A loss of innocence.

I grew up in the 50s. Some have called it a time of innocence. The war was over.photo-7 Our returning veterans were able to attend college or university on the GI Bill. Eisenhower was President. He played a lot of golf as I recall, and my dad criticized him for it. (Some things don’t change.) Families were buying homes with white picket fences. Well, maybe they didn’t all have fences. The point is those were the halcyon days.

Nineteen sixty ushered in a new decade fairly quietly but the calm was short-lived. I write this today in order to recall the day I realized for the first time that my safe, secure homeland wasn’t quite what I thought. On November 22, 1963, our young president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. My feelings about my country and the basic good in people were permanently altered. What kind of monster could be capable of shooting our energetic young leader? And why? Some questions have no answers.

Last week a man went to the apartment of three young Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC, and fatally shot all three of them. Why? Some said it was a hate crime. Aren’t all murders hate crimes? Some said it was over a parking space. Really? The murderer was a self-avowed atheist. Did he hate all religions? Or only the Muslim faith? I’m guessing we will never know the answers to these questions either.

I’m relieved to report that he gave himself up the same day and has remained in custody since.

The night after the slaughter of these students, my granddaughter sent me a text. ” I can’t stop crying and wondering why and how a thing like this is allowed to happen. I don’t understand how this was allowed to happen in my home. It’s the worst thing I have ever experienced.” I tried to console her but I had no answers for her.

I can’t help remembering that I had the same questions all those years ago when our President was shot and killed. The frustration and sadness that H is experiencing in exactly what I dealt with at almost the same age she is. I was a sophomore student, one year older than H, and was attending university in my home town.

My granddaughter H was born and reared in Chapel Hill. She’s a freshman at the university there. It’s the oldest state university in the country. It’s small-town southern America with a great deal more diversity than most towns in the state. It’s the diversity that makes it a very special place.photo(20)

 

H’s parents have taught her to have a strong sense of justice and to do what is right. Not just for herself, but for those in her community–all of them. She has marched in the state capital for voter rights and other issues. Whenever she sees someone in need, she chooses to help if she can. Eventually this crime in her home town will strengthen her convictions. But first she has to mourn.

 

 

 

Cleaning windows, and other strange triggers.

I may have mentioned before that I’m not a fan of house cleaning.  Once in a while, though, I have to do a few basics.  Vacuum up cat hair.  (Tell me again why I love Lulu.)  Wash the toothpaste spatters from the bathroom mirror.  Clean an occasional window when it becomes so foggy I can hardly see out.

It was that last job that recently brought a tear to my eye.  It made me think of Jeanette, my dear friend, and the woman who kept my house spotless for several years.  There I stood trying to get the damn streaks out, wishing I were reading a book, lifting weights, going for a walk, standing on my head — anything but cleaning windows.

Not only do I miss J’s cleaning skills, but I miss her.  She was my friend from the time we first met, but I learned what her friendship really meant to me when D moved out.  She held my hands and hugged me and cried with me.  She loved me the very best that she could through the toughest time of my life.  I never had a better friend.  We still talk on the phone from time to time.  She stays constantly on the go, raising a young granddaughter all by herself.  She’s older than I am.  I don’t know how she does it.  But she does, without complaint.

And so I went from feeling pitiful for having to clean windows (How silly is that?), and missing Jeanette (not so silly), to singing my favorite window-cleaning song along with Van Morrison, both of us at high volume.  Sadness evaporates like Windex on a window pane when Van’s in the room.

This afternoon my grandson came over to help me with some chores around the house.  He’s very handy.  He repaired a light switch in the bathroom.  Now I don’t have to worry about the light suddenly coming on at three in the morning.  He programmed my thermostat so it would stop clicking on at odd times and making the downstairs too hot.  I probably could have done that one myself if the print in the instruction booklet wasn’t so small.  Once he had finished a few other minor odd jobs, he came in from the garage and inquired, “Grandma, are you ready for your tree?”

Until that moment I had been undecided.  I wrestle with the tree issue every year.  So far I haven’t figured out whether it’s sadder with or without it.  Spontaneously, I gave him my answer, “Yep, let’s bring it in.”  And so we did.

As he was putting the tree together, I reminded Grandson that he has helped me reconstruct the tree every year I’ve had it except the year I bought it.  That year I did it all by myself just to prove I could.  The memory brings back a flood of emotions that I tried hard not to show in Grandson’s presence.

It was my second Christmas alone, my first in this house.  I knew I couldn’t handle a real tree by myself.  We had always had the real thing in the past so buying a “fake” was a difficult decision.  But I knew it was the only practical thing to do so I headed off to Peppermint Forest in search of the perfect not-so-perfect Christmas tree.

I walked around the “forest” many times as I struggled to justify the prices on the tags of the best quality, prettiest trees.  I finally bit the bullet and chose my favorite, rationalizing that over a period of several years the price would become roughly the equivalent of having bought a real tree each of those years.  I stood in line, paid for the tree, and waited for the giant elves to load it into my car.

I got home with my precious purchase only to realize I might not be able to get it out of the car by myself.  I was able to pull the box to the garage floor, open it, and carry each piece/tier of the tree into the house.  As soon as I started to put the tiers together I realized the tree was too big for my room.  What was I to do?  What could I do?  I did what any not so sane person would do.  I sat on the floor and cried.  I’m talking BOO HOO crying.

Then I got tough again.  And I started putting those heavy, prickly branches back in that damn shrinking box.  By then I was crying angrily.  Angry at the world, and most especially at my ex.  This entire fiasco was his fault.

I know that fear often causes a surge of adrenaline, giving a spurt of strength that a person doesn’t normally have.  I did not know until that day that anger and frustration can have the same effect.  Now I know.  I put that box, tree and all, back in my car by myself, and drove back to the “tree farm”, despite the fact that they had a no-return policy.

I locked the tree in the car, took my receipt inside, waited in line again.  I had practiced my spiel as I drove.  In my calmest, steadiest voice I explained that I couldn’t use the tree and wanted to trade for one slightly smaller.  When the clerk hesitated, my voice stayed calm but my teary eyes betrayed me as I said, “I have never done this Christmas tree thing by myself.  I misjudged the size.  I’m asking if you would be so kind as to make an exception for me.”  By that time I had an audience which included three clerks, one a manager.  The manager stepped up to the plate and told me (and the rest of the gang), “Yes, ma’am, we will.”

I suppose I still feel the trauma of that experience each year when we bring out the holly and the ivy, and yes, the magnificent tree.  I’ve laughed and cried as I’ve written this piece.  I’m grateful for both, I think.  At least I’m no longer numb.  Feeling deeply is a good thing, isn’t it?

Divorce–the “gift” that keeps on giving.

The painting on the left is called  Transluscent Fragments of a Broken Family.  The painter is Kenneth Agnello.  Click here for information on buying the original.  I find the painting both haunting and beautiful.  Perhaps that’s a good thing.  It makes me feel hopeful on some indefinable level.

I recently declared myself finished with divorce (on this site).  Okay, I didn’t say that to you, but I whispered it to myself.  I thought I could no longer be hurt by it.  I discovered last weekend that even though the divorce no longer has power over me, that is, power to hurt me as it once did, still I hurt when a child or a grandchild is hurting as a result of the actions of other parties involved.

On Saturday, my ex-husband D and his lady-love got married.  That’s fine.  I wish them happiness.  Really, I do.  Here’s the thing–they chose not to invite one of his stepdaughters to the wedding.  The other two were invited.  That meant that one young teenage granddaughter who would have liked going and being there with her cousins could not attend because her little segment of the family was excluded.  She reacted with anger, but it was not anger she was feeling.  The show of anger was a cover for the inner pain she was suffering.

I cannot begin to imagine what sort of thinking went into their decision; I can only conclude that the D I lived with and loved those many years would never have imposed that sort of punishment on an innocent child.  How I wish I could have protected her.

Tonight I am sad.  Once again I have a tear in my eye.  I thought I had shed them all.

Observations on hospitalization.

  • I’m not going to the hospital.  People die there.  ~ Uncle Bob Honeycutt

Note:  Uncle Bob died years ago.  I’m pretty sure he was in a hospital at the time.

  •  You can go into a hospital with no known allergies, but  come out with an allergy diagnosis (latex), which the hospital staff  aggravated and exacerbated with their machinations and manipulations.  Now I’m taking an allergy pill a day in an effort to get rid of the itching and angry red hives.  It’s improving .
  • Only in a hospital (or maybe a court of law) would you tell the what-happened story so many times that you start to think it’s some kind of trick question, and if you don’t get it right they might throw you in jail.  (The actual doctor assigned to me was #8, and yes, I was counting!  How else was I to stay sane?)
  • I couldn’t help noticing that the hospital is a huge distributor of styrofoam cups and water pitchers.  Have they not heard how environmentally unsound that practice is, and how bad it can be for our health?  Read about it here.
  • Apparently NO ONE in coronary care (Don’t worry, my heart is terrific.) can have salt.  They brought me vegetable and barley soup.  It looked wonderful.  I tasted.  Ugh.  Mrs. Dash and pepper cannot cover for the absence of salt.  Understand, I’m a very minimal partaker of salt, but if I ever go to the hospital again I will take some with me.  I mean it!  Though I have no plans to go back.  I am hereby giving my family and neighbors permission to call an ambulance if I’m unconscious.  Otherwise, I’m sticking with Uncle Bob’s take on hospitals.

I guess a little explanation is in order.  I’ll keep it short.  On Sunday morning, I was ready for church when I had some sudden, unexplainable pains which could have been heart-related.  I decided to play it safe and had my daughter drive me to the ER.  They, also playing it safe, kept me over night. On Monday morning I had a stress test and aced it.  All that walking for exercise is serving me well. 🙂

I learned some things about hospitals and myself.  The statements above are a small sampling of things I could tell you about my short stay in the care of my hospitalist and her fine staff.  They were kind and caring–every one of them.  And I’m sure they were glad to see me go.  I learned that I am not a patient patient.  I asked about a thousand questions.  Why do I need a shot in my stomach?  What is it?  I don’t need a blood-thinner.  I won’t get a blood clot because I’m not lying in bed, I’m getting up and walking in place every thirty minutes.  Do you offer ear protection?  (They did.)  I’ll never go to sleep with those monitors in constant beep-mode.  I did my stress test at 8:00 this morning.  It’s four o’clock, when can I expect the results?  I don’t intend to spend another night here.  As I was leaving I could just imagine what they were thinking:  “Thank God the Q&A bitch is finally gone.”

Here’s the deal as I see it.  Sometimes it’s good to be alone.  There’s much to like about it.  BUT–I believe that a patient needs an advocate.  I had to be my advocate.  That’s scary.  This trip I was lucid and able to advocate for myself.  There were times when I wished I had been more tactful and less adversarial.  As I said above, they were kind people.  But I needed my questions and concerns addressed, so I’m not sorry I took the time to ask.  This experience taught me that sometimes it’s nice to have a spouse or life partner to lean on.  Ah, but life goes on and mostly it’s good.

Note:  I have not read the book pictured above.  I might look it up.

Words, words, I love words.

All my life I’ve looked at words as if I were seeing them for the first time.   ~  Ernest Hemingway

I’m with you, Papa.  Me too.  And even before I could look at words and read them, I loved them.  Sometimes, at a very young age, I would hear a word and adopt it right away because I liked the sound of it.  I would roll it around in my mind and silently repeat it over and over.  I guess I was a bit OCD early on, wasn’t I? 🙂  And I would have repeated it aloud except that my mom would say, “Honey, could you please just not talk for a little while?”  I understand that now but I didn’t back then.  I did, however, want to make her happy, so I would try very hard not to talk–no easy task for a three- or four-year-old would-be wordsmith.

I wish I could say I have always used my words wisely but I haven’t.  I have not-so-jokingly said that when my genes were figuring what goes where, they should have had some sort of thingy to put between my brain and my tongue.  Unfortunately, that piece disappeared like an important piece from a grandchild’s Lego set.  Whenever a notion enters my brain, it almost instantly exits my mouth.  Sometimes that “quality” makes me look outspoken but honest, which I am.  Other times I look and sound like the horse’s ass who forgot to consider my words a little before I voiced them.  And once spoken I can never get them back.  I have worked on this issue for years and I will give myself credit for being much more modulated and moderated than I once was.

I’ve been thinking lately about my written words.  Writing gives me an opportunity to weigh my words before I pass them off to a receiver.  I like that.  I usually proofread and edit my posts several times before I hit publish.  I’m not usually checking for spelling and grammar.  I’m looking for tone and how I will sound to my reader.  But here’s the problem:  When I’m speaking I have many tools at my disposal that I don’t have when I’m writing.  I have a very mobile face and a voice that changes tone and emphasis and mood.  The person I’m communicating with can see and hear if I’m making a joke or if I’m crying or if I’m angry.

When I’m writing I have to use words to convey those messages.  You who have been writing seriously for a while have probably figured out how to do that.  I think I am slowly learning but it isn’t easy for me.  I’m thinking maybe I will take a writing class.  Have you had experiences, good or bad, with writing classes?  If so, I would love to hear from you.  I’m sick of smiley faces and I really don’t think they’re very effective.

A walk in Tarheel country.

I’m visiting daughter #2 and her lovely teenage daughters.  Their husband/father is traveling.  He just left Kenya and is now on his way to India.  Even though I’m delighted to be here with them, my heart is heavy because another relative and her family are facing serious difficulties which I will not write about in this space.  The hardest part is that I can do nothing to make their road easier.  I went for a walk to look for beauty and to try to give myself a change-of-scenery shock treatment.  The first thing I noticed was this crocus, fooled into thinking it’s spring.

It’s a beautiful day in Chapel Hill and there are signs of early spring in all directions.  Hard to believe that they’re expecting snow starting around noon tomorrow.  Hopefully the temperature will not get cold enough to kill all the blossoms.  I’ll head for home early in order to avoid bad roads.  No snow predicted for my neighborhood.

If you’re a James Taylor fan you will recognize this street sign as the title of a JT song.  Actually  two North Carolina men–James Taylor and Reynolds Price combined their talent and wrote “Copperline.”  You know the smooth voice of Mr. Taylor but you may not know Mr. Price.  He was a professor at Duke University and writer extraordinaire.  His novels have entertained me for many years.  He was master of the written word and won awards for his writing.  Click here to learn more about Reynolds Price.

Apparently this little university town is friendly to Obama.  That makes me happy.  I spotted a black Volvo wearing this sticker on its side.  Obama took North Carolina in the last election.  I’m hoping we’ll be a blue state again in 2012.  Obviously the driver of this car hopes so too.

There’s a tiny park in the neighborhood with an old family cemetery.  The cemetery is surrounded by a stacked stone wall and was the burial ground for the Purefoy family.  The best I can tell the family was/is a prominent clan in this county.  I loved ambling through and reading the headstones.

As I was strolling past the shops in the neighborhood I spotted this t-shirt.  I must say that no one talks about this town without mentioning Carolina Tarheel basketball.  This is Coach Roy Williams pictured on the front of the shirt.  Since we’re in the Bible Belt, I find the message “Get Heeled” rather funny.

There were some humorous items inside the shop, too.



I love the piggies.

And the brilliant rooster.

I arrived home warmer than when I left and feeling a little less sad.  Pictured on the left is a trellis on the side of my daughter’s house.  Here it stands at attention waiting for a better day, a day of flowering transition.  Our family could use such a transition.  We’ll try to plant the seeds needed to accomplish a blossoming of better days.  We can do it.  We will do it.

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. 😦