ghosts

20623465_10156551267128065_444559189_oapparently not these kinds of ghosts

My sister visited a couple of months ago. And as she sat on the sofa and I in my corner chair I saw my mother in her face.

It made me wonder what traces of my mother there are in me.

I always considered myself my father’s daughter. But he is so long gone now, I don’t know–I don’t remember, except for his eyes and frame, what I could see of him in myself anymore. Aside from the occasional visits from my siblings, I don’t spend time with anyone who really knew him. So I have no one to remind me I somehow remind them of him.

But my mother, that’s a different story. My husband, my kids, my daughter-in-law, my friends, people in my neighborhood knew my mother. I wonder if I ever remind them of her.

***********

My cousin’s wife lost her mother today. I never met her mother. But I’ve been witnessing from afar as her family has had to split up for months at a time to help take care of her. And how they gathered together and my cousin and the rest of the kids made it just in time to say goodbye. I wanted to reach out to my cousin and ask him to give his sweet wife a big big hug from me and and say how sorry I am. How losing a mother is like nothing else and something you can’t even imagine until it happens to you. But then I remembered this cousin lost his mother. And his step-mother. So he already knows.

***********

I’m not afraid of ghosts. But I dread the emptiness that comes from the lack of a ghost–or some other sense of their presence–to remind us of those we love and lost.

For example, some of my kids headed out to my in-laws’ house this past weekend. I called my sister-in-law ahead and, fortunately without really having to explain, told her we are all a bit uncertain as to how to be at their house without my mother-in-law Barbara. Because I don’t know. And they didn’t know. And I knew this sister-in-law would extend her motherly circle around them and somehow help them through it.

When I lost my grandmothers, neither of them were in the homes where I remembered them best. So while I miss their presence in my life, I didn’t really have to revisit memories devoid of their presence.

And because my family moved from my both childhood homes long before we lost my mother, my mom passed away in her home, not our home. I wasn’t required to build new memories in it without her. And I don’t have any idea what it must be like to return to your childhood home empty of the beating-heart center of your growing-up universe–your mom.

So I worry about this upcoming Thanksgiving and not knowing how to fill that space that used to be just ours while everyone else went up to the mountains, and resort to feeling ghosts in quilt shops and Chuck-a-rama parking lots and the Payson Temple.

[Day 182 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

play

IMG_2646
IMG_2681It looks like we killed the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.”

We had a shoot on Friday. I had to leave for work at 6:45 and make a run into the truck stop on the way there because I realized it was only 37 degrees and I was wearing Birkenstock sandals and had no gloves. I’d only just last minute tossed a comfy old sweater in the back of the fleet vehicle because I realized my coat was in the back of my car parked at the UFRA parking lot.

It was cold. I began the day trying to shovel tall weeds with my sore foot to clear a path to the set of valves we needed for part of the shoot and getting poked by puncture weed and thistle to do so.

All in a day’s work.

Shoots are not easy, but they can be fun. I was reminded of this when one of the firefighters tried to ad lib (we’re using voiceover on this one, so there were no lines anyway) the scene in a messy German/French accent. And later when he tried to three-stooge another one of the scenes and we all wished he had a giant-sized red wrench to pull out of his pocket for the “Closing the Remote Valves” video.

Shoots can be long. They can be cold. They can be hot. Things can go wrong. They can start early. And they can run late. For me, at least, they usually require a good dose of Ibuprofen. In other words, they can be hard and they hurt–and I’m not even the one doing the heavy lifting. But, just like most work, they can also be fun. I am always grateful for the people who are willing to make them fun.

I still recall hearing the operations guy who’d worked at the Salt Lake Airport for nigh on 30 years that if you love what you do, you don’t really see your job as work. One of the keys to that–along with working with good people–is bringing an element of play into your work.

You don’t have to be Moe, Curly, or Larry. But I find that generally you can find beauty, wonder, imagination, joy, whimsy, fun, and even occasionally a good pun in almost anything you do. And that can make work a pleasure.

I don’t ever want to become too old or too responsible for play.

[Day 181 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

a moment when everything changed

the moment when my mom was on the other end of the line, terrified and in tears, telling me her breast cancer* had come back and it had metastasized and she needed to get the emergency room.

i was numb and angry and sad and in disbelief all at the same time. i told her not to drive there herself but that i would come get her, bring her back in, and take her back home. i remember driving down the freeway with tears running down my face crying and praying and swearing (not the really bad ones) and i felt like god was somehow ok with all the feelings including the anger and disbelief and heard my prayers anyway.

i sat in the corner of the ER room, to the left of my mother’s head. the PET scan was posted against the artificial light on the opposite wall. my mom was on the gurney. the doctor stood at her feet. he did not have one single bit of good news. not one. the cancer was everywhere.

there were so many moments after that moment, but that was the moment when i felt my mom’s dreams of travel and visits to family in idaho and south carolina and southern california and who knows what else in her retirement all seemed to evaporate. all the dreams she had postponed while she took care of us kids when we were little, took care of my dad when he was sick, worked to support a family of 6 after dad died, then–still working–took care of her parents after they moved here to retire and, having just retired herself, looked forward to enjoying after finally starting to feel a little better after her cancer treatments the year before.

*because that was another moment sitting with my mom in another doctor’s office just months after my grandmother’s death a couple of years before.

[Day 180 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

knowing someone

“Sarah Payne, the day she told us to go to the page without judgment, reminded us that we never know, and never would know, what it would be like to understand another person fully. It seems a simple thought, but as I get older I see more and more that she had to tell us that.”

–I am Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I am haunted by a quote that is either real or imagined from Broadchurch: “You can never really know a person.”

I heard this quote–or somehow absorbed the implication from the miniseries that left me curled up in the fetal position sobbing–at the same time a trusted friend and mentor of a couple of my kids was charged and convicted of abusing one of the most sacred of trusts–teacher/healer and student in one of the worst ways possible (not that there is by any means a not-worst way. I physically and emotionally felt the collective conflict in somehow trying to to make sense of it and also being physically sickened and horrified. On the same day I learned two of my closest friends had deceived me about something huge and deeply personal that I could or would never have imagined and right before my eyes. It was the level of deception that wounded me most. Lying to me has always been one of the deepest ways to hurt me.

The natural result of such painful betrayals is to not to want to trust anyone. To turn inward and wall ourselves up in a desperate attempt at self preservation. Because we cannot know. We do not know who will betray us. Who will wound us or those we love.

The flipside, however–if one would simply turn it around–is to brave looking outward. To attempt to understand. Withholding judgment. Wanting to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. See the world through their eyes. Discover their weaknesses and celebrate their strengths. Share in their sorrows and in their joys.

Do we ever really know? No. I don’t believe we do. But there is an adventure in the trying.

[Day 179 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

TV

I feel like I already wrote this post, too, but maybe that’s how it is as times goes by, you recycle memories like you recycle Mondays. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

But when I was a kid we had a Sunday night tradition of gathering as a family around the television and watching Wonderful World of Disney. Some of my favorites–because as I recall, you could watch movies on Wonderful World of Disney were Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Swiss Family Robinson. I wanted to live in a tree house and fight a successful war campaign (I may be totally misremembering this movie, now) with some of my best friends from a four-poster bed.

When I was younger I watched Sesame Street and Electric Company with my siblings. And when we were older Gilligan’s Isle was a favorite. And then Quincy M.E. Magnum P.I. was a favorite of my mother’s. My dad preferred the Rockford Files. So I associate T.V. with tradition and family.

Now we are raising a generation of kids with shorter attention spans and personal devices. I still watch a couple of shows–NCIS, Madam Secretary, and, more recently, This is Us. But I watch them by myself because no one else is interested. It’s a nice way to unwind at the end of a long day. But it’s not the same.

[Day 178 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

Age on the inside

IMG_2084 It’s come to this.

I’ve written before about my theory that we are any age we have ever been all at the same time at any given moment in our lives. And so we look out at the young people and for one brief moment see them as our peers because our inside still remembers being 15 and 25 and 35 and…

But as I have gotten older my outside keeps trying to remind my inside how old I truly am. Not an hour ago I–who hurt every single day but will only take ibuprofen if I’m going somewhere (like D.C.) I really want to power through–asked my husband to pick me up some “joint juice” at Costco. While many sites said there is not proven benefit beyond placebo effect to glucosamine chondroitin, some people I know swear by it and other sites said it could provide moderate benefit and I am feeling that I should give it a try. Because I want to move.

My grandfather who lived to 98 told me every day “growing old ain’t for sissies.” My friend Scott wrote some lovely lyrics “growing old is the slowest form of time travel.” All of that may be true. One makes me laugh and also makes me afraid. The other resonates deep in my soul.

But when I remember that sweet woman who happened to go through the entry gate adjacent to ours at Hogle Zoo on Saturday who was turning 98 the same day our grandson James was turning 2 and whose family said “She wanted to come to the zoo for her birthday” and I think age must be relative. We may be the sum of our years and all ages we’ve ever been and we might hurt or limp or be in a wheelchair at any of those ages and yet what really matters is what age we are in our hearts.

And if we have the courage–at 92–to say to our adult children, “It’s my birthday and I want to go to the zoo.”

98

May we be blessed with children who will–regardless of their own ages–honor such a beautiful wish.

[Day 177 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

This feeling

note: I’m not sure how to tackle such a visual prompt except that I read it as dark. And then I saw the tiny understated plea for help in the lower right corner.

It’s a heavy, dark day. I woke up just after three and saw the news – gunman killed 20 people, injured 100. I was stunned. I had no words. And then I woke up again a couple of hours later and it was twice as bad (can such an awful thing become proportionately awful to anything more beyond awful?). And it’s not done. Last count was 59 dead, hundreds injured. And your “cars kill people too, do you want to take away my car?” argument is meaningless. Because somewhere between “take away all the guns” and “take away all the cars” there are lives at stake. Lives already lost. Hearts bleeding. Hearts left behind broken. The man who threw his body over two women and took their bullets. Saving them. Losing himself. Our cousin’s daughter and her husband running to hide behind a tractor-trailer. Then scaling a fence. Then, with strangers now bonded in a blend of terror and carnage I cannot wrap my head around, breaking a window of a nearby building in order to seek cover from the rapid spitfire of bullets raining down.

There are answers to be found if we could just loosen our heels from the too-bloody battle ground long enough to relax our grip on the thick rough bristles of that tug-of-war rope we feel belongs all the way to the very end of our “side,” and start somewhere. Maybe by calmly, gently working our way into the middle where we might be able to see clearly at least how to enforce the laws we have, keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and for a minute or two quietly and rationally entertain the thought of whether or not it is absolutely necessary to have silencers and automatic weapons that will mercilessly and senselessly snuff out the lives of so many souls in just a matter of seconds.

But not until after we send help. Send prayers. Give blood (if we can). Let our too-oft wounded hearts go out to those who are terrified, traumatized, wounded, grieving. Lift where we stand in gentle words and deeds. Dig deeper for patience and forgiveness and kindness. Dare hope for help and light in a darkened world.

[Day 176 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

spills

Green nail polish on our new carpet (someone was warned, someone didn’t listen, it’s still there)
Melted candled wax on our new carpet
Note: our new carpet is ages old by now, but those spills–and many more–are still there. I’m not sure if people don’t notice when they spill or if they can’t be bothered cleaning up after themselves.

Fry sauce on the carpet in the back passenger-side of my car first day I had it. Grease stains on the passenger seat even though I double layer-Scotch-guarded that baby at first daylight after the night we bought it.
Incidentally, I’m looking for an affordable place to detail my car. Because it’s about time. And the Scotch Guard isn’t working.

Because the front of me isn’t exactly flat, I have, on various occasions, been horrified to see food spills on my belly well into the day where I have not noticed until I get a shot of myself in at least a half-length mirror. Just last week I decided I out to keep a neutral shirt in a drawer in my desk at work just for such occasions.

I have a pale-tannish spill on my favorite sea-green button down shirt. I used to remember what it was, but after so many washings trying to get it out and so long not being able to wear it for the stain, I’ve forgotten now. But now I have a similar-colored stain from a spill on my favorite almost-but-not-quite robin-egg blue summer sweater. #sigh

Once when we had no money and Zack was sick and required an expensive antibiotic, I spilled half the bottle on the kitchen floor. I was devastated. Of course not only could we not afford to replace it, the insurance wouldn’t cover it again because it would have been too much too soon according to dosing regulations. I don’t recall the workaround we came up with for that, but obviously Zack recovered and is a healthy 26-year-old. But I still remember the sick feeling in my gut and my desperation as I tried to tip the bottle back up and salvage what I could.

When I’ve worked particularly hard to make a certain dish or meal–especially for someone else or as a food assignment for an event–I have an irrational fear of tripping on the stairs as I’m carrying it out to my car and spilling it all over the stairs, or the sidewalk, or the floor of my car.

Spills.

[Day 175 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

arts

IMG_2085To this day, log cabin–even log cabin crazies–is a favorite pattern of mine.

…go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something. Kurt Vonnegut

This: “…Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”

I used to long for artistic skills – to draw or paint or throw pottery. Eventually, however, I realized that’s a rather limited view of art.

A year or two into quilting, I realized that even when using other people’s patterns, thoughtfully–carefully–selecting my own fabrics by what colors and patterns appealed to my eye was a form of artistic expression. And I realized it’s not about art, per se, as much as it is about the need to create. My quilts are unique to me.

I worked my way backwards from there and recalled how I dabbled in photography and stained glass in high school–still two mediums I want to revisit someday. And how as a young mother I looked forward to Super Saturday and sought out other craft projects with which to decorate my home, particularly during the holidays.

Since I don’t spend as much time as I used to or would like to quilting, I have turned to expressing myself through the lens of my iPhone camera. As when I’m selecting fabric for my quilt, I find certain colors, angles, textures, and lighting appeals to me on some subliminal level. When something catches my eye I often find myself flipping a U-turn and going back to see if I can capture it just right. Sometimes I do. And sometimes I don’t. But I keep trying.

Writing is a form of art. I find myself painstakingly searching for just the right word to express something that’s in my mind or heart and carefully putting phrases together in a way that will capture it just right.

Creativity is having the courage to tug at something from deep inside, work it together just right, and hold it to the light.

[Day 174 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]

graham crackers

Let’s talk about s’mores.

I don’t love s’mores.

It’s not about the marshmallow. Melty marshmallows are good. In fact, just the other day I ordered a roasted marshmallow shake from a burger joint in the Regan National Airport in D.C. and it was so yum.

It may or may not be about the chocolate. Depending on whether you splurge to purchase chocolate with a decent percentage of cacao and real, not artificial ingredients. Hashtag, just say no to Hershey’s.

But what it’s really about are the graham crackers. While a veritable HoneyMaid can be delicious dunked in milk, it offers nothing to the s’more. And the cheaper Keebler graham cracker is contributes even less.

Keebler does, however, redeem itself, by providing the perfect alternative.

Fudge-striped cookies.

Those are the perfect foundation for a good s’more. Just make sure you don’t set your marshmallow on fire.

*****

As a side note–among the many clues I note wherein inflation is killing the modern family right in the bank balance, the price of graham crackers is one. You used to be able to buy two boxes of graham crackers (and boxes were much larger back then mind you) for $5 on sale at Macey’s on a regular basis.

Those days are long gone.

*****

You know what calls for a good crushed HoneyMaid graham cracker stirred with a touch of sugar and a generous amount of butter? Not my sour cream lemon pie, which is more perfectly paired with ginger snaps. But a homemade from scratch (because going to that much effort bears repeating) cheesecake.

I used to skip the baking the graham cracker crust in the oven because whoever has the patience to let it cool? But then I discovered the science of caramelization and those extra 15-20 minutes are so worth it.

So yes, graham crackers.

[Day 173 of Ann Dee Ellis’ 8-Minute Memoir.]