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Posts Tagged ‘Memoir’

We are all figuring out ways to come together while apart.

Bob and I shared cocktail hour one night in a parking lot with neighbors. Some of us sat on tailgates and some got comfy on camp chairs. While keeping the appropriate distance, we got caught up on local gossip – the last time we’d seen each other we were cleaning up the streets after our Tornado.

I like to capitalize Tornado because it seems weighty, and it was my first time cheating death by Mother Nature. And we cannot forget Nashville was already reeling, before our “Stay at Home” order; some of us had no roof, or a home for shelter.

Yesterday we ordered cupcakes from our local bakery, The Cupcake Collection. Mignon is offering curbside delivery! https://www.thecupcakecollection.com/  They had just started up their business again, after losing a good portion of their historic house to record-setting winds last month. I remember the Bride’s Italian Nanny, Giovanna, loved red velvet cupcakes. But we were hoping to celebrate Great Grandpa Hudson’s 94th birthday with some sweet potato cupcakes.

Hudson was a redhead when he was young. He lied about his age to enlist in WWII and served on a ship in the Pacific Theatre. He is the only grandfather my children have ever known since my father died when I was a baby, and Bob’s father, well, he was of no use. My children never met him.

Hudson still serves as Ada’s co-star in Nashville. But when we would visit them in NJ, he was always the fix-it guy, having actually built a hospital in Ghana once upon a time when he was a missionary. He carved gigantic totem poles, fixed furniture, the pool every spring, and any plumbing or roofing problems that might pop up. He was the husband/handyman every woman ever wanted. Over the years, he’d officiate at more weddings than I can count, including the Bride and Groom’s.

We sang the Happy Birthday song to Hudson through a glass window in the vestibule of their assisted living facility. I’m not really sure if he could hear us. Only aides are allowed in and out, but we could talk with Ada through our cell phones. Her spirit is incredible, this virus cannot diminish that resilient light. “How are my babies?” she asked me. So I told her how the Bride is home-schooling, that she has enough PPE for now, and about Dolly Parton’s gift to Vanderbilt. Dolly for President!

She said she likes my red hair, and I told her it was pink leaning toward fuchsia. Leave it to me to decide to color my hair when I won’t be able to see my stylist for awhile.

Bob and I have figured out how to use Zoom, it’s actually pretty easy. I can still take a group Pilates class once a week through my iPad. I only need a yoga mat and a foam roller. I almost don’t recognize myself in that gallery window box – who is that purple headed lady?

Some of you know that I’ve often felt like a character in an Anne Tyler novel, going about her day to day existence, seemingly normal, while balancing an out-of-control inner life. Maybe most writers live in the subtext? It’s certainly helpful right now – in this out-of-control outer life – to stay in the moment, so I thought I’d recommend Tyler’s newest book to you, since we all have a lot of time on our hands. Why not call up your local bookstore?

Her new novel is “Redhead by the Side of the Road.” It’s about second chances, it’s funny and compassionate at the same time. You might want to eat a cupcake while you read it! https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-520904645953AE18-6DD5-4CA6-93ED-99E3EFF69A4C

 

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When I first met Wendi, she was holding her baby boy. Her smile was like sunshine as she showed me around the property. We had finally moved to Virginia, and when the Bride and I first saw the house, she had been away on a business trip. My soon-to-be landlord was a fabulous designer, she flew all over the country installing the dreams of her famous clients.

Strangely enough on that crystal clear day in Charlottesville, Wendi was in New Jersey.

But at our first look, her husband, wanted us to rent their guest cottage. He knew the Bride was starting at UVA Medical School, and he was psyched about our Duke connection. As he led us through the main house and into the dining room, where an old Dutch master-like portrait of a man with a beard hung over a sideboard, I wasn’t prepared for this revelation.

“There’s a building at Duke University named after my ancestor,” he said pointing up to the painting, “It’s the Allen Building.”

In fact, Bob and the Bride were well acquainted with the Allen Building. Turns out it was named after a good friend of JB Duke in the early 1920s, a man from Warrenton, NC – George Garland Allen. Allen had started out as a bookkeeper for the American Tobacco Company in 1895, working his way up in the Duke organization.

My new landlord’s Great Grandfather, on his Mother’s side, had been known to say it was easier to accumulate his wealth than it was to give it away.

This didn’t stop us from moving our Welsh Corgi along with big Buddha Bear and Bailey Dawg (the Bride’s Lab) into the smaller “cottage” on their property. Wendi welcomed us with open arms, in fact she collected a menagerie of dogs too – from a sublime Great Dane to another ridiculous Corgi! When we finally built our house overlooking the Blue Ridge, Wendi had 2 small boys, and 2 matching Labs.

In contrast to her husband’s Southern lineage, Wendi was a California girl. She didn’t come from money; she had been a nanny in NY and then went to school for design. She built her own business from the ground up, and juggled 2 children with the demands of her world-wide clientele. I remember distinctly when she told me about this woman who would come in and cook you a week’s worth of meals on a Sunday and put them in the freezer.

Aha, so this was how working women who might jet off at a moment’s notice took care of their family. This was before GrubHub.

Wendi would throw great Gatsbyesque parties around their pond behind their home. She sent her boys to the public school and became one of the fiercest football moms around. She loved keeping tabs on the Rocker, and made sure her boys knew all about his band. When the Parlor Mob stopped by on a swing through Virginia, she treated them like royalty. When I became secretary of the local book club, she’d make a point of attending if she was in town.

She was one or two decades younger than most of us; a doctor, a few lawyers, a few teachers, and me, the one who could make an email list-serve. Wendi’s California blonde exuberance would always add the fun component to our gatherings. After her divorce, she started a new business of high-end consignment pop-ups that housed many of the pieces Bob and I couldn’t carry with us to Nashville.

Last month, after saying goodbye to her oldest son, who was heading to Australia for his college semester abroad, Wendi died tragically, she was only 53 years old. That baby, that I first met on her hip, is now in high school. When my old friend and neighbor called to tell me the news, I was shaking. How can this be? Didn’t I just talk with her about our trip to Tulum? Didn’t I just see beautiful pictures on Instagram of her December holiday in Puerto Rico? She’d found a new love, and life was looking good for my friend.

How can a light like that be extinguished? My lovely, vibrant Wendi, how can this happen? I hope you knew how many people loved you. Your outstanding sons are your legacy, your Valentines in football jerseys. Sleep peacefully dear heart.

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It’s been a busy week: I started physical therapy; Great Grandma Ada had a visiting  friend from New Jersey, so I took her to a drag brunch; and Ada also regaled her JCC Book Club with a look back on her life… which will have to be continued since 95 years cannot possibly be distilled into an hour!

We did learn something new though – Ada was voted “Most Charming” by her Brooklyn high school class.

Since I’ve found the Senate Impeachment Trial of Mr T most distressing, and not charming at all, I refuse to watch it. Relying on the occasional Tweet to keep me up to date, especially of my favorite Senator Amy Klobuchar, it would seem that only Justice Roberts is taking this trial seriously. I’m glad he admonished both sides to keep it civil and behave with the gravitas the Senate chamber deserves.

A trial with no witnesses and no documents is still a trial worthy of respect. Right?

I was served a subpoena twice. Once a long, long time ago when I was working at Head Start in Jersey City I accidentally hit a homeless woman illegally crossing the street. Just as the sun came up over the skyline of Manhattan, I was blinded turning a corner and didn’t see her. My insurance company kept me in good hands and settled for the maximum amount on my policy.

The second time I was served we had just moved from NJ, and I had left my old car behind, it was a green Ford Explorer that the Rocker had inherited and drove to high school every day. But he wasn’t allowed a car on his college campus in Trenton, so we sold it. Or I should say, Bob sold it to a young man while I was in VA.

Long story short, he was arrested the next day for having marijuana in the car, my old Ford Explorer, and somehow or another I was still listed as the registered owner. Hence, a guy shows up at my door in Virginia ordering me to appear for a trial in New Jersey.  Again, a lawyer was deployed, money was exchanged, and a calamity was averted.

Isn’t it strange that I’ve never been called for jury duty, something I’ve actually wanted to do all my life, but I’ve been served TWO subpoenas! What if I didn’t have car insurance or the money to pay for a good defense? I was recently talking to a friend about Jane Fonda getting arrested for her Climate inspired Fire Drill Friday demonstrations.

I mean with all the protesting I’ve done over the years for women/human rights, why haven’t I been arrested? It’s almost a badge of honor today.

Congress should have subpoenaed Ambassador Bolton, sure, and he would have every right to hire a lawyer and fight it, if the Senate had the guts to call on him. It sounds like he’s willing to talk, and he might even lend some decorum to the proceedings, but his Republican cronies are afraid of the truth. They can’t handle the truth! 

Here is Amy Klobuchar’s early morning Tweet:

 “At 1:30 a.m. after a bunch of votes to stifle key witnesses the Republicans just voted down having Justice Roberts decide the witnesses! Why have this job if you’re not going to protect the Constitution? We are sworn to protect our democracy, not serve the President’s interests.”

Can you handle this cuteness?

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Virgo has moved on to Libra and my worlds are colliding! There was a full moon the night before the Bride’s 40th birthday, which she celebrated in Asheville, NC. She refused to make a big deal out of it and insists she’s totally fine. Well why wouldn’t she be? She’s got a beautiful family, an amazing career, and just became a certified yoga instructor to boot! According to Oprah, at 40 “…you can stop living your life for other people and start living it for yourself!”

Wait, I thought that happened at 50? I’m pretty sure Great Grandma Ada would NOT agree as she lives primarily to help other people!

But here’s the thing. According to the Bride, her Enneagram Type is 1… The Reformer! Now this is your basic Type A personality; she is the Monica of her friends, the girl who gets things done. Hard-driven, “rational, idealistic, principled, purposeful, self-controlled and…wait for it…perfectionistic.” That’s pretty right on.

So for my birthday I was instructed to take the test! This Libra will be turning 71 soon and figured why not? Numbers no longer bother me, it’s a slow roll to 80 when I’ll probably need new knees. Turns out I’m Type 9 – The Peacemaker! Yep that’s me, always wanting to make connections and keep the family together, a typical Welsh Corgi in the dog eat dog world of life. I avoid conflict whenever possible, but I’m not afraid to stand up to bullies. “Easygoing, self-effacing, receptive, reassuring, agreeable and complacent.”

Complacent?! I’m blaming Catholic School for that one! The Ennegram Institute goes on:

Nines tend to adopt an optimistic approach to life; they are, for the most part, trusting people who see the best in others; they frequently have a deep seated faith that things will somehow work out. They desire to feel connected, both to other people and to the world at large. They frequently feel most at home in nature and generally make warm and attentive parents.

Turning 30 I nearly had a meltdown. Baby Boomers always thought you could never trust anyone over 30, that was the watershed moment; old age was right around the corner! The beginning of the end, the reason to buy black balloons. I was single, childless, and adrift about the big questions. I put a fire engine red henna rinse in my newly permed strawberry blonde hair – it made me look like a lion! Even my sister didn’t recognize me.

When Bob turned 40, we had a “Back to the Sixties” party at the beach and I’m not sure we’ll ever top that one! 40 wasn’t such a big deal for me, although we’d left my beloved New England, my bird sanctuary for the NJ suburbs. I wouldn’t say it was the best decade with menopause on the horizon, but it wasn’t bad either.

One of the highlights of my 40s was leading a group of moms in a No Doubt rendition of “I’m Just a Girl” (Except it was I’m Just a Mom) over a middle school campfire! Why are we here if we cannot embarrass our children? And why does Gwen Stefani still look the same, so gorgeous? And how did I become the mom of a 40 year old?

Consider this my puff piece to the latest breaking news. We’ve been celebrating a lot of birthdays lately and I’m getting hopeful about our country’s future; but maybe it’s just early onset Alzheimers. Or maybe it’s not so early?

Take the Classical Enneagram test yourself, it’s better than the zodiac! And please stay WEIRD! https://www.eclecticenergies.com/enneagram/test

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Here we are, in the middle of another heatwave, and my First Edition’s Parnassus book was waiting for me on the front porch this morning. I left the house early to score some parmigiana cheese to make the pesto my August basil is telling me it’s time to make.

The book of the month is, “Chance’s Are…” by Richard Russo. He is a Pulitzer Prize winner, so I couldn’t wait to dig in; there’s always tomorrow for pesto…

Three 60-something-guy-friends are meeting up on the Vineyard and we flashback to 1969, when they were seniors in college and gathered around a TV to hear their draft numbers announced – like me standing in a deli line waiting for my number. Not. Not like that AT ALL. It’s hard, as a woman today, to imagine the gravitas of that first draft call for our young men in December of ’69. I know that some of my friends had to go to Viet Nam:

Who wouldn’t want to go to Southeast Asia and be shot dead in a jungle?

Some, like my brother Dr Jim, accepted his fate and enlisted; he went to OCS just to get it over with. My step-brother Dr Eric became a med-evac helicopter pilot, cause he told the Army he wasn’t about to shoot people; some friends were deferred for good and sometimes sketchy reasons, and some of them did a walk-around, like Lyle. He ended up training bomb-sniffing dogs in the states. I don’t know how that happened and unfortunately Lyle died last year in Vietnam, so I guess we’ll never know.

My starter marriage husband joined ROTC in 1969 at Harvard Law School. It was supposed to transition him into the National Guard, but that never happened. Clerical error?

Bob got a low number, but fortunately had well-documented asthma as a kid. Even today, if I get a bronchitis, he gets pneumonia. The Bride and the L’il Pumpkin unfortunately have inherited his reactive airway disease, which has been pretty scary in the middle of the night. Great Grandma Ada reminds us that asthma will keep our little Grandbaby Boy safe, always. I try not to think it can also kill you.

In the wake of Woodstock nostalgia, which Gma Ada made Bob retell again this past weekend, I find myself feeling adrift. The Big Chill group did a Face Time chat on the day of their arrival in a re-purposed school bus. Bobby, Dickie, Jeff and friends. They were heading into the unknown of a prolonged camping trip with music, mud and acid; while i was heading into a marriage in Cambridge, MA I thought would save me. A nice Catholic boy. Mea Culpa.

Bob’s been sounding wistful. Long before cell phones, how did he ever find Albie in the newspaper taxi on the road to Yasgur’s Farm?

I’ve been wondering what the hell was happening in 1969? We landed on the moon. We went to a concert about Peace and Love in a field. And we started a draft to send our best and brightest off to be slaughtered. What a country.

But even earlier, we imported slaves to our shores and killed Native Americans with impunity. 400 years ago, in 1619, twenty Africans came to Jamestown, Virginia in chains. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/1619-america-slavery.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

And today a New York City cop was fired, finally, for killing an African American man selling cigarettes on the street in Staten Island. Despite clear video of the man in a choke-hold saying, “I can’t breathe,” it only took five years and a social movement to convince the police chief that Eric Garner didn’t need to die. Anyone wondering why we need a Black Lives Matter revolution should read last Sunday’s Times. And vote for Bernie!

I’m not sure who I’m voting for yet, but my fear is that Mr T, President “Bone Spur,” may try to slide us into another war, you know, for his numbers. His polls are dropping. And with him, it’s all about the numbers, the size of the crowd. Dr Freud would know exactly what that’s about!

Here is the school bus and the newspaper taxi 50 years ago. Did you know where your children were?

 

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“Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer,
I was taken by a photograph of you.
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more,
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true.”

Those lyrics from Jackson Browne’s song “Fountain of Sorrow” have been playing through my mind lately. We were heading into the home stretch of unpacking boxes and settling into our party farmhouse when Bob decided it was time to digitize our mountains of old pictures – the Bride’s 9th birthday party, the Rocker’s Middle School birthday trip to the Liberty Science Center with the Twin Towers hovering in the background. Eighth Grade graduations, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, my little cheerleader and my little ice hockey player.

Every single important event had been chronicled, and sometimes just random moments, like an impromptu trip to DC, or a drive back to the Berkshires, under sparkling amber trees with old friends.

I tried to look at myself objectively, did I look happy then? Or was I rushed and angry because I’d completed the grunt work and didn’t want to “pose” for a picture? What possessed me to don a Groucho Marx nose for a beach birthday party? We have lots of doubles because the second set of pictures were free and you never know who might want one.

A friend sent me a picture of herself, hanging clothes out on a line in the 70s dressed in bell bottoms.  I loved pinning up my clean, wet clothes to the sun, and still love it today even though there is no clothes line outside my city house. I guess Bob never saw fit to catch me hanging up diapers, or maybe he was always working on wash day.

I had a sense during that sweet young motherhood time, a feeling that this was just about the best it would ever be. I’d started writing for a newspaper, pecking out words during naptime and at night after the children were asleep. We had feminist consciousness raising young mom playgroups where we shared our secret mothering tricks and helped each other after each new birth. I used to sew baby elephants that would attach nose to tail across the new baby’s crib.

It was a lifetime ago, and yet it was just yesterday.

“I found some pictures where I still had dark hair,” Bob just said. And my hair looked different in each frame because strawberry blonde hair cannot be captured by a camera. Sometimes it looks like mahogany, and sometimes it looks white. Now that I’ve let it go grey, it actually is a blondish/white!

I’m reading a remarkable book by our local bookstore’s blog editor – “I Miss You When I Blink,” by the very blonde Mary Laura Philpott. It’s part memoir, part humor, and all heart. Following in the footsteps of Bombeck and Quindlen, she talks about her mother quizzing her in First Grade for a spelling bee, and she mentions how mothers always take the blame for our failures. She is, however, smart enough to know how nature can pounce on nurture. She was probably a Type A from the get-go. Philpott is still young by my standards, in her 40s, young enough to remember First Grade.

Her book has me literally laughing out loud! “She’s refreshingly honest and very funny, especially when, at a much-anticipated kid-free dinner party, she finds herself in an endless “momversation” (my term, feel free to borrow) on the subject of chicken salad. Boiled or baked? Shredded or chopped? Grapes or no grapes? To salt or not to salt? I chortled as Philpott fumed through dinner: “I had to concentrate to keep from shaking my head no no no, to keep from yelling, SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP . . . Fifteen minutes in, I wanted to scream, ‘Is anyone having some genuine feelings about something? Does anyone have something fascinating or funny or weird to discuss?’”  ”https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/you-know-that-funny-friend-you-look-for-at-dull-mom-parties-here-she-is-in-book-form/2019/03/29/cf43b17e-49ba-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.b9b497aebabc

We’ve all had those “momversations.” Seriously, if you know of any other Type A out there, this one’s for them.

Hope y’all had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend. I’ve always said the Flapper did the very best she could. Losing my father when I was 7 months old, then almost losing her own life in a car accident 3 months later. She was a strong and resilient woman and I see her qualities still in my own children, in their determination, chutzpah.

She waited for me to return of my own free will, and I will always be grateful for that. Here I am in my early 40s. Why did I choose a peplum dress? It was the 80s.

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Waiting is a big part of “adulting.” One of my parenting mantras was, “Want? Work. Wait!” Teaching our children to wait, and not decompensate over an ice cream cone, is serious business. Eventually we must all wait for a plane, wait in line for a coffee, wait for a paycheck before paying the mortgage. Like Penelope, weaving by day and unraveling by night, we women are experts at this waiting game.

When I was little, I’d wait by the door for my father’s return from work. In one of his pockets he had hidden a small trinket. I can’t remember what they were exactly, only that they could fit in the palm of his hand. Maybe it was a colorful rock, or seashell? Perhaps it was a barrette? It didn’t matter really, because my memories of him are his many small acts of loving kindness.

We would collect popsicle sticks until one summer day he built me a dollhouse.

We would roll up coins from my piggy bank and deposit them in my savings account.

We would always stop for an ice cream sundae at Zanelli’s after Mass on Sunday.

Until one day years later, I walked into Daddy Jim’s hospital room and he didn’t remember me. My visits with him at the end of his life, coincided with finding Bob again, in that same hospital. Great Grandma Ada stopped me by the elevator and said, “Come with me, you’ll never guess…”

Last night I was visiting with the Bride in her ER. I’d accompanied a friend and neighbor to the hospital and we were given the royal treatment. She had an EKG done while I was parking the car! Then, while I was waiting for her tests and scans to be read, I simultaneously read a post about “Waiting” from my dear friend Bess. She too had been waiting in a hospital:

As for me, I watch and wait, and try to be who he needs right now. We are all headed down this road. John is just a few steps ahead of me. Acceptance of the new limitations of our bodies, re-evaluation, re-prioritizing, using everything we’ve learned over a lifetime to figure out how to navigate in a new reality where the only certainty is uncertainty.

My heart goes out to Bess and her husband. May this next procedure work its magic. And my heart is breaking for all those federal employees who are working now without pay. To all those furloughed and waiting at home to get back to work. To our fellow citizens who must choose between a trip to the grocery store or an electric bill.

It’s hard to accept our new reality, with a toddler-in-chief at the helm. The uncertainty of this time in our lives can seem overwhelming. The L’il Pumpkin must wait for a new helmet before he can ride his scooter. The Bride had to wait and see if the Love Bug’s new passport would be renewed. And I am waiting for Bob’s safe return from NJ.

I will not look at ridiculous pictures of McDonald’s sauce in silver gravy boats at the White House; it’s not funny at all to me. Instead, I will drive my neighbor to T’ai Chi, because it’s Tuesday. And leave you with a thought, some of us are better at waiting – insert crying/laughing emoji.

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