Memory Triggers Inspiration

Sometimes it takes just a little bit of luck and sometimes you just happen on to something that brings with it a whole flood of memories. Thanks to someone I met two years ago at Silver Lake Sandbox when I visited Michigan, I stumbled on her FaceBook post announcing this new book by Ann Chandler. Terri was kind enough not to just get Ann to sign the book for me but also put us in touch with each other. Two days later I held the book in my hands.

Yesterday I dug through a box of old photos from my dad and found a bunch of shots from the early 50s. Then came the memories. Dunes, dune scooters, swimming, sunburns, bonfires, the lost village, rowboats, speedboats and platoons and my little green toy truck lost under all that sand. Strange sometimes what comes to mind.

Meanwhile, there is a short reference to the Silver Lake dunes in my upcoming memoir. It’s a meditation of sorts that gets me through difficult times:

I was six years old when I first climbed the razor back dune behind the cottages where we spent our summer days. I never once gave up in my climb to reach the top of that shifting sand and that struggle later came to represent the struggles in my life, literally two steps forward and one step back, but  it was that stubborn step forward that counted.

I sit on top of the tallest sand dune between Silver Lake and Lake Michigan and feel as though I have reached the top of the world. To my right is Silver Lake, a mirror shining within a frame of small cottages. To my left is Lake Michigan, big as an ocean stretching into infinity.

I feel the warmth of the midday sun, burying my bare feet under the hot layer of sand. I lie back and sink into the fine white sand, cradled in its soft formations, snug and safe. I close my eyes.

I am quiet as my mind clears, letting go of the daily trials, giving them up to a power greater than myself. I listen patiently, waiting for some guidance. Sometimes it comes, sometimes it doesn’t. It will happen in God’s time, not mine.

My mind is at peace and my body follows. I am safe, comfortable and everything is good. I know that all will be well.

Gently I return to life, opening my eyes ever so slowly. I roll to my side and push off, tumbling down the dunes, free from my burdens, ready for action.

As I rise to standing, I look up to the top. Then turn and walk away knowing that I can return anytime, anyplace.

49 Years

49years

Here’s the proof. We have been married for 49 years as of today. Trouble is, the DMV won’t give me a Real ID because they don’t believe I’m really married.

Two weeks ago I arrived at our nearest DMV promptly when the office was supposed to open at 9am. I was eighth in line, standing in pouring rain carefully protecting all my important documents under my raincoat, for ten minutes before the door opened. Two hours later when finally called to window #9, I handed over my original social security card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, soon to expire driver’s license, two proofs that I still reside in the same house I moved into 49 years ago, and an expired passport. I waited with great patience while the clerk checked front and back of each document. She handed back the passport. “This is expired. We can’t use it.” She handed back everything but the marriage certificate. “These look good.” And then…

She flipped the yellowed marriage certificate a couple of times and held it up to the light as I watched a crinkled corner drop to her desk. I cringed when she did the unthinkable – she taped the corner back on the document with non-archivable tape. “This won’t work. It has no official stamp.”

“But, that’s the certificate I used when I got my passport,” I said.

She rolled her eyes. “Maybe they would have taken this but we can’t accept it. You’ll need to get a certified copy of your marriage license. Do you want a driver’s license without a real ID,” she asked. My next attempt to persuade her that the expired passport along with the marriage certificate that the US government had accepted as proof that I did indeed get married 49 years ago was futile. I walked out with a temporary driver’s license and an assurance that I could upgrade to a real ID once I obtained an official marriage license.

After a full day of searching twelve boxes of archived, photos, diplomas, grant deeds, 49 years of tax returns, insurance policies, and receipts for 49 years worth of purchases, I gave up. I contacted the county where we were married. No record. I contacted the county where we have lived for 49 years. No record. Maybe the preacher (Dad) never sent in the license. Since California does not observe common law marriages, what will I tell my illegitimate children?

 

 

Letter to Myself

Journals
Journals

Dear Margie,

You have made a lot of progress in the last few years. Remember that stack of journals when things first started to happen? But it goes back farther than that. What about that 5 year journal with scattered entries, the one with the tiny lock you kept in your nightstand during your early teens? Last time you looked at it you wondered what all the abbreviations meant. M.A.M. for one. It might have meant “mad at mom,” or perhaps “mad at Marilyn.” You did remember the first M stood for mad. Most of the entries were short sentences, “I finished my book report,” “We had a pajama party at Vickie’s,” “I babysat for the neighbors last night.” More a calendar of life with little emotion.

There was a break from journaling for a few years, the need to write fixed in letters to Carol. You have the ones she sent to you. Does she still have yours? Probably not but you have a dozen years of response to your letters to her, each one dropping a small clue as to what was going on. They begin with happy memories but evolve into “come and visit me so we can talk about it” messages.

The journal writing began again in the mid-seventies, after the boys were born. Reflections of being a mother, trying to make things work, a few essays mixed in from that advanced English class at DVC. Another break and then the Tarot phase journal, followed by an AA step journal. You scanned them all a couple of years ago and threw away the actual papers not wanting anyone to find them. At least you had the sense to keep them in digital format. Safely tucked away in case you ever wanted to write a memoir.

The time has arrived. It’s been a tedious process to put those missives in chronological order and make some sense of it. Reading through the work brings mostly tears but a few healthy bouts of laughter. How minor the problems were in the beginning. Remember how many times you packed your bags thinking you would head back to Michigan and life would be easier? Learning about Jason’s addiction? Dealing with your own drinking, trying to decide – am I an alcoholic? “Fake it until you make it,” they said in AA. They meant for you to fake your sobriety but you turned it around, deciding if you faked your drinking experience, the program would work, a twisted attempt at denial of the real problem.

But when you sat down to write the book, it seemed to be all about Jason. Then the focus shifted to Chris. And then there was Eric. And now JJ. You told their secrets. That’s okay, it was a shitty first draft. You’re supposed to write it all out and no one needs to read it. But this is a memoir. It’s about you. You are the narrator. You told their story and now it’s time to make it yours.

Remember when you said, there is no resolution? And then someone in your tribe suggested resolution may come with the writing. Or, it’s possible that there may be no resolution. How disappointing that felt. You wanted that lightning bolt to zap straight into the manuscript, erase the past and manifest into a miraculous new life, what you thought would be a normal life.

Sifting through those first 90,000 words the patterns began to emerge. When you began this re-write, you were at a turning point of sorts. You began to feel like the hub of a shredded wheel, picking up the pieces in the freeway of life, trying to glue it back together. Were you the common denominator, and therefore the source of everyone’s misery? Did you lay out those spikes of disaster? Or were you drawn to the center of all adversities, never having to look at yourself? You think: It’s not you. It’s them. Why write that?

Dig a little deeper. Keep digging. The answer will come. You are getting closer. So close the theme is right there, within your reach. Just a little more energy, one chapter at a time, you can do it. Listen to the sages in your life. Follow their path. Forget about the results for now. It’s not a marathon that will end at the finish line. Growth continues, published or not. Write for yourself. Give yourself permission to self-publish that first shitty draft – just for yourself. Hold it in your hand knowing how far you have travelled. Accept what was and turn it into something powerful. Put it out there to make a difference for someone who still struggles.

You’ve got this. Push that inner critic aside (that would be me, you know).

The Sunset Years

Farewell Micky

Ten years ago today I said goodbye to my best friend.

We met in the sunset of our lives. It’s not an uncommon occurrence that two women become best of friends in the Red Hat Society. This disorganization of women over fifty has grown in exponential proportions since its inception only a few years ago. It fills the need for those women over fifty to gather together to celebrate life with fun and frivolity. And that is exactly what we do. We do it with whim and wit flaunting our age in shades of purple topped off with brilliant red hats.

When I learned about this society of women, I felt that my conservative and shy nature made me an unlikely candidate for such a prominent public display of splendorous glitz. Under the guise of a dare I coerced a few old friends into buying red hats, purple dresses, and showing up for high tea at a local tea room. We giggled under our bright red brims, a conspicuous spectacle of color amid the dainty pink and white décor. Due to a few inquiring ladies with sense of admiration we emerged a couple of hours later with our hats tilted with a new attitude (hat-itude). The next day I registered with Hat Quarters as Queen of the newfound RHS Molls.

The Molls chapter has now grown into an eclectic group of over sixty members and while I enjoy the exaltedness of being a queen, so contrary to my life before red hats, the biggest reward has been my bond with one special new friend. She walked into my life with a handful of silly purple clappers, the biggest grin ever, and the heartiest of all laughs. We had the same purpose in mind… pure fun. And fun we have, time and again.

Neither one of us had a single clue that the biggest problems in our lives would be our biggest bond. It happened a few months after we met when I shared with her a rather personal reason for my escape into this society of women. Her face dropped as she blurted out her reason. While our situations were different, we shared equally desperate challenges. The point is not what we suffered from but how we would take care of each other. We allowed each other the space to share the daily trials in our life and then we moved past that into fun and friendship. We learned that sharing the grief, with compassion and a good sense of humor lessened the burdens and intensified the fun.

This friendship that developed was far beyond the friendships of my youth. For me the young friends came and went as we grew apart in our individuality, moved on, or moved away. My life has been a journey with turbulent twists and turns. But as I settle into my second half of life and learn who I have become through these circumstances of life, the growing pains recede. I begin to let go of the past and enjoy a new set of friends; friends, who know and like each other for who we are today.

There is a new set of dynamics however in these recent relationships. Youth behind us we now realize the evidence of our temporary existence as friends, old and new, begin to pass on. And so, this special friend and I shared our last days together in sadness and in joy. Together, we cherished the journey and the gifts of each day.

Rest in peace my dear friend. I miss you every day.

Happy Mother’s Day – Chapter One

​“Your mom is very sick.” After five years of marriage, I can read the tension on Eric’s face and feel it across the kitchen table in the grasp of his hands.

“And?” I ask. I know there is bad news to come. News that I don’t want to hear.

“Maybe you would like a cool drink. It’s been a hot day,” Eric stalls.  We are in the middle of a heatwave and yet I feel a chill run down my spine.

“No. I think I know what you’re going to say.” I had been visiting Mom at Letterman Army Medical Center at Presidio of San Francisco for months, watching her fade away. Dad had mentioned a week before that Mom would be going to Stanford University Hospital to be evaluated by Dr. Shumway, a pioneer of heart surgery.

“Your dad called earlier and asked me to tell you something.  Dr. Shumway says there is nothing more that they can do.”

Eric moves his chair back as I shift around the table and fall into his tender hug.

Don’t cry, I think. I’m twenty-four years old and can’t dodge the recurrent reminder of Dad’s words, “Big girls don’t cry.”

“How long?” I ask, trying to maintain composure. My temples pulse.

“Maybe a few weeks.” His words trail off as the tears come. His tears. Not mine. There’s a swift kick in my belly as I try to digest the pain. My mother will not live to see this baby, I realize.

Is Dad crying now?  Is that why Eric is the one to break this news?  Only Eric will witness my tears.

Four months later I sit in stoic silence at the memorial service as Rev. Boring offers words of comfort at Carmel Valley Community Church. It feels odd to have someone other than my father at the pulpit. My sister, a blossoming teenager nine years younger than me, buries her tears in a lump of tissues. I see my older brother brush his tears away on his coat sleeve. My head pounds with backed up tears. Did I imagine Dad’s gasps and sniffles?

After the service, we gather at the house. It was Mom’s dream come true, this house on the hillside above Carmel Valley. With a glass of wine propped on my growing belly, I feel the touch of my mother’s sister. Her hand is on my belly. “You are so strong,” she says. “You will make a good mom.”