Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Your 71st Birthday


It has become your month now, the month of you, the month in which you both entered and left this world, a month of change and flux, of the onset of colors turned in an instant and then others still coolly green--in many ways, so much like you.

Instead of turning to the end, on this day I have been trying to imagine the beginning, the beginning of you, the you who would become my father, the you who born to who must have been hopeful and proud, the day when you became their son.

I imagine the sky a bright blue, that it was warm for that time of year, that October 14 of 1939 when you came into the world and changed everything.

There are few pictures of you as a little boy, some with your sister, whom you yearned to know in those last months when the end got closer. I remember thinking how remarkable it was, how you let us see your most raw and true self, who yearned nearly sixty years later for the sister who hadn't lived long enough for him to really know. You look so happy in those pictures, in your suit and tie with your little blond sister leaning against you, your eyes crinkling up the way they always did when you laughed hardest.

And then there are the ones of you dressed in ear muffs and coat while your cousin lounges against a fence in a light jacket, the marks of what had been a fearful and overprotective mother.

My favorites are your Little League pictures, the All-Star pitcher with the killer arm. The trophies as tall as you were in your living room next to your mother in a dress, smiling, Gramps in the dugout, you looking serious, not giving the other team anything to go on.

You would like for us to think of those days, I think, when you were so young and hopeful and full of promise.

On my refrigerator I keep a picture of you from your high school yearbook. On it is stamped the words, "Unfinished File," a mark to show it has not yet been touched up, tampered with. Finished.

I don't know if you were finished at the end, Daddy...if any of us ever is.

For me--for us--you will never be finished, for you left behind love--and a missing--that stretches far beyond these days that mark time, these days when everything changed, when you came into and left this world, of this October two years past now, and all of those yet to come.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sh*t "The Woman" Said

I've been reading that book, the book born of a blog, that seems to occupy every front table in Barnes & Noble, Borders, those big wooden tables we so-called literary people secretly hope to occupy.

The book?

Sh*t My Dad Says.

And it's great. Deadpan. Hilarious. That kind of hilarious-without-trying-too-hard thing that some people are so good at.

So, as I'm reading the book in the here-and-there parts of your life that the book seems tailored to (waiting rooms, after-school pick-up, brief moments in the car, the throne), I've been thinking about how I've wanted to try blogging and had that usual sort of scorn that literary people tend to have toward such things (we are a bunch of sneerers, it's true), and today, in the car, with the book beside me, I thought about Sh-t my grandmother said.

The Woman.

That's what I called her from the time I was about fifteen until she passed away a little over two years ago. Because that's who she was. "The Woman." The Woman To End All Women.

She did try to end a few, too. And she wasn't sorry about it.

No, The Woman--My Woman--was about as ungrandmotherly as you could imagine. No soft, high yeasty smell of baked bread lingering on her apron. No candies in her housedress pocket. (She did wear a housedress, this is true, but the smell was mostly mothball-ish or the lingering lemon joy of Jean Nate'. In here earlier years, she probably also called up a Pledge scent as well, since she was forever waxing varous surfaces in varying stages of cleaning frenzy.

But the best part of The Woman was the sh*t she said.

To my brothers and me, parched outside on the back lawn in the heat after rounds of wiffel ball at (roughly) ages eleven, nine, and six, when we begged our grandfather to ask her pemission for us to be allowed inside on the over-waxed floors for a drink of water:

(From the open window): "Drink outta the hose!"

(I think we did).

To my mother on her answering machine at 4:04 pm:

"I thought you said you got home at four...ya liar!"

To me, walking in front of her as my father wheeled her back to her room (these were the nursing home days, but she could still dish it), after initially telling me that I--newly pregnant--looked "good" (a high compliment from her):

(As loudly as possible down the hall):

"Ya gained weight in the back, Laurie!"

On her nursing home roommate when I asked--foolishly--"Do you like your roommate, Woman?"

"No. Spanish!"

Oh, and the gems just kept on coming....until May 2, 2008.

When she died--and here I give you only a snippet of some of the sh*t she said--and some of the kinder sh*t, frankly--we all gathered at the funeral home for her wake. We'd asked for a deacon because no one could really tell how pious The Woman actually felt--though what she claimed was a different story--and because my uncle, her son, had died only months before and because my father, then so sick, couldn't sit through another Mass.

I can still hear the silence that followed when the deacon said to the group of us--my parents, my aunt, my brothers, my cousins, those of us who had surely known her best--"So, tell me about Catherine."

The silence lasted a good fifteen seconds when my mother finally said, "They broke the mold when they made her."

Never have I felt less envy for any human being than I did for that poor deacon, but he delivered one of the funniest, most honest, and warmest--yes, warmest--eulogies I'd ever heard.

She's gone now, of course, but sometimes, in those little moments when I'm in the car and waiting to pick up one of my kids or I'm driving past the nursing home, or when I'm reading a book, say, like this one, I think about her.

I think about The Woman.

And I think about the sh*t she said.