Jun 26, 2007

84-Year Old Granny Hikes 125 Steps.
Or: Family Visit

Life kind of stopped for the past couple of weeks. My 84-year old mother and my 11 year old niece came to visit us. Niece Emily came for four days and my mother stayed on for a full week.

The week prior, Larry and I had an argument. We don't have many. It's remarkable how well we get along and manage to work through disagreements. But this time we both got hurt. We resolved it later that night, talked about it again the following day. But for the next week we were tip-toeing around, the distance around us expanding and contracting like a jellyfish. finally the night before our guests were to arrive, we talked about it. We both still felt hurt and raw. Relationship books and seminars make it seem like, all you gotta do is talk it out and it resolves things. It does to an extent. But feelings remain.

Friday just as I was running out the door to the airport, I got an email from Lar. He'd had a revelation . "I was making you responsible for my feelings. I had to slap myself silly on the way to work. Come on Lar, be a man."

That's mojo.

We were worried about how on earth my mother was going to make it up the 125 steps from the street to the house. My mother is frail at 84. She had a stroke that left her weakened and damaged her language skills and short term memory.

But lo and behold Mom marched up the steps. One at a time. I had placed a chair at the half way point, but she declined, and kept going. Way to go, Mom!

My niece is only 11 years old. Her parents are very protective of their kids. They moved to rural Colorado in part to get away from the debauchery of the American culture. My friend Lori Rooney pointed out, billboards for American Apparel with teenage girls in sexually suggestive positions. Come on, do we really need adverts for pedophilia?

We drove to Blockbuster to pick up "March of the Penguins," a safe G-rated film that had received great reviews. Emily and I walked into the M section and there sat a soft core porn DVD. Hot chicks in bikinis french kissing each other. I maneuvered myself in front of her and got out of that aisle. But I still couldn't avoid tthe death metal rock on the loudspeakers.
I'm sorry about that, I told Emily.
She shrugged. That's OK. We get it in Colorado too.

How could she not? The supermarket check out is littered with People and Us magazines.

Larry and I were both excited about entertaining Emily. It was her first big adventure away from home. But we were concerned with how well my mom would fare in the heat and the exertion of the steps. I got a free wheelchair on loan from the Convalescent Aid Society. We pushed Mom down to the beach, to Griffith Observatory, we went on walks through Pasadena, past Craftsman homes. And we sat at home and ate scones, we watched Peter Pan and What's Up Doc. Both twice.

My niece is such a creative, expressive, gentle, funny, and beautiful young girl. We were delighted to have her.

When Emily left the house got noticeably quiet. But it was nice to have time just with my mom. My mother and I never got much time together, alone, just the two of us. It wasn't until 1999 when she came to New York to visit me. A year and a half later she had her stroke that would rob her of some speech, mobility, and short term memory.

It was great for Larry to spend some time with Mom. During our quick courtship, Mom was in Colorado, except for a few days around the wedding, and a couple of days over Thanksgiving. So she got to know him this visit.

"Your husband is very nice," she said when he was at work. "I'm so glad you married him."
"Me too."
"He's a very lucky man."
"And I'm a lucky woman."

Mom's vocabulary is damaged from her stroke. She can't find the word, she'll talk around it until you say the right word and she'll remember. I was "Emily" some times. Larry was "husband." Oddly enough, her Spanish is impeccable. She chatted up the waiters and busboys at restaurants, and chatted back when she heard it on the street or in parks. Perfectamente. Makes me want to re-learn Spanish, just to have conversations with her.

The oddest moment was the day Emily left. Mom asked if Emily had gone back (short term memory loss). When I reminded her we had taken her to the airport she said, "Yes of course. ... But you.. When does YOUR little girl wake up?" I reminded her I don't have children. "No, but you have a daughter." I wondered if she was trying to say husband or Larry. I convinced her I did not have any children, and when I asked if she meant 'my husband Larry? He's at work,' she brushed it off. I think she tried to cover for herself.

My mom climbed the stairs every day without a problem. Until the second to the last day. she had been walking along a flat section and reached for the railing. I think she grabbed the light cord instead and fell back. I was a distance behind her when I heard her cry "OH!" and heart a horrible thud. I found her lying on her side. She had a huge bump on the back of her head, but she said she was alright. I brought down a chair and some ice. We sat for about 20 minutes, and then she climbed up. She was fine in the end, but it was a terrifying moment.

It has given me a lot of respect for my sister's family, who take care of mom mostly year round. It's also reminded me that it's a privilege and honor to care for your parents. And it's also reminded me that the chance to serve her may not go on much longer.

We were standing in the kitchen one afternoon. She took my hands and said, "I remember you once said you couldn't go on without me, Susie."
"I remember that too."
Well, you'll do just fine," she smiled.
"You mean, now that I have Larry?"
"Okay but please don't go just yet."
"Okay not yet."

Jun 6, 2007

Love Wash Over A Multitude Of Things

I don’t remember a time in my life I ever felt so hopeful. Maybe when I was young and naïve, and my life was ahead of me. But then life happened, and it was a long road down to disillusionment. But lately the road has swung upward toward hope. What, with marrying the greatest guy, building community together, and getting a book deal and paying writing work.

And I can’t help it but feeling scared at times. First of all, what bad thing is going to come and ruin it? When are we going to get struck with some horrible tragedy to “build our character?” Like cancer or a freak accident. Or a series of small things to undermine our marriage?

It’s ironic that in movies and books, the characters we love the most are those who face insurmountable odds, who endure hardships and heartbreaking loss. We call them our heroes. Think Frodo Baggins, Rocky Balboa or Ugly Betty. Some of them fail or even die. But we love them for their courage and strength. And yet we wake up every morning and want God to make things go our way.

But you know what actually scares me even more than those AFGO's: "Another F'ing Growth opportunities"? It's this. Success. What if my character stops growing? What if things get so good, and I get lazy? And that monster I know I can be comes out to scorch it all?

I had coffee with an editor friend who has worked with lots of big names in Christian publishing: authors, pastors, leaders, celebrities, et al. The editor had never seen someone achieve success who and not get corrupted or turn into a jackass.

When I was going through my dark night of the soul and hating God, I got a job at a church office. Yeah, har dee har har. My pastor was awesome. He got it, what I was going through. He listened, commiserated and understood. And proceeded to have a melt down and leave his job, due to his own issues and a lack of accountability. Know what's scary? That pastor and I had a lot in common: charisma, intelligence, and demons. He didn't have a team of accountability. Neither did I. But I wasn't leading a church. If I heard God say anything it was, "Susan, he's just a guy."

I've observed celebrities, leaders of every kind, turn into jerks and destroy their lives. Not because they're were any different than you or me, but because they didn’t have accountability: good friends who would be ruthlessly truthful with them. We all have that potential, for good and evil. And the more success and power we have, the more chances to really mess things up.

I’m not going to evade success to avoid becoming a Success Tyrant. You can be a Failure Tyrant, too. But I know I need an accountability system, Larry and I both do. It’s one of the reasons we’re trying to build a community around us, be it at church or our friends. We need it. So do you. Everyone does.

So, I’ve tried to learn to allow God to throw obstacles in my way. The other day, after a particularly deep time of meditation and quiet, when I started to fear what hardship might befall me, I remembered how I God has used everything unfortunate in my life to mature and change me. So in a moment of optimism I said, “Okay bring it on.”

A Series of Small Things

Larry and I had a bunch of people over, and they left a lot of beer. I told Larry I didn’t want the beer in the fridge because, well, I’m a recovering alcoholic. Larry took me by the arms and smiled: “You won’t drink it. I know you. I know you won’t risk what we have.” He meant it to be encouraging and full of love, but I suddenly felt unsafe. “He’s being naïve and grandiose. He doesn’t understand me. Love doesn’t conquer all. At least it sure doesn’t conquer alcoholism!” Plenty of people have loved their spouses, and kept on drinking. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been sober. Something could come along and trigger your addiction and Bob’s Your Uncle, you’re drinking again. Triggers like resenting my husband for not ‘getting it,’ or envying my friends who can drink with impunity; them I'm entertaining the idea that maybe now I could drink moderately. That’s why don’t want a six pack of Coronas in our fridge sitting there, just waiting for me to try it out.

Maybe Larry doesn’t understand alcoholism. But that doesn’t mean our relationship is doomed. It just means I need to educate him. So after being firm about it, Larry was happy to have it moved out of the fridge.

Well, we got through that small thing. And we’ll get through the next one as well. As long as we’re awake and alert.

Lost Objects

That afternoon I got a notice from the post office that I had three parcels waiting for me. I had been expecting a script, but not a parcel. Maybe my former landlords had sent me a packet of mail. So I drove to the post office to pick them up. They were boxes from my sister. I recognized them: It was my mother’s crystal.

When my mother moved in with my sister, her precious items came with her. By default Nancy got the dining room set and my mom’s Desert Rose china. This was a popular pattern in the 1940s when Mom got married. Mom said I could have her crystal and silverware.

Last Thanksgiving Larry, my brother Jim and I drove out to visit my sister’s family in Colorado. Mom gave me the wooden box of silverware to take home. Nancy brought out the boxes of crystal,hoping I could take them with me. But there wasn’t enough room in the car. Besides I didn’t want the crystal riding home in a car packed with three people’s suitcases. “Let’s wait until Larry and I move into our next place. I can get the crystal when I come out here next time.”

Well, there were the crystal boxes at the post office: covered in Priority mail stickers, and “Fragile” written on the sides. As I picked up one of the boxes, I heard the distinct sound of broken glass..

Hmm. Well maybe one or two glasses didn’t make it. I called Nancy to tell her the boxes had arrived, but that something was broken.

“Uh oh,” Nancy worried. “Did you open it up?”
I was too afraid to open them there. Fortunately Nancy insured the boxes. Well no worries, I only heard a little bit in one box. But then I picked up the other boxes to put in my trunk. There was that same ugly gut-wrenching shatter sound in all of them.

I wheeled all three boxes back to the post office.
“Excuse me, there’s some broken items in these boxes,” I called to the woman who had delivered the boxes to me. She ignored me and went into the back. I called out to someone else, a short Filipino man who shrugged. “You need a form.” He slapped one on the counter and walked off.
“Sir, I’m doing to need three forms!” I called out to his retreating back. He was gone for a good length of time, during which I read the form, which stated I couldn’t file a claim until 21 days after the date of mailing. Finally the man slumped back to his station, and started to call another customer.
“Excuse me, you were helping me with these packages.”
“Oh, yeah.” he sighed.
“Sir, this form says I can’t file if I can’t a claim for another 21 days.”
“Oh, yeah.” He sighed again.
I wanted to ask him why he didn’t just tell me this from the start. But what would the point of that be?

I got the boxes home. My sister called, nervous to discover the outcome. I told her I’d open them the next day. Frankly I was afraid to discover what damage was inside. After all it would be 21 days before I could do anything about it.

So the following afternoon, I opened the three boxes. One by one I pulled out the glasses. Some wrapped in paper, some wrapped in bubble wrap. And almost all of them were broken. Some shattered beyond recognition. Some had the stems snapped from the bowls. Gone.

I found myself howling with anger and grief. How had Nancy even packed these? Why did she mail them without telling me? What, did she just want them out of her hair? This was my inheritance. She had most all of Mom’s priceless stuff, and here she had sent off these boxes so carelessly. They don't make this crystal anymore. There was no way to get it back.

Larry walked in the door just as I was unwrapping the last hope … even a cocktail cup with no stem was snapped in two. Grief and anger gushed out of my mouth, like I had found my cherished cat, dead in the street. Larry bent down and put his arm around me as I sobbed. Poor Larry. I don’t know if a guy would feel the same way about family heirlooms, maybe it’s a girl thing.

I called my sister. What was I going to say? How could I say it and be real and honest but not hurtful? Yet there I was with none of the family heirlooms. How could she have done this?! She just sent it off, wrapped haphazardly, with no thought! This was supposed to be mine. I have nothing!

Nancy picked up the phone. And I cried in her ear, wept out my anger and hurt, how I felt my inheritance had been disregarded and thrown away. how I felt robbed of it, and well, just so heartbroken over it being gone. Part of our family history, gone.

And Nancy listened. She explained that it was a spur of the moment thing. She was thinking, Hey now Larry and Susan are settled in their new home, now they can have Mom’s crystal! But she had completely forgotten that she had packed it for a car, not for the postal service. She felt sickened at her error. And she reassured me that anything she had of Mom’s I could have. She wished she could go back in time and change things. She felt horrible.

I thanked her, but it wasn’t really about divvying up ownership. It was about the loss.

So we sat and talked about the things we remembered, associated with the crystal. Of Sunday dinners, of cousins coming to visit. In high school my friend Julia and I learned how to make crepes. We served them on the Desert Rose china and served Martinelli's in the crystal. The crystal that now lay in shards in front of me. I thought of my mom, and how hard she tried to bring some semblance of structure to our family. I thought of all those Christmas dinners she planned and slaved over, served on that china and crystal; each year the family drifting further and further away, but the china and crystal remaining on an ever-shrinking table. My mother is so frail today, she couldn’t cook now to save her life. She doesn’t have the strength to hold a pan or the memory to follow a recipe. Most of all it reminded me of my mother, and of a time when we were all alive and present and together.

Nancy and I sat and cried it out. I thanked her for listening. I realized it was a lot harder for her, to be the one who caused the loss; than for me, the one who absorbed it. I reminded her that I loved her far more than any crystal glass. So there was hurt and anger and grace and understanding. And a loss that we just had to grieve out.

A couple of days later, I saw the name of the crystal etched on the bottom of a snapped stem.
"Fostoria." I did an ebay search and found a vintage store that had our glasses! I called my sister, excited. "Buy it up!" She cheered. So a week later, Larry and I had dinner with the new replaced glasses.

Several days later I called Nancy to ask how she was doing, and to ask if anything I had said had hurt her. She said no, I had just said how I felt. I thanked her for her graciousness.

"And you know, Suzer. I feel closer to you from it. Like we walked through something big and painful, and did it the right way."
"Me too, Nanno."

That afternoon I was listening to a song by Sara Groves, “When it was over.” And I thought about how apt the lyrics were for us at that moment.

When it was over and they could talk about it
They were sitting on the couch
She said, “What on earth made you stay here
When you finally figured out what I was all about?”
He said “I always knew you'd do the right thing
Even though it might take some time.”
She said, “Yeah, I felt that and that's probably what saved my life.”

Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole

There is a love that never fails
There is a healing that always prevails
There is a hope that whispers a vow
A promise to stay while we're working it out
So come with Your love and wash over us.

I think of my life ahead, and the possibilities in my life, with Larry, with friends, with my vocation. I don’t want to shy away from the success or the sadness ahead. But I also know, the only thing that will get me through is that Love that washes over a multitude of things.
So come with Your love and wash over us.

Jun 5, 2007

More Sgt. Pepper Party Pics

A couple more photos from our Sgt Pepper party.
Here's Sonny Liston with all his girls. From left to right: Mae West, President of the Beatle Fan Club, Shirley Temple, Mae West II, and Marilyn Monroe. I love how Myrna got creative and came as "President of The Beatle Fan Club." Hey whatever works!

As for this picture of me, I think I was trying to do a Lennon Look, or else I was a bitknackered from posing for pics.

Jun 4, 2007

Sergeant Pepper Party

"It was twenty years ago today
Sgt Pepper taught the band to play..."

Forty years ago last Friday, the world first put on the LP and heard the Beatles sing that song. And music was never the same.
I wasn't more than five years old when the album came out, but I remember when my older brothers bought it. I fell in love with the music. "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite" and "Fixing A Hole" were my favorite songs. And of course, "A Day In the Life." The album became a staple in my family. I poured the album many times. I remember opening up to the center picture, and studying the faces of the Fab Four. George looked a bit sinister with his mustache. Ringo wasn't my type. Paul looked conceited. But John's smile was so open. He seemed like the nicest, realest Beatle. So my love of John Lennon began.

Our friend Doug Perkins got the idea a few months ago, to have a Sergeant Pepper party to commemorate the date. Everyone had to come as one of the characters on the album cover. Being the John Lennon fan that I am, I could only come as John. Doug was going to pay a woman to make George's red band uniform, and we considered paying her to make John's chartreuse band uniform. But she wanted a ton of money from Doug, and didn't even have time to make two. So, I got out the old sewing machine and went to work!

If I could only go as John, Larry could only go as Dylan! His wardobe was a bit easier. Everything black, a harmonica holder, and ... hair. We slathered it with mouse, root boost, hair spray and a comb. Walking up to the door, Larry said, "I hope no one thinks I'm Phil Spector."
"Yeah, neither do I or they'll worry about me going home with you."

Jim Martin's daughter Shannon thought he was Einstein because of his hair. Einstein played the harmonica? I loved Larry's hair like this!

We had people coming as Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, WC Fields. Two Tom Mixes, two Sonny Listons, dueling Brandos, one Charlie Chaplin, a maherishi ... Others who got creative. Myrna came as president of the Beatles fan club. A friend did up her hair Ronnie Spektor like, the false eyelashes and hair band and earrings.

It was a blast! And there's no other band I'd rather celebrate.

Anyway here are pics. Enjoy.