Sunday, November 18, 2007


Yes, I know I need to continue with "Part 6" (has it really been two months?) but lately all I can write about, it seems, is my dog. Here is something I just finished:

Lois came into our lives on July 29, 2007 – which will be forevermore her “birthday”. My husband Bruce and I had been volunteering at Animal Friends – he walked doggies and I brushed kitty kats. We knew we wanted to adopt a dog and were really just waiting for a sign as to which one would be the “perfect” doggy friend for us.

And then Lois gave him “The Look”. Only problem was we were scheduled to go on a week’s vacation to the beach. Would she still be there when we got back? I remember I spent a lot of time looking at her picture on the Internet and sending out prayers that no one else would see what we saw in her.

Luckily, no one did. I remember filling out the form and where it said, “For what reason would you bring Lois back?” and I wrote, “We never will. We love her.” While we were filling out the adoption paperwork, the staff started calling up different volunteers and behavioral teams members to tell them that Lois had found her forever home. Lois was so excited, jumping around, catching treats in her mouth, tearing a tennis ball to bits. Riding home in the car it was like she had always been a part of our family. I sat with her in the back and she just sat there looking everywhere and smiling at everything.

The next few weeks were a definite adjustment period for all of us. Lois spent a lot of time racing around our house, looking for a “den” – a place to hide when she got scared. The first night there was a huge thunderstorm and we stayed up with her while she hid first under the coffee table, then in a closet, then in the shower stall. During those first two weeks, there was a thunderstorm every single night, a challenge to say the least. At times we felt like we had brought home a newborn baby because of lack of sleep!

Eventually we learned different strategies for dealing with her issues – her food guarding, separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms, fear of the outside, her stubborn strong will. We hired a dog sitter as well as a behavior specialist, and over the next few weeks Lois taught us as much as we taught her. The things that frustrated me before are the things about her now that I love most.

She’s so smart! Lois knows sit, stay, down, come, leave it, wait, and is learning paw and ball. And I love that she’s stubborn – we don’t allow her on the bed, or on the couch with treats, but she constantly tests this every so often. It’s like she’s saying, “Okay, they seem tired today; I think I’ll just go for it!” I love that about her because she keeps me on my toes. All the women in my family are strong, and Lois is strong. I don’t think I’d respect her as much if she weren’t. But when she knows we are tired or sick, she is patient with us while walking, slowing down and not pulling. Lois has also been learning to approach other dogs while on her walks, slowly getting over her fear aggression. She has a Corgi puppy friend who will lick her nose, although when the poodle puppy down the block tries to sniff her butt she doesn’t like it!

Her favorite treats are hot dogs. Bruce uses them to get her out for walks in the morning (she’s not a morning person) as well as for training. Anything we need her to do, she will do for a piece of hot dog. Lois is also quite the connoisseur. We first soaked her kibble in generic, cheap chicken broth, but she won’t touch the stuff. It’s organic, free-range chicken broth for her or nothing! But that’s okay, part of the joy of having her in our lives is spoiling her rotten.

She loves her stuffed animals too – there’s a stuffed cow we call “Cowie” that she flings about and eventually tears open, spilling Cowie stuffing everywhere. We’ve gone through quite a few Cowies, Doggies, and Bearies since July!

She also loves running in Highland Park. Although she seems to get tired after a couple miles, after a minute’s rest she is good to go, ready to explore the park some more.

Belly rubs are another favorite – every morning she will travel to my side of the bed, jump up and give me a kiss, then retreat to her doggy bed and roll on her back for her morning belly rub. Sometimes she will do this on walks too – she’ll just find a perfect patch of grass, fling herself down, roll on her back and start doing the wiggle as if to say, “Puh-leeeez! I need a belly rub NOW!” It’s so cute.

We play ball with her a lot. She loves to jump in the air and catch it in her mouth. Also, she loves carrying the ball to the top of our kitchen stairs and then dropping it, watching it bounce down every step until it splashes into her water dish. It’s hysterical, she will do this over and over, fascinated by the water splash before racing up the stairs to do it all over again.

We simply love Lois with all of our hearts and feel so lucky to have her in our family. She came with such blessings as an Animal Friends staff favorite and we feel so fortunate that the wonderful staff at Animal Friends took such good care of her until we could find her. Bruce enrolled her in the doggy class, and every week there would be a new set of volunteers who showed up simply because they heard, “Lois is going to be here today!” Someone even brought us a goody bag for Lois – they used to come play ball with her on Sundays, and were happy/sad when one Sunday they arrived to find she had been adopted. They were just thrilled to see her again, and to see her so happy.

All of the love that comes across from these volunteers has settled on us and Lois and made us feel that much more blessed. Over these 4 months, her look has softened – now despite her gray muzzle, she looks and acts more like a puppy every day. Lois teaches us every day to be better, stronger, and more at peace. You see, dogs pick up on every emotion we feel. If we feel stressed, so do they. If we worry, the worry emerges in their eyes and they are worried too. There's no other way to explain it. By being quiet and relaxed, we create a quietness and sense of relaxation in her. We are so grateful to have Lois in our lives. By teaching her not to be afraid, and to trust again, we also teach ourselves the same. And now our little family feels complete. Thank you, Lois.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

1/7/91 - Part Five

Again, we are told to wait. Incredibly scared, all of us keep up a good front. Others start voicing what I had continued to think, that because she is so youthful and in such good shape, she has a big advantage over others her age. I mean, she runs marathons, for Chrissakes. I cannot decide as I look into their faces whether they really believe this or they just don't want to consider the other possibilities. We all react differently to the news that she's in a coma, and no one knows what will happen. We all seem to drift apart from each other. Where before we were sitting together as a group, now we each drift off into separate little clusters, thinking about how she must feel, and maybe contemplating our own lives a little.

Mom ran religiously as I said, in snow or sleet and my years up to that point had been filled with reports of her mileage. In school or at work people would always come up to me and remark they had seen her running on the previous afternoon, usually somewhere in the vicinity of my house. As a result, her heart was in optimum condition. Her doctor told her often that she sounded, "as clear as a bell."

Mom had also been a dedicated nutritionist, filling our bellies with wheat bread and carrot sticks as opposed to Twinkies and hot dogs. More than once since that night I have found myself grateful she took such care in making sure her children had healthy meals. It's like I never noticed until that moment in the waiting room how much she cared for us and herself.

After what seems like days we are allowed to go in and see her briefly. It is like a movie unreeling, because she is placed in the very back of the intensive care unit. It secures my idea this is some sort of nightmare. As a result, my sister and I have to walk past every bed in the place and cannot help but see who is in what condition.

Medical College of Virginia Hospital is painted in very chemical, medicinal, green-gray and white. The color on the walls matches almost exactly the operating room greens on the doctors so that they seem to fade into the walls like ghosts. The building retains a detached feeling because of this, even though it's supposed to be a place of caring and healing. Greenish-gray shadows give it a morgue-type feeling or a prison aura. The halls echo, so every step I take reverberates loudly in my ears. Again, I'm reminded of a nightmare.

Of course every surface is spotless, but I can still detect a smell of sick underneath all the ammonia and bleach. Underneath this, I smell death. No matter how much they clean, they cannot rub away the fact most of the people admitted to this part of the hospital probably have no chance of ever leaving alive. Death smells like cobwebs, a sickly-sweet mold, with a musty smell of decaying books. It's horrible. On top of all this I smell rubber gloves, the dry acidy smell of gauze, plus bacterial soap and even urine.

As my sister and I walk into the unit holding hands, moving slowly past the patients, this mixture of smells hits us all at once. It makes me gag inwardly with the sense of foreboding it carries. Each patient we pass seem worse off than the one before. Most of them are geriatrics, lying limply, slack-jawed, tubes sprouting from them like a sci-fi movie. Most don't even breathe on their own, and the hissing sound of the breathing apparatus makes a sickening kind of music - a sucking sound that makes my skin crawl. The rest of the patients are younger adults covered in bandages and more tubes.

Since this is the neurological intensive care unit, all the patients have some sort of bandage on their shaved heads, and the combination of this with their flimsy hospital robes gives me visions of Auschwitz. The scrawniness of the elderly does not alleviate this feeling at all, and another chill crawls its way up my spine. The ones who are unconscious lie like vegetables, unaware and unseeing. The worst patients have their curtains drawn, and I shudder to think of what condition could possibly be worse than what I was now seeing.

My mother lay at the very end of this long and harrowing journey of sickness and death. I don't think I've ever seen so many machines hooked up to one person, before or since. If everything else about that night remains a rushed blur of images, I will always remember the beeping sounds of the machines and the sickly smell of medicinal liquids, bandages, rubber gloves, and death hovering just over our heads. She too has bandages and breathing apparatus, but in addition to this she wears a neck brace and numerous other stitches and bandages appear on her face and arms. A large tube runs out of the top of her head and is attached to a monitor, meant to measure the amount of pressure on her brain.

Even with all of the machines, she looks peaceful, and miraculously, the only part of her face damaged is a small stitch above her lip. No wonder the doctor thought she was 25. In the midst of all this mayhem, all this mess, she still looks it. I smirk softly at the irony.

Clutching my sister, I begin praying that she gets her own room as soon as possible - I want her out of this room where the grim reaper seems to lurk in every corner. Unfortunately, this would not occur for many weeks, but as the days progressed and the number of machines attached to her dwindled away, I gained more and more molecules of hope. Even so, the hated brain monitor was one of the last to go, and its presence during our visits never ceased to be a source of discomfort. It taunted us with its presence, and served as a reminder that there was a very real possibility she would not make it through this.

I did not know this at the time of my first visit, but she would go through two more invasive brain surgeries to alleviate the pressure. Eventually, a small portion of the front part of her brain would be removed in order to save her life. The doctor repeatedly assured us the only effects would possibly be a very small change in personality and maybe a loss of memory, but I still cannot help but feel a portion of her died during those surgeries. It's like they cut out a piece of Mom, and just threw her away with the sharps and other hazardous medical waste.

Of course, none of us, including the doctor, ever mentioned the word "lobotomy" but I can guarantee we were all thinking it. I can't watch the movie "Frances" to this day without thinking of what had to happen to Mom. Today things have improved somewhat and they would've just removed part of her skull to let the brain swell and recede on its own. I wonder how her story would've been different had she had that kind of chance instead of what she got.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

1/7/91 - Part Four

What the neurosurgeon tells us next is another speeding blur in my mind. My mother has sustained a severe blow to the front of her head, some cuts to her face, and a minor tear to her liver. The technical phrases keep rushing past me, and I keep picking up on one particular phrase, "We don't know." Every other phrase out of his mouth seems to be, "We don't know." Yes, she is in a coma. Will she come out? "We don't know." Yes, her brain has swelled and there is dangerous pressure building up even as we speak. Will this cause any damaging effects? "We don't know." Will her personality or motor skills be changed? "We don't know." Will she live? "We don't know."

I make a point of asking about her artistic ability - at the time of the accident, Mom was earning her Master of fine arts in painting and printmaking. Can she still paint? But I get his same, mundane, three-word response. At this point, my hope falters. With all of the uncertainty surrounding him and his non-answers, the pressure is building up within me at the same rate as the stress to her brain.

The doctor leaves, and my mind rushes back to a day three months ago. It is autumn, and the air has just turned chilly, smelling faintly like burning wood. Mom and I are in her huge, empty studio classroom at the university. She is pulling out some of her canvases. I am immediately taken by one abstract picture, a work in dazzling purples and stunning golds. Then she holds up a perfume bottle and I realize something amazing. The picture is an exact replica of the bottle, except it is from an "ant's eye view". It's as if she shrunk herself down to the size of an insect, walked under the bottle, and then painted this enormous 4-foot canvas of what she saw. Just looking at the painting all you see is a beautiful abstract, but by her showing me her vision, it has become something else entirely. I flood her with praise, telling her how beautiful this is, and how proud I am of her. She then shows me some of the other student's work and I'm astounded at how far advanced she is compared to the other students. It seems after many years of searching for her own time to paint and create, she has finally found her space. And her vision. The love for her work shows so clearly in the incredible detail and the realness of the brilliant colors.

Thinking back on this scene so many years later, all I can wonder is where that painting is now. Where did it go, and why didn't somebody claim it when we finally found out what we would be dealing with in the months and years to come? Also, I am struck by this moment because I actually took the time to tell her how proud I was of her and her accomplishments. Instead of criticizing, complaining, whining, being a general pain in the ass, I was sincere in the pride I felt. I remember it as the first time in my adult life to actually feel that way toward her. We had spent so many years resenting one another, fighting against each other, but in that moment it felt like we were on the same ground, talking as adults, not arguing as mother and child. To this day I wish I had had more moments like that one.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

1/7/91 - Part Three

The waiting room seems to have become our new home. Contemporary, overstuffed, yet extremely uncomfortable chairs in a sickening mauve color meet our backs as we wait, wait, and wait some more. The only things to look at are the tacky, assembly-line lithographs on the walls, and the occasional passer-by. These range from tired-looking doctors (probably residents) in medicinal operating room wear to patients wandering aimlessly, shuffling their feet and dragging their IV's behind them. The squeak those wheels make gives me chills. I grab onto my friend's arm like a vise. I don't remember how he got to be in that waiting room - maybe I called him? I am just thankful he is there for me to lean on. I am numb all over, still asleep, and still reassuring myself it is all a bad dream.

Occasionally, one of us will go to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee, a thick, black, bitter tasting cup of mud that will keep us awake for a few more hours of waiting. My mom's best friend Lynette leans on her boyfriend's arm and stares. My sister and I stare at the floors, the walls, at Dad, and at each other. Mom's friend Anne and her boyfriend glance anywhere but at us. She had gone out with Mom, and it seems she feels even more guilt than me. Had she let Mom drink and drive? Did Mom crash just because of slippery roads, or was it something else?

When the doctor finally comes down in his faded teal scrubs, I am struck by his youth. He cannot be more than thirty, and he is the neurosurgeon. He asks, "Are you the family of the young girl that has been brought in?" and youth again makes an appearance in my mind. My sister replies that he has the wrong family, but I know he is talking about Mom. People have always remarked on her youth, and when the doctor again states, "Well, the twenty-five-year-old, right?" I know he has made a common mistake. A snicker escapes me - I can't help it. My first thought is, "Wow, Mom would kill to be hearing this right now." She would eat it up like candy.

At an age when most women have settled down to the fact that they are middle-aged, my mother at that time seemed to be just beginning. She had always carried herself like a free spirit and it showed in her attitude, in the clothes she wore, in the way she carried herself. She dressed in clothes better suited to women much younger than she, but most of the time she could pull it off, never looking a day over 30, even though she was approaching 50. People used to compare her to Cher all the time, but she's much prettier, and without all that ghastly plastic surgery. She was always just as outrageous as Cher though, and her outfits never ceased to amaze me. She was fearless in fashion. Wearing bright colors, mini-skirts, bikinis (when most women had given *that* particular swimwear up for good) and looking fabulous. People often mistook her for my sister. To this day, when I picture my Mom, she's wearing a brown bikini - bandeau style, with a gold ring in the middle, huge gold hoops in her ears, her black hair in a bun and "Toast of New York" nail polish on her toes. Her signature outfit.

With all this youth going on, people used to mistake her for my sister. I can remember her visiting me in Connecticut (I was working at a lobster house as a bartender and living with a guy, but that's for another blog) and all the kitchen staff kept telling me how hot my sister was and was she single?

Anyway, back in the waiting room, all through Doogie Howser's speech, I keep coming back to youth, and how maybe this youth she possesses will be able to pull her through the biggest of all the traumas she's ever had to face.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

1/7/91 - Part Two

The helicopter has taken her from the scene to the Medical College of Virginia Hospital. Riding down there with my father and sister, all I can do is stare out the window. It is freezing cold, the kind of cold that hurts your lungs if you breathe too deeply. The mixture of sleet and snow coating the cars and the trees and every building is wet and ugly, definitely not the pretty snow everyone loves to see fall. The ride is unbearably quiet, the only sounds in the car the swish of windshield wipers and my sister sniffling in the back seat. None of us knows how bad it is, or what to expect.

All kinds of thoughts run through my head as the car pulls much too slowly into the dingy parking deck adjoining the hospital. What is wrong with me? Why do I always feel the need to be so argumentative with her? It still all seems like some sort of anxiety dream, brought on by fatigue or stress.

I had just talked with her that afternoon, and I distinctly told her she had better drive carefully if she was planning to go out. Mom had spent the past half hour telling me how excited she was because her friends were planning a girls' night out that particular Monday. With my "mother's cap" firmly in place, I suggested she make it another night because of the foul weather, but Mom is as stubborn as I am. She could not be deterred from her early week adventure out with the girls to have margaritas and chips with salsa, her favorite. I remember thinking, "On a Monday? Why does she feel the need to go out on a Monday? With bad weather predicted?" Now I wish I had been even more angry with her than I was but in the end I gave up the argument and told her I hoped she had a good time. I was at work, it was busy, and I needed to finish up some things before heading for home. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, close to quitting time and I didn't want to have to stay late and drive through sleet.

When we arrive at the hospital waiting room, friends of Mom's had already gotten there and we could finally begin to piece the plot together. From Lynette we learn that Mom had gone around a curve just a little too quickly, careened off the road because of the icy conditions, and hit a tree. Her car came to rest only 12 inches off the road. I've since noticed that most trees on roads are set far away from the actual road, but this one touched the edge of the asphalt. She hit it head-on, going who knows how fast. And she was less than 5 minutes from home. I hear this and immediately imagine her digging in her purse for her house keys as she's driving (she always kept two sets, always had) distracted, not really paying attention to this stretch of road because she knows it so well, just thinking about getting to bed. It's 2a.m. now, and this all happened at approximately 11:30p.m. or so. We still have no prognosis, but learn an ambulance had appeared 10 minutes after the accident, so at least she had gotten to the hospital quickly. This gives us some hope.

[On a side note, my father called me six months after this accident happened to say that he had contacted the county and the tree was cut down. They stated that in fact a number of car accidents had happened with this particular tree, Mom's being the worst. I listen quietly as he tells me, the haze of summer smothering me. I brood over the fact of this action being a case of "too little, too late."]

As the tenuous pieces of the night's events come together, my thoughts are swimming. Every so often a new one pops up, runs across my mind, then sinks into the depths of thought only to be replaced by another. Had she been drinking and driving? If she had, what kind of friends did she hang around with who would let her drive in this kind of weather after a bunch of margaritas? In any kind of weather for that matter? Mom has never been the best driver anyway. Again, I have visions of her speeding down the rural route where she lived, digging for her house keys and looking in the rear view mirror at the same time. What is a tree doing that close to the road anyway? I am filled with despair, anger, frustration, and anxiety all at once.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Last Night I Dreamed...

I stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower
the flag red and waving
in the breeze
so high up I stood
that when I dropped the clock
and it fell away from me
spinning, falling faster
I had the sense of time
rushing away, spinning out
of control.
I did not see it land.
But not only that
when the clock fell from my hand
leaving my fingers heavily
I had the sense of somebody near
Paul Auster stood just over there
leaning against the Eiffel Tower
so high up
sipping a glass of burgundy.
He said in that soft way he has
that it would make a great story.
But I should add an element of chance
and something about the world's resistance
to antibiotics.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Char Char

I'm still coming to terms with losing my beloved Charlotte. She wasn't a pet, but a part of my family, a sister, a mother, a friend. And yes, I find it ironic that her death occurred the same month as the anniversary of my mother's death. While I'm finally getting the courage to write about what happened on 1/7/91, putting it all on paper with the hopes of letting it go, here I am in the throws of losing another soul I care so much about.

So I'm finagling blog entries moving them about, "Part 1, Part 2" etc. Oh crap, my cat died so I should write about that, but here I am just starting to write about Charlotte too. I need to just let it go and realize that you CANNOT plan life, you can't place blog entries in the order they "should" go. Life happens. And so some days I may continue to write about Momma, other days I may write about Charlotte. In the grand scheme of things they are one and the same anyway.

I see the connection. The energies of this world have decided that I need to learn to let go, that I need to learn that when someone dies, they do not die. Their energy becomes a part of your energy, a part of the world's energy. They live. You don't lose anything. In living your life you allow them to continue to live through you. It's all one. I know that in my head, I do, but my heart is still getting used to the fact that I won't ever hear her soft meow anymore. That she won't ever come stand at the living room door to announce, "It's 10pm, time to go upstairs to bed so I can curl up beside you then cover your face with goodnight kisses."

My heart knows she's still here. Right here. My head just needs to catch up.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

1/7/91 - Part One

Hearing the answering machine faintly kick in from the dining room late one night, I tune out the voice, husky and unrecognizable. My sleepy mind only recognizes the words "" I drift off. Soon, the phone rings again and I let it ring. The machine once again clicks to life. This time I am a little more coherent. I hear my father say my mother has been in a serious accident. The police will tell him nothing because they are divorced, only that she is in intensive care at MCV Hospital. She may even have died, he doesn't know.

As odd as it seems, my initial reaction is to think, God, what has she gotten herself into now? Has one of her dream dates gone and gotten himself into a fender-bender? Maybe she bumped into someone (literally) on the way home and now needs a lift because her car was towed from the scene. It can't be as serious as Dad says, the Jordans always exaggerate. They're known for it.

Stressed out from work, completely exhausted, and thinking I would lose the rest of the night's sleep over a few bumps and bruises does not put me in good spirits I have helped her through scrapes of this sort before, so "serious" just doesn't register. The only thing I'm thinking right now is, "Not again."


This was my frame of mind on that night so long ago. It seemed in spite of our ages, and her "declaration of independence" (divorce), I was often more of a mother to her than a daughter. Usually, these personal traumas were not as catastrophic as they first seemed, including everything from boyfriend problems to not balancing her checkbook. We'd never had a great relationship, getting along dutifully at best, each of us never understanding the other's choices in life. Recently, I came across a note Momma had written when I was fifteen. One of the lines read, "I wish you could act as maturely as your sister does, and I hate it when you lock the door to your room." In the aftermath of all that was to come, I had forgotten her constant disappointment, her disapproval. I had forgotten the woman she was because everything that was to follow made it seem so trivial. What was to come was like scenery flying past in a rapidly moving car, and it called for more spiritual stamina than I ever thought I would have to rely on in this lifetime.

Everything in my life is sliced neatly in half; those occurring before that cold night in January, and the ones that have rolled on after. That icy night is the motionless center of an ever-rotating circle. Before my mother drove her car headlong into a tree, my world seemed to flow pretty evenly. Besides a broken relationship, and the numerous changes of direction I made in my work environment, my life was pretty steady. I distinctly remember wishing, in fact, for any kind of extreme in my life. I've always believed in the intensity of any kind of extreme, and I remember the time "before" as one of boredom in this sense. I was so desperate I didn't even care if the extreme was good or bad. I just wanted to wake up from the doldrums of everyday existence. Thinking back now, this certainly seems naive.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Aminopterin and/or Melamine

My cat, Charlotte died on March 15, 2007, from renal failure. I believe it was brought on by eating the Iams pouch wet food (“tuna in sauce” and “salmon in sauce”). I have packets of this food left, and the numbers match the product recall list. It was purchased at the Giant Eagle in Waterworks, Pittsburgh, PA on 3/9/07.

She had been eating this food for a long time, and loved it. But the weekend of 3/10/07 she started eating less and began throwing up anything she did eat. I took her to the vet that Tuesday, and she was diagnosed with acute renal failure.

While Charlotte was elderly, she had never experienced kidney problems in the past. She had high blood pressure and hyperthyroidism, but was being treated for both successfully with medication. She had a 6-month checkup on 2/22/07, and my veterinarian, Dr. Sherwood Johnson, DVM, made a point of saying that her thyroid levels were “perfect” and his only concern was her blood pressure was a tad high. An adjustment in medication brought this to normal levels. No mention of concern was made about her kidneys – none at all. I have since received copies of her two checkups and no concern for kidney failure is present.

I realize this may not be the “clearest case” of food poisoning because of Charlotte’s age and other medical problems. However, eating poisoned food certainly didn’t help and I feel it brought about her passing much sooner. Just as e-coli affects infants and the elderly in a far worse way, I feel this poisoned food affected Charlotte by causing her kidneys to fail when they had been functioning just fine for a cat her age.

I have contacted every television station in the area, as well as Linda Fuoco of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I have pouches of the tainted food should anyone wish to contact me for further testing and/or proof.

I still have not been successful in getting through to the FDA or Menu Foods but I will keep trying. I don't know what good posting this will do, but it does help me feel better to know that I'm informing as many people as I can. Please, if you have pets, check your food.

Anything you can do to get the word out about this is much appreciated. People need to realize the dangers so that they will not experience the heartache that has come to my family by losing such a beloved friend.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007


Dear Friends,

My cat, Charlotte has taken a major turn for the worse, her kidneys are failing and I will be helping her into her next life this evening. She has been my closest friend and confidant since 1989 when I found her as a small kitten, quiet and scared. For many years she was more of a mother to me than I was to her - helping me and my husband by comforting us when we were low or unwell. She's the most intuitive soul I've ever met and I will miss her deeply.

I'm very sad, but also very grateful to have had her for 8 more months after last summer's scare. I just wanted the people I care about to know, since all of you understand our "friends with fur" and I'm so grateful for the fond wishes you sent me last summer. Thank you.

Please send warm thoughts this evening if you think about it. And I hope this finds all of you and yours happy and well.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007


I've already written extensively about my Momma here, but this time of year I always get to thinking more about her. On March 27, 2007, it will have been six years since she died of esophageal cancer.

This was after spending ten years as a head trauma victim - the result of a tragic car accident late on a Monday night, January 7, 1991, on an icy road. I have to admit during our own ice storm here last week I was brought back to that night. She had called me at work to say she was going out with some girlfriends even though the weatherman promised an ice storm. I tried to convince her to stay home but couldn't. The next phone call I got was in the wee hours of Tuesday morning from my father saying she was in intensive care at MCV. She had hit a tree less than three minutes from her house.

I hate to belabor stuff, but it sure seems hard not to in this case. In my process of "letting go" through writing in this blog, these memories are the hardest.

Between January and March each year, I seem to relive all that stuff over and over again. She had her accident in January 1991, she was diagnosed with cancer in January 2001. She came out of her coma in March 1991, she died of her cancer in March 2001. Ten years of surviving with bookends of that one life-changing accident and her final death, and what I feel was a release of pain and holding on. When she died she was finally able to just quit trying so hard and rest.

So now, every time there is bad weather or it just happens to be January, February or March, I remember. I remember my sister knocking on my door with her husband and all her kids in tow making a face-to-face visit to tell me that Momma had cancer.

I remember driving in the ice storm down to the hospital at 3 in the morning. The whap-whap of the windshield wipers.

I remember the brightness in my mother's eyes when she first came out of her coma, like the world was all shiny and new.

I remember seeing my Momma jogging down Woodman Road in the middle of winter through the snow and the slush - she ran marathons, and trained, no matter what the weather. I was usually on my way to high school and often passed her on the road, giving a little "toot" as I drove past, but wishing she wouldn't run so close to home - I got embarrassed when my teachers and friends would point out they saw her running too. Now I'm damn proud.

I remember Momma telling me that if I wanted to kick my bad mood I should get off my butt and exercise, that it was the best thing for depression. I would just roll my eyes and eat another potato chip or go into my room and slam the door. But now I know she was right.

I remember the smell of the Neuro-ICU, a sick, sour, smell like turned milk. With an undertone of medicine and old, unwashed laundry. The first time I had to deliver something to the ICU when I temped there that smell hit me like a tsunami, and I was taken back to that night. It was so unsettling.

I remember the fear in my Momma's eyes as she lay dying of this horrible cancer - she looked so frail, and small, and afraid. My sister and I climbed in the bed with her, one on either side, and held her, and talked to her in soft tones.

I remember how my Momma's breath smelled when she lay dying - like death, the worst, most horrible smell ever. I wanted to rip it out of her. It made me so sad to think that she had to go through this on top of all the other indignities she had faced.

I remember how happy my Momma looked when we put on "Rod Stewart's Greatest Hits" her old spark came back and she looked like she wanted to dance in her bed.

I remember the joy in her face when I took her hand and told her I'd be married that fall in Florence, Italy. We were running away, eloping. "Of course you are sweetie," she said. "That's wonderful." When I told her I wish she could be there, she replied, "I will be." And she was.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007


All these gray, gloomy, cold days make me think of all the things I *haven't* done in winter because of it. I have S.A.D., I know it. When winter comes I hole up like a bear, and you really don't see me until Spring. That first day of spring I always call in sick to work, go get a big KFC bucket, and when I used to live in Richmond, go to Maymont Park with a book and my sunglasses to melt the winter crust off.

That would be mid to late April usually, but here in Pittsburgh, we really can't expect a day like that until late June - if we're lucky. So here lately, I've been forcing myself out of the house, but it's hard. The pull of the comforter is so strong. I'm like a plant - without sun I don't flourish.

When I was a Junior in high school I checked out that winter so bad I didn't even turn in a term paper, which was probably the most blasphemous thing you could do at Hermitage High in 1984. I just pulled a Bartleby and stated, "I prefer not to," when Mrs. Rasnake ordered me to write a fifteen-page paper on the Circus Maximus. I'm sorry Mrs. Rasnake I prefer not to. I've written 15 gazillion notecards on something I could give two farts about and as for creating something legible out of all this mess in the thick of winter and the sun hasn't shone in three months, uh, sorry, no.

"But Juh-nell, you'll fail English!" she gasps clutching her pearls (okay, I added that for effect).

"Uh, Mrs. Rasnake, I don't have an 'L' in my first, middle, or last name," I retorted. She points her finger out the door ordering me to the office.

Okay, I made that last part up. Mrs. Rasnake did call me that the entire school year but back then I never had the nerve to call her on it. I always wanted to and in my mind made up various clever, snarky remarks I would make in response and other more devious scenes where she would end up looking like an ass and I would finally get the attention and "coolness" I wanted. But I was always too much of a chicken. I would just sit there and Bartleby my way through the rest of the year of English - I ended up with a "D" for the semester which ruined my GPA - a big deal back then.

Those of you who spent high school competing with one another for the highest GPA's will know what I'm talking about here. At my school your GPA meant the difference between UVA and J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College down the road. And we were all just poor enough to really want that scholarship. Isn't it amazing that something that meant so much back then is like ashes at the end of a cigarette now? Remember when crap like that was important? Weird, huh?

Why do I remember this? It always amazed me that a teacher could go 180 days and not learn a student's name or even something that was remotely close to it. So when I became a teacher, it was the first thing I did. Learn their names and more than that, learn who these creatures were in the desks before me. More than just bored eyes and tapping fingers and shaking, bored feet in Etnie shoes. They're not just grades in a book, they're people.

But I digress. I suppose I'll never flourish in winter. I've got a sunbox now, and at least it gets me out the door - I don't call in sick like I used to. I slog to work with the rest of the lemmings. But I still think bears have it pretty good.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Snow Days.

So today it's snowing, it's actually been snowing for two weeks. Battle-gray skies for two weeks. And it's really starting to affect me. I don't want to leave the house because that will involve putting on a huge, to-the-floor down coat, but first wrapping my nose and chin in a tight scarf and pulling on gloves. I feel only slightly like that poor kid in a Christmas Story. Then I'll tramp down to my car and scrape and scrape. Then hold the wheel in a death grip and hope I get where I'm going without killing myself.

You see snow here isn't all that special - in Richmond when I was a kid, snow meant something because we didn't get it all that much and when we did we usually got dumped on. A lot. So we'd at least get a delay of some sort. Or more than likely a snow day. There's nothing like that feeling of waking up on a Monday morning and hearing - nothing. Because when it snows a lot and you're a kid, you notice how quiet it is, unusually quiet. It's so quiet it's deafening. So you peep through the blinds and the whole world is white. These days you can jump on the Internet and find out if your school is closed but back then we'd sit by the radio and shush people when the commercial was over and they began to list the school closings. They'd say, "Albermarle.........Charles City, Chesterfield, Hanover.......then a little pause that seemed to take forever. Then jump for joy when they said, "Henrico County Schools - closed." Yippee! Back to bed to sleep some more.

We'd spend the day sledding, well, more like pulling each other around on sleds because where we lived was flat. Then throwing snowballs, and drinking lots of hot chocolate. Didn't matter that it was dried up old Swiss Miss and the marshmallows were like little pieces of gravel, it was a snow day. It was like a surprise holiday out of the blue. You were forgiven your sins and didn't have to do schoolwork, or chores, you could eat junk food. It was like God wagged his magic finger and said, "Everybody gets a day off today - nobody's going nowhere, stay home and rest."

My freshman year of high school it snowed so much we were out of school eight days in a row. I didn't care that we had to make up the time in the summer - cold, crappy winter was when I felt like staying holed up in bed all day. It was just before exams and I'd spend every night studying up for geometry only to find out that we had no school. Yay, one more day of reprieve. Eventually, they canceled exams altogether and I was ecstatic. It was the only time in the history of our school where they had done that or would ever do that again. It was awesome. I was failing geometry and now I didn't have to take an exam. Thank you Jesus.

I miss snow days. Adults need them too sometimes. Here it snows just enough to make it a pain in the ass, but not enough to keep anybody from doing anything. People just make do and scrape their cars and drive like normal and have a shitload of accidents as a result. They should just do like we did, and take a snow day. When you have to go out in it, it takes all the enjoyment out of snow. Maybe this is why a lot of people who used to love snow as a kid, now hate it. Because now they have to actually go out and deal with the snow. I'm one of those people. I hate snow now - and I know it's because I have to dig, and scrape, and go to work anyway. I never get a chance to just stop everything for a moment to watch it fall.

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Monday, January 01, 2007

17 World of Mirth Memories.

So I'm a total hypocrite. I just spent time ranting about "Best of..." lists and why they don't work. But all I seem to have left are mind snapshots - little snippets of memory that in and of themselves don't mean a whole lot, but I still find the need to get them down on paper. Maybe by listing my World of Mirth (WOM) memories, I can finally let them go...

(I'll be adding to this list all month long - I'm shooting for 100, but who knows...)

1. Red Lamp - I have this fantastic black and gold lamp with a red shade, people always comment on it, on how "neat" it is. I always reply, "I got that at WOM." The shade is custom made, 1950's red tiered with black streaks. I love it. Every Christmas I have to move it to make way for our tree, and as I move it I can't help thinking, "I got this at WOM." Every time.

2. Celluloid Cow - I used to have a small cow made of celluloid that I placed on layaway while I was working at WOM; I always worked for store credit - too much cool stuff in that store. It was so thin and delicate and flammable. I don't know where it is now.

3. "To Get" Notebook - Kathryn had this little spiral notebook she kept behind the checkout area - if a person couldn't find what they needed in the store, she'd write it down to look for at flea markets later. She found so much stuff for my house that way. Mostly lamps :0)

4. Couch - Bryan and I talking at the newer location back by the coffee bar. I comment on how much I love the couch we're sitting on. He asks, "You want it?" I bought it out from under him and he helped me move it that day. It had arms so wide you could sit cross-legged on it. Beige, rough fabric, 1950's lines. I made out with my husband for the first time on that couch. My cat Gunther scratched the crap out of it. I wish I still had it.

5. Patio Furniture - Again at the newer location, Kathryn had this terrific patio set - white rubber tubing wrapped around black wrought iron. It was 1950's style and lived outside the store. People would buy coffee and sit in the lounger and watch the people of Carytown walk by. One day I commented on the great set and she asked, "You want it?" Six weeks of layaway later, the 6-piece set was mine. I had to sheepishly ask people to move so I could take it home. For a time it served as my entire living room suite. Now it lives on my front porch and I absolutely love it. It feels like Nana's house.

6. Price - I can remember calculating sales tax on a calculator with big numbers, then writing it on the little pad with the carbon copy between the first sheet and the yellow sheet. Giving the customer the yellow sheet and putting in with their purchase - in those little paper bags with the ugly print that we got in bulk for cheap. Counting change out of the money box because we didn't have a register.

7. Winkies - We had tons of them. I started my collection from Kathryn's big backstock of winkies. Winkies are little pictures that move when you move them back and forth. They're made of hard plastic with a kind of ridged, rough surface. We had ones of people dancing "The Frug" and one where a girl picked up a phone while people were doing the twist in the background. I bought those and another one of a rodeo cowboy that roped a calf over and over again when you turned the winkie just so. I pasted a magnet on the back and stuck it on my fridge. We kept them in a shoebox in little plastic sleeves - with tabs between them, categorized by activity. Dancing winkies, blinking winkies, walking winkies. I don't think I've seen a winky since I stopped working there.

8. Roy - Kathryn had huge letters she had grabbed from a dumpster and hung on the back wall of the store - they spelled out "ROY" and I think they were part of a store sign. They were white, and wide, and always made me wonder where they ended up. Who bought Roy?

9. Disco Ball - I remember I bought a record player in the shape of a disco ball once and traded it at WOM for other stuff. Actually, it was a huge, clear and beige sphere that held a record player inside when you slid back the clear cover - kind of like a space ship peels back its door. In the middle where the records play there was a tiny disco ball that spun when the record played, and a light hit it and showed little glittery disco lights all over the sphere when you closed the cover. It was a sight to behold. Afterwards I regretted trading it because it was just such a weird thing to own, but Kathryn put it in a place of special regard - right by the checkout with a "Not For Sale" sign on it. That made this dorky girl feel so cool.

10. Camille Howard and Boogie Woogie - "Ooh, I've got the boogie and the blues..." I can remember keeping her CD on rotation the whole time I was working, often alone. There was no one in the store, Camille was wailin' on the boombox, and I was straightening shelves. Once Mimi came from downstairs to ask a question, listened a moment, and said, "Who is this? I like this." I felt so friggin' cool right then. This was at a time in my life when my self-esteem was non-existent so that little throwaway comment stayed with me for a long time.

11. Wynona Carr and "Ding Dong Daddy" - "I wanna ding dong daddy!...I don't want his money, he may not have a cent, but if he rings that ding dong bell, I'll live with him in a tent!" One of the greatest lyrics ever. I used to listen to Wynona Carr too in the store, dusting shelves, singing along. My heart would race a little when customers came up the stairs because I was hoping they'd hear her sing and think I was cool for playing it. Yep, I used to care about that stuff back then. Maybe I still do a little.

12. Objects - I've just noticed that many of my so-called "memories" are wrapped around objects, and I wonder why that is. It's like the objects are vessels of memory, they're like vases, holding things in for me. A Pandora's Box of memory. I look at the object and the memory of when I bought it, how I felt when I bought it, who I knew, the person I was, come pouring out. Should we put so much reverence in objects? Probably not. I've been decluttering a lot of objects away lately, out of my life, and I wonder if because of the tragedy these particular objects have become more precious than they might have been otherwise. Some of the objects I don't even have anymore, they're long gone, but I still remember them. Will I always keep these WOM objects now? Put them on some pedestal? I think it just coincidence. I love mid-century crap, and Kathryn sold a lot of mid-century crap. I love lamps, and she had a lot of lamps. And she had great taste in lamps.

13. Roller Coaster of Love - Kathryn had a 70's funk and soul tape that she would play in the store - one of the songs was The Ohio Players singing, "Roller Coaster". I stole it. Well, not stole it, borrowed it to take home and make a copy of. I just never got around to doing it. I still have that tape, and my love for 70's R&B has grown and grown over the years because of it. I never stop listening to Soul Town 53 on Sirius. I remember there was a shitty rendition of "Love Train" on that tape by some crappy 80's band - it was a horrible remake. The original is much better.

14. Carter's Limo - Once when I was working, my friend Carter called from D.C. and insisted that I drive from Richmond that afternoon because he and his brother were getting a limo for the night. No reason, they just felt like getting a limo. Carter was rich, lived in a brownstone right near Foggy Bottom metro, went to GW, and I remember he had a huge collection of Patrick Nagel art. The guy who did the Rio cover for Duran Duran. I even sold him my two prints when I needed some money. I had bought them with my employee discount a few years before when I worked at Art Explosion. God, that was a million years ago...

Anyway, he wouldn't take no for an answer. I just remember standing in an empty store, broke because I'd spent all my wages on store credit, trying to justify a 2-hour drive up I-95 for one night of limo-ing, then driving home the next morning to work again. I think I did end up going after all and having a great time. Why am I writing about this? I just remember how weird it felt, having this rich friend with all this $$$ and evidently time to spend trying to convince someone to go out, and I'm standing amidst all of this "stuff": Javanese puppets, 50's lamps, winkies, ancient postcards, tee shirts, German tin toys, and other various knick knacks. It just seemed so strange...

15. Carytown Location - I remember Kathryn taking me aside once and telling me she was thinking about moving the store to a new location on Cary Street, and did I think this was a good idea? She was worried that Mimi would think she was abandoning her, because I guess they had started out as some sort of business partners or something. She was worried that because people had to come through Exile to get to World of Mirth that she wasn't getting enough foot traffic. But she was also worried about not wanting to lose Mimi's friendship. I felt honored that she would ask my opinion, and thought it was a great show of the kind of person she was - not worried about the bottom line so much as to how her friend would take it. I guess I do remember this because she did end up moving, and her business growing a lot because of it. One of those, "I knew her when..." kind of things I guess.

16. Store Credit - I hardly ever got a paycheck working there. It would have been a waste of time. So much stuff arrived at the store that I wanted that I just ended up turning my whole paycheck right over to Kathryn. So we came up with an agreement where I would work for store credit - in that way she could "pay" me more per hour, which worked out well for both of us. She had more turnover of merchandise, less payroll, and I got to grow my beloved 1950's collection of crap.

17. German Tin Toys - WOM had a huge stock of really expensive, handmade German tin toys, not antiques, but really cool nonetheless. They were cars, planes, guys on bicycles, things like that. You'd wind them up with a key, and they would go spinning crazily until they wound down. No one ever bought any - the VCU art student who frequented the store couldn't really afford them, but we'd always keep one example out of the box to play with. I remember the boxes being really cool too - really detailed drawings of the toy inside, all the text in German. Old-looking.

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So here we are, one year later. The Harveys are the reason I started this blog in the first place, and that's also why their links remain at the top.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here. If you don't know what I'm talking about you can read my older posts, or go to any news site and type in "Bryan Harvey" and get the whole story. I have to admit, I've been very angry the past couple of weeks because it seems like every music site in the world has listed Bryan as one of their "Worst of 2006" news tidbits. All because he was a musician and because he died tragically on New Year's Day.

Everyone that knew Bryan and his family has been changed because of how they lived, not how they died. To reduce the Harveys to a news factoid to be tacked onto the beginning or end of some list that will only exist in everyone's mind for a few weeks is the real tragedy. How dare they.

I don't know why I ever expected more to begin with. People love lists, love being able to package stuff into little 3-minute increments. Remember this? Remember that? And then they move on to a story about losing that holiday fat or how resolutions are a waste of time.

I admit, I spent the better part of yesterday and today remembering the Harveys. Collecting my memories of them, looking at old pictures. I still can't play his music without losing it though. That'll come though, I know it will. Grieving takes time. It can't be packaged into a list.

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