Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reluctant Memories

I cannot let today pass without paying tribute to John Russell Ross, who died eleven years ago today. The Blossom Festival Chorus rehearsals for the July 5 concert are especially precious to me for two reasons:

  1. We're performing Aaron Copland's "Simple Gifts", which JoEllen Dutton sang at our wedding on March 16, 2006, and at J.R.'s memorial service.

  2. We're performing Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess". J.R. and I sang this with The Washington Chorus long before we started dating, and I sang "Lawd, I'm On My Way" to him in the ambulance on our way to hospice, just moments before his death.

I was most fortunate to share a life of music and love with him. He is a part of my thoughts and memories with each day that passes.

I didn't have time this morning to scan in a photo to post here. I went to the Washington Chorus website to grab the photo they have had posted there for eleven years, promoting donations to his memorial fund. Alas, they have removed all references to the memorial fund, along with the photo. Time marches on.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Living His Dream

One of my dearest friends from elementary and high school has just begun employment as a forest ranger in Yosemite National Park. You can imagine what the competition is for a position in that location. Dave is thrilled to have won the position and will be keeping a blog. I thought you'd enjoy reading his blog and seeing his fabulous photography.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lightning Strikes

Okay, I couldn't resist. When I learned some of Gov. Sanford's e-mails to his mistress had been published, I had to find and read a bit. He's obviously smart, well-written, and a romantic. Or knows how to say/write what a girl wants to hear.

I've written many times about "lightning striking the table" when I met Mr. Match. I've moaned since the death of that relationship about the desire for and inability to find lightning strikes.

Gov. Sanford wrote "How in the world this lightening (sic) strike snuck up on us I am still not quite sure."

Wouldn't I love to find a[n unmarried] man to have those feelings with, to say those lovely words to me.

Many have written that we as Americans spend too much time obsessing about monogamy. Many were appalled at the firestorm of words and threats that the Monica-gate affair invoked. Many have said that, basically, what goes on behind closed doors should stay behind closed doors.

And yet, what has become of personal integrity? When someone has the discipline to run and endure a political campaign, he or she should have the personal integrity to honor commitments made or vows repeated. With Gov. Sanford, there's not only the issue that he lied to, misled, or duped his wife (so we are led to believe). There's the bigger issue that he had a legal obligation to hand over the leadership of the state anytime he left the country. And he did not do so.

He misbehaved in, basically, every area of his life. It is right and good that he has resigned from the leadership of the Republican Governors Association. If I were a voter in the state of South Carolina, I would insist that he resign from the governorship. I feel for his wife and, especially, for his four young sons.

Men: Have integrity! Be a role model! Stop thinking with your appendages!!

Is It Thursday Already?

I'm in the middle of a very busy three-week period where—three days each week—I have my normal morning 60-mile drive (just over an hour) from Youngstown to Akron, followed after work by a 30-mile drive (usually about 45 minutes) to the east side of Cleveland for Blossom Festival Chorus rehearsal. Then at 10:00 p.m. I drive 65 miles (about an hour-and-fifteen minutes) back to Youngstown. This morning I left the house at 6:30 to be at the office around 7:30 so I could leave at 4:30 to make a 5:30 neighborhood meeting in Youngstown. All this adds up to three weeks where I'm sleep-deprived and constantly pushing myself to keep going.

And yet, when I get to rehearsal, I love every single minute of the time. The voices around me are all excellent. There are rarely missed notes or ignored rests. People listen to the director; people cut off when they're supposed to cut off; people pay attention. People care about the music. They're not just there because it's their regular social evening. It's first and foremost about the music. And I love that. It fits me perfectly.

But all that said, during these mini-hell-weeks, I don't feel much inspiration about this blog. On Thursdays—"Oops! Thursday"—I normally write about something I've done that I wish I hadn't done and share the lesson I learned. I think the past six weeks or so of Thursday revelations has pretty much depleted my reservoir of oopsy stories.

This blog began three years ago on July 5th, and I have written 1,235 posts. I can't even imagine what the corresponding word count would be. What I do know is that the blog has been invaluable in my life. It has been a regular and methodical writing exercise, that has pushed me to consider words and phrases and grammar, that has turned me—in my opinion—into a far better and more disciplined writer than I was three years ago. It also has served as therapy-without-the-therapist. I've dug into myself, pulled out issues and feelings, and turned them over and around, examining them from many perspectives. I've learned more about myself; I've grown up some more; I've learned—I hope—to take myself less seriously.

Even the Oops! Thursday exercises have taught me a life lesson: stop holding onto things for so long. Look at them and let them go.

So I think the series of Oops! Thursdays has pretty much concluded. And once all these BFC rehearsals and performances are done, I'll get back to more regularly posting.

Oh, if you're in the Cuyahoga Valley area on July 5 or July 12, I'm going to be performing in some pretty fabulous concerts at Blossom Music Festival. On the 12th, it's Copland, Gershwin (Porgy & Bess), and the Dragon arrangement of America the Beautiful. Yum! On the 12th, the Bravo Broadway concert will be lots of Rodgers and Hammerstein, sung in lush arrangements while standing behind the "Best Band in the Land", the Cleveland Orchestra. A beautiful outdoor venue with beautiful music! You can get tickets at ClevelandOrchestra.com.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Last Music

I have subscribed to NPR's Song of the Day daily e-mail. Today's featured song is "The '59 Sound", from the group The Gaslight Anthem. I haven't figured out how to listen to the song on my iPhone yet, and all NPR sites are blocked at my office, so I have to content myself with the description:

[I]t's really a song about the last music each of us gets to hear in our lives.

That, of course, sent my mind whirling on a high-speed merry-go-round.

In the Blossom Festival Chorus rehearsals this week and next, we're preparing Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess" for a July 5 performance. The closing song in that work is "Oh Lawd, I'm on my way". That was the last song John heard in his life. We had performed the work together a couple of years earlier while singing with the Oratorio Society of Washington. As we rode in the ambulance to Hospice of Washington, ten minutes before his death, I was singing it to him, trying to get his mind off the incredible, horrific pain he was experiencing. In retrospect, eleven years later, I can only hope it helped somewhat.

What would I like to hear as the last piece of music in my life? There's so much to choose from! Maybe the Russian Easter movement of the Rachmaninoff piano duet that PianoLady and I played together 40 years ago. Maybe the final movement of the Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony. The Bach Double Violin Concert in D minor. Or the jazz transcription of Ravel's Aprés Un Rêve that Regina Carter performs on her Paganini: After a Dream album. It's a difficult choice, and probably something over which I will have no control. But the question makes you stop and think, doesn't it?

What would you like to be the last music you hear?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Favorite Memories

This photo sits, in a unique handcrafted frame, on my dresser. Every morning I glance at it and smile.

The picture was taken twelve years ago today. Our dear Oratorio Society of Washington friend, Bill Elcome, had offered to take us on a Chesapeake Bay cruise for our birthdays. J.R.'s birthday was June 20th, and mine is June 22nd. We always celebrated on the 21st and reveled in the synchronicity.

I've blogged about Bill Elcome before. He was such a sensitive, compassionate friend to both John and me during John's battle with prostate cancer. And this two-day trip on his sloop was a real treat.

This is a particularly hard time of year for me. John turned 60 on the 20th, and then died on the 30th. I relive each day of that period every year. I was so lucky, so honored, to share ten years of my life with him, and 21 months of that time as his wife. I often say that I had two-and-a-half years of happiness, and many people don't even get that much.

Back to the picture: taken in a little cove near Annapolis where we anchored for the night with Bill and his then-lady, Patti. It was an incredibly hot, humid night, but the morning dawned with beautiful weather. Bill had brought a little grill on board, and cooked an excellent breakfast for us.

It was truly a trip with memories to last a lifetime.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Purpose vs. Depression

I try not to talk much here about the depression I feel about being alone at an age that is too close to 60 for my personal preference. One reason I don't talk about it is I get tired of thinking about it, and I'm sure people who read this blog get tired of reading about it. I'm sure they're thinking, "Buck up! Get over it!" That's absolutely what I'm thinking!

Mondays through Wednesdays are okay. I'm deeply involved in the workweek and whatever other activities I have scheduled. But on Thursdays I begin wondering what's ahead for the weekend. And Friday goes downhill to 5:00 p.m. If I have an activity planned with the grandbabes or the kids, even if that activity is only of thirty minutes' duration, I'm fine. But when they lead their own life and I am not included, I'm in pain.

(Let's be clear: I own this. It's my problem, not theirs.)

They need their own life. They need to be able to live their lives without constantly having to worry about including the aging mom/MIL/grandma. That's the primary reason I worked so hard to get out of their guest room and into my own space. They need their privacy. Jaci needs to be the queen of her domain. No matter how hard I try to bite my tongue, I have a hard time—as does every woman who has ever been a mother—not correcting or commenting on things the babes are doing, even when Jaci—their own MOTHER!—is standing beside me. Jaci and I are very much alike, I believe, in our need not to be mothered. Too much mothering of the wrong kind at an early age can do that to a woman. So I try to pay very close attention to what's my business and what is not my business. Giving Jaci any instruction in how to live her life is not my business. And raising my grandchildren is absolutely not my business. Caring for them is my avocation, my love, my joy, my purpose in life. But it's not my job.

Whenever I feel the depressing setting in, I try to come up with means to alleviate it, to take away the tight, painful band that encircles my head. Usually I treat myself to dinner out at some nice place on my way home. And, truthfully, once I get home, I can find lots of ways to fill the time so I'm not so overwhelmed by the loneliness. But that lag time from knowledge of impending time alone to arrival at home and free, quiet time to myself—that anticipate—is just incredibly painful.

I've come to realize anew, in the past few weeks, that I view my purpose as enabling my children to have a fuller, richer life. My life is not lived for myself, but for my children. I don't necessarily think that fact is either good or bad; it just is. Should I learn to be more self-centered rather than other-centered? Some might say "yes", but I think that's not me. That's not my nature. Just as I view myself as an accompanist rather than a soloist, I'm better at supporting others than focusing on my life.

So, again, I'm thankful that my children trust me with their children and give me the opportunity to help. And, this weekend, I look forward to about 36 hours with my little darlings.

I'm a very lucky woman.

The Creativity of the Young

Boston and Ridley have lots of stuffed animals and they love each one. They name them and take them along when they're riding in the car. And they talk to them as if the animals can hear and understand.

They tend to assign names based on characteristics. For example, last week when I took them to Pat Catan's, Boston chose a snake and Ridley chose a cat. Her cat is now named Fluffy. And Boston's snake? Snakey.

Boston has a beloved chameleon named Blendy. (Get it? Blends in with whatever it's crawling across.) Last week he brought Blendy over to my house for his sleepover, and was commenting how cool it would be if Blendy actually would blend in with whatever Boston dragged him across.

He said I could make a chameleon out of see-through fabric. Of course, that started me thinking. Make it out of netting; find some sort of see-through pellets to stuff it with; …. I've been pondering this new creative challenge all week long.

What fun to be around children whose minds are still open to possibilities.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Oops! Thursday

Once upon a time, in a house by a big lake, a mother told a daughter about menses. How old was I? Eight, nine, ten? I don't remember. At what age do mothers explain that lifelong abomination to their daughters? Anyway, she sat me down and used her best I'm-trained-as-a-nurse-and-married-to-a-doctor language to tell me what she felt I needed to know.

An hour later, she called me to set the table for dinner. I got out plates, silverware, and glasses. Then I got the napkins to set out and something clicked in my head about napkins. My life was music, and I was always singing or playing the piano. So it was logical that I would start making up a song about sanitary napkins and singing it as I set the table. I didn't remember what sanitary napkins were, I just knew I had heard the phrase recently. And napkins that one sets on the table for dinner are sanitary aren't they?

Then my teenaged brothers came into the kitchen. And I was still singing about sanitary napkins. Mother quickly called me aside and gave me a stern talking-to about singing about taboo topics in front of my brothers. I didn't know why it was taboo. I wasn't trying to be risqué. I wasn't being deliberately cheeky. I was just singing about the napkins I was placing on the table, which happened to be sanitary and ready to use for dinner.

There's no moral to today's Oops! story. There's only compassion for the little girl whose memory of her childhood consists almost solely of music and criticism.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It Never Hurts to Dream

When I was talking to my mother this morning on my daily check-in call, she asked me what the age difference is between Tyler and Jaci. I couldn't imagine why she was asking, but gave her the answer.

She said, "Dr. M. (a medical school classmate of Daddy's who lives in the same town as she) is five years younger than I. I think he might have been interested in me if he hadn't met that other woman and married her a couple of years ago. I saw him the other day and he gave me the biggest hug."

Bear in mind that Mother is 96. That makes Dr. M. a spry 91 years old.

Y'know, if it makes her happy to think he might have wanted a relationship with her, more power to her.

Hope springs eternal!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Admiring Fortitude

One of the barristas at my Starbucks is on a cross-country bike tour. Sam Malaska and his friend, Scott Finamore, left Youngstown on May 9 en route to San Francisco. Their goal is to raise $15,000 for Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley.

I like to walk and hike. I've been on ten-mile hikes before. I fantasize about taking a walking tour, B&B to B&B, in the Lake Country of England or the southwest coast of South Africa. I ponder a barge cruise through France, disembarking at one lock and riding a bike along the canal to the next lock. But biking 3,000 miles? Through rain and wind and dust and cold? Across mountains? That isn't even something I could have done when I was these boys' ages. Now? At my age? Some mornings I have a hard time walking from the car to the office after my 60-mile commute.

I admire these young men for wanting to make a difference for sick kids, and for dreaming of a way they could make it happen. Read their online journal and the Vindicator article. I think you, also, will be filled with admiration for their act of setting a very difficult goal and then striving to achieve it.

You can contribute to their effort here. You can follow them on Twitter.

Life is for living, and these boys are living it to the fullest!

Monday, June 15, 2009


I'm pretty sure I haven't had a date in over a year. I've fallen out of the habit of writing in my journal each night, after having the journal lost in storage for a year, so I don't have documentary evidence. But I'm pretty sure it's been over a year. And I haven't had a serious date—one that I felt would be followed by a repeat performance—since long before leaving Tucson. Maybe six months before leaving Tucson!

Now I have seen one guy a couple of times. But let me tell you what doesn't constitute a date. If you e-mail me and ask me how to fix something on your computer, and it's the first time I've heard from you in, oh, a month, and I offer to come over and fix your computer for you, that's not a date. Or if you e-mail to ask if I'd like to come over to see your condo, and I offer to stop and pick up dinner—because we both have to eat, right?—as you are temporarily disabled after knee surgery, and you don't offer to repay me for dinner or even chip in to defray expenses, that's also not a date.

A date is when you call me on the phone and ask if I'd like to meet for coffee or a drink or a meal or a movie, and you pick up the check without even questioning it. That's a date.

The key ingredient? You, the guy, taking action. You call. You ask. You pay. Those actions signify your seriousness, your integrity.

I don't need to be picked up in this day of geographic diversity; I'm happy to meet you someplace. But, Darlin', you gotta ask. You gotta have the [omitting all crude synonyms here] guts to risk rejection by calling me and asking me out.

In the absence of your action, my action will be to [happily] sit home, knitting and watching whatever is on the television!

Friday, June 12, 2009

'Tude in the 'Hood

Last night I went to the Youngstown Alumni Panhellenic Association (YAPH) meeting. I've volunteered to be the Pi Beta Phi delegate to YAPH. When I first moved to Tucson, I joined and became very active in the Pi Beta Phi alumnae club. The first friends I made in Tucson were through this organization. I'm missing my Tucson friends, and thought YAPH might be a good way to make some friends and contribute to the community.

As the meeting wound down and the discussion turned to committee assignments for 2009-10, I realized I have a wealth of knowledge on programs/activities that might be interesting to the membership, based on my eight years on the board of the Tucson Pi Phi club. I volunteered to be on the Programs committee, and several women immediately approached me to discuss the possibilities.

Well, more accurately, they approached to tell me the things we can't do. Specifically, members will "never" come to an event held downtown. The YSU campus and the Butler Institute of American Art are the borderline, I was told, of areas members will visit. "They're all sure they won't come out alive."

Really? What century are you living in?

I loved Janko's "a day in the life" post this morning. Okay, I'm not going to go downtown at 2:00 a.m., but neither are any of these women who profess to be frightened for their lives. (My not going downtown at 2:00 a.m. has more to do with my need to get eight hours of sleep to avert migraines then the inherent danger!) I lived in Washington, D.C., for five years, within two blocks of 16th Street in Adams-Morgan and Mt. Pleasant. I wouldn't go out on the streets there at 2:00 a.m., either, but I certainly would walk my dog at 9:00 p.m. and think nothing of it, or visit a favorite dining establishment in the evening without fearing for my life.

We're bringing this city back, hour by hour, restaurant by restaurant, store by store. But to do so, we need to drop the attitude of fear and bring people downtown to spend their hard-earned dollars and help bring all the commercial establishments back.

I'm tired of hearing all the negativity. I've said it before and I'll say it again: if you can't say something nice, then just shut up.

But, while you're shutting up, why not come downtown? I had a lovely dinner at Café Cimmento on Monday night (So nice to see you, Brooke), I enjoy Rosetta Stone and The Cedars, I can't wait for Lemon Grove to open, I love going to the Youngstown Symphony performances or dance performances or plays (whether or not my children and grandchildren are performing) at the DeYor. I went on Mark Peyko's architecture walking tour a couple of weeks ago and marvelled at the fabulous architectural details up and down West Federal. I long for the day we have a riverwalk to stroll along.

Youngstown is happening, my friends. It's not happening quickly, but it didn't fall into disrepair quickly, either. And it will happen more quickly if we banish our attitude of fear and get out to walk the avenues.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lucky Kids!

Last night I was privileged to attend the end-of-year Crossing Over ceremony at the Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley, where my granddaughter "crossed over" from kindergarten to first grade.

After the ceremony was concluded, my sweet little Boston was in tears. I asked what was wrong, and he said, "Laura's not going to be back next year." I reassured him that she'd be back to see him, and marveled that an eighth-grader knew him, and he her, well enough to form that kind of bond.

I went to a relatively small school—there were 30 kids in my eighth-grade graduating class. In my high school, the graduating class numbered 100. When I look back on it from a distance of 40 years, I realize we were lucky to be able to have those close relationships with our classmates, the faculty and the staff. My older son was in a graduating class of 1,000. We don't talk about it, but I wonder how many of those classmates he still knows, 17 years out. My younger son went to a small, prestigious arts boarding school, and I think all those kids are still in touch with each other. There's a continuity to that "schoolstyle" that enriches one's life, I believe.

We are very lucky that Jaci found the Montessori School, and that it has been such a perfect fit for both Boston and Ridley.

(And to PianoLady, one of whose twin "babies" is going to his senior prom tonight, I ask, "Where have the years gone?!")

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Raising Sweetness

I had the babes for quite a bit of the weekend. When I brought them back to my house after Saturday evening's photo shoot with Jaci's favorite photographer, the fabulous Kim Reed, they wanted to go to Subway for sandwiches. When we found Subway already closed, Boston said, disappointedly, "But I like to eat there. They have such nice, fresh food." We went on to McDonald's and had a pleasant time eating and chatting.

When we got home, I got busy straightening up the kitchen, and noticed Boston writing something, but didn't pay any attention. A few minutes later, he said, "Grandma, there's something on the wall in the next room." I walked in and found this sweet note. Really, what seven-year-old knows to sign a note "Sincerely"? And "by the way". C'mon!

I totally love the enormous hearts these children have, and credit their parents with creating that!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Beauty All Around

Jaci wrote a lovely post the other day about thankfulness, sharing photos of the beautiful peonies the former owners of her home had planted. I am also surrounded, in my new home, with incredible greenery and flowers. I think the poppies are my favorite. The color is so vibrant, and they remind me of several trips to Europe and riding past fields of poppies.
I'm thankful for the work the former owner put into this home, and for all the work my nextdoor neighbors do on a regular basis. My thumb isn't very green, but maybe I can learn.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Who Do You Like?

A few recent conversations at the office have gotten me to thinking about relationships with people—specifically coworkers and business colleagues.

I overhear people at the office talking about colleagues, expressing dislike for a person because of a perceived slight or instance of maltreatment. And I just don't get it.

I guess I get mad at people or hurt by people. But my sense of madness or hurt tends to go away quickly. I tend to give everyone (probably, everyone to the exclusion of myself) the benefit of the doubt. When I was serving as an interim manager of the word processing center in a large law firm in D.C., I tried to instill in the employees the motivation to put themselves in the other person's shoes. So this attorney or that paralegal said something to you that rubbed you the wrong way? Consider the possibility that she had a fight with her spouse just before walking out the door, or that the dog bit him, or that the car broke down on the way to work. A thousand possibilities, coupled with the belief that people are kind and good and don't intend to cause hurt feelings or problems, yield the power to let the hurt slide off one's back.

Now if you do or say something to hurt one of my children or grandchildren, well, that's a whole different story. I can go from sane adult to protective mama bear at the speed of heat. And remember it? I'll remember it for years! I remember another movie patron violently kicking Tyler's chair at a movie theatre in Rockville about 22 years ago—as if I were sitting there today. The chairs rocked, and the other patron didn't want Tyler to rock his chair. Okay, so I didn't actually say anything or come to his defense, but I think I had him switch chairs with me and I probably gave the woman a very dirty look, which I can do well.

But in the workplace? What's the point of deciding you don't like someone? You've got to work with that person day in and day out for the foreseeable future. Isn't it easier to decide that the perceived wrong was unintentional? Isn't it easier to think of all your coworkers as innately kind?

I always remember my daddy's words. He was a physician in private practice and then in a group practice that he founded. He practiced medicine in Orlando for 40 years until his death at age 70 in 1984. In those days, almost all nurses were women, and all his office staff were women. On the rare occasions when he talked about how things were going at the office, he would complain about how back-biting and petty the women in his employ were toward each other. I've never forgotten than, and I've always strived to be different than that, to not meet that stereotype.

Of course, I may be all alone in this outlook. As I Googled to find the quote about "Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes." I couldn't find it, but I did find "Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that, who cares? He's a mile away and you've got his shoes!"

Oh, well.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Family Philosopher

I had the babes for a sleepover last night. The arrangement is that Boston sleeps with me in my queen bed, and I have a separate twin bed in my room that is Ridley's. (Aren't I lucky to have a big enough bedroom that will support all that furniture?!)

So somewhere around midnight I was awakened from a deep sleep by Ridley telling Boston, quite forcefully, to get back in his own bed. I roused, looked over, and saw him sprawled kitty-cornered across her bed, leaving her only a couple of feet at the bottom of the bed.

at her [quite loud] insistence, he reluctantly got up and moved back to his place on my bed. I asked, "How did you get over there?"

His response? "Things are what they are."

Huh? From an almost-eight-year-old? At midnight from a sound sleep?

With a fast-responding brain like that, I think this child id destined for greatness.

(Yeah, okay, I'm prejudiced. I think they're both destined for greatness of one sort or another.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Cheer Up, It Could Get Worse

I cheered up.

Sure enough, the Acura starter quit.

While I was waiting for AAA to come help me out, I suffered a migraine attack.

What next?!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Oops! Thursday

In light of my "gird your loins and speak up" tale earlier this week, my Oops! today is a tale of sitting back and waiting, rather than doing the smart thing.

This tale goes back 14 years to marriage number three. I met him at work at IBM; we were in the same lunch bunch. I met him about six weeks after his wife died of a stroke at age 46, leaving a 17-year-old vibrant, vivacious daughter and a 15-year-old learning disabled son, who functioned at about a second grade level.

When we married, he made it clear—being the good Mormon boy he was—that he was in charge of everything outside the house, leaving the inside of the house for me. Cooking, cleaning, washing, housekeeping—they were all mine. I had just lost my job when we married, and six months later IBM offered him an early retirement. He took the "bridge", as it was called, and decided to sell real estate to tide him over until his retirement kicked in after three years. He was a good ol' boy, but he just wasn't pulling in an income selling real estate. I think he may have had four closings that first year.

We lived in Western Loudoun County, Virginia, and I taught piano in Leesburg for six months or so, along with teaching many of the children who attended my husband's church. I would travel to their homes in the evenings, and loved and was loved by them all. After six months or so of no real estate income, my husband told me I wasn't pulling in enough income. (What? Him go get a full-time job, as all his IBM colleagues had done? No way!) I was able to find a position in a big law firm in downtown D.C., as manager of database systems.

I drove two hours each way every day, or rode the commuter train or bus. I would leave the house at 5:30 a.m., getting back to Loudoun County around 7:00 p.m. Then I would go to the homes of my piano students and teach, finally arriving home at 9;30. My husband and his son (the daughter was now in college at BYU) would be sitting on their butts in front of the television. The sink would be stacked a two feet high with dirty dishes, which I would dutifully wash before falling into bed at 10:00, to rise again at 4:30 the next morning.

Both children had been very upset when their father told them he was marrying me, so my path in this marriage had never been easy. And the son was a complete slob. The dirty clothes would stack up in his room until the pile was three feet high and the room stank to high heavens. One day, after his dad and I had been married about 21 months, I told him he needed to take his pile of dirty laundry and wash it. He looked right at me and said, "If you ever talk to me like that again, I'll shoot you."

I quickly left his room and went to tell his father what had transpired. His father said I was taking him too seriously. They were both hunters, and there were several guns and lots of ammunition in the house. I begged my husband to lock up the guns and ammo. He simply opened the attic access in our closet and put them up there. Two days later, his son pulled them down again.

From that point forward, I feared for my life every night when I went to bed. I worried that I would not be alive the next morning. And yet my husband took no action—no correction for the son, no therapy, no bringing the police in for a little chat. Nothing.

A few months later we went to my mother's mountain cottage for Christmas. My mother pulled me aside and asked if the two children were as lazy at home as they were in her house, and I had to admit that they were completely spoiled and lazy. I then told her about the incident with my stepson. To her eternal credit, she looked at me and said, "You'd better get out of there while you still can."

And to my eternal credit, I listened to my mother for, maybe, the first time in my life.

Three months later, while my husband and his son were visiting the daughter at BYU, I moved all my things out of the house. And lived to tell about it.

And what was the Oops! lesson learned from that life experience? You can bet your life that the next time someone threatens to shoot me, I will move out of that house within the following 24 hours. I will not wait five months until I can get everything lined up. I will get the hell out, pronto!

Better yet, I'm never getting involved again with any man who has teenagers still at home. That's the simpler solution!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Right Place, Right Time

I experienced one of the more bizarre serendipitous occurrences of my life last Friday. Let me set it up for you:

I flew to Orlando on Thursday to play the piano for the wedding of two of my high school friends who were being married Friday morning. These two had found each other, again, at our 40th reunion and miraculously fallen in love. (Yes, I'm envious.) As I sat on the piano bench during the reception, eyeing the room, I started recognizing people I knew. One happened to be a good friend of my brother's; he is the older brother of a good friend of mine, whom we'll call Jae. I went over to make sure he knew my brother was in the hospital, and he told me Jae was in the same hospital, having had surgery two days earlier. I told him I was going to the hospital after the reception, and would stop in to see her.

This is a two-pronged story. The other prong, which is historical, is that a girl in Atlanta who was practically my sister—the daughter of my mother's best friend—when we were growing up had met a man online four years ago. We'll call him Sly Sergeswimmer. She was swept off her feet by Sly, married him soon after meeting him, and had been taken to the cleaners, financially, by him. She divorced him two years later, to the great relief of everyone who knew her, including every member of my family.

Back to the first prong of the story: I found Jae's hospital room, she recognized me instantly, and we sat for ten minutes or so and caught up with each other. We are both widowed, having lost our good husbands to prostate cancer too early in their lives. This has been a strong bond between us over the past ten years, and we tend to look out for each other. We sat, sharing how lonely we are, and how hard it is to find a good man with whom we want to risk sharing our lives for the rest of our lives.

She said, "Actually, I've met someone. He's here visiting me now from Arkansas and is helping me a lot. He wants to help take care of me. He's here right now; he just went down to the cafeteria to get some lunch."

As we chatted, I heard the hospital room door open, and turned to see a man walking into the room. I extended my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Jan Crews." He responded with, "I'm Sly Sergeswimmer." Now really, could there be two people in the world with the same name?

He had never met me before, but had met both my brothers and my sister-in-law. I had never met him, but could never have forgotten that name. I felt like I had seen a ghost. I couldn't catch my breath. I felt like I had been punched in the gut with a very big fist.

As quickly as I could, I made my excuses to Jae and left the room. I was literally shaking. I went straight up to my brother's hospital room, said hello to him, then told him the story. He was horrified. An hour later my other brother and sister-in-law arrived from Tampa, and I immediately told them the story. We were all just astonished that this awful, people-using, gold-digging man had found Jae, my friend, after wreaking havoc on the life of our other friend. We discussed what to do; I called my old friend in Atlanta to discuss the situation with her; and I had my brother give me Jae's brother's phone number.

For the rest of the weekend, the situation was at the front of my conscious mind. I called another lifelong friend in California who knew the whole story and knew both women. I steeled myself to overcome my fear of confrontation.

Then, Sunday afternoon as I waited at the Orlando airport for my plane back to Pittsburgh, I called Jae's brother and had a long talk with his wife. I said, "I met Sly, and I have serious concerns." She immediately said, "Oh, thank heavens. We're so worried about this situation." I then proceeded to tell her everything I knew about Sly's history. I gave her phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the interested parties, and finished the conversation knowing I had done the right thing.

Yesterday I received a phone call from Jae. She wanted to know everything I knew, and shared with me the facts she thought she knew. She said many things hadn't felt quite right about Sly, but that there was nothing solid for her to use as a reason for not continuing in a relationship with him. But after hearing the story I told her, she thanked me for having the courage to come forward.

I always believe things work together by some overarching plan—you can call it what you want: divine planning or God or the universe or nature. Everything in my life, in retrospect, has worked together for a reason of sorts. The whole time I was flying down to Orlando, I kept wondering why I was going. Once I saw Jae and met Sly and realized I could be the catalyst to save a 60yo woman's financial and emotional life, I felt the trip was justified.

Another positive outcome: my resolve to never go back to online dating is even more sound after this eerie incident. If the plan for my life includes another man to love at some point, he ain't comin' in via the Internet!

And the moral of the story is: Don't be afraid to speak up.

Isn't life funny?!

Tales from the Crypt

Jim, the younger of my two brothers, has told me a story the last two times we have seen each other. The tale arose out of Jim and his wife admiring my grandchildren, and then remembering how much our dad loved his grandchildren—my sons.

Daddy had a lake cottage near the back entrance to Walt Disney World, where he would spend his weekends fishing and puttering around. One Saturday he took my older son, Scott, then probably around four years old, out to the lake with him. Daddy had a sweet tooth (as, according to my memory, did Scott). Daddy had stored some small Snickers bars in the freezer for a little treat when his sweet tooth overtook him.

As the story goes, my older brother, Jerry, was out at the lake with Daddy and Scott. Daddy and Jerry were outside, probably tinkering with a boat or a car, when Scott decided he was going to get a Snickers bar, and nothing was going to get in his way. He stealthily locked the front door and then the kitchen door, then dragged a chair up to the freezer and got his coveted Snickers bars.

Daddy and Jerry came back to the house and tried to open the kitchen door, only to find it locked. Then they went to the front door—again, locked. They started knocking on the door and calling Scott, who knew he was in big trouble. Open the door to be punished? No way.

I don't know how long they knocked and what they had to say to finally get Scott to open the door—that detail has faded over time. But Jim said he had never known Daddy to be so angry at his beloved grandson.

Daddy got over his anger; love will out. I never heard the story until 30 years had passed. And Daddy adored both his grandsons to his last breath in 1984, when they were eleven and nine.

Do you ever wonder how much of your history you've never heard?