Thursday, December 24, 2009

For the Children

"Nana, how old will you be when I'm 52?

My seven-year-old grandson is starting to ask the big questions. After a litany of similar questions, right up until he asked how old his Nana would be when he turned 99, there was silence in the car. That might be due to my answer that I would be long gone by that time. Rather than let him dwell on my ultimate demise, I turned the conversation into a learning experience. We began to figure out the life spans of a variety of animals including dogs, cats, parrots, elephants, and tortoises. When he heard that some tortoises can live over one hundred years, he said he wishes he were one.

I love this questioning phase of childhood, when no question is off-limits. There are so many things that are old hat for me as an adult and so many things our boy is just starting to discover.

The problem is, as he matures and processes the world around him, his exposure to things both fascinating and frightening is part of the deal.

I sometimes wish I could shield him, just as I felt when I was raising his mother and his aunt, but I know the impossibility and perhaps the harm in doing so. The best I can do is to provide him a safe haven that he can count on when he is confronted with those moments in life that cause him fear, pain, confusion, and worry. Just like I did with my daughters, I can only hope it is enough.

On the day of Aiden’s birth I purchased a book of blank pages. Before I even met him, knowing only his full name, I began to tell him about himself, his family, the world he had been brought into. I update the book on occasion, sparing little detail so that when he is old enough to read and comprehend he will know just how he arrived at the place he presently finds himself. I hand the book to others in his life so they, too, can share their thoughts, feelings, and impressions as they relate to him. Aiden himself has entered into his book, adding drawings and stickers. When I showed him his book on a recent visit he exclaimed, “My book!” As he flipped through the pages seeing artwork from his younger self he said, “My brain is going crazy!”

I have two more grandchildren due this spring. I need to go out and find the perfect book of blank pages for each of them. When they are each 99-years-old and my own mortal body is long gone, I hope they will turn to the one thing of me that remains: my words and the documentation of their lives as I witnessed it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

I Loved It! She Hated It!

Friendships are amazing and wondrous things. In one of my past posts I shared how my female friends are lifesavers for me and that they do so much for my soul. I have friends in my life that date back to my childhood and ones that I have recently met. Each and every one of them brings something to my life that I didn’t know I was missing until I met them. What I find most fascinating about these friends is how much I gain from them even if a few of them are the complete opposite of me. That was never clearer to me until I met Linda O’Conner and discovered how much fun we have together, how similar we are on one level, yet how little we have in common.

I met Linda over a year ago at a writer’s group meeting. It was my first meeting attendance. I didn’t know anyone and kept quiet as I listened to the conversations around me. A woman entered late and as I had an empty seat next to me, I offered to move over and she sat down. We introduced ourselves and over the course of the next hour discovered that we both hailed from New York State; she from Albany, me from Rochester/Buffalo area. We graduated from high school the same year and our birthdays are 10 days apart (she LOVES to remind me that I’m the older one).

We decided then that we needed more time to get to know one another so soon after we met over beers (she likes the dark Guinness kind, I like pale ale) and talked easily for three hours. A new friendship was created, one that I could tell from the outset that would be deep and long lasting. At that time we connected due to striking similarities: we are both writers and both have daughters who, at the time, were giving us major headaches due to their approach to life and the choices they were making. It was during the next year, however, that we discovered just how dissimilar we are.

Linda hates animals; I devote much of my life, time, and money to rescuing them and live with many. She is not at all domestic; she hates to cook whereas I thrive on it. Linda’s idea of a fun night out is sashaying (I mean that literally) up to a biker bar and engaging in conversation with men in leather; I like the Elephant Bar with its fancy appetizers and frosted beer mugs. I love to be surrounded by nature; Linda carries such a profound fear of birds that even the sound of fluttering wings has her diving for cover. She swears often and relishes in telling dirty stories; I slap my hand over my mouth if a profanity slips and blushed profusely during her stand-up comedy act. Linda loves to show off her sexiness in short skirts and cleavage-baring tops; I wear dresses down to my ankles and layer my clothes to prevent any wardrobe malfunctions.

It never occurred to me that we would differ on one thing though and that was at the Las Vegas show, LOVE. After all, we both love Beatles music and who doesn’t enjoy a Vegas extravaganza? Linda apparently. The show was spectacular. From the moment the lights went out I was in awe: the costumes, the aerial acrobatics, the light show, and the creativity that went into the production. I was astounded and clapped my hands in glee throughout. As soon as the show ended I turned to my BFF and exclaimed, “I loved it!” Her response? She hated it! What? How could that be? For Linda the show was too much. Everything I loved about it caused her to close her eyes because it was over-stimulating. For her take on the show, visit her blog post.

As we headed out of the theater we marveled at our friendship; how we could enjoy one another’s company with so many obvious differences between us. I guess it is true that opposites do attract. Linda is a great girl date, we have the best time when we go out together and last New Year’s Eve with us dancing on tables is testament to that. I guess we just experience things differently, that’s all. That’s fine with me; she is a hoot to be with and has helped me, as friends do, in more ways than I can count.

I’m looking forward to finding out more about Linda over the next decades of our friendship, even if that means she’ll never come over to my animal farm and I never step foot into her barren apartment with her empty refrigerator. Perhaps the two of us need to stick with what works best for us: beer and bars!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Menopause and Patriotism - What a Mix

Menopause and patriotism are an interesting mix.

I discovered this today when I attended the memorial service for a man I hardly knew other than to pay my respects to him and his family. I am at that stage in my life where my hormones are fluctuating and I can cry over the simplest thing; a corny commercial, a nostalgic picture, a passage in a book I’m reading. I also have a very strong patriotic streak; I tear up whenever I see a mass of people with their hands over their hearts collectively reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. So it is no wonder I reacted the way I did midway through the service.

All was well until Taps was played on a bugle, Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, and a fleet of men in marine uniform conducted the full military ceremony complete with presentation of the flag and the firing of their rifles.

I couldn’t hold back the tears; but neither could several others in the room.

In this divisive time in our country, where political and religious views seem to fracture relationships as tragically as those during civil war times when brother fought against brother, it is easy to feel like if things get any worse perhaps the life of an expatriate is the answer. I admit I have often thought that way; that I could go live in a tiny village in Sicily and leave behind the negative climate that has descended upon my country of late.

But being in the presence today of saluting marines, with the sound of such exquisite music as a backdrop, in addition to the way in which a former marine and state senator was being honored, I felt the most immense pride in being an American.

I told my husband that it’s a good thing I don’t attend military funerals very often; in fact that was my first one. On the other hand, I walked away from the event with a renewed appreciation for my status as an American citizen and looked upon the crowd not with my usual suspicious eye: who’s a conservative, who would judge me for my views, who doesn’t agree with me?

Instead, I felt a sense of bonding with those around me, all of us mourning the loss of a fellow human being as well as a father, brother, grandpa, friend. We all experienced emotion and I know that patriotism was one of them as that is when the waterworks really began. Perhaps the answer to this country’s woes, that of the discontent that leads us to accuse, point fingers and scream at one another, is the mandatory attendance of each and every American to a military funeral.

There we can witness with both our eyes and our hearts the one thing that brings us all together no matter what our political or religious views: that we are in a country built upon the spirit of patriotism, sentiment, and principles. Maybe after the final notes of Taps is played even the most obstinate attendee would embrace his or her neighbor with a renewed sense of tolerance.

Or maybe not. Perhaps all this sentimental drivel is just another symptom of my fluctuating hormones. Whatever it is I can’t get the words “I once was lost, but now I’m found” out of my head. Maybe all I need is to up my hormone dosage and call it a day.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Book that Changed My Life

Although I grew up near and often on a Native American Indian reservation, it wasn’t until I read a historical novel back in the 1980s that I became immersed in the culture and set myself on a path of following the Native American approach to living and spirituality. It’s amazing the power that another’s words can have and how a book can literally change the course of one’s life. That’s what happened to me when I read the novel, Ride the Wind, written by Lucia St. Clair Robson.

Until that time the Native American way of life held no special significance for me. My uncle by marriage is a Seneca Indian and lives with my aunt and their children and grandchildren on the Tonawanda Indian Reservation in Basom, New York. I spent a lot of time with them, both during family visits and living with them on and off throughout my childhood and young adulthood. While I was aware that the people living on the reservation were a minority and lived outside mainstream society, my uncle, his family, and friends were just regular people to me. It wasn’t until years later when I had an interest in Indian culture and realized I had an “in” that I paid more attention to the historical connection within my own family.

In the early 1980s I was a young mother with two small daughters. We spent a lot of time at libraries and one day I checked out Ride the Wind. It’s one of those great reads that grabs you the moment your eyes hit the first page. I’m sure my daughters ate a lot of finger foods during the hours I was immersed in the book, unable to put it down and give them the attention they needed.

Ride the Wind is a work of fiction based on a true story. The main character is Cynthia Ann Parker, who at the age of nine in the year 1832 was captured by the Comanche Indians. Cynthia, along with others kidnapped during the same raid endured unspeakable horrors, but was one of the lucky ones to not only survive but who was adopted into a Comanche family and lived as one of them.

The story chronicles the author’s vision of what life was like for the blond-haired little girl who grew up to become the loving and beloved wife of a Comanche named “Wanderer” and the mother of one of the last Comanche Chiefs, Quanah Parker.

Photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker and her daugher after she was
rescued by whites 25 years after her capture by the Comanches. 

Cynthia Ann and Wanderer's famous son, Quanah Parker

Something about the story touched me to my very core; it was the author’s exquisite writing, her ability to show both sides of the Indian/White experience, the details of life in the natural world, and the story of a little girl who lived a tragic, yet fulfilling life. Once the book was read I was on a mission to find out more of the story. I wrote to the author expressing my gratitude in writing such a wonderful tale. I combed the libraries looking for references to Cynthia Ann and Quanah Parker. I contacted the state park in Texas where the story unfolded, and I found more books written about the Native American experience.

My life became that of a wanna-be Indian and my home, my lifestyle, and my spiritual journey reflected that transition. I took my girls to Native American events and museums and continued to expand my knowledge of the culture through books. When a time in my life came to return to college, I chose anthropology as my major.

That one book changed the course of my life. I often wonder how many authors realize the impact they have on their anonymous readers. I was fortunate enough to be able to share my feelings with Lucia St. Clair Robson and our first face-to-face meeting is one of the highlights of my life.

By checking out her website, I saw that Lucia was speaking at a public event in Florida during the time my husband would be in the same city on a golf trip. I invited myself on the trip thinking it was an open event, only to discover it was not. After contacting Lucia via email she graciously invited me as her guest. That was two years ago. I plan on making another trip to see her in the near future.

In her presence and in reading her books, I am inspired. As a writer and historian, I dream of creating a work of art as she has done. I have come to realize that I do not have the discipline to write a novel, much less match the caliber of Lucia’s writing. It’s really enough that I still have the joy of reading her work and that of other talented writers like her.

What book or books have you read that have made a similar impact on your life? What authors have inspired you to become more than you thought you could be? Have you contacted them and have they responded to you? Personally I think it’s important to let writers know that their work is appreciated, not just by book sales but from the voices of their readers. Take it from my experience and tell someone how much their creation means to you.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Making Memories In My Kitchen

For the last week I’ve been preparing for the arrival of one of my daughters and her husband who came for a five-day visit before Christmas. During that time I have been planning for their stay by getting the house ready (got the husband to redo the guest room bath) and by baking cookies, bread and this morning, cinnamon rolls.

Oh, and the kitchen will be a veritable restaurant with all the things I’ll be cooking, starting with the pot of soup I made before they arrived.

My life is so busy that I rarely cook and bake anymore and although my time is strapped I couldn’t resist the urge to get in the kitchen. No store bought foods for me or my girl.

The preparation and presentation of food is so ingrained in me that I am happiest when I am making it for others. One of my friends said it is because of the “Italian Momma in you.” While it’s true that I’m half Italian and I have memories of my Aunt Jean (Gioia Fortunato) plying her guests with plates of pasta whenever anyone came to visit her,

That's my late Aunt Jean

it was my Polish grandmother who instilled a connection between food, home, and comfort in me.

My late grandma Oberlander with my baby daughter, Erin

As a child our kitchen and refrigerator was filled with ready-to-eat meals. If you were hungry, at any given time of day you could open the icebox and pull out goulash, beans and cabbage, spareribs and sauerkraut, or any number of a variety of soups. Leftovers were the mainstay of our home. I don’t recall the smells of food preparation as much as I recall that there was never a shortage of something to eat.

I still remind my husband of when I took him home to meet my family for the first time. A visit to my childhood home included uncles and aunts sitting around the dining room table while my grandmother loaded it with pigs in a blanket, sausages and potatoes, and anything else that was in the fridge. My husband is the world’s pickiest eater and it was so funny to watch him pretend to eat so as not to be rude but to see the horror on his face as he took in all the unfamiliar foods, not to mention his tablemates' enthusiastic attack on it all.

Now that my children are all grown up and living elsewhere I have little reason to cook, outside of the one meal a day my husband I share. It’s hard for me to limit the preparation for just one meal, so I always end up with leftovers that generally don’t get eaten. That’s why I have chickens and a pig to help ease my conscience about throwing away perfectly good food. No matter what season it is, however, there is always a pot of soup - oxtail beef and barley, chicken with rice or pasta, or vegetable found in my fridge.

The visiting daughter is a vegetarian so I get creative in what I make to please her, but continue to serve some meat-based meals for the rest of us. I have beans soaking for burritos, a meat-free sauce planned, a turkey thawing, and will lay out the cookies I made on platters for ready consumption.

I am in heaven!

The memories my grandmother has left me I hope to carry on with my own daughters and grandchildren. If nothing else, I hope the smells emitting from my kitchen over these next few days instill in Erin and her husband a memory she will carry with her long after I am gone, too.

A cherished note from my girl

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Static Cling to Me

“Damn You!”

Those are the words I shouted this morning as I came in from outside and brushed against the metal door leading into my kitchen. Damn the makers of non-wood doors, people who sell them and husbands who buy them in the name of saving a buck!

If you happened to read a previous post of mine, Words I Like and Don’t, you know I said I rarely curse with swear words and that only a couple of things set me in the mood to do so. I need to add to that list because I forgot the one thing that changes me from an always calm, serene, and clean mouthed person (I hear “Yeah! Sure!” from the Peanut Gallery) to a foul-mouthed trucker with murder in her eyes – static electricity. If I thought garden hoses and closet hangers were invented to annoy me, static electricity is the Big Man Upstairs’s way of finding humor at my expense. I can just see Him looking down on me as He watches with amusement how well he’s trained me like a Pavlovian dog.

Living in the desert, where the air is dry and humidity is practically nil, it’s a breeding ground for static electricity and I believe I am the perfect conduit for generating it. I don’t see others, mainly my own husband, conducting the same OCD (that’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) rituals that I do in order to go about the day. He is oblivious not only to the amount of static in our house and the world outside, or it doesn’t affect him the same way it does me. I have to be vigilant at all times lest I receive a shock that knocks me off of my feet.

You think I exaggerate? That one door in my home isn’t the only culprit. There’s also the space heaters, refrigerator, washing machine, and doorknobs. Getting the mail from our communal mailbox requires me to get out of my car clinging to the metal door, but just the few short steps to the box is enough to generate electricity. Key in hand I go for the box lock and once the two metals touch, a spark shoots out.

Venturing away from home, there are more dangers awaiting me, such as shopping carts and the worst store in town (which also happens to be my favorite for shopping) - Costco. The warehouse environment and metal décor found everywhere from the meat, cheese and milk cases to the conveyor belt at the checkout stand lay in wait for me to reach out and touch them. Sparks fly, I swear and the people around me look on with pity. If you see me in Costco you’ll witness the OCD rituals of hip, arm, hand movements in order to lessen the impact, but it’s usually to no avail as I am traumatized nonetheless by the fear of a shock.

Last night while shopping in Costco I witnessed a woman conducting familiar hand movements before reaching to open the milk case. When she received a static charge I saw the pained expression on her face and felt a bond with her.

I live in fear every time I fill my car with gas. Did you ever see that news report of the woman whose hair went up in flames from a static electricity charge when she touched the gas tank door?

Perhaps I’ve taken this too far, allowing myself to make more of the matter than is necessary. I am a believer in the power of thoughts and that if you think negatively you bring negative to your life. To exemplify this I cite the time that I needed a medical test done to see if I suffered nerve damage from a car accident. What do you think the test entailed? My worst nightmare, that’s what - electric shocks up and down my arms to gauge my nerve responses. I broke out in a cold sweat and reverted to the breathing method taught to me in anticipation of giving birth. Me and static electricity seem destined to interact.

It’s kind of hard to keep a positive outlook when a simple movement results in a painful shock with sound effects such as a loud crack!

It’s called conditioning, something I learned during my time as an animal trainer. So forgive me if I expect to be shocked and exhibit outlandish physical antics to try and prevent the occurrence.

And if you don’t see me for a while, come over to my house and check on me. I may be stuck inside.  I may have become an agoraphobic because I’m afraid to cross the threshold asI’m sure the door is out to get me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Powerful Messages are Sometimes Hard to Hear

I am not a believer in reincarnation, but if I was I would swear I had lived at least two other previous lives. One of those lives would be that of a Native American medicine woman and the other, a survivor of oppression from the Holocaust or slavery. I say this because of the visceral response I have any time I read a book or watch a program in any way representative of either life.

The Native American scenario is one I welcome, a lifestyle I am both drawn to and incorporate into my current way of living. A “revisit” into the other supposed reincarnated life is not so pleasant, I’m afraid.

I am currently reading The Lost Quilter by Jennifer Chiaverini. I can only read so many pages of the life of a slave in the eighteen century South before I have to put the book down and occupy my mind with something positive. Reading about the tortures endured by fellow human beings such as is portrayed in this novel cause me to dream badly and to go through my day with despair in my heart at the cruelties of humankind.

My dreams involve running and hiding, finding safety away from an unknown entity that is pursuing me. Upon waking I have even gone so far as to prepare for just such an experience by stockpiling food and water – just in case. I can’t begin to tell you the reaction I had to watching Schindler’s List or having to sit through the documentaries about Nazi Germany presented in college history classes. If I know a movie is critically acclaimed but has content about the cruel abuse of one to another, I will not watch no matter how much I want to see a good ending.

Ever since childhood I have carried a strong awareness of injustice. I recall traveling from New York to Florida for spring vacations and going through the areas where dilapidated homes were pointed out to me as the homes that black people lived in.

Photo from the digital collection at Miami University, Palm Beach

I will not use the language that my family used to identify this minority that lived in abject poverty; suffice it to say I knew then that the terminology was wrong and I grew up silently cursing my own family for their prejudices.

I don’t know where my indignation on behalf of others, be it minorities, abused children, or homeless animals comes from, all I know is I am deeply affected by their plight. Could be the reason I provide a refuge to so many abandoned animals, in my own small way I am trying to make a difference.

Just a few of the the strays being fed on our property
(rest assured, they are all spayed or neutered!)

I’m going to try and get through this book.  I suspect I’ll have to renew it from the library as it is taking me so long to read it. My next acquisition needs to be an easy read, perhaps Bridget Jones’s Diary or a Janet Evanovich novel – I need a break from all this darkness.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Breakable Unbreakable Bonds

I really wonder if parents and children know to how influential their mutual bond is, how an action or word by one profoundly affects the other to the extent that one’s spirit can either be nurtured or broken.

As I am sure is the case with every person who is a member of a family, we have all been witness to the interaction that takes place; love, compassion, nurture, hate, abuse, and fear. Sometimes, however, the worst is disregard, when one family member ignores the needs of another, dismisses their feelings, shuns them out of disappointment, makes them the target of their own misery.

It is hard to be the bearer of this treatment, be it by a mother to her daughter, a son to his father, or a sister to a sister.  If only the perpetrator of such ill could see how damaging their behavior is, if only a mirror could be held up to them so they could see that in dishing out pain they are in turn hurting only themselves.

Having lost parents early on, I have grown to envy anyone who has a relationship with a mother and father, have felt jealous that they have the ability to experience the ebbs and flows of a parent/child bonding. At least their parents are still of this earth and there’s the chance to make up for any lost opportunities to express love, vocalize grievances and make things right. If only the parties could see just how lucky they are; rather than hold on stubbornly to grudges for so long it’s at the funeral where the tears of regret flow, too late for one to hear the apologies of the other.

For me, the family connection is everything: the good and the bad, and anything short of the purposeful infliction of cruel behavior on the part of someone in my family, I would never disown a one of them. I am a product of how conflicting the emotions of love, hate, forgiveness and non-forgiveness can be; my father killed my mother and I have spent a lifetime trying to understand his motives and come to some sort of peace about the whole thing.

If, rather than seek some sort of understanding, I chose instead to wallow in hate for this man, I know in my heart I would be living a life of dark and profound misery. I would not ever have experienced so many moments of joy and love that I have.

I only wish I could share this lesson with others: that in turning away from someone in your life that has hurt you, disappointed you, not lived up to your expectations, or not seen things your way, you are denying yourself so much. Nothing in this world is as important as the bond between a parent and child, siblings, or even friends; in essence – the human bond. To disregard this connection is to shortchange one’s self to the profound and beautiful experience that is loving one another.

If only others would listen……………………..

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Humbug

For me, the Empty Nest Syndrome hits the hardest during the winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now that my girls are all grown up, living elsewhere and with plans of their own, I feel a strong sense of “who cares” when it comes to holiday plans. It’s just my husband and me now and as he works in an industry that knows no vacations, he has to work on the holidays. So when I get the inevitable question, “what are you doing for Thanksgiving?” I feel an awkward reply stick in my throat, “not much.”

I actually don’t mind avoiding the preparations involved in either hosting a holiday event or going to a social gathering, it’s kind of nice not to have the hassle. On the other hand, I remember one of my very favorite Christmases, about five years ago when I had a house full of people for four days, a fire going in the fireplace, and me, cooking and baking and watching my family and friends enjoy the warm embrace of our home and hearth.

Frankly, living in Las Vegas during the time of year when snow should be on the ground has never given me a real sense of the holiday spirit. I find it laughable to see decorations such as snowmen and Santa set up on desert rock landscaping; it just isn’t the same.

 However, the display that the Fashion Show Mall and the Bellagio Gardens puts on makes up for it.

It’s this time of year I really feel the sting of not being near family. I could fly back home to New York, but my husband wouldn’t be able to go with me. We could drive to California to be with his family, but not when it falls on a “work” day for him. Besides, holiday traffic does not an enjoyable holiday make.

In years past our home was the stop for anyone we know who was far from their own family, we loved the mix of people. Now, I’m the one who gets the invite. As much as I appreciate the offer, generally I’d rather stay home or wait until John arrives and then take a long drive – in the opposite direction of everyone else. While we still live in Las Vegas we take advantage of the great food served in the casinos on holidays, so I can take comfort in the fact I don’t have to cook or clean up!

I see a move in our near future, out of Vegas and to a more rural lifestyle where the winter holidays look like they did when I was growing up.

Here's my brother showing off his winter wonderland

Soon I will have that roaring fire blazing, family and friends surrounding me and tired feet but a happy heart. In the meantime, my plans for the upcoming holidays “aren’t much,” but they’ll do.

Happy Thanksgiving to All

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Words I Like and Don't

As a writer I love words. I believe in their power to inspire and to hurt. I love the sound of certain words and disdain others, so I thought I’d write about words I like and those I dislike.

I got the idea for this post after hearing exacerbated used in one of my audio books. I don’t like that word at all, it doesn’t roll off my tongue easily and I mess it up any time I try to say it. I like the meaning of the word: to make worse, but I can’t use it because it is so difficult to both say and write.

I occasionally (another word I don't like because I never spell it right!) work as a substitute teacher in the local school district and I find myself struggling to pronounce the varied names of the students in the class. How awful is it that I keep asking the class, “How do you say his/her name?” when the poor child is sitting right there? I ask the class because I often can’t understand the child who belongs to the name. Not only are some of the names difficult to remember, they are darned hard to pronounce and a few have annoyed me. How about “Javenus”, a name which doesn’t lend itself to an easy pronunciation, it’s just a choppy name. I embrace diversity and like creative names, but some of them make me grateful for vanilla names like Melanie and Tommy.

I often think of James Lipton, host of The Actor’s Studio, who asks his guests, “What is your favorite or least favorite word?” Many of the answers are words with meaning, such as bigot or truth. If I were to answer in kind I would say my least favorite words are hurtful curse words, or curse words in general. I don’t like to hear someone pepper their speech by swearing every other word; it is a waste of perfectly good language. However, when alone, usually in my car or in my yard and either a pushy and rude driver or a kinked garden hose gets the best of me, I can spout profanities as good as any Hell’s Angel, so who am I to talk?

My favorite words with meaning are cliché: love, kindness, justice. I’d have to say my all-time favorite word, one that easily rolls of my tongue and holds meaning for me is Siskiyou. The word just sounds wonderful and it reminds me of a place I long to be; the mountains of northern California/southern Oregon. I loved the word so much I named a new puppy “Siskiyou” but unfortunately it died young from Parvovirus. The experience was painful but at least I don’t associate the loss with the name, I still consider it my favorite.

What is your least favorite word? Your favorite? Why? What meaning do these words hold for you, or do you like them just because they sound good to you?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Dreaming of a Good Night's Sleep

Yesterday I went to Costco and bought two down pillows. I had a coupon for $10.00 off, which helped me justify the purchase. I have been sleeping so poorly lately I hoped if I had better quality pillows I could solve my insomnia. I had been blaming the light sleeping on the hot weather, but now that it’s cool that argument doesn’t hold. It’s the mattress I say, but we have one that is perfectly comfortable; it’s fairly new and we spent the money on getting a good one. I don’t believe in watching T.V. just before sleep so I always have a good book or magazines to read and I find just a few paragraphs in I’m nice and sleepy, so falling asleep isn’t the issue.

It’s during the night that I find myself waking up and aware of my surroundings.

I’m awake enough to think if I turn on the light and read it will help, but I don’t want to wake my husband and it’s nice and snuggly under the covers. So, I lie there until I can fall back asleep, only to wake again and again until I know it’s time to get up. I just want a good night’s sleep, you know the kind – when you wake up ready to go and feel rested. That hasn’t happened to me in a very long time.

I know I’m not doing as much physical activity as I used to, but even that doesn’t solve the problem. I will go in the yard and dig, plant, water; I’ll do a one-hour workout or a Yoga class, both of which makes me feel good but does little to aid in my sleep pattern. No, I am pretty sure I know what is causing this, I’m getting old!

I’ve read that women of my age experience this sleep deprivation, due to changes they are going through. I once read an article that highlighted women going through the menopausal process found their artistic talents late at night when they couldn’t sleep, producing masterpieces and writing their first novels.
Menopause: A time of life often feared and disregarded in our culture, is paradoxically the richest in female potential and a gateway to full self-realization.
As I lie there in the dark I think to myself, what am I in the mood to create? All I want to create is a good night sleep! I don’t want to shuffle from bed to use the bathroom, much less tap into talent that doesn’t have the good sense to show itself during the light of day.

The sleep aid Ambien is a wonderful product, one that I have turned to on occasion and which takes me into a sleep that nothing can disturb. I won’t rely on it though for a number of reasons: I’ve always been afraid of the addictive quality of drugs, I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to be so sound asleep you can’t wake up during an emergency, and when you take the pill two days in a row, the next few nights sleep are more wakeful than ever.

I haven’t figured out my sleep issues, but I’d rather let my body work it out naturally. If it gets too annoying perhaps I will give in and become a night person and start a new career as a painter or potter. Or maybe I’ll just clean the house and for the first time in my life have everything clean and in order. That’s a stretch. Maybe I’ll just turn on the light and catch up with my reading. My husband doesn’t seem to have trouble sleeping whether the light is on or not.

Sweet dreams.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bad Hair Day - Everyday

I’m letting my hair down today. I ignored the curling iron so my bangs are not straight, but are curly cues with some strands sticking straight up in the air. So in addition to the curling iron, I avoid mirrors today. I have great hair but I have one, never learned how to work with it, and two, have never learned how to appreciate its naturalness.

I grew up in the Marcia Brady era; long, straight blonde hair was the ideal and I certainly didn’t qualify. With coarse, curly hair and hot, humid New York weather, I was prone to a mass of unruly hair that was, as a teenager, the bane of my existence. Curling irons and hot rollers were not part of my beauty arsenal so I used orange juice cans. With a rubber band I secured my hair atop my head, then rolled chunks of it around the can securing it with bobby pins. Sleeping was a challenge. In the morning after releasing my hair I winced in pain as my roots once again returned to their natural position. For a short time I enjoyed straight hair but as the day wore on the inevitable frizziness won out and I once again contended with hair that had a mind of its own.

High school graduation picture.  See how well the cans work?

In my twenties I discovered that permanent waves worked. You would think the perm would only make matters worse, but it actually tamed my hair.

I thought the perm was a good idea!

I don’t perm my hair anymore. It’s bad enough that I have to make regular appointments to cut and color.  I am not a maintenance person and I certainly don’t like what hair care costs these days. No, my routine is minimal; usually consisting of a scrunchy or clip. I’ll comb it out, use an iron to smooth the frizz and be done with it.

I wish I could be as talented as my daughter, Adrian, whose hair is much curlier than mine. She is an artist when it comes to hairstyles; she can shove bobby pins in her hair and it comes out looking spectacular. She also wears hats really well, a trend I'm trying on for size. 

My hair may drive me crazy but the truth is, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The best thing I am finding about getting older is in learning to embrace the “real” me.

So today is a let-my-hair-be day. I just got back from Los Angeles. In the airport and on the plane I was getting all sorts of looks, all of which I interpreted as appreciative. Then I got home and checked myself in the mirror. Sure enough I looked like Cameron Diaz’s character in the film, What About Mary?”

My husband just asked if I'd like to go out for a while.  I guess in the interest of personal dignity I'll go plug in the curling iron. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Dance with "Me"

I’m not really big on exercise. When I was younger, before the middle-age spread hit, I never had to partake in regular exercise; I really was one of those gifted ones who ate constantly and didn’t gain. That’s because I was, as a fellow high school friend whose name I have forgotten, called me “spastic.” At the time the label stung because I thought it made me weird or something, but I came to realize it was meant to describe my overzealous approach to life – I never sat still.

I still don’t sit still much but things have slowed down; my metabolism mainly, which has resulted in a new approach to my health. Either I learn to embrace exercise as a regular part of my routine, or I learn to embrace the new “me.” No thanks. So exercise at the gym and on my living room floor is my new best friend. I really dislike the cardio part of my workouts; the running, fast walking, spinning, but always feel great afterward with sweat running down my forehead, my face flushed.

My favorite part of working out is stretching. I have always been drawn to Yoga, attending classes on and off for years.

Actually, I have always been a stretcher – laying a blanket down on a hard surface and moving every part of my body. That feels good. I discovered that I make lots of sounds during this activity; groans, moans and sighs from my mouth, cricks and snaps from my body. Holding a pose or working through a movement is kind of like a dance, and when I allow my mind to let go I really find myself in concert with myself; listening to the music I make and feeling the flow as my body goes through the motions.

My dancing opportunities are few and far between these days; life is just too full of other obligations to head to a venue, and besides, I don't stay up that late.  I guess in between those rare chances where I can rock out on a real dance floor with a real partner, I will enjoy the company of my new dance partner - Me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Own Worst Enemy

Frankly, I can’t believe I’m still alive. I am the clumsiest person I know. Today’s mishap was just one in a long line of near-death experiences that had me grateful to still be walking the earth, or walking at all for that matter.

I’m sitting at my desk, a 7-drawer beauty I inherited from my friend’s mom. I realized that I hadn’t backed up my laptop for a few weeks and to remind me to do so, I opened the bottom right drawer of the desk. That’s where I keep my small external hard drive. As I was in the middle of something I couldn’t back up at the moment so I thought I was being smart with the open drawer reminder tactic. An email came in that I wanted my husband to read. He’d just walked out to his truck and not wanting to miss him, I bolted from my chair, only to find myself in the next instance curled into a fetal position on the floor rocking to and fro holding my right leg. My head just missed the wall opposite my chair. My leg is fermenting a bruise the size, shape and color of a flattened out fruit roll-up. Such is the story of my life.

I can fall down walking on a flat, unmarred sidewalk. I fall off of porches on a regular basis. I even broke my foot hopping up a set of stairs. I walked into a fence that was propped up horizontally with the ends exposed because I wasn’t looking where I was going, just missing my eye by a hair . My husband still married me even after I embarrassed him by falling down two steps in a casino filled with people. I walk into walls often, bump my knees and elbows on the corner of things, and burn my forehead with the curling iron all the time.

Seriously, why am I still alive?

When it really counts and I’m paying attention, I can be very careful. When I became an archaeologist and had to traipse up and down steep mountains, walking 25 meters from my fellow surveyors and not get lost in the dense brush, fall off the mountainside or trip over the rocky terrain into a thorny mesquite, I concentrated and survived. Only once did I trip and fall and was luckily spared from cracking my head on a jagged rock, but that was the nature of the job – I wasn’t the only one with such an experience.

When I stop the mad chaos that’s my daily mind activity and think about what I’m doing, I end the day, or the moment, scar-free. It’s when I act before thinking, a character trait I have a reputation for doing, that I get into trouble. As I get older, I find I have to remind myself to do just that – think before acting – because my flesh bruises so much easier and my bones are surviving on borrowed time.

It isn’t easy being me.

It’s those moments when I don’t think to think that I hurt myself.

I was so concerned about my safety that I brought it up with a doctor once. “Ummm, I don’t know if there’s really anything wrong with me, but I, ummmm, fall down a lot.”

After ruling out a brain tumor I was advised to eat more protein. She thought perhaps my blood sugar and insulin levels were out of whack, thus causing my brain to malfunction. I increased my protein intake throughout the day. I don’t know if that was the solution, or that the process made me more mindful of my vulnerabilities, but I went fall-free for quite some time.

Whether it’s paying better attention to my diet or to the obstacles around me, I better figure out the solution now because my luck is running out. Maybe instead of opening a bottom drawer to remind me to do something, I would be wise to stick to that age-old, reliable method of writing on my hand; or maybe not because with my luck I’ll just get ink poisoning.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

It's Complicated - my father and me

No post has been harder for me to write.  I begin with a few sentences, then highlight and discard what I've written. 

October 26th is the anniversary of my father's suicide. Once that date passes each year I am free to continue my life without the albatross that the month of October is for me. 

I tried and tried to write something to commemorate my father: his memory, the feelings I have about losing him, his role in the destruction of our family, the legacy of grief and anguish his actions created.  I tried to write about the complicated emotions I feel for him: a need to forgive, my search for father figures, the draw I have to my Italian heritage - but the words did not flow.  I suspect that is due to all the unresolved issues I still harbor for the man who should have been the most important male influence in my life.

I guess I still have a lot of work to do with regard to my father.  While I am adressing that, I will share a photo montage of his short life.

Joe (on the right) and his younger brother Dick, 1922

Courtship days with his future wife, Pat Oberlander

Handsome Dad


The Joseph Gioia Family with their three boys: Joseph Jr., baby James Richard, and Dominic Michael, 1954). I wasn't in "the picutre" yet as I wasn't born until 1957

The Family business in Batavia, New York


Monday, October 19, 2009

Mother Me

When I was in my very early twenties I considered having a procedure so I didn’t become pregnant; I honestly thought I didn’t want to have children.  A consultation with a doctor, however, resulted in his dismissal; he said I was too young to make such a permanent decision.  As a feminist I could say I resent that male doctor’s interference in my decision-making; in truth, I am grateful he had wisdom and foresight I did not. 

I ended up giving birth to two daughters.  Their existence in my life has been both a blessing and, admittedly at times a curse.  I only say that because had I really known the extremes of being a mom: the heights of joy and the depths of despair, I am not sure I would have had the courage to become one. 

Thank goodness nature doesn’t depend on logic to do its job; It just plugs along and we humans are expected to deal with the consequences. 

Recently I watched a young mother and her daughter, who was I’d say about 7 years old.  The mom was very hands-on, kissing the top of her child’s head and hugging her; together the two shared whispered conversation.  It was such a sweet sight.  I thought about all the children in the world that were not so fortunate to have such an attentive parent.  I was not one of them. 

Not that I didn’t grow up in an environment where I knew I was loved – I did; there just was not a lot of physical expressions of affection.  My grandmother, my caregiver, was worn out.  I was the sixteenth child she raised!  The rare moments of outward affection I can recall are when she would reach for my hand in church or her delight when I asked if I could sleep in her bed with her.  I treasure those memories. 

When my own children were born, however, I was very much a touchy-feely, outspoken mom who professed her love for her children both physically and verbally. I believe that somewhere deep inside of me I was mothering my young self at the same time I was mothering my babies.

For my children, my intense emotional and physical attachment to them is also a blessing and a curse, for I have had a very difficult time allowing them the freedom to become the individuals they are destined to be.  I kept a very close eye on them when they were under my care.  There were, and still are, moments when I believe doom is at our doorstop, prompting me to cling even tighter to them.  When they naturally began to pull away from me as all children do, to choose their own path, I did not know how to let go. 

Through many a painful experience I have learned from them that I need to do just that – let go.  They have, in their own beautiful way, shown me that I will always be “mom”, that they need me, love me and count on me during both momentous and mundane moments in their lives, but that their life experience is their right and that I must have the courage to allow its unfolding.  

I have grown enough to recognize that I am so blessed, never cursed; that these extraordinary human beings are in my life, that I have the privilege to call each of them daughter.  Now that one is a mom and the other soon to be, I hope that they will come to understand the complex and oftentimes contradictory experience that being a mother is, and forgive me for my human fallibility, or better said - “motheribility.”  

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The very first fiction work I ever published was in my community college literary magazine. That was 15 years ago. Anyone that's been reading my blog will see I have carried the weight of losing my mom for a very long time. I wrote this piece with her in mind.
This post is dedicated to my mom, Patricia Ann Oberlander Gioia on the anniversary of her death at age 26: October 17, 1958                                                         
                                                                                                                                Lisa and her mom, 1957

The Women’s’ Circle

Battered, bruised, and weary, Trish moved forward on the arm of a woman close to her own age. The woman, who had identified herself as Carolyn held her protectively, murmuring encouraging words. They headed toward a circle of women, whose faces held sympathetic, yet welcoming smiles. Though Trish was nervous and hesitant, she allowed herself to be surrounded and coddled. She was shown to a chair and gently seated. The others took seats, forming a close- knit circle with everyone facing one another.

Carolyn introduced Trish to the others. In shameful horror Trish heard Carolyn describe her “situation.”

“Trish has come to us courtesy of her husband,” Carolyn said. “He beat her and as you can see, the damage was substantial.”

The women looked at Trish with pity in their eyes. They sighed and shook their heads. Some reached over and stroked her arm or took her shaking hands in theirs. To Trish’s amazement, no one looked upon her with disgust or blame.

Carolyn spoke once again, this time directly to Trish. “When you feel stronger you will speak of your experience. Yes, you will.” Carolyn nodded to Trish’s denying headshake. “It will take time. You will learn to trust us and you will see the need in purging yourself of your pain.” Trish heard the murmurs of agreement from the women around her.

Turning her attention to the others, Carolyn said, “It’s time for sharing.”

For the moment Trish was released from the scrutiny of the others. A sniffle to her right drew her attention. A petite woman with blonde hair and sad eyes wrung her hands as she spoke. “Today is my daughter’s tenth birthday,” she lamented. “This is the second birthday I have missed.” As she spoke of her memories of past celebrations the other women in the circle listened raptly. Consoling words and comforting hugs were generously offered. As time passed, Trish heard from nearly every woman seated around her. The stories they told were chilling tales of abuse and fear. Most compelling, however, were the expressions of longing for loved ones.

Trish sat in horrific wonder at the stories she heard. One woman, a brunette with an eye blackened and an unusable arm expressed concern for her eldest child, a son of eight years. She described that her son was present whenher husband clubbed her with a ceramic vase, and tried in vain to intervene. His cries for his mother, his wracking sobs, still haunt her. She wondered if he has been able to overcome the horror his young eyes witnessed.

Another woman, one of considerable age expressed a deep regret at not having left her abusive husband sooner. She spoke with a voice burdened with guilt as she told her tale. She saw the pattern of her tragic life played out through the actions of her offspring; her sons, she said, were physically abusive to their wives, a way of life their father modeled for them. Her only daughter, a gentle soul full of love and kindness married a man so like her father. Fear for her daughter’s well being conflicted with the thought that they may someday be reunited, together again among this circle of women.

Trish began to feel a kinship to these women. Slowly and hesitantly she acknowledged that their stories were similar in many ways to her own. Her voice, shy and hardly above a whisper caused the others to turn toward her.

“He, my husband, was so sorry that first time,” she began. “He said it would never happen again.”

All eyes were on her, encouraging words floated her way. Taking a deep breath to calm her inner shivers Trish continued. “But, he didn’t stop and he would yell at me and hit me for the littlest things.” She looked at the women with pained eyes. “I really did try to be a good wife, to not do anything that would set him off. But, it seemed I couldn’t do anything right.”

A woman across from her contributed, “Seems like they always just lookin’ for an excuse to pop ya one.” Another offered, “My old man, he was great, until he had his drinks, that is.”

Trish looked warmly at this group of new friends, formed through adversity and like experience. They talked, cried, and laughed with the sharing of memories. Trish’s feelings of isolation and shame were banished, yet she could not shake the urgency she felt. She stood, looked fondly upon the perfect strangers that she has shared her most intimate feelings with. She hoped the best for each and every one of them, but she knew she must go; her family awaited her. Her children needed her to be there when they arrived home; her husband would be expecting a clean house and food on the table.

Carolyn, observing Trish closely stood with her, an expectant look upon her face. With a nod from her that to Trish held some meaning, the others also stood. Trish thanked her new friends, wished them well then explained her need to leave. A knowing look Trish did not understand passed from woman to woman. Carolyn came to stand by her side, placing an arm once again protectively around Trish’s shoulders.

“We all reacted this way at first,” she said.

Confused, Trish looked about her and asked, “What are you talking about? I need to get home.” She said these words with conviction, yet they were laced with a hint of fear.

Carolyn looked deeply into Trish’s eyes as she said, “Honey, there is no going home. You are in Heaven now and no one will ever hurt you again.”

Battered, bruised, and weary, Sandra moved forward on the arm of a woman. Trish, as she had identified herself held her protectively, murmuring encouraging words. They headed toward a circle of women…

Monday, October 12, 2009

Touching the Past

One of my daughters says I’m a compulsive hoarder. Let me set the record straight and say I’m no where near being called out on an upcoming Oprah show. Yes, I have hung onto things, even with my many moves over the last thirty years; I still have stuff I collected in high school.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saving things that hold significance; I absolutely love reconnecting with my past.

This friend from junior and high school died shortly after graduation. This is a reminder of our sweet friendship and her keen humor.

Having that tangible evidence in my hands: scrapbooks that hold movie tickets and faded flowers from past dates, my children’s baby dresses and blankets, airline tickets from places I may never get the chance to ever visit again; these items bring back memories that give me comfort and joy. It’s that ability to hold the past in your hand or in your mind that made me a historian, genealogist, and oral historian, after all.

So, yes, I am a collector of things past. Yesterday, as I organized my home office I ran across a 2002 Far Side daily planner. I opened it and found myself reading a day-to-day account of my life from January 1 to December 31.

A day-in-the-life from 2002

Reading certain entries I was able to clearly recall the event or mood of a day seven years previous. I realize that I hadn’t kept the practice up, that I have little recollection of what I did a week ago, much less every day over the last few years. Starting today, my day planner will begin to be filled with more than just the “gotta-dos.”

Here’s a sample of My Life circa 2002

•My thyroid problem escalated and after repeated consultations with endocrinologists, it was removed in May

•I followed daughter Adrian’s pregnancy, first from afar while she lived in New York, then when she came to live with us, close at hand, a memory I’ll always cherish

•Daughter Erin’s coming-of-age at our home in Vegas, before she decided to move back to where she was really happy, getting her first apartment in Attica, New York

•The birth of beautiful Aiden

His 6-year-old self's art creation

•My ever-increasing discontent working in a job that ran me ragged, the work never ending, the compromises I made for the sake of a measly paycheck

•The escape from the job I hated to work for a summer in Yosemite National Park where I worked in museum archives, where my daughters, grandson and best friend came to stay for extended periods of time. We read, talked, laughed, hiked, and bonded like never before

•The once-in-a-lifetime trip to Italy, to the birthplace of my paternal grandfather and to see with my own eyes a place of such ancient history

Train Ticket from Italy trip

•One entry had my current weight with a sad face penciled in next to it. Boy, if only I could still be that weight now! I see I have gained 2 pounds a year since then

•The many fluctuations of the relationship with my husband: sometimes we argued, sometimes things were better than ever. Always, money was at the crux of our discord; there was never, ever enough of it

•Visits with various family and the places around town we showed them

•Marking the first anniversary of 9-11

Yes, 2002 was a very busy year, as I am sure every year has been before and since. I’m looking forward to reading about today in the future and recalling memories that make me smile.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's Best for the Kids - Amicable Divorce

When I was living through the first few years of divorce from my children’s father, I couldn’t wait to have the girls grown up so I would never have to deal with him again. My first husband and I were married six years; it was a marriage rocky and wrong from the beginning but one that produced the loves of my life, Erin and Adrian. It took almost all of those six years to find the emotional willpower to end the relationship and become a struggling single mother.

Once again, I leapt into the unknown hoping for the best and things turned out better than I could have ever hoped for.

First I found the love of my life, the man with whom I have been married to for over twenty years and who helped raise the girls in a stable, happy environment. Second, the girls’ biological father has remained a constant in their lives who has lovingly co-parented with me, giving our daughters a wonderfully healthy concept of how life after divorce can work.

That is a huge accomplishment for me, one of the approaches of life I am most proud of, one that is so far removed from the way I, as a child, witnessed the outcome of divorce.

Estranged members in my family instilled a sense of fear in me. I recall two incidents. One uncle’s ex-wife was at our home visiting when one of the aunts said, “Quick! Go out the back door, he’s coming.” It was a mad shuffle and the ex-wife barely got out in time before her former husband came in. I got the sense it would have been horrible had the two encountered one another. Another time, when I was ten, I was visiting an uncle and his new wife in their home. I was awakened in the middle of the night to banging and screaming. The wife’s ex-husband/boyfriend (not sure of his standing) was outside the house shouting for her to come out. I’m not sure how the incident resolved itself, but the man eventually left, leaving me with a lasting impression.

For me, divorce was an option to avoid because it never turned out well.

I can’t say I made a conscious effort to make my divorce experience different, but my relationship with my daughters’ father looks nothing like that of family and friends. It didn’t start out that way; there was plenty of give and take, bruised feelings, and power struggles. Somehow, however, we made a conscious effort to get along for the children’s sake.

Our respective spouses have come to terms with the presence of exes in their lives. While I don’t spend much time with my first husband’s mate, he is much more present in my life and that is due to the fact we share children. It is no surprise to anyone who is the parent of a grown child that no matter what their age, there are still plenty of opportunities to be involved in their lives. My children’s father and I have many conversations regarding the choices, decisions, and outcomes our kids make. I can’t imagine not having that support system from him during the occasional crises we have encountered.

I am just grateful things turned out they way they did so our children did not have to be pawns in a messy breakup. I’m lucky to have such an extended family. One can’t have too many friends in this world, right?

Friday, October 2, 2009

October - In Memoriam

Today is my mother’s 77th birthday. It would be her birthday if she had lived past her 26th year. October is a month of remembrances for me. It is the month my mom was born, as well as the month she and my father died.

For several years now I find I go through a depression around this time of year. I always assumed it had to do with how much I love autumn. I miss New York during this time of year. I miss the nip in the air, the leaves changing colors, apple cider and pumpkin patches. Although I’m sure that has something to do with my mood, I’ve come to believe that decades of being reminded about what I really lost has resulted in an unconscious effect on my psyche.

Last year on October 17th, the fiftieth anniversary of my mom’s death, I sat outside on my back porch and talked to the sky. I said to the spirit of both my mom and dad, “I’m okay. I’m over it now. It’s done.”

What I meant by that is that I believe 50 years is long enough to grieve. I have done a great deal of work to that end; my writing, public speaking and research into my parents’ lives and deaths has allowed me to tap into a grief I’d never experienced.

I was a year old when they both died. I have no recollection of them. I don’t know the sound of their voice, the feel of their touch. I have no memories to which I can turn to ease my heartache.

For years the fact that both my parents are dead and the ugly way in which they died was just a story I could easily speak about with a complete lack of emotion. As a child I just said they died in a car accident; as an adult I could say, “My father shot and killed my mother; he then killed himself nine days later.” The only emotion I felt was embarrassment at that proclamation.

That isn’t the case anymore.

For a while still I could still share the details of how my parents died, but I developed over time a catch in my throat. If I went on to share more of the story I would even find tears pooling in my eyes. Recently, however, I believe I cleared a hurdle.

Someone with whom I’d just met asked about my parents. I simply said they were dead, that I’d lost them at a very early age. When my companion asked, “Did they die in a car accident or something?” , rather than give my standard shock-inducing answer I just said, “No, but I’d rather not explain.” I think I’ve made some progress.

Another October has arrived. It’s National Domestic Violence Month. So no matter how much I desire to let the month slip by unnoticed, both my personal story and that of countless other victims of violence so close to home and heart will serve to remind me.

Another October has arrived. It’s the month that my father, for reasons known only to him and my mother, used a gun to end the life of his wife. Lost, remorseful, and possibly afraid of the Sing Sing electric chair, he used an Ace bandage to secure a knot around his neck and hang himself.

They left behind four children, as well as family and friends who have never gotten over the tragedy. For me, I will await another anniversary date. I will silently pay tribute to my parents by acknowledging their death dates. I think my proclamation that my grieving is over was a little premature. Frankly, I don't think it will ever be.

Happy Birthday, Mom

High school yearbook photo, 1949, Corfu, New York