Because Life Can Get Too Serious…

After three days of vacating and shunning the rest of the world, my husband, the three J’s and I packed up the car, reluctantly left the tranquility of the Pacific beaches of southern California and headed back to the shrieking anarchy of everyday life in Phoenix. Our vacation, though not long enough, had been a total success. We were quite full of good memories, good food, bad food, mediocre food, seafood, a few gallons of soda pop and a higher than the FDA-recommended daily intake of salt water. In short, everyone was completely satisfied.

Well, actually, everyone else was satisfied—I, unfortunately, was backed up because I was too full of Social Anxiety Disorder to use any bathroom facility that didn’t have an official soundproof rating and where undoubtedly legions of human beings with nothing better to do had their earlobes plastered to the restroom door. To put it mildly, I was beginning to get a lecture from my abdomen—my #1 and #2 organs indicating that they were about to give birth. But I made up my mind that wasn’t going to happen until I got back to Phoenix because 1) roadside stops are few and far between on that stretch of highway and 2) guilt was settling in as I remembered all twenty thousand times I had enlightened my kids that they ‘should have gone before we left.”

Hence, I did what any decent lady would do in such a delicate situation—I fidgeted in my seat, hummed a few tunes, reclined for awhile hoping to sleep my way home, crossed my legs—tightly, tried to make small talk, and all the while I was getting more miserable and my mood was anything but content, confirming that “irritable bowel” had been aptly named. I knew it was time to take the avenue that seemed most appropriate in a time of desperation—prayer. I prayed for a miracle in the desert of life.

But, alas, my request apparently wasn’t cause for divine intervention or the answer I wanted was extremely slow in coming, so I, not having the patience of Job, was forced to make a formal announcement of my situation, since nature was loudly hollering at me and I, in turn, was loudly hollering at the kids. Julie Ann, my impulsive child (who I am convinced inherited a recessive gene), immediately started chortling, ‘HA, HA, Mom has to CR@P.” That eight-year-old trucker never did mince words. I, being the lady I am, didn’t take kindly to my daughter’s inappropriate use of bodily function language so I instructed her on the wisdom of cleaning up her potty mouth and showing sympathy for the person in charge of her social activities for the next ten years.

One has to be familiar with the Southwest to understand what I am about to say. The desert is synonymous with “no place to hide.” Oh, there might be a saguaro here or a tumbleweed there but hardly what one could classify as sufficiently “concealing.”

Then, just as I was about to lose faith in a merciful God, I got my miracle. Out of nowhere, a gathering of trees appeared which I swear had a halo of light hovering over it. There is was, my oasis in the desert which God (though He took long enough to answer) had provided just for me. It looked like the Hilton of outhouses, and I forthwith commenced to command—“STOP THE CAR!!!

As luck would have it, Julie’s nature just happened to call at the same time so, lucky me; Julie Ann came along, snickering all the way.

I was determined to go as far back into the trees as I possibly could just in case someone doing anything less than 85 mph might catch a glimpse of me getting real familiar with nature. Julie Ann kept her mouth in constant motion with suggestions like “this is a good spot” and “that is a good spot” and I, having the wisdom that only age brings, kept resisting, telling her to “go back a little further, just go back a little more.” I would have kept backing up all day except I ran out of options because we were all out of trees, but at least I was confident there weren’t going to be any highway perverts getting a peak at my stern.

Julie has never had a problem like mine. She could let anything fly at 100 mph and stand there bragging about it. So, down went her shorts, and she did her thing—happily! Now it was my turn. “C’mon Mom, nobody can see you—just let it rip” she insisted with that annoying little laugh of hers. I looked ahead of me one more time just to make sure no one was there then took a deep breath and “went for it.” I painfully pealed down my drawers, bared my backside and then “it” happened. There was the loudest, longest “toot”, the likes of which I had never heard before…and, as I live and breathe, it wasn’t coming from me! My head did a 180 with the dexterity of a hoot owl.

Would it surprise you to know that Amtrak has a train that runs smack dab in the middle of absolute nowhere? Consider yourself forewarned. As it was, I was smack dab in the middle of “my thing”, unfortunately at the point of no return. I could see the reflection of my crimson “face” in the shiny mirrors of steel on tracks. I heard my formerly beloved daughter laughing her guts out as car after passenger car passed us by, the filthy-minded engineer making sure his desert fare appreciated the change of scenery by, I swear, slowing to a snail’s pace and blasting that wretched horn like Gabriel announcing the return of the Lord. The only thing I could think of to salvage any dignity I had left was that at least the train was drowning out any noises I might be making.

Although I still carry with me the remnants of PTPSD (post-traumatic potty stress syndrome), I would venture to say I’m close to a full recovery four years post-potty incident. My new psychiatrist mistakenly believes that my messed up #2 organ is the direct result of intractable depression affecting my nervous system. I’ve come to the conclusion he was not well trained in psychoanalysis. How else can one explain my free-floating word associations “vacation, food, salt-water, more food, desert, car, divine intervention, trees, potty, toot, train, Julie Ann, laugh hysterically, crimson, Julie Ann, revenge.”

I have made my peace with God. I have come to realize that I was sent into the desert like Moses—to bring a little happiness to the multitudes (of bored Amtrak passengers who would have something humorous to pass on to their children and their children’s children).

God, being all-knowing, realized I needed a tincture of humility and gave it to me but, as always, he also showed me the solution to my problem.  If you’re traveling anywhere in the continental United States and happen to see a blue Grand Marquis with a construction sized PortaJohn bungee-corded to the trunk with a halo of light hovering over it, that would be me. Give me a toot—I always like hearing from new friends.

 

“DIMPLES”

golf ballShe has more dimples than a golf ball and knows how to use them. Two seconds of glancing at her pudgy, beaming face and I’m ready to hand over the amalgam from my molars. She’s a sprite, a nuisance, and I wouldn’t trade her for Double-Stuff Oreos.

She scrunches up her eyes until their lids are little wrinkled raisins and stares at me, her eyeballs barely visible, quickly assessing my body language. I’m at the computer obviously deep in thought. I stare blankly back at her. “Grammy—I want my babies Grammy.” Her babies are downstairs where her mommy is, where she should be—where I shouldn’t be. In the most appealing, velvety fake voice I can muster, I coax her—“Your babies are waiting for you downstairs, Honey.”  She’s not buying it. Neither am I.

I try the direct approach. “Grammy’s busy right now, Baby.”

“I WANT MY BABIES GRAMMY!”  A shot of adrenalin pierces through my nervous system like that from nails on a chalkboard. The child has the leadership abilities of a drill sergeant. I start to panic. I really, really want to continue working on my book. I am on a roll. Doesn’t she know what a roll is? Apparently she does—she’s wearing remnants of one on her mucky little face.

Two-year-old ‘Baby’ crosses her fleshy arms over her protuberant abdomen and then I know I’m in for it. Her lips are pursed together (at least she isn’t screaming–yet). The only dimple that is visible is the one on her beautiful butt chin. I count the seconds before she belts out “Cry Me a River” and the waterworks flood my bedroom floor. Three—I’m impressed. It usually takes half that time.

I try the psychological approach and cry a few fake canals of my own, hoping her soft, feminine side will take pity on me.

“Stop that Grammy! I’m telling Momma!”  No, no, no—not that—anything but that!

“Grammy’s not crying, Honey; Grammy’s just–cleaning out her eyes.” I make the big bad wolf look like a Chihuahua on sedatives.

She reassesses my body language; I assess hers. She’s swaddled in a diaper; her thighs are little ham hocks, her toenails painted neon orange. She’s still got her dimpled arms crossed over her ample belly, and her blonde hair resembles corkscrews. In short, she’s adorable AND she’s not ballyhooing anymore—that’s always a big plus. I open my arms and swallow her up, noting the chocolate stain that has just been transferred to my clean shirt and sigh.

“Still want those babies?”

“Yes. I love you Grammy”.

“I love you too Baby.”

The babies retrieved, suddenly all is well again, and I know my humble place in the universe all because of a munchkin we call Baby who has the most charming dimples in the world. I wonder if my cratered rump cheeks would serve me equally as well. I decide probably not, but it might we worth a try next time I lose something precious to me and need a little help. And I almost did lose something precious to me—the trust of a dimpled little girl who just wanted to find her babies.

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 boats were 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