Category Archives: An American Family Moment

Families come in all shapes, sizes and types. Every one with wonderful stories. These are snapshots into the often humorous daily life of family in America.

Thanksgiving: Watch Your Expectations!

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It’s been about two months since I last wrote.  The Restless Wanderer was traveling for three weeks and came back with a fairly significant upper respiratory infection. This rolled into creating a Halloween display for 800 children, making a video for a reunion party, and doing a major rewrite on a manuscript.  Now, here it is two weeks before Thanksgiving and I’m wondering where the year went.

About three months ago I was interviewed for a local magazine asking how to deal with holiday stress.  The reporter asked the usual questions that I think anybody can find the answers to if they look under a leaf.  Eat properly, get enough sleep and exercise.  I think the top piece of advice would be WATCH YOUR EXPECTATIONS.  The first part of watching your expectations is to understand what you’re doing and why. That brings us to a mini history lesson.

The topic is Thanksgiving.  Do you know why we celebrate Thanksgiving?  Do you know why you celebrate Thanksgiving the way you do?

According to the book, Thanksgiving: The biography of American Holiday, the original holiday, in 1620, lasted three days and consisted of fasting, humility, prayer and a feast on the last day.

Prior to this, it was common tradition to set aside a day for giving thanks to God. There were days for giving thanks (Thanksgiving) in all the first colonies, in Native American traditions and in Europe. Standards or protocols for how to give thanks and when varied.

In school, thanksgiving teaches us about the English settlement called the Massachusetts Bay Colony, now known as Plimouth (yes that is the correct spelling) and about the Pilgrims.   I think the average American believes we celebrate thanksgiving to commemorate the goodwill between the Native Americans and the Pilgrims the first winter in 1621.  I wonder how many realize it started out as a somber religious experience.

According to Plimouth Plantation historians, the holiday was ratified by the Constitutional Congress but the date varied state by state. When the Civil War broke out, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving as a national holiday to help reunite the country.  He actually wanted two thanksgivings a year; one in remembrance for Gettysburg to be held the third Thursday in November and the other a more general occasion.  The day was designed as a day for praying for the orphans, widows and aid for our war torn country. There was no special meal or tradition.

We can thank Franklin D.  Roosevelt for deciding the date of Thanksgiving.  Surprisingly, you can say he is also the father of Black Friday.  He tied Thanksgiving to the traditional Christmas season so there could be more Christmas shopping which would help the economy.  The year was 1941.

The time between Lincoln and Roosevelt in how we celebrated Thanksgiving is not very clear to me. It does look like in the north, people started having large family dinners and many in the south had no idea about the holiday. I think what people did, how they did it and what they ate was very much individualized.

Wait a minute, what about all those decorations with Pilgrims and Indians and all the things we learned in school about Thanksgiving?  According to Plymouth Plantation historians, that storyline started in the early 1900s.  Why then?  They claim it had something to do with two manuscripts that increased people’s interest in Plymouth (our modern spelling), Pilgrims, and the Wampanoag Indians.

The American school system chose to use Thanksgiving as a time to teach American freedom and citizenship to children.  By the 20th century we had a set culinary expectation of what Thanksgiving required.  In 1943 Norman Rockwell gave us his famous painting entitled, Freedom from Want, and the ideal Thanksgiving tradition was carved in stone.

Now you know the rest of the story.  Or do you?  I know our Thanksgiving usually consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, corn, green bean casserole, rolls and pumpkin pie.  My mother used to add sauerkraut, harvard or pickled beets, red cabbage and lima beans.  Depending on where you live in the country, this list varies.  But what did the Pilgrims eat?

According to a special on the History Channel their diet was a little different.  They would have had things like cod, lobster, eels, oysters, clams, eagles, partridges, ducks, swans, geese, turkey, deer, wheat flour, Indian corn, pumpkins, carrots, grapes, beans, peas, onions, lettuce, chestnuts, walnuts and acorns.  All of it lovingly prepared with seasonings from liverwort, parsnips, olive oil, and currants.  Yum!

Next we look at how our own histories mixed with the national holiday. The result is your expectation of what Thanksgiving is and what it looks like.

So what’s on your table?  And how much is on your table?  Why did you choose the music, the decorations, the amount and type of food for Thanksgiving?

Is it a badge of honor to say you ate so much you have to unbuckle your pants?  Is it worth having a meltdown if the rolls are slightly burnt?  Do you have to do all the work or do you delegate?

How much of your holiday do you allow to happen vs.  you trying to control it?

Are you responsible if someone doesn’t like your food or is not having a good time?  Is the final revile of the Thanksgiving dinner and your sense of self worth tided together?  If something happens and the entire meal is ruined, can you still rejoice because you have family and friends gathered together?

These are important questions that help you examine the things you do to prepare and implement Thanksgiving.  You alone are in charge of what you think, what you do and how you feel.

The more fluid you are, the less stress you will feel.

Being more fluid means you’re going with the flow.  When something happens, it might be disappointing but not catastrophic.  The fluid person knows this, expects issues to happen and rolls with the punches.

It’s very easy during the holidays to get wrapped up and twisted in what the media shows us, our families and what our holidays should look like.  We often assume every other family is having a Norman Rockwell picture.  We forget the media has an agenda and also that nobody’s life is perfect.

So, if your Thanksgiving is not what you remembered when you were a child or you’re not able to provide the Thanksgiving dinner you would like to for your family, don’t sweat it.  More than likely, your memories of what was or your dreams of what could be are seen through either rosy or blue tinted glasses.  While it’s good to have expectations, goals and plans to make the day a memorable one, remember, you’re only human and your family will love you unconditionally; even if you’ve burned the turkey or dropped the green bean casserole on the floor and have to remake it.  If you have a dysfunctional family, the kind that grumbles, argues, complains about everything and never gets along, your dinner unfortunately, is not going to change any of that.  Work on that the rest of the 364 days of the year.

Last point: If mom or Aunt Busybody scrutinizes what you’re trying to accomplish and you feel like no matter what you do it’s not good enough, that’s not about you but about them.  Give it back to them as a present.  Don’t feel bad, don’t suck in the venom, keep telling yourself it’s not about them.  Enjoy your day.  Enjoy your family and friends.  Live in the moment.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Post Funeral, Where Do We Go From Here?

ImageIt’s Friday morning, exactly one week from my uncle’s funeral. Family is headed back to Florida and for the first time since the death, the house is quiet and the stillness overpowering.

It’s a surreal morning. I had set the alarm on my cell phone for a seven o’clock wake up but forgot to turn up the volume.  I hear pounding on the door and shoot out of bed confused.

“We need to leave in ten minutes!” My daughter yells through the door.  This morning is the first in a series of physical therapy appointments she has, post-back surgery. “We can stop at Dunkin’ Donuts on the way. They have great breakfasts and awesome coffee.” This is a dig against her brother, my son who lives and breathes Starbucks.

I brush my teeth; throw on some clothes and stumble, still half-asleep into the hallway. She is standing by the front door with my purse in one hand and my keys in the other. I find my shoes and struggle to get them on my feet. She ushers me out the door.

We get into my mini-van and I’m seated in the driver’s seat. A revelation hits me, I’m awake and going somewhere. I slap my face a time of two and turn up the radio. Something has to wake me up. I’m driving for goodness sake!

“Dunkin’ Donuts is right around the corner. You can get a large coffee,” daughter tells me.

Before her surgery, my daughter was a three times a week Dunkin’ Donuts regular. We enter the coffee shop. She waves at the staff and rattles off what she calls her regular order. The counter person puts this into the register and looks at me.

I don’t have a clue what I want.  Daughter and counter person spit out several adjectives describing food and beverage choices; eggs with bacon and toast, no toast, no egg, cheese, no cheese, bagels, coffee, iced, hot, latte, espresso, creamer, no creamer, mocha, mint, raspberry.

“Well?” Daughter asks.

I think I heard one of them say coffee, hot.  I remember, the other day after daughter’s post neurology appointment we stopped at Sheetz, a regional gas, restaurant, and convenience store for coffee.  That coffee, ordered for me by daughter, I really liked.  “What was that?” I ask her.

“Iced, white-chocolate, raspberry with soy creamer,” daughter replies but for some reason I can’t wrap my head around all the words.

“Raspberry, chocolate,” I say. Miraculously, a breakfast and hot drink are handed to me and we head back to the car. I drop daughter at physical therapy and head back home.

Walking in the front door, I smell something dead and rotting. I check for the dog and cat. They are both accounted for and alive. Down on my hands and knees, I sniff the carpet, the couches and the afghans. Everything smells like it is supposed to. I’m stumped and tell myself I’ll deal with it later.

It’s been two weeks since I opened my mail or answered my business phone. Life literally has been at a stand-still. I leave the smell of the living room and head upstairs to my office.  It’s a business disaster. Piles of paper and files have shifted around so many times in making room for extra, visiting family that I no longer know where anything is located.

I fire up the computer and find over three-hundred e-mails needing my attention. My office phone is blinking, ten missed messages.  I’m so overwhelmed and exhausted I don’t know where to start or how to prioritize. This is grief and stress, I tell myself.

I sit in my office chair, close my eyes and do some deep breathing. I tell myself an altered mantra I learned at an acupressure seminar months ago.  I have all the energy I need. My body is taking in the energy around me, re-filling where I am depleted. I refuse to let things or people take away my power or energy.

I open my eyes and see five minutes have gone by. That’s okay; I feel refreshed and know what direction to take with the clutter. The dog and cat get into a spit and I need to intervene. I can feel my energy draining and have to fall onto my office couch before I collapse. So much for the mantra working, I tell myself and cry.

Cried out, I lay there watching spider-webbing cracks in the ceiling paint. The house is so quiet. I didn’t realize how much the family being all-together helped keep each of us afloat through the past two weeks. I push myself to go back downstairs; I’ll deal with the office chaos later. I quickly move past the smell of death in the living room and back to the bedroom.

There are several beds we’d assembled for extended family. I decide there’s no time like the present to strip the sheets and start reversing the process I started two weeks ago.  The beds come apart fairly easily and I’ve stowed them, for now, in the dining room next to the left-over paper plates, cups, napkins and plastic ware from the post-funeral get-together. I can’t deal with the things in this room right now. I’ll get to it later.

I have enough time to shower before returning to pick up my daughter. I grab some clothes from the laundry basket in the living room still waiting to be put away.  What the hell is causing that smell?

I shower, pick up my daughter and head home. “There’s a smell,” I tell her. “When I open the front door, find it.”

We open the door and the smell is obnoxious. Again, I get on my hands and knees and feel more like a police dog looking for illegal contraband.

“This would be a good time for a picture,” daughter says. “Did you smell the fireplace? The other day we heard birds in there.”

Birds: Our chimney does not have an enclosed top. Every year starlings nest on top of our flue. When the eggs hatch, we have our own bird sanctuary. We can hear the parents fluttering up and down the chimney, baby birds chirping, singing and screeching. We can tell when a parent bird is bringing food back to the nest by the excitement coming from the behind the bricks. Eventually, the babies learn to fly and everything goes quiet until next spring. I don’t know why there would be a dead bird in our chimney in July.

I lean in the direction of the fireplace and don’t have to go any further. Sh-t, it is a dead bird in the fireplace above the flue. I open and close the flue several times hoping the bird body will fall and I can dispose it. Nothing happens.

A crazy thought, maybe I can smoke or incinerate the body with a fire. Okay, I know its July, but it is cool enough outside that I can turn off the air conditioner. I open the flue, turn off the air and toss a Duraflame log in the fireplace and set it ablaze.

My daughter and I sit on couches watching the dancing flames and my son comes in to join us.

“Reminds me of camping,” he says.

“Reminds me of my step-mom raising and killing her own chickens for food,” daughter replies.

“They’re making a new product called Soylent,” my son says. “It has all the nutrition anyone needs. Soon we won’t have to worry about food.”

Conversation lulls with the flames and both kids leave the room to live their lives. I’m alone with the cat nestled up beside me. The Duraflame log is half its original size but continues to deliver a calliope of blue, green, yellow and orange flames. The house is so quiet.

I realize what I’m really doing is cremating the bird and flash back two weeks ago. Corner’s reports, probable causes of death, cremation and internment paperwork, planning a get-together for everyone post funeral, setting up beds, buying and making food for everyone, military send-off with Taps and a tri-folded flag while we stare at Uncle’s portrait and the urn containing his ashes. It was almost one-hundred degrees that day and with high humidity. Everyone was drenched in a mixture of sweat and tears.

The fire is nearly out now. I don’t smell death anymore but it’s all around me. Every room in my house has at least a small remnant of the past two weeks. I can walk here or there and hear snippets of conversations between family members. I can smell the scent of various shampoos and soaps everyone used. My brother left some cigarette butts behind on the front porch. My mom left her ice pack in the freezer. Aunt Mary left her socks and my dad forgot his belated father’s day card. My uncle’s picture is on the mantel of my fireplace. He is smiling.

Maybe, death is not all around me but snippets of life. Sure, my alarm didn’t wake me up but I got up. I got to see my daughter blossom, knowing she is finally getting well enough to join society. Her car which has been dead since surgery, is going to be fixed free of charge. The smell in the chimney is gone and the method I used got two of my kids together for a nice conversation. I have remnants of the past two weeks all over my house but I got two weeks with people I love more than anything. We had a death to attend to, but in his passing, I reconnected with very close cousins I lost touch with over the years.  We laughed, smiled, sang, told jokes and reminisced about my uncle and our entire family. I had expected people to stay maybe two hours at the get-together. Most stayed at least five.

My house is very quiet and I’m crying. But I realize, this is not the ending.  This is just the beginning of a new chapter for all of us. I should- will embrace finding the how and where we go from here.

Death and Needing to Hear from the Neither World: Grief, Insanity is Thy Name

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When we have loved greatly, we will never walk alone.

My uncle is terminally ill in a Florida hospital with a do not resuscitate order. He is a father figure to me so this is very important. I live 900 miles from Florida’s sunny gulf coast. This plays horribly with my mind.

9:00 am: I get the phone call telling me to expect the inevitable at anytime. Notify the rest of the family on Facebook, keep my phone charged and with me, Mom says.

I’m sitting with my daughter, who is in her second week recovery from spine surgery. We are home, finishing breakfast and morning showers when the call comes in. Immediately, I realize the problematic nature of the timing of everything. I feel I need and want to be in Florida. My daughter needs me home. She can’t do this on her own. Not yet.

Fourteen years ago, my parents, brother and several aunts and uncles heard the calling of the snow bird at the retirement capital of the country – Ocala, Florida. They sold their homes, packed their things, bought RVs and waved goodbye.  Ending what was a very close knit extended family system with all the trimmings. This left me with my own little family.

It’s been difficult to maintain close relationships across the miles. Responsibilities, expenses and health have all played havoc. But we have succeeded with only moderate feelings of loss on my part, especially during the holidays. This is not a holiday, but like a holiday, I feel the pangs of not being in the same location as the rest of the family and it’s taking its toll.

I’ve spent most of my day trying to figure a way to juggle taking care of my daughter and her cats and still fly to Florida. I realize I not only want to be near family, I need to be there for me to nurture them and for them to nurture me. I want another chance to say goodbye to a man who will always be my other father.

It’s 5:00 pm and my phone rings. It’s my mother. I ask her if my dad can pick me up at the airport if I figure out the logistical nightmare.

She hems and haws and says, “Let us go to the hospital and see what’s what. Then we’ll have a talk and call you back between 10:00 and 10:30 tonight.”

Not a problem, I have class in an hour and I still have not figured things out, so this gives me more time.  I take care of dinner for my family, take the dog out another time, another glass of ice water and an ice pack for my daughter and leave for class with my assignment left behind on the table. I have my fully charged cell phone in my hand in case the call telling me it’s over happens.

Class ends and I get back in plenty of time for the mom’s call.  The phone does not ring and this is where insanity set in and never looked back.

By 11:00 I’m concerned. My daughter asks if there is any news – no. 11:30, I get this odd feeling of relief.

Enter crazy thought #1. He’s passed away, no longer suffering and this is the relief I feel.

I tell all this to daughter who says, “Why do you think they didn’t call? Why don’t we call down there to see what’s going on?”

Enter crazy thought #2. They are so busy with Uncle’s death; there is no time to call, too distraught to call.  Who the hell am I to call them during this horrible, intensively challenging time?  I’m not a part of the family anymore anyway. I live 900 miles away! They had a family portrait taken several months ago, of all of them – without me. I’m really abandoned and on my own.

Enter crazy thought #3. I flash back to my sister’s death when I was seven. I didn’t get to say goodbye then either.  She died; they whisked me off to Grandmas while things settled. When I returned, all my sister’s things and pictures were gone. We weren’t to talk about her, it was too painful.  As an adult, I get this. As a child, I did not. Sitting in my room alone waiting for a call that was not coming, perhaps the adult is not too far removed from the child.

Enter crazy thought #4. They are doing this again. Arranging everything with me out of the picture because they don’t think I can handle it.  Just like, I couldn’t handle my sister’s death back in 1968. I was seven years old then! I tell my daughter all this.

She wobbles over, gingerly sits down on the side of my bed and puts her arm around me. Our roles have reversed. She tells me things I would have told her in a reverse situation. The leaves don’t fall far from the tree.

12:00 midnight. Enter crazy thought #5. I tell my daughter, “Well, if I can’t be there to say goodbye, I’ll be expecting a visit from his spirit. At this point, he can probably get to me easier then I can get to him.”

She looks at me to verify I’m serious. I am.  I’ve heard of many people having death-bed visits from loved ones.  Family finding out someone died before the police or hospital called to tell them. Why not have my uncle come to me to say goodbye?

1:00 am. My daughter is back in her room leaving me and my over active imagination to run amok.  I’m writing the next chapter of a manuscript while sitting on my bed.  Behind me is a double window that overlooks a second story balcony. There I have a rocking chair where I drink my early morning coffee. The windows are open.  I have my I-pod on a speaker stand set to shuffle. The music is anything from tribal to Bach, Incubus to Frank Sinatra.

The writing is going well until I hear a noise. I shyly look up from the computer screen half expecting to see the materializing form of my uncle. I see nothing out of the ordinary.  I continue writing, fighting back sorrow. I can’t believe this is finally the end.

The I-pod stops playing and I stop typing, startled by the sudden silence. A sign, I wonder. Cautiously, I turn to see what song is listed on the screen. Was it Edelweiss, the song we danced to at my wedding? No, it says D00045.

That is the code for a series of voice recordings I’ve made. One of which is a lengthy conversation with my uncle where he tells me about his childhood.   I rummage through my computer to find the original clip convinced it is that recording (I-pod will not play it). It’s not.  It’s notes about muses in the Peach Orchard in the Gettysburg battlefield.  Not my uncle.

I laugh at myself and turn off the I-pod. The room grows still with the exception of the tip tapping of my fingers on the laptop keyboard. Behind me, I hear the sound of my rocking chair on the balcony moving. Is it the breeze? I don’t feel a breeze on my skin.

I want to turn and look but find myself griped in fear. What will my uncle look like? What if it’s not what I expect? I get up the courage to look but it’s too dark to make out the chair. Stealthily, I move closer to the screen, cupping my hands around my eyes to block out the ambient light.

Before my grandmother died, we got possession of her rocking chair and my father placed it in our clubbed-in basement. After she died, that chair rocked on his own for several minutes on many evenings. We always said it was grandma. Many a night, I would hear the creaking of the chair and sneak downstairs to watch it slowly move back and forth for just a few moments and then come to a stop.

The rocker on my back porch was empty. A swift breeze pushed back my hair and I sighed. It was the wind after all.

I return to my laptop. My nerves frayed and my mind on red-alert. The auto fan in the far window clicks on and the anxiety makes my skin feel it’s being peeled off my muscles. I push off the laptop, bound out bed and slam shut the windows, locking them and pulling the blinds shut.

If my uncle is going to visit, it’s not going to be through the window or in the rocker! He can visit but only on my terms. Whatever those are?

I go out to the bathroom in the hallway and return to my room, shutting the door behind me. I pick up the laptop and return to chapter three. Something outside my door bangs once, then twice. Everything goes silent except my heart.

I slid out of bed and mosey up to the door. I outstretch my hand to the glass door knob debating if I really want to see what is going on. I think, why in the hell would my uncle try to scare me like this? Followed quickly with the thought, maybe, he doesn’t have many options.

I’m the one that wanted to say goodbye and here I am cowering behind a door. I open it to find the empty hallway which does nothing to calm my nerves. Across the hall is my office.

I listen and notice the outside street sounds are louder than normal. I walk over and find the window open and several paperback books scattered on the floor. Lightning flashes and I assume the wind has knocked the books off an end table. I shut the window and return to my room thinking I’ve read too many Stephen King books and seen too many episodes of paranormal television programming.

3:30 a.m. and my stomach is growling. I need something to eat.

To get to my kitchen I have to go down the stairs and through the living room and dining room. The staircase is completely enclosed with a heavy wooden door at the bottom. I don’t like the staircase at night. In fact, I try to avoid it.

Tonight, my stomach says we’re moving forward through the darkness and down the stairs (there is no light on the stairs). I tell myself my apprehension is ridiculous. I reach the glass door knob and stop. On the other side of the door will be my living room partially lite by the porch light coming through the front windows.

In my living room is my late sister’s Chatty Cathy doll. It is my most prized possession. This doll is also a very special memento for my uncle and ties all of us together. I tell myself (enter another crazy thought) if he has any ability to communicate with me, it will be with this doll. Now I’m afraid to go into the living room for fear I will find the doll moved or moving, maybe talking. It is Chatty Cathy for goodness sake.

I chide myself again for thinking such crazy thoughts and bust through the door. Keeping my eyes firmly on my feet, I quickly work my way through the living room, dining room, slam on the kitchen light and sigh in relief.  Everything is normal. Everything is going to be fine. Uncle is not going to pay me a middle of the night goodbye call. Mom and dad will call later when they are able. I’ll figure what to do at that time.

I pull out a plastic bowl, the box of Lucky Charms cereal and some milk. I wonder what the family is doing now. Are they still up like me? Are they making arrangements for Uncle’s cremation in the morning? Why haven’t they called me? Don’t they know I’m worried sick?

A dark shadow whips by my feet and returns prowling towards me. I scream, dropping the milk, tipping over the cereal filled bowl, spewing Lucky Charms all over the counter, down the cupboard and onto the floor.

I clench my heart in absolute terror, convinced the world is coming to an end when the dark, shadowed creature speaks to me – Meow.

My uncle’s spirit, if it could, did not visit me because he was still alive. My parents didn’t call because they thought it was too late. Never thinking I’d be up all night in grief then terror because someone I thought had died, hadn’t and was coming to visit me but wasn’t.

“Why didn’t you call?” They asked me. A good question and I don’t have an answer. I need to figure that one out.

If this isn’t an example of the power of our thoughts and what happens when we let them run amok, I don’t know what is. I need to ask myself some serious questions about my mental behaviors. I can throw in, yes, I was tired, I have PTSD, and I’m grief stricken and feel helpless. I think while all those things are factors, they don’t negate the fact; I let the whole thing run crazy. I didn’t reality check. I didn’t use the resources at hand to help myself.

It’s 11:30 pm and I’m sitting here on my bed typing this blog. My window is open and there is a slight breeze from the balcony brushing through the rocking chair slats.  I wonder if my uncle will make it through another night. If he doesn’t, I wonder if he’ll come visit.  Perhaps, I’ll sleep with the light on.

Uncle died at 1:30 a.m. My daughter and I were in my office reminiscing through old photos of us with Uncle when it happened. The call from my parents came in directly after that. While there was no ghostly apparition, I still got to say my goodbyes in a much healthier way. Through all the fabulous years of memories that will last not only myself but my children as well. Thanks Uncle Joe, I’m missing you already.

Happy Farters Day: How Low Have We Gone in Celebrating Dads?

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The Restless Wanderer with her father and brother at the Hammond Castle, Gloucester, Massachusetts

I’m at the Wal-Mart waiting for prescriptions and decided this would be a great opportunity to pick up father’s day cards. The Wal-Mart in my area has two rows of cards about fifteen feet long devoted to father’s day. The store is not crowded and I have the entire father’s day card ensemble at my viewing pleasure.

Picking out a card for my dad was a breeze. He’s the sentimental type and I easily found a card depicting a little blonde haired girl smiling and laughing with her dad. Ah, I thought, boy does that bring back memories. If it brings a tear to my eye, which it did, I knew it would get him too.  I put it in my cart.

Then there is my hubby who can be described in many ways, but sentimental and romantic are not among them. I don’t know if it was genetics, environment or he just likes to hide his softer, mushy sentimental bent, but he is more like Sheldon Cooper (Big Bank Theory) then Romeo (Romeo and Juliet). Sentimental father’s day cards are not an option.

I have a choice. I can get him a card about drinking beer, being lazy, forgetful, being over occupied with cars or sports, being in the bathroom too long, reading in the bathroom, staying in bed with a beer, over-eating or farting. There are eight different cards about father’s farting.  Four cards on being in the bathroom. Three cards on offering new and improved reading material for being in the bathroom. This would combine being in the bathroom too long and reading in the bathroom.  In case you are keeping track.

There are a couple cards for older kids to give their fathers. Things like, you embarrass me, I’m just as moronic as you, give me money, where are the keys to the car.  I have to add that in the pre-school – kindergarten age cards for fathers are; I love you, you play with me, you take care of me, things like this.

My question is, what the hell happened from I love you to Happy Farters Day? Granted, I’m not in the Hallmark store. I’m in Wal-Mart. Does that make a difference? If I was on the east side of town would I find less fart and toilet related father’s day cards and more, thanks for going fishing with me cards, you taught me lots?  With the card picture showing two guys in a boat, one younger than the other, all tangled up in a fishing net.

My hubby has said on numerous occasions that men, especially white, middle class men, are one of the only populations of people where it is acceptable to berate, tease and stereotype. He uses American television shows as his evidential media trail to prove his point.

I think about this as I’m standing in the card aisle trying to force some of these cards to change so I can find something suitable. You know, humorous but intelligent and with style. My magic genie is not working. I find another toilet card depicting a gorilla on the toilet reading the newspaper. Really?

I’ve been standing in this aisle for twenty minutes and it’s obvious nothing is going to change. So, I’m going to find a somewhat acceptable, humorous father’s day card, cross out what does not apply and with sharpie in hand, make it fit.  I search again for the ultimate card and come up empty handed.

Is it that our stereotyping of fathers is so out-of-hand that no one can remember what their dad is (was) really like? Why stereotype fathers with the attributes of dysfunctionality and think it’s funny?  Is this really what our current society feels about fathers or men? Maybe, hubby is right. Maybe this is another evidential trail.

Has the role of father changed that much in main-stream America that we resort to fart and toilet cards to express our hostility? As a social worker, I know that the percentage of fatherless families is staggering. The last statistic I saw was fifteen million children live in a household without a father. (The Washington Post)  In Baltimore, where I am from, 38% of children live in fatherless homes. The domino effect is horrendous for children and society.  The numbers continue to rise.

Is this the reason I can’t find a decent father’s day card? Will there come a day when we won’t have father’s day? Maybe the people who wish to express honor and appreciation for their fathers are declining. If this is the trend and it continues, there will be no need for a day to celebrate and honor half of the genetic gene pool that brought all of us here.

Maybe it’s the type of humor involved. I accept that. There are too many degrading, hello, I’m a dysfunctional dad and it’s my day, cards verses I’m a great dad, not perfect but I love you and you know it cards. There is no balance, at least not in these aisles.

So what’s with happy farters day? Lack of responsible dads, lack of respect for dads, a disconnect between who dad’s are and how they relate to their families? Or is it something I haven’t thought of?

My hubby does not like sports so that cuts out about an eighth of the selection. He does not drink and that cuts out a fourth.  I’ll be damned if I’m going to give him anything that has to do with bodily functioning to celebrate his fatherhood. That cuts out another half. The last percentages are the sentimental and pre-school cards. Where this does led me?

I bought hubby a birthday card. I have a sharpie at home. Maybe, this is a sign I need to go into the greeting card industry. I certainly can’t do any worse then what I’ve seen today.

So if you are a father and you get a father’s day card that does not have drinking, laziness, or jokes about bodily functions, give your family an extra hug. They obviously went the extra mile to find that special card just for you. Happy up and coming father’s day!

Anyone See Where I Left My Scalpel? Now That’s A Brush With Reality!

ImageIts 11:11, an hour and ten minutes into my daughter’s five hour spine surgery. I’m sitting with her fiancé, a menagerie of electronic devices to keep me entertained and a fully charged cell phone.

 I’m on level 33 in the game Candy Crush and fiancé is on level 65, not that it’s a competition. Steve Harvey is on the television chattering away about Jack Russell Terriers. I have one of those.  Chicken-dog we call him due to his un-bounding ability to find the most minuscule piece of chicken bone from the trash. No one in the room seems to notice the television exists. No one cares that I have a chicken-dog at home or why I’m sitting in this artificial environment called a waiting room.  I however, cannot say the same about my feelings toward the other people in the room.

I hear snippets of conversations, small windows into the lives of others, small dramas in adult human packages.  She did well, you can go back; He had problems and will be in recovery another hour; I’ve been here all night and I got a parking ticket; I’m sorry, we need to talk to you in private. Things didn’t go as expected.  This is what I am currently calling my reality.

I’ve heard that word in different contexts lately making me wonder, what is reality?

Outside the hospital walls, people continue to rush around grabbing coffee, the latest news, the morning dead-lock on I-83, pushing their kids onto school buses. In here I sit and wonder why it’s taking me so many attempts to get past level 33 in Candy Crush and what fiancé knows that I don’t.  Its easier then thinking that the woman I once spent forty-two hours giving birth to is lying on a table being flayed by a man I’ve met only once.

Okay, maybe flayed is not the most accurate word. No correct that, this is what I feel, so it is the exact word for my current reality. What is reality? How can my reality consist of one way of life and the next day be completely alien from the day before? Are they the same? Is my reality the same as someone in a country where there is no electricity and my daily existence is spent finding food and fresh water?

My first inclination is to say, no, they are not the same reality. How can they be? When I think about the veterans returning home after active duty, I think the same thing. How do they wrap their heads around the life they lived overseas in war zones too returning home to, hey, the neighbor cut the hedge too short?  Do something about that.

My second inclination is to say; yes it is the same reality, only different facets. As quantum physics contemplates the ramifications of string theory, (alternate dimensions in time and space) I think I’ll view reality as a large, loosely woven textile. Twisted, strands of cotton into yarn blended together and the fibers criss-crossing, under and over each other. You pull one string and the whole thing wobbles or comes undone.

There is a large family in the hallway outside the trauma intensive care ward. From their faces I can tell they are sitting on the edge of threads coming undone if not completely ripped. I make eye contact with their pleading, empty eyes. I can almost hear the word, why, from their minds. Why did this thread have to snag or be cut? I don’t have an answer.

It’s surreal to see. Daughter’s fiancé and I are walking down the hallway toward the hospital cafeteria. He’s talking about a stock car race and the amount of hours they give him at work. I am flashing back to when I was in the trauma intensive care ward down at Shock Trauma in Baltimore. I can smell the alcohol and hear the doctors and nurses talking as they filleted me open to save my life. I never lost consciousness till the end.

Daughter’s fiancé does not know my reality just sharply changed course on that textile of life. Nor do I think he caught how close we both just walked around another reality sharply snagged and unraveling as we passed that family in the hallway. A chill goes down my own spine. My spine, intact, closed within the confines of my muscles and skin. I flash to my daughter lying there in surgery.

Do you think a doctor ever left a tool or cotton wad in someone, I hear someone say while in the cafeteria line. I’m trying to decide on a nice, healthy fish or a piece of cake. I pick up the cake and another cup of really bad coffee. I know medical issues like these happen more times than we might want to think about. After all, we are only human. All on that same piece of fabric that twists and turns under our feet.

If a surgeon is having a fight with his spouse or had a minor accident on the way to work, do they take that energy into the operating room? Do they get as scatter-brained as I do when things knock me off my routine? If I were surgeon, on days like that, I’d lose my scalpel in someone for sure.

I can’t handle thoughts like that right now. I grab a second piece of cake in case the first piece is not enough comfort food. I notice fiancé has grabbed three times his normal amount of food for lunch. Nerves, I tell myself. Maybe, he is closer to the unraveled part of the textile then I think.

Do any of us really know where in reality we are? I don’t have any answers to this either. This cake is really moist; I wonder if they bake it here?

The nurse tells us my daughter came through surgery well. I sigh in relief. My section of the textile is still raveled and I’m pretty sure the surgeon still has his scalpel. Not a bad day overall.

Oh No! Not SPAM!

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As many of you know I have an internet business doing something called e-therapy. It uses an e-mail system for people who either do not want to make traditional weekly appointments in an office or are not able to. The key point of this is – e-mail is important to me. Very important.

So, imagine my surprise to find some people are ending up in my Spam folder. It’s a crazy system. The web site has an e-mail address and they forward the mail from this to my e-mail account which has a different e-mail address. They are, what do you call it, in sync.  Only, after having this system in place for several months I find all kind of important information I have not gotten because SPAM ate it.

This makes me a bit upset, peeved, ticked, pissed, you name it. No one warned me about SPAM. I grew up with SPAM. SPAM in a can. I have no idea what SPAM in a can really is. They tell me its ham but I like ham and well then there is SPAM.  There was also a bit done by Monty Python called Spam-a-lot. I only remember some pieces to this and I don’t think they were talking about SPAM in a can, but I know they were not talking about SPAM in my e-mail system.

My mother never served me SPAM in a can and I had to learn about it the hard way, as a poor student in college. That’s not a good way to learn about SPAM in a can but I’m sure there are worse.  She also never warned me about SPAM in my e-mail system. Yes, I know there was no internet or e-mail back when I was growing up but I really don’t see this as a good excuse for mom not introducing and warning me about SPAM.

Warnings, like, “Dear, when you get older, there will be this thing called the internet. People will send you things you normally get in the mailbox. You really need to be careful, especially if you open an internet based business, that you check this little hidden device called SPAM. No, not the stuff we see in the grocery store in a can. Now be a good girl and eat your ham.”

Okay, maybe it’s not a good idea to blame my mother for my short-comings in regards to SPAM. Perhaps I should look at the inner recesses of my own sub-conscious. Could it possibly be I’m so confused about SPAM in a can, it’s not ham but it is, I like ham but not SPAM that I don’t think about my SPAM folder?

Maybe I was traumatized as a young adult, sitting in my dorm trying to open SPAM in a can with my geometry compass tip (I didn’t have a can opener), and accidently swallowing it with SPAM that I fear flashbacks?  Maybe, I should have really thought harder about opening a business where SPAM was going to be involved on any level! Sh-t!

It’s too late now. I’m almost refinished my office so I can start seeing people face to face again. Still, I really wanted this e-mail system to take off… Damn…Damn you to hell you dirty, stinking SPAM! (That’s a spoof of Charlton Heston’s line in the film Planet of the Apes)

It’s Drive-In Movie Season! Let the Films Begin!

ImageIt’s drive-in movie time again. Even though nights are still on the cool side, it didn’t stop our local drive-in’s opening weekend from being a near sell-out for Iron Man 3 and Oz The Great and Powerful. 

Like good American nostalgia enthusiasts, we gathered our blankets, hooded sweat shirts, lawn chairs, a bag of McDonald’s food, folding table and a game of Haunted Mansion Life (yes it’s a Disney thing) and headed for the drive-in forty-five minutes away.

It was good to see so many other cars, vans and trucks in attendance. The enticing smell of popcorn, hot dogs and fresh coffee filing the air. Kids of all ages running about, throwing around balls, swinging on swings or playing games with family and friends around their vehicles. Adults sat around playing cards, friends were reunited. We were about an hour from show time. You have to go at least an hour before show time for a good spot and for socializing.

According to the LA Times, at the height of the drive-in theater craze there were over 4,000 drive-in movie screens or about 25% of all movie screens in the country. Today there are only approximately 368 or 1.5%. Drive-in movies are a dying bread in great family entertainment.

Why go to a drive-in when you can attend a modern indoor theater with rocking, cushy chairs and state of the art Dolby surround-sound? Here are my top ten reasons.

10. It’s an American institution that should be preserved.

9. Two movies for the price of one.

8. Before movie social time with family and friends.

7. You can talk all you want during the film and no one cares.

6. Sit in the car, on lawn chairs, laying in a truck or van, in sleeping bags on the ground. Whatever floats your boat.

5. You control the volume of the sound around you.

4. Bring the kids in their pajamas. If they fall asleep, no problem. Wrap them in a blanket. Once you are home, just plop them into bed. (Yes, put them in a car seat on the way home)

3. Bring your own treats but make sure to patronize the concession stand. Most drive-ins depend on this to off-set cost of the business. Our concession stand is like a take-out restaurant.

2. It’s an event, not just a film. Everyone gets excited when you tell them it’s drive-in movie night!

1. You get to watch the dancing concession stand food advertisement at intermission. “4 minutes till show time, just enough time to get a fresh bag of popcorn and a refreshing soda.. 3 minutes till show time…” As the dancing hot dogs in buns jig with a couple bags of popcorn to hooky carnival music.

Want to know if there is a drive-in near you? Go to DriveinMovie.com. They have them listed state by state. See you at the drive-in!

Oh yes, Iron Man 3 and Oz the Great and Powerful were great films. I recommend those too.

Homemade Liver Sausage (An American Family Moment)

 

ImageSuzie Worley hated liver. That included liver sausage.  She was standing in the back room of her grandparents’ one-hundred and thirty-year-old meat market. It was now her market, handed down through the generations.

Almost daily she thought about closing the doors and selling the antiquated market despite continued faithful patronage. She had hoped Karly, her eighteen-year-old daughter, would become her apprentice and then take over the business when Suzie was no longer able to physically manage.  Her daughter showed no interest in the family business and refused to help in the shop.

Times have changed, Suzie thought. She always knew she would fall in line with the family business.  Suzie, like her own mother, understood the importance of family pride, responsibilities and tradition. That was why weekly, despite hating liver sausage, Suzie found herself in the back of the meat market pumping out and stuffing fifty-two pounds of liver sausage.  

“Eat your liver sausage,” Suzie remembered her mother mumbling through lips that didn’t move. Her mother didn’t like liver sausage either. They were seated around the silver and red Formica kitchen table for another day of liver sausage and eggs over-easy with toast just shy of black, along with her father and maternal grandmother. It was 1965.

“Just place it in the center of your tongue,” her mother continued, “and you’ll hardly taste it.” Her mother’s eyes widened and darted from Suzie to her grandmother. It was face language for, your grandmother is watching; eat your sausage.

Her grandmother wasn’t looking. She never was. She was too busy nodding her head in approval while slurping liver sausage juice back into her toothless mouth.worley 2

“Oh dear, Oh dear, I’ve ruined another lovely blouse,” Her grandmother commented after dribbles landed on the cleavage area of her blouse. She grabbed her napkin and failed in her attempt to remedy the situation. All Suzie’s grandmother’s blouses where stained in liver sausage dribbles.

“My mother had the same problem when she ate liver sausage.”  Her grandmother chuckled.  “Well, it was worth it.  Jesus himself couldn’t have…” Suzie mouthed the remainder of the sentence as her grandmother spoke. “… made liver sausage this good even if he used a miracle.”

No one had the heart to tell her grandmother that the pork in liver sausage is an abomination to God based on the Jewish tradition. Her beloved Jesus was a Jew and would be appalled if Mary and Martha served him liver sausage.

“Smother it in the fried onions and ketchup,” her father mumbled. Suzie estimated her father ate enough fried onions and ketchup to keep migrant, onion pickers and the Heinz ketchup company going single handedly.

She didn’t bother. It wouldn’t help. Once again Suzie slid the sausage under the table to her basset hound, Speedy. He liked liver sausage and ate a lot of it. This probably had more do to with his early death from heart failure than anything else, Suzie always thought.

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1973 was the year Suzie graduated from Kemper Senior High School.  She was going to drive her father’s old, mint-green, ’62 Dodge Dart with the big steering wheel and very un-cool side fins, to California. Since his stroke, it collected dust in the garage.

For months she secretly sent resumes to cruise ships berthed on the west coast for waitress positions. She was going to get as far away from the meat market as she could. She hated liver sausage and the family business. There was no way she was staying to rot and die like her grandparents and now parents. There was a world to see and it didn’t include liver sausage.

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“California!” Suzie’s mother yelled. “When were you going to tell me this grand plan of yours?”

Suzie pulled her headband further back on her head so her elbow-length, brown hair stayed behind her ears. It was a nervous habit. They were standing next to the old extruder, caked in oil and cooked pate remnants. A sausage casing hung from the nozzle.

“I can’t stay here, Mom!” She pleaded, crossed her arms over her chest and flopped down on a worn, wooden bench against the wall. She hoped her mother would understand.

Her mother hated liver sausage and the meat shop too. Suzie was well aware of this. Thanks to her grandmother. Grandma had no difficulty reminding Suzie’s mother in front of Suzie about the squabbles they had over family business vs running away to nursing school.  The family business had won.

In Suzie’s eyes, the store had been her grandparent’s and no one alive wanted it. No one dead cared.  Suzie could feel the tears welling in her eyes. She couldn’t believe her mother wasn’t getting it.

“Your grandparents saved their money to come to this country and buy this shop,” her mother said with a catch in her throat. “Hell, that liver sausage recipe goes back generations before them. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got it from Jesus!”

Image“Mom, Jesus is a Jew!”  Suzie sprang to her feet, twisting her ankle in her hot pink, high healed clogs.

“Don’t you think I know that?” Her mother turned away and wrung her hands on an apron she was wearing. It was floral with ruffles at the shoulders and once belonged to Suzie’s grandmother.

“I need you here,” said her mother. There was a moment of silence between them. “We need to get five pounds of chicken and beef livers, two pounds pork hearts and some pork belly trimmings from the refrigerator.”

Suzie felt her world come to an end.  She thought, why did I bother to go to school, play the clarinet or get good grades? If my whole life is going to be this stupid meat shop, there is no sense in living anymore.

She had watched her grandparents slave over the machines, pumping out liver sausages. Watched her parents, who hated liver sausage, do the very same thing. It wasn’t a business. To her, it was a curse.

Karly, Suzie’s daughter, bust into the back of the meat market letting the door slam closed behind her. Suzie was startled from her reminiscing.

“I hate this crap, Mom!” Karly declared. She flopped herself down, arms crossed, onto a worn, wooden bench against the wall. Just like Suzie had done so many years ago.

Suzie realized she had become her mother, a thought that nearly paralyzed her. Maybe, times had not changed so much after all. “Then why are you here?” She asked her daughter. She opened up the refrigerator to pull out five pounds of chicken and beef livers, two pounds pork hearts and some pork belly trimmings.

“If I didn’t come help you, I’d feel guilty as hell. That’s why. I hate when you put me on a guilt trip.” She fidgeted causing the wooden bench to wobble.  “Why are you here, Mom? You hate this stuff and this market too.”

ImageSuzie paused inside the refrigerator door. The smell of raw meat once again caused queasiness. Her mother and grandmother were long dead. She remembered her own thoughts when having this conversation with her mother. No one alive wants it. No one dead cares. She shut the refrigerator door.

She wondered how many Worley women needed to devote their lives to ideas and traditions because the generation before had done so. Maybe, it wasn’t about tradition, pride or responsibility. Perhaps it was time to allow independent thinking in the family.

Suzie took off her apron and quietly hung it on the rusted nail that had held it for many decades. She ripped off a piece of cardboard from an empty, pickle jar box.  “Do you have a marker?”

Karly looked at Suzie confused. She shrugged her shoulders, grabbed her back-pack set at her feet and pulled out a black marker. She stood and gave it to Suzie.

Suzie wrote on the cardboard in big, bold letters, CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.   She pulled some meat-packing tape and walked out into the market front with Karley at her side. She tapped the sign to the front door and turned to her daughter.

“I think we’re over due for a meeting of the minds over coffee. What do you think?”

THIS IS AN EMERGENCY CODE BACON ALERT!

ImageWhat is it about bacon that drives normal people batty? T-bone steaks, chocolate cake, homemade ice cream – none of it has the same effect on people as bacon.

My entire family could be home (all seven of us) doing whatever, where ever in the house. I’ll yell or group text, “Dinner is ready!” or in this case “Breakfast is ready!” Maybe, slowly, people will emerge. Unless, whatever I’ve made contains bacon. 

The minute I put a piece of bacon on the griddle, the entire clan including the dog are ready and waiting. Because of this, I’ve decided I’m going to keep bacon in the freezer, off limits for consumption, So, in case of national emergency where I need to gather the troops, instead of turning on our very loud alarm system, yelling or texting, “We’re all going to die unless you run like hell!” I’m going to put that reserved piece of bacon on the griddle. It’s a guarantee  my entire family will head the call. 

Bacon, it’s not just for breakfast.

Disney World vs South of the Border

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Disney World vs South of the Border

     We decide to take the family on a trip to Disney World. This is the five-year-old and seven-year-olds first time. It is approximately an 18 hour drive. We leave the house at about 5:30 am. No problems.

     The seven-year-old is learning about states in school. So, as we pass each state we call out its name and everyone yells or claps. That’s one state down and so many more to go.

Passing our third state the five-year-old says, “I’m tired of all these little states. Just tell me when we get to the state of Japan!” No problem.

     The day goes extremely well and the kids nap while watching Cinderella for the thousand’s time. Before we know it, the big, gaudy South of the Border sign is on the horizon. SOB is a tourist trap/rest area that has been in existence since the 1950’s. It is covered in bright, multi-colored lights, brightly painted buildings and life-size, cement, animal statues also painted bright colors. It is located on the North/South Carolina border and is almost a mandatory stop as we travel to Florida and back.  We pull into one of their parking lots.

     “Everybody up!” I call out to the family. “Time to stretch.”

     The five-year-old jumps up, looks outside the van window and yells. “We made it. Oh my Gosh, we’re really at Disney World! I can’t believe it!”

     Hubby, without missing a beat says, “Yes, we made it to Disney World! I think I just saw a princess go around the corner!”  I give him a dirty look.  He lowers his voice and says. “Just think about all the money and time we can save if they think this is Disney.” He‘s smiling, I’m not.

     The seven-year-old jumps in front of five-year-old who is now outside the van and twirling in delight. 

“This is not DISNEY!” The seven-year-old yells. Her voice gets louder at the end of each sentence.  “Do you see any CASTLES? Do you see any PRINCESSES? Do you see MICKEY MOUSE?”

     The five-year-old stops twirling and looks dejected. “Rats. I thought this was Disney.”  She crosses her arms over her chest and adds. “Well, at least tell me we’re as far as Japan.”

     Hubby and I just look at one another.  I say. “Well, I suppose we could take her to Epcot. They have a Japan.”

     “No, no,” he says. “All we need to do is tell her the Georgia Welcome Center is the entrance to Japan. She’ll never know the difference.”

      It’s going to be a long trip.