What’s wrong with me, anyhow?

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Old Town Square on Monday

It is Sunday morning,  comfortable after an early rain which was gentle enough for me to walk Pippa without an umbrella or hoodie.  We woke up late enough to miss the 10:00 service at Church, the only service at our small congregation. Since Ken passed two years ago I have distanced myself some.  It was our church, but it doesn’t feel anymore like my church.  It has changed much, as many institutions do after two years.  New minister, same elders, minus a few who have moved on. Several hopeful new families have placed membership, then suddenly opted out, maybe for the same reasons I feel like leaving, but then I don’t know.  People have all kinds of excuses for bailing on a church, not the least of which is social.  Ours is not a glitzy country club congregation; it is plain and humble, conservative, a tad too conservative for me.

There in lies my concern.  Attitude.  During the presidential campaign I endured blatantly unchristian comments and Facebook postings aimed at our former President.  I kept my mouth shut until I couldn’t anymore.  At one occasion I gently reminded a small group of my fellow believers that the tongue is a lethal weapon, and should be guarded, and yes, I may be the only member of the church who voted for Obama, but I doubt it.  There was silence after my disclosure.  I was fairly certain the group would accept my comment and continue to include Ken and me.  They did.  I was encouraged that we could recognize differences of opinion and go on with our purpose of studying the Bible and seeking ways to be of service to others.  There is a good reason why our forefathers created a division between church and state in our constitution.

This group of about 10 people supported us through our trials with his health and helped me after his passing.  I could not have made it through those tough times as easily without their support and compassion. They called to check on me, asked me to lunch, and kept me busy doing work I loved, teaching Bible Hour.

The elders voted to disband the small groups which met Sunday evenings in our homes.  They wanted a larger group to meet in the Church building.  No one asked for our opinions;  it was a done deal. Big let down.  Oh well, can’t expect a church to be perfect and meet everyone’s needs.  I’ll just continue to contribute, to teach, to help out. Ken would like that, and when I am doing those things I often feel he is still with me.

Being in church without him is difficult. I walk in alone and sit in the same pew next to two other single women whom I have come to know.  I am comfortable there.  But I am missing my man, who was a song leader before alzheimers , who was friendly and kind to everyone, who underlined in his Bible during the sermon, who never failed to drop a check into the collection basket, who reached out and held my hand during the service.

Instead of going to Church today, I took Pippa on her first ride in our new car.  We drove along Rio Grande Boulevard, my favorite stretch of road;  stucco mansions on either side of the the pavement had acres of green land surrounding them. Los Ranchos de Albuquerque, a town of horse farms and lavender fields was built on fertile ground along the Rio Grande called the Bosque.  The radio was tuned to the classical station.  Electronic signs every other mile along the road reminded me to keep my speed at 25mph. With no cars behind me I kept the pace, enjoyed the landscape and the music which blended like hues in a watercolor painting. No particular destination.

I increased my speed as we entered Albuquerque, and the signs disappeared.  The landscape turned New Mexico urban: small ranch houses circa 1970’s and strip malls. We reached the intersection of I 40 and just beyond, the entrance to Old Town. This charming section dates back to the founding of Albuquerque in 1706.  Cars lined the narrow streets, tourists flooded them, a carnival occupied the town square.  I wanted to park and walk about, blend into the ambiance of a Sunday afternoon.  Pippa.  I drove twice around the parking lot debating.  Pippa would have to stay in the car.  It was in the 80’s, not too hot;  I would crack a window, and she had water but… I drove out after the second round turned right, past the Hacienda restaurant where dad and I sat once on the patio eating chips and salsa and enjoying our moments together.  The old church was  across the street, the first in Albuquerque, still holding mass and hosting festivals in the square. Today sun drenched tourists roamed the grounds and entered the small chapel for shade and curiosity, and perhaps to light a candle. At the intersection to Mountain Road stood the Candy Lady, a landmark sweet shop.  The owner is famous for concocting the blue crystal meth out of sugar for the series Breaking Bad.  You can purchase bags of it, along with other candy oddities like sculpted private parts made of chocolate.

We turned left and then right on to Rio Grande Boulevard and headed out of town.  I decreased the speed of the Rav 4 when I passed the first sign telling me I was doing 35.  I was hungry. I turned into a small strip mall in Los Ranchos.  The Flying Star restaurant on the north side has a leafy patio for outside dining.  Dogs are welcome.  I can order healthy here, a chinese chicken salad.  And I can also indulge in homemade pastries that tempt me from the glass display case as I stand on line to order. And I don’t feel awkward sitting alone at a table. I opted to leave Pippa in the car with the window open an inch.

I found a table with some shade in the corner of the patio, sipped my iced tea, and behind my sunglasses watched the couples and families at other tables.  Being single and alone I am curious about the relationships of others.  A woman seated at a table with a younger woman and two men (perhaps parents dining with grown children) was holding court.  She talked without ceasing, all I could catch was “baby boom generation,’ and “millenials.”  By her appearance I’d say she was between the two.  The young man sitting opposite her seemed enthralled, smiling and nodding his head often.  A young couple dressed in athletic wear had their bikes parked near their table. They were into their conversation, smiling and mutually contributing, attentive to each other, and their salads.

A man carrying a glass filled with red liquid sat at the table next to me.  We looked at each other quickly.  I wondered, was he alone, too?  I did not stare, but he looked to be a few years younger than me, well trimmed gray beard, professorial?  Just guessing.  My chinese chicken salad came and occupied my attention,  and a while later the same waiter delivered his.  It looked like we ordered the same thing.  My mind almost drifted into fantasy when two women, one older one younger approached his table with similar red drinks.  Mother, daughter, wife.  Oh well.   I am not looking for a man.  I had two, more than I deserve.  One especially wonderful man for a brief shining moment.  I can’t dilute that moment.

So I finished a pleasant lunch alone again, and walked back to the car.  Pippa was very glad to see me.  We enjoyed the ride home listening to a symphony by someone whose name I’ve forgotten and couldn’t spell, anyway.

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San Felipe de Neri Church, Old Town.  Can you find the Saint in the tree?

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A week away

I spent a week away from where I now call home, New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. I went back to Kansas City, the land of sweet flavored barbecue and all that jazz, where I watched my granddaughter graduate from High School, and spent time with my family. I am torn between places now. The place I love, my spiritual home, is here in New Mexico. Kansas City is where my family lives. After my father and several years later, my husband, died, I am completely on my own, like I have never before been in my life. Decision making is sometimes harder and then often easier with no one to disagree with me.

Ken and I were on a spiritual journey together for the eleven and a half years of our marriage. Barbi and Ken. Our relationship began in Kansas City where we married, a proper wedding in a Church of Christ, second chances for both of us. I was 60 years old, and Ken was 64. We were hurting from past betrayals and were determined to make our last chance at marriage a success. A love of the Word was deeply engrained in Ken, my cowboy from the Texas panhandle. I was a New Yorker by birth, raised up with a grain of cynicism and a natural tendency to cuss when frustrated (from my father), but when I met Ken I knew immediately he was inherently good in a way I had not known before in a man. A keeper for sure.

We stayed busy in Kansas City with our work and our church, my family with young grandkids, and his crew who traveled from Texas and Alabama to visit. We went to movies, barbecue and steak restaurants, the Rodeo, theater, baseball and football games, listened to live jazz on Country Club plaza, enjoyed anniversary dinners at the revolving restaurant on top of Crown Center. And then we both retired and planned for life’s fourth act.

Fourth Act, scene I New Mexico. My father lived alone in Rio Rancho. How he got there from Long Island, New York is a long story. In short, at age 74 he took a trip, looked around, and fell in love. When I visited him I understood his enchantment with this windy, dusty, brown and oddly beautiful place. By age 96 he was beginning to slow down. After two trips in a year from Kansas City to Albuquerque to bale dad out of the hospital, Ken and I realized we had to move here. And since we both liked New Mexico it was not a sacrifice to pull up stakes and move to the Southwest, except for being 900 miles from my other home and four grandkids.

We took care of dad and enjoyed his company for 10 months when he passed away one Saturday morning at the retirement home. I am grateful for the time we had with him. I am eternally grateful he was my father. Ken and I continued to live in my father’s house. Such a beautiful time filled with trips to see family, day trips in the mountains, church activities; Dad’s home was filled with happy times especially when Ken’s family came to visit.

Ken’s health declined so slowly and steadily for two years; I noticed it, forgetting his wallet, misplacing keys, staring blankly at someone trying to recall a name; and then I didn’t notice it because I was afraid. It was the medication, I thought. He’ll be fine when he gets off of it. But he needed it to stay alive, the doctor said. Twenty pills a day. He stumbled often. And then a heart attack, stents, pills, physical therapy, alzheimers. I was losing the love of my life and could do nothing to save him. Fourth Act scene 2, May 16, 2016 has come and gone twice now. The grief hasn’t left me yet though it has changed form. The fourth Act is still playing out. Yesterday I bought a new car. My first car purchase as a single old lady, another experience for another chapter.

This RAV 4 will take me and my dog Pippa to Kansas City to see my children more often. My friends already plan on riding shotgun for short vacations closer to home. The things I wanted to do with Ken by my side I shall have to do alone or with friends. It is hard. Reminders of him are all over the landscape.

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Lani Day

Thursdays are my Lani days. The King James Bible is in the backseat of my Prius so I won’t forget it. Lani insists on using the King James only for our Bible studies. She is precise about language, and she believes the King James is the most trustworthy of all translations. I like to mark up my books. My church going Sunday NIV is filled with margin notes, underlinings, names of preachers who have lead me to that particular verse, and the dates we visited. The King James is just for Thursdays, and has her name on many pages, along with her words of clarification.

She is still a beautiful woman. Tiny and delicate, a scant 4 feet 10, don’t be deceived. She is one of the most resilient people I have ever known; she ranks right up there on the resilience scale with my father, Herman. We share the same birthday which is fast approaching again. June 8. She will be 93. Me, several years behind her.

Two Gemini’s, we have much in common. She still sees the world through young eyes, childlike enthusiasm for flowers, birds, sunsets, and food. Last week I took her for lunch at Einsteins. She ate her first bagel and fell in love. How can you not love a bagel? I had to explain just how I got hooked on bagels. I am from New York. New York runs on bagels with cream chess and lox. I am thankful that good bagels, like Einsteins,can now be had almost anywhere in the USA.

Lani was born and raised in Hawaii. I asked her what foods are part of the Hawaiian fast food culture. Spam, she said, but didn’t elaborate. She was raised by a woman who was part English, part Hawaiian. Adopted as a baby Lani has never spoken of her birth parents. She always talks of her mother, strict, but “I knew she loved me, and that she thought I was special.” The Bible was her first textbook. Mother required her to memorize verses as soon as she learned to read, which I’d imagine was quite early. Even now she can immediately find the scripture (book, chapter, and verse) that answers every question I can come up with.

She challenges my presumptions, asks me to clarify my statements, find the scripture; she frowns when I look down the page to read the commentary. You don’t need to read some else’s opinion. The Bible itself is clear enough. But I like knowing the historical details, the setting that influenced the author’s words at the time. I will take a sneak peek at home.

We have been doing a study on the Holy Spirit. “What have you learned?” she asks. Her large brown kohl rimmed eyes (we would call it smoky eye today) look directly into mine.

“Well, this morning I had a choice to shop, clean house, work on a painting, come here. I chose to come here. It was my decision, but I believe the Holy Spirit directed me here, and has been directing me here for over a year now.”

Her full red lips broadened into a smile. “Yes, yes…you are getting it.”

Love Songs at the Terminal Cafe

image_547240862234494Not exactly a true story; some moments of truth.  If we are fortunate, we all grow old.  I am well on my way.  But I had a unique role model for this process.  My father’s zest for life stayed with him through nine decades. How did he do it?  His daily workout with weights which he never skipped, and his regular 4PM rob roy, straight liquor,  tall glass. Here goes part of his story…I think you will recognize him, and maybe enjoy him as I did for much of his 98 years. Here goes!

“Hey, Alicia, trade stations with me tonight.  I can’t deal with them.  I already had a bad day.”  Samantha Gomez grabbed a clean white apron from the cupboard and wrapped it around her black trousers.

“They can get on your nerves if your not in the right mood. I’ll take em on for you.  I don’t take them serious, especially Solomon.  He thinks he’s a cool dude with that bleached blond hair in a ponytail, and the Birkenstocks… an old hippy.”

“Thanks.” Samantha glanced in the full length mirror on the door leading to the kitchen. “The next time he tells me I’m putting on weight I’m gonna hit him upside the head with his own cane. ”  She turned and frowned. “He’s right.  And that’s what gets me so mad.”

“Now Dick Fitzgerald, he’s always nice to me.  He’s good looking for an old guy. Kind of a Richard Gere type,” said Alicia.

“He could be your sugar daddy, pay for your college tuition,” Samantha winked.

“I think Mike Fine is more your type, Sam.”

“If you go for short bald men who are like a billion times smarter than you.  I know some women will do it, but I don’t want no sugar daddy.  Who wants to kiss and do the nasty with an old man?”  She picked up a cooked asparagus stick from a plate on the counter that hadn’t been scraped. She held the bottom with her right hand and straightened up the tip with the thumb and forefinger of her left, the released the left hand, laughing as the stalk went limp.

Samantha took a pencil and pad from a cubby and walked through the kitchen door to the dining room of Watermelon Villa avoiding the table by the bay window with the mountain view.

Two gentlemen dressed in crisp khaki’s and sports shirts sat at the table looking out at the landscape in the early stages of a sunset.  Between them, hunched over a menu, sat the retired hippie, hair tied back with a bandana into a two inch ponytail, Hawaiian shirt open to the third button revealing the tops of sculpted man boobs. A woman with long gray hair was playing a Strauss waltz on the piano across the room.

“Gentlemen, what will it be tonight?” Alicia, poised with paper and pencil in hand, stood beside Dick’s chair.

“Ah, fair maiden. Just a glimpse of your blushing pink cheek tells me that I’d like some naked shrimp, a shrimp cocktail to start. Then the chef’s special, cog au vin, if the menu is correct; and it should be drenched in a Chateau du La Petite burgundy circa 2001.” Dick Fitzgerald’s dentures gleamed as he smiled up at her.

“I’ll have the reuben sandwich…and a shrimp cocktail as well, Alicia. You look especially fine tonight, by the way.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Mike, call me Mike, please. I am not old enough for you to call me sir.” His dark bushy eyebrows framed intense brown eyes.

“And for you, Mr. Davidson, Solomon, Sir?” She was covering all bases with him.

“The cock au…what the hell is it? Why don’t you speak English here? I hate the French already. We save their asses in the war and what do we get…cock oh…what the hell..give me a burger and French fries.”

“Are you sure you want FRENCH fries, sir?”

“That’s the only damn thing the French got right…how to fix a spud. Yeah, get me some catsup, while your at it throw in a shrimp cocktail. Where’s your chubby friend today? She usually has this table.”

“We traded stations so I could have the privilege of waiting on you.” Alicia could tell from their facial expressions that if tips were allowed she would get 20% from Dick and Mike. Sol would stiff her.

“She’s quite a dish.” Mike watched Alicia walk toward the kitchen.

“She could be your granddaughter, old man.”

“Thanks, Sol, for pointing out the obvious, and for ruining my fantasy of the moment.”

“Someone’s got to keep you in line, Michael.” Dick faced the window. “The show is about to start again. I never get tired of the performance. Always different night after night, the colors, the shadows transform the mountains minute to minute. Look at that shade of coral, purples and crimson seeping into the crevices. The rocks are oozing with life. I want to run to it and climb to the top.”

“Potassium feldspar. The sun’s rays this time of evening hit those deposits in the granite and sandstone. The result is that color, like the inside of a juicy watermelon.”The sun streaming through the window appeared to light up Mike’s bald head.

“Thanks for the illuminating explanation, Dr. Fine,” said Sol as the shrimp arrived plump and pink reclining on beds of iceberg lettuce. He took one by the tail, dipped it in red sauce and positioned his head over the plate to catch the dangling shrimp in his mouth.

“The Spanish settlers came upon the mountain range in 1540 and named it the Sandias, which means Watermelon in Spanish, because of the color you see right now.” Mike gestured toward the window.

“I think the spicks had it all wrong. It is salmon colored. Like the lox I bought at the deli on Flatbush Avenue, same color.” Sol’s hand shook as he navigated the shrimp from the sauce to his mouth. He didn’t notice the penny sized drop that landed on the collar of his shirt.

“Spicks?” Dick looked puzzled.

“A derogative term for Peurto Rican immigrants. Solomon thinks they took over New York City in the ’60’s,” said Mike.

“But I thought we were talking about the Spanish settling in New Mexico in the 1500s.”Dick scratched his ample head of white hair.

“Don’t bother explaining it to Sol. It won’t change his thinking. I’ll have the strawberry cheesecake for dessert.” Mike Fine pushed the empty dinner plate aside and signaled to Alicia that he was ready for the next course.

Go Down Fighting

image_546188567930129Barbara Bush passed away.  This was foremost  among other things happening in the news. She was one of our most admired first ladies for her strength, wisdom, and wit, not for  beauty, for she was of ordinary appearance at the time we knew her; nor for glamour, she was down to earth. We could relate to her, even though she was wealthy.  She was 92. Long lived and well loved. I haven’t read a biography, but the phrase “a life well lived” would apply to her.

At my age the passing of people a few years older than myself means that I am getting closer to the front of the line.  It is a matter of time;  I am beyond “past my prime.”  Am I?

Losing people is the worst. My mother,  my father, my husband, my son-in-law, several colleagues,  neighbors, and others whom I loved and who influenced me,  and moved on.  There is a tidal wave that is reaching its peak behind me and can’t be stopped as I swim frantically to stay ahead of it.   Even though I grieve I can’t stop fighting, though the Bible tells me, and I believe it, that the best is yet to come. God has prepared for me a room in His mansion.  I am planning right now for this last trip. It will be so much better than a stay in the finest resort on earth.  Just need to confirm my reservation for whenever He wants me to come.  Not too soon, I hope. I need to see Hawaii first.

I am drawn lately to what I used to think was morbid: cremation vs ground burial (the former is far less expensive and ecologically friendly except if I am toxic enough to cause air pollution).  When Ken passed and his daughters and I were planning the celebration of his life we were in a fog.  The funeral director led us to a conference room and itemized the financial part.  The fog lifted, blown away by the number on the bottom line of the bill.  He discretely left the room while we discussed the issue and decided to sign in agreement.  A cup filled with pens was conveniently on the table.  Jane and I took one,  but Hannah grabbed all of them and put them in her purse.  We laughed the best laugh.  I will always remember that moment.  I know Ken was laughing too.

Death cannot be so bad because we all die, and I believe we all continue on without our bodies to hold us back any more.  Our earthly time is much about catering to the demands of the body.  But the spirit is the part of us that will go on forever.  And it needs to be fed as well.  I’m working on that, Ken.  You and I were on a spiritual journey.  But you got to the destination first.  Have you met Barbara Bush yet?

I am still very scared of death.

 

 

 

 

 

In Defense of Dork Writers

image_545421190452552I hate technology,  and I love it.  Mostly I hate that I am on the low end of a learning curve playing catch up with my computer as the young geniuses on the high end of the curve keep advancing the science, raising the bar ever higher beyond my reach.  I opened my blog last night; one of those nights I had trouble sleeping; thought I might write something or read another’s inspiring post.

And there it was.  The picture I thought was so cute, of my dog at my Mac in deep thought as she is about to type her next sentence. The title of my post was “Doggone Writer.” So clever, and she is such a beautiful chihuahua mix, surely I will get a like or comment on this one.  It is gratifying to throw your stuff out there and know that someone reads it, likes it, or thinks it sucks, or better yet, takes a moment to comment. Constructive criticism and difference of opinion can generate interesting dialog. Two views, two likes, no comment…and then I noticed it.

The title was shorter, not “Doggone Writer,” but “Dork Writer.”  Too clever to be accidental on my part,  this was blatant intrusion.  It is disturbing that someone can move into my blog and alter the text.  I have been called a dork before, mostly by my daughters; the students in my Sunday school class probably think I am a dork when I try to liven up the lessons by doing silly accents with my voice.  They are too kind to comment negatively and usually laugh at the right places. In my years of public school teaching no one ever commented on my dorkiness, at least to my face.  I am not offended to be called a dork writer.  I like it better than “dark writer.”  Certainly it is preferable to boring writer, bitter writer, sleazy writer, sucky writer or ghost writer. I am who I am and take credit or blame for my own words.

There are some excellent writers and artists who publish on WordPress.  I enjoy reading their posts as much as writing my own.  In the few months I’ve been doing this I feel like I have connected to some like minded dorks and writers. I am also in awe of them; how well they write, their unique perceptions of life, and their creativity.  These writers are pushing me forward, challenging me to find my own voice as they have found theirs.

So I will continue on the path to dorkdom.  An old dork looking for new tricks. At least the person who got in my blog, and I would love to hear from you, opened it up and maybe read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am thankful to technology, even though I hate you, and to WordPress for letting me be dorky without judgment.

 

Doggone Writer!

image_544919333797109I have  been a writer since I learned how to write.  But first I was a reader,  that is the natural progression.  Not  a speaker, I was  a listener, the child who sat in the back row of every classroom, who never raised her hand, who trembled when called on to answer a question, mumbled a minimum response, blushed, and sank back into silence.  I was in awe of the extroverts who could discourse eloquently on almost any topic.  But I  snuck through all the way from kindergarten through graduate school because I could write. I wrote because I didn’t have the courage to speak.  I wrote because the words I wanted to match my thoughts were never easily accessible to me. I needed time to process.  Words are so important, after all.  To choose the wrong one in any situation can be catastrophic.

Essay after essay, paper after paper through my Masters Degree I wrote onward and upward as if every word pulled me higher up on the ladder leading to…what????A better job,  a more satisfying life?  Yes, that is true. I went from being a wimpy  dominated housewife to being “my own person.”  At age 74 that seems overdue. But I believe I have earned the right to be outspoken, to laugh and joke about the absurd, and reflect on the good and the beauty around me.

So I have several volumes of journals that no one will ever read.  I have heard it is best to destroy journals before you pass on, so your family won’t be hurt by your words, or won’t misinterpret some innocuous comment.  Right now I can’t think of doing that…like cremating  myself before I am dead.  I confess that my journals are one-sided and portions of it are negative about my ex husband for instance…likely that is unfair…there are two sides to every story.  But these books are honest accounts, at least at the time I wrote them.  They are my thoughts and feelings at a given moment, paused for reflection,  and for guiding me along to the next installment of my life’s story.

Maybe I shall leave the journals to my dog, that is if I go first.  I can’t imagine life without her, though.  She has been the reason I get out of bed each morning, and out the door.  She has been my gateway to the outside world since my husband passed away.  She has been my”wing dog” for finding friends,  and she has not lead me astray on this.  She is selective.  There are certain dogs she won’t tolerate, and curiously, I have found their owners offish and unfriendly too.  We have a good time together sniffing out companions, and in a neighborhood where nearly everyone has a dog, Pippa and I have made social connections.

Now if dogs could write, what a tale she could tell!