Mother’s Day

DSC02486Along with May flowers, Cinco De Mayo, Memorial Day, and a host of other special days, like Hug Your Cat Day on May 3rd, this month also brings us Mother’s Day. Held on the second Sunday of the month, it is a celebration in honor of mothers, grandmothers, and anyone who has mothered another person.

I am the daughter of Josephine Zabski who died on May 21, 2007. It was to her that every year in May, I would present cards, flowers, and/or other gifts. When she lived nearby and after she moved in with us, Bill and I would take her out to dinner. She could be very abusive and we spent some difficult times together, but we got through them, and I can honestly say, I miss her.

Bill’s mother died in 1978. Though neither one of us have mothers to honor in the flesh now, still on that day we always call them to mind and share a few memories. Sometimes sad, sometimes maddening, and sometimes hysterically funny … like the time we were sitting around the dinner table enjoying one of Mom’s absolutely delicious meals that she’d taken hours to prepare. My father was complaining about the number of deer hunters that trespassed on the land where he’d built and ran the Summit Lodge, in Killington, Vermont. Wanting to keep the guests who stayed at the lodge enjoying the fall colors safe, he’d posted the property with No Hunting or Trespassing signs. But still some hunters came, ignoring the signs, wanting to fill their freezers with venison.

Between bites of roast pork and sauerkraut, Mom said, “I don’t think that sign is enough. I think you need to get one that says, ’Trespassers will be violated.”

All of us, including Bill, my father, and my brothers choked on our food, and burst into nonstop laughter. Mom looked around the table wondering what was so funny. She didn’t realize she’d replace the word “prosecuted” with “violated.” Hurt and filled with shame, she ended the conversation with, “Well, you know what I mean!” We went on discussing other things, like the weather and the price of milk until we could get back to an easier conversation. Some of us continued to wipe away tears left over from Mom’s joke. Others made a hasty retreat to the bathroom to empty overly stimulated bladders.

mom1997Now, years later, it is still a very funny story and I still snicker to myself when I think about it. But I wish I could have been more sensitive at the time as to why she was so embarrassed. Though my mother was a very elegant and intelligent woman, she had only gone as far as eight grade in school. I think she often felt left behind by me, her daughter, a collage graduate, and my brothers who were still in the midst of their education. Only family members knew that about Mom’s schooling, but if you didn’t know, you never would have guessed. She could carry on a debate with the best of them.

Adding to her shame and vulnerability was the rise of the feminist movement, which completely confused her, despite the fact that she operated her own antiques business. But it was overseen by my father, who told Bill on his deathbed that, “You’ve got to take care of Jo. She doesn’t know how to write checks.” That was a flat out lie and we soon discovered all of the things that Mom knew how to do, that her husband wouldn’t allow her do, because she was a woman and uneducated.

This year, despite the problems Mom often caused in my life, I’d like to honor her spirit and the way she knew how to survive in a world that was not always a good fit for her. She may not have finished high school but she was someone who knew how to run a business and what to do when the going got tough. As I face my own life challenges, I think of her often and wish I’d told her that day, that what she said was funny, but in no way stupid.

Here’s to Moms all around the world!

You can read more about my mom and our days together in my memoir,
SCATTERING ASHES, A Memoir of Letting Go, to be published in September.
It is available for preorder on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

In The Company With Writers

Mary Gottschalk, Carol Bodensteiner, and Me

Mary Gottschalk, Carol Bodensteiner, and Me

I love all of my friends and enjoy spending time with them no matter who they are or what they do for work. But I especially love being in the company of writers. Last week I had the privilege of spending time with two writers with whom I have communicated on the internet but had never met in person. I’ve read at least one of the books they’ve each written and in that reading found myself connected with them through their use of the written word.

On their way to a writer’ retreat on Chincoteague from Iowa, they honored me with a two night visit. It was enough time for me to validate that intuitive voice that told me, “You’d like these women.” And I did. Over glasses of wine, good food, and lots of writing talk I found myself enjoying every minute. Although I was unable to go with them on a tour of Monticello, I did join them for a fascinating historical tour of the University of Virginia and how Thomas Jefferson, with difficulty, put together what is today the University of Virginia.

I’ve read one of each of their books, both novels, and now I have their memoirs to help me get to know them even better. Mary Gottschalk’s, A Fitting Place, is the story of a woman recently deserted by her husband, who is looking for aIMG_0133 relationship to fill in the empty hole that her husband has left in her life. That this relationship is with another woman, speaks of the complications that life brings when we don’t take the time to get to know ourselves and what we want and need to live an authentic life.

Carol Bodensteiner’s novel, Go Away Home, is the story of young woman who has grown up on a farm in Iowa in the early 1900’s, as she begins to define herself and her need to see and experience living in a wider world of employment and self discovery. Both books are delightful reads, and I look forward to reading Mary’s memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam, about her trip sailing halfway around the world, and Carol’s, Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl. If you are looking for great reads, pick up their books and get to know them for yourselves through their written words. You are in for a treat.

I will be taking some time off to whittle away my long list of Have To’s for the next ten or so days. I will be back on April 1st, with my newsletter which will include an excerpt from my soon to be published memoir. And I will be back here on my blog on April 5th.

I hope you are enjoying the spring as much as I am. As I walk among the newly blooming shrubs and trees, I see the promises of new life that this season brings to us.

A True, Crazy Love Story

1965 In Paris on our honeymoon.

1965 In Paris on our honeymoon.

Recently my husband, Bill was away on a trip. Even though we do love having time apart, we usually miss each other and talk by phone or computer every day.

That week was no exception. I was home cleaning out my studio, writing, feeling a bit cabin fevery, as the heat and humidity made it hard to be out and about. I felt a bit lonely and even bored at times. There were few if any distractions. Most people I know were away and this university town was napping until things heat up when classes resume in a few weeks and you can’t keep up with the list of interesting events that fill the local paper’s What’s Happening Section.

Bill was at music camp learning to play his Ukulele even better than before, sharing some time with our grand kids, and learning how to maneuver a trip with a bum knee.

Both of us are movie buffs and whenever we get away to a larger city, we check to see what’s playing at the local movie houses. Midway through the week Bill called and told me he was going to a movie that evening. It turned out the same movie, Paper Towns, was playing here in Charlottesville, too. Feeling the need to get out of the house, and not wanting him to get ahead of me on seeing a good flick, we decided to make a night of it. Both films, hundreds of miles apart, had the very same starting time. When we hung up the phone we promised we’d each blow kisses to each other as the movie titles were beginning.

As I was getting ready to leave home a few hours later, a huge thunder storm with predicted torrential rain came up. Though it wasn’t yet pouring, I thought it might be best to stay home and avoid being out on the roads. But knowing we had made a date, I told myself, Hell no! You really need to get out of here.

I parked my car under cover just as the heavens opened up. Safe and dry in my seat, I spent 25 minutes watching commercials for Coke, athletic shoes, and new cars. The trailers that followed were torturous and I wanted to leave the theatre when in a new Halloween film to be released in early October, a grisly looking grandmother asks her granddaughter to climb into the oven to clean it. I won’t go further here because we both know what good ole granny has in mind for the kid. Gingerbread aside, the rest of the trailers were also horrendous except for one or two which won’t be out until Thanksgiving.

When the movie finally started I blew kisses off to Bill, who was seated in an almost identical movie theatre in Asheville, North Carolina. During the first part of the film I almost got up and left. The cute, adolescent, female love interest was a witch, leading her innocent, handsome, male love interest astray; teaching him how to break the rules and make life into an thrilling escapade without getting caught.

My thoughts: , Coming out on a stormy night was such a stupid idea. Why don’t I just go home and read a good book.

As I sat thinking about going back out into the rain, I noted the girl runs away from home and the boy recruits his best friends and goes on an epic journey to find her. The movie, without the monstrous girl involved, became more appealing and the story turned out to be about true friendship, growing up, and finding our way through puberty into adulthood. According to the synopsis I read, it was supposed to be a love story, but it wasn’t. It was supposed to be a mystery, but I didn’t care what had happened to the girl. The end was somewhat uplifting and though I enjoyed the last half of the film, I had to wonder about the screenwriter and what he’d been thinking.

Back at home, I put the dogs out for their last potty break of the night. A few minutes later the phone rang. Bill had just arrived back in his room. We spent half- an-hour talking about the movie and what we liked and didn’t, (mainly the girl) what was on our agendas for the next day, and blew kisses into the phone as we said goodnight.

We’d never been out on a date like that before. As I closed my eyes and went off to sleep, I reached over to where he’d be had he been home. I was happy for my own love story and the craziest date I’d ever been on.

We all have love stories. What’s yours? Have you been out on any crazy dates?

Writing Memoir Is A Mixed Bag


Check out my guest post on Madeline Sharples, blog, Choices.

It’s about the difficulties of writing the hard stuff and the final reward of being able to see life in a new way.

Is There A Robot In Your Future?

Me and My Mom

Me and My Mom

According to the Population Reference Bureau, by 2050, the elderly population is estimated to be 16 % of the global population. That’s 1.5 billion of us, over the age of 65, tottering about, needing health care, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers to help us navigate our dotage.

When a first child is born, he or she does not come with an instruction booklet.  Parents learn how to care for their new baby through advice from friends and relatives, and plain old experience.  When the child’s parents start aging and ailing, the kid is in the same boat that the parents  were in when they first arrived.  Unless the parents die suddenly while they’re still young and capable, the kids become the ones in charge of of their parent’s  latter years. There is no instruction manuel on how to care for the elderly.

Faced with what to do when my mother’s health started going down hill in 2000, I wanted to help make her last years more comfortable. .  She lived near-by in her own home.  Depending on traffic, it could take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to get to her in the event of an emergency.  She had been having mini strokes, and the chances of her falling and doing major damage to herself was a worry.

When she’d first moved here to Virginia, a few years earlier, we visited a number of local senior citizen communities with both assisted living and nursing facilities.  Mom and I were in agreement that she wasn’t yet ready for that and strongly believed that one should be around people of all ages until the very end of their lives.  She was able-bodied, had her faculties about her, and said, “I don’t want to hang out with a bunch of old people.”

But when her health started failing a few years later, I had to make a decision about what to do.  Our relationship wasn’t of the best quality. But I loved her and wanted to help her in some way. Friends told me to put her in an assisted living facility.  They said, “She’ll be well taken care of and you won’t have a thing to worry about.” But on our earlier tour of those facilities, I wasn’t keen on what I saw happening there.

Having been the family caretaker and problem solver all of my life, I spent a number of difficult weeks trying to decide what to do, before I chose to bring her home to live with me.  In my upcoming memoir,  ME, MYSELF, AND MOM,  A Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing, I tell the story of the seven years I spent being Mom’s primary caregiver. It was a nightmare, as Mom, narcissistic and an  alcoholic, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died a slow, painful death.

Would I do it again?  To be honest, I don’t know.  If I was the person I am today, I’d seriously think about it. But it’s downright terrifying for all parties involved, and is not for those with their own problems or challenging emotional ties with the person needing care. For me, it was a tempestuous,  yet amazing personal growth experience, filled with heart wrenching despair. My own difficulties with an anxiety disorder and forgotten memories of childhood abuse, made those years living with Mom more than contentious.

At the time, robots were not part of the health care scheme. Right now, Japan, is experimenting with elder-care robots in nursing homes.  The thought of being in a nursing home being fed by a machine that talks, is far beyond what I want when I can no longer take care of myself.  Now going on seventy-two-years of age, I hope that by the time robots are on staff in every assisted living and nursing home, I will be a thing of the past. But what about those beyond my generation? Are robots capable of expressing compassion, love, and caring for those who need it as they die, often scared and in intense pain?

While finishing his Phd at the University of Salford in Manchester, England, Antonio Espingardeiro, developed a model robot, that could monitor aging patients, communicate with their doctors, and provide companionship and basic care. I get the monitoring and the communicating with doctors part, but can a robot provide a hug, and the knowing that you are loved and truly cared for?

I am making my wishes known right now, folks. Should they be ready before I move on, NO ROBOTS FOR ME!  I want to be cared for by humans, even with all of their faults and difficulties.  A metallic hand will never take the place of holding the hand of someone who understands our human condition. Only another human being is capable of that.