The Key With A Heart

I’m taking a break from my typical, albeit intermittent, “Monday Memes” post format today to talk about a key. A very specific key. A key that holds my heart…

As most of you know, my father passed away last October after a long illness. I still miss him a lot – and my mother, too – but I have come to accept “the natural order of things.” There is an emptiness now, with both my parents gone, that is hard to fill, hard to ignore. But I move forward and do my best to remember the good times, holding their love in my heart.

Most days, it’s just OK at best. Today it was a little rougher than normal.

See, today I attempted to remove the key to my parents’ house from my key ring. My family moved into that house in early December 1972, and my father passed away gently in that same house in October 2014. My Dad spent just under 43 years there, in a house he and my Mom both loved – our whole family loved it, actually. We all still do. Which is why today was kinda’ hard.

Today in one of my frequent grumble-y moments, I became frustrated trying to remove the fist-sized wad of keys and door openers that are MY keys from my back pocket. As I mumbled obscenities under my breath, I vowed to “fix that flippin’ key ring” when I got home. Sad thing is, when I tried, the only key I do NOT need on my key ring is the old key to my parents’ house. The very key I received as a “responsible fourteen-year-old man/boy” in December of 1972. A key that has been in my pocket virtually every single day of my life for now over forty-three years. I cannot let that key go, I just can’t…

keyThe key we are discussing looks NOTHING like the key above, of course. The key I cannot let go of is a nondescript, regular old house key with a triangular head. But – in my mind, and in my heart – that key is as magical and special as the heart-shaped key shown above. My key does hold my heart, and opens the door to a bahjillion memories, all created in that house…

My first “coming home drunk” (I passed out in the side flower bed and my Mom woke me up the next morning – not even kidding!) My first “sneak out and sneak back in” without my parents knowing (I’m sure they did). My first car accident (I ran over the mailbox at the top of our driveway as I was backing up and out). My first day on my first job (I was 15 – Mom dropped me off at work – so embarrassing!) My first cigarette “down by the creek.” Summer nights playing Jail Break (teenage hide-n-seek, a variation of Kick the Can). Late night “streaking” in my undies with the neighbor boys (it was the 70’s, after all, and we were too scared to get totally naked, LOL!)

Then there are forty-three Christmas gatherings and birthdays and Thanksgivings, all in the same house, all through the door opened by that key. When I close my eyes, I can still hear how the front door “opens” – there would be a small click as I turned the key. Then, when I opened the door, the weather stripping would creak a little. My Dad was always in the living room, in his recliner, and would always say, “Well, hello there, son” and – for whatever reason – it seems my Mom was ALWAYS at the kitchen sink, washing dishes (I think she was born wearing yellow Playtex rubber gloves). I would walk in, kiss my Dad then circle into the kitchen where my Mom would always say, “Well, here’s my big man” and then hug me really hard and kiss me.

I miss them, and I miss that house. And, weird as it sounds, I cannot give up that key.

Even though it no longer opens any physical door, it is an anchor for me. I look at that key and feel safe and loved and, well, home. I know I have shared before that keys hold a special meaning for me – this one certainly does. I suspect that if I am lucky enough to live to be one hundred, I will still be carrying that key and – if I am really lucky – I’ll also be carrying all the loving, beautiful memories it unlocks…

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An Unexpected Message

Today I received a little message/check in from “the other side.”

Most of you know, three days ago I married my beloved partner of five years, Martin. It was a great day, one in a really busy week filled not only with our marriage but also work and other family obligations. I mean, today was my Father’s family reunion. It happens every three to five years and gathers my Father’s family together. It was great seeing some of my cousins, my remaining aunts and uncles and just hanging out with my siblings, their spouses and their children. It seemed to be a great way to end an already fantastic week.

As the day’s events unfold, we are all noshing on buckets of KFC, pasta salads of every kind, assorted chips, lunch meats and more desserts than you can imagine – I mean, what IS it about “Moms” and their ability to make kick-ass brownies and cobblers and shortcakes and cookies? Anyway, as I was tearing thru my “dessert plate,” reveling in the day, my sister’s partner looks at me and hands me this:

photo (41)and says, as she hands it to me, “Your sister and I found this as we were cleaning out AJ’s closets. I’m sure she was going to give this to you at Christmastime. We have had it forever but kept forgetting  – we finally remembered to bring it to you today.” 

And I started crying…

What probably none of you know is that AJ is the shorthand nickname for my Aunt Judy, my Mother’s only sibling and without a doubt my favorite aunt. My sister was cleaning out AJ’s closets because she passed away – in January 2007, six and a half years ago…

AJ passed away suddenly and without warning – the reason why she passed really doesn’t matter. But when she passed, I was sad for a long, LONG time. It seems almost perfect to me that I should receive this little gift from her today, at our family reunion, three days after my wedding – it felt like AJ was reaching out to me, letting me know she was still “watching” and was happy for me.

I know a lot of people would just consider this a weird coincidence but what IS weird is that I have been thinking about AJ the past couple three days. She was eleven years younger than my Mom but only ten years older than me, so she was this odd combination of aunt and older sibling and crazy grown-up friend all at once. I loved her – STILL love her – and miss her often. She was a crazy kook, quite possibly a borderline hoarder and THE most chatty, talkative person that ever lived but also the most loving, kind and gentle soul ever created. And she was always a champ to me. She was one of the first relatives I told I was gay. When I told her, I remember that this is EXACTLY what she said: “Thanks for telling me, I’m sure that was hard. I couldn’t care less or love you more.” 

So, THANKS, AJ, for the “shout out” today. I appreciate it. And, as you know, I love and miss you very much. I wish you were still here to meet Martin but I am pretty sure you know all about him already. Please watch over us, along with Mom and Mommo, and – no offense – hopefully I won’t see you anytime soon…