Thursday, September 19, 2013

Birthday Girl (reposted for Molly's 29th birthday)

 Already wanting to do it your way

 Dear Molly, 

Below is what I wrote for you last year, a year that turned out to be a very good one, the year you became a real teacher and earned not only the job you wanted so badly but also the recognition you deserve.

In re-reading last year's post, I see that both nothing and everything have changed as you continue on your journey and your itinerary unfolds. I'm very very proud (not to mention relieved) that you've become the woman you were destined to be and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

Here's what I said a year ago today:

If I were with you this morning, I’d make blueberry muffins from a mix and I’d put a birthday candle in yours, worrying as always that the melting candle just might be carcinogenic, one of many reasons why there wouldn’t be twenty-eight of them. 

People told me a late-in-life child would keep me young.  I’m not sure if that was true for me with you, but you have certainly kept me going, sometimes from worry, sometimes from necessity, often from your sheer Mollyness, your quirkiness, your dark and dorky humor, your carnsarned cussedness.

Through your more than a modicum of spills and struggles, you’ve managed to come to an understanding of yourself and others that I think is unusual for someone as young as you.  Although you don’t always trust enough to share this quiet discernment, at just the right moment, under the right circumstances, you offer up something so deep and insightful it leaves me slack jawed in wonderment.

People love you because you’ve been there, because you ask so little and offer so much: a sturdy shoulder, a big heart, a from-the-gut laugh, and a thoughtful answer to afraid-to-ask questions.   Your sense of irony comes from your sincere belief that, if it fell apart, it was because you didn't screw it on tight enough.  And, while that may not be all that healthy for you, it sure makes the rest of us relax a bit.  There’s such a comfort in world-worn you.

You worry that, at twenty-eight, you should be further ensconced in your adult life, more firmly rooted in knowing where you’re going and when.  I’m afraid I feel the same way at sixty-two, so I won’t be much help in figuring that out.  I do believe there’s a road map for your journey and an itinerary, both of which will come into your sight-line as you travel your life.  What a surprise that your heart’s own true love turned out to be with kids in high school, the very place that almost did you in.  Talk about courage, and perhaps a perverse form of payback.

You, my youngest child, share with me a love of reading.  In fact, you’re so pitiful and geeky that you profess the home-made Harry Potter coasters to be the best present you’ve ever received, and I’m pitiful and geeky enough to believe you.  We also now share a profession and a desire to pass on what little knowledge we have to anyone who will sit long enough to listen (and especially to those who won’t).  I’ll never forget that your first full-time teaching job came to you at the same moment I was leaving my final one.

The baton has been passed and the circle is unbroken.

Love always,


Friday, August 30, 2013

Why It's so Difficult to Talk to a Man

Joe talking to his daughter, Meghan.  You can tell by the look on her face that it's something boring.

When I moved to Midtown Atlanta and began teaching elementary school again eight years ago, the only people I talked to were women and kids.  Women and kids are easy to talk to because they are logical and make sense. Men, on the other hand, aren't and don't.

About six months ago, Joe re-entered my life - an old friend who became my new love.  The very good and very bad news is that Joe is a man.

I now remember why it's so difficult to talk to a man.  Here are just some of the reasons:

1.  Men can't (or refuse to) remember important things.

 Joe can recall the names of every athlete, author, musician, actor, poet, composer, or protagonist he's ever watched, listened to, or read about in his entire life, but he can’t remember the names of any of my friends. 

For example:

Me:  “I’m going to call Bonnie.” 
Joe:  “Who?” 
Me:  “You know Bonnie, the one we visited whose husband is the banker.  They have the baby named Jasmine.” 


Me:  “We’re going to visit Portia on the 10th, right?” 
Joe:  “Who?” 

Me:  “Portia, my cousin, the one we are going to visit on the 10th.”

So it’s hard to carry on a conversation when I'm always having to regurgitate everyone’s biography every time I start talking.

 2.  Men don't gossip (at least not well).

 Joe doesn’t know how to gossip.  He just doesn’t get the point of it.  This is made more difficult since he can’t remember anyone’s name and I have to provide the back story before I start in on the juicy stuff.

For example:

Me:  “Remember Mavis?”
Joe:  “Who?”   
Me:  “My friend whose brother accidentally set himself on fire.  Well, her other brother, not the one who set himself on fire, his wife ran off with another man.  Mavis is so upset.”  
Me:  “Who?”

3.  Men aren't interested in anything interesting.
 Joe only speaks in sports or old movie or Bob Dylan analogies, which are stupid. And when I ask him a sports question just to pretend I’m interested, he goes on too long, with too many facts, too much analysis, and, before I know it, the commercial break for House Hunters International is over and I’ve missed out on which house the cute couple chose.

4.  Men's sense of humor is different (and less evolved) than that of women. 
Joe only knows one joke, the string joke, which is not funny.  In spite of that, he doesn’t get my jokes, which are funny, although they are often dirty.

5.  Men are not good commiseraters.

When I want to complain about something or someone, Joe provides a solution.  A woman would never do that.  She would just agree with me about what an ass that person who wronged me is.  Joe doesn’t understand that I don’t want to solve the problem, I just want to bitch about it in a friendly and agreeable milieu.  I want to be validated, not fixed.

6.  Men are literal and without nuanced layers.

The other evening, Joe and I went out to his back patio for an after-dinner drink when he noticed that something had torn the upholstery on his patio chairs.  After some brainstorming about what it could have been - a squirrel, a snake, a cat, a dog, a mountain lion (in Coastal Georgia), or an angry neighbor, Joe finally conceded that it just might have been a raccoon since they are known to frequent his neighborhood.  

At that point, Joe said, "I wonder if Robert would let me use one of his traps," to which I said, "Now, remind me of who Robert is", hoping that he'd fill me in on some kind of interesting information (if not gossip) about Robert.

But alas, Joe's reply was

"He's the guy with the trap."

And so, there, in one big ole man-sized nutshell,  is why it's so difficult to talk to a man, or least to Joe.*

*If you have any commiseration to offer, let me know. Otherwise, keep all solutions to yourself.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Raphael Saved Père-Lachaise for Joe and Me

 Raphael and Marcia invoking Marcel Marceau

Everyone had told us how great Père-Lachaise, the historic cemetery in Paris, was and that we should visit, as everybody who was anybody is buried there.  Jim Morrison, Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Yves Montand, Sarah Burnhardt, and both Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas are just some of the more famous dead people living there.

Joe and I had been in Paris for just a few days and were still figuring out the metro system, but it seemed that the cemetery was an easy enough walk so that’s what we did.  We arrived in the midst of a dappling morning that would soon give way to a warm day.  As is typical of us, we entered through the closest, albeit perhaps not best, entrance and just started wandering around.

Oh my God!!  There are a lot of people buried in Père-Lachaise!  Some in grand tombs, others under slabs, all packed in tighter than the rush-hour metro traffic we were still getting used to.  We found a couple of famous graves, but overall, we just stumbled around, growing hotter and hotter and more exasperated.  The other back-door meanderers seemed just as lost as we were.  Joe would ask them in French if they knew where the heck we (and they) were, but their answers were typically a sad “Non.”

At some point, we decided to give up for the day and do some research and come back.  We were hot and our feet hurt.   

But just as we tried to figure out how to exit the labyrinth that was Père-Lachaise, out of a small grove of trees appeared what seemed to me to be a wood nymph of some kind.  It was wearing a black shirt and trousers with dark curls encircling its head.  I had thought our wood nymph was female until I noticed the male pattern bald spot peeking out of her curls.  He introduced himself as Raphael  and then said, rather than asked, in quite good English, that we were looking for Jim Morrison, which, of course, obviously being Americans, we were.  I thought it was so sweet of this petite Parisian to take time out of his day to show us that iconic American tourist destination.

Before we knew it, we were following Raphael all over Père-Lachaise.  Boy, was that rascal fast!  At some point, Joe and I whispered to each other that we were going to have to pay this guy, but we tacitly agreed, whatever it was, it would most likely be worth it.  Not only did Raphael know his way around, he knew the shortcuts and he knew stories about the most famous of inhabitants.  He knew who died of what (often something messy or scandalous), he knew how many dead-people layers were allowed and who would have to be dug up after 99 years so others could be buried, and who was famous enough to stay forever.  He was bossy and sometimes just on the edge of boorish, but he was always interesting and entertaining. He told us that he wanted to be cremated when he died, or "barbecued" as he put it, and said that those who were dug up for others to be buried were typically "barbecued" at the end.

One of the most interesting of Père-Lachaise stories was that of Victor Noir, a journalist killed by Pierre Napoleon Bonaparte in a dispute over a duel.  It wasn't his death so much as his tomb, which is notable for the realistic portrayal of the dead Noir, that makes him, according to Raphael, the most visited of all Père-Lachaise dead people.  And the photo that Raphael bullied us into posing for and which embarrasses Joe just a tad, became my absolute favorite of our whole Paris trip.  I'll leave finding out the entire story of why Victor Noir is such a hit with cemetery visitors up to your own investigative resources (as in, how fast can you google Victor Noir?) but I can tell you that my right hand in the picture is placed (under Raphael's assertive instruction) just where you think it is.

Apologies to Joe Guiendon for including this great picture!
Finally, after lots of stories, a few yarns, and, most likely some outright lies, Raphael was spent and so were we.  Joe shook Raphael's hand and thanked him, asking how much we owed him.  Raphael responded with something about how our enjoyment was all that mattered to him. But when Joe pulled a twenty out of his pocket, that scamp, Raphael, intoned with "More."  When we laughed at his cute retort, Raphael responded again, this time with, "No, really.  More."  At that point, I pulled my own twenty out of my purse, which led to a couple of "Mercis", several "Adeux", and quite a few cheek kisses.

Joe and I agree that meeting Raphael and his "friends" at Père-Lachaise was well worth the forty euros we were coerced into spending, especially since our intrepid huckster guide also showed us how to exit the cemetery.  Otherwise, we might still be wandering around in there somewhere.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Road Warriors

View from the backseat.

We knew it wouldn’t be easy.  Sixteen hundred miles, a rehearsal dinner, and a wedding, all in three days.  Traveling in a rented minivan with two children, one six and one three.  Three drivers, one half-blindish.

But it was totally worth it.  We drove, we laughed, we argued, we cried, we danced, we celebrated, we remembered.  We sunned and swam and made sand castles.  We were late. Once we were somehow early.  We lost things and found them. We sang in the car.  We ate and drank and loved each other in spite of ourselves.

The wedding was beautiful as was the bride, my recently-lost brother’s youngest. Also beautiful was the officiant, his oldest, already vigorously pedigreed, just ordained online.  And, of course, their mother, who is always gorgeous and impeccable.

 I couldn’t help but wonder if the bride's choice not to walk down the aisle was an homage to her father, who would have given anything to be there. 

Now that the miles and the "Are we in Delaware yet?"s are behind us and the expenses are safely ensconsed on my credit card for future consideration, I'm so glad my daughter and her family and I were able to attend my niece's wedding in Bethany Beach, Delaware, especially now that my brother, who was the tether that attached me to this part of my family, is gone.  My nieces and I share DNA and they and their mother and I have memories in common, all of them involving a man we loved so deeply.  

We made some new memories this past weekend, and, as always, my brother was right there. 

 The Bride, the Groom, her Mother, and Sister

My Daughter and Me

Georgia and Miles letting off steam during a break.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Haute Cuisine

Neither Joe nor I can cook, although he can grill up a mean steak in his back yard or even in his kitchen with George Forman at the ready.  However, at some point after we started hanging out, we decided we needed something to go with the steak, so our first foray was into the realm of the baked potato.  Now, I know how to cook a baked potato as I eat them all the time.  However, I believe God would never have invented the microwave if He’d not wanted people to “bake” their potatoes in one of them.

Joe disagreed, being the Yankee purist he is.  He said we needed to bake our baked potatoes.  That’s when the degrees argument ensued.  He said 400 for an hour.  I said 350 (because basically 350 is my setting of choice for all cooking).  I won and what we won was a rash of rawish potatoes after an hour.  Joe was smug and said he told me so but I just put the potatoes in the microwave for a few minutes and that way I won again.

Next we tried quiche because Joe is a Francophile, plus I guess he feels manly enough to withstand any aspersive remarks toward said manliness based not only on his quiche eating but also his quiche cooking.   The quiche was good and we ate it for the next three weeks.

Next, we decided to take a cooking class.  Again, because Joe thinks he’s French, we chose the Spring in Paris Hands-On Class at the Cooks Warehouse in Decatur.  It started at 6:30, which is not only late for me to cook or eat, it’s also past my bedtime.   However, I womaned up and we set out for the class (after stopping by Taco Mac so Joe could get his free beer glass because it was Free Beer Glass Night).

Our class consisted of 12 participants in two groups, a bevy of sweet volunteers, and Chef John Wilson, who was not only not French, he was also a bit of an ass.  Our group had Joe and me, an adorable mid-20s couple who were just moving in together, a woman who was a history professor at Agnes Scott, and another woman who just liked to cook.

Chef John yelled a lot, although I don't entirely blame him.  He had an ambitious menu and 12 morons in the kitchen, people who couldn't follow directions very well.  The menu consisted of:

Three Cheese Spread with Olive Oil
Corn, Tomato, and Basil Individual Souffles
Green Beans with Bacon and Mushrooms
Pan Seared Sea Scallops with Beurre Blanc Sauce
Buttery Madeleines

Chef John was an equal opportunity yeller and we all caught some of his wrath; however, I was the only one he told to step away from the stove and to "go stand over there."  Somehow, though, having John abuse us only brought our group together in that weird common foe way.   And the class was really fun, although I think we should wait until after our instructor retires and opens that bed and breakfast he's planning before we show up for another one.

Since the class, we haven't used anything we learned, although Joe spent about thirty bucks on a Madeleine pan and a lemon zester.  We did cook a pot roast (at 350) in 80 degree weather a few weeks ago.  It took us all day but tasted good and certainly warmed our bones.  We still go to the Waffle House for breakfast most days and supper is often a bag of Lay's Salt and Vinegar potato chips.

I can't remember the temperature for baking Madeleines.  I wonder what Chef John would say if I were to tell him I just cook them in the microwave.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

MeeMaw has a Boyfriend

In one of my crazy books written years ago, I talked about how tacky is was for someone named MeeMaw to have a boyfriend, meaning that a geezer woman needed to either hang in with the old fart she married when he was still young and cute or to be happy in her MeeMaw status, sporting roll-down stockings and keeping the cookie jar full. 

And when I became a grandmother myself I fully subscribed to my earlier stand, although I can't bake and I don't own a cookie jar.  I even wrote a blog post about how lacking I was in any interest in the romantic arts.  (See That Dog Still Hunts)

Until now.  I’m here now to tell the world that MeeMaw (in my case, Grammy, me, Marcia) has a boyfriend and his name is Joe.

Joe was my boss twenty years ago and his wife, Mary, was my friend.  When Joe’s beloved Mary and my adored brother, Sandy, died within just a few days of each other, we were both left wondering if that was it for us.  Would the rest of our lives be spent in lonely waiting for our own sad ends?

Enter Facebook, that newfangled arena for reuniting old people, and the rest is our own personal history.  We have liked and loved and lived and laughed and yes, lusted (sorry kids) in a powerful way, and I have to take back most everything I said about sex in our later years.  What we lack in prowess is made up for with some wisdom and great humor.  

So now, we are trying to figure out how to make it work, to love each other while still taking care of our children and grandchildren, to balance the me and you with the us, to look forward to the years we have and to prepare for the time we don’t have.

We feel very lucky to have (re)found each other at what might have been considered too late a date. Lucky and happy.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Early Bird

 I’m early to bed and early to rise.  I’m two hours early for flights and thirty minutes early for appointments.  I’ve spent many many minutes parked along roads and streets and cul-de-sacs so I wouldn’t be early to social engagements.

I will most likely be early to my own funeral.

When I was teaching, I’d get to school so early I’d sometimes set off the alarm and, occasionally enough to be worrisome, the Atlanta Police would show up and admonish me.

There may be some connection between birth hour and temporal activity and notions of time.  Two of my three kids, Billy and Molly, are also early arrivers.  They were both born in the morning as was I.  Melissa, who was born in the afternoon, was always late when she was a child and teenager, with me in hatchback, honking the horn, and her telling me to “hold on!” way too many times.  Now that she has children of her own who take forever to get into the car, she’s sped up quite a bit, but she still doesn't see the need to leave an hour before having to be somewhere thirty minutes away.  Go figure.

Even though being early appears indicative of stellar character, at least to me, I can see how it might be annoying to others.  Early birds show up at dinner parties while the hostess is still shaving her legs.  They arrive at interviews while the interviewer is trying to finish off his Big Mac.  And they must annoy shoppers who finesse a timely parking-lot disembark as soon as they can possibly take leave from their Thanksgiving repast to be armed and ready for Wal-Mart's 1 am Black Friday opening, only to find the early birds already camping out, looking smug in their lawn chairs while eating a leftover turkey leg.  I believe that EBs are the ones who get most hit on the head with those big pocketbooks you see flailing around on the evening news.

And then there are certain jobs early birds just can't do.  Arriving at a fire before it starts would be seen as unprofessional at best and perhaps no small amount of suspicious.  The same for removing a gall bladder before it becomes all gross and gnarly, and serving a fine wine before its time.

But, for my oldest best friend, Allison, and me, it's great to be an early bird.  We arrive for dinner before the fashionably-late, hungry hordes, often knocking on the locked restaurant door while the waitstaff is still going over the menu, and then asking for the senior citizen special.

We aren't annoying at all.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Why I’m Kind of Like a European

Even though I don’t speak European, I think I’m kind of like one.  Here are the reasons in no particular order:

  • I have a small refrigerator and no ice maker.
  • My TV is 11 by 13 (inches not feet).  Or maybe I should say centimeters not meters but I’m not sure how big those are.
  • I like things that are old and dusty.  By this I mean every thing I own.
  • My car is a Toyota, which I'm pretty sure is a European brand.
  • I live in a flat or maybe a pied a terre. 
  • I go to the market at least once a day.
  • I listen to Edith Piaf on Pandora. And Andrea Bocelli.  Even when they sing in European.
  • I have a very, very small bathroom.
  • I like Mexican food.  Mexico is like Europe.
  • I like Italian food.  Italy is like Europe.
  • I like cheese.
  • I live with a cat.  (The only reason I put that in is because she made me).
  • I consider myself to be a great, although yet undiscovered, artist.
  • I like eating outside as long as it’s not too hot or cold or there aren’t too many gnats. Or homeless people.
  • I don’t really need an oven.  I can do all my cooking on one burner.  And a microwave.
  • I like chocolate, mainly Hershey Bars.  Not that dark crap.
  • I don’t wash my clothes all that often. 
  • Some people seem to think I have socialist leanings.
  • Deodorant?  What deodorant?
  • I like to watch people dance the tango, which started in Argentina, a place I'm pretty sure is in Europe.
  • I think siestas are a very good idea.
  • When I stop by Panera Bread to pick up my salad, I always ask for the baguette instead of the chips.
  • I seem to have a lot of empty wine bottles.

The good thing about kind of being like a European is that you get all of the advantages I've listed above, but you don't have to bother with a passport or put up with those tiny elevators they call lifts or people unwilling to learn to speak American.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sugar Substitute

Several years ago, my daughter, Molly, and I lost our beloved dog, Sugar, to a wild dash from the side door that lead to a hit-and-run death.  In trying to get over the loss of Sugar, Molly adopted a very nice cat she named Brody, the name an homage to the actor Adrien Brody because of the cat’s rather long nose.  At some point, we cutely called Brody our Sugar substitute.

Fast forward to now.  Somehow, I woke up last Saturday morning with a brand new cat, whom I finally named Roxie because of, well I don’t really know why other than she likes to play cat hockey with errant rocks she finds on my window sill in the middle of the night.

My life was really simple.  Living alone, things stayed where I put them even if I couldn’t remember where that was.  I had the freedom, if not the money, to travel and stay a while.  Vacuuming could wait another six months or so.

And it wasn't that I was lonely.  I have children and grandchildren who love me and even like me most of the time, and friends who put up with me, and interests and pursuits and favorite TV shows.  All the things that make life worth living.

So why a new cat now?  Why the cost and the aggravation and the responsibility, not to mention cat hair everywhere and that catbox smell?  The only reason I can think of is that I’d recently lost my brother, Sandy, not to a quick death under the tires of a Toyota but to a long battle with cancer, a war the cancer won.

So, was it possible that Roxie could become a Sandy substitute?  At first glance, it was iffy.

Whereas Sandy was trim and well groomed, Roxie is fluffy and a bit disheveled. 

Sandy never ever walked over my computer keys while I was trying to type. 

Sandy was quiet and careful not to offend, whereas Roxie raucously meows her opinions about everything (mostly in the middle of the night).   

Roxie bites me; Sandy never did.  The worse thing Sandy ever did to me was to infiltrate my diary when I was fourteen to write in it that he needed a bra more than I did.  

 Sandy was independent, while I have to do EVERYTHING for Roxie.  I have to feed her and give her water and clean out her damned sandbox and lug up her 100 pound bag of litter while she tries to trip me.

But I guess somehow, in spite of all the trouble and probably for all the wrong reasons, I can feel this cat beginning to patch up that big hole in my heart.  She looks as happy as a cat can look when I come home, and she purrs when she feels like it, and I'm fairly certain her escapades will give me something new to write about.  And though there will never be a substitute for my only sibling, someone who knew me from when I was a tiny orange-haired baby and truly loved me in spite of myself, this new cat of mine makes me laugh and gives me someone to talk to in the morning and helps me forget that I am now a brotherless child.

I think Sandy would understand.

The Curious Lament of a Former Second Grade Teacher

  The timing was perfect.   I was 56 and looking toward retirement but not yet ready, either physically, emotionally, or moneta...