when the cicada sings and the blue moon rises

25 08 2013

blmcs

This is the time of year when the crickets, frogs and cicadas put up such a racket at night that it can be a little annoying. That cacophony buzzed its way deep into the recesses of my brain during the final days of Billy’s life five years ago. I wouldn’t give you a nickel to go back there or to even step back another decade when Best Boy almost died in China at this same time of year. Sure, a month in the hospital here “saved” his life but not without great physical and emotional pain for every single one of us. The incessant whir, click, buzz of the IV pumps became the soundtrack of long nights punctuated by morphine induced night terrors.

Sounds will do that for me – punch holes in the present vortex of life and send me spiraling out of control into a time machine.  On the weekly pilgrimages to the Mrs.’ I will often listen to a channel on SiriusXM that transports me back 40 years and smack dab into high school. I missed the reunion that was celebrated a few weeks back. I had been sick and was headed to an out-of-town family wedding but I wasn’t sure I could have pulled it off anyway due to memory overload.

I never know where I will be or what I will be in the middle of doing when one of my senses will be a gateway to some memory. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of Billy at least once or that I don’t see hints of him in the goofy grin on Littles 10-month old face or in the pale hint of blue of his eyes.bnscu

A “worker man” walked by me the other day and if my eyes had been closed, I would have thought it was Billy climbing out from his NIPSCO truck, pockets bulging with booklets, pens, gadgets that had to do with work. A huge key ring jangling its unique jangle. It was the smell that got me. The blend of hot skin from hours of exposure to the sun and a hint of oil, gas and the distinctive sulfur smell added to the odorless natural gas. Fingers that wore their print mazes obvious to the naked eye as the deeply stained grooves could never really get 100 % clean, Billy spent hours a day exposed to the elements as he inspected high pressure meters from one end of the county to another.

But for all ways the dark tunnels of my mind are assaulted by unexpected sights and sounds that scream “something is missing”, I wouldn’t want to re-walk those summer weeks waiting for him to draw his last breath. I’d much rather be here in the journey. I’ve learned so much, laughed so much, cried so many tears, welcomed a new generation, celebrated gorgeous weddings, and weekly rubbed lotion on the parchment covered arms of the Mrs.

It is no surprise to me that life plows ahead. Travel schedules, day care drop off and pick ups, doctors’ appointments…so many calendar pages torn off, crumpled up and thrown away.  Just the stuff of life.  The sun rises and sets.  The moon gets fat and skinny right on schedule.  But once in a Blue Moon,  I get a second reminder,  that some days are special and I need to just stop the crazy and stare into space.  So when the cicadas can’t shut up to save their souls and a big Blue Moon is hanging low in the sky…I’m right back there.

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Somethin’ to smile about…

31 10 2011

The house is silent save for the sounds of the dog as she re-positions her weary old bones on her bed.  There is nothing I have to do today – at least until sundown.  A bowl of candy perched by the front door, not as full as it once was, stands ready.  I know what day it is -it’s Halloween.  AKA : my Dad’s birthday and the birthday of a few other friends of mine.

My very evangelical, protestant upbringing doesn’t bode well for what I’m feeling today but I’m not about to entertain any kind of discussion about the matter so kindly keep dissenting comments to yourself – thank you very much.  The day in August (3 years ago) that Billy’s soul passed through the roof of that hospice facility doesn’t do much for me.  I have to stop and think about what date that actually happened.  In contrast, on the day he was ushered into the world some 89 years ago today– I am surrounded by his presence.

Maybe since the house is so quiet and I have no one to attend to – nothing pressing to do except clean up a half dozen shows stored on my dvr – maybe that is why I’ve been surprised by tears today.  Then I stood at the kitchen sink rinsing out my coffee cup and looked up, only to be met again by his gaze as it stared back at me via that silly cat.

There was no such thing as “take your daughter to work” back in the 50’s and early ’60s but I know of at least a time or two that I was inside theNipsco building in downtown Gary.  I remember a central staircase that was very ornate that stretched up through the center, floor after floor , like the spine keeping the building erect.  Somewhere on the first floor, toward the back of the building was an open space where it seemed to me that our basement was replicated.  Work benches piled with tools – the space smelling of grease and hot metal.  Over his “bench” was hung this little photo of “Smile! Kitty.”  There was great irony in that since I remember him to be distinctly vocal about his dislike of cats.  Nonetheless, it seemed that his whole life long was driven by that juxtaposition – something he disliked reminding him of something that he should do – and eventually something that would become a hallmark of his life.

Joy.  Laughter.  Joker.  An avid whistler.  Friendly.  Outgoing to strangers.  Generally a very pleasant guy to be around regardless of the circumstances.  Cool under pressure.  Not prone to lose his temper except when watching a Cubs game.

It is fitting that Jack-o-lanterns sport silly grins as he did most of his life.  Happy Birthday, Billy!  We miss you more than words can express but we know what to do to really honor you – we’ll smile instead.

p.s.  Picked the King of Pop to honor our ‘hood.  Here’s to Gary / Westside!!





My apologies to Emil Richter – 50 years after the fact…

14 07 2010

Starting at the South Shore tracks and 2nd Ave (or 3rd Ave. depending on the map you look at) on our side of the street was the Jimenez’ house, then the guy who owned Thunder (the 150 lb. Great Dane), the Ortiz family, our little green aluminum sided abode, (click on the aerial view – then the bird’s eye view to see the ‘hood), the Richter’s, then the Fedorchak’s.  After that, it didn’t matter much because Judy Fedorchak was my best friend and with the exception of the house of the old crazy lady we thought was a witch…we just moved between my yard and hers.  That was unfortunate for Emil Richter.

How did he know that just between the houses on our side of the street there would be over 2 dozen kids?  Granted, most of the Ortiz bunch was older and not playing in the street by that time but with my brother and the youngest 3 boys, there was always a street baseball game going on or some other schnenigans.  All I knew about the heavily German-accented Mr. Richter was it seemed he hated kids and our very “wichious” dog.

Our yards were relatively small patches of green on the far westside of Gary and ours was the smallest house on the block.  But when you’re small, even if the kingdom is small, it swells in your mind’s eye.  My parents worked hard to own a home and keep it up, just like the other blue collar workers that surrounded us in the Steel City.  All Mr. Richter wanted was nice grass and he had to do battle with brats and baseballs and bikes day in and day out, summer after summer.

I got an email from my cousin who runs the service department at a large car dealership near where the Mrs. lives now some 25 miles away from where she and Billy first started out.  “Does the name Emil Richter ring a bell?,” he asked. He and his wife had been in to service their car and recognized my cousin’s last name and made the connection to their old neighborhood.  Oh yeah…I was teleported back 50 years with just the mention of his name.

And I haven’t been able to get him off my mind as I stand, hose in hand – three times a day – nursing a fragile new lawn to life.  It is beginning to show signs of life – sprouting up here and there like whiskers on a 16 year old’s chin.  After the hydromulch was globbed on, we were handed a few sheets of paper instructing us how to baby this thing along.  The responsibility is now 100% ours.

I’ve been feeling very frustrated lately with my left hand all braced up and waiting for surgery a week from Friday.  I never realized how much I use the tendons in my thumb till I wince in pain with the slightest movement of my hand this last six weeks.  So, I feel like I’m biding my time…feeling depressed because I don’t feel like doing anything.  But then maybe all this has a rhyme and reason.  The Zen of Watering has become my daily friend.  Nurturing.  Coaxing something to life.  I need to be available and give it the proper attention.

Reminds me of the times when as a new mom, in a foreign country with two kids 18 months apart, feeling like I wasn’t making much of a difference.  Even today, glancing at Facebook status updates, I can ask myself why I’m not driven enough to be like her…or her…or her…or…

So here I am this summer, 50 years after cutting across Mr. Richter’s lawn one too many times, I just want to apologize to him.  It takes a slow, steady hand to grow a nice lawn.  It’s all you had and you made it really special.  It’s taken us 10 years of neglect and of being too busy to care less – to finally get to the point in our lives when it’s become “important”.  I’d like to stop and go back to that place in time but with these years under my belt and get to know Emil Richter.  What did that house mean to him?  Had he come from Germany after the war?  Was it a piece of heaven on earth to have a home in a “peaceful” neighborhood?

I need to quit.  It’s time to water again and time to watch Donny Diva while Shop Girl goes to the dentist.  If I get nothing else accomplished today, I will call it a good day.  Caring for living things ain’t all that bad even if it’s not worthy of a good status update.





RIP little red bus

21 02 2010

In these old houses, one innocent project always leads the way to ten unexpected detours.  I suppose it starts back at getting our bamboo fence put in last summer.  Next was having the massive, ugly white pine taken out of the front yard which opened up the view to the porch and exposed how badly we need a paint job.  That put me in a bind because I can’t for the life of me figure out what TWO colors I want the trim painted…the body of the house will stay the same but I just need to settle on TWO.  But they should be in line with the roof color, right?  And the gutter work we had done with the new roof two summers ago…

That led to the fact that the basement window frames are showing their 100 year-plus age and needed serious work -which lead me to thinking about finally having glass-block windows put in, thus doing away with the frames.  So we got the estimate months ago and found that getting work done in the winter is cheaper.  Sure – no brainer but they have to do the install before the end of February before their busy time of Home and Garden trade shows starts in March.

That is where my funk began.  It messed with all my glorious plans of escaping the gray and saving my sanity with a Cali trip…not to mention my Best Boy / Mimi deficit.  Being old enough for an AARP card, it is time to act my age, bite the bullet and make a grown-up decision.  Trip cancelled and install scheduled for Tuesday of this week, although I have a sneaking suspicion it will be canceled till the following week since they are predicting 8″ of snow over the next four days.  THAT is a 25 lb. bag of salt in my open wound.

They need access to all six windows from the inside.  So I swallow the bitter pill and begin to do what is seems like I have been doing for the last two years in Billy’s basement on my own rat’s nest of stuff.  I am finally figuring out why I’ve been in such a bad mood for so long.

It is an emotionally exhausting process on top of the horrid assault to my sinuses to be digging through years of memories.  There are almost 40 boxes of books that represent the grueling years of graduate and post-graduate study that are going to be donated to a not-for-profit that takes theological libraries and redistributes them around the world.  That was a lot of groceries not purchased…alot of old cars that randomly wouldn’t start…rental, after rental, after rental…and no cruises on the Caribbean.

Then there are the boxes that held the early creative years of Best Boy and Shop Girl.  Pieces of wood, colored with magic marker which became instrument panels for F-16’s.  Dolls made of socks, buttons and a little glued on lace.  Glow-worms, Pound Puppies, a Cabbage Patch named Phoebe, a box of micro mini cars and helicopters, a remote control 4×4 that lit his face up like a Christmas tree…this is the hard part.

They aren’t just old toys.  They are old memories.  I am clinging to the Clean House mantra that keeping the toy doesn’t preserve the memory.  I know that.  It’s just the stuff of life that has gotten us to the place we are at today.  It has no real value now that its weight has doubled with dust mites.

I am glad that I can at least snap a digital photo here and there before things disappear into the black recesses of a contractor’s bag bound for the Salvation Army.  I know that in this town there are hundreds of families who’s kids live for the Saturday trip to the resale stores to claim their own $1 prize.  And if it keeps these trinkets out of the landfill one more year…so be it.

Obviously, there are those things doomed to the blue city garbage bag immediately. Last garbage day that meant 10 bags not counting the loads of recycled cardboard!  When I can find a way to eek a bit more life out of these things, I’m committed to that.  I’m most thrilled to have remembered a Hispanic cultural center / library in town that is willing to take lots and lots of kids books in English and Spanish. It feels like the good they had in my kids’ lives will keep on.

That is really the issue here.  Perceived value.  That is why things have been dragged from pillar to post over the last twenty some odd years because they were “their” possessions.  I always knew this day would come but I never wanted to rush it.  There was enough inherent pain with each move, with each good-bye, with each pulling up of tender roots.  We couldn’t just drive by the places they spent a year here or two years there.  Those places are 4000 miles away.  So I kept the stuff.

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend was looking for some skis.  I quickly replied that Best Boy’s skis of high school years were still leaning against a door frame upstairs.  He stopped by with his two kids to take a look to see if they’d fit the bill.  We even had a pair of ski boots someone had given the Dr. years ago that were the right size.

The six-year-old noticed a bag of Legos on the dining room table and asked about them.  “Oh, those used to be Best Boy’s and I cleaned them up real good so that I’d have a toy or two here when Donny Diva comes to Momo’s house to stay.”  The nine-year-old piped up, “Our Mom threw away all our Legos and never told us.”  I tried to stifle my reaction.  “She DID WHAT???”  I know the whole story and for a few years theirs looked doomed to be a repeat of our as they made two different trips to live in Israel.

There is only so much you can move with you with two kids to settle in unknown surrounds.  How much storage will you have?  Dishes or Legos?  Coats or Cabbage Patch dolls?  I know the story from inside the mom’s brain.  But I also heard the betrayal in that little voice as she said to her dad, “That was our stuff and you never asked us…”

I get it.  I’ve been given permission.  I’m glad to do away with the ball and chain that has been dragging behind us all these years.  But I also know that Shop Girl doesn’t quite understand the tug on my heart since Donny Diva hasn’t started making things yet, drawing on things yet, adoring things yet…she hasn’t doubled over in laughter yet as she sees the places his imagination will take him and with such unlikely tools.

But the truth is still that with Billy’s basement all cleaned out and freshly painted, I don’t miss him less because all that stuff isn’t down there.  And I won’t love Best Boy and Shop Girl one ounce less because I tossed the Little Red Bus.  Nonetheless, it still stings just a little remembering how proud he was to have made it and been picked to be front and center at the year-end program chirping out in English since it was a British School…”The little red bus goes up and down, up and down, up and down.  The little red bus…”





now what?

4 01 2010

Mary Alice’s naked Christmas tree is laying curbside waiting to be recycled.  I finally put lights on mine two days ago.  The Twelve Days of Christmas aren’t over yet.

But here we are into the New Year and I can’t help thinking about all the things I know now that I didn’t know at this time last year.

I didn’t know Best Boy was moving.  I didn’t know there was a Mimi that loved him.

I didn’t know if Book Boy could survive nine months of Shop Girl’s roller coaster hormones.  Nor did I know they would make their whack-a-doo landlord so angry that they’d have to buy a house.  I didn’t know that an hour after his birth, Donny Diva’s wide eyes would look straight into mine and bury themselves in my heart for a long long time.  I didn’t know that a smile from him would make whatever is happening around me seem so insignificant.

I didn’t know that the Dr. would travel in and out and in and out and in and out again from some of the scariest places on the globe and come home safe every time.

I didn’t know that we’d spend enough money at the dentist this year that we could have paid for a kitchen and bath make over.

I didn’t know that the Mrs. would survive as well as she has on her own.  I didn’t know I’d have the strength to clean out Billy’s basement – or the strength to touch so many things that had been precious to him and throw them all away and not die from the guilt.

I didn’t know I’d have a dozen faithful readers.  I didn’t know I’d have enough to say to keep writing.  I didn’t know much.  And I stand here with another twelve calendar pages to turn and wonder what I’ll know soon enough.

We’ll all lose and gain – weight, money, friends and family members.  We’ll all cry – tears of deep sorrow, tears of unexpected joy or the ones when we get caught off guard and stumble on an episode of Extreme Home Makeover and they shamelessly play the emotion card yet again.

And if we’re smart – we’ll all learn something in the process and hopefully apply those nuggets to living more authentic lives.  Being ourselves – who ever we are and dealing with whatever comes custom made for us.





storytellers

25 12 2009

Travelers.  Wanderers.  Immigrants.

We were surrounded by the unfamiliar and my soul was longing for something to hang on to in this place where all of my cultural cues were misplaced.  The songs were unrecognizable.  There was no snow.  It was midnight and the neighbors were banging on the radiators upstairs in jubilation.  It was Christmas morning and I was thousands of miles away from home.

In the following years as I became acclimated to my surroundings, I began picking up on the nuances of  Noche Buena.  Families would gather late – for a huge meal before going to midnight mass.  It was one of two nights all winter that the heat in the apartment building would be on all night long.  I had to come up with a way that we could stay up late too – albeit our family gathering was only the four of us…sometimes more depending on whatever ex-pats we could host.

Each trip Stateside in the following years, I would visit a favorite children’s book store and leave with armloads of stories about Christmas.  That stack of books became the center piece of our attempt at making the wrong feel right. We had something to keep us up till midnight.  We could eat and we could read together as a family.

Once permanently removed from the foreign back to the familiar – it all fell apart again.  Here there was too much to do.  Almost too much family but we couldn’t say that outloud without great misunderstanding.  We missed the huddling together to read but Best Boy and Shop Girl were churlish teens by then and bored with the whole routine anyway.

Somewhere – sometime – we caught the NPR stories.  We replaced our books with the radio stories that meant Christmas to us.  Do yourself a favor…sit…be quiet…and listen.  That is what Christmas is about anyway.  Listening with our hearts.  My Christmas gift to you – a link.





zombie walk

31 10 2009

1031zpk

“Did you take your antibiotic this morning?”

-“What antibiotic?”

“Those ones that the pharmacy delivered yesterday?  You took two right when they came, then you have to take one a day for the next few days?  It’s called a Z-Pack?”

-“Well that doesn’t make any sense…there is only one left in the box. I can’t find them anywhere around here.  Is it the Tussin DM stuff?”

That phone conversation was yesterday morning.

Cue flashback…

We talked on Tuesday and all sounded well.  I forgot to call on Wednesday and by the time I remembered, she would have been in bed.  When she called me on Thursday to say she was back from the nail salon (something I won’t be doing when I’m almost 83 but then again you knew that…) she sounded absolutely awful.

At least twice a year for the last – oh say, twenty years or so – she gets a nasty bout of bronchitis spring and fall – about the time we have to change our clocks.  I called her doctor to see how we could handle this with me still here in the North on Donny Diva watch and the Mrs. 150 miles away hacking up a storm.

They decided to start her on a round of Zithromax and Tussin DM for the cough.  Standard procedure.  I’ve done the same cocktail myself many times.  I thought I was being soooo clever and had them call the Rx into a pharmacy down the road that delivers.  I get on the phone, talk to the tech, give her my credit card…no hassle…it will be delivered in an hour or so to the Mrs.’ house.  I am feeling oh-so-smug and smarty-pants to boot taking care of business from afar.

Another phone call after a couple of hours to confirm the delivery and all is well.  The nurse from her Dr.’s office had called and explained the dosage to the Mrs. who wrote it all down.  “Take two tablets on the first day and then one a day for tablets 2 through 5…then 1 teaspoon of Tussin every 6 hours.”  What’s not to love about that system?

Cue B-roll footage of elderly woman doing the zombie walk …

So where could those pills have disappeared to?  There was only one way to do this.  It was only fitting that I had a two hour drive in pouring rain and gale force winds again.  At least it wasn’t 2 feet of snow.  There was alot to be thankful for really.

Sure enough when I got there I found the box empty – save the one last blister packed pill marked “DAY 5”.  I checked her regular pill stash to see if she had changed her mind about putting that daily dose in with her regular pills so she didn’t have to worry about it.  “No – that’s not necessary,” she had responded when we were doing this over the phone, “I have it all written out.”  I’m kicking myself for not having insisted she do it MY way.

I checked the garbage and sure enough there were FIVE empty blister packs to prove that she had taken what was intended to be FOUR DAYS WORTH OF DOSAGE IN LESS THAN 24 HOURS!  “Oh that cough medicine really makes me loosey goosey if you know what I mean,” she giggled and disappeared into the bathroom as I grabbed my phone to speed dial the doctor’s office.  That explained it.  She had been taking the pills thinking they were the Tussin which barely had a teaspoon gone out of the bottle.

“Oh MY!…Can I put you on hold while I check with the Dr.?,” the nurse whispered.   When she came back on line, she explained that I was to start some Kaopectate and if it didn’t work, try Imodium.  No more antibiotics till Sunday. (There is only one pill left anyway!)  Since they were only 250mg and time released at that – we were barely at a megadose like the kind you can get in the hospital.  But the trots could certainly be a side effect.  I went for broke at this point and did the dose of Imodium.  How much could that hurt after all the “candy” she’d had?

I grabbed the fattest marker I could and started making signs…BIG PRINTING EXPLAINING THAT SHE HAD TO TAKE ONE TEASPOON OF COUGH MEDICINE AT 8 a.m. / 2 p.m. / 8 p.m., etc. etc.

Adding insult to injury – I remember that Saturday night we set the clocks back.  I didn’t want her up on step ladders changing her kitchen clock so I decided to do it early.  I’m so screwed at this point – what difference can it make that she’ll think it is an hour earlier than it really is all day Saturday?

What really has her concerned is how to pass out candy on Billy’s birthday without contaminating all the kids – then I remember…this day was a highlight of their year.  He always made it so fun.  He could have been selfish about his birthday but it was always about everyone else. It was as if he had invited the whole world to his party.   He never pouted that his day was “eclipsed” with so much hubbub.

“I don’t suppose Billy has much sense of what day it is in heaven, do you?”

“No I don’t suppose.”

That quiet little exchange before I took off like a bat out of hell headed back North, haunted me the rest of the way home.  It’s all a little sad to be alone and sick on such a special day. If I had to pick a costume for today, it would a floppy, straw-stuffed scarecrow…the kind that I could leave little bits of myself in each space I’m trying to fill.