Archive for the ‘Family’ Category
Sunday was the 17th anniversary of my father’s death. It has been so long and yet, never a day goes by that I don’t think of him. Since my mother died when I was eight, he was the biggest part of my upbringing. I have his eyes, his handwriting and his creativity and I miss having him in my life.
I’ve often wondered what he’d think of this world I live in today. Right off the bat I can say I know he’d think Facebook and Twitter are the most ridiculous things ever invented. And I can see him unmercifully teasing any of his friends who “tweeted.” He just wouldn’t think that was a very manly thing to do.
He would also be horrified to discover how little respect the United States has throughout the world. To hear President Obama apologize to other countries for America would infuriate him. My dad was unapologetically patriotic. He and his two brothers served their country in the Navy, Army and Marines and fought for the American way of life. No, he wouldn’t be pleased with the way our government is going at all! You know those guys who always have a little American flag pin on their lapels? Well, my dad was one of them. After they got out of the service, he and his brothers all became policemen. We were a family that believed in law and order.
On the other hand, there are some things in the world today which he would find amazing. Daddy was a gadget guy and I think he would marvel at the new technology that was unheard of in his lifetime.
Even though I, personally, am not particularly into cell phones, not to mention “smart phones,” I could see my dad with an iPhone. And furthermore I can imagine him becoming obsessed with all the apps. A phone that could serve as a GPS, play games and make sound effects? He’d be like a kid in a candy store!
I could also see him with a Kindle. He loved to read and the idea of being able to carry more than 1,000 books around with him would certainly appeal. And I know he’d be delighted with the idea that there are cameras that take pictures which you can immediately download onto your computer. It’s too bad he never lived to see that.
If he was alive today, I think he’d be one of those senior citizens who aren’t at all intimidated by computer technology. And the one gadget I’d probably want to buy him would be an iPad. Since he was an artistic kind of person, I think he’d be blown away by all he could do with it.
Ah, but he’s not alive. And I can only hope that he’s in a place where even greater marvels exist.
Meanwhile, his legacy lives on…in me. I only hope I can do him proud.
Do you ever find that a certain kind of weather triggers a memory of a certain time and a certain place? It happens to me all the time. The other day, I stepped out onto my balcony, immediately being assaulted by a chilly breeze. The trees were wet and the day was very overcast. There was a taste of autumn in the air and I was immediately transported to a moment in my sixteen year old life.
I had been fighting with my stepmother all morning, and had taken refuge out on our screened- in porch to escape the sound of her voice. Out there, I could still hear her telling my dad what a trial I was. She was saying I was too independent for my own good and had a smart mouth. I could hear him trying to pacify her, like he always did, explaining that “I was teenager,” etc., etc., etc. She pointed out that “her girls” were teenagers, too, but were nothing like me. And then I heard the words that would change my life forever. He apologized for me! Or, if you will, he betrayed me.
This had been what she had been waiting for. Now she calmed down. Now that she had made him turn against his first-born child, her job was done. Their voices faded out of my consciousness as I fought back tears. I gazed into that moody sky and realized the truth – that I was on my own, truly alone. I wondered, as I had done a million times before, how my life might have been different had my real mother not died so young. I could hardly imagine what it would have felt like to have a mother who really loved me, or a stepmother who hadn’t resented me from Day One.
What I’ve always had trouble understanding is how my dad could have changed so much. When it was just him and me, he was my best friend in the world and I know he loved me. He taught me how to play poker, how to draw, how to use my imagination. We had so much fun together. When he took on a new wife and other children, I guess he was just spread too thin. He should have known the pain I was in. He should have seen how two-faced his new wife could be, always talking about what a good Christian she was, while exhibiting cruelty to me whenever his back was turned. But, I guess he was only human.
Meanwhile, I’d go through the weekends, yearning for Monday when I could go back to school, a place where I was accepted, where I had friends. When my teachers spoke to me, I didn’t always have to brace myself for criticism like I did at home. It was a safe place, a place where I wasn’t the “one bad apple” who spoiled my stepmother’s idea of a family.
I gazed at the sky that day and knew deep in my heart that I couldn’t count on daddy to stand up for me anymore. I would just have to stand up for myself until I was old enough to make my escape. I’d have to look at myself in the mirror and say over and over, “You’re NOT a bad person!” And so that’s what I did.
A few minutes later, my dad stepped out onto the porch, saying, “I want to talk to you.”
“What about?” I asked, hope rising in my chest. Maybe he would apologize to me for her!
“I think you should go in and apologize to Mable. I think you hurt her feelings.”
I started to protest, then stopped.
I looked long and hard at him, then smiled…and gave up hope.
And things were never the same again.
She was so young, just a girl really, at twenty-eight, but also a wife and a mother. When she dolled herself up, she had an old-school kind of glamour and loved vamping it up with red lipstick, flashy jewelry and exotic perfume. When I’d watch her at her dressing table getting ready to go out, I remember thinking, “that’s how a princess would look.”
She had dancing eyes and a ready smile and had no trouble making friends, both men and women. She liked being the life of the party, and oh, how she loved to dance! When the music was playing, she couldn’t keep her feet still. I remember her holding me in her arms and us doing the boogie-woogie around the kitchen. She was so full of life and light.
Who knows what she could have accomplished in this world or how many lives she could have touched?
Unfortunately, we’ll never know because she died fifty-one years ago today…
- never to realize her potential,
- never to see her little girl grow up to become a woman,
– never to be forgotten.
I miss you, Mom.
Yesterday was your birthday, and the first since you were born that I didn’t buy you a card and presents, since you cut all the ties that bound us together as sisters.
It’s funny how, even now, I remember with such clarity the day you were born. It was a Mother’s Day and I was so excited that my little sister had arrived. When they brought you home from the hospital, you were a wild-looking little thing, with dark hair sprouting all over your head. But I still remember your intense little eyes with long eyelashes, appearing to study the world like a mini professor. Daddy said you looked like a little monkey, but I think he just said that to make me mad. Grammy called you her little Indian princess. And all ll I felt was… love at first sight.
Through the years, you were my “little buddy,” constantly toddling behind me asking, “Whatcha doing?” and “Where are you going?” You used to beg me to put makeup on you and to polish your finger and toenails, knowing I was putty in your hands. I’d often find you out squatting in the yard, in your little shorts, crop top and long trademark braids, administering to a family of web worms you had discovered. You’d pull me over and proceed to point out each one, telling me its name. You were an absolute delight to me and our closeness grew from there through your teenage years and on into womanhood.
We had such a unique and precious bond, reinforced yearly by our “sister trips” to New Mexico. We had our regular haunts there – Gila Bend National Park, the White Sands desert, Smokey the Bear’s birthplace for you and the UFO Museum at Roswell for me. What times we had! We could literally finish each other’s sentences and crack each other up with merely a look or roll of the eyes. We were not only sisters, but friends… and you threw it all away.
But, you know what?
You may be able to forget all those times I helped you through homework and heartache.
You might revoke all those promises you made to me saying, “I’ve got your back, no matter what.”
You might try to negate all the loving things I did for you, too numerous to count.
You might nullify our bond, deny our sistership, and withdraw every scrap of love and loyalty you once had for me, but…
You can never, ever, erase all the memories I have of being your big sister, laughing with you, wiping your tears and holding you close to my heart.
Those are mine, and they always will be.
When my dad remarried, I suddenly found myself with two stepsisters, one of whom I’ll call “Fern.” Although she was close to my age, I never felt close to her because, even from a young age, Fern had decided her career – being a hypochondriac. No cut was too small, no ache too insignificant for her to capitalize on. Things that would just annoy the rest of us, would send her to her bed, moaning and groaning.
As she grew into adulthood, she managed to turn being ill into a competitive sport. You have a headache? She has a migraine. You cut yourself with a kitchen knife? She almost lost a hand. You have an eye infection? She’s going blind. No one was allowed to be sicker than Fern.
Now I know what you’re thinking. “Poor thing! It’s a cry for attention.” And, maybe it was. But here is the sticking point. She could be in bed with what she was sure was the final stages of malaria, but, wave tickets to an amusement park in front of her and it was “Glory Hallelujah! I’m healed!” She’d spend the rest of the day riding every ride and having the time of her life. Or, after telling you she spent all night vomiting and was so weak she could hardly lift her head off the pillow, you’d see her an hour later, glued to Star Trek on TV and laughing her ass off. Doctors could never find anything wrong with her, at least physically. It was always very obvious that she was only sick when people were watching.
With this attitude, you can imagine what kind of employee she was. She lost job after job because “it hurt my back” or “they pushed me too hard and I’m just too weak.” She found the answer to this by becoming a life-long welfare recipient. Now she could spend her days outlining her maladies to like-minded neighbors, all on the public dime. I don’t remember her ever asking any of the rest of us how we were. I don’t remember her ever doing anything kind or giving to someone else, because, in her mind, no one was doing as poorly as she was. She was desperate for people to acknowledge how sick she was.
And then, she got her wish. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And, rather than put her into a deep depression, it almost empowered her. In fact, when my stepmother left me out of her will, including a share of the house my father wanted me to have, Fern was one of the most vehement that I receive nothing. (After all, it meant more for her!) Even as she was dying, she was badgering the executor for this item and that of her mother’s, just as if she had stumbled on a big sale on eBay. I remember once seeing a cartoon of a tombstone on which was engraved, “See? I told you I was sick!” In a sense, that would fit Fern perfectly.
She died on April 9th.
And, what do I feel?
I’m sad to report…I feel absolutely nothing.
February 13th was the 15th anniversary of my daddy’s death. Every year on that day, I take time to remember what a profound influence he had on my life. After my mother died when I was eight, and before he married my stepmother, we had such a special relationship. It was much like the one depicted in the movie “Paper Moon” between Ryan and Tatum O’Neal. Only, rather than being a con-man, my dad was a policeman, someone I was always proud of and respected. He taught me how to draw cartoons, shoot craps, and play the harmonica. He instilled in me a love for writing and reading which shaped my life. He fed my imagination and creativity and always encouraged me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. He was funny and strong but, over time, my stepmother slowly began to poison his mind against me because I was “so spoiled.” And the loss of our closeness was overwhelming for me. In his later years, when he became ill, I was never able to even talk to him on the phone without her picking up the other line. I think she felt the need to screen our calls, lest he remember how much he once loved me. But, despite all the things that went “after,” she could never rob me of the memories of what went “before.”
I was his first-born. He did love me. And this is a little poem I once wrote in remembrance of him.He was no mechanic, to say the least, so it was not surprising that when my daddy put training wheels on my bicycle, they were uneven..comically uneven. “Hold on,” he said, scratching his head, and made an adjustment. They wobbled. And another adjustment. They wobbled. And another and another… They still wobbled.
He looked so lost and frustrated that I finally blurted out,
“Daddy, let me try once without the training wheels.” And, as I straddled that then-frightening bicycle, I somehow knew that this was something that I had to do for him… With brows scrunched together, I put my whole concentration into it… “one foot after another, one foot after another,” faster and faster and faster until…Glory Hallelujah!…I RODE! And his smile lit up my world with the light of 10,000 candles. And he was happy. And I was happy. After all, even a six year old little girl knows that her daddy has his pride.
I’ll never forget you, Dad. Never.
Well, I felt that today I was due to write something humorous, or, at the very least, amusing. After all, things have gotten a bit heavy in this blog lately, what with cabin fever and worrying about my friends and all. And I know people enjoy my humorous posts. But, you know what? It ain’t gonna happen. So, if you just stopped by to be amused, I apologize and urge you to stop by another day. The fact is, no matter how much I want to be funny, I’m in a bit of a funk. And even though I wanted to attribute that funk to the cold weather, that’s not really the cause. The truth is – I miss my sister. Despite the fact that she chose an inheritance over me, I miss my sister. Despite the fact that she responded to my kindness with cruelty, I miss my sister. It’s crazy, I know, but, as they say, “it is what it is.”
It came out of nowhere a few days ago. I was just finishing a DVD episode of “Farscape,” and they were playing the theme music, which I can only describe as “insane asylum music.” And I glanced over at the sofa, where she would always sit when we watched TV, and knew immediately how we’d react to that music. We both would have jumped up and started doing some Randi and Star, crazy, no-holds-barred, spontaneous “insane person dance.” One of us would start making up a song, and the other would have chimed in as if it were a song we had sang all our lives. And we would have ended up laughing so hard we’d have tears in our eyes. And I realized, yet again, that those times are gone forever. There is no one else in my life with whom I have such a shared history. No one else who shares my particular brand of silly abandon.
Before you accuse me of being a sentimental sap, try to imagine what it would feel like to have no family at all. I bet not many of you are in that position. And, although I work hard not to dwell on it, sometimes it hits me between the eyes like a sledge hammer. I’m fortunate to have wonderful friends, many of whom are like family, but, let’s face it, their own families are their priority, and that’s how it should be. So, who worries about me? If I were to fall down the stairs and break my neck, how long would it be before anyone notices? Dire, I know, but it’s a reality I must accept. I have always been really good at amusing myself, but there are moments… terrifying moments in time… when I have to face the fact that I’m alone.
I don’t intend to wallow in this gloom, but apparently I’m going to have to ride this episode out. You can’t always “snap out” of something on command. And, considering how much I loved her, I don’t think it’s surprising that I would have these flashbacks. Intellectually, I know nothing can be done. I don’t want to contact her in view of the terrible, terrible things she’s done to me. In my head I know this is a “done deal.” It’s over for all the right reasons. No one should be treated the way I was. Now all I have to do…
is wait for my heart to catch up.
I know it’s not a new phenomenon, but maybe now that it is affecting my baby boomer generation, I’ve become more aware of it. I’m speaking of the pain of watching a parent descend into dementia. I used to never hear anyone discussing it. Now, three of my close friends are having to deal with it.
Valerie’s mother is the most recent case. It started almost innocuously. She’d get in the car, and then forget where she was going, and worse, where she was. Nothing looked familiar, even though she was in an area she once knew well. Little by little it got worse, with her repeating herself many times throughout a conversation. Valerie tried to talk to her father about it, but he was busy trying to stay in denial. Then, this Christmas, when she went to her parents for Christmas dinner, there was none. Her mother treated her almost like a stranger. When Valerie asked what they should fix for dinner, her mother replied, “I thought I’d get out a couple of steaks for your father and I.” It was as if Valerie no longer existed. She ended up eating Christmas dinner alone at her house. When she told me this story, I almost felt a physical pain, imagining how hurtful the whole day had been.
Then there’s Francie’s mother. She is a delightful little lady, whom Francie had to move into a very nice assisted living facility. Her mind had started slipping and she’d forget to take her medicines. She also began writing checks out to any charity appeal that came in the mail. Even now, Francie notices her tendency to hoard things and forget the most basic rituals of living. This is not the mother she grew up with, who was a strong, in control individual. Francie gives up many hours a week doing things for her and driving her to and from doctors’ appointments. I know how hard it is for her, both physically and emotionally, but she doesn’t complain. I admire her so much.
And finally, there’s Suzie’s mother. She is in a small town nursing home where the people are very kind and caring. But she’s wasting away, now down to under one hundred pounds. And the worst part is that when Suzie comes to visit her, she doesn’t know who she is. This is the mother Suzi has always cherished and been close to. And when Suzi tells me about her visits, I can hear the tears in her voice. I can’t imagine how it must feel to have the woman who gave birth to you no longer realize that you’re her daughter.
You know, I’ve always felt that I was at such a disadvantage growing up without a mother. When you lose your mother at eight years old, you think that’s the worst thing that could ever happen. But at least I remember her the way she was – sassy, vibrant, and loving. So maybe, just maybe, it was a blessing in disguise in some ways. It’s really hard to say, since both are losses…some early, some later… all devastating. All we can do is try to cope, and survive.