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Speaking in Cursive

Walking through this extraordinary life.

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The House That Built Me

It is a horrible and odd feeling, packing up your parents lives while they are still alive. Putting their memories in boxes, and bags. Being back there, with some of my siblings, but without my parents felt wrong. But extremely necessary. We had to do what many adult children have had to do, face the horrible decision to place your elderly and ailing parents into a nursing home, and sell the house. You can never fully prepare for it or plan it. You simply grab on tight to your siblings and pray that the unthinkable decisions you all are making are the right ones.

My parents had lived in their home, just shy of 50 years. It was an extremely modest home, with a beautiful yard and pool. Enough bedrooms to sleep 6 children somewhat comfortably. The kind of street where all the neighborhood kids could play out on it until the street lights came on. A place where the friends you made on that street are still your friends today. A neighborhood where we referred to the adults as our Aunts and Uncles. Of course there were bad and difficult times, things we would like to forget, But all of it, the good and bad happened in that house on that street.

When mom fell and broke a hip for the second time, we knew we had to face the unavoidable. After her first fall and hip fracture, she was diagnosed with early stages of dementia. We felt okay with her coming back home, and so did the doctors. Mom had been dads primary caregiver as he suffers from a lengthy list of health issues, including arthritis,  a kidney transplant and has a colostomy bag. As a family, we had suggested to them that we felt maybe they should look into assisted living or something along those lines. Like most elderly people, they said no. They wanted to die in their home, no further discussion. If you have met my dad, no further discussion means Exactly that. Now, by no means does that mean that we left them all alone to fend for themselves. On the contrary, we all pitched in to help them stay home. The majority of the responsibilities falling on two of my sisters that live the closest. They took them to doctor appointments, and emergency room visits  and ran errands for them among other things. When my husband and I would come in we would bring groceries, and check off the list of things my dad needed us to do. We all checked on them daily. We all were anxious if the phone rang, knowing it could mean an emergency. Somehow we managed this routine for over a year. My siblings and I were actually more concerned with our dads health, as mom had recovered quite well, except for her repetitive questions. Then she fell, and everything as we knew it changed. It was out of our hands. Mom suffers from delirium after she has had surgery, and this time was no different. The confused state she was in was now permanent, as her dementia had progressed. One of the hardest and most heartbreaking things you will ever do as an adult child is to tell your mom that she can’t go home again.  It cuts you to the core, and changes you. We now refer to it as Ground Hog day, as we have to tell her over and over. Emotionally crippling for all in the room.

Mom is now permanently at a nursing home, while my dad is in the hospital, awaiting another surgery, then hopefully will be transferred to be with mom. They have been together since my mom was 17, and dad was 21. Their dynamic is typical of that era and generation. Mom stayed home and raised the kids and kept the house, while dad worked, hard, until he became disabled at the age of 47.  The term “waited on him hand and foot.” is actually how it was.  My mom took amazing care of my father, she kept him alive far longer than I think anyone ever thought she could. She kept track of all his medications, and appointments and special diets. She doted on him, making sure his

ice water, in his special glass, was always filled and always cold. And that was her one concern when I told her dad would be going into the nursing home too .”Will they be fixing him his food everyday?” she asked with tears rolling down her face. I assured her they would, that she had worked so hard all her life, it was her turn to have people care for her. And Dad, put my mom first, realizing She needed the care he couldn’t give her. That she needed to be safe. That is love. Their love.

The closing on the house will be final next week, so we are sifting through countless boxes of pictures and memories. Deciding what should be kept, what shouldn’t. I know, it is just a house. But it was my house, our house. My husbands childhood home sold several years ago, ( he originally lived on my same street until they moved 5 blocks over) and when we go back “home” he will drive by it and remember the good and the bad. I told him I don’t think I can.I don’t think I can go by the house without wanting to go in, without wanting to run into the back yard, the desire to jump in the pool on a hot day. That house is the house I learned to walk and talk in, where I fell down the stairs and busted my nose. The house that I had countless sleepovers, in tents made of blankets  hung over the clothes line. The house that I laughed and cried in with my sisters, where we told secrets, and healed each others broken hearts. The house where I came home to the smell of fresh baked cookies after school. The house I fell in love at. We are grieving so many loses at the same time. I can’t imagine wanting to go down my street and not stopping . My parents won’t be there. It won’t be our house anymore, so I want to remember it how it was when it was. It will be some other young families turn to make memories. I am okay with that. Or at least that is what I tell myself.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it
This brokenness inside me might start healing.
Out here it’s like I’m someone else,
I thought that maybe I could find myself
If I could just come in I swear I’ll leave.
Won’t take nothing but a memory
From the house that built me.

Burnt popcorn

I wonder if when they get here they will smell the popcorn we burnt two nights ago? Or will they be flabbergasted by the behavior of the dogs? Will they jot down in their notes how crazy and hectic it seems here? As I brush off the dog hair from the couch for them to sit on, will they question my homemaking skills?Will they question my ability to be the best support system for my son? Will they see the anxiety all over my face?

We have our annual case worker meeting with and for our son tomorrow. All his case workers will come to our home to assess him and us and our home. Nothing to panic about at all. These are nothing new to us at all. This should be a piece of cake, right?  Yes, if it is a cake made out of glass and nails. This is difficult, and heart wrenching . We have been doing a variation of these meetings for 17 years. Not always in the home, but always stress inducing. The questions asked are personal, and hard to hear and answer. Our role in things has changed as our son as grown. Where I used to do all the talking and answering of the questions, now I sit and pray what he says doesn’t offend anyone, or raise an eyebrow. I brace myself for the blame thrown at me  that he uses as a defense mechanism. I stare at the case workers hoping they can hear what I am saying in my head. And my heart breaks a little each time. With each jab thrown my or my husbands way, I hope they can see we are doing all we can. More importantly I hope they can read through his sharp tongue and wit to see the truth.

No one ever tells you these things. How when you know these meetings are coming you are in panic mode for the weeks leading up to it. They don’t tell you when they are little and you are in control of everything to get them help, that eventually they grow up and your role changes. That you have to stand in two worlds, making decisions for your adult child, that you prayed he would be able to make on his own. That you have to walk a tightrope, to treat him with respect, while still treating him like a child. But he is not a child. And that is heartbreaking.

Someone asked me the other day if they “grow out” of autism. The simple answer is no.  When he was a child, even with having autism, we could excuse away some things because of his youth. Adulthood seemed so far off. And then he became an adult, and there was nowhere to hide. The services he had in school vanished and we had to start over.We had to begin again. We have had many case workers. Some who understood his humor, and how he hides behind it. Some did not.It is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Tomorrow we are meeting some of them for the very first time. I will spend the first half of the assessment apologizing for the things he says, making sure they understand he is joking. He calls everyone he meets for the first time a communist. He means it in the nicest way possible. I will make sure they get that we always answer questions with lines from our favorite movies. I will brace myself for the bus he is about to throw us under. I find tire tracks appealing. And hopefully after it is over, we will all laugh, ( I will wait to cry until I close the door behind them) and surely they will make that little check mark in the box saying all is well. ( quit calling me Shirley.)

A Different Journey

We had another meeting, for our son. Another meeting for another plan, another job. It was one of hundreds of meetings over the past 15 years, and certainly not the last. However, this time, one phrase kept going through my mind. A phrase I borrowed from a friend. She had posted to her Facebook page “Not my Journey.” It clicked instantly in me. And while I had no exact idea what she was referring to,it hit home with me. Square in the gut. Not my Journey, my new Mantra.

As the meeting began, and we were introduced to some new case workers, my son didn’t want to sit down. He wanted to stand. It bothered me, but, he was comfortable standing, and was being involved, so standing worked fine. I have learned slowly over the years to not over take the meetings or conversations. But I somehow would either whisper, or give a knowing glance to the case worker, making my ideas known. The things I wanted for my son. What I thought was best.And while there was a time and place for that, maybe that time and place are gone.

I tried my best to sit quietly as they asked him questions. The usual questions that frustrate him to no end. “What are your interests? What type of job do you want? Do you want to work with people?” etc.  Most times, I would butt in, adding my two cents. Which in turn would ALWAYS result in my son looking at me with contempt, telling me to be quiet. Yet I would figure out ways to speak over him. Today, I started to. I tried asking questions, about classes at the tech school. “Mom, I don’t want that. I don’t like classrooms. I learn better on my own.” He was right. And the phrase that had been bouncing around in my mind settled firmly. Not My Journey.

Yes, this scenario with this son, is completely different than the scenario with my three other sons. Yet, it is the same. My other sons have all made their own decisions when it came to where they went to college, what they would study, where they would move. And while with this son, we HAVE to have perimeters on decisions he makes, we have to guide him as best we can, in the end, it is Still Not My Journey. We would never allow him to do anything unsafe or not good for his future. But I will no longer put My wants and needs into his journey. I didn’t for the other three, I won’t for him either.

I would Love to have input with all of my sons on their decisions.But, in the morning, when their feet hit the floor, they walk a path for themselves. If I had my way, my sons would all live nearby, giving me more grandbabies than my arms could hold.However, as I sit back and watch my adult sons continue on their journeys I see that probably won’t happen.Because their roads wind a different way than mine. Beautiful all the same.

I am hoping this New Year helps me to let go of all the things I so desperately want to control, but know I shouldn’t. I hope it helps me relax and enjoy watching where all their journeys take them, And maybe, enjoy where mine takes me.

The River

River:a natural stream of water of fairly large size flowing in a definite course or channel or series of diverging and converging channels.

This past Thanksgiving weekend was not what anyone would call the makings of a Hallmark movie. I knew this one would be different, and I had spent a few months trying to mentally prepare myself. I had told myself and anyone who would listen that I was fine. That I was really looking forward to a quiet day, just my husband and Brett. That I was looking forward to not having to cook and prepare a huge meal, all the shopping and prepping and mess. I was going to make steaks, and decorate the house for Christmas, and we would skype with the other boys once Bryce and his girlfriend got back Thanksgiving night.I was convincing myself that I could do it. Apparently, I am a terrible liar.

I knew the upcoming holidays would be different this year. Our son in China had informed us he couldn’t be home for Christmas, but would be home in late January. Asked if we could leave up the decorations, and tree, and we could celebrate then. I was sad, but excited to extend the season. It will be fun, it will be fine, I repeated to myself. Our son Nate who recently moved to Tacoma Washington was hoping to make it home for Christmas with his girlfriend, but we discussed it and decided it would be awesome to have them all home in January. It will be okay, I thought in my head. Our son Bryce’s college break wasn’t going to start until December 23rd, so I was sad that I wasn’t going to spend anytime with him and his girlfriend before Christmas, but it was just fine. Really.

The weeks and days leading up to Thanksgiving were weighing heavily on me. I tried to push back the sadness I was feeling. I dove headfirst into Christmas music and movies. I shopped, and baked and sang. And tried to drown in the river of emotions I was feeling. I had to force myself out of bed to go to work. I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything.

I awoke on Thanksgiving morning and knew. I was off. Susie Sunshine was taking a day off too. As I sat on the couch, alone, at 5 a.m. I began to cry. I thought, “get it out of your system, before anyone sees you. Get it together lady. But the tears just kept coming, like a river flowing. My husband, sensing the impending doom, had promised to watch the Thanksgiving parade with me.He NEVER watches it. Ever.  He came downstairs and asked if it had started yet. As he sat down beside me, the tears picked up their flow. He wrapped his arms around me. “I’m sorry” I said. I explained that I was trying to stop, I really was. But I couldn’t. Who did I think I was? Having a pity party for myself because my sons were doing what I always hoped and prayed they would? I knew there were people who were ALONE alone for the holidays, people who were sick, people who were widowed etc. I knew this, but I couldn’t stop. My poor husband didn’t know what to say or do. He left the room, to take a shower, and my son Bryce came into the room. I had rolled into a ball onto the couch and covered myself up with a blanket, and put Christmas music on. The song River came on:

It’s coming on Christmas
They’re cutting down trees
They’re putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

and I began to sob. “Are you okay mom?” I heard my son say, as he came to me, and bent down to hold me. My 6ft3 son, was on his knees trying to hug me, as his dog, my grandpuppy jumped in between us as if to say “I’ve got this dad.” He asked if I was ok, I told him I would be. I wasn’t and didn’t know when I would be, but he didn’t need the guilt or worry. My son Brett came down and hugged me only the way he can, patting me on the head saying “come here momma”. They loved me and were worried, and I felt so guilty. But the salty tears fell. What in the heck was wrong with me. Where had I gone?

My husband decided to take us to a movie. I told him I was fine, and that it would be okay to stay home, he didn’t have to worry. He knew better, and away Mark, Brett and I drove the half hour to a theater to see Bad Santa 2. My eyes were red and swollen, no make up would conceal, so I didn’t bother. I felt so loved and taken care of, but I couldn’t shake it.When we got there, I told Mark to get me popcorn, and as I sat in the dark theater, waiting for the movie to start, I leaned over to my husband and said ” Now I know why Peppermint Patty was so pissed about eating popcorn and toast for Thanksgiving.” We were the only ones in the theater, except for one woman all by herself. I felt so bad for her, wondering what her story was. Why was she here, alone on Thanksgiving.

On the way home, with Christmas songs on the radio, I began to cry again. I turned my face to the window, thinking I could somehow hide. “Is it happening again?” my poor husband asked. I wanted to scream to myself “SNAP OUT OF IT!” We came home and I began to prepare our steak dinner. Bryce and his girlfriend Erin would be arriving soon from the other Thanksgiving dinners they had to attend. I was feeling myself coming out of it. We would be skyping soon with our Nate and his girlfriend.  Surely it would help. As his face popped up on the computer, the first thing he said was ” Mom, you look so sad!” and in perfect unison my husband and sons said “she is!”….”Oh mom, I am so sorry.” Nate said, and I felt so bad. Guilty that I had ruined their holidays. That I had wasted precious time off from work sulking and acting a fool.  My son and his girlfriend Emma, were happy, and enjoying being together , and that made me happy. We talked for an hour and I told him once we pinned Tony down on a firm date for January, we would plan when they too could come home.

You know a dream is like a river
Ever changin’ as it flows
And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores.

Sunday morning we skyped with Tony. I had been looking forward to it for a while. We hadn’t in about a month, and there was new exciting things to discuss,but most importantly we would know when we would see him in person again. ” So, did you buy your ticket yet?” I excitedly asked. I was feeling more like myself, and hadn’t shed a tear since Thursday. “I am not coming in January now mom.” I exhaled, as all the color left my already pale face. I instinctively pulled my scarf up over my mouth and nose, thinking, once again, I could hide what was about to happen. ” I am sorry mom, are you ok? You look so sad.” he said. I handed the computer to my poor son Bryce and retreated to my crying room,aka the bathroom.I shut the door and the river of tears picked up steam. I could hear my husband, slight raised voice asking why, explaining how fragile I had become. I knew I had to pull my big girl pants up, and face my new normal. Tony had decided to come in summer, he said so he can spend more time here.I wanted to believe it. We talked for about an hour, and he apologized over and over. “I am not keeping the tree up til summer!” I told him half joking. The conversation ended, and I went upstairs to put laundry away and cry. Brett found me, and wrapped his arms around me, patted my head and said”come here momma.”

I am blessed beyond measure, I am loved deeply. I am cared for. This is a new stage, a new current I have to learn to flow on.

“Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?” That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future.”
Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

My sons will always be my sons, no matter where they are, no matter where they spend their holidays. Like a river, we will come up against rough currents, and rocks. But there will also be beautiful, peaceful moments, where we all can feel home again.

 

 

 

 

Full Circle

I fumbled with my phone, that I had on speaker, as I tried to hang up and end my almost daily conversation with my parents. They only talk on speaker, so when I call them I do it too.I could hear them, but they thought I had hung up, as they too fumbled with their phone my mom said “that girl was raised right.”

I can’t remember a time I didn’t need my parents. Their help, their guidance, or advice.Growing up the youngest of 6 children, there was always something going on, people coming and going, constant movement.But mom and dad were always there. Always.

Mom was a stay at home mom, who also did daycare for local kids and grand kids.We didn’t have much money, but we never wanted for anything.My mom was always cooking, or baking, or sewing. I never had to wonder where she was, or what we would eat for dinner. When I needed prom dresses, or play costumes altered or created, she did it. When I began showing an early interest in doing hair and make up, she let me practice on her. She would even go model my work to the neighbors. I know now, looking back, I made her into a hot mess, but she never let on, and told me how much she liked it. Years later, when I had to take my State Board exam for Cosmetology,she was my model, helping me keep my nerves in check. When I got married and had my first son, I would call her crying, that I couldn’t figure out why my son wouldn’t stop crying. The more she tried to explain, the more upset I got. I heard her end of the phone go dead. Five minutes later, a knock on my door, at 10:30 at night. Mom. She walked in, took my son from my arms, pushed his knees to his chest( which she tried to explain to me how to do over the phone),he passed the gas, and stopped crying. “There” she said.”Now, get some sleep.”and she left.When my second oldest became obsessed with snowmen, she built him one about 12 inches tall, and kept it in her freezer, and would bring it out when he was there.She was there when , 3 months pregnant with twins, I was put on bed rest, I moved back home so she could take care of my two other young sons.She has always been here.

Dad was a hard working man. Until he became disabled and had to retire,when I was 9 years old. It changed everything, for the family, how we lived and how we viewed things. But even though he was limited, he still worked hard, and could fix anything you put in front of him.If there was a problem, he would always say ” did you tell them you know me personally?” and I believed it would help.He had this special car horn, that played all kinds of songs, including our school song. My dad would pick us up from cheerleading practice blasting the school song.I always knew when my ride was there.He would sit and draw with me for hours, something I still find comfort in.He would play his harmonica as we danced around the living room, singing the silly songs he taught. Songs I sang to my sons. He walked with a cane, but vowed to not use it as he walked his daughters down the aisle.

When the doctors suspected I had Multiple Sclerosis, I remember him saying” I wish it was me instead of you.” Because he couldn’t fix me, and that killed him inside. When he had to be put on dialysis, and eventually get a kidney transplant, he fought back. Surgery after surgery. He was still here.

“I just really want to thank you and Mark for always helping. I feel so bad that I can’t do these things myself anymore.” my dad said to me as we talked on the phone. My husband and I try to visit a few times a month. Usually there is a list of things they need our help with. So we help, because we want to, because they need us now. Hearing them being so appreciative, is a bonus, but not necessary. They were always there when I, we, needed them. Fumbling with the phone, trying to hang up, I heard her say “that girl was raised right”….yes mom I was.

 

Broken Branches

“I have an email I need to read to you.” my husband said over the phone.”Is everything okay?” As usual I was worried something was wrong.”It is good news Mary. I just received a message from a woman who says she is your dads sister.”

Growing up, we always knew our last name, wasn’t my fathers given name. It had been changed 3 times, for several different reasons. My fathers father was a mystery to him, having never known him, as he left his mother when my father was 2. My dad had always wondered about him, where he went, was he alive somewhere, were there more kids.Like most families there were secrets that were kept, I am sure, thinking it was the right thing to do.But everything that is done in the dark, eventually comes to the light.

My dad and his sister Pauline, were first generation Americans, on his mothers side. His mother, my grandmother and her family had come over from Dresdin Germany, in 1925.His mother married his father Walter and had the two children. Walter would be out of their lives by 1934. And a lifetime full of secrets, mystery and searching would begin.

My grandmother remarried, and had 3 more children with a man who already had a son. My dad took his last name, and he became the only father my dad ever knew.It wasn’t an easy upbringing, and growing up we heard the stories of his strict step father. My Aunt Pauline married young, 16 I believe.My dad left shortly after to join the military.My parents got married in 1953, and his mother, my grandmother Erna, passed away in 1955.His step father had already passed, so raising some of the younger half siblings fell on him and my mother.

My father tells a story of being a young man, in Chicago, where he was born and partially raised. A woman looked at him and said “I know you , you are Wally’s son”. My dad, never having seen a picture of his father, didn’t know what to say or do. At one point his Aunt Margaret hinted to him some information about his father, but stopped herself saying” I better not say anymore”. So the secrets continued, denying my father , his sister and all their children part of their heritage, part of who they are.

Several years ago, after the death of my husbands father, he started tracing his roots. While I was excited at all the incredible information he was finding, I was so very envious. I would call my dad, and ask him to give me every ounce of information he had on Walter, nothing was to small. My husband Mark would search, and think we had found something, and it would turn into disappointment.As time went on, my dad would call me, or when we would visit, he would say ” I found this, or I might have a clue.” and Mark would enter it into the website, still nothing. My heart was breaking for my dad. For most of my life, has been in poor health, he has knocked deaths door more than the Grim Reaper, yet somehow, fought back. Through it all, it haunted him, where was his father, and why had he left him. My Aunt Pauline, felt the same, until her death in 2010 was still trying to find him, or someone who knew him. And I myself, couldn’t stop thinking about and praying for anything to solve the mystery to my dad. One day last week, I prayed out loud, “Lord, I just want my dad to know who he is, before it is to late.”

I was at work when the call came in. “What? What? are you sure? What is her name? Where does she live?” I riddled my husband with questions.”Mary I gave her your number she is going to call you.” I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. But I knew enough to call my dad.

“Dad” I said quietly, knowing what I was about to tell him, would change everything he knew. He was the last surviving sibling, or so he thought.”Mark just called me, and, there is a woman who says she is your sister.” ” What?, are you sure?” I in fact was positive, in my soul, and I didn’t even have all the information yet. “I am waiting for her call dad, and I will have her call you, if you are okay with that.” ” Yes.” he responded, and I could hear the anxiety and emotion in his words.

A few minutes later, my phone rang, as her name popped up on my caller i.d. I recognized the maiden last name. A name, my dad knew was his birth name. I smiled, and answered the phone.” Mary?” she said, and I knew. I knew she was my Aunt.  I just knew. We talked briefly and I told her, her brother , was awaiting her call.

I wish I could have been there, when he first heard her voice, and she his. But I was there 4 days later when we helped him video chat with her on facetime. Her face came on the screen, and he lit up. I knew he could see himself in her, that he could see his sister Pauline. My sister Barb was there too, when she heard our new Aunts voice she looked at me, and we both said “she sounds just like Aunt Pauline.” Barb said “close your eyes, it’s her.” So my sister and I closed our eyes, and knew, our family had grown. My new Aunt, Jeanine, was raised an only child, never knowing she had any other siblings, or that her father was married before. Sadly, “our Walter” as my Aunt Jeanine refers to him now, didn’t raise her either. The sins of the father continued as did the secrecy. My dad said to his new sister, “Wherever our father is, it isn’t heaven.” I looked at my sister and said” no, I think poor Walter is shaking in his grave, knowing that his kids have figured it out, they have found each other.”  My aunt Jeanine had done a DNA test who matched with a woman who shared a common grandmother, my fathers grandmother. And When she first contacted us, she sent pics of my grandfather, my fathers father, that only proved it more. There simply was no denying it. My Aunt, never having been an Aunt before suddenly had 11 new nieces and nephews and  over 20 great nieces and nephews and now great great nieces and nephews.

Since last Tuesday my Aunt and I  have been in constant contact. Emailing, texting, facetiming

.My dad is 84 and frail, so he has asked my husband and I to do most of the communicating with her when it comes to filling her in on anything she needs. So we share stories and ask questions of each other.We found out she would travel to within blocks of my family to go to the zoo, or the shopping mall. She was within our reach, and we had no way of knowing. But now she is. She is at my fingertips. And I have felt comfortable with her from the very first phone call. She is what was missing. Not Walter, who took raising his children with a grain of salt. But Jeanine was missing. Not anymore.

While texting with me yesterday, my Aunt asked me to send her some leaves, of the beautiful Wisconsin fall, as she lives out west.  It made me think, all these years, my dad and Jeanine’s family tree had nothing but broken branches. But even broken branches, can hang on, to produce beautiful leaves.

A Handshake and a Promise.

“Okay, mom, now go outside and show the neighbors how I did your hair and makeup!”my excited 9 year old self would say. I would spend hours doing her hair, or my dolls hair. I would even cut and layer my brand new barbies hair, into a cute pixie cut style. When I learned how to french braid, word quickly spread on our street, and I was doing prom hair before I was even in high school. Some things are just meant to be I guess. But the twists and turns are something you never expect.

I went to Beauty School a few months after graduating high school, and passed my State Boards in January of 1989. In the Fall of 1995 my husband and I moved to a small( at the time 1,500 people) town in Wisconsin. I was pregnant with twin boys and had 2 older sons ages 2 and 4. After having the twins, going back to work was the last thing on my mind, but 6 weeks later, there I was at the local salon

I worked 2 nights a week and Saturdays. It was nice to get out and meet the people I was living among. Then the owner of the salon, sold the business to a young woman, and everything in my life changed.

I worked briefly for the new owner, but it was clear, it was too much for her to handle. So, I quit. One day I received a phone call from the building owner, telling me she was worried about the salon. That she could hear the phone ringing off the hook, no one to answer it. She was basically pleading with me to go back and help the new owner. Now, I think she was more concerned with getting her rent money, but then I thought she was concerned about the young girl. So, I called the owner, and said I wanted to come back.

Within weeks, she came to me, telling me she was selling the business(not the building, which was owned by someone else, just the business.) and was I interested in buying it. What? I thought there is no way, without even knowing what she was selling it for, that we could afford it. When she told me she wanted 20 grand I was even more convinced we couldn’t. I expressed this to her, that we had 4 young sons under 5 and I had been recently diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and financially there was just no way. “My grandpa would be willing to to do a person to person loan with you” she said.

Oh I believe there are, angels among us
Sent down to us, from somewhere up above
They come to you and me, in our darkest hours
To show us how to live, to teach us how to give
To guide us with the light of love.

I excitedly told my husband of this opportunity, but the large sum of money was weighing heavy on my mind. We decided to sit down with him. We met with him at the salon. No lawyers, just us. “I will sell the salon to you, just make payments to me each month.” he said. “I honestly don’t know how much I can give you, it’s going to take me a while to get this salon busy again.” I shyly told him. We agreed on $300 a month, if I could afford it, and if I couldn’t to send what I could. My husband and I agreed. And with a handshake, yes a handshake, we sealed the deal. No paperwork, no contract. I had just met this man, and my fate, my families fate was in his hands.

On September 1st 1998, I opened the salon under my name.I was scared to death. But we never missed a payment. Not one, for almost 2 years. Then one day I got word that he had passed away, and panic seared through my body. I had zero proof of my “contract” with him. All I could think of was that someone was going to come take all I had worked so hard away from me.I called my husband in a frantic state. What were we going to do.A few days later in the mail, we received a letter from a lawyer. I knew it, here it comes, they are going to ask for the rest of the money or they are taking it all back, I was convinced. I have never been so wrong in my whole life.

When this kind old man found out he was ill, he put me in his will. Yes, the man I had met once, had named me in his will.He was forgiving the remainder of the loan, and returning the payments I had made.He had changed my life, and he didn’t even know it.It was a lesson in following your heart, your gut and your dreams. And in believing in Angels.

Eventually, we were able to purchase the building. I never had to worry again, that someone or something could take my dream away. I have never forgotten this amazing act of kindness, and I try to repay it often. I keep my prices low( probably too low!), I donate as much and as often as I can to charities and organizations. I have hosted fundraisers for many groups, and have held cut a thons with all proceeds going to charity. But it will never equal the charity that was heaped upon me and my family, by a man who knew nothing of me but my name. He was willing to give this young, married woman a chance. And in his darkest hour he didn’t forget about me. So, I will never forget what a blessing his generosity has been on my family.

On September 1st, it will be 18 years that I have been in business. In this small town salon, I have made many memories and even more friends. I have laughed and cried with customers who have turned into confidants,I have watched young girls grow up before my eyes, doing their hair for their first prom and then their wedding. It has been a safe place for my sons and all their friends, where they spent hours having “SalonTalk.” I have watched 3 separate receptionists go on to become hairdressers themselves. I have learned so much from so many of my older customers, who became the grandparents I never had. And it was all because of a handshake and a promise.

 

A dog named Rowdy near McCarville Road.

We had planned this anniversary trip for months. Celebrating 27 years of marriage. My husband had found a beautiful cabin, in the middle of nowhere. I was so excited. He had mentioned there would be no internet or cell phone reception. I was actually happy about that. Until we got there, and panic set in. How would I reach home? What if they needed me? What if something went wrong? But what if it didn’t?

IMG_0105About 10 minutes from our destination, my cell phone stopped. I was regretting booking this place. So many things that could go wrong. We were entering another Fall of goodbyes with our children.The oldest still in China, The 2nd oldest and his girlfriend about to move to Seattle, and one of the twins and his girlfriend ready to return to college for their junior year, about an hour and a half from home. I was filled with angst, and sadness, excitement and fear for all of them. Happy I still would have our Brett at home with us, and of course my 3 puppies.But I felt as though things were starting to spin out of control again,things moving in all different directions, none of which I could control.So we had planned this trip knowing I would, we would, need it. You can’t just make impulsive trips when you have a child with autism(adult now). You can’t leave him alone, so you plan it around your other adult children, to be home. I knew they would be okay, but we have never, ever been out of communication when we leave home. Never. Suddenly we had no choice.

As we pulled into the driveway of our getaway location, we were immediately met by two adorable Jack Russel terriers.They began to bark and ran up to our car. Instinctively we both got out and started calling to them, to come to us. They did.Looking around we couldn’t see the caretaker. He had told us the unit would be unlocked, to go in. So we did.To a beautiful cabin,done all in North woods design. It was stunning, and I should have been instantly at peace, but my heart was racing, and I was in panic. What if they needed me.

We went outside, and I sat on the ground, as did my husband. Here, coming from the green fields on the property came Trixie, the momma dog and her son Rowdy. Within seconds they were in our laps, licking us, kissing our faces. I didn’t know I needed them, until that moment. I think they needed us too. We walked the property, looking for Bill, the owner, as these two dogs became our shadow and our tour guides.With each step I could feel my heart slow and my mind relax. The what ifs that had paralyzed me, were becoming a distant memory. Later , Bill came to our door. My husband explained our home situation, and our need to have some communication with our son. He told us we could use his home phone at anytime. At that moment, I took a deep and soul cleansing breath.

We sat and talked with Bill for a while about his puppies,and how we just loved them.He told us how smart Trixie was and could do many tricks, but Rowdy was as “dumb as a stump”. He explained how at one point his daughters had County Fair award winning chickens, until one day, he came home and saw feathers flying, and a chicken hanging from Rowdy’s mouth. That is when I fell in love with a dog named Rowdy.

Over the next two days, we would go for long walks down McCarville Road, a winding country road where there must have been 50 shades of green. From emerald to sage. There was mile after mile of fields of corn. The hills, valleys and ridges filled with acres of wildflowers and birds. We would walk and talk and laugh. We would take in the beauty and the sounds all around us. We were living in the moment, not wondering or worrying what could happen.We just were.We put on over 12 miles in 2 days. I craved more.

Each time we appeared back on the property, there they were. Trixie and her boy Rowdy. Eventually, Trixie took a step back, to let her son get the attention, and lead the way. He took us out on the property to the trout stream. He jumped in, then rolled around on the grass. Then he would jump into my husbands lap. He was so enjoying having this love heaped upon him.Then he would come by me, doing the same thing, lavishing me with his love.And Trixie faded further into the background. Like she knew she had to let him go.

On our final night, we sat outside with Rowdy, Trixie nowhere in sight. I thought to myself,I know how she feels.We have them, we raise them, and eventually they leave.We fed Rowdy some scraps of our dinner and held him in our laps a few more times.We both felt an immense and deep love for him. Silly to some I know, but there was a connection there.My husband said “it’s like they were there just for us.” I believe they were. We said our goodbyes to this new boy in our lives, and entered our cabin, closing the door behind us. Rowdy wouldn’t leave. For over an hour, as day turned to night, he sat there, facing the door, waiting for us.I peered out our bedroom window, watching him, almost in tears, knowing if I opened the door, the goodbye would be that much harder.And I wondered where his mom Trixie was, and how could she not be worried sick over where he was. Then I realized, just because they’re out of sight doesn’t mean they are out of mind. Sometimes you just have to let them go out on their own, knowing they eventually find their way home.

Sink or Swim (and other life lessons I learned growing up with a backyard pool)

I was only 3 but I remember it clearly. Learn to swim my parents said, so they threw me in, right in between my oldest sister  (almost 16 yrs older than me)and her husband. Sink, or swim. I guess my instincts or something kicked in, because I remember swimming, right to my brother in law. And just like that, I was a swimmer. Everything I learned about life, from that point on, I learned in that pool.

Local legend has it that there was a pool salesman that lived on our street, so every house, or so it seemed had a pool. But ours, ours was the best, the king of pools. And my parents made sure it stayed pristine, even to this day.I spent every waking warm moment in that pool and learned lessons that shaped who I am.

Trust: You have to trust those around you, and believe they will do what they say they will.

I was so scared to jump off the deck or the ladder, or go down the slide. Petrified. My mom said she would catch me, if I went under, she would pull me up. Or my dad, would wait at the base of the slide, to grab me before I would go too far under. They always did. They  always caught me, before I went too deep.Until they didn’t have to anymore, because, I trusted myself, my own judgement. And to this day, even in their advanced years, they still do. I still trust them, and others because of them.

Be Brave: Sometimes, or all the time you have to face your fear,to get to where you want to go.

Our pool had this amazing slide, very tall, or it seemed so when I was young. I wanted so badly to go down it,  I must’ve been about 5 or so.I climbed up and made it to the top, and wanted to turn around and go back down the steps, but one of my sisters was right behind me, blocking the way.”No, you can do it, it will be fun. Just try.” I am sure tears were shed, and maybe a fit was thrown, but then, I tried. Someone was at the bottom to catch me, and I swam to the other side. Then promptly did it again, and again, and again. There are so many times I want to quit things I am about to start, because I am convinced I will screw it up, or do it wrong. But when I just follow through, I realize, there wasn’t anything to be afraid of. I STILL go down that slide. I am usually a tad scared climbing up its old stairs now, but I do it.

Dive into Life: Don’t sit on the sidelines and watch others having fun, dive in.

We had this diving board that I could’ve sworn was an Olympic diving board. Seemed so big when I was small. Our pool was deep, about 7ft I believe.So my dad and mom taught me to dive. Sometimes all of us kids would line up, one right after another, and dive in. Different ways, silly ways. Belly flops, jack knifes, but we all dove in.There are so many ways to jump into life. We don’t all have to jump the same.You just have to do it. I am Still the 1st one out on the dance floor at a wedding reception, no one can do The Elaine better than me.

Ride out the waves: Life is not always smooth sailing, and sometimes you just have to ride it out.

My dad would always get the best inner tubes for us to have in the pool, and we would fit as many people as possible as we could on it, and “bob” up and down. Trying our best to, not only knock each other off, but also, to create massive waves. We would do this for hours.(It was an amazing ab workout, and probably why I didn’t crack the 100 lb weight mark until after high school)There was always a victor, and a loser. But we never gave up, we fought against the waves as they tried to push us under the water. We climbed back on. Life is like that, sometimes, it is calm and peaceful, and then the waves come. You have two choices really.Keep swimming, even against the waves, or go under, quit. For me, I choose to ride it out when the waves come crashing in on me. Even if I can only doggie paddle through it, I refuse to quit.

You don’t need a lot of friends just a few great ones: Know your circle, your true friends.

It would be a boiling hot day, the doorbell would ring.”Mary, your fair weather friends are here.” I used to hate it when she would say that, because I didn’t understand what she meant. Fair weather? To me, at the time, they were just friends.I mean sure, I didn’t see them all fall, winter and spring long, and they never invited me over, but they were here now, right? They just wanted to swim. They certainly weren’t like my real friends, my yearlong friends. The ones I built snowmen with or jumped in the leaves with. My real friends loved me through all the seasons. The rainy days, the bitter cold, the dark and dreary. They just loved me.  My real friends and I would spend hours, from sun up to sun down in that pool. Only getting out to eat, pee, or watch As The World Turns. My real friends and I would build tents made out of blankets and sleep under the stars, and sneak in the pool at midnight, being careful not to wake my parents. And you know what, my real friends then, are Still my real friends now. Those fair weather ones, well, they only stuck around when times were good, and the the skies were blue.

Work hard for what you want: Most things don’t come easy, but hard work is worth it.

My dad came up with this game. He would save change throughout the year.When swimming season started he would throw the change to the deep end of the pool. Whatever we grabbed , was ours. It didn’t matter if it was a family member or a friend. If you swam for it and got it, it was yours. So there we would all be, holding our breath as long as we could, trying to grab metal off a slippery sloped deep end. Treading water to stay under as long as we could hold our air. This would go on for  a long time. We would feverishly swim back up to the shallow end and plunk our pennies and nickels down, and go right back under. It was exhausting, but the reward was Worth it. I had worked for this money, I was tired, but I kept going back. That’s what I saw my dad do, everyday. Up early and out the door before our feet hit the ground. Everyday, until he became so sick, he no longer could work. I was 9. And it killed me to see it killing him to no longer be able to work. So there was no way I wasn’t going to work hard getting those pennies, or for my dreams. Nothing comes easy. And usually nothing is handed to you either. So if you have to swim to the deep end to get what you want, get swimming.

Laughter is the best medicine: Find the good, find the happy, find the joy.

I think the laughter from over 40 years is probably still bouncing off the waves in the pool. My sisters and I played this hairstyle game( ironic , right?) We would all go under water at the same time and pop up with a new hairstyle. Except every single time, we looked like George Washington. And we would crack up, each and every time. That tradition carried on with my nieces, and now their girls. Generations of families, neighbors and friends have filled that pool. I love to watch my boys, making up games with their cousins in the pool. Each game has new rules, and tremendous amounts of laughter. My parents usually don’t go in the pool anymore, at 84 and 80, it isn’t easy. So they sit on their back porch, and watch what they created.Their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren,laughing, and playing.Learning to SWIM.

 

 

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