Sunday, January 30, 2011

the other woman, kind of

I roll my sickly body off the couch and into my hiking clothes.  I must do something besides eat and complain and  I can't douse my illness with large amounts of alcohol until evening as my upbringing dictates.  I stop at Sonny's and there is a Chevy Malibu parked next to his car and I wonder about that.  Through the window  I see a small person sitting in my mother's chair. It is Miss Cathy, the woman my father has been seeing.  I  look skyward and begin to walk away and then turn around and come back and finally tap-tap on the door which I never do. An old Sinatra ballad is playing and they have been conversing.
  I smile with ease, I surprise myself.  We talk about  my son's travels, my Iowa City trip - her daughter living in Ireland, her grandson graduating from the University of Iowa.  She interrupts a lot and I have difficulty leaving because she keeps drawing me back into the conversation. Her hair is dyed strawberry blond and her ears are pierced, trappings my mother never adopted. Of course, I make comparisons.

I  hoped my father would find companionship. That the relationship started this early is troubling.  I was stirring pasta and he said, "Should I ask Cathy Thompson to a Christmas concert?"  And I lied,  the good daughter that I am.  Go for it, I said, you have been grieving much longer than her death last July. Sonny would not leave the house the last few weeks of my mother's life, his depression growing. She became delusional, accusing him of untrue things that he took to heart.

Cathy was married to a childhood friend of my father's, a man long dead.  Cathy divorced him when they were in their sixties, accusing Bob of spousal abuse.  Marie and I wondered about that, he seemed a gentle man, always polite and usually laughing, but there are many secrets out there.
The two couples spent every Saturday night together, beer bottles and cards on the table and my mother was  jealous of Cathy.  Marie was  bound by strong dark moods and Cathy was like sunshine with a robust laugh filling up her whole person.

I am glad Sonny is happily occupied because he needs to be and I know my mother would disapprove. She is a ghost, what feelings I assign her are smoke and  I am in a place I don't want to be. I was the daughter who protected. The woman  could stand up to the rudest waiter but she was still the little farm girl who hid in the closet when company visited.


I am sick. I have been sick for awhile and in this condition we are thrown back to our infant days when the only reality is the here and now and my body can't remember when it wasn't sick. I gaze blearily up at Cowboy Dave perched above me. Just shoot me and bury my body near the apple tree, my crusted-over lips whisper.  "We have an apple tree?" he wonders.
Dave notes that I am wearing the same outfit today that I wore yesterday and slept in last night. I just added underwear during the daylight hours. Less laundry to do, I cough and gurgle into my Kleenex. I don't get as sick as I did when I smoked. Holy Marlboros, Batman, those were crazy fun days and a small cold could turn into a lengthy raw-throated case of bronchitis and there were many trips to the acute care center.

 The doctor would shake his head as he smelled my bad habit all about me. "Why don't you just shoot yourself in the foot," he said, "it makes about as much sense."   Doctors define addiction as personal weakness and why can't they be more like the guy in  the Norman Rockwell painting?  At least we didn't have to beg for antibiotics in those days. Recently, during a routine physical  I mentioned I was in the fourth week of a sinus infection and a little pill or two could speed recovery.  "Oh, you can wait it out," my doctor said, " just another two weeks probably."  I glared at him with red-rimmed eyes willing  my tainted bacteria to invade his mucous membranes.

 I remember Al, the manager of the drug store where I worked summers between college semesters. He went to pharmacy school full-time and then pumped gas eight hours every night and you gotta admire that kind of pluck.  I don't understand, Al said, after a cashier called in sick.  "Shirley was all right yesterday and I know she'll be back tomorrow. How can you be sick for one day?"  I mentioned that in the break room and Shirley's sick leaves got longer.
Years later I was applying for a job at the same store. I left my husband and I had been unemployed for ten years due to three pregnancies.  Al had long been promoted to a downtown office and the human resources manager said without glancing my way that there was no employment found in any of the stores.  "Recession, you know," he added playing with a pearl-studded cuff link.  The next morning at seven a.m. he called and his voice was somewhat humbled to the point that he could play humble.  "Al saw your application on my desk and he said to hire you - you work hard."  Several  positions had materialized and I had my pick, imagine that.
Work hard, children, you never know where the dividends will take you.  In most situations someone is watching and marking time.

Friday, January 28, 2011

fingers crossed

 I am holding baby Olive her little body curled around my belly.  She is sleeping and in a few minutes our breathing is synchronized.  I am wishing the remote control for the hotel TV was close by.  On screen is a talk show with several mouthy women with noticeable cleavages all vying for center stage. I would  prefer hearing Olive's soft baby breath than this cacophony nonsense. The women are trying to sell me a Fountain of Youth serum that works in sync with a magical vibrating machine in the shape of a clothes iron that will plump up my facial skin. Clearly, they did not consider the impossibility of all this before they put themselves out for the product.

What is it like, swimming, asks my mother.  Like flying, I tell her. She had always been fearful of water, even water from a shower head beating on her chest or crossing a bridge over a river.  I am floating on my back in the hotel pool and my ears are under water allowing thoughts to be  uninterrupted.  Outside clatter is reduced to a dull shimmer of sound. I thought of my mother when I was holding Olive earlier.  She had not lived long enough to see this baby, this small girl with the huge grey eyes, already secrets behind them.

I am on the floor playing with the girls and Jim walks in dressed for his interviews. He has eighteen meetings in two days and Sara has fifteen.  I jump up and attempt to scratch off what appears to be, and  probably is, congealed cracker on his coat. How important is this, he growls.  Both of my sons bristle if I show them any signs of mothering. I went to a convent high school and the nuns taught us the proper time to wear white gloves, so I notice those kinds of persnickety things. Yes, I am that old.

The University is footing our bill - everything except alcohol -  they must have heard about me. The hotel is a swanky, multiple-starred place and like any other regular joe I have one thought when exposed to the sweet  life - I could so get used to this.  I like room service.  I do not need to change my Beatles t-shirt and sweat pants. I get all my food at once instead of dragging out the courses and forcing to me to finish the sourdough bread leaving Dave the yucky olive bread. We don't need to listen to schmaltzy restaurant music and I can read my book while I chew. Nate is the room service guy and  I have never met a man more in need of a compliment. He looks like he stepped out of GQ, every thin hair carefully plastered and curled around his bald friar's dome. He brings in the food with a flourish, the blueberry muffin he warmed himself, the cellophane-wrapped crystal goblets, the perfect square of butter on the hotel china.  He stays way past the tip encouraging my thanks and compliments.  Five minutes into eating my scrambled eggs he is on the phone needing to hear again how wonderful it all is.

It's time to go home and I think about climbing into the back of the airport shuttle bus with Jim's happy little family.  They are healthy and youthfully jubilant about the future and rose gardens seem to bloom around them.  But  this cannot be so I pack up my pretzels and apples and check for socks under the bed and we drive back home past the sleeping winter farms. Next week Jim will go through this dance again  but it will be in Denver, Colorado.  Can these frozen corn fields compete with the mighty Rockies? You tell your children, your life is not here with me, it's out there, go get it. But I'm keeping my fingers crossed this time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Iowa City, a different chapter

We leave for Iowa City late in the afternoon.       Cowboy Dave needed to watch the majority of a football game, enough to know which team would be headed to the Superbowl. We arrive in this college town, home to the University of Iowa and Hospitals, a sprawling campus surrounded by corn fields. My son Jim and Sara, the woman who shares his life, are both interviewing for positions at the University. We are the official nannies for their children as they mix and mingle with the academics.

In 1977 Jim had been diagnosed with what the doctors thought was a heart murmur.  He was six months old.  Dr. Scott, my pediatrician with a really bad hair piece said, we know something is wrong, we just don't know what it is. So began our relationship with the University. Year after year we showed up for appointments waiting for the doctors to figure out what was going on in this little boy's chest. There was a medical van that came to Dubuque every few months that checked children with cardiac conditions, but Jim was required to go directly to the University.  That always bothered me.
When Jim was eight years old he and his brother and sister and I would take long walks picking violets, stalking grasshoppers.  Little Jim would require lots of rest stops, frequently sitting on the curb or sprawled out on the grass.  He's the baby, I told myself,  he needs more rest.
That summer the doctors decided to do a complicated test. They injected dye into a vein in his groin and the dye would circulate and show a moving x-ray of Jim's heart.  They practically burst into the waiting room where we huddled with our coffee cups.  I thought, hooray, it's all right.   We know what's wrong, they crowed, and we can fix it.
Jim had a hole in his heart and blood was leaking.  Half of his heart was enlarged due to the muscle needing to work harder to supply the lungs with blood.  Open heart surgery would be necessary.  Could we wait another year, I asked, he is so young. No, too quickly came the answer, the younger they are, the faster they heal. What would happen if he did not have the surgery?  He would begin having small heart attacks as a teenager and then death in his early 20's.
We returned to the University. Jim was prepped and a tray was wheeled in holding IV equipment for the anesthetic.  Stop, the surgical nurse hurries in.  Jim's doctor had injured his back while playing golf.  How totally comically predictable is this, I said.  There would be no surgery today.  Back to Dubuque with Jim and me in the back seat singing funny little songs and my ex-husband with his new wife simmering in the front.
I want a different doctor, I said, and back to Iowa City we went.  Our new guy was Japanese and I had difficulty understanding his conversation.  But I could feel the intelligence radiating from his person and he picked up Jim's toy transformer model and in a few deft moves had the thing figured out. This is our man, I thought.

I talk with the social worker and she recommends a support group.  I decide not and then find a woman in my office with a little girl who needed the same surgery at the age of three.  I seek her out and ask, what was it like?  Imagine the worst, she says,  and then realize it will be worse than that.
The day of his surgery my little boy with pink cheeks and bright eyes is rolled into the operating room.  What returns is a still little body with yellow waxy flesh, the respirator pumping his chest up and down mechanically, greasy eye lids closed tightly.  They are mainlining morphine every four hours, no questions. This small boy is  surrounded by numerous machines tended by people in white coats.  Don't mind us, one technician quips. I stopped paying attention to you guys a long time ago, I thought.
Back at the Ronald McDonald House I walk out on my small deck and rage at the moon.   A few days ago Jim had risen  from his home town bed and found me in the kitchen smoking a cigarette.  Mom, he said, shadows under his eyes, I don't know any other kid who needed to have this done. I know, I said, the world is not a fair place.  He shrugs and goes back to bed, his shoulders bowed by the weight of the situation.

Jim's surgery was longer than the expected eight hours due to a lingering cold.  I spent the time curled on a couch in the waiting room hating everyone who had healthy children. After 2 1/2 days he was discharged from intensive care and I am able to sleep in his room. There was a young man in the other bed, fifteen years of age, a farm kid with a shock of red hair, and he had a malignant tumor removed from his leg.  His parents had talked with him in the early evening, his father planted corn every spring and his mother was a social worker with the school system.  I will quit my job and take care of you , she said.  No, Mom, don't do that, he replied, quietly weeping, you love your job.  The boy was receiving his first chemo treatment that night and back in the eighties, chemo was rough stuff.  All night  he vomited, poor boy, until he was only capable of dry retching.  In the morning, he apologized  knowing he had kept me awake.  I think my heart broke at this point. I often wonder what happened to that boy.

Jim came home and the doctors were right. I had a difficult time keeping him still.  The wire they used to fuse his chest  together would eventually be absorbed into the bone and even an airline metal detector would not find it. A white ropey scar remains where his chest had been pried apart.
My former husband came on the fourth day following surgery and I returned home to check on my two older children.  Jim peered at me with an old man's eyes, not wanting me to leave.  As I rose from my seat a social worker appeared and took Jim's hand.  Come, she said, let's check out the operating rooms. Jim says this is when he decided to become a doctor.  Interesting, don't you think.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Samuel's dilemma

Samuel is nineteen years old and he moved here late last winter with his parents, my brother and his wife. They had been living in Florida and only had a small piece of winter to contend with due to their late arrival.  And then it was spring, a glorious Iowa spring with the scent of  black dirt and a hint of lilac and peony. But for now young Sam is experiencing the full blown frontage of an endless Iowa winter and I can understand his withdrawal and bemoaning.  I am cold and bored, Sam writes on facebook.

Warm(er) days around the corner?, writes Sam.  What corner, I ask.  The metaphysical corner of going from Winter to Spring, is his answer.  Interesting use of the language.  Perhaps a bit of the poet dwells in Samuel's soul. But last night was twenty-one degrees below zero with a twenty mile-an-hour wind. Therefore, the wind chill factor indicates the air will feel like sixty degrees below zero. We have charts for this. Wind can frostbite an ear lobe in minutes and midwesterners can calculate wind chill factor  in a blink of a frosted eyelash. And last night was not even a record breaker in the Iowa log of extreme temps.

Against the greyness I fight back with color. Jamaican paintings of orange and turquoise, scarlet and pecan patterns on my rugs, the fuscia scarf I had to have. I am friendly with the staff at  the library and big Bubba, the ticket seller at the movie theatre. Bird feeders outside my window to watch the comedy of bird life. And get down, dude, get down.  Seriously, down feathers are undefeated in the war against ice.  Down coat on my back and down comforter on my bed.

There is a certain amount of smugness that goes with surviving a winter on the prairie. We scoff at our friends and family who are snowbirds in warmer places living in trailer parks for three months and cooking meat loaves for endless potlucks. Stay away, you pitiful  fair weather wusses.  The real men and women live here in Iowa with their shovels and salt bags. Stay warm, Samuel, it will get better.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

water torture and other things

I'm attempting to leave a message on Destiney's voicemail.  I sit through a tinny version of  "Santa baby, won't you hurry down the chimney tonight" and then a voice belonging to a five-year-old wishes me a happy holiday.  I take issue with parents who can't spell their children's names correctly and cell phones that make me  listen to outdated holiday songs.  It is snowing a lot and Destiney doesn't want to drive to work. Yes, I will work your hours.  Destiney's destiny is going to be unemployment.

There is a fierce site before me. Pale bodies churning and grabbing for the light, falling, clinging crazily to each other, a jumble of tormented glistening human flesh.  And the screams, oh god, the screaming won't stop.  Has Dante's Inferno opened  in front of me?  No, I am at the (shudder) water park with the grandchildren.

Water parks are the result of a society gone awry. The concept does not promote healthy community interaction. I am standing in a smelly tub of murky water teeming with bacteria and strangers are splashing and hurling themselves at me.  It's not right.
I like the water slides but they make you go through a torturous ascent that includes rope ladders that no middle-aged woman should be expected to climb. On the way there are several stations equipped with water-shooting machines and weasel-eyed school bullies wait for me to cross their line of fire.  I must resemble an unlikable teacher at the alternative middle school because I get shot a lot.
I dump out my bag of fruit on the table below the sign that says, No food from the outside allowed on these premises.  I glance around me, steely-eyed, waiting for a challenge from a roaming staff member.  I have a planned response and that would be, I'll stop bringing in food  when you start providing healthy snacks.  All is quiet and no rebuttal will be sounded today. In gratitude I purchase a pizza, fennel cake and pretzels with cheese at the snack bar.
"Nobody moves or the kid gets it."
Cleavon Little, Blazing Saddles
My group consists of two grandsons and one step-granddaughter, half-sister to a younger daughter who is half-sister to the two grandsons.   My obituary will have names of step- grandchildren, half children and whole children and a note that says I tipped well.

After six hours in a damp swimsuit I say, home,
children, home.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday, another one

Da Bears are playing today and all activity in this house as we know it shall cease. I was unaware of Dave's passion for TV sports when we moved in together. He hid this information from me successfully during our courtship days. The men in my childhood home did not watch sports on the television set. The youngest brother went on to be a Packers fan, a family disappointment, but by then we were all teenagers and not paying much attention to him.  I grew up believing athletes were dirty and  impolite and  feeble-minded.

I am not complaining. I am merely reporting facts. To be truthful I do not mind the forced isolation in my schedule, I relish it.  Not being a particularly social woman this kind of marriage makes a lot of sense to me.  I am free to pursue my own individual criteria and Dave can yell at that screen all day, no inconvenience for either of us.  And that is essentially  my definition of a successful relationship, respect for boundaries.  And this woman came with a lot of boundaries. I'm not sure if men and women should live together.  A duplex living arrangement for both partners would be less complicated.

I am contemplating a long winter walk, at least a six-Kleenex one.  Winter walking can be hazardous to a
sinus condition aggravated by a 36-year-old former smoking habit and working in warehouse offices that had funny-smelling plumbing. It may look like a nose - what is in the center of my face - but it operates on the same line as a faucet out of control.

Dress for the second mile
I try to keep pace with the weather even when it's nasty because I don't want to turn into one of those weather agoraphobics who run from the house to the car to the mall and then back again. You've seen them.  They dress in polar garb to get the newspaper off the porch every morning.
 I am the all-seasons woman and I embrace the blustering winds trying to blow up my three layers of thinsulate.  I come from a family of exercise demons most notably my brother David who does Fatback cycling several hours every day on the frozen snowmobile paths after the sun goes down.  He is fueled by a blogger fan club that has him in their grip demanding more and more winter text.
I love winter,  I really do.  Its intensity amazes me as I walk these frozen roads and watch the lavender and gold sunsets that only occur in the stillness of a very cold afternoon.
Just a few months ago I was walking this same path in sandals, a gentle evening rain keeping me comfortably cool in the humid air and the sun still above the horizon  at 8:30 p.m.  Such extremes and yet we acclimate.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I have this postcard on my bathroom wall and I made the copy in 1984 when I worked for the Iowa Department of Human Services.  The original was in the cubicle office of Mary Osborne, a woman I befriended, and she was destined to leave her alcoholic husband and marry another man who hid his whiskey bottle behind the paper towel stand until she found it.   The phrase below the picture said, she was often gripped with the desire to be elsewhere. I liked the black and white print and I liked the saddle shoes and  I liked the words gripped and desire in the same sentence.  Perhaps the card was meant to communicate how Mary and I felt about the many hours we spent in our cubicles although we did have some pretty good times.  Once after hours we giggled and emptied pepper packets into the coffee can of a woman we could not tolerate who always pushed herself to the front of the crowd when someone had bad news taking delight in the misery.
At 19 I was pregnant and unwed and thought about escaping with my college roommate in her yellow VW bus to Oregon. Her name was Moria, but she thinks her mother made a mistake and meant, Mariah.  She and I hitchhiked across the state when we were supposed to be studying and smoked rolled-up doobies stored in her paint box.  I had no idea what the Oregon trip would encompass but it seemed easier than staying behind and explaining to everyone what was going to happen.  It's a good thing I didn't go because I would never have liked that northwestern rainy weather. Moria came to town after I left my husband and wanted to meet with me and I did not have the strength to survive her energy.  I mumbled, I can't, into the phone.  I never heard from her again.

As a young woman I sometimes felt overused and saw my life stretching in front of me with very little breakage like the Iowa prairie on which I resided.  This terrified me and I jumped too soon taking large and dangerous steps that propelled me down an unknown path. My escape over the wall left me a woman alone with all the wrong friends and the lives of my children up for grabs. "Cavalier," the divorce judge had called me.  I didn't like that fellow.  He and his questions and his five minutes of decision-making left me callous and bristling against the unfairness of the system.  I had to look that word up in the dictionary.

I don't think about escape anymore.  I had underestimated the depth of a soul and behind the wild fire that propelled my leaving was a longing for sameness.  A place where children and parents  never grow old.  Somewhere near a lake and a beach and tree-covered hills from my childhood memories.  Days spent in the warm water, popcorn stories around the campfire and nights sleeping under the patchwork quilts stitched by great-grandmothers. You can't have that, silly girl, it's long gone.   But, there is Dad and my grandchildren, the promise of a new puppy in the warmer months and a garden to be planted. I am a lucky woman.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I know Davie Gie, your situation is so much worse . . .

A crown fell out of my mouth over the weekend, a tiny little chunk of porcelain with some tooth attached. It fell out right before I left for the movies where I planned to consume a bag of popcorn and that is a good thing as finding a little white thing in a bag of little white things in the dark would be difficult.
"But it doesn't hurt," I tell the dental receptionist as I suck the little nub.  "They won't want you to wait on this," came back the response.There's that "They" again.  For every situation in your life there is a They watching and waiting to comment, and usually unfavorably.

 I am plowing through a blizzard's slushy snow the next morning and trying to ignore the four-wheel drive vehicles lined up in my rear view mirror.  I am the auntie Bea of winter drivers and I always arrive safe and sound although usually late.  Were there lots of cancellations, I ask the receptionist. Oh no, she said, with all the four wheel drives out there we don't get the cancellations like we used to.  Hmmmf.

You won't be here very long, she says to me. If they can't glue it right back on they will set up another time to do the prep work.  Three appointments, I say to myself, all for a tooth the size of a Q-tip puff.
 Chris is my dentist and I have been seeing him since the 1980's on a recommendation from my parents.  He was a young dentist with no customers back then so he filled his days doing pro bono work for people of small means.  Ya gotta like the guy and he has a big corny smile beneath very blue eyes.  But he is booked today so I am seeing the alternative dentist, a woman who is  married to a dermatologist and I had once been his patient before an insurance change. I remember the walls of his office covered with Green Bay Packer plaques.  I find this unusual as most professionals prefer anonymous prints of waterfalls or farm buildings. Like all dermatologists, Dr.Hoy has very white, sun-untouched skin. In fact he is the whitest man I had ever seen and he had heard every Packers  heckler joke so I do not tell him any.
Mrs. Dr. Hoy is telling the assistant that her husband had attended the Packers/Eagles game in Pennsylvania over the weekend but chose not to wear his cheesehead hat at the airport.  And it is a good thing as there might  have been one less Packers-loving dermatologist in this town. Dr. Hoy must watch all Packers games in the basement of his house as he screams and rants and is "like a four-year-old child having a tantrum."  I remember the doctor and his kind, intelligent eyes and calm demeanor and I have a difficult time picturing this, but I know this to be true as I have a college-educated husband who does the same thing.  Same behavior, different team.
Two hours later I stagger toward the appointment desk. Lied to again by the medical profession. I have had needles, drills, saws, picks - maybe forty tiny weapons of dental destruction introduced into my mouth in that time period.  I take my numb lip and head back into the snow.

Monday, January 10, 2011

sweet potato blues

Still groggy from sleep I haul my cranky and complaining body down the stairs for an early morning exercise DVD. Bless me Father for I have sinned heavily during the holiday season and now I must pay for my indulgences. My jeans are tight and after spying my swimsuit clad body in the mirror at the waterpark yesterday there will be no more excuses. I actually threw food out including half a Subway sandwich with extra cheese and the rest of a "sin-a-mound."  For those who don't visit our local farmer's market this delicacy is a hunk of cinnamon bread dough the size of a small pumpkin rolled up and topped with a sugar glaze.  The Sisters of Sinsinawa - aka The Mound -  due to the high flat hill the covent is built on - created this marvelous sugar lump and have named it with pun in mind. Who says Catholics don't have a sense of humor.  Well, yes, I have said that but then there are those "Nuns Having Fun" calendars that are prevalent this time of year.
I'm going to miss sugar.  I have had a love/hate relationship since my mother sweetened my formula with corn syrup as a baby to make me more interested.

And then there's the demon known as chocolate. In her book Feeding the Hungry Heart Jeneen Roth writes, "Chocolate is no ordinary food.  It is not something you can take or leave, something you like only moderately.  You don't like chocolate.  You don't even love chocolate.  Chocolate is something you have an affair with."  Strong words for strong stuff. I do not want to have an affair but I would seriously consider courtship and marriage. The house may be on fire but I'm not leaving without the leftover Bishop's chocolate pie.

More vegetables, fruits and grains, less grease and sugar. Jason tells me the healthiest way to shop for vegetables is not to buy what the recipe calls for but peruse the produce aisles and  buy what's seasonal and if that is not possible, then buy what looks good.  He also corrected my pronunciation on the word "produce" reminding me the "o" is hard and it is not prah-duce, my flat midwestern accent showing. With that in mind I purchased some carrots and a few tired-looking yams. Out comes the Moosebook cookbook and I think fondly of buttery marshmallow brown sugary sweet potato casseroles.  But mine will have ginger and cardamom, cinnamon and  orange juice. There's a new nutritional sheriff in town and upon Jason's return many months from now hopefully he will find a more vegetable-friendy household. And, maybe not.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Neurotics, unite!

My son-in-law walks past my living room couch and says, "That pillow is crooked but I will not give into my OCD and straighten it."  I beam at him and declare fervently, "I love you!!"  I, too, am obsessively compulsive about my daily schedule and I am thrilled to recognize another individual with the same criteria.  The world labels us picky and persnickety and worse yet, anal retentive but I shake it off and continue to live in my overly orderly world knowing where every rubber band and band-aid is located in my house.  I have no junk drawers. Every item is separated from the rest by leftover Velveeta boxes and  margarine cups.  I iron my table clothes and bed sheets. Everything is labeled and dated in my fridge, cupboards, and closet shelves. I don't chastise myself for not having my thousands of photos categorized and dated, because . . .well, they are.
I love storage bins. They feed my need for master subordination amongst my personal possessions. All sizes, some with drawers, some with wheels, and color-coordinated for the holidays.  Brown and orange for Halloween and Thanksgiving, red and green - uh, you get the picture.  My CDs are all arranged by genre and  the order by which I enjoy them.  Thus, the Beatles are in the first section and a band I heard at a river music festival a few years back are located at the very end.  Okay, I had a few too many beers that day but I swear the young lead guitarist was winking at me.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It has a scary, serious sound to it but most psychological disorders do. When I was younger I worried about my neuroses, worried that I would be socially abandoned, ridiculed and made to leave town in the middle of the night.  Like Steve Martin says, they teach you just enough in Psych 101 to keep you scared the rest of your life. But none of these things happened and in my middle-aged years I find not only self-forgiveness for my mental variances but also entertainment as I watch myself go through life enjoying my eccentricities. 
In this town you are labeled eccentric if you refuse to go to Tupperware parties. I find phone conversations tedious and I don't like answering the door or going to parties.  I prefer going to movies by myself and one of my favorite past times is dining out with my book and crossword puzzle. My friends have moved out of Dubuque and they wonder why I have not left. But I truly love the river, the bluffs, my family and I am a bit of an old stodge.  The trips I make every year to visit my friends keep the wanderlust demon in me fed.  But I am glad to return home to my red couch and watch the ancient oak tree outside my window bend and sway with the seasons.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Christmas tree is down and my great-great grandfather's rocking chair has been put back in place.  When the old gentleman was alive the chair was upholstered in red leather with magnificent bronze brads.  My parents had it redone in Sonny's favorite color, turquoise, with water-repellent, grandchild-proof fabric. Boring and at some point I will haul the chair back to the shop and return the upholstery to its amazing splendor. The chair sat in an enclosed back porch, an all-seasons room, in my childhood home. I remember curling up in its comfort, the lights off watching the winter stars move above the cottonwood branches. I would wait for a pink and white  '59  Chevy to come prowling around the corner, my first husband's car.
Sonny celebrated New Year's Eve with an old friend, wife of a childhood chum long dead. There was dinner at 4:30 in an Italian place and the film, Dr. Zhivago to be viewed afterwards. So goes the geriatric set, wiser than me. Gone are my days of after-midnight partying in the swinging night clubs across the river but I discovered another activity that is comparable to that same chaos.
 And that would be celebrating the holiday with grandchildren at Happy Joe's Pizza Parlor.  We have come early to ensure a table for the celebratory event that will happen at 8:00, the ball-dropping  hour for the junior set. Only pizza crusts remain and we are drinking the last dregs of warm beer from the pitcher. Waiting for the hands to crawl around the clock's face.  There is just so much an able-bodied adult can do in a  pizza place and conversation is a wasted effort with so many excited children fortified with caffeine and ice cream.  The staff has fastened  200+ balloons to the ceiling and when the clock strikes eight they release them to the delight of the fork-stabbing, foot stomping children.  We are in a war zone with artillery exploding all around us.

And Jason has left.  He will be gone for a year backpacking in southeast Asia and Central America. He spends the better part of the day preparing his backpack. Compression bags full of clothes and when the strings are drawn tight the bags squash down to half their original size. A water purifier the size of a fat pen - stick it in, stir it around.  A smaller backpack, the size of a cereal box, for day trips.  He will carry cash and  ID in a leg pack strapped below the knee.  There will be a few bucks in his pocket for easy accessibility and if he gets pick pocketed, not a great loss.  Strange, planning a trip knowing the likelihood of theft is quite eminent and  then planning around that. A funny little packet with two pink plastic pigs.  Pass the Pigs is the name of the game and  it has two tiny pencils and note pads. "You predict how the pigs are going to land when thrown and there is a gambling element to it."  College graduates play this game, I ask. Lots of down time on these trips, he says, and you cannot aways be a tourist. When the backpack is full it is 3/4 the height of my son, wider than he and weighs a mere 24 pounds. The strapping gear resembles what I've seen on parachutes and Jason straps the backpack close to his body.  Don't want the weight shifting when climbing mountains.
I see the tears welling in Sonny's eyes as Jason bids good-by. A year is a long time for an 86-year-old man who lost a beloved wife in a painfully slow manner. I also feel a tug and a pinch in my innards. 
The vegan has left the building and  Sonny and I will dine on beef pasty tonight and I will not spend two hours chopping green things for salad. Okay, maybe some frozen corn.
See you soon, my son, my boy. Whatever you do, do it well.