Lauretta

A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths.

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A Woman of Substance

When I was working in a large hospital I had quite a few friends. Many were close, some were cordial acquaintances and some were merely people who crossed in the many hallways we all walked to get from one department to another.

In a place that employed twenty-five hundred people, the diversity was large. From the very top of the corporate ladder to the middle and the lower rungs of that ladder, we were all in it together.

One day I interviewed an applicant for a job in our department. Her name was Lauretta. She had worked in a few other departments prior to applying for our administrative assistant position.

Isn’t it odd that in our lives we can remember some things so clearly and other times either not at all or so faintly we rack to brains to come up with some clue the situations ever existed. I remember that interview like the crystal clear waters of the South Pacific.

Lauretta was great in the interview. I felt she was the “one” for the job. She was hired and soon became the anchor that kept us all together. She was organized, thorough and had a great sense of humor. Although she was never on time, no one really cared because she was always professional, OCD organized and always dependable. Oh, and her shoes always matched her handbags!

In what has become a friendship spanning over three decades, our relationship has grown to be a sustaining lifeline running both ways. Being fourteen years my senior, you would never know it. Her spirit is young, vital. Her wisdom is deep, wide and universal.

In becoming best of friends with Lauretta there was a bonus, her husband Charlie. An electrical engineer by trade, a true partner to Lauretta in every sense of the word. He is one of the men I respect the most on this planet. He is like the big brother I never had. Not because of what he has done for me, but knowing if I truly needed him in anyway, he would show up. That to me is exemplary. When I needed help with basically anything, Charlie was always there. A car accident, they came right away, a dispute with my ex-husband or his troubled family they came to me. The day after hurricane Sandy hit our town my son and I were freezing in our house.. we had the fireplace for warmth ( and cooking) they drove to our house and brought firewood and groceries. Buying a car was a process I deplored, Charlie always went with me. When I say bonus, I mean bonus. Having them in my life is like a “buy one, get one free” deal in terms of human beings.

They are the couple I admire the most. They met, fell in love, got married and had fraternal twin boys. Did they have issues, of course as every married couple does. I can say to this day they are the closest couple, so in sync with each other, it is a joy to be around them. Their sons are men who have matured into themselves. They are smart, extremely talented within their respective fields of employment, admirable fathers and true gentlemen. They have both inherited their parents sense of humor.

Lauretta grew up in the Bronx, New York. Her childhood was not idyllic. Her parents divorced and her mother remarried. She was often disappointed as a child waiting for people who were supposed to show up, and didn’t. Looking to her mother for validation and support, she was empty as her mother was directed in different places. To no fault of her own ( Lauretta tells me in retrospect), but still it hurts a child, young woman, woman not having a mother to “lean on”. I think this is part of what has created the fortitude deep inside Lauretta. A strength she would come to depend on internally in times of crisis.

What she did get were three siblings who she loves and has tried to protect all of their lives being the oldest, and it’s simply her nature. Matthew, Bernie and Lynn. They are all different, but all have a wonderful sense of humor, as does Lauretta. She has a family. A close family who she consistently prays for their well being, always remembers their birthdays with a card, celebrates their accomplishments and is always there for their heartaches. Check off big sister on her list of attributes. to be continued

Jerry

My father was born in 1930 to Rebecca and Benjamin. Rebecca had three miscarriages and two sons born to her…all boys. My father was the youngest.

My grandparents were poor, they never owned their own home, they always rented a house. He was police officer then detective in our town, she stayed home. I remember thinking that was odd. My grandfather gambled. They didn’t drink alcohol, but on a rare occasion my grandmother would splurge and order a “pink squirrel” if they went to a restaurant. I have no clue what is in a pink squirrel to this day.

My family’s eating habits were unique. I guess that’s a nice way of saying we all had food issues. One particular day when my dad was very young, he left his bicycle in the middle the driveway. My grandfather came home and was furious. My mother always said he had a kind heart but a bad temper. My father inherited the same traits.

My grandmother was making meatloaf and my grandfather walked in the kitchen and smacked my father directly across the face causing him to have nose bleed. No bikes in the driveway! Needless to say blood spattered right into the meatloaf being mixed and from that day on my father never ate chopped meat again. He wouldn’t eat chicken, potted meat, basically most of the foods my grandmother gloriously cooked for her family throughout his eighteen years living under their roof. He made this clear to my mother early on in their marriage that he would not eat these foods under any circumstance.

They didn’t have enough money to send my father to college, I’m not even sure he was interested in going. So he set off in a box truck with his cousin Jackie in 1948 to sell goods around the country. He made a lot of friends, loved seeing the country and loved being out of the family home, so he thought.

One special friend he made was Burt Lahr. They fished together and I remember seeing pictures in our den of the two of them in a boat on a lake, I think it was in New York. It stays with me as he had such a kind face. My father told me he was a hard working actor and a very nice gentle man. One of his most famous roles was playing the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. I watched that movie as a child, but never allowed my son to watch it during his childhood. Those flying monkeys scared me!

My father went to bootcamp, but not to war after his road trip of several years. I have letters that he wrote home to my grandmother saying how much he missed being home with them. The total opposite of his initial desire to “be free” and go on the road. But an eighteen year old teenager always thinks in most cases, “the grass is greener on the other side”.

My father met my mother while she was a nursing student. They were married for many years then divorced (when I was sixteen) then got back together after a year apart. That was a very tough year for me. They drank a bit too much and I was the buffer between them.

My father was a happy drinker, while alcohol turned my mother into a person I had no desire to be around. My father loved to travel, he pushed my mother to go, she did. We stayed with my grandparents while they were away. Every Saturday evening they either went out to dinner or had luxurious dinner parties. They both worked hard, lived well, only the best.

My father had a brilliant mathematical mind, something I certainly did not inherit, although my brother did and my son has. He loved life, loved people and really loved my mother. I didn’t know that until the night he passed.

My mother had been through so much by the time she was sixty one years old. She had severe arthritis in her wrists and she wore a leg brace, diagnosed at thirty something. She was also diagnosed with lung cancer at forty eight.

My father retired early at sixty two. He seemed a bit lost to me afterward. I told my mother his coloring was “off”. She asked him to go for a check up, he refused. I talked to him and he still said no. I remember it so vividly, that gray color tone of his face.

On a friday night, my parents had dinner, watched some television and went to sleep. They would come for morning visits the Saturdays my father didn’t work. My mother would get her hair done and my dad and I had breakfast with (his mother) my grandmother. I would bring all my grams favorites. Smoked salmon, whitefish, sable fish and her favorite rolls. She was a phenomenal baker. Those Saturday mornings were golden.

I was going to call my parents that Friday evening but then I said I will see them in the morning, it can wait. It was around midnight, my mother called me screaming, “daddy is dead, daddy is dead”. My heart sank, I was alone in my apartment and started to panic. They lived 45 minutes away and I knew I had to get there fast. I did. The neighbors told me she was in the parking lot screaming for help. I thought my mother? She was tough like steel. She was a nurse, no pulse, no life I thought. That really ripped me.

He told my mother he had some ingestion and was going to sit in the kitchen for a while. She fell back to sleep. She got up a few hours later and found him dead on the kitchen table. His arms crossed and his head down. He was sixty two years old. He had a massive heart attack. Widow maker. I never knew how much my mother loved my father until that night when I was 30 years old.

I am so glad he lived his life on his terms. He was basically a happy man. He had many good friends and helped those in need without many people knowing it. His friends placed a few cigars and bottle of Chivas Regal in his plain pine box and all said their goodbyes.

I had to tell my grandmother that her son died that next morning. My uncle that his only brother died. No one would step up. I was always the one. Her heart broke and a piece of mine was lost forever.

Family

I had a family once. I had a father, a mother, a brother, a dog, paternal grandparents. Cousins once close to vanished into their own lives.

From the time I was born to the age of fourteen my family life was good, basically. A two parent household, although my father worked six days a week and he wasn’t “present” much. All I thought I really needed was my mother so I was ok with that. A beautiful home I was proud of and feeling blessed to live in. Great neighbors and friends. My brother was four years my senior and from the moment I was born there was conflict. He told my mother to “take her back, we don’t need her here” upon bringing me home from the hospital. As it has turned out to this day, that indicator has rung true. No brother….he is alive but not a part of our lives.

My paternal grandparents lived in the town that would become my own. I was born here by the sea. I stayed with my grandparents as my parents traveled often, so I was always comfortable here. Looking back, I’m glad we relocated. My father was born here and my grandparents started their married life here in 1924. At the time, I was adamantly opposed to moving. I was angry, furious by my parents decision to move us from our beautiful home, my friends, our neighbors…to a place I hated in terms of structure and location within the city. It changed me dramatically.

I had become a wayward teenager as my family broke apart. Spiraling out of control in so many ways. Looking back, I was so unhappy. Never scared, just unhappy as I tried to find my way.

Fate would direct me to places no young teenager should have been. One of the brightest things that happened along the way was receiving the gift of lasting friendships.

During the “storm” of my teenage years, I met and to this day have a few very close friends who have become my family. Having no one left on the planet who knew you from a very early age is quite unsettling.

One of the most heart-wrenching things I feel is that none of my family got to meet my son. My parents would have been overjoyed. My grandmother held him as a newborn, but she was ninety seven and not really cognisant of my baby. ( I did get a picture of them that I treasure!) My parents were close to my brothers children when they were young, as I was for a brief moment in time. That all changed drastically as I will write that story in this blog. Needless to say I don’t have a brother any longer, or a niece or a nephew. They made choices, serious choices. I have forgiven my brother’s weakness and abandonment. The way he wasn’t there for our mother through the fourteen year battle with lung cancer. I was the primary caregiver. He has never met my son. I think, what a loss for David.

For over twenty seven years now, there have been no family gatherings. Thanksgivings, holidays, birthday celebrations, graduations, accomplishment celebrations, pivotal life moments where family could be together to share in the joy of life’s blessings. It’s lonely.

I have adapted as has my son. My hope is my son will have a big family and not have to experience the quietness of not being surrounded by the love and joy of family.

When I had my family I made mistakes early on, who didn’t?….but I always knew they loved me, except for David of course. I will write stories in this blog of my grandmother and her traditions that I observe in her honor to this day. My mother’s brilliance, her deep love for her children, her career, her quest to make a difference in so many people’s lives, her courageous battle with cancer. My father’s humor and zest for life ( something I am so thankful for, as he passed suddenly at sixty two years old).

No matter what type of family you have it’s an important component of a life if you want it to be. It’s a lot of choice. Family is what you individually make it. Sometimes you lose everyone and you adjust. I was so fortunate to have mine while I did. If not for their love and unconditional support early on in my life, I would not be the mother or the woman I have become. I have learned along this path that you don’t have to have the same blood in your veins to have a family. You need willing, loving humans ( and pets ) to form a bond that is family. I am so grateful the people I love the most stepped up to fill voids I never thought could be filled.

Last week our neighbor Louise celebrated her 100th birthday. We, the neighbors all stood in her driveway with balloons and smiles to wish her happy birthday. She is the most active 100 year old person I know, gardening everyday. I asked her, “What is the secret to living this long?” She smiled broadly and said “family” then hesitated and looked all around her and said “and friends”.

Jim

Jim

On a layover in the Houston International airport, I met a man named Jim. It was a four hour layover to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jim was a commuter. A stranger in an airport I had never been in. What possessed me to start a conversation with this man has eluded me since our conversation. He asked me where I was traveling to and from. Sitting next to him I could inately feel his soul was kind and I could feel sorrow surrounding him. We talked and talked. After I revealed the story of a recent traumatic loss, he too told me his story.

He was happily married, had two children and was a caregiver to his aging parents in his home in Houston. About a month before, his nineteen year old passed from leukemia. She fought hard against that invisible predator…cancer. Four years with little fear and every bit of strength she had. “She was always upbeat, she kept us upbeat and refused to have any sadness around her”. He told me she handled her diagnosis better than anyone in the family. As the years passed and the chemicals flowed through her body, she would feel better, then feel worse. A cycle of ups and downs that can only be described as a fight within a fight. Jim went on to tell me she had one wish when she realized she would not live to her twentieth birthday. She wanted her entire family to go to Disney World. So he arranged it. He remembered the laughter, the pure joy she felt being there with her family. He said it was the best time he ever had. He said those memories are what sustain him.

As he was telling me his story, I cried for him, for her and for the person I was grieving for. He said, “the secret is… EVERYDAY you must wake up and try to make it the best you can. That’s what my daughter did and it made a difference. “We followed her lead, for nineteen years old, her wisdom was a gift”.

I was thirty at the time, facing another huge loss right around the corner, so I told him I would try.

As we sat and reflected on all the words we had spoken…he told me his parents who he and his wife were the caregivers for, were declining rapidly. His mother had a debilitating stroke, wheelchair bound. His father had just fallen in his kitchen. A halo brace was attached to the outer portion of his skull, due to a spine injury. He fell backwards in the chair and dislodged the brace. I was in awe of his composure….his daughter dies, and his parents require all his and his wife’s strength, commutes from Arizona to Texas for work, how does he cope? “I am their caregiver, I do what needs to be done”.

Why did I meet Jim? Was he sent to me as a messenger? I was sad at the time having just gone through a trauma myself. I was reluctant to travel, my mother stable but alone at the time. I was meeting one of my best friends who was traveling for business in Albuquerque. We were hooking some time on to her trip to travel to Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, and Sedona. It was a magical trip….

I have never forgotten Jim’s words, his inspiration and true guts. He resonates with me in my darkest challenges to this day. All that grief, the loss of a child, aging ill parents, work, life. “Just try” he said, you might be surprised how strong you really are underneath all your pain”. I have taken his words with me through my path. Little did I know then how much I would reflect on his story. Try to be strong…seems so simple. I honor that four hour talk with Jim. His fortitude. His strength. His courage. His story has impacted me like few others. I try EVERYDAY.


Gloria

Morning Glory

Born in 1931, my mother was one of 6 children born to parents to whom I have never known their names. I met one of her brothers at a family event when I was nine years old. I remember overhearing a potential brother calling her for money, I also heard alcoholic in the conversation. She rarely spoke about her youth.
I asked her about six months before she passed to write me a journal…something that would give me some insight as to where she came from…what happened to her…how did she get from there to here. She did.

“To My Darling Daughter…we moved to New York State when I was very young. My paternal grandmother and grandfather lived there with my grandfathers mother. My mother’s family were not familiar to us at this time in my life. We all lived within a five mile radius of each other”


As you read my stories, you will see how generations repeat behaviors without even knowing it. Estrangement is a thread that has weaved itself into the fabric of my life.

“When I was ten years old my mom and dad were killed in an accident. An Army truck struck their car”. She did tell me when I was in my twenties…just talking one afternoon..quite calmly..”someone took me to the hospital and I got to see my dad just before he died”. She got to say goodbye.

“I went to live with my father’s sister and her son. My grandmother had died of breast cancer and my grandfather lived with us. He took care of the horse and a few chickens. He was kind, a quiet man. My aunt directed him when to eat, drink, and sleep. My uncle worked in New York City so we were disciplined on the weekends. I guess I was naughty, but who cares, we had to do what he wanted and chores were done on time”.

“My aunt loved to have me stay at her house, as her husband also worked in the city. I was only allowed to stay once in awhile because the other kids were jealous. She had the best perfumes, linens and oriental rugs. The house was grand, neat and beautiful. The open balcony going upstairs was my favorite place. She died when I was sixteen, I knew I must go away to school and get out of my home environment and my domineering aunt. She was cruel. She was awarded money to take care of us. It was a subject that was never discussed. I guess I had enough money left for school. I went to live with my aunts brother. Uncle Woody and his wife Kay were my escape”. To be continued..

Boxers

Brandy, Trixie, Duchess, Pretzel, Princess

Wayne and Jinny met on a tennis court. They were married soon after in a quaint ceremony at her family’s home overlooking a stunning river in September. They were both professionals, but at the time they made the choice for Jinny to retire from teaching.

They bought a grand house on a hill. An old Victorian built in 1895. Jinny’s new job was maintaining the house and property. Not a small task for the size of the property. She did it all, literally..until she couldn’t due to age and illness.

They had no children of their own as fate would have it. The mystery of the world ended up giving them so many children, although not biologically. Their hearts were full through their forty plus year marriage. As you will read in their stories throughout this blog, they impacted the lives of countless human beings. They were the definition of a “safe place” and so much more.

As their plans for the house and property took shape, they got a boxer puppy and they named her Princess. Appropriate for the house she would be living in with its 15 foot ceilings and enough room to run laps around the huge dining room table at a whim.

Following their plan, they added boxers to their family as the years passed. Each pup had its own personality, as all dogs do. Trixie came along when I was fifteen. She was fawn in color, statuesque and came from championship bloodlines. Trixie would sleep with me in my four poster bed when I lived with them as a wayward teen. She always took over the bed, her legs were huge! She crunched on rocks in the stone driveway, we laughed in wonderment. She ran around the clay tennis court and played fetch until we were tired, never her. She was “our” dog and I loved her so.

After Trixie left us some time went by, Wayne and Jinny were aging and contemplated getting one more pup in the sunset of their lives. One more to make it a total of five. I was on the fence about this decision. I knew it could possibly become a new family member in my home if something happened or I would be the one to care for her daily needs as time went on.

One day my door bell rang and it was Jinny and Wayne. I lived two blocks from their house so it wasn’t unusual. I looked through the glass door and Jinny’s coat seemed to be bulging a bit. She unzipped her coat to reveal the cutest boxer puppy ever. They came in and introduced me to Brandy.

She was a beautiful dog with a sweet temperament ( except for the mailman of course). Brandy was a constant to them as they faced Jinny’s illness , which was long and debilitating. Years of COPD had taken its toll. I noticed Wayne was losing his balance. He neglected to tell me he had fallen and hit his head some months before. That turned out to be a subdural brain hematoma that had been bleeding internally for a few months. He had emergency brain surgery, as we were right by his side. Those were not easy days. Brandy was the comfort, the unconditional love they both needed to get through their battles.

Brandy left us dramatically. I cried for days. Jinny had passed and it was just us. As the stoic man he was, he faced the insurmountable loss with dignity and grace. I saw the sadness in his eyes. He helped me cope. I will write the story of losing Brandy so suddenly in this blog. You will meet Sharon, an instrumental part of one of the saddest days of our lives. She was a beloved friend of Waynes and now mine.

Brandy, Trixie, Duchess, Pretzel and Princess were amazing boxers. They gave so much love and received adoring love in return. They all made the big house on the hill a happier one because they lived in it. We were all blessed.

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