Friday, October 30, 2009

And four years ago....

My mother died late in the evening. I arrived mid-afternoon; Jimmy and Liz didn't get there until about 10:30 or so, and she died about an hour later, with us holding her hands and talking quietly to her, remembering childhood things, her favorite places, fun memories. It was very peaceful, very gentle: one wavering breath more and then nothing. Just silence.

We'd known it was coming, but it was still hard to lose her. Her body just plain wore out. She knew we were there, though, and I'd talked with her a bit every night that last week.

It's hard to think that she's been gone that long: that's going from a freshman to a senior in high school or college, going from a twinkle in someone's eye to a pre-schooler.

Time goes on despite our losses, despite the holes in our lives that death leaves.

"The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arises from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost." ~Arthur Schopenhauer

Since my mother died, two of her six siblings also have joined her and my father, who died 10 years ago this December, but who I miss still every day, especially when I see an older man with fine, white hair blowing a bit in the wind, or one who walks with a bit of a hitch in his git-along.

They both are with me not only because of the genetic heritage, but in Daddy's fishing tackle box that I have recently raided for bits to become part of a collage necklace I'm making, in the handwritten recipes from Mother that she gave me when I got married so many years ago, in the pictures that smile at me every morning from the dining room buffet chest. They're with me when I sing little songs to our grandson -- my father had a song for every occasion, for every turn of a phrase. They're with me when I read a book or see a movie or television program that I know they would have enjoyed.

It's gone beyond raw, hurting grief into a soft place, a gentle, warm place that even now makes me feel loved by them every day. Doesn't mean I don't puddle up sometimes, unaccountably, unpredictably, when something zings a memory. But time and life have moved on, moved ahead, as it should.

"Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color."
~W.S. Merwin, "Separation"

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Five years

I've been writing this blog for five years as of Oct. 11. Not counting this one, I have 334 posts, only around 66 or so a year, which is not impressive, although it averages out to a little more than one a week.

I've ranted and raved. I've whined. I've reminisced. I've preached. I've told stories. I've enjoyed myself immensely.

Someone asked me recently what I most like to write, and without even giving it a thought, I said, "My blog. It is all for me -- whatever I want to say, whatever I want to write, however many words I choose. It's my therapy, my safety valve, my journal."

As I was skimming back over the most recent posts, I did cringe a bit at some of the sentence structure -- sometimes I will go back and edit, but mostly I don't. Whatever comes out of my brain through my fingers is what you get. If I ever organize these posts into some sort of book, I'll edit then. Otherwise, you're stuck with my brain dumps.

I love interviewing people, learning about their stories and how they got to where they are. But writing the subsequent story is hard work, and I sweat out every paragraph, sometimes every word. I let their stories perk in my head for -- oh, let's just say that I usually wait until the deadline is looming large. And then I MUST write it, must tell the story to make that deadline.

Yes, it would be better to just write it immediately and not sweat the deadline along with how to best tell the story. But I bet nearly every writer does the same thing I do -- waits until the eleventh hour. I have tried to do it differently. Doesn't work.

I can dash off a news release about an event with no trouble at all -- years of experience in writing them. But a feature -- you can take so many different angles with most stories, and I want to be very careful to be true to the subject's words and intent. So I agonize.

But this blog -- I never lack for subjects. I never lack for a lede. It simply comes pouring out, sometimes faster than I can type. The only thing I must be careful about is saving my work, pausing occasionally to select and copy, even with the auto-save, because I've found the hard way that one little slip of a finger will delete AND save the document, and my profound words are...gone.

Not that I have any illusions about their profundity (is that a word?) This is my story. I get to write what I want. You get to choose whether or not you want to read it.

I love that you do, those faithful few of you. I love it when something I say strikes a chord in your story, and you tell me about it. For those few moments, my words have connected us, even if I don't know you.

There are a lot of words in the archives, and many of the posts have not been tagged (an ongoing project). Thank you for reading them for the past five years. Let's see where this next one takes us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Live today: tomorrow is not promised

One of my oldest and dearest friends has cancer. While I have every reason to believe she will get better -- and she believes it too -- it is scary.

She actually had it last year too in a cancerous colon polyp, but didn't have to endure chemo or radiation. It was an amazingly easy and swift recovery, and none of us really worried much because it was so contained.

But she has stage IIIa uterine cancer that spread to an ovary, although not any lymph nodes (blessings!), and we are waiting to hear about a teensy spot on her lung that was biopsied yesterday. Surgery is done and she'll do chemo, radiation, then more chemo, and tells me she expects to lose her hair.

She's more than 2,000 miles away from me, and I want to make it better. I want to give her hugs, to take her to the doctor, to fix food for her, to laugh at silly things with her, to visit the apple orchard we used to go to when I lived there, to enjoy the leaves that are turning.

Unlike me, who researches a subject until I know as much as I can possibly learn, she is okay with knowing enough about what to expect, but not too much. She is positive and while she says that she really doesn't want to play this game, she'll do whatever she's told to do in order to get it gone. And she will, too.

I'll go visit her when she needs me to come, whether that is sooner or later. She'll know. So will I.

Meanwhile, she has marvelous friends there who are taking care of her, and children who do too. She is well loved, and I tell her that's because she is such a good friend back to them. When we lived in the same town some 20 plus years ago, I went through a really rough patch and pretty much shut down emotionally, doing what I needed to do -- take care of my daughter, go to work, make sure things were running smoothly -- but I couldn't take anyone expressing sympathy or caring and would dissolve into puddles, so I just didn't listen to that, wouldn't hear it. I didn't go to choir, to church, or anywhere I might be with people who cared about me.

She wouldn't let me isolate. She literally banged on my front door until I opened it and let her in, and dissolved more than once into sobs on her shoulders. And she protected me from making a public display of my emotions too -- she stayed close by when we were with others who knew I was having a hard time, and kept things light.

She has gone through some of her own dark nights too, and I was there for her, although by then I lived that 2000 miles away, but I sent cards and letters, and she couldn't respond back for several years because it was too painful. And when we reconnected, when she finally wrote me all about it, it was like no time had passed.

It's like that when we see each other. We grow older, we grow wiser, we experience things (and tell each other about them), via e-mail and phone calls, but when we're together for our brief, every-few-years visits, it's like we saw each other only yesterday. I am so grateful for her long years of friendship and love.

She forwarded me an e-mail yesterday. I've done a bit of editing, but it says the same things I've so often said in these posts -- life is short. Life is uncertain. Tell people you love them NOW. Read on:

One day a woman's husband died, and on that clear, cold morning, in the warmth of their bedroom, the wife was struck with the pain of learning that sometimes there isn't “anymore.” No more hugs, no more special moments to celebrate together, no more phone calls just to chat, no more "just one minute." Sometimes what we care about the most gets all used up and goes away, never to return before we can say good-bye, say "I love you."

So while we have it, it's best we love it, care for it, fix it when it's broken and heal it when it's sick. This is true for marriage.....And old cars.... And children with bad report cards, and dogs with bad hips, and aging parents and grandparents. We keep them because they are worth it, because we are worth it.

So I was thinking...I could die today, tomorrow or next week, and I wondered if I had any wounds needing to be healed, friendships that needed rekindling or three words needing to be said.

Let every one of your friends know you love them. Even if you think they don't love you back, you would be amazed at what those three little words and a smile can do.And just in case I'm gone tomorrow, I love you. Live today because tomorrow is not promised.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A trip back in time -- Homecoming in a small Missouri town

It's hard to believe that this week is the last one in October, and that our trip to little Fayette was nearly a month ago already.

As I'd mentioned before, we traveled back to this little central Missouri town, home of Central Methodist University, to attend my 40th year class reunion. Tony had never been there although he's met some of the folks from the college, and has read the Fayette newspapers for years, which my ex owns and edits.

So it was a long trip -- two hours by car to Sacramento, two hours by air to Denver and another two to St. Louis where we rented a car and drove another couple plus to Fayette. And then did it again two days later.

It was interesting to walk the campus and see how things have changed. For one, the old Eyrie (Eagle's Nest) student center that was once a WWII barracks has been demolished and an incredible four-story student center stands in its place, with the cafeteria, study rooms, pool tables, television, and much more. Another big change was in the athletic facility. Not only do they now have the EE Rich Memorial Swimming Pool (for some years now) that prospective students (including me) were promised for years before it was finally built, they officially opened a new athletic training center adjacent to the field house. It has state-of-the-art equipment and is a real boon for the campus.

The trees in Stedman Gulch -- a wide ravine in front of the science building which was almost new when I went there 40 years ago and had had little trees planted then -- have grown up, and the campus is the forest-y, shady, lovely traditional college campus that I remembered. Established in 1856 or so, there are many historic buildings, old traditional stone and turreted classroom buildings that have been renovated, and the improvements continue -- the old Classic Hall where I spent many hours in English, language and speech/drama classes but which has not been in use for some years is undergoing a capital campaign to renovate it into a music center.

The college has long been known for its music program and has turned out some of the finest band directors in Missouri. When you walk on campus in the afternoon, you usually can hear both instrumental and vocal students practicing, their voices and instrument tones floating on the Missouri breezes. Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia pledges still sing "Hail Sinfonia" as they pass under the old clock tower which dominates the main campus.

So I saw people I hadn't seen in 40 years, most of them gray and with faces full of character (nicer way of saying wrinkles). One woman asked why I'd come all the way from California to attend, and I told her it was important to honor what I was and had become on that campus, and the memory of the excellent teachers (not a lot, but a truly great handful) who taught me. It was such an historic time in our history -- 1965-69! And while our campus, numbering around 1,000 students in my last year there, was fairly isolated from the race riots, the demonstrations and the summer of love mentality (much of that hit in the next several years, after I had graduated), it was still an important factor in shaping who I am.

For one thing, it is a liberal arts college. That means, basically, that I know a little about a lot of things. I had a good grounding in the arts especially, and opportunities that a larger campus would not have given me, although I might have had some coursework that would have helped me more in a larger university. I was involved with the college radio station and learned news writing there -- a skill that I have used throughout my working life. I had the opportunity to know many people from many disciplines rather than only those in my major field.

I also got to see some folks who graduated after I did, but who I knew because my husband and I had moved back there just a year after I graduated (he is five years older than me, also an alumnus) and he began working for the college in public relations. I also worked there eventually and started the seeds for a career development center which now has a featured place in the new student center and lots of programs to help kids decide how to choose a career and how to figure out what they might be happiest doing. But I knew a lot of students in later classes because of that, and also a lot of faculty and staff members, a few of whom I also got to see again this trip.

It stirred up emotions I hadn't been prepared for. I remembered my 17-year-old self as a freshman, the 21-year-old graduate. I remembered some heartbreaking moments as well as some warm fuzzy ones. I missed some of the women, especially, who I knew so well -- at that point, we all lived in the dorm for all four years, although only a few years later, women were allowed to move off campus. I remembered sitting in the library -- a wonderful stone building that has a big four-story addition now in back of it -- when Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. I remembered watching streakers at some of the pep rallies!

At a couple of different receptions and parties, I got to watch professors I knew or had in class talk about the old times, listen to them discuss current books or plays, hear some sad stories about others who have died. I hugged a close friend from 40 years ago and exchanged e-mail addresses with her, although neither of us have written at this point. I listened to the huge pipe organ in the church fill the traditional gothic sanctuary with power and awe as an alumnus practiced for Sunday's church service (which I didn't attend as we were on our way back to the airport -- not that I probably would have anyway).

We enjoyed a hint of fall color as we drove around town, which reminded Tony of the little Tennessee town he grew up in. The traditional courthouse sits in a traditional square, which sadly has many empty storefronts now, but also has a really good restaurant -- Emmet's Kitchen -- along with the Dollar Store and various antique and craft stores, and the old Peacock Beauty Salon where I used to get my hair cut. Sadly, almost none of the long-time stores have survived: the town, like so many, is losing population to larger areas like nearby Columbia or Boonville.

I'll likely not go back until my 50th. The 50th reunion class of 1959 showed up en masse this year, but they were a close-knit group from the beginning. Ours is not that way, but it was still good to see people with whom I shared such a formative time, to honor that time and who we were then, to remember.

The best times of my life were not then. The best time is now. But I'm glad to have had those years there, to be influenced and challenged and encouraged by so many good people and teachers and counselors and peers. It was good to be there.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I'm still around

Thank you for checking for new blog posts... I have not deserted this site! I did write a LONG post about our trip to Fayette, Mo., for my 40th college reunion, and then hit a wrong key and deleted it before it was posted. So I'm still re-creating that post.

Our weather has turned at last and we got nearly two inches of rain on a blustery Monday, although it wasn't cold -- highs in the 60s. Works for me.

But I'm on a deadline for three stories this week and should not be spending time here until they're done and off.

Just wanted you to know...