Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Do You Have Half A Minute?

If someone you love disappears and you never find out what happened to him there is no peace about it. Losing someone to death is hard enough, but missing is not dead. It is just missing.

For decades more than 8,000 men have been missing from the Korean War. My father is one of them. Amidst sightings and intelligence reports and a whole host of other evidence that many of these men were taken to the Soviet Union and never returned, the United States Government did nothing for a very long time. Over the past twenty years there has been an effort in place to gain an accounting. Progress has waxed and waned. Politics get in the way. So do budgets. So does apathy, I’m sorry to say.

People not touched by such a loss likely wonder how and why families would continue to suffer so many years later. My best analogy is a wound that runs deep—one that has been covered over by nothing more than time. Without something to heal the injury, it festers from within.

The Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs has drafted an electronic petition asking President Obama to make good on his promise to find out what happened to the men who disappeared while fighting in Korea on behalf of the rest of us. Each time someone signs the petition an email is sent to the White House. I have included a link to the petition below. It takes about thirty seconds to sign and send. Thirty seconds. The missing men and their families have been waiting for sixty years.

Every day this country sends its servicemen and women into battle, asking them to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. Behind their willingness to go forward is the expectation that, if they are captured or if they fall or if they simply disappear, their country will do everything in its power to bring them home, or at least find out what happened to them.

I hope you will join me in asking our government to do what it should have done a long time ago for men who had that same expectation. Men who were let down. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mother of the Bride

Our daughter, Kirstyn, is four years out of college. Little by some her friends have settled into relationships and started to get married. Last year Kirstyn told us she and her boyfriend, Dave, were going to live together. Funny how once upon a time that notion was frowned upon. These days, especially being a divorce attorney, my feelings were of relief. Better to know the little quirks and rough edges before you say I Do.

Around Valentine’s Day Kirstyn announced she and Dave were going ring shopping. I guess that’s how they do it these days. No more surprising the girl with a little black velvet box while on bended knee. She goes and shows him what she wants then sits back and waits for him to put it all together. From then on she is hoping he hurries up, now that they’ve set things in motion and she must keep her nails done every day just in case.

I picture ring shopping as a spontaneous, shoot from the hip thing whereby you go into a jewelry shop and say “Ooooh, I like that one, and that one over there.” And you try them on. Kirstyn and Dave however did research. Location of shops; price comparisons; size, shape and cut and which give you the most diamond for your money? Before they headed out they had a spread sheet and scientific analysis. Hmmm, I thought, not very romantic.

But then the phone rang a few weeks ago. It was Dave. He was asking for Kirstyn’s hand in marriage. How sweet! Despite the new ways of today’s youth in the marriage business, Dave indulged himself, and us, in a touch of tradition. After that we had this luscious secret and I was about to burst so he couldn’t get to it fast enough for me.

The phone rang a couple weeks after that. I was in a restaurant. It was Kirstyn and Dave wanting to ‘Face Time’ me on my iPhone so we could see each other. I got excited. And, sure enough, there they both were, all dressed up with a beautiful ring on Kirstyn’s finger. I felt gypped that I had to behave myself, being in public and all. I wanted to whoop and holler.

Come to find out it wasn’t all businesslike after all. Dave found a way to make it special. He’d employed several of Kirstyn’s friends who led her one at a time, by surprise, from one fond memory for her and Dave to another. At each location there was another friend and another note from Dave. Eventually the scavenger hunt led her back to their apartment where Dave waited, dressed in a suit, and where he got down on bended knee and presented her with a black velvet box. Then there was a special dinner out, just the two of them.

Nice work, Dave!

Since then no conversation has been had in my family that doesn’t include talk of the wedding. I’ve always been a proponent of “buy a house or go on a trip or something, but don’t spend exorbitant amounts of money on a wedding. It’s a party. One day and it’s over.” But their crowd is doing it the old fashioned way. Funny, at first I was crabbing because they were too practical about it all and then I was crabbing because they want to do it with romance and ceremony. Make up your mind, Donna!

So now there are more spreadsheets. And, though it’s still a year away, they’re already racing to secure everything before other engaged couples get there first. They’re looking at venues, and caterers, someone to play music. They’ve got to find a bartender pretty soon or they might have to bring in a hobo off the street for lack of a bona fide twelve months from now.

My mom talks of her wedding, which was sixty six years ago yesterday. It cost $250. After the ceremony, a room divider was pushed aside and everyone walked into the other space to have cake and ice cream. No band, no dinner, no liquor. No fancy center pieces and no wedding coordinator. The honeymoon cabin cost seven dollars.   

Kirstyn and Dave have a different vision for the day they become man and wife. I’ve gotten over my ‘what a waste’ frame of mind and have joined the frenzy. Of course, first thing I have to do is lose ten pounds. (I’d need to do that if I weighed 80…it’s just one of those things the Mother of the Bride must do.) And I’ll need to start working out more so everything will be toned, unless I want to wear long sleeves and a turtle neck in July. Already I’m wondering how far in advance l will need to get my hair cut so it doesn’t look too chopped but hasn’t yet grown out. Maybe I should schedule an appointment now so my hairdresser isn’t booked up.

Kirstyn’s coming home to Roanoke at the end of the month so we can shop for her wedding dress. “Already?” I thought. Of course. What an idiot. Everyone knows it takes ten months to order the dress, get it altered and have it in hand ready to go. I can only imagine what it will cost. I’m going to have booze in my purse so I can take a swig and dampen my reaction when they tell us.

I expect this next year is going to bring many different challenges and lots of surprises. Whatever they might be, I have now stood back and looked at the gift before us. Our baby girl has grown up. She got a fabulous education and her career has taken off. She has found a wonderful young man and they are happy together. A year from now they are going to celebrate the hell out of all that and the promise of much more to come. I will be there with trim waist, muscular arms and a mid-cycle hair cut. And my heart will be bursting with joy. I can’t wait.  

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Thumbs Down

We can all agree a lovely garden is a beautiful thing. As spring blooms around us we drive about and notice. First it’s the tree blossoms, followed by flowering shrubs like azaleas, bougainvillea and spirea. Then come the flowers.

Most of us just appreciate. Then there are those who realize the beauty doesn’t happen all by itself. These folks are willing to dig around in the dirt a few times to throw in some bulbs and maybe a few pansies or snap dragons. That leaves the heavy lifting to the rest of us. The sick ones. Those of us who start planning our gardens in January, weeding the beds in February and laying out designs in March. From there we start watching the forecast, waiting for the first possible declaration that the last frost has passed. When it has, the calendar comes out and we schedule the plantings.

I personally have twelve beds, if you count the herbs and vegetables, thirteen if you count the water lilies in the pond. Ideally they will all be in the ground (or water) by the end of May. That gives me about a month and a half that starts with the realization it is time and ends with a sort of hysteria because it’s getting late and I still have several beds to go. Like I said, it’s a sickness.

This year, my gardening frenzy took on an unfortunate twist. It was a couple weeks into the season. By then, of course, I had my lists: these plants for this bed, laid out just so. I also had my calendar filled in. If I kept to schedule the entire grounds would be planted by the end of May.

So, you can imagine my angst when I woke up to rain last weekend. I opened my eyes around six on Sunday. When I heard the rain I woke Cecil up like the house was on fire. “It’s raining!” I screeched. “So?” he wanted to know. “My gardens. I have to plant the front flower bed today.” He wasn’t all that concerned…until he came downstairs a little later and found me zipping up the rain slicker I’d thrown over my gardening overalls.

“What are you doing?” he wondered as he staggered for the coffee pot. There was no use explaining. He would never understand. It barely made sense to me.

Once outside it wasn’t all that bad. People typically try to avoid the rain. We duck and run for cover. I was going to be out in it…I’d already accepted that. So I walked bravely from the carport into the downpour and didn’t even flinch. In a way, it was kind of exciting, like I was a pioneer or a mountain man, or one of those people who just moved around in weather like it wasn’t even there.

I admit that at first I acted sort of like a girl…trying to dig from a squatting position, taking my muddy gloves off to push my hair back. I hadn’t been out fifteen minutes before I was kneeling in the mud and sometimes stretching out on my stomach to reach a particular spot. The hair was shoved back with gloves that still held a clump of weeds. Sometimes I used the spade itself. My face looked like it was painted up for a war dance around the fire pit. After a while I hardly noticed.

Two hours later I was done, except for the piles of weeds, trimmings and other such debris. I grabbed our trash barrel…the one that goes to the curb each week. It’s got two wheels on the back edge so you have to tilt it back when you’re moving it. I opened the lid, which flipped back and hung between me and the barrel, and I began to roll from spot to spot, picking up my various piles. The rain pounded me and the yard and everything in sight. I was drenched but I was almost done. A hot bath sounded good.

Then it happened. I guess you’d call it a freak accident. The lid to the trash can caught on something as it hung between me and the barrel. Not realizing, I took another step, which landed on the lid. That snapped the whole barrel backward so it flipped off its wheels and came down on its back side, taking me with it. It’s difficult to describe how this whole thing went down. The relevant particulars are that my hands never left the handle, which was under the lid, which in turn was under the full weight of my body.

In the span of three seconds I was head first inside the trash can. Thankfully the dogs hadn’t killed anything yet that week so I wasn’t sharing space with any carcasses. But there was plenty of other nasty stuff in there. Worse though were my hands, especially my thumbs, both of which were still trapped under the lid on which the lower half of my body was lying as it stuck out of the trash can. I could already tell they were in trouble. At a minimum they’d been wrenched into some unnatural position to which no thumb should ever be subjected. There was the distinct possibility they were dangling or snapped in half. I was afraid to look. And before I could, I had to slide out of the trash can, putting more weight on the lid. I was torturing myself.

The thumbs were bad, especially the right one. Cecil wanted to examine them…like that was gonna happen! These thumbs could not be touched. They could not be moved. You couldn’t move anything next to them. I really didn’t even want him to look at them.

Within minutes they had swelled up. My son likened them to sausages. As the week wore on the bruising set in. I kept waiting for things to get better but they did not. Cecil said they were severely sprained, along with my left wrist. Both hands were somewhat strained as well but compared to the thumbs they didn’t deserve, nor did they get, any sympathy.

This brings me to the role of the thumb in life. I’d have to say I never really appreciated my thumbs before. I do now. As I tried to carry on without using them I quickly found there’s very little you can do. I figure I will do a service to others by noting a few key functions of the thumb so you all will be very careful with them from now on:

1. Turning the ignition key: Forget it. It’s easier to call a cab, or walk, or stick the sprained thumb out along the roadside to hitch a ride.
2. Turn a door knob: This is not going to happen. Better to just kick the door in and be done with it.
3. Open any kind of jar: Don’t even try.
4. Hold a pen: This becomes a two-handed bit of excruciating small muscle coordination that unfortunately cannot be entirely avoided. You should keep some pain killers at your desk.
5. Push the clicker to open your car door: You need to throw caution to the wind here and lay yourself open to thieves, rapists and murders. All of that will hurt less.
6. Close a zipper: Just leave it open. People will understand.
7. Brush your teeth: Buy a lot of breath mints and hope your teeth don’t rot before the thumbs get better.
8. Pull up your pants: I’ve been working my way through this one because it really is a must. Be prepared to suffer.
9. Use scissors: You’ll have to tear things with your teeth for a while, assuming they haven’t fallen out from the no brushing.
10. Catch-all: Lift anything, no matter how small or how light. No matter how much you want to pick that thing up and carry it to where you want it to be. You have to accept the fact that you might as well have paws or hooves because your hands are not going to be lifting or holding or moving anything until your darn thumbs have healed.  

As I head into week two I would raise a glass (if I could) in celebration of thumbs. They are an amazing piece of work. Without them I have learned to appreciate countless little things that I have always taken for granted. So, here’s to thumbs up…an icon that has taken on new meaning for me.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Be Careful When You Bitch

 People sometimes say you really see the mess around your house when you look at it through other people’s eyes. Like, if you’re having company and you’re cleaning up. You look around as if for the first time and see cobwebs dangling from almost everything, outnumbered only by the collection of stink bugs lying on their backs with legs up like they’ve been there a while. And the dirty fingerprints around the drawer pulls in the kitchen that give the appearance you came straight in from working in the garden without washing your hands before you made dinner. How had you missed those?

Well, I've come to realize the same “through others' eyes” test applies to our behavior as well as to our housekeeping standards.

On Friday I wanted to work in the garden (fully intending to wash my hands before starting dinner later). I normally keep my dirty overalls and muddy tennis shoes in the basement, but they weren’t there when I looked. My husband had cleaned up the basement recently so right away I was suspicious he’d done something with my gardening clothes. I called up the stairs to him. “Cecil, what did you do with my overalls and tennis shoes?” I could have started off by asking if he knew where they were but I went right to what had he done with them.

He came with some trepidation into the basement to help me look, but the clothes simply were not there. Finally Cecil admitted he “might have” thrown them away. I got agitated because these would not be the first of my things Cecil had taken it upon himself to discard. He was getting agitated because this would not be the first time I had gotten after him for such conduct. 

So we started revving each other up. Cecil was giving me a good taste of passive aggression. I would have to admit to a certain escalating bitchiness on my part, laced nicely with sarcasm and snide remarks such as “I hope that filthy jacket you wear everyday doesn’t have itself an accident.” Suffice it to say neither of us was at our best in the exchange.

Then the phone rang in his pocket. For reasons that don’t matter here, it was my cell phone that Cecil had been carrying around. Instead of answering it he kept snotting off at me which, of course, infuriated me because I imagined he was causing me to miss a call of some urgency. Maybe God was trying to reach me to tell me where my muddy tennis shoes were.

“Will you please answer my phone?” I snapped. By the time he got the darn thing out of his pocket the caller had hung up. I dialed the number back and was greeted by a 911 operator.

“Is everything all right?” the woman wanted to know without even saying hello. “Yes it is,” I assured her. 

“We received a 911 call from this number.” 

I paused, trying to understand, and then realized Cecil must have made a pocket call down in the basement. The woman continued. “It sounded like you were looking for something.” She stopped short of asking if I’d found my shoes. OMG, I thought, she heard the whole friggin’ conversation. I cringed as I thought back to the less than attractive tone I’d lent my voice for emphasis. The various jabs at Cecil that had felt good at the time seemed mean when I considered them as they must have sounded to the operator. “So, there’s no emergency?” she confirmed. She probably wanted to ask “Did you find your damn shoes, lady?” 

“No there’s no emergency.” I hoped I sounded convincing so she didn’t decide to send a patrol car to make sure one of us hadn’t taken a screw driver to the other. Naturally I was a tad hesitant to give her my name and address when she requested them but figured it would seem suspicious if I refused. So now she had a bitchy woman and a name to put with it. Great.

After I hung up I remembered that 911 calls are recorded. So somewhere in the call center my less than sweet display is now of record. I pictured the operator shaking her head and calling me a nag and playing the recording for her co-workers. Then I imagined the call somehow making its way to YouTube and wondered if 911 calls have privacy restrictions. Forget that I thought as I flashed on the countless calls I’ve seen replayed on television, the words scrolling along at the bottom of the screen to make sure everyone gets them. Next I’m thinking Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart or someone’s gonna get a hold of my tirade and have some fun with me.

Or maybe the operator will just go home and tell her husband who will repeat the story to his friend who happens to be a radio announcer or a columnist at the paper. The possibilities become endless; it’s only the permutations that vary. The one thing they would all have in common would be me crabbing at my husband when I thought no one else was listening.

Since the pocket call incident I have been more aware of the tone of my voice. I’ve caught myself slipping into accusation when simple inquiry would do. I’ve heard myself snap or quip or chide when I didn’t need to. I hadn’t stopped to consider how I sound from time to time when I indulge myself in the comfort of my primary relationship…the one people so often take for granted. As a divorce attorney you’d think it might have occurred to me before this, but I had not taken the time to sit up and notice myself. 

That awareness came only after I learned someone else had overheard me. I’d felt justified and rightfully put out during the conversation, but when I listened through the operator’s ears I didn’t like what I heard.

So, my new rule—one I might recommend to others—is choose your words and your attitude carefully. Not because a 911 operator might be listening, but because no one likes a bitch, not even the bitch herself.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Riding Time

I’ve been suffering from lack of inspiration lately. You know how when even you find yourself boring? You turn inward to find something meaningful to say or write and you face a blank page, devoid of anything worth sharing. 

          I’ve begun research on a new book…an ambitious project that needs lots of attention. I’ve got this blog, a web site in development and a short story to shop around. There are still some 8,000 POW/MIAs waiting to be found. All of these tasks have sat stewing for weeks, gnashing their teeth and spewing epithets at me. “Get over here and do something with me, you lazy good-for-nothing wretch.” I’ve managed to turn from each of them, stuff away the guilt and put it all off to another day.  

          In retrospect I can see it started when we got ready to put our house on the market…again. This is its third selling season. Each year we cancel the listing for the holidays and manage to thoroughly trash the place by Christmas. So as January rolled around we dragged ourselves into that hideous state of mind known as Staging the House. How the attic got so full in just a few months is beyond me. And when did things in the basement crawl out from their corners? Let’s not mention the damn spices— would it kill them to stay in some kind of order up in their cupboard?

          I will say it feels good to get rid of clothes from high school that make me feel like a fat woman in the circus dressed up as Bette Davis’ Baby Jane. And I guess it was time for the broken VCR and the old bag phone to go. All in all it has been a productive experience, except that it has taken me over and sucked the creativity from me as though I’ve had an IV running in reverse.   

          As I felt myself dissolving into a pasty little blob I cast my listless mind about, wondering what might call to me. What will return me to life beyond clearing out closets and bagging up yesterdays I can barely remember? Ironically, it was death that brought me back.

          In a fit of madness I’d decided to clean up our address book because, God knows, prospective buyers might look in there to see if we secretly keep our affairs in a mess, such that they can infer the whole house is actually ready to fall down. As I turned the pages I came across the name of a friend of mine who had just died. I hadn’t even known she was ill. She was a beautiful, inspirational individual and now she was gone. Her name would need to be deleted. Another friend on the next page. She too must go. Then two colleagues, my aunt and my uncle. All had passed away recently. Delete. Their names disappeared and with them went the space they once filled.

          I took a walk and came upon a cemetery. Row after row of headstones stretched over acres. Space filled with people who are not here anymore. So many lives lived and lives ended. What difference had each of them made before they moved on? An empty trash bag blew in the wind, rambling over the graves, somehow emphasizing the nothingness of life after it has passed.

          There is a greater purpose to which I aspire, though if truth be told I’m not sure what it might be. The collective consciousness is a fine concept, but I would like to rise above the din, at least now and again. I’m not really sure why but I’ve always wanted to be heard above the crowd, maybe just a little. And here I’ve been lately just descending into it. I’m not happy with me.

          As I looked at the contingent of head stones, I thought of the hundreds more waiting to join them each day; people passing through. My day will come around the corner soon enough. I need to consider myself accountable to the time I’ve been given between the womb and the ground that will hold me. Make something of it, Donna. There is none of it to waste. We are all only riding along until we fall away and time passes us by.

          So now I’m ready to jettison myself from the doldrums. There is much to discover and much to do before my name is ready to be deleted from the next guy’s address book.