center, his remote and tools at his right, newspaper crossword, eye glasses; spinning and traveling in his chair that fits like a glove.

For how much longer I can not say.

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Filed under care giving, Caregiver, Elder Care, Griff, Humor, Multiple System Atrophy, My Husband's Parents, Sandwich generation, Shy Drager Syndrome, Stories, Story Telling, True Life, Writing

Twilight

Twilight is ghost in the graveyard, red-light green-light, hide and seek  mother may I; twilight is magic after dinner time, when the darkness is not yet fallen, and parents sometimes say yes, but  “stay in the yard”. 

Twilight is almost dark, twilight is when childhood fear and play walk together for a little while. 

Laughter chases the scary away, hiding and jumping out, giggles give your hiding place away the always running, hot, fall onto the grass, drinking cool water from the hose,  come in before full dark time. 

Later in the dark,  alone, scary returns and the cool sheet pulled over your head will sometimes keep it away.

Sunlight is alley archeology; the pieces of  glass, crushed metal, empty paint cans, wooden planks and bottles our bounty,  our work for the day, scouring the rocky roads between the houses, behind the gates, behind the backyards were treasures abound.

Everything can be found here, everything is thrown out in the alley.

The alley is an  in-between place.  

Our bounty is large and important finds, each has a place, a usefulness and our mission is to get each treasure home, over the fence, and into the yard before anyone sees. The mission is everything. We can not fail.

 We have to check and see if she is watching.

She won’t let us bring our finds into the yard, she calls it junk and trash, and points, hands on hips, raises her brow, and orders our treasure left behind.

It can’t happen, if she sees all is lost.

 The youngest with her brown curls is usually sent in. Small, adorable and quick she darts to the door and peers inside.

She turns, gives the signal. The coast is clear.

She waves us in, and stands watch.

Mom is no where in sight.

We race to the hedge of giant oleander,  each slim branch is filled with poison flowers of pink and white, they are brushed aside, a dangerous petal curtain, hides what lays inside.

The oleander hedge towered at the back of the yard, the boughs reached high to the sky and then bend back, creating a  crawl space deep inside, invisible to anyone, it is the perfect fort.

We run like scampering insects, back and forth dragging the big wooden plank, the empty cans two at a time, we drag our fort furniture and set it all inside. We set the plank atop the cans and create a bench, we place the other cans around for more seats, we sweep the dry hasn’t seen rain in nine months dirt, sweep it clear of leaves and roly poly bugs, earwigs and twigs.

I tag the others for another mission, supplies from the kitchen.

It will be dangerous. She is in there, almost dinner time, chances are she is watching now.

Bravely they leave the fort, I watch from the bench.

I didn’t see them enter my yard.

The two boys from school.

I stood up and parted the petals.

“What do you want?” I ask, a little voice tells me to be brave, and a strange different feeling not scary is growing.

“Hey what’s in there Gardner?”

The enter the fort, the once big space now shrinks, I lean against the branches, they sit.

I feel better somehow they sitting, they are smaller now.

The tall one speaks, “He lost a bet” He shrugs his head toward the other shorter one.

I look at one then the other, not understanding.

“He lost a bet, and he has to kiss you”.

The noise from my heart flooded my ears, as he stood and made his move.

I was looking  at him,  his face, first while he was sitting, then as he was above me.

The tips of his eye lashes were lighter brown than the rest, and curled so much that when he laughed his  deep brown eyes disappeared into them.

 His breath was warm and he smiled as his face grew closer and closer, I noticed he didn’t show his teeth when he smiled, it was more like a grin…

I stood up then, seemed like the thing to do, a girl should have her first kiss with both feet on the ground.

I looked up and then with his head slightly turned his lips met mine.

Soft and warm, and salty. I opened my eyes and his were closed.

Whoops! Oh!  I guess you close your eyes. I closed mine again.

 Soft warm salty- then minty warm softness, and the rushing of my heart gave way to a feeling much more,  more inside, way way  deep inside.

Then just as thought I liked this, it was over.

He backed away, smiled, and they backed out of the fort,  hopped over the fence and were gone.

The two youngest called from their now abandoned mission to the kitchen,”Mom says come in for supper!”

I leave the fort, fingers on my lips, wondering if yoanyone could see it, if  the warmth was showing, wondering if it will stay forever.

Later at the dinner table I look around, my mother busy with serving the chicken, only she knows who gets what part of the chicken.

I watch as my father reads the paper, and wonder if they see my lips and face red and warm, will they notice anything different?

I sit at the table, fingers still feeling the warmth on my lips, milk is spilled, dinner is served eaten and dishes cleared.

No one sees, no one but me.

Its full on twilight outside, street lights starting to shine, ghost in the grave yard time,

 “Mom can we go outside?”

“stay in the yard please”

I place the kiss and the curl of his lashes inside where now I knew my parents didn’t see; an  inside,  in-between place, and I locked it away for a while and ran out to play.

I knew I can get it out again later. I knew it will be there forever. 

I knew there is time enough for kisses after the twilight fades.

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The Good Dishes, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote, and Mom was Always Right

Gilded, hand painted, embossed with a pattern or plain, weightless in the hand, delicate to hold and durable despite their fragile looking nature,  fine bone English china cups were my mothers good dishes.

Hold them up to a light and see through them. Look  straight through the inside down to the bottom,  straight through the inside  hold it close to the light, and the shadow markings are seen. In the light the bottom of the fine bone china glows and it tells all it’s secrets. 

Move away from the light , and the  magic markings fade, the bottom looses its translucent  glowing nature, and the china cup becomes again, just a  smooth dainty vessel. 

My mother had different favorite cups, one for the morning  and one for the afternoon and the morning cup was never ever used for the afternoon coffee and vice versa.  Tea cups with saucers were for tea, and coffee cups were for coffee. Tea cups were wide-brimmed open flower like, and not very tall. Coffee cups were mugs, taller cylindrical shapes with larger handles for fingers to wrap inside and around thumb on top. Tea cup handles were more for show,  on a tea-cup handle one pinches between thumb and the first two fingers, never ever do you wrap your little fingers through a tea-cup handle, at least not after age 5,  it just isn’t done.

She was particular about her china, not just the make, only English Bone China, but the shape and the way the cup felt in her hand was of the utmost importance. “Too heavy” she would say as she held the possible purchase shifting it from hand to hand with a sigh. Too heavy was the most common complaint when it came to cups. There were others especially for coffee cups,  too wide a brim, too bowl like and the contents cooled to quickly. Like  a Scottish Goldy Locks and the porridge, chairs and beds, my mothers cup had to be just right.

The contents of the cup, even more so.

“Bill!  When in the creation of Christ have I ever had coffee this color?” a frequent complaint mother used to chastise my father for not being generous enough with the half and half.  He would dutifully retreat and add more cream, laughing usually, and returned only when it was the predetermined proper Helen Gardner  approved color.

This everyday occurence  we kids called “The Helen and Bill Show”.

The Helen and Bill Show,  like the Road Runner and Wile. E. Coyote really didn’t have a strict antagonist/protagonist roles.

Like the cartoon, all of my parents shows followed the same predictable pattern.

Dad was sent out for product A, and no matter how specific the instructions, no matter how complete the list, no matter how accurate the map of Smitty’s Big Town, or even Fry’s Grocery, Dad always returned without product A. Whether it was the wrong brand, size or heaven forbid he came back empty-handed, Dad like Wile E. Coyote and his Acme products, could never win.

Wile E. had cliffs, and looks of doom as he waved goodbye in mid-air before the drop.

Dad didn’t have cliffs,  just waves of  angry words he would have to wade through, and  he always did,  and the show always ended with a

“Ah come on Ellie,” and then laughter,  a cuddle, an embrace and it was all forgotten, they never kept score. Never held a grudge.

If they had a cell phone in 1975, The Helen and Bill Show would never have aired in my house, I used to wish Dad had one, thinking  that it could have saved my dad a lot of trouble. Now I know it would have been a terrible loss, not witnessing all that loud loving conflict resolution The Helen and Bill Show Style. By resolution I mean of course…my mother was always right.

I have proof.

My first piece of evidence is this.

The day my sister Elaine moved out, (she who gave me my love from all things Tolkien) she unloaded a priceless pearl of wisdom so powerful so profound I am still in her debt.  As my sister packed her bag, I watched from the doorway. She turned to me and said, 

“Mom is always right”

“But Elaine, she isn’t! Just yesterday…”

“Mom is always right” she repeated slowly.

It only took about three more exchanges of similar content for the meaning of her words to finally sink in.

Ah… Mom is always right.

Even when she isn’t. Elaine was trying to save me years of knocking my head against the  solid ever standing stubborn wall that was my mother….. I so wish I would have listened…

My real proof came years later, after my mother died, and it came straight from my father.

Dad was up early the morning after mom died. I awoke to the sound of my childhood, the sound of a tinkling teaspoon spoon stirring round and round  in a coffee cup. Which was strange because five years earlier Dad had a series of strokes, and he lost the taste for coffee.

I rounded the corner, and sure enough, there was Dad, stirring his spoonful of sugar round and round in the Tasters Choice Instant brew.

“Dad what are you doing?  I thought you didn’t like the taste of coffee anymore?” I stuttered.

He took a long pause, and then put down the spoon, lifted the bone china cup and took a quick sip, before he answered,

 “No, your mother didn’t want me drinking it, she didn’t think it was good for me,”

For five years after his stroke, my father faithfully made my mother her coffee, twice a day,  in her cup of choice, stirring adding two sugars and the correct amount of half and half, and never made himself one. Not once.

That’s how I know it for sure, cause Dad didn’t have coffee for five years…Mom was always right.

Dad said so.

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George

The bus was long gone, the Griffith Elementary School parking lot was empty, the girl scout leader slowed as she drove away,  waved goodbye and said, “I’m sure your mom will be here any second.”

My little sixth grade self sits on the Samsonite which was deposited on the sidewalk,  on the outside of the fence, not even worried a bit; my parents always showed-up…at least they did … until today.

They had to remember, after all,  I had been away to camp for a week!

The sun was starting to slant, I stared across  the street to Pierce Park, looking at the giant trees lining the west side of the park that I had always wanted to climb. They were already casting large shadows; giant dark fingers grabbing the grass. 

The dark. It was starting to get dark. Time to get home, time to get in, time for supper, time to check in, be home before dark… time.

I was only really afraid of the dark. 

The closet in my room, the string from the light hung down seemed to move all by itself and changed everything into a monster.

Then there was the dark under my bed. 

I jumped a long way from the door to bed each night,  so whatever moved in under the bed while I was gone all day,  couldn’t get me.  If I was very very brave, I would hang my head over the side, and slowly pull the covers up, and peek under. But that didn’t happen very often, and never when it was really really dark…

I was still safe if I had to put one foot down after I jumped for the bed, but not two. Two steps, and then I would have to call out,

 “DAD!” 

He always came, and tucked me in,  tucked arms in couldn’t move tight, tight like a wee sausage roll, tight and safe; he on his knees next to the bed would kiss me, smooth my hair from my face, tuck my hair behind my ears, away from my eyes, and suddenly the dark things weren’t so scary anymore.

 I wondered which way to go, through the park, through the dark fingers to Thomas mall, and then look for the movie sign.

 The movie sign, the billboard was just at the top of my street. If I could find the sign, I could look across 44th street and see Lewis Ave. and I would almost be home,  sweet home. 

But the dark fingers were all the way across now. There was no going that way.

I turned into the sun and made for 44th street. I would follow the sidewalk down, then across Oak St. and then walk until I saw the movie sign.

The Samsonite had two little wheels, and a strap on the opposite side, convenient!   Not.

The little me pulled that giant suit case down the sidewalk, the two-wheel and strappy handle Samsonite down the sidewalk muttering the entire way…In my imagination I was greeted with cheers and tears

“Oh I can’t believe we forgot you, our golden child, oh what terrible parents we are, oh will you ever forgive us?”

I plotted my revenge, what gifts they the parents who forgot would have to bestow upon me,  the golden child,  because of their forgetting….what could I ask for….? The world was mine for the asking…

It was a long while before I reached the house, the suitcase was heavy, I stopped and sat, and started out each time with a new want clear in my mind…candy, shoes, or a new pet? Oh boy they are going to pay for this!

I opened wide the door triumphant, pull the Samsonite its last few yards and slam the door behind me.

NOW they will pay!

My baby sister Michele skips through the living room singing, it takes me a moment to hear her words…

“Papa’s dead, Papa’s dead, Papa’s dead….”, she sings.

She is only  5, one does forgive, eventually.

Papa, my only Papa, my mother’s father, the gentle giant.

 The breath is gone, I go to my room, head hung,  can it be true? Can it be my Papa is dead?

I count my memories of him on a single hand.

One.

Splinters in my feet.

Dad built a deck off the house, i am 4 or 5… i sit then stand, then run,  the tiny pieces of wood enter my feet, painful.

Papa, my mother’s father, takes me in his lap. The pain fades with his soft hands as he takes the splinters from my tiny feet.

Two.

Christmas 1967. Wispy Walker Doll. She is blonde,  taller than I am, and walks, how? I take her to the cellar and take her apart, trying to discover her secrets, then can not put her back together. He finds me there, puts Wispy Blonde Walker back together and never ever tells anyone, never ever, crossed his heart and hoped to die he promised me,  never to tell, and he never did, he kept his promise and told no one, ever.

Three.

George… George … George of the Jungle, watch out for that tree! My Papa is learning to drive. He has moved from Springburn Scotland after retirement, and my sisters and I are in the back of the wagon as my Dad is giving  Papa a driving lesson. Papa’s name is George, George of the Jungle is currently a cartoon high in our cultural vocabulary. So my sisters and I sing  and rock back and forth from the backseat, “George,  George,  George of the Jungle,  watch out for that tree! ”  as he learns to drive.  He is not pleased. 

Four.

Papa now driving has driven across the United States to Arizona, I am up a tree in the  front yard, see him pull in to the driveway.

 “Is it a dream!” I yell as I dive into his arms.

Five.

Pumpkin Pie. Driving from the Worlds Fair in Toronto, he spies a church bake sale, and buys a pie. Approaching the U.S. border, he is compelled to toss said pie out the window, as all immigrants in the car fear they will be jailed for bringing a Canadian pumpkin pie across the border. I think of Papa every time I spy,  a pumpkin pie.

Harris Tweed jacket, stingy brim hat, and always a shirt and tie.

A bookbinder by trade, with the magical ability to gild the edges of a book, create swirled end papers,  and then bind it all in leather. Springburn  Scotland Masonic Lodge member, a moustache  that tickled, proper,  smiling,  finger missing Papa.

He had lost the four fingers  of his left hand mid joint as a lad working at Collins Book Binders.

He would tell us when we asked, “Papa what happened to your fingers?”

“Cut them off and ate them as sausages!”

We would squeal.

Gone.

All gone.

It was the only time I saw my mother cry, standing there ironing, getting ready to travel to her fathers funeral. Well that,  and the time she got bleach in her eye. But that doesn’t really count.

Dad says, “guess you have heard…”

Thats all.

There was no sorry, no excuse, no reason given. even my little sixth grader self understood.

He was gone, my mother was an orphan forever more, my Papa who had crossed oceans, sworn oaths, bound books was gone forever.

I know my wish now, know what I want, and know it will never come true.

I just want him back, for a little while.

And still as I sit and tell the tale almost 40 years later,  George is still missed, as much as that day I walked home alone from camp, and  I still want him back.

There is so much I don’t know about George.

I have another hand to fill with memories.

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This I can Do

“Morning”.  Always, every time,  his first word.

Then the stumble, the squat, the reaching for a chair.  Half dressed he appears now, no belt or socks, there are in hand, shirt untucked, pants open. He sits for a moment, “Boy… I’m dizzy this morning”, always comes next.

The trip to the bathroom when he has recovered, then coffee and meds, and porridge and TV news, and news paper, and crossword,  always in pen.

“Going to look around the estate.”  His walk around the house and yard, wide-brimmed Panama Jack straw hat on. He squats, every few feet,  then looks to see if I am watching.  Like a mother of a toddler, I try not to be alarmed at the stumbling steps. I wave and move on with the morning.

It takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust when I enter.  

Always the same, drapes and blinds closed. Allow nothing in!  No air,  no light,  no life. 

Sheets and bed covers pulled up straight, over the pillows up, cover it all up, no room for play, he has made the soft white feather down duvet look ridged with his stern bed making.

There is no comfort here. The air is still, and the odor unpalatable, clean-up  a must. 

I take the dirty clothes to the laundry room, strip the bed, open the drapes and blinds,  let in light and air and life; it rushes in and fills the dark places.

Lemon pledge happy spray, wipe and wax clean. Vacuum away the tracks and stillness,  spray and wipe the baseboards, Mrs. Meyer’s lavender  all-purpose meets lemon and light, exhale.  Better.

Sheets fresh bed made, clothes hung, whites away in drawers.

 This I can do.

Melon and berries, half a ham and cheese with tomato and mustard, apple juice and something to crunch,  call him in,  for a simple lunch.

This I can do.

Find the channel, watch him sink into the chair,  feet up, water and medicine down, sometimes he naps, sometimes not. Sometimes  he just sits, waiting.

I know his favorite part of a chicken,  the wings.

He says he doesn’t like sugar in his coffee, but if it is easier he says, “go ahead and put one tiny sugar in mine too,  just like yours.”

He doesn’t like to ask for help.  He will sit and watch nothing rather than ask for help in changing the channel.

He does not want a wheel chair, although he is house bound without one, he will not even talk about it, yet. 

His vision is worse when he awakens in the morning and better as the day goes on. 

He loves history, and the History Channel, and programmes which show men working,  “a good days work”.

He forgets things, sometimes right after I tell him, he loves to putter in the yard, pulling wayward blades and weeds, and I know one other thing. 

I know he is just waiting to die.

This I can not do.

Just waiting and watching,  along with just shutting up,  are not really my strong suits.

Griff  started working at 14 on the British Rail, worked there for 19 years before coming to the United States and becoming a pole climbing,  gaff wearing GTE lineman, then a cable line trench digging crewman, and finally hotel maintainance man; has always been an active guy.  

A mans man, a stick- the- desk- job- up- your -ass,  kinda fella.

He even went as far as turning down promotions that had  even a slight odor of management, he preferred the crew, and camaraderie, the thrill of plain hard work.

While still in Florida, Griff and I were reading the paper on the patio, an article announced the rail system routes for a new proposed electric rail from Tampa to Orlando. Griff reads the article, lowers the paper, looks at me and says,

“I could get a job on this new rail, they will need men with rail experience…”

I nod. Silent.

Multiple System Atrophy, autonomic hypertension, parkinsonism symptoms, dementia, and age 73, but damn it,  he could do it.

Have to admire his work ethic. 

He is nothing if not a man who after working for almost 60 years, is still defined by the hard work he loves.

He is also defined by the things he doesn’t  like, paperwork, writing, and generally doing anything with the finances, or educating himself about his illness and general physical decline. This  other stuff was left to Hilda.

With her loss, he is left  really non-functioning in these areas of his life. He is a man who doesn’t understand anything about what is happening to him on the most basic level, and so he sits, and tells me, 

“This waiting to die,  really sucks.”

He leaves the room.

This I can not do.

I think of the line from The Shawshank Redemption, but leave it alone. 

After a while I knock on his door.

“Are you going to bed or what?”

“I was reading about my disease, my neck was sore and I wondered if it was because of my crouching tiger syndrome.”

He comes back into the living room.

“You shouldn’t look at a medical book that is 25 years old and produced my Readers Digest Griff, we have a computer ….I have a whole bunch of information on your illness printed out, do you want to see it?”

I get it and hand it to him.

The conversation is started, I ask him what he knows about his illness, which turns out is nothing other than the names, and the fact that the Doctors told him,

“There is nothing we can do for you”.

The web sites are few, the support groups sorely lacking in support, but a DVD is available I find on my search for information.

He watched the 30 minute infomercial about MSA, turned to me and said,

“I could relate to a lot of that”.

“Did you know I read that Johnny Cash had MSA?”

Then came the question…

“Did he die of it?”

I know he isn’t really asking me if Johnny Cash died of MSA. I know what he is really asking is Am I going to die of MSA?

I remember while in Florida before Hilda died, Jackie arrived and Griff grabbed my arm and said,

“Don’t tell her that her mother is dying.”

“The hospital bed is in the family room, hospice is in the picture, I have called her to come and you really don’t think she knows her mother is dying?” I asked.

Lets just say this side of the family is a little emotionally constipated at times. Over protective stick your head in the sand when it comes to emotional issues kinda constipated.

“Griff you know you have a debilitating progressive illness that will not stop. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but you have to decide what you want to do with today, just today, ok? ”

He nods.

“He died of breathing complications I think,  which can be a leading cause of fatality to those with your illness.”

“Oh” came his reply.

“But it also says most folks have issues with incontinence, and you don’t …”

“True, that’s true…I read that too!”

I look outside, see the wilt on the hydrangea bush.

“So do you think you think those plants in the pots need a drink or what?”

“I”ll get on that.”

“I’ll get the beers.”

I watch him shuffle off , and I get the beers knowing,  at least today,

this I can do.

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Beauty

I am not that  easily rattled. I have no problem relocating spiders, or beetles,  or any manner of bugs, from their unwelcome wander in the house, back outside. 

I love being alone in the dark, and walking solo in foreign lands when I don’t speak a word of the language,  doesn’t scare.

The faster the coaster, the better. 

Public speaking is refreshing, debating a delight, new things?  Bring them on.

There is one thing, however,  that does scare …  the beauty counter at department stores. 

They are there, the beautiful women.   Not a hair out-of-place, skin glowing perfection, lips lined,  hands and nails flawless, standing there in their black smocks. One look  and I actually start to hyperventilate.

I have never understood. I know not what this, forgive me Betty,  what this part of the Feminine Mystique holds.

And more importantly, why I didn’t get any. It’s like a sorority I never got the invitation to rush.

It’s not for want of trying. Mascara once applied draws not the right attention. My daughters look at me and say,

“Mom do you have mascara on? Can I fix it ?”

Or even worse, it is forgotten and an itchy eye or face rub instantly turns me into Alice Cooper. 

I do not own an eye lash curler, eye liner, or  concealer stick.

My pores are noticable as are freckles, moles, and crows feet. I used to exit the shower with a rosy glow, and consider myself lucky. Now I have been informed, at a whisper,  my rosy glow is rosacea, and it should be hidden. 

I just don’t get it. I have watched late night TV infomercials, ordered easy mineral products, Looks so natural!  I have contour maps and application schemes, all for naught. The magic products when applied leave me looking  like something between Penny Wise the sewer strolling clown, and Mimi from The Drew Carey Show.

After all that worry, shame, conformity and expense, one just washes it off. Money down the drain.

I just don’t get it.

Vanity does exist however, only the form is slighty bent to keeping hair off the upper lip and chin, places that until age 45 I didn’t know needed deforestation on a regular basis.

Oh yes,  lets no forget the big  toe. Heaven help me the first ever pedicure at age 45 also left me speechless, the few wisps on my big toe while far from hobbit like, I soon learned were also a cause for more  shame than my poor LSAT score.  Bless my heart.

A new TV habit has also left me rather speechless of late. While watching a show that is obviously not meant for the 48-year-old grannie demographic,  I saw a commercial which I had never seen before. After seeing the commercial three times, on the fourth play I screamed for my youngest girl child, almost 16 to witness it with me. 

“Ok are you seeing this?!” I screamed.

“What mom?”

 “As the long-legged gal walked past that shrub…did you see it?”

“What… that it changed shape?”

“Yes, and then the second time it changed too!  It morphed into a different shape…did you see it?”

“Yes…. mom, the ad is for a personal groomer, the shrub is meant to represent…you know mom,  it’s a shrub get it? …Please mom…you get it right?”

I got it.  I was completely and utterly mute.  

There is so much I don’t know. I just though you should keep the private parts covered with clothing. I had no idea they were offensive in their natural state and needed electric appliances all of their own. I shall not discuss an earlier episode where I attempted a self-waxing product that I neglected to read the entire directions of before hand, and in a state of distraction left it on way to long. Lets just say I found myself praying to any deity that would take pity on my old vain ass. I was weeks in mental recovery, and vowed to forever more always wear a  swim suit that covered…everything.

So bless me father for I have sinned, I have never purchased anything from the beauty counter people, not once. I avoid them at all costs.

Only slightly less dreadful is going to a shopping mall. I can never find pants short enough, tops long enough, or  a reason good enough,  to go. 

My friends frequently laugh and tell me, “you know.. those pants are long on you, but they are really capris,  right?”   shit.

The last time I actually went shopping, as a separate and planned activity was 2003.

Louise,  my lanky English friend, who can never find pants long enough, whatthefuckever,  and I, went to Victoria’s Secret.

Big mistake.

We both bought the same bra, and exited the store with pretty pink shopping bags.

Louise’s petite bag was the size of a lunch sack, mine looked like it could hold a  complete set of bath towels.

We both purchased the same bra, a single bra. Is it any wonder I don’t like shopping?  

With one exception, shopping at the shoe department at Nordstrom’s.

It is a mecca of wonder, and although I have been every size from a 2 to a 18, my feet remain faithful size, which size you ask? noneofyourbusiness.

Can you see my problem? 

One has to both go to the mall, and pass the beauty counter to reach the magical kingdom of designer shoedom.

It takes me weeks to work up the courage to go where the average teenager spends most of her time, the mall. Like… it’s the mall, like its just THE place to go!

Despite careful plotting and planning the beauty counter stands between me and my goal, the shoes…and there are also black smocks with silver trays handing out free samples! Crap.

I take a deep breath, see my route before me and start to walk fast. I leave the gauntlet of beauties behind without making eye contact, my eyes on the prize; just ahead, a pair of black wrapped leather wedges, a  Faryl Robin’s shoe, the Madison…exhale ooh la la fabulous… I leave thoughts of beauty counter behind me…

I spy some Sam Edelman’s soft grey suede, beaded delights with two little buckles on the ankle,  the Quinley..omg I need to sit down.

The Cole Haan’s  Ceci Air Rose is more than I can bare. The soft petal sling backs leave me wanting a cigarette, and I don’t even smoke.

My only thought as I walk the floor wearing more than the rent on my first apartment on my feet is relief.

Thank God I remembered to shave my big toe.

 

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