Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It’s Almost Christmas (and today I am heartbroken )

Today, two years after I first wrote this, I am putting ornaments on the Christmas Tree and it's the same- lovely, joyous, heartbreaking same. This was his time, his season, his holiday.

I don't miss the gifts...I miss the giving. I miss the man.

This title is a bit misleading but it’s also the right-on, accurate truth.

I love Christmas.

I know I learned to love Christmas from my dad. He loved Christmas more than anyone I have ever known (or will know or will be born or ever lived). He loved Christmas more than he loved summer (and he really loved summer <especially in his later years when he turned into one of those REALLY skinny old guys with coat hanger shoulders and parchment skin>) and the Farmers Market (he really loved that too. He and I, we went every Saturday every year for 15 years. We went from the day it opened till the last Saturday in October <which can be a mighty cold Saturday in these parts> when it closed for the winter. We went after he needed a walker; we went after he needed a scooter; we went the week before he died. He was a fixture, he adopted a Laotian great grand daughter, he got hugs and handshakes- he loved the Farmers Market. <I don’t so much go anymore> BUT, I digress)!

My dad’s love affair with Christmas started with not being dead (as good a place as any I’m pretty sure you’ll agree). He was a navigator in a B17 during World War II and he was (literally) blown out of the skies over Germany on Christmas Eve during the Battle of the Bulge (a significant and bulgy battle for all you history buffs). He lived through that to be taken as a POW which he also lived through (I guess that’s pretty obvious given that I’m here to tell y’all about it but well, I’ll keep it in coz it has repetitive impact, right?) to be liberated by George S. Patton himself (the General road into the POW camp standing on a tank- the guy apparently knew how to make an entrance <even in the middle of a really big ol’ war>). For a very long time my dad thought he was the only one who survived the explosion. Nearly fifty years later he found out that another guy had lived…MAN…my dad liked Christmas even more after that.

My father celebrated the hell out of Christmas. Even when things were tight (and there were eight of us little boomers- things got tight) we had Christmas. Joyous, infectious (not the icky kind), fantasy filled, Sunday Mass, Christmas carols, tinsel, ornaments, live tree (my mother always instructed my dad (as we piled into the car to get a tree, that THIS year <each and every year> was the year he would find a tree shaped like a telephone pole <so it wouldn’t fill up half the living room in our rather small house> and every year he got a monster of a tree <poor woman, she already had eight kids>) CHRISTMAS!

When my dad got older and a little better off financially he didn’t just love Christmas he became Christmas. In November (after the market closed) he would boot up his computer (He christened himself the old fart hacker. Well into his eighties he was a terror with a credit card and a web browser) and start to shop. He shopped for everyone he knew and many that he didn’t. Bundles for Toys for Tots, Christmas for a single mother he had met, food for St. Ben’s homeless shelter and boxes and packages for his children and his grandchildren and the dogs and the neighbor upstairs who looked kinda down- No one didn’t have Christmas if he could help it.

That first week in November the UPS driver and the FedEx driver and the letter carrier and the DHL Driver would start to come to my door (did I forget to mention that the man didn’t wrap? He didn’t wrap. He would very kindly provide paper, tape and ribbon and have everything he ordered delivered to my door for wrapping and my daughter, my niece and I would wrap and wrap and wrap and wrap…well you get the picture…our backs ached and our fingers were sore and we became BFFs till right on up to Christmas Eve). Then, on Christmas Day he would preside over the day he had created (only after he had taken in the splendor of the tree and the gifts and the food and the people and declared it all to be wonderful).

The last two years of his life he kept his Christmas Tree up year ‘round (he had gone to artificial by then) and had ornaments for every season and holiday. He sang Christmas Carols at full voice in shopping malls and grocery stores. He gave out gold dollars to random little kids saying “Merry Christmas peanut nose.” (Honest, it wasn’t creepy and he always asked the moms first.)

And so we come to today, this afternoon, when the process of putting up the Christmas tree made me sad (for just a little while), when the ornament of a goofy little lady he called his “floozy” made me cry (just tear or two) and when the Christmas elf who looks just like the old guy and now presides over Christmas in his absence broke my heart (just a little bit).

He’d be really mad if he thought something as small as dying could ruin Christmas and really, it hasn’t. I still love Christmas I just miss the hell out of him every Christmas since he died and for a little while John Lennon has the soundtrack instead of Bing Crosby.

“…and so this is Christmas…”

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Day My Father Died

I was with him in the afternoon. He was 85 and had been ill but wasn't then, that day. He was the same. His year round Christmas tree was decorated for summer and he was wearing shorts and a loose shirt and was barefoot.

He had hated the hospitalization of a few months earlier. It had meant a recurrence of the German POW camp memories and the PTSD was terrifying but that was behind him and he was the same. Nearly indestructible. He was the same.

I left then and drove the 10 minutes home and took the dog out and then the phone was ringing and it was him and he couldn't breathe and he sounded scared (a little) and he asked if I could come back and I said "Of course" and I went back and when I got there he was in distress and he put it in my hands.

I told him that I thought we should call 911 and asked if he wanted me to. He said that if I thought so then we should. He put it my hands.

I rode in the ambulance, in back with him (man it was so hot and I got so car sick) and held his hand. He put his hand there in my hands and he was quiet, thinking (I think) about being the same, seeking the same (if you will).

I called my sisters and I told them "Lights and sirens" and Mary raced to meet us at the hospital while Jeannie planned for plane fare.

At the hospital, in the trauma bay, the Doc said that a cut down line would do the trick. Put things right and my dad said okay, do it, go for it and we were surprised. We didn't expect the "yes". We watched, we saw bright red blood slip down his coat hanger shoulders and onto the floor and then we saw the change.

We saw his eyes come back to himself. We saw him become the same again. We saw him consider, look around and decide and then...he walked away.

I turned to Mary and said "He's dying" and the surgeon looked back over his shoulder at me  "Oh, no” he said “he's nowhere near death" and a few moments later he looked up and called us to our father's side. "He's dying" the Doc said. "He shouldn't be but he is. You might want to say good bye."

And so we did. I (we) cried because he would be gone from us- not that he was going, choosing. We knew it was his to decide. Only his hand was in my hands then. I told him I knew he was leaving and I said goodbye.

I remember thinking at the time, in that moment, that he had done it on his terms. He had considered the future after the "life saving" and that he had walked away. That he had become the same in that moment of decision.

They offered us time in the trauma bay. "As long as we might need,” they said. But we didn't stay. He was gone; he had left on his terms.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Barbie and My Bad, Bad Hair Day

When I was in grammar school (somewhere in the early-middle grades, I can’t be sure) my grandmother took my sister and my two “girl cousins” and me to Gimbel’s Department Store Beauty Salon for our first PROFESSIONAL HAIRCUTS (this was my father’s mother- she had four sons and may have imagined that this would a wonderful “just us girls experience” <my mother’s mother sewed dresses for us and baked cookies but would never have taken us to a SALON, I seriously doubt she went herself>).

I imagine that we were excited but the way things ended I don’t really remember (wait for the end and you can judge) but the day started out well enough.

My grandfather picked us all up in his big blue Lincoln Continental (my sister and I were first because we lived farthest from Gimbel’s and because we both got car sick so we needed to spend the maximum amount of time possible floating around unrestrained in the giant back seat too short <well I was too short- Mary was older so maybe she could see> to see out of the side windows with the heat blasting and my grandmother’s perfume filling the super-heated air insuring maximum quease factor) and dropped us off at Gimbel’s for the BIG DAY (clearly he was not hanging about while four little girls got their hair done).

We had lunch in the Gimbel’s Lunch Room (a thrill on its own back then <in my world kids didn’t go to restaurants very often>) and I know I had a strawberry malt coz, well; I had a strawberry malt every chance I got. I have no idea what else happened at that lunch. I know I was car sick and nervous. We were all nervous. This was big.

There we were: two gawky redheaded, freckled girls with long, THICK, coarse, wavy hair and two ungainly little blondes with long, THICK, coarse, curly hair handed over unknowing and unsuspecting to four different beauticians (they were not stylists back then- oh no- these women were making BEAUTY).

I don’t remember much about the actual haircut. I have images of my waist-length hair coming away by the handful. I recall the smell of someone’s permanent wave solution. I recall that my lady teased and ratted my hair and that it hurt when she did it. I remember that the hairspray made me feel all “chokey” and I remember being turned around to face the mirror and well (even at the age of 7 or 8 or 9) being horrified and too well brought up to say anything.

To quote my mother here I looked like “a little girl under a middle-aged woman’s head of hair”. I had a ratted and teased bee-hive-like mound behind super thick bangs that started at about my crown and dropped to my eyebrows. All of this splendiferous beauty was lacquered firmly in place by layers of hairspray in an attempt (a rapidly failing attempt) to constrain the bristly-thick little girl that was trying to re-assert itself.

My cousin Laurie suffered a similar fate but her mop of bangs was desperately trying to coil half way up her forehead and she had been embellished with a bow.  I have no memory of what was done to the older girls (they both wore glasses poor souls- I may be blocking whatever it was).

I have to assume that my grandmother was a little horrified because she whisked Laurie and me off to the toy department and bought us Barbie Dolls (the only Barbie Doll I ever owned) before my grandfather picked us up.

My mother burst into tears when she saw me. I remember that part clearly. I know that my mother and my aunt were not well pleased that my grandmother had not supervised these “transformations” a little more closely (poor woman, she was probably the one getting the permanent- she raised boys). I remember what a mess it was getting my beautiful “do” undone and I remember Barbie.

My poor, sad Barbie...I was really nearly too old for Barbie (even though girls played with Barbie at little older ages back then) I remember that and I only got the doll herself clad in the striped one piece suit, no clothes, no shoes no nothin' but permanently “high heeled feet”, a pony tail and a blank cat’s eyed stare (and she had brown hair- not even a perky, peroxide blonde). It made it kinda hard to play with her. I did take her to my friend Theresa’s house once (Theresa had everything Barbie- she was an ONLY CHILD in a baby boom neighborhood) but (like I said) we were getting past Barbie play and well, my poor under privileged Barbie still had to go home, half naked in a swim suit, shoeless and disgraced, from the prom.

Me and Barbie, we didn’t fare well on beauty day.

I didn’t set foot in a SALON again till I was an adult.

I don’t know what happened to Barbie...I fear for her sometimes…I had five brothers y’know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I have been thinking about Miss Marple lately and about evil and goodness for it’s own sake and a little about Professor Dumbledore and his whole love-is-powerful-magic-thingy (I don’t know if this will get as far as the Dumbledore part) and I’m also thinking about moisturizer (but that’s only because I just got out of the shower and my face is all pinchy).

Back to Miss Marple: Miss Marple believed that evil was very real. Not just evil deeds and evil doers but evil it’s ownself. Out there waiting to be tripped over, encountered, flirted with and embraced and that she was evil's Nemesis. Gray haired, sensibly shoed, elderly Nemesis armed with a sense of justice (and a carpet bag with knitting in it) and an unlikely visage. How cool is that? I want to live next door to her, I want know her. I want to have tea with this lady. (Okay, before you ask, I do know she’s not real < and, pssshhhah, she'd be like 160 years old by now> and that all that stuff was really Agatha Christie but it doesn’t seem like it does it? It seems like it belongs to Miss Marple.)

I wonder why Aggie assigned Nemesis and the pursuit of evil to the little old maiden lady. She gave Poirot the “little gray cells” and his powers of observation and massive ego and Tommy and Tuppence got the flip and devil may care “aren’t we too-too clever?” (Well, and they were! I really do love them and wish there were more stories which makes me thinks about the “classics” and why they are supposed to better and must reads. I read Canterbury Tales and Moby Dick and To Kill a Mockingbird <I’d say that’s a modern classic wouldn’t you?> and most of Shakespeare and I pretended to read The Iliad <here I have to pause to say “gack”, Does anybody really read The Iliad when it’s assigned??...okay, maybe you went back to it but COME ON as a sophomore? Again: “gack”.> and lots of other classics and they just stack up with all of the other stuff I read. Good, wonderful, GACK, spoke to me, loved it, beautiful, boring, thick, awful, transcendent (good word), entertaining. In a long lifetime of reading good writing is good writing. Maybe some are called classics because they have endured over time but that brings us back to Aggie. She certainly endures and is rarely counted among the 100 ‘must reads’. Perhaps a subject for another essay - Who would like to take it on? Volunteers?)

ALRIGHT! Now is the time to show patience an understanding not the time to scream “GET TO THE POINT! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD"* (*I always think that adds a little drama so good on you for using it appropriately here.) I’m heading right back there. I don’t wear contact lenses and am not so good at finding tiny, transparent things that have popped out of place.

So Nemesis and Christie: why Miss Marple as Nemesis? Why the elderly lady as the Avenging Angel?  (I wonder when Aggie decided that it would be Miss Marple and not any of her other characters? We know when she writing these stories but when did she think of it? At what point in her own life? Was she a young woman or did she come to this later? When did it make sense to give this to Jane Marple? Originally I thought this was going to be about evil and goodness and choices but now I think it might be about old women and their place in our world, our notions and our literature and our movies- Dumbledore will have to wait.)

We meet Jane Marple and see what she presents to the world and then we are surprised to find the steely inner core of resolve and the ruthless Avenging Angel. We are programmed to be surprised by her power. She doesn’t have the steely gray hair pulled back into the severe bun and the steady gaze and the harsh features that might make us believe that she is ‘man enough’ to take on evil. She’s fluffy, and pink and drinks tea and she knits for god’s sake(another good use of the deity to underscore a point don’t you think? I didn’t make it up so if you don’t like it you can say so.) and she’s frail! We are however not at all surprised to discover that Yoda (frail and bent as he is) is compellingly wise and extremely powerful. We are not surprised that Dumbledore (aww, he did get in here) turns out to be ruthless as well as powerful in spite of all of his maundering (I know – not really maunderings – I had a point to make here - apologies all ‘round) on about love and his extreme age - but the Jane Marples of the world – they surprise us.

The ‘wise ones’ of fiction are rarely the old women. They are more often the gossips, the couch bound and the busy bodies. They don’t save the world or fight for justice. They don’t summon up their waning power for one last crusade - they never had the power to begin with so it could hardly wane. They aren’t secret ninjas. They are rarely Nemesis.

What an unlikely thing Christie did here and how lovely.

(I had a bunch of other crap about stereotypes and flip-sides and waning powers and truth and fiction but I sent where it belonged coz, well it was crap. The Marple stuff, I’m pretty happy with that part so there y’all go)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sydney the Plucked Duck and Other Majiks

For my younger sister who asked me to write this stuff down with a guest blog excerpt from my old(er) sister
My (our) parents came of age during World War II. Their world ended and began again and was defined by the awful realities of a world at war. My mom once told me that she and her girlfriends would leave their jobs at noon and walk to the downtown post office to read the daily posting of the dead and the lost. My dad was a navigator in a B17 and after dropping his bombs in exactly enough missions to go home his plane was shot out of the sky. He finished his war in a German POW camp. They were young adults in a very real world- they all were.

When the war ended my dad came home to the old neighborhood (and to the girl we kids figured he must had his eye before he went away) and called my mom on the telephone and told her: “C’mon kid, get your dancing shoes on.”

Some time after that they got married and some time after that they started having us.

My dad suffered from terrible nightmares and some pretty severe PTSD (they didn’t call it that then but man, it was real the real deal). We had (as I have said before) some really tough times but we always had fun, we knew we were loved and there was always magic and today I am going to tell you about the magic.

When other children woke up November 1st to the heartbreak of Jack O Lanterns smashed by neighborhood kids we knew that ours had met with an accident while rolling their way to midnight Spooks and Ghouls and Pumpkins Ball.

My younger brother and I took a nighttime walk with my dad (it must have been Halloween coz it wasn’t cold or snowy) pursued by a toy train in stealth mode which stood stock still whenever we turned around to check it’s eerie progress (what do 5 year olds know from fishing line right?).

My dad once did a whole opera, playing all the parts, flinging himself around the living room, while singing only the digits from the automated time service telephone number to the music from Carmen. Our toys and dolls frequently starred in impromptu dramas and drawing room comedies but the most memorable performance was brought to us courtesy of Sydney the Plucked Duck.

Someone had given us a duck. I assume it was hunting season and it must have come from my uncle coz my dad didn’t hunt but I can’t say for sure. I do know that we kids were horrified by the duck. It didn’t have its head but it had a really long neck that flopped around and IT HAD ITS FEET and pinfeathers. Shiver!

My dad set about the process of not looking a gift horse in the mouth and cleaning the duck observed in mute silence by an audience of wide eyed, pale under their freckles, red headed children.

What to do? If you were my dad the answer was clear.

Name the duck Sydney and have it do burlesque.

It was ridiculous and inspired and hilarious. We were in stitches. I don’t remember if we ever cooked and ate Sydney but I can still see him with his wing on his hip telling bad jokes in a vampy falsetto.

Our toys moved, our parents played charades and softball, my dad was Frankenstein during Dr. Cadaverino’s House of Horror Late Night Movie and before I was old enough to know about it my dad found a really-truly Treasure map.

Guest Contribution:

Panhandle Hill

    When I was almost six years old and my brother almost seven, my folks built a small cape cod on the outskirts of town. In less than a year, tho', the town grew up around us in the post-war housing boom.
    But, for that first summer we were almost alone, save for two old farmhouses and a house being built nearby. Some of the roads were paved but many were still just covered with gravel. One such road was Cleveland Avenue, a fancy moniker for a two- lane gravel road of no great distinction - until our father discovered the Treasure Map.
    He came home one day with a blank piece of crumpled paper that he suspected was a secret treasure map. He called us into the kitchen and held the map above the gas flame on the stove. Slowly, gradually, a map began to appear on the old sheet of paper. My brother and I were mesmerized.
   It seems that years ago Cleveland Avenue was known as "Panhandle Hill", and some nefarious brigands had buried their treasure there, made an invisible map and ...
for some reason, lost to time, disappeared before they could reclaim their booty. Yay!
We were rich!
    My brother and I wanted to dig it up right away, but our Dad had timed his discovery well. It was dark out by then and he assured us we would go early the next morning to claim our riches, as it was too dark to see properly.
    The next morning we three set out with the map and followed it, for what would eventually be three or four blocks, to Panhandle Hill. Oh irony! Oh cruel fate! As we came to our destination, (X marked the spot), we were shocked to discover that, just that very morning, the road had been paved with fresh, wet concrete. Oh no! We were too late: Panhandle Hill had been tamed and paved into Cleveland Avenue.
    Dad took the news philosophically, and consoled us with the thought that at least we three would always know of the secret treasure buried under that brand new street.

Wishing you magic this and everyday we remain, ever,

Our Father’s Daughters.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

My Mother's Taffeta Dress

My mother was beautiful. Truly, flat out beautiful. Her senior picture is the stuff of which pre-war dreams were made. She was frequently compared to Catherine Hepburn (and my dad - after they two got together – was compared to Spencer Tracy which explains why we ‘uns look how we look- but that polluting of her genes is a rant for another day). She was also tall (nearly 5’9” in the 1940s- a tall woman) and willowy and just a little fragile (my dad used to say that she was a thoroughbred race horse and he a big ‘ol draft horse).

Yep, my mother was beautiful and kind and had a wicked sense of humor and we loved her. Plain and simple, good times and bad (no family can lay claim to only good times and we were no different- we weathered some pretty tough times for sure) we loved her and we knew she loved us.

My memories from childhood are filled with sensory memories of my mother and with snap shots- frozen in time images and sounds and fragrance.

Her voice, low and mellow (and her laugh which my cousin describes as “her wonderful, growly laugh”) as she lay stretched out across the double bed my younger brother and I shared (gimme a break- remember “baby boom”) with my even younger sister in a six year bed in the same room as she read from her own childhood books at bed time. She read us all of the Bobbsey Twins and every Honeybunch book a chapter at time hypnotizing us into sleep by her measured and comfortable voice.

My mom, hair tied up in a scarf wearing shorts and one of my dad’s shirts knotted at her waist, standing barefoot in the sun pegging wet laundry onto the clotheslines.

Me coming down to breakfast the picture of third grade misery, terrified to go to school coz I hadn’t done my math homework, collapsing in tears at the table and my mom: “I think you are just too blue to go to school today. You stay home with me.”

And my mother’s taffeta dress… Man! Just thinking about that dress fills me up with being five or six and remembering my mom splendid in red with little white polka dots. I couldn’t have told you at the time that it was taffeta but my grown up self knows that only taffeta makes the wonderful ‘SWISH-SWISH’ sound that dress made as she walked across the room to kiss us goodnight. I can still see it: full skirted and belted and so unimaginably beautiful it made my little kid heart flutter. She would lean down and the dress would swish and she would leave bright red lipstick on cheeks and faces and lips and as she turned to go we could still smell her perfume…Tailspin. (She wore Tailspin till I think they stopped making it or she stopped being able to afford it. I’m not sure if smelling Tailspin now would fill me up with joy or break my heart- probably both.)

I loved that taffeta dress and the way my mother looked and smelled and smiled in it. (On reflection I can guess the reason I have such firm memories of that dress was that it was the only “dressy-dress” she had coz I certainly don’t remember any other super beautiful, ultra-fantastic mom dress- but who knows I was a little kid.)

My mother died when I was twenty-eight. The years between the taffeta dress and her death were filled with joy and heartbreak, trials and triumphs, four more babies, eight teenagers, laughter, loss and love. We were a big ‘ol post-war family and we were filled up with life and all that it meant and my mom, she was the heart of that life and the image of her in her red taffeta dress, well, it’s one of the most joyous memories in my arsenal and it always makes me cry.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Small Graces

This title, this thought, these small graces have been nagging at me and I’m not even sure what they want. I just keep thinking about the idea of ‘small graces’. I think I know what they mean (what I mean) when I think about them but I’m not at all sure how to make what I think I mean mean something (if you know what I mean).

I’m not talking about “there but for the grace of god” or grace before meals or a state of grace or ballerina-type grace or even my small dog Grace (though she is rather small and is Grace)

Small dog Grace

I am talking about the kind of grace we associate with people who light up a room without being conscious of it or accept an award with just the right words or always know what to say to ease tension or the people who are Jacqueline Kennedy or that pilot (Sully) who landed his plane on the Hudson River (the definition of grace under pressure I’m thinking). That kind of grace but in small doses. Little things that bring grace to our lives. People who’s grace make us feel better. Actions that give us a moment of admiration in the middle of a normal old run of the mill day.

(I know, I know-blah-blah, blather-blather. I did tell you I was struggling here.)

Let’s try this:

The first time ‘Small Graces” popped itself into my consciousness I was at work. I work with a young RN (Nakia, you know who you are). Nakia is always willing to help out and is unfailingly polite but one afternoon it occurred to me that Nakia ALWAYS does something that not everyone does (even polite people, well mannered people - or me). When one says ‘Thank you’ to Nakia she always says ‘You’re welcome’. She doesn’t say ‘sure thing’ or ‘you bet’ or (my go-to) ‘no problem.’ No, she says: ‘You’re welcome’ and every time she says it I feel good. She brings a bit of grace to my day. When I recognized it, that day, I stopped what I was doing, went back down the hall and told her what a lovely thing her “You’re welcome’ was.

I’m trying to remember to say ‘you’re welcome’ now. Trying to pay Nakia’s small grace forward. Trying not to toss off my classic ‘No problem.’ (I realized that ‘no problem’ was indeed a toss-off when one day, in response to it, my daughter said: “Well, but I still get to thank you.”) How graceless am I? ‘No problem’ I say, making the THANK YOU somehow less important. Other people should get to feel the same warm fuzzy I feel when Nakia says: “You’re welcome” so I’m working on it.

Many people bring these graces to my life.

My darling daughter, who facing a basket and a half of adversity this last year, still laughs herself silly over the weird side-effects her newest medication has thereby giving us all leave to laugh with her at “stroke tongue.”

My WORDS WITH FRIENDS friend James who never forgets whose turn it is to start the next game.

My friend Mary who fears losing her house but makes hilarious plans to live on a park bench with all of her belongings and her parrot Stanley. (Don’t worry-we won’t none of us let Mary live on a park bench. She has way too much stuff.)

Nancy from WeBook who always takes the time to give feed back.

My son-in-law, Joe, who doesn’t complain that I stopped keeping up with networking technology (or almost any computer technology) and leave it all to him.

My sister who drove across town (a lot of geography in the Midwest) coz I broke my foot and wanted chocolate chip cookies.

My husband who unfailingly holds the door open for everyone (even when my less-than-patient-self is thinking: “Oh COME ON!!! It’s freezing AND we’re late!”).

My dad who, as post-polio advanced, simply furnished every room in his house with stools so he could always sit down.

My mom who, when we were part of the little red-headed horde that left her little time for herself, would sometimes keep one of us home from school for a day simply because we were “blue” and needed to be with just her.

...and this place, this cyber-place, where I can think my thoughts and cast them out onto distant ears where time and distance slips away and people from all over the world offer laughter and comfort and friendship all at my fingertips, here for the reading.
(I know, getting sappy again - better wind this up)

Actually, I have no wind-up, no conclusion, no summation. These are some of the people that bring grace and joy and poise and civility to my life. I’m finished. I just wanted to talk about this and now I have.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Missing My Dad and the Comfort of Yarn

I’ve been missing my dad lately. Really missing him. Palpably, consciously missing him. I just want to talk to him. I want to talk to him more than any combination of words and extraneous punctuation can possibly express. It’s better now but it wasn’t then...a few days ago the missing and the desire to just talk to him (just effing talk to him about this stuff, this crazy consuming stuff, all this STUFF) became a physical sensation, a lump sitting just under my solar plexus threatening to immobilize with teary reflections and throat clenching need. So (as I often do) I took a really hot shower and (while making brain soup in the delicious steam) I remembered the yarn (I do some of my best remembering in the shower).

To explain the yarn and I need to talk about Christmas and my dad and Christmas. My dad loved Christmas (my dad was Christmas). Christmas was near death and life renewed and joy and giving and wonder and salvation for my dad and he loved it. In the last years of his life he couldn’t get around very well to shop but he was a terror with a computer and a credit card. He shopped for everyone he knew (and many he didn’t know). He loved the gift hunting almost as much as he loved the giving and he loved a challenge. The thrill of the chase. A Victorian pill box, an out of print-not-especially-valuable-but-treasured-children’s book, an obscure Zydeco Band’s self produced CD or a knitting loom. He loved finding things.

One year I had been doing a lot of knitting and crocheting for a program at the Labor and Delivery Unit on which my daughter worked. Hats and booties and blankets for preemies and for babies who might not make it through the night but got their very own layette nonetheless. My dad was taken with this program and with the teeny-tiny hats and feet and arranged to have all manner of baby yarn arriving at my door with abundant regularity. During this time I wondered at him if perhaps there was such a thing as a knitting loom (or whatever the inventor might have called it) and he was off to find the beast (don’t get me wrong-I pretty much knew he would be-it was the kind of thing he loved to find). Christmas came and there it was: an Amish Knitting Loom. Hand crafted and signed by the Amish man who made it. I can only imagine what it takes to find an Amish man who makes handcrafted knitting looms using only on-line sources. I know my dad maintained an email correspondence with the woman who put him touch with the source for the loom.

Included with the loom were two skeins of hand spun yarn. Beautiful creamy wool spun with angora. Carefully wound with tightly twisted lengths leading to lovely thick sections of light as air wisps of angora. This yarn, my dad said, was to be something special for my very own self and this was the yarn I remembered in the shower.

I had never used that special, lovely yarn. I haven’t knitted much since my dad died (what with one thing and another). The loom looks at me occasionally (but not with malice or accusation-it knows I’ll be back) from atop a bookshelf and the yarn-it got packed away...somewhere.

It took me a while (a semi-desperate search through under-bed and top-of-closet boxes) but I found it. Still wrapped in tissue in a plastic bag. Two skeins of creamy white looped upon themselves in the traditional way waiting I guess, (for Laura Ingalls to hold out across extended hands while Ma winds careful balls for knitting and Pa plays his fiddle by the firelight or) for me for that night that I missed my dad so terribly.

I sat on the bed and looped the lovely confection around my knees (Laura wasn’t available to do her part) and set to the rhythm of winding the loose ball of yarn ready for use.

I’d love to tell you that I sat in contemplative silence and ruminated and reflected on the mystery of life and death and memory but I didn’t. I turned on the TV and relaxed into the pillow at my back and the steady task of the yarn and I didn’t miss my dad so vey much. I’d still love to talk to him but I felt much better. I still do.

I’ve still got the second skein to wind.  

I think I’ll make a hat-a jaunty beret.

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Dear Governor Walker,

I have written to you before to ask you to rethink your position on collective bargaining for public employees in the State of Wisconsin. Although you didn’t respond personally to my enquiry you have made it very clear in other ways that you just plain aren’t about to rethink anything at all ever so let’s just leave that issue alone. We are going to have to agree to disagree, more’s the pity but there you have it.

I have a different question to put to you today.

You have made it abundantly clear that you are sticking to your guns on the budget repair bill because:
  1. You believe that each and every provision in the bill is necessary for you to balance your budget (as a quick aside here I have noticed that you frequently refer to the budget for the State of Wisconsin as “my “ budget…is that a slip of the tongue or do you, in fact, see it as your own personal budget to manage as you see fit? Just asking…).  Okay, let’s take that as given.
  2. You believe what you are saying. It is not politically motivated. You are not union-busting for the sake of a larger agenda AND you actually believe collective bargaining is a budget issue. You need these things now to repair a shortfall in the 2009-11 budget (coz this isn’t your 2011-13 budget right? There’s more stuff hiding in there.)
  3. You really do respect and appreciate the large workforce you have become CEO over. (I gotta say that one’s a little harder to swallow. You say you respect and appreciate these people but you don’t actually trust them- well, you don’t trust them enough to even answer the phone to them nor do you believe that they might bargain responsibly in regards to the fiscal crisis the state is facing in spite of the fact that they have already agreed to all the pay cuts. Oh well, for purposes of this enquiry we’ll have to accept even that one. Trust and respect and appreciate public employees in your employ whom you refer to as the “haves”. Got it)

What you have not been clear about is why you have chosen to do this in this manner.

Why have you pitted the population of your state against itself?

Why have you called public workers the “haves” and taxpayers the “have-nots”?

Clearly you can’t have been in government this long and actually believe that public employees don’t pay taxes. I mean, come on! You do know that public employees pay taxes right? You did know what you were doing when you said that whole “have and have-not” catch phrase in that debate. You were driving a wedge, even then, back during the campaign, you were driving a wedge and you knew it. You did, didn’t you?

What was your motivation for doing that, saying that, if not to pit neighbor against neighbor; to divide your citizens by making them suspicious and resentful of each other in order to advance your agenda through a divided and defensive population? I’d really like to know. Not the WHY of the agenda (we’ve already agreed that you’ve made that clear) but the WHY of the method…WHY do it this way?

Here’s another WHY.

Why did you exempt Police and Fire and State Patrol from the increases and the sanctions in the Budget Repair Bill on the grounds that they work for the public safety and not include Correctional Officers? That’s a real stumper in my book.

What could possibly have motivated you to exclude and insult an entire group of dedicated public safety officers in this way? Was it in hopes of provoking a blue flu in the prisons so you might make good your threats of bringing the National Guard into the prisons and then bringing in that private security company from Ohio you’ve been talking with? (You do know that Correctional Officers are unarmed within the walls of our prisons where they deal with the same violent criminals that the police apprehend, right?) Why don’t you see them and their very dangerous job(s) as part of our public safety services?

I guess I had heard that you wanted to privatize the Milwaukee County House of Corrections. Maybe that’s the answer. Maybe you hoped the officers would stage a work action and you would just plain have to fire them for it, shucks and darn. After that who could blame you if you brought in a private firm? Can’t keep the National Guard there forever and well, the officers, they would have asked for it right? You had warned about job actions. You’d be backed into a corner. What could you do? Who could blame you? (Oops! another quick aside here. Do you realize that hiring Out of State Private Security Firms sends money OUT OF WISCONSIN? Just checking. Just making sure we’re clear here.)

Why do you keep saying that public employees should have been ready for this because it’s what you’ve been saying right along?

No it isn’t! You hadn’t previously mentioned stripping public employees of bargaining rights. That hasn’t been part of your drum beat or your campaign promises. Public employees heard what you said. They were ready for the cuts and increases. They knew you were coming for them about the money but you never talked about the bargaining.

Why do you want this state in this social crisis? Why do you promote resentment and mistrust?

I don’t get it. I truly do not understand.

Why did you do this in this way unless this mess was EXACTLY what you did want? A state divided upon itself at the mercy of a governor with a nationally promoted agenda and men of money and commerce standing back to take full advantage of a masterful, if ruthless, political conspiracy cloaked in a budget crisis.

But let’s be fair, that’s just my take. You give me yours.

Why did you do it this way?