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OUT OF STATE, OUT OF MIND

I’ve been a frustrated writer for many months now, not having written a word because our computer crashed right before our move out of state. It’s finally back. But I’m not sure I am. Just touching the keyboard now feels alien to me, like everything else. Have we landed on Mars? Have we lost contact with Planet Earth? Here we are my husband Bruce and I, in Charleston, South Carolina – voted the #1 most desirable city in the United States, and #2 in the world. Our daughter Janelle and son-in-law Mike and two toddlers moved in with us, temporarily.  To say it’s been chaotic is an understatement. (Our son, Jeffrey, always the logical one of the family, remained in New York, but we’re working on him to join our Nonsectarian cult).

Carolinians speak a different language than us; they’re low-talkers here in low-country, unlike us loud Yankees. The second we open our mouths, everyone knows where we’re from. Dead giveaways: cawfee, dawg, dawta, wawta . . . we were immediately given the test how to pronounce y’all correctly. It took a few tries ‘til we got it right.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things in life. For me it was also an out of body experience. We found the transition challenging, from our home with a big yard to a New Orleans style home on a lake, replicating the historic homes downtown with balconies, shuttered windows, brick courtyards, flower gardens, and Spanish moss. We sit on one of the three levels of piazzas, chasing our dog running back and forth barking at all the passersby with their own dogs.  There are 750 homes in our neighborhood and most families own two to three dogs. Do the math and you’ll know why we’re frazzled.

Before our move there was a ton of preparation. We had four yard sales back home on Long Island to purge all the stuff we accumulated over the past 40 years. The last sale was the toughest, parting with certain sentimental things. They’re just things, I know, but still. I remember handing over my mother’s sewing basket filled with her buttons, embroidery, ric rac, needles and thimbles to a woman, and bursting into tears. She handed me back the basket and said, “It’s okay, you keep it.”

My biggest regret was not being able to part with the thousands of photos – frozen, fragile memories encased in glass frames, separated in bubble wrap from the hundreds of other boxes. How could I possibly part with the time our golden retriever fell asleep with three tennis balls in her mouth? Or when we donned our infant son in a long blonde wig in his baby carriage? Or when our teenage daughter was balancing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in her sparkly platform heels?  I couldn’t!  It was a strange feeling when we pulled away from our house in the driveway, looking back, teary-eyed,  wishing we could take it with us, dismantle it brick by brick, and put it back together again when we reached our new destination. It wasn’t just a house, it was part of our family, and we were abandoning it forever. Goodbye house. Hope your next family fills you with happiness.    

We pulled up to our New Orleans style house with its three levels and helped the movers carry everything up the many flights of stairs. OY! What were we thinking at this age? We were emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. The heat index reached 115 degrees. Bruce and I were on edge, and either were going to head for divorce court before we unlocked the front door, or else drive off the Ravenel Bridge together.

The next morning a water hose under the kitchen sink got loose like a wild snake, and Janelle and I, who morphed into Lucy and Ethel, tried to hold the beast down, but it had a mind of its own. I grabbed the nearest thing to catch the water shooting out – a potted plant – which quickly turned into a muddy river on our white kitchen floor. We both panicked until her level-headed husband Mike came to the rescue. After the leak, we had to withstand two weeks of lightning storms, and then the infamous 1000-year-Flood. Our bottom floor had water gushing in, and we couldn’t save the rugs, but were grateful no one was hurt. Well, that’s not exactly true. Bruce slipped in the new lake inside our house and fell hard. In fact, it started a whole series of him falling, and we had to keep buying larger and larger bandages. We stayed up overnight with a giant, noisy Wet-Vac machine, and kept fans running. There was an awful loud commotion coming out of our house for three full days.  Everything was going wrong!  From no internet or phone service, emergency visits to the doctor with our grandchildren contracting impetigo, to freaking out when we discovered palmetto bugs (southern roaches the size of flying mice) trying to move in with us.

As I stood on the sidewalk, wringing out wet towels, with my drenched hair lacquered across my forehead in my muddy and torn Capris, a well-groomed southern belle drove by in a shiny red golf cart wearing her pearls and Burberry raincoat, and gave me the Queen’s wave. I stood there with my Carol Burnett mop and pail, and my daughter noticed my bulging eyes, ready to lunge. “Hold me back!” I said.

When the storms passed, and the sun came out once again, neighbors knocked on our door bearing welcoming bread. We were invited to morning coffees, afternoon teas, tennis tournaments, movie groups, book clubs, and on and on. We went on a horse and carriage ride along surrounding quaint streets with porches beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, and it didn’t take long to fall madly in love with the neighborhood.  Again, we can say it’s good to be back in our home sweet home.

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Grandma’s Emetophobia

Our daughter Janelle and her husband Mike (former Greenwich Village party-people) were very excited to be going to their good friend’s wedding in Miami. They dropped their three-year-old son, Jagger, and seven-month-old daughter, Siena, at our house for four nights. I had gone to Costco to stock up on what I thought we’d need once we became shut-in grandparents.

Still trying to figure out why I had purchased a carload of crap from a mega store, my daughter called and said “We’re coming by now to drop off the kid’s. For a fleeting moment, I wondered why we needed all my stuff and now all her stuff. My eyes widened when the two fully-loaded SUVs pulled up at our front door. Janelle handed me my granddaughter. Mike unbuckled Jagger out of his Houdini car seat, and my grandson ran around me in circles, pulling at my sleeve for attention. “Cracka,” (he calls me Gram Cracker) “I’m going to sleep over your house in the bed with you and Papa King.” He looked so excited. And he seemed fine. Just fine.

At dinner Siena sat in the high chair, squeezing avocado between her fingers and smearing it over her pudgy cheeks. I was disappointed that Jagger didn’t want to eat his dinner, but I was pleased enough with him drinking almost an entire gallon of the nutritious Mysterious Green Drink. At least I got ONE thing at Costco that paid off, I thought. Sure, it was worth the $400! On the label of the bottle, it actually states: “It looks weird, but tastes amazing.” It not only contains five different fruits, but also Spirulina (whatever the hell that is.) Oh, wait! Let me Google it.  Definition: “Filamentous Cyano-bacteria that form tangled masses in warm alkaline lakes in Africa and Central and South America.” NO LIE. In addition to alfalfa, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, barley grass, wheat grass, ginger, and parsley. And, by the way, these things are “sustainably grown and harvested”.  After dinner, I left the dirty dishes on the countertop and in the sink, thinking I’d get back to them later.

I read Jagger his favorite storybooks while we cuddled in our king-size poster bed and noticed his eyes looking kinda glazed-over. I felt his forehead and it was warm, but I didn’t think it was unusual; he looked almost as exhausted as I was and fell asleep quickly. I started to tiptoe out of the room so I could clean the mess in the kitchen. But Jagger had different plans for the evening. With only one foot out of the master bedroom, I did an about-face when I heard déjà vu audio from the movie The Exorcist. Poor Jagger bolted himself into a sitting position and projectiled all that green goodness onto our white down comforter. I thought of the label again on that big green bottle. It says to be sure to SHAKE WELL … Jagger took care of that!

Carrying the three year old to the bathroom was like moving slow motion in my worst dream. And I don’t know what I was thinking he would do once I got him to the vomitorium, being this was a first for him…he had no idea he had to aim the green machine into the bowl, instead of EVERYWHERE else! I couldn’t blame the poor child.

He sat on the floor, trembling, and looking at me in shock. “It’s okay,” I lied; I didn’t want to let on that I’ve always been phobic about throwing up (Seriously!). “Um, don’t move, I’ll go get Papa King,” I told him and ran down our (50-foot-7 inch long) hallway (I just measured it) as if I had wheels on my feet. “Come with me! NOW!” I yelled at my husband, knowing he’s a slow-walker. “MOVE IT! MOVE IT!” Papa King, who had been mellowing out at the other end of our house, listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, had no clue what troubled waters he was about to embark upon.

 

He rose to the occasion though, stripping the sheets and comforter off the bed, and wiping up the floors. I was quite impressed. Jagger and I both sat on the floor with our green hair, watching him clean up. As soon as the shock wore off, he screamed, “I WANT MY MOMMY!” My heart crumbled.

Siena was starting to stir in her crib from all the noise, and the craziness got crazier. It was like a scene from a nutty movie. Even our golden retriever, Jude (who I named after the Saint of the Impossible) joined us for what looked like fun to her, and grabbed the baby’s pacifier when it dropped from Siena’s open, crying mouth, and the six-year-old dog pranced like a puppy, taunting us to play chase. “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!”

My once clutter-free home, which is up For Sale, by the way, turned into a circus. I couldn’t imagine how I’d prepare to show the house the next morning for the realtor who was bringing prospective buyers. The HGTV show came to mind … how they talk about “staging” … I tried to recall if there was ever an episode called Exit, Stage Left.

That entire night, I slept zero hours, minutes, seconds, waiting to hear sounds from my two little grandchildren, my precious little cookies, and I was doubly tortured by Papa King’s snoring (the man can fall asleep on a picket fence); I wondered who would be next in line to get the bug?

In the morning, when I asked Jagger what he wanted for breakfast, he answered, “I just want my BIG Gre-e-en drink.” My gag reflex went into immediate action.

That day, in between my lack of sleep and cool baths to bring down his 104 temperature and delirium, photos of the wedding party were being posted on Facebook…and there stood Janelle and Mike in their cool sunglasses with big smiles on their faces, holding cocktail glasses with little umbrellas in them. How could I tell them what was happening? I couldn’t. I would just have to wait ‘til the next day when they’d be in the middle of their post party hangovers.

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MOM AND THE SINGER

Dear Mom,

Only your Singer knows how many times you pricked your fingers with the needle. How many times the bobbin bopped up and down, singing your praises. Since you were only fourteen, when you were forced to quit school and work in a sweat shop to help put food on the table, I wonder how often you talked to the old machine about doing something more important in your life.

Everyone knew you as “Jean, the Best Seamstress in the Land.”  Yet, I never knew the title didn’t make you feel fulfilled. Not until your 70th surprise birthday party when you looked teary-eyed at the Singer embossed in icing on your cake and quietly commented to me, “Is that all I’m known for?”

You had always been a bit fearful and timid, and I finally understand why you didn’t object to my crazy and adventurous lifestyle – you lived your life through mine in some ways, as I rode my Honda along the curvy roads and surfed the ocean waves along the shore. When I got to travel the world, part of you was packed in my Samsonite.

I can’t recall. Did I ever ask you, Mom, what your dreams were? You were always just Mom, plain ol’ Mom, always there when I got home from school, sitting in the corner behind the small machine, hunched over a pile of fabric. You saved every ric rac, every piece of trim, every ribbon you’d collected from the Depression days – the days when you and your three sisters shared one lipstick. Oh, how Dad adored you. Said he was never a rich man, but found his gold in you.

I can still see the matching dresses you made for my sister and me; the intricate detail of the smocking you had sketched on a pad while standing in front of the glass window of Best & Co. – a store where you couldn’t afford to shop. But I was a tomboy, and you’d always find me up in a tree with ripped seams and torn hems. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the pretty dresses, but I liked the pretty branches more. You allowed me to climb as high as I wanted, and encouraged me later on to fly as an airline stewardess. You rarely knew which part of the world I was in at any given time, and I believe in a way that it freed you.

I remember when you were nearly 90, right before you passed from this earth, and you shared your regrets. “I would have liked going into politics,” you said. “Really?” I blinked, taken aback. Being I was never much into politics, I thought if you could have become a politician, you’d be the first one I’d ever trust.

I have my own regrets, Mom. One of them being that I should have told you over and over again how grateful I was for the beautiful home you kept, for the home-cooked meals you had ready for us every single night of the week and the beautiful clothes you dressed us in. But more than that, I wish I could tell you how grateful I am for your mending each and every one of us in our family whenever we were broken on the inside. You always knew how to fix everything!  Except Dad, when he got sick. You couldn’t fix him.

We moved you into our house for a short while after Dad was gone, and watched you slowly wither away next. It warms my heart that I can still go upstairs in my own house to the room where I watched you get your angel wings.

I left everything intact that you kept in your dresser near your poster bed. And to this day, I am certain to find the right size safety pin or color thread or any other trivial thing I may need. I still feel your hand passing those objects over to my hand. I wish I could write to you in heaven and thank you for these things, and also for passing your goodness on to my own children, and all your grandchildren. You’re the most successful woman I know, still giving your mother’s love.