Friday, February 19, 2010

Learning the Rhythm

A small remembrance of a friend I lost when I was 16. I miss you, dear one. You saved my life, and for that I am so grateful.

Eddie was a sensualist. Not in the sexual way (although that certainly came into play as we grew older) but because of his love of beauty. All beauty, especially music. He could be brought to tears by a good guitar riff, or a spectacular piano melody. But rhythm was his true love and he engulfed himself in it. One day, when I was fourteen and he was sixteen, he arrived at my house. I was in a mood, one of those moods that spontaneously pounce upon fourteen-year-old girls, and was sulking in my living room. “Field trip!” he announced. We went to New Orleans and walked to a corner near a construction site. He grabbed my arm to stop me and closed his eyes.

“What are you doing,” I asked. “Are you sleepy?”
“Shut up for a minute,” he said patiently.
“If we’re just gonna stand here, I came out for nothing. There are plenty of construction sites in Slidell. Aren’t we gonna DO something?”
“I said shut up. Have I ever brought you out here and not shown you a good time? If you shut up I can find it.”

Suddenly, he did. He opened his eyes and smiled.

“Okay, do you see that big yellow thing over there? The one that’s pounding the street?” he asked.
“Uh…yeah. So?”
“That’s the bass drum. Hear it? It’s a real slow beat, in 4/4. Now pay attention.”

I looked at him with my right eyebrow cocked in sarcastic bemusement. I had no clue what he was getting at. My early teenage attitude was on the rise and I was about to say something, but he beat me to it.

“I said shut up. You can give me that shit when we get home, but for now I need you to listen. So, we have a bass. Alright, hear that glass? Like a crashing, tinkling sound. Those are the cymbals. The hammer over there, that’s the snare. The heels, hear em? Those are the rims. Now close your eyes and listen.”

I did. I closed my eyes, before he yelled at me, and leaned my head back for good effect. I stood there, thinking what a moron and then…I heard it. I heard it. I heard the beat of the bass start it off, I heard the clicking of a woman’s high heels at a faster tempo. Someone threw a bag of trash somewhere, crash. Glass broke, cymbals shivered. I heard something new: swish, swish. A street sweeper had come along. I opened my eyes and looked at Eddie. He was thrilled; he’d always wanted to try brush sticks. He pulled me in front of him and began to beat a rhythm on my back. We stood there, audience for the street corner concert, and listened.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I was doing fine, until I started this post.

My dad died six years ago today. His death was completely unexpected. He had had knee replacement surgery and then died from a subdural hematoma a week and a half later. He had been complaining about a headache since shortly after he woke up from surgery. Even after an autopsy, we still don't have a clear sense of what happened.

My relationship with my dad was complicated. And the best tribute I could give him came from the words I spoke at his memorial service. So, that's what I'm including here.

This is what is important to me: to not sugarcoat who Dad was. I refuse to present him as some saintly person, as that does him a grave injustice. Many of us loved Dad in spite of his faults, and that speaks volumes about his good traits.

If there is one word that I would use to describe Dad, it would be: intense. He was intensely joyful and intensely angry, intensely generous and intensely demanding, intensely playful and intensely competitive, intensely loving and intensely embarrassing. His sense of humor was often inappropriate. And boy, could that man hold a grudge. Dad took things very personally, and burned more than a few bridges over the years. At the same time, he was incredibly outgoing, and made new friends quickly.

The man had three wives and five children, and through it all, he had one house. The Farm, (as those of us who first lived and visited there called it), was always there; it was the one constant in his life. The fact that he is not still in that house is just wrong.

To say that his death was unexpected is to make an enormous understatement. He had lived through too much to be felled by delayed complications from knee replacement surgery. What he survived included: two boating incidents; alcoholism; one near-fatal car accident, which put him in CICU for a month; and Hepatitis C, which he got from the blood transfusion he received because of that car accident. Here’s the ironic thing: he put off having that knee surgery for so long because he feared the pain of the recovery period; it didn’t occur to any of us that it might lead to his death. Really, how could something so relatively minor affect such a survivor?

Dad was young beyond his years. He truly enjoyed playing any kind of game--especially with his kids. Popular board games included Sorry and Careers, which we would play for hours on end. Up to Seven Down to Seven (which is what my Grandmother Gaumnitz renamed Oh Hell) was the card game that dominated our house. He taught all of us how to play cribbage. Summer days were spent playing Frisbee and our special form of badminton, which involved no net and the goal was to keep the birdie in the air for as long as possible. Dad loved the pool—we would spend all day there and stay until it closed at night. In the winter, he would take us sledding and we would stay outside until we were sure that our whole bodies were frozen. Dad was tireless when it came to playing—particularly with his kids.

Dad loved to cook, and was quick to tell anyone what a great cook he was. For any of you who have tasted his food, you know his unspoken motto: more is more. This goes for flavorings as well as portions. Subtlety was not part of Dad’s vocabulary. There are two stoves at Dad’s house, because he refused to give up his beloved grill, which served up too many humongous breakfasts to count. Dad also hated to waste food, and his immediate family is all too familiar with his worst dish ever: leftover stew. Let’s just say that the rest of you are grateful you never sampled that one.

Dad had issues with privacy; it was a concept he just didn’t get. In addition to asking questions that would have been better left unasked, he often shared things about you that you didn’t want shared. I am sure that Dad never understood why I didn’t tell him more about what was going on in my life, but there was always the very real concern that whatever you told him would invariably be shared with others. Let me give you an example. When I was dating a woman in college, it took me months to tell Dad. Not because I thought he would have any problem with it, but because I knew he’d out me to everyone. Hi, my name is Glen, I’m an alcoholic and my daughter is a lesbian.

You will probably hear from many people what a generous person Dad was, and nothing could be more true. Heaven forbid that you might express interest in something, because before you knew it, it might be yours. One fall, Dad and Idalia came to visit Ethan and me in Northampton. I happened to mention that I liked some items I saw in the various stores we visited. Although I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to find all those items under the tree at Christmastime. Speaking of that holiday, Christmas at Dad’s was an exercise in excess. Dad loved buying gifts for people.

Added to that, he was a bargain fiend. If Dad found something on sale, there was a good chance he’d buy multiples of it. The worst invention for Dad’s bargain obsession were those warehouse stores, you know, Pace, BJ’s, Sam’s Club. Dad was known to come home with gallons of cole slaw, for example. Something we clearly were never going to finish. We came up for a name for those items: Pace mistakes.

Dad would literally give you the shirt off his back. He has given me some of my favorite everyday items: two beloved baseball caps and a pen that everyone compliments me on when they use it. These were things that he really liked and enjoyed having, but which he thought nothing of giving to me. I’m sure there are many of you who have received random and not so random gifts from him over the years.

So, in the end, I know that Dad will be remembered for the many wonderful things he did for people. Things he thought nothing of doing, as it was simply his nature to give of himself. It’s clear that his tireless generosity will be missed in this world. And although, I will not miss those aspects of his personality which led me to dub him Mr. Annoying Man, it is the loss of the generous and loving part of him that I, and I’m sure many of you, find so unfair and impossible to understand.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Ache Never Leaves

When I was growing up I had two mothers. My mother, and my aunt. My father was not around, and when he was, he was abusive. I remember one night, after a beating, my mother fled with us to the safety of my Aunt Judy’s. We remained with her for a day and a half; shortly after my parents separated and The Juice, as I called her, stepped up to help my mama raise us. She took us to her home for sleepovers with our cousin Karen, arranged weeks at the shore house where she took us to the beach, Marabella’s in Stone Harbor for dinner, Springer’s for ice cream, Hoy’s 5&10, and miniature golf. We did movie nights in. Juice took me, along with Karen, my uncle, and my grandparents to Aruba for Christmas 1993 (which also coincided with my birthday). We spent every holiday possible with Juice and our large extended family. Her favorite was Thanksgiving, and she would have us go around the table and say what we were thankful for. Judy never had a bad thing to say about anyone. Everyone she met was “dolly.” She attended every pre-prom photo session my sister and I had. She was the glue, and the center. In 1996, my mother threw a surprise party for Judybug, a leap year baby, to celebrate her 12th birthday. We went to the zoo when I was a child, to movies when I was a teen, to dinner when I was an adult. She bought me Godiva chocolate and took me to lunch to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Her hugs and belches were legendary, and her recipes for button cookies and dinner party chicken were sent from God. We called her “Miss Manners” because of her impeccable style, graciousness, and etiquette – it was she who taught me to say “Pardon my back” whenever she would have to face away from someone with whom she was conversing. She often sent thoughtful cards in her distinctive handwriting, just because. It was January 1999 when she was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer.

She fought. Oh, she fought. Surgery, chemo, radiation. She stayed optimistic and never indulged in self-pity. I begged God every night for a miracle. When the cancer spread to her brain, I went to the Shrine of St. Katherine Drexel and asked, on my knees, for one more year. In return I would name my first daughter after that good saint.

A year later, when it had spread everywhere, the doctors said they were sorry but there was nothing else to do. They gave her three months. She gathered her family close and said her goodbyes, and she went to a place of peace and love on November 27, 2003, Thanksgiving Day. I had seen her only ten days before, but I didn’t know it would be the last time, the last hug, the last “I love you, heart and soul.” She refused to let her nieces and nephews see her at the very end; the Juice held onto her dignity until the very last and she didn’t want us to remember her that way. So I didn’t know it was the last time. Some day I’ll come to terms with that.

She was the glue, and the center, and the ache never goes away.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Return of Blogged Tales

Much like a little sprout making its way out from beneath dormant land, the blog is shaking off the dust and rising. A great deal has happened since the last suggested topic. The last few months, participation dwindled and finally stopped. But recently old friends have come back and want to share their tales again. This is wonderful news.

So in celebration of friends, their stories and words that bring people together, we're back! March will have be the first official month so anyone who is interested can submit their stories and newcomers can send requests to join.

The theme for March is 'The Ones We've Lost'. Share you stories of friends or loved ones you've lost or just lost touch with. The stories can be fictional or true. There are no limits to the number of tales you can share each month, or how many chapters you break a certain story into. You must stick to the theme and all stories for this theme must be submitted by the end of March. Don't forget to tag your stories with the this month's tags (below)

Welcome back and spin your tales!