Category Archives: nostalgia

The Man on the Bed

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The Man on the Bed

I made a new friend yesterday, his name is Lenny and he’s 85. He happens to be dying of lung cancer but we didn’t talk much about that. I went to visit him as a hospice volunteer. Lenny’s house is a treasure trove of art and dust. His room smells like urine and his clothes are in a pile on the floor near his bed. If you can look past that, you are rewarded with art from several cultures and genres.

Soon after I arrived I noticed a copy of “The Man on the Bed” painting. This painting was created by Robert M for the December 1955 Grapevine (an Alcoholics Anonymous publication). I commented on the painting and informed my new friend that I was sober 35 years though I don’t go to meetings anymore. Lenny also got sober in the 80’s and attends 6 – 10 meetings a week.

The man is on oxygen and has a catheter and it doesn’t stop him. We joked about the car he drives which happens to be a Ford Escape and we decided it was the perfect name for his vehicle. Indeed he is escaping every time he leaves the house. For an hour or so he is welcomed into a warm room full of people he is fond of, embracing the humanity of it as a respite from the confines of his bed.

We talked a lot about Lenny’ s life, he’s had a fascinating life. He was born in Copenhagen in 1934. He spent his childhood in institutions as he was abandoned by his parents. His country was under German occupation during World War II when he was a child. He has vivid memories of interacting with German soldiers as a young boy. He recalled one memory when he was affectionately picked up by a German soldier and placed in the sidecar of a Zundap motorcycle which had a machine gun attached to it.

He never sat in a traditional classroom, he taught himself to read by working out the captions under illustrations. He has always been drawn to art and artists. He credits his time at the Summerhill School in Suffolk England for encouraging his creativity. He described it as a free range approach to education, no classroom required.

He became a mason apprentice at 14 and got his Mason Certificate and Union Book four years later. He traveled the world through his trade and spent time in Sweden, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He came to the USA in 1963, he arrived on old freighter which was riddled with bullet holes. He disembarked in Hoboken, New Jersey and got his green card.

We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his three marriages. He did tell me that each of his wives was wonderful and that the blame for failure was his alone. He had four children and two died from overdoses. We didn’t dwell on it, he took the blame for that as well. He told me he was a lousy father, not at all present for his children when they were growing up. Three decades of sobriety has a way of smoothing out the rough edges of self acceptance.

Sometimes you need to spend time with the dying to fully appreciate living. I can’t wait to visit my new friend again.

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Halloween as always been one of my favorite days of the year. I love to dress up, marvel at the decorations and of course, CaNdY!!! My kids love it too. The past few years we have split up. Me with one kid and their group of friends and the other with a different group in another neighborhood. Everyone dressed up and candy was abundant. This year things changed. My oldest didn’t really get to “trick or treat”, his friends weren’t into it. My youngest, didn’t want me around. This is as it should be at their ages. Just another reminder that this sweet time of parenting when we share a home and talk every day, it’s going to end in a handful of years.

It’s seems like yesterday or maybe a week, a few years ago at most, that I dressed up as Cat in the Hat with Thing 1 and Thing 2 by my side. A more accurate description would be Thing 1 holding on tight with his right hand secure in my left. Thing 2 was riding my hip, arms loose around my neck. I was sweaty from exertion and they were just plain hot in fuzzy costumes.

I’ll never forget that Halloween, my kids were 3 and 5 years old. We met a friend and her family for pizza in a town that celebrates Halloween on an epic level. Our littles were in preschool then. We were on the precipice of big changes, elementary school was around the corner and we were trying to soak in the last bits of a schedule that wasn’t encumbered by school district rules. It was a glorious time and I was too exhausted most days to fully appreciate it.

That Halloween was unusually warm and the “Thing” costumes were not designed for that level of heat. We didn’t make it far that night, a few blocks at most. The uneven sidewalk, perpetual lack of sleep and the physical strains of being weighted unevenly on one side for hours was catching up to me. I was relieved to get them in the car and back home before long. It was a short drive but Thing 2 was also weary. I had to carry her sweaty, sleeping body into the house from the car. Then I tried to slip her out of her costume and into bed without waking her, mission not accomplished (sigh).

I ran a tight ship in those days, kept a schedule. It took so long for my oldest to sleep through the night, that I made a bedtime ritual mandatory. I tried everything – baths, books, warm milk, sprayed the room with monster deterrent (water) and finally resorted to meditation CDs. At 5, he was finally getting the hang of it. I tried to stick to that schedule because I had years of sleep to catch up on. My husband traveled almost constantly during this phase so I was on my own most nights.

Fast forward to my “Things”, 13 & 15 and oh, what I wouldn’t give to relive that night. That friend from the pizza place, she passed away nearly five years ago. She died on Thing 2’s 9th birthday. We knew it was inevitable, she fought cancer and the horrific effects of chemo since the birth of her son who is the same age as mine (Thing 1). And our boys, they’re still friends. I’ve kept a vigil on that as I promised I would. It was an unspoken promise, the one you make in your heart when the words can’t come out because you want to be brave but you’re jello inside. So I guess I should stop lamenting over the passage of time and all that is getting to be in the rear view mirror, because I got to be here for it.

 

What’s in Your Wheelhouse?

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What’s in Your Wheelhouse?

Seems like everyone has a wheelhouse these days, a metaphor to describe their specific skill set. I hear the term from friends that are still slugging it out in corporate America. I used to have a wheelhouse filled with current technical skills, boundless energy and a can-do attitude. That was fourteen and a half years ago before I was laid off from my Project Manager position at a software firm (The Office Space movie really resonated with me). Those attributes have been replaced with an intense hatred of middle school car line, juggling of my family’s emotional, social & physical needs, my imagination’s ability to go DEFCON 3 if I can’t reach my kids and an abundance of resting bitch face. I’m running out of ducks (psst…spellcheck is a stupid duck).

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Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_hermandesign2015′>hermandesign2015 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Here’s a not-so-secret-secret, I’m nearing the mid century mark (audible gasp, I know I can’t believe it either). So I suppose it’s natural to take a moment and reflect on some shit stuff. I did the math and in dog years I’m coming up on the big 3-5-0…no wonder I’m tired.

As I’m sitting here trying to flesh out this post, I’m listening to my husband teach our daughter Algebra. I’d rather eat a flaming sword while my fingernails are pulled off with rusty pliers. I stopped helping my kids with homework somewhere around 5th grade. If anyone asks my reasoning is to “facilitate independence”, I think they’re on to me though. The truth is I can’t do half of it without screaming or crying, if only on the inside.

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They say (not sure who “they” are) with aging comes wisdom. Hmm, not sure about that one. I knew everything when I was 17, you couldn’t tell me otherwise. Now I hesitate a little more, consider the thoughts of others who may have a different point of view and sometimes I’m wrong. I try not to “jump to conclusions” (still with me Office Space fans) and I reserve the right to change my mind. Perhaps I’m maturing just a hair, must be the flair (sorry, apparently I have a theme now).

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I’ll tell you want else comes with this milestone birthday – yes and no. Yes to spending time, money and effort on the people, places and things that matter most. No to the activities that don’t bring joy or a sense of purpose. I recently resigned from a position on a non-profit. I’ll still help out, I just don’t want my name on the letterhead. My time suddenly seems more precious and I give careful consideration to how I spend it.

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What’s in your wheelhouse?

 

Say “Uncle”

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Say “Uncle”

When I was a kid saying “uncle” to someone was the verbal equivalent of waving the white flag of surrender. My actual uncle took great pride in hearing the kids in his life scream or giggle cry that in the middle of a tickling frenzy. The tickling got way out of hand. It turned into a battle of wills between the victim and their own bladder. Many of us lost the internal conflict, there’s only so much tickling a kid can take before they spring a leak.

Similar games were played in my uncle’s pool. This added a whole other level of danger to the activities. There were multiple near drownings. Then there was that time when my cousin got chased by an angry swarm of hornet’s after he disrupted their nest. That wasn’t actually my uncle’s fault, it just happened in his yard. Joey had more than 30 reminders of that calamitous event. Eventually the swelling went down and the pain subsided. It was most unfortunate that some of the hornets found their way into his swim trunks. I bet he still can’t pass a nest without a flashback.

My Uncle was a loud, gregarious, larger than life personality. I remember childhood holidays spent at his house with a heady cocktail of emotions. Angst and wonderment were abundant in equal measure. We were amazed by the gourmet chef inspired meals and horrified by the table topics at dinner. It was a hazing ritual with elements of cannibalism and we all wanted to avoid the hot seat.

For the bulk of my childhood, Uncle Jack was married to Aunt Dolly. That marriage went off the rails some 30 years ago but the memories remain. Aunt Dolly was from the South and her mother Mimi made the trip North at least twice a year. I loved their accents and their sweet smiles. I had never heard of ambrosia until they came along. Who doesn’t love tiny marshmallows in a salad that doesn’t even pretend to be healthy.

Aunt Dolly told me I had a face like Venus, the Goddess of Love. She said that when I was in the height of my awkward ugly stage and no one was sure if it would all work out. She gifted me with a ray of hope that I would not always be an unattractive lanky tween with buck teeth and stringy hair. She saw my potential and it wasn’t just looks. She noticed when I did more weeding than the other kids and argued with my uncle to better compensate me. She paid attention to me when no one else did and I will always cherish her for that.

We spent a lot of holidays at my uncle’s house growing up. He had the big house with the pool and plenty of space. They had an Atari gaming system which was the sh*t in the early 80s (Breakout and Space Invaders, the best). I was usually by myself because the other kids divided into two groups of two. My brother with our cousin Joey and my cousin Jenny with Tammy, Dolly’s daughter from a prior marriage. They weren’t particularly mean, it was just clear that I wasn’t in the mix. By this point, I learned to read people and saw myself out before anyone else could make the suggestion. I split my time between Atari and my grandparents.

Meal times were the absolute worst. It was like a twisted family style version of Survivor minus the camera crew (or the exotic location). Most of the adults were inebriated by the time dinner was on the table. Dinner time always got pushed back to some ridiculous time like 9 or 10 O’clock, apparently drunk people are lousy at keeping track of time. My uncle was a fantastic cook so that offered some redemption.

While we ate, the topics would vary between politics and religion. If those topics got stale then someone at the table would be fodder for the discussion. This was awful. My uncle would spew merciless hateful nasty comments at whomever had the bulls eye. It was usually, Tammy. We were all too scared to speak out against him. This was his house, his food, his f*cked up show. I wish I could go back to 10 year old me at Christmas Dinner and say “what is your problem man, why do you need to pick on a 12 year old every damn holiday”. No one did that, that girl was verbally abused at 90% of holiday meals. I’m ashamed for all of us.

Like most people, my uncle wasn’t all bad. He was always thoughtful when it came to gifts for my brother and I. One year he gave us 10 speed bikes for Christmas. For our birthday, he gave us season passes to Great Adventure. Those gifts meant the world to us and gave us experiences and mobility that we would not have had without his generosity. I know he helped my mother financially from time to time, despite their thinly veiled animosity.

My mother hated my uncle. She would lash out from time to time but not enough to stop taking us there for holidays. They would often spar in alcohol/dysfunctional family fueled debates that were horrendous to witness. My mother stopped drinking in the 80’s and our trips there stopped a couple of years later. They disagreed on everything from politics, money and the best nursing home for Nana. They have remained on non-speaking terms since my grandmother died in the early 90s.

I haven’t talked to Uncle Jack in years. After his second marriage dissolved we lost touch and eventually he moved to Florida with his third wife. I have some contact with my cousins and his daughter contacted me this past weekend to tell me Uncle Jack was asking about our side of the family.

Turns out the third wife was on an information gathering mission. Honestly, I’m not sure if my uncle even inquired about us. When we spoke on the phone she cautioned me that my uncle is “forgetful”, that is code for dementia. My grandmother (his mother) had dementia and his wife wanted to know if my mother showed any signs. I haven’t noticed any at this point and I passed that along.

My uncle definitely has some dementia, it was evident to me in the few minutes that we spoke. His wife told me that they plan to move from Florida to Delaware in about 6 months. I cautioned her that a move would be disruptive to him. I work with people that have dementia and change is a real struggle for that population. He will likely decline from that move and he won’t bounce back, they never do. She has family near where they are moving so I understand the practical points.

In the handful of minutes I had with my uncle, I told him things that I thought would be meaningful for him. Like how I always think of him when I hear “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley. He wore that record out every December. I also told him how he made the best mashed potatoes that I ever had and that I was not able to duplicate them despite my best efforts. He chuckled out those memories and I think they resonated with him, if only for a moment. I see a white flag in his future and it’s sad, uncle.

 

 

*Photo credit attributed to: This is the Front cover for the Single Blue Christmas by the artist Elvis Presley. The cover art copyright is believed to belong to the label, RCA Victor, or the graphic artist(s). Front cover of picture sleeve of original single release of Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” (RCA Victor 447-0720)

 

Traditions…

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Traditions…

Every year sometime after November 1st,  I watch Home for the Holidays. It came out in 1995 and was directed by Jodie Foster. This movie hits all the feels for me. It is perfectly cast – the writing is authentic, funny and heartbreaking at times. It is my favorite movie of all time. I usually watch it alone because this blend of humor and poignancy isn’t a hit with all of the humans here.

I make time for it every year since I discovered it in 2000 when I found a used copy on VHS at a store on Hollywood Boulevard. That year my twin brother moved to California and was sad to be so far from home at the holidays. I was single and kid free at the time, so I scraped up the cash for a ticket to LA. We hung out for a few days until I left late on Christmas Eve.

My family likes to watch Trains, Planes and Automobiles. It’s on a repetitive loop between late October and Christmas. This is one we all belly laugh to even though we know it verbatim. My kids are finally old enough that I don’t have to mute the scene where Steve Martin loses his sh*t at the car rental counter. It’s amazing to see how much some things have changed (no laptops, cell phones or tablets) and how the important stuff remains (being kind, family, dealing with adversity).

 

Of course we got sucked into the Elf on the Shelf scam about 5 years ago. My kids were young enough when we started that they believed in it for the first year or two. I’d fall asleep and wake up in a panic when I’d remember that I forgot to move Flash. In my mind I call him Jumpin’ Jack Flash because I feel like less of a dork for buying into the whole ridiculous scheme (humor me). Now my youngest moves it around because I’m lazy and tired most nights. We aren’t ready to let it go completely, yet.

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We also adopt two children to buy gifts and clothes for during the holidays. We buy for one boy and one girl. I try to get kids the same age as my children. This one is sacred to me. The Christmas my brother and I were 7 years old, a Secret Santa made a delivery to our apartment.

I have never forgotten the kindness of that act and how happy it made me feel as a kid. I remember standing in the kitchen with my mother and brother as we emptied the overflowing hefty garbage bag. It was full of gifts – Candy Land, toy trucks and gastronomical delicacies, like Peanut Butter and Fluff. It was truly magical and I want to sprinkle some of that around and teach my kids through actions, not just words.

As for hosting, I get all the holidays. It’s practical as we have the largest dinning room. I have also taken on the task of serving seven fishes on Christmas Eve. It is a nod to my mother-in-law who passed away when my children were young. I didn’t have strong roots or family traditions growing up and I welcome the opportunities to give that to my kids. What I really try to give them is memories. That is the point of this entire holiday thing – making memories with your family and friends. Something that will last beyond a turkey carcass and some crinkled, torn wrapping paper.

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Tell me some of your traditions….what do you love to do during the holiday madness?

 

Alternate Universe

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Alternate Universe

I’ve managed to create this nice little alternate universe for myself via my blog. I have a handful of in the flesh friends that know about it, but not many. My blog followers, select few that you are, have come here like a gift from the blogosphere (that’s a legit word). I get a slight tingle when I see a new country highlighted in the WordPress stats. Today someone from Japan read one of my posts. No idea how or why they got here but isn’t that cool? I’m in Pennsylvania, typing away and someone in Japan just wandered in. It’s fascinating to me probably because at my age, I can still remember when none of this was possible.

For those of us over 30 (OK well over if you’re going to get particular about it) doesn’t it blow your mind how much technology has changed in the past 20 years. How much more will change in the next 20 years? I suspect we will have autonomous flying cars, artificial intelligence that can learn beyond human capability and a staggering unemployment issue and oh yes, Mars isn’t off the table – thanks Elon Musk.

What are we losing with all of this technological advancement? Do we have to lose something, is that required? I don’t know but I have observed a some things that concern me – instant gratification, loss of privacy and a lack of creativity and freedom.

I have two kids a tween and a teen. They have reasonable restrictions on device time. There are no devices allowed in their bedroom at night. For one kid it wouldn’t even be an issue as he doesn’t care at all. My daughter, on the other hand,would be up all night on Instagram, chatting with friends, making bad musically videos and would be busy not sleeping.

The ability to text, tweet, post and communicate instantaneously has helped to create a generation that expects instant gratification. Midlifers, remember when we would call our best friend in 5th grade on the corded phone on a table or attached to the wall? The phone was always located in some public space in your house and you had to push down on buttons or worse, stick your finger in the circle of the corresponding numbers to spin the phone wheel and call? And, gasp, sometimes no one answered or the phone was busy so you had to try to call them again later and move on with your 10 year old life. Kids don’t do that today. They rarely have to wait more than a few minutes to hear back from a friend and if they don’t hear back immediately, a bit of panic sets in. It’s kind of crazy.

I remember being bored plenty as a kid and I would go outside or write in a journal. We had to make up our own games to pass the time and if we were lucky we got some local kids to join in. We played spontaneously and we figured stuff out. You didn’t like everyone and everyone didn’t like you but you could usually make it work long enough for some variation of tag or cops and robbers. I don’t see that much where we live, sure it happens but it’s special when it does because it isn’t the norm. The usual here is organized activities and sports.

Kids aren’t off the leash much either these days. We need to know where they are all the time because there are bad people out there (and no sh*t, there really are bad people out there). Hell there are sneakers with tracking devices in them now….it’s kind of like Little Johnny is on house arrest or maybe block arrest. Their expectations for privacy are at the bare minimum. They don’t want you to walk in on them while they’re getting changed but most anticipate some level of monitoring of their electronic activities. Late 70’s and early 80’s kids wouldn’t stand for that. We kept our stuff private and if someone read our journal there was hell to pay. Our parents didn’t know where we were half the time and we couldn’t be tracked with a Find My Phone app. If they asked where we were we would either tell them or make up something that sounded reasonable. It was kind of awesome.

Here’s a little something to make you laugh, courtesy of YouTube