Category Archives: nostalgia

These are my People

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These are my People

Hello internet friends. For those that are following my blog, thought I’d update you on some things. It’s riveting so grab a hold of your hats and hold on (I may have just oversold it):

Remember how I wrote about my friend Pam a few days ago…well today I went to an appointment and to my surprise, three of her friends were there. We all shared Pam stories, held hands and sang a song. OK there was no actual singing I just find it interesting that she is reminding us all of her fabulousness. Damn, I miss her.

After that, I stopped by my friend’s bakery. She’s magic and makes the most delicious knishes. I came home with two boxes of goodies and when I took a peek I saw that my friend added some extras (she basically doubled everything). Did I mention that I have the best friends. When I got home I saw this meme. I’m totally fine with having a pet sloth named Knish:

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This week my client Laura told me about polar bear picnics. When her kids were little and driving her crazy inside during the winter months she would send them outside with instructions. They were given some sticks and a can of soup. They were expected to make fire, heat the soup over an open flame and eat outside. This woman’s bad ass level impresses me to no end. I also found out she used to ride her bike to work – 5 miles of country back roads with no shortage of steep hills. On the way home she would stop to look at wildflowers. I think she was just trying to get out of cooking dinner and again, she has my respect. Now I can’t get the image of little kids bundled up in 60’s winter gear over a driveway campfire with a polar bear. If only I could draw…

100

The above picture was downloaded from my Facebook newsfeed. This woman is 100 today and I instantly fell in love with her. Notice the banner in the background – “I’m 100 Bitches”. Other photos included toilet paper encased in a box that read “Holy crap, I’m 100!” and a mug that stated “It took 100 years to look this good!”

These are my people.

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Far, Far Away

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Far, Far Away

Scene: A middle-aged woman walks into an upscale chain restaurant (is that an oxymoron?).

Me: Hi, I’m meeting a friend for lunch, we would like a table for two.

Host: Do you have a reservation?

Me: (Slowly turns head from right to left and counts 5 patrons on my left hand as I spy with my little eye a dozen or so bored employees standing around) No sir, I do not have a reservation, think you could squeeze us in?

Host: Right this way Miss. (He knows I’m not a Miss but guys in any kind of service industry know better than to say Ma’am to any woman under the age of 80 In New Jersey. Southern friends you get a pass and with that accent you can say Ma’am and no one gets offended however, if you bless my heart, I’ll know we have an issue.)

Me: Super, thanks.

So this friend and I haven’t seen each other in a handful of years. We’re both 50 now, we met when we were 15 and became roommates in an adolescent rehab in Long Branch, New Jersey. You probably would never be able to guess this if you were looking at us from afar, just two humdrum moms or perhaps business associates having lunch. I was wearing nice pants and a chenille sweater (I know, I can’t believe chenille is back in style! I love it until you wash it and then the material disintegrates like makeup melting in the summer sun). My friend wore a cute blazer and a beautiful necklace, we were quite civilized, at least if you were judging us on our apparel.

A friendship that spans more than three decades is equal parts decadent and comforting. There is an easiness and a candor to our conversation which surpasses most friendships. We talked about some awful things yesterday; death, health issues and politics. We shared our inner most feelings about our parents which would surely be met with some shock and disdain by a more casual observer, someone who didn’t know our individual histories. There is nothing casual about this friendship though, we have been in the trenches together and on separate paths, and damn it if we both aren’t frickan’ amazing.

The world was not kind to either one us when we met. She came from a family that looked perfect on the outside and was the stuff of nightmares once you pulled up the rug to take a peek. Her father physically beat her, her mother enabled it and added her own emotional and verbal abuse to the toxic mix. Both of her parents worked full time and lived in a desirable neighborhood in Monmouth County. It was a sprawling suburban oasis which bordered more rural areas. They were the kind of people that would send out a Christmas letter which contained a recipe for something delicious while listing the academic achievements of their two children. The letter would include a photo of all four wearing LL Bean with a festive backdrop. Lies, all lies.

My crazy was less subtle. I came from a broken single parent household with a mother who had stopped drinking a few months prior. I didn’t have a tattoo, if I did it would just be three letters – FTW. I was writing that on everything jeans, notebooks, walls, this was in the 80s so I feel like I should get partial credit for the rise of WTF, but I digress. I was a hot little mess and there was no mistaking me for the future Homecoming Queen. I was goth before goth was a thing and the chip on my shoulder was the size of a flying saucer.

So here I was goth girl with the yuppie who wore Ocean Pacific. We found common ground as we were both taking French at the time and shared a tutor named Maximilian. Max was great. He treated us like we were worthwhile, had a genuine interest in our well being and didn’t try to sleep with us (that was shockingly rare). He was keenly interested (or at least made me believe he was) in my profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry. He even gave me a journal so I would have something special to write my poems in, it was incredibly thoughtful. In return, I introduced him to blueberry Hubba Bubba which may have been the single worst gum ever invented. Max, always the gentleman, accepted this token of my affection as if it was a Parisian gourmet treat.

Sample of profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry:

You can never catch me

I’m never within your reach

you just have to set me free

like the waves on the beach

It was March of 1984 when Genevieve and I crossed paths. It was her first stay and my second. My first introduction to our juvie resort was in October of 1983 when I, by some miracle, actually decided to get sober. I got out in December of 1983 and my mother immediately got remarried. That marriage was incredibly brief and led to a cataclysmic shake up of what was once a family of three – my mother, twin brother and I. Our little family was scattered into the universe – my mother trying to find a safe place to start over, my brother couch surfing with friends and I got sent to a cult farm in upstate New York which claimed to be a recovery halfway house (that’s a book all by itself). I ran away from that place after a month and was basically homeless. The rehab in Long Branch agreed to take me in until I could get into another halfway house (one less cultish, Koolaid optional).

From fifteen until now, so much life has been lived, good and bad times. We used to go to AA meetings and often found ourselves at the same one on Tuesday nights. It was there that I found out that Genevieve went “out” again and used. I was devastated, I sobbed and feared for the worst. We had both been sober a couple of years at this point which was remarkable. We watched the revolving door of recovery enough to know that plenty of people never make it back. She did though, a testament to her own strength. I don’t think I have another recovery in me which is why I have been sober since 1983, I’m pretty sure I would lose myself into a permanent oblivion if I ever “slipped”. Slipped isn’t that a nice word for the potential to destroy your life…moving on.

We got sober as teenagers, we are both living, breathing miracles. We did the stuff that teens do – dated inappropriate guys, most of whom were not worthy of us. I say that looking back at a girl who had no self-esteem and shitty role models. I was the poster child for the fragile no-daddy girl, she hated her father, we were both ripe for bad relationships. She married her worst mistake, I dated mine off and on for 4 agonizing years. In between we commiserated and went out to clubs with big hair, high hopes and short skirts.

She had her first baby when we were 19 and she married a guy that beat her when she was pregnant. I threw her baby shower and saw some suspicious bruises, she never admitted it, but I knew. By the grace of God she left that relationship. She worked and put herself through college while her daughter was a baby and into the toddler years. She became a CPA and made her way up the corporate ladder. She met a nice guy about 25 years ago and they got married and had two children. Her path was slow but steady and she fought tooth and nail for everything she got.

I was in a bad relationship in my early twenties that held me back from my own potential. When it ended, I set up a 5 year plan which included finishing my BA and purchasing a house. The most empowering thing I ever did was to buy a house at age 30 and wouldn’t you know it, I closed on Genevieve’s birthday. A few years later, I married the right guy and we have two teenagers, a large dog, a gecko and a carnival goldfish with a will to live which defies logic. When I say that I am living beyond my wildest dreams, it is sincere. I didn’t dare to dream of the life I have now.

So here we were, having lunch…two miracles sitting at the table speaking our minds with the freedom of that invisible safety net of a friend who knows your history. Someone who saw you as a phoenix rising from the ashes…we both flew far, far away.

 

 

A Christmas Tag

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A Christmas Tag

The Huntress 915 tagged me so now you all must suffer the consequences. I’m a Christmas tag virgin so apologies if I botch this. Thank you Huntress for the selecting me. If you guys aren’t following her blog yet you should, she has interesting tales to tell. OK here’s the business:

 

The Rules

You must thank the person who nominated you.

Link back to the original post (the one on this blog) and use the graphic provided.

Answer the questions given.

Nominate at least 3 people. (or more if your feeling like a nice person)

Give the nominees 10 questions to answer (or use the ones previously given)

Questions

Do you celebrate Christmas? Yes

Which one of Santa’s Reindeer is your favorite? Blitzen, cool name.

Do you like snow? Meh, I like the first snowfall each season then my fondness decreases as winter drags on.

Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition? I make 7 fishes for my family on Christmas Eve. I married into an Italian family and I have become very attached to this tradition.

Least favorite part of Christmas? The stress of getting everything done.

What is your favorite Christmas memory? Not one memory stands out but it sure is fun to be around little people when they get excited about Christmas.

If you could take a paid two-week break for Christmas this year, what would you do, and why? I would love to spend a Christmas in London.

Elf on the Shelf – Yay, Never or thank Gawd that is over? Thank Gawd that’s over although we did have some laughs with Dash.

Favorite thing about Christmas when you were a kid? The anticipation and listening to Elvis sing Blue Christmas – my uncle had that albumn on a continuous loop.

Do you have a favorite Christmas special? I’m partial to the Miser brothers in A Year Without A Santa Clause.

 My Nominees are….

Free Thinkers Anonymous

Redneck Latte

The Bag Lady

 

I Blame My White Hetero Nondenominational Privilege for this Rant

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I Blame My White Hetero Nondenominational Privilege for this Rant

‘Tis the season for getting offended. It seems like this snowballs each year and now we have an avalanche of nostalgia to get pissed off at. Maybe I’m just cranky because of the Shingles (don’t ask) but can we collectively dial it back a notch? My family life sucked as a kid so I’d like to cling to a few happy childhood memories that aren’t tainted by rapey winter songs, hetero normative propaganda and straight up bullying. Can we all just calm the f*ck down already (someone is reading this right now blaming my white hetero nondenominational privilege for this rant).

Happy Holidays is not code for f*ck off you Jesus loving freak. It means have a nice holiday whatever you celebrate or I’m not sure what day it is in December so I’m just going to cover my ass and say happy holidays. Happy New Year is the cousin of Happy Holidays, this is used when someone is afraid to say “Happy Holidays” because they don’t want to take an organic peppermint shank in the kidney while waiting in line at Whole Foods. Whole Foods is where the really progressive people go to over pay for groceries and hold meetings about the next thing to get offended about. They used to have meetings at Starbucks but those @ssholes ruined themselves when a SB in Philadelphia kicked a black dude out for being well, black.

Baby it’s Cold Outside is now a rape anthem. This song was on a slippery slope the last few years with the #MeToo movement pushing it right off the hetero normative cliff. Men, if you hint at liking this song, you might be a rapist. If you are a female who likes this song, feminists don’t know what to do with you. Personally my favorite version of this song is by the Holderness Family, Baby Just GO Outside.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is chock full of f*cked up messaging. Can we agree that Rudolph’s parents were horrible? Because really, who makes their kid wear a strictly cosmetic nose prosthetic which compromises one’s ability to speak clearly and breath properly. Whenever I feel like a bad parent I just sigh and think well, at least I didn’t pull a Donner.And let’s be honest, Santa is kind of a jerk in that show. He shuns Rudolph until he finds a use for him then he’s all like “Hey Rudolph, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?!” If I rewrote this it would have a different ending.

Santa: (Head hung in shame, struggling to make eye contact, shoulders slumped) Hey Rudolph, I’ve done some soul searching and I realize I was wrong for shunning you over your nose.

Rudolph: (Standing on hind legs, arms crossed with a some serious side eye pointed at Santa): Um, hmmm.

Santa: (starts to sway nervously from side to side) You know the weather forecast is looking pretty grim for Christmas Eve…you know, that nose of yours could help cut through the fog. Would you like to be the lead reindeer?

Rudolph: (Still standing on hind legs, one leg gets placed on his hip with a definite “Oh no you didn’t” air about him) So let me get this straight fat man…you bench my red-nose-brown-ass, keep me off the team, talk sh*t to my parents about me and now you want me to save your ass. Ain’t that just like an old privileged white dude. Oh hell no.

Santa: (begging) Please Rudolph, we can’t have Christmas without you!

Rudolph: (Gets down on all fours and turns to walk away) You should have thought of that before you racist bastard. Stick a flashlight on Comet’s nose and figure it out. I got plans that night – me, Yukon and Hermey are starting a band we have a gig on Misfit Island, those are my people. I’m outa here.

 

 

 

Merry Whatever

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Merry Whatever

Here is my holiday rant in no particular order of importance. I started this list around Thanksgiving and it’s building momentum:

1. Turkey Log, Day 5 – For the love of Gawd make it stop. The delicious novelty of mashed potatoes in turkey soup wore off two days ago, even gravy can’t save us now.

2. Keep thinking of the people I didn’t see on Thanksgiving because they died (no punchline just the sad truth).

3. My teenage kids fought over how to decorate the Christmas tree. One kid wanted Trump-esque borders, the other kid wanted free-range decorations…I wanted to scream into a pillow in a dark room by myself. The husband busied himself in a different room (that man is a damn genius).

4. Took a day trip to NYC and one kid didn’t want to go so we let her stay home alone for 6 hours. She binge watched tv, face-timed her friends, ate Nutella on the couch and did zero chores. Slacker level: Master – Jealousy level: Master

5. Saturday I stayed in PJs all day long, as in the entire day. This isn’t a rant, it’s a confession. Apple-Tree (see above).

6. I am sick of the political pontificating in America. The mindset of – if you don’t agree with me, you are an ignorant racist person drowning in your own white privilege. The flip side is pro-life all the way but let’s use tear gas to keep brown moms and their kids out of ‘Murica. Any attempt at a rational conversation with extremists is exhausting and I am so f*cking tired.

7. Avoided political talk at Thanksgiving until the subject of the environment came up. No minds were changed, shocking.

8. Have to see all the same people again on Christmas Eve. Perhaps I’ll play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on a continuous loop until everyone’s brain explodes onto the dinning room table. That’ll liven up the 7 fishes.

9. Went to three parties this weekend. There are 52 weekends each year – we get invited to about 7 parties in the entire year, half of them occur on the same weekend….why???!

10. I feel guilty for shopping on Amazon so much. The alternative is to go out to physical stores where people are…actual people (cue the horror music). I still go to independent bookstores to buy books. There aren’t many lines there because most people don’t read anymore.

11. My kid sucks the candy cane down into a sharp point and I visualize it being used as some kind of Christmas shank. (See item 3)

12. I want to do a reboot of Home Alone where I get to play the part of Kevin McCallister. I don’t mean making an actual movie…I just want to be home alone for a few hours, maybe a day…..two weeks, tops.

13. Went to a party last weekend with my husband’s childhood friends. Three hours in they started to drunk order stuff from Amazon on the host’s Alexa. I can’t wait to see how Charlie accessorizes his new sequin dress.

14. I attempted to make Christmas cookies to bring to a friend’s house. I made the rookie mistake of putting the cookies in plastic containers before they cooled properly. My daughter (AKA: Peppermint Shank) made a valiant effort at trying to pry the clumps apart alas, it was not to be. So I tossed the chunks of cookie into a bowl of melted chocolate and then sprinkled the crushed candy cane bits on top of the mess because this chick doesn’t throw out butter and cocoa just for being ugly.

Merry Whatever.

 

 

 

 

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.

Blur

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Blur

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?