Miscellaneous, Parenting

The Daddy Box

Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.

I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.

My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.

I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.

Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.

Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.

A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:

‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’

In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.

Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.

I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.

But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.

Happy Father’s Day.

 

 

 

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Miscellaneous

And Now I Know

One year ago today I joined the ranks of people who have lost one of their parents. My father passed at 83 years of age following a series of heart attacks that happened over  (roughly) a six week period. In the end he slipped and struck his head in his room, was checked out by paramedics on-site, and elected to simply ‘lay down and rest’ rather than take another trip to the hospital, which was something he had been most emphatic about not wanting any longer.

The assisted living facility contacted me that morning to let me know what had happened. They asked if I wanted them to ‘compel’ him to go to the hospital or not. I asked them what he was telling them he wanted, and they replied that he had said no to it. I told them to honor what he was saying to them. I knew what that most likely meant. I knew that he was prepared for that as we’d spoken about it just two days prior.

A few hours later, he was gone.

I spent a great many years not speaking to my father. During that time I considered legally changing my last name in order to further distance myself from him. I felt so hurt by him, for so many years, that I simply wanted to erase him from my life, my mind, and my heart. I took photographs of the two of us together and ripped them up, tossing the shredded images into the trash.

None of it did anything to lessen the hurt I felt. It may have taken it from being visible to my eyes each day, but did nothing to remove it from my heart.

The ongoing silence between my father and me was the subject of the only ‘disagreement’ I ever had with his mother, who I enjoyed a very close relationship with throughout my life until she passed away. We didn’t argue, per se, but she felt as though I was being too harsh on my father by cutting him out of my life the way I had. She told me that ‘those who want nothing to do with him will probably be the first ones in line looking for something when he dies’. I believe what she was referring to at the time was wanting material possessions or a share of whatever money he might have. In that I knew that she was wrong. But when he did eventually die, and we had reconciled our differences and talked them out (something that unfortunately his mother did not live to see happen), there was something I wanted from him.

I wanted him back.

Yesterday I participated in an exchange over social media with a few friends talking about rough childhoods and owning your challenges in life and doing what you can to move beyond them rather than wallowing in them and blaming someone else for the rest of your life. I certainly could wallow if I chose to. My father was rarely ‘present’ in my childhood. He drank excessively for years. He never once showed up at activities I participated in. He was not, in all the time I was growing up, the kind of father I wanted him to be. The kind who, when he learned I was gay, said ‘That’s okay, son, I love you no matter what.’ The kind who, upon realizing I had no taste for hunting or fishing, said ‘That’s okay son, let’s do something YOU like, just to spend some time together.’

Now, many years removed from childhood, I can look back at those years with a different perspective. I can put aside the hurt, the anger, the disappointment, and extract something positive from those years. I see, now, that I can be grateful for many things.

I realized, many years ago, that no matter what anyone else thought of my being gay it was never going to change. My skin grew thicker and my desire to like myself for exactly who I am grew stronger. I learned to stop trying to please everyone (that one took awhile) and just be me – as that’s when you truly get to know know if someone likes you for who you are, not who they think you are or want you to be. This is due, in part, to my father’s response to my coming out, and the hurt I felt at the time.

In becoming a father myself, I have seen how easy it is to fall into the patterns that were present with our own parents. My parents tried for many years to have children without my mother getting pregnant. They adopted, and then eventually had me. In ways I waited just as long (longer, really) and had to ‘work’ just as hard to become a parent as they did initially in pursuing adoption. I have not grown so old or travelled so far from those days that I can no longer recall the feelings associated with having a parent who was not present in my life. I have not forgotten the feeling of ‘How can someone who tried for so long to become a parent simply disregard his child?’ I recall this feeling when my kids want me to watch them play a video game even if I have no interest in video games myself. I recall it when I’m completely absorbed in a book and one of them comes to me and says, ‘Do you want to watch t.v. with me?’ and I sit down for the 1,000,000th viewing of an episode of Teenage Talking Ninja Sponges or some other such fare. I’m not perfect at this…goodness knows I get wrapped up inside my own head all too often, but I’m mindful of it. This is due, in part, to my father’s seeming lack of interest in spending time with me, doing things even if he hated them just so that we were doing something together.

My father was not, in my childhood, the father I wished for. The kind who built tree houses and taught you how to make a camp fire, and lead your scout troop, and took you to baseball games and showed you how to grill a steak or tossed a football in the yard with you when he knew you needed his advice on something. All those ‘Hallmark’ moments that get imprinted in a decisive, masculine font over outdoorsy backdrops on card stock and purchased for Father’s Day and birthdays and the occasional ‘just thinking of you’ moments.

That was never my dad. That dad was the one I saw on television programs and in movies wearing a cardigan and smoking a pipe in a wingback chair by the fireplace while he read the newspaper. My dad read the paper, but he did so in a green recliner with a can of beer sitting on the end table next to him while he recused himself from spousal and parenting obligations night after night, perhaps contemplating a life and a marriage that hadn’t turned out the way he’d wanted and while his son, at least one of them, learned how to get along without a father in his life. That was my dad.

A year ago today, he died, much the way he lived – quietly, without any fanfare nor any drama. A year ago today the time to resolve our differences and talk them out came to an end. ‘What we should do and should say’ departed, and there was only ‘what we said and what we did’ left in their wake.

Thankfully, in the ten years we were reconciled before his death, we did and said enough.

There was a time when I thought that my life would be so much much better off without contact with my dad. I did everything I could to make that a reality. But like closing your eyes and pretending you know what it’s like to be blind, I didn’t really have a clue what it would be like to no longer have my dad in my life, because he was always there to go back to – to reach out and say ‘let’s talk about this’ or ‘let’s put this behind us.’ There was always time, until there wasn’t any longer.

I used to believe that my heart and my mind would be so much more at ease if that man, my father, a man it took me nearly forty years to understand and to like, were erased from my life, if he just weren’t there at all. I used to believe that would be so much better for me. I imagined spending the rest of my life without seeing him or talking to him ever again, and what that would be like and how wonderful, after all the hurt I’d been through, it would be.

And now I know.

I was wrong.

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Miscellaneous

The Song Of The Open Road

In April of 2005 I  was in the midst of rehearsals for a production of La Cage Aux Folles and we were nearing opening night. I had one of the two male leads in the production. On a rare night off, considering how close we were to opening night, I received a call from my grandmother letting me know that my stepmother, Doris, had passed away. Doris had been diagnosed with cancer and had undergone treatment for it, but in the end it was not the cancer that took her.

My relationship with my dad was still a ‘tentative’ one. We’d gone for many years without speaking. I had only reconciled with him, and made my peace with Doris as well, the prior November. We’d spoken a few times, but hadn’t seen each other for many months as they lived more than three hours north of me.

Nevertheless I made plans to attend the funeral primarily to support my dad. I felt badly for Doris, of course, but I had a lot of years of bitterness toward her that were still percolating in my mind and that I had yet to reconcile. Our last real ‘conversation’ was to tell her that despite the turn our own interaction had taken many years before I recognized that she had made Dad very happy for more than twenty years, and for that I was grateful.

Doris was introduced to me (and my siblings) as Dad’s ‘housekeeper’. Dad and Mom had not finalized their divorce as yet (despite it having been more than three years since they’d separated) and Dad had done his best to provide meals and such for the three of us on visiting days which where Friday nights and Sundays. I ate a lot of deer meat back then as Dad excelled at cooking spare ribs, but didn’t have a huge repertoire of meals to prepare.

Then along came Doris. She was a few years older than Dad, and already had an existing connection to the family. Her former daughter in law was married to one of Dad’s brothers. Over time the ‘housekeeper’ and Dad were living together, both at his place and at her place until that was sold and they retained only one residence. Shortly after Mom and Dad’s divorce was final, after five years of delays and postponements, Dad called one afternoon to tell us that he and Doris had gotten married, quietly and without any pomp and circumstance about it, and more importantly (at least to me) without telling his children or inviting them to attend the wedding.

It took me a very long time to get beyond that – but eventually I did, and even spoke to my father about it, about the feelings I had experienced back then, before Dad passed away last year himself, ten years after his wife died.

The total years of Dad and Doris’s marriage (before her death) was a lesser amount of time than he and my mother were married, the five years of separation prior to their divorce notwithstanding. That said; I believe they had more happy years together than my parents did.

When Doris passed, Dad was left to his own devices. He found himself adrift with the day to day tasks of keeping a house and making meals and paying bills – all things that Doris had done for many years. He had friends in the area, certainly, but at the end of the day he was alone. I spent a weekend with him shortly after Doris passed, to try to break up the silence a bit, at least for a few days, and we talked at length about how he was faring on his own.

There was talk amongst family members and well-wishers that perhaps the hunting rifle that Dad kept in the house should be removed. There were concerns that Dad would not manage well without Doris, and might be tempted to speed up their ‘reunion’ (if you believe in such things) by means of that rifle.

In the end, Dad surprised us all with how well he did manage up until a stroke made it necessary to transition him into assisted living where he remained for the rest of his life.

I experienced a number of feelings when Doris passed. Empathy and compassion, some regret, and a great deal of concern (for my dad). Doris’s death marked the beginning of many changes for him. Yet while I find myself reflecting upon this, eleven years since Doris’s death and just about a month shy of the first anniversary of Dad’s passing – I have realized that her passing gave me, in watching how Dad navigated the days after her passing, despite the concerns of others, the opportunity to feel something toward my dad that I never had before in nearly 40 years.

I felt proud of him – proud of his strength and resilience. Proud of his courage to go on and not succumb to grief and sorrow and let it make him bitter and angry and wallow in that for the rest of his days. For the remainder of his life he missed Doris, certainly, but he still smiled, still laughed, and spoke of her fondly.

When Dad passed last year we had seen one another a couple of days before he died. We’d gone to Doris’s grave to put flowers down. After leaving the cemetery Dad and I stopped at a local ice cream stand and I bought him a dish of grape-nut ice cream, which was his favorite.

As we ate our ice cream, we sat and talked about his overall health and condition and his decision to not seek any further medical treatment for the series of heart attacks he’d had – knowing the likely outcome of that and if he was prepared for the end – which he told me he was ready for – ready to go.

He also told me that if he could have any wish it would be to be ‘out there driving truck again – just driving and driving – without any particular destination’. Those were some of the final words he spoke with me just two days before his passing – how his last wish after eighty three years of life would be to once again sing the song of the open road.

In eulogizing my father, I spoke of his love for the back roads of Maine, and my wish that he was, in death, finally free to travel them once again.

More importantly, I hope that somewhere along the way Doris joined him for the ride.

 

 

 

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Miscellaneous

The Little Things You Do Together

Last night I worked on a project with my son that stirred up many memories for me.

Both the boys have joined Boy Scouts following the reversal of the organization’s position on gays in scouting. When told prior that while they could certainly join if they wished it meant that my husband and I would not be able to participate in it with them; they had opted out. These days both my husband and I are involved in their activities, albeit my position being one of a ‘behind the scenes’ nature while my husband is an active Den Leader for one of the boys.

The Pinewood Derby is an annual event for Scouts. They fashion a ‘race car’ out of a block of wood, attaching wheels, applying paint, and further decorating it to their liking. The cars are then pitted against others in a downhill race on a track. This event began back in 1953, and continues to this day.

The origin of the derby lies with a cub master named Don Murphy, a life-long model maker who, desiring to create a new father-son activity for scouts that were too young to participate in the Soapbox Derby and actually pilot a home-made car themselves. The derby has, for 63 years now, been a fun and safe project for dads and their scouting sons to engage in together.

Just last week I located a Pinewood Derby car that I had myself made when I was a Boy Scout some 40 years ago. I showed it to the boys as we each worked with one of them to make their own cars more aerodynamic and streamlined before they got painted. The boys came up with their own designs, stood safely by as we cut the blocks down for them to match the design, and then aided in sanding them to prep them for the next step.

All the while, working with the boys and in particular with my younger son, my mind wandered back to my own childhood and my own days in Scouting, and making a car to enter into the Pinewood Derby.

I recall the careful attention paid to design and detail in trying to come up with a car that might stand a chance of winning. I recall the thrill of anticipation waiting my turn to place my car on the wooden track and watch it travel downhill against another entry. I recall the roar of the crowd cheering on their preferred entrant as they surrounded the track and yelped and hollered their encouragement from the sidelines. I recall the disappointment when I didn’t win, despite my best efforts.

What I don’t recall, out of all the memories that I have of four decades ago – was my father working on the car with me.

I have only a handful of memories of doing things with my dad as a child. My dad was a man who liked to hunt and fish, and who enjoyed long, meandering drives along the back roads of Maine. Dad wasn’t a sportsman, nor a music enthusiast. He didn’t play chess, or garden (beyond a quickly aborted attempt to plant vegetables in our back yard one year). He didn’t have a ‘shop’ set up in the basement for woodworking or furniture upholstering. He ‘collected’ nothing but new friends on his CB radio on the basement where he’d spend hours alone in the orange glow of the analog dial, talking with faceless strangers. He didn’t build models or snap photographs, didn’t play cards or board games, and read nothing more than the daily newspaper.

When I was a young boy, I accompanied him, on occasion, to rivers and streams with a fishing pole, wanting to participate in something he enjoyed – wanting his attention and approval. Wanting his love. Wanting to somehow break into that odd, mysterious world that captivated him and drew him out into the woods time and time again, year after year, whether he came home empty-handed or not and find out what was so alluring to him about it, why it held such appeal.

I never did find that out.

I also never did find something, an activity or interest, that Dad and I shared. At a very young age I learned to love reading (and later writing) and could be found at any given moment with my nose in a book. That’s still the best place to look for me. As I approached my teens, I added singing and theater to my roster of interests, which continues to this day (albeit with an extended break from theater once kids came along). Even though I would, beyond the depletion of my interest in fishing (I never did go hunting with Dad), accompany Dad on his outings, my own fishing pole supplanted by a book or comic to read while Dad cast his baited line into the water. Sometimes we simply sat at water’s edge for a long while. Sometimes we sat in a boat of some sort, out on the water, nothing breaking the silence that seemed to envelop us, nor breaking the surface of the water itself. Drifting together; and yet drifting further apart.

For many years I resented this about my dad; that outside of a few unsuccessful fishing outings and his occasional appearances at events or ceremonies, I became an adult with a very meager assortment of memories to choose from of good times spent with my dad while growing up. For many years I blamed him for this. I took it as a sign that he wasn’t interested in making memories with me and spending time with me. And for a long time I hated him for it. I used to think it meant he didn’t ‘love’ me. But as I become more self-aware and more introspective, I wonder sometimes if he didn’t know how to love ‘me’ – the offbeat, quirky, alternative lifestyle book-worm son he simply didn’t know how to relate to. I can’t fault him for that. Some days I don’t know how the hell to deal with me, either.

Now, being a father myself, I often find myself in a position of my kids wanting my time and attention, even when it’s coming between me and a good book, or me and a nap, or me and a chore I need to finish or an errand I need to run. I try to balance simply dropping whatever I’m doing and doing what the kids want to do and trying to instill a little patience in them by saying ‘I have just two more pages in this chapter, and then I’m all yours’, and teaching them to take care of themselves as adults by saying , ‘I really need a quiet hour, let’s do this later on’. I recognize that one day not only will I wish they were around to ask me to do things together, but that they also will one day reflect upon the things we did together and (hopefully) recall them with more fondness and more frequency than I am able to do when thinking about my own experience. We go hiking, we watch television together, we read together, we sit and talk, we go outside and toss a ball – I won’t say it’s all the time, every single day, but I also would not refer to it as being ‘rare’. I can’t honestly say that I have any days that I cannot pull out even one good ‘moment’ that we shared together – be it as simple as a laugh or a ‘remember when you_____’ conversation together that makes us smile. I don’t have memories like that of my dad. And now that he’s gone, for nearly a year, I find myself only able to have memories of him.

Fortunately, before he died I had a decade of good, solid communication with him. He was a widower, residing in an assisted living facility after a stroke and the onset of dementia. I visited him as often as time and life with young children would allow. We’d sit either in his room or outside in the yard of the facility and simply talk to one another. I expressed many hurts from growing up, he expressed many regrets for things he did and didn’t do as my father. He told me that despite all of it, there was never a day that he didn’t love me, laying to rest something that had haunted me most of my days.

I was never so happy to be proven wrong.

In my bedroom there is a small box. It contains the few physical effects that Dad left behind. A pair of glasses in a fraying leather case, a comb, a pen, a small notebook where he recorded phone numbers of those he frequently called, a ruler he kept in a drawer near his bed. A small wooden ‘plaque’ that was made to honor his service in the army. I have photos of him set out, not that I think I’d ever forget his face. There are only a few photographs of us together. None of them show us at parks or concerts or sporting events. They are all just ‘photos’. Photos of a man and his son who took many, many years to figure out how to say ‘I love you’ to one another in a meaningful way. Photos of a man and his son who never had much in common other than their last name. Photos of a man and a son who rarely ever ‘shared’ experiences like working on a race car together in the basement after dinner, talking about what shape to cut it and what color to paint it and how cool it would be if the car won the race.

Last night as I worked on just such a car with my own son, I had pangs of regret that while I could make this memory with my child, my dad didn’t leave a similar one behind for me. I went to bed, a few hours later, tossing over days gone by in my head and all the things we ‘didn’t do together’. All the ball games and hot dogs and driving lessons and campfires that we didn’t share.

And while several of those ‘not to be’ experiences rolled out of my eyes and down my cheek last night before I went to sleep while thinking about my dad, missing him as I miss him each and every day now, I can still smile today with the realization I reached upon waking this morning and looking at his photograph – one taken less than a year before his death.

All in all, I know that before he died, my dad and I shared what is for me the most important experience with one another that we could.

Forgiveness.

 

 

 

 

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Miscellaneous

A 20 Year Cabaret – for my old chum Susan

I just slipped a t-shirt over my head. It’s one of my favorites. A souvenir from a show I did several years ago. A little slice of musical theater Heaven called ‘Cabaret’.

The shirt itself is black. Nothing all that remarkable as I have several black articles of clothing. The logo is white, crafted very similarly to the logo of the film version of Cabaret of the 1970’s. Again, nothing all that remarkable. I’ve worn this shirt probably 500 times.

But something about this shirt really caught my eye tonight. It’s a four character feature on the front of the shirt.

It’s the year that this production of Cabaret that I was in was produced at a community theater in South Portland, ME.

1996.

It’s been 20 years since I auditioned for and rehearsed for and performed in Cabaret.

This just can’t be possible! Twenty years!

20 years ago, a LOT happened.

When I was cast in Cabaret I was living with the man cast as ‘Cliff Bradshaw’, the male lead. We had done shows together (it was, in fact, how we’d met in the first place) and it helped to allow us to pursue something we both loved and spend non-work hours together as well, being that at times we were in different shows and rarely saw one another for weeks on end between work, rehearsals, and performances.

The director of the show, a wonderful woman named Barbara, was unlike any other director I’d worked with at that point. Her approach to her craft, her style, her way of engaging an actor in the process and the part itself was what sparked my own interest in directing theater. Watching her provide the ‘framework’ for a character and asking the actor how they thought it should be filled in…always allowing for the ‘happy accident’ in a performance that might not have been her initial vision for the character…her gentle, caring, endless patience and encouragement made that show one of my favorite experiences in all the years I have been involved with theater.

Cabaret also brought me a ‘forever friend’. My mother had one of these, and each time they exchanged a greeting card for a birthday or holiday she always inscribed it ‘To Carrie, my Forever Friend’. I remember asking my mom what that was one day, and she told me  that it is someone you feel like you’ve always known, and are certain you always will. Just the kind of friend I like to have.

I found one of those in the cast of Cabaret, although at the time I didn’t really suspect it when I met her. She was to play the lead, Sally Bowles. Her name was Susan.

In truth I’d met her the prior fall – at a Halloween party and costume contest where she and her then partner were dressed as characters from Pulp Fiction. I’d gone as The Phantom Of The Opera with my friend Alice who dressed as Pippi Longstocking. She and Susan knew one another, and Alice introduced me to her. It was many months before I saw her again; until Cabaret auditions rolled around.

During the rehearsal and performance period and after the show ended we formed an easy, comfortable friendship. Susan was upbeat and friendly and always up for fun. She belted out tunes with the best of them and laughed heartily, always offering a great big smile and a personality brighter than a marquee in Times Square. I remember thinking ‘this is someone I absolutely HAVE to get to know!’ when we first began rehearsing a show together, and I have never regretted that decision.

Twenty years have passed. We’ve known one another through make-ups and break-ups, birth and death, happy times and sad, everything under the sun. We’ve gone to movies and shows and dinner and drinks and parties and housewarmings….and on more occasions than I can recall…we’ve hit karaoke bars – although we’ve never, not in twenty years, sung a duet together.

Susan is someone who at first was a friend who eventually became family….and then became something even closer than family to me….she became a part of me…a part of my life, a part of my heart, a part of my soul (inasmuch as I believe I have one) – she became someone who I know, without a doubt, will always be in my life until the very end. She became a ‘forever friend’…the kind you always can tell when they do something to piss you off and then it’s gone and forgotten, and it’s never really even THAT big a deal….the kind you never, ever question their motives or loyalty even if you don’t always immediately understand something they might have done; the kind that if anyone, no matter who, told you that they’d betrayed you, you’d never for a second believe it – because you know too well they never would. The kind that you can call night or day and you know they will listen, they will care, they will drive 200 miles to help you out of a jam. The kind of person that you can sit down with them and let them into the deepest, darkest corners of your mind, the place where the demons rattle around in their cages, barely contained – and there’s something so safe and comforting about having them there.

Susan is that for me. And for twenty years I’ve had the pleasure and the honor of her friendship. Twenty years….where we’ve tasted the wine, heard the band, blown our horns, and are STILL celebrating. I can’t even begin to imagine that it has been twenty years since we met one another and got to be friends – and although the time has literally flown by…I’m so glad she was here to share the flight with me.

Happy ‘anniversary’ to you, my forever friend, Susan…..with me through thick and through thin….and while it may be true that we’ve never, ever picked up dual microphones and belted out a tune together….the sweetest duet I could ever imagine singing with you is the friendship we’ve shared over the past two decades.

I love you more than words can say.

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Miscellaneous

A New Purpose

 

I, while investigating the nooks and crannies of our home shortly after purchase in 2013, found that a prior owner, in the 1940’s, had put down newspapers under now-ancient linoleum in the storage areas under the eaves on one side of the house. I have since pulled up all the newsprint from under the flooring of one storage area, and found a treasure trove of headlines, photographs, and advertisements from the greater Boston area – all from more than sixty years ago.

I read through much of what I found, amused at the antiquated fashion and pricing.  A platform rocker chair for $49.95. A washing machine for $189.50. An oil burning cabinet heater for $35.00. The merchants selling these wares in 1948 would likely be more than shocked at the prices charged for similar items today.

The publishers certainly did not intend their efforts to wind up as they did under the storage area flooring in someone’s home. The articles and ads from these newspapers were meant to inform and entertain. I suspect that the person who bought these papers did indeed read them when they were originally circulated; and then did something other than simply discard them.

They ‘repurposed’ the papers as insulation.

Repurposing older items into newer ones has become a popular trend in recent times. Old wooden boats and wooden drawers, with a little imagination, a couple of boards, and a few screws are transformed into bookcases. Old dining room buffets are sanded down, refinished, and become the cabinet bases for bathroom sinks. Non working picture tube t.v.’s become aquariums. If you have just a little inspiration, just about anything can find new life and new functionality.

The same can be said of people. With a little inspiration or motivation and a desire to find a new direction to follow,  each day we awaken is a chance to repurpose ourselves – even to reinvent ourselves – no matter how old we are. For some it’s a new job. For others it’s taking stock of our lives and beginning to cull the things that just simply no longer work for us or no longer exemplify our lives and our true selves.

The newspapers that I found under the linoleum in our home laid hidden from sight for more than sixty years. They served one purpose for all that time. As I pulled up the dry, brittle flooring that covered them for more than six decades, that purpose came to an end, and a new one began.

One of the pieces of furniture that I kept when cleaning out my mother’s house after she relocated was a small square end-table with a single shelf underneath the top surface. It resided in a corner of my mother’s living room for many years. I cannot recall a time when that table was not in use in her home. For several months now it has served to hold my record player (yes, I still own one of those ancient media devices), but didn’t do well to hold much of the collection of albums I have. I replaced the end table with something that has more storage capability for albums, but didn’t want to simply relegate the end table to the basement.

I found that it fits nicely into the corner where our sofa and love seat merge in the living room. I placed it in this corner, and wistfully observed the scratches and faded varnish that affirm the many years this piece of furniture have seen come and pass as it held lamps and displayed figurines and propped up a record player. The legs are a bit loose and in need of securing. Some of the finish accents have long since broken off the piece. The history of this piece of furniture is longer than I’ve been alive, perhaps even by twice as long. It’s easy to imagine this piece of furniture being sixty, seventy years old.

One day its usefulness might not be apparent to others. One day all the lines embedded in it, and the faded coloring might lead someone to believe that it no longer has a function or value. One day this table might find its way to some corner where it sits alone and mute, simply passed by and overlooked because it’s not new and everyone has seen it time and time again and nothing about it has changed.

Sadly, the same can be said of some people. They are simply overlooked as having outlived their usefulness, and there’s seemingly nothing new about them to see or to learn. I suppose that’s just the way life is if you let it happen.

For now, my table has found new life, as have the old newspapers I pulled from under the flooring. Realizing that the surface of the end table was the same size and shape as a piece of beveled glass from a much newer and less-storied end table I purchased in more recent days, I laid out a sheet of yellowed, faded newsprint on top of the marred table surface and then covered it with the glass from the newer table.

And with that both my table and the newspapers found new purpose and new life. If you will forgive the limitations of my phone camera, a photo of the ‘new’ addition to my living room is below.

NewspaperTable

2016 has just begun. The whole year still lies before us. All it takes is one day or even a part of one of those days to ‘repurpose’ ourselves and find a new direction to take. Old wounds can be healed. Old silences can be broken. Old arguments can be resolved.

Everything old can be new again.

Every life can find a new purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Miscellaneous

Reparations vs Resolutions, Round 3

For each of the past two years, I have written a list of reparations on New Year’s Eve rather than make a list of promises I don’t know that I can keep for the coming year.

2015 ends in just under two hours. I can’t say I’m sad to see it go. There have been a long list of challenges this year. I’ve talked about some of them in past blog posts. I have kept many of them to myself. Nonetheless, there are apologies to hand out.

To my boys – There are times when you drive me crazy. Times when I run out of patience very quickly. Times when I allow myself to get frustrated enough to yell at you. There are times when I don’t have the answers you seek, and times when I know you are tired of hearing the ones I have to give you time and again. There are things you will learn about yourselves and your backgrounds that won’t be easy to hear. I suppose part of me is glad that you’re not yet at the age where you’re learning it. I’m sorry that I cannot always provide you with the magic salve to heal your wound. I am never sorry for being your parent. I love you both so very, very much.

To my dad – Where do I begin? In 2015 I lost you. Unlike 20 years ago when I cut you out of my life, before we made our own reparations, this time it was permanent. There’s no going back. No more conversations shared, no more laughs, no more tears except mine when I find myself still missing you terribly. I’m sorry for ever doubting your love for me. I’m sorry for doubting mine for you. I’m sorry that it took me so long to appreciate the man you were, and for not having more time to enjoy that man. I’m sorry that I could not be there to hold your hand as you passed. Had I been able to, I would have done so gladly, if it would have made your passing easier on you. I’ve been told there is a chemical that our body releases just before we die that produces a euphoric state in us. I hope that’s true and that your death was peaceful for you. It’s terrible for me.

To my mom – The more you slip away from me as you dance with dementia, the closer I get to something like peace and reconciliation with the past. You asked me not long ago if you ever did anything that made me doubt your love for me. What a loaded question. I’m sorry that I lied, Mom, and told you that you never did. I didn’t do it to hurt you, and I know I should be honest and get it out of my system and let you have your feelings about it. But I just couldn’t. I’m sorry that I have had to be less than forthcoming with you in trying to get you to transition out of your home and into assisted living. I’m sorry that it came to that for you. I am glad that you put the faith in me that you did years ago to make decisions for you now and take care of you now as you cannot take care of yourself. I promised you then and promise you now, I will do everything in my power to make this stage of your life as easy as possible. That’s why I told you the ‘lie’ that I did. If amidst all the things you’ve lost in life I can leave you with the peace of mind that the lie I told you has brought you, then I can live with it. I’ll make my peace with it later on.

To my husband – Sorry seems to be the hardest word sometimes. It carries undertones of weakness for me. I struggle with that.

To my friends – I sometimes feel like I never do enough for or with you. I always regret it. I never stop caring about you.

To my loved ones everywhere, I leave you these parting sentiments in bidding adieu to the year 2015. In the words of my blog muse, Winnie The Pooh – Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

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