Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hail Mary

At some point growing up, I became aware that before giving birth to my five brothers and sisters and me (the youngest), Mom and Dad had had another child. Her name was Mary and she had been stillborn after the umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck.

I never thought much about Mary until I became older and started having friends who were pregnant, or who had lost their own babies. How horrible it must have been for my mother, in the early 50s when these things weren't proper topics of conversation -- or even public grieving -- to go into the hospital to have a baby and come home alone. People would have seen her pregnant and then later, childless. I'm sure they wouldn't have said anything to her face, but whispered among themselves, "Poor Margaret!" And Mom would have felt ashamed and guilty, regardless of the fact it wasn't her fault. On top of it all, the doctors told her not to have any more children, which would have been crushing for a woman who wanted so much to be a mother. (Luckily for me, and all my siblings, Mom continued to ignore the doctors' orders. Or perhaps she didn't have a choice, being Catholic and all and no approved birth control in sight.)

I don't even know Mary's birthday, though I seem to remember it was in August, like mine. Did Mom think of her on that day each year? Or did she get so wrapped up in her ensuing six children that she pushed the tragedy aside in her mind, like so many other women must have?

Not long before my dad died last summer, I asked him about Mary. He told me how, at the time, he and Mom were living in their first apartment, upstairs from their landlord. And how at Christmas, the landlord's wife had noticed the third little stocking tacked up on the faux fireplace that my dad transformed his desk (now my desk) into every year. That would have been my dad's doing, I believe. I imagine my mom, who wouldn't have been showing, I don't think, putting her hand to her belly and being embarrassed but proud and happy, and also maybe a bit superstitious about someone finding out so early in her pregnancy.

Dad also told me something I had not known -- they hadn't named the baby. In fact, I don't believe Mom ever got to see her or hold her. It was Dr. Forman, who delivered all of us, who named the baby Mary on the death certificate, after my maternal grandmother.

Today, I was thinking about my screwed-up family and wondering how it would have been different if Mary had lived -- because with today's technology, she would have. They would have been able to tell, most likely, the danger of the umbilical cord, and performed a C-section or something in time to save her.

Mary would be about 55. I picture her like my Aunt Lib was -- proper and stern, with short gray hair and glasses that would hang on a chain around her neck. Maybe she would have kids. But I doubt it somehow. I think of her in a 50s-era navy blue wool suit with white gloves. She and I would have a special bond, because with the big age difference, she would have fussed over me as a baby and felt a motherly attachment for me from then on. But she wouldn't let me get away with anything -- she would call me on my crap.

And instead of my oldest brother and sister -- S&S -- being appointed executors of my parents' wills, it would have been Mary and another sibling. No-nonsense Mary would have sniffed out the beginnings of our ever-changing, ad hoc alliances and petty grievances and administered a virtual slap on the hand as needed. No one would have walked away with a cent or any item from Dad's house until she had agreed it was fair. With a seventh child, we could have had a tie-breaker.

And now, I would be able to search pictures and other documents for clues to the lives of a man and woman with whom I got the shortest amount of time. And I could see pictures of their parents, who all died before I was born, and begin to fill in some missing pieces of exactly who I am, where I came from and where I'm going.

Below: Mom holding me, the last of the bunch. Love the checkered tablecloth. Whose big head is in the way??

Saturday, July 29, 2006

One is the Only-ist Number (for me)

I am single and I enjoy it. The other day, I wondered if there were others like myself out there, so I did a Google search. The only sites I came up with were for 1) Women choosing to be single moms (go, you!) and 2) Women trying to land a man.

But I don't need a man! (No, I don't need a woman, either.) I really enjoy being independent, doing what I want when I want to and not being beholden to anyone else. I've been married, and it's not all it's cracked up to be, at least in my humble opinion. It's work and compromise -- and both of you need to be willing to do it. Look around you the next time you're on the road or in a restaurant -- I bet you'll spot a married couple in a car or at a table who have nothing to say to each other, and who look like there is any number of other things they'd rather be doing. How many people do you know who have cheated on their spouse?

I don't even feel a great need to procreate. And hey, if you knew my family (you need only check out the posting below about my brother), you may agree that it might be time to get out of the gene pool and dry off for a while.) I may adopt when I get where I hope I'm going career-wise and make more money. But I don't feel much of a pull to add yet another person to this world.

Unfortunately, society hasn't caught up with me. While men can stay bachelors their whole lives without anyone questioning their life choice, women generally are considered incomplete. That shouldn't be the case -- look at Condoleezza Rice, Oprah, Janet Reno. They're all powerful, successful, single women.

It's not that I don't like dating, or falling in love, or any of that -- or that I think other people shouldn't get married or have kids. It's just that I don't require it for my well being. I have a good job that I enjoy, lots of friends, my own place. I go to the movies myself, eat at restaurants alone -- I don't understand why people think that's intimidating. If the right man came along, that would fine, too.

But I'm already a complete person. Well, as long as I have a cat around:

Friday, July 28, 2006

Dem Bones Gonna Rise Again

I love my brother. Really. Even though he did say he never wanted to see me again in his lifetime after he left his lovely wife of 16 years and found out that I was still in touch with her, and had told her the address in Virginia where he was staying. How was I to know he was shacking up with his mistress? I never would have believed he'd have an affair. (Hey, don't get mad at me. I'm not the one who had the affair.) I had idolized this brother my whole life. My therapist said it was like losing a demi-god! (Boy, he'd like the sound of that.)

Anyway.

KJ and I do keep in touch. Like I said, lovely person. This is how I know they went through a court mediation this week to divide their property.

Here's where it gets weird.

Her asset sheet listed "two live dogs." On his: "One live dog and two dead dogs." Yes, you read that correctly. Two dead dogs. (I have a feeling there's going to be a lot of italic use in this post.)

Hence, he requested that he be given the opportunity to dig up the two (big) dogs that he'd buried in trash bags in their North Carolina yard more than 10 years ago. Keep in mind that one of them was buried there after he moved her from their other NC home, where she had died.

"I would have just had them cremated if I'd known how much traveling they would be doing," KJ wrote. I replied, "I'm just glad Mom and Dad are in hermetically sealed caskets."

Now, if you've read any of my other posts, I think you can glean that I am a pretty obsessive cat mom. And yes, I did have Barney cremated and I have his ashes in a box. But would I have dug him up if I'd buried him at my old place? I just can't imagine it. What is going to be in those bags after all these years? My friend Vic and I sickly want to witness the exhumation, or have KJ secretly record it -- but KJ has more class than that.

Sadly, KJ pointed out, my brother more easily discards live people than dead dogs.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Carnival Rides and Fireworks

A couple of weeks ago when I went to the Marin County Fair, I decided I wouldn't leave without getting on a ride. I was already there alone (to ogle Rick Springfield) in a vaguely sad manner, so I sucked it up and waited 20 minutes in line for a seat on the Yoyo (pictured), sandwiched between three high school girls in front of me and several obnoxious kids behind.

When our turn finally came and we scrambled into our seats, it was time for the nightly fireworks display to erupt over the nearby pond.

The two swings directly in front of me were occupied by young girls, probably about 10 years old. We all twisted around in our seats to watch the fireworks behind us while we waited for the ride to start up.

One of the girls turned to the other. "Mary," she said, "being on this ride and watching the fireworks ... This is, like, the best day of my life!"

I smiled, the ride started up and we swung up into the air, flailing our arms and legs and screaming into the night.

Yeah, kid, you're probably right. It only goes downhill from there.

Date-less

For no apparent reason, my sister and I recently became obsessed with finding datenut bread in a can, the kind we used to put cream cheese on when we were kids. Doesn't it look gross?



Initial searching revealed only recipes for datenut bread. We had no use for these. We wanted our datenut bread READYMADE and we wanted it in a CAN.

Further searching on my part unearthed a message board upon which someone had written that the datenut roll (that is what it's called, it turns out) for which we quested was no longer produced but nevertheless available at the Vermont Country Store, which, it appears, is the purveyor of all things Memory Lane.

Now, my sister and I are awaiting the arrival of two cans each (the minimum order), and I have my cream cheese chilling so that I can break open mine immediately.

I remain troubled by something, though: If no one makes this stuff anymore, exactly where does the VCS get it from? Are the items they're selling as old as the memories of them? Their prices certainly aren't.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Hansel and Gretel

At the coffee counter downstairs this morning, someone joked about the breadcrumbs leading back to the shop having been eaten, and it put me in mind of Hansel and Gretel.

(This is the closest image I could find to the pop-up book my brother Paul gave me on the occasion of the removal of my tonsils in second grade. It was gratifying to pull the little tab and see the old witch tumble into the oven again and again.)

As an adult, I'm fascinted by some of the scary-ass tales we tell children, the Grimms' being, well, among the grimmest, along with those of Hans Christian Andersen.

I started thinking about Hansel and Gretel, and what a bummer it was that such a good idea (leaving the breadcrumb trail) had been thwarted by hungry birds. So I decided to take another look at the fairy tale. Oh my god, it's worse than I remembered! First of all, where are the goshdang mothers in all of these tales? It's always the greedy wicked stepmothers who are populating them.

Secondly, I had forgotten that Hansel had first had the bright idea of laying a path of white pebbles, and it wasn't until the stepmother locked the door the next night that he was forced to use the breadcrumbs (props to Gretel, by the way, for sharing her measly piece of bread after her brother had crumbled his).

I can only imagine the amount of psycotherapy these kids would need after burning the witch in the oven. (A feat that some family out there apparently acted out with their children. No, I don't know these children):


Clearly, these children already have issues with their parents and/or enclosed spaces:



And I love how people get offed in these things: It must not have taken more than a couple of weeks for the a) witch to try to fatten up Hansel, b) Gretel to push the old crone into the oven and c) kids to find their way back home. And when they do, we find that: "The man had not known one happy hour since he had left the children in the forest; the woman, however, was dead."

WHAT?!

By the way, apologies to the parents of these cute children. I'm sure they will not need psycotherapy.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Jessie's Girl

I must have been about 13 when Rick Springfield entered my life. I saw him on a talk show -- it could have been Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin -- where he talked about working to lose his Australian accent and how he was going to join General Hospital and continue singing. I was hooked.

I swooned at Jessie's Girl (remember the video?) and, like a gazillion other adolescent girls, dreamed of being her. I dutifully bought the LPs Working Class Dog and Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet (which at the time were going for about $6 at the local record store).

Just as dutifully, I watched General Hospital every day.

Of course, I never was Jessie's Girl, and at some point Dr. Noah Drake dropped off GH, and I hated high school, went crazy at college, worked, moved, went to graduate school, got married, got divorced. And in those 25 years, I must say I didn't give Rick a passing thought aside from the garage sale a few years ago where I sold off all my old albums except for Adam and the Ants.

Somehow, I came to realize that he would be playing at the Marin County Fair. Wow! I thought. How old was he now? Fifty-six, my research discovered. What would he look like? What would he sound like?

I became a woman obsessed.

I read his "diary" on rickspringfield.com and was taken by how down-to-earth he seemed to be. How he loves his dog Gomer (a newer version of the type that appeared on the Working Class Dog album cover), and how he continues to get creeped out by how, when Gomer rides in the car with him, he sits directly behind him and stares at the back of his head.

In short, the desire to be Jessie's Girl returned.

I couldn't convince anyone to accompany me to the MC Fair, so when Friday rolled around, I headed north over the Golden Gate Bridge after work, bought my ticket to the fair, downed a corndog, purchased a beer and edged my way right up to the stage.

And for a couple of hours, I was 13 again.

Him? He looked just as hot as ever. Jessie's girl sure missed out on this one.