May 092014

Mom 1Sometimes the ads on TV and radio are unbearable, and other times I find a thin, sarcastic, silver lining in the fact that I no longer have to participate in this Hallmark Holiday. Gone are the long-winded cards, the boxes of Russell Stover Candy, and the tiny throw pillows with kitschy, cross-stitched “If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your Mother” phrases.

Gone also, though, is her broccoli casserole.

It’s one of the things I miss, my mom’s broccoli casserole. We’ve all tried to recreate it, but our mother’s brand of love, because she belonged my siblings and I, was hers alone. It was, and is, the essential broccoli casserole ingredient. It cannot be grown, or purchased, or (like the Cheese Whiz) genetically modified. This indispensable element is also missing from the macaroni and cheese and the Jell-O with the vanilla ice cream and the mandarin oranges.

I miss the chats, too. My mother’s ability to carry on a conversation…about everything… about nothing…for days was the stuff of pajamas, coffee, cigarettes, and legend. I miss the elasticity of those gab-a-thons—her laugh, her advice, her scolding, her nitpicking, her consolation, her empathy, her understanding, her simply being on my side—they went on forever, but not long enough. Her voice is difficult to conjure now. I hear it when I cut my hair too short, or when I drink beer from the bottle at a wedding, but it’s shrouded in a blanket of too many weeks, and months, and years. Time, incidentally, passes differently in her absence. It is somehow slow and fast, cumbersome and inconsequential. Its edges are sharp and dull, defined and blurry. Sarcasm and kindness, bitterness and happiness, anguish and joy all compete to fill the pieces of the conversation that would have been hers. During our very last talk, my mother, God love her, told me she’d watch over me from up above. When I’m my best self, when I’m grateful, and kind, and generous, and happy, her last words are a comfort and a blessing, but when I’m tired, and crabby, and cynical, and chewing gum in church—not so much.

But what’s the one thing I miss most of all? For me, it’s her hands. When I think about her, it’s always her lovely hands. God, my mother had hands that were made for holding. They were soft, warm, and pudgy, great for squeezing, not like grabbing a cupful of cold bones. My mother’s hands were like going back to bed when it’s raining outside, a bite of grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup, or finding twenty bucks in your pocket. Pure. Simple. Joy.

Those hands did so many things. Those hands pointed me in the right direction, and showed me the way. They prayed, they made broccoli casserole, they cleaned, they knitted, they smoked, they drank, they changed diapers, and they wielded a hearty wooden spoon. They clapped, and twirled, and waved, and they wrote the occasional check that paid my hearty Talbot’s bill. God, I miss those hands. Above all else, though, those hands held on tight. Those hands held mine…through so many things…I just wish it could have been so many more. Her hands held me when I entered this world. Mine held hers when she exited.

If I close my eyes, I can feel them still. I can raise them to my cheeks, and draw them across my forehead. If I close my eyes, for a second, I can lift the veil of too many weeks, and months, and years. I can, but something will always be missing.

—Mother’s Day, 2014

Nov 222012

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it involves food, drink, family, and friends—no gifts. It’s a stress free celebration that reminds us to do what we can never do often enough—give thanks. I like it, too, because it’s a discrete little holiday, disguised as a regular old Thursday. Thanksgiving arrives bearing the simple offerings of appreciation and gratitude. It’s conversation. It’s football. It’s unzipping your pants, and taking a nap on the couch.

Enjoy it now, folks, because as much as Thanksgiving grounds us in the intangible bounty of life, every year—just like clock work—his high-maintenance big brother is going to roll up right behind him. Where Thanksgiving is satisfied with a smile, a hug, and maybe a pie, Christmas requires a red carpet, a tree, a Santa Claus, and a choir of angles. And Christmas seems to arrive earlier and earlier every year, like a houseguest knocking on the door while you are still in the shower. Has it always been this way? When did Christmas become so obnoxious?

I wonder…if the three wise men had to pick their way through the holiday trappings we have set for ourselves, would they even make it to the manger? And would they walk in with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Or would they roll up in a Mini Cooper with a plasma screen TV, a X-Box 360, and a Ballyhoo Sensory Toy? Or maybe they would find themselves stuck at the mall, in the frankincense and myrrh store, panic stricken because there are now ten thousand different kinds of frankincense and myrrh, each with its own distinct decorative label, scent and celebrity endorsement. What if the person who works the frankincense and myrrh counter is out sick? Or what if they’re on their IPhone, chatting with a friend about last night’s episode of Criminal Minds? Or what if they just vaporize, as sales people are apt to do this time of year? Imagine the pressure on those wise men. Imagine the timetable. Consider the recipient.

I never would have made it as one of the wise men (or women).  I would have been the one saying, “What star? I don’t see a star.” Sure, I can bear gifts with dignity and grace, but nothing about they way I buy gifts is dignified or graceful. See, I hate to shop. For me, it’s more of an episode for me than it is an experience. The minute I set foot in a store I become riddled with every physical, psychological and social disorder known to man. Where I used to mumble under my breath about other meandering shoppers, and lethargic or nonexistent sales people, I know speak out loud in what some people might consider violent and irrational tones. I’ve diagnosed it as “Christmas turrets.” C’mon, admit it, you have it too. It’s triggered by things like television ads, Henry and David gift baskets—the ones with the fruitcake, and stores that burn loads of potpourri, like you’re chewing your way through a basket of pinecones.

This “Christmas turrets” makes me wonder…how will I carry the gifts of the Magi back into this holiday season? Where will I find the gold, frankincense and myrrh? Can I keep a lid on big brother Christmas—the noise, the chaos, the traffic, the lines, the catalogues, the expletives? If the spirit of giving is available at Macy’s, will the salesperson be able to tell me where to find it? I doubt it.

I think, I’ll take my cue from my humble friend Thanksgiving, and have a hug, and have some pie. Then maybe I’ll do as the wise men did—look. I’ll look at the recipient, and I’ll find the gift.



Jul 272012

Let The Games Begin!

The 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies are just beginning. Yahoo! I love the Olympics. I love the music; I love the outfits, and I LOVE Bob Costas. With each and every video montage, I will become invested in the lives of perfect strangers, the Gods of sport. I will cheer them on to victory, and I will weep for them in defeat. They will astound me as I sit on the couch—a bag of Cheetos in one hand, a Miller Lite in the other—and celebrate their dedication, determination, physical fitness, and their athleticism. But…badminton? What the…?

It’s a questionable one, right? It’s pretend tennis. It’s the day your high school gym teacher had a hangover. I have a hard time getting excited about a “sport” that is played at backyard barbecues alongside the corn hole toss and the potato sack races. If you can do it in Docksiders and Bermuda shorts, with a gin and tonic in your hand (without spilling), and be pretty good at it, does it really qualify as an Olympic sport? If you’ve seen your eighty-year-old grandmother do it, and do it well, does it qualify as a “sport” at all?

They say the shuttlecock travels at speed in excess of 400 miles per hour. And?  Wad up a piece of Kleenex and throw it at the person sitting next to you. Synchronized diving off a 10-meter high concrete platform, intimidating, a shuttlecock made out of goose feathers coming at you at 400 miles per hour, not so much. They say badminton requires lightening fast reactions. So? Sometimes getting to the bathroom requires lightening fast reactions.

Still, the badminton players trained (even it was with a quarter barrel), they are dedicated, they are determined, and they made it to the Olympics. So I will watch, I will cheer, and I will weep.

Let the games begin!