Happy Birthday, Grammy

Today is my Mom’s birthday; she would have been 78 years old today.

She passed away quite unexpectedly almost seven years ago. I think about and miss her every single day of my life.

BBBday

Here are a few pics of Grammy (as she came to be called after her grandchildren arrived) and my big mug, too. I wish I had better pictures of my Mom. She hated having her picture taken – she was never happy with how she looked. I wish she could have known just how beautiful a woman she was…

My Mom had a not-so-great early life. The details are unimportant now, but she battled (I think) with moderate depression for much of her life. The one thing that DID bring her great joy? Her children, and her grandchildren. She loved us all unconditionally and – speaking only for myself – I am not sure that love was always deserved, yet she lavished it on all of us. She also loved my Dad like crazy, was a devoted friend and a crazy cool Mom. I loved her all my life – still do. She taught me to be loving and forgiving, accepting and tolerant, caring and embracing. She encouraged my creative side and was herself a talented artist – maybe not in a “museum” sense, but she was a killer doodler and quite honestly had the most beautiful, expressive handwriting of anyone I have ever known. Grammy was funny and sensitive. She could cuss like a sailor and cry when she saw some random cat that had been hit by a car.

My Mom stayed home with us till my little sister started school, then returned to work. She worked in a large department store for more than twenty years, went on to work at IBM (clerical position) and eventually worked part-time at our hometown drugstore/gift shop. She maintained a close circle of girlfriends that treated us like their own children – it was kinda’ great growing up, thinking my “Mom was cool and had cool friends, too.” My Mom ALWAYS supported every choice I made – even when they were bad ones. People might think that makes her a bad parent but – to the contrary – she let me find my own path, most times cheering me along from the sidelines but more than a handful of times, picking my broke-down self up and making me feel good again.

Grammy kicked ass. She is my Angel and, although I HATE her not being her with me, I know she watches over me. And that makes me feel loved and safe. Grammy ALWAYS made me feel loved and safe. And isn’t that what being a GREAT parent really is all about?

So, yeah, I am a little sad today, thinking about my Mom/Grammy and missing her a bit more than usual. But I am happy that she was/is my Mom, and feel blessed by that fact.

I try not to dwell in sadness too much so today my siblings and I, and Grammy’s grandchilden, all celebrated her memory in a special way. My Mom LOVED McDonald’s ice cream. L-O-V-E-D. (“Best 50 cents you can spend!” she used to say). So in Grammy’s honor, we all took time to enjoy a vanilla soft serve cone from Mickey D’s today.

Besides that fact that Grammy loved these cones, they are a lot like Grammy herself:

So sweet, so enjoyable, so perfect and – sadly – gone all too soon…

Happy Birthday, Mom! I hope today has been great for you. I love and miss you. A lot. Your loving son, Tim

Giving Thanks, 2014 Edition

It’s Thanksgiving Eve. Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, a day to consider how we are blessed (in a fortunate way/not simply a “Christian” way) and a day to consider – honestly – just how lucky we are.

It would be easy for me to say that 2014 has sucked so far, and ask The Universe just where the hell my “blessings” are.

In August 2014, I closed my business after almost seven years of (literally) blood, sweat and tears. Mostly tears. The closing of my business was a bit devastating emotionally and certainly was, and continues to be, somewhat crushing financially as well. With the closing of my business came my return to the employment market as a job SEEKER – I hadn’t “filled out an application” in more than probably twenty years; each of my jobs before opening my own business was the result of scouting by my then-future employer – I got ASKED to work with them. Reciting my high school GPA and “Other Interests” was something very alien and foreign to me.

The summer and fall of 2014, I stood by and watched as state after state achieved marriage equality, while my state CONTINUES to maintain an almost pre-Stonewall attitude around this issue. And earlier this month, somehow my state granted the madman that is our governor the power of four more years to destroy our state. And don’t even ask me about what happened in the Senate.

Probably saddest, in October of 2014, I lost my father, my beloved Pop-pop, to a long and valiant battle with cancer. I lost Grammy (my mom) six years ago and, during the time since, my Dad and I had become closer than ever; in fact, it was like getting to know him all over again. I called Pop-pop every day. I miss him, and I miss my Mom. A lot. A well-intentioned friend called me an “orphan” upon finding out my Pop-pop had passed away. I am NOT an orphan. I have two AMAZING parents – they are just away from me now, for the time being. They are now two amazing guardian angels.

Those are just the “highlights” of 2104 for me but – you know what? The year has been pretty great to me as well…

While I closed my business, I embarked on not one but TWO new endeavors, one at a cherished public institution in my adopted hometown and one in a new design venture with a new partner who is, in fact, my husband. Both careers look bright and, while I am “starting on the ground floor” at both, good things are already happening at each. Two days ago, I got promoted at “my day job” and assumed a new position within the organization, a position that suggests career growth and a stable, secure future. As far as my new design venture goes, working with my life partner/husband is a joy and our new firm is already developing a following. Hooray!

Even though Ohio (my state) is in The Dark Ages as far as marriage equality goes, I am legally-married to my husband and we will soon be celebrating the one year anniversary of his Green Card approval (that was a L-O-N-G journey/struggle, chronicled in many previous posts here on this blog). If it is possible, I think that guy loves me more every day – and I love him more, too. Eventually, Ohio will “see the light” and finally join the 21st Century with regard to LGBT rights and equality.

Finally, while I miss BOTH my parents every day, I am happy to know that they are reunited and happy. And contrary to what I feared, being “parent-less” has not left me feeling rudderless or adrift. Rather, I feel empowered and almost a bit reckless (but in a good way). The state of answering only to yourself for your actions (and your spouse, of course!) is actually a very liberating one. I like it. I miss Grammy and Pop-pop terribly but the freedom they have given me is a great, great gift.

So all in all, 2014? Maybe NOT so bad so far… Sure, heck – I hope 2015 will be even better but we still DO have almost a month of 2014 left. Who knows? It may still turn out to be the best year ever…

It’s funny. I was looking for a profound, “deep” quote about being thankful and ran across this sage advice from Oprah Winfrey herself. Who’da ever thought I’d be sharing inspiring Oprah quotes on my blog? Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Thanksgiving Oprah

Challenge Accepted

Given all the upheaval and turmoil/change in my life recently, I have vowed to attempt DO the following:

ugly day

I have to admit, many days since 28 August this goal has been all-but-impossible to achieve. That admission aside, things ARE gradually getting better and each day IS actually getting less ugly and more beautiful. Thanks, Universe!

Revelations About Grammy and Pop-pop

On Sunday, I began the task of organizing and clearing out my parents’ house, readying it for sale after my father’s recent death. My Mom passed away six years ago and my Dad (Pop-pop) pretty-much left the house intact since – I mean, my Mom’s cigarette case is still on the coffee table and a pack of Kool 100’s is in the freezer (now six years old). Anyway, today was the first few hours in what I can see will be a lengthy process.

My goal today was to organize my parents’ living room, making it look as though they still lived there – not for any creepy reason but out of respect to their memories, and the house they loved. My father spent his final few weeks at home before he passed away there. Since the hospital bed got picked up, there has been a “hole” in the living room and the coffee table became the unofficial sponge bath staging area, holding towels and bedding. It was important to me that the room be returned to its former semi-glorious state, more or less as an homage to my parents and the house I grew up in.

As my project got underway, the first thing I noticed was that, in the final few months of his life, it appears Pop-pop replaced household cleaning products with household disinfecting products, as if Clorox Wipes and Dow Scrubbing Bubbles would make his cancer disappear. I wound up dusting the furniture with a damp cloth (goodness knows, my Mom accumulated 1000+ dish towels in her life, LOL!) Then I began the “clearing-and-straightening-up” process. I immediately determined three things:

1. My Mom never met a silk flower she didn’t like. Or a candle ring. Or a garland of silk ivy…

candle ring

I must have tossed three or four candle rings (all seasons, BTW), more than a few garlands of silk ivy (my Mom had taken to wrapping them around curtain rods; it is a look for sure) and two silk arrangements from her OWN funeral – saved by my father after – now all dusty and faded. Don’t get me wrong – my LOVE for my parents is boundless BUT my Mother definitely had her own ideas when it came to “home accessorizing.” Which leads into revelation two…

2. Grammy had an addition to burgundy key tassels. A serious addiction.

tassel

I must have “liberated” about eighteen of these today from my parents’ living room, They were on door knobs and cabinet pulls, hanging off the dining room chandelier (not even kidding!) and pinned to curtain edges. Again, I love Grammy, but Mom, please – enough with the key tassels already. And finally, Pop-pop’s answer to key tassels?

3. The Yellow Pages. My Dad was a phone book “hoarder.” I cleared 2005 thru 2013 out of the house today.

phone booksMy father’s attraction to phone books is odd – he hated talking on the phone. I suppose he just always wanted to ensure he could find a number when he needed one.

So anyway, when I left, I was quite pleased with how the living room “looked” – it was neat, organized and clean. I was not happy, however, with how the room “felt.” Sad thing is, in my efforts to make it look like someone “lived there.” I made it look like a model apartment: stacks of books here, strategically-placed pillows on every piece of upholstery and – forgive me, Grammy, forgive me Pop-pop – I also re-arranged the lamps.

I know – I am a horrible son (and anal retentive/ mild OCD, too!) And, know what was REALLY missing from the living room, the one thing I cannot “fix” or glam up? My parents are gone.

I’d stack those phone books, re-hang all those tassels AND wind faux ivy around any length of chain, rod or rail if I could only have my parents back. I missed them today, BIG TIME. And while I relished pitching those excessive things out, I’d be the happiest child on earth if I could hear my Dad ask for a phone book, or have my Mom ask me which candle ring I liked better.

I miss you Mom, I miss you Dad. Please look after each other, OK and, if you could, give me a glance every now and again, I’d really appreciate it. Thanks in advance!

How Do You Decide?

boxes-keep-throw-donate

It has now been over a week since my father passed away, I have been busying myself with “executor” duties almost every day. It is hard to imagine what one must do to “prove” that someone you loved has died until you are actually called upon to do it. Thanks to my awesome friends, sympathy cards continue to arrive. They are sweet and touching but also serve as daily, multi-color reminders that Pop-pop is gone. Sigh… Then there is tomorrow’s task.

Tomorrow I will be at my Dad’s house for two reasons:

1. Monday would have been his 85th birthday so I want to “visit” him and Mom at the cemetery and mark the day with a small celebration.

2. It is time for the purging to begin. To borrow a mantra from professional organizers (and hoarders), it is time to begin the process of “Keep. Throw Away. Donate.”

I am not looking forward to this endeavor.

My Dad lived in the same house for forty-two years and, while he was a tidy guy, he was also very frugal – meaning that few things ever got “thrown away.” This thing was saved for parts. That thing was here in case we “ever needed one.” And let’s be honest – a person just accumulates a LOT of stuff in the course of eighty-plus years of living.

I am going down alone, partly because I need some alone time at my parents’ house and partly because I simply do not know how productive the visit will be. Sure, some things are easy – old magazines and papers, well-worn bath towels and dozens of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” containers with the lids (my Mom always sent food home with us when she was alive). Some things are harder – my Dad’s clothes, some of my Mom’s remaining things that Dad could not bear to part with and pictures, lots of pictures. My senior picture, all the grand kids’ photos – heck, my parents’ fridge is one giant photo collage. Where does it all go? How do you decide what to keep?

I’ve decided to let my heart decide. During future visits I will have input from my sibs but this first “run down” it will just be me, alone in the house my parents loved, the house I grew up in, the place that holds many memories for me. Those are what I most plan on keeping – all the great, loving memories of growing up there, the “Hallmark Holidays” with my family (my goodness, my Mom never met a holiday guest towel or candle ring she didn’t love!), the tree I grew from a seed that is now like 35 feet tall in the back yard, the bent mailbox post (bent because I ran over it as I was learning to drive almost forty years ago…)

Some things will get tossed. Some things will get donated. But some things I will cherish forever.

Stars in the sky

It has now been one week and one day since my Pop-pop passed away. My life has somewhat returned to normal (I am blogging again, LOL!), although it is definitely a “new” normal. I still find myself looking at the clock, wondering if it is too late to call him. I thought today that I needed to remind him that Saturday is my beloved Martin’s birthday, but remembered that he wouldn’t forget because his birthday is this coming Monday. Their birthdays are only two days apart.

Then I remembered that we wouldn’t be celebrating Pop-pop’s 85th this year, and it made me sad. Sad that my two favorite guys wouldn’t be together and sad that I wouldn’t be there with them. Losing one parent sucks; losing both parents? It’s hard to describe the emptiness.

This saying came into my head tonight, supposedly an “Eskimo Proverb” – and shouldn’t that really be called an Inuit Proverb? Anyway, I have always taken great comfort in the past when I read it, and tonight it is no different…

starsMaybe my Dad always knew this proverb was true. Before he became ill, many nights you could find him sitting outside my parents’ back door, on a tree stump that serves as a stool (it looks really cool, I promise), just staring at the stars. When I was younger, he tried to teach me all the constellations, although I never made it beyond the Big and Little Dippers.

He would sit in silence in the dark, looking at the bright night sky, content and happy. On the occasions when I was home visiting and this would happen, I would ask him if he wanted any company, and he always said, “No, that’s OK. I am just fine out here.” Now I guess I finally understand why. He wasn’t alone at all.

The sky is a bit cloudy tonight but Pop-pop? I’ll be out there very soon, looking for you and Mom. Give me a little twinkle when I find you two, OK?

No Answer…

As part of my usual evening routine, I typically call my Dad (Pop-pop) about 9PM. I have done this virtually every night since my Mom passed away almost six years ago. I call partially just to check in, to make sure Pop-pop is OK. I call because I love my Dad, and these calls have allowed us to grow closer since my Mom passed away. And I call just to tell him “Goodnight” and that “I love him.”

I did not call tonight. There would have been nothing but a recorded message. My beloved Pop-pop passed away Wednesday morning, 08 October 2014 around 1:15A, after an extended battle with cancer. My call would have gone unanswered.Telephone off ReceiverIt seemed weird tonight, not calling Pop-pop. Granted, our conversations have grown shorter and shorter these past few weeks and months, but tonight my night feels a little empty. I remember reading once somewhere that it takes twenty-one consecutive days to create a “routine” but only three days to break that same behavior.

I think it will take me longer than three days to “forget” about calling Pop-pop. I love you, Daddy-O, and already miss you terribly.

BeeBoo B Day

Today, 09 July 2014, would have been my Mom’s 77th birthday. It would have been a BIG day for BeeBoo (my mother’s nickname), as she loved any excuse to have fun, eat bad food and just be a kid – even at 77. Regrettably, my BeeBoo passed away suddenly and without warning in 2008. It took me a long time to “get used” to Beeboo being gone. I still miss her. Every day.

Mom and DadMom giving my Dad some “sugar.” If you’re from The South, you’ll know what that means…

When my Mom passed away, well-intentioned friends tried to comfort me by warning that it would suck for the first year – the first round of holidays and birthdays missed, the first few times when you “forgot” that you couldn’t just call her up when you got home any more, etc. Even now – and I kinda’ love Pop-pop (my Dad) for this – I still occasionally get calls, look at the caller ID screen and see “MOMS CELL.” See, Dad still has my Mom’s cell phone active – he says the reason is that the phone has a great calling plan no longer available but I suspect it is because there is a certain finality that will happen when he shuts that phone off, and he doesn’t want that to happen. I don’t, either. It makes me smile to see MOMS CELL when my phone rings, and I frequently joke with friends that BeeBoo had called me from Heaven…

beeboo and sissyMom and my little sis, on what certainly must have been National Print Blouse Day, LOL!

So BeeBoo, in the last few minutes of your birthday, I wish you a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY! I miss you like crazy – still – and thank you for watching over me. I hope you, Jeannie, Mommo and AJ had fun today, celebrating wherever you all are (are there birthdays there?) and just know that I love you, miss you and will see you when the time is right.

Not too soon, though, OK?

You were/are the BEST mother a boy could ask for, and I am glad you are mine. You know I believe that children “pick” their parents; I hit the jackpot when I found you and Dad. Happy Birthday…   

Scrap gold, precious memories

It will be five years this November since my Mother passed away. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her and smile. My Mom’s name is Betty and, while she may not have been a perfect Mom in the textbook sense, she was perfect for me. I won’t lie – we had more than a few struggles in our relationship but when she passed, she was like my best friend. I spoke with her almost every other day and we were very close. I loved her. I still love her.

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One of my favorite photos of my Mom, seen here with Yan the Wonder Dog, a black pug that was one of her favorite “grand-dogs.”.

Even though so much time has passed since my Mom’s death, my family still has some uncompleted tasks. My younger sister and I started one this past weekend – going through shoe boxes full of my Mother’s jewelry, one woman’s lifetime accumulation of earrings and bracelets and pins and rings and watches. Shortly after my Mom’s passing, my Dad scooped all/most of Mom’s jewelry into small fabric travel cases or jewelry boxes and asked my younger sister to take it all away. Maybe it was too much for my Dad to see it on Mom’s vanity; maybe he really just didn’t know what to do with it. Anyway, all these months and years later, my sister, my sister-in-law and I sat down and started to go through the boxes…

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It was an interesting emotional journey to review and re-experience my Mom’s life by holding all these things she had loved. We found her school class ring from Everett High School, Class of 1956. Another box held what seemed like dozens of heavy serpentine necklaces, some silver but most gold, from what we children fondly term my Mom’s “Mr. T Period.” Another box yielded a carved, painted wooden flower pin, a piece of jewelry that probably cost $3.00 or less, yet my Mom loved it as much as diamonds. I found a pendant I had designed for her, crafted with stones taken from a ring I had purchased impulsively for myself in my youth. Here was the tiny Italian Horn I had given her, after wearing it for a few years myself (I was younger then, and it was “disco”). I didn’t find the two bracelets she is wearing in the photo above, bracelets I had given her for a birthday and one Christmas. And one ring is still AWOL, but I think it may still be at my Dad’s house, somewhere with the missing bracelets.

All these memories, all these objects were like beautiful, shining pieces of my Mom. I looked at each piece over and over, remembering when and where should had worn them, and smiling. My Mom did that for me – she may have “busted my chops” on a regular basis but she always made me smile…

So, the day before I arrived at my sister’s house, she and her partner had taken a few “good pieces” from Mom’s treasure chest to a place in Columbus that purchases estate jewelry, just to get an idea of the value of my Mother’s things. Among those items was a beautiful blue topaz ring, with a large emerald-cut stone in a four-prong white gold setting. I’m guessing the stone is at least “double-digits” in the carats department (the stone alone is twice as big as my thumbnail). That ring always held a place of honor on Mom’s vanity, housed in its own, special “Somebody-Jewelers-Knoxville-Tennessee” box. The ring sat there where she could see it, I imagine as a reminder to my Mom of her success in achieving a goal, or maybe as a reminder that she was glamorous and beautiful. My Mom told stories about how she had gone without lunch for a few months when she got her first job, just so she could buy that ring. Even as a little boy, I knew that ring was worth millions…

It’s hard to relate the disappointment and disillusionment I felt when the estate buyer told my sister that the ring would probably retail for less than $200.00. He explained to my sister that the stone was beautiful and near-perfect but not a sought-after stone. In fact, he said the “scrap gold” had more value than the actual gemstone.

Scrap gold. The elegant, beautiful ring that had come to symbolize my Mom was scrap gold.

I am well aware of the mark-up in jewelry so I was not too surprised that the ring wasn’t worth “millions’ – in fact, I could actually care less what each piece is worth. I am, however, thankful for having gone through the appraisal process as it has taught me the real value of my Mother’s things. Without much discussion, the group decided to keep our Mom’s collection intact for now, a tangled mess of (mostly) costume necklaces, watches and bracelets. The thing is, each piece sparkles in its own way, just like my Mom did.

Often, the real value of an item is not in dollars but in memories and emotions…