Christmas Love

mother_and_child

 

You know there are some businesses that never close.  Hospitals, Public Works, Police and other service orientated companies.  Such was the case one Christmas Eve, 1988. 

I was working at Marionjoy Rehabilitation Center in Wheaton Illinois when the luck of the draw had me working Christmas Eve.  Usually, Marionjoy’s Pharmacy closed at 6pm but this night my boss and I were working on some unusual compounds and had to stay.  Needless to say I was not happy about this.  One hour dissolved into two hours and still I was at the Pharmacy.  I wanted to get home to my kids, I wanted to see them open presents and I actually wanted to have some Oyster Stew at my parents but I was missing it all. 

At 8pm my Boss said to make one more round through the hospital and I could go home.  Why bother?  Everything was ruined.  I missed all the fun. Big deal I could home – yeah me… 

Making my rounds, nursing my annoyed feelings, I entered the second floor.  The halls were quiet but I could hear muffled sounds of the nursing staff celebrating a Christmas Eve party.  Great! I thought.  I get a cold sandwich, they get canapés and EggNog. Hmmmph…. 

Turning to go back to the elevator after filling the drug cart, I heard a sound that I thought was Hi! Whipping my head around, I spied a little toddler girl in a playpen.  Standing there smiling at me was one of our latest arrivals from Marklund Children’s Home.  This little girl called Kathryn was severely brain injured at the hands of her Mother and was rehabilitating at the Center. 

Well, I could not turn away so I approached the playpen and she held her arms up to me.  I bent and picked her up, careful to not dislodge her feeding tube and found a rocker where I could sit with her.  I had planned to only spend a few moments until the nurses noticed she was still in her playpen, but I found myself talking to her. 

I spoke to that little girl for what seemed like hours. I rocked and sang a carol or two. After quite a while, I felt a nudge on my shoulder.  A nurse stood smiling and whispered, “I’ll take her now”.  I realized I had fallen asleep with Kathryn in my arms.  I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 11:30pm!  I had rocked myself to sleep with this precious child in my arms. The nurse said I looked so peaceful she did not want to wake me but little Kathryn needed her crib.  3 ½ hours I was with this sweet child.  And in those hours I forgot my annoyance, my selfish irritation and found a sense of peace that sometimes is rarely felt in the fast, fast world. 

Walking to my car, I realized that I had just been given the greatest gift from the most unusual place.  A little girl, wounded beyond comprehension, taught me what the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas isn’t about EggNog or presents or the occasional party.  It is about a small child that brings you love when you least expect it. 

Love, Peace and Serenity to you and your family.

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I’ll Tell Them

And you can tell everybody, this is your song…

I went to see the Sex and the City movie the other night with my dearest friend and after the movie we strolled a bit in the electrically charged night air of Chicago. This was our city F and me; it was our version of New York. And just like Miranda, Carrie, Samantha and Charlotte, we had many great nights as well as many lonely nights there as well.

At dinner that night, F and I were talking about life, loves and of course children and she said something to me that struck me as the true meaning of friendship. She asked if anything happened to her, who would tell her children who she really was. Not the typical “she was a wonderful person” but the real true meaning of who she was. The effusive giggler, the voracious reader, the rambunctious whirling dervish, the brave daredevil, the creative and poetic night owl; the sides that most people don’t have a chance to see.

I said I would tell. I would tell her son and soon to be second baby F all about the strength that flowed from her that had the power of a raging river. That she had the ability to look pain in the eye and tell it “not now” and soldier on. I would tell them how her childhood may have formed her but never, ever defined her. How she could dance the night away but also spend nights just enjoying the quietness of her surroundings That their Mother practiced the art of forgiveness and never gave up hope. That she knew the true meaning of friendship. 

So many of us hide certain aspects of our personality and those secrets are only spilled out in the presence of that one true friend. The friend that you can tell your story to and she will keep it locked away. A friend that never turns their back on you. A friend that knows when to pull you out of your own spinning life circus and also knows when to leave you in it; knowing that she will be there to dry the tears. And a friend that will fight for you to the bitter end because that is what she is; a true friend.

To be a true friend, you must be able to hold her secrets safely for her until the time that you need to let those that loved her know the real woman. I have a wealth of knowledge tucked away about F. My memory runs long and it runs very deep. I have stories that will show her children the real woman their Mother was. The one that I love so very much and will always be there for. I have her memorized in my mind. Even down to the shape of her hands and the serenity of her hugs. So your answer F? I will keep my promise, I’ll tell them

 I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words, how wonderful life is while you’re in the world….

To Serve


She is tired now picking her black kick pleat skirt off the floor of her bedroom while gazing at a bed she seems to use no more than 4 hours a night. Tucking her white men’s shirt into the waist of her panty hose that has seen too many days and too many soup spills while slipping the noose of her daffy duck embellished tie around her aching neck, she is ready.

She is tense wrapping the too big white expanse of heavy linen around her waist where the hem causes a contrast between the black skirt skimming her thighs and the rounded knobs of her creaking knees. She shoves a plastic leather ticket book into the deep pocket that she hopes will bear the fruit of her nightly torture. She scrounges in her fake leopard purse that has seen too many days and constantly smells of the grease of where it hides beneath an ancient and decrepit shove-it-all table that is tattooed with cigarette burns of many a weary soul. She finds the two pens that will be guarded over as if a pit bull has invaded her soul.

She winks at the small figure of maleness who stares from his perch of overturned milk crates at the scraping and slicing of the prep from hell. She knows that all too soon this little person will soon venture out to make his own hell but for the moment she indulges his hero worship of a monster in checks that can terrorize and beat down the strongest. She warns him of the evil one from the front of the house. The commandant of the kitchen promises he will teach.

She plates the never ending supply of ready to go grasses and ferns. Over and over she plunges her pained hands into the icy depths that contain the work of the prep-devil. Her freezing fingertips scream with two more trays to go. She gasps moving the cart that makes moving a leather couch a breeze to roll it into its place of honor awaiting the grabbing hands that will drown its occupant in creamy decadence.

She sighs as she scurries to bread the quadruple sats at the never-ending fourtops. She moves with the speed of a cougar and wrestles the stacked baskets of calm-em-down delectables with the hard and icy grease that the perps of her pain will spread on their crusty morsels.

She passes the smirking head of his kingdom knowing that he sat 16 at her charge to test her and to punish her for her audacity to ask for a night away. Ticket after ticket will spit towards the commandant in checks. Order up will taunt her for the next six hours. Artfully arranging the hot and scalding plates that continuously scar her hands, she hoists the circular burden and raises her leg to kick at the offensive swinging door leading her to perps of their own personal pleasure. A smile claws at her jaws while she nods and hustles.

She bears the brunt of all that is wrong this night of hard knocks. She smiles, she entertains, she fakes it, all the while the slurping mandibles clack around her. Her mind tabulates the insult of the 5% that is deigned to her from the perp that entertained himself while rolling his nicotined stained fingertip along her ass all while complaining that she was not fast enough, not happy enough, not good enough to be in his presence other than to serve.

Her head bows while the steam rolls across her cheeks and stings her teary eyes. She receives a smile, a nod, a moment of recognition as a fellow soldier in this nightly battle of routines. She knows that the screams and shouts, the commandant orders and broken crockery will result in the one joy of the night.

She drags on that joy. A long inhale of the first cigarette of the night, while sitting on the oil coated back stoop with the one in checks , who takes long tokes on his own form of relaxation, he who yelled the loudest but is teaching her son all he knows. She relishes in the fact that all is well. And that she forgot to eat.

She is tired now. She pats the full pocket that is to be transferred into the expense envelopes of her life. She picks up the sleeping sweaty figure that did not take his eyes off the commandant in checks and walks to her car. See you tomorrow – we’ll do it all over again.

She is weary because she knows its true.

* * * * * *

I worked as a waitress for many years while holding down other jobs. My son Steve was the little figure and he hid in the corner of the restaurant where I worked. He idolized the chef and Peter was very kind to him. Now he is a chef as well.

Being a waitress is one of the hardest and sometimes most emotionally demanding job. Be kind to your server.

 

Letter to Me at 17

There is a country song on the airwaves called Letter to Myself at 17 by Brad Paisley that is very sweet and lovely recalling himself at the age of 17 and that got me thinking. What if you could write yourself a letter and somehow through the cosmo waves the letter appeared mysteriously at that crossroads age? So I thought I would take a stab and try not to wax too poetic.Dear Chooch:

What do I say to you that you don’t think you know already? I guess I have to prove that I really am you so I will let you know something I know that you obsess about. Stop reading Gone with the Wind already! You have read it 15 times and your copy is falling apart. Branch out to the classics and tell the librarian that you don’t give a rat’s ass about the Boston Banned Books and you want to read Forever Amber!

High School is not the be all end all. These are people you probably will never see again and most likely won’t care about. Stop trying so hard to impress the “in” crowd, they are not very nice and there are 10 other people you should pay more attention to. You are not going to marry that cute football player and that wrestler that breaks up with you 2 weeks before prom? Don’t sweat it. You really did not like him that much but for God Sakes do not date that motorcycle dude from Carol Stream. He is way too creepy for you and you have nothing to prove to yourself.

You are making that decision about college so here is some advice. Go ahead to Clarke College but don’t be swayed by Victoria, she really does not have your best interests at heart and you don’t need her friendship kid. Also, when Sister Carol gets all nasty, instead of quitting the theater department, report her! It will difficult but worth it in the end. Plus the other two directors love you. Be confident and don’t back down.

Trust me when I say this corduroys are not flattering ever! Don’t let Mom talk you into these. In fact don’t buy any clothes until you get to Dubuque. You are going to lose about 15lbs and won’t fit into anything anyway and plus you will discover that there are pants that fit your 34 length leg. So no more floods kiddoo.

While we are at it. Branch out from the Danskin look. Sure you will be one hullava disco queen but there are much better looks there and when you do go Studio 54 you won’t look like such a dancin’ robot. Stand out from the crowd! When you are 24 you will definitely stand out in your black leather pants with the silver sparkle tube top and the boy hair cut. While everyone else is sporting the Madonna craze, you are one cute little cowgirl.

When that director in HS gives you the consolation prize of Assistant Director for Oliver don’t take it. You go ahead and take the lead at Albright Theater. Better crowd and much better experience. Also, when making the crucial decision to quit acting when the boys are little, don’t do that either. Waiting 20 years to get back in professional theater is a long time and you will have lost a lot of opportunities.

Stay away from that absolutely gorgeous guy from the steak place. Sure he is one hunky guy but trust me on this one, things get a little sticky there and it will start your quest to procreate for the Catholic Faith. But if you can’t resist, then stick to your guns and don’t go it alone child. Oh and when your sons try to terrorize you, get a shrink fast. It will save you a lot of heartache in the end.

And your nickname – Chooch. You are going to find that means little asshole in Italian. Really lets just pretend that Dad didn’t mean it that way. Your knickers don’t need to be all bunched up. Celebrate the fact that you are somewhat bitchy and move on.

Oh one last thing. Try to find a guy named Tom from West Chicago. It will save you a lot of heartache in future. Believe me on this one.

I could on and on but I can say that you need to believe in yourself. You grow to be one great gal and no one can put you under.

Christmas Tears – A Story of Hope/Love/Life

I was sitting in my room late at night, endlessly surfing the channels of my stunning big screen TV, cuddling with my affectionate pups when I got to thinking. As I looked around my sweet home that is nestled in a lovely quiet neighborhood, I had to reflect on how far I have come in this oft chaotic, crazy, fabulous life. You know I can go to the store and if I see something I can buy it. I can serve my husband gourmet meals crafted by my own two hands. I can soak in a hot tub that was lovingly installed by the Plumber who also is my love. I can open my closets and choose at a whim many lovely things to wear. How far I have come. I truly want for nothing….

December 1985, I was living in Cedar Rapids Iowa with my three sons in a 2 story walkup that was a converted attic apartment. I was struggling as a single Mom focused on trying my hardest to make a better life for me and my sons. I was attending Kirkwood Community College pursuing a paralegal certification. I had goals, I had hopes, I had dreams but I had no money.

Raising three sons sans support was grueling. At this time I was a full-time student and I was a recipient of public aid that totaled $375 a month in monetary aid and $150 in food stamps. As long as I remained in school, I knew that one day I could march my way out of poverty and become a confident and successful single Mom.

It was cold that December. The ice storms and frequent heavy snow storms were sweeping through Iowa. My flat had a faulty heating system. Very little heat rose to my space. But as my landlord told me many times, I only paid $275-utilities included so I could live with it. Many nights I would bundle the boys in their snowsuits and put them to bed so at least I knew that they would be warm. It was cold, so very cold that year. It was also the December that the State of Iowa had a glitch in the public aid checks. Normally they arrived like clockwork on the first of every month. With that check I would pay my rent, save money for gas, and buy that months food. Sounds terrible but I was okay. I took advantage of food pantries, I walked everywhere to save on gas. I had a plan for my future and I wanted to get there.

Waiting for the check to come through, I started out being patient but soon that patience started to turn into panic. Every week I would call the Public Aid office and was told the checks would be in soon. By December 21st I had stretched my food as best as I could and I had a brownie mix, a gallon of milk, dozen eggs, a pound of rice and oatmeal in my cupboards. I was scared. I had to do something. The local food pantry in that area was only open twice a month so if you needed help, it could be difficult some times.

December 21st, on that cold snowy morning, I went to the State of Iowa’s public aid office to find out what had happened and to plead for emergency help. I was given the standard, sorry check back in the next few days. I did not qualify for emergency aid because I was already a recipient. I think on that day the struggle to live closed in on me. After hearing “just wait”I sat back down in the rickety plastic chair in this office and cried. Not the sobbing type of tears but the slow steady fall of hot salty tears of frustration, fear and yes; pity. I realized I could not take care of my children, that I could not even feed them, that I was failing.

A secretary clicking busily on her typewriter saw me, stopped and came aroud the counter. She got down on her knees in front of me and told me that some day I would look back on this struggle not with tears but with pride that even through the worst of times I succeeded. She then patted my hand and walked away. The next two days were a blur. We fought to stay warm, we fought off hunger but we held each other close and waited for the food pantries to open which would the day after Christmas. Because then at least I could get some food. For me that was hope.

Christmas Eve of 1985 was one of the most depressing days of my life. I sat the boys down and told them that Santa may have to come to our house a little late that year but I promised them that things would get better – we would be alright. Christmas Eve I made oatmeal pancakes with pieces of brownies swirled in the mix. I melted some of the brownie mix with milk and made an actually pretty tasty melt to pour over the oatmeal pancakes and they were good. The boys played, I told them outrageous stories, built a snowman, we laughed and we loved.

That Eve, after pappoosing the boys into their snowsuits and settling them down for the night I reflected that one day I would never want for anything again. That one day I would look back and think it was all a bad dream. Then the doorbell rang.

In this part of Cedar Rapids, a doorbell in the middle of the night meant many things and none of them were good. I walked down the long set of stairs, hugging myself with anticipation, trying to see through the tiny front door window if someone was out there . I saw no one. When I opened the door – no one was there. I looked down and there in the snow on my steps was a very large box with a bow on it.

Gingerly I untied the bow and caught my breath. Suddenly, I did not feel the cold. I did not feel any fear, I felt awed because there in front of me were brightly covered packages, a ham, hotdogs, hamburger, milk, pampers, candy, boxes upon boxes of mac and cheese, rice, cans of soup, and the presents! Oh the presents! Big ones! Little Ones! PRESENTS! Toys for the boys, perfume for me, new coats and mittens, boots, games, a small tree already decorated. I could write on for paragraphs telling of the bounty that laid before me in the snow. It was if someone went through their own house and collected anything and everything they thought I would need!

My irrepressible son Timothy spoke and broke my stunned silence. “Mom! What is this?” “Who did this?” “Did Santa Come!” And then I saw the note along with $200 in cash. The note said “Never look back with tears” I think that my own special Santa knew how to type.

I knelt in the snow that Christmas Eve and thanked God for bringing a stranger into my life that cared and at that moment I swore that if ever I could repay the favor I would. I would not turn my back on someone but I would try to help them any way I could.

Now as I approach a new Christmas Eve, I am warm, I am loved and I am blessed. I have a special life with a man who loves me, children, who although are going through their own struggles, are succeeding, a great job with an amazing caring boss, my friends, my lovely home and I am convinced that although I went through a struggle in the past, I am proud of where I am today. I never saw that secretary again. I looked for her at the Public Aid office but never could thank her.

Christmas Eve this year we will have ham, tasty veggies, a lovely cake and maybe, just maybe a small bowl of oatmeal and I will think of my past not with tears but with pride.

One More Day

The holiday season is in full swing and so are the heart-tugging Hallmark movies and Folgers coffee commercials that have me with my legs pulled up to my chest with arms wrapped around my knees and the tears streaming down my face.

Mitch Albom http://www.albom.com/ has a new novel out called One More Day and is the author of Tuesdays with Morrie and my favorite 5 People You Meet in Heaven. His novels can make you cry with every page you turn. So when you open one his books, make sure you have a supply of Kleenex at your side.

Which brings me to the thought of One More Day. What if we had one more day with someone who is now gone. Just one 24 hour period where we could say the things that we always wanted to say but never had the chance because this person we loved was taken suddenly or we felt that we had more time.

I have a few that I would like to share. And I hope that this post will inspire you to write about your own “One More Day”.

Bonnie my lovely best friend. If I had one more day with you I would apologize for being angry at you for continuing to want to ruin your life with cocaine. Even though I understand that you were dying of a blood disorder and felt a sense of “what the hell”, I just wish I had answered your call. I would want to tell you that I loved you from the day I met you. You brought fun and joy into my life and I learned the true meaning of the word loyalty. I miss you every day and sometimes when something happens in my life that seems a bit on the stupid side, I swear I hear your laugh. I know you are watching me from wherever you are and the memory of you will always be with me.

Daniel, my vibrant, talented musicman. If I had one more day with you, I would have told you that if I had known that you were slipping out of our lives, I would have broken your door down that Tuesday and forced you to come with me to Dr. Ganger. Instead of thinking you were avoiding me, I would have banished that thought and I would have brought you to my home and taken care of you. I would have told you that even through all the pain and anger that I did love you and always wanted the best. And I would have fought harder for you. I would have ignored your anger at me and broken through your defenses and stood by you. I would apologize for not being tougher. But I would also say that your music always brought me joy. That I remember you anytime I hear the blues and I can close my eyes and see you today. That I believe you are in heaven playing your music and enjoying peace. If I had one more day with you, I would record one last song with you and harmonized our lives one last time. You were the most complicated man I ever knew and I will always have love in my heart for you.

Tell those in your life that you love them. Apologize for any wrong you have done. If you can’t talk to them reflect that they once had a impact in your life, forgive and accept them for who they are because tomorrow you may find yourself asking for one more day.

Rubbed at the Edges, but otherwise Good Condition!

I spent last weekend visiting my Uncle Marty Murphy in La La Land California and had a fabulous time! We wined and dined, saw the sights by getting irrevocably lost from time to time and generally acted like the tourists we were.

My Uncle as many of you readers know is a cartoonist. His numerous and famous works range from Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, Hong Kong Phooey, Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, Maja the Bee to the choice primo spot after the centerfold in Playboy. Yep Mom, I know the secret! Marty draws for Playboy and he is funny as hell! So, lets get over that little peccadillo!

He also has collaborated on many books containing his work and several other work of very talented cartoonists. Here is where I get to my title of this blog. My cherished Tom, having had many long wonderful conversations with Marty, wanted to take part in that famous past time of Google-ing Marty. He found many articles including blogs by other luminary cartoonist such as Roy Delgado, http://roydelgadoblog.blogspot.com/ and Mike Lynch, http://mikelynchcartoons.blogspot.com/ . Stop by these two sites – Very Funny Works!

He also stumbled upon sellers of some of Marty’s books. Most notably, ‘Teachers Are Very Funny People’ and ‘That Was the Church That Was’ both of these gems are hysterical and I remember as a child always thinking that Marty was such a star!

Here is the kicker. These books range from 98cents plus shipping to a whopping $2,475!! Now the higher price is because there is an inscription by Marty saying “To Russ from Marty Murphy Thanks for bringing your energy and talent to the sat morning class!” It also says that the book has some wear but the pgs/binding are tight…… Other descriptions of his books are “mild wear”, “rubbed edges” etc. And this got me thinking.

Does “Russ” know that “Rebecca (Rebrosa)” is selling a tight mildly worn book to the public for an enormous amount of cash? Did Russ enjoy the book? Did he know what a stellar man my Uncle is? Does Rebecca know what a gem Marty is? Does she care?

When in our golden years do we get reduced to a selling point? When did a funny, loving, cuddly, intelligent and massively talented man become “rubbed at the edges”?

I know that a book that Marty worked on that is selling at such a huge amount should be a testament to his talent but for some reason I felt a bit sad. In my long conversations over the years and especially this past weekend, I realized that this wonderful Uncle that always supported my dreams are having his sold and no pennies are coming his way. So I want to shout out to the world that Mr. Marty Murphy is still kicking in L.A. Still drawing his fabulously and irreverent cartoons and is as sharp as ever!

Marty Murphy may be a little rubbed at the edges but Damm he is still in good condition and to me that is priceless!