Archive for the ‘Memorials’ Category

Blinded in the shade

I’m in Minneapolis, a day early (and possibly a dollar short). I’m here for a conference that starts on Wednesday, so I don’t really need to be here until tomorrow. However, a couple weeks ago, before being invited to attend the Grace Hopper Conference, I learned that a former coworker and someone I consider a friend and mentor, has stage-IV pancreatic cancer. I used to teach with Melinda at The Yellow Nunnery. Then I moved back to her home state of California, and she and her husband retired to Honduras (I always mistakenly think she is in Nicaragua). Melinda is one of those people that has been on my list to visit along with friends in Morocco, Spain, and Australia. I made it to two of the four places this year. 

So when I learned that Melinda was undergoing treatment in a hospital in Wisconsin, and that I was going to Minnesota, I scheduled my trip a day early so that I could drive the five hours across the state border. But I didn’t make concrete plans of anything because, by then, she was leaving the hospital for the final time and settling in for hospice care. And I know that a lot can change in two weeks, especially since she’d only been eating ice chips for the previous three weeks. Considering the immense pain she was in, I was secretly hoping that her god would be swift and merciful.

Before I got on the plane this morning, I left her a message that I was on my way to the midwest. As I debarked, I read a message from her husband that said she’d slipped into a coma and things were progressing quickly. I left him voicemail. Awkward voicemail. This is one of those times that I never know the right things to say. I told him that I was going to stay put in Minnesota. I didn’t want to intrude on their grieving process. This is time for family. 

Besides, I have my own grieving process for the world losing another intelligent, strong-willed, powerful woman. It includes sitting in a strange place, drinking a beer, and typing on my laptop. Melinda is adventurous and curious. So in her honor, I’m exploring and I’m enjoying life. I’m eating and savoring the flavors of food and drink since she couldn’t consume anything but water for the last few weeks of her life. I may have just squandered calories on a plate of fried, gouda mac & cheese balls with spicy catsup along with a Summit Extra Pale Ale at Brit’s Pub & Eating Establishment in downtown Minnesota while watching people play lawn bowling on the rooftop bar. But the calories were worth sinking my teeth through the hot (Minnesota-hot, not Thai-hot) tomato sauce into a crispy coating around a ball of gooey goodness.

As I type this, the sun is setting behind one building while it reflects off the windows of another. I find myself in the juxtaposition of being blinded in the shade while contemplating life and death and what we all mean.

It isn’t my fault

For the past six years I’ve been scared. Afraid to speak out. Frightened to admit that I Love My Life.

Six years ago, as I was writing about how amazing my life is, Uncle C shot himself on his front porch. iDad told me the next morning and I flew home that night. It happened on Good Friday. I arrived Easter morning. Uncle C did not rise from the dead like Jesus Christ. I wrote A Luthier’s Poem a week later.

And since that day, I’ve been afraid to admit I’m happy. Afraid that if I say those words, the world will balance itself by taking another life. I know that isn’t how it works, but I’ve felt responsible. Like my happiness meant someone else in the world would have to be miserable to balance the scales.

It wasn’t my fault.

I tell myself that. I imagine myself lying on a green, fuzzy lounge chair and the shrink telling me to repeat the words, “It is not your fault.”

I think to myself, “No, it wasn’t your fault, it was mine. Karma.” Then I say it out loud, “It’s not my fault,” but I don’t mean it. The words are as empty as the twenty-seven calories in each of the pink Peeps I ate today. Since when are Peeps pink? Not that I’m really complaining. I licked the sugar seductively from my fingertips as I walked through the parking lot to catch the shuttle.

I envision you all watching this on your big screen televisions while sipping wine and tweeting. Felicia Day is playing my character, although she’d need to put on some weight for the role. There is ominous music playing in the background. An older gentleman appears as the antagonist.

It wasn’t my fault.

I feel guilt. It has lessened over six years, but it is still there. A little twinge when I smile at the wispy clouds on a beautiful afternoon walk. A facial tick when I laugh at the cat clawing the dog in slow motion. A slight prick as I sit on the couch eating cheese and crackers and sipping a fine wine.

I know I wasn’t my fault, just like a kid knows that it isn’t her fault when her parents divorce. Rationally, she had nothing to do with it, but irrationally it is because she refused to eat her peas one night.

When I was a kid, I would curl up in a ball in the far corner of my bed and cry until my eyes were raw because at age ten, I was not doing enough to save the whales or the starving kids in Africa. Never mind the fact that we were poor and my parents were doing their best to save me. I’ve blamed myself for things that were out of my control for a very long time.

It wasn’t my fault.

I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in an afterlife, but I do have an irrational belief in karma—that there is balance in the world. That what goes around comes around. I’m always trying to preload karma points for the next time I screw up so that I’m always in the black.

I believe in fate. I keep looking for it in my life. It used to be everywhere when I was younger. Coincidences. Happenstance. Fate appeared in relationships. Fate appeared in job interviews. Fate is comforting. I immediately accept it when I see it. And I’ve missed it over the last few years.

But fate had to always battle my belief in free will. I have it, and I’m not afraid to wield it. My free will is my wild side. The side that defies convention.

I believe that everyone has free will, but they can choose whether or not to use the Free Will card. Maybe there are a finite number of them like the Get Out Of Jail Free card in Monopoly.

Uncle C had free will. My loving my life did not create an imbalance in the world and force him to do what he did.

It wasn’t my fault.

It is okay for me to be happy.

I have an amazing life. Family and friends I love. A roof over my head. Pets who at least pretend to like me. Incredible food to eat and wine to drink. I may not be “lucky in love”, but we all know that is of my own doing. It is hard for someone to break into this.

And my saying this does not mean a family member will die tonight.

It isn’t my fault.

And then there were two

This is your warning. If you are easily grossed out, just stop reading now. Go to another post about cute, fuzzy kittens or something else. While I am sitting at my dining room table, basking in the sun and eating breakfast as I type this, it just attests to my mental instability.

You have been warned.

A couple of days ago, one of the complexes that Perl and I pass during our daily walk had their ivy mowed down. This is done every couple of years because it grows into these dense, snarly groves of layers of new ivy growth. And what lives in these mini thickets? Rats. Lots of big, ugly, plague carrying rats.

All would be well and good if the rats had all read their eviction notices and fled the premises before the destruction crews arrived. But some thought they could wait out the impending storm. Some mistakenly believed that no harm would ever come to them and they would be miraculously saved without any use of common sense on their own part. Or they are deaf and don’t hear the demolition crew.

A few days ago, Perl and I encountered our first victim. A large rat with a dime-sized hole into its abdomen where its tail was once attached. It had managed to escape to the sidewalk before succumbing to its demise. And that is where I found it when I looked down at a super-sized, black leaf. Perl immediately grabbed the stiff corpse as if it were a new toy. So now it has moved around the sidewalk a few times as I try to ignore it and she tries to take it home and I yell at her to leave it.

Today being Sunday, Perl and I took our slightly extended walk. As we crossed the street, I saw another over-sized, black leaf and let out another squeal as my brain registered the body of a decapitated rat. Well, mostly decapitated. I can only imagine it had gotten caught in the lawnmower, or another dog had relocated it to the street before their owner noticed because I doubt the headless rat could have walked that far from the ivy.

I don’t want to think about dead rats anymore. I don’t want to avert my eyes as I get close to those points in our walk. I don’t want to walk in the grass around them where I might stumble upon another. And I don’t want to find myself looking in the mowed down ivy for signs of a massacre.

But the worst part about it is knowing that my complex will soon be mowing down the ivy. I should probably post the eviction notices soon. Does anyone out there know how to speak rat?

Walking the line

I started this post on Wednesday, September 29th. It has taken me this long to feel like I could actually complete it. This is how it began…


Sitting in a bar in the Sheraton in Atlanta, Georgia is the last place I expected to be on a Wednesday night. The bar is crowded with people traveling on business. Behind me is a man playing guitar with a group applauding his every move. A white-haired man walked by and joked that I had taken his seat. Great pickup line, but then he moved on. Too bad.

Meine Schwester is upstairs watching tv. She’s exhausted. Mentally and physically. I’m just me. In a hotel bar wearing a tank top and short skirt, typing away on my computer, watching the scene and drinking a local pale ale. Our brother, Sparkles, should be on a plane on his way home. An impromptu family reunion in Georgia.

How the fuck did I end up in Georgia?

Sunday morning I was in sunny California with the promise of a beautiful summer day in autumn. I planned to sit outside in the backyard with my pets and read a book. Life was stable. Life was secure.

Then my Meme called.

I had called her the day before. No one was home. I didn’t leave a message because I had nothing important to say. I continued walking the dog in silence. Sunday she called me back. She’d lost Safari out of her Dock on her Mac. I said I could help her fix it. She said she had to turn on her computer first. While we were waiting for it to boot, she told me Laura died.

Laura, my Aunt Laura?

Yes.

Aunt Laura had a heart attack on Saturday night. They couldn’t save her.

She had just turned 50.

And like everything in my family, it wasn’t that simple.

Aunt Laura had left my Uncle three years ago when my Cousin went off to college. She moved to Georgia and remarried. She was convinced that everyone in my family hated her.

She couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a upset, but I understood that it wasn’t because of me. Whatever happened between her and my Uncle is their business. I’d told her this, but I don’t think she believed me. We emailed a few times. Talked on the phone a couple times. We tried to meet up in California while she was on a ride with her new truck-driver husband, but I couldn’t really seem to convince her that she hadn’t divorced me. Amazingly, in the last couple years, she and her husband had managed to travel to all of the lower forty-eight states.

I called my siblings. I made arrangements for my pets. I hopped on a flight to Atlanta. Sparkles was there waiting for me. We got a hotel room for the night and waited for Meine Schwester to arrive the next afternoon. We spent an unreasonable amount of time at the airport. I didn’t mind. Airports feel like home. Then we rented a car, and on Monday afternoon, we drove to Hartwell, Georgia.

Hartwell is in the northeast corner of Georgia, on Lake Hartwell, across the state line from South Carolina. Looking at a map, I realized that a decade ago, while grading Advanced Placement Computer Science exams, I’d spent a week at Clemson University, just up the lake. I never expected I would be back here.

We met up with my Uncle and Cousin after they flew in to Greenville. It was good to see them, but strange not to be visiting them in Maine. We spent the night and tried to build up our courage for the viewing the next morning. I can’t remember having ever been to a viewing before. I must have. I’d thought it would have been so traumatic that I would remember. But I don’t.

The funeral home was just down the street after turning left at Bojangles. You know what a Bojangles is, right? I didn’t. The funeral home looked like I’d expect a funeral home to look. Dark wood furniture. Tissue boxes strategically placed. Mirrors and artwork that look like they were straight from my great grandmother’s house. Perfume smells pumped in with the elevator music that permeated every corner. I wondered who decided what music to play. Is there a large market for that?

We were early, so we waited patiently. We braced ourselves to see her body. Aunt Laura’s new husband arrived alone. It turned out that all that was happening was a little paperwork and some decisions. We went away with the dread that comes knowing that we’d have to torture ourselves for another twenty-four hours. I exhaled deeply as I exited the building.

We drove out to the house to see Aunt Laura’s mother. I hadn’t seen her in years, maybe decades. It was awkward. Strange to be in a house where my aunt has been living for a while. Strange to see her new life. Strange to meet her new husband. Strange to hang out with the black woman who helps take care of the house—we had a great conversation, but I couldn’t stop thinking how The South still seems so backwards. Strange to be visiting her mother without her. Strange that her mother has two chihuahuas, but they are not the same yippy, nippy chihuahuas that I remember. These two actually liked me. I have chihuahua fur all over my clothes to prove it.

The day was spent sipping fruit juice and listening to the birds chirping unaware in the backyard. Questions were asked timidly. Everyone was walking on eggshells. We were all getting to know each other at the most inconvenient time. Awkward is putting it mildly.

We snuck out for a bit and went to lunch. The first place we tried was closed from two until four—we had just missed it. But as we were leaving, an older woman suggested to us a fish shack down the road. So we bit.

Meine Schwester had never eaten Hush Puppies before. I’d never had fried pickles. I also can’t recall ever eating some place that fried every food item. I could feel my arteries hardening as we ate. Meine Schwester and I indulged in their wine selection. It may have been boxed. I really didn’t care.

Dinner that night was at a Mexican restaurant with my two siblings and my Cousin and Uncle and I again. Two pitchers of margaritas, we toasted to Aunt Laura. We felt like we could finally be ourselves. We talked about everything. We recalled stories of Meine Schwester and Aunt Laura getting drunk at the Bear’s Den and then walking the yellow line all the way to the High Street House. Old guys asked them if they needed a ride. The cops stopped to find out if they were okay. They made it all the way back to Great Grandma’s house. In the morning, Great Grandma asked quizzically why Meine Schwester and Aunt Laura were sleeping in the same bed. I guess she never had to share a bed with her brother.

I remember the time that Aunt Laura brought Brother K and I to her grandmother’s house in Vermont. On the way home, Brother K and I started breaking out with chicken pox. Aunt Laura had never had the chicken pox and relegated us to the back seat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her drive closer to the steering wheel. Or so fast.

After the two pitchers of margaritas, we stopped off at Walmart. Meine Schwester found a child’s size t-shirt she could wear that reads “I [heart] Army Boys”. I ran up and down the aisles after finding myself lost from the pack. We bought Oatmeal Creme Pies to honor Brother K who couldn’t be there. And we purchased a bag of candy corn to satiate Sparkles’ sweet tooth.


And that is where the post ended on the night I was writing it. The white-haired guy decided to come back to his table. We talked. He bought me a beer and we talked some more. He’s in sales. Sells packaging. Never thought that the global economy and China would hurt his business as much as it has. He has two boys in college. I realized I’m physically old enough to have a child in college. That scared me. I didn’t tell him. He still thought I was much younger than I am. We closed the bar. I went back to my room—alone—like a good girl.

Now it is almost two weeks later. I just finished watching the Tuesday Nightcap that Wedding Singer does every week. And I decided it is about time I finish this post. So here is the rest of the story.


Laughter. It is how my family deals with tragedy. It is the Irish in us. We joke. We tell stories. We spend precious time together because we know how little it will seem in the end. But most of all, we laugh. But when we think that no one is looking, we have heart-to-heart conversations that come from out Swedish side. We say what needs to be said. We cry. And we try to hide it.

Wednesday morning, my siblings and I awoke in our wedding suite at the Best Western in Hartwell, GA. I think I’ve shared my bed more with Meine Schwester in the last few years than with men. Sigh.

Sparkles was sleeping on the pull-out sofa with no blanket. The night we moved in, we discovered there was no bedding for the sofa bed. So he went downstairs and asked for sheets. They gave him sheets. So he asked for pillows. They went into the back room and found him pillows. By then, it seemed that a blanket was too much of an imposition, so he gave up. Lucky for him, Meine Schwester likes to keep the room at a Hawaiian seventy-eight degrees, so no blankets were required.

We gathered our wits about us and together with our Uncle and Cousin, we went to the funeral home to accept what fate had produced. Quaker’s meeting has begun, no more laughing, no more fun. Once when I was teaching, I had sung that children’s rhyme under my breath while erasing the whiteboard. One of my students overheard it and asked what I was singing. So I told her. She then informed me that she is a Quaker and meetings aren’t always serious. Fifteen minutes of class that day was dedicated to understanding what Quaker’s meetings are all about. It was fascinating, but nothing like a viewing.

We waited for the rest of the family to gather and then we went inside to see Aunt Laura for the last time. I couldn’t look at her. I studied the wall coverings and the funeral home’s choices in lighting. I located every box of tissues and the only garbage can. It was too close to the body for me to dispose of tissues, so I had to keep from crying. My Cousin finally lost it. My Uncle started crying. My siblings were doing what we all do best. Managing. Sparkles came to me and asked if I could drive Laura’s mom back to the house because she forgot something. I jumped at the opportunity to leave. My escape!

We held hands as we left the funeral home. I drove her back to the house. I can find my way around Hartwell without a map now. We had short little conversations. It was still hard to speak. I was ignoring the tears that were escaping from my eyelids. If I don’t acknowledge them, then they don’t exist, right?

We got to the house and Laura’s mom came back out with a camera. She’d forgotten her camera. For just a moment, I was angry. I’d purposely left mine home. I know I’ve taken photos at a couple of funerals over the last year, but they were different. It is hard to explain why. So why was I mad? I took a deep breath and remembered that everyone grieves in their own way. It may not be what I would choose to do, but it is what she needed to do. One of the hardest things to deal with in life is the loss of a child. Especially one who you thought would be there for you as you pass. She was dealing the best she could. Who am I to judge?

We drove back to the funeral home. The hour had become constant movement from the viewing room to sitting outside. Spend a few minutes inside trying to hold it all in, then spend a few minutes outside telling stories and laughing. Then the laughter moved inside. Sparkles joked that we should have gotten her some golf balls. Aunt Laura used to spend the summer at the lake in Maine hitting golf balls off the dock, then diving for them. She’d spent hours in the lake with her home-made floaty mesh net, using a snorkel to retrieve balls off the lake bed and pile them in her retrieval contraption.

Laura was the cook. The cookie jars were always full, the freezer stocked with ice cream, and dinner on the table for every meal. Even though my parents had divorced and left town decades ago, all four of us would return to Maine to find that Laura had made “home” for us. And Meine Schwester will attest that if you came “home” from college and strategically left your dirty laundry next to the washing machine, it would magically appear, clean and folded, on your bed.

Laura was a surrogate mom to Meine Schwester and my sister-in-law, The President. She was there for them when they needed it the most. But that was Laura. The one you could count on to help out the family in time of need.

Although I did not agree with Aunt Laura’s extravagant holiday decorations, I did appreciate her sense of cleanliness. The most time I ever spent directly with Laura were two weeks when I was home during the summer. It was the year that she and my Cousin were moving up to help take care of the family. My Uncle would follow as soon as he could find a job.

The housing situation was convoluted. When I’d gone off to college, my grandparents, who’d always lived across the street from us, moved in with Great Grandmother in town. My Mom and my three siblings moved into my grandparents’ house when Dad and I moved away. But then my siblings were all off to college and Mom had moved away as well, so Laura and my Cousin would move into my grandparents’ house.

Laura and I spent a week trying to make room in the two bedroom, one bath, former one room schoolhouse for her and my Cousin to move in. We hauled trash to the dump, including Meme’s depression-era collection of plastic containers, and we boxed up things that should be kept. We tried hard to make space without creating family strife.

At the end of the week, Bumpa, my grandfather, was in the hospital. So everything had changed. Laura and my Cousin would be moving into the big house with Great Grandmother, Meme, and Bumpa. I was planning on heading back home to Connecticut, but I spent the next week with Laura doing the same “spring cleaning” to Great Grandmother’s house that we had done to Meme and Bumpa’s house. We made room for everyone, then Bumpa came back from the hospital so he could die.

Death. It usually doesn’t bother me. Great Grandmother was a hundred and two when she died. Bumpa, Nana, and Grump all made it into their 80’s despite their alcoholism and chain-smoking. Two years ago I took Meme out for Ethiopian food with The Boys for her 85th birthday. It was the first time she’d gone to a restaurant where she was expected to eat with her hands and drink honey wine.

My family lives long, healthy lives. Until The Cancer kills them from their Smoking. iDad and P gave up smoking a couple of years ago and I’m grateful. But even with the vices, my family lives on for decades. So Aunt Laura’s heart attack at age fifty was a shock.

A few minutes before it was time to leave the funeral home, I walked with my Cousin up to see Aunt Laura. She looked like a wax mannequin. I kept expecting her to jump up and scare the shit out of us. I wondered if she liked the clothes she’d be cremated in. I wondered if she was wearing anything on her bottom half. I hoped that this was a reputable funeral home. I looked again at the lighting. I thought about the perfume being pumped out like the elevator music and wondered if it was there to cover the stench of decaying flesh.

And I said goodbye.

Sparkles snuck up behind me and we stood in silence. We didn’t laugh or joke. We didn’t cry. We stood quietly wishing that we’d made our peace a few days before.

Where I am now, I owe to Aunt Laura.

And my Uncle. They gave my siblings and I the world. If they hadn’t moved from Florida back to Maine in 1998, then one of us—most likely me—would have had to give up our dreams of a career and moved back to Maine to take care of everyone. Instead of spending two weeks making room in the Yellow House and the High Street House for Laura and my Cousin, I might have been alone making room for me. Life would have been completely different for the last dozen years.

I owe them both the world.

I don’t know if Laura knew that or not. I hope she did. And I hope my Uncle knows as well.

It was time to leave the funeral home and go back to the house. But our minivan couldn’t return to her mother’s house straight away. We needed a little break first. And we knew exactly where to go.

When Bumpa died, Meine Schwester was in Australia. My Uncle was in Florida. School had just started for me. We decided to hold the funeral when everyone could get together in December. It was a traditional Catholic mass. One of the last times I’ve been back to Saint Thomas Aquinas. Since Bumpa had given up drinking the decade before his death, we couldn’t very well all get drunk, so Laura declared an Ice Cream Social. At the conclusion of the mass, we all retreated to the basement where the Church Ladies dished out ice cream sundays to all the attendees.

After Laura’s viewing, we declared Ice Cream Social. A trip to Dairy Queen and ice cream for all!

Besides, we’d done our drinking the night before.

Some night, Laura, when you least expect it, I’ll walk the yellow line too.

Aunt Fran’s Burial Weekend

Please see my MobileMe Gallery for the full album of this weekend’s photos. Here is a sprinkling.

On Friday, Mom picked me up at iDad’s house and we drove to Bangor to meet up with Sparkles, Life Partner and the two little ones for lunch at the Ground Round. Guess we haven’t been there in over 18 years because the kids play area is gone now.

This one is The Devil. Doesn’t she look adorable?

When we arrived in Dover-Foxcroft we immediately stopped at Bob’s Sugar Shack because I’m out of maple syrup and there is no better place to get maple syrup than Maine!

Amazingly enough, the weather was absolutely perfect all weekend. I went swimming Friday afternoon and the water was actually warm! Who knew! The family there now has a pontoon boat. Perfect for wine and cheese hour! Here is a picture of the white camp and the yellow camp from the water. As you can see, the white camp lost its porch. Oops. The yellow camp is the one that they have been renovating. I haven’t had a chance to help much in the past few years, but the inside is looking fabulous and I love having running water, electricity, a bathroom and a kitchen. No tv, phone, or internet allowed!

And, yes, I know they are both yellow. But one used to be white and one used to be yellow and the older generation still refers to them that way. Unlike the brown camp, which is actually brown. The green one belongs to our neighbors.

Friday night we went to the Bear’s Den for dinner. I did not have any of the Game Specials, but I knew if I didn’t have a picture then you all wouldn’t believe me. I forgot to take a picture of the lobstah rolls at McDonald’s or the signs that say “Get your italians here”.

The matriarch of the family at the head of the table at dinner.

Saturday morning, I was awoken just in time for sunrise, so I took the opportunity to take some pictures. Really wish I’d had my tripod with me.

Late Saturday morning, we buried Aunt Fran. Yes, that is a bean pot. It actually contains both Fran and Norman. Every Friday night, she would fill a bean pot with beans to soak for Saturday dinner. We thought it was only fitting.

After the burial, and after dinner the night before, and before going to Boston on Sunday, we stopped at Butterfield’s for homemade ice cream.

I had the Mint Chocolate Chip, Cookie Doe, and the Kineo Karmel Kup that is too new to be on the sign yet.

No photos, but Saturday afternoon was lunch followed by wine and cheese and swimming and then dinner. I’ll have to start over on my diet. Last night we had drinks by the campfire while watching for more shooting stars and admiring the Milky Way once again. This morning The President and I kayaked out to the narrows and back while Brother K slept in. It took us a little over an hour. When I wonder tomorrow why my arms hurt, please remind me.

Camp

I’ve come to Maine to visit my family. Another summer burial because the ground is too hard when friends and family pass in the winter. I’ve already told you about my Aunt Fran. Tonight, we had dinner in her honor and tomorrow the family will gather again to lay her to rest in Monson. Lucky for Aunt Fran, it has not been raining. When we buried her sister, Aunt Louise, the ground was saturated and the hole for her box of ashes was filled with water. We all looked down into the deep rectangular hole and Meme said, “Well, she always did like to go swimming.”

We laughed. We’ve never really learned that it is bad form to laugh at a funeral. But it is hard not to. We are there to remember the one who has gone before us. And in remembering, we usually remember the good times. And we’ve been fortunate to have years and years of good times. So as much as I am sad that Aunt Fran has passed, I can still hear her voice echoing off the lake. Her booming laughter and broad smile brightens my mind.

The lake. It is so dark tonight. And eerily silent. A few waves lash the rocks gently when a boat passes. The only other sound is the occasional black fly buzzing in my ear. I’m staying at camp alone tonight. Most people would call it a cabin or a cottage, but we’ve always called it camp. Not to be confused with the canvas and cabin camps filled with campers and derelict counselors that line the shore of many a Maine lake.

Camp is a small building that now has a bathroom, a kitchen, running water and electricity, thanks to summers of hard work by various family members. The bathroom is its own room, but the kitchen is open with the rest of the room. A small mesh lined porch overhangs the water. It is the best place to view thunderstorms as they travel miles from the big lake to exit down the river at the far end of the small lake.

I’m alone in camp tonight. Meme loaned me an adorable lantern that I swung like a five year old while walking down the deserted road. My shadow had an awkward gate as my legs crossed and the light moved direction. I imagined small children looking out their windows seeing these monster legs with a strange limp hobble by as they ran for the safety that lies beneath their bedcovers.

Walking to camp alone scares me. There is no reason it should, but I am alone in the dark with no cell phone, no houses for anyone to hear me shout for help. Just me and my imagination set free among the pine trees. I kept it in check tonight. No cars that came out of the fog to run me down. No fog for that matter. No kids hiding in the woods shooting me with bb guns and no hunters with rifles.

What did follow me to camp were millions of stars. I had a friend from college come home with me one weekend. As we sat outside on the dock like I am tonight, he exclaimed, “You have cable-access stars!” I had to explain that it was because we have no cable. There is satellite tv in the big house now, but camp has no tv, no phone, no internet. I am alone.

Not quite alone. No people, but there are fish sleeping below where I sit, and the bugs are crawling. I hear a loon’s haunting call from up the lake. I saw his friends go in the opposite direction earlier today and I’m wondering if he is separated.

I’m watching the stars from an Adirondak chair and thinking that my view of the evening sky is a million times better than the view from an Omni Theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Omni Theatre, but a video will never fully capture real life. There are so many stars! I recall bringing another friend out here once who said that the view would be perfect if it weren’t for that string of light clouds. I explained that those aren’t clouds, those are stars. That is the Milky Way. He was astonished that there are places in the world from which you can actually see the Milky Way. I’m still astonished there are people who have never seen it with their own eyes. Stargazing was just a part of growing up before the internet.

As I watch the sky, I see two shooting stars. There was a meteor shower yesterday that I missed. Maybe these were leftovers from last night. I don’t remember seeing many shooting stars as a kid and I wonder why. Probably because I didn’t appreciate then that I would live now in a place that replaces stars with street lamps and silence with the constant hum of motorized vehicles rushing people to their very important rendezvous.

I’d heard it has been warm here in the Northeast, but it seems that I have brought colder weather. It only hit the mid seventies today, which was perfect for swimming, but means that the temperature will drop into the fifties tonight. I was hoping to sleep with all the windows open, covered lightly in a sheet in the hot humid air. The kind of stickiness that can only be broken by a morning thunderstorm that signals relief. However, I’ve shuttered camp and will instead wrap myself in numerous blankets to try and stay warm.

I miss sleeping with my windows open and not worrying that someone will break into my house. I miss the naivete that comes from living in a place where, for the most part, people don’t think that shooting each other is a valid solution to problems. Where townsfolk say good morning when passing on the street. Where the word community means something to more than just politicians. I do love where I live in California, it is one of the safest cities of its size, there are tons of things to do and see, and I love where I work and I learn so much from the people there. But it will never feel as much like home as sitting in silence on the lake, watching for shooting stars.

Farewell, Aunt Fran

Yesterday I learned that my Aunt Fran has passed away. Aunt Fran is actually my great aunt, my grandmother’s oldest sister. They were a family of four girls, just like in Little Women. Aunt Fran was Meg, the oldest daughter, responsible and motherly. I felt a connection with Aunt Fran since we were both the eldest of four. My Meme was Amy, the youngest, the rebel, the crazy one. Just like Meine Schwester. And Aunt Louise and Aunt Ginny were somewhere in between.

Meme’s three sisters all left Maine decades ago, but would occasionally come back for a visit. Aunt Ginny we saw the least, but Aunt Fran and Aunt Louise were summer regulars. They would each come for a week or so at a time and drink ice tea and assemble puzzles with Meme on the porch next to the babbling brook. Aunt Louise died years ago and Aunt Ginny passed more recently. For the last few years, it has been just Meme and Aunt Fran.

The thing I remember most about Aunt Fran is that she had a husky voice like a lifetime smoker, but I don’t ever recall seeing her smoke. She was always laughing and smiling. Life was good to her. She was always well dressed and had a way with accessorizing that was classy. Growing up, I could see myself being Aunt Fran when I was older.

The last time I saw Aunt Fran, she had come to visit during the week of Fourth of July when my family all meets by the lake for a week. My Life Parter’s (my sister-in-law’s) family is also part of our recent tradition, and this includes her Gramps. Meme and Gramps met on the dance floor at Sparkles’s wedding when Meme caught the bouquet and Gramps caught the garter. Although there isn’t anything going on between Meme and Gramps, for a week during the summer, I like to imagine what it would be like if they were having an annual tryst.

So two summers ago, when Aunt Fran came to visit, and I saw the three of them sitting at a picnic bench by the lake, I fantasized about how Meme and Aunt Fran were secretly after Gramps. I envisioned them each flirting voraciously, trying to woo him, and the inevitable sisterly battle being fought with smiles that were a little too big and laughs that were a little too loud. And it made me think of what it would be like if Meine Schwester und Ich fought over a guy. (BTW, @clarko, if you are reading this, Meine Schwester asked if she could have you. She is closer to your age.)

I never saw Meme and Aunt Fran fight. They must have. Meine Schwester und Ich can’t go a long weekend without at least one disagreement. Although we are getting better at it, so maybe fifty years from now we will realize that these arguments are petty and just skip past them. But that is the thing with sisters—no matter how much you fight, the bonds of sisterhood just can’t be broken. And in the end, there is nothing but love and admiration. Through life and through death. They will always be there. You will hear her voice in your head telling you that she disagrees, but it is only because she loves you and wants the best for you.

Although Meme’s sisters are now all gone, they live with her still, in her heart and in her mind. They are guiding her decisions whether she asks for their opinion or not. It’s what sisters do.

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