Idle Thoughts

Rants, Raves, and Revelations . . . oh my!

Cherry Pajamas June 21, 2011

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 11:30 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This has been a long day for many reasons.  Part of it is the heat and humidity (that I’m hoping leaves very soon) which I was out in for around an hour getting comments for a story about and watching the funeral procession for fallen firefighter, Scott Davis, who died fighting a church fire last Wednesday (see The Star Press article for more info. There are several, but this is one more about him.  I will be blogging about this soon.)  Part of it is the fact that Grace Baptist’s VBS has started and I’m starting to get worn down with the bus ministry as some of these kids have never been taught how to obey or anything about respect whatsoever.  Another part that I didn’t really mention today and probably wouldn’t have to anyone unfamiliar with the situation if it weren’t for this blog is the one most on my heart right now.

________

You see, ten years ago today, the world lost one of the greatest men you’ve probably never heard of.  My grandfather, Don Daugherty.  He led a simple, hard-working life — as simple as being the father of six could be.  It’s because of him that I tell stories, both fictional and real.  This was a guy who could tell a story that would capture my attention and imagination as a child (no easy feat, by the way) and could do so on command.  I’ll write more about this one day and perhaps fix the problems with this essay when my brain isn’t so dead.  Tonight, I’ll post an essay I wrote for an English class last summer about that night ten years ago when I was forced to look at and accept the fact that life isn’t fair and the ones you rely on might not always be there.

            It will probably go down as the worst night of my life.  He was my grandfather – my mother’s dad – and he had been fighting this growing monster inside him for the three years it spent eating him alive from the inside out.  He couldn’t fight any longer.  There was nothing the doctors could do, and personally, I think he grew tired of battling with the tumors in his body.  He was exhausted, both in body and spirit, and the only thing we could do was let him go.

_______

The day I hoped would never come, came and went without a whisper.  There was no thunder and lightning or heavy rain like in the movies.  The sun set just like it always did and rose again.  We woke up the next morning, and the world still turned.  Men and women went on with their lives and, in time, we would, too.  But a part of me is still in that back room of my grandparents’ house where I watched him lying in that rented hospital bed in a coma, still and silent.

_________

~*~

________

            Somehow all of my aunts and uncles and their spouses, my mother, grandmother, and I managed to squeeze into that little room, despite the fact that an enormous argument had erupted between them only days before which resulted in certain siblings more or less not speaking to each other.  We all felt we needed to be there and gathered almost all at the same time, as if we all knew what was going to happen.  My mother and I had been in Columbus, Ohio, for the past three weeks, waiting – hoping for a miracle but knowing better than to hold our breath.  She was the only married daughter whose husband was not present that night due to work conflicts.  I was all she had and I knew it.  As much as I didn’t want to enter a room where death was so near, I had to stay, even if I was told otherwise.  I was the only grandchild present when my grandmother, tears in her eyes, finally removed the oxygen tubes from her husband’s nose, whispering, “Tell Jeffy I love him.  I’ll see you soon.”

___________

Jeffrey Daugherty, or Jeffy, as my grandmother called him, was an uncle I had never met.  He had died of a brain tumor before I was born.  He would be my immediate family’s first experience with premature death.  Another uncle would face the same threat, but survived a brain tumor, losing only the hearing in his left ear.   We believe that, before his death, my grandfather’s cancer also spread to his brain.  This was both good and heartbreaking at the same time – good because we had some time to get used to the fact that he was, more or less, gone before he actually left this world, but heartbreaking to watch him become more and more confused before finally lapsing into a coma in his bed in that tiny back room, painted an obnoxious shade of teal with white curtains that hung and billowed gently with the slightest breeze, like ghosts that stood, watching for another spirit to leave its body.  And from the looks of it, his spirit was anxious to do so.  His face was pale, kind of a yellowish gray from the disease attacking his liver.  He looked like he was just asleep, but it was easy to tell he was sick.  His hair, which he never lost through the chemotherapy treatments, was white and thinner than it used to be, but still wavy, just like always.  He lay there motionless, like he was sleeping, and sometimes it was easier to believe he was simply sleeping.  That he would wake up any time and everything would be fine and we could go on with our lives as if this cancer never happened.  But the facts would invariably bring me back to reality.  He was drifting silently away and there was nothing I could do to keep him here.

________

~*~

___________

            I blamed the doctors at first.  In 1997, my grandfather had had surgery on his intestines and in the process of the operation, the doctors had seen something of concern in his colon, but declined to do a biopsy of any kind.  They barely mentioned the fact that they had seen anything.  Trusting the medical professionals, my grandparents went home.  In 1998, he noticed a suspicious-looking spot on his face and, knowing the history of skin cancer, specifically melanoma, in our family, he went to have it checked out.  It was then they found the cancer and, in the ensuing days, realized where it had originated.  The mystery mass the doctors felt was, apparently, nothing to worry about had been cancer.  It was to be the beginning of his fight with what had become stage four colon cancer.

___________

I remember clearly the hours spent in the hospital with him and my grandmother while he received chemotherapy drip by drip through an IV in his hand.  The hours spent on his bed with him because the therapy made him too sick to be up and about.  The obvious weakness every time I came back to Columbus after months back home in Indiana.  I watched as the cancer took hold in his liver and lungs, despite the offerings of modern medicine.  All I could do was stand by as doctors told us that the chemo was no longer working and as he was put on supportive care in an effort to make him as comfortable as possible.  There’s no more powerful way of realizing that you are completely helpless in a situation.

_____________

__

            After his lapse into a coma, I rarely entered the room.  He wasn’t really there.  He had left weeks before.  And, as an eleven-year-old, I could barely keep myself together when I was anywhere else in the house, much less his room.  I had already spent years in depression and just as I was coming out of the worst of that, we got the call – the hospice nurses said it was the end and we needed to come soon if we wanted a chance to say goodbye while he was still slightly able to comprehend the fact we were there.

__________

I was the oldest cousin on that side of the family.  I felt responsible to my fellow grandchildren to provide answers to the questions their parents didn’t want to answer.  This gave me a good excuse to hide behind corners and listen to what the adults were saying – things they probably didn’t want us kids to know.  Much of it was medical jargon, but even then, I knew the more technical the speech, the worse the situation.  While there was life, there was hope, but that hope had dwindled almost completely until it was gone.  No miracle was swooping in to save him, no doctor called saying there was one other thing they could try.  There was nothing I could do.  There aren’t really words to describe the feeling of utter helplessness when someone you love is slipping away from you and you can’t hold onto them to save their life – literally.  Especially as an eleven-year-old, who comes harshly to the realization that she has no control over anything whatsoever, from something as traumatizing as the death of her grandfather to something as trivial as what would be served at dinner that night.  No control at all.

______

~*~

___________

            There’s something about a patriarch’s imminent death that brings out the crazy in people.  My fully-grown adult aunts and uncles bickered for hours over something incredibly stupid, as far as I’m concerned, doing what they could to keep their children away from the argument to the extent that we weren’t allowed to come inside, even to use the restroom.  The sad-but-funny part was the fact that they were ganging up on my mother over the decisions she had made regarding the way I was raised, saying she wasn’t letting me have any fun and that she was hurting me somehow.  Honestly, I was more hurt that I couldn’t come in and use the restroom (a decision made by the aunts and uncles who claimed to have my best interests at heart) than the fact that my mother didn’t want me to go to see a particular movie with them.

_________

It was as though they didn’t want to believe we kids knew what was going on or what they were all fighting about.  We weren’t stupid and we were tired of being dragged into the adult situation of this death then being treated like little children who couldn’t understand sibling squabblery.  It was pathetically funny, the kind of thing you have to laugh at to keep from crying – adults acting like children, children having to act like grown-ups, the older cousins taking care of the younger cousins during these long bickering sessions, and my poor grandmother, trying to maintain at least a little peace with all of us.

____________

I’m sure it must have been difficult having all of us – five remaining children (three of whom had spouses present) and nine grandchildren – spending so much time at her house at such a time as that.  What she did for peace and quiet, I’ll never know.  I’m assuming, of course, she actually had time for peace and quiet.  She was having to care for a dying husband – her fifth grade sweetheart who she thought she’d spend the rest of her life with, or at least another twenty years or so – and keeping a house full of guests fed and cleaned-up after.  The woman was a superhero then, and remains so to this day.

_________

            It’s taken a long time, but I think I’ve finally come to forgive the doctors who neglected to do anything about the tumor in my grandfather’s colon when they first saw it.  If they had done something then, his cancer would have been discovered sooner, rather than it having to progress to stage four before anyone did anything.  But doctors make mistakes, just like I do.  Granted, I don’t usually make mistakes that kill people, but they didn’t know that was what they had done.  For all I know, they never knew.  As much as I think something should have been done to prevent doctors from making such a mistake, I don’t want my grandfather’s death, or anything else about him, to be something I remember with anger.

_________

~*~

___________

            There’s a saying that goes something like “When he dies, even the undertaker will cry.”  There were a lot more people than just the undertaker crying at my grandfather’s funeral, though whether the undertaker did indeed cry is something I doubt.  The undertaker had no idea of the person he was preparing for burial.

_________

He was such a vibrant person with a life story someone should write a book about.  A boy from rural Kentucky who, through hard work and perseverance, lived to become the owner of his own software company.  He was a son, a husband, a father, a storyteller, a fisher, a grandpa to, at the time, nine grandchildren, and to many others whose lives were touched by this man, he was more than I’ll ever know.  I want to remember the times we spent at a lake fishing (whether we caught anything or not) or the hours he spent making up stories for me.  He is my original inspiration – for both life and storytelling.  He’s the reason I tell stories.  Partly in memoriam, and partly because he instilled a magical passion for telling stories that I wanted to keep alive somehow in myself and, maybe, in others through writing them down and telling them aloud when I could summon the courage to do so.

___________

There were many who saw him as an ordinary man, but not me.  There was nothing ordinary about him.

            I can still hear the oxygen machine whirring on the left side of his bed.  I can see the shapes all our shadows made on the weird-colored walls.  I can still remember where everyone in the room was – for some, even what they were wearing.  I, myself, was in my cherry pajamas, with the drawstring pants and the button-down shirt.  They weren’t particularly comfortable, matching the mood of the long visit we spent there, basically waiting for him to pass on.  There was an almost tangible tension I tried to ignore so people wouldn’t worry about me, but I can’t honestly say I didn’t want someone to ask.  I was so lost without him.  Like a piece of who I was – who I am – has been missing since the night of June 21, 2001.

____________

And I can’t get it back.

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A Memorial to the Past and a Nod to the Present May 19, 2011

This is a community profile I wrote back in March for my feature-writing class at Ball State for Mark Massé.  I decided to do the Near West Side neighborhood of South Bend because of its rich history.  It has a bad reputation sometimes, but it just needs a little TLC and someone to actually care about the people and the area — the whole area, not just the historic part.

On the west side of South Bend, Ind., the

Looking down Thomas Street. Sorry for the picture quality. My camera wasn't behaving. Photo © 2011, Kate Wehlann

sun shines on the remnants of snow as winter reluctantly releases its grip on Thomas Street in the Near West Side neighborhood.  The dingy brown grass, withered by the cold and snow is dotted with patches of green, revealing the silent hope of spring.  A few children, freed from school for the day call out to one another as school buses drop them off.  Nearby, a train whistles and startles a flock of returning birds into flight.  Cars sit parked on the street lined with homes and scattered boutique shops.  Some of the houses are painted bright colors, sharply contrasting their more nondescript neighbors.  Others appear to be falling into disrepair.  Graffiti marks walls and street signs, and a few children play in a fenced-in playground outside the St. Stephen’s School building.  A police siren wails in the distance.

________________

The Near West Side neighborhood is the city’s oldest neighborhood, containing much of the city’s history.  The Oliver House and Studebaker mansion and its crumbling factory buildings are surrounded by the hundred-year-old homes that once belonged to the workers of their factories.  Other homes in the neighborhood were occupied by workers from the Stevenson Underwear Mill, which produced woolen long johns in a red brick factory along the St. Joseph River.

________________

The name of Studebaker is no stranger to South Bend.  In the book “Images of America: South Bend, Indiana,” Kay Marnon Danielson says the Studebaker enterprise began as Studebaker Wagon Works, which grew to be the largest wagon manufacturer in the world and the only business of its kind to “successfully switch from horse drawn conveyances to gasoline powered vehicles.”  While no Studebakers are in production today, there is a museum to the brand at 895 Thomas Street, and the mansion belonging to Clement Studebaker still stands in stone splendor on W. Washington Street.  After the home’s completion in 1889, the South Bend Times and Tribune wrote: “The house, in its proportions and appointments probably surpasses anything in Indiana.  It is an embodiment of all the wealth and taste can suggest, and modern skill and invention devise.”

The Studabaker Mansion, still decked out a little for Christmas, if you notice the wreaths. Photo © 2011, Kate Wehlann


My dad worked here for a while. Nice restaurant in a beautiful house.

Throughout its history, it has housed Studebakers and, after having to be sold when Clement’s son George declared bankruptcy, sat vacant for seven years before being used by the Red Cross during World War II.  After that, the home was occupied by the E.M. Morris School for Crippled Children from 1947 until 1970.  Ten years later, the home became what it is today – a restaurant and South Bend landmark, Tippecanoe Place.

_______________

Nearby at 808 West Washington Street, another mansion stands.  Copshaholm is a 38-room Romanesque Queen Anne house and was occupied for 72 years by the J.D. Oliver family.

________________

The Oliver Chilled Plow Works was the other major employer of the city.  A young Scottish immigrant, James Oliver arrived in the United States in 1837.  The Oliver Chilled Plow Works worked in conjunction with the Studebakers, using Studebaker wagon runners in their factory and products.  According to Danielson, Oliver secured 45 patents for his plow designs, “overshadowing all his other products.”  His son, J.D. took over the business and built Copshaholm for his family in 1895.  According to a video played before tours of the house, they moved in on New Year’s Day 1896.

The Oliver Mansion is a great place to tour through if you're interested in Indiana History, specifically South Bend. Photo © 2011, Kate Wehlann

The home was donated to the South Bend Center for History in the 1980s, and its contents are completely original, even down to the spices in the kitchen cabinet and the jackets in the butler’s closet belonging to the Oliver butler, Oscar, says Tim Jurgonski, a tour guide at the Oliver Mansion.  Catherine Oliver, the only unmarried daughter of J.D., redecorated the house to suite her tastes after the deaths of her parents, leaving many rooms painted “sea-foam green and Pepto Bismol pink,” Jurgonski says, laughing.

____________

Copshaholm sits on the property of the Center for History, a museum dedicated to South Bend’s varied history, including its industry, sports, academia and role in the civil rights movement.

__________________

In the basement of the Center for History, Kristen Madden works as an archivist.

_______________

“The idea of the chilled steel plow revolutionized agriculture . . . and my family grew up with Studebakers.  Studebaker was a name that everybody was aware of and it would have brought jobs into the area,” says Madden.  The Olivers and Studebakers had an enormous impact on the economy of South Bend.

__________________

Madden recently moved to the west side.  Despite the bad reputation regarding the crime that has steadily increased since the closure of the factories and the suburbanization of those who once lived there, she says she doesn’t feel it to be a problem.

__________________

“I think in a lot of cities there’s always that area that’s a little more dangerous, but at the same time, I know I’ve never felt particularly afraid of being in the area,” she says.

____________

Noreen Deane-Moran, an English professor at Notre Dame University and president of the Near West Side Neighborhood Organization, agrees.  She lives in the historic section of the neighborhood.  She says the community is split between the historic section, where crime is low and incomes are higher, and the rest of the neighborhood with lower incomes and higher crime.

_______________

“If you were to look at the census data, you’d find the lowest income, lowest education, highest crime.  However, if you were to look specifically at the historic area, you would find the opposite of all those things,” says Deane-Moran.  “Unless they’re looking for quick drug money, it [crime] is not usually against people they don’t know – they get in cross fires with themselves.”

_______________

The historic area of the Near West Side is classified as a national historic district, which means little.  According to the National Park Service, local historic districts have the highest level of protection, while national historic districts are simply a designation.  “We have no controls, no anything,” Deane-Moran says.  The neighborhood contains many beautifully renovated homes owned by people who love those homes and take pride in their history, she says.  While new neighbors are welcome, the real estate of this side of the neighborhood has attracted some unwanted attention.  “You have every landlord or lawyer in the city who would like to get an old house in a residential situation and change it to commercial and so you have to fight that all the time,” Deane-Moran says.

______________

After World War II, many of the houses once occupied by factory workers were split into sometimes as many as four or five apartments to accommodate returning soldiers.  There was also a movement from the city to suburbia after the war, leaving behind those who couldn’t afford to do so, and Deane-Moran says this leads to crime.  To combat this progression, many families have worked to restore these homes to single-family dwellings and to bring the neighborhood back to its former state.

_____________

“We changed from lots of boarding houses, crack houses, gambling houses and drug houses,” says Deane-Moran.  “We demolished two or three blocks and that has low- and moderate-income apartments now . . . My own house, I bought for a dollar and we moved it and then restored it completely . . . There are no programs to fix old homes up, so all the renovation is due to blood, sweat and tears because they live without heat or electricity for a couple years and actually put it together.”

______________

The neighborhood has increased in population 17.4 percent, from 1,583 in 1990 to 1,859 in 2000.  In this neighborhood, it is the Caucasian population that is the minority, with the African American population nearing three times that of Caucasians and more than six times that of the Hispanic.  In 2010, the national percentage of African Americans was 12.6 percent of the population, only a fifth of the percentage in the Near West Side.  With an average household income in 2000 of only $13,410, nearly 40 percent of the neighborhood is below the poverty line.  Aside from John F. Kennedy Elementary School, located in a largely African American section of the neighborhood, the schools that service the area have the lowest standardized test scores and lowest graduation rates.  However, there is still much pride in the area, revolving primarily around history – the houses in the historic area and the Civil Rights Era work in the African American neighborhoods.

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The future of the neighborhood remains to be seen, but it has secured its place in the history of industry and the Midwest.

 

At Long Last May 2, 2011

Filed under: Current Events,Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 11:31 am
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Posted to the Wall Street Journal Facebook page

“Have you forgotten, how it felt that day? 

To see your homeland under fire

And her people blown away

Have you forgotten when those towers fell

We had neighbors still inside goin’ through a livin’ hell

And we vow to get the ones behind Bin Laden

Have you forgotten?”

~ Lyrics from “Have You Forgotten” sung by Darryl Worley

———

In a word, no.

——-

On September 11, 2001, the American people were introduced to a man who would become the greatest symbol of evil of the 21st Century thus far. He was the face and the order behind the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and another location still speculated, killing thousands and leaving a nation grieving and angry. This man, his ideology, and those who followed him sparked a war that has lasted almost ten years, costing the lives of thousands. While the British newspaper, The Independent, and M15 sources claim the terrorists who bombed the rush hour London subways on July 7, 2005 acted independently from Al Qaeda, it isn’t a stretch to think the bombers were influenced by a man I can now, finally, refer to in the past tense.

——–

I’m ashamed as a journalism major to say that I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death through a Facebook status last night around ten-fifteen or so. According to a Wall Street Journal article, bin Laden was killed in a “targeted attack in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, roughly 40 miles outside the capital city of Islamabad . . .” As of the last several news reports I’ve found, his body has been dumped into the sea (as if the world’s waters needed any more pollution) at no definitive location to avoid his burial ground becoming an extremist shrine. After more than ten years (another article in the WSJ tells me he’s been running since even before 9/11), he’s finally gone.

———

From what I understand, he was on dialysis. Personally, I think it would have been more fitting for him to live on until the end of his days, suffering through a disease than be killed as he was to become what some will call a martyr, but I’m just a college student. What do I know?

————-

I logged into Facebook this morning again and saw another status among many praising our soldiers for a job well done and expressing happiness that bin Laden was no more. It said “Shame on us for rejoicing over Osama Bin Laden’s death…that’s another soul in Hell. Heaven surley [sic] isn’t rejoicing . . .” I’m inclined to say I agree.

———–

Now, before anyone gets angry and breaks out the pitchforks about this, let me explain. As Christians, I, along with my friend, believe that we serve a merciful God who has no desire to see His creation burn in a place He designed for the ultimate evil, Satan. There’s no true joy in the death of a human being, even one as wicked as bin Laden. However, I can also agree with some of the comments I found when I just went to copy and paste the status. One, specifically.

“I agree with you 100%.  it [sic] is sad that he is burning in hell for eternity. However, we are all given the chance to choose God over Satan and he made his choice. I am not rejoicing that he is burning in hell, but I am happy for all those who lost loved ones on 9/11. maybe [sic] this can give them a little closure. I cant [sic] imagine how they felt on that day or how they feel today.”

When I think of the feelings going through America today, I don’t really think it’s joy, per se, though the expressions and the celebrations certainly make it sound that way. I see it as dark satisfaction, mixed with a sense of closure I think some Americans had given up on.

—————

It’s a morale boost to our troops and our people, and a hit to the morale of Al Qaeda. In a way, it’s a grim breath of fresh air. It’s a historic moment and we can all feel it. We, along with people around the world, are happy he’s dead. It’s one less evil in a world with far too many as it is. It’s one less person of power bent on the destruction of Israel, America and our allies. It’s closure to a lot of Americans who lost sight of what we were fighting for. Oh, we were reminded from time to time that this is a war against terrorism – that our brave men and women are fighting for our right to live without fear of enemy attack on our own soil or elsewhere. We were told there were soldiers sent specifically to track down and put an end to bin Laden, but we hadn’t seen much in the way of results until now. To an even greater extent, it’s, I hope, some closure for those who received word that their loved ones were not coming home again on September 11. It’s, I hope, some closure for those who have received word these past ten years that their soldier is not returning to them at the end of their deployment. That we, really they, the soldiers, got ‘im.

—————-

I think there are a lot of us who don’t really know what to think. It’s all just too surreal. We’ll process it all after a while – after the months I anticipate the news outlets will cover the story and its aftermath, after some time to think – really think – about what this means to the world. It’s by no means an end to terrorism. There are enough independent cells operating throughout the world. There is enough anger at others for hatred that hot to still exist. Bin Laden’s death does not mean an end to this war (see the last two paragraphs of this article for added umph to my statement), though we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were on April 30th. Chances are, this event will put further strain on our relationship with Pakistan and I hope that doesn’t lead to more fighting there. I hope we can bring the soldiers home soon, but I know from what I see in the news from the region and what I’ve read and understood of biblical prophesy, peace in the Middle East will take much more than what we’re seeing right now. And it will only be the beginning to something much darker.

——————–

We’ll have to wait and see.

————-

I can’t post this without giving credit to where it’s due. Our soldiers have faced great odds far from home and ridicule by some more radical anti-war groups and individuals here in the States.  I’d personally like to send those people to the middle of a battlefield to let them try to get the terrorists to sit down for a spot of tea to talk things over and come out on the winning side. Of course, we’d never see them again. Or maybe we would, considering the fact that our troops’ dedication to their people would never let them go there alone. Maybe I’m just crazy. Anyway.

—————

So here’s to you, our brave warriors who never lost sight of what you were, and are, fighting for, even when so much of it seemed unclear. Whether or not you were at the site of bin Laden’s death, you were part of paving the way to bring an end to the face of the greatest symbol of evil since Hitler. I can’t speak for the rest of my countrymen, but you have my undying gratitude for risking your lives in service to your people and our nation.

————-

Thank you.

 

Red March 23, 2011

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 12:30 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

This is a short story I wrote for my English 285 class my sophomore year of college (considering that was only last spring, it shouldn’t feel like it was all that long ago, but it does).  I like it, though I still think it needs work.  This need for revision is normal for me, but I can’t decide what needs to be done.  My last post merited one reader who commented, so maybe this will, too.  As usual, constructive comments will be appreciated, flames will be deleted, and it’s mine all mine, so no pinching.

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__________

The painting wasn’t particularly famous among most of the people in the town.  Sure, some of the more art-minded citizens were aware of it.  Teachers who had taken their classes to the art museum dozens of times over the years might recognize it, but for the most part, she was left in obscurity.  She waited still on her back wall of a back room for her faithful few admirers as the seasons passed slowly in the world beyond her frame.

jjjjjjjjj

She was stunning – beautiful in a simple sort of way – with her slight, knowing smile and wavy auburn hair that framed her face in light.  Her sparkling hazel eyes spoke uninterpreted volumes without a sound, drawing the viewer into the canvas with her if the patron wasn’t careful.  Behind her, a meadow spread so lifelike that the long green-brown stalks of grass seemed to bend with an unfelt wind and shimmer in the imagined sunlight.  Odd that an artist with such tremendous talent would neglect to leave some name or mark – anything to claim the masterpiece as his own.

———

He came to visit her on his lunch break every day.  Daniel Michaelson was fairly new in town, having found a job as a writer at the town newspaper soon after graduating from college.  The museum had never given him cause for more than a brief glance until he was called to write a story about its new manager, the son of a famous photographer in New York City.  The manager had fixed the place up and was as anxious for a new round of publicity as Daniel was anxious for a chance to see his name once again in print.  The manager showed Daniel a selection of paintings he was considering removing to the museum’s vault to make room for some newer photography when she almost audibly called out to the young reporter.  Daniel pointed to the framed canvas leaning against the wall and inquired whether the new manager was sure the picture didn’t merit a spot on a display wall.  The manager responded, jokingly, that he preferred blondes.

———–

As it turned out, Daniel had not been the first to ask about the painting’s fate.  “It seems to be something of a favorite with some of the regulars,” the manager said.  “I might keep it out if I can find a place for it.”

———

And so, the red-haired lady found herself still on display, even if it was still on the back wall of a back room.  Daniel had become enchanted with the image and after a few months, scraped some money together to sponsor a bench in her room.  This was where he could be found between the hours of one and two every day he had to work.  And then a good portion of his available Saturdays became dedicated to the lady in the meadow.

—————–

She seemed so wise, like an ancient guru draped in the body of a beautiful young woman.  It wasn’t long before, as crazy as it sounds, he started speaking to her.  Not out loud, of course.  At least not at first.  It began as whispers in his head and progressed to barely audible murmurs from his lips.  He vented his troubles and frustrations and released his hopes and dreams to his silent friend.  Disappointing months went by with Daniel mentally filling in her responses to the conversations he held with her.  It was almost a relief when he heard a voice besides his own answering him.

—————-

It had been a long week.  Deadlines were looming, with more irons being added daily to his already-overwhelmed fire.  For the first time since high school, he was seriously considering throwing away his career in journalism and finding something else to do.

—————

“What keeps you from quitting?”

———-

Daniel jerked upright from his slouched position on the bench.  He looked around, but there was no one in sight.  He looked back up at the red-haired lady.

———–

“Did you just –”

————

He couldn’t finish the sentence.  It was too preposterous, even to a man who had been imagining just such an event for nearly eight months.

———

“I’ve been here the whole time, Daniel.  Through tough interviews and great ones, the new dog, the old car with new problems.  The death of your mother, the birth of your godson.  You were the one who told me, remember?”

—————–

Daniel was mesmerized.  Even in his daydreams, he could have never imagined such a voice.  It sounded like chimes in the wind, felt like a breeze in summer, and smelled of a forest glade in springtime.  He stood and approached the painting, reaching out against museum rules to touch the canvas.  His arm recoiled in shock.  Her hair felt as real as the hair on his own head.  He touched the grasses of the meadow.  They felt as real as they had in the meadow near the cottage by the lake his parents had rented every summer when he was a boy.  He could almost smell the wildflowers.

——————

Showing no signs she had noticed the intrusion upon her canvas domain aside from a barely visible twinkle in her bright eyes, the lady repeated her question.

————-

“What keeps you from quitting?”

———–

Struggling to wrap his mind around the bizarre situation, Daniel seated himself once again on the hard wooden bench.  “Writing’s my only marketable skill.  I’ve been writing since the fifth grade – I haven’t cultivated any other talents.  I have to make a living somehow.”

—————

“Even at the expense of being happy?”

—————

Daniel had to think about that for a minute.  Happiness was something that had never really occurred to him before – not in his career.  Writing had simply been all he had known.

—————–

As if sensing his struggle to create an answer, the red-haired woman asked another question.

————-

“What makes you happy, Daniel?”

——

“Being here, talking to you.  Writing.  Not the stuff for work, but the other stuff.  The things I’ve told you about.”

=———

If he had not known better, he could have sworn he saw her nod. “I remember.  Your short story collection.  What make you set that aside?”

——-

“I couldn’t make money on it.  No one would pick it up and self-publishing would cost more than what it would make me.”

_________

“Is money so important?”

____________

Daniel paused.  Money hadn’t always been his motivation for his work.  When had it become such a driving force?

—————-

She continued. “You didn’t list money among the things that made you happy.”

————-

Daniel sighed.  His lunch hour was almost up. “In this world, we need money.  It gets us food, clothing, pays for rent.  It’s not really something we can just do without.”

-____________

“What a miserable life you people must live.”

————–

“Well, we can’t all live in canvases.  Someone must inhabit this world.  Someone must be there to paint the worlds you live in.”

————

“Yes, someone must.  Buy why must that someone be you?”

—————

His eyebrows furrowed in puzzlement. “Come again?”

—————-

“Certainly not all people are as unhappy in their lives as you.  Why can’t you leave that world and join ours?”

————–

Daniel shook his head.  “Because it’s not possible.  I was created in his world and you were created in yours.  We can’t just change universes because we don’t like the one we’ve been given.”

———

“Who’s to say what can or can’t be done?” the red-haired lady asked.  His vision blurred and before is eyes the arm of the painted woman began to move.  “Come, take my hand.  I’ll show you.”

—————-

He never would have thought it of himself, but Daniel found the proposition tempting.  Her voice, her eyes, her very presence could be felt, drawing him in.  He felt his hand rising and his peripheral vision clouded, leaving only the enchanting woman in focus.

————

BREEP!  BREEP!

———–

The alarm on his cell phone went off, snapping him back to the reality he shared with the rest of the human race.  His lunch break was over.

————-

His hand dropped to silence his blaring phone and he bent to gather his briefcase and empty big gulp cup.

—————

“Maybe next time.” He heard her whisper as he hurried from the room, anxious to be away from the odd influence he had just experienced, but at the same time sad to leave the beautiful woman in the painting.

————–

*   *   *

————-

All that day and into the night, Daniel tried to force the woman from his mind, to no avail.  While walking his dog after work he had almost been hit by a car, quelling his longing to be back in front of her for a few minutes before her face filled his mind’s eye once more.

—————

He did not sleep that night, not even after a double dose of over-the-counter sleeping pills.  After two hours of tossing and turning, Daniel gave up.  He reached for his laptop and for the first time in months, pulled up his word processor to create something other than news copy.

—————-

The sun rose the next morning to Daniel fast asleep on his couch, computer snoozing on his lap with the equivalent of over twenty new pages to finish his collection.

___________________

Thanks to his late night, Daniel decided to take the morning off, something he hadn’t done since college.  The image and proposition of the red-haired lady, still ever-present, had waned in intensity enough to allow him to edit the work he had done the night before, but returned with a vengeance.

——————

Having accomplished what he could before the lady’s presence claimed his concentration and before he had to leave for his half day of work, Daniel pulled his coat and half-jogged his way to his car through the flurries that had been falling since midnight.  On his drive to the office, he debated whether he should return to the museum.  The drug-high feeling had not entirely appealed to him, but he had never felt lighter, more carefree, in his life.  What if the lady was right? he thought.  What if I wasn’t meant to be here?  Can I pass up the opportunity to find out?

—————–

In the end, his curiosity won out and he found himself pulling up in front of the art museum and dropping a dollar in quarters into the meter.

—————-

Aside from an attendant at the front desk, the building was devoid of human life.  The old clock on the wall ticked in rhythm to his footsteps on the hardwood floors as he strode purposefully toward the back room.  Her room.

——————-

“I was hoping you’d come back.”

———

“What’s it like?  In there?  You said that maybe I belonged in there with you.  Why should I leave this world to join yours?”

———

“Your world is so hectic.  Here is simply peace – no wants, no needs.  Just being and, for the most part, being accepted as what you are.  Things you have wanted all your life, are they not?  And did you not say before that you were tired of the ‘rat race,’ as you called it?”

—————

“Could I come back?”

———

“Come back?”

————-

“If I began to miss this world and wanted to come back, could I?”

—————–

“It’s never been done, but that has no bearing as to whether or not it’s possible.”

—————–

Daniel rubbed his face with both hands.  He had spent all of the afternoon pondering what was keeping him from joining her.  His father had died when he was twelve.  His mother had died five months ago.  No siblings, no girlfriend.  He could easily be replaced at his job.  There really wasn’t anyone who would miss him.  His dog.

————

He called his neighbor, a crazy dog lady who had often stopped to admire his collie mix when she saw them together.  Surely she had room for one more four-legged friend.

————–

“Of course I can, Daniel,” his neighbor replied, a tad too gleefully.  “So sad you have to move.”

————

After ending his call, he turned back to the red-haired lady. “If I come with you, what will happen to my manuscript?  Will it just be forgotten?”

————

“Did you bring it with you?”

————-

“Of course.”

——–

“Then it will never be forgotten.”

—————-

Daniel stood silently, gazing upon the world around him, through the windows he could see at the front of the museum.   He wouldn’t miss it – not really.  And what kind of adventure would this be?  How many people had the chance to escape?

——–

“Have you made your decision, Daniel?”

——–

His eyes returned to the woman in the painting.  He felt his head nodding and his hand reaching out in front of him.  “I’m ready,” he whispered hoarsely.

———–

His heart beat wildly in his chest as his vision blurred.  He saw everything as though he was underwater, looking up at the surface.  Through the ripples he could see the porcelain arm of the red-haired lady reaching out to him.  He felt her touch is hand, sending electric shivers down his spine.  Warmth spread down his arm and through his body.  Then blinding white light filled his vision.

———-

*   *   *

————-

Two weeks later, the front page of The Checkerston Chronicle featured a story about a missing reporter.  His apartment was undisturbed, his dog given to a neighbor who hadn’t the slightest idea where he had gone.  The only clue, a thick stack of papers, containing a selection of short stories written by the missing Daniel Michaelson on a bench in front of where his favorite painting had once hung.  Now, a different image, similar enough for one to assume to have been painted by the same artist, was on display.

————–

The meadow, as lifelike and glorious as before, was the same, but where once only a red-haired lady had stood, a couple could now be seen.  A man with dark, wavy hair stood behind her, arms wrapped around the woman’s shoulders, face buried in her long, flowing hair.  Her slight smile had broadened into a frozen laugh.  A picture of happiness. A man and his love, finally brought together through the bizarrest of circumstances – but there were only two people in existence in this world or any other one who would ever know.

 

Dangerous Compliments October 28, 2010

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 3:50 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

For my creative non-fiction class, we are assigned to write short exercises.  This is for that class, but is not short and, to tell the truth, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to write.  As I type this, my heart is pounding.  I’m kind of scared about who might see this, but this fear is tempered by the fact that I know I’m not the only one who has gone through what I have and worse, so I feel a certain compulsion to put this here.  Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the family of the less-than-innocent.

________________________

One of the most important things you can tell a girl is that she’s beautiful.  It’s best if you aren’t trying to get something in return, but we like to hear it just the same.  So many girls today are taught by society to believe the idea that beauty is singularly defined by models in fashion magazines and the celebrities that litter the red carpet.  So many girls either simply succumb to feelings of inadequacy and head to the fridge or do what they can to make themselves look like what they see on TV – they starve themselves, exercise obsessively, pull, tweeze, pluck, purge, dye, even go under the knife to be what they want to look at in the mirror.  Sometimes this satisfies and sometimes it doesn’t.

But sometimes those words are less of a compliment and more of a hook and reel.  And once a girl realizes she’s caught, “you’re beautiful” are the last words she will want to hear for a long time and it will be even longer before she can trust that the speaker is telling the truth and not looking for more than a smile in return for them.

My family was not the most affectionate.  We weren’t a huggy family and I could go days at a time with only a few words passed between certain members of my immediate family and me.  My dad was probably the most like this – not emotional, not chatty until after I went to college, not very warm.  I can’t ever recall a time when he said I looked beautiful.  My mom would say it.  My grandmother might say it.  But there’s something about hearing it from your father that makes it feel more true.  Maybe it’s the fact that he’s a man, maybe it’s the fact that he is the first man you’ll ever love in your life, but it would have meant the world to me to hear from him that he thought I was beautiful.

Maybe that’s what got me in trouble after I left home to begin with.

I met John[1] my first year of college.  My church in Muncie began an addictions program in December and I was excited to volunteer.  It was a good way to meet people and I needed some friends that weren’t on campus.  The program would also be something that would broaden my horizons and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.

I don’t know why John was there.  He was about fifty years old, African American, about five-foot-five.  He didn’t appear to have an addiction and he never spoke of what his habit was, but I didn’t care.  John was easy to talk to and it wasn’t unheard of for us to talk for thirty minutes or more at a time.  He was a hugger, which I didn’t particularly mind.  He kept it respectful.  And best of all, he told me I was beautiful.  He was like a dad for me.  I felt important to him and it felt good to feel that way.  True, it was a little weird for someone unrelated and that age to be saying that kind of thing to me, but I ate it up.  It was what I thought a dad should say and I needed that.

It wasn’t until my junior year that I found out he had a farmstand at his house, where he did a rousing business all through the summer and early fall, selling peaches, apples, blueberries, potatoes, and onions.  He probably sold other things, too, but I went for the apples.  Unfortunately for me, I went alone (really stupid decision/mistake number one).

Everything was fine.  There was more than one hug and they lasted a little long for my taste but I thought nothing of it (red flag number one for that day).  We spent perhaps four hours in that little shop talking about this and that, a lot about his sons, who were about to go to college.  He touched on the fact that I was still single a few times as well, even going so far as to say that if he were younger and not married himself, he would have tried to date me.  That creeped me out a lot, to be honest, but thanks to my Christian upbringing, I decided to be nice to the guy rather than to get out of dodge when he let that out (red flag number two and really stupid decision/mistake number two). When I said I needed to get going, he carried my stuff (which he let me have for free – red flag number three), and we continued to talk by my car.  Somehow the topic of what I was planning to do with the potatoes he gave me (soup) came up then all of a sudden, he grabbed my hand.

“Come on.”

I swear on my grandfather’s grave I honestly thought he just had something to show me.  I tremble still even after about a month after it happened.  I wrack my brains, trying to find out how I could have been so blind, so stupid, so wrong about this person.  This next part rocked my world in one of the worst ways possible.

I should have stood my ground.  I should have said no.  I had already skipped a class to stay and talk.  I should have questioned him before following him (big mistake number, what is it now, three?).  But I was stupid and naïve and trusting and I was blinded by the fact that he was like a dad to me.  He wouldn’t do anything that might hurt me – physically or emotionally, right?  I should have done any number of things, but hindsight is twenty-twenty, isn’t it.

It was about five o’clock and he had closed down the shop for the day, but he unlocked the door and led me inside.  I about bumped into him when he turned around and grabbed me in a hug that started out, what I felt, innocent (Another should-have here that doesn’t amount to anything now – I should have known something was up when he felt the need to go behind a closed door, but at the time, I honestly had no idea).  I didn’t really know what to do.  Do I hug back, as is customary?  Or do I let my uncomfortable-ness be my guide and get out of there?  In my confusion, I just stood there (really stupid decision/mistake number four).  Then things took a decidedly less wholesome turn.

His hands were grabby – groping their way down my back.   I was scared and confused and shocked, petrified.  I like to think he was trying to kiss my cheek, but landed on the right side of my neck instead, but I doubt it.  His hands groped to my butt and I finally woke up and pushed myself away.  Looking back, I should have hit him.  Yelled at him.  Done something.  But I just said, “I have to go,” grabbed the doorknob and yanked the door open, making my way as fast as I could outside and to my car.

I have never felt so dirty in my life as I did on that drive home .  Something had been taken from me that I couldn’t get back and the feeling was horrible.  Like someone had taken a spoon and scooped out some of my insides.  Guilty, for a reason I couldn’t understand.  Maybe it was because I knew his kids who were only a two years younger than me.  Maybe it was because I knew he was married – separated, but married.  I hadn’t invited him to do that, but I felt the blame just the same.

It was awful, having to spend that weekend acting like nothing was wrong.  I felt the need to do what I could to be my normal self that night at the addictions program, where I worked in the kitchen on refreshments and talked to the kids who snuck in there for apple slices when they thought the teachers weren’t paying attention.  By Sunday, I couldn’t take it any more.

Aside from working with the addictions program, I work with the children’s ministries as well, including the bus routes our church runs on Sundays.   On the bus I ride on, there is a couple who act as captains.  These two are like my Muncie parents and I adore them, even more so now after this.  On the way to take the kids back home after church I asked, for this piece’s sake, we’ll call her Mom, if I could come over to her house that afternoon.  There was something I needed to ask her privately.

It was a beautiful day.  The sun was shining and a gentle breeze was blowing.  I could see her husband and a friend of his out in the middle of their property, digging another pond.  I stepped inside to the shade of their living room to where Mom was sitting on the couch.  We made small talk for a few minutes before I couldn’t do it anymore.  I told her what had happened.  I remember barely being able to get it out,  I was so scared to admit what had happened, even to her, still in shock that it hadn’t just been a nightmare.  I needed to confront him – tell him what kind of line he’d crossed and lay down the law so I could move on with my life, but I couldn’t do it on my own.  I had learned my lesson of going alone to places like that the hard way and I needed someone in my corner when I went to do this.  She agreed immediately.

I drove over there with her in my passenger seat, trying to talk about other things as we made our way around Muncie to where he lived.  He was with a customer when we got there and we let him finish his business with them before I said a word to him.  When the customer left, I remember the conversation going something like this:

“I need to talk to you.”

“Uh huh?”

“You crossed a line on Friday.”

“Now, what happened was just a hug –”

I held up a hand, (surprisingly) silencing him, something I had never done to a grown man before.  “I’m not finished, and it was not just a hug.  Innocent hugs do not require closed doors and innocent hugs do not require groping of someone else’s butt.  You are ­never, never, to touch me again.  You are to have barely minimal contact with me.  Is that understood?”

He nodded, “I understand.”

“Are we going to have any trouble with this?  Do I have any reason to be concerned?”

“No, you don’t have to worry about me.  I understand.”

“Good.”

And with that, I left the shop with Mom and have never returned.  I hope I was that firm.  Mom said on the way to my apartment to get the things John had given me so she could take them with her, that it was short and to the point, just as it should be.  I found out later that day, when I talked to one of the assistant pastors about what had happened, that John had done time before.  That did very little to settle my nerves.  Now, three or four weeks after, I’m finding myself breathing easier.   I’ve seen his sons and his vehicles around, which raised my blood pressure slightly, but the cars were driven by his oldest son, who I have no problems with.  In fact the biggest reason for my changing John’s name is for his sons’ protection, just in case I ever decide to print this anywhere.  I don’t want to press any kind of charges or call him out anymore than I have here because I feel the matter has been closed and I don’t want to cause any problems for his family.  I just want to be free from this.

And for the most part, I’m back to normal.  Of course, I’ll never be completely the same.  I shrink away when someone I know (unrelated) says I look pretty.  I’ve had to change my hugging policy, something I’m not so happy about because the other male hugger I know has been nothing if not respectful about it from the start, keeping his hands no lower than the shoulders and keeping any contact in full public view.  We fist bump now.  What I hate most about that is the fact that I now am changing the way I interact with others because someone else has betrayed my trust.

I started out talking about my father and how he never said I was beautiful.  I place no blame on my father for this.  I blame only John and myself for what happened – John because he did it and myself for not putting a stop to it when I should have, for not seeing the signs that are so glaringly obvious now.  I’m much less trusting in other people, especially men.  My fiction writing may not reflect this, as I still have tendency to write a strong father figure for female characters, but in my real, personal life, much of the trust I’ve had in the men like the ones I write about has disappeared.  Not that I don’t trust men anymore.  I have a few non-relatives who I’m comfortable around, but I’m much more cautious.  There’s a freedom that has been taken from me – a freedom to not watch my back all the time, an innocence that has been removed from my life.

It makes me sad.


[1] Not his real name

 

I Am Single, Hear Me Roar! September 18, 2010

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 8:15 pm
Tags: , , ,

I hear it all the time.  I don’t think they mean any harm, but it grates like nails on a chalkboard every time I hear it.

“You and your husband . . .”

“You and your boyfriend . . .”

And why is it that people are always so taken aback when I correct them?  Is the fact that someone lives happily on her own without a significant other so incredibly strange? I’ll admit it.  I’m twenty years old and I am, and have always been, very single.  I used to have a problem with this, but lately, I think I’m starting to settle into my single-ness with more grace.  However, it is clear to me, and I’m sure to my fellow singles as well, that we are living in a couple’s world.

I can go into reasons why I believe I am perpetually single, but this isn’t the point.  The point is the glaring idea that it’s, apparently, still not completely appropriate to be my age and still single in this society.  Not between boyfriends, not divorced, not done with men, but completely and totally single without any real, traumatic reason and no real prospects on the horizon.  Of course, no one will come out say it’s inappropriate (unless they’re my grandmother), but the implication is as plain as the shock on peoples’ faces when they realize I’m single and not doing anything about it.  It’s just not natural.

I work with kids a lot at my church.  I’m often asked by these children where my husband is.  One child told me that you aren’t a grown-up until you’re married.  Good night, some of these kids already claim to have boyfriends or girlfriends.  We’re talking eight-year-olds, here.  It’s no surprise that TV shows aimed at adolescents (but are often watched by younger children) usually carry plotlines revolving around boyfriends and girlfriends and the acquisition thereof or the whinings over not having one.  This mirrors what has been going on in middle schools across the country for years and is therefore prime material for the age group.  I also understand it’s part of adolescence to be interested in the opposite sex, but the fact that there are children – literally children – getting more action than I am is a bit of a concern. Children are even starting to give each other, and adults, advice on relationships.  A book came out in 2008 full of dating advice called How to Talk to Girls.  There are many such books on the market today, but what made this book a media sensation was that it was written by nine-year-old Alec Greven, who in a YouTube video about his book, confesses to once having a steady girlfriend.  Whatever happened to boys and girls thinking each other had cooties?  And why this obsession with being “in love,” or at least attached to someone, at such an early age?

This thinking progresses into adulthood as well via the same medium as children receive it.  Most movies and television shows have an aptitude to portray single people as incomplete or mopey or desperate, or, at worst, promiscuous and unable to commit.  Or singles are portrayed as people who are newly out of a previous unhealthy relationship.  In the film, The Holiday, the two main characters’ present lives are wrapped around the fact that they either just dumped their long-term, live-in boyfriend or just found out their on-again-off-again lover just got engaged to the woman she broke up with him over.  As a modern romantic comedy, the ending had to include each damsel in distress being rescued by her own knight in shining armor, but not until they both reach some pretty pathetic points.

This leads to the thought that single people are this way in real life.  For instance, I realize that eating out and seeing movies in theaters are social things people tend to do in, at least, pairs, but should people really be considered strange if they do these things alone?  Every time I go to a restaurant on my own, which isn’t often (I’m a college student with no job), servers ask me, sometimes more than once, if I’m waiting for someone.  Surely, I wouldn’t be so pathetic as to dine alone.  Why should I feel compelled to bring something to work on when I go to restaurants that don’t include a drive-through window?  Should I be confined to my apartment ordering cheap take-out if I don’t want to cook and can’t find my friends or don’t want to bother them?

Perhaps another reason why I’d rather go alone is the fact that most of my friends are no longer in the single boat.  I’ve had four sets of friends (and one cousin) get married, three couples get engaged, and several relationships begin this summer alone, among my friends.  This is not to say that I’m jealous or wish them any ill will.  I’m thrilled they’re happy.  I’ve been waiting for one couple to get married longer than they’ve been dating.  But it is awkward to be the one odd person in a group comprised entirely of couples.

Guys do not have nearly this much difficulty.  It just seems to be more acceptable for a guy to be single than it is for a girl.  Guys are allowed to do things alone without question.  I mean, how often do guys go to bathrooms in groups?  Even the terms we use for single men and women back up this claim.  Bachelor for men, spinster for women.  Stag for men (if you don’t believe me on this one, check thesaurus.com), old maid for women.  Bachelor for men, prig for women.  Stag for men.  Crazy Cat Lady.

By the way, why do we only rarely hear of Crazy Cat Men?  Single guys who would be living all on their own if not for their inordinate numbers of cats with idiotic names like Bimpie?  They exist.  My dad was on his way when he met my mom.  These CCMs have other obsessions besides cats, too.  Video games, Star Trek conventions, role-playing games, name the stereotype.  However, these are the minority of single guys.  The majority of single guys are accepted, usually, without question or ridicule.

This doesn’t mean society hasn’t come a long way, baby, in the acceptance of single people who are completely happy with their position.  Samara O’Shea, a blogger for the Huffington Post wrote a post about single-ness, saying it is not only nothing to be ashamed of, but something to celebrate.  In an interview with a fellow blogger for the Psychology Today website, she tells Disabled and Thriving writer, Melissa Blake, that there are several benefits to being single, such as not having to discuss spending significant money with a spouse or being able to come and go as she pleases.  According to O’Shea, 42% of American adults over the age of 18 are single, though I’m inclined to believe this statistic to be more of a discrepancy between married and unmarried individuals.  However, this does not mean these reasons for rejoicing don’t ring true.  (A note here: it probably wouldn’t behoove us to snap back at those who would show pity on us, as I’ve seen some do, but to simply smile and nod and maybe roll your eyes a little when they aren’t looking.  Just because they feel you should be sorry for yourself and you disagree doesn’t mean you should get nasty and tell them they should join the party or get out.)  O’Shea says, “I believe the idea of being single has become much more acceptable over the past thirty years.  Of course there will always be people who will feel sorry for the single among us, but I think that’s because they are projecting their own fears of being alone on the single people that they see rather than considering that a single person might just be okay.”

All bets are off, of course when elderly female family members are involved.  I’m beginning to get really tired of people coming up to me at various get-togethers, some of whom are people I barely know, but apparently know me, asking, “So have ya met anybody?”  Um, no, I haven’t or he’d probably be with me so I’d have someone to talk to at these things. It’s like the old anecdote – the old ladies comes up to younger people at weddings, telling them “You’re next,” and the younger people doing the same thing to them at funerals.

And the attempts at matchmaking!  I feel like I’ve stepped into the world of The Fiddler on the Roof sometimes!  It’s not acceptable to be a single female, so someone must find a man for you.  Usually this someone has no idea what you are looking for in a significant other and doesn’t really care.  These matchmakers often have no real reason for pairing, or attempting to pair, you with another.  They just want to go to a wedding.  I’m sorry, but ‘he’s such a nice boy’ is not going to start the ringing of wedding bells for me.  If he’s so nice, why don’t you marry him?

A famous quote from the film The Fiddler on the Roof is an excellent example of this:

Tzeitel (daughter): “But Mama, the men she finds.  The last one was so  old and he was bald.  He had no hair.”

Golde (mother): “A poor girl without a dowry can’t be so particular.  You want hair, marry a monkey.”

Bless our mothers’ hearts, they want to see us married off, too.  Fortunately, most mothers today aren’t as ambivalent towards the type of men or women their children will be marrying or dating as Golde was, but after a while, I think almost every single person, man or woman, is asked about his or her lack of relationship by Mom.  Personally, I believe this stems more from wanting to ensure their children are taken care of for the future, rather than out of pestering them to give up their singleness, but the pestering, however gentle, serves as yet another reminder that we haven’t grown to our potential in her eyes.  That or she just really wants grandchildren.

I realize I’ve been generalizing greatly throughout this post and this might not the experience of other singles.  However, the assignment I was given that gave birth to this piece was to analyze and critique an aspect of culture from my point of view and I will hold to my opinion.

 

Always Kiss Me Goodnight July 19, 2010

Filed under: Writings — idlethoughtsblog @ 11:44 am
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He sits in his old recliner after dinner.  I don’t think he intends to go to sleep, but inevitably, he is snoring peacefully soon after Jeopardy, or these days, sometimes even before.  When I say snoring, I don’t mean merely loud breathing while asleep.  Accompanying the usual sounds you might expect are hums and sighs and, if he’s dreaming, mutters.  He will go on this way until the nightly news comes on, which he will awaken just long enough to hear before going to bed.  To his right, with a be-lamped table between them, sits his wife.  She is sitting in a reclining loveseat, her feet up, heating pad pressed to her back, usually sleeping right alongside him.

These two are my grandparents and they have been married for fifty-five years.

My grandfather is tall and thin with skin tan from spending long days outside running his miniature trains around train parks across the country.  His hands are calloused from working all his life in bakeries and in basement workshops and with his trains.  My grandmother is petite, her hair set in short, light blonde curls, her skin fair, her fingernails immaculate, her eyes a beautiful bright blue.  She’s worked alongside him, raising two children, and in their later years, traveled around with him and his trains for as long as I can remember, including their annual trip down to Florida every winter until recently, when her health became a concern.  Their RV sits dormant now, its years of service rewarded with a suitable retirement next to the garage.  And now, I think my grandparents are settling completely into their retirement as well.

Their journey together began in 1948.  Lee Wehlann was hired to work as a baker at Heinrich’s Bakery in Detroit, Michigan as a junior in high school.  While he was working back in the kitchen, Theresa, the daughter of the owner, Godfrey Heinrich, worked in the front.

 

Isn't she gorgeous?

 

After work one day, he and five other people crammed into his little car and went for ice cream.  Theresa, among them, squeezed into the front seat between him and another young man who worked with Lee in the kitchen.  After that, one thing led to another and Lee wound up asking Theresa out to dinner to a Swedish smorgasbord he liked and she accepted.  They dated steadily until he joined the service in 1952.  By then, Lee knew Theresa was the only woman for him.  He would have proposed before joining the army, but did not want to leave Theresa engaged to a man who did not have all confidence in his return if he were deployed.  Instead, they stayed close until he was discharged in November 1954, very soon after which he asked Theresa to be his wife.  They were married August 13, 1955.  The employee marries the boss’s daughter.

Together, they started their own bakery, The Nook, in 1971 on the east side of Detroit and continued running Heinrich’s Bakery until selling the business.  Together with their children, Judy and Don, and a handful of other employees, Lee operated the bakery and Theresa taught cake decorating and candy-making for nearly ten years before opening another Nook in the fall of 1981 in Centerline.  They sold the first Nook on Gratiot Street in December of 1983 and focused their attention on the Centerline Nook until Lee’s retirement in 1995.

The Wehlanns were a typical, hard-working, blue-collar Detroit family, Lee rising early, often at two or three in the morning, to start getting ready for the breakfast crowd at his bakery, Theresa teaching cake decorating and candy-making to her students later in the day, their children joining them after school.  Though they spent their lives working long and hard, often with little together time in the evenings, as many families had, Lee and Theresa always made family a priority, even if it meant that family time was spent working.  Their son, Don, my father, recalls that the greatest life lessons he learned were taught by his parents’ example in their bakeries – the value of hard work and the fair treatment of employees and customers as it applied both to business and their personal lives.

Judy remembers watching her mother teach cake decorating and candy making at the Nook alongside Theresa’s mother, Anna.  She remembers her mother working hard to keep the house together, especially the laundry.  My grandmother would spend hours in the basement doing laundry and ironing.  She had an upright iron, the likes of which you might see in a tailor’s shop or a drycleaner’s, and used it to iron everything from bed and table linens to her husband’s handkerchiefs.  Theresa and her mother-in-law took sewing classes together, learning a skill Theresa used well into my lifetime, and would often bring Judy with her.

Their love was shown by the quality of the time spent with their children, rather than the quantity.  In the summers, Sunday was family day.  Every Sunday after church, they took their children sailing in Upper Pettibone Lake, about an hour’s drive northwest of Detroit.  In the winter of 1967and 1968, Lee and Don built a sixteen-foot Sunfish sailboat in the basement to sail on the lake, an experience both children remember.  My father still remembers hauling that boat on its side up the stairs and out through the back door.  The boat is still in existence and is currently hanging in the rafters of Judy’s garage.  They traveled with Don and Judy in campers, first in an eight-foot pop-up and later in, what Judy refers to as a “twelve-foot box,” all over the country and even into parts of Canada with Lee’s parents.  This not only built memories for themselves and their children, but also demonstrated their love for them in ways my father and aunt might not have fully understood at the time.  In order to take these vacations, my grandparents had to shut down the Nook for up to two weeks, sacrificing the needed-income they would have received in order show their children the wonders of their available world and experience those wonders with them.  In many ways, this shows a greater love than money-bought luxuries ever could.

My grandfather made time for his son, specifically, while working in their basement workshop, building model planes and teaching him how to fix and build things, something he has passed on, in his own way, to my brother and I.  That’s not to say Judy didn’t get some time in the workshop as well.  As a little girl, perhaps four or five years old, she can remember bringing broken toys to him while he stood at his workbench and saying, “Daddy, fix.”  A little while later, her toys would be returned to her, fully-functioning.  It was the little things they did that really meant the most.

They did not have much money to spend on their children, but the gifts they have given them in the form of life lessons and practical experience can carry no price tag.  My father, now a pastry chef himself, received years of experience in the kitchen long before going to culinary school.  My aunt, now an accountant, got her first real business experience working in the second Nook and, during her senior year of high school, by more or less managing the bakery while her mother was ill.  My father and aunt both learned the value of a dollar and the satisfaction of a hard day’s work, something they have been able to pass onto their own children.

In a society where families break into pieces with a couple of signatures on a document and marriage is taken lightly, it is rare to see a relationship last as long as theirs has.  This is due, at least in part, to another gift my grandparents have given both their children, and now their grandchildren as we start to get married.  It is an often-overlooked piece of wise counsel passed down from his own mother, who lived the vow ‘till death do us part’ just as they have:

“Always kiss each other goodnight.”

No matter what spat or argument you might have with your husband or wife, make up before you go to bed.  Because in the light of day, the realization of the big picture will dawn on you – this is the person, the gift, I’ve been given to share my life with and they, and the life we share together, are more important that whatever we might argue about.

And it’s worked.  Through fifty-five years of marriage, good times and bad, financial success and setbacks, sickness and health, joy and sorrow, they have remained partners in business and in life.  Best friends.  Even their arguments, such as they are, are cute.  Their life together has been long and happy and they wouldn’t change a thing.

My grandfather chuckles, and through the phone, I can hear him nod and smile.  “It’s been great.”