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Archive for the ‘The Past’ Category

It’s been 3 months today since my mom passed away. I still miss her as much as you might imagine. However, I’ve found out that’s she’s inside me. Not only in my heart but in basically how I am, act, speak and look. 
When I was in college, a friend was looking at a professional portrait our little family had taken around the time I graduated from high school. It was just my dad, my mom and me. This friend commented that she’d never seen anyone look equally like both parents. Usually people favor one parent over the other in appearance, if not completely looking like a double. At the time, I never saw it. I thought I looked mostly like my dad. Now that she’s gone, I see her when I look in the mirror. Maybe only in the light behind my eyes because she had green eyes and I have brown. I hate looking in the mirror but seeing her makes me hate it a bit less. 


I feel like I’ve aged quite a bit since she died. I felt much younger than her because I was. 41+ years age difference will do that to you. Now all of a sudden, I am understanding how hard I pushed her to do things. I made her get dressed everyday, even putting on her own socks. I helped her as needed but didn’t let her get away with not doing it. I think if I hadn’t made her do those things, she would’ve lost the ability. The old, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. I sit on the basement floor (carpeted) and sort laundry and pretreat stains, etc. Then getting up off the floor is no joke. I used to be able to do it like nothing but since I hurt my knee a year ago, it’s slow going. My knee is healed but “tricky” and gives me pain or acts up if I don’t watch it. I can now kneel on both knees. I pretty much marvel every day that Mom could get out of the bathtub by herself at 95 1/2. She was working in the garden every day weeding until age 88 or so. The fact that she could adapt to all the advances in technology is mind boggling. She grew up without electricity or running water. Back when there was a party line for the telephone and a horse and buggy to go to town. Yet she learned to drive a car at age 12. She lived through a lot of changes and embraced them all. She loved playing slot games on the computer.


We were very different personality-wise. She and my husband were both born in April and were similar in a lot of ways. I’m more calculated in doing things. Before doing things, I like to research things and do a lot of thinking and planning about them. Both of them would get an idea and just run with it. They’d try anything and always be up for an adventure. I’d have to be coaxed into it. Both my mom and husband dislike greeting cards. They also don’t like exchanging presents. My mom would send a few Christmas cards to her sister, her nieces and 2 coworkers she had met 70 years ago and had still kept in touch with. She liked receiving cards from these people. She disliked writing letters but would force herself to write her sister, brother and those coworkers a few times a year because she knew they’d write back. I grew up with a love of letter writing. I had penpals since I was 12 years old. Then I went into slams which was more writing. I’ve always loved sending cards and receiving them. Mom and Greg never wanted cards from me. They both thought it was stupid. So I obliged and never made them hardly any. It dawned on me one day that I have no cards from my Mom. Others whose mother died might have a shoebox or even bigger box just filled with cards they could look through telling how much their mother loved them. They could look at them over and over again. Instead I have memories of her telling me she loved me (up until the last 5 years or so) often and showing me in countless ways. My mom wasn’t a demonstrative person. She grew up in a time when you didn’t get hugs and were never told you were loved. Ever since I was a baby, she told me many times daily that she loved me and I always got hugs and kisses. She used to call me “Kissy” because I liked kisses so much. My dad never told me he loved me and didn’t give hugs or kisses. So I got all of my affection from Mom. When I was in high school, she’d send me off to school with a kiss on the lips and “Have a good day!”. Nobody really understood how close I was to my mom because I don’t know anyone else who had as close a relationship with their own mother. There was a girl in high school who was older than me by a 2 years. We were in the same grade but she’d been held back. So she was 18 and her mother had left her. Instead of kicking her out when she turned 18, the mother moved but must’ve paid the rent because she had a house to herself. Anyway, we rode the bus together and she came to the door to get me so we could walk several blocks ahead because we were one of the last stops and if we waited to get on, we wouldn’t get a seat on the bus and would have to stand the whole way (5 miles). She really resented my close bond with my mom and was downright jealous. She saw Mom kiss me on the lips and the next day there were rumors swirling all around school that I was a lesbian. It was a vicious thing to do to take something so innocent and loving and turn it into a lie. As with most rumors, there’s nothing you can do about them, people will either believe them or they won’t. But I was really hurt and even though I knew where her intentions came from, it didn’t make it any easier to deal with. I was so upset and didn’t want to tell my mom for fear that it would make her not want to kiss me goodbye every morning. But I did tell her because there wasn’t anything that I didn’t share with her. We got through that and our bond was even stronger. Only death can separate us from one other.


Yesterday I made a bunch of Valentines on the computer. It made me think of all this. I never know if others like getting cards but I try to acknowledge others and send them. I know I like getting them and typically only 2 or 3 send me any for the various holidays. I do cherish them. It makes me wonder how important it is to have tangible items that belonged to a dead person. My mom doesn’t have many possessions. She moved dozens of times throughout her life and didn’t keep things from her childhood or even early adulthood. She would give things away when she moved so she wouldn’t have to pay to transport them. Then in the last 10 years (5 years or so before the Alzheimers was diagnosed), she started throwing things out. She didn’t have a lot to begin with but any old cards or letters, she would read one last time and then put in the garbage. I used to argue with her about this but she felt so strongly about getting rid of the stuff, that I gave in and didn’t question it after that. She was always trying to get me to get rid of some of my stuff. The more she would egg me on, the harder I would hold onto things. She did get me to part with a lot when we moved from my childhood home in Eau Claire to Sussex, WI. 


I feel blessed to have had every single kiss, hug and declaration of love from my mom. I know not everyone is so lucky. I think the secret is to love like there’s no tomorrow. Which is what we always did. We never knew how much time we’d have together but we knew it wouldn’t be enough. Happy Valentine’s Day dear friends!! 🙂 Hold onto your loved ones with all your might!

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I have much to say but not a lot of time. I’ll type as fast as I can and hope I can get in what I need to. We got back from vacation on Sept. 12th and are gearing up for another one in 10 days. We purposely leave our vacations for the 2nd half of the year because at least then we have something to look forward to. Many use their vacation time up in the first few months of the year and have to wait until the next calendar year to take more. There’s something to be said for just knowing you have the time off coming to you.
Mom drinking her coffee in the RV

Mom drinking her coffee in the RV

Our last trip was up to Black River Falls, WI. I think we’ve officially burned ourself out on the place. The first 5 days the temperature was in the 90’s every day! That’s unheard of for that time of year. Of course, we had no air conditioning. It was less than pleasant but we got through it. We ate out twice at the casino and gambled twice as well. Greg & I got away for a few hours here and there to check out the antique shops in BRF and Hixton. Mom didn’t want to do much which limited what we could do. We knew that going in so really weren’t too bummed out about it. One day Greg & I went up to my hometown–Eau Claire, WI. We hadn’t been there in about 15 years.
Dad's grave

Dad’s grave

We went to the cemetery and saw the graves of my dad along with his first wife, her parents, my half sister’s dead twins, etc. We found the graves right away. My oldest half sister had gone to her 60th high school reunion in August (mind blowing, eh?) and had been unable to find the graves. We went to see the church my grandma (dad’s mom) founded in 1923. It played a large part in my upbringing. I attended Sunday School, got confirmed and then went to church there until I left for college. My dad had been elder in the church and had paid for a lot of the stained glass windows. We went to McDonough Park which is right by Dell’s Pond. We played there a lot as kids. I saw they had replaced the sign that had been shot full of bullet holes with a new one.
North Presbyterian Church that my grandma founded

North Presbyterian Church that my grandma founded

We got out of the car and walked through the old neighorhood for several blocks. It was surreal–like walking back in time. Things were the same and yet they weren’t. The area was always poor but now it seemed so rundown. A shop owner had told us not to go there at night because it was dangerous. There wasn’t a soul on the streets which made me wonder. Seeing the house I grew up in was bittersweet…. Things had been changed for the worse. Basically, it looked like someone had ruined the place. It sits next to a large building that used to be my grandparents corner grocery store. It had closed before my birth and my dad had turned it into a duplex (upper and lower apts). We always called it “The Store”. Well, The Store was for sale and looked unfit for habitation.  The post office no longer delivers to the houses, the mailboxes have now been moved to the curb.
Grandparents' corner grocery store as a duplex

Grandparents’ corner grocery store as a duplex

It made me think of my last blog post and how I feel like white trash. Or I am white trash. While we were there and for a week or so after we got home, I kept thinking, “No wonder I didn’t make anything of myself. It would be nearly impossible to, coming from that area.” I said it to my hubby and he said, “But you did make something of yourself.” I said, “No, I didn’t.” He said, “You survived. You got out.” I guess that’s something…
My first home

My first home

I’ve been buried in laundry and cooking since we got back. I haven’t even been able to work on selling online at all. Mom is taking up more and more of my time which I knew would happen. She pretty much needs help with everything she does now. Some days I run out of patience before breakfast. That’s when you know it’s going to be a long day. I’ll save all the details of that for a future post. Lucky you! 😉
Neighbor's tree being cut down

Neighbor’s tree being cut down

The next door neighbor had their giant elm tree cut down last week. Today the tree cutting co. came to drill out the stump. We had ours done 14 years ago. It was a horrific expense at the time, close to $5,000 then. We’re taking Amber to the vet on Thurs. afternoon for her yearly vaccinations. I’m just trying to keep my chin up and my head above water under less than ideal circumstances. Hope you’re doing the same! 🙂
Logs from downed tree

Logs from downed tree

 

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The more I want to sit down and write, the more things get in the way. I was literally fantasizing about being able to blog the other day. Writing is something that costs me nothing but time and makes me so happy. Yet time is in great demand in my life. So much happens from one day to the next, I’d easily have enough for a blog post daily but I have to just hit a few of the highlights of the past several weeks when I’m able to get on here.

My husband doesn’t hear from his family very much except when someone dies. Even then, they don’t always tell him. I’m not kidding. The entire family “forgot” to tell him one of his Aunts died. That went over well. Last Friday, he got a phone call that the younger brother of one of his closest childhood friends had died suddenly. His brother told him Paul was only 48 and it was a massive heart attack. Paul had been a meteorologist in Milwaukee for many years and about 10 years ago started working in the financial planning field. That’s quite a jump in occupations but I’m all for whatever makes people happy. Paul was in great physical shape, was married with 3 kids. Later that day, one of Greg’s other brothers called to see if he’d heard the news. This time he was told that Paul was 50 and had a massive stroke. Of course, now we don’t know what to believe. I guess the details don’t matter when the outcome is the same. It’s typical for him to get conflicting information from different family members.

We saw online that the wake and funeral are on Friday. It’s really unusual for Catholics to have it all in one day. At least in WI. All of the ones we’ve gone to have the wake the night before and funeral the next morning. Having it all in one day works out more conveniently for people like us who are coming from out of town. I know my hubby’s first reaction was to attend the funeral. I hate funerals but if hubby decides he needs to go, I will try to support him.

On Mother’s Day, hubby was at work and got a phone call from his older sister. Their cousin Bernie was found dead at his mother’s house that afternoon. He was only about 49 yrs. old. We don’t know what he’d died of but he’d led a troubled life. He was a felon and couldn’t find a job. Now we have to wait and see when the funeral will be. I can’t see going up to WI twice in one week or even 2 days in a row. Maybe we’ll luck out and both will be on Friday so we can pay our respects at both.

So much of my blog feels like it’s about death or dying. I never wanted it to be that way. May 3rd, one of my slam friends I’ve known since 1993 passed away. She had been plagued with health problems on and off for years. She’d had back problems and various skin cancers that kept growing back. April 3rd she’d sent out a group email to everyone in slams that she now had liver cancer and only had a few weeks to live. She told everyone not to send her any cards because “Get well soon” doesn’t quite cover it. I never knew exactly how old Shirley was since she’d never wanted to give her age. Now I’d guess she was about 25 years older than me. It was still shocking. Even though I didn’t  have time to blog, I took the time to write her a really nice email. I told her what she meant to me. I didn’t want to have any regrets. I wanted to let her know she made a difference and would be missed. Not to speak ill of the dead but I’m going to. I didn’t know if she was in a ton of pain or was bedridden or not. I didn’t know if she was spending her last weeks doing things she loved or was confined to her bedroom. She told me the pain hadn’t started coming yet but didn’t elaborate further. I knew she was angry and had an attitude about being in an impossible situation with the only way out being death. I offered her a chance to write a post on my blog about anything she wanted. How she felt about dying, what she wanted to be remembered for, memorable moments from her life, etc. She basically answered with “No need to email me anymore. I’ll be closing my AOL account this week.” Ok, I know when to let something go. I had simply made an offer which I’m assuming only another writer could appreciate. If someone offered me that opportunity now, I’d be euphoric. I get that everybody’s different. She either didn’t want to vent or didn’t see the need to do it publicly. I was closer to Shirley than anyone in slams or so I thought. The way I found out she had died was getting a forward of a group email from someone else in slams. Apparently, she had kept emailing this one person up until her death. Good for her. But then this person (who I’ve known well) didn’t even bother to send me the email that she’d died. Ok, so I’m not in slams anymore. But I was a big part of them for 30 years. I know I shouldn’t be bringing this stuff up but I need to get it out of my system. I have so many conflicting emotions about people and relationships, I don’t know where to turn.

Over our vacation, on my Mom’s birthday, I got a nasty email from one of my half-sisters. I have 3 half-sisters (S, J & D) and one half brother. My mom helped raise all but the oldest girl (D) who introduced my parents to each other. The middle girl (J) who was 14 when my parents got married, has always hated my mother. All the kids had a seething anger that their mother had died of brain cancer when they were young. They resented my mother trying to replace her. They couldn’t have treated her worse if she had stabbed the woman to death in front of them. They would’ve resented anyone that came into the house that still held their mother’s presence. My mother bent over backwards for those children, was generous to them but tried to discipline them as well. My father stayed neutral and didn’t back my mom up. He didn’t want to get involved in a dispute of any kind. It was just a horrible situation. In addition to working as a long distance telephone operator, she did all of the cooking, cleaning and laundry for the entire household. She also had to help my father “handle” S who was diagnosed as schizophrenic in her early teens. Not much was known about the mental illness in the early ’70’s but it was a nightmare to say the least. Anyone else might have crumbled under the pressure. To say it was a thankless job was an understatement. She had to host holiday dinners, buy gifts, sew clothes, you name it. To add to her stress, she had me when she least expected it. To give you an example of what her life was like, she had to walk to the hospital to be induced to deliver me. I was 2 weeks late. She had to walk to the hospital which was at least 10 blocks away. The 2 youngest girls walked with her but she (at 9 mos. & 2 wks pregnant.), had to carry her own suitcase to the hospital!!! A decent human being would offer to carry it. Or just carry it without offering. But no. They wouldn’t do a thing for her, it was all for them. There is so much more to this story but I’m only telling this for background. This middle sister (J) badmouths my mom at every turn, even though she hasn’t seen her in over 30 years. Talk about not letting something go!! We have emailed jokes but I would really rather not be in contact with her. She is pure evil. The worst thing is she calls herself a Christian. She is a bible banger. She has been my main inspiration for being turned off of organized religion. She spouts bible verses but leads a life filled with hate and has a tongue that spews venom. She has never forgiven anyone for anything in her entire life. I get how hard forgiveness is. It has taken me decades to forgive some things. She lashes out at everyone she’s ever known. She regularly attacks her oldest sister for her weak moral character & sins of the past. This oldest sister is very religious too and repeatedly forgives J for her viciousness.

This time, out of the blue, J sent this scathing email about what a horrible person my mother is. She did this simply because it was her birthday and she couldn’t forget that. She couldn’t just move on with her life and be glad she hasn’t seen Mom in 30 years. Instead she feels the need to inflict pain on me, probably hoping I tell my mother what she said. Obviously, I’m not about to do that but it did ruin my day. It was just so sudden and unnecessary. I’m not going to repeat the vile things she said (which were untrue). My first reaction was to forward the email to my older half-sister and half-brother and tell them because of this I want nothing more to do with any of them ever again. I had it written out and decided to wait and not hit send. I decided to do nothing. I wasn’t about to email J back because she wanted to get a rise out of me and I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction.

I would like nothing more than to cut off all these half relatives from my life. Is it the right thing to do though? My happiest years were when I had no contact whatsoever with them. I don’t have other relatives though. It’s not like I have so many relatives that I can disown some and still have a bunch of others. Aside from them, I  have 3 cousins and that’s IT. I don’t hear from the cousins either. My mom gets a Christmas card from the 2 girl cousins. I’ve tried to keep in touch via email with them but they don’t hold up their end of it. So I gave up.

J is the type that if I blocked her email, she would make it her life’s mission to track me down and heaven help me if she ever found my blog. I shouldn’t have to defend a 93 yr. old woman to someone who has no concept of what life was like then for her or what life is like now for her. In the throws of Alzheimer’s. I’m not about to tell J that Mom even has that. It would probably delight her to no end. There are many people who I feel have wronged me over the years and no matter what, I’ve never wished them ill. I just don’t want them anywhere near me. I don’t sit around thinking of ways to extract revenge or poking pins into a voodoo doll in their likeness. I try to enjoy what life has to offer because if you’re busy hating, you’re wasting time and missing out on some really good stuff. Stuff is the technical term. 😉

Which brings me to the matter of in-laws. My hubby has a huge family as I’ve said before. I have FEELINGS about most of them. Some good, some not good. I’m not going into detail at this time. I wrote this 2 days ago and debated even posting this stuff. I really don’t want to make things worse (none of them read the blog or even know about it as far as I know) but these feelings keep surfacing over and over. Maybe if I exorcise my demons by writing about them, they will go away?  I’d really like advice on how you reconcile when you try but the other person doesn’t or maybe you both try and the relationship isn’t what you want. How do you live with it not being the way you want? I can’t control how others act or how they treat me. I have to either take it or not associate. Or is there a middle ground that adults who aren’t me can deal with?! I assume I have high expectations of people but other times I think it’s not me at all.  I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive but I hate to sit by and watch them treat my husband differently from his siblings. I have to pretend I don’t know we were shunned from a party or some event. I’m not saying we would go, I’m saying we are treated differently. Well, we are very different. We like to give presents to his family which they never refuse. Yet, I don’t think I’ve gotten a single thing from any of them in over 20 years. Obviously I don’t need anything and that’s not the point. I guess what it comes down to is they don’t think of us. Which on some level, I think we like. We like living removed from the hometown most of them still live in. We like having a life away from them but I know that even if we lived in town, we wouldn’t be treated the same. Does everyone have these complex family relationships? Do you feel ill at ease around some relatives? I know it’s hard to get a grasp on what I’m talking about without being told actual specifics. I used to have high hopes that the weird relationship dynamic with the in-laws would resolve itself over time. I’m not that naive anymore. It will always either be like this or maybe worse.

Maybe I should carry a pie bird around in my pocket. So at least when I’m venting, it will look pretty…Thanks for hanging in there with what was basically a gripe session. I don’t want it to sound like I’m that unhappy, I’m not. Just a whole bunch of things culminated at once to bring these thoughts into my head.

 

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Right before Christmas, I enlisted my spouse to go up to the attic to retrieve our holiday decorations. We hadn’t been up there for over a decade. Along with the artificial tree, ornaments, garland, lights and tinsel, he brought down an inconspicuous black garbage bag containing a cardboard box. He looked inside and said, “It’s some of your old schoolwork.” I couldn’t imagine that’d be very interesting. I told him to put it to the side and I’d look at it later. Later finally arrived this week. Next Monday, on the Martin Luther King holiday, we’re going to dismantle the Christmas tree and put everything back into the attic. We’ve never waited this late in the year to remove Christmas from our lives. Then again, we aren’t even used to having a Chrismas so we’re enjoying it more than we should. I knew the black bag and its contents would be put away then too. So it was now or never to look inside.

Hubby made this definition of my name

Hubby made this definition of my name

I have very few mementoes from childhood. All my toys were given away to my oldest half-sister’s kids. She had 5 kids and was always asking for them. My mom could never say no and we had such a small house, we had no room to keep them anyway. Some of my school papers were kept in the basement of the house I grew up in and I saw them briefly when my dad died. One thing that stood out back then was a crayon drawing I made of my dead cat Tiger in heaven wearing an angel’s robe that I wanted to keep. My brother was the executor of my dad’s will and made such an issue of ANYTHING being removed from the house then, that I just said forget it. He wanted to put a dollar value to everything, even personal property. I don’t want to delve off on a tangent about his because it still brings up sour feelings that I’ve for the most part overcome.
myownstories
I didn’t expect much when I opened the box but it turned out to be a magical box filled with memories from my youth. Memories long gone. Some things I’d look at and it and immediately recognize. Others I’d have to think about long and hard and then I could vaguely remember them. Still others are memories that might as well belong to someone else. They are so far removed from my memory bank, they may as well be a stranger’s. That is a scary thought. Looking after my 92 1/2 yr. old mother who has Alzheimer’s has shown me firsthand what it’s like to lose your memories. The good, the bad and the ugly all disappear as if they never existed. “We only have the present” has never been more true. Things that were so important, you wouldn’t think you’d ever forget. Or things that were so hurtful or upsetting. Now here I sit, not for the first time, wondering if I’ll be succumbing to the demon called Alzheimer’s as well. Or if I’m already a victim in the early stages. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about it since there really is nothing that can be done. But loss of any kind is hard.
self portrait 2nd grade

self portrait 2nd grade

Getting older has taught me to be more forgiving. I had very high expectations for my parents. Maybe everyone does?! I mean unrealistic in expecting them to be perfect. Of course, I expected myself to be perfect too. My mom was 41 yrs. old when I was born (her first and only child). My dad was 48 1/2 yrs. old then (I was his 5th child). More than once my dad forgot to pick me up at school. I usually took the school bus but for appts had to stay late or leave early. This happened in jr. high and high school and I had to walk home. 5 miles and 2 miles. He did remember before I made it all the way home but I could never get over the fact that he could “forget” me. I took it VERY personally. Now I wonder if I had kids late in life (instead of not at all), would I forget them? I know it’s different now, there’s cellphones that weren’t around back then. I don’t forget the dogs but I can see how it could happen. I am now in position to forgive a man who’s been dead for almost 25 years. It wasn’t like I was still holding a grudge or that this was the only thing wrong with our relationship. But I’m able to see how clueless I was to his side of things. How generous of me so many years after the fact. Oy. (I have another post in the making on unrealistic expectations in relationships.)
We are family

We are family

The contents of the box are mostly things from my early adulthood. The exceptions being a 2nd grade book of my stories colored in crayon and a few other items. I also found the book of Wacky Packages I made. These were stickers in the ’60’s and ’70’s that mocked different household products. I found them hilarious and had been wondering what became of the book. There was a newsletter I made for a club I formed with the neighborhood kids (COFYADU). Named after the first letter of my name, the 2nd letter of the vice president’s name (Joe), the 3rd letter of the secretary (Jeff), the 4th letter of the treasurer (Susy), the first letter of Doug, the 2nd letter of Julie. Everything I did had to be so elaborate back then. It wears me out just thinking about how I would think this stuff up! I had handwritten journal pages inside from my senior year in high school. There was a lot mentioned in those that I still don’t recall. There were some love letters from my husband from when we were in our 7 years of courtship (we were engaged most of that time). I had forgotten he made a definition of my name right after I started working nights at the Post Office which still makes me smile. There were the letters from the PO telling me I was hired. Addressed to “Mr”. 😉
Wacky Packages

Wacky Packages

There’s a few sentences I had written in about 3rd or 4th grade that always get my husband roaring with laughter. It’s where I compare things to other things “only there’s more of it.” The reasoning of a 9 year old: “A rat is like a mouse only thiers more of it. A turkey is like a chicken only theirs more of it. A wig is like your own hair only theirs more of it. A field is like a yard only theirs more of it. A world is like a map only theirs more of it. A rectangle is like a square only theirs more of it.” How profound. One thing I notice in all my early writings was my spelling was atrocious. I’m surprised I ever learned to spell correctly. I remember when I first learned to write, they taught us something “new”in schools at the time. We were encouraged to spell words phonetically. The way they sounded. It’s amazing I was able to learn it the right way later. I don’t think this was taught everywhere. My husband grew up in a different part of the state and he didn’t learn this way.
A turkey is like a chicken...

A turkey is like a chicken…

I remember in around 7th grade having to take an outline of our silhouette and write in all the things that filled our brain or lives. Everything we liked, spent time doing or thought about a lot. My biggest section was BOYS. Ha ha. I was one of those weird girls who liked boys from Kindergarten on. I always had a crush on some boy or other. Sometimes 6 at a time. Other things taking prominence were: macaroni and cheese, babysitting, Chetek (where my folks had a cottage), Curtis my dog, fishing, talking on the phone, listening to the radio, etc. Things that took up a smaller section: playing records, penpals, homework, playing cello, Dairy Queen and bugging people. 😉
Inside my head

Inside my head

The cutest thing to me was the postcard and letter I wrote to my cat Tiger when we were on vacation when I was 10 years old. My parents indulged me and let me use the free motel stationery but didn’t let me use actual postage to mail it. That didn’t hinder my imagination any. Part of the letter reads: “I might get you a mouse or a bird or some toy but I won’t forget you. I’ll make you a tuna fish cassoroll when we get back. I’m lonesome for you. I wish you were here.” The postcard reads: “I hope you took a bath while I was gone.” Ba ha ha! 🙂
Letter & postcard to my cat, Tiger

Letter & postcard to my cat, Tiger

One of the greatest things I saw were several pages I wrote down starting in June 1991 when hubby got a management consulting job. It was with a now defunct company located in the city we live in now. We were living in WI then and hubby had to travel around the country, to at least 2 cities a week. Before cellphones, he had to fly, get a rental car, take a bus or drive  his own car all over hell and back through all kinds of weather. Even to Canada. It was so hard on us since we only saw each other for a day a weekend or sometimes a few hours or some weekends not at all if they kept him out on the road. I wrote down all the businesses he analyzed and the cities and we had both forgotten a lot of them! I can hardly believe we survived that. It’s a blessing that I wrote it down because if I didn’t, there would be no way to recall that info. It would just be forgotten which is maybe what it should be. Hubby loved the work, he’s a people person and liked helping others. He wanted to make the businesses a success and learned so much about so many types of businesses. The travel was so draining. The people he worked for were not nice people and he had so much stress. He made good money then though but I don’t know if it was worth it to be apart from each other so much. Anyway, looking at the lists of places he went, I didn’t even remember writing them down. Gah!
The house I grew up in

The house I grew up in

If I’ve learned anything from opening the box, it’s to write everything down. Things you think you won’t need to know later or care about in the future can in hindsight be golden. I wish I’d been able to keep up a journal for my entire life. I tried numerous times as a child to go the diary route. It all seemed so mundane and I got too lazy to continue. Then I would read even the boring entries later with interest. Too bad I could never finish anything I started. There are so many things I’ve experienced that I still remember but only in the vague “had a wonderful time, did this and that” type of way. I don’t remember all the minor details that fill in the blanks. If I could pass words of wisdom on to anyone, it would be to start a blog from as early as you start using a computer. Even if it’s kept private for your eyes only. All the feelings you write down will be at your fingertips to experience and relive again and again. You can look at how far you’ve come. How much you’ve changed and how many things about you haven’t changed over the years. The only thing it would cost to do this is time. Time is a precious commodity but it is a fair trade to keep the memories alive.
Autumn: another name for Spring!

Autumn: another name for Spring!

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I’ve never dealt well with death. The same could be said of a lot of people. The only people who handle death well are the dead. I try to avoid thinking about it entirely but due to the nature of life, it does show up sooner or later. On Monday night, we received a phone call that my mom’s best friend had passed away at age 93. I called her son back on Tuesday afternoon and missed him since he was at the funeral home making arrangements. I did speak to her grandson or tried to with a huge lump in my throat. All I could think of was all the letters she’d written my mom that I’d read. She mentioned her grandsons frequently and how fond she was of them. How good they were to her and how they even lived with her for a time. I start to get emotional without a real reason. Just knowing how much they would miss her made me start to fall apart. I got off the phone as fast as I could before he had to wonder what kind of basket case I was. My mother had been friends with Bea for almost 70 years. They had met in their 20’s and the friendship had survived moves to many states, marriages, children and lasted into their 90’s. They started out as coworkers and then roommates. They had many shared experiences that got them laughing whenever they spoke on the phone or in person. They always sent each other birthday and Christmas cards, no matter what. They always wrote letters telling what was going on in their lives. They shared recipes, lots of laughter and even comics that Bea used to cut out of the paper and send with her letters. My mom is not an emotional person. She used to be a bit more but as she’s aged she’s lost the ability to wallow in sorrow. Later that day, Bea’s son Gary called back and we talked for 37 minutes before I had to get off or I’d start crying. I can’t get over what an impact one person had on both our lives. I had long wondered who would go first. If I’d be calling Bea to tell her that my mom had passed away. The reason I handled the phone calls for my mom is that even with 2 hearing aids, her hearing is so bad she can’t hear well enough to carry on a phone conversation.

 
The only time I saw my dad cry was at his mother’s funeral. I was 9 and my grandma was 93. She had lived her last few years in a nursing home but before that had lived with us. My dad was very close to his mother since he was an only child. Seeing him just sobbing during the hymn Rock of Ages shook me to my core. It was my first funeral and my first time being around any display of grief. My mother’s mother had died when I was 5 but I didn’t go to the funeral. Maybe if I’d had more experience with death it wouldn’t be so uncomfortable for me.
 
I have since been exposed to several more occasions of death but it hasn’t gotten any easier. My dad died when I was 27 and I remember wondering if it hurts worse to lose a parent when you’re young or old. When you’re young (like 27 versus 50), you’re mourning the future you lost, what you could’ve had with them. When you’re older and lose a parent, you’ve had longer to bond with them and be close with them. Therefore, you’d miss them more. I don’t know which theory is true because the only thing I’ve figured out is it hurts either way. It hurts more the closer you are with the person. If you’re in daily contact with someone, there’s a huge void left when they’re gone.
 
I’ve noticed there are basically 2 ways people handle death. Yes, I do make over-simplifications. There are the people who think no one has ever grieved like they have. Due to my husband coming from a large Catholic family, there are way too many weddings and funerals to attend. My husband was taught to go and show his respects. We’ve been together for almost 28 years so as time marches on, more of the aunts and uncles have passed away. Some I’ve barely known, others I’ve known somewhat or quite well. About 10 years ago was the first one that really hit me. It was his Aunt Rosie. She was my hubby’s double aunt. She was his mother’s sister and married to his dad’s brother. That saying that you never forget how someone makes you feel is so true. I have always felt self conscious/ ill at ease around crowds at family gatherings. Not knowing who to talk to or what to say. Rosie always made a point of coming up to me and talking to me. She would ask about my mom and we’d talk about how she liked to gamble too. We’d also talk about travel and trips. It didn’t matter what we talked about, I felt like she liked me and I genuinely liked her. She made me forget all the other people around us and feel like it wasn’t a waste that I showed up at the family function. I truly grieved for her and shed tears at her funeral service.
 
There have been other funerals I’ve attended that had a mass hysteria quality to them. Even if I wasn’t one bit sad, seeing everyone crying to the point of dry heaving starts to make me whimper and feel like sticking a knife in my gut. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. At a different funeral, 2 people threw themselves on the casket. They don’t even do that in the movies!! This service was so upsetting to me on so many levels. I’m not telling people how to grieve but I have a hard time understanding how people can turn on and off their emotions like that. One minute they are hysterical, the next they are eating lunch and laughing in the church basement. I guess this is normal. I’ve often said I don’t believe in funerals. Of course, I believe they exist, just that they are unnecessary. I believe in telling people how you feel about them while they are alive. I believe in comforting people who have lost loved ones but the big pomp and circumstance is not for me. I wouldn’t even want a service, nor a cemetery plot. Giving the dead license to take up real estate forever is just crazy.
 
I wished there was a bravery pill that would give you strength when you need it. When grief overtakes you and you want to appear strong, you’d take it. Many don’t need this since they are able to give a eulogy for someone they loved. I know I could write one but there’s no way I could get through reading it. I would break down so many times until I just folded up completely. I’ve never felt capable of crying in front of other people. It is way too vulnerable of a thing for me. I try to hold it in and wipe away tears but I don’t let it all out in front of others. It is a howling pain that I couldn’t inflict on another person’s ears.
 
Some people seem so matter of fact when someone passes away. They understand it’s a phase of life and have made peace with it almost instantly when it happens. This is probably the “right” way to be. At one of the family funerals a few years ago, I wasn’t exactly sad except for seeing so many others in pain. Then I looked up ahead of us a couple rows and saw my husband’s Aunt Anne. She is my favorite relative I gained by marriage. She is everything good in the world. Calling her a Saint is really not doing her justice. She is so much more than that. She’s got a great sense of humor, in addition to being a caregiver, mother, grandmother, gardener, cook, etc. She also has more faith than anyone I’ve ever met. She practices what she believes and ministers to prisoners and anyone in need. She is generous and always ready with a hug. She loves everybody and reminds me of Emma Snyder from As The World Turns. She makes everyone feel welcome and loved. All I had to do was think about how glad I was that it wasn’t her funeral we were at and I started crying. It was ridiculous. I talked to hubby later and he said he had been thinking the same thing. When she goes, even though we know she’ll be in Heaven for sure, we will both be a mess.
 
Maybe the only people ever truly comfortable with death are morticians and medical examiners. They have to see it and be around it enough that they become almost immune to it. Also seeing so many deceased strangers is quite different from a deceased loved one.
 
3 years ago my best friend passed away. It was unexpected but aside from missing her, I had no regrets. I had spoken to her a few days before when she was in the hospital and I’d told her I loved her. I have always done that with people. I sign my letters “Love” if that’s how I feel. I’m sure it puts some people off. They don’t put love unless it’s to their mate. I think there are many types of love and one is friendship. Love and friendship don’t always last but when it does, we have to consider ourselves blessed.
 
In closing, I want to include a few of my favorite quotes about death:
Death is a distant rumor to the young.–Andrew A. Rooney
Death does not wait to see if things are done or not done.–Kularnava
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.–Norman Cousins
 
Have you had a lot of experience with death? Do you feel you handled it well under the circumstances? I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.
 

 

 

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There are 2 kinds of people in this world: those who love cruises and those who hate them. I fall into the latter category. In fact, hate is not too strong a word. I think it’s mandatory to go on at least one before forming that opinion. I did that so I can, in good conscience, say it. This post was prompted by all the news stories populated with the latest cruise ship tragedies: stuck at sea, no food or electricity or working toilets, the Norovirus, collision, sinking, etc. The list of the bad things that can happen goes on and on. That’s only counting what is printed in the newspapers or online. What about cruising when things go as planned? Let me tell you, it still sucks.

Believe me, I’ve heard plenty of people bragging about how wonderful it is out on the ocean in one of the luxurious, floating cities. It could almost convince me that it was the truth. I’m going to recount my experience of many years ago, before things got bad in the world of cruising. My deceased aunt (my mom’s sister) LOVED cruises and went on a few dozen. She couldn’t say enough wonderful things about them. Back in 1989, I was working nights at the post office, unmarried but engaged and had a lot of money. That in itself seems like a fantasy since when I traded up from “no-sleep ever” for a real life by quitting, I had to go back to getting used to not having money again. If it means I never have to take another cruise, it was worth it.
 
My mom wanted to take a cruise so I said I’d go with her. I think our first mistake was going to a travel agency. We’ve never gone to one before or since. The woman talked us into going with Carnival Cruise Lines, saying it was “good for beginning cruisers”. At the time Royal Carribean looked more appealing to me. The travel agent kept pushing Carnival and we assumed she knew more than we did. In retrospect, she probably got a bigger commission from Carnival. We figured out we wanted to go for a week and to the Carribean. We would fly from Milwaukee to Miami, get on the boat and sail to the islands of St. Thomas, St. Marten, Barbados and Martinique. Then return home the following Sunday.
 
My mom has always been hard of hearing. At that time she didn’t yet have hearing aids. She was fine if you talked directly into her right ear or she could read lips. We knew we wanted 2 things out of our stateroom: an outside room that had a porthole so we could look out and a double bed so that we could lay in bed and talk about the day. We specified this many times. We knew there was a lot of honeymooners on a ship like that but we agreed to pay extra to get the double bed. Back then we paid $1500 EACH for this cruise. I look back and am HORRIFIED. I wouldn’t spend that NOW. Like I said, I had the money and didn’t know if I’d ever go on one again and wanted to do it up right.
 
We got down to Miami and go to check in at the table where cruisers register and we were told we have 2 single beds. My mom was so mad she could’ve gone postal by herself. This spurred one of the sayings that has stayed with us many years later. When they told us they couldn’t change our room or give us a double bed or do ANYTHING for us, she said, “If I had a sheet, I’d put it over your head.” Ha ha. I still say that to her when she makes me mad. What does it mean? Probably that she was so mad, she ceased to make sense! We went to our stateroom which made my college dorm look roomy by comparison. They gave out a “welcome gift” to each room. We got a shitty gift basket of fruit that seemed like it had been frozen and thawed. Other cabins were getting bottles of champagne which we would have LOVED. We asked about swapping ours out but no dice. At least we had a porthole, right?! Yes, but it was only about 9″ across and so dirty we couldn’t see out.
 Festivale Cruise Ship Credit to cruise-ships.com
We were on one of the older ships named the Festivale. It was built in 1962, in service as an ocean liner with Carnival Cruise Lines from 1977-1996. Finally scrapped in 2003. From the minute I saw it, it didn’t impress me. It looked old and if you looked closely, not that clean. The main thing it had going for it was that it was HUGE. The only pool I remember them having open was on the top floor and it was the size of a postage stamp. No one else was even up there so we went. The boat itself was rocky on the water. We didn’t  have motion sickness but at times we’d lay in bed and the room would spin. Back then, before cellphones, it was such a hassle to make a phone call. My hubby (fiance then) stayed at our house and dogsat while we were gone. I called him once from a payphone during that week and we only talked for a minute or two.
 
I can make acquaintances pretty easily. We met people in the hallway of the cruise ship and at various locations on board. We would’ve loved to get to know them better by eating dinner with them but you don’t get to choose who you sit with. LAME. There’s 2 dinner seatings: 6 and 8 pm. We requested the latter and got the early. I shouldn’t have been surprised. They were holding us hostage and we had to put up with whatever they decide to do to and for us.

 
The boat stops at each island for the day. We’d leave about 11 am to go exploring and had to be back and dressed for dinner by 6 pm. We were missing lunch to go and if we waited until after lunch, it was even harder to get back in time. This doesn’t leave a lot of time to look around. Plus it was drilled into our head endlessly that if we weren’t back at the boat in time, the ship would leave us and go out to sea. There were horror stories going around about different people who had been left at one of the ports and had to find their own way home etc. I enjoyed seeing the islands the most. I loved the shopping on St. Thomas where I got some gold earrings for myself and a gorgeous gold nugget watch for hubby. At the time it cost $600. When I gave it to him, he cried. He said he’d never had anyone give him anything so nice. He already had a gold nugget ring and it matched beautifully. On Barbados I got my hair braided in cornrows. St. Marten was nice too but I really fell in love with the island of Martinique. After that I couldn’t get it out of my head that I wanted to be married there. I wrote about this and why it didn’t happen in my “I got you, Babe” blog post.
 

Cornrows I got on Barbados

Cornrows I got on Barbados

We ended up sitting at dinner with some people we just didn’t like. I could be mean but I’ll just leave it at that. I remember the photographer coming around to take pictures at the table. We’d go later to look at them and you can buy them for $ if you choose. I’ll never forget going to see ours and I’ve got bread crumbs on my chest in the picture. Sheesh! We didn’t have a camera along so I have no pictures from the cruise which is probably a blessing in disguise. I remember it vividly enough.
 
I’m the type of person who likes to see everything but at my own leisure, not do things on a strict schedule. Everything was pre-ordained what you would do and when. At 7 am an announcement was piped into everyone’s rooms telling about the day’s activities. Almost everyone working on the ship was a foreigner. They didn’t speak or understand English. The guy taking care of our room had a key and would come in every time we left. He insisted on tidying up everything and I like my stuff where I put it. I had my nail polish and brush out on the dresser, he had to move it to look neater. We kept our slippers at the edge of the beds so we could sit on our single beds and slip into them. This clown kept putting them 3 feet under the bed. You couldn’t reach them unless you got on your hands and knees and felt under there. This happened over and over. I think we told him not to and he kept doing it anyway. This drove us nuts! Instead of making life easier and having a restful vacation, it was maddening.
 
Part of the reason they made us keep the same table and waiter all week was so they could tell us to tip them in an envelope they provided at the end of the week. It was like the last night on board, before dinner. They expected us to tip a few hundred dollars. We did what they said to do because we still had one night left and who knows what they’d do if you pissed them off. In any case, that never sat right with me. Whatever happened to free will? Whether you have good service or not, you must tip according to their standards. We were never any bother. We’re the type of people who never make special requests (except what we’d tried to get them to honor upfront). The whole thing was annoying. We were supposed to tip that idiot who kept coming in our room and messing with our stuff. We did but weren’t happy about it.
 
Looking back, I don’t see why they don’t have a constant buffet going on the ship. Where people can go whenever they get hungry or get back to the ship. There might be lines and crowds but it’d be preferable to what we went through. Being served a sit down dinner is over-rated in my opinion. I hate snooty and snooty waiters are the worst. To this day I don’t like eating out somewhere that makes me feel uncomfortable. Where they treat me like I’m not good enough to be there.
 
This all happened right after my dad died. He died on Monday night. My regular days off were Monday and Tuesday nights. On Wednesday I called in and asked what to use for a death in the family. The guy that answered the phone said “use whatever you want”. I used 3 days sick leave. I already had vacation scheduled starting Sat. night. Idiot in the office never told my supervisor or anyone that my dad had died. I had a wedding on Saturday of 2 coworkers of mine. I didn’t want to cancel on them since I knew they’d paid for our dinners, etc. I hate letting people down! When I look back, I was a total fool for trying to do so much that week. Walking into the church for that wedding, I’d never gotten so many dirty looks in my life! Everyone thought I’d just called in to work and then was bold and brazen enough to show up to the wedding and leave on vacation. I didn’t tell a lot of people then (not even the bride & groom) because I didn’t want to put a damper on things. I’m such an ass. They had asked about vacation insurance and I thought there would be no reason on God’s green earth that I would ever cancel a vacation. The whole thing was non-refundable or I would’ve cancelled! I was really in no mood to go. The upsetting things I’d found out at the funeral were just going over and over in my head. That’s another blog post.
 
We left Friday morning and got home 24 hours later on Sat. morning. No sleep except for what I got on the 5 hour drive  home in the car. We went to the wedding on Saturday then I packed and left Sunday morning. I was still in shock during the whole cruise and that probably played a part in why I didn’t enjoy it. When we got home, we complained to the travel agent and Carnival Cruises. They sent us a letter and offered us half off our next cruise. How generous of them! 😦 Half-off a shitty time is still a shitty time. I wouldn’t go on another cruise if it was free. Not the passage of time or the mellowing of my soul has made that an acceptable choice.
 
 
 
 
 

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