Fifty Years, Love and Memories


Today is my mother and father-in-law’s 50th wedding anniversary.  Fifty years is a very long time.  I should know because that’s how long my very own bones have been on this planet learning to walk, and run, falling down, then starting again.  Relentlessly.

Fifty years.

A marriage lasting fifty years is more something to read about in the section of the newspaper that also records births and deaths, engagements and graduations than it is something people I know have accomplished.  Sure, my grandparents were married fifty years, but it took my mother’s mother three tries to get it right, and at that point, I think maybe she was just tired.

When I think of my mother and father-in-law, they’re rarely considered separately.  They go together like a nicely wrapped present, and if you’d told me years ago that they would matter to me as much as they now do, I would have had trouble believing you.  But they matter quite a bit. IMG_0670_2.JPG

IMG_1532_2.JPG Maybe it’s because of their unwavering support — their interest, their enthusiasm, their curiosity, energy, patience, graciousness…uncomplicated kindness.

IMG_2133.JPG I’ve known them for nearly half the time they’ve been married, which is an interesting perspective now that I think of it.  And in that time, we’ve shared quite a lot:  Thursday night pizza and wine — lots and lots of wine; annual dinners out to celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays all in one big night;  old jobs and new jobs; trips and family holidays; mint juleps and phone calls from the Kentucky Derby.  It may not sound like anything out of the ordinary to others, but I’m smiling as I think about it all.

I think about my father-in-law’s quiet, positive outlook, and my mother-in-law’s plans of places to go and things to see.  I think about what caring grandparents they are, and how good they are at making sure everyone knows that he or she is thought of in a special way.


I guess thinking about all of this today has made me realize that outside of a few stories about how they met, and where they lived, I don’t know all that much about their lives together — except that they raised a remarkably patient man I happen to be married to.  I haven’t seen many photos, either, and wonder about them now.

We’re all going out to dinner tonight to celebrate their 50 years together.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to get a story or two out of them, and if I’m lucky, some photos not too much longer from now, just to see.

Fifty years.

The MoH and I aren’t quite half way there, but we’ll get there.  We’ll get there with bells on, grinning all the way.

Being Thirteen

I was ugly when I was thirteen.  I don’t remember if I thought so then, but sorting through old photos proves it:  I went from innocent beauty to zit-ridden adolescent in three short years.  Add chubby to that as well, and the image is complete.    It was no wonder that Peter McClueless didn’t know I was alive.  What boy would be interested in returning  the unwavering admiration a fat, ugly girl beamed at him every single day of most of his eighth grade year?

No boy would, except for someone like Paul, who lived across the street.   He tried to shove a note at me once while we were in the library in Seventh Grade.  He was much shorter than I, weighed more, and had smooth, round cheeks.  A year later, I’m sure he was counting his lucky stars that I refused to take his note, relieved that he wasn’t burdened by the stigma of being associated with a fat, ugly girl.

A tow head, I’d had long hair and braids for years but always wanted it cut.  The lure of something different was more important than having shorter hair, and it was never a matter of wanting to look a particular way.  My hair was thick and more coarse than fine — not quite like a Brillo pad, but similar.  There were no glossy curls that bounced when I tossed my head, but uneven waves that turned under on one side, and not the other.  When I finally got my hair cut short, it was a relief to not have to worry about it any longer until my father bluntly mentioned that one of his friends had asked if I was his son.

What kind of father tells his daughter something like that?

A fat, ugly girl’s father.

None of my girlfriends seemed to notice I was fat and ugly.  We were all awkward victims of fashion then, wearing granny skirts and peasant tops, or ribbed sweaters and plaid A-line skirts in brown and ochre, avocado green or rust.  Our shoes were clunky and dark — not the best way to end legs without nylons, and often still unshaved. On some days, we donned giant sunglasses with lenses tinted yellow or purple, thinking ourselves cool.  We must have seen other girls at school who wore them, because none of us had a clue about what was in and what wasn’t.  We didn’t have subscriptions to teen magazines, or older sisters, and outside of what we saw on television, we had no idea about what we should wear.  Most of us made our own clothes.

The world seemed just as much in transition as we were, our bodies changing whether we wanted them to or not, and forcing us to think of ourselves differently than we had before.  The Vietnam war had three more years of lives to waste before it would end, drug education at school was relentless, and the new Hollywood was no longer a fanciful escape.

I had my head inserted firmly in the clouds, reading books and watching old movies on television, or wasting afternoons with Susy, who lived next door and made me laugh.  She was fat, too, but didn’t seem to notice, flaunting her legs in Levi cutoffs with seams split so high, the pocket linings showed.  Strutting around in our back yard, she talked about being Racquel Welch, clasping her nonexistent breasts, and pushing up as if to fill her tee shirt, laughing the entire time.  She loved vampires and roller derby and would have killed for a boyfriend.

I don’t think I ever told her I was madly in love with Peter McClueless because I knew she was the kind of person to blurt it out during lunch in front of everyone.  It wouldn’t have been to hurt my feelings or embarass me because she didn’t know I was fat and ugly either.  In fact, I’m not sure anyone knew, but if my secret got out about Peter, then I’d see  judgment on their faces, and have to acknowledge it myself.

No, I’d be 15 before I actually thought I was ugly, and 15 was miles and miles from 13 if you were me.

Making a plan for myself, maybe.

Yesterday, I avoided coming up here to sit at the keyboard, to sort through emails, to sip my coffee while scrolling through the early morning cacophony that is Twitter.  I’ve been doing this for more time than I like to acknowledge.  Instead, I straightened things up around the kitchen and the rest of the house, started some laundry, and pulled a stool up to the kitchen counter to make a plan of sorts.  It was a scary concept, but I was armed with a pad of paper, stickies, and a sharp pencil.  It was going to happen, or else.

I also silently vowed to get in the car to get groceries before noon — something I resist doing like one might resist jumping into an ice cold pool buck naked just because it was there.

Continue reading “Making a plan for myself, maybe.”

The Things We Keep

Yesterday I tackled the garage, and although I’m far from being done, I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made.  It’s  a jumble of items you’d expect to find in a garage: a fairly recent deposit of my kitchen overflow;  remnants of our recent construction;  boxes expelled of Christmas decorations waiting for their return;  and my son’s truly unbelievable collection of crap.

Son's Crap

Not exactly a glamorous way to spend the first day after the holidays home alone, but pleasant.  I popped the garage door open to let in the light and brisk air realizing that if I had an attic or basement, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy either of those or my less than friendly neighbors as they passed by on their morning walk, furtively avoiding my gaze and the greeting perched on my tongue, just waiting for an opportunity to be human.   Ever the optimist am I.

I think the reason I avoid organizing our garage or anything else in my house that collects pieces of our lives over time, is that I’m forced to think about the memories attached to every item I handle.  It isn’t that I regret those memories — it’s more about having to accept the time it adds to the task, and the mood I’ll need to wallow in when I’m finished.

My thoughts wandered from annoyance with my son for keeping what resembles a rat’s nest wherever he goes, to flippant defiance:  What if I printed our address in craigslist in the “free” section and just left the garage door open to  the inevitable riot?  Instead, what I’m left with this morning are what lies between, like thoughts about boys growing up who were never interested in playing sports, but did to indulge us.

Old Trophies



Old Toys

Thoughts about school and career, and where all that knowledge and understanding goes when one is done with it.  Of an old house and all its poignant memories.   Of grandmothers and Martha, old friends I should call or write, and school kids I will never, ever forget.

Beauty lost to function and sentimentality to practicality on many counts during my purge. Copper pieces that have gleamed in the morning sun and cast sparks of light on my dining room wall for years are in the discard pile.  Decorations for Valentines Day and Easter that used to liven up the house when the boys were little also ended up in the pile along with a huge bag of stuffed animals I haven’t opened in years.  If I see them, I’ll have to think about who owned which and at what point in life.  It’s sort of leaning against the discard pile, not quite a part of it, and not quite separate.  Is there a child’s stuffed animal heaven somewhere I haven’t heard of?

Old Bunny

But there are things I’ve not quite decided to let go of, and If they’re any indication of who I am or what I’ve been, then I’m as odd as I’ve always thought I’ve been.  As odd as the stack of Martha Stewart Living magazines that seem to be about much more than the paper they’re printed on.  What does one do with that many magazines sitting, collecting spiders and bugs with too many legs to count?  Do I get one out each week, leaf through it, cut out what strikes my fancy and toss it to get on with the next?  There’s something about a sharp pair of scissors cutting along a perfectly straight line and thinking through one’s life.

Ferd, a giant bunny, sits in a corner on a stack of coolers.  It’s not a very dignified place for something that reminds me of how simple love can be if we allow it, and how easily life can be taken for granted, or lost if we’re not careful.

And these bottles?  I dug them up in the washed out area of an old dump near one of the last places my grandmother lived.  It was in the middle of nowhere — one of those places people used to go and then forgot about after the freeway was built.  The bottles aren’t valuable, but I like their varying shapes and embossed surfaces, each a slightly different tint than the next.  She was like that.

Junk Yard Bottles

Or a bag I packed the day I left my job, nearly two years ago.  It’s moved from one side of the garage to the other, but I haven’t unpacked it yet.  But I might blow the dust off the silver bar that used to sit on my desk to remind me that others see us quite differently than we see ourselves.

Career in a Bag

I’ve done quite a bit of thinking since finishing my work yesterday, and realize that as much as I got some exercise and fresh air, I’ve only moved everything from one side of the garage to the other.  It’s more organized than it was, but it’s all still sitting there.

It’s only been sifted.

Sunrise and Musical Cars

I’ve spent some time going back through what I’d written at this time last year.  In much the same way that I can go through photos, which always tell a different story than words, it helped me understand more than ever, two things.

Some things never change.

The sun will always rise in the morning and when it does, I will always be distracted by the light cast and shadows created by its brilliance.  I will struggle with wanting and needing to go outside, but probably won’t even though I truly want to.  The neighbors I’ve tried to be friendly with will have yet another car in their driveway, flaunting their strange obsessive compulsiveness to my complete fascination.

Remember Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun? Each day from her balcony, she observed an old man in black placing flowers in a vase in the wall, and each day he ignored her smile as she watched him.  That kind of fascination.  Except mine isn’t as fascinating, and the last time I looked, I wasn’t Diane Lane.

Thankfully, I don’t have to worry about the sunrise, and I work at changing my determination to exercise my body consistently, but when the sun does rise, I’m mesmerized, then spend countless minutes wondering why that black SUV is centered perfectly in the neighbor’s driveway instead of one, or both of the silver sedans normally parked there.  I wonder why they don’t greet me when I’m outside, or worse, hesitate to respond to my greeting without making eye contact.  Nothing to lose sleep over, but it keeps me occupied so I don’t have to exercise or write about something constructive — like the body that has changed so much in the past two years, sometimes I feel as if I’m wearing someone else’s.  It would be nice to be Diane Lane.

It hurts, and it doesn’t matter whether I’ve exercised or not, whether I’ve had a busy day around the house, or a long day of sitting at my Mac.  It hurts.  I don’t understand the abdomen that was once so taut, and now is anything but.  It’s soft and pudgy, and feels like it did after I gave birth to each of my sons — empty, a bit lumpy, and sore.  My shoulders hurt, my back aches, my arms sting, and my hip bones throb nearly all day long, every day.  Some day more than others.

I’d say this is quite a bit of change, but to some extent, it’s normal. All I have to do is trawl through the message boards and forums on women’s health websites full of complaints like mine.  Words like “debilatating,” “excruciating,” and “chronic” permeate the comments. Most come from women my age — some have had hysterectomies, and some haven’t.

Like I said.  Normal.  I can obsess over trying to fix it or deal with it.

I’m dealing with it.  Sort of.

Everything changes.

I’ve noticed the neighbors spend quite a bit of time moving their cars around.  Their garage is meticulously organized, but there’s only room for one of their cars, so often, the second is parked in the driveway.  Other days, they’re both in the driveway, side by side.  Perfectly.  Although they recently bought a new car — no, make that two — they’ve kept one of the older cars.  Three cars for two people.  Some days, I’m not sure where the old car is, and other days, after they’ve opened the garage, I notice it’s parked inside the garage, with each of the others parked in the driveway behind it.  Should one of them want to drive the old car, both of the others have to be moved in order to back the old one out of the garage.  Sometimes, all the cars are gone and I wonder where three cars have gone with only two people.  I wonder why the lady backs her car out of the driveway, pulls forward to circle around the cul-de-sac, and then swings widely before pulling back into the driveway.  Musical cars.

Some things never change.

The sun is exceptionally bright today, this first day of the new year that I’ve been alone in the house.  The RTR is back to school, the MoH at work.  House guests back to their homes and lives.  The old doggo is on her bed downstairs, and the Yack Star curled on a pillow near me.

My coffee cup is empty.

There’s work to be done.