Saturday, December 29, 2018

What They Don't Tell You

Today is the second anniversary of my dad's death.  Two years ago he slung a bag of golf clubs over his shoulder and slipped away early, early on the morning of December 29, 2016.  If you choose to, listen to Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson or Waylon Jennings today while drinking a Diet Coke (with lemon, natch) in his honor.

Meanwhile, I spent some time last night thinking about our last coherent conversation.  I went into his room where he lay on the bed, his skin waxy white and already winter cold to the touch.  His eyes were closed.  I took his hand and said, "Dad, I just want to thank you for teaching me how . . . "

His eyes popped open, bright and eager.   "To communicate?"

I laughed and said yes.  That.

I have no idea what I really meant to say in that moment, but I am beyond happy to go with "to communicate" because for my money, no one did that better than my father did.

Here's what they don't tell you.  The second year is harder than the first year because by then you know all the ways there are to miss that person you loved so very, very well.

Here's to you, Dad.

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Lisa B. recently asked what my go-to Christmas movies are.  And then she said she doesn't think she can watch IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE this year because it's too, too sad and I said RIGHT?!  So I've been thinking about my reaction--why do I think it's sad.  After all, the ultimate takeaway is pretty positive--a life lived kindly is a rich life, indeed.

I'm a little confused by my reaction, frankly.  But here are my thoughts anyway.

Last year when Ken Cannon wanted to watch the movie, I had a mini-meltdown and said no, no, no because didn't he know that everybody who was in that movie IS PROBABLY DEAD NOW?
I realize this is a bizarre reaction, but I think it had something to do with coming up on the first anniversary of my dad's death, which happened during the Christmas season.  So that reaction is purely personal and doesn't have much to do with the film itself.

But now, at this age, I find the movie itself heartbreaking--precisely because it is so very beautiful.  The sets, the cinematography, the acting, the dialogue.  And whenever I see Donna Reed's young face full of light, I am struck by the precious, sacred fragility of everything. Light. Youth. Beauty, Memory. Life.

Maybe that's it?  I don't know.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

And then you're taken by surprise by the beauty of it all . . .

We went to Ken Cannon's Aunt Lena's funeral yesterday, which moved me in all kinds of ways.  One of the loveliest moments was when her daughter, Cindy, spoke.

Cindy, a child of the 1950s, was born profoundly deaf.  She spent her childhood attending school in Ogden where she learned to both lip read and sign.  And when she graduated she lived with her mother as a daughter and as a best friend.  Her grief yesterday when her family closed the casket was palpable.

When Cindy spoke, she signed.  And an interpreter shared Cindy's talk with us.  After, a group of Cindy's hearing impaired friends who all sat together, "sang."  And when they sang, their hands look like rare and beautiful birds taking flight.  I can't remember when I've seen anything that has stirred me more.

Such tender times these days are.  Such tender times.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

While Swimming Laps This Morning . . .

 . . . I noticed that the lanky lifeguard looked like he was maybe fourteen years old with shaggy brown hair that fell over his eyes.  Also, he was dancing around on the deck to strains of "Tequila," which was playing over the PA system, while also twirling his Baywatch-type lifesaving device like a southern beauty queen twirling her baton.

In other words, he was adorable.

BUT.  Wow.  He didn't exactly inspire confidence.  I wasn't sure if I started to sink to the bottom of the pool that he would even notice.  Also, could a skinny kid like him REALLY drag my old lady butt out of the water?

And then!


And then, actually, nothing happened.  If it had, I could have had an inspiring story to tell about how wrong we are to judge people by their appearances and so forth.  But I didn't drown and I don't have a tale to tell except to say I made it home alive and that there's a kid working at a pool here in Salt Lake who can seriously twirl a Baywatch-type lifesaving device with the best of them.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Welp! (And also why you should tell your stories!)

It happens every year during the holidays when I'm doing more dishes than usual.  The skin around my fingernails starts to split, and while a sore thumb hurts less than, say, delivering a baby, it does hurt.  And also sore thumbs make  me think of my great-grandmother, who apparently was prone to the same condition during the Christmas season.  I know this because my mother always imitates her grandmother saying, "Ooooooo!  Patti Lou!  My thumbs are so sore!"

This great-grandmother used to say other things, too--like, "I'm going to get lined up today," as in "I'm going to get myself organized today."  (She never did.)  Or when something went missing around her home she'd say, "Dirty Marian must have stolen it."  Or if someone crossed the street when she was behind the wheel of her car, she'd say, "Get out of my way, you sonuvabitch."

You know.  Stuff like that.

And here's the thing.  I can practically hear her say those things because of all the stories I've been told.  She's a real and constant presence in my life, looking over my shoulder as I wash the dishes, telling me her thumbs used to hurt, too.

Yup.  Stories matter.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Why Does Everybody Have to Die at Christmastime?

Well, I am certainly feeling all the feelings tonight.

In this past week, we've been to three funerals, including my mother-in-law's a week ago today and a good friend's funeral today.  And then there's the fact that three of my four grandparents died this time of year.  So did my dad.

Mike, whose funeral we attended today, was our age--a child of the 60's and the early 70's and a full-on rock-and-roller.  He used to jam with our son Q.  They also played a few gigs together,  including one at a tombstone cutters' convention.  (Mike and his family own Salt Lake Monument.)  When I visited Mike a few days before he died, his wife, Angela, had the Beatles playing softly in the background.  Not a bad soundtrack.

The last line of his obituary said he was preceded in death by George Harrison and John Lennon.

Well done, Michael Ellerbeck.