Saturday, February 26, 2005


In 1993, while in San Francisco and watching my friend and her mother in a fierce argument, not knowing what to do, I picked up a book from the bookshelf, flipped it open and focused my eyes on a single sentence. Friends are God’s apology for relations. I’ve always thought that particularly funny, in that sort of way that real humor is funny because it’s true and your laughter is due to the recognition and relief that you are not alone. Simple enough. I have one relative, one in particular, who is not related to me in any way beyond the fact that my brother married her. And when he did, I must say, so did I. I don’t know if she’s an apology from God for this messed up family I’m part of, but I do know she’s a real gift. Besides my brother, two other people in the family fell head over heels for her: My father and I.

When my brother first began dating Kathy, he described her to me along the lines of how I was going to love her because she was blond, a Leo, she smoked, and she drank champagne. With that resume, I couldn’t wait to meet her! That was some years ago. She became in a very short time, someone I knew I could trust, someone I opened up to and didn’t worry at all about what I was placing before her because hers was an open mind and she genuinely wanted to get to know me and I wanted to know her. So, over time, we went there. We got to know each other. We took time on our own and we discovered each other. And what a discovery it was. She became the big sister that I never really had. She became my mentor. She became a person I thanked God for every night, not only because my brother had found her and married her and I was so happy for him, but because by doing so he gave her to the family, and by that, I quite selfishly mean me.

There are certain things that are seared onto your heart, things you know you’ll never forget, and I don’t mean the things you hope to never forget, I mean the things you know you never will. When it was confirmed to me by the now nameless and faceless policeman that my father had died, I walked into the livingroom and Kathy was the first person I turned to and said, he is gone. And it’s unclear who collapsed first but I do know that our arms held each other up. You see, Dad loved Kathy so much that when she lost her own father, Dad came to me and asked me if I would mind if he referred to Kathy as his daughter. My words now, but what he meant was would I mind if he brought her in and made her his. To his heart, to his life, to his stewardship. And he didn't want to be restricted by the "in-law" languange. Dad knew that while he could never fill her father’s shoes, he could take over the job of guiding her and loving her. Did I mind? Not for a second. Did I love my father all the more for it? Absolutely. Did it kill me to tell her that we had lost him? Yes, because I knew it was going to cripple her.

It’s not easy being part of this family. But she’s made it easier. She brought us a field of green. She brought us laughter and love and effort and compassion. She brought us calm seas. She tickles the clouds and makes them move on to brighter days. That’s who she is. She brought a sparkle to my father’s eyes in the glistening sort of father and daughter way that I’ve only otherwise seen my niece and I produce. He was so proud of her, of her character and morals, of what she brought my brother, my family, of what she accomplishes every day in her profession. And though I could have been jealous when he would wave her accomplishments around the dinner table, in actuality, I was right there, hanging on every word, loving his pride and feeling it right beside him. Oh yeah, I was right there, bragging along with him, my eyes just as swelled with pride. In my life, she has brought, and I do hate to use this cliché but it fits here so I will say it, she has brought unconditional love. I trust her. Really trust her. There have been some heated times when our opinions were north to south but never once endangering the love, respect or affection. And never once stepping on the other’s absolute right to her own opinion. Not a single time have we argued and I felt the dread of wonder if we’d still be talking the next day. That’s not what she and I are about together. She is my friend, and what a friend she is. Just this morning, we spent over an hour on the phone, missing Dad and worrying about my brother, my mother, my nephew, my niece, each other, and working it all in every direction because we have some very real problems right now, on top of the loss, and it matters and we want to figure out where the answers are. She does that with me, just works every angle with me. And even when we cannot find a solution, what I do find is that there is a person out there who is so on my side that the lines are blurred and I feel that she is as much a part of me as my own heart. I do not say that lightly.

Kathy is my miracle, my grace, my gift, my friend. She is my brother’s partner and his best friend, and she has encouraged to surface so many wonderful things in him, and helped him to be the wise, wonderful, gentle and also strong man that he is, but that’s not what this particular post is about. Kathy has become my friend. Although I should be too mature to use the term, truth be told, she’s my best friend. I cherish her. And though it’s what made me want to meet her, let me tell you that hair color, Sun signs, cigarettes and champagne have nothing at all to do with who we are together today. Okay, well, maybe champagne, but if I can make or hear a toast and clink my glass of champagne with anyone in the world, and look them in the eye and KNOW THAT SHE GETS IT AND IS RIGHT THERE WITH ME, let me tell you, I always want it to be her. Always. Because it cannot and could not be anyone else. So Kathy, if you’re reading this, and I know that you are, know this: I love you. I.Love.You. So very much.

A few things I’ve learned in this, the second month of 2005

  • Do not shave your legs on the morning of your father's funeral. Unnecessary injuries.
  • It might be best to avoid morning drive time radio - their happy and/or ignorant chatter is an affront.
  • Do not cry when you lose your bid on eBay for what you have decided is the only silver locket in the world worthy of carrying a photo of you and your father. Contact the seller direct and ask if there's another. There is. It's an easy transaction and it'll be on the way to you that day and, in fact, arrive in your mailbox the very next. A real surprise, that.
  • One foot stands before the crib, the other by the casket. Time is the only thing that separates.
  • You can drink all you want; he still won't be here when you wake up in the morning.
  • Two families -- and this will mean nothing to anyone reading this beyond those who know -- but let me tell you this. Gaylord. Oxley. Different history, different relations, but my oh my how blessed you are to be braided together with these families. As life moves on, this is sadly familiar, but how good we are to each other, and how long we've known each other. When a Gaylord pulls you into his or her arms and you feel a tear drop on your shoulder, you know that your loss is not your own, and you pull in tighter because you realize that you are not only being consoled, you too are consoling. When an Oxley takes every single thing your sister is capable of and maneuvers her in a different direction even though her husband is an obstacle, you close your eyes and take a deep breath that's all about praise and gratitude. And that's just one Oxley. Like the Gaylords, there are many. And in both families, each member has a story about your father and each one grieves, and by that I mean that they cry. With you, for you, and also for their own loss. And while it rips your heart out of your chest, it also feels good because they remember when. And by when, I mean when life was perfect and forever, long before you knew any different. They were there.
  • People who cut you off in traffic do not do so to hurt your feelings, so don't attach your emotions to it (meaning, for heaven's sake, don't cry over it.)
  • People who honk their horns in traffic because they are somehow more important than anyone else on the road, those people piss you off more than usual during a time like this.
  • Some friends, even very good friends you've known a long time, will not be there for you. Their absence is an odd thing to realize and initially sad, but your thoughts lead you to the truth. And the truth is that it's not unfeeling or anything at all really except beyond their ability. For whatever reason, they don't show up. I believe it's not that they can't, they just don't know how. Best to accept it.
  • You also realize that some people who you are not close to, care about you. You learn that a lot more people care about you than you ever thought. They send you cards with beautiful notes in them, and you feel their care and yes, love, in every handwritten word, and you are consoled by their gestures.
  • Even though you've never had a problem with it before, sleep can be elusive, at best.
  • When you realize that you cannot see much of anything out there in the distance and you go to the eye doctor, don't be surprised to hear that you need glasses. Because when you finally pick up your new glasses two days later, the world is immediately in focus again and you realize, whoa did you ever need them. And friends will be great and say they like your new glasses and now they want glasses too. To which you knowingly reply, wait your turn; it will come.
  • Don't fight it or get your feelings hurt when the phone doesn't ring. Take advantage of the quiet. Wade through it and realize that it's good for you. It allows time to reflect, to remember, to let your feelings bubble to the surface and settle down again. It allows time to heal. Distraction has its time and place, definitely, but so too does solitude.
  • Having a goofy, loving, chocolate Labrador as a companion is just about the best medicine a girl can have when she's grieving. Animals know. They do know.
  • Time moves forward, whether you willingly move with it or are dragged with it kicking and crying. That's the way life is. And that's the way it should be. You'll find that you have some amazing friends who make sure that their steps are with yours because they have an innate awareness that everyday will be a challenge in some way for you. They know this, and they don't forget you.
  • Oh, and the most recent thing I've learned, in fact as recent as this morning: Mutli-tasking might not be the best idea when it involves a park, a rainy morning, two Labradors, an umbrella, a cup of coffee, a tennis ball, a cell phone, and trying to get the piece of paper from your back pocket that has written on it a phone number your brother needs right then because he is stuck somewhere and the number is his only way out. The ball gets dropped and the dogs are upset that it was not thrown, the coffee gets dropped and you are upset because you want the caffeine that was in that cup, the umbrella doesn't stay above you but more at an angle beside you, so you get wet anyway. But your brother gets the number and he gets to where you and he both know he needs to be right now. So, as my niece would say, it's all good.
  • I guess the really important lesson I've learned this month is not to sweat the small stuff. Really, there's so much more out there waiting for you. Best to pick your battles, even the emotional ones. Put yourself where you need to be and let the rest roll off you, sort of like the rain rolling off my wet head this morning at the park. It's only rain. Some things are worth crying over, and some things just aren't. In fact, if you can remember to step back, you'll see that some of the things you face are actually disguised opportunities for growth. And humor.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The unlikely education one finds when stumbling upon quotes

Was reading last night and stumbled upon this quote by Horace Mann, “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” The sentence led to pleasant thoughts of my father and all the many victories he had won for humanity – considering the belief that we are put on this earth to help others. I was enjoying the different memories of gestures I’ve witnessed from my father, feeling somewhat content by the thoughts and very much proud of him. But then I got to wondering who the heck Horace Mann was, which might seem ignorant of me if you know, but I did not. So be it. Turns out Mr. Mann was a pretty generous guy with his victories for humanity. He’s the literal father of the public education system, and successfully advocated that libraries be free to the public. In short, Mann believed that we can improve ourselves, and he dedicated his life to establishing free, public, non-sectarian education for every man and woman. He successfully argued that a country’s economic wealth would increase through an educated public. Quite the visionary - this was the early-1800s. Knowing how very important education and learning were to my father, I feel a certain swelled satisfaction and pride that a quote from Horace Mann would remind me of my own Dad. And let me tell you, whether I knew who he was or not, I am certain that my father knew exactly who Horace Mann was.

Beefeaters vs. the camera

In order for me to post photos on this site, I have to go through a bit more of a process than, say, copying or simply uploading them. Instead, I’ve joined a photo site, Flickr, and I upload the photos there, configure them as I want, get html code created and then I copy the code and enter it onto my site so that you have something beyond words to view on occasion. The Flickr site is a neat little place but I use it only as a tool to get my shots configured while others use the full suite of services it offers, photo albums, photo organization, sharing and whatnot. Anyway, on the Flickr site, unless you’ve marked your images as private, anyone can peruse them and, as I have just learned, comment on them. I was just there to take down some images I've opted not to post here, and waiting for me beneath the image of my brother’s arms pouring Dad’s martini at Sea was the following comment: Waste of good Beefeaters; good use of the camera. And I laughed when I read it. Out loud. And that felt good. So, thank you, mystery person, because I mean to tell you, your comment tickled me, and it really did feel good to have an unexpected laugh literally erupt from me. It's the absolute absurdity of it. I have a hunch that if you knew the full story, you’d change your mind about the first part of your comment, but how could you know? Still though, thanks for the compliment regarding use of the camera.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I am of the opinion that one does not necessarily scatter ashes at Sea, but releases them. I like the idea better, that we have released my father to the Sea, his companion, his friend. Scatter conjures up images of being lost; release makes me think of freedom. He has been released and he is free now.

The secret language of photographs and boats

boats anchor chain
These are two shots from last Saturday. When I look at the photos of that day, I look at the one on the left of all the boats in a row and recall the many times I've viewed this scene leaving or returning to the slip with my father. I think about the many hours I've spent with him at one marina or another, on one of his boats or another, him tinkering around, me finding something to occupy myself with, trying to catch crabs on a string with bacon, running up and down the docks, sitting on the bow and watching the seagulls. Though we did fish together, much of our shared time on boats was not spent fishing because I tend to, um, how to say this politely... suffer the water's movement (something he of course thought was all in my head). I did spend quite a bit of time with him on his boats though and I'm happy for that, happy for the secret language he taught me: bow, stern, aft, starboard, port, galley, flying bridge, spring line, etc. Those words are in my vocabulary because his voice was in my ear. As to the photo of the anchor chain, it's highly symbolic of my feelings towards my father and no surprise really that this shot was the last shot I took that day.

Little angels everywhere

Some of life’s more minor irritations I feel that I should be excused from at present, but that’s not exactly how life works, is it? So when I left my office at 5:30 last night to find that my car had a flat tire, it was just too much for me, and I very maturely had a small but definite tantrum right there in the parking lot, stomping and kicking the concrete. And then I more or less gathered my composure and tried to deal with it.

Luckily, there was enough air in the tire to safely drive to the Auto Check around the corner from my office. This is the same Auto Check that I always avoid because not only do the mechanics there reek of sleaziness, but it’s also ridiculously expensive and I don’t care about the convenience of leaving your car there all day while they take you to work and pick you up. The ride is still in a mechanic’s van with ripped vinyl seats, empty packs of Marlboro Reds on the dashboard and bits of gum wrappers and scraps of paper scattered about – in my mind, aka Kidnapper’s Van. Two years ago, I swore I’d never go there again. But last night, I had no choice; Auto Check it was.

I walked inside, looked at the man behind the desk, raised my defeated hands in the air and before I could even think about stopping myself, desperately blurted out, “I have a flat tire and I have no idea what to do.” Yes, it was a whine, and I think it included a pout as well. Yes, I do know better. As my car was taken from my view, I phoned my brother and told him how I felt that Dad would be so disappointed in me for how I just handled myself, and he agreed with me, and also agreed that I was likely going to be hit with a heavy but well-deserved invoice (after that display).

After waiting 30 minutes in a nice wingback leather chair that I figured I’d soon be paying for, the mechanic came into the shop and said my car was ready. We walked outside together and he showed me the screw that was the culprit, said he’d patched it up, and it was in good shape. Nervously, I asked, “How much do I owe you?” Generously, he responded, “I wouldn’t feel right charging you for that, it was really nothing.” I know I could have called AAA and it would have cost nothing, and I know that fixing a flat is not a high dollar thing, but I also know that he could have charged me pretty much anything and I naively would have paid it, and many other places would not have batted an eye at doing so. I thanked him, with a gushing sincerity that I’m sure he’s unaccustomed to, shook his greasy hand, and went about my way, thinking that Dad would raise an eyebrow at the idea of damsel in distress sometimes actually working. And I safely drove home on four fully inflated tires, all my money still in my wallet.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A drink with something in it

Beefeaters, with an olive

This is a photo of my father's final martini, being poured for him at Sea by his son. I was going to just post the picture and leave it at that, but then I came across this little ditty and it made me smile. It's a clever bundle of words that I think would give Dad a smile as well.

There is something about a martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth -
I think that perhaps it's the gin.

- Ogden Nash

Wild geese

There seems to be an invisible blanket between the world and me. This blanket, I believe, is named Grief. Grief is an odd dance partner. It changes its shape, and therefore you, every day. Today, lyrics and poetry are soothing to this maudlin person I've become. The particular poem below is one I've had tacked on the bulletin board in my office for years. Since first reading, I've been deeply fond of it, affected by it, if you will, and I've even shared it with special people in my life when they were in pain, hoping that it might soothe them. After reading it again, I'm sure it must have, because it helps me now.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver

A good list

I'm thinking of things that give me happiness: The funny way my dog wiggles when she walks, good cheese, champagne, cotton fields, morning skies, Fleetwood Mac, Vermont, Mexico, New Mexico, the months of April and October, a good deal, work well done, hope, doodle bugs, the occasional shock and resulting curiosity when there's no traffic at a time when there normally is, when friends are clumsy, blue jeans, red barns, the smell of rain, an occasional John Denver song, getting dealt Blackjack, a smooth flight, boats painted crisp navy blue and white, driving country roads, handwritten notes, a well-groomed lawn, the look of rain on the river water’s surface, my morning coffee with just the right combination of cream and sugar, the odd green in the air before a summer rain, blue Christmas lights on a lone house in the country, bare feet, smooth stones, a freshly made bed, Confederate Jasmine in bloom, warm clothes from the dryer, white cotton tee-shirts, cowboy boots, finishing the crossword puzzle on a Friday, fly fishing, Fall leaves, cameras, my niece’s smile, my nephew’s smile, a well-written sentence, Winnie the Pooh books, clear streams, Sycamore trees, great laughs, church bells, and small gestures that give big smiles.

It's only a small slice but what I can conjure up at the moment. And it feels good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Strange days indeed

I'm at work, working, and I'm thinking that my mind is actually doing okay today. There have been times in the past two weeks where it hasn't been okay - just forgetful and, well, slow. Anyway, so I'm getting my work done and need to get in contact with an out-of-state colleague named Hillary (actual first name, but last name omitted for privacy). So I send her a quick email to check her availability. And the email gets kicked back. I resend. It gets kicked back. I resend. You get the pattern. I get angry. Oh, wait, I see the problem. I am not sending the email to Hillary of the last name I can't mention, but instead sending the email to Hillary Swank. And how rude, I didn't even wish her luck at the Oscars. My mind = not quite back to proper working order.

Monday, February 21, 2005

A few things on my mind

  1. If one more person utters or refers to me having closure now that we have scattered my father's ashes at sea, I think I'll just have to ask them if they are f---ing kidding me. I know they mean well, but it's only been two weeks. Life is moving forward and dragging me along with it, but closure? I think not.
  2. I have a senior colleague in this office, about 20 years older than me, who has lost his own father so has been down this path before, but he refuses to not only walk lightly around me but to be gentle at all. So, he of course did not hesitate to ask me first thing this morning to go on a completely unnecessary trip to South Carolina at the end of the week for a few days. Um, no?
  3. So Paris Hilton's address book has been pilfered and posted on the internet. This made the CNN/Money headline news in my News Alert e-mail this afternoon. Maybe I'm missing somthing but I fail to see the news worthiness.
  4. I cannot see. Seriously, something is up with my vision. My brother once told me that when it goes, it goes like that. He wasn't kidding. This one I can control, so eye doctor appointment is at 4:30 this afternoon. I'd really like to have focus again. In more ways than one.

No words

There is a man who I work with who lost his father a week before I lost mine. He was at my father's service but I haven't seen him since. We've worked together for years and our offices are two doors apart. Just now we passed in the main hall and said nothing. He gave me a slight nod and a wink, I gave him a half smile. We both kept walking. Nothing else was needed.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Captain, my captain

Putting your father’s ashes in the Sea rips your heart out. It was good to be on a big boat again, good to be with a Captain that he fished with and respected. Good to be with my brother and family but every breath was hard. We were blessed with a bit of sun that my brother figures Dad's big hands separated some clouds to provide us with. It's a precious thought. While I returned with a certain contentment to have fulfilled my father's wishes, I did not do so without also leaving a piece of myself out there in the water as well. I cannot take my rings off because my father’s ashes touched them. I could not wash my hands at all yesterday. I just couldn’t. But what really blew me away about yesterday was returning to Houston and realizing that this is not over. Ceremonies are formalities that bring people together for a commonly shared event, cause or person. The funeral is over, the ashes are scattered at sea. Tomorrow there is nothing to plan. I return to work, after taking most of last week off and all the week before. Tomorrow life goes on but I will be forever different. It’s an absurdly foreign feeling.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Whatever gets you through the night

If you're lucky, then you find that have a brother who allows you on the eve of the day you are to scatter your father's ashes at sea, well, he'll allow you into his home even though you have not behaved quite right that night. And by that I mean even though you spilled your entire vocabulary that's relative to anger, grief, pain and resentment onto your mother at a time when it's debatable as to whether or not she deserved it, and he lets it go. Even though you understand the serentity prayer about wisdom to know the difference, and you know and he knows that you did NOT take the high road... he releases you anyway. No question, just support. Well, that's luck. So all this is to say that if you're really lucky, you find that even though you fell into the game of comparative pain with your mother, your brother and his wonderful wife allow you into their home - in fact, invite you - and let you drink Champagne with his wife to the point that, well, you and she become flat out drunk, and even though he doesn't smoke, he places an ashtray before you so that you find yourself drinking and smoking in your non-drinking, non-smoking brother's kitchen, because he said it was okay and he knows that right now, that's what you need to do. Well, if you have that, no matter what you've lost, you still have something good. And by good, I mean to say that you are blessed because, seriously, if you are a daughter and you lose your father, where do you turn? He's the son. And rather than push that on me, what he chose to do was to simply be my big brother. Not easy. He made me realize that I'm one lucky sister. Go figure. I never, no I never ever realized. At the time of my deepest grief, such a realization would appear.

Friday, February 18, 2005

There is weeping and there is grief

I have a booklet sent to me from my church. It's regarding stages of bereavement. Formal word, that. The first bit is about weeping, how death produces shock waves. (And how!) What I have learned is that weeping - and, okay, let's use my own language here - crying - is healthy and while it does not in any way remove the pain, it does release us from the pressure of pain. Because pain does build and there is a definite pressure and it must be released because it's the pressure, not the pain, that is unbearable. What's surprising to me though is when I cry. This morning, for instance, while trimming the brown Ginger leaves back since I'd forgotten to cover the plant in December's freeze, it hit me. And it was all I could do to even make it upstairs. What triggered that? My father's love of the land? My failure to follow-through on his lessons of taking care of the plants? Or was it just the exact moment when the pressure had to be relieved and no matter what I was doing, it was going to happen? I don't know. But I do know it felt good, good to release the pressure of the pain. And good to be able to fall asleep afterwards.

Also in the booklet are some words on grief. Although I find these comforting, I've developed my own ideas about grief. I read somewhere a long time ago that grief is a word to describe the absence of feeling. It didn't make sense to me then and it doesn't make sense to me now. But I keep thinking about it and would like to make one change. Grief is a word to describe the absence of color. It's dark and it is a feeling that comes forward when you have been severed from hope, from continuance, from your father. Grief steps up when you realize that there is no turning back, it really happened, he really is gone. And while you know he is not gone because your heart loves him, you also know that there are no more hugs from him, no more silly faces, no sage advice, no one else who will brag to his dermatologist about you (of all people) and then call you and tell you about it, and no one else in the world who will call you Funny, not as an adjective but as a name, as in when I walk in the room, "Hi, Funny." When you know these things are now only in the great beyond of your past, the lights dim. And hold on tight, because grief steps in.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

To everything there is a season

Trust me, you do not understand Ecclesiastes 3 until you lose someone of this magnitude in your life. You might think you do. You might even think it the Pete Seeger song, Turn, Turn, Turn, and you might sing along with the tune and you might understand the words but you cannot comprehend the meaning. And when you do understand it, at least your initial steps of comprehension, you don't find the comfort that is right there for you. You turn your back on it. But it waits for you, patiently. It does not knock or say, ahem, it does not reach out for you. It waits for you to reach out for it. And when you do face it, you pick up the words born, die, weep and mourn. You turn your eye and heart from laugh and plant and dance. You fall to the ground when you read keep, because you want to keep and you'd do anything to have him back. And you realize that understanding this is a process not unlike learning to read. You will be able to understand the whole but right now, for now, what you must focus on is the building blocks. Someday, someday I will understand the whole. For now though, I do trust it's there.

Too everything there is a season,
a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up
what is planted;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

A memory

We’re at the family cabin in the Texas Hill Country. I’m seven, my sister is twelve and we're unearthing the yard in search of worms for fishing. Beside her my hands are in the dark dirt and it smells moist and fresh and I delight when I move a handful to find a fat and squirming worm. I hold out my prize to her and she smiles at me as if I’d found a diamond there, and takes the worm from my open hand and puts it in the cardboard bucket from the fried chicken we ate for lunch earlier in the day. She’s tells me, “The active ones are the best because when you put them on the hook they wiggle and that’s what the fish notice.” She knows this. She's older than me and she simply knows. This and everything. I worshipped her for it and she knew that I was always a blank slate for her to impart her knowledge upon.

When the idea hatched itself inside her head one summer evening at the cabin that she wanted a lamb, she lit it like a fire to light up all the darkness in the hill country night. She had a plan and she wanted me to help her. I was thrilled to be asked. Before the sun came up in the morning, we were going to go down the hill of our backyard, get the canoe and row across the lake. From the other side we would climb what was then a mountain to me but in reality is a rocky but steep hill. On the other side of that hill was a farm with sheep and goats, and most importantly to my sister, baby sheep and goats. To this day I do not know how she got that piece of information. And I also don’t know how she woke up on her own before the sun but she did that also and she jiggled me awake with much effort as I had lost a huge portion of interest when weighed against my desire to sleep. “That’s okay, I’ll go without you,” she said in a cool and dismissive whisper. Desperately not wanting to be left behind, I threw back the covers and wiggled out of my pajamas and into the first thing I saw, a still damp bathing suit on the floor. This naturally put me in whining mode of discomfort as we snuck down the hill in the darkness spread out like forever before us and forever behind. Marianne had a certain way of cutting me off mid-whine, which was to take my chin in her thumb and forefinger and turn my head however far it needed to be turned until my eyes were locked solid with hers and she’d hold us there for a minute and it would get me quiet as suddenly as the new sound of silence following the blast of a firecracker.

Down the path we walked and her steps were as silent as a shadow while mine were surely disturbing all the wildlife. Being quiet was second nature to Marianne, she moved as quiet as a snake on the water and only spoke when she needed to, when some need or instruction was to be conveyed. She held the canoe steady while I stepped in, stepped in herself and untied the rope. Pushing us away from the dock, she sliced her paddle into the water. Sitting in front, I charged myself with looking for hazards, and I turned my head back to smile at her. I could make out her dark square shoulders and strong arms expertly handling the paddle, moving it back and forth, right side to left, in a gently rhythm. I could hear the oar moving in a slide through the water and then the ripple behind the boat followed by the drops of water flying from the oar as she shifted to the other side. And then again, the slide, ripple and drops of water.

The memory at this point turns a corner from my own to that of my father’s voice telling the story, something I’ve heard him do so many times that it has consumed my own recollection. For reasons unknown to me, I most clearly remember his telling the story at one of my parents’ many cocktail parties, as they called them, one evening at our house in Houston. Those early-evening cocktail parties were always wonderful for me. I could roam the house and see my parents’ friends dressed smart, smell the women’s grown-up perfume, and hear the wonderful and adult sound of the ice clinking in their drink glasses. That sound to me was the definitive sound of adults, the sound that announced the difference between them and children, and I relished in hearing it. Dad is sitting in “his” chair, the red leather wing back chair that in my memory has stretched its proportions to being that of a throne. I’m standing at his knee, leaning into the familiarity of him but facing the guest to watch their eyes on him. One of his enormous hands is on his drink and the other is in the air punctuating his story. “Well, I wake up and I don’t see the girls. Betty is still asleep and so is Carl so I walk outside the back and there they are. I see them in the lake, canoeing towards the house. There is something else with them in the boat and I have to go back for my binoculars to see.” At this point, he puts his drink down and fills his hand instead with my shoulder. “Alison is just a tiny thing and she’s sitting in the front of the canoe holding onto a baby goat, of all things. Marianne is paddling like a pro and she has hold of a young lamb with her legs. If it wasn’t for Alison’s white hair, they’d look like two little brown Indians crossing that lake!” I look up at him and smile and then turn to smile at their friends, all giving him their full attention.

Dad continues the story, “When the girls get to the dock, I’m standing there and I tell them ‘Girls, the sheriff is here.’ ” At his knee, I nod my head up and down to the guests to confirm his words and I squirm with excitement because I know what’s coming next when he says, “He’s looking for some goat thieves!” At this, the friends break their silence into a shelf of laughter rising over my head and Dad pulls me onto his lap, his massive shoulders moving up and down with his own laughter. He says, “And you should have seen them. Alison sitting there with her eyes as big and white as her hair and turning back and forth from me to Marianne saying, ‘It was her idea Dad, it was her idea.’ ” And I did do exactly that. When I heard “sheriff” I pictured jail and not having any idea what jail was beyond the image of striped clothes and bars in a window, I still knew it wasn’t a place I wanted to be and figured I would be somehow excused if I wasn’t the one who thought it all up. What we didn’t know at the time was that Dad had called the man we stole the animals from and arranged to buy them from him. I loved him for that but Mom wasn’t too pleased. The goat, which we named Billy, and the lamb, Ramsy, accompanied us all the way back to Houston several weeks later in the back of the station wagon which thrilled us to no end for the entire seven-hour drive, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing in the eight-track, at my insistence, for most of the journey home, “It’s fun to be in America…”

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Dear February,

Take yourself away. I have no use for you now. I used to have it for you, you know, I had it pretty bad for you. Your fickle charm, your warm / cold weather indecisiveness, your hint, promise and tease of Spring, your tickling and tempting, romancing the blooms to burst. You know I used to love the young greens you pushed through the waking trees. Your lavender and rose sunrises used to take my breath away. But you, you took something from me that was not yours. And I'm done with you now. Keep your calendar page, keep your Mardi Gras, your Valentine's day and your Superbowl Sunday. Keep your actual vs observed Presidential birthdays. Keep it all. The only thing I can say I like about you now is that you are now and always will be the shortest month. From the bottom of my broken heart, I thank you for that much.

Without affection,

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

There are songs

There are songs that I listen to and hear differently now. There are lyrics that vine their way through my heart. Some caress, some strangle. These words soothe me.

My father sang in perfect harmony
And though he never sang in a musical key
You could hear him when he'd enter the house
the kiss he'd give my Ma

My father sang in perfect harmony
My father's words were always sure and clear
and like his presence they would rid me of my fears
When I crawled up on his knees was safe as I could be

He'd hold me tight and whisper in my ear
He'd say, "girl you are a part of me
I have made you strong
when you grow up and are on your own
remember to win them with your song"

Musical Key, Cowboy Junkies

Monday, February 14, 2005

The goodness of people

It's the worst of nightmares, this is. I realize now that trying to heal friends through this in the past has been a complete waste. I thought I knew. I could not know. There is no release, no freedom, because there cannot be. But there is appreciation of those who reach out and say, "I'm here." This is a club I wish that I never joined. I know now things I never wanted to know: how sound and light have changed, how music can nauseate me, how food can be repulsive, and what it is like to be aware of every single breath. I can honestly and selfishly say that I want to shout out at the entire world: Be quiet, bow your heads because my father is gone. Because I truly am dumbfounded that the world is continuing to spin, and perplexed that it can do so without his presence. In my mind, and in my heart, he was that big.

And then, then there are the angels. The friend who has taken over and made decisions for me because I simply have been reduced to a substantially different skill set than what I previously possessed. This is the same friend who has not only taken care of me daily but also my mother. And she has done a real good job with Mom. The friend who flew to Houston in support of me and let me push him around and drink too much and who allowed all of it with the patience of a saint and who told me yesterday that it's excused because it's understandable and he knows me better otherwise. The good, the bad, the ugly, he got it all. And he released me from responsibility. Done, no apologies, no embarrassment, just understanding. The friend who immediately came to retrieve my dog and cried with me and held me with all the strength she has. This same friend who sent me home with the only food I could eat for two days, and who with her partner also my friend has taken care of my dog and allowed me to come visit her even when they know I am going to get her all stirred up. The friend who has known me so many years that she too loves my niece and nephew and even though she was exhausted and had much to do, did not hesitate to take my nephew anyway and help him with his homework and watch over him all day. The friend who got us a gigantic limosine extended thing because there were, afterall, ten of us, and I could not handle being separated when going to or from the church. The friends of my niece's who have taken care of her and spent time with her and loved her through this, with a skill beyond their age. The friend of my nephew's who in a beyond his 15-year old way still was able to find words to console me, and gave me comfort knowing that he was also helping my nephew. The friends who have stood every-ready with a drink, a cigarette, a shoulder, whatever I needed. And I have asked, and they were there. The family friends who have shared their stories and their tears. The lady at the make-up counter who walked me all over the store for appropriate cover-up and mascara and then unbeknownst to me, loaded my bag with additional items she did not charge me for but thought necessary, in particular, eye cream to reduce swelling. Lastly, on my chair in my office this morning was the signed and numbered Thomas Crowe print of the 1998 Texas Duck Stamp, the one of the Black Labrador in the water and pintails and pintail decoys, the very one that used to hang in one of the conference rooms, and for years the very one that I was referring too when I said out loud that one day I am going to buy from my company and give to my father for his birthday. While not just anyone I work with has the authority to remove the print from the conference room wall, there are a few who do. And no one is willing to step forward to accept the gratitude, so the mystery is mine. These things all bring comfort to me. And they do so because these are actions that remind me of my father.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

broken heart

broken heart
broken heart

Monday, February 07, 2005


When I was a little girl, Dad would take me on walks on Surfside beach. He'd wrap his gigantic hand around my little one and we'd sing this song together. I feel him doing the same right now, holding my hand. And though my heart is breaking, I know he'd say to me, be brave.

Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Little jackie paper loved that rascal puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

ohPuff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on puff’s gigantic tail,
Noble kings and princes would bow whene’er they came,
Pirate ships would lower their flag when puff roared out his name.

oh!Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, jackie paper came no more
And puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain,
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his life-long friend, puff could not be brave,
So puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

oh!Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee,
Puff, the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called honah lee.

Edward Groth, Jr. (May 10, 1924 - Feb. 6, 2005)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The hazards of being me

I am a mess. And I always have been. I’m clumsy and I don’t mean to be but it’s just a fact that I am. So with the tripping and stumbling and getting my purse strap caught on stairposts, or shutting my skirt in the car door, it’s inevitable that things that I’m carrying, say liquid things, spill on me. And people think I wear black because I think blondes look better in black. In fact, black hides the spilt coffee very, very well. If I’m wearing other colors, say khaki in the summer, or heaven forbid a white top, before getting to the office, I’m managed to spill something on them. My dry cleaning bill is exorbitant. So too is the amount of time that I spend painting over the spots and smudges on my interior walls. Painting over smudges and scrapes and all sorts of signs that something, I guess me, has rubbed against, discoloring the Summertime color of my walls. Summertime? Is new townhouse term for off-white or light beige, but not a color that has anything at all to do with summer colors. It’s a matt finish that shows absolutely every smudge as if illuminated by spotlights. And I realized this morning that the walls were again filthy with smudges. I do not understand how one individual can smudge the walls as much or as often as I do. One hour it took me to cover the spots. I was blessed with many skills, spot painting one of them. But I was reminded again today, not one iota of balance.

Friday, February 04, 2005

So far today

So far today, I have:

Walked the little brown dog two miles under what started out to be an eastward sky lighting up with a huge expanse of rose and pink that only lasted about 15 minutes before being consumed by clouds, but it was there above me and I got to see it

Had somewhat of a temper tantrum while reading the morning paper (refer to earlier post)

Dropped off my clothes at the dry cleaner, which is only important because it's so close to my house and yet I haven't gotten around to it. Today, however, it was necessary

Broken down and purchased a coffee rather than my usual which is to bring it to work from home - except that I've purchased coffee everyday this week since I keep forgetting my travel mugs at the office and I keep telling myself I won't do it the next day. And I forget and do it again

Had a very sticky work-related conversation that I had to handle in a smooth way and it not only gave me a headache, because I am not naturally smooth, but also put me in a very bad mood. Because maybe sometimes I'd like to be (smooth)

Rediscovered my liking for tomato juice

Made loads of appointments for next week - doctor, manicure, pedicure, eyebrow wax

Made flight reservations for next week

Put $10.00 on two squares in Super Bowl pool and received Eagles 6 to Patriots 1 and Eagles 1 to Patriots 4. If we can get the 1s to 21s, there's some hope. Some

Filed my taxes

Refrained from telling someone to sit on it (so to speak) when they said, It's coral, in response to my saying, I like your orange shirt. WTF? Because of that, I don't like it anymore. Burn it for all I care

Taken two Advil

Refused to add any end-of-sentence punctuation in this post - because I need the control

All of this, mind you, before Noon

On their conscience

From the Houston Chronicle, February 4, 2005

The timeless battle between humans and wildlife is growing ugly in San Jacinto county, where herds of white-tailed deer numbering in the hundreds relentlessly chew their way through garden and forest, possibly upsetting the balance of nature and endangering their own future.

I wonder how many others read that with puzzled mind this morning. It's the possibly upsetting the balance of nature bit that stuns me. The fact is that more than a handful of people decided waybackwhen that living on Lake Livingston would be a peachy thing to do. So they came and they built and they paved and they added on. And I wonder just what they thought the previous dwellers there were going to do, exactly. The deer are possibly upsetting the balance of nature? Ha! That'd be laughable if it weren't so sad and wrong. So, what's the solution going to be? Well, cull the numbers of the deer, of course. Down the heard to a manageable size of 200 or so that will be appealing when driving down the street or sipping margaritas at dusk on your back porch, but not so many as to get in the way of your newfound gardening hobby. Sick, just sick.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

It's a dog's world afterall

Abby & Shiny Sleeping beauties
While the humans did absolutely nothing a couple weekends ago, our charges ran and played and muddied their paws (as seen in the photos on left) and generally wore themselves out (as seen in the photos on right). Sweet puppies.