Bobbing Along

A Lifetime of Stories: collected, painted, shared.

Apples and Other Things: Memories of Maeve

Sometimes, some people are just too extraordinary for this world to sustain. Sometimes, perhaps, their light, their glory, shines too brightly and simply cannot be contained. Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean was one of those. To lose her and her son Gideon is a tragedy beyond belief. It isn’t fair. It defies logic. It defies reason. And losing those we love, like Maeve and Gideon, hurts us to the deepest parts of our beings. In spite of our sorrow, however, we know that Maeve, being the force that she was, would rather us remember her with the effervescent joy that she shared. I thank the good Lord that she shared it with me.

For many of us, the earliest memory of Maeve would be of Maeve bursting. Bursting into a home. Bursting into a meeting. Bursting toward you with long, lean, outstretched arms and a lightbulb of a smile. She burst into our lives and immediately burst into our hearts. With her irrepressible smile and uncontainable energy, she managed to elevate the atmosphere of any gathering, large or small. She was Maeve. The mere mentioning of her name to anyone who also had the good fortune of knowing her would bring a smile and a nodding head, instant acknowledgment of her magnetic personality. Maeve the Magical.

The first time I met Maeve was a bit different. She and my daughter Erin, having become great friends during college, were driving home together for one college break or another. Maeve arrived at our home to deliver Erin before heading further down the highway to her home in Baltimore, about an hour away. It was late. It was dark. It was winter. The drive from Boston had been long and Maeve was feeling just a bit under the weather. That meant two things: one, there was little of her typical bursting and, two, the mom in me insisted she rest at our home for the night. After alerting her parents, she tumbled right into bed.

She awoke the next day feeling better. Upon hearing that she was hungry, my husband Dave and I went into high gear with breakfast planning. 

“Bacon? Eggs? Pancakes? French Toast? Fried eggs? Scrambled eggs? English muffins! Oh, did I mention eggs? Oatmeal? What sounds good to you, Maeve?”

“Umm…Do you have any fruit? Maybe a banana? Or an apple?”

Thus, began what I believe may be a slightly unique connection in our friendship with Maeve.

She loved fruit. All kinds of fruit, the fresher the better. From that point forward, if I knew Maeve was coming to our house, I made certain I had a large bowl of assorted fresh fruit. And when she left, I also made sure she took a hefty helping of the fruit with her, along with, maybe, some home baked cookies. Maybe.

Erin and Maeve continued to build on their friendship and generously brought us into their happy world whenever possible. Even over summers, she and Maeve spent as much time together as their various internships would allow. Maeve spent time with us, cheerfully fitting in with any plans we may have already made. Pool party? Yes. Birthdays? Oh, yes! Trips to Farmers Markets? Absolutely yes!

Our local Farmers Market was a particular favorite. While visiting us for one weekend, Maeve joined Erin and me on a jaunt to the local market. There, we each took advantage of the stunning array of fresh fruit and vegetables. Maeve was enchanted with all of it and enthusiastically (was there anything she didn’t do enthusiastically?) bought quite a bagful of fruit: plums, strawberries, nectarines and, probably, an apple or two. As we rode home in Erin’s little car, Maeve munched happily away, excited to take the rest of her fruit with her when she returned home later that day.

Not long after, Erin returned to Boston, leaving her car in our driveway. There it sat for the rest of the summer, through sunshine and rain, humidity and heat. As autumn arrived, I decided I should drive it for a bit, just to make sure the car was still in running order. 

In I hopped. After slowly pulling out of the driveway, I began to smell something odd. I rolled down the window thinking (hoping?) the smell came from outside. It did not. The smell continued to gradually increase. Could there be something inside the car? I wasn’t sure until I came to a sudden stop. It was then that I heard an alarming slurrrsh followed by an overwhelmingly foul odor. I pulled over to investigate. There, under the front passenger seat, I found what was left of Maeve’s bag of Farmers Market fruit, nicely liquified. Obviously, the fruit had never made it down the road to Baltimore on that summer’s day. Maeve is unforgettable for many reasons, but this memory is likely to be uniquely ours.

A few years later, I was asked to prepare the centerpieces for Maeve and Dave’s wedding. “Nothing fussy” I was told. “Just something simple and kinda functional, like fruit or something. Green, too. I like green.” 

I was delighted and began busily testing ideas and sending photos of prototypes to them. One idea after another was rejected, always politely, always patiently, and always with the caveat, “Just keep it simple. Like maybe, I don’t know, like maybe apples. Green apples.” Eventually, I got the message. Apples. Lots and lots of green apples. Green apples everywhere. She did allow me to throw some votives and such around the tables too, but in the end, apples perfectly fit the day, the bride, and the party.

Maeve and Dave became members of our family. We shared some holidays, even a Christmas here or there. We delighted in the birth of each of their children although it was Gideon whom we knew best. As the years went by, between raising three children of their own and being engaged in dynamic careers, we didn’t get to see them as often as we would have liked. We knew Gideon to be a miniature mixture of both his parents. We had no doubt that the future held great promise for him and, he for the future. We looked forward to the day when life settled down just a little and we could once again be together. We looked forward to that day when once again, Maeve, carrying on her hip whichever child needed her, came bursting into our home.

The last time I saw Maeve, David, and the children was at the Memorial Celebration for her grandfather. We had been thrilled to be invited and hoped to see each of them for a little bit after the program. There were a lot of people who evidently felt the same way, as many who sat like us in the audience wormed their way toward the family members who had been seated along the sides. It was crowded but we were determined. It had been far too long since we had seen this very special family. With my Dave trailing along behind me as best he could, I made the proverbial bee line toward the area where I had last spotted Maeve.  Alas, she was no longer there. Disappointed, I turned to Dave who agreed that we should probably leave.

Suddenly, a brilliant, energy-charged voice burst through the chaos. And there she was, grinning, laughing, eyes twinkling and arms outstretched toward us. May I just tell you how powerful her hugs were? Had I known what was to come, I would have never, ever let go.

We love you, Maeve. We love you, Gideon. We love you Dave and Gabriella and Toby. If there can be any consolation in all of this tragedy it is perhaps that they are travelling though time and space together. The world is darker, true. The Universe has diminished in ways we will feel for the rest of our lives. We will go forward but not without a permanently deep and abiding sense of loss. 

It is always said that each day should be treasured as the gift that it is. Maeve did just that. She lived that. She treasured every person, every apple, every moment, every day. And perhaps that is the lesson she was put here to teach us. It is now our lesson to live. 

Maeve, Gideon, you are both so loved. Your lights will continue to shine in our hearts. Forever. 



Monopoly: Loving and Losing during the Pandemic

Monopoly. The very word conjures up some of the best parts of my childhood. I immediately travel back in time where I once again hear the voices of my family, my West Virginia family, gathering at the Lost Creek home of my grandmother, my Mommom. I smell chicken frying and home-canned beans simmering. I taste peppery gravy on the tip of my finger having just dipped it into the pan. I feel a swat on my bottom when I am caught reaching into the pot for one more taste.

Shooed out of the kitchen, I head toward the basement where the other kids have disappeared. Carefully I navigate the old, bare wooden stairs in an effort to avoid tumbling downward, one of my less fortunate talents. The room is warmed by a crackling fire. The fire eases the damp and brightens the area where my three youngest siblings–the triplets–are squabbling. My other brother is off on his own, in another area, quietly trying to avoid all the confusion.

Kenny, Janice Lee, Pam: Summer 1949, pre-Cindy

I look for my older sister and my cousin. He is my favorite cousin, mostly because he is also my sister’s favorite cousin. Only a month separates them in age and they have essentially grown up as separated twins. There they are. I spot them in the back area of the basement which holds the small kitchen where my grandmother does her canning every summer. They are setting up a board game on the small red table. Ah. Monopoly.

Let’s not assume here that I had any skills playing Monopoly. Nor did I have a particular fondness for the game no matter how well or poorly I may have played. For me, it was all about being included in a very small group, the small, exclusive group of the big kids. If my begging to join the game failed, I would be left with my younger siblings for company, which, in my mind, meant babysitting, something I did far too often on any regular day.

On the other hand, if begging succeeded, I somehow felt I had become older, more sophisticated, even wiser. (My inner voice has always erred a bit on the side of fantasy.) Nonetheless, if I were to be included, it usually came at Kenny’s instruction. So yes, there’s that reason for my fondness, too.

“Sure, Pam,” he’d say to my sister, with his lopsided, dimpled grin and his twinkling eyes. “She won’t be in the game for long, anyway.” This was true. I was always the first one out, unless his older sister, my cousin Janice, played. She usually was getting beat almost as badly as I, so returning to help in the kitchen, with the real grown-ups, suited her just fine. For me, what made the game special was being accepted, being included and also not being condemned to playing with the little kids.

As years went by, the Monopoly board gradually gathered dust. We grew up, moved away, started careers and families. Our gatherings as extended family eventually became limited to funerals or weddings. The last time I saw Kenny was two years ago when we gathered to celebrate the life of my father who had passed away a few months before.

Kenny had not changed a bit. Though his hair was pretty long (a nod to having missed the 70’s hippie style perhaps, due to his time in the military) his eyes still twinkled and his smile was still crooked, punctuated with deep dimples. He still had his devilishly sly sense of humor. He was still fun.

June 2018, Kenny flanked by my sister-in-law, Danette, and my niece, Cassie

We had time to talk, just the two of us and as we did, he gave me a gift that I will remember forever. You see, my older sister had died many years before. She was about to be married when tragedy struck. Kenny was in Germany at the time, serving in the Army, and was unable to return for her funeral. Consumed at the time with my own pain, I failed to think of how the loss must have affected him and how difficult it had to have been for him, mourning alone in a country far away. In all the years after, he and I had never discussed her death.

This time was different. And it was he who brought the subject up.

“I don’t know if you know this, Cindy, but Pam wrote to me while I was in the Army. She wrote me many times but I especially remember her last letter. She wrote in that letter how happy she was to be getting married, to be moving to San Francisco. She told me how much she loved the guy she was to marry. She was so very, very happy.”

I had not known about the letters. It was just like Pam to take the time to write. The connection and devotion they shared continued to the very end.

My heart was overwhelmed. I had never doubted her happiness but it was comforting to be reminded that she was at the peak of happiness when she died. More importantly, his words reminded me that he was one who had known her as long and as well as I. In sharing his story, I learned something new about someone who had been gone for fifty years. He gave me a piece of my sister, a gift beyond gifts. I thanked him. I can only hope that I thanked him sufficiently.

Two weeks ago, Kenny passed away. He had had heart issues for a very long time but his passing was still sudden and unexpected. With the ongoing Coronavirus restrictions, we were unable to join his family to mourn and celebrate him. We were not able to share our hugs nor our stories. One can never truly appreciate the strength that can be found in numbers until one has to mourn alone.

The Covid 19-Coronavirus has impacted not only one town, nor only one nation. It has impacted the entire world. Daily life has been forced to change. Being separated from family is the hardest to bear. I long to hold my grandchildren and cannot wait to be able to do that again. In the meantime, we do what we can do and the internet is a godsend. In the evenings I read to one of my grandsons. He loves “chapter” books though he is not yet able to read them himself. It delights me to spend part of every evening reading to him. Long distance. Via FaceTime. On a device no less, one of those things that his parents kept calling a no-no! HA!

On some afternoons, I play online with a couple of my “older” grandkids. The game? Monopoly. Of course!

With each and every game, I remember Kenny. In this small way I like to feel I am honoring him and all he meant to me. The game takes me back to a place of greater innocence. It reminds me of two people I dearly loved and now have lost. I will always remember Kenny. I will always remember his smile. I will always remember his ability to wallop my butt. I will remember him for many reasons and playing Monopoly becomes a tangible source of joy as I share the game with my grandchildren.

By the way, the Peanut, the grandchild whose text message I show above, was walloped in a game of Monopoly the other day. By me. I didn’t mean to. It was a matter of luck, mostly their bad luck. Still, it was the first time I have ever won a game. Ever. Like in seventy years ever. I’m not sure I will be forgiven any time soon.

When I am not walloping one grandchild in an online game or reading a book to another, I am calling the others, enjoying video chatting, video teasing, and video kisses. A new norm. It will have to do.

Life, with all its ups and downs, deserves to be celebrated. If we are to learn anything from this pandemic, it needs to be that. It is up to us to celebrate those we love, those we lose, those we simply miss. It is up to us to celebrate all who remain. It is up to us to make each and every day count, now like never before. Be well, my friends. Be safe, my loves. Be happy. In spite of this pandemic, make every day count.

The Best Short Story I Have Ever Read in My Life. And I Mean EVER.

The title says it all: this is the best short story I have ever read. Granted, it features me as one of the main characters. And granted, it was written by my young grandson, the Chickadee. Before I share (dare I say “publish”?) his story I must acknowledge that he also illustrated it. Fine work all around. If you are a new reader of this blog, you may have questions about the veracity of the story. His classroom teacher certainly did. Fortunately his parents confirmed every detail when queried at their parent/teacher conference. They had to stop giggling first, but confirm it they did. So, yes. A short-but-true-story by The Chickadee. Enjoy.

True story that happened to my grandma. She was a Pirate.

This is her in a fight with another pirate.

She got a scar in her belly from the fight.

But now she is a grandmother and this is me.

The End

Portrait of the Author, with a chocolate mustache, reading beside his grandmother, the pirate.

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.


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.