You know that I love Strunk and White and their seventeenth principle of composition: Omit needless words. Never was that principle better presented than by railroad crossing signs.
Stop. Look. Listen.
Always, for all things.
You know that I love Strunk and White and their seventeenth principle of composition: Omit needless words. Never was that principle better presented than by railroad crossing signs.
Stop. Look. Listen.
Always, for all things.
When Jenny was born she had a blocked tear duct that caused the tissue around her eye to be sightly swollen. Once the delivery room nurse added silver nitrate drops to her eyes as was customary to prevent eye infection in newborns, the swelling turned a shade of purple-blue that left Jenny looking as if she had just come from a boxing ring.
She looked that way for about a week, when a porcelain doll emerged from the prizefighter face and she was the most beautiful child I had ever seen. Her features were tiny and delicate. She seemed to be aware of her own beauty and cried sparingly so as not to scrunch up her lovely face unnecessarily. I appreciated that.
She was a delicate little thing (off and on, and we won’t discuss those early OFF periods) until she awoke on her third birthday and decided that she was henceforth to be, Jenny: HELLION. She was, for a while. She then discovered some wonderful girly thing and became a delicate flower once again.
Jenny’s transmogrifications kept me hopping for the next couple of decades. She was girly, she was hippie, she was Wicca aficionado, she was gymnast and swimmer, she was singer, she was black goth girl wannabe, she was drum circle didgeridoo player, she was hiker, camper, canoe and outdoor enthusiast, she was forklift driver. She didn’t only live life, she tasted it, drank it, she consumed it and left a slightly singed trail of her presence behind her.
She drove me out of my ever-loving mind.
I called her my tornado girl because she entered like a whirlwind and changed things all around her. She exhausted me, and I couldn’t have loved her more. I can’t love her more today.
She is now to be married and will soon have a baby. I hope her child drives her as nuts as she did me. It’s the best way to raise a new citizen; watch them grow, watch them fall, watch them soar, and then sit back and watch them settle. A brand new family will be born. It’s as amazing as the birth of one baby, and as exciting to observe.
It’s finally here and I am unsure how to feel. For 30 years I have thought that I would rejoice when justice was about to be served. One would think that we would all be happy when justice is about to be served, but I am still unsure.
One day you will see the advent of something for which you have waited most of your life. You know the struggle I have had with wanting something to happen to make it all stop, but not wanting or being able to be the one to assign guilt or sentence. My dreams (nightmares) have assigned enough.
It’s completely out of my hands, and the only thing I have left to do is watch and wait. While I wait I think about the past and how we have all been affected. I hope that justice is swift and fair because justice, in this case, is being measured for transgressions having nothing to do with any of us. How I wish we could have stopped that, somehow. I detest the idea that anyone else has been made to feel afraid.
I understand that folks are busy with life. It’s how things are. I wonder, however, what it would be like if people paid attention to those who will soon be leaving before they left, instead of telling their tale of woe at a funeral service.
I have been fortunate. I have had interactions with loved ones before they died, so I didn’t have to feel anything other than loss when they finally left our world. I wouldn’t give up those interactions for the world. I loved those people and was able to tell them so.
I also know that people receive far more in the way of commiseration if they have not been able to connect with loved ones before the inevitability of death. Announcing death or dying on Facebook has become a way to receive comment after comment stroking the same sore spots after seeing, or not seeing, those who are passing, and indeed, caring or not really caring at all. I think it’s a new fashion.
Such a shame.
My experiences with my mother over the past year have so affected me that I cannot understand missing out when things are tough. I can’t understand not reaching out for the person who gave me life or perpetuated my life in some way. I would not have missed a single moment. Beanie is as Beanie has always been—Mom, and I love her.
I am not sure how she imparted to me this deep love that I cannot leave behind as a nuisance, but I am grateful. We are both here, for now. We love. What a wonderful thing that is.
Most girls have dreams about how their wedding will unfold. I wonder how many realize their dreams, and how many laugh at reality. I hope that the majority have a hearty laugh at the things that go wrong that can make weddings, and sometimes marriages, go absolutely right.
It’s a good time to talk about weddings because of Aunt Jenny’s pending nuptials, while leaving a few words for you to remember when your time comes.
The ability to laugh at ourselves is one of the most important skills we can learn. I call it a skill because it was a really tough lesson for me. I needed to learn to separate the funny parts of life from those critical to survival, take a good look at them, strive to understand them, and finally, laugh. Laughing at myself never became a natural response; I still need to evaluate and then laugh, but these days I laugh often.
Weddings are important, but not nearly as important as the marriages they celebrate. When you decide to embark on the journey of marriage, sweet girl, be honest with yourself. Once you are honest with yourself, be honest with your partner. Hide nothing. Love or do not love everything, and be honest about those things. We can love without loving every part of our partner. We can’t love without being honest about it. We can’t live that lie. It always comes up or out or falls on our head, while jeopardizing the most important relationship we will ever have.
I know these things because I lived them. Your Grandpa and I were not nearly as honest about things we did not like about each other as we should have been. Perhaps if we had been, we would have been able to keep our marriage together. I like to think that we could have.
Never forget that a broken relationship comes from the actions of all parties to the relationship. Your Grandpa and I were both wrong many different times and we didn’t fix it. We let things simmer. Don’t do that. Talk, argue, holler, and do it honestly. Do it with the love that we still had when we fell apart, but that we forgot to put into play.
Remember to laugh. We did laugh and, for that, I am proud of us.
The first laughs came from the day of the wedding itself. Too much was going on in town, and we knew that traffic would be a problem. President Ronald Reagan was going to be speaking at Notre Dame University Commencement the same morning as our wedding, so we tried to plan well. Grandpa Frank would be coming from the far south side of town to the far north of town, to a church near our house.
We had already faced difficulty with a church and a pastor to officiate, and were being married in a Protestant church, by a Presbyterian minister. We were okay with that. The minister was replacing the regular pastor that had had a heart attack just days before the wedding. The organist waited until the day of the wedding to become very ill, but the church found a replacement.
I was at home getting dressed and being nervous when Grandpa Frank arrived at the house. He went to change clothes and realized that his pants were not on the hanger with his shirt and jacket. He was always so organized and prepared that everyone was stunned. He hopped back into his 1970 Volkswagen van to make the ten mile trip back south, through Notre Dame traffic, to get his pants. I got myself dressed—there was no hair to be done; I had my regular pixie cut—while people were working on getting Grandma Cecelia and Dodie to the church. Everyone was in cars and took off for the church—early, even!
The one person they forgot, was me. I came downstairs and into the kitchen to—no one! The house was empty. I got into my Oldsmobile and drove to the church. Everyone was surprised when I arrived, because everyone thought someone else had me in their car.
Grandpa Frank made it back to the church in time (but close) for the ceremony. Just as we had wished, Grandpa John and Grandma Beanie walked down the aisle with me, and Grandpa Frank Sr. and his wife, Fran, walked down the aisle with Grandpa Frank. We lit two tapers from one unity candle.
Everyone looked wonderful and the ceremony was just as I had imagined it would be. My siblings were all in the wedding. I wanted it to be special and it was.
We laughed at the reception when the champagne cork worked itself out, slowly, during toasts, and then popped up and hit the ceiling, coming right back down on Aunt Linda’s head. We laughed about the day’s traffic and Grandpa Frank’s mad dash to get his missing pants. We laughed about the bride being the only one left without a ride to the wedding. We were giddy, as was our right on our special day. We celebrated until we just couldn’t move any longer, then made our way to Grandma Beanie’s home in our two vehicles—my Oldsmobile and Grandpa Frank’s VW van.
I arrived at the empty house first. The empty locked house. I had no purse and I was still in my wedding gown. There was a window that we all used when locked out, and I thought, why not? I did climb in through that window in my wedding dress and tumbled a bit into the living room. It was somehow fitting that this tomboy couldn’t remain a lady, even on her wedding day. We laughed at that, too.
Grandpa Frank arrived shortly after and we began to laugh at all of the crazy things that had happened on our way to marriage, things that helped to cement our bond.
We laughed. We should never have stopped.
It has been almost two years since I decided to begin leaving a series of stories and life posts for you. The two-to-five year prognosis has come and gone; this is now almost year seven. It feels like year seven. Though I warned you I might whine a bit on this site, I have done that only one time. In this post I will try to not whine, and attempt to simply present information.
You saw at Thanksgiving that things are beginning to be a little difficult. The new regular oxygen saturation (pulse ox) is about 85%, dropping when I move around into the low 70% range. If I sit still it can go as high as 90%!
I won’t go into detail about other symptoms because that’s not fun to read. You have seen most of it – swelling here and pain there; gasping here and dizziness there; coughing here and general yuckiness there. I am still grinning and mostly bearing it, while continuing to wish that opiates were not on my allergy list.
I bought glucosamine lotion for Grandma Beanie’s arthritic knee that contains something called glucosamine sulfate potassium complex. In this particular preparation it apparently comes from shellfish, to which we all know that Grandma Beanie is highly allergic. Bah. It’s one of those times that one feels about as big as an ant. She didn’t use it because, unlike me, she read the ingredients. What a concept. It’s a good thing I bought capsaicin cream, too. She’s not allergic to chili peppers.
I always wanted to be on a jury. Court proceedings fascinate me. Though I was called to report for selection a few times I was never chosen, but in the mid 1980s, Grandma Beanie was.
We were all excited for her and awaiting news from her jury adventure. We wondered if it would be a capital case. We wondered if she would be sequestered. We wondered what amazing stories she would tell us about being in court and seeing how it all worked. In the 1980s there was a certain reverence for court proceedings that has been lessened by exposure of the populace to a number of more recent public trials. Trials are still riveting for many, including me, but there is a certain missing mystique that was once a large part of a trial.
Grandma Beanie prepared to go to trial with allowed reading materials and some crochet work for time spent waiting before being called. She was excited when she and her fellow jurors were called to the courtroom, soon to be apprised of the case about which they would be deliberating after all evidence had been presented.
Others filed into the courtroom, and then they all saw the defendant. He was a tiny thing. He didn’t look at all scary. What could he have done to be standing there in front of a judge and jury? The judge said something, to which someone responded that the court was awaiting the arrival of the defense attorney, a Mr. Paul Newman.
Grandma Beanie’s mind, probably because she was overexcited, envisioned the suave and impossibly handsome Paul Newman, the actor. We all fall into a bit of romance from time to time, don’t we? Even court proceedings could have romantic moments when a defense attorney named Paul Newman was involved. It didn’t happen. When Paul Newman walked in, at least one of Grandma Beanie’s romantic court bubbles burst right in front of her. While the defense attorney was an okay looking guy, he was an enormous man bearing no resemblance to Paul Newman, movie star.
Paul Newman, Esq., looked like a defense attorney in a mid-sized metropolis (well, we like to think of it as a mid-sized metropolis – romantics to the last, we are). He looked just like you and me and everyone else around here. And it was okay, because Grandma Beanie was in court, part of a jury. That was going to be exciting.
Once everyone was settled the charges were read. The defendant was accused of breaking into a home via a bedroom window, climbing over the bed and making his way to the kitchen, where he opened the freezer and absconded with a whole chicken. That was it. He stole a frozen chicken. It was made clear that he exited the home through the same window and left it open. The house became very cold with winter air flowing through that open window, the window whose gaping countenance displayed to the world that the owners of the home had been violated.
Each of the jurors took the case very seriously and deliberated when the time came. They found the young man guilty of breaking and entering and sundry other charges. It was serious because no one is allowed to break into the home of others and steal their belongings—not even a frozen chicken.
When Grandma Beanie told us of her experience over dinner that evening we hung on to each word of her story until she said, “frozen chicken.” We then all lost it, en masse. In our world, it seemed that ONLY Grandma Beanie could be called for a jury trial over a frozen chicken. It was priceless, because she had such great luck with poultry, such as the Thanksgiving when both of the breasts popped out of the turkey and on to the kitchen floor as she was removing the bird from the oven. It was the only year that Aunt Cindy’s FUTURE in-laws ever attended our Thanksgiving.
Aunt Jenny just reminded me of a story to tell about the typical heroics of your father. He loved to help and wanted to make things better for everyone, especially Jenny. He was a big brother and took that role seriously.
So the stage was set one warm summer day when Joe-your-dad and Jenny were out riding their bicycles with a friend. Jenny was about eight and Joe was about ten, and they were enjoying the freedom that “riding around the block” afforded them. Most times it was a safe trip.
One exception to the safe trip was when the group stopped to visit a couple of other kids four houses down from home and, after parking their bikes, were hanging around an overgrown and unshapely Japanese yew near the street. Lurking within that yew was a nest of bluejays. I am pretty sure that bluejays are birds that none of us should ever mess with. We had experience with them before, twice. They look pretty, but if you look very closely you can see a bit of evil in the eyes, and maybe even some evil in the crest of those males. This was our third experience with those males attacking one of our males. Once it was Grandpa Frank, once it was Grandpa John, and this time, it was Joe-your-dad.
He said he was minding his own business, hanging around and being as cool as a kid can be, when one of those birds decided to ascend from the Japanese yew and attack his head. PECK, PECK, PECK, the thing went, with your dad running those four houses home, dripping blood down his face in the most ghoulish fashion. He insisted he did nothing to provoke the bird and I believed him, because I had seen it before. DANG those bluejays anyway!
But that was not the stage that was set when Joe-your-dad decided to save your Aunt Jenny. Still on the other side of the block, Jenny was riding along on her bike with Joe and his friend following. While looking at who knows what, Jenny ran directly into a parked car and she and her bike bounced off of the car in slightly different directions. The bike landed. Jenny landed. Joe was horrified, and after a cursory check to see that Jenny was still alive while thrashing around on the asphalt and gravel, he took off at break-neck speed to save his sister. He was heading home to tell adults, to call for help, to get first aid, to do anything that needed to be done.
He was SuperJoe.
His caring and compassion for his sister at those moments could be matched only by the pure of heart. He did that a few other times, too. It was really quite impressive to experience such purity of love.
SuperJoe was heroism in action until he forgot one of the most important rules of being a hero: look out for number one, first. If one does not look out for number one, all others trailing behind could be in serious peril.
SuperJoe rounded the curve on the way to going home, and in some of the same gravel his sister had found herself, his super bike slipped and failed him. He skidded spectacularly (SuperJoe couldn’t do it any other way), and fell to the asphalt. But he wasn’t finished. SuperJoe proceeded home with bloodied knees, scraped arms and banged up face, and without a thought for himself, he told me about Jenny. While bleeding and panting, he told me that she was lying in the street, hurt. He was quite amazing.
In the meantime, Jenny and the neighbor boy had made their way home. They were walking with their bikes. There were no dents on either bicycles or children as they approached. Jenny had the tiniest scrape on one knee that I couldn’t even categorize as a skinned knee.
SuperJoe sat with a huge grin on his face. He had saved the day, and with one bloody grin, he touched a part of my heart that wasn’t easily reached.
Later I saved him with some cleaning up and bandages, and a great big thank you for being Joe.
I didn’t thank him for being SuperJoe. I never told him, to this day, that I had thought about SuperJoe. I thanked him for being Joe. He was a pretty good guy. I remember him.
No one could have known it would happen this way. I never expected to discover sisters because, as you know, I work pretty hard to keep my distance from most people. But some people sneak in when one least expects it, and in the most surprising ways.
I have discovered sisters. I think they may be the most remarkable things I have ever seen. I didn’t know they could be so cool, really.
They do the most amazing things! They help—a lot. They say nice stuff. They listen.
Who could have known they DO that?
I said one day that I love the modern wine glasses without stems; the next week I found them on the front porch, delivered via the heart of my North Carolina sister. I didn’t know what to do with that, so I did what I do when people break into my world; I cried.
Last week I said during dinner that I loved radishes. Today I had a bag of radishes and a radish and caraway seed salad, via the heart of my dear, dear Indiana sister. I am almost afraid to love a food, because kale, lettuce, mushrooms, chicken, tacos, rice and I-can’t-even-think-of-it-all has appeared.
Of course, they listen and respond to far more critical matters than those above, but the mentioned instances surprised me. That’s sisters, eh?
They HUG, too! Though I wasn’t quite sure about that, I survived it and dare I say, even liked it a bit? I didn’t cry until later. And they don’t hug often. It’s a good thing, methinks. I am also thinking that I am going to like this sister thing a whole lot.
Annie stood in the middle of the room with her fingers holding her demure maternity blouse against her hips. Her tummy and bosom both stood out proudly for the first time in her life. She was happy about both and hopeful that the enhanced bosom would remain after the birth.
The ladies in the room fussed over Annie and told her how beautiful she looked. And she did look beautiful, until a new woman joined the group.
“Ugh, why do you show that? I never even look pregnant until the month before the baby is born, and I certainly wouldn’t show it off,” said Mindy, Annie’s sister-in-law, as she moved efficiently through the crowd. Her body betrayed no sign of the coming of her third child. Her nineteen-sixties-style shirt dress with belted waist and plenty of fabric in a large knee-length gathered skirt surely covered a lot, but the ladies also knew that Mindy would be sporting a shoulder to thigh girdle beneath the billowing skirt.
Annie looked crestfallen. Annie’s mother, Mindy’s mother-in-law, looked furious. As the ladies turned away from Mindy’s nastiness, her mother-in-law followed Mindy to the food table. Of course, Mindy wouldn’t be eating. She never ate in public. Her mother-in-law suspected that she knew the reason, but had never explored her theory. With anger at Mindy for insulting Annie bolstering her, she was ready to test the theory today.
Looking Mindy square in they eye and then gathering all of the force she could find in her body, she backhanded Mindy across the center-parted, shoulder length, perfectly flipped nineteen-sixties-style blonde hair. Mindy fell to the floor with her gathered skirt flying up to her waist. As suspected, a sturdy girdle firmly held every inch of flesh nearly to Mindy’s knees.
As Mindy’s mother-in-law had suspected would occur, Mindy’s head was split open and firing off electrical sparks. A dislodged electrical component that looked like a motherboard showed within the split. Mindy was twitching from her face to the tips of her sensible low-heeled pumps.
Looking at her daughter Annie, Mindy’s mother-in-law said, “Call your brother. His wife is broken.” She punctuated her words with a simple nod. Her theory had been correct.