Monday, April 24, 2006

Crossing over

My young daughter’s crying awakened me out of a vivid and disturbing dream. I bounced out of bed and rushed into her bedroom to see what was the matter. “Mommy, mommy …”

Jenn sat up and I hugged her while she proceeded to tell me what she had been dreaming. It was the same dream I was having! I listened and could not believe what I was hearing. Yes, she was watching a crowd of people and there was a large body of water and some kind of odd plane ... she described a triangular sort of object {which, at the time, did not resonate}. I saw it too, just minutes before, in my own dreamscape. Then there was an explosion and tongues of fire were raining down as the people watched.

The shared nightmare left me jittery. After calming Jenn and getting her back to sleep, I climbed back into my own bed but it was hard to relax. Something very unusual had just happened to both of us. What did it mean? I had a strange sense of foreboding.

The phone call came the next morning as I was settling the kids down for lunch. First, it was my mom’s voice, crying and somewhat incoherent, and then a stranger’s voice, a policeman. “Your father’s dead. Can you come to the house?” My dad had died of a heart attack, my mom at his side. He died sitting in his car in the garage, rubbing his chest and just thinking he had overexerted himself. My mom went running down the driveway and into the store next door looking for help. The police were called and tried to revive him when they came but, by then, he had passed. It was a sad and sudden ending to a wonderful life. The past night’s dream seemed to be the bad omen I had feared. It had foreshadowed this personal catastrophe.

My dad’s unexpected demise came at summer’s end, 1975. Jenn was five years old. As she grew, we would speak of our strange dream and poppy’s death and how the dream was warning us of what was to come. Yet, we still felt confused about just what “it” was that we saw in the sky – it looked like no airplane or rocket that we had ever seen. Until …

Flash forward to the beginning of a new year, January 1986. A gallant crew of explorers mount a rocket and blast off into space. Hundreds are watching below as the Challenger climbs the bright blue sky. The triangular-shaped shuttle suddenly explodes in mid-air, showering bits of fiery debris into the ocean below. A national catastrophe propels itself onto television screens around the globe. I take one look and know that this was the scene, the vision that Jenn and I had shared. There were no space shuttles in 1975 - nothing for us to anchor our image to. But now we had a tragic confirmation of what we had experienced, on the night before my father’s death, so many years before.

This whole intuitive pre-cognitive phenomenon has made me believe even more in multiple dimensions of reality. I think we are surrounded by mystery every day and need to humbly accept that as part of the fabric of life.

“A faith that cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets.” Arthur C. Clarke

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Fed up with fill 'er up

I just drove back from Jenn’s this past week after spending Easter with the kids and celebrating Sophie’s fifth birthday. The gasoline prices were fluctuating through four states and a long holiday weekend. I deliberately drove past some of the higher-priced locations and kept searching for bargains. Luckily, I drive a Toyota Corolla and get pretty good mileage especially on the long high-speed routes. Ruby likes to open up and run with the big boys. Bless her 135,000 mile heart of gold! My dad, who thought it was time to trade a car in around the 40-45,000 mile marker, would have been incredulous at my driving this ten-year-old car with such an accumulated track record. They just didn’t make sophisticated engines like this when Dad was alive.

Boy, did he love his cars. From the Model-T of his callow youth to the blue Oldsmobile sedan of my baby years to the green Studebaker automatic-drive of the ‘50s and then to the pinnacle of car ownership in the early ‘60s: an aqua-and-white Ford Thunderbird, the classic with three tail lights on either side. Would you believe that my dad taught me how to drive on his new T-Bird?! He even stayed mellow when I caught the side bullet on the door against the frame of the garage as I was learning how to pull in and out of tight spaces. This T-Bird was the delayed gratification of a youthful dream to own a Stutz Bearcat. My dad was just retiring and he was oh-so-ready to buy the T-Bird. He was a blue-collar auto-body welder for 40 years who appreciated a fine-looking and well-made product. It had leather bucket seats in front and a very small backseat where I and my 6’4” boyfriend had to perch if we were going with the folks for a Sunday drive. Most of the time, I let Frank ride up front. Can you imagine how I felt when Dad let me take the car to school? It was quite cool to pick up your girlfriends in a T-Bird. I love that he trusted me that much.

Mom was never quite as excited about the sports car as Dad and I. But then she also rolled her eyes when he announced that he was buying a motorboat about the same time. I think it was that whole male-menopause thing. Some men get crazy in their heads and loins and chase younger women; my dad was chasing another form of recreation - cars and boats that went vroom vroom and let the wind whip past and bring back memories of younger, livelier days. He paid cash, of course, for both mid-life purchases. He never heard of credit cards and would have frowned on that idea too, along with the notion of keeping a car with extended mileage. Even though both investments were short lived, the few years he drove the T-Bird and captained his boat brought so much pleasure and fun for me, my friends, and family members as well. I can still see him at the seashore pier with his jaunty little sailor’s cap and content smile. Captain of his domain. He was a good man and deserved these little pleasures as he grew older.

So, there I am, driving back from Jenn’s thinking about my dad and mom and some of the trips we took when I was a kid. Dad loved to drive and vacations meant car trips up and down the east coast and out to Pittsburgh to visit family. When we stopped at a gas station in those days, you had an honest-to-God owner who bent over backwards to take care of his customer. What service! While the guy filled your tank, he looked under the hood and checked the oil and then did a really careful job on wiping the windows – front and back. Ha! I pulled in to yet one more “mini-stop-shop-gas station” in the state of New Jersey which, for some crazy reason, does not allow drivers to pump their own gas. So, here I am, in the middle of my reminiscing about the good-old days, expecting some excellent customer service. The surly attendant dragged himself to my car, roughly took my speedpass (which, DUH, makes it so easy to set up for pumping), inserted the nozzle and slunk off while the super-expensive fuel gurgled into my gas tank. I had been driving all day – the windshield was, indeed, dirty. “Not my problem” seemed to be the motto. Was I surprised? Not really. Tell me, when was the last time that you actually pulled into a gas station where someone actually gave a damn about you and your car? What’s even more maddening is pulling into a self-serve station, pumping your gas, paying the top dollar and then trying to find a water bucket and squeegee that should be somewhere in the vicinity because IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO! But the most infuriating is finding the bucket and seeing that it is empty. Yeah, the milk of human kindness and good customer service are about as dried up as that bucket. What is it about the oil industry?! They’ve got us coming and going. God, would it kill them to offer a little TLC at the pump?!

Gosh Dad, you’re not here to see these new cars with longer performance and fancy bells and whistles: GPS, stereo-surround-sound and cd players, digital this and that … and much larger fuel tanks. It’s quite a different world. People are taking out home-equity lines of credit just to pay for their SUVs and gasoline! The technology has grown by leaps and bounds but the human factor of attention to the customer has been left in a ditch somewhere far behind. I think you got the better deal.

Sunday, April 09, 2006


A close friend in England introduced me to the music of a young American vocalist, Eva Cassidy. I listened to her renditions of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Songbird” and then did some research on this amazing singer. Why did I never hear of her?

The sad truth is that she died of cancer ten years ago and much of her music has been published posthumously as a labor of love by family and friends. She never made it big in the eyes of the world; her talent, however, was enormous. She was so gifted and she continues to touch people even now.

Her ability to sing in so many voices - gospel, rock, blues, pop - confounded the talent agents and producers. Many wanted to pigeonhole her into just one niche. She wasn’t marketable. How laughable considering the mediocrity that is passed off as “talent”.

I think Eva had to fly free and do what she was born to do, sing. She sang what she loved, what touched her, and you can’t help but feel that when you hear her. I haven’t been so moved in a long time. So I invite you to spend some time getting to know her and hearing her unique repertoire.

Treat yourself and tune in and listen for awhile. Stay in the moment with Eva, forget your cares and let her take you away with her to that other side of the rainbow. It’s the stuff that dreams are made of and such a welcomed respite from the daily grind.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Easter story

It’s a very strange weekend. I’m making final revisions on my latest fanfic while devoting some time to this blog. There’s a powerful story slowly working its way on to Jenn’s blog and I don’t want to intrude on that report. So, I’m trying to keep a low profile. I have some working outlines for future blogs but memories of when the kids were little and when I was a young mother seem to be the menu of the day. I might as well go with the flow …

Here is a short and sweet family classic.

Did you ever notice that many family emergencies usually occur when dad/hubby is not on the scene?! One of the saddest learning moments for my kids took place during the dinner hour while their dad was out of town on business.

I was bustling in the kitchen when my little boy cried out in alarm that "something's wrong with Ginger!" Now Ginger was a gerbil who lived in splendor in a very large cage in the dining room. (We had so many guinea pigs in the basement that we had to find other spots to store the gerbils.) Ginger had been doing her daily exercise routine and managed to catch her head in between the rings of a Slinky and the poor thing strangled. (I know - bad mom, bad mom. Wrong toy in wrong cage. I still have twinges of guilt over this.) I knew as soon as I looked into the cage that the gerbil was gone. I was seriously considering critter CPR.

My son was only 7-8 years old and this was his first experience with the death of a pet. He was crying so hard and when I sadly told him that the gerbil was indeed dead, he took the limp body of Ginger in his hands and dropped to his knees and exclaimed: "Jesus, resurrect this gerbil!"

It was hard for Joseph to comprehend that the resurrection stories he heard in school could not be applied to his favorite pet. I let him hold the lifeless body, still warm, and either he or Jenn decided that they wanted to take a picture. I was speechless and feeling quite inadequate as their mom. I could not make it better. I think we all have moments as parents when not being able to make it better becomes a learning experience for us more than our children. It's very humbling.

It seemed that the kids themselves knew what they needed. So somewhere in the old box of family photos is a picture of two sad-faced kids, tears streaming down their faces, making peace with the untimely loss of a beloved pet.

Epilogue: Ginger had a formal and prayerful burial under our dogwood tree. Ritual is an important part of healing. The dogwood tree became the sentinel for many a burial of our smaller pets. Sacred ground. Joe went on to become a doctor.

Turtle tales

It had to happen, you get to a certain age and the grim reaper catches up with you. A giant tortoise in the Calcutta zoo died recently. He was about 250 years old. I hate to see him go. The old geezer just brought back memories of another guy, a bit younger, but still quite a character in his own right.

He arrived one Christmas eve, compliments of my sister-in-law, the flying nun. Linda would make her seasonal drive up the pike from North Carolina and stay with us. She was a tiny woman with a large heart for social justice and rights of the individual. These rights extended to all the voiceless and unprotected. Seeing a rather large box turtle in the middle of the highway caused her to stop the car, examine the critter, and determine that he, indeed, was in need of an advocate. So she threw him into a cardboard box with a few scraps of Kentucky Fried Chicken and crossed several state lines to bring him to us. The gift that kept on giving.

In keeping with our family policy of naming all creatures (domestic or wild) which graced our midst, we promptly christened him. Actually, the credit may have to go to my sister-in-law. She chose Torquemada. It seemed out of character for this one sad and sick-looking tortoise but Linda, a former Shakespearean scholar, was never one to pass on drama. “What’s in a name?” seemed to be something she took to heart – even trying to persuade me and hubby to name our firstborn “Desdemona”. We preferred Jennifer. But I digress …

Into the chaos of Christmas eve, with a tree being decorated, food being prepared, and kids running amok, came our ailing visitor. On first sight, Torquemada was not something you would want to pick up and cuddle. He had drool running down his tightly clenched mouth; his eyes were firmly shut and surrounded by some type of crusty material. Adding insult to injury, there was a nasty crack in his shell. It was readily apparent that the old guy needed some triage and long-term care. That’s where I came in. That’s where most mothers come in. The holidays quickly passed. Sis-in-law visited local friends and soon left. Kids went outside to play with their new toys. Hubby went back to work. The sick turtle and I were left alone.

Once again, the universe was playing tag and I was “it”.

When my kids were small, it seemed we had just about every kind of creature living at our house at one time or another. I never grew up with pets myself but the maternal biology kicked in and I did what I could to support the next generation. There were guinea pigs (14 in the basement at one point during the height of science fairs and presentations), hamsters, gerbils, white rats, parakeets (who perched on bowls and sipped chicken soup), stray cats (who tried to eat the parakeets), wounded sparrows (one may have been the reincarnation of my dear departed dad) and pigeons (brought to my house by a third-grader in her book bag because she knew that Jenn’s mom would make it well). Reluctantly and without seeking such fame, I became the Saint Francis of Assisi of the neighborhood.

This dude, however, was proving to be my biggest challenge. Torquemada was such a physical wreck. I could envision my own mom shaking her head and warning, “Don’t touch it - you don’t know where it’s been.” Here I was, staring at an unknown entity which didn’t even have the courtesy to open its eyes and give me a trusty wink. Wheezing was the only sign of life. “Knock, knock … who are you?”

Knowledge is power. I started checking encyclopedias and calling pet stores. Eventually some kind clerk took pity on my ignorance and referred me to the local veterinary school; thus began my education into Wild Kingdom 101. I learned how to tell a boy turtle from a girl turtle (it’s all in the eyes - which were still sealed shut) and about age rings on shells, and just about everything a city gal wanted to know about turtles/tortoises.

Days passed, the runny nose and clenched eyes still did not improve. I did what was suggested – provide moist, warm air. However, my methodology was a bit eccentric. Every morning I took the turtle into the bathroom, ran the shower hot and steamy, held him next to my face and crooned: "Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning ..." I thought, somehow, that he would take comfort in hearing this since he was so far away from his home state. Nada.

The eyes were still shut and that drippy nose was really not getting any better. Disappointed in the nature books and pet stores and vets, I took the matter into my own hands. I went purely on maternal instinct and started rubbing Vicks VapoRub on his forehead. The morning showers and songs continued but now there was a pungent and pleasant aroma to the ritual. Ah, so soothing. I grew up with Vicks. How could this miss?

In a few more days the nose cleared up and, one beautiful morning in the shower, singing my heart out and holding Torquemada inches from my face, he finally opened one eye slowly (it was red - a male) and almost winked at me. Eureka - contact! I was so excited that I called my husband in the midst of his business meeting to tell him the good news. Needless to say, he did not share in my unbridled delight.

Our invalid made a full recovery and we then transported him to a local environmental center where I was told that he was quite an old gentleman (rings on shell). He had certainly been a patriarch of some North Carolina realm but now he was a senior citizen up north. The zoologist promised to take very good care of him in his twilight years. I phoned the nature center from time to time, just to make sure that he was really adjusting. Last told, it seemed that Torquemada had developed quite a harem of enamored, much younger, female turtles ….

Which goes to prove: the "older men and younger women" craziness cuts across all species of wild life, doesn't it?