Cooking? Just say “meh”

I cooked my first meal for my family when I was seven. At 37 I realized I’d had that career for 30 years and I have been semi-retired since then. I honestly hate cooking at this point, but I do it well. Some people are interested in food and its preparation. I’m not.

When I was seven, my Aunt Martha gave me a cookbook for Christmas. Sometime later, my mom was doing her bit as the leader of my brother’s Cub Scout troop. I thought, “I can do this,” and I opened the cookbook, opened the fridge, saw we had hot dogs. I cooked hot dogs and fried potatoes.

My mom came up from the basement and saw dinner was ready. She knew a good thing when she saw it, so she began teaching me to cook.

The one good thing that came out of it (besides meals for 60 years) were consistent grades of “A” in home economics all through school. Definitely helped my GPA.

Prerogatives of Sole Survivors

I dreaded the slide scanning chore for years, and, like a lot of chores, it turned out not to be so bad. Looking at China was inspiring, great.

And THEN…

Yesterday I sat down with the famdamily slides and more or less cursed life as I stacked them into the (usually not functional) bulk scanner. Some of the slides are over 60 years old and the glue holding the sides of the slides together had stopped working. Retired, I guess.

Since so many of them were totally irrelevant to me (as the sole survivor, I get to be the arbiter of relevance for this family) I started holding them up to the light to see if it was worth scanning them. Lots of slides went into the trash, things like store-bought slides of the Air Force Academy or faded scenery photos of the Black Hills. It was a relief just to toss them.

I found some wonderful things in that huge collection of slides.

Like a lot of families in the 1950s, we took road trips, usually to Montana, but in 1957 we drove from Denver to Florida, then to California, Oregon, Montana and back to Colorado. I was five and my brother was three. Some of those photos survived and they are sweet artifacts of a very different world.

Somewhere on the road having lunch, 1957. The background hills look like California, but who knows?

Some of the photos are hilarious, though they were probably not meant to be. Others bring back good memories of the time when our family was functional and happy. Looking at them, I decided to forget that I know how it turned out. But my initial feeling as I dived into this was anger, an anger I never felt before. I was furious with them all for dying.

I’m not big on Facebook memes but a friend happened to post this last night when the “… l’horrible fardeau du temps” (…the horrible burden of time) (Baudelaire) was pushing me to the ground. The meme seemed to give good information, maybe it was the truth. It really was a huge pressure fitting my life around my mom’s expectations. I carried the hopeless weight of my brother’s addiction for years, but couldn’t fix him. My dad? He was doomed from the start and he always said that he, mom, and Kirk were not my job. ❤

It was wonderful to see some of those people again, people I loved and times I savored even as a little kid. The best photos are the ones no one set up or posed, the photos of a day in the life.

Neighbor kids, my brother with a broken arm and an airplane, my Aunt Martha and my grandmother, our house in Nebraska.

When I was done with that for the day, I put on my new skis for the first time. Out there on the snow, with the beautiful San Luis Valley sky and mountains all around me, the snow beneath my skis, the frost falling off the tips of the cottonwood trees, I thought in the vague direction of my mom and brother, both suicides, “Maybe I just loved this more than you did. Maybe it was always enough for me.” I glided forward, somewhat tentatively, hoping I’d still be able to do do this and I was, I am. ❤

Not that PBR

I’m sorry but what? My family? Two dogs. A couple of cousins in the wilds of Montana (one of whom flirts with me, very creepy) and a couple others here and there. Family is not all it’s cracked up to be. Some families are just fucked from the getgo. Some fall apart over time. This joyful holiday get-together-with-family BS is just an added pressure this time of year, and I’m at the point in life where I get to choose my “family.”

Last Christmas I spent with some of my chosen family in Colorado Springs. Providence brought me a sister not long after my brother Kirk died from alcoholism. “Here,” Providence said, “from Kirk.” We thank Kirk from time to time because without him dying we wouldn’t know each other. To learn about that, you can read my post on the Kindness of the Gods.

The Christmas Eve get-together of family and friends was hilarious and grim as only family Christmases can be. The “brother-in-law,” we’ll call him “M,” got drunk and spent the evening sitting on the “going to the basement” stairs of the split-level house my chosen sister (CS) had borrowed from her second brother (who was not there) because it had a dishwasher and more space than her house. Probably 30 people attended. I knew most of them, but didn’t get to talk to everyone. I was in a lot of pain from my hip and couldn’t stand for more than five or ten minutes, so I had to spend the party sitting on a comfy chair (“No, no, not the comfy chair!”)

My “son-like-thing” was depressed and mildly inebriated, in a bad relationship and lost in life. My nephew, one of the sweetest people on the planet, a developmentally disabled guy in his 30s, sat with me on a small sofa with his head on my shoulder staring at my tits. My CS’s oldest brother and his piece-of-work wife interviewed me about my education and credentials to see if I merited their attention and conversation. I passed, but that didn’t mean we had anything to say to each other.

After about a couple of hours, my CS noticed that “M” was MIA.

“He’s on the basement stairs. He’s been there all night.”
“Is he OK?”
“He doesn’t look so good.”
“I’ll take him home,” I said. I’d signed up for that job early in the day.

Some friends helped “M” to my car. No one knew if he (blind and arthritic and drunk) could walk on his own, and the thought of him falling was not to be borne. “I’ll meet you there,” said one of my CS’s friends who was there with her son and his new girlfriend. I was pretty stove up at the time, needing hip surgery and unable to easily climb stairs, so I wouldn’t have been able to help him into the house. We’d have sat in the car godnose how long.

Absurd.

“Great,” I said, relieved. On the way “home,” I dropped off my CS’s very pitiful ( 😦 )alcoholic musician friend, then took “M” home. The friends drove up, ready to help, but “M” was fine. He went in by himself, headed directly to the basement, his hangout, with the mini-fridge and the 20 pack of *PBRs.

“You going back to the party?” asked the friend.

I shook my head, thinking how amazing life is that even with everyone in my own dysfunctional blood family dead, I could still have a Christmas Eve like that. ❤

~~~

*PBR stands both for Professional Bull Riders and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.

Family…

This time of year families gather together. For many years, I traveled to Montana, first with my mom, dad and brother to stay with my grandmothers. Then, as an adult, I flew up to Montana from San Diego to be with my mom and then, after she died, I flew to Montana to spend Christmas with my aunts. 

There was a period in there when I broke off with my family — I made some choices I had every right to make, but my mom disowned me, leaving me feeling confused and ashamed. I can’t say the estrangement was a bad thing or a bad time. I now believe it was necessary. In those years I belonged to a new family, this family was in Zürich, and for a few years I flew “home” to Zürich for Christmas. I look on that time as one of the sweetest and magical of my life. 

My mom and I attempted to make amends after one of my cousins died suddenly of a brain tumor, and my mom realized it could have been me. From that came one of the three times she ever called me on the phone (it was my job to call her) and asked me to come “home” for Christmas. I did. It turned out to be the last Christmas of her life. It was a strange, joyless Christmas for both of us. We didn’t like each other. I wasn’t the daughter she wanted, and I had never found anything in common with her, feeling only a sense of duty and the wish for love. My aunt Dickie called me up while I was visiting my mom and attempted a heart-to-heart about my mom’s drinking. But, as my aunt Dickie didn’t want to bad-mouth her sister, and this is the cowboy American west where some things were just not spoken of directly by the older generation, I didn’t get the point. I didn’t even get it when my mom almost crashed the car into a curb… I would learn the truth three months later when a scan of my mom’s brain revealed brain lesions from alcoholism.

The years of Christmas with my aunts were wonderful, fun, warm, friendly, loving, and I savored those times knowing they would not last forever. All of my aunts are gone now and my reflection in the mirror is a collage containing features and expressions of all those people. Interestingly, only the bird finger on my right hand resembles anything about my mom. Go figure.

I think there’s a point in most of our lives — especially those of us who don’t have kids — when we’re the sole survivors. I don’t mind. I loved my family and I miss them, but I’ve understood for a while that we all stand on a curb watching the passing parade. It’s an interesting parade because though we stand and watch, we are also in it, moving at different rates of speed toward the moment when we turn a corner and are no more. 

Ultimately, I found my home in a place on the map my family only passed through. I could have come sooner, but I guess I wasn’t ready or didn’t realize what “home” was. I love Montana, but the winter nights are very long and I like sunshine. I ended up in exactly the right place for me. I began to get an idea about 10 years ago and a search that began in 2002 for a job in Wyoming became a search for home in a small town in Colorado where I could live on the rather frugal income I’d have when I retired. I also wanted mountains, to live at a high elevation, to have snow and sunshine. 

I found it.

And, family, too. Family-less, the blank spaces in my life have been filled by those to whom I have an affinity and they to me. Some are close, some are more distant, but the heart-ties are the same or even more wholesome, cleaner, without some of the loaded expectations we have of family. 

25 years ago I was given a collection of Rumi’s poems by a woman who was a very precious friend and soulmate, both she and her husband. I felt she was my older sister, and in the passage of time, her husband — who was born the same year as my dad — offered me affection and support very like my dad would have if he had been alive. In that collection of poems, I read this one and decided to use it as instructions for finding the right direction.

Anyone who genuinely and constantly with both hands
looks for something, will find it.
Though you are lame and bent over, keep moving toward [it]. With speech, with silence, with sniffing about, stay on the track.
Whenever some kindness comes to you, turn that way, toward the source of kindness.



I-70

In 1999, Molly Wolf and I packed up the Ford Escort wagon and headed east from San Diego to spend Thanksgiving with my Aunt Martha in Denver. 

Moly and I loved road trips. The drive east was beautiful, befitting late November in Southern California. It was before the span between San Diego and San Bernardino was full of bedroom communities. We turned right and headed over the pass to Las Vegas (which we ignored). We drove through beautiful Southern Utah all the way to Cedar City where we found a motel and went out for dinner. Molly and I both liked Colonel Chicken when we were on the road. We sat outside at the cold tables and shared chicken. It began to snow. Molly and I walked back to our motel in this beautiful stuff, stopping at a college where there is a replica of the Globe Theater and, outside it, a circle of sculptures of great writers. It was beautiful. The night was inky black, the snow fell all around us, and the writers seemed joined together in a literary conspiracy.

The next morning I learned that the Eisenhower Tunnel between us and Denver was closed, and it was unknown when it would open. Our gentle snowfall was a big storm in the Rockies.

That was our route, but Molly and I clearly weren’t going that way. We headed south, instead, backtracking a bit, and went through Zion down to Flagstaff and on the 40 to Albuquerque where we spent the night. The next morning we were up and out, heading north to family on I-25. As we dropped down Raton Pass into Colorado’s Western Slope (mountains to the left, the Great Plains to the Right) the Dixie Chicks started singing “Wide Open Spaces” and, of course, I cried. I was so glad to be back in Colorado.

It was a very important trip, something revealed a year or so after the journey. My Aunt Martha (80 years old) and I had a wonderful time together doing all the things we normally did. She loved my dog and so did her cat, Amiga. We ate Thanksgiving dinner in a Swiss restaurant. Another evening we cooked T-bones and fried potatoes (my Aunt’s favorite meal). We laughed and talked, shared confidences. I walked my dog around what is now Centennial but was then Littleton. Molly — Malamute and Aussie — loved the snow (of course). Then it was time to go. I packed up the Escort, said goodbye to my aunt and headed west. The snow was all melted by then. I-70 was not yet the crowded horror show it is now. We stopped at rest stops and dawdled our way back to Cedar City, but pressed on to St. George. 

Then we were home. 

So… I woke up this Thanksgiving morning thankful for that trip. My aunt got sick that winter, family sold the home that she loved so much, and she moved to Montana. In a year or so she would be in extended care. It was — though I didn’t know it that Thanksgiving — the last moment of that part of both of our lives.

I’m so grateful we had it. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/22/rdp-thursday-grateful/

Tuned In

Long, long ago in a land three hours away from here, a young lady or teenage girl (depending on your point of view) got to work in a radio station. Once a week, Sunday evening, the radio station turned itself over to my high school’s speech club. 

We wrote and produced a radio show. I don’t remember how long the show was, but I remember writing radio plays, announcements and ads, and, rarely, being on air. 

My voice is in a pretty high register. In order to go on air without sounding like a three year old, and hurting the ears of the vast number of listeners on Sunday evenings I had to learn to speak on air. A real, live radio DJ taught me to bring my voice down a register or two. I was never a husky-voiced radio siren, but I did OK.

My dad was a radio appassionatto. During WW II (since he never managed to ship out with his outfit) he ended up a radio operator out by the Salton Sea in the Anza Borrego Desert east of San Diego. He not only learned to operate radios, but to build them. Once he was out of the Army, on the GI Bill, attending Eastern Montana College in Billings, MT, he was an Amateur Radio operator. This was a time when HAM radio was the only voice in what was often a dark, cold and lonely wilderness. 

Later on in life, my dad got a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio and could listen to radio all over the world. One of my dad’s and my favorite things was to turn on the Trans-Oceanic (in the basement?) and try to listen to Russia. We never succeeded, but what sense would we have made of it, anyway? Most of the time we got Juarez or Tijuana.

“Practice your Spanish, MAK.”

We got a car with a radio in it in 1955, and my dad was constantly tuning to find the best song. Back in the 1950s, there was only AM radio and not many stations, but my dad never gave up. Happy times arrived in 1957 when the push-button car radio made it into our world. My dad steered with his left hand and directed his automotive orchestra with his right.

So do I, much to the fear and annoyance of my passengers. Nothing worse on the road than 3 minutes of music you hate.

Ours was attached to a car…

On long road trips we’d try every local station. Driving at night, he’d try to tune in a certain Texas radio station that broadcast a strong signal. “Leave the radio alone, Bill!” was my Mom’s unavailing refrain. 

Radio where I live now is spotty and random. I tried NOT spending money on SIRIUS and making do, but as with a lot of other things, the San Luis Valley is a radio time warp. Sometimes I might get a decent station from Salida (1 1/2 hours to the north) or Taos (an hour to the south). There’s a station in Alamosa that’s pretty good, but it has to be everything to everybody. There’s Public Broadcasting from Taos (I think) but reception is spotty. There’s a Top 40ish station that makes my teeth itch and none of these come in clearly. 

I realized satellite radio is a quality of life issue for me, not only because my driving style depends on it (one hand on the wheel, one hand on the buttons), but because I think that the car radio is an oracle. More than once I’ve gotten in the car, turned on the engine and BAM the song that comes up is exactly the one I need to hear, answering a deep question or soothing frayed nerves. 

Back in California, at the end of my time there, when I desperately wanted out and feared I would never escape, if I heard The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” on my way to school, I thought, “Shit, I’m trapped.” Now when I hear it, I say, “Ha ha, fooled you!” and turn it up in defiance.

Last year, driving over La Veta Pass on my brother’s birthday, I heard both of “his” songs (“Fool on the Hill” by the Beatles and “Hurt” by Nine Inch Nails). There’s a long list of “signs” (William S. Burroughs said, “There are no coincidences.”) If I hear my “anthem” (“Running Up that Hill” by Kate Bush) I feel that nothing can defeat me. I realize this might sound to you like a kind of psychosis, but it’s not that serious.

Or is it? There’s a lot of truth to Warren Zevon’s song. And yeah, I’ve heard it on the radio.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/20/rdp-tuesday-broadcast/

Thoughts on My Brother’s 65th Birthday

image_562879527744612

My brother, his ex-wife, and daughter, 1979

The other day I read an article by a guy who’d lost his brother to alcoholism. I got very angry with the writer. His whole point was that if there were a scientific and methodical way to treat alcoholism, no one would die of it. The writer (I wish I could find the article and if I do, I will insert it here) railed against AA and other 12 step programs because, mainly, they put the cure of alcoholism in the hands of the alcoholic.

Statistically, AA works for only between 10 and 20% of alcoholics. Personally, I don’t think the statistics matter when one sober person is enough (IMO) to call the program a success, at least for that person’s family.

I get it. No one wants to rely on the drunk to cure his/her own problems. Who is more unreliable than an alcoholic?

Anyone who loves an alcoholic wants a powerful outside force to come and wrest the problem from the drinker and awaken that person to the wonder of a sober life. I wanted that for my brother every single day of his life. For a time I thought I could BE that power. Later I thought I could ally myself with that power (various rehab programs and hospitals that tried to help my brother). I busted my ass working extra jobs to pay for my brother’s rehab, housing, food, medical care. In all that I learned something important.

There is no such power.

The United States already spends about $35 billion a year on alcohol- and substance-abuse treatment, yet heavy drinking causes 88,000 deaths a year—including deaths from car accidents and diseases linked to alcohol. (“The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous” The Atlantic)

Science continues to research the problem of alcoholism (which is as old as humanity, I think, since we started brewing brew and vintnering vino early in our history) and comes up with chemical aids to treat and help alcholics. The bottom line THERE is that even with the help of science, the alcoholic has to be motivated to use the medications or the psychological treatment.

It’s a pretty common-place notion now that many alcoholics have underlying psychological problems and that booze is self-medication. My brother very likely suffered something like borderline personality disorder. Both our childhoods were traumatic at key moments in our development, and we were very different kids. Some people are intrinsically more reslient than others, less dependent on others, react differently to stress, able to develop alliances outside the family. I am a survivor; my little brother wasn’t. Even as kids if someone picked on him, I beat them up. My reaction was to fight back or leave. My brother’s was to stay there and take it.

In 2004 I realized that though he called me, he didn’t even know where I lived, what my life was like, or much about who I was. I was just an open wallet to him and he would — and did — lie and con me to get money. It was hurting me teaching 7 classes and holding down a 20 hr/week clerical job. His life wasn’t worth more than mine. “Don’t call me again until you stop drinking,” I said on the phone, feeling like my heart was being pulled from my chest.

“Fuck you,” he said.

I never heard from him again. I was totally OK with that. I had realized that I couldn’t do anything to fix my brother. It was 100% beyond me. I wasn’t mad at him, I loved him as much as ever, I wanted him to pull his shit together as much as I ever had, but I finally understood that it wasn’t my job. I had a lot of help reaching that point, the kindness of loving friends who’d experienced something like this in their lives and some of whom knew and loved my brother, too. I took a lot of shit from some of my family over my decision, but those who understood really did understand. I will always be grateful. ❤

No one ever saves anyone who isn’t already clinging to the shore asking for help while he or she tries to pull him/herself up.

My feeling now about alcholism is that there isn’t, and will never be, a “one size fits all” cure for this problem other than the one we know and that is that the alcoholic can stop drinking if he or she is motivated to do so. I’ve known several people who stopped drinking because something outside of them mattered more to them than drinking. My dad’s sister, my dad, my grandfather — just to name three, but my list is longer than those three family members. People do stop, but my brother didn’t. He died of an alcoholism related stroke in 2010. I didn’t even know until five months later.

Today is my brother’s birthday and he would be 65. The ONE thing he refused to try was AA. Who knows?

In any case, I miss my brother, and I would much rather be baking a cake today than writing this. I think I’ll go take a walk. ❤

Two songs for my brother and me:

 

 

The best song about addiction I know:

The Cast

“Mom!!!!”

“What happened?”

My little brother held his arm as if it were a bone china tureen filled with hot soup, not that he’d know or care at all about what bone china is.

“I fell out of a tree up at the mission.” The Columban fathers had a mission a block from our house. It was acres and acres of deciduous forest. It was our playground, our happy place.

“I’ll call your father.”

She didn’t drive.

I don’t know what happened next. I don’t know where I went — probably to a neighbor’s  or maybe (I think) my grandma was visiting — or where the bone was set, but my brother came home with a cast on his forearm.

“Simple break,” said my dad. “No reason for hysterics, Helen.”

“I broke my arm,” she stuck out her left arm so we could see the crooked bit. “It never healed right.”

“Helen,” sighed my dad, “there were no hospitals.”

“She sent David for Dr. Festy.” David being her older brother.

“Had to set it with boards in the kitchen, right? They did the best they could.”

“My poor boy. Mother gave me castor oil.”

“For a broken arm?”

“I wouldn’t stop crying.”

My dad shook his head and laughed. That was my grandma. What do you do on a dirt farm with ten kids, no car, no phone, two Percherons, a 7-year-old with a broken arm? From where I sit now, castor oil doesn’t seem that crazy.

“Well, it ruins our vacation,” said my mom.

“Why?” asked my dad.

“Kirk won’t be able to do anything. He has to be in a cast for three months!”

That did not turn out to be the case. Kirk did everything a two-armed kid would do except play Little League which he hated, anyway.

At the end of the summer, we went to Montana on the train as usual. The days were long, hot, sweet and filled with family. There were sunset games of Red Rover and lots of running in the tall grass of the pasture between grandma’s house and Aunt Jo’s. There were backyard picnics with fried chicken, red Jell-o mixed with fruit cocktail, potato salad and pie. The grownups sat in lawn chairs smoking in the darkness while we played monsters with flashlights.

One afternoon our cousins came over to stay with grandma and play with us. My brother  was playing in the ditch (not supposed to because of the cast) with the two youngest cousins, girls, while I tried watercolor painting with out a brush — I was trying to use the bristly ends of some wild grass. It didn’t work. Kirk and my cousins came screeching in through the backdoor. Kirk had caught a sucker with his bare hands. This was a marvel, a feat previously only accomplished by my mom.

“Mom! Look what I caught!” He held the fish carefully in both hands.

“Where’s your cast?” asked my mom, turning pale.

“I don’t know,” said my brother, suddenly realizing how seriously he’d messed up. It turned out he’d been slipping that thing off for weeks when he didn’t want to wear it.

I still have an image in my mind of that tow-headed kid in the Hawaiian shirt my mom had made him during the months she and my dad were living in Honolulu and we were living with Aunt Jo and Uncle Hank in Montana. We’re in a doctor’s waiting room. The chairs are Chartreuse, the tile floor black and white. Kirk and my mom are called into the examining room. They get up and Kirk leaves the cast on the chair.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/broken/

Retroactive DNA Specificity (What?)

A few years ago I wanted to know my pedigree. When Groupon offered a discount on a fly-by-night-marginally-accurate DNA test, I jumped at the chance.

I learned from it that I am 18% Native American. Because I’m a research kind of person, I had to figure that out. It seemed that the similarity between Northern, Northern, Northern Scandinavian DNA and Native American DNA sometimes yielded this result. Reindeer or Wapiti? I’m good with chasing ungulates across ANY region of the frozen north.

Left with more questions than answers about my pedigree, I forked out MORE money, this time to Ancestry, to get a clearer picture. Why? Because, at the time, it seemed to matter. Now?

Well there are just those times in life you want that $100 back.

Having invested the money in order to get pretty maps and charts explaining what I already knew, it has been kind of fun watching the whole DNA/ancestry thing evolve. Since I went into this looking for Swiss ancestry in particular (because of my novels) I was a little disappointed when, originally, all I got was a vague gesture toward Southern Europe. Ancestry keeps updating its ancestry stuff as they learn more. Today (in my relentless search for a compelling featured photo) I saw the latest changes and they pleased me. Switzerland is now on the map as is the migration of the Schneebelis which is, ultimately, all that matters. 😉

Hip Replacement Update: Doc ordered muscle relaxer for spasms, but the pharmacy didn’t get the prescription yesterday. Still, last night went much better thanks to Percocet. There is a lot of swelling with this surgery, mostly on the operated leg, but all over. It has been slowing diminishing. The best thing is that every single day, something is better than the day before. I think I might actually be able to drive to my staple-removing doc appt. next week.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/pedigree/

Once Upon a Time

My brother had a little girl, and I loved her more than anything. Strangely, you can have unrequited love in your own family, and that love story didn’t work out well. Not because of me, and probably not because of her. I suspect all the other dark factors that affected my family. The photo is her with her mom about 1981.

When she was a little thing, just walking and talking, she was my best bud. I didn’t get to see her often because there was a lot of stress in the famdamnily, but when I did see her, it was the greatest.

Once we went out to eat together — her mom, dad, and I. We had finished dinner and were sitting around the table while my niece played in a largely empty restaurant. She was enthralled with the (to her) long distance between the back wall and the front windows. I joined her in the back of the restaurant about to share an adventure to the front.

“Let’s go!” she said. She’d just learned to run without falling on her face.

“Where?” I asked.

THERE!” she replied.

“There? That’s too vague,” I answered (to a two year old)

“OK. Let’s go to vague!”

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/vague/