Friday, October 31, 2014

Ghosts of Halloween Past

How much do I dislike Halloween?  Let me count the ways; three, to be exact.  Actually, Halloween is fine for anyone who enjoys it, but it just isn’t something I get into.  Costuming does not suit me, and suits look like costumes on me.  I keep away from both.  I did enjoy a few years of trick-or-treating with my children when they were little and I always enjoyed the school Halloween carnivals, both theirs and mine.  During my college years I used to do the Rocky Horror thing with my OTFP and some other friends, and that was always fun.  I also went to a Halloween party once, 1986 if I remember correctly.  So, Halloween really hasn’t always been a bad thing except for these Three.

One.  I was a socially inept, selectively-mute first-grader who was mortified at the thought of going to a stranger’s door, ringing the bell and hollering “Trick or Treeeaat!!”  No, I did not do that.  My mother did it for me.  I stood there dumbfounded, or just dumb, and waited for candy to be dropped in my sack.  Then, it happened.  She rang the bell at a house I did not know and a young boy from my class at school answered the call.  He was excited to see me and ran to tell his mother that the girl who couldn’t talk was at their door.  I wanted to melt into the pavement and fade away. Did my mother do that on purpose in an effort to help me? It’s been 42 years, and I haven’t forgotten it yet.

Two.  It was another formative year in early elementary school and I was having a blast at the Halloween Carnival.  No Fall Festival for us, it was all about Halloween down at the Catholic school.  My mother was chief chili-burger maker, and had run of the school cafeteria’s kitchen.  I checked in with her every so often, probably for more money to buy cherry-bell tickets (yes, elementary school children were encouraged to gamble at the Catholic school’s Halloween carnival) or some other treat.  I remember being in the kitchen alone and a tall man in full Dracula costume and makeup eased into the kitchen slowly and leered at me.  I ran and hid in the pantry, and my mother couldn’t understand what was wrong with me, and I certainly wasn't going to tell her.  That would be too easy.  In hindsight it was probably an eighth grader in a K-Mart costume looking for the bathroom, but to me it was terrifying.  That was somewhere between 39 and 42 year ago, and I haven’t forgotten it yet.  I still avoid vampires at all costs.

Three.  Twenty years ago I was still hanging on to weight I gained in my first pregnancy so I did something completely out of character and joined the YMCA so I could take (gasp) step aerobics classes.  I was terrible at it and always stood in the back of the class so there would be no one behind me to witness my lack of rhythm and coordination.  I did it though, and that’s all that mattered.  I went that Halloween night, a Monday if I remember correctly, exactly 20 years ago today.  I knew the Trick-or-Treater was coming, but I thought I could run do my aerobics and be back in time and still manage to miss the majority of the strange children who would be at my door looking for a handout.

When I got home my husband told me I had missed Her.  By Her he meant my Godchild.  And by Her he meant my Godchild’s mother (my sister) who was leaving early the next morning for Birmingham to have a heart surgery she was sure would only have her down a few weeks.  It was no big deal.  The previous day I did not wish her good luck or tell her that I loved her or any of those things you should say to your sister before she has her heart cut open.  I knew I would see her when she brought the Godchild to trick-or-treat so I waited to give my wishes for well then.  But I let my ridiculous social anxieties get in the way and left for an aerobics class where I clumsily clomped to some techno/rap/’90’s remix instead of facing the awkwardness of sharing my feelings with my sister. Listening to “Are you ready for this?” blaring and hearing my own heartbeat pumping in my ears was my cowardly escape from awkwardness.  I wasn’t only running from the trick-or-treaters, I was running from myself facing Her.  It was hard for me.  It is harder for me now thinking about it and wondering if she was hurt that I didn't wait for her. It would have been our last real conversation.  It’s been twenty years to the day and I haven’t forgotten it yet.

This morning when my snooze alarm went off, aka, hungry cat yowls, I rolled over to check my phone for the weather report.  The date hung there suspended in digital magic, and I remembered that night as I have every Halloween since 1994.  I was reminded of missed opportunities with no second chances.  I cried as if she died yesterday.  It’s been twenty years but some days it still feels like she died yesterday.

On my way home from work today I listened to one of my favorite short stories in my New Yorker Fiction podcasts.  It’s a story by Miranda July about an awkward woman who is given an opportunity she does not realize only to understand years later what it would have meant for her.  Her whole life would have been completely different if she had only dialed one phone number, but she did not understand the reality of situation until it was years too late. When the cold comprehension dawns on her she is stunned and regretful.  I had forgotten that part of the story when I decided to listen again today.  Driving home with those words sounding in my ears I felt her pain as I always do, only this time it was on a new level.

I’m a different person than I was twenty years ago.  Sharing my feelings through writing has given me a hint of confidence I didn’t have even five years ago, and that confidence builds layer by layer each time I make a new post.  There are many things I will do and say now that were impossibilities for me in 1994.  Like tonight, for example.  I bought candy, turned on the lights and waited for the trailer loads of children that parade my street to come to my door.  They didn’t and I knew they wouldn’t (no one wants to drive a trailer load of children down my dirt drive) but hey, I gave it a shot. 

Maybe next year I’ll wear a witch’s hat, tease out my taupe locks, and stand at the mailbox and throw the candy at them as they pass.  One step at a time, right?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

More Dream Diary

Last night I had a very good dream.  It was so good I forced myself to get up at 2:30 a.m. and write it down before I forgot it as I knew I would.

The dream began as a jumble of things.  I was sleeping in my mother’s bedroom but I had to get up and go to a distant country road to see who was in a truck that would be coming down the road.  It was all a part of some mystery.  I was in my nightgown so I grabbed my mother’s robe off the back of the door and headed out on foot into the night to the road which just happened to be the road near my daddy’s old homestead.  I was watching a mystery unfold like a spectator, but I was a spectator who was actively involved.  It was like watching a movie except I was an extra with one line to deliver.

After that jumbled bit I started for home, and on the way I encountered some farm animals that were mine and they followed me and repeated letters I gave them to say.  I was teaching them how to talk.  Instead of going home I knew I had to go to a prayer service my sister, the pesky one, had arranged for my daddy who was away somewhere.  It was going to be a sing.  The room was actually a pod, like an airplane, and it was very dark in there.  But there was a back wall with a large open window and the scene beyond was so beautiful it was like paradise.  It was a pastoral scene at sunrise with a light spray of water, like a fountain, in the foreground.  I knew I had to get a picture so my sister told me I could go get my camera.  So off I went, talking to animals on the way there, got my camera and came back, talking to the animals again.  They were so much fun. I'm still in my nightgown and robe, by the way.

When I got back to the pod I had to squeeze in and make my way to the front of the room which was really in the rear.  The light had changed so the scene wasn’t as breathtaking as before, but my sister had already started the program so I had to sit down and sing.  We were singing obscure songs from the musical Oklahoma.  I didn’t know the words but there was sheet music to use, so I sat down next to Becky and left an empty seat for Julius who was not there yet.  We sang a couple of songs and then I heard Daddy in the back of the room say, “Let’s just talk to each other.”  My first thought was, “Oh, he made it after all.”  He began singing in his serious voice.  Daddy’s serious singing voice was very soft and very low with a slight quiver, and that is the voice he used to sing these words, “Oh, what a burden, my God, ba ba ba ba bom, to…” By the “to…” no one knew the rest of the words so the song just faded off.

It was then my conscious began to surface over my subconscious and I realized that I had just heard my daddy’s voice from heaven, and he wanted to spend his few seconds to “just talk to each other.”  I then came fully awake but had to lie there in the dark with my eyes closed and repeat it all to myself so I would not forget.  Then I got up and wrote it all down.

As I was getting back in bed my tablet, which I had set to charge last night, suddenly lit up.  I guess it does that when the charging is done.  The ironic thing is the wallpaper photo on my table is the picture above.  The people in the photo are my daddy’s family.  He is the only one missing in the photo which leads me to believe he’s the photographer.  I got up to turn it off fully expecting to see him appear in the picture.   That’s how close he felt at the moment.

My daddy sang to me last night, and oh, what a blessing it was.  Thank you, God, for giving him a minute off.  I know heaven is a busy place with many things to do.  And thank you, Daddy, for stopping in for a brief visit.  I appreciate you taking the time to sing to me.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Food for thoughts

Fall is finally showing its golden presence.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and there’s a wee nip in the air.  This combination of goodness puts me in the mood for two things - cooking and changing out my closet.  I’m never really in the mood for changing out my closet but October is going to be a busy month for me, and if I don’t get it done this weekend it won’t get done until sometime in November.  And I really don’t want to be wearing white capris and cotton lawn blouses in November.  Fall is the time for denim, fleece and flannel even if South Mississippi temperatures still hover around 80 until Christmas.  Fall is fall, by golly, and I plan to dress like it even if I have to carry a handkerchief to dab the dew off my forehead.

When it comes to cooking, though, I’m not as seasonal.  I cook the same foods year round with the exception of dressing at Thanksgiving.  That’s the one time in the year I cook dressing since I only know how to prepare it for 25 people instead of just four.  But since there is a snap in the breeze today I decided to stay with a fall feel and throw together a pot of chili. 

I’m more of a throw-it-all-in-one-pot cook anyway.  Soup, stews, chili, spaghetti sauce, and dried beans are my specialties.  Cook it one pot, eat it in a bowl.  That’s how my children are going to remember my cooking when they are my age.  My children are going to write about me one day and say, “Gee, I sure do miss mom’s beef stew; meat, potatoes, and vegetables all there together in one bowl.  Mmm boy, that was some good cookin’!” 

While my chili was simmering I had a flashback of my mother’s cooking.  She was not a one pot cook.  She cooked in many pots and served multiple dishes with each meal.  We never just had spaghetti.  We would have spaghetti and a vegetable or two and fried chicken and maybe even potato salad.  I never said she was a healthy cook.  Her food was flavorful, comforting, and inviting but rarely was it healthy.  The meal I was thinking of this morning was a typical Sunday lunch of roast beef, baked broccoli and cheese, mushrooms sautéed in butter, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and/or green beans, cucumber and tomatoes in Italian dressing, U-Bake rolls and dessert.  

As good as her meals were her desserts were even better.  Mama rarely made one of anything.  She didn’t make one pie she made four.  She might make one cake but it was as large as two.  I remember coming home from school one day and the entire kitchen table (and it was a big table) was covered entirely with cinnamon rolls.  She was on a cinnamon roll kick that year.  The same can be said of her dalliances in pecan tassies, cupcakes, Rice Krispy treats, and brownies. 

I do so much miss my mother’s cooking.  I miss her, of course, but I’ve missed her cooking for much longer.  She stopped cooking after her bout with West Nile in 2005.  That dreadful disease zapped her of her energy and her memory.  One little mosquito took it all away.  

I may be a one pot cook but I try to put as much love into cooking as Mama put into hers.  Maybe that is why it tasted so good.  She truly enjoyed cooking it and she truly loved to see her family enjoy it.  Now if only I could put as much love into changing out my closet I might get the job done before bedtime.  Nah, I doubt it.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Words get in the way

Whenever I see a Facebook post remarking on a death of a friend or loved one it will ultimately be followed by comments from people expressing “I am sorry for your loss.”  I am guilty of this as well, because sometimes I am clueless as what I should say, or worse, what I should not say.   “I am sorry for your loss” just sounds so hollow to me; meaningless words spoken as rote and as unfeeling as “bless you” to a sneeze or “thank you” for passing a bowl of beans.  “If there’s anything I can do...” is another empty phrase spoken by well-meaning people who lack the gumption to come up with their own ideas of what actually needs to be done.  And saying you’ll pray for them only counts if you actually do pray for them. 

So, what are the proper words to say when facing someone who has lost their very meaning for life?  I remember when my sister died a young friend came to me at the funeral home and hugged me and said something so sweet and thoughtful that I wanted to remember her words forever.  Unfortunately in that moment there were so many people were saying so many different things I forgot her words almost immediately.  I guess it didn’t matter exactly what she said but how she said it.  In the end it was her sincere compassion that touched me deeper than words and has stayed with me for almost 20 years now.

There is nothing that can be said that will remove the pain from the one who has suffered the loss.  Making profound or sentimental statements may make the speaker feel relieved of their sympathetic duty, but words are easily forgotten.  A hug, a look, or even a squeeze of the hand can be more significant than any combination of words.

I know someone who lost a son years ago and recently lost another son unexpectedly.  I have no idea how to express how my heart hurts for her.  If I could remember my young friend’s words from my sister’s funeral I would repeat them verbatim.  If she was near I would give her a hug.  If I had the right words I would tell her to stay strong, don’t worry about making it through the day, but just try to make it through each hour.  I would like to tell her to stay away from the black pit, find a nearby branch and hold on tight because she is important and worthy.  I would even go so far as to say that even though we do not know each other very well I think of her as a friend and I like her very much.  I would tell her all of these things if only I knew the right words.  

“I am sorry for your loss,” is too hollow for someone you care about.  It is just not the right thing to say.  I’m learning.