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Let’s Go For A Ride

Dad_motorcycleIn the late 1960s, our neighbor Mr. Lynn introduced my Dad and brother Stavro to the exciting world of motorcycles and they fell in love. Soon our two car garage was filled with all manner and makes of bikes: dirt bikes, street bikes, minibikes and even a couple of mopeds (the kind that have pedals to start the motor).

Our weekends soon consisted of family day trips out to the Phoenix desert to ride until it became dark. Round and round we’d go, racing through dry river beds and over cracking dusty roads. I remember stopping only to eat lunch and gaze at the beautiful brown Arizona mountains. Even at that young age I was filled with an awe for their dangerous majesty. I love the memory of those times.

Sometimes the urge to ride couldn’t wait until the weekend and Dad would pull out a street bike and take me for a quick ride after he came home from work. At that time, there were still pockets of places we could take a mini-desert ride inside the city. Phoenix was still sitting on the edge of the mega city it was to become.

On one particular evening, Dad said, “Let’s go!” Never willing to pass up a ride, I climbed on the back of the motorcycle, safely wrapped my arms around his waist, hooked my fingers tightly into his belt loops and off we rode heading for the empty lots between two neighborhoods. We slipped past the bar recently planted to keep cars out and into the wilds of Phoenix suburbia we rode. We did our usual circuit and then Dad hit the little mounds of dirt to make me bounce and laugh. I laughed so hard, I was breathless, but with a child’s enthusiasm kept urging, “Again, Dad, again!” It was on one of those last go rounds that I happened to look behind us. Someone else was out for a ride and closing on us fast. He had lights mounted on his bike.

Hello, Officer.

I tapped Dad on the stomach to gain his attention and motioned for him to look behind. “I think he wants us to stop.” Seems the last bastion of space we could ride free in the city was now under police state and some non-motorcycle loving resident ratted us out.

We left our little haven with a blue slip of disappointment. Dad was a bit embarrassed to have to admit to Mom about the ticket we received, but of course nine-year-old little me thought it hilarious and kind of scary exciting. It didn’t occur to me that our evening rides in the last little oasis were over. In a child’s mind things last forever. But of course, they don’t.

Stavro traveled to Phoenix a couple years ago and visited our old haunts. The empty lots are filled with houses. The desert we rode upon is swallowed up by urban sprawl. The dusty roads and river beds paved over. The beautiful brown mountains in the distance are now crowded up to their bases and shaded with pollution.

And my Dad is gone.

I know that Dad would want me to keep pushing onward, to stay on the bike and keep riding, even taking the chance of seeing the lights flashing behind me again. He was proud of me for taking on some pretty bouncy and terrifying mountains throughout my life and conquering them. He never failed to tell me that.

What I failed to tell him was that in my heart I always had my arms around his waist, with my fingers hooked into his belt loops knowing that if I held on tight enough, just over the next hill was the promise of breathless joy and laughter. There would be an open space to ride free and say, “Let’s go!”

But there will never be another evening ride. No more, “agains.” Grown-ups know these things and that’s the hard part.

I’m trying Dad, but without you the motor is terribly hard to start.

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Dibs on the MatchBox Car

In my grandmother’s home was a magic box. Every child in our family was magnetically attracted to it. It sat almost at the end of a long hallway that divided Mama’s shotgun house, directly in front of the single bathroom.

It wasn’t a grand thing. Only about as wide as a five year old’s arm and covered with brown shelf paper, it was an unassuming vault of treasures. It was Mama’s toy box.

As soon as we entered the house, my younger brother and I would beeline through the living room, dart through the doorway from the dining room and race down the hall to the awaiting trove.  Lucky was the kid who arrived first, she or he got first dibs on what was the choice item of the day.

It varied from time to time what things it held for us to discover. Slinkys, yo-yos, soldiers with their feet frozen in blobs of green plastic or some ViewMaster reels might be found. Often, Matchbox cars, HotWheels and Tonka trucks were at the ready to populate the small, two-story garage handbuilt by my Grandfather or race down the long hall.

There was never anything large or very expensive in the box. Mostly just odds and ends left over from birthdays or Christmas’ past. Things to be discarded or treated with possible childhood distain would be magically transformed into an object of desire. Mr. Potato Head might not have both ears, but his pipe and glasses were there and that was great. Only a few Spirograph gears might be available, but there was enough to create fabulous designs to captivate any willing adult art admirer.

Palpable delight was felt in digging through the bit and pieces, mining for just the perfect toy to claim for the day or the hour or until Mom told us our turn was over. Imagination would take over when we found the stray crayon or some pirate coins hidden in the back corners.

Built way before mandatory locking hinges and I’m sure repurposed from another use, the box had a lid with the tendency to fall back into closed position. You really had to make sure that it was all the way back before starting to rummage. Once, in my haste to grab a good toy, I failed to push the lid all the way back. Slap! across my nose the hasp came – blood, tears and a lesson well learned.

The inevitability of growing up and its cruel disassociation with the magical never really affected Mama’s toy box. It never moved. Even as we grew and became busily involved in the ways of adulthood, it remained steadfast in its place guarding the long hallway ready to offer any passing child a chance to play. The next generations would soon experience the joy of running through the house to claim their daily prize.

In these often harried and tense days, it is nice to bring to mind the magic box in Mama’s hall. Though the home she kept for 40 odd years or so has been gone for quite some time, claimed by urban planning, the memory of it and that box full of childhood joy will always be there ready for another day of play. Race you there.

A Full C Note

Today is my grandmother’s 100th birthday.

October 18, 1911.

My older brother Stravos, the first grandchild, called her Mama, following our mother’s lead.  It was never changed so our grandmother was Mama from then on out.

All of us have our own memories and images.  Those who lived with her directly have different images than those of us who just visited.  The children have different images than the grandchildren.  All of that is the way it should be.  We are all correct and wrong, just as our children and grandchildren will be about us.

This is a true story that gave me a little insight into my grandmother.

 

The Place at the Table

 

Girls were raised up right back then; Ginia, the eldest by two years and her mother’s namesake, helped cook and clean, while Annie Caroline had to set the table.  Forks on the left, spoons and knives on the right, knives to the inside, blade in.  Plates two fingers from the edge.

Her mother made Annie set the place each night.  A plate in front of an empty chair.  Empty, negative space in the tableau of the family.   What did Annie think about as they calmly passed the butter beans around and over that empty plate?  What small talk took place to fill that void amongst the quiet clinking of silver to china?  “How was your day, Frank?  Anything interesting down at the train yard?”  “Nothing much, Harriet dear, how was your day?”  “Please pass the beans.”  Did she want to scream?

Not quite five years old and sitting next to a ghost.

My heart aches for the little girl, who had to set that plate.  My grandmother.  Mama.  The sister of the boy who carried her father’s name.  Two and a half years younger than Annie, two year old Francis died during an influenza outbreak in 1916, one day after his second birthday.

Her mother said she wished Annie had died instead.  My great-grandmother.  Mar.  The matriarch of the family I love.  Annie was four and a half years old.  I wonder at the despair that would drive a mother to wish her child dead.  Was the promise of a son so much better than that of a second girl?  Annie, the spare child; the real extra place at the table.
Her brother gone and her mother mad, was Annie allowed to cry or mourn?  Was the plate a punishment for being the stronger of the two?

Girls were raised up right in the time of my mother, too.  She was the cleaner and has no stories of setting the table.  My mother, the third to bear the name.  Mom.  Mama never told her of Mar’s words.  Possibly, it was too fresh, too touchable to set before Mom.  Or maybe the warm, crusty, but yielding Mama the grandchildren knew was too much a hard baked fortress to her children.  The distance to the plate was still too narrow, two fingers from the edge.

Mama took me in when my brother was born.  For six weeks, I was Mama’s.  I was Mama, too, displaced by a younger brother.  Another plate at our table.

Mama offered sustenance, succor and security to my parent’s second daughter, the one who bore her name.  Perhaps, the seeds were sown during that time for her revelation to come.

Fifty years had improved our family’s mortality.  My brother survived his rough arrival and my mother recovered.  I’m told that months after I was returned to my mother, I would still grab my things and get ready to leave with Mama after she came to visit.  I had staked my heart’s claim.

Mama told me of her mother’s words, while sitting on the front porch of her home.  It was set before me in a moment of time right for the revealing.  A moment between a second daughter to a second daughter.  She was seventy years old.  I was twenty.  I never knew Mama had another brother until that moment.  Her words rang flat as she told the story.  Sixty-five years later her mother’s words still served her memory.  How could she sit there so calmly snapping green beans and tell me her mother wished her dead over another?  Did Mama still feel the emptiness and hunger for her mother’s love?  In my youth and shock, I couldn’t find the right questions to ask for more.

Mama never mentioned the plate or Francis again.  It, and he were put back in the cupboard with the rest of the mysteries of her life.

I treasure the moment Mama gave me that afternoon on her porch.  A gift and memory written on my heart as indelibly as the recipe card for her famous macaroni and cheese.

Girls are raised up in this day and age, too.  My daughter.  The fifth to bear the name no longer lives in our house, but there is no negative space set at the table by my son, her younger brother.  There will always be a place, but no empty plate to pass over. Forks on the left, spoons and knives on the right, knives to the inside, blade in.  Plates two fingers from the edge.

 

Mama passed away in 1989, only 78 years old.  And while her absence leaves an empty space in our hearts, there is never an empty space at our tables. Her place is filled with the laughter and kind thoughts that time and memory create.

 

Happy Birthday, Mama.

 

 

 

Happy Anniversary

Bashert came into my life in 1995.  Sixteen years ago.

We met in college.

She was a young, brash, redheaded powerhouse who weaved her way into my weary world and breathed in new life.  I was an older ghost who brought calm to her turbulent soul.

We both admit it was a rocky start.  She thought I was weird and I thought she had issues.  We were both right.

I barely spoke above a whisper and kept to myself.  The result of years of imposed social separation and post traumatic stress.

Bashert didn’t know the meaning of personal space or the word no.

She kept after me, challenging me and pushing me back into the light.  Some days I resented the hell out of her and some days I was grateful there was someone who actually could see me.

When we went on a school trip to D.C., I brought a crossword puzzle book to occupy myself on the long ride. She would have none of it.  She kept up a nonstop conversation over those 500 or so miles.  I had never met anyone quite like her.

Bashert became my first friend in 11 years.

We did the things friends do.  I gave her rides in my car and she would buy me dinner. We took some classes together (She hated painting – my major track; I hated clay – her major track).  We went to the movies and laughed, boy did we laugh.

Our friendship grew and developed over the next two years.

We had picked up the habit of parking in the downstairs parking lot and talking into the deep of the night.  I think this is where the shift began.

In the spring of ’97 came the letter.

The letter that changed both of our lives forever.

She gave it to me and then ran.  She said she didn’t want an answer.

As I read the letter, I couldn’t believe my eyes or heart.  I couldn’t sleep that night.  I called her at 4 in the morning.  She picked up the phone before the first ring.  We talked until daylight and time to go to school.

I answered the letter.

She laughs and says that we were dating long before I really was aware of it.  I told you before I can be a bit dim witted about some things.

Apparently, I had been dating a professor and didn’t know that either.  Guess I should have known something was up when the prof got so angry when she saw me with Bashert.  Who knew?

Our courtship was full of laughter and silly things – talking crows, shadow puppets, playing hooky to the lake.

It felt incredible to play again.  Bashert had brought joy back into my life, something that had been missing for a very long time.

We’ve been together as a couple now for 14 years.  We had a commitment ceremony in 2002 with 50 of our closest friends.  Our daughter gave us to each other.

There have been some some wonderful times, including the addition of a beautiful little boy and some tough times, but the sense that we were always meant to be together still pervades our relationship. That’s what bashert means – meant to be.

Someday we will have another wedding, with our friends and the authority of the state, but until then we shall remain as we are – fully committed and true to each other, married in soul and heart.

Happy anniversary, MaLea.

Dancing with my Children

I have two kids, sixteen years apart. Yes, 16 years. Both of their odometers turn over within the next three weeks. Neneé will be 24 on Tuesday and Yoda 8 the second week of August. (We have lots of spring/summer birthdays.)

There are vast differences between the two in addition to their ages, genders and family circumstances, but one thing remains the same – how I feel when we dance together.

Dancing with my children is a delight I will never tire of.

I danced with my children before they could do anything more that eat, sleep and eliminate.  With each month they grew, the rhythm and movements took on more shared emotions.

We went from comforting motion that put them to sleep and soothed my frayed nerves, to dips and swings that brought forth joyous giggles and belly laughs.

Mostly we dance in the living room, but we have danced in super markets, elevators and down sidewalks.

My daughter and I danced to everything from Glenn Miller to the Footloose soundtrack. One that stands out for me is Johnny Nash’s classic I Can See Clearly Now.  We would twirl and jump around to that beat over and over again.  I still have smiling visions of her beboppin’ about the living room, wearing her pink dress with the puffy sleeves.

My son and I get funky with everything in our 78 single collection to the most recent Lady GaGa. Last night we were doing our version of some saucy dance to Bette Midler’s cover of Rosemary Clooney’s Mambo Italiano, complete with dip at the end.

I’ve held both of my kids tightly, crying while dancing to Nilsson’s Can’t Live Without You.

One funny thing about dancing with them – they’ve never been embarrassed by it. I may on occasion be the meanest mom in the world, but each have grabbed me and waltzed me down the grocery aisle on their own volition.

Even when I not allowed to kiss my 8 year old in public anymore, I can count on him to accompany me in an impromptu, made up disco dance in the store.  The boy has rhythm for sure.

My daughter and I have a mending relationship right now, so I was caught off guard and thrilled when she pulled me into a dance in the aisle of Trader Joe’s one visit. My heart beats a little faster even now with the joy that she remembers.

Dancing with my children means love to me.  Its a shared and cherished experience that touches the deepest part of my heart even when we are just being plain silly.

So be kind and don’t think me crazy when I am out and begin to hum along with the satellite music, doing a little jig with a distant smile on my face.  I’m just dancing with my children.