Friday, December 23, 2011

Quiet night

I’ve had a long day filled with fun and exciting things, yet I’m finding it impossible to sleep.  Maybe it’s because I fell asleep on the couch for a little while before bedtime, or maybe it’s because of the incessant alarm my ADT box keeps sending out saying “trouble”.  I know when the beeping starts a phone call from ADT will follow, so I guess I psyched myself out of sleeping waiting on the phone call and the next round of trouble alarms that will surely follow all night long.  I finally had it out with ADT on the phone at 1:00 a.m., so a technician will be here in two weeks to look at the problem, again.  Yes, two weeks, but the customer service lady assured me someone will call me within 24-48 hours to move that date up and send out a download to disable the trouble alarm.  They will call later because I assured her I was not staying up 20 minutes to two hours longer to wait on their call this morning.  Yet here I am awake anyway, washing clothes and complaining.

Usually when I can’t sleep I use my insomnia as an excuse to get up and write.  But I can’t think of anything to write about.  Christmas is only three days away.  I guess I could write about that.  I have been thinking about Santa a lot lately.  I remember how much I loved waiting on Santa, but he scared me, too.  The thought of waking up and seeing him sent enough fear through me to send me straight to bed to hide under the covers.  I remember one year I heard him walking up to my crib. 

 Let me take a moment to explain something.  I grew up in a four bedroom house with three brothers, three sisters, two parents, and a grandmother.  The grandmother got her own room plus a sitting room, the parents got a room, the boys all shared a room, two sisters shared one room and my pesky sister somehow finagled the grandmother’s sitting room all to herself.  That left me sleeping in a crib in my parents’ room for more years than any child should ever have to sleep in a crib.  I mean, when you’re sitting up in your crib doing your homework something is wrong with the picture.

Anyway, as I was saying, one year I heard Santa walking slowly up to my bed (i.e. crib), the floorboards creaking ever so slightly under his feet.  When he got to me he stopped and looked at me.  I didn’t see him looking at me of course because I was frozen with fear with eyes shut tightly, but I could feel his gaze upon me.  After a brief time I heard him slowly walk away and out of the room.  I think I must have passed out then because I didn’t wake and pull down the railing until morning.

My mother was always up early on Christmas morning tending to the turkey.  She would baby a turkey in the oven from the wee hours of the morning until it was time to eat.  She would always ask me if I thought Santa came, always instilling just enough doubt in me to send my stomach into knots wondering if he did indeed come afterall.  I couldn’t see into the living room to be sure if he came because of the sheet my father would have hung in the doorway the night before to keep us from peeking.  And I never peeked.  Truly, I did not.  Despite that shade of doubt Santa always came.  Always.

This year I will celebrate my 45th Christmas.  When I go to bed on Christmas Eve I will have that same feeling I have had all of these 45 years waiting on Santa.  I will lie in bed in anticipation of the footsteps I once heard so long ago.  I will listen for the sleigh bells and the thump of reindeer hooves on the roof.   And on Christmas morning I will ask my children if he came, even though they are teenagers and probably no longer believe he does come.  But I do.  I believe in Santa because my parents never, never ever till their dying day told me otherwise.  And I heard his footsteps that night.  I felt his loving gaze upon me.  If that isn’t proof there is a Santa, then I don’t know what is.

The alarm has been quiet for awhile, the clothes are done washing, and I’m finally beginning to feel just a little bit sleepy.  I guess I’ll turn the tree lights off and go to bed.  I feel visions of sugarplums beginning to dance in my head.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The girl in the picture, the one beside me

I’m sitting here reading the comments people have made on my Facebook profile picture.  It is a picture of my sister, Barbara, and I on Christmas morning probably in 1968 or ’69 if I had to guess.  She’s modeling an Indian dress and necklace, and I’m holding her finger and seem to be quite happy it’s Christmas and I got a new doll buggy.  She looks like she would rather be in the picture alone, but I’m hanging in there so she goes along with it.  I changed the picture tonight to one of the two of us, again on Christmas morning, probably taken in 1984 or ’85, if I had to guess.  This time I am not gripping her finger, but we both seem to be happy about whatever is going on off camera.  It was Christmas, so of course we were happy.  

I think of Barbara the most at Christmas.  I think it was her favorite day of the year, much less her favorite holiday.  She was like a child at Christmas.  I remember one year while waiting on the rest of the family to get to Mama’s house on Christmas morning, she got so excited she threw up.  Mind you, she was probably 30.   I don’t think she would care I shared this with the world, because I laughed at her all day about it, and every year thereafter, so she was used to it.

It’s funny how I can’t remember the little details of our last Christmas together at Mama’s house.  The year would have been 1992.  I know this because the next year was the first year my family spent Christmas away from Mama’s.  We spent it at my sister, Marilyn’s new house.  It was large enough for us to spread out, and I think we were going to make a new tradition of it.  That was also the same year on Thanksgiving Day Barbara gave my two sisters and me matching silver Santa pendants.   I probably didn’t think much of it at the time, but I do now.  In fact every Thanksgiving I don my Santa pendant and wear it everyday until Christmas.  I think of her as I wear it Christmas shopping and feel her with me.  I silently consult with her on certain purchases to see if they would be something she would buy.  Afterall, she was the master shopper.

The next year, Christmas 1994, was another break of tradition for my family.  We didn’t spend it at Marilyn’s house, or Mama’s.  No, we spent it at my brother’s house in Birmingham, Alabama, because Barbara was in a coma in the heart transplant unit at the UAB hospital.  I remember rushing Christmas morning at my own house with my then 15 month-old son so we could get in the car and get to Birmingham as fast as we could.  That was the year Barbara gave the entire family the best Christmas present she ever gave anyone.  That was the year when all of us, all seven plus her husband, were piled in her tiny ICU room amid the machines and tubing, and she surfaced from her coma just enough to smile at us when we told her it was Christmas and we were all there with her.  She did not come all the way out of her coma on that day, but I know she knew we were there.  I’m certain of it.

There is a bond shared by sisters and brothers that is only loosed in death.  I don’t think it can ever be broken entirely.  In life you share the same parents, family, history, heritage and home.  That piece of me that was the bond between Barbara and me fell asleep with her and I have felt an empty place in my being ever since.  Most times the emptiness is shallow, but sometimes, like Christmas, it gets a little deeper.  Along with our bond, the magic Christmas once held for me fell asleep as well.

Had it not been for the need to create a Christmas spirit for my children I think I would have given up long ago.  Not that there have not been glimmers here and there of what it used to be.   And this year will be the first Christmas without my mother, the true driving force of the holiday.  She and Barbara shared the same zeal for Christmas.  The joy they both shared for this one day of the year was overflowing.  When you combine that overflowing joy and multiply it by the number of Christmases they had between them, then surely there is still enough of that joy floating around out there to shine down on me for years to come.

The first Christmas without is always the hardest, especially, when you have had the best all of the years before.  But with all that joy shining down from Mama and Barbara, then I’m sure I’ll “muddle through somehow”.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A little shopping goes a long way

My Christmas spirit so far has been about a quart low this year.  Putting up my tree and all that goes with it is more of a chore than a pleasure; even though I do enjoy the way my house feels after it is all done.   My sorry back does not like me to stand for long, so it has taken over a week to do everything, and I’m still not done.  So yesterday I got it in my head I was going to go Christmas shopping to lift my spirits and give me the boost I need to finish decorating.   I left home at not quite 10:00 a.m.  with my iPod tuned to my Christmas playlist (courtesy of my friends and their Christmas Spectacular spectacular). 

My first stop was Hobby Lobby, a quest my oldest friend and travelling partner sent me on in search of peacock ornaments for her tree.  I did not find them, but I did find some lovely, glittery silver swans.  I reported in to her of my trophy, but she did not seem to want them so I left them at the store.  I almost bent to the temptation for myself, but my tree already has so many birds on it I’m sure it will fly away before New Year’s.  I then walked down to TJMaxx where I spent way too much time but knocked out over half my list.  A very productive trip, I must say. By the time I checked out my back was beginning to creak.  I should have stopped there.  But, no.  I drove on down to Tuesday Morning, but as it was Saturday there was nothing new in the store since the last time I was there so that was a wasted trip. Next stop, Kohl’s with a 20% off coupon in hand.  Again, spent way too much time but crossed a couple of more names off my list so I was happy. By then my sorry back was in full hurt and getting that slipping feeling.  I should have stopped there.  But, no.

I make it a rule to stay away from the mall.  I do most of my shopping online, so the mall is not a necessity in my life.  But Steinmart has moved to the mall and I have not been there in years, so I went anyway.  I quickly scouted the store so I could go out into the mall to get a coke to chase down a muscle relaxer and pain pill.  What I should have done was get in my car and go home.  But, no.  At some point while I was watching the robotic arm grab my selection and the little door open for me to retrieve it, something happened to my left heel.  It couldn’t bear my weight and I ended up dragging my foot through the mall.  Yes, the entire mall.  I felt that since I was there I would go ahead and make sure there wasn’t anything I wanted.  There wasn’t.

By the time I finally left that dreadful place it was after 2:00 p.m. and I still had stores on my list.  I hobbled to the parking lot and eased myself down into my car and somehow found the strength to shut the door.  Thankfully, the few minutes it took to drive from the mall to the Target shopping center gave my back and heel the time they needed to rest to give me a second wind.  I knew I was tired when I went into Books-A-Million and only looked at a couple of hundred.  I ended up walking the length of the shopping center twice, going in and out of stores along the way.  This is not good for me because I have to pass a Pet Smart twice in my journey and there are always rescue dogs out in front of the store on Saturdays.  There was one little tan Daschund mix blinking his eyes into the wind, a flirtatious ploy to get me to stop. I did not, because had I there would have been another dog or two I would have had to feed this morning.

I finally made it home around 4:00 p.m. and crashed on the couch with no intention of ever getting up.  After a good rest I pulled out my laptop and finished the majority of my shopping online.  I’ve only got one or two more stops at a store to return something and buy one more thing, and then I will be done with store shopping for quite a while.  At least until next year, God willing.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2011, and it marks the fifth year I have made the Thanksgiving dressing for my family gatherings.  I am a self-proclaimed “not very good” cook, so I don’t know why I ever volunteered to make the dressing in the first place.  I think it was because in 2006 my mother was getting too weak to do much cooking.  A year before, during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, she had contracted the West Nile virus, and it had taken a toll on her strength.  Maybe I volunteered because I wanted to learn how.  Whatever reason, I went to her house to make the dressing.  Of course by the time I got there she had already done most of the prep work and made the cornbread so there wasn’t much left for me to do but watch.  My mother never was one to teach her cooking skills.  You had to watch to learn.  For her it was easier to just cook and get it done then to wait while we struggled through the steps.  That year the dressing was mostly hers, but she gave me the credit.  That was also the year my daddy divided up his “old money”, out of print bills he had been saving in an accordion file for a few years.  Then, later with cash in pockets, we spread out the Black Friday ads, an annual tradition, and plotted our strategies.  That was a good year.

Now here I am five years later making the dressing again and thinking about the four years that have passed since that last good year.  I got started this morning by making the cornbread and boiling eggs, then on to chopping the vegetables.  As I peel the paper skins off of the onions, and make the first slices I think about Thanksgiving 2007.  Did we have it at my house or my sister’s?  I don’t remember.  I do remember making the dressing all by myself.  My mother reassured me that it was good, and I think I did a pretty good job of it even though I watched my brother-in-law generously douse his serving with salt.  And Daddy divided his “old money” again, a smaller amount because he had only been saving for one year.  Then, again with cash in pockets, albeit less than the previous year, we spread out the Black Friday ads and plotted our strategies. 

Next come the green onions.  I find it is much easier to snip them with kitchen shears rather than try to chop them.  Mama always chopped, but I always look for the easy way.  I snip away the green shoots stopping short of the white parts, saving that for the chicken stock.  With each cut I think about Thanksgiving 2008, the first holiday without my father.  By that time my mother was living with my sister and unable to do any of the cooking aside from maybe peeling potatoes, which she always did in an effort to hang on to her last thread of independence.  My sister, Becky, hosted that year because she wanted to have Thanksgiving in her new home.  With full stomachs, but empty hearts and pockets we still spread out the Black Friday ads and plotted our strategies.

Celery is something I could do without in any dish, but my mother put it in the dressing, therefore, so do I.  I cut off the leaves and the ends and save them for the chicken stock.  The fresh smell and the crisp sound the knife makes as it slices through the watery stalks serve as the background of my memories of Thanksgiving 2009.  By then, dressing was my thing and despite the fact there is no written recipe I could make it taste pretty much just like Mama’s.  She agreed.  That Thanksgiving was only a week or so after my nephew left us.  That was a bad time, so I don’t remember much about it except for the fact that I hosted lunch at my house.  Friday was black, indeed.

I mix all of my chopped vegetables in a bowl and set them in the fridge to wait their turn.  Now it is time to put my chicken on to boil.  Mama always used chicken in her dressing instead of turkey, I guess because the turkey had not even been cooked before she started the dressing.  Plus, she needed the stock. I put the chicken in one of her favorite pots, cover it with water, add cut onions, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaves and turn it on to do its thing.  I think of last year, Thanksgiving 2010.  My sister, Becky, took her turn again and had us over to her house even though it was the first Thanksgiving after her husband’s death.  Again, the family gathered, gave thanks, ate my dressing, and combed over the Black Friday ads and planned strategies.  My sister slept, and no one minded.

Here it is, 2011, and it will be the first Thanksgiving without Mama.  At first I wondered if my sisters and brothers would even want to get together.  Afterall, with both parents gone now, there is nothing that bounds us to be together.  But in the spirit of the holiday, thankfully, they do, and we will.  Becky wants us at her house again; because this might be the last Thanksgiving she has there.  I will bring the dressing, and for the first time I will not have Mama to reassure me that it is fine, just like hers.  I will just have to have confidence that after five years I know what I’m doing.  And even though we all have really, really empty pockets I look forward to our annual tradition of spreading out the ads and plotting our strategies.

Life goes on, and so do Thanksgivings.   While these past few years have had their own brand of sadness, I am still thankful for what I knew, what I know, and what I have yet to learn. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

.....and far too many stars have fell on me

A Leonid meteor shower peaks tonight.  I long to see shooting stars and make my wishes upon them, but they are so elusive.  I try to sit out and watch for them during these special events but inevitably it is too cold, there are too many mosquitos or my neck just gets tired of craning backwards.  Still I prevail, and try, at least, to watch the night skies for signs of movement other than blinking airplane lights. 

There was a time in my life when I was afraid to look up at the night sky.  When I was about 10 or 11 I was with a friend and we saw some very strange lights we were certain was a UFO come to get us.  From then on I would avoid the stars out of fear of what I might see.  Now it is the opposite.  I find myself searching the stars.  I don’t know what exactly I am searching for, or why, but I have an overwhelming need and desire to feel a closeness with the heavens.  Maybe it is because two years ago tomorrow, there was another Leonid meteor shower I watched innocently while across town a light was leaving the earth to join those above me.   

It’s funny how memory works.  Some things I long to remember, like Christmas mornings when I was little, but cannot squeeze the memory out of hiding.  Other things I wish I could forget, like embarrassing moments that keep replaying like a tape recorder on rewind/fast forward.  There are parts of that day two years ago that I remember too clearly no matter how hard I wish I could forget.  The morning started off in a terrible way with a stupid argument with my husband.  That argument ruined the rest of my day.  I walked around in a gray funk all day, sorry for things I had said, hoping he was sorry for things he had said.  That afternoon after work I was looking forward to getting home and making it all right.  The sun was setting in front of me and James Taylor was on the radio singing about no matter how down and troubled I was I had a friend.  For some reason this made me think of my deceased sister, and I cried all the way home.  Thinking back I always wonder if I saw the ambulance coming my way in the eastbound lane.

After supper my husband and I went outside to watch the meteor shower. We sat together on the bench he built for me out of the leftover granite used for the countertops in our house.  It was a cold night made even colder by the granite, but sitting there we made up for the argument of the morning and all was forgiven.  I remember seeing one shooting star, moving very slowly across the sky, almost in slow motion.  I was amazed at it because most of them go by so fast you can barely see them, but this one was taking its sweet time inching across the blanket of stars in the background.  Thinking back I always wonder if it was him waving goodbye to me.

When we were too cold to stay out any longer we went inside.  My husband went to his office to clean.  Afterall, Thanksgiving was going to be at our house and his office was a dusty mess.  I went into the living room to watch a Judy Garland movie, the one where she sings about the Atchison, the Topeka and the Santa Fe.  I always liked that song because I often call my son, Addison, Atchison, from the song.  I don’t know how the movie ended because mid-way there was a phone call which led to my husband calling my children together to tell us news I refused to believe no matter how much he tried to convince me it was true.  I remember a black hole opening up and I was so close to falling in, but something held onto me.  Thinking back I always wonder why terrible things happen.

I remember saying we had to go to the hospital, telling myself I had to be there for the others, when actually I didn’t even know if they were there.  I pulled on a green sweater, one that I don’t even take out of storage anymore.  There are other things I remember, though, I wish I could forget.  The looks on the faces of the frat boys in the hall outside of the ICU, the looks on the faces of the family inside the ICU.  The feeling of utter horror in knowing the nightmare I was in was a reality.  Thinking back I always wonder where the strength comes from to deal with such tragedies at that moment when strength is needed the most.

Two years later, on this night I go out and sit in the cold on the granite bench with my dog at my side, and I watch for shooting stars as she searches in the weeds beside me.  I am looking up and she is looking down where I used to look in the UFO fear days.  I am looking for that shooting star moving in slow motion.  I want to wave back at it, and tell him everything is O.K. down here, so go and have your great adventure.

I have finally come to a place of peace over what all has happened.  The black hole is a distant dot on the horizon.   Sometimes, like tonight, it comes close enough for me to peer in from a distance, but not close enough to engulf me.  

Thinking back I always wonder why this young man, who I knew since he was almost a baby, was so special to me.  So very special he was.  So very special he is.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why me?

I was always the good one.  You know the type, the girl who doesn’t drink, do drugs, smoke, cuss, or sleep around.  She may hang out with those who do some or all of those things, but she sits quietly in the corner and soaks in the ambiance instead of contributing to it.  Yep, that was me.  My parents had no idea how lucky they were (or maybe they did) because I had every opportunity to do all of the above and cause them untold grief.  But I didn’t.  I’ve pretty much stayed the good girl throughout my life.  I still don’t smoke, my only drugs are vitamins or the necessary, I’m a faithful wife, and I only drink a few sips here and there for the flavor, not for the high.  I obey the law; I pay my bills, pay my taxes, and teach my children to do the right thing.  Yep, that is me.

So tell me this.  Why is it I am the one who is always suspected of being the bad guy?  When I was about 10 I was suspected of shoplifting.   Of course it didn’t help that earlier that same day I had been playing some pretend game at home where I had stuffed water-filled insoles into my denim jumpsuit.   And so later at McCrory’s, when the suspicious sales clerk grabbed me by my arms and shook me viciously, the insoles fell out through my pant legs.  Yes, I did look guilty, but I was innocent, I tell you!  Come to think of it, why did my parents not sue the pant legs off of McCrory’s?

Skip ahead to high school.  I was invited to a Cheap Trick concert by my most favorite person of the day, and he bought me a t-shirt.  I wore it to school, of course.   A few days later my English teacher pulled me aside after class and apologized to me.  She said she saw me wearing the t-shirt and she basically thought I was advertising myself as a cheap trick.  She had since learned it was only a band t-shirt and she felt so sorry for having such bad thoughts of me she had to apologize.  I didn’t know why she was apologizing.  I didn’t even know what a cheap trick was.  Did I mention I was a senior in high school?

In college I spent a summer studying abroad in Jamaica.  The opportunities to indulge in every vice, especially drugs, were presented to me not just daily, but hourly.  Did I concede?  Of course not, I was the good girl.  What I did do was get the most fantabulous tan, learn my school lessons, explore a beautiful island and eat some great food.  Oh, and I got my hair braided, complete with colorful beads.  I was feeling pretty good about myself, yes, indeed.   Maybe it was my envious tan, or braided hair, or maybe it was the six-pack of Red Stripe I bought for my brother, but for whatever reason, I was the one, the only one who was pulled out of line in customs to be searched.  Forget the guys in line with me who stayed high the whole time, it was innocent, gloriously tanned, me who had to have her bags searched while the rest of my group was literally running to the connecting flight home.  My oldest friend and travelling partner and my professor were kind enough to wait on me.  Of course my folly made rich fodder for my professor’s ribbing later and forever.

And now there’s my most recent incident.  I spent this last weekend with family visiting my niece in Michigan. We spent some great time shopping at thrift stores, quirky boutiques, and my favorite chain stores not available in my area.  At my favorite store, World Market, I picked up a few things including a bag of pumpkin scone mix and an interesting, shiny red, wind-up double egg timer.  I only bought small things I could pack to bring home, leaving in Michigan a fantastic art deco vintage lamp and lovely ceramic nativity because I knew it was impractical to pack such things.  Oh, and I also bought two bags of gourmet popping corn for my husband because he doesn’t like the microwave kind.  I now know that pumpkin scone mix and popping corn look very suspicious when they go through an x-ray machine.  And stick a metal timer next to dense objects and TSA will surely think you have the makings of a bomb in your suitcase.  Luckily the TSA officer meticulously going through my dirty laundry was a very nice and informative man.  He gave me good advice on how maybe next time I could order the popcorn online because, afterall, there was a website address on the packaging.  And, yes, the timer was quite interesting; he’d never seen one like that before.  Knowing I am innocent and trying to avoid embarrassment at all cost I cheerfully encouraged him in his duties, and if searching me meant stopping something bad from getting onto my plane, then have at it.  

I’ve no doubt that I will continue to be the good one, sitting quietly and soaking up the ambiance of those around me who are whooping it up. Sometimes I might take more than a few sips for flavor, and get a little loud with them.  But whatever I might do in the future, I am sure of one thing.  I will order my scone mix and popcorn online, and I will forgo interesting double egg timers.  I will go for the antique lamp and ceramic nativity even if it they make for impractical packing.  And for the record, the tan and braids were worth it!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Farmer, baker, grandfather

My children were born with a special gift I never had.  They had the blessing of growing up with both grandfathers and both grandmothers in their lives.  Both of my grandfathers died long before I was born.  While I did have both grandmothers (and I loved them both) I’ve always felt an emptiness in that space where my grandfathers should have been.

For some reason I have always felt closest to my paternal grandfather.  An immigrant from Hungary, Karoly Csaszar first lived in Chicago before settling with his wife and young son (my father) in rural Lamar County.  He lived there on a farm until he died in 1959 at the age of about 74.  From what I’ve been told he did many odd jobs in and out of town, whatever he needed to do to support his family outside of farming.  But his primary skills were in baking.  I’ve heard he was an excellent baker, and was especially practiced in the art of making his own phyllo-type dough.  I have his kitchen table.  Its well worn wood reminds me of the time and effort he must have put into each baked good to please his family.

I have his wallet in which I found his last driver’s license.  It was issued on December 31, 1958. The thin yellowed paper documents the gray hair and brown eyes I’ve seen in his pictures.  In my mind he was a large man, but the driver’s license proves me wrong.  The state says he was only 5’6” tall and weighed 160 pounds.  The wallet also contained his over-65 hunting and fishing license giving him permission to hunt and fish without a license and authorized by the Deputy Sheriff and Tax Collector, Louis Csaszar, my father.  But from the other things I’ve heard about my grandfather I have a feeling these little pieces of paper were only formalities, and no one was going to tell him he couldn’t drive, hunt or fish if he was not lawfully licensed.  Rumor has it my father gave up his Deputy Sheriff and Tax Collector position to avoid having to arrest his father for brewing his own beverages.  But that’s only a rumor, of course.

I’ve never been able to understand this attachment I have for a man I never knew.  I remember feeling jealousy towards my older sisters because they did know him.  Hearing them talk about him made me feel like there was a great party and I wasn’t invited.  No, I did not know him, but I did meet him once in a dream.  In my dream I was at his house.  I saw my mother sitting on the couch and she was young, so I knew I must have travelled back in time.  Then I thought, if I’m at the farm, and I’m back in time, then Grandpa’s here and I’ll get to meet him.  Sure enough I turned and there he was sitting in a chair with an ottoman in front of him.  I sat on the ottoman and faced him, our knees almost touching.  He was smiling and just as we were about to speak my grandmother came in and made me leave him to help her change the sheets on her bed.  I call this dream a visit because it was so real.  It was also very real because it would have been just like my grandmother to call attention away from him and to her.

My father was a dedicated son to his parents.  I never heard him speak of them in any ill way.  He revered their memory, and when his health began to fail he wanted pictures of his mother and father hanging on the wall in front of his recliner, above the television, where he could see them.  I think this comforted him in some way.  After he died I took those pictures home with me.  I have the one of my grandfather hanging in a position in my dining room where I face it everytime I sit down to eat supper.  It comforts me in some way.  It also reminds me to remind my children how fortunate they have been.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who could it be now?

Something happened to me once, something strange and peculiar.  I’ve told a few people about it, but my older sister, you know, the pesky one, thinks I need to write about it here.  I carry this event, this experience, around me with everyday, buried in the depths of the digital world and accessed by dialing “1” on my cell phone and hearing those words, “You have one saved voice message,” spoken by an electronic voice.  When I press the key to listen to my saved message, I hear a woman’s weak, trembling voice say, 

“Hey baby. Can you come n' help me? I got to get on the pot, and I'm afraid to. (pause) I love you. (awkwardly long pause) Bye.”

I got this message one Saturday morning, April 30, 2011 at 8:50 a.m., to be exact. My phone rang, and in typical fashion I could not get to it in time to answer.  When I looked at the call log I knew it was a wrong number because I didn’t recognize it, and everyone who ever calls me is in my contact list, and this number was not.  I saw the wrong number left me a voicemail, so I listened, hoping it was a message from one of the many contests I enter telling me I’d won a major prize.  I got a prize alright.  When I heard the message for the first time I was stunned.  In fact, it was one of those literal jaw dropping moments.  What should I do?  Should I call her back?  What if she had made it to the pot?  I certainly didn’t want to interrupt her.  And, even if I could help her there was no way I could get to her in time to make it to the pot anyway.  And if I did call her I imagined she would be terribly embarrassed to know she left her pot emergency message on a stranger’s voicemail.  I did the only thing I could think of at the time, I listened to the message again.  Surely I heard it wrong.  But there it was, 

“Hey baby. Can you come n' help me? I got to get on the pot, and I'm afraid to. (pause) I love you. (awkwardly long pause) Bye.”

Again, I was stunned.  By now, I figured, if Baby hadn’t called her back, then surely she had called Baby back, and all was well.  All I could do was speculate.  I wondered just what was this woman afraid to do.  Was there a big hairy spider in the bathroom, and she was afraid to go in without Baby? That’s reason enough for ME to call Baby.  Maybe she had once seen a ghost in the bathroom, and didn’t want to go in there alone.  Did she hear a strange noise outside the window? Maybe she had just had some kind of medical procedure and was afraid of what might happen to her if she made it to the pot.  Whatever the reason, I prayed she found Baby and made it to her destination without incident.

I have kept that voicemail since it was left for me.  It’s like a little gift.  I’ve shared it with others to hear their take on the situation.  I always get the same literal jaw dropping reaction.  Then I have to play it again because surely they’ve heard it wrong as well.

I’ve thought about that woman from time to time, hoping she found Baby, hoping she is well.  And then, one day a couple of months ago, August 9, 2011 to be exact, I was on my way home from work when my cell phone rang.  This time I answered it, and I heard a familiar voice say, “Hey Baby! Hey Baby!”  This time the voice was happy and exuberant. I interrupted to say I thought she had the wrong number.  She apologized and hung up.  She sounded like she had good news for Baby.  RELIEF!!!  I was so happy to know the woman was alive and well.  I guess she made it to the pot afterall.

I continue to keep that voicemail.  I’ll listen to it from time to time, and then, as instructed by the electronic voice, I’ll press “9” to save it for 21 more days.  I’m glad my phone number is so close to Baby’s.  I hope she will call me by mistake again someday.  Her voice is like an old friend to me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Things do go bump in the night

Halloween is right around the corner, as I am reminded every time I search the television guide for something decent to watch.  Instead I am bombarded with horror movies, movies rapt with blood and gore and/or demon possessions.  I admit I do enjoy watching some Ghosthunters and the like, much to the dismay of my husband, but I never, ever, never ever, watch anything do to with demon possessions.  I don’t play that.
I think it is about time I tell my own ghost stories.  If these things bother you for whatever reason, then stop reading now.  But if you want to know me, then you should know sometimes strange things happen to me.

Here is where I am going to admit to something many would disagree with.  I believe in ghosts.  I also believe in demon possessions which is why I do not pursue my belief in ghosts.  I do not own a FLIR, I do not make digital recordings to listen for disembodied voices, and I don’t take pictures in Graceland to look for orbs.  Well, actually I did do that, and from the results of my pictures, Elvis has left the building.  No, I’ve had enough unsolicited personal encounters of my own that I do not have to go looking for them. 

When I was growing up, ghost was a household word.  The idea of ghosts was no big deal.  My parents were believers, but it was more of a matter-of-fact thing.  My father and my grandmother often told us stories about hauntings in the old farmhouse in which he was raised.  Rattling doorknobs, strange lights, meat cleavers swinging on the wall…these were the things of bedtime stories.  Most of my brothers and sisters have had unexplained experiences at the “farm”, and my father never dismissed them.  I don’t remember him encouraging us, but he never refuted us either.  My mother was more afraid of things, but she would chime in with her own sighting she had of grandfather at the farm after he had passed.  Since that day she never went back into that house.

Personally I have never seen anything unusual at the farm, but there have been times when I would go out there and immediately have to leave.  A feeling would come over me I could not explain, and all I knew was I had to leave.  But I have witnessed other things at other places.  Shall I tell?

The first time I ever had an extraordinary experience was when I was about 10 or so.  In the bedroom I occasionally shared with two of my sisters there were two beds with the headboards against the wall with the windows. I was sleeping in the bed on the far left side of the room.  I woke up in the middle of the night and I saw the silhouette of a young boy in the window.  The odd thing was he was inside my room, not outside.  I could not see his features, but I could see his shape very clearly.  He was a solid form.  I remember feeling so scared.  All I could do was close my eyes tight and cover my head.  I know I wasn’t dreaming.  This image has stayed with me all of these years.  Was it real?  I don’t know, but it was real to me.

The first house my husband and I owned was an unusual place. It was built in the 1940s and we were the third owners.  The second owners only lived there a couple of years before we bought it.   I never felt any negative feelings there, but when my son was born things started to happen.  Sometimes our dog would bark and run around for no apparent reason.  There were times when we would all be in the living room and things would fall on the floor in the kitchen.  When my son was a baby he was always looking up, or over my shoulder behind me.  And he was captivated by the lights.  He was always looking at the lights.  

Speaking of lights, there were times, once I remember clearly on Christmas Eve, when there would be strange flashes of light out of nowhere.  These flashes are why, to this day, I hang reflective things outside my windows.  That way, if I see flashes of light at least I have an explanation.  But I think the eeriest thing was the footprints of a small child embedded in the finish of the floor in our bedroom.  Just an imprint of little feet in the far corner of the room.  I kept it covered with a table until we could carpet.  I was told by someone who knew the original owners that they did not have children, and the floor was original, so I do not know how the footprints came to be.  But the most startling thing that happened to me in that house was having my foot tugged on when I was in bed.  Just a gentle tug, but it was enough for me to keep my legs away from the edge of the bed from then on.

When I moved to my next house things were much calmer.  Calmer, but not altogether quiet.  There was the time I felt someone sit next to me on my son’s bed, complete with impression on the mattress, the time my husband saw a woman in a flowered dress walk down the hall, the hundreds of times my children would call out “yes” in answer to someone calling their name, thinking I was calling them, and the time I was surrounded by swirling golden sparkles, as if I was in a snow globe full of golden glitter.  In this house the strangest thing that happened to me was being awakened in the middle of the night by a little boy.  I had two little boys of my own, so I got out of bed and followed him in the dark out of my bedroom to put him back to bed.  When I got to the hallway he was gone.  I went to both of my sons’ bedrooms and they were both sound asleep in their beds. 

I am now in my fifth year in my third house, and so far so good.  The only strange things that have happened here are the tappings I feel on my legs sometimes when I am asleep.  But this didn’t start until after I got housecats, so I attribute it to a kitty jumping on my bed.  Right?

The truth is I have never seen an actual ghost in my waking hours.  Yes, I have had some strange experiences, but I’m sure they all have reasonable explanations if you think about them hard enough.  No, my ghosts come to me in my dreams.  My dreams are where I converse with and touch my loved ones who have passed.  These encounters are as real to me as if these people were standing next to me when I’m wide awake.  These are the dreams I call visits.  I haven’t had very many of these dreams, but I treasure each of them.  My sister has visited me, my good friend, my father, my grandfather, and my niece.  My aunts and grandmother sometimes make cameo appearances in the background, waving and smiling at me.  I have yet to be visited by my mother, my nephew, and my brother-in-law.  Sure, I have dreamed about them, but these dreams have not been visits.  There is a definite difference between a dream and a visit, and I can’t really explain it, I just know.  If it happens to you, you will understand.

So, keep a watchful eye out there for strange flashes of light, footprints in the varnish, and golden sparkles.  And if you do see these things, who you gonna call?  Not me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

There is light

I am Catholic.  Catholicism is something that is as much a part of me as the air I breathe.  I did not choose this faith, I was born into it, but I have the freedom to choose to leave it at any time.  And I have considered it.  Throughout my life I have had sort of a love/not so much love relationship with the Church.  There have been times in my life when I have ignored the Church and pushed it aside.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never ignored my faith, just the institution of the Church.  In fact, I have been going through one of those periods for the last couple of years.  

I was raised in a Catholic school as was my entire family including my mother and her entire family.  My years at that school are some of the best memories I have.  I credit those years for giving me the strong foundation of faith that has carried me through many difficult times.  That is why I insisted my children attend the same school.  Even though it was a financial burden on our family, I wanted them to have the same experiences and as solid of an education as I did.  I guess the phrase “you can never go home again” rings some truth because my children had some very negative experiences.  And as a result of their rebuffs, I, as a parent, spent too many years under undue stress that I unintentionally passed on to my children.  I finally had all I could take and pulled them from the school in an attempt to salvage what little there was left of their self-esteem and get them back on track academically.  Public school did not prove to be a cure-all for one of my children, and when I turned back to the Catholic school for help I was refused it.  That hurt.  It did not matter that my mother and her 8 brothers and sisters were alums, and most of their children, and their children’s children.  The fact remained I was refused, and the experience left a bitterness in me that turned me away from the whole establishment, even the Church.

Holding onto bitterness is not a way to live one’s life.  It will seep into every pore of your existence and corrupt your life from the inside out.  Ever since the time these feelings took over, my life has been in a slow downward spiral, so slow it is almost indiscernible, but yet I can still feel it turning.  

I know I have to make a change in my attitude before things can turn in full swing towards the positive.  I have forgiven the school, even though I still cringe when I think of all of those lost years I could have had with my children as a happy mother instead of a stressed out wreck.  

In an effort to make some positive changes I went to mass yesterday for the first time in a very, very long time (not including funerals).  I was reminded God will sometimes reach out to you in the most peculiar ways.  For example, on my way to communion I was listening to the song and looking down at my feet and the feet in front of me and in the line to my right.  I looked at the shoes around me.  There were running shoes, sandals, boots, and sneakers.  Shoes carrying people of all ages, sizes, and different walks of life to the front of the church to take Jesus into our hands, into our bodies and into our souls.   We asked forgiveness and stepped out into the aisle and walked together to the altar, and I noticed we were all stepping in time to the music coming from the acoustic guitar and the music director singing: “There is a light that can overcome the darkness. There is no darkness that can overcome the light.”

That moment in time reminded me of another communion many years ago in my sister’s hospital room when I felt the presence of Jesus so close to me I could almost feel Him breathing on me.

Those rhythmic steps down the aisle, the memory of that long ago communion, the words of light overcoming darkness, the feeling of Jesus in my hand, all these things made me remember that my Father’s house is my home, and no matter what kind of family spats we may have He will always have a place for me and welcome me with open arms.  Just as my earthly father never refused me entrance to his house on Rawls Avenue, my heavenly Father will always welcome me into his house as well.

Will I be back in mass on Sunday?  I don’t know.  I like to think I will.  Either way my bitterness has ebbed and is fading.  As the hymn says, “There is a light that can overcome the darkness. There is no darkness
that can overcome the light.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Do you hear what I hear?

Have you ever played the iPod shuffle game, the one where you set your iPod on shuffle and then list the first ten songs that pop up?  I haven’t, but I’ve always intended to try it.  I’m going to do it now as a sort of personality experiment, to see if I can reveal a little of my personality in my musical preferences.  I have 772 songs on my iPod,so it will be interesting to see what comes up first.  Here goes:

“Ruff Rider” by Webb Wilder – Ah, Webb Wilder. This song, mostly instrumental, is off their It Came from Nashville album.  I discovered this band in the ‘80s.  They started as a local band, and I saw them live a few times. Their music is a rockabilly style, and I always enjoyed listening to them because no one else I knew in my age group did.  This selection reminds me that I’ve always gone against the grain just a bit and leaned towards the off-beat.  Oh, and the lead singer, Webb, went to high school with my sister.  He also reminds me of Jimmy Daniels, one of the most influential people in my early life.

“Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” by the Eurythmics – What can I say?  The Eurythmics was a very important band to me throughout my high school and college years, and this song was the first one of theirs I ever heard.  I remember seeing the video for the first time and being mesmerized.   Videos were still a novelty then, and there was nothing like it at the time.  I was sold.  Forget Madonna, it was Annie Lennox I most wanted to be like.  Once, when I was in London, my oldest friend and travelling partner and I spent an entire day tracking down their recording studio.  I’ll save that story for another day.

“Not That Different” by Collin Raye – This is actually a new purchase.  In the ‘90s I was a new mom, and I was not impressed with the rock music coming out so I turned to country.  Collin Raye was one of the first artists I listened to, and I had a couple of his albums. One of his songs (not this one) reminds me of my Daddy, and I wanted it on my iPod so I downloaded an album. 

“Have You Written Anything Lately” from The Wedding Singer soundtrack – Yes, I like The Wedding Singer, and I wanted a different song on the album so I downloaded the whole thing.  This song is when Julia is asking Robby to sing for her one of the songs he wrote.  Sometimes I swear Adam Sandler was spying on me when I was a teenager because the songs he uses in his movies were my songs.

“What’s the Matter Here” by 10,000 Maniacs – Sometime in college I discovered 10,000 Maniacs.  It was a new sound for me and I felt the lyrics had meaning.  Also, I used to bear a strong resemblance to Natalie Merchant.  Just saying.

“Love is a Stranger” by the Eurythmics – Well?

“A String of Pearls” by the Glen Miller Orchestra – I grew up on ‘40s swing because that is what my mother listened to.  I need it around me always.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen – This song reminds me of sneaking into my brother’s bedroom when he wasn’t home and listening to his stereo.  It’s a fun song, that’s all there is to it.  Who doesn’t secretly love this song?

“Up On the Roof” – James Taylor. All I can say is “sigh”. James Taylor has brought me through many good and bad times.  Before there was crying time in my car there was lying-on-my-bed-alone-in-my-room-in-the-dark listening to James Taylor. Again, music I must have around me always.

“Tied Together With a Smile” by Taylor Swift – Yes, I bought Taylor Swift’s first album.  Mock me if you must, but I like it.  I really don’t know this particular song very well, because I usually skip over it for some of the others.  For the record, “Tears on My Guitar” is my favorite.

I think this random sample gives a fairly accurate representation of my personality.  I go against the grain (a little off-beat), I am soft-hearted and sentimental, I like to have fun, I’m a wee corny, and I’m always open to new things.  As far as music goes this experiment also proves my musical tastes are all over the charts. I like what I like and I make no apologies.  Now then, where did I put my Patsy Cline collection?