Homecoming

It’s been a busy week, typical of summer around here, when I worked too many hours and had a chance to see friends I haven’t seen in too long. I had fun picking blueberries with my little boy and making plans for blueberry waffles for supper tonight; I tried to figure out Instagram and even picked up a celebrity follower on Twitter. But the biggest part of my week was the part where I learned something really important about myself and the town I’ve adopted as my own.

As usual with me, there is a story.

A long time ago, back before my earliest memory, my grandfather bought an antique Estey pump organ at an auction. He paid to have it restored and then proceeded to die a few short years later, leaving the organ–along with most of his treasured antiques– to my mother.

organ

Mom hated that thing. It had to be babied, always displayed against an inside wall. It took up too much space in the tiny living room of our little house, but she couldn’t get rid of it. I remember watching her play it a few times, her entire body in motion as she worked both pedals with her feet while her fingers danced along the yellowed keys.

I was twenty-one when Mom died, and for some inexplicable reason she insisted to her dying day that I should be the one to inherit the organ. No one knows why she would do such a thing to me. I am tone deaf while both of my sisters posses at least a modicum of musical talent, but Mom really wanted that thing to go to the one daughter with no ability to ever get any enjoyment out of it.

I hate it almost as much as mom did. It spent most of my married life against an inside wall in our entryway, covered with an old sheet except at Christmas time, when it was the perfect place to display the Nativity set. I tried to play it for my kids a few times, pounding out painful versions of “Chopsticks” and “Heart and Soul” and counting it as a cardio workout because I got really winded working the pedals.

My ex-husband agreed to store it for me when we split because there is just no room for it in my tiny apartment. Last fall, he came up with the brilliant idea of donating it to the local historical society for display in our little museum. “After all,” he said, “your grandpa lived here for a long time, and your mom grew up here. The organ’s got a connection to this town, right?”

I was on board with the idea, but it took months to set things in motion. I had to fill out the proper paperwork to ensure that it will be regarded as a gift and not a long-term loan. I had to clear things with my family members to make sure no one else wanted it. And I had to make sure I was ready to let it go.

I thought I was ready.

In the process of donating that stupid old organ, I ended up joining the historical association. Since my Brides of Serenity series is set in this general area, I am having far too much fun learning about the original settlers and discovering the rich history of my adopted home town. And it’s been a true joy getting to meet people who say things like, “Oh, you’re Kay’s daughter? Let me tell you a story about her” or “I remember when your grandmother worked at the grocery store.”

Yesterday, my ex and his brother loaded up the old organ and brought it up to the museum. It needs a little work after all these years of neglect, but it’s going to be part of a “musical parlor display” at some point. There will be a card next to it with the names of my grandparents and Mom and even me.

Then we all shook hands and I took my paperwork in hand and everything was wonderful. Mission accomplished. Clutter cleared. Grandpa’s treasure deposited in the perfect place. And no emotional attachment whatsoever. No regrets. No sadness. Just a sense of relief, a weight off my shoulders now that I am no longer responsible for that stupid old organ.

And then, damn him, my ex spoke up just as we got into our separate cars to leave. “The organ’s home now, isn’t it?” he said. “I think your grandpa would be happy.”

Damn it. He made me think about it. He made me feel.

Grandpa died just a few days before my sixth birthday. I really never gave a thought as to whether or not he would have cared what happened to the organ. I barely remember him as anything more than a small, darkly handsome man with sharp cheekbones and a pencil mustache. I remember learning the word “debonair” and knowing immediately that it was the perfect way to describe him.

Grandma is a different story. I have more memories of her, but most of them aren’t pleasant. She moved to Arkansas not long after Grandpa died, and I only saw her a handful of times after that. She sent a Christmas box every year and came up for everyone else’s graduation but mine, and she did her best to pick fights with my father’s sisters at Mom’s funeral. Then she and her remaining daughters returned to Arkansas with most of Grandpa’s antiques that had been in Mom’s care for so long.

And Mom? Mom’s been gone from my life longer than she was in it. I miss her every single day.

I ended up in their town by sheer coincidence, and somehow I ended up staying here. I fit here. My oldest kids graduated from this school, the same one that their grandmother, great-uncle, and two great-aunts graduated from. My youngest will also finish school here. I know my neighbors and I even like most of them; we all know everyone’s business whether we want to or not. People here know me as Kay’s daughter, Guy and Marie’s granddaughter. But they also know me as the mother of the Princess, the Dark Prince, and the Little Guy.

They know me.

While I like to believe that my donating the organ to the museum would have made Grandpa and Mom happy, it really doesn’t matter. It makes me happy; it gives me peace. I’ve finally accepted the fact that it doesn’t matter whether my life choices would have appeased those who are no more than memories in my life, because it is just that: my life.

My ex was right. The organ is home now, where it belongs, and so am I.

 

No More Coffee Spoons

I spent most of yesterday packing.  No, I haven’t heard yet whether or not my offer on the little house has been accepted, but I might as well do something productive with my time.  And it feels good to be moving towards something rather than sitting around wallowing in self-pity.  I’ve cried enough tears for a lifetime, and I’m done with that part of the process.

For now, anyway.

I wrapped and packed most of my breakables.  Too many knickknacks and tschotskes.   Too much stuff.  Grandma’s Depression Glass.  Aunt Marian’s Norman Rockwell figurines.  Aunt Ida’s thimbles.  Aunt Verna’s tiny porcelain shoes.   Mom’s Monet prints.

None of this is mine.

I started looking around.  Really looking.

The rustic log-style bedroom set was chosen by my husband.  The cherry dining room furniture belonged to my aunts.  I made the curtains from fabric given to me by my mother-in-law to go with furniture that I didn’t pick out.

None of this is mine.

I went to a job interview yesterday in a blouse given to me by my sister.  When I got home, I used my mother-in-law’s meatloaf recipe to make dinner.  With venison from a deer shot by my husband.  That’s right, I cooked Bambi.  And I made him taste good.

I used to march in front of an animal research facility, waving a protest sign for animal rights.  Now I am married to a hunter and I cook wild animals.  Who the hell am I?

None of this is mine.

My daughter asked me if I plan on changing my name after the divorce.  I honestly hadn’t thought about it.  I can’t go back to my maiden name; Amy Hyde doesn’t exist anymore.  She was young and naïve and didn’t always have a lot of common sense when it came to putting foundations under the castles she built in the air.  She trusted people too easily and she believed in Happily Ever After.

One of my old friends just told me “I wanna see the Amy that I used to know.”  Well, she’s gone.  She grew up.

The person I have become doesn’t believe in Happily Ever After.  She rolls her eyes when she hears people spout nonsense like “The heart wants what the heart wants!”  She paints her walls in a sensible shade of eggshell and buys a common-sense brown Berber for the entire house.  She doesn’t even own a pair of heels because flats just make more sense.

None of this is mine.

I always hated it when I heard people talk about “finding themselves”.  It seemed so ridiculously self-indulgent.  While others around me babbled about taking time to find themselves, I laughed behind their backs and got on with living my life.   Get a job, get married, feed the kids.  Get up in the morning, go to bed at night, measure out life in coffee spoons.  Day by day.

None of this is mine.

I don’t know how to decorate my new house.  I have no idea what my style is.  I don’t know what I want or what I like.  Rustic? Classic?  Country?  No clue.

When –not if – I start dating again, I don’t know where to begin.  What do I find attractive in a man?  What’s my “type”?

Life has given me the cleanest of clean slates.  I have an opportunity to “find myself” in ways I never could as a married woman.  I have choices.  And I am choosing to see this as a chance for my new life, not a reason to give up.  I am choosing not to be angry anymore.

This is all mine.

Two

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This is what’s left of the tree that fell on me in my van two years ago today.

The flowers are the daylilies my daughter used to decorate the trunk for the little prayer service we held at the spot one year ago today.

It was once a beautiful old maple, more than four feet in diameter at the point that landed on me.   The tree that stood beside it also fell in the big storm last week, and although that one had the decency to fall away from traffic, it still shook me up to see it lying there.  As my friend put it, “Your sister-tree fell last night!”

It’s been a long two years.  I’ve learned that I’m tougher than I thought, that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of good people, and that I can survive just about anything as long as I keep my sense of humor intact.

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I wanted to write something moving and deeply meaningful today.  I found a bunch of gory, shocking pictures that I was going to include with my post, and I tried to think of the right spin to put on the story.  I planned on using real names and really digging into every tiny detail of that night.

And then I saw my daughter’s Facebook post today:

On this day 2 years ago, my entire family’s life changed. June 21, 2011 is a date that will always be sketched into our memories, but now is a time to let go. Now is a time to reflect on the positive, rather than dwell on the negative of this day. For everything that happens, there is a reason and God would never give us anything that we couldn’t handle. If anything, we are stronger now in both life and our faith and I am thankful for that. I love my family, and although sometimes we fight and have disagreements, I couldn’t imagine my life any different.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So let me close here with a couple of pictures and a word of thanks to all of the people who saved my life that night, and to the people who have saved my sanity in the two years since.  They brought food and Diet Coke, cleaned my kitchen, drove my sorry butt to appointments and just listened to me piss and moan on the bad days.  Most of all, they reminded me of the strength in friendship and laughter.

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Worth More than a Thousand Words

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As a rule, I don’t like pictures of myself.   I always think I look fat and my smile looks forced.   I am not now, nor have I ever been a photogenic person.

So it may seem odd that I would choose a picture of myself to write about.

This is one of the few pictures of me that I actually like, because of the smile I’m wearing.  For once, my smile doesn’t look forced and camera-fake; I look genuinely, eye-sparkling, on-the-brink-of-joyous-tears happy.

Of course, there’s a story.

With me, there’s always a story.

When I came home from the hospital after my car accident, my hair was red.  Not by choice; it had been an over-processed, porous blonde that became stained by blood from my head injury.  The ER nurse shaved an inch-wide swath across the top so the doctor could stitch my scalp, and someone else shaved from the nape up to my occipital so the surgeon had room to rebuild my shattered neck.  Three other round spots were shaved to make room for what we later referred to as “corncob holders” – metal pieces attached to my skull to keep me from moving during the surgery.

Afterward, they strapped me into a metal and plastic contraption that immobilized everything from the waist up.  It pushed my double chins up into my eyeballs; I think it forced cleavage into my earlobes and backfat up my nose.  Then they stood me up with a walker and sent me on my way.

It was not a good look for me.

Yikes!  Tina, of course, is beautiful as always
Yikes! Tina, of course, is beautiful as always

I am not a vain person, but I like to do my hair and make-up.  As a cosmetologist, it was always important for me to look finished: hair styled, make-up applied, jewelry in all of the appropriate orifices.  But in those first weeks, I couldn’t do any of those things.   No contact lenses, no make-up.  I couldn’t shower, and those “dry shampoos” didn’t do anything about the oil and caked blood in what was left of my poor, tufty hair.  I wore wrinkled hospital gowns or baggy clothes that fit around the brace, going barefoot or in worn flip flops.  Jewelry was out of the question; even my wedding ring had been removed at the hospital, and there was no suggestion of trying to force it back onto my numb left hand.

For seven weeks, I had to look at that.  I had to smell that.  In the face of people telling me how lucky I was to be alive, I had to deal with the guilt of feeling like an ungrateful brat for being depressed about my appearance.  I hated myself, my pain-wracked body, my lost career, the hot weather.  Everything.  Especially that damned brace.

I felt shallow and ugly and stupid.

When the brace came off, my former co-workers at DGist Salon took care of me.  They cut and colored my hair, shaped my brows, applied my make-up.   They pampered me and made me human again.

And they took that picture with my phone.

What was I thinking?  I’m pretty!  I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be okay.   There’s more than joy in my eyes in that picture; I see hope, gratitude, love. . . and a little spark that I thought I had lost somewhere in the twisted metal and broken glass.

What happened next?  Good days, bad days, everything in between.

Recovery.

Life.