The Question

 

I should have seen it coming.

It’s basically a rite of passage that nearly every child must face, and my son is, after all, a very smart fourth-grader. Besides, he’s my third child; I’ve done this twice before and I should have been better prepared.

This time, it hurt. Maybe it’s because he’s my baby, my last little one, my late-in-life “bonus” child. Or maybe it’s because I’m just older and more emotional now than I was ten years ago when his siblings asked The Question.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. They never really asked. They just sort of figured it out and made the transition without any kind of trauma or fallout. I guess I expected it to go just as smoothly this time around.

Yesterday, my little Rooster looked at me with those great big blue eyes that are impossible to lie to, and he asked me in his direct way, “Mom, do you believe in Santa?”

I wish he’d asked me if Santa is real. That would have been easier to answer.

santa
Ah, the good old days!

 

 

Do I believe in Santa?

I was eight years old when I asked my mom for the truth. She wasn’t always a great mother, but she had a few moments of brilliance, and that was one of them. I remember how she explained to me that Santa is indeed real. Not as a jolly fat man in a red suit, she explained, but in the spirit of giving to others. He’s real in our hearts as long as we keep him alive in the joy of Christmas morning, in the happiness that comes with believing in something that we can’t see or touch or prove. As long as we believe in magic.

I realize now that she borrowed pretty heavily from Francis Church’s 1897 editorial assuring a little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” but it did the job. I felt so grown up when she trusted me with the truth, and even more so when she woke me up at midnight to help her put the presents under the tree. It’s one of my best Christmas memories.

So I would have known how to answer my son if he had asked me if Santa is real. I like to think I would have been just as helpful (if unoriginal) as Mom was.

But do I believe in Santa?

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! … Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

 

I used to believe. Even as an adult, rushing around to get the gifts and make the food and dress the kids in their holiday best before hurrying off yet to another family gathering with this aunt or that grandma or those aunts and uncles and cousins. In the midst of the whirlwind, I believed.

In Polar Express, Santa says, “This bell is a wonderful symbol of the spirit of Christmas – as am I. Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.”

Oh, the true spirit of Christmas was in my heart!

Christmas is different now for my little Rooster than it was for his brother and sister, who are a decade older. There are fewer family gatherings, and the family that gathers is so much smaller now. The few remaining members of my side of the family tree don’t even get together for holidays any more; my ex-husband’s side has drifted over the years until my youngest barely even knows his cousins.

There have been divorces and remarriages and deaths; children have grown up and moved out and become adults with lives of their own, and something about Christmas just doesn’t feel like Christmas any more.

It’s just Rooster and me in my little apartment now. I thought about getting a smaller tree this year and not even dragging out the big boxes of ornaments and decorations. After all, it’s not like anyone will actually see any of them. It’s just him and me now. Is it even worth it to haul out the Christmas mugs and the homemade ceramic nativity set? The latch hook toilet cover? The Christmas quilt I sewed for Aunt Marian?

Is it really worth it?

Do I believe in Santa?

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.

— Polar Express

I must have hesitated too long. My little boy crawled under the rocking chair and refused to look at me. “I knew about the Tooth Fairy,” he told me. “And the Easter Bunny. But I wanted to believe in Santa.”

So did I, Sweetheart. So did I. 

“I don’t want to do Christmas this year,” he added.

My heart broke, just a little.

His father arrived shortly after that to pick him up, and we talked about it as a family. A fractured family, perhaps, but still a family. Rooster seemed to perk up a little bit before crawling out of his hiding place. A year ago, he would have curled up on my lap and dried his tears on the front of my shirt; this year, he wants desperately to prove that he is too old for that. A quick hug, and he was out the door before I realized that I had never actually answered him.

Do I believe in Santa?

I don’t know how long I sat there alone, asking myself that question. Long enough for it to get dark outside, dark enough for me to see the Christmas lights in the park in the center of my little town.

The lights reminded me of my family’s tradition of visiting Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park to see the decorations every year. My sisters and I would race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” and slide down the little snowy hill between the Wisemen and their camels. We’d snicker every year about the cracks and chipped paint on the faces of Mary and Joseph before dashing away to gaze in awe at all the lights on the trees — especially the giant Salvation Army tree.

Most of those trees were destroyed with the tornado went through downtown Kalamazoo in 1980. That cheesy old Nativity scene is long gone, and there are no more decorations placed on the snowy hill because it turned out to be an Indian burial mound. It’s the same park, but it’s not the same.

Or is it?

It’s still Christmas. Different trees, different decorations, different ways of celebrating. We can still go to Kalamazoo and race each other down “Candy Cane Lane” or catch a ride on the Holly Jolly Trolley, or we can stay right here in our own town and attend the tree-lighting party in the park, surrounded by our friends and neighbors.

We can make new traditions because it’s still Christmas.

It’s still Christmas, and we have each other, and we have memories, new and old. We still love each other, despite divorce and distance and paths that have taken some of us in different directions. There are moments of sadness, it’s true, but there are moments of joy as well, and it’s up to us to hang on to all of those moments and cherish them for what they are.

Do I believe in Santa?

Absolutely.

 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

— “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus”

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.

 

A Traditional Family Christmas

This holiday season, I hope to establish some new traditions. But I have to be careful, because in my family the word “tradition” is sort of a bad word.

When I was growing up, my aunts were really into holiday traditions. Everything we did was supposed to have some kind of significance, from the precise placement of Grandma’s porcelain angel bells to the exact shade of Christmas toilet paper. Our Christmas with the aunts was always the weekend before the actual holiday, and Aunt Marian was determined to cram MEANING into every second of every day of the entire weekend.

Christmas with Mom, on the other hand, was much less predictable. The most charitable way to describe my mother’s holiday traditions would be to say “Well, she tried.” In fact, that was the best part of Christmas with her — she kept trying different things every year. The only constant about holidays with Mom was the fact that she would let us all open our gifts from Grandma on Christmas Eve.

And that was only because we all knew that Grandma was going to send us all matching nightgowns that she had purchased at Dillard’s Department Store in Jonesboro. Grandma worshipped Dillard’s the way most folks worship God, although she was pretty vague on which granddaughter wore what size and we all ended up swapping gifts with each other until we found one that fit.

I think our most memorable Christmas was the year Mom decided that we should all go to church on Christmas Eve. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going to church on Christmas Eve. Jesus is, after all, “the reason for the season”.  It’s just that we were never really a church-going family. We went on Easter and whenever Mom worried that one of us was sinning more than usual.

On that particular Christmas Eve, she made a batch of chili for our dinner and then ordered us all to get dressed up for the big evening service.  But she didn’t take us to “our” church. For some unknown reason, the woman took all of us — including my two adult step brothers — to an ornate, hundred year-old house of worship in downtown Kalamazoo. It was enormous, with high ceilings and lots of religious statues and plenty of stained glass.

It was beautiful, but it It wasn’t our church.

It wasn’t even our denomination.

To this day, I have no idea what denomination it was. I just know that it involved a lot of kneeling. Everywhere around us, people were bouncing up and down like bits of human popcorn. We tried to blend in and do what everyone else was doing, but we sort of gave ourselves away when a man on our pew bent to retrieve his pen and my entire family hit the floor.

About thirty minutes into the service, the Christmas Eve chili began to work its magic on my stepbrothers. I’m not talking about a gentle, unavoidable “right cheek sneak” during a loud hymn. No, these boys didn’t do anything halfway. Dedicated followers of the Go-Big-Or-Go-Home school of thought, they were busily exploring the full comedic and acoustic possibilities of flatulence in a quiet, high-ceilinged room.

By the time we got back to our car, Mom was furious. As for me, I was pretty firmly convinced that we had offended both Santa and Jesus, and that I was going straight to hell without any Christmas presents.

Now that I have kids of my own, I don’t serve chili or go to church on Christmas Eve. We have a few traditions, most of which involve food. This year . . . well, this year is kind of rough.

It’s been two years since my husband and I split. Last year, he still came to my house to watch the kids open their presents, and we were very cordial about splitting our time with them. But this year, I’m in a tiny apartment and he’s in a committed relationship with someone else. And with our daughter away at college and our oldest son graduating in the spring, it’s time to face the fact that our holidays are never going to be the same.

I’m doing my best to see this as a positive thing. It’s a clean slate, an opportunity to start fresh with my youngest son with a whole new set of holiday traditions. We’ll still make our sugar cookies from his Great-great Grandma Tice’s recipe, and this year he’ll be able to write the note to Santa without my help. By next year, he may have outgrown Santa.

I really hope he outgrows that creepy little elf soon.

Image result for creepy elf on the shelf

This holiday season, I hope to face Christmas with a positive attitude. I hope to keep in mind that this is a new beginning or me, and I hope to come up with a few fun and meaningful traditions for my Little Man and me to follow every year.

And  . . .

I hope that all of you out there have a safe and rewarding holiday season, surrounded by those you love.  Go ahead, share some of your family traditions or even some of your funniest Christmas memories!

This has been a Finish the Sentence Friday post: “This holiday season, I hope…” hosted by Kristi at Finding Ninee and Lisa from The Golden Spoons. Please visit their blogs to see what other writers have done with this prompt!

 

If you enjoyed what you read here today, please check out my book Have a Goode One! It’s free on Kindle December 11-12.

Shamrocks, Blarney, and Mom

When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day, I always think of my mother.

She was part Irish, although I have to be honest and say she was sort of part-everything. Her maiden name was Kirk, and she always told us that she had once traced the family tree back to the first Kirk to come to America from Scotland; he married an Irish girl, and their son married a Cherokee, and so on down the line. She insisted that we had our own Tartan and family crest, and swore that our family history also included Welsh, Swedish, Dutch, French and German ancestors.

She also insisted that she was 5’5” but barely reached my chin, and I am 5’4”, so I think it’s safe to say that many of my mother’s “truths” should be taken with a grain of salt. Irish or not, she definitely had the Gift of Blarney.

shamrock2

She loved St. Patrick’s Day. She was an incredibly irritating Morning Person who was hard enough to deal with on a normal day, but on St. Patrick’s Day, she amped it up by blasting “Irish Washerwoman”  on the radio and clog-dancing around our beds to wake us up. She insisted on speaking in a thick Irish brogue all day, and the real tragedy here is that she thought she was good at it.

She was not.

She had a song that she liked to sing on that day, in the same terrible brogue, that involved a drunken fool coming home late at night and doubting his wife’s explanations about a hat on the hatrack or a head on the pillow. I’ll admit that I thought the song was really funny as a child, especially the part that went, “A football with a mustache on I never saw before!

Of course, now that I’m a parent and have access to Google, I looked up the song and was promptly horrified to discover that my mother’s favorite song was a delightfully filthy little ditty called “The Traveler.”  I honestly don’t remember if she left out the following verses or not:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
That’s not a cock a-standing there,
But a carrot that you see.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
But a carrot with balls on,
I never saw before. 

And I’m sure she omitted the following:

“Oh, you’re drunk, you fool, you silly old fool,
You’re as drunk as a fool can be;
I ain’t your wife, this ain’t your house,
You have never lived with me.”
Well, I’ve traveled this wide world over,
Ten thousand miles or more;
It’s the fifth time that I’ve stuffed this bird,
She ain’t never complained before. 

 

 I also remember the year she was supremely offended when I met her brogue-to-brogue with some alternate lyrics I had learned for “Irish Washerwoman:”

Oh, McTavish is dead and McTivish don’t know it
McTivish is dead and McTavish don’t know it
They’re both of ‘em dead and they’re in the same bed
And neither one knows that the other is dead.

She was not amused.

Neither were my sisters, as I recall.  It was pretty early in the morning for a brogue-off.

But the real reason I think of my mother on Saint Patrick’s Day is McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes.  Dear Lord, those things are pure evil.  Nothing should taste so good! Cold and sweet, just minty enough, creamy and smooth. I am not usually a big fan of milkshakes other than plain old vanilla, but Shamrock Shakes are so much more than just a milkshake.  They are an experience.

shamrock

In the final days of Mom’s battle with breast cancer, she developed a craving for a Shamrock Shake.  She had lost her appetite and her weight had dropped to well below 100 pounds, so we were happy that she had a craving for anything. The cancer had invaded her brain; she was childlike in size and behavior by that point.

One of us stopped and bought her a Shamrock Shake on the way to the hospital that morning.  I don’t remember now which one of us it was, and it really didn’t matter. All that mattered was Mom getting something that made her happy at the moment. Before she could even take her first sip, however, one of the nurses who was drawing her blood at the time somehow managed to bump the tray and spill the shake all over the floor.

The nurse was even more devastated than Mom.  Mom wept like a child over her lost treat, and Debbie, the nurse, couldn’t stop apologizing. I remember that she cried a few tears as well. For the next several days, she stopped on her way in and brought my mom a new Shamrock Shake every day until my sister gently told her it wasn’t necessary any more.   By that point, Mom didn’t remember any of it.

I’ve never forgotten Debbie’s kindness, or the horrified expression on her face when she realized what had happened. It was just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it meant the world to a dying woman with seven brain tumors and three grieving daughters. Debbie could have dismissed it as just a stupid shake and shrugged off my mother’s tears, but she cared enough for her patient to worry about more than just who was going to mop up the mess. She let my mom into her heart and I knew, even then, how much that cost her.

Now, more than thirty years later, I still buy myself one Shamrock Shake to drink alone every St. Patrick’s Day in honor of my Mom, but also in honor of Debbie and nurses like her everywhere, who care enough to let their patients into their hearts, no matter how much it hurts.

It’s just a shake, just a stupid mixture of frozen milk and too much sugar, but it’s so much more than that.

***

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day. . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Kelly from Just Typikel, and Lisa from The Meaning of Me. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Adventures of the Amoeba Squad

The memory that haunts me is more of a composite memory, really. The events all happened when I was so young that my mind has sort of squashed them all together, kind of like a memory meatloaf.

It involves the summers I spent as a child with my aunts at their cottage on Lake Michigan. The Aunts were my father’s four sisters who never married, never lived alone, never made a move without first consulting each other.  My father was not on speaking terms with them for most of my formative years, and my sisters and I secretly referred to them as The Amoeba

My aunts had no children of their own, but they were firmly convinced that they were experts at child-rearing.  In all matters of discipline, education, nutrition and entertainment, they knew it all.  God help anyone who dared disagree with the Amoeba, which also explains a lot about why my mother’s relationship with them wasn’t all that terrific, either.

Aunt Marian, for example, couldn’t see the nutritional difference between sugary cereals and a candy bar, so we routinely ate Snickers bars for breakfast. She believed that dairy products could soothe an upset tummy, which meant that we ate ice cream between bouts of vomiting when we had the flu.

I cringe now that I’m a mother, but oh, man, did I love the food at my aunts’ house!

The Aunts also had some strange beliefs about what was and was not appropriate for children.  Actually, they had some strange beliefs about a lot of things. Aunt Verna believed that douching with warm Pepsi could prevent pregnancy, so all pop served to teenage girls in that house was served on ice, thank you very much.  She saw that as her way of preventing teenage sex. As teenagers, my sisters and I loved to come home from dates and make a big show of pouring ourselves a big, tall glass of warm Pepsi, just to mess with her mind.

But the memories that haunt me don’t involve dating, douching, or Pepsi.

Not just for drinking anymore.
Not just for drinking anymore.

My aunts were addicted to police scanners.  They were four of the nosiest people in the world, and they discovered scanners about the time they realized that their nineteen sets of binoculars and two telescopes just weren’t bringing in enough information.  They had a scanner in the living room, a scanner in the kitchen, and Aunt Marian had her own personal scanner in the bedroom.

They memorized the police codes, and they knew precisely when some juicy, gossip-worthy event was taking place anywhere in the county. And if those events took place in the middle of the night, the aunts saw nothing wrong in waking us up and taking us for a ride to the scene in the trusty family station wagon, also known as Wag, the unofficial eighth member of our tribe.

“Up and at ‘em, Girls!” Aunt Marian would crow. “There’s a fire at the old five-and-dime!” or “They’ve found a body down by the marina!”  We’d stumble into the clothes she tossed us and wrap up in our matching white windbreakers – yes, we all seven wore matching white windbreakers everywhere we went. On foggy nights, I think we probably traumatized quite a few other spectators when we materialized out of the gloom like some demented Amoeba Squad.

It seems like there were always bodies being hauled out of the lake.  That sounds pretty grim, but it never seemed that way to me as a kid.  My aunts had made it abundantly clear to us that the water could be dangerous when not regarded with the proper respect and caution.  Drownings were a part of summer life at the beach.  Boats capsized, teenagers were overcome after diving from the pier, little children wandered away from parents.  It was just something that happened, and my aunts believed that exposing us to that ugly truth was an appropriate way of teaching us to respect the water.

In retrospect, I shudder to think of the things we saw. To a certain extent, I can understand my aunts’ fascination with drowning, because two of their brothers were killed in a boating accident in the 1950’s, but I still cannot begin to comprehend the logic of taking three little girls along to stand in a crowd to see a body loaded up and taken away.

The night I remember most vividly, we waited on the pier amid a growing crowd for what seemed like hours.  Rumor had it that the body had been found a few miles out and they were having trouble retrieving it.  It had been in the water for quite some time, they said, and was so badly decomposed that it was impossible to determine gender at that time.  I don’t know what standard procedure is in a situation like that, or whether any of the rumors were true, but the general consensus was that the body was so far gone that it couldn’t even be picked up out of the water; it was said that the Coast Guard had to scoop a body bag around it and drag it behind the boat.

I strongly doubt that’s what really happened.   But I stood there with the rest of them, clustered around the North Pier’s old white lighthouse that’s been gone for almost thirty years now.  We craned our necks and murmured theories about who it might be, and every once in a while someone would shout when they thought they saw a boat somewhere on the horizon.

I don’t think they ever actually brought a body in that night.  Or if they did, I have forgotten the details.  I remember giving up and shuffling back home, where we brushed the sand from our bare feet and hung our seven white windbreakers on seven hooks before crawling back into our beds.

We were terribly disappointed, and that’s the part that haunts me.  A human being, someone’s son or daughter, died in Lake Michigan, and we were disappointed because we didn’t get to see the body dragged out of the water.  A life ended.  Somewhere, a heart broke and a soul mourned the loss of a loved one, and I was part of a group of ghouls watching, waiting to see the gory results.

I remember that night every time I drive past a car accident and see the gawkers slowing down, or when I see a house fire on the news with clusters of onlookers waiting to see if anyone died.   I feel that same sense of shame, and I force myself to look the other way.

The memory that haunts me is the memory that makes me turn away from watching somebody’s pain, someone else’s loss, because I never want to be part of that crowd again.  Not even if I could still fit into the old white windbreaker.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “The memory that haunts me is . . . ”  

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. . . and It Feels So Good

My feet look like sausages this morning. Swollen, aching sausages with funny tan lines and some majorly cute coral-colored polish.  My spine is on fire, my ears are ringing, and my throat is raw.  I have a monster headache, and there’s something vaguely Sharpei-ish going on with my face.

I had a helluva good weekend.

I stood too long, drank too much, talked too much, slept too little.  I made some pretty awful jokes, laughed at stupid things, and learned that some men are very uncomfortable with jokes about female incontinence.  (Apologies to your husband, Bonnie.)  In fact, there were a lot of jokes about incontinence and the need for Depends.  At least, most of us were joking.

Talked about boobs a little too much, particularly my own.

See?  I'm not the only one in a push-up bra!
See? I’m not the only one in a push-up bra!

The first night of the class reunion began with vodka and cranberry juice on an empty stomach, and moved quickly on to mead.  Not my smartest move.  It was hot and humid, but it was a lovely Beer Garden full of people who were all just as nervous and excited as I was; the alcohol flowed rather freely that first night, and I made a point of jumping in front of every camera that was raised.

I struck up a conversation with the man who used to tie my shoes for me in Kindergarten because my dexterity was just as bad then as it is now.  He still has shockingly blue eyes and I really shouldn’t have been quite so pleased to learn that we are both divorced.  I think I scared him away, because he didn’t return for the second night of the reunion.

Two complete strangers told me they were disappointed because they had really expected more cleavage from me.  I guess I’m flattered they read my blog, but I’m a little creeped out.

Just a little.  It was actually pretty cool to realize how many of them had read and enjoyed my work.  And my cleavage, apparently.

Thirty years ago, I would have recovered from this weekend much more quickly.  A little tomato juice, a couple of aspirin, and a whole lot of either Mountain Dew or Diet Coke, depending on where I was on the insecurity scale with regards to my weight.  Of course, when I drank like that thirty years ago, my recovery also involved hiding the empties from Mom, pretending that I wasn’t hungover, and trying to swallow the very greasy breakfast that Mom always cooked on mornings when she suspected a hangover.

For me, the best moments of my class reunion were those moments laced with irony.

Four of us women giggling in the pre-party hotel room, slinging back vodka and cranberry juice with the occasional shot of Rum Chata, talking about Spanx and push-up bras and comparing notes on who held onto her virginity the longest way back when (for the record, I won).  There were catty comments and dirty jokes about our sex lives (or lack thereof) and lots of selfies.   And then it happened.

It dawned on us that we all four wore our “cheaters” to look at the pictures on our phones.  Despite the Spandex and make-up and hair extensions and glitter in cleavages, we just weren’t young any more.   We had not hidden our age by one day.

“Dudes,” PhD announced with a sigh, “we look like the worn-out whores of ’84.”

She is as brutally honest as she was thirty years ago, and I love her even more for it than I did back then.   And whether she is 18 or 48, she is still stunning.

 

Hey, Doc!
Hey, Doc!

Several of my classmates seemed to be under the impression that I played in the school band.  One gentleman regaled me with tales of my moving into town in tenth grade and “partying” with him on several occasions.  He was so glad to see me, and even dropped some vague hints that led me to believe he thinks we had some sort of relationship back then.

I have no idea who he has me confused with, but he obviously has great memories of her.

Whoever she is.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him we never actually spoke in school.  (Sorry, Bill.)

I was so worried about this reunion because, let’s be honest, life hasn’t turned out like I thought it would.    I remember feeling judged in high school, and I was afraid of feeling judged once again.  Of not measuring  up.  And yes, there were a couple of utter asshats there this weekend who did their best to be complete jerks.  I was really hoping one woman in particular would end up with her head in dirty toilet water before the night was over, but overall, my classmates were magnificent.

The girls who once intimidated me were quick to hug me this weekend; the cute boys who made me trip over my own feet and walk into walls back then seemed happy to see me now.  Lots of genuine smiles, friendly hugs, warm handshakes.  Perhaps someone more cynical than I would make snarky remarks here about phonies, but I chose to see sincerity.

We made promises to stay in touch.  Exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and “liked” each other’s statuses on Facebook.  Posted lots of pictures and talked about seeing each other again at the fortieth in ten years.

Most of those promises probably won’t be kept.  No matter how much we want all of those good feelings to stay strong, we’ve all moved on with little in common other than shared memories of a time we can never go back to.  We can only share laughs about Mr. Kitchen’s Algebra class or Mrs. Frank’s scary blue hair and hawk nose so many times before we run out of things to say to each other.

This weekend was all about saying hello again after thirty years, about sharing our memories, about re-living a few days gone by.  But it also felt a little bit like a good bye.  Good-bye to the insecure kids we used to be,  good bye to old dreams that were replaced by different realities, good bye to old grudges and resentments that we should have let go of a long, long time ago.  It was a chance to say farewell to any lingering hopes or fears of ever going back to who we used to be.

For me, this class reunion was the chance to embrace life just exactly as it is, and to appreciate each other in ways we didn’t back then.  I never knew Mona was so sweet, Karen was so smart, or Inger was so caring.  I never noticed Maggy’s gorgeous green eyes, or realized that Tim was so funny; I didn’t know that Denise was the person to go to when I needed honesty, or that Cheryl had such an infectious laugh.  I had forgotten that Anita’s smile has always been the brightest and warmest thing in any room, or that Holly’s stability and dependability mask an inner capacity for mischief that only a few of us have ever seen.

Guys, let’s not wait for the fortieth.  Let’s have a thirty-fifth.   Perhaps my hangover will be gone by then.

See you in another ten?
See you in another ten?