Monday, March 9, 2009

I hardly knew ye

My family was broken in half when my parents split up. I was two. Forever after, there was my mother's family, with whom I lived and interacted, and my father's, with whom contact was severely limited and closely monitored.

I didn't completely belong in either. I barely knew my father's side ... the myriad cousins and their children, only some of whom I saw occasionally, usually at funerals when we were all grown up and pretty much strangers.

And, after my mother died when I was 31, her side of the family seemed to turn into strangers as well. Not all of them, of course, but certainly most. I've spent entirely too much time trying to figure out why. Was it because I reminded them, not of my darling mother, but of the father they all despised? Was it because I don't hold the same view of the world they do, the same political and religious beliefs? Was it because I had been divorced, a failure as a wife and a Catholic? Like I said ... entirely too much time. I don't do that anymore.

The fact remained... the more years that passed, the less I saw or heard from them unless I was the one who made the overture. Years ago, I found that one cousin passed within a mile of my home several times a month on business and never called or stopped by. See what I mean?

Many years back, Leo, the son of my mother's brother, visited New Jersey from his home in California. I learned of the visit from a cousin I love and Howard and I drove south to visit. It was uncomfortable from the moment the door opened in response to our knock. They were gathered around the dining room table, looking over photo albums, sharing remembered times. One cousin, never a favorite of mine and vice versa, snickered audibly when I made a mistake and called the child of another by the wrong name. How could I be so obtuse as not to remember the names of my own family? No one asked about my life, my children, my work. I felt invisible except for the ridicule that seemed to emanate from the walls of the room in a house I'd hated and feared since I lived there as a small child. When next our California cousin visited, not many months ago, no one remembered to call to let me know he would be here.

Last week, I received an e-mail from that dear cousin who matters. She was sorry to tell me our California cousin had passed away. I knew from e-mails Leo had written to those on his list (me included, oddly) that he had a terminal cancer and, despite his willingness to fight hard, there would be no recovery. I read his obituary online and realized none of the names of survivors was familiar. I'd missed the last opportunity to see him and I know his children and grandchildren wouldn't even know my name.

They wouldn't know that his grandparents were mine, that his father was my mother's brother. That his parents gave solace to my mom when she was going through her painful divorce, the one that ultimately cost me all of them.

Now there is one less cousin in a very large family. May he rest in peace.

The family is still there, for the most part, but, without the glue that was my mother, it is still a fragmented memory.


Friday, March 6, 2009

Through the eyes of our kids

I am getting old. Who'da thunk it?

Chatting with Terri yesterday (or was it the day before?), I heard about the failing health of her grandmother, my ex's mom. Then we talked about her father's upcoming 70th birthday (he's two years older than I!). Somehow, we got from there to the fact that she and some of her friends were talking about their own parents ... and about how old we are getting.


Just because I'm on a committee planning the 50th reunion of our high school class? 50th!! Just because I think Chicago, the Eagles and the BeeGees are still the only music worth listening to besides my beloved classics? Just because I have to visit the beauty salon more frequently to keep that youthful blond look from descending into mousy brown and gray? Just because there's less hair to color these days?

Seriously, I spent a bit of time after we hung up thinking about being old. Guess it's a monumental joke Mother Nature plays on us as we plow through life ... she doesn't let us know we're old. She just shows the rest of the world how old we are. Honestly, I look in the mirror and see a few wrinkles ... okay, a lot of wrinkles. I see a few brown spots on my face and hands. I see sagging eyelids that could be corrected if only I had the bucks for cosmetic surgery. But, aside from those little things, I see the same face I've looked at all my life. It's me ... Jeanne, the 30-something youngster! Me, old?

At a recent reunion committee meeting (before the phone call from Terri), the five of us touched on the same topic. We remarked how unchanged we all were from the high school yearbook photos, although our outlooks on life and philosophical bents might have radically changed. We agreed we didn't feel 67 (or 68) and couldn't understand what all the fuss is about.

I'd rather stick to that notion. If I start mulling over my actual age, I may be forced to admit that I'm on the downward slope of my life. That I won't get to see my grandchildren into their 30s or maybe even their 20s. That there isn't an infinite amount of time left to do everything I've put on the back burner for 'just the right time.'

I'd rather enjoy my dear friends (some even more ancient than I), spend hours on the beach in summer, struggle with a dormant Muse who won't give me inspiration for another novel, keep trying to win that jackpot at Tropicana and plot color schemes for some drab rooms in my house. I'd rather play War with Adela and enjoy Nate's fabulous sense of humor. I'd rather marvel at the beauty and independence of my daughters, both of whom are also getting old (gotcha! Didn't think I'd figure that out, did you?)

They say age is only a number. I'd rather leave it that way.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Snow angels, bah!

Can't believe it's been over a month since I last blogged. So much going on! We took a one-week trip south so Howard could attend a trade show in Orlando and bumped right up against a cold snap that felt more like home than Florida. Natch. The Smiths are here ... it should be warm??? When we got back, Howard had hernia surgery and is slowly healing, a tough process that sneaks up on him when he tries to overdo. Tough not being able to work to capacity, but as a dear friend reminded him, he's not 18 anymore and won't heal like a teenager, either. Thanks, Joe.

I've had two YAG treatments, one on each eye. Fairly common after cataract extraction surgery, I'm told. Asked the ophthalmologist what the letters stand for and found they mean Yridium, Argon and Garnet, the three elements in the laser beam that is zapped into the eye to cut a tiny hole along the back of the retina allowing more light to get in and thus sharpen the vision. Voila! I can see much more clearly, except for night driving which can often be a challenge, thanks to halos and rays of light that shoot out from approaching headlights or streetlights overhead. Doctor Kindermann, the benevolent genius who has given me better sight than I've ever had, tells me I should be finished with procedures ... this is as good as it will get, and I'm very satisfied with it. No glasses ever ... except for magnifiers to read very, very fine print!!!

Like everyone else, I am following the economic situation closely, not that there's a cause for panic in our household. One advantage of having nothing is that one then cannot lose. No stock market jitters for us! Howard's business has been slower than normal, but winter isn't his best selling time anyway. We are hoping that our president's stimulus package will spur businesses to invest in equipment and energy-saving devices so Howard's phone will once again ring off the hook. Spring and summer will tell the tale.

I actually cried a few tears during President Obama's address to the joint session of Congress last week. He thinks! He can speak with clarity and inspiration! He isn't an ideologue but a pragmatist who places his trust in science, empirical evidence and the virtue of listening! We finally have a chief executive who seems perfect for the job at hand. He's here because his entire life has prepared him for the task at hand! He proves to me once again that everything happens for a reason. President Obama is where he is because that is where he should be. Thank goodness!

Taking some time this week to work on publicity for the Wellness Fair our over-55 community is sponsoring for residents in April. I'm not a joiner anymore (that was for my younger days) but it's nice to contribute something. Also on the committee for the reunion of the Class of 1959 of St. Joseph's High in Hammonton, NJ. You do the math. I can't believe the number! Do I feel old enough to have a @#$%# reunion? No.

One last note... my friend Bonnie and I saw "The Reader" last week. No wonder Kate Winslet won an Oscar! I love movies and this one just reaffirmed that feeling. Powerful, emotional and superbly acted. Don't miss it!