My older brother and sister are as integral to my musical education and memory as my parents. In fact, it’s not a leap to suggest that much of my personality was formed by my early musical influences courtesy of my siblings. Which might explain a lot.
There are things you come to accept as “the way” to do things, because that’s how they were done by your parents. It necessarily follows these “things” subscribe to their own irrefutable logic. This is a story about one such “way.”
My Mom became unfortunately ill while visiting my brother and sister-in-law over Mother’s Day weekend…dizzy, nauseous, feeling ever-so-close to vomiting.
As Steve was taught to do, as Mom had done for all of us, he helped Mom to her bed, a bucket in hand.
As he passed his wife in the hallway, she asked, “What’s the bucket for?” He stopped for a moment and said, “Oh, it’s a thing from my childhood. I’ll tell you about it later.”
As he tucked Mom into bed and set the bucket on the floor beside her, (You know the function of the bucket now, right? Wait, it gets better.) Mom said, in a weak, sickly voice, “You did remember to put about an inch of water in the bucket, didn’t you?”
Steve relayed this story to me over the phone as we were both driving home from work the other night. I immediately began laughing.
Me: “You forgot the inch of water?!”
Me: “How could you?”
Steve: “Do you remember what it’s for?”
Me: (Cackling with laughter) “Yes!”
In unison: “To make the bucket easier to clean!”
As I struggled to catch my breath from laughter, Steve pointed out how incredible it is that Mom not only perfected a “way” to protect and nurture the sick and pukey, (Who has the energy to run to the toilet to puke when you’re that sick, anyway?) BUT ALSO had the foresight to be clean about the whole situation. (Hey, you can still be tidy; yes, even when there’s vomit involved.)
The good news is that Mom actually never needed the bucket and is, in fact, feeling much better, thank you.
Should you have any “this-is-the-way-we…” stories to share, I’d love to read them. Mostly so I can feel a smidge less weird. Thanks for sharing.
My brother and I spent the better part of a day traveling to and from our Uncle Bob’s funeral on Monday. We began in the pre-dawn winter darkness of Wooster, Ohio, traveled to St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Livonia, Michigan and found our way back to Wooster as the pale sun fell into its pink then blue place below the snow.
Along the way, dressed in funeral attire, we talked about family (memories of Uncle Bob, of our own Dad who died in 2009, growing up and its accompanying angst and adventure), politics (the economy, the 2012 election, John “tan” Boehner, Barack Obama and the tragedy in Tucson), music (John Lennon, The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, Gerry Rafferty to name a few) and movies (Monty Python and The Holy Grail, The Big Lebowski, High Fidelity and Elf). It was an eight-hour ride.
While The Beatles were playing, I asked my brother where he was when John Lennon was shot. My brother is a huge Beatles fan. In fact, the first album he ever gave me was The Magical Mystery Tour. His answer, “at college,” reminded me of our 12-year age difference, which nowadays seems a much smaller expanse of time. He told me that he came home just days after Lennon was killed, and the news coverage was exhaustive, much like it’s been since the Tucson tragedy. My brother said that Dad, tired of the constant coverage, said in frustration, “He’s just a man.”
My brother said nothing back – but that moment was one of alienation and misunderstanding. My brother grieving his hero, a musical, social and political voice of his generation, unable to share any of it with Dad. And Dad, viewing Lennon as an aimless artist, hippie, troublemaker – who he didn’t even respect as a musician.
I sat with that for a moment when my brother finished. And I told him that I recently read an interview with Yoko Ono in which she spoke with pride about John being “the first man to push a baby carriage…no one did it before John.” I told Steve that whether or not that was true, it was amazing to think the effect one man could have had on a generation of fathers – a collective unconscious agreement to perhaps take a more hands-on role than their fathers had.
Interestingly, our own Dad was very hands-on with us when were babies. Not surprisingly, when we were old enough to voice our own opinions on the world, our relationships got more complicated.
I wonder if my Dad ever came around to John Lennon – understanding what a tragedy his death was, not just for his fans, but for his wife, his sons. And our culture. Did Dad respond that way because of his own fear of death? You’re walking through your life and suddenly, you’re gunned down in front of your home? Or one day, your mind simply stops working the way it once did. Was his quick anger simply his confirmation that we are all, always, vulnerable?
Now, at Uncle Bob’s funeral. A chance to honor the last of 11 children, a man full of life, a storyteller who often spoke of himself in the third person, a devoted husband, dad, grandpa, uncle, friend. A doer of good – in his church, in soup kitchens, with children less fortunate, with friends and family. A stubborn, funny, crystal blue-eyed character.
The minister said it out loud: “We are perishable. What has happened here will happen to us all.”
I looked out the window to the churchyard, where Uncle Bob spent hours cleaning up, tending the lawn and flowers. It was snow-covered now: a large birdfeeder hanging from a leafless branch.
The minister continued, “The pain is over for Bob…and he will live on forever through God.”
I didn’t feel convinced.
But a covey of doves flew into the churchyard and began eating from the feeder. That was something.
A mutual friend of Uncle Bob and Aunt Georgia’s delivered the eulogy. It was laugh out loud funny at times; poignant in others, as all good tributes should be.
Afterward, we gathered with cousins and church folk for a luncheon. I joked with my brother, taking bets on whether or not ham would be served. (It is the Midwest, after all.)
There was ham. And chicken. Pasta. Potatoes.
And literally, a table of desserts.
Everyone wins with that kind of grief buffet.
When I hugged Aunt Georgia goodbye, I felt her physical strength through her heavy wool coat, though I knew her heart was aching. She had spent 62 years with Uncle Bob and today, for the first time in 62 years, she would go home alone.
What she has, what we all have, is memory, the way in which her life is different and richer because of the moments contained within it.
It’s not for me to say if Uncle Bob is somewhere laughing now with his 10 siblings, parents, even with my Dad.
I have an armload of memories. I have every present moment. I have a snowy car ride with my brother. And it is more than enough.
Our 73-year-old Mom joined my brother and sister-in-law for a weekend of birthday celebration. True to my Mom’s generous nature, she came with a gift for the birthday boy. Pardon, old codger.
Quick aside: my family reads this little blog and placed a very specific phone call to me about the aforementioned gift. In essence, they asked me to blog about the gift. Which I will now return to doing.
So this gift from Mother to Son? Upon reaching the half century mark, with its accompanying wisdom and respect? Yeah, that. My brother received this:
It’s a TITANIUM (space age technology!) nose hair and ear hair trimmer. How warm! How thoughtful! How about kicking a guy while he’s down?
I have not yet decided which is worse for this poor man: turning 50 or receiving tangible proof that hair will now begin growing in great earnest from various orifices. I mean, if it hasn’t already. Oh, and FROM YOUR MOM!
Thanks to my Mom and brother who CONFERENCE CALLED me to share this gem. I love my family.
My latest article for the Charleston City Paper is here. And for the record, it’s an interesting writing/journal assignment to give yourself: summing up your life in 1,000 words. What would you include? What would you skip? Below is the first go-round of the article, which I had to trim to 800 words for publication.
I grew up in a suburban town of lush front lawns and tree-lined streets 30 miles from New York City. During summers, I was outside from morning until night, until my Dad’s whistle called me home.
I was a tomboy. My brother, 12 years my senior, was my idol. He played football, fixed cars, listened to Pink Floyd and had the coolest Adidas ever – white with green stripes. I had to have a pair just like them.
My sister, who I also idolized, was five years older. In addition to teaching me the lyrics to “Crocodile Rock,” she was also the first person to tell me I was gay. She was mad at me at the time. Probably because I refused to play Barbies. Again. I cried and told my Mom, who said, “What a terrible thing to say!” My sister got punished. My sister and I talked about that moment recently and she said, “Well, I was right.”
My Mom kept my hair short. Her story is my sister and I screamed whenever she touched our hair. To be fair, Dorothy Hamill’s hairstyle was all the rage at the time. I dressed in jeans and t-shirts and was often mistaken for a boy. This pained my Mom to no end. Rather than grow my hair out, she decided to sew white eyelet lace around the back of my jean jacket. It looked as horrific as you are imagining. Even at six, I knew it was awful. I was mortified and refused to wear the jacket. I joke with my Mom now that white eyelet lace is the reason I’m gay. She thinks it’s funny, most of the time.
My childhood girl crushes include Olivia Newton-John, Joan Jett, The Go-Go’s, Jodie Foster, Lindsay Wagner and Kris Evert. In more disturbing news, my male crushes include Tom Wopat and Burt Reynolds.
I’m the only girl at my friend Dave’s 8th birthday party. This is not unusual. After cake, we play football. While celebrating a touchdown, one of the boys says to me, “That’s not fair. I’m not allowed to tackle girls.”
I date and fall in love with a number of boys/men during my teens and 20s. One breaks my heart. I break another’s heart. Along the way and through the angst, I decide that there is something wrong with the way I’m built. That I’m not meant to fall in love the way other people do. It doesn’t occur to me that I’m gay.
The first gay bar I go to is called “Connexions.” I’d like to write a coffee table book about all the badly named gay bars in the world, but that’s another story. I was terrified, exhilarated and danced all night.
I live with my best boy friend for seven years in my 20s. He has known me since birth, and as I ease my way out of the closet, he is there, supportive, loving, even accompanying me to the gay girl bars in New York. The first time we talk about my sexual escapades with women, he barrages me with questions. We compare notes, and I cannot stop laughing.
The first time a gay man tells me I look hot I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
I’m folding towels and underwear with my Mom when I come out to her. I was not planning on it. She asks me if the bar where a friend of mine and I are going is a gay bar. I say yes. She says nothing. I realize this is the moment. I say, “Is there anything else you want to ask me?” She says no – and means it. I tiptoe my way out by saying, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m gay.” She stops folding laundry and says, “I’ll get your Father.”
My Dad suggests therapy. I think this is because I used the words, “I think I’m gay” rather than “I am.” Overall, he takes the news much better than Mom. Later he says, “I try very hard not to get upset about things I have no control over. I just want you to be safe and happy.”
I’m at a Gay Pride party in 2000. I see a beautiful woman. She’s from South Carolina and is leaving. We begin emailing and then move to the phone. I make my first visit to Charleston. On my 30th birthday, she gives me a ring and asks me to live with her. In 2003, I move to Charleston. We move into a house and are together nearly four years.
Once, when discussing the holidays, my Mom refers to my partner and me as “the girls.” This small gesture of inclusion brings me to happy tears.
I spend one summer as a stepmom during which I feel loved, hated, exhausted, elated, panicked, whole, inept, like a bizarre combination of babysitter, aunt and neighbor. I now realize that the kids were just kids – and I was with the wrong partner.
Around straight people who don’t “know” any gays, I sometimes feel like a Lesbian Ambassador.
I have come out a hundred more times since first coming out – to doctors, friends, co-workers, confused men, etc.
In case you missed it, Laura Bush supports gay marriage, saying “…when couples are committed to one another and love each other, they ought to have the same sorts of rights everyone else has.”