You Are Not Alone

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Calling On Souls

Think Of Me
There's always a lot that's left to be done,
and many a battle still to be won.
Many a goal that's never been reached.
Many the lessons and no time to teach.
I hope when I leave my Loved Ones will see
The future unborn that's wanting to be.
When I watch Mad Men, I think of times gone by, I think of how I wish people still dressed like they dressed in the fifties and sixties, with hats and gloves, dresses and suits. I think of how the people portrayed in Mad Men were the age of my Grandparents.

There were people, there ARE people, alive today, who lived in that era and can tell us what it was like.

I think of my Grandfather and, my Paternal Great-grandparents.

I think of my childhood and, I remember and then I become sad because, I feel like I’m the only person who remembers how we lived, in my Grandpa's house, in a crumbling museum, before my Grandpa died when I was ten.

No one else seems to remember the way I remember.

All I know is that my Mom was one of six living children, (seven, except for Anthony who died of Pneumonia when he was not even one, a tragedy and, I don't mean that glibly) in a pink shingled, two story house in the sixties.

My Grandfather had a purple heart. My Grandfather drank a lot and, my Grandma left him with six children, running to California and leaving my Grandfather to care for their six children, on his own. My Mother's Grandmother came to stay and help my Grandfather with the children, (her husband had committed suicide) and hated my Mom because, out of all the children that were born, my Mother looked most like HER Mother.

I didn't know about that till I was older.

I just knew that we lived with my Grandpa until I was about five. Before my parents divorced, my Dad took my Mom, me and my Brothers in a vintage Thunderbird that was pink with white trim, from Green lake, WA to Spokane, WA to visit His Great-grandparents.

I remember the sun being out, the dew was absent but, it wasn't too hot and, admiring the concord grape arbor in my Great-grandparent’s yard and, how my Great Grandma allowed me to pull carrots from her garden. I thought pulling carrots was great fun. The carrot leaves sprayed out of the ground, like a X on a treasure map. I wanted to know what was underneath and, Great Granny Elsie told me I could pull and, I pulled and pulled and, out came this small carrot, orange flecked with black-brown dirt and I was proud that I used my own strength to pull that carrot out of the ground, (it was hard for me)  that I found the treasure, that I wasn't yelled at for being curious but, praised for my hard work and curiosity.

The next thing I remember, from that first trip to my Great-Grandparent’s house was waking up in the car, disoriented, disgruntled, stiff and grumpy and, my parents telling me it was OK. I fell back asleep until we got home and I woke up when the car stopped and I felt my Dad heft me into his arms as he lifted me out of the car and carried me into my Grandpa's house in the moonlight.

No one remembers this and, my parents seem amazed that I do but, I do.

I remember visiting my Great-grandparents in Renton, WA, on a house on a slope. I remember the last drive to that house, it had been raining, (of course, ) but the rain stopped and the sun came out but, only in a measely swipe that somehow blessed the clearing that was a part of undeveloped Renton, at the time. Renton used to be a beautiful place, I remember that. God, that makes me feel old and, I’m only thirty-one.

I remember Aunt Delores and, Uncle Carl. I remember Aunt Delores' deft kindness and Uncle Carl's milky, sightless eyes but, I remember Uncle Carl being more of anyone than I ever met. Somehow, I knew that Uncle Carl was more than anyone else and, that Aunt Delores was even more beautiful because of her love for Uncle Carl.

The house in Renton had shiny wood floors and, to a child, a maze of hallways and rooms and a backyard that sloped and a bunch of male cousins that I was bored with and didn't know and cared even less for.

Great grandma Elsie gave me a doll that she knitted and, I was fascinated by it. It wasn't a Cabbage Patch Doll, what I really wanted but, somehow, I could tell that a lot of skill and love went into it and, Great grandma Elsie's eyes were soft and dewy when she gave the doll to me and, I was kind of scared and awed and didn't know exactly what to make of it all, except that it was really important and that I really loved her.

The next time I met my Great-grandparents, I went with my Dad, Step mom and my Sisters. Instead of being a cute little girl, I was on the verge of puberty, feeling awkward and sullen about a long car ride.

I walked into their home, a vintage bungalow, (before it was vintage) with a front stoop. They still had the side yard garden except, the grape arbor was dead and the yield was scaled back. I received a different reception. I drank in my Great-grandparents home as I walked in.

I would LOVE to have my Great grandma Elsie's dining room table, a gorgeous oval shaped wood affair that gleamed with that dull shine that only real wood and years can provide. I think it was red herringbone, topped with an equally, exquisitely made froth of a crocheted table cloth. Matching chairs, padded with well kept upholstery and a side board that matched.

Two windows, framed by fine curtains let in just enough light to frame it all in some story book glory that was far from what I was used to seeing, through my childhood.

Our dinner was too fancy for my undeveloped palate but, my Dad loved his Great-grandparents and knew enough to tell me how to behave so, I ate all that I was offered, even if it was just a bite, without complaint.

I am not much different from that unkempt girl that met her Great-grandparents as a child on the cusp of womanhood but, I knew enough to know better than to be anything but ladylike. I did not complain, I ate what was offered, I did not speak unless spoken to and, I had been taught manners that were respected and expected and, I was relieved to have been mildly instructed, to have the wit and intelligence to use them and to have used my manners enough that my behavior and conduct was acceptable enough to not be reprimanded by my Great Grandparents or, my Dad. I must have passed muster because, I didn't hear one whit about my behavior from my Dad and, knowing my Dad and my Geat Grandparents, if there was anything to be upset about, I would have heard it with my ears and my butt but, I didn't hear or feel anything so, I must have been acceptable.

My reward was Zucchini bread, (I thought I hated Zucchini until I tasted my Great grandma’s bread) and, despite my initial dismay at having to share sleeping arrangements with my Stepsister, in a basement, (no less) a stack of newspapers, one dating to the week that Mount Saint Helen's erupted, the week after I was born made up for the "banishment". I think I stayed up an hour or two past my bed time, rifling through dusty old stacks of newspapers to find little treasures of information before I became afraid that my Dad or, My Great grandma, would check in on me and my Stepsister.

We didn't stay long, to my relief. I was disappointed and dismayed but, I was getting older and the mystique and joy of visiting my Great-Grandparents had worn off, especially since my childhood clemency had been revoked.

I saw my Great-grandparents alive, twice more. Once again, in Renton and, another time at an Anniversary party.

They were white haired and I felt that they were hardly interested in me anymore. I was lost in the sea of male cousins and loud party goings-on and wanted to curl up in a corner and be left alone, eat cake and dream.

One day, I was fifteen or sixteen and, my Dad got a call about Cancer and how my Great grandma had it and it was too far gone to do anything about and, for the first time I could remember, I saw my Dad have feelings that showed in his eyes, that was true and, I grieved and didn't bat an eyelash when he said we were going to the hospital.

We waited to see Elsie and then, all of us, Dad and me and my Sisters walked in and we stood at the bedside of this woman who I loved and who terrified me and she was sick and drugged and she didn't even know who I was, she didn't know who my Dad was and I saw that it hurt him so bad and I waited, I waited until we were out of the room, until we got back to the couch, until five minutes later and I started to cry.

I cried because I was afraid. I cried for my Dad. I cried for the woman that I loved and who terrified me and I cried because it was a shitty deal that her last days were in some sterile hospital and she didn't even know that there was a window and there was outside and trees and life and love and death and hope.

She was cremated and her ashes were buried underneath a rose bush. I hardly knew her, Elsie but, I thought it was perfect and regal, romantic and poetic and she would have loved and and loved everyone who thought of it, would have been grateful.

Her Husband, Grandpa Clyde, (His eyes were grey blue and kind and, he was quiet but, he had steel and strength and I didn't think of him much but, I knew he was there) died when I was eighteen, faraway in Arizona and, my Dad got to be with him and I am so glad for that.

I spoke of them, my Great-grandparents, tonight, to my Husband.

I have a secret.

My Great-grandparents wrote a book and, I have a copy.

I treasure it.

People ask that question, "if your building was burning, what would you save?"

Well, I would save as much as I could but, on my top five, if not number one, it would be the Memory Book my Great-grandparents wrote.

I love looking at the pictures of people who are part of my DNA, my Family. There are pictures of the living and there are pictures of babies who had died.

There are pictures of Men who worked in a mine, there are pictures of My Family who lived during the Great Depression.

There are pictures of People, who are My Family, who lived, lived full and with all that we feel and had hope and troubles and joy.

My favorite, in the book, is the story of how my Great-grandparent’s met.

My Great-grandparents went to a party, in the winter and my Great-grandparent’s were with dates but, my Great grandpa saw my Great grandma, (who I look an awful lot like and, my Husband looks an awful lot like my Great grandpa but, my Great grandma was far more beautiful and my Great grandpa far more handsome or, so I like to think) and my Great grandpa pulled my Great grandma outside, in the cold, during a party and showed her the stars and, they began to fall in love with each other.

Favorite story, hands down.

Oh, I hope they are there to meet me when I leave this life, this body, with my soul. I hope they know this and they are there because of it, I hope I am worthy of it

I love them, so much, even though I hardly knew them. They are a link, a strain, a root of goodness, integrity, that is just not found often today. I'd be honored to be on their afterlife radar...maybe I am.

Like my Grandpa.

None of the kids, my Brother's or Cousin's remember my Grandpa but, I do. I remember living in his house, it being a place where all of the happiest, sepia toned memories of Childhood lay.

I hear the past, the pain from my Aunts and Uncle and, it makes me so very sad and guilty for being happy about Grandpa sometimes but, only a little because, most of the time, Grandpa's house was the only time when I felt free and safe and tasted the nectar of childhood.

Grandpa Bob had a huge, glass jar with coins and he would give me and my Brother's change to go to the store on the other corner from the house, for candy.

Grandpa's house was a relic.

The stairs were gummy wood that gave splinters but, in the era of his Daughter Debbie's Children, there were cardboard races down them.

I sat at the bottom of those stairs, over a wrought iron grate, (that I fell through once, straight to the bottom that was beyond scary and painful) while my Mom sprayed Johnson and Johnson Detangler in my unruly hair so it could be combed and plaited into braids tied up by plastic Goody barrettes in baby blue and pink and yellow, shaped like bows and birds. I wore scratchy wool jumpers for half day Kindergarten at St. Joe's.

I still have a scar over my right eye from falling down on the pavement, during, "Duck, Duck, Goose" because I fought to wear my black, patent leather Mary Jane's to school.

There were spaghetti dinners and a carnival with a round house that made me dizzy and feel a little sick.

One Friday, a Friday when we could wear our regular clothes, (important to me because, out of all the uniforms, I had to wear the jumper WITHOUT the Pleats that all the other girls wore) I forgot and came to school in uniform and, Ms. Lisbon, (sweet Ms. Lisbon) saw me crying and let me sit in her lap, after she called my Mom and until my Mom came with my "regular" clothes in a wrinkled brown paper sack. I was never so glad to see my Mom in my Five year old life as I was then, despite the fact that I was sitting on the heavenly Ms. Lisbon's lap while she was singing in her angel voice, (I thought I was pretty darn special and, to dear Ms. Lisbon, I was, god bless her). I followed my Mom into the girl's bathroom and put on my "regular" clothes like there was a fire drill, behind a stall door and then I rushed out, five years and all, hugged her and sent her on her way with my eyes bright and a smile on my face.

I got to go to Ms. Lisbon's Catholic Wedding and, I made a big fuss, (with another girl) about kissing at the end of the service and, to my dismay, there was no kissing. A big slice of wedding cake only took the bite out of it.

No one knows this about me.

My Grandpa was in the Korean war and, he received a Purple Heart.

He gave a Thunderbird, that was pink with white trim, to my Dad and, my Dad wrecked it.

My Grandpa saved me and my Brothers.

I was terrified of my Grandpa, because nothing that I did, no batting of eyelashes or sweet talk could get me out of trouble but...

There was this one time I was watching, "Unsolved Mysteries" with my Mom in her room and, she fell asleep before the end, like always and, she had a television that had knob you had to get up to turn off and so, after one particular Unsolved Mysteries, I got up and turned off the television and walked from my Mom's room to my room in the dark, (the Museum didn't have lights on the second story) and I forced myself not to run but, I walked fast and hopped into bed and pulled the covers up over my face and thought about how there was a revolutionary era ghost that was sitting at the foot of my bed in the chair that was there and I was so scared, I didn't dare pull the blankets down.

I woke up, a couple of hours later and, I swear that it felt like it took FORRREEEEVVVVEEERRRR to gather the courage to pull the blanket down from my face and look at the foot of my bed. The sweat and heat finally drove me to get cool air and, WOOSH!

Off the blankets came AND, there was no ghost at the foot of my bed and, I realized that it was near midnight and Grandpa would be listening to Midnight Mass on his radio, in his room on the first floor so, feeling cocky and invigorated by the night air, I walked downstairs and to my Grandpa Bob's room.

I saw his light on, it cut a pathway in the dark from his room to the living room and, I could hear the strains of Mass crackling over the radio and I felt that if there was ever a time for me to pray, (not say, PRAY) Hail Mary's and transport myself to Mass over the radio waves, (especially since I prayed and prayed and prayed to God to save me from the Ghost at the foot of my bed) THIS was IT.

My naked feet padded across the linoleum floor of The Museum and, at the edge of the pool of light that came from the lamp in my Grandpa's room that smelled of a Urinal and cigarettes and beer, the fading blue eyes, encased in smile and sad lines, paper thin and more fragile than anyone who wasn't my age or his or older knew, they widened slightly in surprise for less than a second before becoming gentle with understanding...

Somehow, he knew I had been afraid and needed succor.

I think he asked me, gruffly, what I was doing up and I told him that I was scared and, that was the end of the conversation because the Priest on the radio started the Hail Mary's and we were only two people who had a need, who cared and who desired the comfort and love of Mary and Jesus and whatever the Catholic Religion provides.

I took my First Communion but, in a Brooklyn accent, "I'm Not a Good Catholic Girl" and, I don't even mean, "dirty" with the uniform and all. Disappointing for those who care the other way, I know.

I sat in the chair in my Grandpa's room, my feet tucked under my legs, beneath my nightgown, head cocked to the side, ear to the radio and, my child's voice mingled with the voice of my Grandfather's and we were both praying with our hearts, with all that we were.

In that midnight hour, that is mine and his and ours and no one else's and I loved him and I miss him for it and nobody seems to care but I grieved for him so much and I know he knows that.

He was carried away on a stretcher six days before Christmas and, I watched the blue and red of the ambulance lights in the snow and ice and I waited until my Mom got the call and he was gone and everything that I knew had died with him.

He brought home Fish and Chips from Spuds and Burgers, Fries and Shakes from Dick's after Mass on Sunday's.

He wanted me to remember this, he didn't tell me but, I know he did, me and my Brother Nicky came to him one day, just before the winter really came in because the sun was pale but bright through the one window in his room and, me and Nicky, we wanted candy money and Grandpa, he leaned over with his big belly and grabbed his change jar and he pulled out a whole dollar and gave it to me, for me and Nicky and my eyes went wide and I looked at Grandpa, to make sure he meant it because Grandpa only ever gave us a quarter and sometimes fifty cents a piece but he looked at me, with those blue eyes that were crinkled by life and we had a moment and I broke the gaze and turned away and I was sick about it the entire time. Something was wrong.

I don't have many stories about Grandpa Bob, I wish I had more but, I have my own.

I never realized how much I love history and anthropology but, I do. I love knowing about my Kin. I love remembering them. I love knowing that I might get to spend the rest of forever with them, someday.

I love knowing that I have family who lived through it all.

I know stories of the Great Depression, of Still Born deaths, of wealth and ruin. I know stories of a beautiful woman, born in adversity, who fell in love with an Inuit man and gave him a healthy Son before he drank himself to death.

I know stories but, they're not just stories, they're the life of people that are My People, My Family, a link to the DNA that I have. They were strong enough for me to be here, for my Son to be here.

They were who they were to pass all that they were along.

I thought about titling this, "Calling On Ghosts" but, Ghosts are Marley and scary but, souls?

Well, the souls of the people I’ve written about and, by extension, all of those they've written about, they live on and I love them and am fascinated and am grateful to them.

They're souls, not ghosts.

This is for you, Clyde, Elise, Robert and Virginia, (who is NOT a ghost and my love is in your life and how you are still here.) I love you all and I love Sandra, Dorothy, Lucille, J.W. and Frank too. Especially you, Frank. You've stuck around to keep an eye on your Grandson. I'm glad I can let him know. We're glad to have you, Frank. ;) You can look over our shoulder, any time. =)

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