Tales of who you were will eventually be overtaken by a swirling fog.
All families have their stories. There’s the time Uncle Bob decided to throw his drink out the car window, only the window was closed. The time my father’s car overheated while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and the only liquid he had to put in the radiator was laundry detergent, so not only was traffic backed up for miles, but when he got moving again, he left a trail of suds. The time my grandfather went outside, pitchfork in hand, to have a calm, quiet talk with my aunt’s abusive husband, and the guy left and never came back. No one knows what my grandfather said, but I sure wish he had lived to have my back like that.
I know tons of stories about my parents and grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and even a cousin or two. But it occurs to me that I don’t have any complete stories about great grandparents or any generations older than that. Little bits and pieces have come down to me, but they’re either incomplete, implausible, or disputed.
For example, I know there is a Prussian officer somewhere in the family tree. I’ve even seen a picture of him, sporting the spiked helmet and the monocle, but I’m not even sure where that picture went after my mother died. I don’t know his name or how he is related to me. And I vaguely remember my mother saying there was some Czechoslovakian in our bloodline way back in there, but I don’t know how or why, and it sure didn’t pop out when Ancestry.com analyzed my DNA. My mother once showed me the coat of arms of a distant relative, and there was a unicorn in it. Yet my cousin swears there are no coats of arms in that branch of the family tree. I have no idea how my great grandmother felt when my maternal grandmother left Denmark and went to America without speaking English or knowing anyone but the husband who awaited her. What did they say to each other when they parted ways?
Unless you come from a culture that makes a habit of reciting the family history from generation to generation, or carving it in stone, then all the family stories that don’t get written down have a finite shelf life. In my family, It seems to be two generations. Beyond that, everything is pieces and parts, surrounded by a swirling fog.
If you’re not famous or infamous, eventually, these tales of who you were and what you did will be overtaken by that fog. On some days, I actually find that comforting. On others, I find it a bit scary.
We are all temporal beings. We are all part of the eternal ether, even though we debate whether that ether takes on a spiritual, philosophical, or physical form. We are surrounded by those who came before us, whom we have never met, and we, too, will surround the generations that come long after we’re gone.
Will we know? Will they? I’m thinking probably not. But it’s impossible to say.
I love alliteration, and I love bread, so the title of this post came naturally to me. It actually manifested long before the content did. But I knew that a title that trips off the tongue so tantalizingly should not be tossed out. (See what I did there?) I had to find a way to make use of it. But how?
And then I had an exceedingly bad day.
We all have those, of course. But I didn’t handle the situation well at all. It was entirely too triggering, and I therefore had a massive melt down. Whenever someone witnesses that occasional coping flaw of mine, I can see them looking at me like I’ve become completely and utterly unhinged, and the look of confusion and discomfort on their face makes me feel worse. Off I slide into a negative spiral. It’s not fun. (It could be argued that it’s not exactly a picnic for those who helplessly bear witness, either.)
Welcome to my world.
It’s really hard to explain an apparent overreaction to someone who is basically cool, calm and collected. They are seeing a minor thing and what appears to be an over-the-top response thereto. To that I say: you have no way of knowing what negative memories one has rotting in the basement of one’s brain. You don’t know which straw will be the last one for the camel. You see a surface situation and a surface reaction, but you don’t see the crux of it. You don’t see the scar tissue or the deep, deep down final freakin’ straw of it all.
So back to the headline. It alludes to assault with alliteration. And carbs. So here’s what I came up with to accompany it.
Imagine this: You’re walking down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris (lucky you!), and you happen to see a man hit a woman with a baguette. Naturally you are startled by this. One does not witness such a contretemps every day. Oh non.
Before you can react, the man disappears down a side street. You aren’t even sure you got a good look at him. Was he dressed as a mime? (Probably not, or he would have been on the receiving end of the assault. But I digress.) It all happened so quickly. It’s hardly surprising that your main focus was on the yeasty weapon he chose to employ.
When you turn back to the woman, you see that she has dropped to her knees and is doing that kind of chest-heaving, exhausting, cleansing cry that most men cannot imagine. (Unlucky them.) They don’t understand the subtle healing powers of some negative emotions.
But why such a strong reaction? I mean, yeah, it was a strange situation, but after all, it was bread. There are much worse things in this world to be hit with, literally or figuratively. Bread probably won’t even leave a mark. Nevertheless this “hysterical” female is drawing a crowd.
Why is it that so many of us default to judgment rather than comfort? Do we have to agree with her feelings for them to be valid? Must we empathize in order to feel compassion?
For all you know, this woman is being stalked by that man, and this was not the first baked good she had been pelted with this week. Perhaps baguettes remind her of her recently-deceased and much-beloved father who owned a boulangerie not far from this very spot. Perhaps she has a health issue that magnifies even the slightest pain to excruciating heights. Maybe she has a serious problem with food that is not gluten free. It could happen.
I’ve never understood people who believe there is a right way and a wrong way to feel. We are all individuals with different life experiences and different trauma. Our feelings are our own, and we have every right to express them as long as there’s no violence involved.
It may not be easy, especially with strangers, but if you see someone suffering, offer comfort, not judgment or solutions or any phrase that begins with “you should.” Just acknowledge their feelings and offer your presence in whatever way you both feel is appropriate. Don’t pony up unsolicited advice or roll your eyes.
I would like to think that if I saw a woman being assaulted on the street, even if it were just with a pillow, I’d ask if she needed help, or a hug, or just wanted to talk about it. This type of offer allows dignity and agency to be restored to the victim survivor. This gives a fellow human being the opportunity to gather him or herself and take the next step on what will most likely continue to be a very complex life path.
Only the receiver can know just how many “baguettes” they can take before they begin to feel like these implements of destruction are actually baseball bats. And that’s as it should be. But because of that, it behooves all of us to cut people a bit of freakin’ slack.
Interesting things that didn’t fit into my other Hawaiian posts.
There’s so much that intrigued me about Hawaii that I had to take copious notes during my visit. Not that I’m complaining. These notes will enrich my memories. But some of the tidbits of information didn’t fit naturally into my other posts about the Aloha State, so today I’m going to just throw a bunch of thought noodles at you and see which ones actually stick. There won’t be any particular order or story arc. This will sort of look like Hawaii after it has been in a blender. Here’s hoping it’s still pretty. Thank you for your indulgence.
My first impression of the island of Kauai is… chickens. Chickens everywhere. Here a chicken, there a chicken… Based on some lazy research and even lazier math, I estimate that there are about 6 chickens per capita on this island. That’s a lot of poultry. Most of them looked really healthy, and many of the roosters are absolutely gorgeous, so more power to them, I say. I just wish they had a stricter concept of when dawn is. You could hear them crow at 2 in the morning. Even so, I found it pleasant to share the island with them for a time.
A tour guide demonstrated something to me that I had never contemplated. Most of us know that chickens bob their heads when they walk. But I never noticed that hey don’t bob their heads when they run. It was fun watching the guide chase a chicken across a field to prove his point. I’ll always remember that.
Chickens notwithstanding, I believe that the most destructive invasive species in all of Hawaii are the feral pigs. They cause major damage to property and property values, agriculture, and ecosystems. There are so many pigs on the islands that you won’t find an estimate of how many pigs there are anywhere on the internet. (Believe me, I tried.) In fairness, it would be hard to keep track. A pair of pigs and their offspring can produce 15,000 more pigs over the course of 5 years. Imagine that level of expansion when you’re on an island. (I did find an estimate of the number of feral pigs in the entire US, and it’s over 6 million, and growing. At this rate we won’t be around long enough to see the full impact of global warming.)
In Hawaiian, the word for fire is ahi. So Ahi tuna got its name because of its bright red meat. That means that the fish did not get a name until some Hawaiian first sliced it open. (I’m glad I didn’t get my name that way.) But I’m a little surprised that they didn’t come up with something that describes the creature itself, because it’s beautiful to behold. That says a lot about priorities.
I find waves so hypnotic that I actually slept soundly in Hawaii, which is something that eludes me in most other places. And the unrelenting wind means there’s no need for AC while you sleep, and somehow that makes me happy. There’s nothing quite like fresh air and ocean waves.
There are no lions or tigers or bears in Hawaii, and you could go your whole life without encountering a poisonous snake. You’d think that would mean that hiking in this state is relatively carefree, but no. The island still has plenty of surprises for you.
It’s not a good idea to stray from the established path. For instance, that field of soft, welcoming ferns covering the ground to your left may actually be a dense mat that is more than 20 feet deep. You step into that, you may very well plunge to your death. These mats can also conceal lava tubes and jagged lava rock, so your death won’t be a pretty one.
But falling off hiking trails is fairly common in Hawaii. The terrain is steep, and gets slippery and muddy, and yet the things you would land on if you slip can be as sharp as glass. Never hike alone in Hawaii. Unless you’re really experienced, you might want to avoid hiking on all but the simplest trails.
Another danger that you might not expect is the Guinea Grass. It was first brought to Hawaii to feed the cows, which had also been brought in. Guinea Grass makes great feed as long as it’s kept relatively short as it apparently is in Africa. But, unchecked, this grass can get up to 15 feet high, and when it gets that tall, the cows won’t touch it. The taller it gets, the more tiny razor-like spikes it gets on the edges of its blades, and this can cause a cow’s tongue to bleed. So the Guinea Grass has pretty much taken over, with very little to stop it. And if you walk into this stuff, you’ll leave it feeling as though you’ve rolled naked in fiberglass. That, and it’s a fantastic contributor to wildfires. When not burning, it chokes out native plants.
We went to black sand beaches and “normal” beaches during our trip. But Hawaii also has one of only four green sand beaches in the world. Sadly the hike to get there is 4 miles, round trip and is often strenuous. My hikes are getting shorter and easier these days. You can’t do everything.
There are very few little free libraries found in Hawaii. (Believe me, I looked. And the map of registered ones at littlefreelibrary.org bears me out.) I did try to track down a registered one on a busy tourist street in Hanalei, but it wasn’t where it was said to be, and when we asked around, people looked at us as if we had two heads. I have no idea why, but these wonderful community resources just haven’t seemed to take off in this state yet. I hope they do eventually, because I can think of nothing more delightful and relaxing than reading a good book on a Hawaiian beach. But then, the locals are probably working three jobs just to be able to afford to live there, so they may not have time for reading.
Here are some pictures of a couple of the little libraries we did see. There is a nice big one in front of the Kapa’a Public Library. (Isn’t a little free library in front of a library kind of like gilding the lily?)
I tried something new on this trip. I call it “planned spontaneity.” It worked really well. Yes, we made reservations for the things we really wanted to do if they were required. But we also left some time in there to follow the suggestions we got along the way, check out the things we stumbled upon, and also to just chill out. Many of those times, to be honest, were the best ones for me. I used to plan every trip within an inch of its life, and then I married Dear Husband and saw how much he liked to do that stuff, so I took a back seat for a while. But that’s not really fair. I know I hated it when I had to do all the trip planning and reservations alone. So now I’m trying to make it so we both take part, but that we also leave some things up to fate and happenstance. It’s a delicate dance, but it’s worth it.
It’s “shave” ice, not “shaved”. And it is wonderful. Many places will put shaved ice over a scoop of ice cream for you. We tried that first, and I thought I’d be sick from the sugar. I don’t eat much sugar anymore, so this was quite the shock to the system. But shave ice is nice on a hot day.
If you want to make your kids giggle and your waitress roll her eyes for about the thousandth time this year, order a “pipi pupu”. That’s a beef appetizer in Hawaiian. But please give your waitress a generous tip for forcing her to hear the joke yet again.
Flying from one island to another is extremely convenient. We flew from Kauai to the Honolulu Airport, changed planes, and then flew over beautiful Molokai to land in Kona, Hawaii. But on our approach to Honolulu we took a sharp left turn to head landward, and we were hit with the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt my life. It seemed like we dropped 60 feet in less than a second. It’s the first time I’ve ever thought was going to die in an airplane. I even remember thinking, “This is it.” Getting to our destination was worth it, I suppose, but I think I might have a cocktail next time.
The Honolulu Airport is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s wide open to the elements. It feels like a Disney attraction, but with planes. And it is predicted that the Kona Airport will be covered in lava sometime in the next 100 years. They actually had to carve the runways out of lava beds there. Hawaii caused me to view real estate as something that is highly transient for the first time in my life. If Kauai is chickens, then the Big Island is lava. Lots and lots of lava.
We also stopped at a farmer’s market in Hilo, and saw produce that looked like it came from another planet. We bought an avocado the size of my head. But it wasn’t a Hass, so it actually tasted like nothing. That was a bit disappointing. We also bought white pineapple, which is something I’d never heard of. It was extremely expensive, because they don’t produce many, and that’s probably why I’d never heard of it. There aren’t really enough to send to the mainland. Think pineapple without the acid. Sweet as spun sugar. Everyone should try it! We also tried an organic mountain apple, which was kind of thick skinned and slightly mushy and therefore meh. And nothing in this farmer’s market had an actual price on it. I’m sure they see the tourists coming a mile away.
We ate at a restaurant called Harbor House in Kona. It had no walls. That gave us a great view of the marina. And it was fun to have the birds flying all around us. Until they pooped. Everywhere. But poop notwithstanding, the food is pretty good (and poop-less), and hey, it’s an experience!
The older I get, the more I look at experiences in terms of the memories they create. Hawaii added so many wonderful memories to my collection. The older you get, the more you accumulate. I’m sitting on a dragonpile (I should copyright that word) of precious memories, brought to me by travel. And I’m not alone in this.
By rights, the well-traveled elderly should be considered the most fascinating people in the world. You just have to ask the right questions and take the time to experience the answers. If you listen closely, you might hear the waves crashing in their words, and maybe the sound of Don Ho singing Tiny Bubbles will drift gently toward you as if on an island breeze.
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Children are very impressionable. A flip, sarcastic remark may become a life lesson for them, rightly or wrongly. Here are some lessons that I learned growing up. Some I have worked very hard to unlearn.
I had taken a magic marker and doodled “bad” words on my white Keds. Given my age, around 5, they were probably shockers like, “poopy head” and the like. My mother wasn’t thrilled, though. But she hated confrontation. We went to the grocery store and I was wearing them. After we had loaded the groceries into the trunk, I was getting into the back seat and one of my shoes fell off in the parking lot. I said, “Hold on, Mom! My shoe fell out of the car!” She sped away, saying we were in too much of a hurry to go back, and that there were other cars in the parking lot wanting her to move. Lesson: Adults can lie when it suits their purposes.
We were trailer camping, and the camp manager came up and told us to stay inside, as a man had broken out of a nearby prison. We heard helicopters and saw flashlights in the distant woods. But I had brought no toys or books (I was about 7) and after about an hour I got really bored, and I begged my mother to let me at least go outside and sit at the picnic table. She let me, because she got tired of my whining (which from my adult perspective was a horrible solution), and I went out there and sat in the dark. Then I saw a man walking toward me out of the fog. So I got up, went to the trailer’s screen door, and it was LOCKED. I didn’t want to yell for my mother, because I was afraid I’d draw the man’s attention. So I stage whispered, “Mom, let me in!” and scratched at the door. She was sitting right there, lost in her book. I could see her. She had to have heard me. She was just annoyed that I had been such a pain earlier. “Mom!” I was convinced I was about to be killed or taken hostage. Then the guy walked up behind me and said, “Ma’am, you should keep your daughter inside.” She let me in. I have never been so scared in all my life. And I also learned that my mother was indifferent to my needs at the best of times. I pretty much had to raise myself. When I look back at some of the emotionally neglectful and/or downright irresponsible things she did to me as a child, I’m horrified and disgusted. And kind of proud that I survived.
A teenaged boy, at the swimming pool, once put his hand on my head and pushed my ten-year-old self under the water and locked his elbow while I underwater screamed and struggled. If he hadn’t let me up, I would have drowned. I ran home and told my mother, and she didn’t take it seriously. I learned two things from that one. If a guy wants to kill you, you’ll be dead. And when the sh** hits the fan in my life, I’d be on my own.
When, at age 13, I finally told my mother that my stepfather had been sexually abusing me, she said, “You’re making too much of it.” Lesson: My safety mattered to no one but myself, and grown ups live in convenient little fantasy worlds and can’t be counted on.
My mother had gotten herself a brand new aluminum cake cover. I noticed that if you held it by the handle on top and thumped it, it made an amazing “bong” sound. I was 8, and was also experimenting with my cassette recorder. She wasn’t home, so I decided to record a home cake cover concert. When she returned, I proudly played the recording for her. When she discovered my instrument of choice, she went into the pantry to find her cake cover covered in dents. I had been enjoying the sound so much I hadn’t even noticed the results. Lesson: Not everyone finds joy in the same ways that you do. (And also that when I’m in the zone, everything else tends to fade away. That’s still true to this day.)
My sister, twisting a half a grapefruit in my face and laughing as I screamed and cried. From that I got that my sister (who was 9 years older) genuinely did not like me at all, to the point of taking delight in my humiliation, so I must not be likeable. (She likes me now, and always loved me. But I struggle to feel liked by anyone to this day, and while this incident wasn’t the primary reason for that, I’m sure it didn’t help.)
My other sister, 10 years older than me, got chronic kidney infections. One day she looked at me and said she may have to take one of my kidneys someday. I was 8. It made me feel as though I had no autonomy, even over my own body. (And let’s face it. As a woman, I still feel that way quite often.)
A more lighthearted one. I was sitting in the kitchen with my stepfather. There were about 3 flies buzzing around. He told me he’d give me a nickel for every fly I swatted. So I propped open the door and let in more flies. From this I learned that it pays to think outside of the box.
Lessons can come at you from all directions. They may not always be the right ones, unfortunately. You, too, are teaching, even when you don’t realize it. So it’s important to be thoughtful with your words, kind with your deeds, and make sure everyone feels safe and heard. Anything less can cause a lifetime of destruction.
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Prepare to be transported to magical places in your mind.
I’ve written about my love for this country’s national parks before. Travel is my reason for being, and I adore all things natural and historical, so national parks are right in my wheelhouse. I wish I could see every single one of them at least once.
In light of that, I purchased a National Parks Passport years ago, and have filled it with stamps every time I visit a park. It looks like a thick passport, but it also includes a National Park System Map and Guide, as well as spaces for stamps and stickers divided up by region, and pictures and descriptions of the various parks. I could gaze at this passport for hours.
Each stamp, with its unique design and the date I acquired it, brings me right back in my mind to the park I visited. They remind me of things I’ve learned, and the many stories I have to tell. Because of that, these stamps are more precious to me than any overpriced souvenir.
I remember weaving through the autumn leaves on the Blue Ridge Parkway, where I’m still convinced my soul resides. I have traveled back in time in the many national monuments that preserve the buildings of the ancient Anasazi in New Mexico. I have been places where one single word evokes imagery that’s nearly impossible to describe. Yellowstone. Badlands. Canyonlands. Arches. Rushmore. I’ve gloried at the colors of the Painted Desert, cried with joy while gazing at the Grand Canyon, been inspired by the human determination exhibited in both Gold Rush National Parks. I’ve admired the interior of the White House in much less complicated times.
If you love the parks as much as I do, I urge you to get a National Parks Passport and fill it with stamps. They also make great gifts! I gave one to my sister, and now we have a hot and heavy competition going on. (Guess what, Sis! I got a stamp from Glacier Bay, a national park that you can only reach by boat or plane! Neener, neener, neener!)
A word of caution though. NEVER stamp your regular passport with these stamps. It invalidates it. Apparently people have done this to their everlasting regret, so now when you go to the stamp table, which is usually found in the park’s gift shop, you’ll see a big sign warning people not to do that. Sad that that is necessary, but there you have it.
These books are not real passports, but they will transport you to magical places in your mind. That, as far as I’m concerned, is something well worth having in my life.
Have you ever run into someone you once thought you’d have a bright future with, but it didn’t work out? It’s a very disconcerting feeling. You are standing there in your present, getting a glimpse of a life you could have had. You’re peeking down a parallel timeline.
It’s a very bittersweet feeling. It reminds me of that scene in The Way We Were when Barbra Streisand runs into Robert Redford with his new love and says to him, “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” That movie always makes me cry. Memories…
But such encounters can also be a stark reality check. On more than one occasion I’ve come away from them thinking, “Whew! I dodged that bullet!” Because it’s blatantly obvious that the person in question is not in a place where I’d want to be. Perhaps their health has deteriorated, or they’re now abusing a substance, or they’ve moved to a hellish location, or they’ve become inexplicably obsessed with collecting traffic cones. No thanks.
If you’ve been pining away for that person, absorbing this new reality into your worldview might take some time. But what a relief to no longer pine. Pining takes a lot of energy. (That, and the sap is hard to get out of your hair.)
I suggest that when confronted with loves past, you take that opportunity to assess, and hopefully appreciate, where you are now. Now is your reality, and hopefully it is your gift. Your life could have unfolded in a multitude of ways, but here you are.
Having done that, resist the urge to tell that person, “This happiness could have been yours, you big dummy.” It might be satisfying, but in the end, it doesn’t do anyone any good. Life has a funny way of going on. (And for all you know, he or she is thinking the same thing.)
Most of all, crossing paths with futures past should make you aware of how many options you have. You can’t control other people, of course, but you have a multitude of opportunities to write your story in the best possible way, even if it isn’t going the way you once predicted that it would.
Looking the grim reaper square in the eye is a bit unsettling.
Having recently gotten married, and having comingled our assets and combined our bank accounts as one does, it was time to update our wills. In my case, this was long overdue. My old will was all about assets I no longer have and people who are no longer in my life.
Writing a will is the responsible thing to do. It takes a great deal of pressure off the loved ones you leave behind, and it helps to ensure that your wishes are carried out. No sense in causing a familial World War III when you don’t have to. You’d be amazed at how petty some people can be while picking over your leftovers.
But contemplating one’s own death is no fun. Looking the grim reaper square in the eye and acknowledging his or her inevitable visit is a bit unsettling. I greatly prefer pretending that I’ll live forever. (But then, that scenario doesn’t really sound very pleasant, either, given how often I forget to floss.)
It’s particularly squick-making to have to imagine the whole death process. Do I want to have my life artificially prolonged? No thank you. Does that include withholding nutrition? Images of me wasting away as I circle the drain. Ugh. Yeah. Withhold nutrition unless I ask for it. But that’s a really hard thing to say to future me.
And what to do with the body I’m vacating? Good lord, but there are so many options these days. It’s like shopping for shoes. Except you’re disposing of the shoes. In a really upsetting way. And you’re trying not to freak out your relatives in the process.
There’s a lot to think about while making that choice. I mean, I’ll be beyond caring. But I’ve kind of grown attached to this body. I want it treated with respect. But I also don’t want it to take up space, or get pumped full of completely unnecessary and toxic formaldehyde, or cause undue expense.
I always thought I’d go with cremation, but then I learned what a huge carbon footprint that process places on the planet. So now I’ve decided on aquamation. That’s a new process. Your soft bits get dissolved, and only your bones remain, which are reduced to “ashes”. From an environmental standpoint it’s a much gentler exit from this planet. As this website explains, “Unlike cremation, there are no emissions with aquamation. It uses about 1/8th the energy. If cremation were a diesel truck, aquamation is a Prius.” If I have to be a vehicle, I suppose I want to be a Prius. (How very Seattle of me.)
But can you imagine the details and descriptions I had to wade through to arrive at that choice? I mean… ugh. Nothing quite like picturing yourself getting disposed of like meat that is past its expiration date.
The next step is writing a personal letter explaining who I’d like to receive which of my tchotchkes. I’m struggling with this. How do you adequately convey how much someone has meant to you with a thing? It just doesn’t quite cut it.
But in the end, that’s all that will be left of me, save the memories. And that makes me want to create as many of those as I possibly can. So now that I’ve mapped out my journey into Death Land (and dragged you along for the ride), it’s time to get on with the business of living.
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When my mother died, I hung on to this bottle of deodorant she had given me until long after it had been used up. Because she gave it to me. I think I got it into my head that getting rid of that bottle would be like losing my connection with her. I just couldn’t do it. Not at that point.
I have other things that belonged to my mother, of course. Jewelry. Family heirlooms of one kind or another. Photographs. These things make sense. But an empty deodorant bottle? Come on, now.
Then, four years ago, my boyfriend died quite unexpectedly. Since we weren’t legally married, I was left with very little of his to cling to. Once again, I had a bottle of deodorant. This wasn’t a gift to me. But it had belonged to him. It smelled like him. Again, I held onto it for years.
Finally, several weeks ago, almost without thinking about it, I reached into my medicine cabinet with my eyes closed and threw that sucker out. Just like that. Just like I had eventually done with my mother’s bottle. It was time. My life is moving on.
And guess what? The world kept right on spinning. The sky didn’t crack open. My connection is every bit as strong. My memories are intact. All continued to be right with the world. And now I have more room in my medicine cabinet.
It’s okay to let go of things. Things aren’t people. Things only have an emotional charge if you give one to them. Yes, hold onto those photos and heirlooms. They are part of a family legacy. But don’t cling to someone else’s clutter. Make room in your life for your life.
No pressure, though. You’ll know when and if it’s time to let go. Only you can decide that.
Since the deodorant disposal (not because of it), my life seems to be progressing at a rapid pace, and I love the direction in which it’s going. So just the other day I decided it was time to let more go. It was time to scatter the last of Chuck’s ashes.
The fact that I even have any in the first place is a pure miracle. Some of his relatives felt I didn’t deserve any after “living in sin” with him for four years. Others, though, who knew how much we loved each other, liberated some and slipped a tiny bottle of them into my purse. So I had this tiny bottle, and have cherished it ever since. But it was time to set Chuck, and myself, free.
Where would I do this, though? He’d never even been to Seattle. He’d have had a love/hate relationship with it. I think he’d have loved it this time of year, but not in the winter. I think he’d have loved the many things there are to do, but not the politics.
He’d have loved the water and mountain view at my work. So that’s where I decided to do it. When I got there, though, it occurred to me that the only window that actually opens out over the water is the one in the bathroom.
You had to know Chuck. But trust me, he’d have appreciated that irony. He’d have thought it was freakin’ hilarious. So, after depositing a tiny bit of him in a perfume locket that I have (where he’s encountering my mother for the first time), I held the bottle in my hands and opened the window.
“Chuck,” I said, “I love you. I think you know that my life has become magical and wonderful again, and it’s time to let you go. I truly believe you’re happy for me. I’ll miss you. I’ve still got pictures and memories, and you’ll always have a piece of my heart. But I’m still alive, and it’s time to live again. It’s time to embrace the joy of the here and the now and the future. I know you get that. You probably get it more than most people do. So here goes. Safe journey.”
And as I scattered the ashes, a sudden gust of wind blew some of them back into my face. The bathroom and I were now covered in Chuck. I laughed as I cried, because he’d have laughed. I could hear him in my mind, that wonderful, infectious, breathless, delighted chuckle of his.
And it was good.
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Once upon a time, I’d visit a different foreign country every two years. Those were the days. Now, 60 percent of my income goes toward mortgage and utilities, and I don’t see myself ever being able to leave the country again. That breaks my heart, because travel is my reason for being.
Because of this, I’ve become really adept at doing mental walkabouts. If I close my eyes, I can remember exactly what it was like to walk amongst the pigeons in St. Mark’s Square in Venice. I can also explore the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey. I remember the sights, the sounds, the smells of all the amazing places I’ve been. I can transport myself back to the Mercado Hidalgo in Guanajuato, Mexico, and sample, once again, the Hungarian Goulash in Budapest.
The one percent may make it financially impossible for me to explore the world anymore, but they can’t take away my memories. Only dementia or death can do that. I’m terrified of dementia. Death, from my perspective, is simply another way to travel. (Not that I’m in any hurry to hop on that plane.)
Until then, I’ll travel in my mind. I’ll ride bicycles along the canals in Utrecht, Holland, and swim in the crystal blue Adriatic Sea. I’ll snack on fresh bread and local cheese in the Swiss Alps. No matter how dire my financial straits become, as the saying goes, I’ll always have Paris.
About once a year, something will come over me and I’ll buy a can of sardines and eat them in one sitting. I don’t particularly like sardines. I don’t dislike them, either. It’s just that they remind me of my grandmother.
When I was little, not yet of school age, my mother would drop me off at my grandmother’s house before she went to work. She was in her 70’s. I wonder how she coped with caring for a small child day after day.
I do remember walking to the grocery store with her. I also remember being bored silly much of the time. And I remember her feeding me sardines, good Danish grandmother that she was.
It’s funny how food can transport you to another time and place. This is not the only nostalgia food that I eat. I’ve written before about my sister’s apple pie. And my recipe box is overflowing with recipes that my mother used to make. Mangoes transport me back to Mexico, and stroop wafels send me back to Holland.
When I was sick, my mother would give me ginger ale and ritz crackers. In the winter, since I was allergic to hot chocolate, she’d heat me up some apple cider and drop in a cinnamon stick. I’m old enough to remember a time when people still ate local foods only in season, so when the occasional orange would cross my path in Connecticut, it was an event. And as I’ve written before, I have a particular fondness for ice cream trucks.
Food does not just sustain us. It comforts us. It helps us maintain traditions. It defines families. It allows you to time travel. I’m adding sardines to my grocery list even as I write this.