Monday, May 23, 2016

Anniversaries


There is something primal about anniversaries.  We have this emotional need to remember births, deaths, marriages, divorces – milestones in our lives.  The passage of time is both a blessing and a bane in our existence.
There is a need-to-know status to anniversaries that pepper our married and family lives.  God save the husband (or the wife) who forgets a wedding or engagement anniversary, and who doesn’t remember the day the divorce came through or that marked our retirement or resignation?  
My dear mother-in-law celebrates Valentine’s every year as the day my father-in-law proposed.  It gets more press than their actual wedding day.  All I remember is that HoneyBunch proposed sometime in late September and we married two months afterward. I feel like such a romantic slouch for not marking the exact time and day the dear man popped the question.
Birthdays were big in my family when I was a child, so I did the same with my three.  Their birthdays were circled on the family calendar in red marker and the entire day was considered just that – a red-letter day. It started with birthday wishes, cards, presents and ended with a special dinner, cake, and outing.  I keep the birthdays of relatives, friends, and famous people who I have crushes on.  
I remember the day I bought my first house (and every house after that).  I also remember the days I sold each one and drove away from the title company with a hefty check in my hand.  I remember the day I bought my first “cool” car.  I bought a silver convertible out of rebellion when I turned 45 that January.  I bought my red Jeep in December 2001 to celebrate my divorce, and I bought my maroon Altima in October 2014 just because I wanted to prove my independence.  
There are some sad days marked on my calendar.  The three times I stood and watched my youngest leave on deployment to the middle east are on there, but so are the three times I drove to the airport to pick him up afterward. The day we lost our baby grandson to a terrible household tragedy is marked, so are the days we said goodbye to my dear grandmother, my amazing father, and my handsome older brother.
It’s because people and events matter that we mark anniversaries. We measure the memory across time.  We celebrate it occurrence and for a few hours we relive the moment. Good, bad, sad, or happy – it documents our lives.  




Monday, May 16, 2016

Winning


          I graduated from a high school with the worst football team in the state.  We had not won a game in decades.  Once a year we pulled together to “take on” our district rivals, the second worst team in the state, but even they beat us year after year.
          I went to an all-women’s college that had just gone coed, so a football team was not in the immediate plans.  It has been forty years and the planning committee still has no plans to start one.
          My first teaching assignment was in a school district with two high schools and though they won half of the time, they never made it past their season
          I hadn’t ever experience “winning.” Football had schooled me in how to be a good loser.  You played hard, walked off the field head held high, and congratulated the winner. There was no shame in doing your best and being bested.
          Then I went to work for the Number One Football District in the State. Back then that school district only had one high school and two middle schools, and all three of them were feared for their prowess on the field.  The coaches at all three schools surpassed the strictness and training of professional football teams.
          The two middle schools demolished all their competition and went after each other like mad dogs during their yearly in-district game.  Hundreds of boys tried out as freshman and only a few made it, and lasted, in that elite high school team.  They were invincible and it was a given, year after year, they were going to the state finals.   
          I was amazed at the apathy among the rest of the students. As fans they had known nothing else but one win after another and were bored by it.  I was elated to finally be on the side of glory. Nothing I said or did made a difference to my students, but I waited for the day they would experience a loss.  One of the middle schools had to lose to the other; the high school team might not make it all the way to the top of the heap.
          When that day happened, I let them voice their anger and disappointment.  I let the “fair weather fans” dump their team. I let them rant, then I read them my favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, Success. 
“Success is counted sweetest/by those who never succeed/To comprehend a nectar/requires sorest need. . . .”
          I explained to them that the true measure of a competitor is learning also how to lose. It is much easier to walk off the field triumphant to the sound of cheers and adulation; it takes fortitude to walk off that same field amid boos and jeers after losing a good fight.
          I asked them to take time from their celebration after a win next time and look, really look, at the losing team as they exited the field.  You learn more by watching the losers walk off the field than you do watching the victors. 
         

          

Monday, May 9, 2016

Unlikeable


          You want empathy?  The world is not about you. 
You are boring; I am not, so hurry, stop your chattering, and take a breath.  Pause so I can interrupt your conversation.  I have a better story, a better joke, a better anecdote to share than yours.
          Don’t shy away.  Trust my handshake.  Look directly into my eyes. See me smile? Trust me.  Aren’t I charming? I can move in closer, speak a little louder.  Here, let me pat you on the arm. Let me pretend I care.
          Why are you getting attention?  I am younger/older, prettier/smarter, more deserving.  The attention, the possessions, the friends you have - all of it should be mine. 
          Thank you? Ha, you will never hear me say that. It is only right you should share it with me.
I am sorry?  Never.  I am never to blame. 
You were right?  To admit that would show weakness. 
You don’t like me?  There must be something wrong with you.  It cannot possible have anything to do with me. 


Monday, May 2, 2016

Queen of the May


          My mother-in-law keeps a tiara on her bedroom dresser, not an expensive one but it is invaluable to her.  She was chosen Winter Queen at a senior citizen Christmas banquet a few years ago.  It not only surprised her but pleased her as well.
          Ask about that magical night and she will go on and on about how she and my father-in-law attended the banquet so he could accept an award for Senior Citizen Volunteer of the Year, and she stole the stage by unexpectedly winning the “beauty pageant.”
          I cannot blame her.  I had a similar honor bestowed on me back when I was in the 8th grade. 
          Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, throughout the month of May, and on May 1st, our K-8th Catholic school would choose one 8th grade girl to crown the tall statue of Mary that sat in the courtyard between the school and the convent of nuns who were our teachers. On the Sunday closest to the 1st of May, we would proceed from the church after Mass, parade around the parking lot and the school grounds, praying the rosary.  The young girl would lead the procession right behind the priest and the altar boys.  She would carry a crown of flowers to place on the Virgin Mother’s head while everyone stood around and watched.
          The girl was chosen by popular vote.  Her 8th grade classmates would nominate several girls and the kids would raise their hands and vote for their choice while the nominees stood out in the hallway awaiting the results. 
          There were five names and I was one of them.  Being nominated was a surprise and an honor in itself.  The most popular girl got nominated first, and all the boys in the room swooned in unison.  I was third in the mix, among several really sweet friends, the kind of girls who treated everyone with smiles and kindness.  When they called us back into the room, the teacher announced I had won by an almost unanimous vote. I was stunned.   Why me?
          My socks never stayed hiked up and my hair never stayed combed down. I weighed 80 lbs and most of it was the unibrow I had grown the summer before.  I was the caterpillar before it becomes the butterfly, the ugly duckling before it morphs into a swan.  If they wanted a virgin to crown the Virgin, I was it.  I had the look of one destined to stay a virgin for a very long time.  
          On the fateful day, I lead the procession, climbed onto the tall ladder, and placed a crown of roses on Mary’s statue – all without stumbling, scraping my knees, or flashing my underwear to the boys standing underneath.  (But just in case, I remember wearing my better pair of unmentionables.)
          It’s been years.  No one remembers that day except for me.  It was long before cell phones so there are no pictures or mementos of that day, but I know just how proud my mother-in-law must feel about being crowned the Winter Queen.
          I too will remember forever the day I beat out all the other girls in the 8th grade - the day I was chosen Queen of the May. 
         

          

Monday, April 25, 2016

Turn the Page

          Back in the early 70’s, I worked as a library clerk for three years under the “work study” program while I earned my BA in education. I loved that old library with its cathedral windows and rows and rows of dark tables and chairs.  The open reading area had every kind of reference book available, but my favorites were the unabridged dictionaries that lay open on individual stands in four different locations around that huge room.  Three of the dictionaries were about three feet by two and when closed had to be about one foot deep, but there was one that was even more massive.  It sat in the place of honor close to the check out desk where everyone could see it.  It even had its own spotlight.  
One had to use both hands to turn pages and not damage this amazing book, so I joked with my fellow library clerks it must be what the book of life looked like that St. Peter kept at the pearly gates of Heaven.  (This was the early 70’s, so God hadn’t invented “the cloud” yet.) In it we each have one page, and when we show up upon our death, St. Peter thumbs through and tallies our debits and credits, then doles out our fate.
The waiting part must seem like limbo.
It does not matter if we existed on Earth for a few seconds or one hundred years, each one of us has a page, a score sheet summary of our life.
As I bump along and good and bad happens, I wonder what gets tallied on my page. Are there more red line items than black?  Does how the influence we had on others count (or subtract) in our favor? 
What will be the sum total of my life on Earth? Will it earn me a place among the angels?