Sunday, May 31, 2009


Half a century. What a number.

Fifty years ago, my parents married. Mom says she picked Memorial Day for the big event so Dad would remember their anniversary. If he didn't, she was ready with a red-haired Irish glare to jog his memory. For fifty dang years.

A few times I remember Dad coming to me in a panic. "Quick, here's twenty bucks," he'd whisper. "Go get your mother something nice for our anniversary." It had slipped his mind, and it was too late for him to sneak out and get her something without being caught. So I was sent surreptitiously to fetch a gift.

At work, my dad dealt with less-than-honest subcontractors, some pretty dangerous heavy equipment, and dynamite. He was not afraid of any of these things, but the thought of facing my mom after forgetting their anniversary put a chill in his veins. He had utmost respect for that date, an exquisite symbol of respecting the relationship.

For a long time I didn't have much insight into how they did it. To a kid, it was pretty invisible. They were just Mom and Dad. I never saw them argue or raise their voice to one another. A disagreement was subtle - it might consist of a raised eyebrow, or a look held just a moment longer than usual. Whatever their conflict was, we kids didn't see it. Any disagreement was evidently handled outside of our view. It wasn't until later, trying to build a relationship myself, watching other relationships fall apart, that I realized how hard it really was. In a way I wished I had seen them argue so I could take notes.

Who does that nowadays? Women whine, guys run, and everyone takes a step to the left and starts over again. Putting a relationship first seems to be a lost art.

After seeing many couples together yet so very much apart, there is one thing my parents did that. to me, stands out. They respect each other. They don't always agree, but they don't play dirty, either. And they keep perspective. Because any disagreement pales in comparison to their love for one another.

So I stand here in the shadow of their unending love. In awe, in envy. They make it look so easy. i think they do that just to piss me off.

Here's to the next fifty years.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Flowers and a Song

"Our yard is so ugly," he muttered. "Why don't we have a pool like the neighbors?" He peered longingly through the fence.

"That costs money, sweetie," I sighed. "Now is not a good time for that. But if you help me, we can make the yard look nicer."

"Look at their flowers, Mom!" he said. To a tween, not only is the grass greener on the other side, but the flowers are sweeter, too.

We had been cruising along in that blissful time between toddlers and teenagers, when kids are lower maintenance, doing many things for themselves and not yet suspecting that their parents are clueless. I sensed, with this backyard rebellion, that those days might soon end.

"Come on," I replied. "Let's go get some flowers."

Our shopping cart overflowed with purple - different types of flowers, but all purple. We worked hard all Saturday digging and planting, until we had everything in the ground. A corner of the yard was now transformed into a lush, lavender landscape. He was right - the yard, or at least a small part of it, brightened a bit.

Mothers' Day morning, we ate pancakes outside, admiring our new garden. Suddenly Bobby jumped up.

"I have something for you," he said. He ran to the garage.

After years of receiving handmade cards written in crayon, the tradition had, for me, never grown old. I kept every letter, every note, watching how each year they matured a bit more. They'd be grown up and gone soon enough, so in the meantime I savored every moment we had together.

Instead of a card, Bobby returned with flowers. Beautiful, purple blooms cascading out of their container. I was speechless. At some point he had convinced his dad to drive him to the store and get them.

"I used my own money, Mom," he beamed. "Oh, and here's a card I made."

The lilting sound of a tenor filled the air. His older brother, Tommy, was in the school choir. For his present, I was treated to an a capella solo, a country song he had learned for a recent concert. His voice was clear, steady, and sweet.

As we listened to his song, I held my flowers and glowed. I'm not known for being mushy, but we had been through so much together lately, to see them celebrating our little family was pure joy. As my dad would say, I had "done good."

Happy Mothers' Day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tales From the Patio

It was a perfect night - still, cool, with a huge moon rising over the back ridge. After a crazy day, the serenity stung, stealing my breath away for a moment, making me stop my nonstop frenzy of minutiae and chatter to pause and admire.

We walked out to bask in the sweet stillness. Actually, I walked and the two dogs zigzagged after a rabbit, trumping my calm with calamity and ruining what was supposed to be a tepid, mushy bask of a blog post. Just once I'd like to skip the chaos and wallow in the mellow. Grrr.

Suddenly the dogs froze. At last, I thought, they get it. No need to run helter-skelter after bunnies. Relax, dammit.

Then something in the bushes moved. Something big. The bushes were just over my fenceline. Bushes were not allowed in my yard. Only their pricey cousins, the hedges, were permitted within my borders.

Josie the dog growled. Jake the dog hightailed it back into the house. (I will refrain from making the obvious analogy of male/female fight vs. flight tendencies.) Moving slowly, the fur standing up straight on her back, Josie approached the fenceline.

Suddenly an ungodly scream pierced the air. If you were to hit a Sasquatch with your car, perhaps in the process running over a sore bunion on his toe as your bumper caught him in the ribcage, that's what it would sound like. Horrific, high, and hideous. Even the fat, full moon scurried behind a cloud.

I had caught teenagers down there before, skipping school. This was no teenager. Not even a preening teenage prom queen could manage such a shriekfest.

Two glowing eyes peered out from the ragged wild of the bushes, the moonlight reflecting off them in a demonic glow. The thing shook the bushes, then screamed again. Louder, even, than the neighbor child who had rattled windows marketing his lemonade stand by screaming "LEMONADE!!!!" at seven o'clock on a sleepy Saturday morning. May he rest in peace. (No, he's not gone from this world, I just wish he'd sleep in a bit.)

From the doorway, Jake was whining. "Get in here," he seemed to say. "You're making me look bad!"

"Josie," I called, "Get inside. Now!" We ran for the safety of the house, sprinting from the patio that had suddenly turned into the devil's playground.

The screams continued behind us, bouncing off the far hills and stars. I spotted another set of eyes glinting in the sallow moonlight. So there were two of them. That I knew of. And, like many couples, they weren't happy.

I slammed and locked the patio door. Badly shaken, the three of us watched from behind the glass as the monsters screamed at each other. Safe in the house, Jake barked bravely. Josie and I rolled our eyes.

A third monster appeared, much bigger than the first two. It jumped from a tree, chasing the others, shrieking the entire time. All we could see were the eyes - fierce, angry, glowing.

After being married to a German, I do not scare easily. But these...things...were rattling my heartstrings. I couldn't stand it anymore. I grabbed a flashlight and went outside to investigate.

Yes, you're thinking - this is exactly what not to do, exactly what the soon-to-be-dead do in horror flicks. But I couldn't stand it any longer - I had to get a good look at the beasts.

My flashlight frightened them. They scuttled further back into the undergrowth. Furry, they waddled, wearing masks. Raccoons! I had never heard such an outcry. Perhaps, like mine, Madoff had made off with their 401k.

Coons are fierce, bad-ass animals. As a kid, I remember them tearing up our cornfields, in blatant disregard of my dad and his shotgun. To them, beating up dogs was child's play. In the animal 'hood, they were the equivalent of the Rollin' 60 Crips.

However, once I knew what I was dealing with, I could plan my defensive maneuver. Grabbing my boombox and my ex-husband's Barry Manilow album, I stepped outside...and handled the situation.

And we lived happily, quietly, ever after.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Next Horse Whisperer

"They're like dogs, only bigger." As we pulled up to the ranch, I added, "Just don't get stepped on."

My two boys looked at each other. They knew I'd grown up with horses, cows, and itinerant siblings. They were skeptical about this outing. And, because they were brothers, when one was interested, the other was beyond bored.

Nevertheless, I had to check on a sick horse, and since they were with me, they went. The horse was one of about ten owned by a non-profit organization that helps special-needs kids learn to ride. My sons didn't quite understand why I did this, how helping others helped me, how horses helped my soul. And besides a few pony rides at the county fair and a couple of visits to my parents' farm, my boys had never been near horses before.

We headed for Rafi's stall. He had been colicking for a day or two, but was feeling better and wanted to eat. He sniffed the boys, looking for food.

"His nose is HUGE!" Tommy exclaimed, backpedalling into the corner to escape. Bobby tried to hold his ground, but Rafi was pushing him, searching his pockets for treats.

"Um, Mom, he's attacking me," it was all he could do to keep calm.

"Just pet him, like a dog," I said. Bobby stroked Rafi's nose, enthralled. Tommy did, too, grimacing. Always such opposites! Still, one out of two wasn't bad.

Rafi had been sick the day before - I had spent hours with him, walking him, massaging his back, trying to get him to drink some water. He was the kind of horse that, when he wasn't feeling good, wanted to crawl in your lap like a golden retriever. By Saturday night, after a shot of painkillers, he seemed a bit better. Although he still wanted to crawl in my lap.

The next morning, on my way to church, I decided to stop by the barn first. Sure enough, Rafi was down, thrashing, his body twisted in pain. We got the vet out right away, pumping his stomach, more pain medication, then filling his stomach with mineral oil in the hopes his intestines would unkink. Colic is often deadly in horses, especially older ones like Rafi. After that, all we could do was walk him, watch him, and wait. Later that day I took a break to get something to eat and pick up my boys.

To get Rafi’s system going again, he had to be walked. A lot. I caught Bobby staring at the lead rope I was holding. "Would you like to walk him?" I asked. I didn't have to ask twice. "Just don't get stepped on."

He took the lead rope. Rafi looked at him. Bobby walked forward and Rafi ambled off with him, slowly, putting his head down low so he was eye-level with my son.

There are certain moments in a parent's life that freeze-frame in your mind. Watching Bobby and Rafi walking side by side was one of them. Spending time with horses had, in my youth, given me confidence, and recently eased a difficult time. And now here I was, watching my son discover the healing qualities of a horse. The intensity of the emotion caught me by surprise. I fumbled for the camera on my cell phone, hoping to capture the feeling, but I was too spent, my eyes too glossy and worn to deal with it. I sighed. The sun was setting on a Sunday evening. We would have to get going soon.

Circular healing. Walking with my son, Rafi was feeling better. My son was grinning, stepping out confidently to guide the huge animal like he had done it all his life. In the cool breeze of a California sunset, this was a bit too much of a happy ending for a weary mom. I was pretty sure God didn’t mind me missing a hymn or two that morning. Besides, that night, I think we discovered a few new ones.