Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Simply Sadness

So many false things are said about family,
Especially after a loved one is dead.
Is it because we are compelled to portray
Only that for which we most fervently wished?
Or is it because we have truly convinced
Ourselves that certain people have no faults?

Only one of my heroes was a perfect person;
At least that's what I was taught to believe.
His only weapons were love and words,
His heart's desire: eternal unity.
This does not seem the way with people of faith
Who continue to hate in the name of One God.

Sadly, there are many who demand that we
Bond with them in their hatred and fear,
Defining their allies by common disdain for "other"
Rather than seeking for something the same in all.
What may look like lack of forgiveness for wrong done me
May be simply sadness for what could never be.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Wish I Could Miss My Mother

My mother has died at the age of eighty-four. I'll never know if her heart gave out from too many miles on her odometer or because it was so broken by her brazen brats, myself included.

My mother's religion was a religion of rules and rites; this was the most important thing in her life. All came second to that: her husband, her children, her happiness. It was her firm belief that her religion was God on earth, and that faithfulness to it was faithfulness to God. She could never celebrate the successes of herself, her children, or her marriage because this would have been prideful. She also seemed to feel firmly that suffering was necessary to salvation. She apparently felt joined with Jesus in her attempts to suffer for our sins in our stead. This left little space for loving us as we really are, much less liking us.

I suppose I could have tried to be more duplicitous in my relationship with my mother, but my face would have given away my falseness. My mother's religion required that she find fault with herself for poor mothering if she admitted to any approval of our doubts about the letters of her laws. It was an act of mercy to hide my faults from her, and the only way I could do this was to hide myself from her. We simply brought out the beast in each other.

My parents had a very troubled marriage. The sight of me brought back all of my mother's worst feelings about my father, both before and after his death. In my mother's eyes, the sins of the father were certainly carried by this daughter.

It is with great sadness that I admit that I will not miss my mother. There are many parts of me and of my siblings that come from her; these I can continue to celebrate or censure without mixed emotions. I feel liberated to finally get to know the men and women that my siblings have become.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How to Spend a Half Day

My niece, Marj and I are exploring;
Beginning with her hometown.
New Orleans is so interesting
Whether going up- or down-town.

We lunched in the Garden District,
Had coffee with my sister Michelle,
Drove out to the suburbs to supper
On Italian food and desserts, as well.

Tomorrow, we'll see plantation homes,
And perhaps a relation, or two
There's an almost endless array
Of local things to do.

Will Work for a Bed and Some Breakfast

Whenever I'm very afraid of something, I know that the only way to put my fears to rest is to understand that which I fear. This seems to be because I'm so afraid of being swallowed up by that which I don't comprehend.

If I can't see something, it increases my fear, hence my fear of living in the dark of the forest where I can hear all kinds of wild things, but have no way to see them. This also explains my general fear of all dark places. As long as something happens where I and others can see it, I believe I can conquer my fears with understanding a thing. Sometimes, I'm rather foolish in my willingness to place myself dead center in the middle of my fears to have a close-up vantage point from which to study them.

Richard, on the other hand, is very comfortable with the dark, and with wild four-legged animals that roam in the night. What he fears is the two-legged variety of wild thing, especially when they travel in loud packs. He and I have long had an unspoken agreement that he would protect me from things that go bump in the night, as long as I negotiated the crowds of fiery folks to make friends. He has now expressed an interest in my being more cautious about crowds of two-legged wild things.

I absolutely love the sights and sounds of the city, while he is partial to the peace of our place in the woods. What's a couple to do?

At this point, we're negotiating a compromise, driving back and forth from one home to the other. While it is expensive and rather frustrating, living from pillar to post, out of the back of our van, it beats living separate lives. While Richard wiles away his hours at the World War II Museum, helping refurbish a PT boat, I can "solve the problems of the world" with my soul mates, sisters, and various other family and friends. He also is the hero to the widows and orphans as he fixes minor household problems for them.

I always wanted us to spend our retirement years in a bus with cooking utensils and Richard's tool chest, with a sign on the side saying, "Will Work for Room and Board." (or "Will Work for a Bed and Some Breakfast") Maybe my dream is finally coming true. We may need to get our RV back on the road.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Paying Peace Forward

I am still pruning people off my family and friendship trees.
I don't need anyone else to bring me to my knees.
With shame or feelings of little self-worth.
I'm simplifying my path on this earth.

There are too many who are still wanting to grow
For me to waste resources on those that put on a show
Of valuing the gifts that we've been sharing,
But in paying it forward, they've been very sparing.

We wonder where family values went;
This is a common old folks' lament.
But they still lobby for all that they're owed;
No matter that the young folks are carrying our load.

There are few grandparents available today
To keep working families from beginning to fray.
Not one of us made it without the help of others.
Would it hurt us to reach out to young fathers and mothers?

Can you spare a few moments for a colicky baby
Before her parents simply go crazy?
What about mopping a young mother's floor
Before her depression sends her husband out the door?

Are we so afraid to face our past pain
That we can't stand to be vulnerable again
To the gut-wrenching hurt of a baby's cry
When the mother feels that she wants to die?

I wish there was a network of grannies,
Uncles, aunts, grandpas and nannies
Who would be on call at a moment's notice
To restore hurting families back to some peace.

Expanding Our Arena

No, we're not moving; we're expanding our arena.
My granddaughter says it's too long since I've seen her.
Making new friends while keeping the old
Is not as easy as we've always been told.
Richard variously volunteers at a number of places,
And I need to see more of my people's faces.

We have orphaned nieces to care for who are now raising babies,
And widowed women who like our help in both places.
The Higgins boats are still being built for show,
So to the World War II Museum, Richard must go.
He's enjoyed the quiet a bit too much for my tastes
I'm forcing him to re-enter the dreaded rat race.

So much hustle and bustle tires him out
And filling up all the quiet has caused me to shout:
"I need more energy coming from others,
And not only from other grandmothers.
The children I love so quickly change;
After so many months, to them I am strange."

I can hear all of you laughing that I'm never normal,
But my strangeness becomes known not to be harmful.
I take lots of getting used to before comfort sets in;
I need regular contact with my life-long friends.
We don't know where we'll live while down south;
Nor do I know what I'll put in my mouth.

All I care about is that it will all be spicy;
Richard's enthusiasm is a bit more dicey.
He's quite undone by the boat builders' request
That he move himself a bit further southwest.
But for me, the request is music to my ears
An answer to prayer and many of my fears.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Promise of a Wonderful Winter

While waiting for nature to take her course is an admirable way to live, it does take some training to gear down to that philosophy of life. I've worked on it for five years and I'm still operating my internal engine at high idle. Maybe one has to be born to the pace of peace to live happily in the lap of its luxury.

New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi are centers of celebration. When one lives with so much uncertainty of seeing another day, one learns to grab for the gusto in every mortal moment. There's a saying for that, down here, "Laissez le bon ton roulette." ("Let the good times roll.") Another saying about people from these parts is that they work hard and they play hard. Any way you say it, laughing is a way of life for people of passion.

I'm too young to begin living the last of my life. We live in a perfectly peaceful community in the forest, but a tomb is also peaceful. At our edge of the forest, we're surrounded by family plots similar to the cities of the dead found in cemeteries all over New Orleans. The difference is that, in rural areas, the family acreage plots are occupied by the living instead of the dead. Grandpas left land to generation after generation of their family folks.

This is not to say that there aren't also family burial plots where we live; there are, where families come together for picnics near their dearly departed. I'm just not yet ready for the celebration of my afterlife; I still have so much life I want to live in this world.

We don't ever want to anticipate outliving our passions, so we're taking measures to secure our second home. A place where the water washes away all cares, where the sun and clouds dance duets across the ripples. Where even the dead of winter is dancing with delight, and includes no snowbound cabin fever.

What a wonderful winter this promises to be.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Friends with Food Flair

What a feast of fish was fixed by our friend;
But not just any fish was this.
He made fresh catfish with almondine sauce
And side dishes that were most delish.

My man said it mostly took confidence,
And then he set his student free.
One lesson and Chuck's become a chef.
Who knew how easy it would be?

What many great meals await us,
Now that all four of us will cook?
We even share a preference for
The Ursuline Convent school cookbook.

One of the joys of being in New Orleans
Is the array of fine restaurant fare.
But we now can eat with so many friends
Who cook with equal flair.

My son specializes in barbecuing meat,
And boiling of things that swim.
His wife is a gumbo and bean queen;
We love to eat with them.

We ate Italian where the Saints hang out,
Redfish l'orange at a downtown hotel,
Beignets at Cafe du Monde for dessert
And their cafe au lait, as well.

I plan to eat many more delicacies
While I still have the time.
We'll be well-padded for our return
To the colder winter clime.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans and Volunteerism

Today is Veterans Day. We're with friends who have a son proudly serving as a career officer in our armed services. They are justifiably proud of their son, as I'm proud to be married to a man who volunteered as a medical officer during the Vietnam War. He still volunteers his services to all who ask for his help.

We're now in Mississippi, where Richard is giving Chuck cooking lessons. Our dear friend has decided that he will cook for his wife one day a week, now that he and she are both retired to their dream home on the coast. He sent us a request to teach him a few culinary tricks, stating that he has mastered boiling water, but not much else. This friend is a renowned scholar, educator, and author, so we didn't think that he'd much care for my "wing-it" approach to cooking. Always methodical Richard to the rescue!

Upon getting my van rearranged for my next avenues of adventure, I came upon the men busily perusing cookbooks and writing grocery lists. I let them know that I'm available for consultation, and retired to the guest bedroom. I'm happy to report that the guys are at the grocery without a word of wisdom from me.

Chuck's beautiful bride Gayle is off ministering to the community, so I'm awaiting her arrival with almost bated breath. Gayle is an avid gardener who bought this home partly because of its fabulous landscaping, only to have Hurricane Katrina flood her home and take out most of her trees. She works diligently almost daily to reclaim her haven, and has finally received her just desserts. Her yard now proudly displays a "yard of the month" sign. I can't wait to see her smile as she stands in her little patch of heaven.

The only sadness marring our reunion is the news that their super-hero son is being sent to Baghdad. They say he's going to be involved in planning for our armed forces' future in the Far East. I derive some comfort from the knowledge that he's a very compassionate and thoughtful person. I pray that he has influence toward peace, as I know his parents have handed on to him a close walk with the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Living a Loving Life

All of this marriage business has really gotten me on a roll about relationships. It has provided an opportunity to realign our priorities and recommit to our own marriage vows. Richard has made it clear that he's tired of me being blind to those that seek to sap our strength.

Every time I think my heart has expanded as far as it can, someone else pulls on my heartstrings so tenderly that I begin looking for another empty niche in which to place this person. I'm thinking it's time to purge a few people who have been rotting in place for some time. Just like a few bad apples can spoil the barrel, a few negative people can punch holes in one's heart, and all the love can leak out. This is no way to treat the people who are willing to be positive, so the nay-sayers have gotta go.

It's not that I don't still love them; it's just that the love I offer doesn't bear any fruit. Maybe that's because there are so many that want me without my man. This is not an option, as our marriage is one where "Woman draws her life from man, and gives it back again." We are partners in life and in love, and few respect that bond in any marriage. We're not just playing house; we are each other's home.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Face Off With Fear

My optimism doesn't make me an idiot;
It only means that I have high hopes.
How can we ever have joy in this world
Without some tools to cope?

Common sense isn't the same as sadness,
Anger, pessimism, or greed;
It is an understanding that we must
Define and reach for what we need.

Don't tell me what I can't do;
Teach me how I can.
If I need a helping hand,
You are welcome to chip in.

I refuse to act like an adult
If fear is going to guide my life.
Laughter, love, work, and prayer
Are my tools to get through strife.

All my friends may join me
And follow this simple plan.
I will look fear squarely in the face,
And live fully, while I can.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Madness to Mañana

All the hustle, bustle and noise has quite done my quiet man in. He's been blasted by a motor biker rally in Galveston, and nailed by noise while we dined at an elegant, but boisterous Italian restaurant. Latin love songs weren't his forte; neither were the swirling conversations attempting to outdo the music. And the traffic in Houston really drove him to distraction, where he says the GPS had a nervous breakdown trying to navigate seven lanes of traffic on either side of the freeways. At this point, I'm sure he feels like Dorothy in Oz, but without ToTo. I won't be surprised if I hear him chanting in his sleep, "There's no place like home." I don't think it was the GPS having the breakdown.

On our first day here, Richard really wanted to see the sights, especially the International Funeral Museum. He was unable to talk any of our friends into joining us for this excursion, which is how we ended up in Galveston. On our way out of town, we detoured to see a couple of friends who moved to Houston from New Orleans. Even though they highly recommend seeing this unusual sight, they admitted to never having been and not wanting to go. Once we got down to the wire, Richard was more anxious to get out of Houston than to see the sights.

Having lived in Coker Creek for most of five years, Houston really has been like being on another planet, or maybe a space station. Everything whizzes by at warp speed. Talk about a wildly swinging pendulum, one extreme to the other. Coker Creek is a bit too slow for me in winter, but in Texas everything is a bit too super-sized for our comfort.

We're on to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to re-acclimate to a slower speed in life. There's a lot of Latin influence in that area, including the mañana variety. We'll reset our emotional thermostats with a series of siestas before heading back to the holler.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Godmother to Granny

The wedding is done; now comes the marriage. I was relieved to see that the bride has her own posse made up of family and friends, many of whom she cultivated as she became educated and successful in her career. She seems to be well-placed to form her own home.

Since this is a Biblical bride and groom, "The man shall leave his mother and father and cling to his wife". It is sort of sad for the mother of the groom, as she will have to remain friends with the bride or risk losing her son. In this union, it is fortunate for the groom's mother that she is good friends with the parents of the bride.

It's a huge burden for a young woman, to constantly consider what's most balanced for her society, not simply for the family that she has formed with her man. There are so many pressures to focus only on self and one's primary significant others that it is difficult to create a sacred bond seeking to make the world a better place. All these profound ponderings may lead one to believe that the wedding was a dud, but nothing could be further from the truth.

We had a wonderful time at the wedding; everything was perfectly planned and executed. I even had the opportunity to play fairy godmother to the mother of the bride. This was a Latin wedding, so "mi amiga" (my friend) wanted nothing more to dance at her daughter's wedding, but her shoes had grown or her feet had shrunken between the time she bought her shoes and the big day.

A visit to the powder room and good old Dr. Scholl's fixed her feet right up. She was able to kick up her heels without the risk of a posturing Prince Charming having to hunt her down to find the rightful owner of the wayward slipper. Cinderella's fairy godmother should have had such forethought and she may have become a great warrior for social justice instead of a pampered princess.

Once the five-hour reception supper was over, we were invited to an after-party at the hotel. Richard and I don't even want to try to keep up with the plethora of parties when two families decide to bond. While Richard repaired to our room for a bit of down time, I sat during the after-party at the hotel with the children of the sister of the bride so that the bride's mother, father, and sister could be part of the festivities. I was greatly relieved to have a good excuse to put on my pajamas.

It wasn't restful for me, as I ended up wrestling with the six-year-old junior groom. Next time I'll come with duct tape and a hog-tying rope, or at least a couple of soothing children's story books.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Planning Ahead vs Pessimism

Expressing concern can sometimes be seen as wishing bad things on others. Other times it is a way for people to feel like prophets and excuse themselves from the responsibility of any action that may be required should anything go wrong. "I told you this wouldn't work out, but you didn't listen, so you deserve any bad that befalls you." Sometimes, though, it is simply an effort to formulate a plan and form a team for taking emergency measures before the emergency occurs. The Bible even congratulates the wise woman who put something aside for the lean times. This is not pessimism; this is planning ahead.

This is how it is as we approach the marriage of the daughter of a dear friend. The crones know with certainty that there will be some rough times ahead as the two attempt to graft themselves and their lives one to the other. We're hopeful that their shared cultures will make this easier, but we also know that power struggles are a part of every partnership. With enough love, humor, hope, and support for the formation of the new family entity coming from both sides, all these issues can be openly addressed, and hopefully resolved. We must be on the side of the new union, not on the side of either partner. I don't often see this as the case.

It seems to me that people are more comfortable protecting their own team's sense of superiority, even at the expense of the society in which we live. Why do we continue to define who we are by defining who we reject? Aren't we stronger as we incorporate more hybridization into our genetics, thoughts, and ways of looking at the world? Do we really want all the world to be a safe square sandwich loaf of white bread, with each of us being flavorless slices?

Richard's eldest brother once told him that when a man marries, he marries a woman's whole family. Richard has certainly survived well, even with my huge malfunctioning mess of a clan. I think that is because we've continued to keep the roots of our relationship watered with a strong sense of what we want our home to be. We have also included so many into our extended family that the well never runs dry, no matter how many drink from the our family's faucet.

I hope that this couple, on their wedding day, will truly form a new family, and not become appendages to the families from which they came.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Learning to Laugh Again

There's a big difference between making people laugh and spontaneously laughing out loud in shared hilarity, as only long-time friends can do. It takes forever to cultivate a sense of shared mirth when one shares no history with another. But friends who knew you when you worried about zits and split ends, birthing babies and heart transplants, those are the people to turn to when one needs a sense of homecoming.

My best high school buddy was always here for me, even before my marriage, and the first time I had to face the death of someone who held a part of my soul, and before my children made my life whole. I've waited for this moment since we first laughed together in Sister Dominic Savio's honors English class when we were fourteen. She continued to collect honors and I continued to collect crises. I hope I'm finished collecting crisis, and she's finally got play time, as she's partially retired.

My grandma used to ask whether I wanted to laugh or to cry at the loops life put in my path. I've cried oceans; now it's time to guffaw with someone who has held on through the storms and continues to stand on the prow of the ship of life laughing into the wild winds that continue to buffet our boats.

We both seem to share the opinion that you can't avoid the pain, so you'd better grab for all the celebratory gusto you can muster in between the bad times. This makes us look a bit demented, or at least immature at times, but neither of us cares one wit. This doesn't necessarily sit well with our children and their children, but that's another source of silliness for us as we wander on toward sixty.

Our husbands grin and bear our behavior, sort of like they're watching puppies at play. We are lucky women indeed to share the little bit of heaven on earth that a good belly laugh can be.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

My Circle of Serenity

I heard from a few friends back in Tennessee;
They checked in to say that they miss me.
I'm humbled by their open shows of love,
A gift of emotional manna from above.

I was due to face one of my long-time foes
That I am bound to for as long as life goes.
I needed the support of those who checked in
To know that I'm coming home to new friends.

That way, I can face my long standing fears
With those who I used to hold so dear.
I was able to be cordial, without worry
That I would be provoked to fury.

I am blessed by the love of so many friends
That I'm able to continue finding fences to mend.
Whether broken by me, or broken by others;
I continue to seek healing with my sisters and brothers.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Facing My Fears

I'm so tired of making amends and mending fences. I'm not even in a twelve-step program, so I have no idea why I feel compelled to continue this crusade. It matters not to me whether I'm angry with you or you're angry with me, I feel like I have to see if we can "fix" it. There are even people that I've never been friends with, but that are important to others in my life, that I somehow feel I need to find and friend, if possible.

I have, at least, learned to draw the line at recent random acquaintances that have a beef with me. One has to start somewhere, and I've decided to concentrate on the oldest relationships first and work forward. I may, one day, get to the folks that are recently mad at me, but I won't worry about them just yet. The peril of popularity is that we piss people off and they don't even tell us for fear of retribution by our posse. My problem is that it took me most of my almost sixty years to realize that I was popular and that therein lay the problem.

It would be so much easier to sit and sulk, but I can't reclaim my memories without making amends because something always stands between me and them. I once heard that attempting to block bad memories is like trying to play the piano with one's elbow. As you hit the keys you want to hit, your elbow will also strike the adjacent keys. Memories are like adjacent piano keys; I have to face the fear to find the fun.

I'm starting with the easy steps, my oldest and dearest friends, and the nieces and nephews (children of deceased siblings) who only remember the adult me. I'll practice on them before facing first-degree family. With luck, I won't live long enough to have to brave those beasts, but I am preparing myself for whatever jumps out at me.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can face this wedding with the people from my past that will also be attending.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Families and Festivities

I so miss the ethnic diversity that only port cities seem to engender! Today's the day I move on down the road, to go to a wedding and party plenty. The couple in question is in their thirties, fully employed, and come from Columbian families. They were almost cradle mates. Even though the events aren't in New Orleans, I'm looking forward to a really hometown feel in the festivities.

The sense of celebration when two complete families are bonded in marriage is a wonderful thing to witness. It's always interesting observing the dance of diplomacy involved in creating these blended family bonds. It certainly helps to cement the union when the families share a culture and a history.

We've all waited for many years for Ginita to find a man and a family worthy of her, never knowing that he and his family were around the corner all along. Hurricane Katrina brought the families back into close proximity to each other, and the rest will soon be history.

This bride's dowry is her intellect, her education, her sense of humor, and her solid sense of faith and family. I don't know the groom, but I hope, for all of our sakes, that he's stong enough to partner with this wonderful woman with the makings of a mighty matriarch.

The "three amigas" from high school will be in attendence, giving our "blessings" to the bride and groom. Sleeping Beauty has finally awakened, and we couldn't miss watching her walk down the aisle to her prince charming, after which they will form their own small country.

I hope that we all are serious in saying that we'll be there for the bride and groom as they embark upon the stormy sea of matrimony. I also hope that the bride and groom will call upon us for sharing our experiences, so that they may be able to avoid some of our mistakes and fast-forward into some successes by learning the lessons of ours. Wouldn't it be nice if bachelor and bachelorette parties were still mini-retreats where the wisdom of the ages was handed on to the blushing bride and goofy groom?

I'm thinking a great deal about "Fiddler on the Roof" while imagining this event. I wish I knew how to dance; I'd love to forever be able to say that I danced for my friend's daughter's wedding.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Girl's gotta Do What a Girl's Gotta Do

It was girls and guys night last night at Mel's. Of course, one of the "girls" is almost sixty, and the "guys" are pint-sized superheroes, ages eighteen months and three and a half.But we had fun, never-the-less. I enjoy watching actual boys bounce around the room.

Melanie's little men even had a mopping bumper "car" contest with two Swiffers. They actually got the dried dribbles of their various victuals and libations off the tile floor. The three-yer-old was very careful to inform his aunt, upon her arrival, that the floor was clean. I like a person who reminds others to value their labors, even though I really don't think their Aunt Marjerrie planned to polute the patina of their fresh floor.

Aunt Marjerrie loves to play "dress-up" with her two tiny doll boys, so we did a lot of changing them and clicking photos. Richard used to tell me that I was going to give the grandkids, nieces, and nephews brain cancer with all the flash photography I was exposing them to. I guess family pride is the same generation-to-generation.

Mel and Marj both love sushi, so we told the boys we were taking them trick-or-treating at the sushi restaurant. Marj had come prepared with pre-filled trick-or-treat bags from her future mother-in-law, but we were still lucky that the restaurant provided treat bags in honor of it being Halloween. The eighteen-month-old ate so much junk that he capped our memorable meal with hurling his Halloween into a napkin. Thank goodness, his mama has quick reflexes.

I'm living like a homeless person, out of my van. It's just easier to remain flexible about where I lay my head each night. Richard likes a bit more reliable accomodations, but I love the adventure of gypsying around. When family dynamics begin to get too complicated, I can say, "See you later, Alligator," and head for my van. It was easier when we had an RV parked in the driveways of our friends and family members, but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.