Monday, May 30, 2011


Cameron and I are planting flowers in the cemetery.  Purple petunias for my grandmother lying beneath my busy hands, she loved purple, she was buried in purple.  I turn to see that three-year-old girl waving several flags that she collected from several grave sites.  "I pwedge allegiance to the fwag," little, soft, sweet voice, those consonant blends are hard for toddlers' tongues.

I love a parade, especially the marching bands, but would it kill them to play a Sousa march and not You Light Up My Life . . .  My father is the oldest Marine in the local league and he will  ride in an open convertible at the Memorial Day parade and he is not happy about this, not a guy who craves attention.  A younger soldier will be sitting in another car and he had his legs blown off while on a rescue mission in Afghanistan. The local paper showed the President shaking his hand still in the hospital bed and the boy's father was standing next to him and I can't forget the look on his face, a tight blank expression, angry with pressed lips, never to see his son enjoying life fully-limbed. We can't keep doing this to our children.

Tonight we attend a festival that features catfish dinners and local musicians and I bought ride bracelets for the grandchildren.  During Tilt-a-Whirl I asked the carnie to stop the ride, the nine-year-old had turned green.  Could have been the cotton candy, popcorn or the hot pink bubblegum snow cone that made his belly go sour but he recovered quickly and was soon munching on a hot dog.
The boys are surrounded by swirling insane rides but what do they want to do? Throw my money away on those damn games being pedaled by vultures disguised as greasy-looking carnies.  I hand over some dollars and we walk away with a dart-shooting gun, six gold fish and a five-foot inflatable Spongebob bat.
And it's summer again,  let's launch it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

and he didn't order anything

We are zooming across the state again and Dave has an appointment with a psychiatrist in a town ninety miles from here. He was diagnosed with PTSD a few years back due to Uncle Sam's insistence that he join the other kids at the party in Vietnam.  They said he was eligible for monthly benefit payments, sort of a governmental apology for all the crap that's still in his brain from hugging the jungle floor while bullets flew past his ears.
But this former grunt had a review session a few months ago and the notification came back: you are cured, you don't get any more money, don't take it personally.
And Dave panicked. He lives in fear that we will not have enough money for our retirement years, and we will as long as we do not buy the larger yacht.  Actually, our lives are uncomplicated and we take pleasures in simple things, walks by the river, a thriving garden and the occasional chili dog. But with this latest cessation of anticipated income Dave saw us collecting pop cans in the highway ditch.

He has appealed and will require another psych evaluation.  He comes down the steps wearing burgundy shorts, a lavender t-shirt that says, I Love California Woodies, black socks, white tennies.  "I am not walking into a restaurant with you dressed as you are," I inform him, "oh wait," I backtrack, "you're doing the weird veteran thing."
Local vets counselors have coached Dave to dress like a  worthless bum and if they ask him, "have you ever thought about killing someone?" say, "well, not right now but I have in the past."  My feelings are mixed about this advice as I was raised to answer all inquiries honestly and wear clothing that accurately represents my frame of mind.
 Dave can still work and stay married so perhaps the money should be used elsewhere - on the 107,000 homeless veterans and all those kids coming back from the Mid Eastern deserts.  They will put their combat boots in the back of the closet and then the demons they thought were left behind will come screaming into their sleep and hang on their backs during daylight hours.

I give him a peck on the cheek, and say, "go tell them you want to kill someone and try not to look too good."  I wait in a family restaurant across the street nursing a beer. Across from me is a sign,  President George W. Bush sat here on March 30, 2005.  What did he order, I asked the waitress. She didn't know, you would think she would know that.  The manager says he didn't order anything.  It was just where he sat for the radio spot.  Figures.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

gentlemen, start your engines

Being assigned to my family means that at some point you will be diagnosed with a bowel disease, sorry, but that is the headline. The conditions are more irritating than dangerous and after the colonoscopy we are told to go home, take the Imodium and  try to relax.  But it does make long term travel plans treacherous.  I would not have time to worry about my unreliable intestines on our three-hour drive to Newton, Iowa, home of a Nascar racetrack.  Adam overheated in the back seat and threw up his McDonald's breakfast in a thin paper bag that was not up to holding the noxious contents.  Cars whizzed by on the interstate dangerously close to my bent-over butt, scooping up chunks of egg mcmuffin with my bare hand and trying not to eject my own meal into the mess.

Adam's shorts were contaminated and for the next hour I hung those shorts out the window clutching fiercely at the waistband.  What will I do if it flies away, Adam is  terrified.  Well, everyone will marvel at your lovely plaid boxers. A child who has just vomited has no sense of humor.

We are taking the boys to see the race and I would much rather be on the old homes' tour with my father back in the city but this is what I am doing.  The cowboy is an overly stern disciplinarian and I may need to remind him how much fun boys can be so I travel in this smelly car to ensure a peaceful afternoon.

We are sitting high enough in the bleachers to witness some really incredible cloud formations but this is not our intent.  The cars race and roar below us and after awhile they all blend together like a whirling ring of color and smoke.  The boys and I are intellectuals and we are good for about 34 laps and then we need to explore something less numbing.  This is entertainment for mindless boobs, I am thinking, a step above professional wrestling and this sport has some of the same fan club, people with missing teeth, alcoholic abdomens and tobacco issues. We check out life below the bleachers and like all races there are some pretty interesting people wandering around the picnic tables.
A couple of expensive cheeseburgers and ice cream desserts later and we are back in the bleachers secretly wishing for a "safe" wreck, a monument to the laziness of this sport.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

lucy in the sky with diamonds

Dave has forwarded an email to me titled 'directions to Sandi's house' and  I am not liking the sound of this.  I do not know any Sandi and if  I did she would not spell her name with that cutesy "i.".  Sandi sounds blond and perky and whip-thin and somebody I do not want to sit next to, let alone go to her house.  She lives on Kathleen street, rich people always live on streets named after women and the address has five numbers indicating  it's one of those sprawling mansions on the outskirts of town. It is clear to me that Sandi must be one of the "John Deere wives."
Sharing a life with Dave means I am thrown together with John Deere people because that's where the boy works.   I do not like their coddled wives.  Their lives have been blatantly clear of tragedy and human messiness. They have the straightest white teeth on the block because dental insurance has followed them all their natural lives.  As a divorced mother I would question the financial balance, groceries or dentist bill this week? Groceries would always win.

It is one of my early dates with the Cowboy and we are going to the country club for a steak fry and general gathering of the John Deere crowd.  I rush home from my  job, do the shower-shave thing and ponder my choices on wardrobe. I have no fashion sense, I'm a social worker for chrissake, and my closet holds mostly brown and blue, a leftover from my Catholic upbringing. I grab a pair of plaid shorts from my youngest son's drawer, we disturbingly wear the same size and I pooh-pooh the jewelry thing. I do no like metal against my skin.

I realize as I pull into the parking lot that I have made a grave mistake. Men are clustered around the outdoor grill chugging beers and guffawing and smelling the meat.  Their women are blazingly bright in white shorts and platinum  hair. I am amazed at the amount of gold and diamond settings on these chicks, their fingers studded with multiple rings.  I hear one woman complain. Her name is Lucy and she worked eight hours weekly at a boutique but had to quit when her employer refused to give her time off on a specific weekend so she could clean her closets. There were evidently a lot of closets.

After my divorce I worked a variety of strange jobs until the fickle gods of employment smiled and granted me a  position with the state government. One of those jobs was working in a renovated daycare center, the benefit being I could take my children to work. I was scrubbing the kitchen floor in the basement, a gargantuan room and the grease I swear was an inch thick. Sweat was dripping off my face and my youngest boy was eight years of age and sitting on a cafeteria chair. He asked,  "Mom, do you like your job?"
I remember mumbling under my breath so he could not hear me, Jim, do you like to eat?
I'm not saying I'm better than these women, wait, I am better than these women but I wish the world were a more fair place, a simple request from a simple woman.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

no war toys

The last chunk of chocolate easter duckie is my breakfast and little missy is munching away on oranges, yogurt, and cereal dotted with blue and purple marshmallows.  I didn't buy that stuff, my cupboard holds only Cheerios, some organic gorp that Jason eats and mini-shredded wheat bundles, mildly sweetened. You can't eat straw without a little sugar.
We're off to the park to dangle ourselves from dangerous metal contraptions.  Cameron is dressed in hot pink leggings, pink flip-flops and purple velour jacket.  All she needs is ratted hair and gemstone-studded sunglasses and she'll be just another big butt babe leaving the bingo hall  heading home to the trailer. Cammie doesn't own clothing that isn't pink or purple or adorned with glittery cartoon characters.  You can't buy a plain t-shirt anymore.  They went the way of high-top Converses and the family around the table at supper every night.

I swore never to dress my daughter in pink and I didn't.  Women's lib was in its baby days in 1975 and Ms. Reddy was singing I am woman, hear me roar, and bras were being burned or simply left in the drawer, those things cost money.  I vowed to be the genderly correct parent and my children could play with either trucks or dolls, or both, take your pick! and of course, no war toys. That last one went out the door when Jimmy picked up sticks in the back yard and they became spears, arrows, guns.  Although to my triumph, Jason did wear a pink shirt to his eighth-grade graduation along with his Birkenstocks.

I was the incredble seventies' mother. My hair was so long I could sit on it, all I owned was jeans and a granny dress and  I read no baby instruction books.  I had my first child a hundred miles from my home town and mother and friends and I had no idea it was going to hurt so much. And when it did I turned to Joe and calmly said, I'm dying, I know I am, I want you to remarry. I want my child to have a mother.  And then he went running out to the nurses' station screaming  MY WIFE IS DYING AND YOU'RE OUT HERE HAVING A PARTY.  Oh, we were a pair and they were glad to see us go.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

safe home, Sonny

The world is melancholia for me this week and I cannot escape my mother.  With the world blossoming and greening by the hour it is drawing me back to that last time, her time. I slept on the couch a few nights ago, you remember my story about the disheveled bed and the crazy soldier, and I needed something light for a cover, this weather too early warm at 87 degrees.  I didn't want to wake Dave as I rummaged  in the linen closet in the dark and I grabbed a tablecloth, her tablecloth, and it smelled like her. Red and white checkered, a combination of sweet linen and strong soap, a remembrance of many picnics, she was with me all night. It was comforting and sad all at once and I needed it to go on and on but of course, it didn't.

I needed some levity, some diversion, I needed a grandson.  Adam is interviewing his three -year-old sister.  She is infatuated with Dora, a television cartoon that has won multiple awards from distinguished children's agencies but she has a voice like a scratched chalk board  crossed with a wounded donkey.  Dora has a friend, Diego, an uninteresting boy who is able to keep up with her manic energy and non-stop chatter. Adam asks Cameron, what is Diego's favorite food?  What is Diego's favorite toy, favorite game, favorite TV show?   And lastly, what is Diego's favorite weapon? Thus speaks the testosterone-embedded child. 

Familiar scenario: a pile of building blocks.  The little girls build a tall house and insert little dolls as its cozy inhabitants.  Same pile of blocks.  The little boys build a tall house and then blow it up.  Oh, and to that last question, Cameron answered, blue.

My father is gone this week and perhaps this is the reason for my restlessness.  I have bought him a hanging red geranium for his front wall and sturdy pink begonias for his vase on the patio.  He plans to put impatiens in the flower boxes, always Marie's choice, and I am hoping he will find some satisfaction in the simple act of digging in the dirt, a secret kept from him all these years.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

last weekend was mothers' day

I live at the end of a cul-de-sac and when I leave my house the road goes by my father's home and I check to see if he's there, what lights are on, whose cars are there to visit.  This habit has become as reflexive as breathing and this week he is away traveling and I realize how focused I have become on his everyday patterns. I  have taken that bulk of time I devoted to my mother's care and channeled it onto the old man.  I am subtle and so far he has not noticed.  I am not proud of this but I needed to deal with the manic energy and cavernous void  my mother's death left.

 Last weekend was Mothers' Day and the hours were long and desperate and I was unprepared for the depth of that sorrow. I quickly averted my eyes from the Mothers' Day displays throughout my shopping trips and heavens, there were lots of them. I have worked in nursing homes for twenty years and Mothers' Day is an extravaganza comparable to Mardi Gras, and Fathers' Day passes by with barely a whisper, mothers are power.

I awoke on the holiday not feeling rested and bumbled through a few social obligations.  I was not material for gay festivities. It felt like there was something physical and foreboding  next to me, attached to me like a huge grey slab and at first I thought and hoped it was her presence but then realized it was just a representation of her, something like her and then not like her and this is grief. My mother is dead to me and I do not believe I will see her again on some gauzy cloud and this is all right.  I had her for 83 years and that is a gift and I walked and talked with her through my baby days and  tumultuous teen-aged days and stormy young adult days and more and that will just have to be enough.  My son-in- law volunteered to cook me breakfast on Mothers' Day, so I did not need to face the crowds of mother and daughters at the local cafes.  I brought fruit as I knew our meal would be protein and meat-based, and I love him for doing this.

So my father is traveling with Ms. Cat to her daughter's house in southern Missouri and I cannot tolerate a lot of the rural south, filled with hillbillies and rusted-out cars everywhere and beat-up billboards for Baptist ministries. These people do not even care how their lawns look, jeesh.  I will cook no meals for him this week and he has left me a list of to-dos, including watering my mother's plants which he has become passionate about keeping alive.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

the daffodils are breaking my heart

I collect flowers, other peoples' flowers and I am an excellent flower thief.  Once when home on a college spring break my sister and I stayed up till the pre-dawn hours and we scavenged the neighborhood breaking off tulip, lily-of-the-valley, and rose and we filled every mayonnaise jar and beer bottle we could find back at the house. I can still see the soft pink light in the gardens and we were laughing  and shushing each other, silly children.  We returned to our beds waiting for our mother to wake and there were probably fifty containers of flowers setting around the house and it was Mothers' Day.

I drive the back roads like I do every spring and there is a catch in my throat.  In a few days there will be purple phlox, yellow irises and little daffodil trumpets in these meadows.

I know these unchecked gardens well.  My mother and I discovered them over the years and I always carried a scissors in the car for the impromptu bouquet that would grace her kitchen table. I clipped my brother's tall lilac bushes trying not to fall off the hood of my car or arouse his pit bull's attention.  I remember last spring with an increased intensity.  On some unconscious level I sensed her time was fading  and I could not pass a flower without taking it back to her.  She's not here this May and I realize this season may always cause me barbs and thorns.  My mother left us at the height of summer, a sultry July night and the barren January landscapes made me feel protected and away from that awful time. In the icy months of an Iowan winter I am safe.  And now these daffodils are breaking my heart.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

lions, tigers, and . . .

Flashback to the cowardly Lion cluching his tail, eyes squeezed shut to those flying monkeys.  I am fairly certain I possess a heart and a brain but of all Dorothy's friends, I identify with Lion as courage is sometimes missing from my repertoire.

  Last night at work a verbally aggressive resident was tailing me and I had been informed by the night nurse that he punched an aide for not giving him a second helping of mashed potatoes fast enough. A lousy reason for sure and now he was staring at me like I was a bug under a jar waiting for him to determine my fate. All those aggressive behavior training classes refused to surface in my head and I wondered how much it would hurt to have my nose broken.  All I could do was look him in the eye and say, "you're scaring me and I don't like it."  Beneath all his tension and dementia did lie the soul of a gentleman, a father, a husband, a nice guy who once worked for the railroad. He apologized and I am still amazed that worked and it probably will never again so I better go back to class.

I don't think my father got a good night's sleep during the seventeen years between my two marriages. He took to lecturing me as if I were a country cousin moving to the city.  It didn't help that he overheard me telling my sister about a really stupid escapade my friends and I carried out back in our dancing-'til-dawn days.  The details are beer blurry but I do know it involved putting a chili dog in a mailbox following a nasty encounter with a postal employee back at the bar. "Might be good to remind yourself you're a woman,"  he commented, "and a small one at that."  Yikes, sexist Sonny. He breathed easier when Dave moved in with me and he chortled when I complained that being married is like having two fathers. "It's amazing no one has shot you," was another of Sonny's comments regarding my social life, man, I must have been some little hottentot.

I don't really miss those days, there was a lot of uncertainty and heartache and lonely Sunday suppers of scrambled eggs, my children with their father. And I really don't doubt my store of  courage.  That virtue comes roaring to my lips when Mr.Pick-up Truck the Size of a Barn cuts me off in a cloud of exhaust smoke. It's my grand kids who are teaching your kids all those neat, nasty words out on the playground . And there I go again, mistaking courage for stupidity, some things never change.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

you try and sleep with this guy

 This is the condition of our bed the morning after. It looks like large pigs were rolling and jumping and messing with the sheets and do not let your thoughts go there.  This is what happens when a middle-aged man dealing with PTSD attempts to get his eight hours of shuteye. David is necessary to me on many levels but the sleep state requires that I be far away from this landscape.

 Middle age for this woman means night sweats and charlie-horses, heartburn from the late spaghetti supper, and too much wine, way too much wine.  Joints creak and lock, the lower back bellows loudly, and even my elbows ache when I sleep.  When almost sixty years of age if you're not moving, you're in pain.  I have an understanding psychiatrist who has been with me since my first depression, trying to be a woman in the 70's, and he has given me this little triangular pill which lets me sleep, thank you, sleep.
My David fights many demons at night.  He is crawling on his belly through jungles and he volunteers to carry the heavy artillery making himself a target in that Viet Nam war.  A youngster, a crew cut soldier insists that he carry the big gun, he is stuffed with fake importance and Dave relents, and then the boy is blown to pieces, shrapnel embedded in my husband's arm. Nightmares share the bed with Cowboy Dave and he insists on fighting the crazies unmedicated so there is a constant physical struggle under his sheets, not conducive to snuggling. God, I hate that war.
We don't sleep well, we children of the sixties, but we can cherish each other in the morning, brave and hopeful morning.