Sunday, July 29, 2012

Memories, slipping from the corners of my mind

One would think as much as I write about my past that I have a great memory.  Sadly, this is not true.  In fact, my memory is horrible.  There are big things that made an impression on me that still stick out in my mind, but I’ve lost the details.  Luckily, I kept a journal on and off through my teenage and college years and I often refer to it for clues.  But I don’t read it much because there are some things that are better left forgotten.

I used to have a great memory, probably too good.  I was really good at remembering the wrongs done to me.  I am glad to be free of those memories.  Well, most of them anyway.  Some are ingrained and I fear they will never leave me, no matter how much I profess to forgive and forget.
I’ve tried to pinpoint exactly when my memory began to wane.  I think it started shortly after I got married.  By then my friends had all left town and there was no Facebook or email to keep in touch.  Phone calls required long distance fees I could not afford.  So, I didn’t have anyone with shared experiences to talk to on a regular basis to keep the memories alive.  That was also the time I was starting a new life and a career and I had so many things to learn and do that the old things got pushed to the rear of my brain. 

My memory was still intact at my ten-year high school reunion, I know that much.  Not that I can remember the actual reunion very well, but at least I remember highlights.  So, my amnesia must have begun after that time.  That was in the summer of 1994, and my son was not quite a year old.

A few months later my sister became ill and later died.  That experience was probably one of the most traumatic things to ever happen to me.  Thinking back the years 1993-94 were a turning point for many things in my life.  I was a new mother with all the sleeplessness and adjustment that comes with it including a strong bout of post-partum depression.  Then, when I finally got over that and was settling into a happy period my sister died.  Again, I became very depressed but I pushed it aside and did not face my depression until several years later.  As I write these very words I realize it must have been this depression that surpressed the memories of the years before my sister’s death.

Life does not stop just because someone is no longer in it.  You have to keep on living, even if you feel dead inside.  And, that is what I did.  I was alive but I was not living.  But that is a story for another day.

Another thing that certainly contributed to my amnesia is an antidepressant I took for awhile.  Ironically, I did not take this drug for depression.  I took it for a chronic itching condition I have.  Acute idiopathic urticaria, my doctor called it.  In other words, I itch but no one knows why.  A side effect of the drug is it stops the itching.  It really does, but it also causes stammering, sleepiness, and memory loss.  When I was taking it my brain would skip, like a record with a scratch.  And I just took a light dose.  Heaven help me if I was on the prescribed dosage for depression.  I would probably have gone into a vegetative state.  Thankfully God gave me another medical condition so I had to stop that drug.  I never thought I would be thankful for a medical condition.

I was not even aware of my memory loss until around the time I turned 40.  I can’t pinpoint the situation that revealed it to me, but the reality made me feel panicked.  I felt like I had been robbed.

So, trauma, depression, life changes, and medication all factored into my memory loss.  And age, too, if I have to admit it.  But thanks to my pictures, journals, old letters (yes, real letters) and friends I have sources I can turn to when I need to remember.  And if you, reader, want to remind me of something interesting or funny we might have shared, please do.  I welcome the occasional walk down memory lane, even if the lane is foggy in places.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What does your sign say?

My brothers by blood and spirit

My oldest friend and travelling partner and I can’t get together without discussing our younger years.  We discussed and dissected those years a lot during out recent visit.  She and I both attended a private, Catholic elementary school through the eighth grade and we lived relatively sheltered lives.  Having older sisters and brothers we were wise to the important things like the Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, and The Monkees.   But we were severely na├»ve when it came to the Ways of the World.  When we entered the ninth grade we were thrown headfirst into the Ways of the World, but our naivete, i.e. insecurities, hovered over our heads like a big, blinking, sign reading, “Keep Away”. 

For me the “Keep Away” sign kept blinking until I met the man who was to become my husband right at the end of my senior year in high school.  But that is another story for another day.  When I started college the sign kept blinking, but the message changed to, “Look-A-Here!”  Well, maybe it was the audience that changed.  I was no longer an insignificant fish in a puddle.  I was a not-so-bad-looking fish in a small lake.  I was being noticed by (gasp) boys for the first time in my life.  My phone was ringing.

If I could go back and relive a day in time it would have to be a day in 1986.  I was 20. I was thin.  I was tan.  I had good hair.  I had dates.  That was the year I made Bold and Brave Decisions, one of which was to take my first trip abroad without a family member.  Another was to, well, that is another story for another day.

That was a long time ago.  I am no longer 20, or thin, or tan.  My husband and I go on dates to the grocery store and doctor appointments.  I no longer have good hair.  The blinking sign says, “Look Away”.

Hence, my point.  There comes a time in every woman’s life when she must look Vanity in the eyes and blow a raspberry in her face.  I will never again be 20, just a multiple thereof, and I will never have the body I had when I was 20.  I could still get a tan if I really wanted one, but my hair is dismal.   I  really want to have good hair again.

That is why on August 2, 2012 at 12:00 noon I will enter Belk department store, go the second floor and sit in my stylist’s chair.  I will make a Brave and Bold Decision and tell her to color my hair in a way that will ease me gracefully into gray, because that is what lurks beneath.  I’m hoping it will one day look like my sister’s, the pesky one.  When she stopped coloring her hair it became brilliant again.

So, I am ready to embrace my inner gray and start a new chapter.  And then the blinking sign will say, “She’s On Her Way”.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Mysteries abound, even at garden parties

Mysteries intrigue me.  Navigating the twists and turns of a good mystery keep me interested in a story.  It gives me something to think about, to analyze.  Give me some vague details about a situation and I can spend hours going over different scenarios to fill in the blanks.

There is one mystery I have been pondering lately.  I have written before about my paternal grandparents, immigrants from Hungary.  My grandfather came to the U.S. from Hungary in 1904.  According to his ship’s manifest he was accompanied by two other people, his father, Gyula, and a woman named Gyulane.  I bought a copy of the manifest from Ellis Island and gave it to Daddy for Christmas several years ago.  I thought he would be pleased to see his family names in black and white, proof of their journey from the “Old Country”, as my grandmother used to say.  When I asked him about Gyulane he blew it off.  He said he didn’t know who she was, but she couldn’t be related.  That was the end of that conversation, and I knew to never bring it up again.

Daddy may have been able to pretend Gyulane did not exist, but I cannot.  She is a mystery to me.  The manifest states she was travelling with a husband, but things Daddy said about his grandfather always led me to believe he left his wife and other children in Hungary.  If that is true, then was my great-grandfather a smuggler of sorts? Or a bigamist?  Mmm, a mystery.

These newly landed immigrants’ destination, according to the manifest, was Chicago.  It was there my grandfather met and married another Hungarian immigrant.  I do not know the details of how they met or when, but I am fairly certain they did not know each other in Hungary.

Their life in Chicago is a mystery to me as well, something I would like to research someday.   Meanwhile, I have a box of old photographs once belonging to my grandmother to keep me busy.  My favorite is one that gives me a glimpse of what at least one day was like in those early Chicago days.  A clue.

The photograph documents a happy day in the life of 19 people, five men, ten women, and four children.  They are all grouped together in a candid fashion in front of a house that sits high above the ground with at least ten steps leading up to the front porch.  Was it near a river?  A picket fence separates the group from the inner front garden of the house, so it might have been a neighborhood party.  There is no date on the photograph, but I see it as a day in late spring or early summer because the grass is about a foot high and most of the women are holding generous bouquets.  Easter, maybe?

There are so many things to interpret in the photo.  For example, the older woman on the back row, second from left, rests her hands very gently on the back of the chairs of the two women seated in front of her.  One of the seated women is holding a suitcase which suggests the gathering may be a going away party for her, but she is not sitting at the center of the picture.  I think the older woman must be their mother because no others in the picture are as affectionate. 

I am pretty sure the man on the back row, far right, standing just a tad apart from everyone else, is my great-grandfather.  He’s wearing a three piece suit and a bowler hat and sporting a fashionable moustache of the day.  He is holding a bottled beverage in his right hand, and his hand is blurred as if he was caught in mid drink.  He looks happy.

My grandfather is lying in the grass on the front row.  This I am sure because he looks just like he does in the formal picture I have hanging of him in my dining room and he’s wearing the same suit.  He’s also holding his right hand in the same manner I often saw my father hold his hand, rubbing his thumb and fingers together as if in deep thought.

Then there is the man on the opposite end of the front row in his shirt sleeves and vest only, no jacket.  He is the least formal of the group, and he wears his hat like Chicago gangsters of the next decade, but his image is softened by the terrier puppy he has in the crook of his left arm.  What was his story?

I have had a hard time finding my grandmother in the group.  The young woman with the broad smile in the center of the photo looks like me, but I do not look like my grandmother so that can’t be her.  There’s another woman sitting directly behind my grandfather that I think must be her.  At first I thought it was someone else I’ve seen in other photos, but when I look at the picture under magnification (which I often do) I can tell there is a crinkle in the paper that distorts her face just a tiny bit.  So, yes, I think that is definitely her.

And there is a woman sitting next to her at the end of the row.  Personally, I think she is the mysterious Gyulane.  She looks to be the proper age, she is in the middle of the Csaszar family grouping, and she is sitting with her body leaning slightly towards my grandmother.  My grandmother has her shoulder leaning into Gyulane’s with a closeness that suggests to me a relationship.  And, if you look with imaginative eyes there is something in her lap that looks very much to me like a baby.  My father, maybe?  I can’t help but think that it is.

My speculations may or may not be accurate.  I will probably never know the truth of that day, or the truth of Gyulane.  Regardless, I have this picture, and it gives me enjoyment.  It’s the little things like the flowers in the women’s hair, the little girl in the grass with the very large bow and holding a doll, the little boys and the bottles.  How I love the little boys and the bottles!  For me this picture is evidence of lives that were lived before me, and without them, I would not be.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Days to remember

I gotta golden ticket

July 10, 2012

How to begin?  Hmm, let's see.  Last night I attended the third-in-my-lifetime James Taylor concert, as I have mentioned in earlier posts.  I waited patiently for the shout-out I requested, but James is a subtle, quiet man.  He would never call me out intentionally; he knew I would probably be too overwhelmed to respond, so, he sent me a message through his set list instead.  In my previous blog, the one where I was so hot I thought I had descended for a moment, I alluded to the lyrics of the songs Secret O' Life and Your Smiling Face.  Well, it just so happened he sang those two songs back to back, with practically no break in between. Coincidence?  I think not.

After the concert, which was fantastic and included a surreal, unscripted passing of a steamship up the river behind the stage, he stayed and signed stuff.  All sorts of stuff.  He was a very gracious host.  At first the security guard would not let us metal-bleacher-seat-sitters up to the stage, but they eventually relented.  I moved forward and stood there awhile just trying to get a decent picture (I had nothing to be signed), but then he pointed down and motioned he was moving off, stage left, to the floor (to see me).  Naturally he came out right near where I was standing.

My oldest friend and travelling partner remembered we had ticket stubs so I grabbed one and shoved my camera into her hands so she could snap a picture of us together, just as I knew it was to be.  Unfortunately my camera had other ideas because it was tired of all the work it had done the previous two hours, and insisted on acting like a spoiled, weary child.  When my turn came I handed him my ticket.  He did not look up, so as to not reveal our little secret, but he did sign it and give it back to me.  We had an exchange.  Not a conversation or a picture, but no less impressive to an old fan as myself.  His signature is upside-down on my ticket, another nod (I am certain) to his set list shout-out.

No, I do not need psychiatric help.  I am just fine.

That was last night.  Today we went to Stan Hywet Hall, the estate built by F.A. Seiberling, founder of The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.  We visited there last year and almost lost our senses from the heat, so this time we just went to their butterfly exhibit and skipped through the gardens just a bit.  Well, I can't say I actually skipped, but I did stroll and pretended I owned the place. Again, no psychiatrists needed, thank you.

In an effort to keep the gardens-only folk from mixing with the full tour folk the management makes you put on a neon green bracelet, like one you might wear at an amusement park.  As soon as we made it back to the car my prone-to-claustrophobia self hastened in ripping it from my sweaty wrist.  That was when I noticed the 7-10-12 written in black Sharpie over the neon green.  It took me by surprise because I realized at that moment, that until that moment, I had forgotten my mother passed away one year ago this very day.  

I knew the anniversary was near, but in the busyness of the day and the excitement of the night before I simply forgot. But there it was before me in black and neon green, 7-10-12. Was I overcome with sadness? Please do not think me cold-hearted if I say I was not. I wasn't sad because I knew I was doing exactly what my mother would want me to be doing. I was having fun with my friend. She's the one who taught me to do the very thing I am doing this week, afterall. See, she also had an oldest friend and travelling partner who lived away, and she always made an effort to keep their friendship going as well. This ableness to appreciate the time I spend with my friends is maybe my most valuable inheritance. Her gift to me. It would be more grievous to her memory, in my opinion, to spend the day sad and forlorn instead of enjoying it with my friend, as she would have done at every opportunity.

The rest of the day involved Pad Thai, craft supplies and souvenir plates from a secondhand (read: junk) store, and a suprisingly enjoyable movie. As my fortune today said,

Monday, July 9, 2012

The language of friendship and napoleons

Looking out of a Hungarian bakery through the leaves of my family tree.

I'm sitting in the house of my oldest friend and travelling partner.  She's on her computer searching up ghosts of relatives long passed, and I'm on my electronics writing about the ghost I faced recently.

We struck out yesterday, on what has to have been the hottest day of the year, on a whirlwind tour of Cleveland, Ohio.  She wanted to take me to a Hungarian bakery because she knows my heritage is important to me.  The minute I walked in the door I could feel the heaviness in my chest, and not from the artery clogging cream I was about to consume.  I've written before of my strong attachment to the grandfather I never knew, and here he could have been, in the flesh, covered in flour and rolling out dough as was his trade.

Instead of my grandfather, though, was another Hungarian, a man named Farkas. I was told the bakery belonged first to his father, and it has new owners now. Young Farkas, well he's probably about 70 years young, still comes to the bakery on weekends to (ahem) help out.  I think it's just to visit and playfully chide the customers. He was a very entertaining man.

I felt impelled to tell him that my grandfather was a Hungarian baker as well, and he immediately wanted to know his name.  My father was the same way.  He wanted to know the names of any Hungarian students I came across, as if he might know them.  Young Farkas corrected my pronunciation and then told me my name meant emperor and bowed to me.  Then he told me to take the heat back to Mississippi.  (His loyalty was short-lived).

At his urging, or rather lack of it, I got a napoleon, which ironically is a French pastry. We sat, and as I ate the flaky pastry filled with chocolate custard and lightly whipped cream another man walked in the door.  I did not even bother to look up, the pastry was much more interesting.  At least until I heard the customer call Farkas by name and ask for a dobos torte and then continue speaking. That is when the ghost manifested as a full bodied apparition.  

It was not a ghost of a figure actually, but a ghost of sound. Time stood still for me at that moment. My head raised and I stopped chewing so I could hear every syllable and let it wash over me like music. The words the two men exchanged were not English, but the native tongue of my grandparents, and the first language of my father. It's the language I heard every day when my father would come home from work and greet my grandmother. It's the language he and his brothers spoke when they were together. Even more, the language the baker and the customer spoke was littered with English, just like my father's; Hungarian, Hungarian, English, Hungarian Hungarian.

The chocolaty goodness of the bite of napoleon I had just taken could not go down past the lump that was swelling in my throat. I could not help but cry. I cried not only because I missed my daddy so much at that very moment, but I cried for the loss of the sound of those thick words that used to tumble out of his mouth with no effort at all. I cried for the loss of my childhood. I cried for the loss of my family unit as it used to be. I cried. In the bakery.

When two friends know each other as well as my oldest friend and travelling partner and I do, they can communicate without speaking.  Her ears heard it too and she stopped chewing and looked at me, but I could only look away.  And cry. Without asking I had a paper cup of water from the dispenser on its way to me. That's what friends are for, not to ask, just to do, and know when to do it.

It's funny how the times have changed (our books now lean towards the electronic kind) but also stayed the same.  When we were younger my sisters used to tease us about our social habits.  They could not understand why we would spend hours of our time together in separate rooms.  She would be in one place reading a book, or visiting, and I would be in another room reading a book or watching television.  It didn't matter that we were not speaking to each other every minute of our time together.  The best of friends do not have to entertain each other, they just enjoy their proximity.  So it is only perfectly normal that we live 900 miles away from each other, but when we get together we are content to be in the same room, even if she is on one computer and I another.

And that's o.k. because if she's around and the ghost returns I know I will have water.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A little of this, a little of that

I’m sitting here waiting on my iPod to download an update.  I don’t know why I started this project tonight when I’m in countdown mode for my trip to Ohio tomorrow.  I meant to add some music, but now I’m stuck in a slow internet time warp waiting for the thing to update.  All I really want to do is go to bed.

On the other hand I feel a need to write a little, too.  For example, I just figured out after all my years that there is no word, “everytime”.  I always write it that way and my spell check gives me fits everytime.  See?  So I looked it up and now I know it’s two words, every time.

I think I have everything (why is it not “every thing”?) ready for my trip.  I’m not checking any baggage so I’ve got my regulation carry-on suitcase and personal item, a very large-ish bag.  But it’s not full, so I’m pretty sure it will fit under the seat in front of me.  We’ll see.

The thing that really worries me is my 30 minute layover.  I’ve got 30 minutes to deplane and reboard.  YIKES!  A little scared about that.  I think I can, I think I can…

(My iPod upgrade says it has 69 minutes left.  Grrrr…slow internet.)

This past week or so I’ve been filling up my brain with James Taylor songs in preparation for his concert Monday night in Cleveland.  I’m very excited about that.  My oldest friend and travelling partner and I haven’t seen a concert together since the Monkees reunion tour in the ‘80s.  Was that before or after the never ending concert we went to in London where I was so tired I could have slept standing up, and probably did?

What other mischief can we get into?  Let’s see…I have visions of us taking lots of pictures, walking hallowed grounds, seeing old things, and almost stroking out from the heat.  No, the stroking out was last year.  We’ll be more careful this time around.  I need a hat, a packable one.  Mine is too stiff to carry on a plane.  That will have to be a quest.  Quests are always good when you’re out walking hallowed grounds and such.

Oh, and I must take a night picture of the glowing cemetery.  Got to remember to do that this time.  And barns…lots of pictures of barns.  I should make a list.

Tomorrow will be a long day, but I’ve still got 51 warped minutes to go before I sleep.  Or not.

P.S.  –aarrgggg….I got a “timed out” message on my update.  Curse you slow internet!!!