Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Irreverent Memory

I remember the astonished look on the mortician's face.
"I am not used to people finding this sort of thing funny," he scolded.
Why not?
I believe it was the line, "Now for the merchandise," that set us off.
Whatever it was, the irreverent humor that overtook us was in fact entirely appropriate.
Had he been there, Bob would have led the way with his sardonic humor.
My two nephews and I, making decisions about urns and holy cards, guest books and obituaries.
For Bob.

We were exhausted. We'd been keeping vigil for nearly 48 hours.
And for the first time in months, we laughed.
Got the giggles.
And it felt good.
If you have ever been through it, you know just how absurdly tacky the "merchandise" can be.

Getting the giggles at such a seemingly inappropriate time is one of the great capacities we have as human beings to relieve tension.
We meant no disrespect. To Bob. To the mortician.
But it is true, that morticians do seem to look the part.
You know.
Long faced.
Milky white skin.
It didn't help.
It was, in truth, one of those purely human moments when the expectation of solemnity gave way to the honest release of emotion.
The three of us, like naughty children, found a way to get through the unthinkable. The unimaginable. The unbearable.
There was nothing funny about what we'd just come through.
But, I guess it's true what they say.
Laughter is the best medicine.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ghosts and Guardians

I drive down Laguna Canyon Road in my Mother's Buick to see Gershwinn Alone at the Laguna Playhouse.

Memories stir.
A familiar drive.

A drive that took me as a child in the early 70's with my parents in a Cadillac to Vacation Village for summer beach -front vacations, dinners with the Kavanaghs at Cordon Bleu with its aviary, and Easter brunches with Bob at the latest and greatest new find.

A drive that took me for company Christmas parties at Ben Browns on Aliso Creek and hangovers at breakfast at The Beach House.

A drive that took me in the late 70's in my Camero past the Greeter at The Pottery Shack to Bob and Lenny's leather shop,
Un Bel Di.

A drive that took me in the 80's as a young mother in my Ford Mini-Van to the Laguna Art Museum with Gillian, for walks with a stroller along Ciff Drive, lunches of "Havachips" and salsa at Laguna village, and the occassional margarita at Las Brisas with out of town guests.

A drive that took me with Steve in our Volvo to The Sorrento Grill for birthdays and The Surf and Sand for anniversaries.

A drive that took me to Bob and Lenny's condominium at Blue Lagoon for New Year's Eve parties.

A drive that took me in the early 90's to doctor appointments with Bob as we searched for answers to his weight loss and headaches.
A drive that took me to the Jolly Roger for lunch where Bob felt queasy
and afterward I watched him shuffle to the B of A Versateller machine where I made my own diagnosis.
A drive that took me to South County Medical Center with Bob for the HIV Test.
A drive that took mother and me to Bob's condo on the night of his diagnosis.
A drive that took me to his condo the morning he sounded so breathless and weak.
A drive that took us both back to Mom's the day we went to see the AIDS doctor.
A drive that would be Bob's last on the Canyon Road. April 1994.
A drive that took me back to Bob's condo to empty it out. June 1994.
A drive I stopped taking for a long time.

I drive down Laguna Canyon Road in my mother's Buick to see Gershwinn Alone at the Laguna Playhouse.
Ghosts and Guardians.
Laguna still haunts me.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hitting Bottom

Just when you think you are "over it" - meat loaf strikes. It wasn't really the meat loaf. It was weighing the ground turkey and ground beef. I'd never owned a kitchen scale in my life except once a very long, ill fated time ago when I was on weight watchers. It sat in my cupboard unused and eventually ended up on a table in a yard sale. Tonight, I weighed the meat on the scale that Gillian had bought and I might add, left behind. She probably doesn't realize it yet. (Honey, if you are reading this, it would cost me more to send it to New York than for you to go to Target to buy a new one.)

Tare. Never had heard of it. Had no idea what it meant. No clue. But tonight, I sat the plate on the scale, hit "tare" and watched as the weight of the plate turned to zero so that I could determine 12 ounces of ground meat. Just as I was taught by Gillian. Where she learned it, I don't know.

After assembling the meat loaf, I decided I'd better clean out the fridge to get ready for the week ahead. The cream line yogurt container sat waiting for me on the shelf. I had planned on finishing the yogurt off with Gillian's raspberry jam and granola after she'd left for New York, but I didn't.
So, I washed out the moldy container and decided to hold on to it. It could be a handy way for me to carry soup to school, I thought.

Then I remembered the night of the big pronouncement.

She had been digging in the lower corner cabinet with the built-in lazy susan, when she announced in utter frustration that we were "in a tupperware crisis."
Lids didn't match bottoms and vice-versa. I had taken to buying the zip-lock and glad style disposable containers. Some clever marketing executive had made sure that the lids were just slightly off in size so not to allow interchangeable brands.
On the night that the crisis hit, it seemed we had lots of glad lids and no matching bottoms.

I usually resorted to putting foil or plastic wrap over the top of the lidless containers. It never occurred to me to toss the useless, bottomless lids.

My mother never threw out any of the trays from her constant diet of frozen food. Stacks and stacks of little black, plastic trays sat in her lower cabinet.
I used to be frustrated with this idiosyncracy of my mother's.
Gillian was frustrated with mine.
I guess we really do become our mothers.

Gillian also preferred to put cheese into separate tupperware containers in the refrigerator. Bleu, camembert, brie, and goat cheese all got their very own little container. Drove me nuts. I, on the other hand, would scoop up the left over cheese wedges from our fattening appetizer habit and put them all together in a ziplock bag. Gillian found this to be unacceptable since the aroma from the different cheeses would then mix together.

I thought about all of this as I washed out the cream line yogurt tub and tucked it away on to the lazy susan in the lower corner cabinet.

There were all those bottomless lids laying there on the shelf. they still have such a thing as tupperware parties?

Praise Song for a Sweater

My newspaper reading habit now includes a new ritual. Checking the weather in New York City. I know there are easier, more efficient ways of doing this. I could, for instance, check my weather app on my iphone. But instead, I dig through the LA Times to the back of the California section and glance down the list of US cities past New Orleans, occasionally passing Oklahoma City until my finger finds New York City. I've become accustomed to the little abbreviated codes. Su, sunny. Pc, partly cloudy. R, rain. Sn, snow. This morning, as the bright sun poured into my bedroom, I remarked to Steve, "It's warm in New York. 47 degrees."
I mentally go through Gillian's wardrobe. I hope her coat will be warm enough.

I know she lived in Seattle for four years and is used to cold, wet weather. In fact, the year that Brendan spent away at college in Philly, the weather was colder in Seattle. All my worries about my California surfer boy adjusting to an east coast winter were for naught. It was Gillian who had to bail out of a stranded bus and walk across a bridge in a snow storm. It gets darned cold in Seattle.
So, New York should be a piece of cake for her.

My obsession with weather goes back to my mother, who insisted in the middle of August that I take a sweater because "it always cools down in California at night." Since I was born and raised in California, I never understood this comment until I took a trip back to Cincinnati in the summer. It doesn't cool down in Ohio at night in August.
To this day, I never leave the house without my "sweater" - be it a microfiber jacket, pashmina, or a cashmere coat. "It doesn't cost you anything to carry it," Mother would say.

Never was I so glad to have a cashmere coat than a year ago, on January 20th, 2009 in Washington, DC. It was 11 degrees with wind chill the morning I herded forty girls from California onto the mall in front of the US Captitol for Barack Obama's inauguration. I wished more than once that the mothers of those girls had taken weather as seriously as my mother always had. Bear midriffs, unlined rubber boots, and acrylic knit hats and gloves that might have been appropriate attire for the coldest California night failed to provide adequate warmth for the eight hour wait to hear that botched inaugural oath.

My cashmere coat had come from Bloomies in New York. Steve had tenaciously searched the outer-wear department for a coat that met my specifications. After hours of searching, he found one and toted it back to California for my trip to Washington, DC.

Little did we know that I would use that coat to wrap deliriously cold and miserable girls in, as I tried everything in my power to keep them warm - from having them dog pile - to jumping up and down - to begging a girl to share the foot and hand warmers her mother had wisely sent with her with girls who didn't have any ( equivalent to asking someone to give up their last sip of water on a desert island). Or that a girl would go into a full fledged asthma attack from the cold and would have to be sent to the Red Cross station with a friend because she had forgotten to bring her inhaler.

Looking back on my freezing odyssey that included being deserted by my fellow chaperone who panicked in the crowd after losing a few students en route to the porta-potties (the students found their way back to us but she did not), dazedly watching the jumbotron as Aretha sang in her now famous hat and holding on to a little freshman girl in a near state of collapse as I said, "Some day you will be glad you did this," I wondered. Would she? Would I?

The moment Obama's speech had finished, those girls were ready to go. As the only adult with a group of now utterly frozen and exhausted California teenagers, I had no choice but to begin the "pardon us, excuse us" through the throngs on the mall as I strove to listen to Elizabeth Alexander recite the inaugural poem, "Praise Song for the Day." Those kids could have cared less about listening to a poem.

Had I known, as we began our exit from the mall, that we would be another four hours attempting to make our way to the metro, first over a fence that had been pushed down and then an hour to get past a horse trailer against which we had been pressed to climb over the hitch, all while I held a red and gold pom pom over head, resulting in several trips to the chiropractor, I might have waited until the poem was finished to leave.

It never warmed up - in fact, it just got colder and grayer. As we abandoned our efforts to get to the metro because of the numerous road blocks and barriers, I led the group back to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to get warm. By that point, I was on the verge of desperation and a near emotional breakdown from the stress of the responsibility of getting those girls safely back to our hotel. I will never forget getting into an unimaginably long line in the Smithsonian for a Boston Market chicken meal, ordering two because I was starving, and numbly sitting next to some strangers who were also semi-comatose, asking them, "So - how was it for you?" It was like we were survivors in a refugee camp. I think I was actually in a mild state of shock.

When we headed back out, a barrier was being moved by a security guard, blocking once again our path to the metro, a primal- survival instinct came over me and I yelled "RUN!" and we all ran like mad to make it past the barrier before we were trapped again. As we finally reached the metro, our cell phones once again were operational. They had been scrambled for the hours up to and during the inauguration for security reasons. I had a text message. It was from Brendan who said, "So exciting. Can't wait to hear all about it." He told me later that my texted response was unintelligible.

By the time we exited the metro station back in Arlington, we had been gone for thirteen hours. The excitement of our departure at 4:00 a.m. that morning, seemed a lifetime ago. The victory of having made it through the metro to the Federal Station without getting separated, the strangely silent masses slowly inching their way along Independence Avenue to a small opening in the fence to get on to the mall, the feeling of having "made it" after having lost half the group for forty-five minutes as we turned the corner onto Independence Avenue and frantically waited to be reunited as we stood on a wall in the pitch dark yelling the names of the lost students - seemed like a surreal dream.

I remember I got back to my empty hotel room, closed the door and curled up in a fetal position on the bed and sobbed uncontrollably. Even as I write this account, my stomach churns with the memory. It had been an endurance test.
We all survived to tell the story.

And my guess is, those California girls, will never forget to "bring a sweater."

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In Defense of the Memoir

In the January 25th edition of the New Yorker Magazine, Daniel Mendelsohn tackles the subject of memoir and its rise in importance within the popular culture in his essay, entitled But Enough About Me. From the internet blogosphere, (of which I am guilty of partaking), to the public's fascination with reality t.v. (of which I am not), Mendelsohn examines the fine line between fiction and memoir and the power that the promise of a "true" story has on a reader. His deft criticism has caused me once again to examine my own fascination and attraction to the genre.

As a late baby boomer, I have had the privilege of being mid-wife to the birthing of memoirs, to witnessing the transformation that comes from the labor of facing the sometimes painful and often times revelatory stories of a generation who did not grow up with a constant diet of therapy and Oprah.
While my bias for self-expression through the personal narrative is obvious, just last week in my memoir workshop with participants between the ages of sixty- something and eighty- something, I was struck by how the need for the high touch experience of sitting in a literal circle reading to one another one's life stories is a phenomenon that will likely die out with that generation of story-tellers.

While I understand the criticism that is heaped upon the genre of personal memoir, I hold to my firm belief that the process of story-telling can be healing. I also understand that the "true" story lends an inherent drama that can be inspiring. Listening to how a family survived the Great Depression, sacrificed during World War II, carried on after the death of their child or built their lives and fortunes from scratch, not only provides perspective for future generations, but allows the story-teller to understand his or her own journey and to derive meaning from their experiences. Some call this self-reflection therapeutic. Some may call it narcissistic.

The fact that the public seems to have an insatiable curiosity and need for such stories I think says something about the post-baby boom culture. The generation of storytellers with whom I work experienced true hardship but they experienced it within the structure of family, church, community, and neighborhood. I realize that much has been written about shifting values, lack of community, and sense of entitlement that permeates the culture today. But, the more I work with "elders", the more I believe that the erosion of the community has contributed to a vast feeling of isolation in our society. This, coupled with the illusion of connectivity through technology, cable television, and reality shows, has distorted and confused the collective psyche. The cheap confessional is a way to make the reader, audience, viewer feel "not so alone." It is a distant replacement for the authentic connection experienced by the pre-boomer generation.

At the same time, the stories that emerge from my circle of writers are every bit as stunning as the stuff of cable television - heroic tales of heartache, intrigue, abuse, deceit, and romance. The fact that these stories are being shared for the first time is liberating and transforming for the writer. While today's generation reveals all - all the time - the writers in my workshop are experiencing the thrill of something fresh and new.

The last of a breed, the generation of storytellers in my workshops may be the last for whom the process of writing one's personal narrative is true "discovery."

I also believe their stories are a history and legacy of heartier souls.

I have born witness not only to a unique period in self-revelation resulting from the boom of autobiography, but because of it, I have also born witness to the stories and the collective wisdom that has shaped their generation.
Because of this, I do not despair for the future. I draw courage because I know through their stories, that even the hardest things are survivable. Especially if you stick together.

I don't need to get lost on some fictional t.v. island to discover that truth.

And I don't apologize for believing that memoir, as a genre, is important and valuable for both the reader and the writer.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Of Mice and Gillian

The squeal on the other end of the phone abruptly ended my long awaited update from Brooklyn.
"A mouse. A mouse. Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. It just ran into my closet. I've gotta go."

While I've been lamenting my empty nest, it would seem that Gillian's is not so empty.

While things around here can only be described as "quiet" - it most definitely has not been so for Gillian in NYC.
From learning the subway system, to apartment hunting, to wrestling with internet connectivity issues for her job, to adapting to the cold weather - it would seem that I've had the easier adjustment.
Heck, at least I have a bed to sleep in with Steve for a roommate.
Gillian is on a mattress with a mouse for hers.
I told her she should have taken our cat Lido with her.
I guess this gives new meaning to "creature comforts."

The next box I ship to New York will include a mousetrap.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

Philosophy, Film, and Fifty

It has taken nearly three years, but the movie My Dinner with Andre finally made its way to the top of our netflix cue. One time, about four years ago, Gillian and I tried to rent it from a video store in Seattle and were told we'd have to leave a $300 deposit so we left the DVD on the counter and I was left trying to explain to my then twenty -one year old daughter what the movie was "about." I gave up, simply saying, it's two theatre artists, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory talking about art and the meaning of life over dinner in a restaurant in New York with a craggy- faced French waiter occasionally ease dropping as he serves them.

Hmmm....a $300 deposit for that, huh?

This weekend, as Steve and I eased our way into our first full weekend on our own, we nestled down in our den with a fire burning in the fireplace and demitasse cups of espresso with a twist of lemon to watch the long sought film.

It did not disappoint.

I found myself grinning from ear to ear through most of it, listening to Gregory's self-absorbed account of his journey toward spiritual and artistic awakening as he explored avant garde theatrical exercises in Grotowski's Polish forest, revelations in Scotland's Findhorn Community and ate sand with a Buddhist monk in Antoine de Saint Exupery's Sahara. Wallace Shawn's flat, expressionless face and internal monologue bordering on vocal hysteria with his high pitched laugh and eventual confession to not knowing what Gregory was talking about had me laughing out loud.

Gregory's oh so serious search, his various epiphanies along the way and his artistic struggle as a director seemed to me, at fifty, to capture the earnest narcissum that consumes the theatre artist. The genius of My Dinner with Andre is how it weaves a monologue and conversational threads for nearly two hours eventually leading to a subtle collision of world views on the question of reality and meaning, coincidence and serendipity, privilege and survival. While the conversation does not lead to any great climactic turning point, the dynamic exchange leaves Wallace Shawn seeing and appreciating his life in his native New York through the window of a taxi cab and the viewer all the richer for having been a guest at the table.

Not to be outdone, the next night, we watched the When Nietsche Wept. It was an interesting juxtaposition to My Dinner with Andre. While this film derives its story from the relationship between the great philosopher and the father of the "talking cure", Freud's mentor Josef Breurer, the underlying theme was not so different from Andre Gregory's search for a meaningful life.
Two lines from the film struck me.

"Isolation lives only in isolation. Once shared, it disappears." I couldn't help but think how I have seen this very truth unfold as writers share the stories of their lives, unburdening themselves and bringing to light that which has been buried deep within their psyche. The unexpressed often holds us a prisoner in our own isolation.

The other line that hit me was, "If you don't take possession of your goals, you live your life as an accident." While there may be at the center of this belief the question of controlling one's destiny, the overriding truth in this statement is a strong argument for seizing one's life and setting a compass.

Finally this morning, I opened the LA Times to read that the venerable metaphysical bookstore, The Bodhi Tree, is up for sale. A sign that we have moved past the new-age hype of the 1980's into a different time. The bookstore's owners acknowledged that through the search they don't feel they have found the secret to anything other than the most important thing in life is family and relationships.

At fifty, I've had my share of spiritual epiphanies and have a bookcase full of self-help and metaphysical books, some of which came from The Bodhi Tree. I am grateful for having the perspective that whatever form the search takes - the journey often leads back to the simple truth that it's all about relationship. Andre Gregory realizes that his marriage to his wife is all that matters. Wallace Shawn goes home to his girlfriend, Debbie. Josef Breuer embraces his home and family after a hypnotic journey and confrontation with obsession. And Bodhi Tree owner, Phil Thompson says, "I have an ordinary life and feel good about it most of the time."

Me too. It was a good weekend at home. Just the two of us.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

The Coq au Vin was delicious. I served it for dinner after a kayak and trip to the grocery store, all of which I negotiated without incident - no exchanges with produce clerks. No uncontrolled bouts of emotion. Well, I'll admit to a pang at Trader Joe's when I picked out my pre-packaged lunch salads as I realized I would no longer have to jockey for shelf space in the refrigerator - but minor, really, by comparison to my earlier trips.


Now the dish towels are another story. We have difference of opinion. I tend toward the aesthetic. I like color coordinated, themed towels - you know, red and green for Christmas, hearts for Valentine's day, Shamrocks for St. Patrick's day. I have a penchant for buying t-towels when I travel. They fit easily into a suitcase and bring back happy memories when I pull them out of the drawer. On any given day, it is an artistic decision which will hang from my oven door.
GIllian on the other hand is all about function and absorption. I'm a dishwasher kind of gal. She, a hand -wash and stack on the sink on top of a white flour sack towel to air -dry type.

Many nights, she would shoo me out of the kitchen to prevent me from loading the knives and pans into the dish washer. This conflict has haunted me for years - going back to the days when my mother would take over my kitchen on Pine Street to whip it into shape. She didn't like how I loaded a dishwasher either. I'll admit to laziness when it comes to washing up the pots and pans. If you are going to hand wash everything, why have a dishwasher? The dullness of the blades is apparently the issue. I do, however, insist on hand washing my china and crystal, something my mother poo poo'd. Hence, the cloudy haze on her Murano Italian cut crystal. I do put the silver into the basket of the dishwasher and am careful not to place it near the stainless. We all have our priorities.

I thought about this as I pulled out my gold colored dish towel - a souvenir from Tuscany. I draped it over the handle of the oven. It looks pretty.

Dividing up the kitchen utensils was something like a friendly divorce. The dispute arose over the tongs. As she pulled them from the red pitcher that serves as a utensil holder on the counter, I gasped. "Wait a minute. What are you doing with those?" She reminded me that she had bought them at Prep with her own money and she just knew this was going to be an issue when the time came. She tossed them into her box as she packed up the Cuisinart. I didn't care about that. I frankly don't like food processors. Too hard to clean. I prefer my little hand held mixer.

Speaking of mixers, the one I got for our first Christmas twenty-seven years ago drove her nuts as she whipped up her berry cobbler batter.
I thought of this as I began to reclaim my kitchen - putting things back where I wanted them regardless of the logic or function. I moved the egg beater inserts from the drawer under the stove where they didn't fit to the lower drawer under the oven where I'd put them when we originally moved in.

She left the white rubber spatula with the wooden handle. I put it into the pitcher and moved the long handled zester from the pitcher into the drawer. I was sure I'd paid for that and she hadn't disputed it. The zester is a necessity these days. I use it surprisingly frequently. But I had never had one prior to GIllian moving back home.

How is it that my daughter taught me to cook? My mother didn't. And I didn't teach Gillian. I thought of the movies, Like Water for Chocolate and Babette's Feast and Chocolat and some of those other soulful stories of the passing on of the culinary traditions and family recipes from mother to daughter and thought how funny it was that our story was generationally backwards.

During my cooking apprenticeship at Chez Savona under the tutelage of my daughter, I'd learned to cook with kosher salt, sea salt, shallots, fennel, leeks, and ginger. My library now contains three of Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks and atop my butter dish rests only unsalted butter.

Tonight, I'll use my stock pot, another item I only acquired in the last two years.

I do miss those tongs, though.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Come Saturday Morning

This morning I awake around 8:00 a.m. Fix the coffee. Let the cat in. Pick up the three newspapers from our patio that we still have delivered to our house in a defiant and stubborn effort to keep print media alive. Take the papers out of their plastic bags. Gingerly toss the plastic bags into the trash. Wash my hands. Pour the coffee. Crawl back into my side of the bed. Sip my coffee. Begin reading the front page of the LA Times. I always read the papers in the same order. Front page of the LA Times. Local section of the OC Register. Personal Journal section of the Wall Street Journal. Then, depending on what USC is doing, I pick up the Sports section. I move to Business. I always save the Calendar section and Show for last. For inspiration.
Steve snores next to me as Hobie nuzzles into the side of my left leg. Steve will sleep at least an hour later than me and then awake to a pile of newsprint, now in some sort of hybrid order on my side of the bed.

Ah blissful routine.

There is a hint of Saturday in the air. The sound of a rake and blower down the street. The clock striking 10:00 . The house is still. The sky is clear.

I walk back downstairs to pour a second cup of coffee. I stand in the kitchen and survey our empty nest. I scan the den. I look at the shutters and notice the louvers are closed facing down. I adjust them. I consider the kitchen counter top and question the decision to rid it of the big sunflower cookie jar that used to sit in the center. Gillian's idea. It was chipped she said. And blocked the view of the TV from the kitchen. I think I will go retrieve it from the pile of rummage in the garage. This is, after all, my house. Besides, the cookie jar served as a good spot under which to tuck notes or the cash for my housekeeper. This week the bills sat loose and naked in the middle of the counter. Indiscrete without the cookie jar.

I think about the day ahead. I will tackle the grocery store again in the hope of slaying the dragon. There are two packages of chicken thighs and legs in the fridge that I bought to make Coq au Vin in the crock pot this past week. I didn't. Since it is Saturday, I will cook it on the top of the stove in my dutch oven.

Maybe we will kayak, I think. A walk for sure.

I hear the sound of footsteps on the stairs. "Where did everybody go?" Steve calls.

"Right here," I respond.

The loneliness is lifting.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wait of it All

Isn't it interesting how "waiting" for someone can bring meaning to life? I realized the other night how much the pre-dinner hour has always been about "waiting". When I was a kid it was "waiting" for Daddy to come home. When I grew up and got married, it was "waiting" for my husband to come home. Then, when I began teaching, my kids and my husband "waited" for me to come home. And when Gillian moved home after college, I was back to "waiting" for her to come home. Now I'm "waiting" for my husband to come home again.

I have been thinking a lot about my mother over this past week. For some reason that I've not quite figured out yet, she is all mixed up in my emotions over this transition I'm going through with Gillian. I'm sorting it out. But a few things have occurred to me.

After my father died and I got married, my mother no longer had anyone to "wait" for. That is, until my children were school age and she took up the task of "waiting" to drive them home after school. Her "waiting" gave her meaning for all of those years and I'm sure in some way really extended her life. I made it easy for my mother - and in truth, she made it easier for me. We never didn't have each other to wait for. Even when she grew old and frail. Even when her memory was fading. She waited for me to come visit her. And I knew she was waiting. So I came. We "waited" together that morning she took her last breath.

One thing my mother didn't have to do was go through a transition with me like I am going through right now with Gillian. Except for the nine months after we were first married when we lived in Los Angeles, I never left my mother. In fact, I moved back to Anaheim to be as close to her as I could be - two blocks away. I never left my mother. Maybe that's why this transition is so disorienting for me right now. I have never been without either my mother or my daughter in my entire life.

I wouldn't want Gillian to do what I did. I don't need her to do what I did. I did what I did for good reasons. It's just that I have to figure out what I'm supposed to do now that I don't have either of them to "wait" for anymore.

Maybe that means it's time to get on with my life. I know, I know. What am I waiting for?

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Grocery Store and Me

It hit at the grocery store. There I was, in the produce aisle, buying food for the week for the first time for just the two of us. I think it was the leeks that got me. And those damned green beans. Then it was thinking about making the lemon chicken. I don't pound it. She does. I don't. I remembered the scolding when I bought the wrong lemon pepper.

I walked along the aisle and the fennel almost undid me. The kind produce clerk asked how I was doing today. They are always so cheerful, aren't they? Have you ever noticed that? They seem to like their job stacking apples and potatoes. He was placing the lettuce in neat rows when he asked me this simple, casual, friendly question that begged a not so simple answer. I pretended my eyes were watering.
"Ooh," I faked a laugh. "Don't know why my eyes keep watering. I'm great, how are you?" I dabbed at my eyes. For God's sake, Amy, get a hold of yourself, I thought. Why is it that the "kindness of strangers" keeps stirring my emotions? First the magazine salesman and now the produce clerk?
It was then I spotted the garlic. It all flooded over me - trips to the open air market. Planning our menus. Post-it notes in the cookbooks. Lists of exotic spices and special flour for baking.

I then remembered I had asparagus in the fridge. She had grown tired of the roasted asparagus recipe with tarragon and lemon sprinkled over it. I thought, oh good. I'll fix that.

A walk down the meat aisle took me to the pork. We rarely ate pork the entire time she lived at home. She had a thing about it. I put a center cut loin roast in my basket. Cook stuff she didn't like, I thought. That will help.

I walked along the dairy case. Her yogurt is still in the fridge, I remembered. I ate some this morning with her raspberry jam mixed in. I scooped it into the little round tupper she took to work. I thought, well, I might as well finish it off. I threw a bag of granola into the basket to mix with the yogurt. Then that darned granola guy at the farmer's market came to mind and I saw her buying it and putting it into her reusable grocery bags. She'd converted me to using them long ago, although today, I'd forgotten them. I felt guilty.

I made it through the canned foods without incident and went to the check out.
Now I had to go home.

Steve had set the timers for the lights so the house was lit up, welcoming me. It helped.
There were Hobie and Lido. I think Lido is depressed.
Through the door I went. Tears just streaming down my face. It was 5:30 and she usually came home about then. And I would hear all about her day.
I emptied the car and a loneliness like I've rarely felt in my life consumed me.
No sound of the garage door opening.
No dirty tupper thrown into the sink.
No foul mood, exasperated sigh or stomping up the stairs in her clunky heels.
It was just quiet.
I put the groceries away.
I spotted that half a bagel still in the cuboard. I tossed it.
And the smooth peanut butter.
I washed the asparagus.
Marinated the two chicken breasts without pounding them.
Fixed the rice.
And set the table.
For two.

I will adjust. I know that.
But in a million years, I wouldn't have believed that I could miss her this much.
Dinner time is going to take some getting used to.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face

I emerge from the bathtub. Soaking in the lavender salts she gave me for Christmas.
"Quality over quantity," she said as she distributed customized stockings to each of us.
The lavender salts came from L'Occtaine.
From the essential oil aroma therapy, I know they are quality bath salts.

The phone rings. I answer it.
"Is Gillian in?"
"No," I say. "She is not."
"This is Cook's Illustrated calling."
The tears brim again as they have all day off and on.
"Oh," I say.
The sales pitch.
I interrupt. This poor magazine subscription renewal salesman
does not need to hear my sob story.
I simply say,
"Gillian doesn't live here any more. She is starting graduate school so
this is probably not the time for Cook's Illustrated in her life.
But thank you."

Cook's Illustrated? Is this some kind of cosmic joke?
Gillian and I spent more time together in our little kitchen
than anywhere else over these last two and a half years.
We learned more about each other in our little kitchen over these two and a half years
than in her entire life.
She loves to cook. She taught me to love to cook.
A "Foodie", she temped at Bon Appetite. She mourned Gourmet Magazine's demise.
The name of her blog while living at home was Dine and Travel.
And now, she's off to New York for a graduate program in publishing at NYU...
and on my first night without her in the kitchen,
Cook's Illustrated calls?

I've grown accustomed to her face. She almost makes the day begin.

Maybe it's that the adrenaline has gone out of me.
There has, after all, been a long emotional build to this day.
It began when she moved home.
New York has always been the goal.

There was the GRE class.
The test.
The test again.
The essay (when, after I read it, knew without a doubt that she had publishing in her DNA)
The letters.
The application.
The acceptance in five days.

Along the way there was horseback riding on
Yen Sushi.
Blue Windows - her favorite shop on 2nd Street.
Trader Joe's.
Getting our toes done.
There was Hobie.
And Lido.
Cooking classes at Prep.
The writing workshop at Stanford.
Apple computers.
Mary Hunt
Every Day Cheapskate
And Katy.

There was Obama.
The debates.
The election.
The inauguration.

Dinner together nearly every night.
Heated conversations.
Berry Cobbler.
Pumpkin Muffins.
Lemon Chicken.
Green beans.
And tea.

And over those two and a half years...
something was happening.

My daughter and I
were becoming friends.

Her joys her woes
Her highs her lows
are second nature to me now.
Like breathing out and breathing in.

Maybe it's that my hormones are out of whack.
Crying when there is nothing logical to cry about.
Her every dream has come true. Our every dream has come true.
It's what she has worked for. It's what we have worked for.
It's why she came back to live with us after graduating from college.
Maybe it's because between Mother's passing and Gillian's return home
my life has been bookended by my mother and daughter.
Both Virgo's.
Maybe it's because I'm an Aquarian.

"We've launched her," Steve said.
Yes. We've launched her.
It was time.
She is not a child.
She is the age I was when she was born.
She is assured.
Ripe and Ready for the Big Apple.

And yet, I've grown accustomed to her voice
to something in the air.
Accustomed to her face

The phone rings.
It's Gillian.