A Life

Robert Bob Andy Grandpa Papa
July 25, 1935
October 21, 2010

Son
Brother
Uncle
Friend
Husband
Father In Law
Step Parent
Grandfather
Member of the military
Railroad switch-man
Pilot
Flight instructor
Helicopter pilot
Glider instructor
Target Shooter
Marksman
Hunter
Handyman extraordinaire
Tool maker
Wine maker
Brewer
Gardener
Volunteer
Re-loader
Wood craftsman
Fisherman
Frugal spendthrift
Collector
Avid reader
Loner
Beloved
Ox Strong
Mule Stubborn
Gentle
Tender
Full-time generous heart
Part-time major grump

Full time searcher of new knowledge
Part time stubborn stick-in-the-mud

Aficionado of music
Refused to dance
Amazing smile hidden in a protective cover-up frown
Tolerant, accepting yet held his prejudices close to the vest

Not much of a listener and less of a talker
Loved his ready-made family to the core of his being
And more…so much more…enough man for multiple lifetimes. I miss him.

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I Believe

Alan Stark wrote I Believe.

On page 128, Stark wrote:
“I believe the definition of a friend is someone you call when you have really great news or really sad news.”

On page 111, Stark wrote: “I believe couples should hold hands at least three minutes every day.”

On page 156, Stark wrote: “I believe that memories are treasures worth more than gold.”

Three is that good number, the one that can mesh the unrelated and find a new truth. So I have an addendum to Alan’s beliefs, my big three for today.

I check myself off the definition of a friend. Today has been one of the saddest days of the last 11 months. There is no one I will phone to share the sadness. There is no one with whom I have that kind of comfort. There is no one to whom I could even begin that conversation, share that deep and penetrating loss.

Holding hands is vital, an intimacy to be cherished. Going out alone today, I did a virtual hand holding via four area wide garage sale events. Bob loved them. We trudged up the driveways as he searched for his bargain of the day and until he was too worn to continue. I bought three things just so the experience would be true, a book, a light switch, a leather purse. Three dollars ventured and a memory gained.

That brings me to those memories worth more than gold. My brain is odd. My memories are rarely specific in detail but definitely specific in feelings. Bob and I had two love stories, one in youth and the second in middle age and onto his last years. Between those chapters, I had another love story with a good man, the father of my children.

Today is not really an empty day. It is a day of far too many memories, far too much emotion, far too heavy with a sadness I cannot shake. I feel ashamed, weak, to be as I am today. Wonder why the amazing goodness that is so much a part of my life cannot handle the overflow of memories?

I believe that time as healer is a ruse. What really happens is that we get really good at covering over, pretending and doing make-believe. Today is my birthday and I want what I cannot have. I miss him.

A Love Story

Seven months and seven days of  living with a new love, a newly discovered man of depth and richness.  The discovery, layered in moments of that breathless ache, threatened to consume.

When a partner is unwell the shared days and nights become lessons in management, in make-do, in setting priorities, in hiding truth.  Things like house and property upkeep silently slip to the bottom of the list.  Promises to clear out the accumulations of a life time are forgotten.

No more excuses.  The time was mine and I set an auction date, clueless as to what was ahead. Manic with energy  to mask the grief, my mission was clean up, clear out, match the emptiness.

Here, in the clutter of bags and boxes, some dating to 1972, was this man–this man rich in talents and diverse interests.

Dog tags from his time in The United States Army, trophies won for cribbage and dominoes, pilot licenses both private and commercial, helicopter and plane,  log books teaching others to fly, mounds of hand drawn schematics, books to identify birds, wild animals, plants, hunting, fishing, tying flies, building fly rods, wood carving, tools designed and created to match a need, mementos of his friendship with Jack and Russ.  The collection of Heritage House books brought a memory of how he held a book,  any book,  with a kind of reverence.

In a chapter of our personal once upon a time, we made beer and wine.  His records were meticulous right down to the important detail of how long the brew lasted–the truest measure of quality.  Next to that box, I found his collection of daily missals and his letter sweater dating back to Bishop Ward High School days.  Family pictures were in every drawer tucked where he kept reminders.

And then there were the things he collected simply because they were beautiful.  Glassware, pottery, tools, pictures, antiques— all holding the magic of  what came before.

The list of discoveries is a rediscovery of a man I had lost in the passage through  health issues.  Deterioration pushed from all sides.   How very sorry and ashamed I am for letting that man slip away from me, for not always remembering and honoring all that he was.

Robert N. Antonopoulos, 1935 – 2010    I love you.

If Ever I Would Leave You…

it would never be in springtime….

Bob rarely talked of favorite music but he listened with a practiced ear and knowledge of the beauty.  He even owned a bust of Beethoven, which I rudely relegated to the attic.  Shame on me.

Once, a very long time ago, he gave me a record—“If Ever I Would Leave You.”  The words are breaking my heart.  I miss him more in this moment than I have on any day since he did leave me–in autumn, our favorite season.

Every spring, we worked the place side by side, sometimes late into the evening.  I can hardly stand it right now, knowing that I have to handle it alone yet absolutely knowing that I cannot handle it without him.

Sam, age 4, is having a sleep-over and I have struggled with fighting the tears, hiding the emotional stuff.  About two hours ago, I saw Bob standing in the yard, dumb slouch farmer hat, hitching his jeans, and chugging water.  Talk about choked up.   About that moment, Sam asked me something about his water shooter and my answer stopped him short.

“What voice is that, Nana?  Where is your real voice?  That voice was crackly?”  This from a little boy who still believes that Papa will get away from those guys keeping him in heaven, that Papa will come back to us.

Maybe.  Maybe Sam knows something I need to learn.

…it would never be in springtime.  No, I could never leave in springtime…

Rings On My Finger

I am a chronologically old woman, 7 decades measured and counting. Growing up in a nurturing protected neighborhood, that mythical village, my siblings and I shared the blessing of never having quite enough, of always being required to try harder.

Political correctness came long  years later and our discipline included the occasional ‘good spanking’ to teach a lesson.   The culture of that time believed in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’, especially in questions of attitude.  Mom and Dad struggled as the country climbed from the depression, giving us the best that was theirs to give.

We received our early formal education and training from women of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.    Jesuits and Benedictines handled a large part of our college educations.  Discipline and humility held up the foundation.

Two marriages to two good men gave my life balance, reality checks and the richness of ‘for better and for worse’.   Each marriage extended my  family and I am grateful for what I have learned from each member of that very large group.

Marriage gave me the most precious gifts of my life–my five children.  Each of them fills me with awe and appreciation.  Their gifts are strong and enduring.  Life situations have not always treated them gently, but they handle what happens and they move through it.

My education provided me with a paycheck for doing what I would liked to have been able to do for free.  Teaching was a 28 year ‘fire-in-the-belly’ that never banked.

Through my time from childhood to crone I have often been overwhelmed by the generosity of  friends, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances.   These past four months are powerful life lessons in the blessings of enduring support.

And now?  Now I am Grandma/Nana.  No one could be more blessed by the lives of the five grandchildren who gave me my new titles.  With my wedding band, I wear a five stone mother’s ring given to me about 30 years ago.  Next to those two rings,  I wear a five stone grandmother’s ring that I gave to myself 18 years ago.

Rings on my finger, blessing of my life.

Taking Care Of Business

Nightmares have been a part of my emotional landscape since childhood.   The one that still breaks a sweat has me running on a conveyor belt being chased by the biggest, ugliest, loudest, slobbering lion.  That beast has a roar to rival a tornado and his four legs run me ragged.

Someone into dream analysis has this pegged.  When life gets out of control, the lion runs.  If someone I love is sick or in any danger, the lion roars.  Uncertainty and loss of control take my mind right back to grade school mentality of fear,  maybe not with the lion, but with some intense and overwhelming dreamscape.

In sleep, I recognize the sound I make, know it is a dream but rarely am able to wake myself.  Bob had that business, to awaken me with reassurance and set life in order.

A couple of months of uncertainty and a very definite challenge to life control set the emotional conveyor belt.    Last night the nightmares were intense and I was begging my mind to let go and let me be awake.

Then I felt it.  I felt Bob walk into the room and sit on the bed.  Not Bob of the last year.  Not changed by months of weakness, but the man I married so many years ago, strong, confident, protective.   I felt him with me, taking care of business, taking care of me.  I wanted to hear his voice, wanted to hear that, “Patty, wake up.  It’s OK.  You are dreaming.”

Did not happen.  He did not speak,  but one miracle to a customer, right?  And typical, so typical of the man from that John Wayne School of Communication.  Words can fail, but taking care of business is routine.

Riddle Me This

Kind of fun to take the sidebar into the nonsense of the great mouse hunt.  Friends and family joined the quest even to the point of Martha telling me to name the critter, talk to it nicely and viola!– a new pet!

Because we have been friends since 1957, I resisted my true response.   Mickey (Opps,  I did name it!) moved on and the attempt at hiatus from truth has ended.

Some very odd things bring me up short.

I can sleep in our bed without the ache.  Our room is comfort.   I feel safe and cherished there.

Kicking through the leaves, that he would have mulched by now, is far too difficult. He loved this place.

Driving his big SUV is as driving my granny Buick, but being a passenger in his car is pretty close to unbearable.

The only music I can hear is Roy Orbison.  Everything else is too hard.

Getting through the aisles of our regular grocery store won’t be happening for a long time.  Yesterday I had to leave, fearing that I would give in and cry my way from produce to bakery.

Bob cherished his dad’s pocket watch and wanted it given to our first-born grandson.   The jeweler said the mark inside the back was either 1911 or 1921, wonderful old timepiece that he will clean and prepare for Christmas giving to Cain.  Fine.  Easy.   Next step was asking about changing Bob’s beautiful old watch band into a bracelet.   Slipped it on my wrist for sizing and I choked again.  Had to leave.

Cleaning out old Missouri Conservationist, National Geographics and Smithsonian magazines makes me angry and frustrated.  Clutter is an enemy.

Packing his collections of fishing, hunting, nature books ends with me apologizing to him for not saving all his treasures.  I am the enemy.

The ebb and flow will not be stopped.  I know that.  I am  blessed with several lives, two of them with good men.  The first marriage gave me five amazing children and years of joy being their mother, caring for our home and watching them become.  The grief at that ending felt impossible, too heavy, too sad, too riddled with failure.  Family and friends eased the passage.

Maybe this is that unbroken circle of easy lyrics designed for comfort.  Maybe the circle surrounds with family and friends, being held in whatever safety is needed at each moment.   Grief is consuming in the way it envelopes each day, but there is good in the process.   My family and my friends are that good.