What did I know and when did I know it?

photo(9)We had gone to Pennsylvania to a family wedding.  My husband was absent, remote, not present.  He was physically there, of course, but not emotionally.  This was years before he announced that he wanted a divorce.

We were strolling along the streets of the small town we were visiting.  I can’t remember exactly what had passed between us in the previous short span of time.  What I can remember is a brief dialogue we had as we walked.  Apparently I had not received the reply I expected to some comment or question.  I stopped, looked him in the eyes, with puzzlement in mine, and told him, “You act like someone who’s having an affair.”  In hindsight, I realize the look on his face said it all.  I continued with my accusation, “You are, aren’t you?”

At this point D did what he has always done best.  He put on his poor-pitiful-me look, donned his best salesman cloak and presented a spiel like I had never heard before, and hope I never hear again.  “No,” he insisted, “I’m not having an affair.”  I don’t remember the rest of what he said to convince me of his innocence, but I do remember my queen of denial kicking in to the extent that I felt the need to apologize to him for thinking and saying such vile things. And I did.  My jaw is gaping as I write and I have an enormous urge to kick my own ass.  What was I thinking?!

Here’s the thing, I had never accused him of infidelity.  I know I didn’t just blurt it out without some considerable forethought.  Why didn’t I trust my gut?  Why did I second guess my instincts?  Today, the answer is obvious: I didn’t want to know.  It didn’t seem so simple at the time, though.  Matters of the heart are complicated.

This story gets even better.  After we had established that D was not guilty, we shopped and window shopped at our leisure for quite some time.  I saw and admired a rather expensive watch.  He insisted on buying it for me.  I still wear it today.  A logical, thinking person would have recognized he was paying me for buying what he was selling that day–that he was a really good husband and he had done nothing wrong.  In retrospect, I think I did recognize his so-called generosity for what it was.

Today I’m neither sad nor happy.  I’m not angry.  I’m idling here in neutral, just remembering.

Here’s a delightful, laid-back Christmas song for you, if you’re so inclined.  I heard it at my granddaughter’s recital this afternoon.  Jingle Bell Jamboree by Keb’ Mo’.

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Looking back, but leaning forward.

I always knew looking back on my tears would bring me laughter, but I never knew looking back on my laughter would make me cry.             ~ Cat Stevens

I cry a little every day.  I have done so for almost six years now.  Maybe it’s cleansing, but I’m getting rather tired of it.

I grew up being the dependable, strong child in the family.  That sounds like a good thing, but it wasn’t necessarily.  I was the middle of five children and what I was really doing was trying to keep the peace.  Discord terrified me because my dad was a violent alcoholic, and at times violent while sober.  I tried to soothe my younger sisters and I begged my older angry brother not to make waves at the dinner table.  Then, when my brother didn’t take my advice and Daddy dragged him from the table beating him with a belt, buckle and all, I would plead with my dad to stop.  I learned to plead from a distance else my dad would give me a whack on his back swing.  Dinner was fun at my house.

I’m not sure why that last paragraph popped in on this post.  I think it’s the fact that I was scolded for crying when I was a child.  For example, I would be crying when my father finally let go of my brother and he (Dad) would scream, “Stop your damn crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”  So I learned not to cry.  Maybe I’m just catching up now.  All those unshed tears from my youth are finally allowed to flow.  And so they do.

Does this mean that my ex-husband did me a favor by leaving?  He saw how desperately I needed to cry so he decided to help me out?  Gave me a reason to cry?  Gave me many reasons to cry?  My tongue is firmly in my cheek now and I’m not crying.  I’m laughing.  It feels good to laugh.  It reminds me that I still have a sense of humor, and I can laugh at myself and my situation.  This would make great slapstick.  Maybe I’ll write a play.  I’ll call it “Now That You Broke My Heart, What’s Gonna Pump My Blood?”

I saw my ex on Saturday at Stella’s birthday party.  (She’s six.)  I recognize now, and have for some time, that he’s nothing like the D I once knew and loved.  Sometimes I may sound like I want him back, but I don’t.  It simply means I’m having a weak moment.  Or I’m feeling lonely.  Or maybe I’m remembering and longing for what was a long time ago.  We had a lot of good years together.  There’s much to remember fondly.  But wanting it back is fantasy.  It doesn’t exist now.

Happy tears.  Sad tears.  They’re all good.

Bitterblue by Cat Stevens at Royal Albert Hall (1970s)

Remembering…

I woke up this morning with a vivid image of my ex in my head — the image of D the first time I saw him.  I don’t know where it came from or why I saw him so clearly in that form.  Did I dream of him?  I don’t recall a dream.

The Charlotte Airport.  August 13, 1972.  Eastern Airlines had hired both of us and we were heading to Miami for three weeks of training along with several other new employees from the area.  At the time, one of Eastern’s largest reservations facilities was located in Charlotte.

D caught my attention that day because he talked a lot — and he had a rather loud voice.  He provided a distraction as I tried not to worry about spending the next three weeks away from my three little daughters.  He kept trying to make jokes about Eddie Rickenbacker.  I had read Eddie’s memoir.  I didn’t think the “jokes” were funny.

D was more than six feet tall.  He was very, very skinny.  His blond-streaked hair was curly and cropped just short enough to gain him employment with the conservative corporate giant.  (I learned later that he had to get a haircut in order to be hired.)  I didn’t notice his beautiful blue eyes at the time, but I couldn’t miss his Yosemite Sam moustache.

My first impression?  Forgettable — a young college kid who talked too much because he was nervous about his new job.

The end…or maybe not.Photos from Wikipedia

The family tree and other scary stories.

We all grow up with the weight of history on us.  Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.                        ~ Shirley Abbott

Yesterday my daughter (I’ll refer to her as DJ in this post.) and I went on a little road trip to our home town, Boone, NC.  It was good to get out of the humidity and enjoy the mountains.  We went up to have lunch with my youngest sister and to take some things for her thrift shop.  We were all happy to see each other and had a nice time together as we caught up with what’s going on in whose life over lunch.

After lunch DJ and I walked down to Daniel Boone Native Gardens.  It’s one of her favorite spots.  I hadn’t been there in years so I was happy to see it again and snap a few photos.  No matter how many times I return to my native “stomping grounds” I continue to be taken aback by how green everything is.  The reason is, of course, the fact that there is adequate (an understatement) rainfall there.  I took this photo of ferns in the moss and fern garden to emphasize the green-ness of it all.

From the beginning to the end of our little tour, we kept seeing plaques honoring, thanking, memorializing people with my family surname, people I knew or sorta knew as a child.  I started thinking about the family tree  and where these people should be placed on said tree.  I grew up thinking they must have been on the right side, up high, reaching for the sun (or the moon).  And we must have been on the left side barely above the root system, struggling for a little ray of light to keep us alive and growing.  That was my perception, more or less.  Alas, perceptions aren’t always reality.

Why did I have that perception?  That’s the question I’ve had rolling around in my brain this afternoon.  It sounds like a simple enough question, but of course it’s actually very complex.  As a child and a young person, I thought they have money and we don’t.  They are educated and we are not.  They have fancy homes and we do not.

I know now that my perceptions, my attitudes toward the upwardly mobile branches of the family came from my insecure parents.  And they got their attitudes from their parents.  Who knows why brothers and cousins from the same family started out with equal amounts of wealth and acres of land– in the same county at about the same time and some wound up wealthy while others were destitute?  That’s the way it’s always been and ever will be.  Different personalities.  Different sets of skills and training.  Different ambitions.

I’m happy to say that the destitute don’t have to stay that way.  They can learn things.  They can go to the university.  They can have a better life than their parents, and in so doing they teach their children that lesson as well.  My childhood wasn’t always fun but I learned how to survive and then how to thrive.  Would I have learned those valuable life lessons if I hadn’t suffered hardships growing up?  I also know now that those “Ozzie and Harriet” relatives probably weren’t.  They were just people fumbling much like the rest of us.

My Hometown by The Boss.


Birthdays are not for sissies.

I had a birthday recently.  I’ve also been a little sad of late.  Are the two connected?  I don’t really know.  Maybe.  My mom did not age gracefully.  She fought it like a tiger.  I asked her once if she had thought of having a “friend” or another husband.  Her answer was classic Mom:  “I’ve thought of it but the way I see it I’m too old to get a younger man and I don’t want an older one.  I DON’T LIKE OLD MEN!”  I decided to rib her a little and told her that she was, in fact, an old woman.  She stood her ground as she told me she knew that but “I STILL DON’T LIKE OLD MEN!”  I conceded and I don’t think I ever mentioned it again.

I’m not sure why I brought this up or where I’m going with it but I will tell you that I don’t dislike old men as long as they don’t act old.  I think that order gets taller the more birthdays I have.  Now I shall return to this most recent birthday celebration.

Through and throughout the malaise of depression sadness I never lose sight of the fact that I’m very fortunate to have family and friends who are kind and giving and supportive.  Witness the beautiful rose bouquet pictured above or the chocolate-covered strawberries (right) which were delivered to my front door.  Yum!  Equally important are the thoughts and wishes that aren’t or can’t be pictured here.  Lunch out AND dinner cooked in by my best buddy who loves me no matter what dumb thing I might say or do.  All-girl family dinner with two daughters and two granddaughters where we named the worst and best things about our day and some of us couldn’t think of a worst.  How great is that!  A Barnes and Noble gift card to cover my nook-book purchases for quite some time.  Hugs and kisses from my Latino friends and a loud “Happy Birthday to You” sung in Spanish.  The Face Book greetings, the phone calls and the snail mail printed cards.  The handmade cards made by the grandchildren.  My favorite birthday quote comes from a card my grandson F made:  “I hope you have a great birthday but I know that it will be great because you are with the people who love you.”  My second favorite comes from a card his little sister S made:  “On your birthday, can you take me to the toy store?”

Life is good.  As I wind down this little essay I leave you with what I consider to be my funniest card.

Who’s on first?

Have you ever explained something to someone and neither of you understood what the other was trying to say?  When no matter what you said you couldn’t make your message clear?  It becomes a comedy of errors sometimes and you just have to laugh about it.  Abbott and Costello did a skit called “Who’s on first?” in their 1945 movie The Naughty Nineties, which perfectly demonstrates what I’m talking about.  It gets funnier every time I hear it.  Click here if you’d like to watch the clip.  If you’re a baseball fan you’ll love this. It’s a classic.  And hilarious even if you’re not a fan.

I recently had a conversation with a woman at church.  We were making plans to combine the Portuguese and Spanish services on Sunday and I asked her a question about the order of songs in the service.  I usually create the schedule, with the help of the pastor, on Friday night at rehearsal.  This time a third party, M, had set up the schedule.  She didn’t understand what I was asking and I was clumsily trying to explain.  After a bit of incomplete/incompetent (on my part) dialogue, I looked at her and said, “I don’t understand.”  She replied just as simply, “What don’t you understand?”  Aaarrgghh!  Deadlock.  I’m laughing as I recall this incident.  As it turns out, it was my not understanding the Portuguese that was causing the problem.  I realized that after she went back to rehearsing her music and I was able to focus singly on what was in front of me.  As soon as I caught her eye, I gave her a thumbs up to let her know I had resolved my issue.  Fortunately we are both mature enough to realize it was no big deal.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

On a more serious note, have you ever tried to communicate with someone who doesn’t want/refuses to communicate with you?  Well, I have and it isn’t pretty.  The last years of our marriage I begged D to talk to me.  He wouldn’t.  Or maybe he couldn’t.  I guess I’ll never know which but the one thing I do know clearly and without doubt–we weren’t talking.  And I know what I think–he had already removed himself from our marriage.  His mind, along with his conversation, was elsewhere.  Once communication has broken down, the door is wide open for miscommunication to occur.  One partner will take a word, a phrase, or even a small sentence and isolate it and obsess over it and make it into something much worse than it was ever intended to be.  It’s so sad when that happens because it’s proof that real interactive dialogue is gone and the relationship is taking a nose dive.

I remember one time when I knew we weren’t connecting with each other verbally, and  I decided I should write him a letter.  (Back in the early days of our courtship D would write me long, sweet letters.  I still have them.)  So I wrote him a letter explaining my feelings about something; I don’t remember what, but probably our inability to communicate.  I closed by saying that either he didn’t get it or he didn’t care.  I also told him I preferred to think it was the former.  After a slow and difficult separation and divorce, I finally had to acknowledge it was the latter.  He got it.

An aside:  If my sweet brother Jack were alive, he would be 71 today.  He hated sharing his birthday with Ronald Reagan.  🙂    I still miss him. 😦

My grandmother didn’t like me.

When I was born I had two grandmothers.  That’s true for most children, I suppose.  Unfortunately my mother’s mother (Ma, or as we say in the mountains, Maw) died when I was about six and a half.  Then, my mother’s father died a few months later on my seventh birthday.  I still feel sad for my mom that she lost both parents in less than six months.  I also think it was sad for me that this grandmother died when I was so young because she was the grandmother who liked me.  I would even go so far as to say she loved me.  I can still remember specific sweet gestures from her to me.  She told me stories.  I would put my head on her lap and she would gently smooth my hair off my face and tuck it behind my ear.  She taught me that if you don’t have your toothbrush with you, you can break a small twig off a birch tree and chew on it and it will clean your teeth and freshen your breath. She showed me the leaves and bark of the birch so I could recognize it.  She was a good grandma.

I remember that she had dizzy spells.  I think it may have been an inner ear problem but I don’t really know.  I don’t think there was anything wrong with her heart.  She died of cancer.  I remember her dizzy spells because when I would ask her to play Ring around the Rosie with me, she would say, “Oh, I can’t do that, Honey.  My head’s a-swimmin'”  I’m surprised to this day that I can remember her as well as I do since I was so young when she died.

So what about that other grandmother?  My dad’s mother.  She had six children–three girls and three boys.  I think I have figured out that she didn’t like my dad.  He was a hell-raiser in school.  I’ve heard some wild tales about his escapades.  He and his younger brother got in trouble often and my dad was always blamed, never his brother.  Dad’s perception was that he was a black sheep and Uncle R could do no wrong.  He went to his grave thinking that.  I think it did serious damage to his psyche.

I never have figured out why Mama W. didn’t like me.  I think my dad made her a grandmother before she wanted to be one because she taught us to call her Mama + our last name.  Maybe she was vain.  I don’t know.  I managed for most of my adult life to let it go (or so I thought).  But once I became a grandmother the old questions resurfaced.  Why didn’t she like ME?  She liked my brother and at least some of my sisters.  What was wrong with me?  I wasn’t a hell-raiser; I was quite the opposite.  I made good grades and I looked like a W with my blond hair and blue eyes.

I have nine grandchildren.  Each one is unique and marvelously lovable. Once I realized that my love for ALL my grandchildren was endless and totally unconditional, I became more puzzled than ever.  I know now, of course, that it wasn’t me.  It was something missing in her.  Before she died I came to feel some pity or sympathy or something for her but not enough to establish a relationship with her.  I didn’t see her the last twenty or so years of her life.  She lived to the ripe old age of 98 or 99.  Can’t remember exactly.

My takeaway from this sad grandmother/grandchild disconnect is this:  It is the grandparent’s responsibility to develop the relationship with her grandchild.  It can and should be a rich and rewarding experience.  It’s a natural bond and really doesn’t take much effort when your heart is in the right place.  Grammy is my favorite role so far.