Just My Luck; or, An Out-of-Synch Life

Is this all there is?

……” Gonna pack my lunch in the morning
and go to work each day,
and when the evening rolls around,
I’ll go on home and lay my body down,
and when the morning light comes streaming in,
I’ll get up and do it again. Amen.”

-Jackson Browne, The Pretender

I snapped that picture up there, of my crabtree in full bloom, in mid-May, intending to write about it – in mid-May.

Well, here we are in mid-June and the blossoms on the tree have gone by – just my luck.

For more decades than I like to admit, I’ve been doing things too late, living a kind of “pretend” life by putting things off, expecting to get to them in some imagined future that never comes, and now I look up and find I’ve lived two-thirds of my life in a sort of  prolonged delay – “I’ll start living the life I want, right after I get all this other stuff done” —  my life never seemed to “synch up” with my hopes, dreams, talents, whatever.

Examples:

I met Mike at 30, married him at 32, gave birth to our one and only child at 35; nothing so wrong with any of that, but if you think about it now, it means it took me thirty years (well, ok, let’s say, twelve, in adulthood) to find him.

What if it takes that long again? I don’t have another twelve good woman years left in me, I’m afraid.

Just my luck.

The Fourth of July, a/k/a Independence Day, is a big deal in my little home town – more people come home for the parades and parties than seem to come home for Christmas around here.

And having attended decades of the same front-driveway-parade-watching party, watching decades worth of acquaintances, two generations at least, bring new babies to show off at that party, I finally got my chance, at 35.

And for the first time in 100 years, the parade was rained out.

Just my luck.

And right when Mike and I had the chance to rebuild our marriage and plan a retirement together, when our child was gaining more independence and growing into adulthood? Cancer. Gone in 18 months. It’s not like Mike could choose when to die, but it felt so unfair to us, so out of synch. Husbands are not supposed to die right when things could get good again. But it happened.

Now, here I am, nearly two years later, trying to be positive, to look ahead, to be open to a new relationship, to really want a new relationship with a kind, nice man, and what happens?

Kind, nice, men who like and respect women have sounded the retreat, afraid of saying so much as “how do you do?” because the lid has blown off the disgusting, abusive, boorish behavior of the unkind, not-sweet, not-nice men. Everywhere.

Just my luck.

Right when I’ve been trying (failing all too frequently, but trying) to become a nicer, kinder person, to live with love and laughter, my phone blows up with dozens of emails daily alerting me to some new atrocity to be furious about.

Fury is way out of synch with my efforts to respond to this world and people in it with kindness and love.

I feel guilty – selfish, trivial and ineffective. I sign petitions, I try to give money, but lately I’ve just felt peevish and out of sorts and jumpy-jangly all the time. In addition to being lonely.

Nobody wants to be around a person who is anxious, pissed-off, negative and jumpy all the time. Not exactly attractive.

Just my luck.

What do you do with an out-of-synch life? If you feel that time has passed you by?

Gratitude. I’m supposed to be working on being grateful, for each moment, each breath I am yet granted on this Earth.

So when I feel selfish for not being the person who has the snappy comeback or who can cite the verses that say what I’m thinking back at the person I want to cite them at, I’m grateful that someone else has done it for me. I’m reminded that many, many people are feeling what I’m feeling, and can respond to it better and more eloquently than I can right now.

I’m grateful for that.

Father’s Day. People innocently asking our child what we did for Dad yesterday.

“Dad’s in heaven,” is the reply. Which makes them feel bad, but it’s not their fault. They didn’t know. So I explain gently that we had a nice picnic by his grave, as a sort of “meet up” with his spirit.

I had a very vivid dream of him last night – our child announcing, “Dad’s here!” and me finding him there on a couch, and able to give him a hug, before he flew out the window, chasing something. I really needed to give him that hug. So I’m grateful for that dream.

A monarch butterfly, flitting past as I waiting for the train to the Allison Krauss concert. A perfect show. An angelic voice. Comfort in that.

I’m grateful for that.

But it can’t be denied that the second year of widowhood is hard – our child and I both going through a relapse of grief, trying to figure out how to carry it around with us without letting it define us.

There are no more ritual “first this-es” and “first thats” without him – it’s the second, which will lead to the third, and on and on, for the rest of our lives, without him.

Which magnifies the emptiness, intensifies the loneliness, makes what should be a good day a bleak one.

Out of synch.

Is this all there is?

“I want to know what became of the changes
we waited for love to bring..
were they only the fitful dreams
of some greater awakening?
I’ve been aware of the time going by
They say in the end, it’s the blink of an eye
When the morning light comes streaming in
You’ll get up and do it again
Amen”

(Note: “Out of Synch” came from a wonderful book called The Out-of-Synch Child that helped me understand my child’s sensory challenges – highly recommend for parents struggling to understand a developmentally different child’s sensitivities. It really has nothing to do with this post, just thought I should give credit where credit is due.)

 

 

By Heart

“…This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”

-Shakespeare, Sonnet 73

Mike preferred his poetry recited aloud, from memory.

Even when he was reading poetry alone, relaxing in our little “library/music” room, he’d read it aloud, to himself, to hear the rhythm of the words, and feel the breath within them.

He wooed me with poetry, recited on an answering machine (see, “Academy of Ancient Technology, recording devices, cassette.”)

Early in our marriage, when I was stressed out from the job, and the commuting, and the worries of providing for Mike and our child, he would read aloud to me, in bed, to help me sleep. He had a beautiful reading voice – smooth, gentle, beguiling, soothing. And I’d be out like a light in five minutes.

I could make requests of him – “tell me that one about the butterfly,” or “find me that Wallace Stevens poem” or “which sonnet was the one about the summer’s day?” and he’d know, immediately, and recite that poem to me. He rarely remembered a word I said to him, but he remembered every poem he loved, and recited them to me. By heart.

May 2, 2018, would have been our 26th wedding anniversary.

And I forgot.

The significance of the day didn’t hit me until, in the midst of my “maintenance Mom” morning, checking our child’s calendar for the day – do I need to make a lunch, should I send money, I better remind about taking the phone, etc. – I saw the date, and it registered.

Although we were married on May 2, 1992, we actually met on April 27, 1990, and always considered that our “real” anniversary.

Twenty-seven was Mike’s favorite number. His birthday and our child’s birthday both were on the 27th of their respective months, and there were a bunch of other significant 27s in his life.

So last year on April 27, which would have been the 27th anniversary of the day we met, I took myself on a kind of memorial tour, visiting the place we first met (although I knew it would be closed for remodeling) near our old neighborhood in the city, now so built-up and gentrified as to be almost unrecognizable to me.

But something about marking that 27th “real” anniversary seems to have caused a sort of release -not closure, exactly – but a lessening of the need to mark such such days or to make an effort to recognize their significance.

This year on April 27th, which would have been our 28th “real” anniversary, there was a gala benefit for the organization that provides our child’s day program. I raced home after working a full day at the warehouse, zipped through shower and hair, and whipped on infrastructure to support the new dress,  fresh and wrinkled from its Amazon package, and headed out to the train in a Lyft and splurged on a fancy car ride home (because the late trains stop at every single stop and take forever and I can’t do that late at night anymore).

I had a blast. The food was great, the music was fun, and I sat and chatted with a nice couple who were very kind.

On May 2, after I realized what day it was, I was driving our child to her train, and a song came on the radio that I think of as a message to me from Mike: One Call Away, by a kid named Charlie Puth.

And thus began another round of car crying, trying to hold it in so I wouldn’t upset our child, who seemed to sense the song was significant to me, and actually let me listen all the way through.

There’s a line in that song, “Superman Got Nothing On Me,” which is the reason I hear it as a message from Mike – because the first Christmas without him, when for the first time in years I had no man in the house to buy presents for, I bought a present for the Bulgarian, knowing that he would never come to pick it up, and that he would never tell me where I could send it to him.

It was kind of a joke, but significant to me because it was significant to Mike.

It was a Superman sweatshirt. I still have it, wrapped and ready, and I put it under the tree at Christmas to remind me of my ridiculousness, and of my last best year of loving Mike. There’s a story behind it –

When Mike was around 5 or so, as he told it, he was hit by a car in his dicey west side neighborhood. A little friend of his, a developmentally delayed friend, raced over to him, as Mike remembered it, leaned over him as he lay in the street with a fractured skull, and said, “don’t worry Mike, you’ll be OK. You’re superman.”

And in the middle of the remodeling job I put Mike through as he was enduring his illness, just to give him a nice kitchen for as long as he could use it before he died, there was a moment when I was nagging the Bulgarian about fixing something or other, and he, as usual, was patiently enduring it, saying he’d fix it.

“How?” I said.

“Magic,” he said, teasing me a little, reminding me of my ridiculousness. Of course he’d fix it.

And just at that moment our child blurted out, “you’re Superman,” to the Bulgarian.

I didn’t think our child knew who Superman was, but there it was.

And now here’s Mike with, “Superman got nothin’ on me,” from the next world.

But Mike, dear, even though you are only one spiritual call away, I can’t “run into your arms” as the song suggests.

Hence, the car crying, on what would have been our 26th wedding anniversary.

I took the rings off shortly after Mike died. Death had done us part, and I didn’t feel right clinging to the rings. I wasn’t married anymore. Mike was gone.

Since then, I’ve had some kind of weird arthritis in both ring fingers – starting on the right, where I wore my engagement ring after we were married, and switching, seemingly overnight, to the left, the wedding ring side. I guess I should see someone about it – I can’t bend that wedding ring finger all the way, and it is swollen and it isn’t getting better like the one on the right did, and if I accidentally whack it on something in the warehouse it hurts like hell.

Mike, hon, are you hanging on? Are you doing this to my wedding ring finger? Is this some kind of not-letting-me-go? Are you angry I took the ring off? Because at this rate I’ll never get any ring, much less my wedding ring, back on that finger.

Maybe it’s me, doing it, subconsciously. Maybe it is a reminder that it is time for me to let go – I don’t know. I certainly feel as if I am being pushed, shoved, hustled, into the next phase of my life, whatever it may be, starting with the job, that clearly came to me though divine intervention of some sort.

So I’m moving on, as much as I can. But I am grateful that I can remember the sound of your voice, dear, reciting poetry by heart, and that I can see you as clear as day, in your favorite places at your favorite moments, both when you were well and when you were dying, in and around this house and yard.

Even if the significance of days and dates begin to fade, I am so grateful, loves, that I still have you memorized, by heart.

Read that sonnet, number 73. Remember that every person you love, you will lose, “ere long.”

And may you always be able to remember those people you have loved, by heart.

Until my next post, I remain, your loyal, humble, devoted, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

Let the Light In

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find? What if that’s actually true?

“Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in….”

-Sara Bareilles

A high school classmate, someone I haven’t talked to in decades, except for a moment’s greeting at the most recent reunion, emails me, out of the blue, and invites me to lunch.

Sure, why not? But why? Just curious – what made you think of me?

Just reaching out, she says – trying to connect and reconnect, after a divorce.

So I go to lunch with this classmate and another, also divorced, and hear their stories of the loss of their marriages.

And I tell the story of the loss of my husband, and what I was trying to push myself to do now – mainly, find a job, as much like my old job as possible. Close to home, where I can wear those beloved work boots, keep my head down, my mouth largely shut (except for necessary presentations to groups of volunteers) and otherwise do as I’m told, while staying on my feet all day, moving heavy things around and losing weight.

Where am I going to find something like that ever again?

And then the classmate who called me mentioned a place that she had volunteered, which I wouldn’t have known about or thought of if she hadn’t mentioned it.

After lunch I go home and check out the website of said organization, and right there, in the employment opportunities, is THE JOB.

The exact job. Warehouse work, on my feet, presentations to volunteers, the whole shebang.

I apply, writing a nice, not a snarky, cover letter.

Interviews came fast, followed by an offer.

An offer of a job with a regular schedule, good benefits, 10 minutes from home.

“Be careful what you wish for, ’cause you just might get it.” (I can’t believe I’m quoting a Daughtry song!) The job does, however, involve driving, and moving things with, a forklift. So that’s a line in my personal sand that I’m going to have to cross, have already started to cross, like it or not.

How did this happen, and happen so fast?

Ask and it shall be given, seek and ye shall find?

What if that’s actually true?

Well, Okay! In that case, I’d like to ask for a big, strong, kind, gentle man, between 5’10” and 6’4″, black hair, green or blue eyes, deep, calm voice, handy, 15 to 20 years younger than I am, and — hmm, now how shall I put this — “energetic?” “vigorous?” “frisky?’ OK, maybe “frisky” is a little too, erm, explicit. But you catch my drift.

That would make me feel fully alive again.

Spring seems to have come at last – today is a sunny day and the crocuses are blooming, the jonquils have opened and the tulips are coming up.  When the sun came out one day a few weeks ago, I found myself opening the drapes, and realizing I hadn’t done that in over a year. Most of the time, we’ve been sitting in a dark house, not letting the light in, muffled, dimmed, in the shadows.

Right when I felt myself sinking into another round of deep grief, which seemed to be happening to our child as well, a year and a half after losing Mike, right when I felt at my weakest, lowest point, right when all I wanted to do was curl up in a little fetal ball and disappear – I unconsciously, almost absent- mindedly, let the light in.

Before losing Mike, I was never one to “hide my light under a bushel,” as the saying goes – far from it. My problem has been much more blaring my light so brightly that it never gives anyone else the chance to let theirs shine.

Part of learning from loss to live with love and laughter is to learn to live with humility – to realize that I’m not really in charge, that if I could just shut it for a minute and be quiet, where I am right now, I might actually hear whispers of God, and feel divine influence, even in the most mundane aspects of my life.

I think God assigns that sort of thing to angels who know your minutiae – who know what you need even if you don’t, quite. So Mike’s involved, here somewhere, I’m pretty sure. (But let’s step up the pace on finding that black haired, green eyed, big, strong, kind gentle man with the deep calm voice, OK, loves?)

I’m not sure why I was whirled right into this job so fast. It sure didn’t feel like I had a helluva lot to do with making it happen – felt more like it happened to me and I was being led by the nose into it. OK, I’ll follow that lead, and see where it takes me.

It already has taken me places I’m afraid to go (e.g. , the driver’s seat of a forklift – but I’m picking it up fast) and reminded me of things I didn’t do so well in the past (see, “making children cry,”) but I’m trying, really trying, to take those things as second chances, learning opportunities, offers to live with humility and kindness, and to get over some of my fears and anxieties, which take up way too much of my headspace. I’m trying (with mixed success, but it’s only been two weeks) to dial it back enough, and to keep my big yap closed for long enough, to hear those whispers of the divine, and to see all those other lights, shining bright, right in front of me.

I’ll keep you posted. Especially about that big, strong, kind, gentle man request. We’ll see how that goes, tee hee.

Until then, I remain, your humble, obedient, loyal, etc.,

Ridiculous Woman

We Now Return to Our (Slightly Rescheduled) Programming, Already in Progress

When I least expected it, lots of good stuff has happened to me.

I am not so vain as to expect that you will have noticed, dear followers (all two dozen or so of you, except those weird outlook.com email addresses that show up as followers without there being any additional views, and then immediately disappear – what’s up with that?), but I’ve been away. From blogging, that is, for a few months.

I’m back, and while I can’t promise I’m “better than ever,” I am better, I think. A little.

Suffice it to say that when I least expected it, lots of good stuff has happened to me. Challenges have been met, goals achieved, some amazing development in my adult child accomplished. Generally, I feel as if taking some time to try to be still (not claiming success on that front, just that I tried) has paid off in really unexpected, slightly amazing and scary ways.

For example, yesterday I started learning how to drive a forklift. Ha, weren’t expecting that, were you? Neither was I, exactly. But hey, it’s always good to learn new skills, right? Yes, I got a job, having written a nice, not snarky cover letter. And I am wearing those beloved boots again, just like I wanted.

I’m crying less and moving around more, although I confess to a good bawling session this morning, triggered by paying a medical bill for myself, which made me remember paying the copays and deductibles for Mike’s (ultimately futile) scans, doctor visits and infusions. The bill was for my first mammogram (first? at my age? for shame!  “Thin Ice,” remember?) – which was expensive, but worth it to get the all clear, because although my amazing adult child is triumphing over new challenges every day, each time I cough there’s a lot of “you OK, Mom? You’re here on this earth with me, right?” So yes, sweetie, I’m here, so far, so good.

But this is supposed to be just a housekeeping post – I’ll write more about all that stuff soon. Housekeeping-wise, my “slightly rescheduled” programming means I can’t keep to a schedule like “non-toxic Tuesdays,” “Fiction Fridays” or “Thankful Thursdays” anymore – not that I ever strictly stuck to it anyway. I’ll keep writing about non-toxic love challenges I set for myself, books and music I love and times I’ve felt grateful, but just whenever I can – which I hope will be at least once a week.

Spring has been a hard time coming around here, a real struggle. March never got to the “out like a lamb” phase, and April is clinging pretty hard to the lion stuff – still cold, still snow predicted. But things are coming up – I’ve had jonquils bloom on one of our few sunny days, and the bulbs I planted for Mike’s memory garden are coming in, despite the cold. Birds are at the birdbath (which, by the way, I did successfully move, and I like its new spot) and the chickens, bless them, are laying between 6 and 8 eggs a day (ok, omelettes, frittatas, crustless quiches? (gotta stay low carb) – any other suggestions for consuming an average of 40 eggs a week much appreciated!)

Like spring, new things can be a hard time coming, two steps up and one step back, but they are as necessary as breathing, and I’m grateful for the bittersweet opportunities to move ahead I’m being given. My life feels “in progress” again, and I feel Mike’s approval, and help, from the other side. I’ve learned to take things one day at a time, to be grateful for little victories and small goals accomplished – like f’r instance I finally got the floors washed today, decks scrubbed, priddied and flogged dry (another Patrick O’Brian-ism), and damn, that feels good. Little things like a clean floor go a long way toward learning to live with grief and absence, to make them part of you without breaking you, to carry them with you as you must, with gratitude.

I’m trying to teach our child to change her sighs from “a day without Dad” to “a day of happy memories of Dad,” to help integrate that grief and absence into a normal, fuller, happy life, carrying those memories each day. You don’t “get over” losing a parent when you are in your early 20’s – but you have to learn to live on with it, and this week has been a series of obstacles overcome, sadness and anxiety worked through to accomplishment and pride – with happy memories of Mike, and plenty of Journey songs still showing up each time we drive anywhere.

Stick with us, loves, we’re moving along. I finally took the time, like you said I should, and you were right, as usual. Tonight is Karaoke night, and I think it is fitting that our child’s selection might be the Dixie Chicks Ready to Run – ready to have some fun – what’s all this talk about love?” (no more online dating sites for me!), as long as we keep feeling that you are with us in spirit.

Until my next not-regularly-scheduled post, I remain, your humble, devoted,

Ridiculous Woman

Thankful Thursday: Good day, Sunshine

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
to the last syllable of recorded time….”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5

Today I’m just grateful the sun came out.

Because if it hadn’t I might have spent another day in bed.

God, I hate January. It drags on and on, first frigid, then gray and damp, mushy, slushy and then frigid again, grey, fog, rain, snow, slush, mush, on and on and on, seemingly until the last syllable of recorded time. I feel days lost and lost, time passing with no purpose, no joy (except the joy of our child, the best human on the planet, and the person for whom I must go on, keep the chin up, keep calm and carry on etc.)

Depression runs in the family on my Dad’s side, but I never thought I’d be the one. And I’m fighting it.

But I did quit a really good job because of it. I found myself crying spontaneously at unpredictable moments in a job that requires a lot of public contact. So nope, no more of that.

I suppose I could give myself a break and stop beating myself up for doing that – I really loved the job but I really did need the time. The reason I keep bursting into tears is that I missed my best work buddy, who died about 7 months after my husband Mike died. Mike was two years younger than I. (Yes, “I,” not “me.” You wouldn’ t say “he was younger than me was.”) My work buddy was eighteen years younger than I at the time he died. That sucked.

And I realized I was also letting other stupid things at work get to me in a really outsized way, and I knew I needed to do what Mike told me to do before he died. “Take some time, Anne,” he said.

He was right, as usual, and I didn’t listen to him, as usual. Until I quit.

Which was at the end of July.

I set goals, many of which I achieved. Start this blog, clean the house, write the book. Not quite done with the book yet, but getting close. The book explains ridiculousness, phase one and is the reason I named the blog ridiculouswoman.

But I was also supposed to try and have a new job by January.

Not even close. Haven’t even really tried at all. Not feeling it. But I have to, I have to, one foot in front of the other.

Why do employers make it so damn hard? Every online application is different.

Hey, if colleges can come up with a common application that a kid only has to fill out once with all the usually required stuff, why can’t employers?

There, app developers. I just made you a billion dollars. Come up with the common job app and sell it to employers to make applying less like driving knitting needles into your eyes. Let me know when you’ve got it ready. And hey, gimme a cut of the IPO. I gave you the idea so t’s only fair.

But Tuesday it just all sort of caved in on me. Cabin fever, loneliness, lack of purpose, feeling like each day is just the same as the last.

I had every intention of writing my “non-toxic Tuesday” blog post that day. I dropped our child off at the train and received the text that confirmed safe arrival at the destination. I ate a quick mess of eggs, drank my coffee and went to yoga class.

And I came home and sat down in Dad’s chair. (Dad’s drinking chair. Now mine. But never in the day, except the day I found out my work buddy had died. He was such a good guy, who had faced so many struggles, and he would not have approved.)

No, no day drinking. But consumption of mass quantities of chocolate. Not good.

And I got up an hour later only to go upstairs and go to back to bed.

And I got up only to go back and pick up our child at the train station, and to cook the tacos for taco Tuesday. (Chicken this time, really good. I think I’ll use chicken from now on with Rick Bayless’ pre-packaged sauce for chicken tacos. So there’s that, anyway. Some left over for lunch today, too.)

What brought this on? Just the endless drag of January? The grey, the slush, the fact that the chickens hate it too?

I don’t think that was it.

I think it is Ridiculousness, phase two. (I’ll tell you about phase one tomorrow, if I can get my courage up.)

I put myself on Match.com and OurTime. Which has turned out to be pretty ridiculous.

I don’t think I was ready. But not being ready to do something hasn’t stopped me lately from doing it anyway. (See chickens, above.)

And it has been SO, so depressing.

Misspellings and semi-literacy galore. Guys of a certain age who put shirtless pictures of themselves on their profiles. Guys who didn’t read my profile and seem oblivious to the geographic range I’ve specified.

No less than 6 scammers who wrote to me claiming to be representing a friend who either can’t figure out how to use Match.com for themselves or who is too shy or some such bullshit, giving me an email address to contact said friend, which would only then give the scammers my actual email address, which Match.com does not do. How stupid do I seem? Apparently identifying myself as a widow tags me as that stupid and makes me a scam-magnet.

Smokers, bikers and guys with haircuts from the ’70s.

I tried “Plenty of Fish,” but they required me to disclose income, which I found really offensive, and then they wouldn’t let me delete my profile for 24 hours.

And wouldn’t you know it, right before I deleted it I saw a wonderful profile of a wonderful guy, a guy who quoted Lewis Carroll, but it was too late. Please, Lewis Carroll guy, join Match.com so I can find you again.

But then this morning the sun came out, and I took my vitamins yesterday, including my vitamin D, and I’ll be able to go for a walk today and get some naturally-generated vitamin D.

And I decided that if a guy I like doesn’t quite have the balls to contact me, I’ll go ahead and contact him, and I did. Two guys. Both educated, liberal and funny. And I’m not going to let it get me down if they don’t reply. I’ll just try, try again until someone who likes the same kind of music as I do, who doesn’t mind my frequent use of multi-syllabic words, and who defines himself as liberal but likes to treat a lady like a lady, is willing to talk.

I’ve revised and shortened my profile on Match.com about eight times already. I put the “I’d like to ski again and I’d love to learn to sail” back in, because a guy who seemed kind of OK wants a woman who skis, and his pictures indicate he likes to sail. So we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Because I remain, your humble, obedient etc.,

Ridiculous woman.

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 1

The chair wasn’t empty after all – it was imprinted with the form and memory of Mom, Grandma and still more Grandmothers before…

It’s the chair my Mother sat in every day, watching television, when she could still make it from the bedroom out to the family room to sit, on the days when she could just tolerate the frustration of the walker and the tether of the oxygen line.

It has been in my house since Mom died, nearly four years ago. For three years it sat in our little “library” room (a room probably more appropriately called a “den”) and I never sat in it.

Predictably, that cat commandeered it, claiming it as yet another spot she owned in this small house.

It still had the blue seat cushion that Mom used, and I could see her there, scowling, angry, frustrated, fed up, tired, defiant.IMG_20180103_220530955.jpg

On the day I was ready to finally get rid of Mike’s chair, the beat-up glider he had used in that den, I noticed that the cat’s occupancy of Mom’s chair had destroyed that blue seat cushion. It was past salvaging. So after I dragged Mike’s old brown glider, the one that managed to absorb crumbs and dust on its rails in a way that made it impossible to clean and thus also unsalvageable, out to the street as our one allowed “bulk item” for our weekly trash pick-up, I took the blue seat cushion off Mom’s chair, and threw it in the trash as well.

I moved the chair from one corner of the room to another, in a position across from my Dad’s chair (that’s for another post, another day) and slightly more toward the window.

And I sat down in it, for the first time in more than thirty years.

Immediately I noticed how well the chair fit me, as if it were molded for me, or on me. The meat of my palms at the base of my thumbs was cupped exactly by the rounded ends of the chairs’ arms.

The chair hit me in just the right place in my back. My feet rested perfectly on the floor, with my knees at a comfortable right angle, instead of dangling as they usually do from most all the other chairs in the world that seem to be made from some universal measure for people six inches taller than I.

The seat accommodated my, let’s say, “ample” behind like it had been waiting just for me.

I suddenly felt gently immersed in a kinship with generations of women in my family who had used that chair before me – not just Mom, but Grammie, and Grammie’s Mom, and her mother before her, if I remember the history of the object correctly.

That chair has a sort of genetic memory, and sitting in it gave me a moment of that memory.

These were tough, no-nonsense, New England women. Mom, a nurse. Grammie, a schoolteacher who like me, was widowed early. Grammie’s Mom, both a farm wife and shopkeeper’s wife, in early twentieth century Maine.

My relationships with Mom and Grammie couldn’t really be described as “warm.” Loving, yes. But filled with the kind of petty struggles that seem never-ending between Mothers and daughters, generation to generation. Stand up straight, comb your hair, set the table, hem that skirt, sew on the button, shuck the corn, can’t you do something about that hair! Call the men to dinner, dry the dishes, get your nose out of that book and go outside!

But when I sat down in that chair, I felt a depth of kinship, a physical kinship, with these women that was never so apparent to me before.

We were the same physical size. We walked through the world with nearly identical hands. Their hips were broad, like mine, and they liked to sit up straight, as I learned to do after all those little struggles.

I am grateful for that. The chair brought me close to those ancestresses in a different and deeper way than I had felt or considered before; as a teenager I had simply taken it for granted that my Grandmother’s dresses fit me and I never really thought about what that meant until I sat in my grandmothers’ (plural, at least three generations of them) chair.

Here is some deep connection, I thought. Their hands rested here, just as mine do, on short armrests of just the right length for them, and now, for me. The back of this chair supported their lower backs after long, long days of housekeeping, farming, nursing, just as it supports mine now.

The top of the back of the chair, covered in the picture with the cashmere blanket Dad gave Mom when she was expecting my oldest brother, her first child, is quite ornate. It is not comfortable for resting your head on – HA! No matter how exhausted these women were, they still sat up straight, heads high.

And now that my hands are starting to resemble my Mother’s hands, with hints of the same kind of arthritis, and my joints creak a little more, the way hers did, I feel a deeper kinship with these women, and I sense a message from them – they didn’t expect me to understand this while they were living, but they left a message, in that chair, for me, for after they were gone.

You are not so different from us. You have us within you. You’ll be ok. You can make it, no matter what life throws at you. Rest and rock a bit, but keep your head up.

I hope that means I have at least some of their toughness, their strength and grit, their endurance, their resilience, their clarity and longevity, their practical, no nonsense get-on-with-it-ness that got them past 85, to 89, to 90.

We weren’t demonstrative enough with each other – not enough hugs or endearments. But they did everything they could to transmit practical wisdom to me. 

Mom whispered when she sewed, drawing me in as she showed me the careful stitches to shorten the hems of every new skirt or dress, stitches that would be necessary for every new garment before “free alterations” or the new era of “petite” sizes. 

And I am grateful for that. And for the chair that reminds me of that.

Grammie was fierce with the rolling pin, brisk with the homemade doughnut dough (which she got up at 5 am to make for us on our summer visits to Maine), and I remembered that when rolling out the cookie dough this holiday season, using Mom’s wooden rolling pin, which she wielded with similar ferocity against any pie crust that dared defy her.

And I’m grateful I got to watch and learn from them, skills that seem old fashioned and forgotten, but that give me some small pride and pleasure still.  I’m grateful for the sense of shock I felt when an acquaintance casually confessed that she was walking on the cuffs if her trousers because she did not know how to shorten them.

Well, as a descendent of those hardy New England women, I’m grateful that I know how to thread a needle, measure and shorten a hem, sew on a button, roll out a pie crust or follow the rules of ICE (ice, compression, elevation) after a sprain. There is so much more they knew that I didn’t pay enough attention to – but I’m grateful for that chair that reminds me of those strong women who came before me, small as me in stature but richer by far in practical skill. Somehow when I sit there, in that chair that fits me perfectly, I feel a bit of their wisdom and experience coming through – remember – remember what we could do. What you still can do, if you put your mind to it.

So on this first post for my “thankful Thursdays,” I’m sticking to the basics like that chair.

I’m grateful too for the den in this little house where that chair resides, in the spot where Mike’s glider used to be, where memories of evenings listening to music with him remain vivid.

And for the little house itself, in these frigid January days, that has light and heat  and food and blankets within it. And pipes that haven’t frozen through years of winter as harsh as this.

I’m grateful that so far, the chickens have survived the subzero cold, while ceasing to lay eggs, as expected.

I’m grateful that the car starts, that the plumber came on Christmas Eve (time and a half, but hey, he came) and that I found the right part for the dishwasher, even though I’ll have to pay to have it installed.

I’m grateful to live in a place that values open, natural spaces, or as natural as they can be remade to be, to walk and breathe in, and to see the late afternoon winter sun paint the grasses and the ponds a glowing rose-gold while hawks soar and circle above.

I’m grateful and humbled to be the mother of the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, whose kindness, compassion, and cheerful perseverance in the face of a loud and confusing world is an example I continually hope someday to match.

I’m grateful for that silly cat, who gets nose to nose with me each morning, insisting I get up, get going, hop to it, rise and shine, there’s work to do here, feed me first of course and then you can deal with child and chickens. 

And I’m grateful for two more nights with the loveliest, freshest (and cheapest – free! delivered!) Christmas tree we’ve ever had in this house, which has shed not a needle since I won this year’s Battle of the Tree, and glows there in this den, giving me a little more time to be grateful for the peace and hope of this season and an excuse to linger and rock a bit longer, gently, in my Mothers chair.

Me vs. the Tree

…cute is…the best, the pinnacle, that can be achieved on the attractiveness scale when it comes to flannel sleepwear.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged..

…that there is no such thing as a sexy flannel nightgown.”

A sudden burst of luck and generosity hit me yesterday, when out of the blue I got a call offering me a fresh cut Christmas tree, delivered to my door.

“Are you looking for a Christmas tree?”

“Umm…wha….well, not yet, but, sure, why not?”

Turns out I could help out by taking the topped-off top of a large tree a member of my congregation just felled, as my Tree for this year.

It only took me 5 tries to get it up, centered and reasonably stable.

Which reminded me of the annual Battle of the Tree.

We’d trek out to get one, usually the second week of December, which Mike always insisted on – he never wanted a tree earlier than that: wouldn’t allow it. Meaning there was no point in arguing about it as that would mean no peace in this house until the subject was dropped.

So the second week of December we’d trek out, buy a tree at Home Depot and stuff in into the Honda, its trunk through the little trap door in the back seat that opened into the trunk, and it’s tip poking between the front seats, our child submerged under pine boughs in the back seat. Why didn’t we ever figure out how to bungee it to the top of the car?

The car would smell of pine needles for weeks after, and regardless of how many vacuumings I attempted, stray needles would still show up in there until the following year when we’d repeat the entire exercise and re-needle the whole interior.

Tree hauled inside, and that’s when the “fun” would begin.

“Wait, wait hon, let me put something down to protect the floor.”

I’d do that while he’d go fetch the tree stand from its perch on a not-easily-accessible shelf in the garage.

This tree stand is supposed to make it easy to get the tree  up and straight, and then sort of lock it in place. You screw on a smaller base to the trunk, and then put the whole thing into the larger part of the base, waggle it around until all agreed it was straight, and lock it in.

It has a foot pedal sort of thing on it, which you extend and then step on to enable the waggling-around, and then when it is determined the tree is straight, you push the pedal back in and voila! Locked and ready for lights.

Seems easy, right?

Well, the first issue was remembering to pull the foot pedal out in the first place. For reasons unknown, we simply could not remember that from one year to the next, even though the foot pedal says, “extend fully.” So that was a good thirty minute fight and several failed straightening attempts before we remembered that. Then we’d argue about whether it was supposed to be “extended fully” before you put the tree in or after. And trying to figure out whether the red ring thingee around the small base part is supposed to be in the “open” or “closed” position, when it didn’t seem to open or close anything.

Plus deciding how many, if any, of the bottom branches to trim off, so the sharp little beaks on the levers that were supposed to screw into the tree to secure it inside the smaller part of the base, could bite in deep enough to hold the tree.

But the biggest issue was trying to reach parity, compromise, or, in a very good year, actual agreement, about whether the tree was straight.

We’d trade off doing the waggling around, the stepping back to check verticality, adjusting, swearing, starting over, trying again.

“It looks fine to me!”

“No, further to the left!”

“Just hold it still, dammit!”

Etc. You get the idea.

Last year, the first year without Mike, our adult child didn’t want to go, so I went by myself to choose the tree and stuff it into my Subaru, since I sold the Honda. I don’t need two cars.

Went through all of the above steps and got the thing up, leaning back a little, but stable.

This year I thought I was thoroughly prepared. I remembered to pull the handle thingee out, but got stymied by the “open” or “close” ring thingee and the narrow trunk of this tree-made-out-of-the-top-of-a-bigger-tree (which is really pretty, and nicely shaped, and the right kind of tree for me, a short-needled balsam, I think, with great branches for lights and ornaments.) Tried it open first, and I thought I got the little beak thingees biting into the tree enough, but when I put it up, it waggled and leaned and tilted and tipped.

Try again.

Pulled the base off, closed the ring thingee. Now the beak thingees wouldn’t go into the trunk of the tree far enough at all. Way too loose.

Try again.

Open the thingee.

Position the levers with the beaks around the trunk of the tree in slightly different places. Beak thingees tighten up nicely, take a good bite. The little base is secure now.

Pick it up and put it in the big base, and proceed to waggle until I think it sits down in there the way it should. There’s a sort of click. That must mean something, right?

It seems like it is staying up on its own. Step back, looks reasonably vertical.

But I forgot to check which side of the tree I’d want facing forward.

Undo, redo, two or three more times.

When I finally decided it was good enough, I pushed the foot pedal thingee back into the base, and it seems to have worked. The tree is standing, awaiting lights and decoration.

Mike always did the lights, because he could reach the top of the tree, and I’d follow him around and around, reeling them out as he placed them on the branches and getting kind of dizzy. Step back, check, adjust.

After lights and garlands, ornaments. We have ornaments that mean things to me – I’d pick up a new one on any vacation, as a memento, so we have several from Maine, one from Disneyworld and one from Arizona. Each year I also tried to pick one that seemed to represent that year most memorably of all.

My favorite is the little snowman with a shovel, from the year 2001, I think. Mike was absolutely fanatical about shoveling. He’d set his alarm every two hours during a blizzard, and go out and shovel the driveway, just to prevent the snow from accumulating so much that it would turn to ice before he could shovel again. He even did this during a real snurricane, a snowmageddedon that carried 60 mile an hour winds that ripped part of the roof off.  What was the point, I tried to plead with him, when the wind would just blow it all back in a minute or two?

But in his mind it seems the measure of a man was his ability to contend with a snow covered driveway.

He appropriated my little black russian-looking hat for this task. I wear that hat everywhere now when I go outside, if I feel the slightest chill.

But that year, 2001 I think, was exceptional in its demand for shoveling. It seemed he spent the whole winter out there. So that year’s ornament was a no brainer.

Once the tree is all decorated, we had a tradition of “tree regarding.”

We’d turn on Christmas music and turn off all the lights except the outdoor decorations and the tree, and just sit back and look at it. It really is magical, and soothing.

Which brings me back around to the flannel nightgown.

I love the warmth and comfort and coziness of an oversized flannel nightie in the winter, and my Mom used to buy me a new one each Christmas. She thought it was excessive. It offended her native New England frugality, as she knew they’d last much longer than a year, but she did it anyway because she knew it made me happy.

I’m down to one flannel nightie now, and no one to get me a new one this year.

I can handle that, but the thing that made me sad, after I won this year’s solo battle of the tree, was when I stepped into the downstairs powder room, which has two big oval mirrors over two pretty porcelain sinks with gold trim and a floral pattern (why didn’t we go down to one when we had that room done? We didn’t need two sinks in there, ever) and saw my reflection in one of those mirrors.

“I look cute,” I thought, in my Santa’s helper hat (only Santa wear’s the REAL Santa hat), and my bulky red cardigan thrown over my last remaining Lanz flannel nightie.

“You look cute, Mom,” Mike would have said. Because I’m pretty sure he actually thought I did look cute, and he knew it made me happy that he’d say so. And cute is really the absolute best, the pinnacle, that can be achieved on the attractiveness scale when it comes to flannel sleepwear.

But he isn’t here anymore to tell me that. And I know it is vain and childish and kind of selfish to need someone here to tell me I look cute in my hat and my sweater and my nightie, but I do. And I could sure use a hug and a loving pat on the backside, too.

I try not to give in to loneliness or sadness too often anymore. But when we got the tree up yesterday, still undecorated, and had our “candle time,” when we listen to music, turn all the lights off and enjoy candlelight (votives, lanterns and a few tapers in the antique brass candlesticks that belonged to my grandmother- well away from the tree, don’t worry), after a nice long quiet time, our child sighed and said, “I miss Dad,” I lost it.

“I miss him too, sweetheart. S-s-s-s-o much. And I kn-n-n-now this house feels incomplete without him and I know I can’t be him for you, but he told you, remember? He told you to remember that Dad’s love never ends, and he wants you to try to be happy and have a happy life.”

“Don’t cry, Mom.”

After our child retired to bed, I returned to soft Christmas music, and to feeling incomplete, because Mike’s not here to say, “You look cute, Mom,” to me in my flannel nightie.

That “You look cute, Mom,” was forged, earned, built, over years of marriage and togetherness, through good times and bad, from the deep appreciation and long-glowing embers of a love that has endured decades of Battles of the Tree, and it isn’t something that comes easily. I’m not sure I have enough time left in this life to find another relationship that could generate the depths that produced that “You look cute, Mom.”

The holidays are hard. I’ll pick my chin up again, I know. But I can’t promise I won’t cry when I hang that little snowman on the tree. Even if  I go ahead and buy myself, by myself,  a new flannel nightie this year.