The Day My Daughter Met O. Henry

In retrospect, I was probably feeling as disconnected from “home” as Julie Ann. Why I believed the transition back to the Midwest of my youth after 18 years in the desert would be an easy one is beyond me. But, for Julie who had known only the Phoenix metropolitan area, the strain of loss was very apparent on her face and in her actions and in her reactions.

My daughter and I have vastly conflicting personalities. I live in the secluded, maddening world of the shy—Julie Ann bubbles with energetic charisma and thrives on personal relationships. She needs to dance. It is the rhythm of her life—she tangos. I trip over my own inhibitions, and my life rhythm is comparable to a slow waltz danced poorly with uncoordinated feet. To say that it has not been easy for the two of us to connect would be to understate the obvious. Julie pursues life with zeal while I sometimes have trouble finding my way out my front door. I admire her tenacity, though I am sure I’ve failed to convey that—more often, much to my regret, reprimanding her for not moving at a pace with which I can keep up.

But, for once, we were harmonizing, ironically due to our mutual agony, both of us feeling stranded in torpid water in a boat without oars, adrift without an emotional anchor. We were lost, lonely and unsteady in our new environment, certain our boat was going to capsize.

I don’t know what made me recall a high school literature class some 20 years prior, a story which had been required reading, but I had the strongest urge to share it with Julie. I went to the library and leafed through index after index in search of compilations by O. Henry to find the one story of which I had high expectations that Julie would find utterly charming, releasing her, for even a brief time, from her own sea of insecurities. She needed to get acquainted with me and I with her, and O. Henry, I hoped, was going to make the introduction a pleasant one.

I kidnapped Julie from the duplex we were renting and set off in the car to a park I had located the day before. Parks are enchantingly neutral places which have a way of transporting us to the security of our youth no matter where the location. The quaint park seemed to be working its magic as we walked across a wooden bridge spanning a brook nestled in the tranquil shelter of forest which had been preserved from the urbanized infrastructure of the big city. Julie was guarded, but I could see a glimmer of relief in her eyes at our pleasant hinterland even as she tried her best to rebuff any notion that it was a magnificent place laced with a delicious assortment of flora and fauna.

Braced for the expected resistance from Julie Ann, knowing full well she was not overly enthused at my attempt to cheer her up, particularly with a “stupid old book” clutched in the hand of “the most boring mother in the world,” I dismissed her ill-tempered mood and kept on praying we would find each other with a little help from O. Henry.

I sauntered off the beaten path, Julie grudgingly following me through the timber, as we forged our way to the waterfront by way of a steep hill full of potholes and nettles, which clung like Velcro to our jeans.

The consoling sound of water tripping its way over boulders and fallen branches was enough to iron out a lot of the anxieties that had wrinkled our securities. At last, Julie declared her approval of our surroundings, so I urged her to pull up a rock as I opened O. Henry’s Ransom of Red Chief, took a deep breath and began to narrate, putting as much dialect and animation into my recitation as I possibly could, attempting to bring to life the account of a very mischievous little boy who was kidnapped by a couple of bumpkins, hoping to attain a healthy ransom from their young prisoner’s parents. Much to my surprise (and delight) Julie started laughing, for she had found in “Red Chief” a kindred spirit and applauded the ornery little fella’s innocent way of making life absolutely wretched for his kidnappers. Julie guffawed at Red Chief’s parents’ counter-offer that the kidnappers pay a healthy ransom to them to take Red chief off the kidnappers’ hands! “That would be me!” laughed Julie Ann. My Julie Ann—a modern-day, female version of the pesky little Red Chief. Life with Julie has never been dull, and I’m sure she’ll keep me on my toes well into future stress-induced gray hair days.

Henry had performed his magic—Julie and I tangoed, for the first time in ages, and, for once, I didn’t miss a step. We could have been back in Phoenix where we both felt at home, or we could have been in China where we didn’t even speak their language—it didn’t matter—we were mother and daughter connected in a timeless, lighthearted tale by a very gifted writer.

Julie says that day is the best remembrance she has of the two of us, and I agree, for on the day Julie Ann met O. Henry, I finally met my daughter, and she finally met me.

 

“Dave”

I open the vertical blinds to let in a piece of the world and there he is, as usual. He’s seated on a green plastic lawn chair, breathing in tar and nicotine, a plume of smoke spiraling around his face. He takes one last drag then snuffs out the fire that keeps it lit. He has pulled the chair from under the awning so he can face the sun and, like a sunflower, tracks its daily path across the sky. He seems to need the sunshine as much as the nicotine, and it bathes his face and warms it and lights up his eyes.

His name is Dave. I don’t know his last name; he never offered it and I never asked. But we always greet each other by first name and wave like we’re old friends.

He came into my life a couple of years ago while my little dog was relieving himself in the grass. Dave limped over and made my acquaintance. We might have shook hands. When Bailey was done, Dave dropped to his knees and loved him up. His eyes lit up as he told me stories of the various dogs in his life.

It was hot outside, suffocating. I mentioned that fact, and he said he loved the heat. I wanted to tell him I didn’t like the feeling of moisture under my armpits but kept that to myself. I told him I was certain I would find my grandkids at the local pool today. His eyes turned fiery bright and said his first job was that of a lifeguard, and said with enthusiasm that “it was the best job I ever had.” I don’t know why, but that revelation stuck to me like honey, and I filed it away in a part of my brain that is reserved for special things that I can find later unless they find me first.

This morning his arms are now folded neatly behind his snow-white head, his legs stretched out as if trying to recline but not quite succeeding. The sun has suddenly gone silent behind a wandering cloud, but his face still faces the sky, waiting for the cloud to move along. He appears deep in thought. Perhaps he’s young again, with the responsibility of an entire beach on his bronze shoulders where half-naked people enjoy the feel of hot sand under their feet and the taste of the salty ocean. Where no doubt he gazed on the beauty of women in skimpy bathing suits as they chatted him up but, always, he had a watchful eye on the sea. Where the sun kissed his long blonde hair and bleached it even lighter and it waved with the pulse of the salty breeze.

I wonder how he ended up here where the cornfields rise up like sentinels and the smell of pig poop wafts through the air. Someday I will ask him.

Most days I would scurry past him, almost wishing he wasn’t there so I didn’t have to engage in small talk. I don’t do small talk very well. I scurry by in a rush to be with children who call me Gramma and I can escape this place where the shadow of death is never far away—it has claimed five friends since I’ve lived here, so I don’t get too fond of folks anymore—I keep them at arm’s length. I’m friendly but I don’t engage; it’s much easier to wave hello and leave it at that. I guess I’m tired of saying goodbye.

But one day, one day when the clouds hung low and the sun strained to burst through, I was coming instead of going and Dave approached me with a brisk gait and made small talk, and what he said revealed a side of him that had escaped me. He let something slip, a vague commentary on a deeper side of the Dave I knew. He had the same fire in his eyes as when he spoke of his first job. Through a grinning mouth, he asked me to guess what he might be getting, but before I could offer a guess, he said he might be getting a dog—a dog whose head came to Dave’s shoulder, and was offered to him free of charge. My heart sank because I knew that the Powers That Be would never allow that to happen. They have a 10 lb. weight limit on pets here, and I sadly broke the news of that to Dave. And then, the slip–a few spoken words that trailed momentarily on the air then quickly faded away—but not before I captured the memory and put it in that special place in my brain. He told me that he could get a letter from his doctor for a therapy dog for people with depression. That was a revelation I understood only too well, for it was my story too.

I don’t try to scurry past Dave anymore or wave him off and go on my way. Instead I try to put myself directly into his swath of sunshine as he soaks in the rays that help to light up his world. I try to get in closer and make small talk that might turn to nuggets of gold. He is here, all alone, every day with the shadows that threaten to block out his light. I asked God what I could do to help this man who lives with the cloak of darkness upon his mind. I asked God. And He spoke. “Bake him something.”  So, I scanned the internet for ideas and there it was. Peach cobbler dump cake, 3 ingredients. Yes, I could do that, so I did. I felt the seeds of joy growing inside me as I dumped the ingredients one by one and, at the same time, felt the shame of the unfamiliarity of reaching out.

The sky was black except for the stars when I took the cobbler to Dave. I found him sitting outside in his green chair, taking a drag on his cigarette, dressed in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts. It was 40 degrees. I approached him, but not boldly like someone who belonged there and offered him the plate, wondering if I was being too intrusive. I live in the world of the shy, always seeking a little corner to hide in. It felt very foreign reaching out to this man in such a personal way. He accepted my gift with surprise and great appreciation. I didn’t dawdle. I told him I hoped he would enjoy it, as I retreated to my apartment. I could hear him saying “my oh my” as I walked away. But when I closed the door behind me, I knew that, although he was sitting in darkness, he had just seen some light, and so had I.

“62”

I stood there, as if on a gigantic calendar, with my right foot planted on November 2 and my left foot stuck on day before, straddling the line, a little hesitant to complete the leap from 61 to 62 but not fully understanding why. And so, because I truly value understanding, not only of myself, but also the world around me, I decided to mull it over for a bit, toss it and turn it until the puzzle pieces finally linked together and everything made sense again.

In short, I was in a lousy mood that was prompted by two teeny, tiny events involving two little words–two little words that, on the outside seem inconsequential and harmless and even charming given in the right context, but they invoked in me an unsettledness, a wounding of my spirit, if you will.  But it is here that I will digress.

I suppose there is an art to growing old. By most standards, I’ve been old for two years now—had some practice—could use some more. It all started when I graduated from my 50‘s to #60 and began to receive the perks of old age—they were great—a smaller monthly payment for car insurance, 15% discount every third Thursday at the local “everything mart,” and always a nice young man at the grocery store to call me “ma’am,” carry my bounty to my car and send me off with a wish for a happy day. But the sands of time go a bit deeper than senior citizen perks and so does my angst…

A few days ago, I was happily giving a lift home to my granddaughter from high school when, out of the blue, she suddenly blurted out “Gramma, you are so ADORABLE—you’re the most ADORABLE grandma in the world.” This followed on the heels of my daughter stating just two days earlier, “Mom, you’re so CUTE,” (because I felt too tired to drive home to my apartment, so I was going to stay at her house for the night.) She laughed and reminded me that it’s probably only two miles to my apartment, and that I was just so “doggone CUTE.” Both times, I had the same gut reaction; my stomach tightened, my smile drooped—part of me was instantly offended—a big part, yet why the innocuous words CUTE and ADORABLE would cause me to recoil like a cat being doused with a tub of cold water eluded me. Thus, the mulling over and the tossing and turning began, ran its course, and this is what I came up with.

I may never know exactly why I was labeled CUTE and ADORABLE–the why remains a mystery to me, and I guess I’m okay with that. But this much I do know; I hesitated to turn 62 because the older I get, the more childlike I’m treated. It’s as if I have become, not an adult woman to be respected, but rather a child to be coddled and cooed at. This despite the many years I’ve lived and learned, suffered and overcame, sinned and been covered by grace, enjoyed the many splendored things and begged God for the relief of death, bore four children–put one child in the ground, made sacrifices only I and God know about, loved and lost and loved and lost again, dined on the nectar of success but also knew the acrid taste of failure, seen beauty through the eyes of a child, as well as the ugliness of a soul that’s lost its way; and yet, through it all, I have endured. I still hold dear my abiding faith in God above, still love till it hurts and give till I’m broke, still forgive the trespass and embrace the sinner, still trust in the goodness of others till I’m proven wrong, still lift my family and friends up in prayer and try my darndest to give my kids and grandkids a sense of the eternal, in the face of adversity.

I know in my own mind that I am not getting any younger, even while people are starting to give me that vibe. If I had my druthers, I would just ask that people recognize that I’m over 60 years old, because I’ve bled profusely for my crow’s feet and my gray hairs and jowls and for the loss of many whom I have cherished. There is a physical scar forever etched on my forehead (a byproduct of an accident that occurred while I was out of my mind from bipolar disorder). It is my red badge of courage. I’m no stranger to the barren solitude and degradation of depression so deep that I honestly believed I was burning in the underbelly of hell; and, even now, a nightmare will haunt me and remind me of that dark time.

But, through it all, with God’s love and mercy, I have endured. I have learned to be content with who I am, what I have and where I’m at. Through all of it, I grew up and pressed forth—and I aged.

Deep down, I know that the intent behind the words “cute” and “adorable” was not to hurt or demean me; and, furthermore, that, however much those words stung, I know for certain that it was with love that they were spoken. But, doggone it, I’m a woman of age, I have a history, and I certainly shouldn’t be retrogressed with terms of endearment one would give to a “cute” and “adorable” child—or puppy, for that matter.

Eventually, like all of us, I will be released to my heavenly Father, and will be rewarded for, what, I hope will be, a race well run; not as a child who has been lovingly sheltered from the ravages of life, but as the scarred and battle-weary adult that I am.

I am getting older. Every day I am reminded of that fact, with new aches and pains popping up in places I never knew existed. And I’m physically slowing down (that part scares me a bit because, I’ve always meandered and moseyed and poked around at a snail’s pace, and that doesn’t leave me with much room to wiggle.)

Perhaps, Future Me will be bent over a walking stick or folded into a wheelchair or bedridden, or I’ll lose a limb to diabetes or maybe I will simply just sit around and drool from a toothless mouth, never speaking but always, always dreaming. But, regardless of my circumstances, it is my desire–No, it’s more than that–it is my DEMAND to be treated as an ADULT—as a woman of age, of character, and of significance because, simply put and, with all due respect—its been a long time coming; and, by golly, I’ve earned it.

November 2, 2017 – age 62

Hello world!

Welcome to my brand new blog  It’s my baby that was born on the day of my own birth. I I love to write about things I’ve pondered over and experienced and they are many and varied. Thanks so much for stopping by.  And I hope you will join me along the written way.

God bless,

Margie