a large-moving-truck-sized asteroid missed the earth. apparently, not by much. npr called it a “very close encounter” and nasa said it was a “near miss”. it kind of puts things in perspective. i mean, what does anything angsty mean when all could be destroyed in a moment by a united-van-lines-projectile?
i suppose the wise among us would nod slowly at that question. they’d take a deep breath and exhale audibly before speaking. and then they’d point out that there are no guarantees – for any of it – and perhaps lighter hearts would be a better way to fly through this universe, skimming along, soaring, aerial acrobatics from moment to moment.
it’s been seven years. my sweet momma glimmered her way to heaven seven years ago and now, seven years later, we are interring her ashes. the wooden box that my brother-in-law holds gently in his hands is added to my dad’s niche in the columbarium. his ashes are in a hard cardboard heart-shaped box and my dad grins as her wooden box is added next to his, relieved that it wasn’t the other way around or my momma would have had something to say about his box being wood and hers being cardboard. nevertheless, our son said it best, “happy they are resting together.”
i brought my ukulele and a songsheet and we all gathered around and sang “always” before the niche was closed. it was simple. and short. and the service a row behind us had a twenty-one gun salute followed by taps – just in time as the caretaker replaced the granite door.
it’s sobering to be in the veteran’s cemetery. pristine and beautiful, but sobering. so many headstones. so many little granite doors.
i looked up – i wanted to remember the sky – perhaps the heavens – the moments we stood there, after. the sun was shining and there was a gentle breeze.
my sweet parents whispered “thank you” to us and my momma got that stink-eye look she gets. “now go live life,” she added. and my dad reached out his hand and diverted the asteroid’s path, just a little. but enough to make a difference.
i wish – every day – that my sweet momma and poppo were still here. that we could coffeesit with them, make them great soups for lunch, spoil them for dinner. that we could take them apple-picking and introduce my dad to a new scotch or two he hadn’t tried yet. that we could maybe adventure a little or just be quiet and listen to their old stories. i wish.
the thing i know, though, is that they would be beside themselves in this circus of a country we now have. it would make both of them irate to watch the vitriol being tossed about, the divisiveness that is being fed by rabid spewers, the lack of transparency, the lies. my daddy-o would have a few choice words to describe these folks and they wouldn’t be pretty.
and my mom? well, she would have no time for anyone who is less than kind to another. she would want nothing to do with any politician or religious leader or pundit who skips kindness in their approach to life, who excuses their own behavior, stance, agenda, platform, control tactic, extremism based on warped interpretation of law or scripture. she would point out the colossal hypocrisy. she might reiterate the story about when, in the dark night, they parked their little vw bug next to a small hill off the road. tired while traveling europe by car, they needed to rest and could find no guesthouse nearby. the little hill would serve them well, they thought. they woke up next to a gigantic dung pile, covered with black tarp held down by old tires. she would trust that we could connect the metaphoric dots. sometimes a hill is not a hill.
i think that both of them – were they here – would be ashamed of what it’s all become. my dad would wonder how his service – missing-in-action in world war II and then as a POW in a bulgarian camp – mattered now to these people who are making a mockery of democracy. my mom would be aghast at how people are being treated, marginalized, discriminated against, excluded. she, who worked hard to be kind to everyone, would worry about the popularity of this ugly trend. yes, they would both – were they here – be astonished at how, in so many arenas and in so many circumstances, people are just downright not good to each other.
i guess that – were they here – they would love a sit-down with dolly parton. they’d probably all talk at once, new yawk and a southern drawl all intermingling in conversation. and they’d all agree that they didn’t understand why anyone at all would “let religion and politics and things like that stand in the way of just being good human beings.”
and then – were they here, the three of them together – they would remind us all to stay away from dung piles posing as hills.
i’m sure people in the target parking lot stared at me while i took a photograph of the side of the sara lee truck pulled up in front of the store. i’m always the one – lagging behind, trying to capture some image. so many photo ops, so little time…
but these words “how goodness should taste” caught my attention. sara lee, the company of classic pound cake, chocolate creme pie, new york style cheesecake, makes me think of my sweet momma, coffeetime, the round smoked-glass table, white plastic vinyl swivel chairs. my poppo, pouring the coffee out of a farberware percolator, whistling. goodness, indeed.
my growing-up wasn’t dressed up with ganache and crème brûlée or crepes and chocolate soufflé. i was the product of two great-depression parents and they were practical. entenmann’s crumbcake and my mom’s lemon pudding cake, homemade apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, box cupcakes and sara lee raised me, along with an occasional traditional-cheesecake splurge at the bakery.
goodness was simple. it wasn’t prissy nor did it require much money. it wasn’t fancy or haughty nor did it exclude anyone. it wasn’t loud and shiny nor did it bellow “look-at-me”. it wasn’t for show. it was just simply goodness.
when i saw the sara lee truck i called to david. he had stopped on the target sidewalk when he realized i hadn’t made it across the lane from lot to store.
i showed him the picture of the side of the truck “how goodness should taste” and said, “this is perfect for a blogpost.” i continued, “a great reminder!”
after all, maybe we should all think more about goodness.
not just how it should taste, but how it should feel inside, how it should sound, how it should be shown, what it should look like, how we can touch it, how we can share it.
wouldn’t it be cool if – maybe instead of [or, even, in addition to] “land of the free, home of the brave” – the united states of america was known as “how goodness should taste”?
clearly, he is an instigator. just the mere suggestion that he’d be ok with registering a complaint, asking for a refund, asking to speak to management sets me in motion. i am not afraid to speak up in these situations. it’s writing-a-letter (ala my sweet momma’s chutzpah) but in person. i’m the one who goes to the service desk. i’m the one who asks for the discount. i’m the one who returns stuff. i’m the one who will go back and let someone know that their product/service/pricing was not acceptable. he shudders. he set me in first gear and released the clutch; he knows there is no stopping. there have truly been times when he will linger at the sidelines of a store simply while i return something – like chicken that was spoiled when we purchased it or something even easier – like dog food when i meant to buy cat food but the dog food package was on the cat food shelf. i mean, c’mon…that is not a big deal nor is it fodder for embarrassment, but he just sort of wanders off, a little spacey, sometimes like a toddler in a department store playing hide-and-go-seek in the rounders of displays. ahhh.
and let me just say – the aarp discount is a thing, though. i will ask ANYwhere if they offer the aarp discount. you would be surprised how often the answer is yes. you should check it out. it’s a deal. the first day i purchased an aarp membership i booked hotel reservations and saved twice as much as i had just spent on the membership fee. a deal, yes?
a long time ago my sweet poppo was the regional president of the aarp chapter. my parents went to aarp conventions and conferences all over. they were avid aarp-ers. he would be happy with my dedication to his cause.
because i was the product of older parents, i read modern maturity magazine well before my time. even now, i thoroughly enjoy the revised, renamed aarp magazine. great articles. many that are empowering. particularly about speaking up. asking for better service. getting a discount. free cups of coffee. starting a ruckus.
inosculate: join by intertwining or fitting closely together. “inosculation is a natural phenomenon in which trunks, branches or roots of two trees grow together. it is biologically similar to grafting and such trees are referred to in forestry as gemels, from the latin word meaning “a pair”.” (wikipedia)
tomorrow is the sixth anniversary of my sweet momma leaving this earth. there is not a day that goes by that i do not think of her, miss her, wish i could call her, have questions to ask her. in the way that we all wish on stars, i wish i could have more time with her.
momma lived three years past my dad’s passing. in the very days before he died, he knew that his dying was imminent. i walked into his hospital room and he told me he was ready. i, however, was not. neither was my momma. she was seriously infuriated at him. they had been married – at that time – for 68 years. 68. i haven’t even lived that long yet, and they were together for longer. in every way imaginable, they were, like these trees in the woods, inosculated. a pair.
inosculate: to unite intimately.
my parents had simple routines in their later years. coffee and breakfast. making the bed. reading the paper. coffee break. a few errands perhaps. lunch. my poppo doing a little work at his workbench or in the garden while my mom worked at her desk. sitting and gazing at the waterfowl behind their house. maybe a little snack in the afternoon. reading. dinner. nothing stupendous. nothing extraordinary. but most definitely inosculated.
though i’m sure they drove each other a bit crazy at times (who doesn’t?), in these later years, particularly, they fit together like these trees. sharing responsibilities for the day-to-day. carefully mindful of each other’s health concerns. re-telling old stories. looking forward to any time they would see their family. grateful for this home bathed in sunlight and surrounded by green.
they were indeed “gemel trees”, sharing deep root systems, with prolonged contact, fusing together. and, in the end, their love was no longer complex. it just was.
when we passed these trees off-trail, i wondered about them. i’m not absolutely certain where their connections are and if they are prime examples of inosculation, but they are indeed living in community, united. they somehow rely on each other, sharing nutrients and sun and dirt-space on this earth.
and, once again, here in the forest, i can see the simple example set for humans. the same one my sweet parents set.
i come from make-it-work stock. my sweet momma and poppo were children of the great depression and were not wasteful sorts. soap socks, squeezing every last vestige of shampoo from the bottle, re-using boxes, rube-goldberg fixes, not a lot of retail therapy. they made do with what they had and never complained. latest trends were mostly lost on them and competing for the best lawn/decor/car/wardrobe/jewels/stuff was not a thing. as the youngest child, with siblings much older than me who both married by the time i was eleven, i had much time to glean and learn to mimic their ways. making-it-work. it’s where i’m from.
and so now, empowered by these two forces of nature – my mom and my dad – with a new brace on my wrist, i am making do. after breaking both wrists the end of january in a snowboarding accident, i finally had healed fractures. the pandemic had interrupted all my occupational therapy and, thus, i’ve been frustrated by a lack of range of motion in my right wrist, so my old brace was often my companion. but i made it work. it’s where i’m from.
and then i fell.
the floor was wet and, unfortunately, unmarked as such. my feet flew out from underneath me and, in natural reflex action, i fell…on my right wrist. i felt right away something was wrong but waited to contact my dr for 48 hours, hoping for quick residing of the new pain. i’m pretty tough and it takes a lot for pain to get to me. d says i have a high tolerance for pain. i blame my mom and dad. they were tough and endured much in their lives. but this isn’t a post about my wrist – soon an MRI and a hand specialist will tell me what is now going on, post-fall. in the meanwhile, i keep on keeping on, just the same as after i simultaneously broke both wrists. making do. it’s where i’m from.
as we hiked along trails in aspen’s woods of color, we mused on how easily we were, well, amused. simply hiking, sitting alongside a creek, smelling the scent of autumn forest – these things were sheer entertainment for us. no restaurants, no bars, no shops, no shows required. (and, in the middle of a pandemic, not even considered.) i thought of all the times i had spent simply being outside, picking apples with my momma and poppo, taking drives, having picnics in parks at wooden tables carved with initials of people we would never know. as we sat around the table out on the balcony or socially-distanced in the condo, i thought of all the times i just spent simply coffee-sitting with my mom and dad, talking long over dinner, late-night conversations on the phone. as my daughter and i talked about my parents, her beaky and pa, i thought of their sacrifices, of their belief in all peoples regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status, religion. i thought of their altruism, their open-mindedness, their embracing of new ideas and their love of learning new things and going new places, and i see their eyes reflected in both my daughter’s and son’s eyes. it’s where i’m from. and it’s where they’re from.
as we approach this very important time of voting, i worry about the narrative others are hearing, but not researching. i worry about the rhetoric coming from this white house, the absolute lies, the warping of truths, the sickening twist of stories, the re-defining of the definition of words, the lack of understanding, the self-serving agenda, the out and out falling prey to gross exaggerations of misinformation. i worry about those people listening to this, believing it, voting with this toxic barrage of falsehoods in their hearts.
and i think about my mom, who always, always, always said, “look it up.” yes. look further. research. find objective, factual resources and immerse in those. look. it. up.
and as yesterday passed into today and i drifted off to sleep i knew, despite that she is on a different plane of existence, my sweet momma was holding me close to her. it was bracing to think of the five year mark that has just passed now since she has been gone and the every-day-missing-her that goes along with that. no different with my dad. in a month it will be eight years and i can hear his “hi brat” in my heart. i have no doubt that he is right there, holding on tightly. both of them. forever and ever.
it is a fact. this parenthood thing is mind-bogglingly paramount. ever forward from the day they are born. it is all-consuming. in every good and every daunting way. every most-jubilant and every brutally-difficult way. every securely-confident and every tumultuously-distressing way. every way.
in this pandemic time of chaos we pine for a sense of normal which escapes us. anxiety barges in and replaces our regular routines; peace escapes us. we long to see each other. we feel tired; we feel restless. we sleep more; we cannot sleep. we are astounded by the surrealness of this; we are crushed by how real this is. and we worry. it is hard to be away from those whom we love and knowing that right now we cannot go to them compounds it. my heart needs to hug My Girl and My Boy and see that all is well. we feel anxious. our wishes go unfulfilled.
and yet as today passes into tomorrow and they drift off to sleep i know, despite how busy they may be or where they are in the world, that i am holding them close. that no doubt can exist – i am right there, holding on tightly.
and i hope, like you with your beloved children, that they can feel it. forever and ever.
she was incessant. every morning she greeted me with the words, “good morning sunshine.” rain, sleet, snow or ice – none would dampen her good-morning-spirit. a new day, a new beginning, another chance.
my parents weren’t complicated people. they grew up with great-depression-survival parents. they were married and almost immediately separated by the second world war, by my dad’s missing-in-action status, by his time as a prisoner-of-war and, thus, they navigated the loss of their first daughter on two continents, my mom without knowledge of my dad’s whereabouts. they processed-without-processing the end of the war and my dad’s escape and return home to struggle through post-war times. they had two more children, another girl and a boy and began to raise a family on long island in a cape cod house with a chainlink fence and a dachshund. after i was born they moved to the house i grew up in, the only house i remember without looking at old photographs. we had a single driveway with a grass strip in the middle. some neighbors had solid concrete or asphalt driveways, no grass strip, and even as a child, i suspected this meant something. they were thrifty and conserving.
my parents weren’t hip. through the rebellious 60s and mod 70s they raised me, older than most of my friends’ parents by at least a decade or more. i listened to jim nabors and doris day and robert goulet in the house, herb alpert and the tijuana brass and frank sinatra on the stereo and the old wgsn on the radio on top of the refrigerator, while friends were hearing their moms sing to carole king and simon and garfunkel crooned in their kitchens, the mamas and the papas and herman’s hermits in the family rooms. my dad would whistle for hours; hearing anyone whistling now feels like a hug from him.
my parents weren’t frivolous. my dad would turn boxes inside out to repurpose them. my mom would assign him tasks first in in his basement workshop and, later, his garage workshop, giving him something to focus on. he was always rube-goldberg-ing everything; he could make or fix anything. they didn’t splurge on stuff, well, until they discovered ikea. after years and years and years of exclusive use, the aluminum colander they gave to me (and after a couple more decades and the loss of a foot, i finally retired) is likely 70 years old.
my parents weren’t problem-obsessive. my mom would do laundry, especially later in life. i think it centered her. the simple task of cleaning a garment or bath towel and putting it away felt grounding; i have learned this from her and you will find me scouring the house for laundry items in times of stress. they were reasonable and rational; nothing needed be too complex.
but they were loving and encouraging and accepting. i could tease or cajole my dad into doing almost anything. and, when my dad’s reaction to a circumstance was more impatient, my mom would listen, listen, listen. she would admonish him, “Erling!” she’d hammer.
simple. no fancy titles. no wildly exotic trips. no fancy foods. only one fancy car to try-on-for-size. no fancy clothes or shoes. simple furnishings, treasured mementos.
simple. no emmys, oscars, grammys. no nobel peace prize. hardworking and uncomplaining. a lot of volunteering. a jewelry store failure in early days of big box stores. early retirement and a move-down-I95 south. self-admonishments to do-the-photo-albums and clean-out-the-file-cabinets.
simple. a dedication to handyman magazine, national geographic, jigsaw puzzles, crytoquotes and crosswords. tomato plants and hosta. forsythia and four-o-clocks that ran along the whole side of the house. succulents and bougainvillea. harlequin romance novels and old doris day/rock hudson movies. bird-watching and klondike bars. feeding their family. entertaining their friends.
simple. times around the table coffee-sitting. long conversations on the couch. egg mc-arnsons or waffles and ice cream on sunday mornings. time on the stoop and in the lanai, just talking. time. spending time.
she was incessant. her joy at the day, her exuberance, her kindness, her piercing eyes, her absolute, uncompromised, unconditional love.
i woke today thinking about this day five years ago today, when i was not physically there to hold her hand as she passed from this life to another plane. we were on the way, driving there, on an interstate when we found out. in el paso, illinois. we pulled off and found a park not far from the highway. we walked and walked and walked, trying to process. i have no doubt that she knew i was right there with her, always, and how much i love her.
life will never be the same without my sweet momma on this earth. ever. i can only hope that in some way, as a new day dawns and i think to myself, “good morning sunshine,” that i will be somewhat like her. somewhat as incessant.
“…Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)
a product of sunday-drive-parents, i am a meanderer. i’ll choose a backroad. i’ll choose the woods. i’ll avoid the six-lane interstate. i’ll avoid the leader-led-coach-bus-travel tour group. i blame my sweet momma and poppo.
in an obvious life metaphor, choosing to be an artist of any medium -for the long haul- is choosing to be a meanderer. it’s choosing to live life looking for and celebrating layer cakes – a layer cake of work. it’s a continual wracking-of-the-brain for the next idea, the next project, next pitch, the next initiative, the next validation of your artistry. it’s continual exploration and continual growth, surprises and intrinsic rewards of the heart. and it’s continual worry: how will what you earn equal or be greater than that which you owe.
my parents encouraged my every musical moment. neither of them was a musician, but their steadfast support reinforced the decisions i made that were more out-of-the-box. their prideful applause inspired and fed me, lighting a fire even when the embers were falling to ash. times i would rise and fall and rise again, i blame my sweet momma and poppo.
in somewhat recent days, when i was bemoaning the exponential cost of healthcare, someone asked me if i needed to see a financial counselor, someone who could ‘teach me’ how to budget. i was stunned at the lack of sensitivity and actual empathy. “no, thank you.” i responded, while trying to maintain the sound of calm in my voice, “i am actually quite good at budgeting and truly love math. this is not rocket science. it is simply a case of not having enough income, even from several jobs, coming in.” a meanderer. those sunday drives.
i’ve read plenty of ‘being the youngest child’ articles. it seems that my profession, lean toward autonomy, artistry, careful rebellion are all because of my place in the sibling line-up. so, once again, i blame my sweet momma and poppo.
the urge to be off-the-beaten-path, literally and figuratively, to quietly sit in the middle of the woods or i-wish-more-often the top of a mountain, to stand on a wooden stage with a piano, a boom mic, a few songs and a story to tell: things that are part of my very soul. the core. i blame my sweet momma and poppo.
we have turned into my parents. on sundays, when we have no other plans, we take sunday drives. yes…we are those people…the ones who seemingly have no place to be and are wandering around the backroads in the countryside, breathing in deep breaths of freshly mowed grass and blowing kisses at horses out grazing.
WHITE SUN 18×48 mixed media
wisconsin countryside looks like this morsel AND it looks like the full painting of WHITE SUN. perfect fields manicured with crops and fences and dirt readied for fresh planting. gorgeous. there is a specific spot out-in-the-county…we drive past…and i wonder if this is the beautiful spot that david had in his mind when he was painting.