I heard my grandmother’s voice today

by Lorin Michel Friday, September 23, 2016 9:19 PM

I had just walked into the grocery store. It was maybe 3:45. The day was surprisingly cool, rain had been spitting on and off, just enough to spot the finish on the car. For the first time this season, I was in a sweatshirt. Lightweight to be sure, but long sleeved. My newly cut hair tucked up under a baseball cap, I swung my purse into the cart and started for the sandwiches. I always buy a sandwich on Friday for Kevin to eat on Saturday after he’s done working in the “yard.” It’s more substantive than a salad and after such physical exertion, he needs that. It’s the mother in me, I suppose. 

This tiny, older woman was walking toward me, her hands filled with grocery items. Potato salad, a bag of lettuce, cheeses. She was grinning, happy, and she said to me and to no one something about doing this all the time, thinking she doesn’t need a basket and then needing a basket. I smiled back as she went by, not just because she was so friendly but because her voice was exactly like my grandmother’s. 

My grandmother died in December of 2001. She was 93 or 94 and had been recently diagnosed with leukemia after suffering a persistent sore throat. She had a stroke in the doctor’s office and didn’t live much longer. I hadn’t seen her much in recent years. Mostly when someone graduated from something or when someone got married. I would speak to her on the phone every once in a while, and whenever I was back east visiting my family, my dad would always call her so I could be sure and speak to her. She never called me. I think it was because I lived so far away. I know that’s not logical, but in her mind, I might as well have been living in a different country. 

Her voice was thin and high-pitched, somewhat gravelly, almost like she always needed to clear her throat. This woman sounded just like her.

When I talk to my brother, which these days isn’t as often as it used to be largely because we’re both busy and because he has a girlfriend now, I always hear my father. He sounds just like dad, with his deep baritone voice, a voice with a subwoofer attached. It always makes me smile when he calls and leaves me a message. I keep a message from him in my voice mail, both so I can hear him, but also hear my dad.

I’ve been told my sister and I sound like my mom but when I talk to my sister, I don’t really hear my mother, at least not yet. They share certain phrases and intonations, but the voice itself is very different to my ear. 

All of our senses trigger memories. We hear so much about smell being something that is instantly transportive, and it is. But so is sound. Witness my grandmother’s voice, or a song that comes on, like something by the Little River Band. When that happens, I’m automatically back in high school, at work at the Unfinished Furniture Store where I worked when I was a sophomore. I was often there alone, and we didn’t have a lot of customers. I’d turn the radio on behind the counter and flood the store with music. 

Sight can trigger memory. I saw an old maroon Camaro the other day and again, I was in high school, with my friends Pam and Polly, twins, with Pam at the wheel of her boyfriend Phil’s car. We spent a lot of time in that car, cruising around the impossibly small and interconnected towns where we all went to high school. 

A touch, a taste. It all works to flood my mind. I feel mostly nostalgic when a memory is triggered. Not necessarily sad though sometimes melancholy; not even happy though often I smile. It’s more a recognition of what was and a joy in rediscovering that it all still exists. Sometimes it happens in the grocery store, when a tiny old lady walks toward and past me, saying something I can’t even remember. I just know that today I heard my grandmother’s voice. And it was great.

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live out loud | relative celebrations

Sitting on the deck in front of the fire in the cold and sipping wine

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, November 4, 2015 9:59 PM

My mom is visiting, along with my Aunt Barbara. My mother isn’t a good traveler and so she solicited my aunt to meet her half way so that at least she wasn’t traveling from New Hampshire to Arizona and changing planes in Chicago’s Midway alone. They got in last night just after 10, earlier than they were supposed to which is good because there’s a two-hour time difference and it was after midnight for them. 

Once we got back here, Kevin and I showed off the house, they met Riley, we had just a touch of wine, and then everyone was off to bed. It rained last night. The wind howled. I don’t think anyone slept that well. At 6:30, the construction trucks began to arrive for the house down below. The newspaper arrived. Kevin, Riley and I got up. Mom and Aunt Barb got up shortly thereafter.

They lounged around a bit, while I did some work, or at least tried to. Then we girls got cleaned up and off we went to lunch and to explore. We ate at Acacia, overlooking the city. We drove downtown because mom wanted to see our little city, just so she could say she had. We weren’t there very long; it’s not a very big city. We drove by the Arizona Inn and went inside for just a few minutes. It’s a lovely old place, first opened in the 1920s. We went into the library where the Christmas tree will soon stand in the corner, thousands of lights twinkling, a fire roaring in the fireplace. 

We stopped by St. Philips Plaza, and went to the Pear Tree to browse and Alfonsos for olive oil. Then we headed back home for sunset, arriving with about 20 minutes to spare. It was cold. The wind had been blowing all day, the clouds sticking in the sky. Kevin, who had been home working, poured us all some wine, we put on our fleece jackets and out we went. The sun dipped behind the clouds, then appeared again just over the mountains before dropping behind. It was ball of orange that painted the clouds red then pink then purple. As the sun dropped, the wind flared, biting and unforgiving. Kevin lit a fire in our newly working outdoor fireplace and we all sat around on the couches and chairs, feeling the warmth as the wind pushed by us.

We talked, we sipped wine, we pulled our jackets a little closer. I sat on the chair in front of the fireplace, wish for more heat, but loving the fact that I was sharing this with my mom and my aunt.

Having my mom here means so much to me. When we embarked on this house endeavor, we had the support of our family and friends, many of whom have already made the journey to see what we did out here on the hill in the desert. Mom is one of the last to come. Sharing this with her is important. It doesn’t matter how old we get, we still seek our parents approval. It’s part of our identity as humans. It means something. It’s validation.

Tonight I sat on my deck as the sun went down, in front of the fire, with my mom. I never thought it would happen and the fact that it did is such cause for celebration. It’s today’s version of living it out loud.

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live out loud | relative celebrations

Getting ready

by Lorin Michel Friday, October 30, 2015 8:40 PM

Whenever one is entertaining, one tends to prepare. To get ready. Whenever we used to have Fritini, we always got ready. I would go to the grocery store to get whatever needed to be gotten for dinner and then we would clean. Kevin would mop the wood floors, I would clean the powder room; I would get dinner prepped. By the time Roy and Bobbi would arrive, we were ready.

We did much the same when we had our big stray dog thanksgivings, when everyone who either didn’t have anywhere to go or had somewhere to go and didn’t want to, came to our house. We did it any time we had a party or gathering. On the rare occasion when someone would be coming for a visit we would do even more, making sure everything was clean and dusted, that the house looked nice. We lived in our Oak Park house for 16 years. Over those years we upgraded certain things – like the flooring and painting the walls – and when my mother came to visit one summer Kevin made sure to have certain things done like replacing the lamp over the kitchen table with the antique lamp that had been in our family for a hundred years and the backyard built-in BBQ nearly done.

My mother is coming next week, along with my Aunt Barbara, and we're in full getting ready mode.

Months ago we had house numbers made by a local metal smith at the Painted Gekko. Last week Kevin drilled through rock and attached them. We finally put a headboard on the guest room queen, and I got more throw pillows. We got side tables and I got a small glass shelf for the guest bath to free up counter space. We fixed the shower curtain rod in the other bathroom, that Aunt Barbara will use. For whatever reason, the rod would simply not stay attached to the tile. It would temporarily but even without pulling the curtain over, it would soon just fall to the floor. Kevin came up with an ingenious way of holding it in place. We cut four small pieces of tile, epoxied them to the wall in a v-shape so that the end of the rod fits inside. Even if the rod comes loose, it can’t fall. 

We’ve been doing a bit of decorating. I went shopping. We have to clean, naturally. Put fresh sheets on the two beds and fresh towels in each bathroom, a brand new bar of soap in each. 

My mother said to me the other day that she didn’t want me to fuss. I laughed out loud. My mother is the queen of fussing and I say that with all the affection in the world. She taught me how to set a table just so, how to fold towels (which I’ve mentioned in previous blogs). I used to watch her fuss when she was having people for dinner, when people were coming to visit. Things needed to be clean. Anything that we’d been meaning to do was done. Because having people visit is incentive.

When I go back east for a visit, I know she still fusses. She still cleans the house, makes sure everything is put away. The towels in the bathroom are arranged just so. It’s how things are done. It doesn’t matter if we’re family. In fact, it might be just the opposite. Because we’re family, it matters a little bit more.

It’s about respect. And pride. And celebrating together. Whether it be our closest friends visiting, or my beloved sister, or my wonderful mom and aunt, I want the house to be as good as it can be. Perhaps it’s odd, but I feel that it reflects on me. I want it to reflect well.

So we’re getting ready. The house will be clean, the beds will be made, the towels will be hung, everything will be put away. On Tuesday night when mom and Aunt Barb arrive, late, we’ll be ready to welcome them to how we live it out loud here in the desert.

The annoyance of the little sister

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 21, 2014 9:36 PM

I have no recollection of my sister being born. I was nine days from being seven years old. It was four days before Christmas. I had other things on my mind. I wanted an Easy Bake Oven, not a little sister. I didn’t even like babies. Maybe that’s why I have no memory of her coming into my life but come she did.

I don’t know of too many older sisters who enjoyed having a new baby in the house, someone who you couldn’t play with and who cried a lot. I doubt my sister cried a lot though. She was always a good soul.

Because I was the oldest, with a younger brother as well, it fell to me to set the goal posts. I did everything first, breaking in the parents. I went to school, I got in trouble, I learned to drive, I got in more trouble, I went to college. Because my sister was – and is – just about seven years younger than I, we didn’t have much of a relationship other than “get out of my room.”

I babysat the two of them, the brother and sister. I brooded over perceived injustices. “Why do I have to watch them? Why can you get a babysitter?”

Through the years, I watched as the little sis bombed around the house, falling and hitting the bridge of her nose on the fireplace at least twice, giving herself two black eyes. I listened to her jabber on about nothing in particular and her bu-beans doll (don’t ask). I got mad when she took my talking Barbie into the bathtub, forever ruining the voice box so that the only thing that Barbie said was grlegiltuwilchgh bll.

She named our dog when she was three. I have no idea why she was given the honor. Perhaps because she was the only one who came up with something. I think she meant to call him Charlie but as she was just three, it came out Chaudee. The name stuck. That dog lived to be 19.

We weren’t close, my sister and I, not while I lived at home. She was simply my sister, just as Scott was just my brother. I was a selfish, horrible teenager, terrible to everyone in the family.

When I went away to college, I started to develop more of an appreciation for my siblings. My little sister even came to stay with me at school for at least one weekend. I hope she wasn’t too scarred by the experience.

When I got married the first time, I asked her to be my maid of honor. She was 19 and in college herself at that point. I remember flying back to New England for two weeks over the Christmas holiday and she and I going shopping for her dress. I didn’t want anything too traditional. I wanted it to be something that she actually could wear elsewhere if she so chose. We found a lace dress in a gray-taupe, that hung just to the knee. It looked fabulous on her. I think she looked better on my wedding day than I did, and I was just fine with that.

She came to visit me in California several times, especially after I got divorced. We went to Disneyland. We went to see The Phantom of the Opera. She eventually got engaged to a wonderful man named John. I was her matron of honor. By then I was involved with Kevin. When Kevin and I married several years later, she came with my parents. They all stood up with me.

Somewhere, sometime over the years, she and I became friends, then best friends. We share a family, we share a similar sense of humor, we agree on most things. We’re as close as we can be given that we live on opposite sides of the country. She’s the best person I know.

Today is her birthday and I’ve been thinking about her all day. We exchanged texts, the easiest way to communicate these days. As I thought of her today, I realized I didn’t care when she was born, or that I found her annoying when I was a kid. Because now I want to be like her when I grow up. She’s very special, to me and to all, and the definition of living it out loud.

A simpler life

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, December 10, 2014 8:55 PM

It occurs to me that my life is a swirling mass of crazy. Work continues to build to levels where I wonder how I'll ever get it done. I only wonder briefly because I learned a long time ago that it always does. The house now requires near constant attention, a child that is just beginning to walk and thus might fall if left to its own devices. I am not complaining; it's just that this finishing process is all consuming, another full time job in an already packed day and week. Into the mix, here comes Christmas with gift buying and giving, boxes to be packed and shipped, company to ready for.

It occurs to me that most of the people I associate with have similar lives. Too much to do. My husband calls it ten pounds of kitty litter in a five pound bag.

I wonder how to get to a simpler life, one where it is not a swirling mass of crazy every day, every week, every month. I wonder if I would be happy. I thought about this last night after I had spoken to my mother. She was telling me how she hasn't yet put up her tree because she is constantly on the road, driving between three houses. Gregg's in Greenfield where their office is, his new house in South Berwick, Maine, and her own. She does not have a simple life but why do I think that it is more simple than my own? 

I talk to my brother. He lives alone in a house he rents. He's been there for two years and has not yet had cable or satellite installed. He works hard, well into the evening. Why do I assume that his life is simpler when it's not?

My sister has two children who are a full-time job. She spends most of her days taking first one then the other to school, to their particular extracurricular activity, then picking them up and returning home where two dogs await as well as a husband. There is dinner to fix, the house to keep in order. Do I really believe that she has a simpler life?

It occurs to me that I'm not sure what a simpler life is. I've always assumed that it meant less to do and that's part of it. But I also think it has to do with reaching a level of contentment. I am not content. Oh, I'm content in my marriage, and my work. But content can imply settling and I don't feel that I've settled in any aspect of my life. I have chosen instead. 

Content seems complacent. And yet there is something soothing and familiar about being content. Like coming home, like crawling into your own bed. I am forever wanting more. I dream of things I still want to do, journeys I still wish to take, milestones I want to achieve. When I do, will I be content? Will I find my simpler life?

It occurs to me that maybe there is no such thing. There is simply life, the one we lead, the one we once led, the one that is yet to be discovered. Perhaps the simpler life is simply living as I choose, doing what makes me happy, being around those who fill me with joy. 

I suspect my mother feels the same, that my brother for all of his malcontent likes his life, that my sister wouldn't change anything, not really. My friends would continue in their hectic lives because they lead those lives largely by choice. I do, too. We all do.

A simpler life is all around us. It's what we choose to do with it, how we interact with one another, how much we laugh.

I'm writing this post in an airplane as I travel to Los Angeles for a meeting. It was not simple getting to the airport, nor being shoehorned into the ever shrinking seats, crammed in with total strangers. But as I look out the window, glancing out at the incredible terrain that is my country, I am filled with a sense of peace. Perhaps it's the white noise of the engines. I think instead it's an appreciation, for my health, my family and friends, my husband; my life. This is a simpler life because it is mine, and I am overcome with the realization of it. It is something I must remember to embrace and celebrate always.

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friendly celebrations | live out loud | relative celebrations

Going home on a Sunday afternoon

by Lorin Michel Sunday, November 9, 2014 5:03 PM

I am in the airport in Manchester. My gate is about 100 yards away, the length of a football field give or take a down. I'm in Patriots country so the football analogy seems appropriate even though the Pats have a bye week. No football here this weekend. A quiet day with no cheering. The plane I'll be flying has just arrived. People are streaming out and walking quickly toward baggage claim and ground transportation. The crew will clean up when it's finally empty. Boarding will commence soon. I'm B23. It will be a bit longer for me.

I'm sitting at a power bar, writing this on my phone. I'm next to all of the windows that decorate all airports. I can see the planes taxiing in. One is taking off. Another Southwest plane. I wonder sometimes if the only airline that flies these days is Southwest. I won't wonder for long. I think about getting out my laptop but decide I'm not in the mood. Too much hassle. It's Sunday and I'm tired. I'm going home.

The idea of going home is intriguing to me. Not just today as I fly back to my husband and dog, but in general. I went to New England and automatically said I was going home. I always say that even though I haven't lived in New England in 30 years. I say I'm going home because it's where my mother lives and one home will always be there. I remember her asking me once, when she was selling the house that she and my dad had lived in together, how I would feel about coming home, as if home was the house. I told her then and I believe now that home is where the mother is. She could live anywhere and I would be going home.

Home is now where my life is, where Kevin is,  and Cooper. Home is where I live and love. It's where my stuff is, where I know. Home is not just a place but a state of mind and heart. It's why it can be a number of places, like with parents and with husbands.

Justin comes home to visit us even though we're not where he grew up. My friend Bobbi goes home to Wisconsin to visit her parents because that's where she grew up. She hasn't lived there in 35 years. Home, too and mostly, is Los Angeles with Roy.

The airplane has emptied and been re-boarded. I'm in row 23. My boarding number. I didn't plan that; it was simply the first empty aisle seat I came to. I wonder if it's a sign, though for what, I can't possibly imagine. I won't wonder for long.

Outside the day has faded. I can still see the surrounding trees but they're blending into a coming night sky. Red strips of sun remain to the west.

The plane has left the gate. The engines rev and recede as we make our way to the runway. Soon we'll hear the "Ladies and gentlemen, we've been cleared for takeoff." The engines will power up, impossibly loud. The plane will vibrate and rock and then we will shoot down the asphalt, gaining speed and lift. We will be on our way to Chicago and then to Tucson. It's Sunday afternoon, late, almost evening. I'm going home from home.

I'm going.


Sent from my iPhone

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live out loud | relative celebrations

A part of it

by Lorin Michel Monday, October 27, 2014 10:17 PM

The last two months have been very busy for me. I’ve been engaged in content management for several of my hospital clients, writing pages, choosing photos and uploading both to create pages. I’ve built two sites myself, each site more than 100 pages. The days have been long, both with the work and with a constant stream of conference calls to discuss the work. The hospitals are part of a network of hospitals in California, Arizona and Nevada, a total of 40. I work with six in Southern California. All six were redoing their sites at once and the content management company had seven conference calls each week, sometimes more. One for each hospital and one for all of us together. Because I’ve been working with all but one, I sat in on five individual calls and the main call. I got to know the content management company team well; I like them all. We would laugh and joke. It was like having co-workers.

Today was the first day I didn’t have a call and it was a little strange. I felt like I had gone back into my cocoon, and as much as I like my solitary existence, it did make me realize that sometimes I actually like working closely with people.

I have long joked that I don’t like people and the fact is, I don’t. At least not most people. I have a very low tolerance for being in too many meetings with too many people who are being stupid. I don’t suffer fools gladly or otherwise. I have long has loner tendencies, something I came to terms with a long time ago, and something that suits my chosen profession. Writing is a lonely job. It has to be done in a bit of a vacuum. I had someone last week say they wanted to do something where I come and sit with them for a week and we complete the project. I want the project (which I’ll discuss if I get the project; I don’t want to jinx it) but the suggestion took me back a bit. I didn’t know how to respond. I ended up saying that very thing. I don’t know how to write on demand, with people waiting and watching. I’m sure some people do. I need to be in my own space with my own music, my dog; my silence. I never know when the creativity will happen. Having to produce in front of others is just odd.

But today I was missing working with people, albeit in the privacy of my office. It was not something I expected. It made me realize that maybe I’m not as much of a loner as I thought. Maybe I like people better than I thought. Maybe I just like being a part of it, whatever it is.

I was on Facebook today and my friend Pam is vacationing with her mom, her sister and her niece. She posted a number of pictures and it made me wistful for my own mother, sister and niece. I’ll see them all in less than two weeks and hopefully I’ll have pictures to post, too.

They were a part of it. I want to be a part of it, too.

It is sharing. It’s camaraderie. It’s friendship. It’s family. It’s laughter and happiness and joy. It’s love. It is whatever you want it to be, whatever you want to be part of. Whatever you choose to engage in.

It is also part of each of us. It is what it means to be human. It’s interaction. It is what each one of us feels. It can be hope or loneliness. It can be possibilities and opportunity. It can simply be the sound of another’s voice. It is simply being part of this thing we call life. I like being part of it, even in the solitude of my office.

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friendly celebrations | live out loud | relative celebrations

Friends and family

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 13, 2014 10:09 PM

After I wrote about my parents’ friends Charlotte and Ed yesterday, I happened to speak with my mother who had happened to speak with Charlotte and Ed the other day. Ed is 91; Charlotte 85. They are celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary and still going strong, at least as strong as people nearing the end of their lives can be.

I told my mother about my dream, and about the salad, and she recounted a story that I’d forgotten. After we moved away from Northern Drive in Fairfiew, where Charlotte and Ed were our neighbors, we bounced around to a number of places. Several in New York, in Maryland and finally into New England. Charlotte and Ed, who in the brief time we were all neighbors had become like family – in some cases better than family – came to visit us in every place. They would pile into whatever vehicle they happened to have at the time, and make the journey regardless of where we were. They were older than my parents, and Ed retired early so they always had time to drive and to spend. They would play golf with my dad; they would visit with my mother. There was always so much laughter in the house when they visited. They had their opinions to be sure, especially Charlotte wasn’t shy about sharing them, but they were and remain good, kind, decent people.

Charlotte trained our dog when we were little. They always had dogs, up until they became older, and when my grandmother gave us a puppy for Christmas one year, my mother was beside herself. I was maybe 10 at the time, perhaps even younger, which meant my brother was 6 and my sister was 3. It fell to my mother to train the pup, and she was miserable. She didn’t know what she was doing and in those days, there wasn’t the plethora of books and videos there are now. She spent many a night on the couch with a whining, whimpering dog that she could not train to pee when and where he was supposed to. Charlotte had the little guy trained within a day.

Charlotte and Ed were designated as our legal guardians in the event of something happening to mom and dad. They were, as I said, family.

I was remembering yesterday the salad incident, being in my mother’s kitchen in New Hampshire and making salad with Charlotte and Ed. Charlotte, I believe was on bread duty. Ed was on drinking duty. I have no idea where the rest of the family was; they all arrived eventually.

Mom told me the story of how Ed used to tease that the only reason they visited was for my mother’s lasagna. When they were coming, my mother busied herself in the kitchen, making a huge pan of lasagna, a salad, and getting bread ready. On one occasion, before she realized the seriousness of Ed’s claim, my dad suggested just doing some cold cuts and making sandwiches. It was easier, and would be ready essentially as soon as they arrived or whenever they wanted to eat. My mother thought that was fine idea. Ed did not.

He was relentless in chastising my mother for years, in a loving way, saying that he had not driven seven or eight hours to have a sandwich. She never did that again, and in fact, the afternoon Kevin and I were making salad, I know my mother had also prepared a big lasagna to feed everyone.

We all have family friends in our lives, people who made lasting impressions and still do. I had Charlotte and Ed. Kevin had Jim and Dora Latner, great friends of his parents who were like family. Justin has Roy and Bobbi, our closest friends who have long been our west coast family. When Justin was growing up, and even through college, holidays were always spent with R & B. When he graduated from high school, the only two people he wanted at the graduation, other than Kevin and I, was Roy and Bobbi. When he went on retreat, and came back to share what he learned, again he wanted Roy and Bobbi with us. When we went to visit him on his ship in May, he wanted R & B there, too.

Friends that become family can sometimes be better than actual family. I am blessed with a great family; people I not only love but also like. Many people can’t say that. As the saying goes, you can’t choose your family. It’s just luck of the draw. In the not very good but extremely beautiful to look at film Tequila Sunrise, the late Raul Julia had a passionate speech toward the end intoning just that.

My brother, sister and I have also been blessed with people like Charlotte and Ed. Kevin and his brother and sisters had the Latners. Justin has R & B. I love how it transcends generations, that Kevin and I had family friends, and that Justin does as well. It’s the proverbial cycle of life, with friends helping complete the circle of living it out loud.

Notes from a past

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 12, 2014 10:59 PM

Memories can be misty and watercolored as the song says, or they can be crystal clear. I wonder though how clear they ever actually are. After all, we remember things only as we want to remember them, how we wish things had happened. We also remember things as being worse than they actually were. Those memories, for me, are usually about how I handled a particular situation. I’m usually not happy with myself. I suspect the other people involved in the memory have no recollection of it, or if they do, they remember it differently than I do.

My sister and I have these talks every once in a while. She remembers me helping her with certain things when she was a teen and I was an older teen, perhaps already in my 20s. There is seven years separating us. I don’t remember what she remembers; have no recollection of it at all. But it was something important to her and so she remembers.

The other day, I was texting with Justin. He’s still on the first leg of his tour of duty, cruising the glaciers of Alaska, but when he manages to get into a port, we often get texts. Hello from Juneau. Hello from Whittier, or as he calls it, Shittier. Ha. We follow the ship online every day. It’s one of the first things Kevin does in the morning. Cooper goes out, and Kevin pulls up the web cam. He comes back into the bedroom and announces to me that Justin is wherever he is. Later in the day, one or the both of us will get texts. If it’s me, I converse and then share the conversation with Kevin. If it’s Kevin, he does the same.

The other day Justin was in Vancouver at an Apple Store. The iPad we had given him for graduation, the iPad that has become an appendage, was having some issues. It was still covered under warranty so Apple was replacing it for him, free of charge. He texted that it was “nothing too major just annoying that if it can be fixed, why not.” When I texted back “smart man,” he said that he liked to think that some of what we taught him rubbed off. As the conversation progressed, and I mentioned how smart we had gotten in the last few years, he laughed and said that we were always smart and that most of the time he was too stubborn to listen. And that he’d been thinking about how much of a pain in the butt he was as a teen. I assured him that everyone is a pain in the butt when they’re teenagers which is why they’re not fit for human consumption. Then he recounted a memory about he and I fighting about ProActiv and how horrible he’d been to me. I had absolutely no recollection of that fight. But then again, there were so many.

Ha.

This morning, Kevin let me sleep in a bit while he took the dog for a walk. I dozed and found myself transported to where we lived when I was seven or eight, on Long Meadow Drive in Staatsburg, New York, a place I remember my mother hating. I remember it fondly, the kids in the neighborhood, babysitting, trick or treating at Halloween, driving to Lake Taghkanic (Taconic) for the day. I remember the wooded area behind the house across the street and how I used to explore, going farther and farther into the civilized wilderness. In actuality it probably wasn’t very far at all, but when one is 8 around the block can seem far.

I remembered running in the fields with my grandmother. She had on white Keds.

And I remembered Charlotte and Ed, who didn’t live there but who evidently were visiting at least in my dream. They were in an RV, something that, to my knowledge, Charlotte and Ed never had. They were my parents’ dear friends who lived next to us briefly when we lived in Fairview, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Erie. They have remained dear friends ever since. They’re older now, in their late 80s and early 90s respectively. Their health has been declining for some time. I don’t remember why they were in my dream but I think we were all making salad.

Once I regained consciousness I realized that the salad incident actually happened the last time we saw Charlotte and Ed, for my sister’s wedding. We were at my mother’s house in New Hampshire. I believe it was just Charlotte and Ed and Kevin and I and Kevin and I were making salad for a big pre-wedding dinner while Ed was making jokes. We laughed and enjoyed.

I wonder why they were in my dream this morning. I don’t think of them often, only often enough to ask my mother occasionally how they’re doing. I send holiday cards; I usually get one as well. I don’t remember if I got one this past Christmas though I think I did.

It’s strange and wonderful what the mind recalls. I know it’s possible to spend hours trying to decipher it. I prefer to just enjoy it, even those recollections that are painful, because each one has helped to make me who I am, to teach me how to be. These notes from my past pop up all the time and I re-read them all, celebrating who I was, where I’ve been, the life I’ve lived out loud and the people who have been with me on this strange and wonderful journey. 

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live out loud | relative celebrations

Just last year

by Lorin Michel Friday, July 4, 2014 8:18 PM

I’m remembering last July 4th. It was an odd day, a Thursday I believe. I had left my boys, Kevin and Cooper, in California and flown to Pittsburgh the night before. My great Aunt Beryl had passed away several weeks earlier and rather than go for the funeral, I had said I’d travel to help my mother clean out the house. Because the 4th fell on a Thursday, it gave us a four-day weekend. My mother had arrived the weekend before; my brother and brother-in-law were driving a U-Haul truck from New Hampshire on the 4th, planning to arrive sometime in the late afternoon.

I was staying in a Hampton Inn about 20 minutes or so from the house. I remember meeting my mom and Iris, Aunt Beryl’s stepdaughter, in the morning, in the parking lot, so that I could follow them to the house. I imagine I could have found it with Google and my phone, but this was easier.

I hadn’t been there since I was a teen yet it was much the same as I remembered it. The neighborhood was filled with homes built decades ago. Brick houses that must have resembled the row houses so popular in the cities, and still popular in San Francisco. There simply isn’t the room in cities for sprawling houses, so they are tall and thin, rather than wide and spread out. The houses along Arlington, where Aunt Beryl’s house stood, were close enough that you could literally touch the neighbor’s. A mere foot or so separated them. Most of the houses were in horrible condition. The people who live there are poor, and don’t have the money to keep up the exterior paint. The porches were falling apart; the cement steps leading down into impossibly small yards were cracked and disintegrating. Many of the roads are brick, others cement. Grass and weeds grew up through the cracks and gaps.

Aunt Beryl's house, last July 4th

I remembered the neighborhood as being a wondrous place to visit. My mother had warned me that it hadn’t been that way in a long time. She was right.

We drove into the impossibly narrow side street, parked nearly on the sidewalk, and walked to the side gate. All of my memories of the house, of my past visits, came flooding back. Inside, the same knick-knacks were on the shelves, the same cuckoo clock on the wall. We went in through the back, into the kitchen. It still smelled the same, a mixture of  bread baking, chicken frying, and flowers. It made me smile.

Mom showed me some of what had already been done while Iris talked and told stories. My Aunt Beryl had married relatively late in life, for her generation. She was well into her 30s. The man she married, Clarence, was quite a bit older and had been married previously. Iris, his daughter from his previous marriage, is ten years or so older than my mother. I don’t remember her from when I was growing up but I remember her kids. They’re all around the same age as me, my brother and my sister.

We started going through drawers and closets, boxes. We kept some things, others went into a pile for the veterans who were coming the following Monday, others were bagged for trash. The house was four stories, including a basement and attic. The basement was filled with mold; the attic impossibly hot. There was no air conditioning, just fans, all of which we had running, trying to move around desperately humid air.

Around lunch time, my Aunt Barbara and her husband, arrived. They lived about an hour or so east. They were coming to help, and to celebrate. That Thursday was my mom’s birthday. We sat around Aunt Beryl’s small kitchen table, eating homemade pasta salad, drinking wine and eating cake.

I’m remembering last July 4th on this day, mom’s birthday. I’m remembering our Aunt Beryl, the woman who I used to speak to every two weeks or so, sometimes for hours at a time. I’m missing her, but I’m sure my mother is missing her more. Aunt Beryl, who was my mother’s father’s sister, helped to raise mom.

On this Independence Day, I’m celebrating my mother, as always. I’m celebrating my memories of a year ago. So much has changed over these 365 days, for all of us, but what hasn’t changed is the love I have for my family, those thankfully still here, and those I see only in my memories. I’ll speak to my mother later today to wish her a joyous day, and I’ll remember sitting around that rectangle Formica table last summer, with the fans blowing on us, the heat building to thunderstorms outside, raising a glass to toast my mother in a kitchen as familiar as our own. A kitchen where we all gathered once again to live it out loud.

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live out loud | relative celebrations

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