June 20, 2013

  • The Tenor


    The waitresses who came back to the kitchen were swooning: The Tenor had brought his entourage into the little Hungarian restaurant, and he was quite handsome. They giggled and argued over who was responsible for his table.


    Elizabeth rolled her eyes at the young girls (not much younger than her) and settled the friendly squabble: Each server would get an opportunity to bring something to the special party. The ladies fled the kitchen and Elizabeth went back to her stove.


    A while later, one of the waitresses brought back empty plates, and a message for Elizabeth: “The Tenor wants to compliment your food in person.”


    But before the girl could finish her sentence, The Tenor pushed through the kitchen door.


    Elizabeth never let a guest into her kitchen. It was a rule; if a guest wanted to see the chef, she came out into the dining room. It irked her that this man had not waited for her at his table.


    He apologized and kissed both of her cheeks quickly. Her anger disappeared when he said, “I could not wait to tell you how delicious my dinner was!”


    Elizabeth smiled and blushed. Now she could see why her wait staff had all gone weak at the knees. It wasn’t his appearance (though he was nice to look at) as much as his charm. Italian men, she thought. Always so smooth.


    He loved to cook, he told her. He loved Hungarian food, and hers was the best he had ever eaten. Could he have her recipe for stuffed cabbage?


    Elizabeth shook her head with a smile. Sorry.


    The Tenor laughed. He negotiated: He would trade his mother’s recipe for sauce and a song for Elizabeth’s stuffed cabbage recipe.


    The cook nudged The Tenor back into the dining room, where he sang La Donna E Mobile, to everyone’s delight.


    After service, everyone went home except for Elizabeth and The Tenor. They spent the rest of the evening in the kitchen, making Italian spaghetti sauce, and Hungarian stuffed cabbage.  


    And that is how my grandmother met Enrico Caruso.

June 13, 2013

  • But I Don’t Want to Go!


    I learned to read very early (I was three), because I wanted to keep the stories read to me to myself. I bugged my father until he agreed to teach me. Then, I wanted to learn to write, because I wanted to put all of the stories that were in my head down on paper. Bugged my father again.


    I was never published, never submitted anything to any place, because I was too chicken. I did not think that anyone would read what I wrote and like it. (I never thought that anyone would like me, even when I knew I had a close circle of friends; I always wondered at how they could like me – I’m nobody special.)


    All of that changed in the spring and summer of 2008. 


    I didn’t have a lot of money. My mother, now living in the apartment next door, was suffering with Dementia. My husband, Ken and I were paying for everything. I left my job for a few months and then went back part-time, because I could not care for Mom and help pay the bills. I was deep in the Black Pit of Depression, feeling like I was failing as a daughter, and a wife. I could not have children; Project Baby (shots, probing, miserable months of our life) had ended in failure. 


    One evening, my husband sat at our old desk, in front of our computer, chuckling. I asked him what was so amusing.


    “Come here,” Ken said. “You should see this.”


    It was a blog called whatjeffkilled.com. It was all about a big orange cat named Jeff, and, well… all of the things he killed. We read together.


    “The Sam should have his own web page,” I said. Ken agreed.


    I did NOT want to go back to Blogger; I’d had a page there a couple of years before, where I just ranted about personal things (It didn’t matter how personal; virtually no one read it.). I’d taken it down and didn’t want to go back. Besides, I wanted a site where The Sam would be seen. Otherwise, what was the point?


    Back then, my home page was this thing called “All Faves”. It had links to all kinds of sites, categorized. I scrolled down to “blogs” and saw Blogger, BlogSpot etc. Boring! Then I saw this colorful little logo: Xanga. I clicked on it. I ended up reading a few posts, and enjoying myself. I especially liked that people commented; sometimes it was funny, and other times, I felt like I was eavesdropping on private conversations.


    I decided to make up an account. What the heck? It’s free. I picked the name, “Samspeeps” because it was supposed to be written by Ken and me, and that is who we are, Sam’s Peeps (Anyone who thinks they own a cat has that a**-backwards.).


    Ken contributed in the beginning, mostly ideas and photographs (His pictures always come out better than mine!), but I did the writing, telling the story about how we adopted our kitty, The Sam (or how he adopted us).


    Soon after I began this blog, things changed. My mother’s dementia worsened, and so did my depression. I had read in a book somewhere that, “Self-expression is the archenemy of depression,” and so, I started writing my little memory-stories.


    The first time I clicked that “save changes” (or was it, “submit”?) button, I was in tears, scared, scared, scared:


    This is crap! No one in his/her right mind is going to even read through the whole story, let alone like it. Just give it up. You are no writer.


    I clicked anyway. F it. Nobody here knows me. What does it matter?  


    I read a few entries from people on (I think it was) the front page, and some of the new people (Does anyone else remember a feature that let you greet new Xangans? I forget what it was called, but I liked it.). Then, I shut down my computer and went about doing other things.


    When I came back to Xanga that night, I had “friend invites”… and a couple of comments!


    I was afraid to look at the comments. My cursor hovered over the link for a few minutes. Finally, I thought, well, Geez Louise, just look already! 


    “OH MY GOD!” I shrieked, alone. “Someone likes what I wrote!”


    I kept going. I wrote about my parents, mostly – old stories and the latest going on with my mother in the apartment next door. More invites came. More people talked to me, not just about the writing, but what the writing was about. I read their posts, too, and got to know them.


    There were a few people that I began to feel very close to, especially after my mother’s hospitalization, and then her death. People I had never met before reached out to me, shared their own stories of grief, gave me cyber-hugs, and made me feel a little less alone in the world.


    Ken appreciated those people, and Xanga too; so much so, he gave me a great Christmas present that year: LIFETIME PREMIUM! I was thrilled!


    I wanted to give these folks a little more of me, and my story. I wrote about my mother’s Cousin Steve, Grandma, my brothers, my Auntie V, Uncle Kid, old loves, and of course, my Sam and Mikey (Those same people were there for me when Mikey, a/k/a “Ma Petite Fleur”, died in 2010, just a few months after we moved from Connecticut to Wisconsin.).


    My life has changed a bunch since 2008. There have been a few things that have kept me from posting as often as I used to, and man-oh-man, did I miss my Xangan friends!


    I’ve been trying to “come back” steadily for a few months now. Until recently, it’s been difficult. Now I have plenty of time and privacy (I am sick, on Family Leave, so I am always home, and we have our own place now.).


    However, I don’t have any money. My leave is unpaid, and Ken’s hours are such that we are having trouble paying the rent and keeping the electricity on. Until I am well and back at work, I cannot see how I will be able to maintain my Xanga account. Yes, I know it amounts to only four dollars per month, and it is worth even more than that to me. However, I have less than one dollar in my checking account, and no one knows when I will be feeling good enough to return to work.


    I’ve begun using my WordPress account (I originally opened it up a year ago, but never really used it until a week or two ago), samspeeps.wordpress.com, and I like it, but it just isn’t the same. It isn’t Xanga.


    I do not think that Xanga will be closing down, and that makes me very happy. I’m hopeful that the changes they implement will make this an even greater place. I hope I get to see it for myself!


    I will continue writing no matter what happens (with Xanga, with me), no matter where I go (WordPress, or just my notebook). But I don’t want to go!

June 10, 2013

  • Fitz: A Love Story

    For some reason, I had it stuck in my head that it was the summer just before I was born (1967). My oldest brother says it was 1965. I found a photograph of Fitz that had the date set on it as August of 1963. I’m just going to tell the story; it doesn’t matter “when”. Love is love, and doesn’t care about such things. Why should I?


    Brother Number 3, The Professor, had a birthday coming up. He wanted a dog. He and Mom went to a kennel to pick one out.


    I loved to hear my mother tell this story:


    “All of the dogs were barking, whining, running back and forth in the kennel… you know, trying to get our attention. ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ All of them but one: The German Shepherd at the back looked like he couldn’t care less if we chose him. Well, German Shepherds were always my favourite, so I was curious.


    “The man there said that he didn’t think that the dog would be right for a family. He had been a police dog; they didn’t want to keep him because he was jumping eight-foot fences, and he was not obedient. He snapped at someone. They said he was a bad dog.”


    My mother convinced the man to let her take the dog out of his kennel for a few minutes, just to see “how he’d be”. The man put a leash on him and handed it to my mother. The dog came out and sat at my mom’s feet and looked up at her, tail wagging faster. She offered him her hand, keeping The Professor behind her for the time being. The dog sniffed it and then licked it.


    “… And he looked up into my eyes, and it was like we both knew we were supposed to be together. He was not a bad dog; he just didn’t want to be a police dog.”



    He was my mother’s best friend. She took Fitz everywhere. Mom never had to use a leash; he always walked at her right side. He never ran off, and he never jumped our fence (which was a lot shorter than the fences he had supposedly jumped when he was a cop).


    When my mother visited her parents at the house by the beach, Fitz would run past Grandma, straight to the back of the house, to Grandpa’s room. My mother’s dad was bedridden most of the time then, and it made him happy that this big dog was so glad to see him. Fitz would carefully climb up onto the bed next to Grandpa and snuggle, pretty much the whole visit. Afterward, Mom and Fitz would go down to the beach to play fetch. Usually, they’d stop at Rawley’s on the way home for hot dogs and French fries.


    Fitz was a big part of the family. He enjoyed all of the birthday parties, and loved a cookout. He was also a guard dog – always watching out for my brothers, and when I came along, Fitz wouldn’t leave me alone, and would only let certain people near me.




    “Certain people” did not include my father. No one knows why Fitz disliked Dad (My father loved animals, but they didn’t always return his feelings.). The only time that dog approached my father in a friendly manner was when Dad was grilling in the back yard.



    I was very young when it happened, but I remember the day Fitz had to be put down (He had severe arthritis in his back and was in a lot of pain.). It was the first time I remember seeing my mother cry. I was too young to understand; I just knew that her heart hurt, and it made me hurt, too.


    The next day, my father brought a puppy home; I guess he thought it would cheer Mom up. My mother, furious (How could he think that my Fitz could ever be replaced? she used to say.), ordered Dad to take the little dog back. She wouldn’t be able to open her heart to another dog for a very long time.


    A couple of years before my mother became ill, she put together photo albums for each of her kids’ birthdays. I went over to visit her (I was living with Ken by then) when she was putting together an album of Fitz’s pictures. The Fitz book was the biggest!



    I laughed. “You have more pictures of that dog than all of us kids put together!”


    “Well,” Mom said, “He liked to pose for the camera!” (It’s true; my brothers and I hate cameras. Fitz loved having his picture taken.)


    We flipped through the album together. She retold the story of how they met. She became teary-eyed. I touched the back of her hand.


    “We don’t have to look through these now, if it makes you sad,” I said.


    “No,” she sniffed. “I’m okay. I just miss him. He was such a good dog.”


    In August of 2008, my mother was in the hospital. I had been bringing her books and reading to her, but Mom was having trouble concentrating on the words. One day, I found the Fitz photo album and brought it to her. Maybe pictures would be better than words.


    It was so good to see her smile. That last week, her Dementia let her have her memories back. As soon as she saw the book in my hands, she reached out for it. “Fitz!”


    I pulled up a chair and positioned her tray table so she could see the pictures without a problem (By then, Mom weighed less than ninety pounds and was very weak.). We flipped through the book slowly, her fingertips touching just about every photograph. Once again, she told me about the man at the kennel all those years ago, the man who cautioned her against adopting “the bad dog.”


    “He was a good dog,” she said. “Best dog I ever knew.”


    She looked like she was going to cry, but then a smile came to my mother’s face.


    “I’m going to see him soon.”


    She gave my hand a little squeeze. “I’ve missed him so much! It’s going to feel so good to play with him again.”


    I thought I would cry, but she saved me: “Geez, I hope he and your father have made up, or there’s going to be a problem!”


    We laughed.


    “Your poor father,” she said.


    I looked up at her, not understanding.


    She shrugged. “Well, I’d have to pick Fitz…”


    We laughed some more.


    Sometimes, when I am sad and missing Mom, I picture her with her beloved Fitz, playing together at the beach, eating Rawley’s dogs-n-fries and maybe some watermelon for dessert. I imagine her with Grandpa, taking long walks, Fitz between them.


    Then I think of Mom with Fitz and my father, and I burst out laughing.


    For Dad’s sake, I hope he and Fitz have settled their differences…






May 25, 2013

  • Not a Ballerina

    Just about every girl I knew had a musical jewelry box like mine: pink and white plastic with a ballerina doll on top. I don’t know about the other little girls, but my ballerina mocked me. She was a blonde with perfect hair; I was a brunette and my hair wouldn’t stay knot-free, let alone curled. Her body was thin and cool-looking; I was a pat of butter. Worst of all, she looked graceful. I moved like a drunken hippopotamus (still do).


    I ended up in an afterschool dance class, mostly because I wanted to be more like my Auntie V. Now, SHE could dance! Ballet, tap, jazz, ballroom… You name it; she’s done it, and done it well (As a matter of fact, well into her 90s now, she teaches dance classes at the senior center in her neighborhood!). To me, she was more perfect than the plastic jewelry box ballerina.


    The dance program took place in our school’s cafeteria, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Ballet and tap. It was an 8-week program that culminated in a Christmastime recital at a local hall.


    I was happily surprised to see a couple of girls from my homeroom there. It made me a little less nervous (Even then, I had anxiety issues.). They were the girls who were nice to me (I was picked on a little bit that year, mainly because I no longer had a father; he’d committed suicide that summer.).


    At the first class, I realized I did not belong there. All of the other girls seemed more like the plastic ballerina, and more like my mother’s sister than I did. They were all thin, hair neatly up, and most of them had been dancing since they were toddlers.


    When the first class was over, I told Terri, one of the girls from homeroom, that I was embarrassed because I didn’t know anything.


    “You have to start somewhere,” she said. She then invited me to join her and Tanya, another girl from our homeroom, to practice on Wednesdays. It made me feel better, a little hopeful. I said yes.


    When I got home, my Auntie V was visiting.


    “How did it go, V?” she asked.


    “Well, it was pretty awful… but my friends Terri and Tanya are going to help me. So, maybe it will be okay.”


    “Good!” Auntie V said. “The shoes fit okay?”


    My aunt had purchased my ballet slippers, tap shoes, leotards and tights a week or two before class started. I loved her for that; my mom was struggling with money since my dad passed away (I don’t even know how she managed to pay for the class; I didn’t then, but I now suspect that Auntie V may have paid for that, too.).


    “I’ll break them in,” I said; I felt a tiny blister starting on the back of one of my heels.


    The next day, Terri, Tanya and I met in the cafeteria afterschool. We went over everything taught the day before. Then, while I practiced the basics, they worked on their tap routine (They were going to audition for a duet in the recital.). Every once in a while, one of them would come over and correct me. I felt bad, taking time away from their work.


    “If you say you’re sorry again, I’ll kick you,” Terri said. “It’s really no big deal.”


    I put on my tap shoes, got behind them (in front of the large mirror), and tried to imitate their steps, just for fun.


    “Hey,” Tanya said, “That’s not bad!”


    I laughed. I was still horrible, but tapping was fun anyway.


    A week or two later, I was still struggling with the ballet steps, but I was gaining a little bit of confidence with the tap dancing.


    There were two teachers, a man and a woman (I don’t remember their names). They switched off each class, one teaching ballet and the other tap. I was in the group that practiced ballet (in the small room, off of the cafeteria) for the first half, tap (in the actual cafeteria) for the second half of the class. Just as I was about to change shoes and head for the cafeteria, the lady teacher came up to me.


    “Honey,” she started (and so it sounded like it was going to be a nice conversation, right?), “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but I think if you lost some weight, you’d dance better.”


    I didn’t know what to say or where to look. I didn’t want to look at her. What does she mean by “wrong way”? I thought.


    “You should think about going on a diet, maybe,” she said. And then she was gone, getting her second group of girls ready to practice.


    I laced up my tap shoes with shaking fingers. She just said I’m fat.


    I looked around as I stood up. I AM fat. All of the other girls are skinny.


    I couldn’t get any of the steps right that afternoon. I wasn’t concentrating on dancing; all I could think of was how fat I was, and how, if the teacher thought so, everyone must.


    They must think it’s a riot, some big fat pig trying to look graceful.


    I gotta get outta here.


    Once the class was over, I ran out of the building. Terri and Tanya followed me.


    “Hey,” Tanya said. “What happened?”


    I burst into tears. “I’m too fat!” I wailed.


    They hugged me. It might have felt nice if I hadn’t been thinking that they were both skinny and I would probably suffocate them if I hugged back too hard.


    We sat down on the merry-go-round at the front of the school. Tanya gave me a tissue. I wiped away my tears and told them what the teacher had said to me.


    Tanya rolled her eyes. “Geez! What a witch!”


    “Do YOU think you’re fat?” Terri asked.


    I nodded.


    We started walking home. On the way, the girls gave me diet tips, things they did when they felt like THEY were fat (I couldn’t imagine either one of them feeling that way).


    That night, when Mom served dinner, I said I wasn’t hungry. I ate the salad and left the rest.


    I began skipping breakfast, and only eating the (boiled to death) vegetables that were included in the school lunch. I stepped on the scale three times a day. Whenever I was starving, I’d gulp down as much water as I could. In the evenings, I practiced the ballet and tap routines until I was really tired.


    I’d tell my mother I wasn’t hungry. I thought that if I kept saying it, I’d believe it myself.


    Despite the extra help from Terri and Tanya, and losing a little bit of weight, I never got much better at ballet. Half way through the program, I told the (male) teacher that I did not want to appear in the ballet portion of the recital.


    He raised his eyebrows. “Why not?”


    The words rushed out of my mouth. “I stink. My Auntie’s going to be there, and she’s a real dancer. I don’t want her to see how bad I am…”


    The teacher frowned. “Are you quitting the class?”


    “No,” I said, shaking my head. “I just think I’m better at tap.”


    “Do you want to take tap classes and cut out the ballet altogether?” He asked.


    I thought about it a moment. Shook my head again. “No. I need the exercise.”


    The teacher’s eyebrows went back up.


    “I’m trying to lose weight,” I explained.


    He looked kind of confused. “You look like you’ve lost some.”


    I looked down. I had lost very little weight. “Yeah, but I’m still too fat.”


    “No,” he said. “You are not.” He paused. “You will have to be in the recital. I can put you in the back row. Okay?”


    I thought about it for a second and then nodded. At least I won’t have to explain anything to Auntie V.


    Auntie V drove me to the hall for the dress rehearsal, the Saturday before the recital. By then, I wasn’t feeling well. I was having dizzy spells, headaches, and stomach aches… and I hated dancing.


    My aunt was kneeling in front of me, fiddling with my leotard. “All this dancing, you’re getting skinny,” she said. She looked up into my face. Frowned.


    “What did you have for breakfast this morning?”


    I shrugged, trying to avoid Auntie V’s eyes.


    She pulled an apple out of her purse, polished it on her shirtsleeve, and handed it to me. “Eat this. Now.”


    I began eating it. My aunt sat on the little bench next to me. She felt my forehead.


    “Hm. You sure you want to dance today, V? You feel warm.”


    I couldn’t give up, not then, not with Auntie V watching. Later that day, during the rehearsal, I decided that after the recital the following weekend (the end of the program), I would not renew.


    The male teacher approached me after the rehearsal and patted my back. “Good job today,” he said.


    I introduced him to my aunt. I left them to go change into my street clothes. When I returned, Auntie V was alone, and she was not smiling.


    Instead of driving me straight home, she drove around the park (about a half mile from where I lived).


    “If you don’t eat right, you are going to be a sick little girl,” she announced.


    I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. The tone of her voice scared me.


    She glanced at me. “Are some of the girls in your dance class teasing you?”


    I shook my head. The girls in class had been nothing but nice to me.


    She parked in the circle and turned to face me. “Your teacher thinks that’s what’s going on.”


    I shook my head again and tried not to cry. I told her about what the lady teacher had said, and how my friends in class had been helping me.


    “Oh.” Then, silence.


    After a minute or two, I croaked, “I don’t want to be a dancer. I don’t like it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I don’t like it, I’m not good at it, and it makes me feel bad!”


    Then, I did cry.


    She hugged me and laughed a little. “Well, honey, why in the world didn’t you say something? You don’t have to dance, you know.”


    “I wanted to be good at it,” I sobbed. “So I could be like you!”


    She laughed some more and squished me.


    “Why is that funny?” I asked.


    “Well,” she said, fishing a tissue out of her purse for me, “Why would you want to be me when you could be you?”


    I dabbed at my eyes. “Well. You’re so… cool beans!”


    Auntie V laughed hard. Kissed the side of my forehead with a loud smack, the way Grandma always did.


    “Well, I’m flattered,” she said, getting another tissue out, this one for herself.


    Then she made a face, crossing her eyes and making her mouth open funny. “Th-till wanna be wike meh?” she lisped, tilting her head.


    I laughed and laughed. Yes. I do. 


    I danced at the recital; I did the best I could, and it went okay. My aunt sat in the front row, applauding and whistling.


    When we got to my house, my mother asked all about it. My aunt explained to her that it was great, but that I didn’t really like dancing as much as I had thought I would. I breathed a sigh of relief when Mom shrugged and said, “Oh. Okay.” No big deal. (I don’t know why I thought my mother would be upset, but I was sure glad she wasn’t.)


    I kissed Auntie V on the cheek and whispered, “Thank you.”


    That night, after a big dinner, I went into my room, to the musical jewelry box. I stroked the ballerina’s perfect coif, and then snapped her plastic head off.


    And I laughed and laughed.


    Photo from Photobucket

May 22, 2013

  • Tide Mill




    There were a few places we’d visit before or after staying at Grandma’s house. A lot of times, we drove up to the top of the road and had Rawley’s (hot dogs and French fries… my mother loved their French fries!), and/or DairyQueen. Sometimes, we’d go to the stores in the Greens Farms area (a small strip mall), and then visit the stream around the side of the building (I think my whole family is obsessed with “watching the water”.).


    If it were warm enough, we’d park at Tide Mill in Southport. I don’t know what kind of mill it used to be; back in the early 1900s it was a tavern. Now, I believe it is all professional offices.


    None of that mattered to us. What we liked was that it was a large stone bridge over water.


    There used to be a sign there that listed all of the things that you could not do there, like swimming or clamming (I remember my mom telling us that it was because the DuPont company used to dump stuff into the water.). The first thing my older brothers would do when we got there was dive into the water. It used to make my mother nervous because of all of the sharp rocks below (never mind the chemicals).




    My younger brother, Tadpole and I never swam at Tide Mill. There were other things to keep us occupied while our older brothers broke the rules. Lots of little animals to look at. Birds, mostly. Squirrels. Lots of butterflies and dragonflies.


    On a sunny day, we’d pick up some Rawley’s to go, park at Tide Mill, and picnic.




    It was a day like that, spread out on a blanket, munching French fries, that a family of ducks came to visit us. They first appeared across the lot, coming up from under the bridge. They stopped to look at us.


    My father pointed to them and whispered, “Look. A mommy, a daddy and five kids. Just like us!”


    I giggled, still staring at the ducks. “Which one is me?” I asked.


    “I’m not sure,” Dad said.


    The ducks slowly made their way toward us; they seemed as interested in us as we were in them.


    “Do you think they want my French fries?” Tadpole asked.


    “Yeah!” I said, trying to be quiet, but too excited. “Can we feed the duckies, mom?”


    My mother thought a moment, and then smiled. “Just a few.”


    We were getting ready to toss the fries toward them. My father stopped us. “No,” he said. “Wait until they get closer. Don’t want to scare them off.”


    We stayed as still as we could. The ducks took a few steps and then stopped. They talked amongst themselves for a moment, and then took a few more steps. In a short while, they were within a yard of us.


    My father took a fry, slowly stretched his arm out, and dropped it on the ground. When the family of ducks didn’t run away, my mom, my younger brother and I followed suit.


    The daddy duck came forward first. He took a French fry and brought it two or three steps back to where his family was. As they ate it, he came back for more.


    We ended up sharing most of our food with them, delighted that we could watch the ducks so close up.


    When my older brothers came back from swimming, the ducks scrambled away. I was upset that they’d left. Dad said it was okay; they’d probably had enough to eat, anyway.


    Mom said, “We’ll probably see them again next Sunday.”


    We kept an eye out for the duck family whenever we went to Tide Mill. We never did see them again, but it was fun looking for them, and fun to talk about the day we once shared our lunch with another family of seven. 















January 1, 2013

  • Yule Log

    When I was a little kid, everyone in our neighbourhood had a Christmas party. From what I can remember, it was mostly adults laughing and talking over drinks and snacks, and admiring the host family’s decorations. We kids drank plenty of soda, ate sweets, played games, and talked about the things we wanted Santa to bring us.

    One year (I don’t think I was even in Kindergarten yet, so it was probably 1971 or 1972), the party at our house seemed even bigger than usual. More people. More drinking, maybe. At one point, I was actually a little afraid of being trampled. I grabbed my younger brother, Tadpole (still a toddler, then), and made him sit on an ottoman with me in front of the television.

    Normally, Tadpole wouldn’t have done anything that I suggested, certainly not sitting down… he was kind of hyper. I think, that night, he was as nervous as I was about being run over. That, and there was the lure of the television…

    On screen, a huge log burned away in somebody’s fireplace. Christmas music played. Mesmerized, the two of us stared at the flames.

    Mom came by and stood behind us. “There you are! What are you guys up to?”

    “Watchin’ the fire, Mom,” Tadpole said, his eyes never leaving the TV screen.

    “You’re… watching it?” She sounded surprised.

    “Yeah,” I said. “We’re waiting to see what happens!”

    Mom laughed. She walked away, calling for my father. Soon we heard him laughing, too. Then a bunch of other people joined in.

    My brother and I looked at each other, shrugged, and went back to watching the Yule Log.

    We enjoyed the holiday music, but, uh… well, we were kind of disappointed with the lack of action sequences.

December 25, 2012

  • Christmas 1976 and Now

    Despite everything, I wanted Christmas. Christmas does something to me – it always has and I hope it always will – it lifts me up. Even when I feel hopeless maybe even especially when I feel hopeless. The Catholic in me wants to tell you that it is the coming light of Christ, and while for me that is true, when I was nine years old, I couldn’t have articulated that. Back then I just felt that as long as there was a Christmas, I would be okay somehow.

    In 1976, I didn’t just want Christmas; I needed it. My family needed it. No one felt like celebrating anything. We’d barely gotten through Thanksgiving without my father.

    He did most of the decorating. He used his scrap wood to make toys for less fortunate children. He cracked the best jokes at the parties. He invited people over who had no family around. He told us kids the story of The Nativity – complete with talking animals. Whether Dad believed it or not (and I don’t think he did), he was our Spirit of Christmas.

    And now, he was a ghost.

    My mother did not want to put up a tree. I don’t remember who convinced her to let us have the artificial tree, in its usual place in the living room, but that was our last Christmas tree. There were no lights in the windows, and no wreath on the front door.

    The worst part of the house was the now-silent cellar. The shop where my father would have normally been busy putting the final touches on wooden trains, airplanes, dolls and doll houses was empty. All of the work tables were gone, and all of the tools. The shelves where jelly jars of nails, screws and little hinges were stored, all gone. The barrels of scrap wood were gone.

    I would sit in the dust and cry, not just because my father wasn’t there; it was like he’d never been there, like all of my Christmases had never been. I did not think we would ever really have a Christmas again.

    I called Grandma. I’d seen her at Thanksgiving (my uncle drove her over), but I was not spending weekends there anymore (My mother couldn’t drive anymore because of a stroke she’d had a couple of years before, and we no longer had a car.). I couldn’t see my grandmother, but I talked to her on the phone all of the time. I told her I was afraid that Christmas wasn’t going to happen for us anymore.

    “Don’t worry,” she said. “No matter what goes on in this world, Christmas comes.”

    And it did. Christmas morning, there were presents under the tree, and our stockings were full. All of my brothers were there (even The Wolfman – that was the first Christmas he had spent with us since he divorced our parents). Mom was cooking a turkey dinner, and smiling (I think the early morning phone call from her Cousin Steve, who was spending the holidays in Hungary that year, had something to do with that.).

    My uncle and aunt brought Grandma over, and she brought Porhanos (pronounced POUR-hahn-yosh, and flip that R, please), which is one of my favourite treats. It is a walnut coffee cake with lekvar (prune butter) filling, topped with chopped walnuts and cut into diamond-shaped servings. (Man! My mouth is watering as I write this! It has been too long since I had some Porhanos.)

    Later, after turkey, we all sat in the living room with the Porhanos and coffee. I was on the loveseat with Grandma, my head on her shoulder. She gave my forehead a loud smack-kiss.

    “You see?” she said. “No matter what happens in this world, Christmas always comes.”

    And it does.

    Merry Christmas!

December 8, 2012

  • Naked

    Imagine something you love. Not just like, but love. Adore. Can’t get enough of it. Don’t know how you’d do without it – don’t even like to think about that. You are truly connected to this thing you love, love, love… and it vanishes. Just, “Poof!” Gone.

    All of my life – and seriously, ever since I can remember, ALL of my life – I’ve had 50 thoughts swishing around in my brain, and I would catch them up in a pen, and write. Whenever something – good or bad – happened to me or around me, I could write it. It put the bad things into perspective. It kept the good things alive for me, the happiness of the past ever-present, if I wanted it.

    Here, Xanga, is where I dared to jump. Put it all into cyberspace. Let the thing that I love out. Let others – gulp! – see what I write. Too personal, I thought, after a while. Like showing scars to strangers. I pulled back, and put a robe and slippers on.

    Looking back, I should have seen it coming, should have known that it would leave me, this thing that I love. I don’t blame it. I didn’t treat it with the respect that it deserves. First, I hid it away as if ashamed of it. Then, I gave it some freedom, and tried to rein it in… again, ashamed.

    I am only truly happy when writing and not worrying about what other people will think of what I put down on paper. There is only one way to coax it back to me, this thing that I love. Only one way to bring my thoughts back, and through my pen.

    I am taking off the robe, and kicking off the slippers, cute, pink and fuzzy though they may be.

    And you know what? That robe freaking itched. Feels good to be naked again.

May 9, 2012

  • Just Some Recent Pics, Drawings, and News

    The Sam’s diet has been going very well. He is more fur and less chub. Most importantly, The Sam is more healthy! His skin and coat are soft and lovely, dandruff-free. The Sam is also back to his old energetic self, tearing a** all over the kennel, chasing animals (4-legged and 2-legged!), loose leaves, and tiny foam soccer balls. He climbs a lot more, now, too. He doesn’t go too high, just enough to freak the chipmunks and squirrels (and me) out.

    He won’t be at the kennel for very much longer. We have found a place, one village over. We’ve signed the lease and gotten the keys. We have not officially taken possession (or whatever it is called) yet, because the place is being redone. Paint, all-new hardwood floors, a tiny bit of work in the bathroom and new kitchen counter-tops (I got to pick out my counter-top!). A couple of the inside doors are being replaced, too. It is going to look awesome when it is done. It has been rainy, so the painting has been slow-going (I did not know that the paint coats take longer to dry when it’s soggy out.).

    The village we will be moving into is even teeny-tinier than the one we live in now! From what we’ve seen so far, everything is within a block of where we live. Farther up, there is a cow-farm. In the other direction, there’s a school and a cool playground (with tennis courts, even!). Directly across the street is a green little park, and I have a feeling the three of us will be spending plenty of time there. One of us, after all, is addicted to grass. (We are thinking of getting him a harness and leash!)

    There are a lot of reasons to love the new place. The coolest is the upstairs neighbours: The Sam’s favourite caregiver, Katie, her boyfriend, and their two little dogs, Prince and Duchess. We didn’t know that until the day that Ken and I were going to go and look at the place. We went to visit The Sam first (it was a Saturday, and they are only open to the public until about 11am on Saturdays), and I asked Rick, the owner, if he knew anything about that particular area (He’s lived around here all of his life, and he has had a lot of helpful advice for us in the past.). He told us we should ask Katie, because she lives there… and she does!

    The Sam loves Katie, and he gets along with Duchess and Prince pretty well. No hissing or growling or anything like that, anyway. We love them, too. She’s a nice young lady, and her little Dachshunds are precious!

    That’s pretty much all of my news. Until we are all moved in, settled in, and hooked up to the internet, I probably won’t be on much (not that I have been on much lately, anyway, but I plan on being here a little more once I have some writing/reading space). So, um… See you soon!

    And YAY!!!

    My husband, Ken did all of the drawings.

April 3, 2012