The Four Corner Roommates

We recently attended the wedding of a son of my husband’s college roommate. As our children mature, it is the new occasion to reunite.  Affording us the third such joyous occasion in as many years, it was special in many ways. What was most special, to me, was the interaction of the four collegians.  If they were to be assigned a compass direction for their individual personalities, Bob would be North, Drew is South, my husband would probably be West and Bill would definitely be East.  But these very different men bonded over forty years ago and whenever their collegiate reunions occur every five years, and even now,

“Up Against the Wall Guys.”

they pick up right where they left off.  The compassion, concern, empathy and updates mixed with laughter and angst.  It is an amazing thing to witness.

Through births, milestone birthdays, weddings, wakes, bar mitzvahs, and major life changes, their bond stands firm.  Ironclad.  When we announced we were leaving the friendly confines of Chicago after lifetimes in residence, each gentle man called my hub and asked the same question:  “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???!!!!

Interventions, apparently, are part of the mix as well.  They are born out of love (in a bromance kind of way) and equal concern for mental stability.

I came to the mix late.   My first experience with this group was just after we had gotten engaged.  Bill’s elegant and warm wife hosted a brunch for the fact that we were in the vicinity and all were curious that the Norwegian Bachelor Farmer was finally about to take the leap into matrimonial bliss with a woman only very recently divorced….

They were welcoming nonetheless.  Graciously so.  My “baggage” was left at the door and exchanged for the happiness they felt (in a bromance kind of way) that Mr. West had finally found someone he could happily fulfill his dreams of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, hot sex, children and a mortgage in the burbs.

The foundation of their friendship is acceptance, inquisition, honesty, and support.

All friendships should have these four pillars.  We are all on our journeys.

I am so grateful of their pillar of acceptance.  These three other gentlemen and their lovely wives (equally diverse) form a foundation in my life.

What more can you ask from lifelong friendships?

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What to do? What to DO?

I have had an amazing and hectic week.  But a good one, nonetheless.

I am still riding the high of a writer’s retreat I had the privilege of attending at the end of last month. THANK YOU, LAURA!   For all too short a time, twelve amazing women gathered, unplugged from the outside world and stretched our “selfs” with pen,  paper (both virtual and actual) and support.  We were strangers when we arrived and good friends when we hugged and went back to our lives.  Yes, it CAN happen that quickly and deeply.  And that is true magic.

One of the other great things I came away with was a renewed and revitalized awareness of the signs that come to us in quite interesting coincidences.

I grew up accustomed to betrayal from women.  I could blame it mostly on Mom, but that is a trite excuse.   Having taken on the role, and having stumbled with it, I can’t put it all in one ashtray.   The more I think about it, we have some kind of intrinsic instinct to compete with, for, and against one another.  In my experience, I did not encounter a lot of the alternative:  nurturing.  But I have learned it as well as learning to know which women are worthy of my trust and who I should encounter with caution.  I trust myself.  I need to  nurture and be nurtured.  Both require the willingness to be vulnerable and tender.  But watch the radar…

The ladies of the retreat were universally supportive, nurturing and tender to one another.  When you multiply that times the sacred number twelve, the room becomes illuminated with light and love.  It is an experience beyond most words — even from a wordsmith.  In numerology, when you add 1+2 and get three, another sacred number is born.  Trilogy is all around us.  Father, son, holy ghost.  Wounder, wounded, healer.  Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar at the adoration of the Christ child.  Saint, sinner, redeemer.

So it did not escape my notice, that, after the incredible opening of hearts in Montana last month, I have received three requests to consider reopening my own heart.  Opportunities for healing and reconciliation?  A new bond to be forged?  Hmmm….. Was this something I wanted?

The first one came from a friend from Chicago.  They were going to be traveling through my rural area.  She is a good person who struggled mightily with addictions and has come out the other side.  Her journey involved not only her own demons, but several family deaths, a dire illness of her spouse with a lengthy recovery not to mention the normal and requisite bullshit of a life of abundance when one chooses not to walk to the standard drumbeat of prosperous suburban life.  In her non sober life, she had let many people down.  Myself included.  I had walked away over a decade ago.  But her journey is an inspiration to all who struggle with demons — or daemons.  Let’s hear it for Facebook.

The second one was a girl, the daughter of a beloved caregiver, we had taken in to afford her the opportunity to get on the right path.  Get a career, save money, find a job and move toward independent life.  These were her aspirations.  Instead, she stole money from my then pre-teen children and helped herself to three of my rings — including my mother’s wedding ring.  I walked away after seeing that she had a felony conviction.  They still think I overreacted.

The third was a friend who, though quite beautiful, couldn’t put down the bottle or the hooka.  I learned how to bail a person out of jail thanks to her.  This after her housesitting services rendered my lower level a kennel for my neglected dogs.  I was more tolerant of insanity then.  Being used to betrayal brings that gift as a bonus.

In the past month I have heard from all three.

My sober friend and I reconnected in a most healthy and wonderful way.  We picked up right where we had left it so long ago.  Sober, she is the delightful, generous and wonderful friend that had been presented when we met.  It is so good to have the healthy friendship back.  Forgiveness, repentance, admittance of frailties and flaws from both of us to one another is a great spackle to heal.

But what to do about the other two women of this odd cosmic triangle?

The first one is sort of a slam dunk for me.  There has never been an apology for the betrayal, the loss of a treasured memory of my mother, the fact that somehow in her moral world it is okay to steal from seven year olds.   There WAS an e-mail several years ago talking about how she was “in a better place” and “had a job and a small apartment”.  But the words “I’m sorry.” or “I regret” have never been put to paper or crossed her lips. AND THAT MATTERS!  Her contact came to me through that nebulous instrument, Facebook.  It was a friend request.  I guess the definition of friend is as fluid as justifying betrayal to good people who believed in you.  I emphasize past tense here.  Further, she has negatively affected our relationship with the only “grandma” my children knew.  A mother, after all, is loyal…  But I will NEVER accept that I “overreacted”.

“Mary, she had a CAVITY search when she was arrested!”

I didn’t send her to a spa.  I had her arrested, quite rightly.

The third of the trilogy is much more disconcerting.  When I left Chicago, there were several people with whom I did not share our leaving.  I did this specifically and intentionally.  She was one of them.  The last contact I had was when she bopped into my driveway in the middle of the week, at dinner, on a school night and couldn’t string a subject/object/predicate together to make a coherent sentence.  She wanted to smoke pot in my backyard, but “wasn’t an addict”.  And now I get a note out of the blue to my snail mail.  She knows my address, knows my twitter address, has seen my blog.  What did I expect by getting a blog, Twitter account, and seeking recognition/support for my writing?  In my naivete, I thought I was still anonymous.  Hidden.  That no one really followed me anyway.  (Maybe that is the gift of this experience.)   Her letter was also all about her journey.  It was an attempt to apologize.   It was a sincere attempt.  I accept that she is, at least, aware of some of the damage done.

But I don’t know that I want that connection renewed.

I found out that I have been “unfriended” (who know that would become a verb?) by several people on Facebook.  That is perfectly okay.  When the whole FB “thing” started I thought it was cool to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen or talked to in years.   I have learned that, sometimes, there is a reason.  I don’t take it personally.  They are okay.  I am good.  I don’t need to be friends with everyone I have ever encountered for any length of time.  What I need is a heart connection with people who operate from a place of honor and integrity.

So, no thank you, Fox.  I accept your apology.  I wish you well.  I will occasionally think of  “The Beaver Song” and smile.  And no, to my audience, it is not vulgar.  Bawdy, but not vulgar.  Just sayin’.

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The Ripple Effect Sometimes Takes Time…

I have been thinking a lot about ripples and butterflies. This is an odd thing to ponder since I now have to drive at least an hour to see significant amounts of water. It doesn’t include the little creek that runs through our town, including our charming city park.

The water I saw yesterday was once an old town that is now at the bottom of a reservoir that is a local source for boating, waterskiing and the prerequisite: drinking.

Fortunately, the butterflies are everywhere here on the Ponderosa…. along with mountain lions, coyotes, eagles, owls and wild turkeys.  The deer are a given.  The elk visit and bed down occasionally much to their consternation and the delight of our elk sized dogs.

It is a world away from my former life where we lived on a private lake across from the country club we embraced.  Sunsets on the beach were mandatory and wonderful beyond words. There was one celebration of the hub’s birthday replete with friends, ritualistic beef burning and young kids running around.  At one point, a locally based hot air balloon came and dipped the lake before continuing on…   Once the kids stopped swallowing flies from their gaping jaws, they looked at me in awe, thinking I had orchestrated this feat.  How could I disappoint them with the truth?

Everyone should experience being a minor deity in the collective consciousness of five and six year olds.  It shouldn’t last, but it is a GREAT wave to ride for a short, special moment in time.

The “butterfly effect” is a chaos theory based on the sensitive dependence of initial decisions.  Small changes trigger large changes.  The thought for the name comes from  the theory that a butterfly flapping its wings half a world away can be the beginning of a hurricane.

Ever have a day when, looking back, you just should have stayed in bed?  The butterfly effect works in a non-sectarian environment.  Good or bad.  Either way, the Monarch has flapped its wings….

The “ripple effect” is dropping the old pebble into the pond; an initial state which can be followed outward incrementally.  In sociologic terms, social interactions can affect situations not directly related.  The ripples continue on regardless.

The butterfly took a drink of water from the pond after the pebble kerplunked in this particular instance…

My mother grew up in a small town in southwestern Minnesota.  She had seven brothers and she was the second oldest.  Her only older sibling, Uncle Bob, is alive and well at 92 and as ornery as ever (in a good way).  He still lives on the lake has lived on in the house that he and my grandfather built together a long time ago.  There, he and my Aunt Ardis raised three kids, hosted lots of family reunions and taught me how to make home made ice cream.   It is typical of Bob and Ardis to open their homes unconditionally.  I learned to swim on that lake and my cousin, Suzie, and I spent many an hour canoeing hither and yon. However, the fishing experience didn’t turn out well.

At some point in time in the early 1960s, Uncle Bob and Aunt Ardis decided to host an exchange student.  The cosmic lottery sent a young man from Japan to his new home off the beaten path in Minnesota farm country from the mega metropolis of Tokyo for a year.

The young man attended the local high school, participated in gymnastics and track, made friends, and attends his reunion every five years to this day.  He also learned how to ice skate, shovel snow, go camping, and paddle a canoe.

I knew nothing of this for many years.  I was too young and lived too far away.  But the name of this young man would come up in conversation and family gatherings.   Uncle Bob and his family remained in contact with this gentleman throughout life and do so to this day.  When Aunt Ardis passed away, this young man, now a father himself and well established in the Japanese diplomatic world, made a special pilgrimage to her grave from four thousand miles away.

That is where the synchronicity of life shines its light once again.

Thirty something years later, I gave birth to our daughter.  When she was very little, and on a whim, I purchased a VHS (yes, THAT long ago) copy of “My Neighbor Totoro”.  It is made in a specific genre of animation called “anime” by a well known director, Hayao Miyazaki.  (For those of us who remember, “Speed Racer” was an anime cartoon.)

The film is filled with whimsy and fantasy as well as having its roots in Japanese mythology.  To say my daughter was entranced doesn’t even begin to describe those early ripples.  By age four, she was asking for Miyazaki’s films in Japanese with English subtitles and began to teach herself the language with this technique.  I think all the sushi I fed her was also a factor.

As she grew older, she discovered and made friends with similar kids with a devoted interest in Japan, the language and the culture.  When we uprooted ourselves from our deep midwestern and urban roots, one of the ways she coped was to ask for, and receive, a summer of immersion in a Japanese language camp.

She came home in bliss.  She had found her “homies”.  It was no different than when I landed in Ireland the first time and realized I wasn’t weird, just born in the wrong place.

Time passed.  Aunt Ardis passed away and the young gentleman from the sixties came and honored her grave.  He kept contact all these years…  Now a father and grandfather himself, he still had deep and abiding feelings for Bob and Ardis and their family.

My daughter’s passion for all things Japanese did not abate, but rather increased with time.  It was almost a national holiday in our world when a sushi restaurant opened in the “big” city 40 miles away.  We are among their best customers….

Flash forward to this summer.  It is the summer between her junior and senior year of college with graduate programs looming large.  Her talents in art, computer and the Japanese language continue to serve her well.  She returned this week from eleven weeks of coursework in Tokyo and the adventure of a lifetime.

My cousin reminded me of the connection.  This gentleman was kind enough to meet my daughter in Tokyo, despite his rigorous schedule and diplomatic duties.  They met a  couple of times and the links in the chain continue.

My uncle is busting his buttons with pride.

Fifty years ago, he is the one who dropped the pebble and startled a butterfly into flight.  One just flew past my window.  Who knows where and when it will land?

God Bless, Uncle Bob.

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Strange dear, but true dear, when I’m close to you dear, the stars fill the sky.  So in love, so in love with you am I…..  Cole Porter..

I am, in my mind, drafting thank you letters to friends with whom we shared an AMAZING weekend.  One was my high school chum.  I found out a couple of years ago that he had a crush on this dorky girl but was too shy. This astonished me.  Really?  You, sir, are about as shy as a New York stripper!  Just sayin’…. I was only learning what fork to use myself.  His wife, Michelle, is an amazing woman and now my good friend.  What an honor.

I have always been aware of how special my friends are.  And the husband has always been aware of how special his friends are.  We commingled.  But it was nothing like this weekend.  I knew that the Steve I introduced  to my husband shared the same brain. Simultaneously scary and delightful.   Also, I knew that his lovely (and I do mean  LOVELY) wife Michelle would continue to teach me more about all that is being gracious in a world that doesn’t care whether you are or you are not.

The second event was the result of a fellow horse nut, high school friend and daughter of another crazed father.  (Bike rides to “La Tejanita!”…  Part of growing up in Arlington Heights in the 70’s.)  We were very close in high school and clung to each other, after a fashion, amidst our respective chaos.  We had lost touch in the mid eighties after being her maid of honor in the blizzard of 79.  No more winter weddings for moi! Their son was getting married and we were invited to visit history and witness new joy. It was bliss on a stick…

However, I still haven’t gotten over the bridesmaid dress.  Okay I’m over it now…. 🙂  Hell, we were probably really styling.  Perspectives change with the passage of time.

My husband is about as anti Southern California as they come.  It does not escape his notice (nor mine) that our town in the wild west contains many many expat SoCals and refugees who reached the same decision we did about Chicago:  ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. The race is over, the rats won and we QUIT!!  I do recognize there are many who thrive on that environment and so, God speed, John Glenn.  Also, many of these same ex-pats have the sense to flee when the winter threatens with it’s closed highways, fifty mile an hour winds and multiple feet of snow.  Not us, of course.  Admittedly it is also it is fun to trek back to “civilization” for visits and a variation on “culture”.  I must admit that I end up mourning the lack of  the variety of grocery stores and recalculate my campaign to get a COSTCO out here.  Currently, the nearest one is four hours away in Billings, Montana.  If they can have one, why can’t we?

Hell, I NEVER thought I’d be where I am…

Recently, I returned to Chicago and landed at 5 p.m. to head to my destination.  I distinctly remember thinking, “WOW!  These people think this is normal!”  But I also understood how much I miss the Art Institute, Millenium Park and the SEARS Tower.  For the record, I will NEVER refer to it as the Willis Tower.  Blasphemy!

I used to think that the social websites were another step down the decaying stairs of civilization.  But, I have discovered, along with everyone else, the gift of these sites.  Whatever Zuckerberg earns and whatever his initial motivation (collegiate hook ups?) it is well worth it.  But I still cling to the traditional proprieties…  The phone call, the birthday card to a friend, this and more are mandates in my world.  I had to learn these niceties by reading Emily Post’s etiquette tome after my ignorance found me judged and wanting.  My children expect me to walk on my knuckles any day now.

What these sites have afforded me are connections that were languishing, or even decaying. Our trip to California was telling testimony to that fact.  What a gift!  They afford that for all of us.  It also affords me the opportunity to “speak” to my daughter in Tokyo despite the fourteen hour time difference.  It allows me to track my sons’ social life without helicoptering or stalking.  It allows me to “talk” to my high school friends and my relations instead of wondering, “I wonder how so and so is doing?”

Yes it is technology.  But I have discovered that sometimes “techno” is good.  That is the lesson I have learned and taken to heart.  But I come to it sad that the proprieties are changing, shifting, morphing.  I don’t, however,  think the book, (not the nook) of Emily Post’s etiquette rules should be shelved.  It is ignored far too often these days.  (Geez, I’m a long way from codger-dom but don’t I sound like one?)

Wayne Dyer said, “Just because there is a distance between you and someone doesn’t meant there isn’t a connection.”  We did not know this with “snail mail”.  Or maybe we just accepted that mail would always be there.  Snail mail remains good.  I am a stickler for the written thank you note, complete with these things called envelopes and stamps.   But in that medium, I view myself as Sisyphus.  What I mourn is the shoebox of notes and letters languishing, but available to review and smile.

Okay, I did shred the letters from the college boyfriend who couldn’t spell.  But not before correcting them, copying them, and sending them back to him.  Yes, it was that bad of a “relationship”.

My father in law, whom I met shortly before his death, wrote home to his wife pretty much every day in World War II.  It is through those letters that I have become acquainted with him.  We also have some of my mother in law’s letters.  It allows me to see a different perspective rather than our contentious relationship.  I succeeded in getting my mother, before she died, (as well as my uncles) to put pen to paper and record their memoirs.  The links continue.  If I do nothing else, I have done that and continued the links….

Somehow, reviewing e-mails on a screen just isn’t the same.  At least not for me.  But I also scrapbook on paper and refuse to go “digital” in that media as well.  I want my children and their children to touch something that was touched by me.  Assembled by me.  With stories and vignettes and memories filtered through my personal lens.  Something that my hands touched and theirs will too.  Another link in the chain.  A small moment unlimited in the future that I have made.  If no one else doing the touching “gets it”, it doesn’t matter.  I will, from wherever I am.

Hugs and blessings

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Confessions of a Recovering Horse Nut…

I can admit it now.

I was one of “those girls”.

I was born with the horse crazy gene.  We can’t help it.  It’s some kind of genetic anomaly.  It is NOT, by the way, a good genetic anomaly to have when growing up on the south side of Chicago.

There was a contest when I was about five.

At that time, there was a candy bar called a “Charleston Chew”.  It was invented in 1922 and named for the dance not the city which the dance was, in fact, named for.    But the Charleston Chew was yet another candy bar amongst the myriad that I spent my allowance on at the local dime store.  (Sad that there are very few, if any, dime stores left. Now it’s all box stores.)  This particular candy bar still exists today with many morphings and leveraged buyouts and corporate shufflings into it’s current existence and owned by Warner Lambert.   These are the same people who merged with Listerine, and Nicoret.   Candy, mouthwash, and an end to nicotine.  Hmmm.

In 1963, however, the Charleston Chew sponsored a contest to win a pony.  If memory serves, you had to eat as many Charleston Chews as possible and send in the wrappers with your name and address.

Because of this, from this day to that day, I cannot look at a Charleston Chew.

I WANTED THAT PONY!!!  NO!!! I HAD to have that pony…

It would free me from driving with the old man on “errands” on Saturdays.  Riley’s Meat Market for the week’s worth of meat.  Then to the Sinclair gas station where the guy with the weird thumbnail would clean the windows.  The home stretch was in sight when he took me to the bar to stop for a beer and gave me a couple of dimes for the juke box.  (If anyone is reading this who is too young to remember, think GIANT ipod filled with vinyl things called records or LPS.)

Finally, we would be heading home along Western Avenue, and past the Evergreen Park Plaza.  It was one of the prototypes for the malls of today.

WAIT!!!  They were having PONY RIDES!!



No one, and I do mean no one, can pitch a hissy fit like a horse crazy red head with a captive audience like a five year old girl in danger of missing an opportunity to get in the saddle.  The car stopped.  My father was the Neville Chamberlain of Evergreen Park.  He was very big on peace at any price.  The price here was fifty cents.  That was two weeks allowance in my world.  I negotiated down to a fifty fifty split.

I then spent my three turns around the wheel of ponies trying to convince the teenage boy to untie the pony and let me have the reins to take him for a spin.

There is nothing, NOTHING, more unreasonable and stubborn than a Shetland pony. They are amongst the orneriest creatures God forgot to leave off the ark with the unicorns.  The number of little horse nut girls in braids who have been tossed by deceptively cute little shetland ponies are beyond legionnaires at Beau Geste.  It is an unspoken rite of passage. Fortunately, from the back of a Shetland pony, it is a short way to the turf. These ponies were bred to be short, go into Welsh coal mines and pull carts of coal.  Tough doesn’t begin to describe their particular personality disorder.  Welsh does. (Kidding.)  Damn good thing they are largely and perpetually cute.  Think Bonnie Butler in “Gone With the Wind”.

So when the Charleston Chew contest came along, I had it all figured out.  I would eat the entire production line of “Chews” if I needed to.  The pony would be stabled in the detached garage that was accessed by the typical alleys of city life.  I would ride “Thunder” up and down my alley and brush him and love him and go in and watch reruns of “My Friend Flicka” or “Mr. Ed”.

That’s it!  I would teach him to speak like “Mr. Ed”….

My father was somehow, and for whatever reason, somewhat resistant to this business plan. God, my childhood was ensconced in, and surrounded by, unreasonable adults.

Needless to say, this campaign went down in flames like McGovern’s, Goldwater’s, or Mondale’s.

Aah, but the horse crazy gene refused to yield.

I did everything, and I mean EVERYTHING I could do to earn money to ride horses.  I babysat, for God’s sake!  I was an only child and was never going to have kids.  This should have been shared with prospective “clients”.  But another fifty cents and I could garner another magic hour on a horse.  In a rare lapse of business acumen, I agreed to watch THIRTEEN weeks of PBS series (then a neophyte channel) and give a report for TWO hours (straight) of riding. Pointless root canal work sans novocaine would have been a better deal.

For more money, of course.

I think my parents were waiting for this “phase” to end.  Everything was a phase during that period of time.  It was the narcotic of parenthood.  As in “it’s just a phase, it will pass.”

I didn’t get that memo.  I continued to to everything and anything I could to get my butt on the back of a horse.  I founded a riding club or, excuuuse me, an “Equestrian Club”, at the high school that was built and opened for our part of the baby boom.  I argued with my neighbor, Moose, the football player that I was an ATHLETE whilst he was merely a “jock”.

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”  He was a very wise soul who had the rare male variance of the horse crazy gene.  Where I live now, a horse is largely viewed as another method of transportation and utility….  Bulldogging and team roping are varsity sports along with the other rodeo events.

My husband gave me my first horse after we were married.  All mine.  Finally.  He also, God bless him, said “Go for it.”

I went for it. Big time.  I trained this barely broke monster whose attitude and stubbornness lined up perfectly with mine.  And for two years we showed and competed in the hunter divisions  almost every weekend.  I got a new saddle for my birthday and donated the forty year old relic I had gotten for free to the school saddle pile.

There were also occasional forays into fox hunting.  That’s where forty horses and riders are tearing over hill and dale at top speed and jumping whatever gets in their way.  Think extended roller coaster ride.

I won ribbons.  Lots of them.  And I got pregnant.

Something changed even when I went back to the competitions.   Pre-motherhood, I would jump anything you put in front of me.  I would love to see just how high we could go; or rather that was when my trusty steed wasn’t slamming on the brakes and having me kiss the turf.

There came a time when I knew that the mommy track and the horse show track would have to part ways.  My heart knew that I had to put the time into my children and there would always be another horse.  Once I reached that decision, it was okay.

Flash forward eight years.  Everyone was in school and I could carve out the time during the day to regain my skills.  I found a great trainer out here in the wild west that taught hunt seat equestrian skills and had all the gear to resume what I thought was still my passion.

I was wrong.

In that hiatus I discovered, at least in this venue, that I had grown cautious.  It was no longer a thrill to teach a 1500 pound animal with the brain the size of a walnut and a serious flight reflex to hurl the two of us over a large obstacle that it normally viewed as  a corral.  Fear is too strong a word.  It was more of a niggling concern that I just didn’t want to risk pain and rehabilitation.

When you ride horses  long enough something, even in pure percentages, is bound to occur.  Horseback riding had become a “have to”, not a “want to”.

I had my numerous ribbons made into a quilt that hangs in my office.  It  sits near the pink hard hat that was given to me  by a dear friend when I became the general contractor on this house in which we now reside in the wild west.  The next adventure.  (Thanks Reg)

I have to say that I don’t really miss my bridle time.  I have my “hero” pictures.  I have the memory of soaring from the earth, my (un)trusty steed and I.  I still enjoy the occasional trail ride. Mostly those are spent with my daughter.  But it was time to hang it up.  And it was the right time.

Time to fully embrace the next phase of my life and “go for it” in a different way.

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Farewell, Mr. Jones


I discovered late in life, that I had REALLY only been jealous of one friend in my life.  Arlene. She is as wonderful, kind and generous a person who has ever walked this earth.  BUT, she got to see the Monkees in concert in New York for one of the few times that Jimi Hendrix opened for them.  Citing “artistic differences” with one extension of the third digit he took his leave when all the hormental teens were just screaming for Davy.  What a moment.

I waged a full throttle, redheaded campaign to be allowed — at the age of ten (almost)–  to go to the Arie Crown Theatre to go and see them.  I had it all mapped out.  I had the train schedule and had saved for cab fare (at fifty cents a week).  (Having questioned my oblivious father what cab fare cost from the Northwestern Station to Arie Crown).

I was set.

They said “NO!!!”

I may forgive them eventually.  Haven’t yet.  How unreasonable could any set of parents be?  I certainly had the worst set of THE most unreasonable parents in the world.  I didn’t fail to tell share that fact with them endlessly.

I battled every Monday night to have ONE half hour with the four boys my pre-hormental “Pre Fab” guys provided for me.  It martyred my father.  I’m sure, given everything else, he received beatification on that fact alone. But I refused to be his remote control for the four channels on the air (pre UHF) unless I could have that time with the Monkees.

Later that same year, I got into an MAJOR argument with my much older brother that the Monkees were SO much better than the Beatles. This conclusion was drawn by WLS-AM (when their was only AM radio and before eight tracks) His head almost exploded all over the wall of his 1963 Chevy Nova.

“Monkeemania”, as it was called, carried me through a major transition in my life.  One day, I was in Ellen Puschak’s basement listening ENDLESSLY to “More of the Monkees” somewhat quietly (her dad was a Chicago fireman) and the next we were in the “farm country” of the northwest suburbs where they still grew corn. and I could walk three blocks away and ride a horse (or something that resembled one).

I understand they started out as manufactured.  They were one of many sixties bands that were — especially the “bubble gum” bands.  But they found a way to take control and make it real.  Their version of the Christmas hymn “Riu Chiu” remains one of my all time favorites (in an episode that also starred “Eddie Munster” aka Butch Patrick).

I was just another pre teen praying for Marcia Brady hair, breasts, (not necessarily in that order) and madly in love with the Monkees.  Every day I set out to be “groovy” and failed miserably.  But I was an unabashed Davy Jones fan.  One of the two fan letters I wrote in my life was to Davy.  I remember it is how I learned to spell the word offense.  In professing  my undying love for Davy, I constructed the following sentences: “I love Davy because he loves horses.  No offense to you other three fellows, but I do.”

The lack of a response did not deter me.  Given my size at the time, I had a jockey school all picked out in California.  I planned on going there when I turned sixteen and dropped out of school.  I would become a licensed jockey and meet Davy Jones and prove worthy of his love of horses.  I did not share these plans with the folks for obvious reasons.

I grew too tall to become a jockey, never having achieved grooviness.  I took up showing hunters in little shows near home. I stopped fighting with my hair. The Monkees broke up and life moved on.

Flash forward to 1997.  Having failed to get tickets to the 1986 reunion tour, the three remaining Monkees were touring in Minneapolis where we were having our annual family reunion.  I grabbed two tickets for my beloved niece, Katie, and myself.

I felt a little ridiculous but triumphant.  After all, I had waited thirty years to get to see these guys perform.

What happened next amazed me.

When we got to the theatre, there were literally hundreds of women my age and slightly older with posters, journals, photos and all sorts of memorabilia hoping to get a few seconds with the band.

And here I thought I was in need of intervention…

It was a great show.  It was very family friendly with Peter, Mickey and Davy joking about handing out Advil to the girls in the “mosh pit”.   They knew their fan base and had a genuine affection for them.  They commiserated with the poor husbands who were dragged along to keep their wives from throwing their granny panties on the stage.

It was such a great, though belated, experience.  Several years later I took my daughter to another concert/semi-reunion in 2001 and was lucky enough to see Davy Jones last summer.  His fan base was still just as strong as ever.

I find myself very sad.  It a chapter from my childhood that is permanently closed.  Many with more street cred to their names have commented on the untimely demise of Mr. Jones.  But I had to try to put down the impact, however subtle, he had on my life.  I never got the Marcia Brady hair, the breasts did come eventually, but Davy and I had horses in common.   We had that thread.  And I’m glad he was around his horses when his time came.

Davy once said he was a very private person living a very public life.  I thank you for the public part and am very glad that your funeral yesterday provided you the privacy you craved.

He is missed by many.  And by a little girl who ended up in a grown up body.

Posted in From Where I Live | 4 Comments

A Very Strange Calling…

A talent was originally a form of currency in the time of Christ.  It has, of course come to mean a special gift or proclivity.  I have a pretty strange one that manifests itself as needed and only when needed.   Thank God.  A calling, if you will.

I have done numerous eulogies over the course of my adult life.  Like some contrapositive   variation of tender mercy, I have had the privilege to help people send their recently deceased loved ones off to the choir invisible.  It is a calling that sucks, quite frankly.  Someone I know and love dies in order for me to be called into action.  While  loved ones are on their knees, I am pounding out the words that will give their lives proper homage.

The first eulogy I ever did was for a man I had met only once.  He was my (then) future father-in-law, Dr. Harley M. Sigmond, M.D.

In  July of 1988, my (then) boyfriend invited me up to the “lake place” to meet his siblings and his mother, who had retired there with her husband after he had a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side and aphasic.  The only words he had left were “Yes, okay” and “God damn no.”

I had no trouble engaging in a conversation with him:

“Dr. Sigmond, I see you are watching the Cubs game.”

“Yes, okay.”

“Are they winning?”

“Goddamn, no!”

“Do you think they have a chance?”

“Goddamn, no!”

“Wait until next year, eh?”

“Yes, okay!”

He gave his son a big thumbs up with his good hand.

He passed away, two months later while I was again visiting the family with my husband to be.  Having lingered in the hospital for a week after another stroke, he came to his peace.  The timbre of the weekend immediately changed.

My husband’s family is an exclusionary lot.  They grew up in comfort and privilege and the best way to phrase this is that they are not very welcoming.  It takes them out of their safety zone.

I was now about as welcome as a good case of the plague.Except for my husband.

He entreated me to stay and help him through the weekend.  He needed my support as everyone else was methodically making arrangements and planning the menu for after the service.  I understand this was their way of coping.   But it was NOT what my husband needed.

“She can stay if she wants to,” was my future mother in law’s frosty response to his entreaty.

I ended up taking a lot of walks to stay out of the way.  This pleased them.  They complimented me that I “knew when to leave”.  It was a survival mechanism for me as I negotiated the cultural mine field.

But my future husband was becoming increasingly more frustrated.  His needs in honoring his father were not getting met.  At all.  All the other family members are introverts, task oriented,  and repress their emotions.  No one ever addresses the 300 pound Magilla in the living room.  Eric was (and is) every bit as gregarious, curious, boisterous and welcoming as his father was.  He needed desperately to find a way to convey the essence of his dad to the people who would be attending the memorial service.  I could feel his frustration reaching the boiling point.

I pulled him into the little office area in the back of the house, fired up the computer, and said, “Start talking and I’ll start typing.”

We writers are an odd lot.  We process things by putting them into words and, sometimes, putting those words out to be scrutinized.  Some writers are better at the latter than I am.  But either way, it is a direct circuit from brain to heart to fingers on the keyboard.

Except this time.

This time, he began to speak of his dad and all the man’s qualities, virtues and faults.  The words came from HIS heart to MY heart and out my fingertips onto the keyboard.  I was certain that the spirit of Harley was between us with the necessary cosmic jumper cables completing this incredible circuit.  It was all I could do to keep up.

‘Twas truly one of the most amazing experiences of my life up to that point.

The whole process took about 30 minutes and here is the product of that magic time as we said goodbye to Harley.  His parting gift to me was an entree into his family:

A Tribute

From time to time on this earth, God puts a very special human being amongst us.  Usually such people go through life quietly committed to their fellow man; doing good acts and expecting only the reward of a good feeling in their souls.  When such a person come to us, lives his life, and quietly leaves us, there are moments of mourning that are all too fleeting.  These moments are cut short by a need to get on with the day-to-day matters of life.

Comforting words are spoken.  The final ceremony is performed.  Those closest to these very special people miss them.  But we all continue on.

And they would want it that way.  While the words are fleeting, and the necessities of day to day life do, indeed, call us onward, we fee acutely the loss of Harley M. “Sig” Sigmond.

There will always be other orthopedic surgeons to fulfill the societal function — heal the sick, fix a broken bone, make “all better”.  But the true loss is Sig’s compassion and his quiet commitment to his fellow man.

No one could “make all better” like Sig.  Through a lifelong, selfless, commitment to others, he conveyed the love, understanding and respect for life and for the betterment of others through his efforts.

Sometimes, when you meet a man on the street and shake his hand, you come away from that brief encounter with a smile — though you can’t say why, exactly — and a better outlook on life.  Sometimes, it’s a pat on the shoulder to someone who is depressed.  Sometimes it is a smile for the frustration of a child.  Sig was a man who lived for others and reaped his rewards in those who remain to convey the love and understanding he instilled in all those he touched.

For this reason, we gather.  We shed some tears.  We break into a smile at a fond remembrance.  We remember and feel again, the warm glow of his hugs.  And we receive, without any surprise, the deepest condolences of his residents, his patients, and people in the community.  They too will occasionally remember Sig’s smile.  The glow will carry on.

We do not come together to praise a man of perfection.  To make a man like Sig an icon would be to do him an injustice.  We must also remember the warmth of his imperfections.

“Cut the mustard and get it done.”

“Daddy’s coming down the hall with a broom.”

“I’m going to get the Great Persuader.”  (An item of mystery to this day.)

To convey a sense of discipline in order to create a long term good, one must sometimes be a tough guy.  Sig also took on this role with relish and gusto — as he did in all things.

He is remembered most of all by his children.  In the same exuberant manner in which he lived, he has left this earth with four variations on the theme of Sig.  Each one has his special imprint and his sense of right and compassion toward his fellow man.  All will continue to smile and remember their Dad.  Though the pain of their loss is acute right now, when they smile they will know he is with them still.

“Yes, okay.”

We were engaged two months later.

Posted in Finding Normal, From Where I Live | Leave a comment

Button Busting

I understand the sports world for kids from tot sports all the way through high school.  At least I thought I did.

When I lived in the suburbs of Chicago, it was understood that you started signing your kids up for sports teams by age four.  From then on life was lived largely on a field of some sort with a folding chair. (God bless the inventor of the current model with shade, foot rest, and the all important cup holder.)  Snack parents and coffee parents were assigned at the beginning of the season and life was now mapped out for the duration.  A date with your husband?  Why the awards banquets of course.

I’m not complaining.  We have tons of video and photos.  There is the sweet moment of my daughter and her friend Bess doing the macarena and hugging as the ball dribbled into the goal at soccer.  My husband would take the twins out into the back yard with the giant plastic bat and ball and play a variation of baseball.  In this version, he would not tag them out.  Rather, he would get the ball and chase them around the “bases” yelling, “I’M GONNA GET YOU!”

Not knowing any different, both boys applied this principle to getting the opponent out in  T-ball.  That’s another I have on video.

But, as any parent discovers, the level of competition moves glacially from the sweet to the intense.  The barometer is cranked up on expectations.  It is rather insidious, I think.  Suddenly, at eight years old, it is a tragedy if your child is not invited to try out for and consequently make a travel team.  (They’ll never make the high school team if this doesn’t occur.)  Really, EIGHT?

Many people find themselves with three kids in three different sports in three different states on any given weekend throughout the year.  When my daughter expressed an interest in Irish dancing, I discovered I/we would be expected to spend thousands of dollars on costumes and compete in feis in St. Louis over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Otherwise, your daughter would never have a chance.  As with everything else in life, there were “better” clubs and “lesser” clubs.  Okay, take that off the list.

It’s not that I didn’t support or encourage my childrens’ interests.  We emphasized fun.  Everything in life would be ramped up soon enough.  We found sports teams in less competitive suburbs, since the Olympics were not our goal.  Our daughter and twin sons were happy with this decision.  After all, we strongly advocated the ancient Greek philosophy of a balance between body, mind and spiritus.  They enjoyed the teams and sports of which they partook. My husband and I also got our weekly date, an integral part of the dynamic of our marriage.  We retained the integrity of the family we had worked so hard to build.

We vetoed hockey because the five year olds could only have the 5:30 a.m. time slot.  This was before a Chicago father encouraged his young child to check a kid so hard he ended up paralyzed and another father was stabbed in a fight in the stands.  Hockey is a tough sport.  But felonious assault by the spectators?

Chicago area soccer clubs were beginning to speak of advocating “silent Sundays”.  Even positive comments (which were legion in our area with a couple of exceptions) were to be banned.  Parents  were to stand in silence on the sidelines.

That was just another grain of sand in the hourglass of our decision to leave.  From the sublime of the macarena and a hug to the silence of “support” for team spirit.

When we moved out here to the wild west, I was warned that this was a tough town.  I smugly laughed.  I had lived with the pros for all my life.  This was bush league.

Or maybe not.  I had not anticipated small town infrastructure.

One of the first jokes I heard here was “Why doesn’t  South Dakota have a professional team?”

Answer: “Because then Minnesota would want one.”  (Sorry neighbor.)

But when you live in one of those states that doesn’t have a pro team or has “only” a semi-pro team, the focus of competition becomes primarily high school or collegiate.  There exists a “Hoosiers” mentality.  EVERYONE in town shows up to the high school games for football, soccer, basketball and American Legion baseball.  People who no longer have kids on teams still follow them and attend the games.  The retirees are a fixture.

My one-minute older son plays basketball.  Last year, right at the beginning of the season, he sprained his shoulder at the local ski hill and spent the greatest part of the season riding the bike in practice.  When he finally was medically cleared, he spent the season warming a chair and being supportive of his team. This year, when he wanted to go out for the team again, we revoked his ski pass.  He was completely okay with that decision.

He made every practice and came home tired.  I knew he was working hard.  The coach, at the beginning of the season, held a parent meeting where he stated very clearly that he would happily meet with any parent to discuss anything EXCEPT play time.

I can completely understand that policy, having experienced helicopter parents on steroids.  But after game five of driving all over western South Dakota, only to see my son’s buns in a chair for the duration, I began to empathize with those whirlybirds back “east river”.

But I honored the policy.  Rather I encouraged my son, a man of few words (usually seven or ten a day – at least toward his folks) to go to the coach and ask what he needed to work on or what he needed to do to get play time.

“Keep working.” was the reply.

I could feel my son’s pain and frustration as the season progressed.  There were a couple of other kids in the same situation.  We watched these kids continue to warm the chairs and support the rest of the team.

It turns out that there were two basketball camps last summer.

Cultural aside:  When we moved here, everyone assumed that you knew where everything was located, what events were impending, at what practice venue and who needed to be there. No flyers, e-mails, or phone trees are ever utilized.

My son missed the first basketball camp because he was on a two week, sixty mile hike with the boy scouts that had been planned for sixteen months.  Apparently, carrying around a sixty pound pack for fourteen days doesn’t count as conditioning.

It turns out the coach was only playing the kids who had managed to make the camps.

Last night was the last game of the season.  We were playing a team from Rapid City that is known for their basketball team.  We were getting trounced.  But Mom and Dad were on their stadium chairs courtside being supportive.

Last two minutes of the game.  IT HAPPENS!!! My son got to play.

In two minutes time: a block, a rebound, a steal and a basket.

I can guarantee that my son heard us in the bleachers.  Take that coach.

I’ll dine on this for months.  And I thank my son for “allowing” me (sort of) to hug and kiss him in the high school gym.

Aaaaaah.  Sometimes standing on your tongue and letting your child handle the situation yields really GREAT moments.

Posted in From Where I Live, One of Those Square States in the Middle | 2 Comments

Golden Moments

Has anyone else out there experienced a moment (or moments if they are truly blessed) that is so perfect that you will carry with you for the rest of your life?  I am blessed to say that I can carry one of those moments with me until I draw my last breath.

I bill myself as an only child.  This is technically true but I do, in fact, have a half brother.  We share the same mother.  She had bad taste in husbands.  Mom was drawn to self absorbed men incapable of thinking of anyone else.  We were planets orbiting around them.  That was our sole purpose as far as they were concerned.

The first was a philanderer who left her when my brother Rick was four.  The father had nothing more to do with his son when he left her for another woman and allegedly proceeded to produce six or seven more half siblings through a string of a couple of more marriages.  I know Rick was curious about these siblings but never worked up the courage or gumption to pursue his curiosity.

Then our mutual Mom met and married my father.  I think that she thought she was getting out of her personal hell and into the 1950’s version of the “dream”.  Marry a doctor or lawyer, get a house in the ‘burbs and live happily ever after. But my father was a facsimile.

He was  a very troubled man.  He had many demons surrounding him.  He was bisexual at best and an alcoholic.  Though very intelligent and sometimes very witty when he wasn’t being cruel, he let his demons run his life while hiding behind the disguise of white bread respectability.  I am afraid that my brother, already once betrayed, walked from the frying pan into the fire.  He saw the man behind the mask that my father wore to the public and it wasn’t pretty.  I didn’t know any better and this in some ways saved me.  I thought everyone’s dad came home and drank scotch until they passed out in the chair.  In fact, I looked forward to it.  I would wait patiently for the inevitable sound of his sonorous snoring that signaled his unconsciousness.  Then I could watch what I wanted to watch on television.

Dysfunction, it seems, was the new normal.

Rick left home as soon as he could and married and started a family.  I, as the favored child, stayed within my cocoon oblivious to the cracks in the fuselage.  Maintaining the facade, Rick and his wife did not live too far away and would come to visit for compulsory occasions.

Just across the street from our home, there was a small playground.  On one occasion when Rick and his family were visiting, we took his two daughters over to play there.  While the girls were playing on the slide, he and I sat down on the swings.  Slowly at first, but with ever increasing vigor, Rick and I began to swing and pump, swing and pump, gaining a semblance of altitude and momentum.

There was nothing between us but these moments accentuated by the pause in centrifugal force at each end of the arc our swings made.  A pause in which we defied gravity and levitated.  At the acme of each arc, we hung suspended in air and looked at each other and smiled. It was a bond that dissolved all competition, resentment and alienation between us.  The favored child that proved my father’s manhood and the unwanted son shed those bonds and labels if only for the time being.

I will always remember that feeling.  I can recall it with perfect clarity even now, some thirty years later.  The perfection of this rare time with my bro on a sunny day where our feet seemed to touch the clouds.  And all was good and warm between us.

Unfortunately, feelings and moments don’t last.  Can’t last.

My relationship with my brother got increasingly more and more toxic.  The chess game that was my family’s dynamic got checkmated.  I moved out of the state eight years ago and he doesn’t know I left.  There has been no communication since my mother’s funeral fifteen years ago.  I probably have grand nieces or nephews, but I don’t know how many, nor who my nieces married.

I understand this happens a lot more commonly than I thought.  Sibling relations are complex and fraught with resentment and estrangement.  I have come to accept the fact that there most likely is not going to be a Hollywood ending to this scenario.  It is what it is and it is most important to put our myths to bed.

When I think of him now, I remember that magic series of moments suspended in mid air; just he and I defying the inevitable forces of nature.  Time stopping for a fleeting second or two, stuffed with happiness on the swings in a park.

I wish him well.

Posted in Finding Normal, From Where I Live | 1 Comment

Finding the Pony

There are two kinds of people in this world: optimists and pessimists.  They sit on opposite sides of the table of life trying to convince one another who has the proper take on “reality”.

Though most people delineate between the two with the glass half-empty or half-full metaphor, I think it is far more complex than that.  Rather, each side is fraught with some subtle differences.  I live by the metaphor about the little girl who wanted a pony very badly and her fairy godmother came to her and gave her a bag of horse manure.

The girl gave a cry of delight and proceeded to rip open the bag and dig through the horse manure with both hands.  Her fairy godmother was astonished and asked whatever was she doing.

The little girl replied, “I ‘m digging to find the pony!”

The optimist greets each day an urge to explore all that is possible in the day ahead.  Though they do not necessarily spring forth humming show tunes, as the day unfolds, the power of the good of the world unfolds simultaneously.  If it rains, the optimist looks for the rainbow.

The pessimist denies that they are one.  But they prepare for rain by carrying an umbrella and expect to be splashed when the rain begins; most likely from the taxi that blows by ignoring their hails.

But in each case, pessimist or optimist, the origin of his or her outlook is not predetermined.  I firmly believe that is an unconscious decision that can be remedied by being made consciously.

My name is Mary and I am a recovering pessimist.     I have left the dark side.  I have crossed over to the light.  I hope my optimist’s membership card is in the mail.

I met an elderly man recently who has numerous medical issues.  He is diabetic.  As a result of this terrible illness, he has lost six of his fingers and both his legs below the knees.

But he gets up each day and a friend comes and helps him into the truck and they go out to the fields where he oversees his livestock.  Though grateful for the assistance, I’m quite sure he’d find a way to do this no matter what.  He is glad to be alive, quick to tell a joke, and thankful for “all the Lord has given me”.

I met a woman recently who drives a new car, has lovely clothes, and lives in a wonderful condominium.  She has enough free time to golf and travel and is blessed with good health.

But she is alone.  She is divorced, alienated from her children and spent Thanksgiving weekend alone.  When you talk to her, she will tell you that none of this is her doing.  Everyone else is at fault.  She questions why life took this turn and sees nothing but loneliness ahead.

I wished that I could introduce these two people.  Alas, it is highly unlikely, though one can hope. The optimistic elderly man could have, I believe, given this elegant unhappy woman an example of how the optimist can potentiate a change for the better.  That life is a gift that you can mold to your needs with a seed change in perspective.  That’s all it takes.

There are two kinds of people: optimists and pessimists.  My cell phone ring tone is “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life”, from Monty Python.  Sums it all up for me.

Posted in Finding Normal, From Where I Live, Oddities and Amusements | Leave a comment