Category Archives: Family

My Sister’s Brother and Other Fictional Characters

The blog posts that have received the most feedback and comments have been the ones about losing my dog and my grandfather. In my first blog post, I mentioned that I once tried to be a writer, a novelist, but the agents who read my submissions didn’t like my writing style. It seems that my talents are better suited to biographies rather than fiction. However, my sister once created a fictional character so believable that she was given bereavement time off work to mourn his passing. Let me explain…

My sister had used up all of her time off at work, but really wanted to be with the rest of the family for a weekend at the lake. So, she created a fake death in the family. Her make-believe deceased loved one had a name and a backstory, as any good fictional character would have. His name was Vance. He was only 36 when he dropped dead from a sudden, and unexpected, heart attack.

Luckily, in those days employers didn’t ask for obituaries or death certificates to prove that a relative had indeed died. This was a simpler time when employers treated employees like adults and trusted us to behave as such. Perhaps fake dead relatives are the reason we are no longer afforded this luxury!

Ironically, Vance’s death was only the beginning of his story. Months later, when my sister had long forgotten about the passing of her imaginary brother. she started dating her manager. He accompanied her to family events and fit right in with us. After being in our homes, listening to our stories and looking at the framed family photos on display, he noticed that something was missing. Eventually, he asked my sister why we never talk about our brother. She responded that we didn’t have a brother, there were just three sisters.

Then it hit her! She had to come clean and tell her boss that she’d invented the story just to get the weekend off. Perhaps this was the moment that he understood why she returned to work after the “funeral” with a sunburn!

My writer’s hat is off to my sister who is far better at creating fictional characters than I am. No one ever suspected that her story wasn’t true. Not even me! After that weekend at the lake, I sent my sister a sympathy card. It said, “Sorry to hear about the loss of your brother. Love, Your Sister.

fakebrother

 

Grandpa Knew How to Find the Funny

I recently lost my grandfather. That’s not funny, but he was. The ability to Find the Funny in life is a family trait that stemmed from Grandpa. He loved a good, clean joke. He loved puns. He loved to laugh and to make people laugh.

Every new generation of grandchildren gave him a new audience who’d never heard his corny jokes and puns. One of his favorites was to mention a henway. Your response was supposed to be “What’s a henway?” His answer: “Oh about three pounds.”

He saw a lot of bad in his lifetime… The Depression, losing his father at an early age, World War II, but he didn’t dwell on those things. He chose to look at life through his sense of humor. He was more than just funny. He was a sailor, a business owner, a husband, father, and grandfather (add great and great-great to this list) and a master woodworker. He could build anything and he could fix anything. My grandparents never had a repairman in their house.

He raised a son and daughter who are each funny in their own right, but if you get them together, you’d better be wearing your adult diapers. ‘Cause you’re gonna laugh until you pee.

His name was Paul and he owned a business called Anchor. Many people assumed his name was Paul Anchor. When I was in high school, I told a friend about the Paul Anchor thing, which unfortunately sounds a lot like Paul Anka (if you’re young or don’t remember, he was a singer back in my day). I got a lot of teasing about my grandfather singing the song, You’re Having My Baby.

anchor

Grandpa sold and repaired televisions and other electronics. In his spare time, he loved to watch tv. In a time when most homes had one tv, maybe two, my grandfather had them all over the house including his garage and the bathroom.

I moved in with my grandparents when I was 14. Can you imagine a worse time to take in a stray child than at 14 years of age? They were there through all of the angry, hormonal years and never drove me out to the woods to release me back to the wild. With apologies to my husband and children, my grandparents were the best thing that ever happened to me.

Grandma and Grandpa

When I married my husband Joe, he and my grandfather spent a lot of time together. So much so that my kids starting calling their great-grandfather, “Joe’s friend Grandpa.” He told Joe to call him Paul but Joe kept calling him Grandpa. Eventually, Grandpa realized that Joe needed a grandfather more than he needed a friend. From then on, he referred to Joe as his grandson. That’s the kind of guy he was.

He lived to see his children retire and his oldest grandchild turn gray-haired, but he wasn’t your typical old man. After Katrina, when he was 80 years old, he drove down to the coast of Mississippi to offer hurricane relief. And I’m not talking about handing out blankets and bottled water. He went into flooded homes, ripped out carpet and sheetrock and carried them out on his own back.

Since his passing, people have shared their memories of my grandfather. While many were of him being a mentor, or an inspiration, most were about his sense of humor. He was still joking right up to the end. When the nurses came into his room to check his mental status they’d ask his name and date of birth, then they’d ask if he knew where he was. Every single time he’d say, “Yep, I’m right here!”

A few years ago I told Grandpa that I had a good pun for his funeral. He said “Don’t be in too big of a hurry to use it!” I told him what it was. He laughed and gave his approval. So, with his permission, here it is… No one would appreciate more than my grandfather that the pall bearers at his funeral were actually “Paul” bearers.

Grandpa & Mac

 

Hitched Without a Hitch

There’s an old saying, “the wedding went off without a hitch” meaning everything went as planned. There’s another saying that when a couple gets married, they get “hitched.” In the case of my daughter and son-in-law, they got hitched without a hitch.

I’ve heard so many disaster stories of weddings gone wrong. I have a friend whose cake fell apart upon delivery. Another friend got a big hug from the flower girl (who was wearing makeup) right before the wedding, leaving a lot of her makeup on the dress. In each case, the bride took it very well. They both said, “It’s OK. I’m getting married today!” I don’t think I would have handled that so well.

So many things could have gone wrong. When there are kids in a wedding, there’s always a risk that they’ll go rogue. But the flower girls and ringbearers did their jobs perfectly. Nothing fell. No one fainted. No one said “I don’t.” It’s not enough to say that nothing went wrong. I wish I could list the thousand things that went right. The weather, the pre-wedding music, the dress, the hair, the make up, the vows, the bubbles and the horse drawn carriage. The perfection spilled over to the reception with fantastic food, family and friends dancing to great music.

The bride was so much the opposite of nervous that she wanted to go out to breakfast the morning of the wedding. How many brides feel like eating a full breakfast on the wedding day?  That’s how confident she was but this was the right groom, on the right day, at the right time. We ate at The Arcade, the oldest cafe in Memphis. Unfortunately we didn’t get to sit in the Elvis booth.

arcade, Memphis, restaurant

 

While everything involving the bride and groom went off without a hitch, it seems that no day can be completely perfect.  There were some snags for a few of our guests.

A cousin of the bride was on a sequestered jury. We knew all week that he might not make it to the wedding. As luck would have it the jury finished deliberating just in time for him to make it. Well, he would have made it if the trial had been in Memphis. By the time the trial ended in Nashville and they drove the jury back to Memphis, he arrived just in time to miss the whole thing. We really missed him being there. The good part was that the wedding venue was close to the jury drop off location. So his family didn’t have to go far to retrieve him.

My niece, another cousin of the bride, arrived at the wedding in plenty of time to make it. But she was detained due to a fender bender in the parking lot. No one was hurt and she made it inside for most of the wedding.

When we arrived at the reception my sister, the bride’s aunt, was complaining of quite a bit of pain. She’d been having some mild pain for a couple of days but it was now kicked into high gear. Enough of us in the family have had kidney stones to recognize the signs. So we sent her off to the emergency room. Guess who drove her to the ER? The niece who had the wreck. If it’s true that lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place, then she was the safest bet!

Since my sister was all dressed up for the wedding, she got a lot of compliments in the ER about being too pretty to feel so bad. My niece had to leave her briefly. When she came back she told the staff, “I’m looking for the lady in the pretty dress who’s dying in pain.”

prettydress

The lady in the pretty dress

It did turn out to be a kidney stone. A sizable one. She had it blasted a few days later and is recovering well at home as we speak… or as I write.

As far as I know, no members of the groom’s family were harmed in the making of this marriage.

justmarried

Hitched

 

Our Story

It’s our anniversary, so I’m going to tell you our story.

It was the summer of 2001. I had spent all summer working weekends in an ER and spending the weekdays at the lake with my daughters and our dog. Every weekend I dropped them (the kids, not the dog) at their dad’s, worked two 12 hour night shifts, picked them up on Monday morning and headed back to the lake. We spent all week walking in the woods, floating in the lake and doing whatever we wanted. When summer was over and the kids had to go back to school, the ER manager asked if I could work some extra shifts during the week. So, I picked up a random Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, on that same random Tuesday, Joe picked up an extra shift on an ambulance. When he and his partner arrived on a scene to pick up a patient, Joe stepped out of the ambulance into (he would soon discover) a hole that was concealed by overgrown grass. He twisted his ankle. I don’t know all of the details of how the fire department handles these situations. Someone had to take Joe to the ER and someone else had to take his place transporting the original patient. What I do know is that they brought him to my ER.

When I saw a firefighter in uniform in the waiting room, with an ice pack on his ankle, I couldn’t resist making fun of him. “You’re supposed to bring the patient, not be the patient.”

I checked on him frequently between my other patients. He must have been there a long time because we talked quite a bit. When he told me what firehouse he was working in that night, I told him that I went to the high school right behind that house. He said that he went to that school too. Um… what? I didn’t believe him, but it was true. We went to the same high school and didn’t know each other.

I also learned that, in addition to the fire department, he served in the Air National Guard and would be shipping out for a two week deployment in a few days. On my birthday. To Hawaii.

What I didn’t know then, is that Joe is very shy the first time he meets someone. So the fact that he talked to me at all was amazing. But asking for my phone number when he was discharged from the ER… that was a miracle!

We went on a couple of dates before he left for Hawaii, including the best first date ever. He called me frequently while he was there. Two weeks later, when he was scheduled to fly back to Memphis, September 11th happened. He tried to gain my sympathy for being unable to fly back home. Sorry buddy, you’re stuck in Hawaii. I don’t feel sorry for you.

September 11th had an effect on everyone. For some of us, it accelerated our relationships. Another side effect was that people were afraid to fly, so flights were pretty inexpensive. Joe wanted to take advantage of the cheap flights and show me Hawaii. We left Memphis on a cold, rainy Valentine’s Day and a few hours later we were in warm, sunny Hawaii. Two days later, we rented a convertible and drove along the coast. In the words of Adele, “it was just like a movie, it was just like a song.”  I said, “This place is so romantic. Are you sure you don’t want to get married while we’re here?”  He said “OK.”  That was not the proposal of my dreams, but it’s how we became engaged.

It was a weekend, and the following Monday was a federal holiday. It would be Tuesday before we could find out if we could get married there. Yes, we could.  We got a marriage license. One phone call got us a location, preacher, and photographer. I got my nails done and ordered flowers. We bought rings and a dress.

On Thursday morning, the same day we were scheduled to leave Hawaii, six months to the day after we met, we stood at the base of Diamondhead and got married. This weekend, we’ll celebrate the 14 wonderful years that have passed since that day and the many more to come.

My Mother and The President

My mother has been a good sport about me telling stories about her in my blog. In this one, I won’t be making fun of her, or anyone else. This time she gets credit for something good. I don’t think she’s ever heard my side of this story…

In 1973, Ronald Reagan came to Memphis for a convention. My mother heard that he was in town, found out where he was staying, called the hotel and asked to speak to him. I didn’t know who this man was. My mother explained that he was the governor of California and a former movie actor. Little did either of us know that in just a few years, he would be President of the United States.

At that time, I had no idea that my mother grew up extremely poor. Her family did not have a television. The first time she saw a movie in a theater was as a teenager while dating my father. So, she’d probably never seen any of Ronald Reagan’s movies. But, she was a fan nonetheless and wanted to extend some good old Southern hospitality to him.

I listened as my mother spoke to… well, I don’t know if she was speaking to a hotel employee or the Secret Service. I remember they asked her who she was with, as in what organization. She said, “I’m not with anyone. I just wanted to call and welcome him to Memphis.”

I can picture the scene as if it just happened. She was sitting on the side of her bed, using the phone on the bedside table. I stood near the foot of the bed listening. I remember not liking the anonymous person on the other end of the phone. He was being unkind to my mother. I had no idea that calling a famous person was not a normal thing to do (I don’t like my use of the word “normal” here, but I’m at a loss for the correct word).

When I think about that day, this is probably the moment that I realized that people are just people. No one is better than anyone else. Ronald Reagan may have been a famous actor and future president, but he was still just a man. A man that my mother wanted to welcome to her hometown.

As a nurse, I have worked with people who believed that their position made them better than those in other positions. I have never had respect for a person based on the letters that follow his name. I will, however, respect them if they treat people decently despite those letters.

Several years ago, a new pastor came to my church. My entire extended family befriended him and his family. We bonded almost instantly. He told me that the reason he felt drawn to us was that we treated him like a man rather than a preacher.

People often comment on my self confidence. I used to associate that with being cocky or arrogant. It’s not that I think I’m superior, it’s that I don’t think I’m inferior. I owe that to my mother and her bold attempt to contact Ronald Reagan.

My mother never did get to speak to Governor (future President) Reagan, but her attempt became a profound moment in my development.

He’s saying “You go girl!”

 

Mad About The Mouse

If you knew me in the summer of 2012, you knew two things for sure… I had lost my day off (explanation to follow), and I was going to my first ever major-league baseball game. The reason everyone who knew me knew this was that I talked about it all the time!  One was a terrible event being buffered by a much better one.

I’m a huge baseball fan, so it was a surprise to many that this would be my first time to go to a major league game.

 

Here’s the thing about the day off. Nurses don’t typically work Monday through Friday jobs. The majority of hospital nurses work three 12 hour shift. My department works four 10 hour days. But in the summer of 2012, we were forced to work a five day work week. I know that every non-nurse reading this feels no sympathy for us. But we were NOT happy. And everyone knew it.

On the bright side, I had tickets, months in advance, to a St. Louis Cardinals game at the end of September. So while my coworkers and I endured what we thought was going to be a 90 day thing – I was looking forward to a trip to St. Louis with my husband and some friends and especially looking forward to the ball game.

That five day workweek lasted over six months. Most of us had no idea how to function. When were we supposed to go to the dentist? Get our nails done? Grocery shop?  People kept asking me if I was letting my hair grow out. “No! I lost my day off! I don’t have time to get a hair cut.” Then I’d follow with… “But, I’m going to a Cards game!”

All the while I had a little cardinal sitting on my desk reminding me that better days were coming.

I called him Louie

Once again, months in advance, I have a very special trip planned to Disneyworld and everyone who knows me has heard about it (and will continue to). I love Disneyworld.  I have been a few times but my husband has never been. In February, I’m taking the man who makes me happy to the happiest place on earth!

I have been there with my kids when they were little and again when they were all grown up…

I’ve been with a group of girlfriends…

Waiting in that LONG line for Toy Story Mania!

 

Selfie with the tag still on the ears

 

Obligatory castle selfie

I love Disneyworld more than any grown woman should. Disney characters were my celebrities when I was a kid. Seeing Mickey Mouse in person is just as exciting to me as seeing Justin Timberlake. [If you don’t get that reference, feel free to insert some other good-looking, funny celebrity who can sing, dance, act and bring pride to his hometown.]

As much as I already love it, it will be even better with my husband. We never do relaxing vacations. We squeeze in as much as possible during the time we have. Seriously, we went to Hawaii, and I came back without a tan. We did so much running around, we never took time to go to the beach.

We really should take a week to recover from our vacations. They’re exhausting!

Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments. Favorite restaurants. Favorite rides, Favorite shows. Tips and advice. Anything you want to share.

 

Buddy: The Best Dog Ever

We said goodbye to our black lab, Buddy. He was the best dog ever. On paper, he was my daughter’s dog, but in his heart, and in ours, he belonged to us all. When my daughter got Buddy on her 15th birthday, graduation was just a few years away and we knew that he would probably stay home with us old folks when she left for college. Then, when he was a year old, we decided that the puppy needed a puppy to play with. That’s where Jenny, his lifelong companion, came in. After that, my daughter knew that she could never take Buddy away and separate those two.

Buddy and puppy Jenny
Buddy and Jenny

The thing about Buddy is that he was such a textbook lab that he couldn’t NOT fetch. If you threw something, anything, he had to retrieve it. We learned, the hard way, to make sure something floats BEFORE throwing it in the water. We threw something once that sank and he was determined to dive until he found it.

His only fault was that he was so passive. He let the other dogs walk all over him, sometimes literally. They took his toys, his bed and ate his food, and he let them. You may recall from a previous post (Guest Blogger: Eddie) that he ran away with Eddie, our jack russell terrier. I’m certain that Eddie coerced him.

If one of us got sick, Buddy would bring toys and stay at our side until we were all better. If one of the other dogs was outside wanting in, Buddy would go in search of a human to let them know to come open the door. His internal alarm clock was legendary. Our dogs are fed at 5am and 5pm. If there was no food in his bowl at 5:00 sharp, he always reminded us in his sweet, polite way. When my mother came to visit, Buddy couldn’t decide whom to protect through the night. He had to sleep in the hallway between the bedrooms to make sure that all of us were safe.

One day, when Jenny was much too young, she and Buddy “eloped” in the backyard. This resulted in two adorable boy puppies. One black, one brown, just like their parents. We loved those puppies and often wish we’d kept them. But they’re very happy in their forever homes and we get updates on them frequently. Giving them away, even to good, loving families, was difficult. We realized we’re not cut out for dog breeding so everybody got “fixed” after that.

 

Buddy’s 11th birthday was a few weeks ago. We bought him a retrieving toy (that floats, of course) and took him to the lake to try it out. This was before we knew that anything was wrong. After fetching the toy two or three times, he took it into the woods and hid it. I searched, found it and threw it again. Once again, he swam out to retrieve it, then hid it in the woods. I finally realized that he wanted me to stop throwing it, since he didn’t have the option to stop retrieving it.

 

That was the first sign that something was wrong and the decline was rapid after that. Once we realized and accepted what was inevitable, we took him to the lake one last time without the other dogs. I honestly don’t know if he liked being the only dog there or if he missed his friends, but there were several humans there. Buddy swam one last time, got a lot of attention and some people food.

 

I don’t think anyone will ever love us as much as Buddy did.

 

Substitute Husband Needed

My husband left the country for two weeks, leaving his very spoiled wife to fend for herself. I am the first to admit that my husband does more around the house than I do. He keeps this place running and no one feels his absence more than me.

Sometime after he left, my daughter and I took off to spend a day at the lake. We spent the day floating around, swimming with our dogs and soaking up the sun. For reasons unknown to me, the sun zaps more energy from my body than any workout ever could. That particular day it was 99 degrees in the city, but the lake had a really nice breeze going. Just to give you some perspective, the breeze blew these bubbles with no assistance from me…

 

We came home in the afternoon and, despite my energy being stolen by the sun, I showered, did my hair, put on make up and went to the grocery store. When I pulled into my driveway, I noticed that our grass was somewhere around knee high – a criminal offense in the suburbs.

I tried my hardest to think of a reason that would prevent me from mowing the lawn. The truth is, the only excuse I had was not wanting to waste a shower and a good hair day. But I didn’t want my husband to come home after a 12 hour flight and find the yard up to his eyeballs – along with a citation – so I headed outside to find the grass cutting machine – I mean, the lawn mower.

The last time I cut the grass was when he was overseas in 2005.  TEN years ago! But, it’s like riding a bike… you don’t forget how to do it, or why you haven’t done it in 10 years. To distract and entertain myself, I wrote this song in my head while mowing. Think West Side Story

I felt pretty, oh so pretty
Now I’m red and I’m covered in sweat
And I haven’t even started on the back yard yet.
I felt pretty, oh so pretty
My hair and my makeup were WOW
But I envy any girl who isn’t me right now.

This is me before and after the grass cutting adventure.

My husband is a good man who deserves a pretty wife with makeup, great hair and non-calloused hands… not the scary, sweaty chick on the right. So, I think I’ll hire a substitute husband for the rest of the time that he’s gone. A pinch hitter, second string, B team, Jr. Varsity, understudy, rental husband… you get the idea. The pay isn’t great and the benefits are even more lacking, but my husband deserves a happy wife, right? I’m doing it for you, Sweet Pea!

Then I can spend more time on things like this…

 

Not Dead Yet

When we were kids, my youngest sister, Patty became anemic. If you’re not familiar with anemia, it’s an iron deficiency that leaves a person pale, weak, tired and easily short of breath.  I suppose we weren’t eating properly at the time. I don’t know why Patty was the only one affected, but wow was she affected!

Patty was so tired that she was having trouble walking home from the bus stop after school every day. Our other sister, Sherry, would go home every day, get on her bicycle, and go back to pick up Patty at the bus stop. This went on for quite some time before our mother found out about it. She must have been working extra which would explain why she didn’t know about it as well as why Patty was not getting enough iron in her diet.

Patty on the left, Sherry on the right, me in the middle

One winter day, Sherry wasn’t at the bus stop, so Patty started walking toward home. The walk became too much for her and she sat down on the curb to wait for her ride. While waiting, she fell asleep, in someone’s yard with her coat pulled over her head.

The mom, at the house where my sister was passed out on the lawn, looked out her window and thought something had been thrown into her yard. She walked outside to find that a child had been hit by a car and left there on the side of the road – or so she thought.

That poor woman! Can you imagine the horror she was experiencing in that moment? She had no idea what she would find when she lifted that coat. Whose child was under there? Was she alive or dead? She must have been so relieved to find that my sister was only sleeping. That relief was probably quickly followed by confusion as to why a little girl – a stranger – was sleeping in her yard.

Or maybe she experienced my favorite mother emotion… “Mom anger” for being put in that situation in the first place.  How many of us have been “worried sick” about our children only to find them perfectly safe and then yell at them for being perfectly safe? “Do you have any idea how worried I was?!”

Obviously, this was the day my mother found out about my sister’s lethargy. After she took her to the doctor and got a diagnosis of anemia, we started eating a lot better. They say every cloud has a silver lining. If the cloud was my little sister’s anemia and the silver lining was better groceries… then thanks for taking one for the team, Patty!

I’m happy to say that my sister is alive and well. She hasn’t been found dead in anyone’s yard since that day. She was healthy enough to have three beautiful babies and spends all of her time taking care of other people – grandparents, grandchildren and everyone in between.

 

In the same order – all grown up

 

The Attic

Welcome to my blog where, hopefully, you can escape from all the recent commotion. I feel like I’ve been to a same-sex wedding, wearing a confederate flag, sitting between Caitlyn Jenner and the Duggar family, pretending to be black, with everyone throwing bibles  at each other and shouting that everyone else is wrong! I’m exhausted and in need of a distraction. [Context: when this was written all of the things listed here were trending heavily in the news.]

There are many ways to escape when life becomes overwhelming. Some numb it with alcohol. Some get lost in a book or movie. Others literally take a hike. A favorite diversion for me is a visit to my grandparents’ house, especially their attic.

My grandparents moved into their house in the early 50s. Then they never threw away anything. Ever. Again. There’s a walk-in attic at the top of the stairs where they store most of their past. A stroll through the attic is a virtual trip through time. Grandpa’s trunk is full of navy uniforms from his years of military service. I imagine them as a young family playing with the croquet set now collecting dust in the corner, along with their personalized bowling balls, Chinese checkers, dominos and puzzles. There are boxes of mason jars stacked as high as my head that my grandmother used for canning fig preserves. A wheelchair serves as a reminder of my great-grandmother.

My father’s train set. His sister’s brownie uniforms. Christmas decorations. Boxes of photos and slides. Seventy years of family history.

The truth is, this entire post should be written in the past tense because recently, my grandmother decided it was time to clear out the clutter. The attic is nearly empty now. I grabbed a few things and brought them to my house (see below). Unfortunately, I didn’t get the mason jars before they were donated. It seems she had no idea how trendy those are right now.

Before The Great Purge, there was a clothes line that stretched a good 20 feet across the attic; holding nearly every dress my grandmother has owned since moving into this house. Six decades of dresses. My favorite was a silver, sleeveless, floor length gown, accessorized with full length gloves. Every time I think about that dress I want to kick myself for not wearing it to my prom. I would have looked fantastic in that dress! Here’s the only picture I’ve ever seen of it…

At first, it was hard to walk into the attic and see so much empty space. But the important thing is…We still have plenty of memories, photos and mementos. Best of all, we still have our grandparents.