I don’t see dead people

I couldn’t find a photo of relatives in lederhosen, but this is the accordian my mother kept in her closet.

My blogging experiment has surpassed my expectations.  So far, I have had almost 800 hits in two weeks.  When I entered into the blogosphere, I assumed my audience would be made up of my aunts, my best friend, and my brother.  My audience is larger than I initially assumed, and it turns out my brother is not my most devoted reader (note to self, write more embarrassing stories about Neil).

Generally I log in to WordPress daily to see how many hits I’ve had.  As the administrator of my blog, I have access to a statics page which lays out lots of information, including what counties I have had views from.

In my first week, I had a hit from Switzerland.  I had a friend travelling though Switzerland at the time, but seeing the Swiss flag on my statistics page made me smile.  My mother’s family was from Switzerland.  I am related to many lederhosen-wearing, accordion-playing, yodelers.  So, even though I knew Jen had been the source of my Swiss hit, I was still pleased my first international view had come from the country of my mother’s origin.  It felt like a sign.

This morning, I received a hit from Ireland.  My father’s family is Irish.  They don’t wear kilts or tartan plaid (maybe that is more of a Scottish thing), but they do love to drink.

For a brief moment, I felt like my parents were with me.  Not literally.  Not, “I see dead people.”  But all they were and all they encompassed still had the power to influence me, to cause pause and reflection.

When my first husband died, we never found his wedding ring.  I wasn’t massively sentimental about this fact, but it would have been nice to have.  I assumed it was lost in the motorcycle crash, and I didn’t give it much thought past that.

A year later, Meg was heading to a sleepover; she dug out a duffle bag to pack and tipped it upside down to empty it.  Out rolled Scott’s ring.  What felt weighty about this find, was the date.  We found the ring on what would have been our fourteenth wedding anniversary.  On that same day, I was notified by Glamour Magazine that I had won their memoir contest.www.glamour.com/news/feature/articles/2006/10/02/nonfiction

I like the idea of signs.  Sure, most of them can be explained away as coincidence.  Still, when I die I am going to work extra hard at sending signs.  I am going to focus on signs of the annoying variety, TVs that constantly turn off, random flat tires, soup pots boiling over, events that will force my children to pause and think of me.

PS  Two days after my dad died, an eagle landed in front of my car on the freeway.  I wrote about this in my eulogy to him.  To this day, I am convinced the freeway eagle was my father.  You can read about the event in Eulogy for my Dad.

PPS  If you are the source of my Irish hit, leave a comment below.


I will always have her candy dish

After Mom died, Neil and I cleaned out her house.  I kept a few Christmas decorations, the photo albums, a candy dish.  It was maddening sorting through the truck-loads of stuff.  How does one decide what to keep and what to let go?  I am not a very sentimental person; I don’t hold on to birthday cards, report cards, or photographs where I think I look fat.  But, suddenly, everything held value: the cookie sheets, the blue wool blanket, the broken statue of St. Francis.

I had nightmares about my attic and closets bursting with Mom’s things, vomiting out macramé table cloths and my ancient Snoopy bedspread.  In the end, we held an estate sale and gave things away for next to nothing to save ourselves one more trip to the Goodwill.

When I opened the doors for the sale, folks were waiting to get in.  It was a mob scene.  One man ran to the freezer and offered $5 for everything inside it.  Another woman wanted to negotiate the price of a fruit bowl.  It was marked at seventy-five cents.  “I’ll give you a quarter,” she said.

And so my parents’ life was quickly reduced to dollar bills and change.

At the end of the day, I loaded a box of items into my car.  Some sandwich bags, paper towels, a box of brownie mix, practical items my family would use over the course of the summer.  We are almost to the end of these much-used products.  Yesterday I wrapped up some left-over spare ribs.  This is my dead mother’s aluminum foil, I thought.  Just a few months ago, she was wrapping up a baked potato with this very roll.

It all sounds so heavy, dark, and full of regret, but freeing myself from the burden of my parents’ things has left me with room to grieve.  I can hold the weight of my loss without the weight of their living-room furniture.  I will mourn for them one sandwich bag at a time and when the bags are gone, I will always have my mother’s candy dish.

you will see my genius

There is a new product on the market that claims to be revolutionary.  It is a tampon in a re-sealable wrapper.  For all the visiting men, I will catch you up-to-speed by explaining that tampons come individually wrapped.  Trust me when I say no woman wants to insert an unwrapped tampon that she has just resurrected from the lint-ridden depths of her purse, enough said.

The new product claims to have the first-ever, re-sealable container.  And I dare to ask, WHY?  Are there really that many woman dashing into restrooms around the globe, unwrapping a tampon, and then cursing the industry because they can’t put the tampon back in its wrapper?  I am going to go out-on-a-limb here and speak for women internationally; we are simply not that ambivalent about our periods. 

When my older children were babies, I had an idea for repackaging a product.  Diaper-rash medicine comes in a tube, similar to toothpaste.  I believe it should be reformulated, made thicker, and sold in containers like underarm deodorant.  Take a minute now to visualize sticky, greasy diaper-rash ointment that you don’t have to touch with your fingers.

The value of my invention cannot be fully appreciated until you have had a handful of Desitin, a screaming baby, and a phone ringing all at the same time.  Once you have stood in the middle of that perfect storm, you will see my genius.

I was not Homecoming Queen

I would describe my mom as an introvert.  She was not the sort of woman who wore Avon and attended Tupperware parties.  When it came to wedding and baby shower invitations, she unilaterally declined.  That is why it is so surprising to me that in high school Mom was a cheerleader, elected Homecoming queen, and voted most popular her senior year.

Mom as Homecoming Queen

My 1987 swim team photo. Notice the terrible hair and that was after months of growing it out.

Wake and his “Worst Car” yearbook photo, 1987

I was never voted most anything in high school.  I had a lot of good friends, but not in a quantity that could potentially sway a vote.  I wasn’t very cute in high school.  I was fairly bulky, which I blame on the fact that I was a swimmer, but I am sure Pizza Haven’s all-you-can-eat Tuesdays didn’t help much either.  I was very straight laced at a teenager, opinionated, and shamefully judgmental.  Plus, I had a terrible hair cut.

Thankfully, my high school boyfriend overlooked my shortcomings.  He was actually voted worst car.  He drove a 1967 Oldsmobile Delmont.  Mushrooms grew in the back seat where it leaked when it rained.  I guess if you think about it, I was voted worse car by association, which is better than being voted no car, which is a category I was totally qualified for.

Just as my mom evolved, I have grown since high school as well.  I like the woman I am much better than the girl I was, which is how it should be.  Otherwise, we would all be walking around with bad haircuts and have fungus growing in the backseats of our cars.

(Note to Wake:  If you read this, you should comment about how I was cute-in-my-own-way and hilarious.  You should not forget to mention my fantastic comedic timing.)

not at a school-sponsored event

I am not currently teaching, but I taught high school Speech and English classes for nine years.  As a senior, Charlie was handsome, funny, and athletic, the high school trifecta for popularity.  On the last day of school he swung by my classroom to say goodbye.

“Do you remember me as a freshman?” he asked.

“No,” I said.   “I don’t think I had you as a student until your sophomore year.”

“Right, but we had a conversation at a dance my freshman year.”

I ran the leadership program and chaperoned many dances.  Freak Dancing, otherwise known as grinding, was, and I am sure still is, the dance of choice for Generation Next.

“I was dancing with Sara B.,” he continued with a smile.  “You came around and threatened to kick us off the dance floor.”

“Hmm,” I nodded.  Frankly, I kicked a lot of kids off the dance floor; it was one of the fun perks of the job.

“When you came around a second time, we were still dancing.  You approached us and in your booming, teacher voice you yelled, ‘you cannot rub your penis on a girl at a school-sponsored event!’”

I inhaled loudly, feigning shock and surprise.  “I saaaaaid that?”

Charlie nodded.

“Well, did you stop?” I asked.

“Yes,” he laughed.  “It was totally embarrassing.”

“Well then I have taught you life’s three most important lessons:  how to use a semi-colon, how to prepare a speech, and not to rub your penis on a girl in public.  I believe you are ready to graduate, Grasshopper!”

Cheer up, son

My grandparents with my uncles. The little boy in overalls is my dad.

I was recently going through a box of paperwork at my parent’s house. In the process, I found a letter from my grandfather to my dad dated Christmas Day, 1941; dad would have been nine-years-old. The letter said:

Dear Eddie,

Remember how you cried around because you had to wear wool trousers that itch. Cheer up son, life is just full of things that are unpleasant.


Your Daddy

I framed the letter and put it in my kitchen. I think it is remarkable the note survived over seventy years. It was tucked in a folder with dozens of performance reviews from my father’s long career at Bellarmine Prep. It obviously meant a lot to my dad. It also made me think of the small stack of letters I have that my father wrote to me, all banded together and tucked away. I spoke about these letters in my father’s eulogy. Did he write to me because his father wrote to him?

Every year, on my childrens’ birthdays, I write each a letter. I started this because of the notes I received from my dad. I like to think that this will continue on, that the letters will stretch out over centuries, urging us all to cheer up.

that same old car story

My oldest daughter drives now.  On the morning of her grandmother’s funeral, she had to take a math final at school.  Leaving early for the final, she backed straight into my cousin’s rental car.  A day can’t get much worse than a math test, a dead grandma, and a car wreck.

The first time I crashed a car, I was barely traveling.  My parents had two pillars that were set off the front porch.  I had pulled my dad’s Nissan Pulsar up the entryway in order to vacuum out the car.  When all the mats were clean, I put the car in reverse in order to reach the hose to wash the exterior.  This would have been an entirely forgettable activity except I failed to close the passenger side door.  While backing up, the door hit the porch pillar, flew off its hinges, and flung itself into the front fender.

Hearing the bang, Mom stormed out of the house to find me pale and trembling, the Nissan’s door lying bent and cracked at the foot of the stoop.

“I’m so glad it was you who destroyed your father’s car and not me,” she said.  “He’s going to kill you, you know.”  And then she laughed, a loud cackling hoot that the neighbors could hear.

It began raining, and because my parents didn’t have a garage, Mom and I wrapped the automobile in garbage bags and duct tape.  Eventually Dad came home to find his little red car bandaged up like an emergency room trauma victim.

He walked into the kitchen where I sat at the table with a box of Kleenex.  He didn’t kill me.  He didn’t even ask what happened.  He stared past me out the kitchen window and whispered, “Shit!”