One nation under carbs

justice kennedy

Last week was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. If a root canal and the Norovirus got together and produced an offspring – it would look like last week. I can make some tepid jokes about it now, but there was nothing funny about last week – it was the worst many of us had felt since the wee early hours of November 9, 2016.

While we were still reeling from the coverage of immigrant children being separated from their parents and held in cages, came the staggeringly sober news that Justice Anthony Kennedy was resigning from the Supreme Court. When I got the BREAKING NEWS alert on my phone I prayed it really was FAKE NEWS.

It felt like the time years ago when I hit the wrong button on my first iPhone and accidentally did a factory reset – losing all my never backed up photos and contacts. That slow motion feeling of not being in control mixed with deep sadness for what might be permanently erased.

I don’t care if we knew it “might” be coming. I’m a proud reality denier and I had put that particular item far down on my To Worry About List. Once I caught my breath, I cried. I did. It was just too much to process after EVERYTHING else. Fortunately, I was at home by myself, so my cat was the only eyewitness to my breakdown and her silence can be bought with a few extra treats.

I’ve spent much of my adult life working for LGBT civil rights – including devoting a sizable chunk of my professional life to advocating for people living with AIDS. I suddenly saw the past 25 years or so like a montage – all the meetings, all the marches, all the fundraising, all the stinging defeats, all the friends – some dead now – all the years of incremental progress – then the rush of huge advancements. I could feel it all slipping through my hands like sand. I felt hopeless.

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My guy, Jeff. I guess you could say he wears his heart on his T-shirt.

And then my phone started blowing up. First one in was my gay boyfriend, Jeff. We’ve said for years that we would be the perfect couple except for the little detail of sexual orientation. He’s the gay man version of me – cranky with a wicked sense of humor. I adore him, and we have shared many hours stuffing envelopes, canvassing neighborhoods, hosting fundraisers and kvetching about the current state of affairs. Side note: We narrowly avoided a tragic accident years ago while delivering a Porta Potty to a special event. It almost tipped over in Jeff’s truck while we were placing it in a friend’s backyard. If the Porta Potty hadn’t crushed us to death, we would have most certainly died from humiliation.

Jeff basically expressed the same things I was feeling – that everything we had worked so long and hard for could be eradicated as the balance of the Court shifted. And then he texted a few minutes later to say he had gone to the men’s room to throw up. The thought of losing some of your civil rights can make you toss your lunch. My crying didn’t seem so bad then. Jeff always makes me feel better.

Then I got a Facebook message from my friend, Bo, in Wilmington. We served on the

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Bo is rather shy and retiring. Said no one ever.

board of Equality NC for several years and have stayed in touch. He wrote, “I share your fear and I want to walk with you in our next right thing. You taught me that all is not lost. We have to keep teaching each other.” Damn. I was crying again – only this time the tears were sweeter.

And then I got a phone call – old school – from my mentor/Jewish mother/friend/sage, Phyllis, in DC. I worked for her years ago and we became family. She and her husband hosted my wedding to my dear wife in 2014. Phyllis is fearless and is always the first to call – in good times and in tough times. When I answered the phone, I said, “Please tell me we are moving to Norway.” She said, “Addy, I feel like someone in my family has died.” Just hearing her voice made me feel safer.

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Phyllis always calls. Always.

 

I turned off the TV. I couldn’t bear to hear the talking heads start to circle the body like vultures, speculating on who Trump would select. I’ve barely watched any news since then. Thank God for BBC crime dramas – I find them oddly comforting. Nothing like a good grisly murder or two set against a gray London backdrop to lift your spirits.

My wife and I had dinner plans that evening with a friend from our church. She’s a delightful and smart retired woman who has hosted us for supper in her home a few times. I’m a vegetarian and she’s kind enough to even prepare some fabulous tofu dishes for us – nobody ever does that. We usually bring a bottle of wine – that night we brought two. Just in case.

We had a surprisingly lovely evening sitting around her dining room table as the sun went down. I love that time of day and the light cast a peaceful balm over us as we talked. We came home feeling a bit better.

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Breaking bread with a kindred spirit was just what we needed.

I had one more Facebook message waiting for me – from my good friend Megan. We worked together for years around HIV/AIDS issues and she and her husband are two people who always seem to be on the right – as in fair and just – side of everything. She oozes integrity and her support has always meant a great deal to me. She wrote, “Holding you and many others in my heart… don’t lose hope.” I felt like I had a logjam of life rafts available when I finally fell into bed that night.

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This is a typical Facebook post from Megan. All the feels.

But do you want to know what lifted my spirits the most amidst the angst of last week? I could give you a gazillion guesses, and you wouldn’t come close. Ready? A chocolate éclair. And, no, I wasn’t self-medicating. It wasn’t even my éclair. On Friday, I met my bestie, Carla, at a local coffee shop. Carla is in grad school and we’ve been taking advantage of her summer off by meeting every other Friday for a three-hour coffee date. Seriously. We always meet at 9 AM and we’re never done before noon. That’s a lot of coffee and conversation.

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Coffee with Carla. The best part of summer.

Our croissants and cappuccinos were long gone by the time a smiling young Asian man put down his paper plate on the table right next to us. We both started staring – lusting really – at the scrumptious looking chocolate éclair on his plate. Clearly, we were not as smooth about it as we thought we were because he looked at us sweetly and said, “Would you like a bite?” We both giggled with embarrassment and I think I fumbled a bit and said, “Oh, no, sorry, that éclair just looks so good.”

Carla got up to use the restroom and our new pal returned to his table with his coffee and settled in to enjoy his treat. He caught my eye as he held his plastic fork and knife in his hands and said, “Really, are you sure you wouldn’t like to try this?” Seriously, I really DID want to, but honestly, I could feel my throat closing with emotion. There was something so incredibly moving about his simple but genuine kindness in that moment. I wanted to hug him, but I was afraid he might think I was going to nab that big ass éclair.

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The object of our affection.

Carla returned to our table and as we headed towards the door, I told him that we would not have been so generous with our éclairs and he laughed and told us to have a nice day. I could almost hear Won’t You Be My Neighbor playing in the background.

Let’s make the most of this beautiful day

Since we’re together, might as well say

Would you be my, could you be my

Won’t you be my neighbor?

I know it’s a gross simplification to imply that good pastries make good neighbors. I just know that a random exchange with a perfect stranger in my local coffee shop made me feel like somehow, we will make it through to the other side of this darkness. Together.

When I got home I reread the last part of Megan’s message:

“You just need to know you’re not alone in this. I come from a perspective, forged from coming of age in the 70’s, that we’re smart enough and tough enough to outmaneuver the bastards if we just work together.”

Mr. Rogers couldn’t have said it any better himself.

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Can you say outmaneuver the bastards?

 

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Carbs will keep us together.

 

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This tweet saved me last Wednesday. Long live Ruth!

 

 

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Tender age

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In my mother’s arms.

Once when I was six years old, I thought I would never see my mother again. It was a feeling that only lasted for about 30 minutes, but even after all these years later, it’s still a memory that can make my throat close.

I can remember it as clearly as other historically upsetting events in my life – the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, and Donald Trump’s election. Okay, maybe I’m being a little dramatic, but it is a memory that is firmly etched in my grownup brain.

It was my first day of first grade in Petersburg, VA and it was my maiden voyage on a school bus. My elementary school was near Fort Lee – a large Army base – and because of an influx of students that year, we had to go to school in shifts. I was assigned the morning shift which made for a dark pickup at 7:00 AM and dismissal before lunch.

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It looks a lot bigger when you’re only 42 inches tall.

I recall being nervous about riding the bus for the first time, but my mom stood with me in the dark and told me she would have my favorite lunch – tomato soup and grilled cheese – waiting for me when the bus dropped me back off after school. To this day, a grilled cheese can still serve as an incentive for me.

So, I climbed up those big steps on to the bus clutching my Beany and Cecil book bag and was greeted by the driver – a burly man who already seemed a little grouchy for so early in the day. I quickly found an open aisle seat and steeled myself for the ride. I nervously scanned the other rows and realized that I was one of the youngest kids on the bus. A lot of them seemed to already know each other, but I kept my game face on. I was, as my mother had reminded me – a big girl now.

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Beany and Cecil were as big as SpongeBob Squarepants in their day. Really.

The school day was unremarkable. My teacher, Mrs. Westinghouse, was at least 78 years old – or so she appeared to me. She was rather portly and pretty no-nonsense which is perhaps the most strategic approach for facing a room of 30 six-year-olds. We read and had a milk break. I never enjoyed the milk break – the milk always seemed to be curiously warm. A few months later, I would throw-up during milk break, forever unendearing me to Mrs. Westinghouse.

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It was never meant to be served at room temperature!

The morning passed quickly and it was time to board the bus for the trip home. Once we got on the road, burly bus driver told us he was learning the route for the new school year and that we should just shout out in advance of our house so he would know when to stop.

I could feel my tiny palms start to sweat. Do you remember how loud your school bus was? The thought of yelling over that thunderous noise in front of a bunch of older kids terrified me. I decided I would just see how other kids did it and copy them – only they were almost all older kids so the bus driver already knew where they lived.

I practiced silently in my seat and as we neared my street, my heart began to race. Then the countdown began – 30 seconds, 10 seconds, five seconds… I choked. Actually, I froze. Nothing came out of my mouth as we sailed by my house. Now before you judge my mother (that’s clearly my job) for not being at the bus stop waiting for me, you need to know that she was inside the house tending to my three-year-old brother at the time. And she was getting that grilled cheese ready, too.

My heart sank. Now what? I thought about walking up to the front of the bus and telling the bus driver he passed my house but, let’s face it – that was not going to happen. I’d like to tell you that I did some masterful six-year-old problem solving but the truth is – I just sat there quietly – knowing that not only had I ruined my academic career on my first day of first grade, but that I would never get home and see my mom.

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The wheels on my first bus came off pretty quickly.

The last kid besides me got off the bus and the driver looked back at me quizzically and said, “Where do you live?” Gulp. I did not know my address. Again – no judging – it was a simpler time. My heart was pounding so hard and I wondered what would happen next. The bus driver was aggravated, and I wanted to cry, but I figured that would aggravate him more. I just wanted my mom – even more than that grilled cheese – so I swallowed those hot tears.

The bus driver sighed and told me he was taking me back to school to see if someone in the office knew where I lived. That sounded like a good plan to me, but I still felt so alone and scared. We got back to the school and I followed him into the office and he presented me to the secretary like I was a juvenile delinquent. “She doesn’t know where she lives,” he grumbled to the seemingly nice lady behind the desk. “What’s your name, dear?” she asked sweetly. I did know my name – so I had that going for me.

She pulled out a big notebook and turned a few pages and came up with my address. I was the only Addison Ore in the directory. “Confederacy Drive,” she told the bus driver.  (Yes, Petersburg was big on Civil War references.) He sighed and told me to get back on the bus. That was way before I knew about The Walk of Shame, but I’m sure I did the elementary school version. I got back on the bus and sat in the front row by the window. I was not missing my stop this time.

By now, my mother was getting worried – knowing I should have been home by now. This was long before cell phones. Little did I know that she was standing by the end of our drive with my brother in tow waiting anxiously for me to arrive. The bus driver slowed to a stop and I stood up and said, “This is MY house.” Okay, a little late, but it’s always good to stick the landing.

I came flying down those giant steps and fell into my mother’s arms. All was right with my world again. We walked down the driveway to the side door off the carport and into the kitchen where there on my little table was my lunch – steam still rising from the tomato soup.

I was home.

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Waiting for me.

All these years later, it may read as a silly story, but I was reminded of it again this week as I watched in sheer horror the images of immigrant children being separated from their parents – some for days and months – some perhaps forever. How can this be happening? I know how. We all know how. This isn’t a political post. It’s a human post. The question now is how we fix it. We must fix it.

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America the Beautiful. Not so great.

Over 50 some years ago, I was separated from my mother for half and hour and the memory of that fear can still quicken my pulse. I can’t imagine – I don’t want to imagine – the kind of fear those children are experiencing now. I worry, as most of us do, if they will ever get back home – which for most of them means their mother or father – not a physical place any longer.

Everybody Lost Somebody is a haunting song by Jack Antonoff of Bleachers. He wrote it about his younger sister Sarah, who died of brain cancer several years ago. The song is about death but it’s also about finding our way home.  I’ve been listening to it a lot this week and thinking that for these kids, this separation must feel like death. Click here to listen.

I think pain is waiting alone at the corner

Tryna get myself back home, yeah

Looking like everybody

Knowing everybody lost somebody

I’m standing here in the cold and

I gotta get myself back home soon

Looking like everybody

Knowing everybody lost somebody

Everybody lost somebody

Everybody lost somebody

I don’t have the answers. Most days I simply rant and rave at the cruel absurdity of what’s going on in our country courtesy of the current administration, but this is different. I don’t have kids. I never really wanted kids. I’m the person that doesn’t want to be seated anywhere near kids in a restaurant. But I have cried for these kids and I know many of you have, too. Hell, even Rachel Maddow cried.

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This is us.

A grilled cheese isn’t going to fix this, but we gotta get them home soon – even if they don’t have an address.

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“For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in.” Matthew 25:35  Photo: cnbc.com

 

 

 

 

Pearl of wisdom

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Pearl Berlin.

I suppose we’re lucky if we ever get to meet our heroes much less actually know them. They always appear larger than life – not to scale like us mere mortals.

I never met Harvey Milk – he died at the hands of an assassin in 1978, long before I ever dreamed of coming out as a lesbian. And yet, he changed my life in immeasurable ways. He was the first openly gay elected official in the state of California and is still regarded as the most influential LGBT activist in history.

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Harvey Milk.

I have often turned to his voice for inspiration when I have felt defeated and depleted in the long march to equality for LGBT Americans.

All men are created equal. No matter how hard they try, they can never erase those words. That is what America is about.

I didn’t know Edie Windsor either, but this late octogenarian paved the way for the dissolution of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) and the legalization of same-sex marriage. And it all began because she thought it wasn’t fair that she should have to pay almost $400,000 in estate taxes when her spouse of over 40 years died in 2009.

Edie’s words have also encouraged and sustained me as I wondered if I would ever see marriage equality in my lifetime.

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Edie Windsor.

Marriage is a magic word. And it is magic throughout the world. It has to do with our dignity as human beings, to be who we are openly.

Well, I was lucky enough to know Pearl Berlin and for that, I will always be grateful.

Pearl. Everyone in the Triad knows who I’m talking about. You don’t need the last name – just like Cher or Beyoncé or any of the other one name superstars.

And make no mistake – Pearl was a star, a petite one, but my God, did she shine brightly, particularly in the LGBT galaxy. She died last week at the age of 93.

I met her 22 years ago when I moved to Greensboro and joined the Triad Business and Professional Guild – a now defunct LGBT networking/social group. And, of course, you couldn’t meet Pearl without meeting Lennie, her wife of almost 52 years.

They were always LennieandPearl with no space – almost spoken as one syllable with no breath in between. I remember asking someone who “that” couple was sitting at a table near me at my first Guild meeting. The person glared at me like I had just sneezed on them and said, “THAT’S Lennie and Pearl and they have been together 30 years.” I felt like I should bow my head or curtsy. I was truly among gay royalty. Back then, most of us didn’t know any openly gay couples who had been together that long.

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Lennie and Pearl. Gay royalty. Photo courtesy of Lennie Gerber.

I had to check my math twice the other day when I figured out that Pearl was 71 years old when I met her. The lively woman I met back in 1996 was over 30 years older than me but I had no doubt that she could run circles around me. I mean like literally run.

She was vivacious and enthusiastic and warm and funny. So damn funny. And she was so interested in everything and everyone in our group. I learned that she was an esteemed professor retired from UNCG, very involved in local politics and that she and Lennie were world travelers who had been everywhere at least once.

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Lennie and Pearl in Luxor, Egypt. They traveled the world together. Photo courtesy of Lennie Gerber.

I was impressed to say the least – and maybe just a wee bit intimidated. This was one dynamic duo. But I quickly learned that they were as kind and generous as they were accomplished and imposing. They just sort of oozed gravitas. They were the most grownup grownups in the room and their opinion on just about anything mattered to every member of that group.

It was a different climate 20 years ago – not nearly as accepting as today – and our group had to navigate a lot of tricky and delicate issues such as the prospect of publicizing our meetings. Several Guild members were teachers, but they were not out at their work for fear of losing their jobs. We wanted our group to grow but we also wanted everyone to feel safe. Lennie and Pearl were always the clear and strong voice of reason on any issues we debated back then. And believe me, it might not have been as raucous as an episode of Morning Joe, but we had some lively discussions back in the day.

Lennie and Pearl began moving into a bigger spotlight during the  Amendment 1 battle in 2012. That was the insidious referendum to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage and civil unions. They spoke at many events that spring – advocating for radical things like love. At one infamous rally on the steps of the Greensboro Government Plaza, Lennie ended her remarks by planting a sweet kiss on Pearl’s lips. It is one of my favorite photos of them – even though the News & Record deemed it “too much” to run in the print edition.

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The Kiss. Photo credit: Lynn Hey, Greensboro News & Record.

I invested a lot of sweat and tears in that battle to defeat Amendment 1 and on election night as I watched the crushing results come in – our side lost 61% to 39% – I was inconsolable. The next night, I sat alone in the dark in front of my TV and watched Lennie and Pearl be interviewed by Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC. There they were – as determined as ever to stay the course. They acknowledged that the path to equality is never easy and Pearl noted the remarkable progress in gay rights she had witnessed in her lifetime.

There she was – running circles around me again.

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The day after Amendment 1. I was horizontal. They were still fighting.

But Lennie and Pearl didn’t wait for the state or the federal government to catch up with their love. They married on June 2, 2013, their 47th anniversary of being together. I can still see Pearl, on her cane, practically racing down the aisle of Beth David Synagogue. Some walks down the aisle are longer than others and she had waited long enough to marry the love of her life. They say rain on your wedding day is good luck and Lennie and Pearl were showered by a downpour of tears that day. I know because I contributed a good bucket or two myself.

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The brides on their wedding day. Mazel Tov! Photo courtesy of Lennie Gerber.

Lennie and Pearl were our Shero Sherpas and we would have followed them anywhere because we knew that they cared so deeply for our community and would never guide us into anything we couldn’t handle. For as long as I can remember, they have been the beloved elders of our tribe and our hearts are saddened by Pearl’s death.

10542005_10204176997880513_6443655610355371358_nBut it’s hard to remain sorrowful when I think of Pearl. She seemed to always have a smile – even in more recent years as her health was declining. There’s a great clip from the wonderful documentary, Living in the Overlap, that I think really captures the essence of Pearl. She’s speaking at a panel and wraps up her remarks with a little relationship advice.

Never mind the looks, they can deceive. Never mind the money, sure it’s nice to have, but it fades away. Go for someone who makes you smile. Find the one who makes your heart smile and you’ll have it all.

Thank you, dear Pearl. You were right again.

 

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LennieandPearl.

 

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The beginning of an epic love story. Circa 1966. Photo courtesy of Lennie Gerber.

 

 

 

 

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WordPress is like a box of chocolates

 

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Never throw out the candy map!

My father loved Russell Stover chocolates. I can still see the box with the handy map inside to help prevent you from choosing the dreaded Milk Chocolate Roman Nougat – i.e. the one with the Pepto Bismol colored chewy cherry filling. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

At our house the map would invariably get tossed and you would be left to play the Russell Stover version of Russian Roulette. It’s all fun and games until your teeth get stuck in the pink Upside Down.

As a follower of Bookends (thank you very much), you receive an email notification each time Carla or I publish a new blog post. I hope this message fills you with happy anticipation – like biting into a Butter Cream Caramel. Yesterday morning, I published a new post and somehow between me publishing it and about four people reading it, the link to the blog went bad – as did my mood.

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Grrrrrrrrrrr…

Nothing is more aggravating than clicking on a link and getting the dreaded ERROR message – especially after you’ve gotten an email asking you to click on the link. My dear wife would call this a party foul.

I will never understand the mysteries of life or WordPress but after a couple of hours of laptop banging and salty language, I was able to fix the link. Yesterday’s post was very special to me – it was about my mother – and I hate to think of you not reading it because I stiffed you with a bad candy.

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So, here’s a good link to Permanent Ink, yesterday’s post. No really, click on it.

Thanks for reading and may all your chocolates be delightful.

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Permanent ink

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Fractions have always frightened me a bit. They’re so cold and emotionless – I just don’t trust them.

I can probably trace this irrational fear back to my high school algebra teacher – Miss Sullivan. She must have been around 87 when I took her MANDATORY class. She was 4’ll” in sensible pumps, a wiry whirling dervish of a woman and I have no doubt that she could have easily kicked the football coach’s ass if she needed to. And she was the most intimidating person I had ever met at the fragile age of 14.

She had no patience for students who were not proficient in the way of polynomials and she could hunt us down like a shark in bloody waters. I still take considerable pride in the fact that I never cried in her class. Lord knows, I wanted to. And for the record, unlike baseball, there is crying in algebra.

This is a rambling way of saying that I’ve been thinking about fractions a lot lately. Today marks the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death – a heady milestone for sure. 15 years is a very long time and maybe it was The Ghost of Algebra Teacher Past who made me realize that I have now lived over a ¼ of my life without my mother. Damn. And I thought fractions were emotionless.

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Frances Elizabeth Garbee. My mother as a child.

These deathiversaries have always been important to me and I try to observe the big ones in meaningful ways. On the 10th anniversary of Mom’s death, I hosted a high tea at a beautiful hotel for several women who had become mother figures in my life. It was an elegant late afternoon affair – an event my mother would have loved – especially since we transitioned from tea to champagne as evening came.

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December 7, 2012. High tea at the O’Henry Hotel.

I shared remembrances of my mother and a few folks read poems as we sat on plump loveseats.  The hotel was decorated for Christmas and we were bathed in the warm holiday lights. It was the perfect celebration that I had envisioned.

A lot has happened in the five years since that evening. I married my dear wife – whose middle name just happens to be the same as my mother’s first name – Frances. A divine coincidence that has pleased me enormously. They have much in common besides a name. My mother was always a lady – graceful and gracious – as is my wife. Although, my wife is much more even-tempered which also pleases me enormously. I’m certain they would have enjoyed sipping champagne with one another.

And there have been some big transitions. I moved 30 miles down I-40 to a new city and I lost a job I dearly loved and along with it some friends that I thought were, well, friends. And I found a new spiritual home – just when I needed it most after the desolation of the 2016 election.

Oh, and I rode on a boat up the Grand Canal in Venice. It is a good thing in life to be dazzled occasionally.

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I lament the sights and sites my mother didn’t live to see.

There were highs and lows and all the everyday stuff in between that make up a life. And I missed my parents every single day but I finally learned to co-exist peacefully with grief. It wasn’t an Oprah “a-ha” moment where everything suddenly crystalized. No, it was more like blowing out a candle at the end of the evening. A gentle rush of breath and then the hushed still of the night. I finally stopped wrestling with grief and then it seemed to not be that interested in me. Grief is fickle like that.

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Both of my parents died in 2002. This is my favorite photograph of them taken in the early 1960’s.  They look like the movie stars they were to me.

But I still wanted to do something special to mark this milestone. I thought about another gathering of my “mom” figures – there are some new ones in the circle as others have drifted for reasons known and unknown. But I just wasn’t feeling it – besides, this year felt more like tequila than tea.

So the next logical way to celebrate my mother was to get a tattoo. WTF? I thought that might get your attention. When the idea came to me, I smiled my cheeks off. And then one word came to mind – disdain. That’s how my mother would have felt about a tattoo – any tattoo. But she always supported me in whatever path – misguided or not – that I took, so I think she would feign disdain but secretly like my new tattoo.

Yes, I really got a tattoo to honor my mother. And I love it. And I don’t care what anybody else thinks about it. It is a glorious gift to myself.

My mother was a true daughter of the South in all the best ways – well mannered and charming. She could be yelling at me or one of my siblings like a banshee one moment and then answer the phone with a voice so warm it would melt butter. She taught me how to set a formal table, write a timely and engaging thank you note, and never to chew gum in public.

She was also a steel magnolia. A few hours before she died from cancer – a brutal one but I suppose they all are – her oncologist came to her bedside to pay his respects. He looked at her unconscious body and then turned to me and my brother and sister, shook his head reverently and said, “Your mother was tough as nails.”

That was nothing, of course, that I didn’t already know. She was grace under pressure and I can only hope I have a thimble of that fortitude.

So, I knew my tattoo had to be a magnolia blossom. That was Mom’s favorite flower and she would often decorate with them – layers and layers of magnolia leaves at Christmas. When she died, a family friend painted an exquisite watercolor for us – “In Memory of a Steel Magnolia” – and we used the image on thank you cards.

I took one of the cards I had saved into Newport Tattoo when I was in California recently visiting my sister. I showed it to Kareem, a tattoo artist and the shop owner, and he gave me his thoughts on the size and positioning and I made an appointment for a few days later.

If you ever want to feel older and squarer than you are – go to a tattoo shop. It’s a little hard on your ego but everyone treated me very kindly considering I was the oldest one in the shop by at least 20 years. Okay, 25.

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Newport Tattoo, Newport Beach, CA. It’s good to get out of one’s comfort zone.

I really didn’t have any second thoughts about my plan, but I did get a little anxious as the day of inking arrived. I have three small tattoos – all black – and they didn’t take long to complete. I was nervous about my two-hour multi-colored tour with Kareem. And when you’re getting a tattoo in honor of a steel magnolia you better not be a wimp about it.

You might be wondering about now, “Why a tattoo?” I don’t know if it will make sense to you but for me a tattoo is like a short story – a visual manifestation of a personal narrative. A tattoo is an intimate expression that becomes a constant companion along the journey.

My tattoo is on my inner forearm. I almost always wear long sleeves, except for t-shirts in the summer or at the gym, so my tattoo is truly for me. Full disclosure: Dear wife wasn’t thrilled about it but she is a lot like my mom when it comes to supporting my sometimes quirky ideas.

There’s also something about the cultural aspect of tattoos that I find fascinating. There are some studies that suggest that in ancient times tattoos were used as part of a healing or strengthening ritual. I know that my tattoos feel like talismans to me – touchstones of calm and peace. I certainly don’t need permanent ink to feel close to my mother – I feel her presence daily – but my tattoo is a tangible reminder of her elegance and strength.

I suppose there’s something adventurous and bold about a tattoo that speaks to me, too. It’s like literally wearing your alter ego on your sleeve. In my real life, I am pressed to perfection – my creases have creases thanks to my dry cleaner. I have played by the rules most of my life and I think the events of the past couple of years have made me rethink the wisdom of that approach. Getting a tattoo feels liberating to me.

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My mom and me.

My mom was a rule follower, too – that apple didn’t fall far from the tree. She died at 70, which has always felt like a huge rip-off to me. There were so many things she never got to do – like watch her grandchildren grow up or see Paris. “Life isn’t fair” she would often say to me when I was a sullen teenager complaining about being told no when I wanted to do something ALL my friends were doing.

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Words to live by.

Turns out, she was right. Life isn’t fair, but it does hold a lot of wonderful surprises in between some staggering disappointments and maybe my magnolia tattoo is a moderately bold reminder that one can be a lady but still break a few rules along the way. Maybe I just want my mom’s blessing to be a bit of a badass and take more chances.

I think daughters never get over wanting their mother’s approval. I recently saw a YouTube video of Anna Wintour interviewing Meryl Streep and at the end of their conversation, Wintour hands Streep the current issue of Vogue that features the most decorated actress in the history of forever on its cover. Streep gushes as she views her glamorous  photograph and then shakes her head a little wistfully, sighs, and almost whispers, “I wish my mother were alive to see it.” And in that moment, Meryl Streep looks like a little girl.

I know that girl.

The longing for my mother’s presence is a steady undertow that rarely ebbs even after 15 years, but today I’ll celebrate the beauty and richness of her life instead of dwelling on those pesky fractions. Sure, I suppose they’re useful, but I bet even Miss Sullivan knew that fractions make lousy tattoos.

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“In Memory of a Steel Magnolia” – tattoo by Kareem Masarani.

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Ink imitates art.