Category Archives: Friendship

For the Fallen Accidental Soldiers of our Hometown Wars, Let’s Really Think and Pray

Another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone. Every year around this time, fresh new memorials to lost American lives appear across our country. They commemorate the growing number of civilians forced unwittingly to serve as soldiers in our ongoing hometown wars.

Among these most recently fallen conscripts are the nineteen fourth graders in Uvalde, Texas, who almost made it to the end of the school year. These nine and ten-year old kids might now be relishing the start of summer, had they not been shot to death in their classrooms after returning from an awards ceremony. They include two teachers, both mothers, brave women who did their utmost to protect their students. They include ten people of various ages, from twenty to eighty-six, who had the misfortune to stop by their neighborhood grocery store in Buffalo for snacks, or strawberries, or a cake, at the wrong time.

We should also grieve for the traumatized survivors of these urban battles, whose lives are forever altered. They include the Uvalde children who evaded death because they chose an effective hiding place, or because they smeared their clothing with the blood of their dead and dying classmates. They’ll never see many of their little friends again. There is the young woman in Buffalo who eluded the gunman when another woman lunged at him and was shot dead in the process.

To these survivors and to the families of the lost, we are quick to offer our “thoughts and prayers.” This phrase, if uttered automatically, has little meaning. But we should, indeed, be thinking about, and praying for real solutions. Solving a problem requires opening our minds in order to approach it from various viewpoints. Prayer, to be effective, needs a similar attitude, a willingness to consider answers that might push the boundaries of our comfort zone. Prayer should prompt us to release our tight hold on notions we cling to simply because we have always done so. I pray that we can find some common ground, and that it will move us to take strategic steps toward stopping our country’s epidemic of gun violence.

And as we think and pray to find this common ground, let’s remember that, at any time, we might find ourselves, or our parent, grandparent, child or spouse, forced suddenly into battle. We’re all in this dangerous lottery together; we don’t know when or where our number may be called. Medical exemptions or wealthy parents will no longer keep us from the fight.

An Old Love Note Inspires a New One

Several years ago I wrote about opening an old childhood stationery box to discover some vintage love notes written to me by a fellow classmate, when we were both in third grade. Recently I came across another such note, by the same sender. I knew him back then as Danny. We’re still in touch on social media, and now he goes by Dan. In this one, young Danny had opted for the uniquely inventive approach he had chosen in another of the letters. Typed on onion skin paper, it began boldly, with an all-caps declaration of love. What third grader was typing in 1970? An urban sophisticate like Danny, that’s who. He’d recently gained access to his mother’s cutting edge IBM Selectric. Below the greeting, the top quarter of the page is occupied by identical lines like this:

1oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

Below these lines appears the word TIMES.

That’s a lot of love times.

And then this humble admission: I LOVE YOU MORE THEN YOU LOVE ME.

And, typed, but then unsuccessfully erased, is this:

Kiss me After School Greg ? or Danny

The absence of all-caps suggests that this is more of a whimsical wish than a demand.

The reference to a possible after-school kiss appears in another of the notes, and it baffled the adult Dan. He thought of himself a shy kid, certainly not one to request, or to expect, such a thing. Greg’s name is found in another of the notes, as well. The adult Greg cannot remember conspiring with Danny in the composition of love letters. That’s not surprising, considering that Dan and I have also forgotten many of the circumstances surrounding the making, sending and receiving of these decades-old dispatches.

The notes were compelling enough for me to save, and to keep, for all these years. They’ve become artifacts that bear witness to past selves, even though memories of that past have dimmed.

And they still have power. My husband was impressed. No matter who was responsible for the “kiss after school” line, it struck him as a great idea. This Valentine’s Day, inspired by the youthful audacity of Danny, or Greg, or both, he made me a card that read:

Want to kiss after school? With who? (Select one)

Below were three boxes to check, each beside his own name.

What would my third-grade self have done? Probably kept quiet, done nothing, except file the paper away safely, as I did with Danny’s letters. But the older me knew what to do. I checked all three boxes.

************************************************************************

For the earlier love-letter posts, from March 2014, see:

Young Love, Old Love Notes, Part I

and Part II

Foggy Morning, Foggy Memories

Out with Kiko on a recent damp, cold, foggy morning was like being immersed in a grisaille landscape painting. The world was drained of all color. Branches were inky black against a silvery sky, and distant trees were soft smudges of gray.

I was reminded of the few months I spent in Cambridge, England as a grad student while researching my dissertation. I remembered standing on the bridge over the River Cam, watching the form of King’s College Chapel slowly materialize through the mist, and realizing that those blurry shapes nearby were cows grazing on the Backs. I recalled the sharp, bone-numbing chill of the wind that blew across the Fens. I will never forget that intense cold of a Cambridge November, which overwhelmed the meager heating system in my rented room in an old house on Panton Street.

That part of my past is so distant now that sometimes it seems like it no longer belongs to me. Perhaps it’s even more remote because of its contrast with the predominantly home-bound sameness of the last two covid years. Did I really live for a year in England in my twenties? Did I travel in Britain and Europe, examining Gothic illuminated manuscripts in ancient libraries, having adventures and staying in seedy, ramshackle no-star hotels? Was that young woman really me? I have photos to prove it, as well as assorted associated memories. But some experiences, no doubt, cannot be recalled; they’re gone for good. Others can be only glimpsed; they’re in the process of dissolution. And with every passing year, they become more tenuous, wispy and ghost-like, threatened by the fog of time.

I’m resolving to reclaim that past before it’s lost. This winter I’ll look back on those photos and re-read my dog-eared travel notes. I’ll need help to make sense of them, because my own haphazard archives will be insufficient. I appeal now to those friends who adventured with me during that long-ago year in England. Let’s reminisce and compare memories; together we’ll reassemble portions of some of those old days piece by piece. They’re too precious to be forgotten. There will be missing pieces, of course. And missing companions. Sadly, not all of us have survived. All the more reason to start the process as soon as possible.

Halloween 2021

The last time our daughter was home for Halloween was in 2017, her senior year in high school. Her return for the recent holiday weekend therefore seemed extra special. Slim was eager to see our daughter, as well. He recognized her as his ideal partner in preparing for all things Halloween. She is nearly as big a fan of the day as he is. Ever since she was a toddler, Halloween anticipation has begun for her in the summer. (See Friendly Ghosts of Halloweens Past, October 2013.)

In 2020, because of Covid, young parents in our neighborhood organized a Halloween parade, with all trick-or-treating outside. The kids progressed from one end of the neighborhood to the other, to tables set up by families in front of their homes. It worked so well and was so enjoyable that they decided to do it again this year. I liked it because it made it easier to appreciate the costumes and gave more time to chat with kids and their parents.

Our daughter was determined to make our Halloween display as thorough as possible. Slim was equally zealous, of course. Together, they hauled out all the old, mostly homemade decorations that D recalls fondly from her childhood: Fred, the stuffed dummy, the tombstone and graveyard fencing, various skulls and bones, jack-o’-lantern votives, spiders and spiderwebs. They festooned our tables for treats in appropriately witchy garb. They set up the fog machine and an outdoor speaker for projecting spooky sounds. They rolled out the love seats from the garage so we could be comfortably seated during the parade. This persuaded even my mother to join us. When we began to see the children approaching, Slim climbed up in a cherry tree, and D, wearing the gorilla costume that we just happen to have, hid herself from view.

Our daughter, quietly channeling her inner gorilla.
A tense moment.

As each group of children chose their treats, my husband, holding a heavy chain, would ask, “Has anyone seen my pet gorilla?” Then D would pop up from behind the love seat and jump around. The performance was well-received, usually with genuine surprise. No one was overly frightened, which was as intended, but one little boy asked his mother to remain close by his side as he got his candy. Several trick-or-treaters, and possibly one parent, wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume, engaged in high-spirited dance-offs with the gorilla.

Thanks to our friendly neighborhood, the parade, to the presence of Slim and our daughter, this Halloween was one of the happiest I can remember. It was rewarding to see just how many children live among us. We were impressed by the innovative costumes, on both kids and adults. How satisfying it was to see neighbors out socializing as they provided treats. As Slim likes to remind us, Halloween has evolved from an ancient Celtic harvest festival into a day when we affirm our common humanity through a love of sugar. It’s a day to welcome back, unapologetically, the child that abides within us, no matter our age. A time to share some sweetness and joy with others, simply because we’re God’s children here together. After all, it’s the custom to give candy not only to those we know personally, but to everyone who stops by.

It was a perfect top-off to the evening when a small Superhero jumped out of a highly decorated SUV and brought us a festively wrapped bottle of sparkling wine. We’d won one of the prizes for best display. Our daughter’s and Slim’s efforts had paid off. We’d given treats, and we got a treat. That, my friends, is Halloween, isn’t it?

What The Covid World Needs Now. . .

What I missed most, this Easter during Covid-19 isolation, was singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” among my fellow worshipers at my home church. I missed looking around during the joyful song, exchanging smiles with friends who have become family over the past twenty years. I missed seeing our modest, pleasant sanctuary nearly full for a change. (As in most mid-sized churches in our area, attendance declines yearly.) Charles Wesley’s majestic hymn, the words written in 1739, remains the quintessential anthem of Easter triumph. Our talented organist knows how to do it justice. I can hear the music resounding beyond the church walls. I can imagine that those walking by outside wonder, momentarily at least, if they’re missing something worthwhile. My favorite verses are the second and third:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!

Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids him rise, Alleluia!

Christ has opened paradise, Alleluia!

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!

Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!

Once he died, our souls to save, Alleluia!

Where’s thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia!

This Easter Sunday, during Covid-19 isolation, our family didn’t go to church, of course. Instead, church came to us. My husband, our daughter, my mother and I gathered in front of the TV for our local church’s online worship service. After that, we joined former neighbors remotely for the service from the Atlanta church I grew up in. We got a special treat when the pastor made a tour of our old Morningside neighborhood, the familiar parks and streets of my childhood quiet and uncrowded during this unprecedented time. We felt a renewed connection to dear friends, and to a place we called home, which we haven’t seen since my mother’s relocation to Virginia nearly three years ago. We heard two pastors speak movingly of the renewing, life-giving power of God’s love.

Across the country, ministers, church staff and dedicated volunteers have been scrambling to “do church” in a social distancing world, and it’s a challenging work in progress. But by its very nature, online worship, extending any local church’s reach far beyond the boundaries of any brick-and-mortar sanctuary, should send this emphatic message: If God’s love can’t reach across the miles and over the ages to warm cold hearts, change attitudes and offer hope, then what can? In the words of the classic children’s song: The church is not a building. It’s certainly not supposed to be a cushy clubhouse for an exclusive clique of like-minded, self-congratulatory, dogmatic ideologues. Yet that is the impression that some of the loudest voices identifying as Christian are spreading, if perhaps sometimes unwittingly. What church-goer has not heard the criticism of Christians as judgmental hypocrites? What church-goer can wholeheartedly profess that such a criticism is unwarranted? Can we seize the moment and actively work to chip away at this image? Could it be that the new reality of Covid-19 is the prompt, the burr under the saddle, that will get us moving to change this perception?

The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted an uncomfortable truth that most of us would prefer to ignore: health and long life are not guaranteed, not even to the youthful and hearty. Confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the US have exceeded one million. Nearly 62,000 Americans have died from the virus. While some people may feel a sense of security because their community, far from Covid hot spots, has remained relatively untouched, this could change. The safety net, if not illusory, is fragile and easily torn. Death is no longer the rare visitor, as we like to pretend. Instead, it lurks nearby, sometimes brushing elbows with us when we least expect it. Many people are alone, and lonely. Some struggle with despair and depression. Others are sharing uncomfortably close quarters, and nerves are fraying. Some may be justifiably fearful, as domestic violence is on the rise. Many are plagued by financial insecurity made extreme by sudden job loss. Thirty million people filed for unemployment in the last six weeks. Others, still employed, risk their own health daily as they perform their “essential” but poorly paid tasks. The mood of anxiety is not likely to lessen as states open or prepare to do so. It will not be “business as usual” for a long time.

If only the sad and the hurting could receive a message of love, of assurance, of hope. If only there were some group of unique individuals who might send out such a message, to help transmit rays of much-needed light and comforting warmth when they are so badly needed.

If only.

If only churches and those who used to find themselves regularly in church on Sunday mornings could rise to the challenge.

Let’s give it a try.

Let’s emulate the example of Jesus in our words and actions. Like the friend, brother, teacher and savior we honor in our name as Christians, let’s live by the words of the prophet Micah (6:8), and “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.” Let’s embody kindness, empathy and compassion. Let’s leave aside our tendencies to debate the fine points of theology, and maybe even our determination to prove that the Bible (and therefore “we” as opposed to “them”) are “right.” Let’s refrain from referring to people with whom we disagree as “Godless.” Let’s try, even when it makes us squirm as we abandon our customary high ground, to leave the judgement to God. And let’s ensure that our church’s online presence is in sync with our actions. That it emphasizes forgiveness, inclusiveness, and transformative love.

May we “church folks” be a light in the darkness as we share the hope that springs from the certainty of God’s abiding love and saving grace for us, his flawed, often flailing, and all too human children. Who knows how many worried and sorrowful hearts we might touch?

Our Covid-19 world really needs us now.

What is required of you? This one Thing.

The official Coronavirus Pandemic is now in its third week, and the US has become the center of the storm. This “foreign” virus has had no trouble making itself at home. If we persist in thinking of it as an immigrant, it’s one who quickly adapts to our all-American ideals, eagerly jumping into the melting pot, waving the flag and speaking in a familiar local dialect. Our country now leads the world in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19. As of this morning, over 140,000 Americans have tested positive for the disease, and nearly 2,500 have died from it.

Many of those now sick with Covid-19 are simply uncomfortable. Their symptoms are mild, like those of the flu or even an annoying spring cold during allergy season. For some, the worry over transmitting the virus to vulnerable family members in close proximity may be worse than any physical pain they feel. Others may endure greater suffering with more dramatic symptoms. Yet most, still, will recover. Approximately 137,500 Americans so far have survived Covid-19. Why not simply celebrate this figure? Why be negative? Why be such a Debbie-Downer?

This is why. Some of those who contract the virus, not only the elderly and infirm, but also the young and evidently healthy, will appear to be on firm footing, well on the road to recovery, when they take a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse. Breathing will become a herculean task. Those who have experienced these symptoms describe a terrifying sensation akin to slow suffocation, like drowning on dry land. Some may not survive without a ventilator, an apparatus that forces air in and out of the lungs. Hospitals have a limited number of these costly breathing machines. A quickly soaring number of Covid-19 patients therefore poses a real hurdle. Some New York hospitals have begun experimenting with a single ventilator for two patients, a solution that has been described as “not ideal.” As cases spike, especially in rural areas, local hospitals will quickly become overwhelmed.

This is why we keep hearing the mantra: stay home to flatten the curve. If we can lower the number of people who get sick and require hospitalization, we’ll all have a better chance of survival.

Another point worth noting is that some people who contract Coronavirus may experience no symptoms at all. At first, this might sound like a good thing. See: it’s no big deal! Maybe it’s even less of a worry than the common cold! But no. Think of what this means: if we continue to carry on as usual, we risk crossing paths with those who look and feel healthy, yet may be actively “shedding the virus.” We can pick it up from such a carrier and be totally unaware of having been infected. Our every action poses a very real risk to those around us. We have no way of knowing who may be hit hardest by the virus. Some “underlying conditions” may become apparent only in the face of an acute illness.

Let’s think of those battling the Coronavirus on the front lines, for whom even small routine tasks now involve difficult challenges, physical, mental and spiritual. For those in our medical communities, their faces bruised from the constant pressure of masks they may be re-using out of necessity, the threat must be all-pervasive. Let’s do the right thing for all those whose jobs put them in the cross-hairs of this pathogen, whether they’re treating the sick, cleaning hospital rooms, working as first responders, as police and firefighters, or in pharmacies and grocery stores.

Let’s do the right thing, for our community.

Let’s do the right thing, for those we love.

Let’s do the right thing, for our country.

What is this that our community, our loved ones, and our country require of us?

Simply this: when at all possible, stay home.

*About a half hour ago, Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order for Virginia.

Valentine’s Days Past: The Good and Not So Good Ones

How much are you loved, Valentine?  This Much!
Kiko serves as a prop for two old Valentines sent to my daughter as a toddler, from each set of grandparents. 

Our daughter, then four, before preschool on February 14, 2003.

Our daughter is now twenty and in her second year at UVA.  I find myself missing her more than ever recently.  And today, as I look through the charming old cards we’ve saved from her childhood, I wish I were on my way to pick her up from preschool so we could enjoy a celebratory afternoon together.  My favorite Valentine’s Days were those when my daughter was a toddler.  See Fool-proof Valentine’s Days, a post from 2012.

Later that day, with her Valentine goodies

I also have cozily pleasant memories of making Valentines with my mother throughout my elementary and middle school years.  The preparation was the high point.  The actual day tended to disappoint.  Young love, for me, as for many, was elusive and unrequited.  See The Best Part of Valentine’s Day: Before the Day.

A Valentine I made for my father in 1974.

Valentine’s Day in high school began painfully and took some time to figure out.  My friends and I managed it by senior year.  See Working the System: Getting the Hang of High School Valentine’s Days.

On this Valentine’s Day, I wish you comfort, love and happiness.  Don’t fall prey to the hype.  Those false expectations of perfect romance are set by merchandisers hoping we’ll buy into hollow dreams.  Instead, call a friend, make a card, spend an hour with a child or an elderly person.  Someone out there may need you to be their Valentine.

Frost in the Cherry Orchard

It is May, the cherry trees are in blossom, but it is cold in the orchard; there is a morning frost. 

–Anton Chekhov, The Cherry Orchard

This sentence referring to the setting for Act I of The Cherry Orchard has been snagged in my memory since I read the play during my senior year of high school.  A blandly innocuous description, it shouldn’t have been particularly noteworthy.  But we were reading Chekhov toward the end of the school year, when the Atlanta heat and humidity were especially intense.  The school lacked air conditioning, and the class was in the late afternoon.  In that stuffy literature classroom, the idea of a May frost sounded impossibly exotic and refreshingly foreign. 

Here in Northern Virginia, it’s not quite May yet.  The cherry trees are in beautiful bloom, but the weather continues to feel wintry, prompting me to dig out my ragged, heavily taped copy of Norton’s Anthology of World Masterpieces.  As I re-read The Cherry Orchard,  I found myself back in that hot third floor room at Grady High.  Over the roar of the oscillating fan, our teacher is asking my friend Tedd, seated in the desk in front of mine, which Chekhov play he’d chosen to read.  The name of the play, somehow, slips Tedd’s mind for the moment, and we all sit in uncomfortable silence.  Our teacher rolls his eyes and prepares a sarcastic zinger.  I know Tedd chose The Seagull.  “The Seagull,” I whisper to the back of his head.  “The Seagull,” Tedd replies, just before Mr. Moate can comment. 

Memory is capricious and contrary.  My recall of necessary day-to-day details of life management (where did I put my mother’s tax file, did I actually pay that bill, what is that password?) is often hazy.  When called upon, my seventeen-year old friend couldn’t recollect the play he’d read the night before.  I hadn’t read it, but I remembered then that he did.  And thirty-nine years later I still recall that largely irrelevant fact.  To this day, I haven’t read The Seagull.  But I know at least one person who has.    

As for The Cherry Orchard, it spoke to me.  That year, in Mr. Moate’s class, I gained a valuable bit of wisdom about great literature:  it endures because it offers a powerful expression of enduring truth.  As a high school senior, I was impressed by the surprising relevance of this nineteenth-century Russian play.  The self-absorbed characters, each engaged in his or her own, if frequently interrupted soliloquy, occasionally approach but rarely connect with each other.  I recognized this behavior.  In a margin, next to highlighted passages, I’d written: Yes!  This is what we do!  When we wander too long in the isolated wilderness of our own minds, we let the people and places we profess to love slip through our hands. 

It’s been many years since my first reading of The Cherry Orchard.  I still play the role of daughter, but now as a middle-aged wife and mother, living in an exotic foreign land of the future.  I’ve seen frost on cherry blossoms.  And I appreciate the sad, true absurdity of the story all the more.  Chekhov’s characters and their perpetual inner struggles still resonate.  And if they were to find themselves here in this icy Northern Virginia spring, bundled in their traveling clothes, they could join our dog-walking group and feel right at home. 

A Look Back on Five Years of Wild Trumpet Vine

 

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Five years have passed since I began writing Wild Trumpet Vine.  In the space of that half decade, there have been many changes, naturally.  We passed some major milestones, we faced some challenges, and of course we grew older.  Looking back on the last five years, it gives me comfort to see that our family coped.  Maybe we even grew a little wiser.  I hope so.  We’ll need wisdom.  More daunting challenges lie ahead. 

In the fall of 2011, our daughter was starting middle school.  Seven years of elementary school were behind her, and soon she would be a teenager.  Since then, she made the leap into high school.  She became a licensed driver.  Now, our daughter is a senior, and on the verge of an even bigger leap.   We’ve done our family college visits.  The ongoing process is in her hands now.  Our daughter’s future stretches before her. 

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As for H and me, we’re all too conscious of seeming more elderly with every successive stage in our daughter’s life.  We could consider ourselves young when she was small and looked like a child.  Now that she will soon be out of high school, now that she looks like a young woman, our own youth, we realize, is largely an illusion. 

But we needn’t act old.  About a year ago, H began playing ice hockey once or twice a week, something he’s been wanting to do since he captained a rag-tag grad school intramural team at Princeton.  When windsurfing was his only hobby, his free time was spent mostly feeling sad because there was no wind.  Few opportunities for windsurfing arise in northern Virginia; it’s a sport that requires long stretches of time in an appropriately windy locale, such as Cape Cod or Aruba.  Hockey rinks are more conveniently located.  He’s a happier guy these days. 

And I’m happier, too.   I see good friends on a more regular basis now, and that can’t help but brighten the days.  Five years ago, Kiko and I usually began our early morning walks alone.  We typically chatted with many acquaintances along the way; sometimes we met neighbors and walked a while together.   About two years ago we began walking most weekdays with another neighbor and her dog.  Before long, another friend had joined us with her dog.  We were having fun, and evidently it showed.  A third friend soon joined in.  Now there are at least five of us plus our dogs.  Because we often run into other neighbors, the dog parade may swell to eight or so.  It’s become our morning social hour, one we all hate to miss. 

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Five years ago, Kiko was four, probably in his prime.  Although no doubt it was already far too late, our family continued to argue about training approaches.  Overcoming his headstrong nature was still put forth as a real possibility by my husband and daughter.  His stubbornness was an ongoing source of family friction. (See An Evening of Discontent and The Joys and Travails of Walking our Strange Little Dog).   

In the language of dog food commercials, Kiko is now a senior dog.  He’s as determined as always in his absolute, driving need to go this way or that.  He has no idea that he’s by far the smallest member of our dog walking pack (which includes a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Doberman, a Labradoodle and a Golden Doodle).   But Kiko is the unquestioned leader; he chooses the path according to the smells that beckon most keenly.  Yielding to his iron will is more pleasant that battling it.  He’s still fast, although his bursts of speed are shorter-lived. He continues to enjoy wowing the lady dogs with his fleetness of foot and incredible turning radius.  But now he’s very likely to plop down immediately afterwards, preferably for a lengthy rest, in the middle of the street, if possible.  He’s trim and svelte.  His appearance has changed very little.  Except for one detail:  on top of his head, above the center patch of dark sesame coloring, he has a blurred triangle of lighter fur, as though someone had smudged him with bleach. 

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Five years ago, my parents were still frequently driving back and forth from Atlanta to our home in Virginia.  They were here watching D and her friends head out trick-or-treating, and to open gifts with us on Christmas morning, to celebrate Easter.  In attitude, demeanor and appearance, they seemed far younger than their actual age. 

Time started to catch up with my father about two years ago.  He had two major surgeries in as many years.  He’d always been fit and active.  He woke up feeling good; he rarely had an ache or pain.  But his last surgery left him weakened, almost frail.  He was becoming more and more sedentary.  When he stood up, he was dangerously wobbly.  And it was becoming clear that he was suffering from some form of dementia.  We tried to see it as no big deal.  It was his short-term memory that was primarily affected.  Did it really matter that he complimented me on my sweater every five minutes?  Or offered to get me a glass of orange juice even more repeatedly than usual?  The disease compounded Daddy’s graciousness.  He’d always made kind, sweet comments.  We simply heard the same ones more often.  But in recent months, the changes were increasingly profound.  During one visit he remarked that he couldn’t remember my birthday.  Another time he asked if I had any sisters.  And was I dating anyone interesting?  I told H it was time he got to Atlanta, before Daddy started actively matchmaking.  He had never been an overly protective father; he’d always wanted me to go out and have fun.  Throughout it all, he kept his sense of humor.  

For most of his life, my father had taken care of my mother, and the shift was very difficult for her.  He had done the driving, the grocery shopping, the bill paying, the handling of most paperwork, all the car stuff.  He had been there with his reassuring presence.  Suddenly Daddy depended on Mama to take care of him.  But he forgot that he needed her help, and that made it even more difficult.  It continually slipped his mind that there were many things he could no longer do.  Understandably, he didn’t want to remember.  He’d been used to doing so much.  Mama worried that he’d go outside without her knowing, that he’d fall on the steps or the steep front bank.  When she told him he couldn’t go outside on his own, he pleaded earnestly and poignantly, like a little boy: Why? Why can’t I go outside?  The thought of that exchange still brings tears to her eyes.  During our final visit in July, H, D and I were doing yard work.  Daddy appeared, as if from nowhere; he could still move surprisingly fast when no one was looking.  He was poised to climb the ladder, an old, rickety thing propped against the house.  We got to him just in time. 

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It took Mama a while to adjust to shouldering the burden of being in charge.  I think she was only just coming to terms with it when Daddy died.  My parents would have been married sixty-one years this month.  For her, his absence is a deep and yawning void.   

So, what will the next five years bring?  I don’t like to speculate on the future.  Even when I was young, I hated that question: Where do you see yourself in five years?  In ten?  But looking back on the last five gives me strength to know that we’ll continue to deal with life’s changes as they come.  Like the wild trumpet vine inching along the fencerows, we’ll persevere, through grief, through joy.  My hope is that we will find the assurance that my father experienced.  We’ll see his smile and hear him say: Hey, no need to worry.  It’s all going to be OK. 

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Turning the Tables on Calls Unknown & Unavailable

Our home phone was out of order for nearly a week recently.  I missed the landline only for daily talks with my mother in Atlanta.  What a golden silence ensued, with the absence of calls from Unknown and Unavailable.  A mute phone, much like a sleeping child, can be such a pleasure.  I could expect no appeals for questionable charities, no reminders to schedule unneccesary service for this or that appliance, no giddy voices informing me of a life-changing message from my carpet cleaning company or that I’d won a Caribbean  cruise.  No hale and hearty howdy-dos, no manglings of my first name.  No calls requesting “The Lady of the House.”  She’s not here, Sir, but I can put you on with the Lady of the Lake. 

All too soon, and all too often, the phone was ringing again, the same unwelcome numbers popping up.  What to do?  Try to ignore the ringing, let the machine pick up.  Hear our greeting, hear the caller click off, followed by a loud dial tone.  No message, of course.  Or quickly answer the phone and just as quickly hang up.  Or pick up the receiver, say nothing, put it down, walk away.  None of these approaches offers much satisfaction, and each time, the call is a distraction.  Annoyance intensifies.   

It got me reminiscing.  During my college days at UGA, a common practice to avoid studying was the group prank phone call.  Hanging around the dorm on a Tuesday night, we’d look through the Freshman register, pick out a cute unknown guy, call him up and make outlandish conversation.  Typically the boy on the other end was happily willing to play the game, intrigued by possible evidence of female interest.  This was, of course, back in the day of the campus phone system, with no caller ID.  Another wholesome pastime made obsolete by cell phones.  We were often on the receiving end of such calls, and we were more than ready.  My friends and I were creative.  We were well-versed in winging it.  We were experts in nonsensical, playfully belligerent banter. 

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In my Rutherford Hall dorm room, with resident partners in crime.  The black wall-mounted rotary phone at the left was a source of much amusement.   

Maybe it’s time to turn the tables on unwanted callers.  It wouldn’t be as much fun as in the old days.  But nothing now is as much fun as it was back then. 

What to do?  Telemarketers make unwelcome demands on our time.  Why not make unwelcome demands on their time? 

Telemarketers’ questions are unfailingly annoying.  Why not annoy them right back?  Perhaps with a survey.  Surveys are ubiquitous, and almost always bothersome.  Express interest in a product online, and a survey pops up.  Buy an item, and the surveys never cease.  Schedule a service call for your disabled washer, and you’ll soon be pestered by recordings inquiring about your degree of satisfaction in scheduling the appointment.  If you’re lucky enough to get the appliance fixed, you’ll be endlessly harassed to rate the technician’s promptness, politeness and level of expertise.  After our phone service was restored, I received multiple entreaties on both landline and cell phone: Tell us how we did! How can we serve you better?  By never calling again, that’s how.   If you were doing really well, I wouldn’t have needed to call in the first place.   

Another ongoing annoyance is the constant volley of ludicrous comments and claims in this Presidential primary season.  What could be more annoying to callers than my asking them to participate in a brief political survey?  It’s doubtful they’d listen.  They’d hang up on me.  Imagine that! 

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  Another photo from the old days. My roommate Pam and I at a Rutherford-Myers red, white and blue party, probably about to respond critically to a remark made by track-suited fellow student. 

Back then, we were always honing the craft of repartee. 

Next up:   The Survey