Bobbing Along

A Lifetime of Stories: collected, painted, shared.

Fifty Years

“It was very quiet inside the long, black limousine. I do not remember who sat with me. I do not remember any conversation. I do remember turning around in my seat, looking back at the cars in line behind us. This somber parade, identified by small, bluish-purple flags, stretched all the way down the hillside to the entrance of the cemetery and beyond. So many cars. So many people. So much sadness.

I remember feeling numb at that point. I remember thinking of all the people, many of whom I did not know, who had come to the funeral home to pay their respects. Friends came too, some from great distances. The lines of mourners had waited patiently to share their words of comfort. By the end of each evening, however, I realized that we had spent our time comforting them instead, just as we would continue to do on this day and for many days after, once this ceremony was over.

It fell to us to explain the unexplainable, that a twenty-two year old woman on the cusp of her life, eight days before she was to marry the man she loved, was dead. I repeated the words that told the story, over and over and over:

“…pulmonary embolism…clots…both lungs…birth control pill…sudden…no warning…backwards…concrete landing…massive brain damage…frontal lobe destroyed…no hope…resuscitation…ambulance…no hope…”

I was nineteen. And my world had shattered.”

This story has been waiting for its words for fifty years. I write it now, finally, in an attempt to honor my sister and to memorialize her for those who never had the opportunity to know her. I write it to recognize, at long last, what her loss meant to me. If she were here, sitting beside me or peering over my shoulder, she might certainly chide me for being melodramatic. At the same time, I smile to think how fascinated she would be by this method of typing—on a computer, aided significantly by the program’s spell check. In 1969, we were still using typewriters, happy to have a full bottle of White-Out nearby. Computers were mostly the stuff of science fiction, surely a part of our imaginations, were it not for that one small building on campus, the one that few ever entered.

I write this story now, though, because the anniversary of her death–March 28–inexplicably failed to catch my attention this year, of all years. This earth-shattering event, this thing that had changed me in an instant, was something I used to think about daily. For years, I would play the memory-reel in my head. For years, not a day went by without seeing those images. Remembering. Always, always remembering.

“It was a normal Thursday evening. Sitting in my room in the sorority house, I was studying for my last mid-term. After my exam the next morning, I would drop off my latest project in the art building and then be on my way home to West Virginia. It was the beginning of Spring Break and I had the entire week off, a week that was to be filled with bridal parties and celebrations culminating with her wedding.

My bridesmaid dress hung in the doorway, shrouded in plastic, along with other dresses for the various parties. I knew Pam would be packing the last of her belongings at her apartment in D.C. and at some point, we would join up and begin the car ride home, together. Usually she was the planner, the organizer, the person-in-charge of this two-sister team and it was odd that she hadn’t contacted me about the trip. This bothered me; it wasn’t always easy to find a ride into the city from campus and I knew I needed to get one lined up unless she had decided to drive out to campus to fetch me.

I called her. Her roommate answered. “Pam’s not feeling well right now, Cindy,” I was told. “She’s lying down. No, you can’t talk to her at the moment. We’ve called your parents. They’re worried enough so please don’t call them. They’ll get in touch with you when they know more.”

I called my parents. “There’s a problem with your sister,” my father said. “The ambulance is taking her to the hospital now. We’ll keep you posted but until then, your mother and I ask that you stay right where you are. Please do not try to go to the hospital. We don’t need to be worrying about both of you.”

I had no idea where the hospital was in D.C. I had no way of finding it even if I managed to locate someone with a car and time to drive me into the city. I stayed put. For once in my life, I heeded my parents’ wishes. Instinct told me, though, that whatever was happening was not good.

Pam was elegant. Tall and thin, poised and proper, her ability to speak with ease and intelligence endeared her to adults. Her skills as a calm, confident leader developed through her years in college. She was one of the those incredibly smart people who could succeed in many fields and her natural curiosity caused her to change her college major each year—from nursing to English to journalism to American Studies. I clearly remember the uproar when she announced to our parents that she was transferring out of the nursing program. The uproar gradually diminished with each change after that. Flummoxed, my parents finally stopped arguing about it. Pam was strong-willed and stubborn. More importantly, she knew what she wanted and was going to succeed with or without their approval. Upon graduation she worked as a top aide to Joseph Tydings, U.S. Senator from Maryland. The energy and excitement of working on Capitol Hill suited her. It was a job she loved.

Three years separated us in age and three inches separated us in our shared bedroom. I know I tried her patience on a daily basis and, truthfully, I reveled in that. Younger sisters frequently make it their mission to annoy the hell out of older siblings. I was pretty good at it. During one squabble, she took tape and ran it down the length of our room, dividing the room in half. I was not to cross onto her half. Ever. The one flaw in this plan was that I would have to do just that in order to exit the room.

“Well, Cindy, just make sure you go to the bathroom before you come in here!” she stated, hands on hips, eyes shooting sparks.

“Well, Pam,” I smugly retorted, “what if I suddenly have to throw up? Maybe I’ll just throw up on your bed!”

Like most of our arguments, this one probably devolved into some hair-pulling and arm-scratching. I rarely won those: her arms were longer and so were her fingernails. I was shorter and couldn’t easily reach her hair. Brutal. Yet, we loved each other. And I was not ready to lose her.

“After I shared what was happening with David and a few other friends, I sat on the floor of my room. I looked again at those dresses hanging in the doorway. I fought back the whispers in my head, the whispers that were telling me that I was not going to be a bridesmaid. As the evening wore on, with no word from my parents, those whispers became stronger, more insistent. Rising, I located the black dress that we wore for some sorority functions. I hung it in the doorway with the others. I knew. Somehow, I knew.

Eventually my roommate finished her studying and sat with me. In the early hours of that Friday, we both fell asleep. Sometime near dawn, the phone rang.

“Cindy,” my father said, “your sister died this morning.”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t form words. I was strikingly mute. My roommate took the phone from my hand and listened as my father gave her the instructions for me to follow. He would be driving the many hours it took to get to D.C. and would deal with things no parent should ever have to consider: Identification…Autopsy…Remains…Transfers…The death of his daughter…”

As years went on, I was often asked if I was close with my sister. And my answer was “Yes. After a fashion…” We fought many a battle, none of which held any great significance. It never really mattered whose tissue had missed the wastebasket or whose turn it was to dry the dishes. At the end of the day, what mattered most were the conversations we had in the quiet of our room. It was she who encouraged my study of art. It was she who encouraged my selection of college. It was she who helped me navigate the moods and fury of our father, explaining to me that no one, no one, is worth the devastating energy it takes to hate them.

It was she who understood how close David and I were and that we planned on marrying. And she was delighted. She knew a “keeper” when she met one.

At the time of her death, she and I had truly become friends. Great friends. Perhaps the best of friends. I had no idea how I would ever move forward without her. I was unprepared to navigate the world without her guidance. She was my North Star. And now, I was lost.

“I returned to campus right after the funeral. Friends who knew about the wedding were excited to hear all about it. Of course, there hadn’t been a wedding and I needed to tell them what had happened. It was awkward. And difficult. Those friends who already knew seemed to forget how to act around me. I’m sure they were trying to be considerate, but I was trying so hard to be normal. I wasn’t even sure what normal was anymore.

The semester eventually ended. I was relieved to return home for the summer but then I discovered that home had changed too. We were all shadows of ourselves. We didn’t discuss Pam. We just didn’t speak of her. She hovered there, just out of sight, out of reach, and none of us could quite muster the courage to acknowledge her ghostly presence. I suppose we were each protecting our wounds as best we could, slowly allowing a scab to grow.

At summer’s end, I returned to campus once more. It was easier now. I suppose the scab had started to suppress the pain but progress remained achingly slow. October neared, and with it, Pam’s birthday. Pain poured back in, as intense as ever. I wanted to do something. So, I decided I would honor her memory by recognizing her birthday. Recognizing it in my own way.

I placed a long-distance call to the florist back home, a small, family-run operation. It’s entirely possible that I called collect but I really don’t remember for certain. I do remember that as soon as I began to speak, I started to sob. Patiently, the person on the other end of the line listened to my halting request.

“Could you please deliver a single red rose to the gravesite of Pamela Randolph?, I stammered. “She is buried in the Bridgeport Cemetery. And could you please mail me the bill?”

“Do you wish to leave a card?” the voice asked.

“No. She’ll know who it’s from.”

Thus began a tradition that I carried on for years. Just me and Pam. Together again, in a way.”

So, how did I get past this? How did I heal?

I didn’t. Not completely. No one ever does. The scab on the wound gradually thickened into a scar and I found ways to move forward. In spite of all the odds, forward is the only possible direction to go.

My father turned to alcohol which only fueled his already uncontrollable anger. His last conversation with my sister had been on the night of her death. They had argued about something and he hung up on her. This I know from my mother who was with him when it happened. His last conversation with her ended in anger and then she was gone. He never addressed it with any of us. He never admitted to his folly. He never acknowledged the regret he had to have felt. He died angry and bitter, firm in his own denial.

My mother stoically drew in her pain as she was wont to do. It did not surprise me years later when she developed cancer in her jaw. This petite woman with towering strength had gritted her teeth through most of her life, willing herself to remain calm and composed even in the most trying circumstances. And she had had many of them. This eighteen-year breast cancer survivor, this pillar of our family who had never smoked and rarely drank, died of oral cancer. It was terribly unfair. But we don’t get to choose, do we?

As for my siblings, I would guess that time did its work. They were all pretty young when Pam died and time, as it generally does, helps soften the wounds. I have little doubt that they, too, were inalterably changed. Her death is a significant part of their life stories just as it is a part of mine. We don’t erase these things. We don’t want to. We need to remember her and what happened. The loss becomes a part of us, a deeply painful part of our core. But their stories are theirs to write. I will leave that task to them.

For me, sharing the pain became a necessary discussion as I made new friends. Pam’s death informed everything I did, every choice I made, everything that I believed. It informed everything that I was and still am. For me, it wasn’t enough to explain where I grew up or what I studied. To learn at nineteen just how valuable life is and just how quickly it can end was a lesson very few of my peers understood. With my sister, I was whole. Without her, I was not. I wasn’t sure I ever would be.

Life continued unabated. Dave and I married. We had children. We lived our lives and became immersed in the the day-to-day activities work and family entail. Before we knew it, fifty years had flown by. Over those years, we lost many more friends and family members, some in tragic ways. Sometimes, a certain loss would cause that metaphorical scab to crack and pain would again pierce our hearts. And then, as always, time would work her magic.

And the roses? How long did I send the roses? For ten years. Every October, I placed a call to the same florist. Through those ten years, Dave and I had three children, the last of which, our daughter, was born on Pam’s birthday. Of course, I had already arranged for the rose to be sent that year and the bill, having arrived as usual by mail, was waiting for me when I brought her home from the hospital.

Early the following autumn, I received a call from my mother. October was approaching and with it, my sister’s and my daughter’s shared birthday. After chatting for a bit, my mother, in a voice as gentle as I can ever remember, said,

“Cindy, you have done something so lovely for many years. The roses you have sent surprised your father and me and at first we couldn’t figure out who had sent them. But we now know it was you. And we thank you so much. Now, though, now you have another special birthday to celebrate. And it is time that you focus on hers.”

And so I did. I stopped sending the rose. Though I never forgot my sister, her presence in the corners of my vision slowly receded. Having my own children to love and nurture had managed to keep me moving me forward. Perhaps that is why it has taken me this long to write this story. Having done so at last, I have come to realize something extraordinary.

Fifty years ago, I lost something precious. And though moving forward had its struggles, life has given me gifts I never could have imagined. I have three children whom I loved from the minute they were first placed in my arms. In turn, they have given me my six grandchildren who are the greatest treasures of my life. While I am forever sorry that they never knew Pam and that Pam never knew them, I do feel that she has always been here, watching, smiling, guarding them just a little. And maybe she has been watching over me as well. Oh yes. I miss her still. I always will.

Once upon a time, I was who I was because of her. Now, after all these years, I am who I am because of my family. I am who I am because of them: my husband, my children, my grandchildren. Life is a balance of what we lose and what we gain. I realize now just how much I gained. I am whole because of them. And that’s just how it was meant to be. Extraordinary.

In Memory of Pamela Leigh Randolph

Pam was president of Tri Delt & I think this must have been taken at the spring formal. About 1968.

October 10, 1946-March 28, 1969

Moving on…

Well, hello again! As usual, too many months have passed since my previous post. Consistency is not something I do well. I do try. Truly. Or, at least, I try to try.

But, moving on…

Chemo is done. It wasn’t horrible, for which I am overwhelmingly grateful. One could call it beginner’s luck, I suppose. I prefer to call it just luck. “Beginner” be damned! I’d rather not even consider having to do it all over again. And maybe I won’t have to! Look at me being positive!

When staring at the bottle of 112 pills at the beginning of each chemotherapy cycle, I must admit to having moments of oh-shit-will-this-never-end? I also became a bit curious about this whole pharmacological process. I mean, I was consuming a lot of pills. In addition to the standard old-folks’ collection (statins, blood pressure, probiotics, vitamins, sleep aids, the occasional Tylenol as well as the cherished anti-anxiety med), I was also consuming two anti-coagulants, one anti-nausea, and eight huge chemo pills daily. My phone became my charge nurse; its alarm app kept me on a timely swallowing schedule.

At one point I began to wonder how in the bloody hell these pills know where to go once they cascade their way into my stomach. Is there some reason, other than identification, for the various shapes, sizes, and colors? I mean, is our pharmaceutical industry that, uh, good that medications are coded by color, size, and shape so the body can sort them? Do the pink oval pills go here while the white square pills go there? Do the orange and red pills head straight to the knees while the teeny brown pills find their way to the sinuses? Perhaps, somewhere inside our bodies there is an undetectable sorter, like this:

Wouldn’t that be fascinating discovery! I must say the very thought amused me. Probably amuses only me. I am rather easily amused. Apparently.

Anyway, moving on…

Throughout the six month run of chemo, the most debilitating side effect I experienced was fatigue. If it were possible to italicize that word at an even greater a n g l e I would surely do just that. The fatigue, when it hit, was bone crushing. It was akin to being encased in cement. I learned quickly not to argue with my body. When it said “SLEEP”, I slept.

It was on one such morning that I shuffled out of bed just long enough to pee. After sleeping for two additional hours, I dragged myself again to the bathroom to brush my teeth and get a shower. Those two activities wiped me out and as I dressed back into my jammies, my most urgent thought was get back into that bed. NOW.

As I continue with this narrative, keep two details in mind. One, there is a door between the dressing room and the bedroom. Two, that door was on my left. Ok, make it three details and this one might be the most important: the left side is my blind side.

As soon as my clothes were on my body, I swiftly turned toward the doorway, slamming the side of my headBAM!—into the door.

The impact caused the door and me to rebound back into each other—THWACK!—with the door’s edge meeting my face squarely down the middle—forehead, nose, chin and all.

Worrying about the effect the anti-coagulant meds might have on such a collision, I staggered right back into the bathroom to check for bruises, blood or similar damage.

Nothing. Not one dent. Not one bruise. Not one drop of blood.

Now, if you have not seen the movie “Sing!”, I suggest you stream it someday soon. To begin with, it has a lovely, family-friendly story. And it has some amazingly lively characters, like my personal favorite, the iguana, Miss Crawly:

Do you see where I’m heading here?

Yes, as I stared into the mirror that morning, it was Miss Crawly who stared back at me. Miss Crawly, minus the lipstick.

The collision had caused my prosthetic eye to spin around in its socket, resulting in that winning wonky-eyed-look just like Miss Crawly. If ever I needed a laugh, I needed it that morning. And my spinning plastic eyeball, having repositioned itself to point in the opposite direction, rose to the occasion. I must admit I can be my own best source of amusement. If I have to have a fake eye, I might as well enjoy it, right? My only regret that morning was that I was too damn tired to retrieve my phone for a selfie. Now that would have been an image worth posting.

And so, on I go. Enough of cancer stories. Enough of eyeball stories. On to other things, at least for now.

It is time for moving on…with goals, with stories, with laughter, with life.

Two Surprises, One Silver Lining

Assuming you have read my previous posts about the uveal melanoma diagnosed in mid-2006 (and if you have not, begin here and continue here and here), then you may be wondering why I have chosen now to finally write about it. I mean, I’m slow with my posts but twelve and a half years?

Okay. I admit it. Taking twelve years to write about something that significant awesome may not be so unusual for me. I adapted to the eye and moved on. The only part of the experience stubbornly kept alive is being a one-eyed Pirate which is just too much fun for this grandmother. The eye never slowed me down. It has become just another point of fascination for the grandkids. Simply put, it added to my panache.

In truth, my melanoma was considered to be an aggressive form of the disease (a monosomy 3, whatever the hell that means). I kinda figured something would happen eventually but until it did, I was moving forward. Once a year, I would visit the ocular oncologist who had diagnosed it. Once a year, I underwent an abdominal MRI to rule out metastases. For twelve years, each MRI had been clean. In September 2018, that ended. With a thud. The newest MRI showed a spot on my liver.

After all this time, could my time be up? I was well aware that the primary site for a melanoma to metastasize is the liver. Fortunately, we knew where to go: back to Philly, this time to the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center. There we met with a treatment team that specializes in Metastatic Uveal Melanoma cases and is diligently conducting clinical trials to find effective cures for the disease. Everyone—including Dear Dave and me—assumed that was what this spot was: a metastasis. After all, what else could it be?

The prognosis was not looking particularly positive. The tumor was in a very bad location, wedged too closely to some major blood vessels. Removing the tumor was deemed unlikely, no frankly, impossible. My options seemed to be a clinical trial or radiation, both palliative but not curative. Before we selected an option, we had to confirm via biopsy that this was what we knew it was.

But—surprise of surprises—it wasn’t. It wasn’t that at all.

After two biopsies, we were floored to learn that this was not a metastasis of the previous melanoma. It was a brand new, equally rare, primary liver tumor: a cholangiocarcinoma. Uh. Oh. Now what?

Suddenly, we found ourselves adrift. Out to sea. Cast away, as it were. The treatment team in Philly, as extraordinary and as wonderful as they are, was not the right place for us after all. And this tumor with the new name? It was still in a terrible location and it was still a nasty cancer to have.

Three weeks later, after many hours logged onto our computers, after a number of inquiries by phone, and after many conversations with professionals and friends whose wisdom and guidance we can never repay, we headed to New York City’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. And there we found the answer to our prayers.

We met with Dr. William Jarnagin, Chief of the Hepatopancreatobiliary Service (try saying that three times quickly. Actually, try saying that once!). It was Dr. Jarnagin who gave us the second surprise of this saga: he was confident the tumor was removable after all.

Two weeks later, I walked into the operating suite. Yes, in my hospital gown, open in the back, butt flying in the breeze, I walked myself down the hall. No, it’s not at all the way tv and movies depict it. There was no lying on a gurney, family gathered clutching my hand, sobbing and blubbering. None of that. Thank God.

Almost four hours later, the tumor, along with half of my liver, was removed by Dr. Jarnagin and his team, including this Surgical Oncology Fellow, Dr. Jash Datta, whose steady, gifted hands sliced that sucker right out of my body. Gifted doesn’t begin to adequately describe his skills as a surgeon. Add to that his devilish sense of humor and his compassionate care, his future as a physician is brilliant.


I started down this path feeling absolutely fine. I had no symptoms, not an inkling that anything was amiss. With the melanoma, I knew my vision was compromised and because of that, I sought help. With the cholangiocarcinoma, I knew nothing. Were it not for my annual MRI, I would still be without a hint of a problem. Once the cancer began to affect me, it would have been quite advanced and this story would be very different. The eye—or the melanoma of the eye—proved to be one gigantic silver lining. And that, my friends, is something I would never have imagined saying.

I am grateful beyond words for the care I have received both in Philadelphia and in New York. Everyone—and I mean everyone—with whom I came in contact was so kind, concerned, and patient, and so damn good at what they did! From the receptionists to the custodians, from the surgeons to the aides, my experience was truly remarkable. There are many more parts to this story which will be shared eventually. For now, I am concentrating on my recovery, my art, and, as you can tell, my writing.

I am currently undergoing chemotherapy, which to date, is going pretty well. I feel strong and I am determined to live my life as I did before, making the most of every day. I was blessed to have the prayers of many, many people. I am extraordinarily grateful for Dear Dave who has been at my side, taking such good care of me, steadfast in his support. Without question, however, I must be grateful for that melanoma which required the MRI in the first place.

Crazy. This life is just crazy but I’ll take it—silver linings, surprises, and all.


The Back Story: On Becoming a Pirate

If you have read my previous posts, (here and here), and were a bit mystified by them, it is important first to understand how I became a Pirate. Yes, there might be more pressing questions you’d like answered, but becoming a Pirate is the start of it all. Or, almost the start. Maybe the result of the start. Follow along patiently, please. It’s been quite an adventure.

In 2005, I noticed that I was missing a small circular area of vision in one eye. At that time, this spot of gray in the midst of my vision didn’t affect me other than making me feel like my glasses were smudged and I hate having smudged glasses. Nonetheless I realized that I should probably have it checked.

Off I went to my optometrist who could see that there was a “freckle” located on my retina. She was concerned enough to immediately pass me over to a retinal specialist in our area. As the freckle continued to grow, he passed me over to another specialist in the Well-Known-Big-City-Eye-Clinic just south of us who got the diagnosis wrong. Yeah. It happens.

Eventually, in 2006, I made my way to Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia where the lesion was diagnosed as a melanoma. Specifically, an Uveal Melanoma. Inside the eye. On the retina. Obviously the one location that sunscreen cannot reach. To be honest, this very rare eye tumor has nothing to do with sun exposure. It has mostly to do with pure dumb luck.

In an effort to shorten this part of my narrative, suffice it to say that the tumor was irradiated but the eye itself later developed some interior hemorrhaging and in 2008, it had to be removed. That was the second most significant event of that year. The First Most Significant Event of 2008 was this little guy:

This is my first grandchild. This is the Rooster, as he is called for blogging purposes. (Actually I used to call him that all the time until the day I was walking him to his bus stop and he quietly asked that I not use this nickname in front of his friends. Also, he asked that I not give him kisses before he boarded the bus. The nerve, right?)

As you can see in that photo, I had become a Pirate around the time of his birth. And a Pirate I have doggedly remained—for all of the grandchildren. All six of them. After all, how many children have a grandmother who is a pirate? I once asked the now five-year-old Chickadee if any of his friends had a grandparent who’s a pirate. His initial response was, “No…” Then he added, “Actually, Mommom, I’ve never asked my friends that question.”

The grandkids may be slightly skeptical about my Pirate-ness (Yes. That is a word.) but they are endlessly fascinated by the fake eye. At every opportunity, someone asks to touch it. I love their hesitation before approaching my eye and, once it’s touched, how quickly they retreat, grinning from ear to ear.

One day, the Rooster asked if I would remove the eye so he could see it. He was young at the time and I truly did not want to be the source of nightmares, so I quickly answered, “Oh, no, not ’til you’re fourteen.” Many months later, as he and I were hanging out in the yard, the eye began to itch. I reached under my glasses to rub the area and inadvertently caused the prosthetic to pop out. Fortunately I was able to catch it and once I did, I held it in my palm, extending it so he could see it. He was not amused. “GROSS, Mommom! What are you DOING? I’m NOT FOURTEEN, yet! I’m only eight!” Well done, Mommom.

Knowing that it is possible for the thing to pop out, another grandchild decided to surprise me when I visited her in Chicago. Yes, the Peanut spent one afternoon creating this rather large eyeball just in case I needed a spare. I’m guessing its generous size is due to all the love that went into making it…

Yes, I do have battle scars, maybe more than any one person ought to have. I do have a sword, perched high, well out of reach of small hands. I do have a fake eye and I always carry my eyepatch with me just in case, well, you know. I might not always catch the thing.

I told you it’s been an adventure! And there’s more to this saga!! So keep an eye out for what’s coming next, matey, as I continue on.


Arrrgh…

Once again, I sit here in January, duly writing on my computer and wondering how I failed to acknowledge an entire year. An entire effin’ year! And what a year it was, that 2018. One for the ages, I suppose. Or, at least, one for the blog. I’ll catch up on all of it bit by bit. Really. I have to because much of what is going on now began last fall when I was diagnosed with yet another rare, inexplicable cancer.

I am now in the very beginning stage of chemotherapy. I have been assured by some that my particular medication is considered a “friendly” form of therapy. My daughter shared a friend’s advice, words that brought immeasurable comfort: “This is not your (my) mother’s chemo.”

My mother was afflicted with two cancers: first breast, then oral. She succumbed to the second. I distinctly remember how much she suffered with it and its chemotherapy, so much so that she was far too weak to complete the regimen. As brutal as it was, there are still stories I hope to share about that time, if not for you, then for me, lest I forget the glimmers of brilliant sun that peeked through those times of great darkness.

During her first cancer, which had been diagnosed some two decades earlier, she did undergo successful surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. At the time, busy as I was with my household of teenagers, I failed to visit her as often as I would have liked. I do remember a visit not long after her mastectomy. Mom, sitting on the side porch and enjoying the warmth of the summer afternoon, was frustrated because wearing a bra without two breasts was a bit unwieldy. One side stayed put, obviously, while the other side kept riding up. She looked to me for a solution. Unsurprisingly, mine was as impractical as it was humorous:

Fishing weights, Mom! They come in all weights and sizes!!

And off I went to the local hardware store. She gamely let me pin them on the cotton bra. My idea helped a little, though the belly-dancer-like fringe of weights clinked as she walked. Whether she used them once I returned to Pennsylvania or not, is anyone’s guess. Eventually, she got a prothesis and the Case of the Lopsided Bra was solved for good.

I visited again (Hey! I visited more than twice but these are the two stories I want to share! Jeez.) while she was in the hospital undergoing her chemo treatment. This time, I arrived with gifts. (See? I am a good daughter!) Somehow, in those pre-internet days, I had located a boutique which sold head coverings specifically for women who lost their hair through chemotherapy. I had purchased all sorts of scarves in all sorts of colors and patterns. All very lady-like and pretty. Just the sort of scarves my mother could use with her wardrobe of colorful blouses and skirts and such.

I remember being in the hospital room—just me, Mom, and my sister Becky. I don’t remember where we sent Dad, who was staunchly by her side throughout their life, in, yes, sickness and in health. There we were, though, the three of us creating our own “fashion show” as we placed one scarf after another on Mom, holding up a mirror so she should see just how stunning she looked. I remember us ooh-ing and aww-ing and laughing…and crying. Just a bit. It was the sort of evening that still warms my heart. We were making the best of a miserable situation. Together.

It appears that in addition to certain memories and memorabilia, I have become the Keeper of Family Stuff. Included in that ‘stuff’ are those very same headscarves. I figured eventually one of us would need them, though the thought that I might be the one wasn’t quite on my radar. And it isn’t clear if I will lose my hair as my drug is “friendly” and balancing the therapy regimen has greatly improved.

I have, however, been advised that my hair may thin “a little”. Given my hair is already thin and short, I really don’t relish losing what I’ve got so I struck a deal with my hairdresser: as soon as I begin to resemble a duck with mange, we’re going to buzz the rest of the hair off. Or, as the child’s rhyme goes,

Fuzzy-wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy-wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy-wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy, was he?

If all of that comes to pass, the question might be asked, “Will I use the same headscarves I once gave my mother?” I loved my mom. To the core of my core, I loved my mom. But she and I were two very different beings. Those scarves were right, for her. Me? I’m the Pirate Grandmother.

I have the eye patch. I have the fake eye. I have the scars from my last sword fights, which may or may not double as surgical scars for tin knees and such. I have the sword. I have the savvy. And, best part of all— I have each of the grandchildren convinced. So, these…

…these bandannas are what Pirates wear. And I have plenty, as badass Pirates always do.

Arrrgh! Indeed.

Green Bananas

I hear my mother’s words. Sometimes in my head. Sometimes, coming right out of my mouth.

“March!” she would say to me and my siblings when we dawdled too long.
“March!” I would say to my children when they, too, dawdled.

“Just put one foot in front of another,” she advised when I shared a problem I felt I couldn’t handle.
“Just put one foot in front of another” I advised others when their problems seemed insurmountable.

“Cindy, you know your dad and I don’t buy green bananas anymore” she told me with a wry smile as cancer began to ravage her body.

I now face the challenge of all challenges.

I am marching.

I am putting one foot in front of the other.

And with infinite optimism, I will continue to buy green bananas.

 

 

In the Trenches

What the hell happened?

I mean, really, what happened to this country?

I had asked that question many times a day for far too many days. That I was not a fan of the current administration should shock no one although the fact that many of you are still supporters shocks the bejeezus out of me. Railing against the news—flipping the bird at the tv screen or, occasionally, throwing socks—had failed to quell my rage.

It slowly occurred to me that I had to do something constructive. I could no longer leave the work to other nameless, faceless souls with more conviction. My excuses were no longer valid. If I wanted change, I had to be willing to work for it. And change is the one thing I want—change to the civility, the clarity and the caring (also the honesty, the intelligence, the inclusiveness…) that seemed to hallmark the previous administration.

By some twist of fate, I had been invited to a “meet-and-greet” social one day this past summer. This social was hosted by a former teacher whom I had admired for so long and I admit that my attendance at this social was fueled more by the chance of seeing her again than by a conscious interest in meeting the candidate. So I went.

Suddenly I found myself in the right place at the right time, asking the right questions and receiving the right answers. I was sold. I was hooked. And I was committed to being an on-the-ground grunt: knocking on strangers’ doors seeking signatures and hustling for votes. And it has been glorious.

Fully aware that I was interrupting dinners (and very possibly more than one doozer of an argument), I was regularly greeted with “HELL YES! WHERE DO I SIGN?”

Of course, I was also greeted by carefully shifted curtains that were not followed by an open door. And that scenario was still better than another canvasser who was greeted by an elderly man. A completely naked elderly man. So, no, the process was not all warm and fuzzy. (Well, except for the old man…)

I found that I was not alone in my anger. I was not alone in my worry. Many times, especially during one snow storm (we are a stubborn bunch, we Democrats) when I was brought into the home for the very purpose of listening to someone else’s concerns. Though these folks were “preaching to the choir”, they also gave me a warm reprieve from the elements.

There was one husband who wasn’t ready to sign anything; he just needed to research the candidates first. Fine. No problem. Perfectly valid. Yet as he was telling me this, his wife thundered down the stairs and burst—barefoot—onto the snowy porch, saying “I’LL SIGN!! I’LL SIGN! I don’t know what the hell his problem is, but I’ll SIGN!!”

In another home, the husband signed but was reluctant to interrupt his wife who was in the shower. Understandable, right? She must have had great hearing because as I was beginning to leave, here she came, head wrapped in a towel and body wrapped in a terrycloth robe. She perched on their steps and shared her grievances as she signed the petition. There was quite a puddle by the time our conversation ended.

A few weeks ago, my candidate started a tv ad describing his views on the issue of gun control. Trust me when I tell you that this is one hot-button issue in my area. Prior to canvassing that day, we were told that there was some controversy (surprise!) about his ad and we were given an explanation to help with any confusion over his stance.

Of course, I failed to read it. Frankly, I didn’t give it a second thought until later that day when one homeowner asked, “Is this the guy with the tv ad about guns?” 

Shit! What do I do now? And as I began to babble something completely unintelligible (and likely inaccurate), he reached and grabbed my clipboard, shouting “He’s got my vote! It’s about time someone does something about guns in this country!!”

Today we vote. My heart rests easier knowing that there are many who share my thoughts and who strive for change. Shortly, as I hurry to finish this, I will leave to work the polls until they close. And then I will wait in the hopes that my guy wins this stage of the process.

In the meantime, I have been given so much through this experience. I’ve received hugs. And validation. I’ve shared laughs with strangers. I have listened to concerns from folks with more to lose than I could ever have imagined. And, as thunder rolled through the sky last evening, I left my last house with a gift:

I am not certain where I’ll place the sticker but the pin? The pin I am wearing with pride!!

 

Just Hangin’

There are folks out there who breeze through life with nary a care in the world. Calm. Confident. Capable. Chill. People who just have their shit together from the beginning.

I am not one of them.

I remember many embarrassing episodes, even in my early years, situations when I would burst—I can’t believe I’m admitting this for all to see—into tears in anticipation of or immediately after doing something stupid. Yes, there was that time in third grade when Miss Israel, as she passed out test papers, announced that we were only getting one piece of paper and we would not get a second chance should we make a mistake. (It was a penmanship test, by the way. Who does that?) Our first task was to write our name at the top. I misspelled mine. Oh, yes. Yes, I did. Tears everywhere.

And there was Mrs. Brown, my fifth grade teacher, who leaned over me during an assignment and announced in a perfect stage whisper, “You are such a Worry Wart!” No pressure there. Her pronouncement made our next recess really fun.

Somehow, I have managed to manage my fears over the decades. I’m fine, really. I work hard to keep my worrying to a minimum, or at least I try to limit it, saving the effort for important things, which, of course, are abundant if one has family and friends and plans and goals and stuff. Whatever. I try.

When my nine-years-younger sisters included me in the plans for a girls’ get-away this fall, I was delighted. The three of us, spending time together! Hanging out together! At a bed and breakfast! In Gettysburg! Touring the Battlefield! On horseback!

Wait? What? WHAT? Horseback?

Oh, no worries there, right?  Uh,  r  i  g  h  t.  Except, I hadn’t ridden a horse in years. I’m older. I’m, um, heavier. Would my left leg be strong enough to hike my body up? Would my right leg be able to swing over the saddle? Would the rest of me follow that leg up and over and land my ass right in the dust on the other side? Would the horse like me? Would I like the horse? How tall would the horse be? If I managed to remain astride, a very big ‘if’ at that, would the height create additional panic? If I managed to ride for the entire tour, would I be able to walk after? What would happen if I had to pee halfway through the tour? How long is this damn tour, anyway? Why in the bloomin’ hell did I agree to this? And on. And on.

And on.

Before I knew it, I was in Gettysburg, awaiting the start our adventure. After a restless night, I awoke to an absolutely, perfectly gorgeous day. The sun sparkled through the brightly colored leaves. The air was crisp and clear. I was in the company of my two favorite sisters. How great was that? Moments like these don’t happen just every day and I was as ready for it as I could ever be. Once we made our way toward the stables, I was relieved to learn that everyone had to use mounting steps. Worry #1, gone. The rest would soon follow.

My expert skill at mounting my new buddy, Duke the Horse, was gleefully captured by my sister Barbie. I may have mentioned a bit of my anxiety to her and Becky in advance. Nonetheless she was ready with the camera. I suspect a post to YouTube was next on her agenda…just in case my fears became reality.

 

So far so good, indeed.

I must say that touring the Gettysburg Battlefield on horseback is a remarkable experience. Without question, it is the best possible way to see for oneself how difficult the terrain was to maneuver and how hard it was to adequately determine logistics key to the battle. Our guide was exceptional; the horses gentle and slow (rescue animals, all). And I was in my own private glory: I am doing this! I am a rock star!!

And all those worries? Totally unnecessary. None of them came to pass. When was I going to learn what a waste of time it is to agonize over things? It brought to mind a favorite Mark Twain quote:

I am an old man and I have seen a great many troubles in my time. But most of them never happened.

When our tour came to an end, we returned to the stables where the wranglers stood, steps in hand, ready to assist us as we dismounted. I was perfectly happy to wait near the end of the line. After all, in my own mind, I was now an equestrian! Such confidence. Such chutzpah. Such…hmmm…

When it was my turn to dismount, I leaned forward, gracefully swinging my right leg back over the horse. I could feel the wrangler guiding my foot to the mounting block below. Oddly, though my body was now fully on the same side of the horse, I was not sliding downward. Something was holding me up. Alas, I was dangling, fully suspended from the saddle.

I couldn’t slide down.

I couldn’t inch up.

I was stuck.

I was just hanging there.

For an eternity.

Quietly giggling.

And trying not to pee.

My bra, clearly one of the wonders of the modern world, had hooked itself around the horn of the saddle. And there it seemed determined to stay. I tried wedging it off the horn. Impossible. I tried climbing back up. Nope. I tried everything I could think of. No way was that brassiere relinquishing its grip.

Given the pull of my dangling body (and possibly some laws of gravity), something had to shift and that something became the ladies. Yes, Mabel and Flossie slipped out from under that sturdy, underwired-possibly-chain-mailed contraption allowing my body to slip gratefully down. The stubborn lingerie, still intent on hugging the saddle, remained where it was as my chin slid downward to meet it. With feet finally on the steps, bra creeping closer up toward my head, I managed at last to disengage the troublesome unmentionable and tuck the rest of me discreetly back inside.

With that, I gracefully stepped off the mounting block and turned toward my sisters neither of whom had a clue about the missed video opportunity. Stifling my laughter still, I walked to join them with as much dignity as I could muster, dignity which quickly evaporated.

The ONE THING I had failed to worry about had happened. Never in my wildest, most worrisome dreams could I have predicted this. 

I suppose there should be a lesson here. It might be to stay off horses. Or it could be to go bra-less but, uh, that’s not gonna happen. I’ll take my chances riding horses again. This tour was an experience I want to repeat, definitely with the grandkids at some point.

The tour, I’ll share with them.

The story of their grandmother, the horse and the ladies? Well, someday. Eventually. Maybe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Door Opens

History fascinates me. Not the economics and treaties and dates and stuff like that, you know, not the pesky details that one is tested on when studying the subject, no, not that stuff. I find history fascinating when people–ordinary and extraordinary–are the focus. After all, what is the point of history if not to remember how events affected ordinary folk or how extraordinary individuals affected events? And if the objects of our interest are members of our own families? Well, perhaps those stories need to be documented somewhere for those who follow us along that familial path and whose interest is piqued down the road.

When this blog was first bequeathed, I anticipated using it as a platform for mundane thoughts, random essays, and certain bits of memories. Though I am not as actively engaged in writing as I had hoped, many of my posts have been about those very things, random and mundane. And indeed some have been memories particularly ones concerning my parents and grandparents.

My intentions also included using the blog as a platform for showcasing my artwork, with occasional explanations about some of the pieces. That part of my blog has been sorely under-utilized. I still intend to do that, but time to adequately post the work is every bit as rare as time to adequately complete the work. So, yes, there’s that little conundrum.

I now have six grandchildren. The oldest is suddenly curious about family stories. He wants to know not just stories about his dad as a child. He wants to know stories about his grandparents. And great-grandparents. And great-great-grandparents. Well, he hasn’t asked specifically about the great-greats, but still…the curiosity is there.

One child, curious about family history. One grandmother, a keeper of the history. And one blog, ready and waiting for a redefined purpose. The stars are aligning. And someone needs to get her ass in gear!

All of which brings me to my purpose here today.

I am not certain when I will be able to begin actively documenting the stories from my forebears but I am certain where on the blog these stories will eventually land. The category “Anecdotes” is now “Ancestors and Anecdotes“. Yes, I will continue to publish random and mundane content on the home page, which is the page you are viewing at this moment, but

I am also determined that this blog, along with its other purposes, will become a repository for all those tales shared through the generations. As I write them, these stories will be housed in the new category, Ancestors and Anecdotes. I guess I’m a’gonna be busy! There may be photographs! With explanations! Maybe some actual documentation! A legend or two? Maybe! Who knows???

As you wait, please note that the photograph with which I began this post is one with certain significance. I will write eventually about the persons whose scrapbooks I have pictured. Meanwhile, it may be of some interest that visible in the picture are ration coupons and visa documents from World War I. Yes, the papers pictured are now one hundred years old. My grandson did the math for me as we were discussing all of this recently. Whoa. Math. I can’t even begin…but I will. I promise. If not for me, if not for you, then for those grandchildren.

The door has opened. All I have to do is walk through—through boxes and boxes of photographs and letters, through pile upon pile of papers and memorabilia, through fragments and whispers of conversations buried deep in my memory. These will be stories of a family. Of my family. Of my heritage and the heritage of all who follow me.

In reality the stories may not be terribly different from stories of your family, of families everywhere. We all have them—tall tales, legends, bits of history, dubious details. If the stories are not recorded somewhere, however, they’ll be lost to the ages and with them, the lives—ordinary or extraordinary—of those who make up part of who we are.

And, so…here I go…

 

 

Bluebird

You’re here!

You are our littlest one. Our newest one. Our Bluebird.

I have yet to hold you but that will be corrected soon. And when I do, I will whisper the same words I have whispered to each of your cousins: I love you. I love you. I LOVE YOU.

Can’t wait. Welcome to our lives, my little Bluebird. You are so very loved.

Mommom