My greatest love affair

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I can’t recall our first meeting but I can tell you it was love at first sight.  My curious gaze met his warm, brown eyes and the rest is history.  I was a year old, and he was a stuffed bear, but ours is a love story for the ages.

Me and Winnie

When I couldn’t fall asleep, Winnie was there.  When I was excited to read my new poem or short story, Winnie was there.  And, sadly, when my roommate’s dog escaped her confines and ran up to my room, Winnie was there.  After some moderate facial reconstruction and many tears on my part, Winnie, or a new version of his former self, was still there, he is still slightly angry that he had bad plastic surgery.

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He may have slightly faded with time, as have I, but he still remains the same stoic character that I have come to rely on over the last 47 years.  We celebrate our birthdays together and, although I have the benefit of one extra year of wisdom since he was carefully crafted by my mother on my first birthday, each year is just as special because he is there to celebrate with me.

This is the fifth year I have been able to write a blog post on our birthday and I have written a tribute to him every year, so why should this year be any different?  He has been my confidant, my best supporter and the shoulder (albeit padded) that I know I can cry on whenever I feel the need to shed a tear or two.   He, like me, has experienced an encyclopedia of reference material when it comes to life events but we have come out remarkably unscathed.

Happy Birthday Winnie!  May the scars of our past help carve the road that leads us into our future.

A decade plus a year

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My mom and I sat at the end of his hospital bed.  My brother had just left to take care of his young family and my mom and I remained.  There was one dim light in the corner that cast shadows on his bed and our two chairs.  The rest of the room was bathed in darkness.  We sat for several hours as my dad continued to have small seizures.  When we couldn’t bear to watch his suffering anymore, I had the night nurse call our doctor at home shortly after midnight to increase his morphine.  The seizures stopped and both my mom and I silently counted the seconds between his breaths.  The last time was 14 seconds and then he just stopped breathing.  It was 2:00 am on March 9th, 2006.

It is a strange experience watching the life slip out of a body that once cradled you as a child and was always there with open arms.  We said our goodbyes and I drove my mom home, neither of us crying because we wanted to be strong for the other.

It took a few months for me to be able to picture my dad as he was in life and not how he was in death.  The body that we said goodbye to in the hospital was not my dad.  My dad was the life of the party.  He was charming and funny.  The men loved to hang out with him and the women loved to dance with him.

Now when I think of my dad, the picture I have in my head is of his infectious smile and the mischievous twinkle in his eye. I think of him tanning in the nude at the end of our dock and using folding chairs for privacy as the boats went by our cottage.  I think of our family spending time tanning on the ice in February when the sun’s warmth grew stronger.   And I think of all the time my dad spent to try to make our lives happy.   I miss you, dad.

 

 

It was never just a muffin

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I am addicted to Pinterest.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  But Pinterest has opened up new avenues of cooking for me as well as opened a few doors to my past.  Today is a glowing example of that.

I wasn’t looking for anything specific so when I came across a simple picture of a blueberry muffin, I was immediately transported back to our house on Foreman Road.  I was 10 or 11 and I was in our kitchen, as I always was on Sunday mornings, making Betty Crocker Blueberry muffins for breakfast.

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I loved Sundays.  I loved the fact that my parents trusted my ability at such a young age to prepare a breakfast that we would all eat in their bedroom, they tucked under the covers and me (and sometimes my brother) sitting at the end of the bed.  Thinking back to those wonderful times, I can almost smell the freshly baked morsels just out of the oven.  I can see the pat of butter melting into the white cake, making the blueberries glisten in morning light from their bedroom window.

If I close my eyes, I am back in that kitchen mixing the ingredients ever so carefully, taking the lid off the tin of real blueberries in syrup and making sure I am careful not to spill the syrup and stain anything in its path.

Just when I feel like my parents have slipped a little further into my memory cache, one simple picture of a blueberry muffin was all it took to bring them stampeding back into my thoughts.  And now that I look back at all those breakfasts in bed, it was never really about making muffins.  It was about making memories…..moments that will help my parents be with me forever.

 

Finding light in the darkness

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“What happened in the past that was painful has a great deal to do with what we are today.” ~ William Glasser

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Looking back at my past, I can almost see the lines in the distance of the paths that I have chosen.  They are faint in the waning light but the traces are still visible.  Those lines, those roads I chose to follow, helped to carve the figure of the person I am now.

Along that road not everything was painful but I can say that those arduous moments gave me more definition as a person than the happier, less stressful times.  Those darker moments made me a stronger version of myself.  Those difficult stages during my life gave me the tenacity and the persistence to overcome obstacles that I may not have been able to cope with had my life been easier.

It is how we carry ourselves through the difficult moments that gives us our strength.  It is how we persevere through misfortune that builds our character.  I am who I am because of what I have experienced.  I am a better version of the me I could have been because I endured pain and suffering.  I made a point to learn from it and now my inner light far outweighs any of the darkness from my past.

When did I become THIS person?

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I would never have described myself as being overly adventurous in my youth.  I wasn’t afraid to try new things in my teens and early twenties but my limits for risky undertakings were much higher then and now my willingness to live on the edge (or a reasonable facsimile of the edge) has completely diminished.

I have not felt the desire for wanderlust that seems to be an affliction for so many of my friends.  I am content to live vicariously through the tales of their adventures and to witness their triumphs through the photographic journey that they provide as a backdrop for the narrative of their experience.

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I have always been a homebody.  I prefer a “staycation” to a long line in an airport terminal with the risk of acquiring some form of contagious bacteria to bring home as a souvenir.  I would not go so far as to say that I have become a recluse but the evidence is mounting and the verdict could completely contradict my argument for my defense.

Where once I would brave the terrain and the elements, I now shy away from driving in bad weather.  I don’t like driving at night anymore because my eyesight feels somewhat compromised in the dark and I make the excuse that it is for the safety of the other drivers on the road.  And I shrink into my couch every time gale force winds undulate through the bare branches and howl outside of my window.

But I have come to realize that my plight is not one of fear.  It is one of freedom.  I have allowed myself to be just that, myself.  I am not going to jump behind the wheel of my car because someone thinks I am paranoid and I want to prove them wrong.  I make no excuses.  I ask for no sympathy.  I simply live the way I want to live.  I am quite content to sit in my living room with my computer in my lap and blog about the fact that I am comfortable becoming THIS person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The traditions of Christmas

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Each year, when my father was still with us, he would phone at 6:00 am to wish me a Merry Christmas and get the day started.  This year, I expect the lines from Heaven will be clear again Christmas morning and that phone in my head will ring just prior to that dreaded time in the morning.  But this, admittedly, is among the favorites of my Christmas memories.

There are many Christmas traditions we still follow and, although they become slightly modified as the years pass, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without them.  After we moved to our tiny little town, Christmas Eve was spent bundled in our warmest winter gear standing at the end of our driveway.  The sirens could be heard before the truck was spotted and the lights would crest the hill by our house.   Santa Claus was atop the biggest fire truck and would pass all of the eager children, bundled tight like we were, waiting for a glimpse of the big guy before we were hurried off to nestle in our beds.  There were no visions of sugar plums, only the wonder of how he fit his ever-growing frame down our very thin stove-pipe. I pondered that thought until the weight of my eyelids became too troublesome and drifted into sleep with that unanswered query still nagging my brain.

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As the years passed we began to give back.  We would faithfully wait at the end of our driveway with a case of beer for the jolly man and the rest of the fire department.  I mean, he had to have been freezing up there and what better way to keep him jolly than with some beer?  I’ll never forget the eve of one particular Christmas when Santa told us that he didn’t drink beer, but instead enjoyed a Rye and Coke.  I guess everyone has a Christmas wish and the following year we granted his with a tall glass of whiskey and carbonated syrup.  My gifts were fabulous that year!!

We almost missed him one year and I raced to the corner of the next street to catch him on his way back.  I stood in anticipation, forever in the shadow of the child I once was and with the smile of the child I hope to always be. Santa waved and wished me a Merry Christmas and I walked back home with a smile that went from one ear to the other.

Every Christmas morning we were allowed to open our stockings and then we were forced to stare longingly at the big presents under the tree while we choked down some breakfast.  That tradition should have been abolished but still remains intact. Paper flew, boxes were cast aside and we became buried in a pile of pure love.  Thanks to my mom, inevitably one or more of the presents would still have a price tag on them and that became a much-anticipated tradition as well.  My brother followed up spectacularly a few years ago by not only leaving the price tag on a gift for my sister-in-law but the price tag was hanging outside of the gift box and not wrapped up inside.

My mother was the David Copperfield of making presents disappear. She loved to start her shopping in June and would hide the packages where we would never find them.  She mastered her craft so well over the years that we would receive some of our Christmas presents in March when they magically appeared months after the festivities had ended.  There was always a competition between my brother and I to see who would open the last present on Christmas Day.  We would skilfully hide a gift or two and casually pull them out an hour or two after the mayhem had ended.  My mom changed the face of that contest and it was anyone’s guess as to whose Christmas present was going to appear at Easter!!

As I sit writing this, the gifts are waiting to be coated in the festive colors of wrapping paper.  The Shrimp Dip has been made by my brother, (hopefully there will be some left for the big day) and he is busy preparing his house for the onslaught of family, food and extreme commotion.  This is the best of Christmas.  It’s not the gifts or the decorations, it’s time spent laughing about the price tags, the long-lost gifts and the early morning phone calls. It’s watching my brother “float” his Christmas dinner in gravy.  It’s Santa Claus on a fire truck and being tricked by my nephews to play a Shepherd in church on past Christmas Eves. It’s a glass of wine with the people closest to me, the people who don’t care that I have to unbutton my pants after eating too much turkey or that I may just wear track pants this year.   Christmas is about presence and not presents.

To all of you and all of yours – a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays.

When the past slaps you in the face

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It is a very rare occurrence when my emotions take me by surprise.  I am usually fairly in tune with them and I can feel them bubbling gently below the surface.  But last night on my way home from work while driving past my mother’s old house, the same house I drive by every day on my way to work and again on my way home, the emotion stored within my walls hit me like a ton of bricks.   Last night I glanced at the house, as I do every time I follow that familiar road, and I burst into tears.

I don’t know where the tidal pool of emotion came from but suddenly I was flooded with images of moments that had become important memories in my life.  Christmases, birthdays, family gatherings and quiet nights spent as a family were at the forefront of my brain.  Lingering snapshots of magical kisses witnessed by only the walls upstairs slowly transformed themselves into moving pictures to replay those scenes.  That house, the building others would only see as walls and a roof, was my home.  It was the vessel that helped create and store some of the most precious moments of my life.

And I do the same with my childhood home.  Every so often I feel the pull to drive by and just look at the house that began our journey to becoming locals in this town.  It was home to my family and a welcoming second home to many of our friends.  It witnessed great happiness and great sorrow, but it was always filled with love.

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Although there were many happy times in our second home, there were also moments of great sorrow.  Those walls echoed my overwhelming grief in May of 2003 as I told my parents through hysterical sobs that my best friend had passed away unexpectedly.  That roof sheltered both my parents as they battled their illness and those walls protected them for as long as they could.  That structure, that old building that is seemingly unnoticeable to passers-by, will forever have a large part of my history carved into its frame.

That architecture will always be a part of me.   And each time I drive by and take the time to trace the outlines of those walls I will always have an affinity to its design and purpose.  It is said that we need to let things go to be happier but I feel the need to embrace those things to stay connected.