Monday, September 29, 2014
Sunday, September 28, 2014
I'm not much for fancy dinners.
Cake is good.
Hugs are good.
My favorite birthdays are the quiet ones that unfold into something unexpected.
One year I spent the entire day alone, no cards, no cake, no birthday wishes from anyone, it was just a quiet, normal Sunday. But that night....that night I had arranged to pick up my daughter from her across-the-state bike ride which had just ended that day. Her team bus would be dropping her off at an interstate rest area near our home town. At the appointed hour, I got out of my car as the big bus pulled into the rest area parking lot. From the bus poured a herd of sweaty and road-weary bikers. They'd just pedaled about 400 miles over the preceding week and it was right around 100 degrees outside.....at night. My daughter amongst them, dusty and dirty as the rest.
Not gonna sugar-coat it.
They'd been doin' a bit of post-ride drinkin. A few of those boys and girls were pretty tippy and it made me laugh. Once assembled on the blacktop right alongside the bus, the entire lot of them broke into a spirited.......albeit a slightly inebriated version....of Happy Birthday to Mama Debbie.
My daughter was dead-center. I collected about 30 hugs of varying styles and several of near frightening levels of enthusiasm. But I was "birthday'd" right proper, right then and there. That's for sure. And I was grinning big. I'll never, ever forget my rest-stop birthday.
A few years later I had yet another amazing summer-night birthday.
A really dear friend was in town. He lives far, far away and we keep in email, chat and text touch, but I just never, ever get to see him. We're not a dating thing. Not a romance thing. We're a really, really dear friend thing. That night he was only in town for a short while with plenty of people who wanted to spend time with him, too. But he came and spent my birthday evening with me.
We stood in line at Arby's for take-out sandwiches.
We found a park bench on the quiet, grassy banks of a small town pond.
And we sat there, miles away from the city. Miles away from real life.
We sat and we sat and we sat until the sun went down.
We shared stories. And we laughed.
It got chilly.
We got a blanket from the trunk of my car.
We wrapped up in it there on the bench and got really quiet.
You know how it is; how you can really tell how you're connected with a person by the way the two of you manage silence? It can be natural and sweet. Or it can be uncomfortably awkward.
That night we sat there and shared the most comfortable silence for the longest time as the moon rose over the water. It was freakishly perfect, like something out of a movie.
Crickets chirping in the grass.
Breeze rattling in the nearby cornfields.
It was a like a magic picture someone was painting for my birthday.
We told more stories. And we laughed again and again.
Next morning he flew home.
We both love the memory of that good, good night.
Simple. Cheap. Unexpected. Memorable.
Perfect birthdays, both. The very best kind.
Saturday, September 27, 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
So I worked for my small-town post office for a bunch of years. Twelve, maybe? I delivered mail on a rural route on days the regular carrier had off and I also worked as a clerk inside the post office when the regular clerk took some days off.
I remember a morning when I was working inside, sorting mail, working the tiny little front counter with a customer waiting area that couldn’t have been more than 80 square feet. It was such a tiny place. And of course, as you would expect, there were the obligatory notebooks filled-to-bursting with pages of “Most Wanted” sheets, with photos of criminals and their fingerprints. Yep, just like you’d expect.
Small town post offices are social places. The people who work there know everyone. Friends and neighbors come and go. The early morning parade pretty much repeats itself every day: local businesses pick up their mail, people stop in to mail letters before work; on check day all of the social security recipients call in and ask to have their mail held instead of delivered ~ they'd be in to pick up the check before lunch.
So I was working the front counter and, as was often the case, had a little bag of snacks tucked under the counter. On this particular day it was a bag of Cheetos. Probably not the best choice, but I was hungry and I probably stole it out of one of my kids sack lunches on my way out the door that morning long before they got up to get ready for school.
In walks a young-ish guy who works at the local grain elevator just across the road. He came to pick up the elevators mail just like he did many previous days. It was like a daily dance. He’d walk in, I would see him and head straight to the elevators mailbox. I’d pull the mail, hand it to him as I said, “Good morning!”, he’d take it from me, say, “Yes, ma’am” and he’d leave with the mail. I had noted on more than one occasion how, in addition to his stellar country-boy manners, he was quite a good-looking fella in a corn-weighing and grain-bin filling sort of way. Sparkly dark eyes, dark hair, farmer tan and even early in the morning he was always dusty and dirty. I kinda favor dusty and dirty guys. As much as a middle-aged married lady with three kids is allowed to enjoy such things in the context of sorting mail at the local post office, he was an early morning treat on which whatever hormones inside me were gasping for their last breathe, could nibble and get a momentary recharge. In turn, I am sure he looked at me in that very special “didn’t you graduate with my mom?” sorta way. It was a relationship that worked for both of us.
Anyway, on the days I worked it was just our routine, our dance; just the regular morning hi-and-bye. But this morning as he approached the counter it was ill-timed to my consuming a handful of Cheetos and as I reached across the counter to hand the elevators mail to him, I realized I had that yellow cheese-powder all over me. I laughed, “Oh shoot,” I said, “I’m sorry. Look at me, I’m a mess! You caught me eating Cheetos. I’ve got cheese all over my fingers.”
And without so much as blinking he just smiled, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I could lick it off yer fingers, if ya like.”
In that split second an invisible vaccum sucked every last molecule from my lungs while both of my knees simultaneously lost all sense of responsibility and went completely liquid. My body was, in effect, quivering on a knee base of Jello in such a way most folks would recognize it as a serious swoon. Serious. I nearly went down to the floor. Of course, that wouldn’t have been professional. So, ever the mature business woman, I nonchalantly…..as nonchalantly as a swooning female considering having her cheesy fingers licked clean by a young, dusty, sweaty elevator guy can be…..I nonchalantly groped for the counter with my free hand, pulled myself toward the wall and awkwardly leaned there with a look on my face that I hoped said, “I lean here every morning at this time, Mister.” instead of “I am soooooo paralyzed by the thought of you licking powdered cheese from my fingers right at this moment I think I shall surely die….”
I’m not sure, but I think I pulled it off. He didn’t scream, “Get the paddles, the old lady is down!”. Nope. He just winked at me and slid out the door with the mail. Well, I guess he walked out. I did most of the sliding…..straight back to the restroom where, if memory serves, I ran my head under cold water for 10 minutes. And I gave those cheesy fingers a darn good scrubbing, too.
I should mention also, the moment was immortalized in an especially meaningful way by the presence of my co-worker, a guy I’ve been buddies with since we were just kids. He was standing back from the counter, away from view. But I could hear him. Ohhhh I could hear him all right.
And that would’ve been that. End of story. Sweaty moment; embarrassing moment.
But it wasn’t.
A couple weeks later, instead of managing the front counter at the post office, I was working as the rural route mail carrier on the most beautiful of blue-sky days. I remember that sky so well. You’ll understand why in a bit.
So, if we harken back to the original premise, I’ll note we are, once again, talking about the dusty, sweaty elevator guy with the dark eyes and, as is not unusual with most of the folks who worked in town, he also lived on my mail route as I delivered to just about everybody who lived out in the countryside in our zip code; over 500 families.
Yep. He lived out there. And on this particular morning I noted there was a parcel I would be delivering to his address. It was oversize; something that would not fit in the mailbox. I would have to deliver it to the door. To. The. DOOR. As I stacked the parcel in the back of the Jeep with that morning’s mail I thought to myself….how embarrassing, I’m going to have to walk up to his door and knock on it after that whole cheese-powder episode……I knew he probably would not be home anyway, but in the miles leading up to his mailbox I troubled over it and finally thought, “Yknow what, Deb? You just pretend that never, ever happened. You just get OUT of the jeep and you walk UP to his door and you KNOCK and if he’s there you say hello and you hand him the parcel just as any professional would and you bid him a good day and you get back in your jeep: Job. Well. Done.
That was the plan.
All the miles leading up to his farmhouse, that was the plan. And that was the plan when I arrived. I pulled into the big gravel turn-around in front of his house, climbed out and grabbed the parcel from the back and turned to walk up the narrow old path leading to the back door of his house.
The door opened. There he was.
Standing in the doorway.
Smiling at me.
Wearing a towel.
That’s it. Yep. That’s all he was wearing. One big, hairy chest up top, two very hairy legs on the floor and a big, white towel wrapped around the middlin’ parts. Nothing but a towel. Well, I guess that’s not quite true. He was wearing a smile, too. OMG, the smile….don’t forget the smile.
So, as you can imagine, at this point I’m having flashbacks to the whole powdery cheese thing and how I lost complete control of all my senses. As I’m putting my car in park I’m promising myself I wouldn’t be letting that sort of thing happen again. I checked my fingers; no cheese. No problem.
My strategy that morning, I think, was a good one. I made direct eye contact. What else could I do when the voice in my ear was chanting, “Don’t look at the towel. Don’t look at the towel. Don’t look at the towel.” Yep, you might go so far as to say my eyes were cemented to his, so much so that I doubt I ever blinked, not even once. I kept my eyes locked on his, with a big GENERIC smile…..yes, I was VERY careful to keep it generic as opposed to coy or flirtatious or any of those other frightening words that might have crossed ones mind when there is a handsome, recently dusty and sweaty, hairy-chested man in a towel standing about 50 feet from you.
I was careful with my eyes lest they wander or betray my nervousness over the whole cheese thing and now, of course, this towel thing. I was so, so careful.
And that’s when it happened. I was almost to the front steps leading up the porch to where he stood when I stepped in a hole in his sidewalk. There was a big gap in the concrete and my foot found it. I went straight down……smiling, mind you!....straight down to the ground, face-planting into the sidewalk, rolling ever-so-gently on impact and landing flat on my back, looking up at 1) the beautiful blue sky and 2) the large parcel which I had managed to save from any sort of damage by cushioning the blow with my body and was now sitting on my stomach in the death-grip of my famous fingers. I would note later to my coworker the parcel was still in my hands when the rolling stopped. A moment of postal carrier pride.
At this point I had two choices: I could die. It would have been pretty easy. I’m pretty sure my blood pressure was peaking. I could just die right then and there. He’d come out, I would be dead, he’d call the volunteer fire department, they’d haul me away and I’d never have to try to ignore those big, dark eyes ever, ever again. The second choice, of course, was that I could roll over, get up and deliver. I rolled. The whole getting up thing was challenging. Once again my knees were not working, but this time because of the excruciating pain pulsing through them resulting from the chance meeting with concrete. Somehow I would manage. I knew it wouldn’t be pretty.
I chose a combination of the two. I died inside. Yes indeed, every teaspoon of dignity I had in me just shriveled up and died, right there on the spot. And yet, my lungs continued to expand, my heart continued to beat and I somehow managed to tear my eyes from that incredible blue sky and crawl to the steps where he was now standing. Of course, at the very same time he was quite chivalrously trying to help me up with one hand while continuing to hold the towel with the other. Somehow we managed to transfer the parcel, yet allow all regionalities beneath the towel to remain the mystery they should be….. and I limped back to the car. I think he said thank you. I am pretty sure I tried to speak but I don’t think anything came out.
Postal work had it’s moments.
And I stay away from Cheetos now.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
My mom and step-dad married when I was 13 years old.
I'd made it clear in the years since my parents divorce that I never, ever wanted my mom to marry again. Until she met Bob. Mom and my sister and I all fell in love with him.
We all "got married" a year later.
My baby sister was born a year after that.
Bob could kinda be a crabby guy.
As the years passed and I became an adult, it used to make me mad the weird ways in which my mom fussed over him: she'd get up in the wee hours every morning to make his lunch. She'd lay out his socks and underwear before he took his morning bath. She'd crawl into bed before him, lay on his side of the bed to warm up the sheets and then roll over onto the cold side when he came to bed.
Child of the 60's that I was, this sort of stuff kinda hacked me off.
The whole equal-rights thing that was marching down every major highway in America reminded me he could "certainly make his own damn lunch."
Mom told me one time, "There are so few things I can do just especially for him ~ I love doing those things because they make him feel special."
And I would huff a little huff and decide she was clueless about how women should be treated.
My folks were married in early 1967.
In 2008 my mom became ill and ended up in a hospital bed in the living room of the home in which I grew up. She would lie there, unable to so much as roll over on her own, for the next 6 years.
During that time my step-dad cared for her. He was nearing 90 years old and still tight as bark on a tree when it came to money, but he took good care of my mom.
Fed her. Bathed her. Made sure she had all her medicine every day, on time.
He made sure she was safe and warm.
In February of 2014 my step-dad had a stroke, sitting in the recliner right next to my mama's hospital bed. She was right there beside him and had not a clue what had happened. She was cozy and warm and slept through it. An ambulance took my step-dad away.
A week later, he was transferred to a hospice care facility.
Three days later we moved my mom to a care facility near our home.
They lay in their respective beds, on opposite sides of the city and we assured them both the other was being well taken care of. They never asked.
My sisters and I were with Bob when he died so peacefully we barely realized it had happened.
It was a Thursday.
A week later mom went the same way: peacefully, surrounded by her girls.
My favorite memory of my folks is the day Bob left mom in my sister and I's care to accompany one of the WWII veterans Honor Flights to Washington DC. He leaned over her hospital bed to check on her one more time before he left her for the first time they'd been separated for more than a few hours....for years. "Mama, I'll be home soon." he told her.
"Daddy," she said as she reached up and touched his arm, "Are you wearing an undershirt today? I don't want you to get cold."
Still fussing after all those years.
And finally I understood.
Our final picture with the man who loved my mama.
Strong hands that belonged to a man who went from bachelor to husband and step-dad of two in one quick ceremony in front of a few family members and friends. He loved us as his own and I'll always be grateful for those loving hands.