Tag Archives: family

Merry Christmas 2020

“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.”

Victor Borge

“There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.”

Robert Staughton Lynd

“I get a little behind during Lent, but it comes out even at Christmas.”

Frank Butler

“Keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and receipts for all major purchases.”

Bridger Winegar

“I haven’t taken my Christmas lights down. They look so nice on the pumpkin.”

Winston Spear

“At Christmas, tea is compulsory. Relatives are optional.”

Robert Godden

“The principal advantage of the non-parental lifestyle is that on Christmas Eve you need not be struck dumb by the three most terrifying words that the government allows to be printed on any product: ‘Some assembly required.’”

John Leo

“Nothing’s as mean as giving a little child something useful for Christmas.”

Kin Hubbard

“I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, ‘Toys not included.’”

Bernard Manning

“What I like about Christmas is that you can make people forget the past with the present.”

Don Marquis

“A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together.”

Garrison Keillor

“I love Christmas. I receive a lot of wonderful presents I can’t wait to exchange.”

Henny Youngman

“That’s the true spirit of Christmas; people being helped by people other than me.”

Jerry Seinfeld

“Do give books – religious or otherwise – for Christmas. They’re never fattening, seldom sinful, and permanently personal.”

Lenore Hershey

“For Christmas this year, try giving less. Start with less attitude. There’s more than enough of that in the world as it is – and people will usually just give it back anyway!”

Anne Bristow

Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. You know, the birth of Santa?”

Matt Groening

“Let me see if I’ve got this Santa business straight. You say he wears a beard, has no discernible source of income and flies to cities all over the world under cover of darkness? You sure this guy isn’t laundering illegal drug money?”

Tom Armstrong

“Who’s the bane of Santa’s life? The elf and safety officer.”

Catherine Tate

“Santa Claus wears a Red Suit, he must be a communist. And a beard and long hair, must be a pacifist. What’s in that pipe that he’s smoking?”

Arlo Guthrie

“Nothing says holiday like a cheese log.”

Ellen DeGeneres

“Christmas is a time when kids tell Santa what they want and adults pay for it. Deficits are when adults tell the government what they want and their kids pay for it.”

Richard Lamm

“Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas.”

Johnny Carson

“I bought my brother some gift wrap for Christmas. I took it to the gift wrap department and told them to wrap it, but in a different print so he would know when to stop unwrapping.”

Steven Wright

“Be careful with drinking this Christmas. I got so drunk last night I found myself dancing in a cheesy bar… or, as you like to call it, delicatessen.”

Sean Hughes

“Christmas sweaters are only acceptable as a cry for help.”

Andy Borowitz

“People can’t concentrate properly on blowing other people to pieces properly if their minds are poisoned by thoughts suitable to the twenty-fifth of December.”

Ogden Nash

“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.”

Roy L. Smith

“A good holiday is one spent among people whose notions of time are vaguer than yours.”

John B. Priestly

“Pets, like their owners, tend to expand a little over the Christmas period.”

Fanny Wright

“Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.”

Dave Berry

“Next to a circus there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.”

Frank McKinney Hubbard

“One good thing about Christmas shopping is it toughens you for the January sales.”

Grace Kriley

“The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin.”

Jay Leno

“There is a remarkable breakdown of taste and intelligence at Christmastime. Mature, responsible grown men wear neckties made of holly leaves and drink alcoholic beverages with raw egg yolks and cottage cheese in them.”

P.J. O’Rourke

“Ever wonder what people got Jesus for Christmas? It’s like, ‘Oh great, socks. You know I’m dying for your sins right? Yeah, but thanks for the socks! They’ll go great with my sandals. What am I, German?’”

Jim Gaffigan

“Every year, Christmas gets longer and longer, and you don’t care, do you? Every year, you just take more of the calendar for yourself. How long does it take you people to shop? It’s beyond belief! It’s insane! When I was a kid, Halloween was Halloween, and Santa wasn’t poking his ass into it!”

Lewis Black

“I’ve had this look for about a year. I usually grow this beard out around Christmas. I like to go to malls dressed as Jesus, and I like to then walk around the mall and go, ‘No! No! This wasn’t what it was supposed to be about, people!’ Then if there’s a Santa at the mall, I walk up to him and say, ‘Listen, fat man, you’re just a clown at my birthday party.’”

Marc Maron

“I set a personal record on Christmas. I got my shopping done three weeks ahead of time. I had all the presents back at my apartment, I was halfway through wrapping them, and I realized, ‘Damn, I used the wrong wrapping paper.’ The paper I used said, ‘Happy Birthday.’ I didn’t want to waste it, so I just wrote ‘Jesus’ on it.”

Demetri Martin

“Christmas: it’s the only religious holiday that’s also a federal holiday. That way, Christians can go to their services, and everyone else can sit at home and reflect on the true meaning of the separation of church and state.”

Samantha Bee

“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day.”

Phyllis Diller

“It may be a cliché, but it’s true – the build-up to Christmas is so much more pleasurable than the actual day itself.”

Julie Burchill

You’d look the same if you had a Christmas tree stuck up your ass!

Top image: Charles van Sandwyk – ‘The Fairies’ Christmas’ – “How to See Fairies & Other Tales” – Folio Society 2018

Bottom image: Julian Clary

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Tweets of the Week – October 24, 2020

Pavlovitz was responding to this Tweet by Newsmax TV host John Cardillo:

From Rep. Clay Higgins (R-Louisiana):

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This Is Why I Write

“I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.”

Anne Rice

So far, 2020 has been one of the roughest years in the lives of many people.  Not just here in the United States, but across the globe.  For me, it’s been extraordinarily tough.  Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I became leery as my savings dwindled.  My freelance writing career hasn’t proven as successful as I’d hoped, so writing gigs have dried up.  My mother’s stroke at the end of January sent me into an emotional tailspin.  I felt incredibly guilty sending her to a rehabilitation center.  But, as her own health failed, I realized she was entering the final stages of her life.  She finally passed away June 22.

My mother worked in the insurance industry her entire adult life, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70.  She was earning pensions from the last two companies where she worked.  One has already informed me there was no final beneficiary payout, and I’m waiting to hear from the other.  They have to (snail) mail me some documentation that I have to complete and sign and return to them with a copy of her death certificate.  Okay, I’m thinking, this is the 21st century.  Did they not get the memo?  It’s like much of the Southeastern U.S. with the Civil War.  But it’s not financial; it’s an issue I have to resolve from a legal perspective in order to probate the will and get this house transferred into my name.

Still, I remain unemployed, with little financial backup.  I’ve had to delay utility payments – something I’ve never done in my entire life.  Now my truck is showing its age.  Like a dog, 14 is old for a vehicle.

Moreover, I thought briefly I had contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus.  Symptoms like fever and a persistently runny nose alarmed me.  The lethargy overwhelmed me.  I kept thinking (hoping) these were the effects of allergies – a constant plague in my life.  Or perhaps I’m simply recovering from the stress of caring for both my parents.  Maybe it’s male menopause.  (I’ll be 57 in November.)  I didn’t know.  But a friend recently suggested another problem: a lack of exercise (which I’d already admitted) and/or an iron deficiency (which I’d already suspected.)  Thus, I purchased some iron supplements and have become determined to reinvigorate my various exercise regimens.  I’ve been out walking along an exercise trail behind my home these past couple of weeks.  During one of those I actually made an attempt to jog – and promptly stopped.  You just can’t go months without running and then expect to break into an Olympic-style sprint!  I’m watching middle age gently fade from my soul in real time.

That same friend, however, said something to me last week that offended me more than anything else he – or most anyone else – has ever said.  We’ve always had a sometimes-contentious, yet brutally honest friendship.  But he coyly criticized me for spending so much time on my writing – and this blog; that I’m wasting that time and energy on my creative pursuits instead of trying to find a full-time job.

His comments stunned me.  I promptly reminded him of my previous years of employment; where I slaved away over hot computer keyboards during weekdays, before turning to my creative writing endeavors in the evenings and on weekends.  I’ve always felt a greater sense of responsibility to myself and my community than to suffer for my art and live off the grid and on the edge.

I write because I enjoy it.  I feel I’m good at it.  It’s the one thing about myself in which I’m 100% confident.  Writing is mostly all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life.  It’s therapeutic.  It’s kept me from hurting myself and others.  I understood long ago that my chances at becoming a famous author were slim.  But I don’t write stories in the hopes of becoming wealthy and renowned.  I fully realize the odds of that are incredibly rare.  I’m not naïve – or irresponsible.

I continue to search for full-time, even contract or part-time, work.  And I continue to write – on this blog and my stories.  I’m not writing now just to piss off my friend, which would suck up too much of my energy.

Once more, I write because I love it.  It’s who I am and who I always will be.

There are some parts of our souls upon which we can never give up.

Image: Fernando Doglio

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Smoker!

Recently, in a neighborhood online group, one resident said her teenage son startled the family by shouting that the toilet in the hall bathroom was smoking.  When they looked, this is what they saw.

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Mother Wolf Transitions

My mother’s official 1959 wedding portrait

My mother told me that one day in the early 1960s, she was strolling past a row of file cabinets at the insurance company in downtown Dallas where she worked at the time, when a man who had a history of playing pranks on his coworkers suddenly leaped out and popped her bra strap.  At a time when people could normally get away with such shenanigans in the workplace, my mother said she didn’t think twice once she saw the smirk on the young man’s face…and smacked him across his face, sending his glasses to the floor.  She cursed at him – something that most people, especially women could NOT get away with in those days – and merely walked away.  Trying to play the victim, she said he complained to his manager who subsequently called her into his office.  She reiterated the entire scenario, which generally would be a true case of he-said-she-said.  But she had a supporter.  Another man had witnessed the incident and confirmed her version.  The bra popper was merely reprimanded verbally, and my mother was forced to drop the incident.

Not until years later did she reveal that to my father who surely would have stormed into the office and cracked a few heads of the all-male management.  In fact, she told me she never told my father most of the stuff that happened to her at work – the ongoing and pervasive sexual harassment she endured in the old days – because she feared his retribution upon her male colleagues.  But really didn’t need to do that; she could fend for herself.

My mother, Maria Guadalupe De La Garza, passed away last Monday, June 22, at the age of 87.  She had endured a lengthy battle with dementia and the effects of a stroke she suffered last January, which almost completely rendered her left side immobile.  After a lengthy stay in a rehabilitation center, I had to bring her home in May; whereupon she entered home hospice care.  That, in and of itself, was an ordeal.

But I knew her time was coming to an end.

My mother had a difficult start in life.  Her mother, Esperanza, was seven months pregnant with her, when her parents traveled to Taxco, a town just outside of México City, to attend some kind of family gathering in December 1932.  While there, Esperanza suddenly went into labor.  My mother barely weighed 2 pounds at birth; she was so small they carried her home in a shoe box and used her father’s handkerchiefs for diapers.  She was born on December 12, which to Latino Roman Catholics is Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe).  Thus, her parents named her Guadalupe.  Knowing that she had slim chance of survival – like most babies born prematurely in the 1930s – a local priest baptized her and gave her last rites in the same ceremony.

But she did survive – and fought various battles throughout her life with that inborn sense of determination and perseverance.  I still believe the unique mix of German and Mexican extraction only accentuated her unbridled individualism.

Esperanza died in México City on Christmas Day 1940, just 11 months after giving birth to her only son, William.  They had wanted to name him after his father, Clarence, but no one could a Spanish language version of that name.  Esperanza’s mother, Felicitas Basurto, stepped in to help Clarence raise his 4 children.  Felicitas had lived in the United States for a short while and worked for a U.S. Navy admiral as a governess to his 2 children.  She had actually taught herself English.  Felicitas returned to México in the summer of 1940, as Esperanza’s health began to fail.  She was there when her daughter succumbed to an abdominal infection.

In the September of 1943, Clarence moved his children and mother-in-law to Dallas where he’d found a job working an auto plant.  He wanted to return to his native Michigan, but he spotted an ad for the job in Dallas.

It was a rough transition for my mother and her 3 siblings.  None of them could speak English.  Many strangers thought my mother and her older sister, Margo, were Americans because of girls’ fair coloring.  But their maternal grandmother helped guide them into their new lives.

My mother met my father, George, in 1957, and they married two years later.  I’m their only child.

My mother’s strong personality made her almost fearless.  At some a gathering in the early 1950s, a nun got angry with my Uncle William for some unknown reason and called him a “spic”.  My mother was nearby and slapped the nun across her face.  That got her into trouble with the church and her father and grandmother.  Shortly before my parents wed, a priest told my mother that he hoped she’d do the “godly thing” and have lots of children.  My mother said she didn’t want many children, but the priest insisted; telling her it was her duty as a married woman.  She then agreed – and told the old man she’d bring all those children back to him so he could help her raise them.

Her sharp criticism of some people – especially other women – was boundless.  She called Paula Jones – the woman who accused Bill Clinton of exposing himself to her – a “dumb broad” because Jones apparently believed that she really was going for a job interview at his hotel room at 10:00 at night.  In May of 2004, my father’s second oldest sister, Teresa, died of cancer.  At the rosary, we spoke briefly with the husband of one of my cousins.  He was a police officer and mentioned that he was part of the security detail for former First Lady Barbara Bush when she came to Dallas and had to carry his gun.

“Why did you need to carry your gun?” my mother inquired.  “I mean, who wants a piece of that old hag?”

I burst out into laughter, as my cousin’s husband tried to keep his eyeballs from falling out of their sockets.

She called another former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, a “screaming banshee”; said she didn’t realize how fat Oprah Winfrey was until she saw her in jeans, when the talk show maven visited Dallas; and denounced Monica Lewinsky (the woman who had a sexual tryst with Bill Clinton in 1996) as a “cheap-ass whore”.

My mother and me, Christmas Eve 1965

My mother first started showing signs of dementia more than a decade ago.  Recipes for the simplest things sometimes eluded her.  My father and I finally got her to start seeing a neurologist in 2011.  In the four years since my father died, she occasionally referred to me as her brother, William.  A few times I had to call the paramedics to help me deal with her increasingly erratic behavior.  Their sudden presence always managed to calm her down.  I believe it’s because they were all men, and my mother was partial to men.

At the end of this past January, she suffered a mild stroke.  I didn’t realize it at first, but noticed she couldn’t get up out of bed.  I had her transported to a local hospital where an MRI discovered bleeding on the brain, which had already begun to heal.  It had paralyzed her entire left side.

I had to make the difficult decision of admitting her to a rehabilitation center to help her recover.  I found one nearby, but I developed a sense of dread the night the hospital transported her to the facility.  I felt like I was abandoning her.  I had promised my father many years ago that, if she should die first, I’d do everything I could take care of her.  And, of course, he died first.

The rehab center turned out to be incredible.  Physical therapists helped her regain mobility in her left arm and even her left leg.  I brought her back home at the end of March, as the COVID-19 calamity was unfolding.  I’d reports of residents at similar facilities contracting the novel coronavirus and even dying.

I contracted a health care agency to help me care for her.  But, after a week, things didn’t turn out well.  She became increasingly hostile and combative.  She also developed a urinary tract infection, but I thought she was experiencing another stroke.  After one night at the hospital, I had her readmitted to the rehab center.  Unfortunately, health care in the United States is still very much an actual business.  Her Medicare benefits were exhausted, and the facility had to discharge her in May.  I wrote about this in an essay a few weeks ago.

After returning home again, she entered a home hospice care program with same health agency.  They were quite phenomenal in helping me.  I couldn’t depend too much on relatives, friends or neighbors.  But her health continued to decline.  I had told a long-time family friend who lives nearby – a woman who’s known my mother for close to 50 years – that I didn’t feel my mother would make it to the end of summer.  Our friend was shocked, but when she came over to visit on the 18th, she realized I was probably right.  My mother had grown incoherent; she didn’t seem to recognize anyone, even me; and would often lie in bed staring at the ceiling or a wall and asking for her sister, Margo.  Margo had died of cancer in June 1989.

It’s incredibly frustrating and sad to watch someone who raised me descend into the depths of cognitive bewilderment.  The once vibrant, strong-minded woman I’d known my entire life had reverted to a child-like state of mind.  Now I know why dementia is often called “the long goodbye”.  You see your loved one disintegrate before you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about.

In the few weeks preceding her death, I often felt we weren’t alone in the house.  I had prayed to my Aunt Margo to come get my mother, and I actually began to sense it was her moving about.  I also began to see shadows of a small animal trotting down the hall or the sound of tiny footsteps.  I realized immediately the figure was my dog, Wolfgang, who died in October 2016; just less than four months after my father.  In many cultures, animals, birds, and butterflies are often seen as either an omen of death or a conduit between our world and whatever other world might exist.  Both my parents absolutely loved that little dog of mine.  He actually became our dog.  Since I never married and had children, Wolfgang became their pseudo-grandson.  I even mentioned Wolfgang as a “canine grandson” in my father’s obituary.  On just a handful of occasions, though, I actually did spot Wolfgang – but only for a second or two.  I needed no further reassurance that my mother’s time here was coming to a close.

There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a loved one.  As a friend told me, that person can live a thousand years, but their demise is still painful.  I’m at peace, though, with what happened.  I’m glad I could get her back home to die.  She and my father had worked very hard to get and to keep this house.  We’ve been here almost 50 years.  And I couldn’t let her die anywhere else.

Now, I move forward.  Goodnight, mother.

Alzheimer’s Foundation of America

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Happy Father’s Day 2020!

“How come my three year old son knows every species and genus of dinosaur and I can’t even remember my home phone number?”

Taye Diggs

“I rescind my early statement, ‘I could never fall in love with a girl who regularly poops her pants.’ (I hadn’t met my daughter yet).”

Dax Shepard

“The older I get, the smarter my father seems to get.”

Tim Russert

“By the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son who thinks he’s wrong.”

Charles Wadsworth

“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

Mark Twain

“You can tell what was the best year of your father’s life, because they seem to freeze that clothing style and ride it out.”

Jerry Seinfeld

“I gave my father $100 and said, ‘Buy yourself something that will make your life easier.’ So he went out and bought a present for my mother.”

Rita Rudner

“Fatherhood is great because you can ruin someone from scratch.”

Jon Stewart

“There should be a children’s song: ‘If you’re happy and you know it, keep it to yourself and let your dad sleep.”

Jim Gaffigan

“It is so embarrassing how I went from a person who did not care about anyone’s children.  Then you have them, and you brag about the same stuff that you never cared about.  And you tell people, ‘he’s got four teeth,’ like they care.”

Seth Meyers

“On our 6 am walk, my daughter asked where the moon goes each morning.  I let her know it’s in heaven, visiting daddy’s freedom.”

Ryan Reynolds

“Having children is like living in a frat house: nobody sleeps, everything’s broken, and there’s a lot of throwing up.”

Ray Romano

“My daughter got me a ‘World’s Best Dad’ mug.  So we know she’s sarcastic.”

Bob Odenkirk

“A father carries pictures where his money used to be.”

Steve Martin

“Good parenting means investing in your child’s future, which is why I am saving to buy mine a hoverboard someday.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda

“Getting a burp out of your little thing when she needs it is probably the greatest satisfaction I’ve come across at this point in my life.  It is truly one of life’s most satisfying moments.”

Brad Pitt

“The only way I can describe [fatherhood] – it sounds stupid, but – at the end of ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ you know how his heart grows like five times?  Everything is full; it’s just full all the time.”

Matt Damon

“When you’re young, you think your dad is Superman. Then you grow up, and you realize he’s just a regular guy who wears a cape.”

Dave Attell

“When I was a kid, I said to my father one afternoon, ‘Daddy, will you take me to the zoo?’ He answered, ‘If the zoo wants you, let them come and get you.’”

Jerry Lewis

“Raising a kid is part joy and part guerrilla warfare.”

Ed Asner

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Happy Mother’s Day 2020!

“There is an endearing tenderness in the love of a mother to a son that transcends all other affections of the heart.”

Washington Irving

“The majority of my diet is made up of foods that my kid didn’t finish.”

Carrie Underwood

“Every day when you’re raising kids, you feel like you could cry or crack up and just scream, ‘This is ridiculous!’ because there’s so much nonsense, whether it’s what they’re saying to you or the fact that there’s avocado or poop on every surface.”

Kristen Bell

“Sleep at this point is just a concept, something I’m looking forward to investigating in the future.”

Amy Poehler

“After we got home from the hospital, I didn’t shower for a week, and then John and I were like, ‘Let’s go out for dinner.’  I could last only about an hour because my boobs were exploding. When the milk first comes in, it’s like a tsunami.  But we went, just to prove to ourselves that we could feel normal for a second.”

Emily Blunt

“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”

Nora Ephron

“Sometimes I stand there going, ‘I’m not doing any of this right!’  And then I get this big man belch of her and I go, ‘Ah, we accomplished this together.’”

Christina Applegate

“All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That’s his.”

Oscar Wilde

“Twelve years later the memories of those nights, of that sleep deprivation, still make me rock back and forth a little bit.  You want to torture someone?  Hand them an adorable baby they love who doesn’t sleep.”

Shonda Rhimes

“I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them.”

Phyllis Diller

“[Having four kids is] endless stuff.  It’s endless entertainment, it’s endless stress, endless responsibility.  Everyone’s at different ages and levels, everyone’s into different stuff. But everyone is into slime.”

Maya Rudolph

“I’ve learned that it’s way harder to be a baby.  For instance, I haven’t thrown up since the ‘90s and she’s thrown up twice since we started this interview.”

Eva Mendes

“No one told me I would be coming home in diapers, too.”

Chrissy Teigen

“Why don’t kids understand that their nap is not for them but for us?”

Alyson Hannigan

“Like all parents, my husband and I just do the best we can, and hold our breath, and hope we’ve set aside enough money to pay for our kids’ therapy.”

Michelle Pfeiffer

“You know how once you have kids you never ever pee by yourself again?  At least one of them is always in there with you at all times.”

Jennifer Garner

“If I wasn’t at work, I just wanted to stay home and party with my little man – and by ‘party’ I mean, of course, endless rounds of ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’.”

Olivia Wilde

“I always say if you aren’t yelling at your kids, you’re not spending enough time with them.”

Reese Witherspoon

“Stop saying, ‘We’re pregnant.’  You’re not pregnant.  Do you have to squeeze a watermelon-sized person out of your lady hole?  No.”

Mila Kunis

“The heart of a mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness.”

Honore de Balzac

“I’ve conquered a lot of things … blood clots in my lungs – twice … knee and foot surgeries … winning Grand Slams being down match point … to name just a few, but I found out by far the hardest is figuring out a stroller!”

Serena Williams

“Becoming a mom to me means you have accepted that for the next 16 years of your life, you will have a sticky purse.”

Nia Vardalos

“Children are like crazy, drunken small people in your house.”

Julie Bowen

“Happy is the son whose faith in his mother remains unchallenged.”

Louisa May Alcott

“A mother’s love doesn’t make her son more dependent and timid; it actually makes him stronger and more independent.”

Cheri Fuller

“A man loves his sweetheart the most, his wife the best, but his mother the longest.”

Irish Proverb

Image: Wisconsin Historical Society

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Circling

Yesterday, April 30, marked a unique anniversary for me.  It’s been 30 years since I started working for a major banking corporation in Dallas.  I remained there – laboring over hot computer keyboards and angrier customers – for 11 years before I got laid off in April 2001.  But, I just realized: 30 years since that first day!  Wow!  The year 1990 still sounds relatively recent; attributed mainly to the 1990s being the best decade of my life.  A lifetime ago.

And, it’s amazing how much has changed since then.  Both society and me.  I’m more confident and self-assured now than I was in 1990.  I came of age in that final decade of the 20th century and I’ve improved myself in the many years since.  I’m not holding onto the past – not anymore.  I’m just reflecting.  I’m at the age where I find myself comparing life between then and now more often.  I’ve packed enough years into my life to do that.

It makes me recall how my parents often did the same.  ‘It’s been how long?!’  I heard that so many times; from when I was in grade school to the weeks before my father died in 2016.  Now, I find myself doing the same.

I’m certainly not upset about it.  I’ve experienced all of the good and bad life has to offer in various shapes, sizes and colors.  That happens, of course, as one navigates the rivers of our individual worlds.  It’s inevitable and unavoidable.  Making it to the half-century point of my life was a major milestone.  The alternative is not as attractive.

After the funeral of my Aunt Margo in 1989, we gathered at her house in suburban Dallas where she’d lived for over 20 years.  Sipping on beverages and eating food Margo’s neighbors had prepared, my mother and her two surviving siblings began regaling the group with tales of long ago.  My mother recounted one quaint moment at a church with her niece, Yvonne, one of Margo’s daughters.  After the priest had led the congregation in recitation of the ‘Hail Mary’, Yvonne – about 2 years of age – loudly asked my mother, “Aunt Lupe, what’s a womb?”

Startled, my mother mumbled, “Uh…I don’t know.”

“Oh, come on Aunt Lupe, yes you do!”

Behind them, she said, much of the fellow worshippers chuckled.  Even the priest laughed, she told us.

My father, sitting on a couch beside me, smiled broadly and uttered, “See, she remembers those little things.”

For me, those “little things” have added up.

A few years ago, at a gym I patronized, I got into a discussion with some young men about work.  They weren’t just friends; they were colleagues at a major financial institution.  I mentioned I’d labored at the bank for over a decade and found myself regaling them with tales of answering phones and mailing out scores of paper documents to clients and colleagues.  One of them told me that they all used their cell phones to stay in touch with people – clients and colleagues – and were connected all the time.  Little paper, he noted, almost 100% digital or electronic.  I laughed.  It didn’t make me feel old.  I realized immediately it was just progress.  But they enjoyed my description of such oddities at the time as telecommuting and video conference calls – along with reels of digital tape for recording phone calls and people trying to figure out how to refill the copier with toner.  I recall vividly a number of people with hands coated in the small-grain black powder and seeing toner EVERYWHERE.  I finally figured out how to insert the powder – using latex gloves I brought from home, with a bundle of dampened paper towels from the men’s room.  Curious gazes sprouted onto the faces of those young men at the gym; perhaps uncertain whether to laugh or express wonder.  I couldn’t help but laugh and say, “That’s how life was like in corporate America many moons ago.”  And, in turn, they collectively burst out laughing.

In my 20s, my father advised me to work as hard as possible during that period of my life; making small sacrifices along the way to ensure a solid future for myself.

“Work as much as you can while you’re young and save as much as you can,” he pointedly said, almost as if warning me.  “You’ll be damn glad you did when you get to be our age,” referring to him and my mother.

Last autumn one of my cousins, Laura, held a Thanksgiving gathering at her house, with her two daughters and the young son of one of them.  Her mother (my mother’s younger sister) lives with her.  Both women sat at the dining room table talking after the meal, while Laura and I stood in the den conversing.  Also present was one of her nephews, Andy (on her ex-husband’s side of the family).  My parents had first met Andy around the turn of the century, before he even entered kindergarten.  He grew to like them, especially my father.  I didn’t meet him until the summer of 2005, after a lengthy stint working in Oklahoma for the engineering company.  On that particular Saturday, my cousin had come to visit my parents with her daughters and Andy who was visiting for the weekend.

I had my dog, Wolfgang, corralled in a back bedroom and finally brought him into the den to meet everyone – whereupon the little monster I identified as a miniature wolf vocally unleashed his suspicion of the newcomers.

“Why’s he barking so loud?” Andy asked with a laugh.

“He’s just not used to seeing this many people,” I told him.

While the rest of us continued talking, Andy and Wolfgang were more focused on each other.  Andy eventually dropped to his knees, as Wolfgang sat and cocked his head back and forth; the way dogs do when they’re still trying to figure out something or decide if they like you or not.  I told Andy to let Wolfgang sniff the back of his hand, before petting him, which he did.  Within no more than a moment, the two were playing.  Yes, a little boy and a little dog make good playmates!  They got along very well.

At that Thanksgiving gathering last year, Andy was 23 and had grown into a strikingly handsome young man with a deep voice and a full beard.  He said he worked for a trucking company north of Dallas and had earned a sizeable income in 2018.  I immediately congratulated him and then told him to save as much of that money as he could.

“Don’t go out buying cars and motorcycles and drinks for everyone in your crew when you go out partying,” I advised.  As a very young man, I knew Andy was almost naturally prone to getting the best products life has to offer.  I truly did not want to see him work so hard, only to end up destitute at 50-something.  “Work hard and play hard, yes.  You’re young.  There’s no harm in going out with your buddies and partying and meeting women.  Just don’t do that too much and waste all that money eating and drinking.  You don’t want to turn into an angry old fucker like me or Laura.”

Both Andy and Laura burst out laughing.  But I feel Andy understood how serious I was.  I then asked him if he remembered Wolfgang and I recounted that day I first met him and how he had played with the dog.  He had to think for a moment, before he finally did.  “Little gray dog with big brown eyes, right?”

“Yes!”

He asked me what had become of him.  I had to explain how the dog’s health had begun to fail at the start of 2016 and the stroke-like episodes he’d started to experience were a heart murmur gradually worsening.  I then detailed how Wolfgang acted on the day my father died and how he himself passed away less than five months later.

Andy stared at me blankly for a few seconds – and I thought briefly he was going to cry.  His eyes seemed to quiver, before he muttered, “Oh, man.  Sorry to hear that.  I guess that was kind of unexpected, huh?”

“No,” I answered.  “Dogs get old and sick – just like people.”  No, Wolfgang’s death wasn’t unexpected.  When he turned 10 in 2012, I told my parents we needed to brace ourselves for his eventually demise.  It seemed they didn’t want to talk about it.  I could understand.  We never discussed how and when our German shepherd, Joshua, would die – until the day we had to carry him into the vet’s office.

Another thing my parents had advised me to do many years ago was to complete my higher education.  I promised them I would and even after I started working for the bank, I maintained at some point I would return.  I didn’t fulfill that promise until 2007.

About 10 years ago I attended a dinner party with some close friends and met a young woman who had dropped out of college because she was having so much trouble at that time.  She was now gainfully employed, but still longed for completion of that collegiate endeavor.  I strongly suggested she make the effort because it would be worth the trouble.  “You’ll find life gets busier as you get older,” I said.  “It just does.  You realize you want to do more things.”  I emphasized I wasn’t chastising her or telling her what to do with her life.

Someone else asked, if I felt at that point in my life, it was proper to give advice to younger people.

“I don’t like to say I give advice,” I replied, “because that’s almost condescending.”  But I was entering the phase of my life where, if I know or meet someone who’s making the same mistakes I made when I was young, I feel the obligation to relay my own experience with that issue and how I dealt with it.  As the adage goes, hindsight is 20-20.  Education had grown to become more important to me as I reached my 40s – and, as with my creative writing, it’s not so much that life kept getting in the way.  I let life keep getting in the way.

It’s a curious sensation, though.  Life is now coming full circle.  And it actually feels pretty good.

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Best Quote of the Week – February 21, 2020

“I am in a faithful, loving, committed marriage.  I’m proud of my marriage.  And I’m proud of my husband.  And I’m not going to be lectured on family values from the likes of Rush Limbaugh or anybody who supports Donald J. Trump as the moral, as well as political leader of the United States.  America has moved on, and we should have a politics of belonging that welcomes everybody.”

 – Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, IN, in response to conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh commenting on Buttigieg’s sexuality.

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How Did We End Up Here?

My mother with me in December 1963, a month after I was born.

I stood alone in the darkness of the den last night and wondered how it got to this point.  My mother had a mild stroke one week ago today; paralyzing her entire left side and essentially rendering her immobile.   She is now in a rehabilitation facility.  With dementia clouding her judgment and comprehension, I almost felt like I was abandoning her to a bedridden life.

Both of my parents were among the roughly 100% of the population declaring they would never end up in a nursing home.  In the months before he died, my father insisted on returning to this modest suburban home to pass away.  He did not want to be in a hospital or any other facility hooked up to machinery, barely surviving off IV drips.  I was able to grant him that wish.  Who wants to die in a hospital anyway?  I believe only a workplace is the least desirable place to expire.

But here my mother is in a place filled with elderly and disabled people.  I got a bad feeling from the moment I stepped into the building.  The representative I had spoken to on the phone earlier on Friday told me the structure was older.  Indeed, it is!  With severely off-white walls and ceiling light fixtures the color of Neosporin, the place looks like it’s witnessed every national event since the Vietnam War.  I didn’t expect the rooms to be equivalent to 5-star Bahamian resorts.  But they’re Spartan appearance is just one step above a prison cell.

Aging building features aside, I have to concede the staff seems nice – at least the ones I’ve met so far.  That, of course, is far more important than cosmetics.  The facility has a high rating from business and health associations.  I’m concerned mainly because the state of Texas has become a critical focal point in elder abuse within nursing home facilities.

I’m also worried because I’ve never been put in this situation before.  I had promised my parents I’d never let this happen – being placed in a…facility.  But how does one prepare for such an event?

Life takes such a strangely circuitous route.  When we’re born, we’re totally helpless; dependent on others to ensure our survival.  As we reach the end of our lives – hopefully many years later – we enter another stage of fragility.  The human body winds down and shows its age.  Like a building.

So how did we end up here?  It’s just what happens to many people.  My primary hope right now is that my mother can endure proper physical therapy to get her ambulatory enough to return home.  If she could walk – even with an aid – that would make a world of difference.  Besides, I’d promised my father years ago that – should he die first – I’d take care of my mother.  And I feel if I violate that oath, he’ll return to cripple my hands where I can’t tap on a keyboard to write my stories and make snarky comments on this blog.

Shortly after moving here in December of 1972, I stopped my father amidst the unpacking and asked if he’d noticed something unique: silence.  We’d moved from a garage apartment near downtown Dallas to this newly-developed area.  It had been mostly ranchland and, for years, a large pasture stretched out behind our house.  We’d often see cows grazing, along with the occasional bull.  But relocating from a heavily-trafficked urban neighborhood to here was utopian.

I kept asking myself last night – having downed plenty of vodka and orange juice – how we got to this point.  Things happen, I finally realized, and people get old and disabled.  The alternative is not too pleasant.  But this is the way it is.  And it’s not infinite.  It’s this anomaly called life.

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