Livin’ Large

A stranger’s furrowed brow, faltering voice, eyes locked on mine helped to make the message unvarnished. His partner silent, shaking her head in disbelief, a Sharpie style embellishment of clarity.

“Your place is beautiful, so many huge trees, private and beautiful, secluded but easy access, storage buildings… but your house! No dish washer, no garbage disposal, no walk-in closets, one TV and only one bathroom? Sorry, but this is just too primitive for us.”

Primitive? I live in primitive conditions?

Take another look.

My Halloween tree, craggy and huge, is home to an owl…night music for the velvet hours spend in the Sunday Room, a large sun room named by a three-year old just learning the days of the week. Sycamore shade keeps the room cool in summer protected in winter. Red-bud trees announce spring along with oak leaves that hold until those red-buds blossom.

A real barn, red and tin roofed, may now be emptied of lifetime collections but it is safe harbor to memories, to a karma of diverse talents and fierce determination to solve any problem.

We washed dishes together, he meticulous with scalding water and me with quick hands and ragged towels. What mechanical thing could replace that time?

Each room bustles with constant and sustaining memories. Family, children, their spouses, grandchildren, friends and neighbors push back against the walls of this house making a mansion where walk-in closets need not apply. Even that one bathroom proved to be a miracle of scheduling, taking turns, learning to G.I. shower during crowded holiday visits.

Among my Catholic friends, a particular practice involving St. Joseph is about 100% guaranteed success. When a home goes on the market, a statue of St. Joseph is buried in the yard to insure a quick sell. Several friends check weekly to see if I have handled that particular real estate boon, promising that it is more important than half empty rooms, bright lights, stashed family photos and a fresh cookie smell.

And still I resist, making little effort to acquire that stature of the saint, even if I knew where to buy it. The For Sale sign persists in advertising my primitive living conditions while I keep reliving volumes of sharing my life with Bob and our family–most definitely Living Large.


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.

The Cough Drop

Finding this new blog rhythm has been difficult. It wasn’t always so. Months to years I wrote most days, often trivial, sometimes touching a heart. Early morning hours prior to this “After Bob” passage were good for finding voice. Much of the voice died with him.

Don’t was a scribbled list started as I walked to the car for an early appointment. Don’t Cry Today. Don’t Think Sad Thoughts. Don’t BE Sad. Don’t Remember. Don’t Make Any Mistakes. Don’t Notice The Empty Spot At Your Side.
Don’t. I can be so impossibly annoying….so add that to the Don’t List. Don’t Be Annoying. A blog was forming.

A blog was forming, a blog destined to be felled by a cough drop, an exquisite cough drop shared by a friend via email.

Don is a talented friend, a man who trusts his emotions and cherishes his family both in the present and in collected memory.

Some years ago, Don visited his Aunt Ljubica . A survivor of a Fascist Concentration Camp, Ljubica was living in France. Don remembers her as a gentle soul with the soft edges honed in a life of kindness despite hardship.

As was the custom, the Ljubica’s family lined up to present gifts, shared an embrace and experience leave-taking. Ljubica, slowed by age and the injuries of the camp, had no gift. Her face, beautiful in its capture of time and experience suddenly remembered that she did have a gift. Painfully, slowly she struggled up the stairs, hobbled into her room and descended with the precious gift clutched in her hand.

With joy, with a flourish, Aunt Ljubica handed her love to Don, a box of her favorite cough drops. The power and the simplicity of love is astounding.

Moving On, Leaving Behind

A Ramble–nothing more than a ramble to no where…

The self gets blurred, like that image in a store front window, recognizable but rubbery. Our edges are not defined any more, distorted by circumstance. We concentrate. We force our eyes to see, but only the beveled edge of the mirror reflects.

Life mapped, goals decided, timetables set. Head down, emotion on hold, we plow through holding to clear and defined self-promises. Something happens; medical diagnosis, financial hardship, a deeply altered relationship, a forced change, a death. So we wonder at the reflection of this gritty thing we see, this new person invading uninvited.

The worst part is that decisions have to be made, not by who we once thought we were, but by this acquaintance we have become. Nothing unique about this–millions of daily multiples, probably the truest normal. Still, it feels like an unattainable balance, this moving on, leaving behind.

This house has to be part of moving on, a change that refuses to be gentle but one that I know, sooner rather than later, must happen. I will replace can’t with must and find an easier place to live. Then, again, if I drag my feet long enough, dig in deep enough, concentrate on finding what isn’t in this current state of now, I just might find some chrysalis-butterfly-thing waiting. Maybe.

Midnight Rainbows

Insomnia plagues some of our family members. Bouts of sustained sleeplessness come and go with no discernible pattern. Deeply asleep for the earliest part of the night and then suddenly wide awake with no hope of more restorative hours. Attitude suffers right along with energy levels that drop steadily. How I dreaded the first sign that the cycle was beginning.

One of my sons decided it was because there were periods when we could not switch off our minds. Darting from one thing to another, the mind would not quiet enough to allow sleep. So…I tried boring my mind into giving way. Not exactly counting sheep, but all sort of convoluted math activities designed to force sleep out of frustration. End result was I did get faster at subtracting multiple numbers from 999–over and over and over. Tiny benefit for prolonged effort.

A simple solution might have been and OTC sleep aid, but I tend to research every thing I swallow and usually decide that the side effects sound worse than the current problem.

My new plan is discovering midnight rainbows, memories of the people and the times of our lives together.  It isn’t a substitute for sleep but it is comfort and appreciation.

My grandmother had a saying cobbled and convoluted from her sense of life: “Don’t waste your time trying to make a silk purse from that sow’s ear.” Always makes me smile…and I sometimes do wonder if Grandma had it right.  Surely a midnight rainbow is silk  from insomnia.


One For Survival, Two For Comfort

Little things.

The process of dying and death is not only for the body that is passing.  Love requires that we experience the dying and death in our own passage of letting go.

My Bob was an unqualified pack rat of many interests.  Years ago he taught flying airplanes and the maneuvering of a glider.  The log books, charts, maps are here.   His den was a walk-down-the-middle storage place for about 70 years of collecting.  I am guessing that he didn’t start before five years old but who knows what we will find at the back or bottom of some stack.

Verbal communication was not a priority.  I often said that he subscribed to the John Wayne School of Communication, very little spoken and not too often.   Truth requires that I recognize  Gentle Grouch was not too far off the mark, especially as his health failed his strength.

At first look, the den feels overwhelming but the man was extremely intelligent and, until the last year, impossibly organized in his stuff.  Mention an interest, an event, a need and in five minutes Bob would come from the den or the shed with an answer.

He kept copies of poems and prayers, this man who played gruff so well.  He kept a small ceramic trinket, a skunk, from our earliest time together, ages 14 and 16.  He saved thank you cards  written in crayon and decorated with little kid art.

We never kept dollars around.  A few  in the wallet was enough for day-to-day.  The exception was a clipped group of bills in his middle desk drawer.  It has been there for as long as I can remember, moved a bit when he searched for a needed number on a scrap but always there in case I needed something quickly.

Now it that time–the time of needing something quickly.  I need him back  with me.  Caring people offering comfort  tell me that he will always be with me in spirit.  Somehow that misses the mark.  Maybe later.


Smiles In The Fog

One of my sisters, 18 months younger than I,  has detail memory that is beyond my understanding.  We lived the same day-to-day from birth to our high school years yet our recall is light years apart.  My sister can pull up a conversation from elementary school.  Her high school memories are names, dates, lunch food and who won what games in gym class.

My school memories are more like smiles in the fog, knowing how much I loved school but wondering if she and I attended on different planets.

Another sister and I went to daily Mass for many years. At this moment, I can experience the ‘feeling’ of the 6:00 A.M. walk to church, the time in childish prayer and the immersion in belief. Feeling, a sense of belonging, is what seems to matter most.

When my family gathers for holidays, there is that inevitable conversation peppered with ‘remember when’–some laughter, some tears. Much of the detailed picture isn’t there for me.  The feelings are there and I am often overwhelmed by those feeling yet uncertain of what words triggered the quiet gasp.

Gatherings of retired teachers are huge store houses of what-we-should-have written-for-a-book moments. Again, the details give way to emotions…and I have over 25 years of teaching/feeling-storage. Often another person’s words do bring up some specifics, but I usually have to work at finding them.  I remember the children, names, faces and parents but I have lost the faculty meeting type details.

Grief and memories are not good companions.  Grief distorts and memory cannot be trusted when grief is overwhelming.  Difficult passages in my life are gently remembered because I absolutely know that what I felt was very different from reality of fact.

A friend speculated that I lived too much in the moment…that savoring the now kept me from holding the parts of the whole. This friend also said that I operated more emotionally than rationally so the rational details slipped away. Maybe…but I think of myself as rational and I know I deeply miss what seems so elusive–my life.