Friday, September 6, 2019

A Life of Joy and Peace

“I don’t want anyone wearing black,” she said.  Cory’s Aunt Lynda had made that abundantly clear.  She was dying, and everyone knew it.  She had lived a good life and accepted her diagnosis with matter-of-fact clarity, a reaction that surprised no one.  She declined treatment and spent her final weeks surrounded by her children and grandchildren, some of whom constructed the very casket she was buried in.  So here we were, a short while later, celebrating her life.

The thing about living in a small town is that when something big happens, everyone shows up.  This day was no exception.  It was well into the 90’s as the trucks and cars pulled up into the fields surrounding the community center.  There were rolls, meatballs, and frog-eye salad being dropped off in the lower kitchen while other folks (it’s the only appropriate word here) stepped slowly and deliberately up the weedy incline to the front of the church turned community center.  It’s the first thing you see when you exit the one road that leads to town; bright red with white trim, and a steeple that rises up against the surrounding mountains, daring you not to notice.  A white cross rests squarely on top.  I’ve been coming to this town for 26 years and have never once been inside.  I was told they sometimes play Bingo here, but the doors had never been unlocked during any of my previous visits.  It was exactly as I had envisioned, and it was fantastic.

The white, chipped doors opened up to a small hallway lined with memorabilia, small vases filled with assorted silk flowers and extra chairs for guests.  The pews were already overflowing with family and friends who came to show love and respect for a woman who didn’t own a computer but reportedly made the best apple pie in the valley.  Wood paneling served as the backdrop for a small painting of the Last Supper, and creaky, warped windows were propped up by hymn books to offer air flow into the non air-conditioned room.  A slide show played quietly near the pulpit as I gazed beyond the rows of Wranglers and work boots to watch mini reunions happening all around me.  This valley holds generations of memories among cousins, friends, aunts and uncles, siblings, teachers and, well, everybody.  Remember?  When something big happens in a small town, everyone shows up.

Her son shared some beautiful thoughts and memories before opening it up to the crowd.  She loved butterflies and God.  She had pen pals and was a prized cook.  She played Wilma Flintstone for years (a story that Good Morning America planned to interview her about right up until she was overshadowed by a white Bronco speeding away with O.J. Simpson in it.)  There was laughter as well as tears but the most important thing is that Aunt Lynda would have loved it.  A young girl stood up to sing Amazing Grace.  She wore a white, flowing dress and the room was still but for the faint sound of makeshift paper fans cooling the patrons as she sang.  T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.  Aunt Lynda was not afraid to die.  “In fact,” her son noted, “she welcomed it.”  Many speculated that she looked forward to a reunion with her husband who had passed years ago.  Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace.

(This is the same girl who sang Amazing Grace - I don't remember her name, and she doesn't know I took this picture. As the crowd gathered for a meal downstairs following the services, she meandered up to the piano and began plunking away. I was doing other things when I looked up and saw this scene and snapped a quick picture.)

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What He Sees

When I was 18 my dad wrote me a letter.
He said he loved me.
I’m “blossoming as a rose”.
He thinks I’m talented? 
He said I had a lovely voice. 
That one’s funny. 
I’m not perfect, but I’m so much closer to it from his view.
Just once, I wish I could see what he sees.

When I was 21 Cory told me he loved me.
He didn’t know it, but we were about to break up.
There was a song with a line that said, “She don’t know she’s beautiful.”
He would sing this extra loud in my general direction.
“Though time and time I told her so.”
He took me back after the breakup.
He knows I’m not perfect, but he treats me as if I were.
I have highs.  I have lows.
I have more lows.
I blame him for stuff he doesn’t do.
He smiles and hugs me.
How does he stand it?
“Because you’re awesome,” he says.
Just once, I wish I could see what he sees.

A couple of months ago God told me he loved me.
Like, really, really loved me.
Why am I surprised?
It’s God, after all.
I just don’t see it.
I’ve done some stuff for that guy. 
Crazy stuff.
Hard stuff.
Funny stuff.
Faith-challenging stuff.
Faith-promoting stuff.
But what HE has done for ME?
The crazy chick in the cul-de-sac who drinks too much Dr. Pepper and thinks too many critical thoughts and doesn’t know how to do anything the world values as relevant and can’t do a cartwheel and spends too much at Target and has never had a career and once followed Pierce Brosnan down the street and wore overalls in a TV commercial and set off a secret mall alarm and lied to my parents about not playing with a Ouija board and had a childhood friend who went by the nickname “The Golden Unicorn” and kissed Mark Marean behind our garage in the second grade.
He thinks I’m amazing.
I don’t get it.
I’m glad he told me.  That was something. 
But I wish I could see it.
Just once, I’d love to see what he sees.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

My Hooker Roots

I have my mother's eyes.  We value comfort over fashion, intellectual conversation over chit-chat and share a mutual disdain for dogs that assume the right to smell and lick you without your permission.

Several years ago my mom was exiting her local grocery store when a car stopped next to her and someone jumped out, grabbed her purse from the basket and took off.  Her knee-jerk reaction was savage, unprecedented and aggressive as she hurled the closest and heaviest object in their direction as if to will them to halt.  Unfortunately, her keys didn't pack much of a punch and landed listlessly a mere few feet away.  As she recounted the story she mused about the funny things people do when they're taken by surprise like that.  She called the police.  They were not optimistic about finding the culprits, nor did they seem too intent on pursuing it.  Bigger fish to fry and all that.

That's why it shocked all of us when a full year later the police called and reported to my mother, "We found your wallet!"  Where had it been all this time?  In the hands of a prostitute, using my mother's name, having cut out my mom's picture and inserted one of her own.  "Mom!" I exclaimed.  "You're a hooker?!"  The thought amused me.  Nothing could be further from one's imagination than to think of Lynn, a staunch Republican known to make her own bread and take in stray humans, walking the sketchy alleys of Esco waving down Ford Escorts to make ends meet.

A while after this incident I was meandering our local mall with a group of friends.  I don't recall what took us there as I rarely shop in the mall.  Frankly, I don't shop well with others.  Furthermore, other than the food court and the Godiva sample counter I don't feel like I belong there.  I barely feel at home in the Magnolia Home section of Target let alone a Nordstrom.  "I'll see your Cadillac Escalade and raise you a 12-year-old minivan with hail damage."  I'm not exactly their target audience.  I still remember taking my daughter to the mall for the first time when she was 5-years-old.  As we walked in, her hand in mine, she raised her eyes to the lights overhead that dotted the domed ceiling, took in the beauty of the thick, bolted wood beams that criss-crossed and slanted beneath the windows which were shining down gobs of natural light.  She glimpsed the sturdy, upholstered chairs, caught view of the shiny, mopped floors and inhaled the scent of Mrs. Fields and gasped, "What IS this place?"  I don't recall what took us there, but I'm certain I got in and out as fast as possible, dashing the hopes of my starry-eyed, exultant child.

In an attempt to try my hand at the classy side of life I lost my mind one year and opened up a Nordstrom credit card.  With each use of the card I accrued points that turned into dollars I could spend at Nordstrom.  Maybe if they weren't "actual" dollars, I reasoned, I could bring myself to use them and buy a few nice things?  Well guys, IT WAS A DISASTER.  I remember wandering the store with $120 to spend and after an hour and a half of looking at white shirts for $90 that I could get at Kohl's for $25 I gave up and walked out empty-handed.  I decided to move on to makeup.  Historically I honored myself by choosing the far superior L'Oreal brand to the cheap Wet 'N Wild assortment.  That's where I drew the line.  I would never be a trashy Wet 'N Wild girl!  I would be a classy L'Oreal girl!  Because I'm worth it.  Now, I headed for the Bobbi Brown counter to get to work.  After buying some staples over the course of a few months I wanted to get a little more adventurous, which brings me to the moment I was wandering the store with my friends.  I had gained some confidence at the Bobbi Brown counter.  I had learned what an eyebrow brush was.  I was taught to apply lipstick appropriately.  At this point I was in search of a contrast eye shadow, so I knowingly made my way to the bottom floor and hung a left past the shoes and found a girl who looked ready to change my life.  "HI."  I straightened my posture to somehow feign credibility and eventually requested, "Could you maybe show me how to do a smoky eye?"  (As visions of Vogue covers danced in my head.)  "Sure!" she replied.  I took my seat, she gathered, applied and advised as she went.  I anxiously awaited my reveal.  I was certain this was a pivotal moment meant to catapult me from Wal-Mart connoisseur to Nordstrom chic.

Have you ever gone into a situation expecting one thing and come out with something exactly opposite?

Upon finishing my look the Bobbi Brown makeup artist terrorist handed me a mirror as my friends looked on.  I struggled for words.  "Wooooow.  Hey.  That' that's...that's something.  You definitely captured a look I haven't been able to achieve."  In all honesty the first thing that came to my mind was, "There's a street corner with my name on it because holy crap, I look like a hooker."  I was polite and I did purchase one small item she used on me, but I couldn't wait to get out of there and find a wet wipe.  As we exited the doors I glanced at my friends for a true assessment at which point they all burst out laughing.  One in particular was struggling to keep her composure throughout the evening and couldn't look me in the eye without cracking up.

Today is my mother's 85th birthday.  I have her eyes.  Like her, I value comfort over fashion, intellectual conversation over chit-chat and share a mutual disdain for dogs that assume the right to smell and lick me without my permission.  And to top it all off, we share a hooker story.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sombrero Story

A few days ago my friend texted and asked me for a favor.  “Hey, do you happen to have a sombrero that my son could borrow for a history project?”  At 48 with failing vision and more skin spots than a giraffe I was thrilled for an opportunity to be useful on any level.  After surveying my inventory I responded, “Yes!  I have 2 sombreros and a chili hat – he’s welcome to whatever he wants.”  In the process of texting back-and-forth I was under the impression that she needed it the next day, so I had them all sitting on the counter for easy access.  When Cory got home from work I explained why they were out and instructed him in case she happened to come when I wasn’t around. 

That’s when Cory went into Cory-mode (oh, it's a thing) and said, “You know what we should do?  As soon as we hear the doorbell ring I’ll throw on the chili pepper hat and answer the door and do a little cha-cha-cha (he said while swinging his hips side to side).”  He is often prone to ideas like this and I normally respond with super supportive eye-rolls, but I dug deep and decided to try and be fun.  So I got on board and said, “Ok, I’ll throw on a sombrero and do a little rebel yell behind you to add extra flair.”  Our plan was set.  I texted Kristen that we were home all night and she could swing by whenever it was convenient.  About 20 minutes later the doorbell rang.  Cory ran and grabbed his hat off the island and headed for the front door, and I threw on a sombrero and trailed behind him, all set to impress.  As he swung it open I went for it, and from the depths of my soul yelled out, “AY AY AY Ay Ay ay a…” and my voice trailed off as I realized, to my utter horror, that IT WAS NOT OUR FRIENDS!  It was our neighbor, THE ONE WE HARDLY KNOW, and he held a piece of mail in front of him and said, “Uh…this accidentally came in our mailbox and it looks important so I wanted to make sure you guys got it.”  We stood there like the two complete morons that we were and tried to explain what we were doing but the more we talked the more uncomfortable he seemed, so we finally muttered a weak, “Thank you” and shut the door.

I collapsed on the couch in a mixture of total embarrassment and complete hilarity and burst out laughing.  “Cory!  What just happened?”  He just shook his head and walked away.  I went to the kitchen and checked my phone to see the most recent text from my friend:  “It’s ok, it’s not due for several days so I’ll come by sometime next week.”  I immediately called her up, “Hello?” she answered.

“Oh my gosh, you’re not going to believe what just happened.”

What do you think, are we crushing it at empty-nesting or is it time to join a Bingo group?

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Moment

I was on a run.  

I like to start sentences this way because it makes me sound so active and athletic at 47.  The list is longer for things that don't make me sound active and athletic so it helps to tip the scale.  For example, when I woke up this morning and heard myself say, "Man, I'm so sore from bowling last night," it was not a great moment.  On another occasion recently I was trying to defend the rigors of pickle ball to a group of naysayers and when I heard myself, I elected to leave my defense hanging in the air and shuffled off to find a group more accepting.

So, yes.  When I can truthfully state that I was on a run I fit it in wherever possible.  In this case it was two days before my daughter's wedding in San Diego and I had a lot of nervous energy to expel.  So I threw on my gear and headed out to jog the streets of my youth.  I passed a new elementary school beginning its first day of the school year.  Parents held the hands of their children on one side and clutched their caramel lattes in the other and escorted their kids through the labyrinth of childhood angst.  As I passed them I silently celebrated the end of that phase of life for me and cruised to the corner where I turned to ascend a steep hill.  My mind was all over the place.  Hair appointments, photo sessions, don't forget to give the bubbles to Suzi, remember the enlargements for the easels, are we driving mom and dad crazy taking over their house?  Will they be okay enduring such a long day?  Remember to get the cream for the soda bar.  I can't believe how awesome my friends are.  Am I ready to let Samantha go?  It's a good thing I trust her.  It's a blessing that I trust her future husband.  I wonder how many times I will screw up being a mother-in-law in the first five minutes.  I've got to get Drew's amp to the DJ.  Three other family members are celebrating their anniversaries the same day of the wedding.  Don't forget to mention them in your toast!  (I forgot to mention them.)  My sister is working SO HARD on those flowers.  I can't believe how beautiful they are.  My nephew and his wife are doing so much to help.  His wife is pregnant.  Is she ok?  Is she getting enough sleep?  We need to get the favors assembled.  I need to return this basket to Target.  My toenail polish is too bright. Do the bridesmaids have their necklaces?  I'm so excited for Drew's toast.  He has been working on it for months and Samantha has no idea.  Will the guests be too hot? 

With every grunt I tried to purge it all on that hill and finally began my descent when I thought, "I'm ready for this wedding to be over.  I'm ready for this run to be over.  When all of this is over I can finally relax."  Then came the immediate response in my mind, "THIS IS IT.  THIS is the moment.  Right here.  Right now.  It's not the wedding, it's not when it's over, you are living right now.  Stop.  Breathe it.  Appreciate it.  This is the gift of life right here."  So I did.  I stopped.  I scrambled my iPhone out of its case and took a picture of the very spot where I paused so I could remember it.  I vowed to myself right then and there to stop waiting to enjoy myself until it was all over, and to take in everything as it comes and be grateful.

That was the first of many moments I enjoyed that weekend.  I ate an ice cream cone alone by the marina in Seaport Village and inhaled the ocean air.  There was a moment the day of the wedding when Cory told me I was more beautiful that day than the day we got married.  There was a moment when I looked over and saw my Dad laughing with Samantha and David at the kitchen table, and David was wearing his infamous sheepish grin.  There was the moment I walked in on my Dad playing his banjo alongside Drew who was strumming his guitar as my Dad sang along.  There was the moment I watched David glimpse Samantha for the first time in her wedding dress.  There were various moments I watched him usher Samantha from place to place with his hand on her back, often holding her bouquet to help her navigate uneven terrain in high heels.  Samantha glowed for hours.  She was so happy.  I watched as friends and family filed into the temple, one after another in a glorious stream of love and support. 

It has been four months since that glorious weekend and I am still simmering in the joy of it all.  But the real moment was that spot on the hill; stopped under the arc of a swaying willow tree and noting the outline of the low, California hills ahead of me.  The road ahead stretched just beyond as an invitation to look ahead without forgetting where I was.  

That was the moment that shaped everything.