The long road home

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Woodlawn.  Photo courtesy of Tom Glass.

Home has been a moving target for me for a long time now – 15 years to be exact. That’s when both of my parents died and grief ran me into a ditch.  Years later, my emotional GPS has been searching for an alternate route home. It’s a bit like that ring toss game at the carnival. Sometimes I get tantalizingly close to it, but I can never quite snag it. But just like that silly game, I always want another chance even though I know it’s most likely rigged.

Well, last weekend I landed the ring. I found home for a few days in a 220-year-old house in the tiny town of Flint Hill, Virginia. I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley so I suppose it makes sense that the road home would lead there. The five-hour drive from Winston-Salem to Flint Hill is literally a map of my life – Route 29 North through Lynchburg, where both of my parents were born and raised, on through Charlottesville, where I lived for over a dozen years and spent some of the happiest times of my life.

I know that stretch of road like the back of my own hand – every wrinkle, every vein, every scar. I’ve traveled that highway my entire life and there’s a point shortly after you pass through Madison Heights on the way to Charlottesville that you come over the crest of a small hill and get your first full on view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. My heart has always skipped a bit when I get to this spot. Those majestic mountains are in my DNA. “God’s country” as my Dad always said.

Remnants of Hurricane Harvey were chasing us on our drive up last Friday, so my mountains were cloaked in an eerie fog – but I knew they were there. They’ve always been there. This is the road home to me.

My dear wife and I have been spending Labor Day weekend with our friends Phyllis and Tom for the past several years at their country home in Rappahannock County. I met Phyllis 24 years ago when she was my boss at a national non-profit organization in Washington, DC. She was way way up in the management chain and I was a low-level development officer. And she was the most intimidating woman (or man for that matter) I had ever met. I was terrified of her and relieved our paths rarely crossed.

I laugh when I think about those days now. I was such a greenhorn and she was so polished in her tailored suits and high heels. I can’t really trace the timeline of how she became, outside of my mother, the most influential woman in my life. I know she was a mentor and a teacher and in many ways still is. Then somehow, after we both went on to different jobs, she became a dear friend and now is the closest thing I have to a parent – which is kind of funny since she is only seven years older than me. I can’t really explain it but I just know what it feels like. She is the person whose opinion matters most – the person I want to make proud of me – the person I go to for counsel – the person who believes in me unconditionally. I love her beyond measure – although, truthfully, she can still terrify me a little. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I guess I’m always a little fearful of disappointing her and that keeps me on my toes.

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Phyllis and me on my wedding day. I think she was almost as happy as me!

Phyllis married Tom six years ago at their country home, Woodlawn. He is adorable and brilliant – he’s a builder, a painter, a potter and a prolific – if sometimes meandering – story-teller. He is a perfect match for Phyllis and he makes her laugh on a very regular basis. This is a very good thing because Phyllis is a very serious person – that is unless she’s singing and dancing to some of her favorite tunes. She just gets shit done and the world is a better place because of it.

Tom originally discovered Woodlawn over a decade ago when it was a dilapidated abandoned structure in a field in Appomattox County, Virginia. The house was originally constructed in 1797 and Tom had it dismantled, every piece labeled like the biggest IKEA dresser ever, and moved 150 miles to Flint Hill where he lovingly and painstakingly restored it. It is simply amazing.  You can read about it here.

I’m always excited to visit Woodlawn but was even more so this time because my sister from California was back east for a couple of weeks and met us there. Unlike George Costanza, I actually like it when my worlds collide and I love that Phyllis and Tom and my sister have become such good friends. They even pulled off an international surprise together back in May when our trips to Amsterdam overlapped and they showed up at our hotel bar the first night of our journey. The real surprise was that my sister was able to keep a secret for more than an hour.

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Amsterdam. We’re going to go on EVERY vacation with Phyllis and Tom. (They just don’t know it yet.)

I could feel my heart swell as we turned on the long and dramatic approach to Woodlawn and glimpsed the most defining feature of the house – its double chimneys.  My sister met us at the top of the steps. She was, as always, dressed to the nines even though it was a Friday afternoon in the country. That girl’s got style for days. She always has. When she was 12, she memorized my mother’s credit card number for the local department store and used it – lying to the store clerk when they asked if she had her mother’s permission. I would have never been able to pull it off and I’ve often said that if I had half of her chutzpah, I could be anything I wanted to be.

She has a huge and demanding job running several breast cancer centers in Southern California and is constantly on one of her two (ugh) cell phones. She’s utterly glamorous and spends more on cosmetics in a year than I have in 60. We laugh at how very different we are in so many ways. And yet, we are as close as two sisters can be. I speak on the phone with her at least once a day and I was giddy to be in the same time zone – much less house – as her for a long weekend.

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Sisters are everything.

My parents always made coming home special. My dad would meet me at the front door – even in his later years when he was disabled and on a walker. And my mother would stock the kitchen with many of my favorite things. Phyllis does that, too – a case of sparkling water and several good bottles of big red wine. It’s no small thing to be known in these ways.

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Breakfast Souffle. Phyllis is the best cook I know. And I know some very good cooks.

But I really knew I was home later that evening when I went downstairs to the ground floor – the house has four floors – to get something. Sounds carry easily over Woodlawn’s ancient beams and boards and I could hear music playing and laughter and the voices of the people I love. I could hear the clanking of flatware as my sister set the table. It was the sound of family. It was the lyrical sound of the living. I stood very still and listened and let those sounds wash over me like a sacrament.

I was home.

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Window on Woodlawn.

We were bathed in the warmth of candlelight at dinner – my very favorite kind of dinner – long and leisurely where no one is looking at a phone or a watch or a stupid TV. Jesus, why don’t we do that more often? We all ate and drank too much, well, everyone but Phyllis – she has the discipline of a monk and the figure of Helen Mirren. Probably not a coincidence.

We slowly dropped one by one and said our good nights. I went downstairs again to my sister’s room – I could see from under the door that her light was still on. I gently opened the door to find her reading. I climbed into bed with her and I was 15 again and she was eight and we talked softly for what must have been a very long time before I kissed her goodnight. I climbed the stairs to the top floor and found my wife fast asleep with the lights on – she’d left them on for me. Most vampires get more sleep than me but that night, I slept in what must be what heavenly peace feels like.

There’s a special mojo in the air when you’re sleeping under a roof with people you love. It’s almost palpable. It’s like the best sound machine ever – so good you don’t even know it’s on. I was the first one up on Saturday – it was a deliciously cool and rainy day – the kind my sister and I both love. I tiptoed down the creaky staircase and went to sit on the back porch. That’s another ritual of home – the staggered pilgrimage to the kitchen as everyone awakens. I was lost in my thoughts when I heard a tap from the kitchen window – it was Phyllis – smiling and letting me know that the coffee was ready.

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A misty morning at Woodlawn.

I’ve watched enough Hallmark specials to know that a house does not make a home. It’s the people.

I’ve also spent years trying to fill the holes ripped in my soul from too many losses and too many disappointments. Last weekend, I was full in a way that I had not felt in a very long time. You know the feeling – when your heart feels too big for your chest – but not in a tight way. No, in a way that makes you feel whole.

A way that makes you know you are home.

 

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Family.

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Searching for my true home

A ranch on a gravel road in Clinton, N.Y.

I dreamed of New York last night. I was in Ithaca, where I first went to college, and the first place I lived on my own. In my dream, Andrew and I were living there. I was in grad school. Andrew found a great job. It was summer. The sun was shining, but the air was cool. All I can remember from the dream was the downtown square with its cobblestone streets and lots of sunlight. I woke up at 7:40 a.m., surprised to find myself in our apartment. The dream felt so real. I should have been in Ithaca.

What is home? Is it a place or a state of mind? I’ve been in North Carolina for almost 11 years now, and it still doesn’t feel like home. But this is where my community is, my friends who have become family. This is where friends have laid flowers at my doorstep or brought me homemade chicken soup when I was sick.

The day after I found out I miscarried, two of my dearest friends came by just to be with me. I was on the couch wrapped in a blanket and wearing black stretch pants and a hooded sweatshirt. It was February. I hadn’t showered all day. My eyes were still puffy from crying; they felt scratchy. It was a no contacts kind of day.

Miriam brought me Chinese, pork lo mein. My favorite. She always tries to feed me when I’m depressed. She knows how I reject food when I’m grieving. She sat on the couch next to me and just listened. I don’t remember what she said, but I know that she made me feel better. She knows me in a way that not many do. She sees me straight down to my core. That’s home.

My best friend Addy arrived at my door with a tiny square box tied with a bow and containing truffles. She also brought Kleenex, the rectangular size, with blue and white splatters like an abstract painting. It reminded me of my grandma’s house; she always had the larger, rectangular Kleenex boxes. Addison sat with me for hours. She let me cry. She held my hand. Somehow, she managed to make me laugh.We binged on “Barefoot Contessa” episodes and talked about how Ina needs to be friends with us and invite us over for dinner every night. We took a selfie and sent it to my mom in California to show her I was OK. I was in good hands. That’s home right?

The best of friends will sit with you and your grief and see you through your darkest moments.

Maybe home isn’t a place. Maybe home is people, your village, the ones who lift you up in your darkest moments.

But in New York , when I was there last week, it felt like home to me. I miss it. I miss the feeling I had when I was there. It felt familiar. Being with my sister. Sipping white wine from stemless glasses. Giggling together, crying together. Gina is home.

Every day, I drove from my sister’s house in Albany to the Omega Institute outside of Rhinebeck, N.Y. where I was participating in a week-long writing retreat. I never minded the hour and 15 minute drive. It was peaceful. It gave me time to ease into the morning and space to decompress and digest the day on the way home. It gave me time to ponder and time to observe this beautiful land around me. Every day I crossed the Hudson River twice; it was my favorite part of the ride. The Hudson is breathtaking. It’s wider than most rivers I’ve seen and, damn, the light it’s just magical there. Most of my drive consisted of two-lane rural roads that careened through the countryside of fields and ice cream stands and rivers and golden sunlight and wildflowers and mountains and open roads.

On those drives, I felt a longing that I could not explain. It felt like home to me, even though I didn’t live there. Often during that week, I would catch my throat tightening or my eyes welling up with tears as I drove, taking in the landscape and all its beauty. At first I thought it was a side effect from all the intensive, personal writing I did during the day at my retreat. But this was more like a deep sadness, and I realize now, looking back, that what I was feeling was homesick.

One evening, I got to watch the sun set on my drive home. As I turned off the Taconic Parkway and headed north, the sky revealed a beautiful sunset of orange and pink dotted with clouds in various shades of blue. The Catskills looked like giant blue shadows along the horizon. Their presence was a permanent fixture, grounded and unmovable. Now I understand why so many painters have fallen in love with the Hudson Valley. Its beauty made me weep. Why do I feel such a deep connection to this place?

Somewhere along Route 9 in New York. (Photo by Carla Kucinski)

I’ve been sad since I’ve been back from New York. Tuesday night at the dinner table, I burst into tears. “I miss my sister,” I told Andrew. I choked on each word as it tried to leave my throat. We had just come from looking at a house to buy. We’ve been unsuccessfully house-hunting since July. That night we toured a split-level with green shutters, tan vinyl siding, white columns holding up the front porch. It’s in a great neighborhood — actually, one of the neighborhoods we want to live in. It’s woodsy, quiet.

As I walked to the front door of the house, I saw a dad teaching his son to ride a bike. Images like that still have the power to break me. Inside, the house was beautiful. But way too much house for just the two of us and our dog. It hit me that night as I cried over my ratatouille that we don’t know what the future holds. Even looking for a house makes me sad. As we walk through each new home, I count bedrooms, I imagine where the nursery will be, if the yard is big enough for a child, if it’s in a good school district. And then I think: “What if there’s no baby in the picture?”

Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be pregnant again. The concept feels so out of reach. It feels impossible, deep down in my gut. This feeling has replaced the hope I’ve been carrying all these months. I don’t know where it went. It just slipped away.

“Your true home is in the here and now,” says Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddist teacher. “Your true home is not an abstract idea; it is something you can touch and live in every moment.” He says home is in your body, in your mind, in your present moment. But what if in the present moment all you’re feeling is anxiety and fear and questioning everything? Then what?

Greensboro was supposed to be a temporary stop. I thought I’d be here for three or five years. But then I bought a house, got married and got divorced all in that order. This was 2010. I wanted to leave North Carolina and go anywhere, live anywhere but here. I wanted to run from the present and start a new life. I could have left then, but my heart already endured so much heartbreak and change that the idea of picking up my life and starting over scared me. I didn’t want to say goodbye to my friends; that would have been another loss too difficult to bear. They had become family. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived my divorce.

And then, Andrew came into my life. I fell in love. He reopened my closed heart and showed me how to trust again. He gave me hope. That was 2011. And now it’s almost 2017, and I still feel like I’m straddling a line – one foot in North Carolina and one foot out.

“Don’t think about leaving,” I told myself the morning I was flying back to Greensboro. I usually start crying much sooner before I get to the airport, like in the shower or while putting on my mascara, my lashes damp with tears. Saying goodbye to any of my sisters is never easy. Last time I left, I cried so much that the TSA agent came up to me in line to make sure I was OK.

Gina and I are partners in crime. The magpies, my dad called us. We’re two years apart. She’s the middle child; I’m the baby. As kids she gave me piggy back rides around the house. I was afraid of jumping onto her back for fear she wouldn’t catch me. (I have control issues.) She’d sit on the edge of the bed and let me crawl onto her back, and at the end of the ride, she’d return me to my bed as promised and let me roll off her back like I was falling backwards into a lake. She’s always looking out for me, even though we’re both adults now. I still need looking after.

Last night I came across an old journal entry from 2006. As I read my own words, I could feel my sadness and desperation. I was lost. “What’s my purpose? What am I supposed to be doing? Why am I here?” I laughed as I read the questions aloud. Ten years later, the questions haven’t changed. Will I always be searching? What is this void that I continue to carry and can’t seem to fill? Has this feeling always been there? Maybe the answers are waiting for me in New York.

Gina and me toasting to my last night in New York. The picture is blurry because we were having so much fun.

A work in progress

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That’s me partying like it’s 1957.

I’m turning 60 later this month. There, I said it.

I know what you’re thinking. “Gee, you don’t look it.”

Work with me here.

The ever wise and wicked funny Anne Lamott wrote a marvelous Facebook post last year about turning 61. She said she thought she was only 47 and then she checked the paperwork. I get it. I don’t know how I got here so fast.

Most folks have a bit of angst about such a milestone birthday and the universe has certainly conspired to humble me as I approach the Big One. Funny, I can remember when 40 was the Big One. At least I think I can remember.

Anyway, my year began with losing my job as the leader of a local AIDS service organization. Now that will do wonders for your self-esteem, especially if you are kicked to the curb as ungracefully as I was. After 11 years of heartfelt service, my office was packed up for me and delivered to my home in four FedEx boxes. Ouch.

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I’ve always favored thinking outside the box.

My dear wife has a charming saying she uses in delicate situations: “Now that will hurt your feelings.” That about covers it.

Along with my job, I also temporarily lost faith in what I always thought I knew about loyalty and integrity. That was a terribly distasteful feeling but I’m grateful for the many good and kind people who reached out to remind me that these virtues are still alive and well.

I’m not sure I ever thought much about turning 60 but when I did, I guess I assumed I’d be at the peak of my career, not starting a new one. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. You see, I’ve always been a bit of a late bloomer. I was 26 before I got my ears pierced, 48 before I got my first tattoo (yes, I have more than one) and 57 before I was a bride. Oh, and I was in my mid-thirties before I came out. True story, but when I did come out, I came out loud and proud.

I guess you could say that I’m the slow and steady type and I think that served me well for a very long time but there’s no getting around the reality that I feel the meter running these days. I lost two friends in January – both to cancer – and one of them was only 54. And my oldest friend on earth – we met in the 4th grade – survived a brutal battle with Stage IV tongue cancer before she turned 60 in April.

You can eye-roll a cliché like “Life is not a dress rehearsal” but it’s true. It’s show time and I plan on making the most of my second act. And now that my bleak career midwinter is behind me, most days I’m very excited about what’s next and on my very best days, I’m even grateful for this opportunity to reinvent myself at such a seasoned age.

A handful of my friends have already retired or are counting down the days but an early retirement was never in the cards for me – not too many careers in non-profit afford you that luxury. And the truth is that I don’t want to retire. Maybe if I won the lottery (which I never play) I suppose I would not work and move to the coast of Maine where I would write the next great American novel. Okay, maybe I have thought about it a few times. (Note to self: Buy lottery ticket.)

One of my favorite books, which was turned into a surprisingly good movie, is The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. It’s about a rather sullen man who writes travel guides for reluctant business travelers. Imagine Rick Steves not enjoying travel and writing his guidebooks. It’s a delightful premise for a story.accidental tourist no 2

I think I’ve had an accidental career – actually a few of them – and while I very much enjoyed each of them, I’ve never been particularly strategic with my choices. My first career was in retail management as a buyer and then division manager for a department store chain. This was when the economy was booming and the mall was the hub of civilization. “Going to the mall” was pretty much a part of everyone’s weekend vernacular. Yes, kids, there really was a time when people shopped at the mall, in the dark ages before Amazon Prime.

I loved the energy of retail – every day was different. And I loved the seasons, most especially Christmas. You can’t be in retail and survive it if you don’t get excited about the holiday season. I especially enjoyed assisting the husbands who came in on Christmas Eve looking like a deer in the headlights. You could smell the fear – they needed a gift for their wife and the clock was ticking. They were easy prey for an overpriced sale. And they were clueless. Many of them didn’t even know what size their wife wore and they always asked with desperation, “She can exchange this if she doesn’t like it, right?”

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Retail could be a real circus during the holidays.

There are so many women out there who have me to thank for the upgrade on their Christmas gifts in the eighties. You’re welcome.

My two stores were in Charlottesville, VA – still the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived – and I got to know a lot of my customers personally. It may sound a little Lake Wobegonish but it felt really good when Mrs. Shifflett came in to buy a dress for her daughter’s wedding and asked me for help. (Oh, you cynics. I don’t eat meat, either, but I know a good burger when I see one.)

I feel like I got to work in the Golden Age of Retail and I was fortunate when the fall came to be able to transition to a new career in fundraising. A friend of mine from retail was working for the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) in Washington, DC and told me about a brand new position in planned giving. I had no idea what that even meant but I was lucky that their program was just getting off the ground and my track record as a good salesperson was enough to get me in the door.

To my utter amazement, I got the job and thoroughly enjoyed my eight years on staff there. PVA was the first time I was out at work and I was received incredibly warmly by the veterans’ community. Those guys loved me and I loved them back. God, they were funny and disarmingly optimistic. And they drank like the sailors many of them had been.

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Veterans Day, Arlington National Cemetery, circa 1996. So proud to be an American.

I learned so much –  about science and heart – getting to know so many wonderful people in the spinal cord injured community and I can tell you that not a day goes by that I don’t have a moment where I am intentionally grateful for my mobility. That was PVA’s gift to me.

Those good folks also kindled my patriotism in ways that have remained with me over the years. I think of my time there every Veterans Day – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

If my time at PVA taught me about sacrifice and courage, my time at my last job taught me a lot about stigma and poverty and how they are the natural enemies of HIV prevention. My position also gave me a front row seat to magnificent acts of generosity and compassion – some large ones that came with checks with lots of zeros and some small ones that came in cases of green beans from Costco. All of them mattered.

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Fighting the good fight at my last job.

It is an extraordinary thing to spend your work days with passionate people who share a vision and  my time there broke my heart wide open in remarkable ways that will inform the rest of my life. And it has ruined me for ever just working for a paycheck.

Nope, I need a side order of a mission statement, even if it’s just one of my own making.

The upside to a forced sabbatical has been the luxury of time to do a lot of pondering about my past and my future. I’ve thought a lot about my parents. Certainly losing them both just a few months apart from each other in my mid-forties was the watershed event of my life. Their deaths, or rather how I handled their deaths, changed the course of my life.

I came across a line in a book recently that stood me still. One of the characters, who has lost a son, explains that he and his wife will often not speak to each other for hours at a time because, “We’ve learned that grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it.” I know now that I tried to escape the deafening din of my own grief in destructive ways and it cost me a great deal. I deeply hurt a few of the people who I held most dear and that can never be undone. And, of course, I hurt myself in ways that only I can fully know.

This has led me to thinking a lot about regrets and for the record, I don’t really buy it when people say they don’t have any. It’s an arrogant reflection on life. I have 1,001 small ones – that I didn’t learn to play the piano, the tragic dress I wore to my senior prom (picture Laura Ingalls in polyester organza) and my early insistence that John Edwards was not a cheater.

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Me and my high school doppelgänger, 1973.

But it’s the big ones that I stumble through like thickets at 2:00 AM. I’m not ready for a full confession on those but I will say that I regret saying no more than I regret saying yes. I need to remember this.

I was actually feeling pretty good about myself at 60 until I listened to Bill Clinton’s 42 minute recitation of Hillary’s resume at the Democratic National Convention last week. As I brushed my teeth before going to bed that night, I was afraid to look in the mirror for fear of seeing the reflection of a sloth. Oh well, I still believe in a place called Hope.

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That’s me in the mirror. #ImWithHer

I’ll be in California for my actual birthday visiting my younger (damn her) sister. I couldn’t imagine not celebrating this birthday with her. I love her beyond measure and no one knows me as well and deeply as she does. We share an emotional GPS that alerts us when the other is off course in any way. It is an indomitable connection that has kept me tethered to this world in my darkest storms.

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Sisters, Sisters. There were never such devoted sisters.

My sister is known for her extravagance and I’m a little nervous about what she might pull out for this celebration. Sissy, if you’re reading this now, I was just kidding about the Tom Ford sunglasses. Sort of.

I didn’t want a big party. I never want a big party. And I most certainly NEVER want a surprise party. And so I will have a sushi (my fav) dinner out with my wife and my sister. The icing on my birthday cake is that my best friend from college will join us the weekend before my birthday for some revelry. She turned 60 in June and is anxious to have me join her in this new bracket so I’m approaching it like signing up for a very exclusive wine club.

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I’ve always preferred the more intimate dinner party.

She just sent me the loveliest email that might just be my wish when I blow out my candles. She wrote, “I’m hoping our time might have a magic slow quality to it.” I’m hoping the rest of my life has this quality.

It makes me happy when I just think about looking at those three beautiful faces all in one place for a few precious days.

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Me and my best friend from college before hair products were invented, circa 1981.

Sometimes I imagine a soundtrack for my life when I’m processing things in my head.Who needs Pokemon Go when you have an overactive imagination? Lately, I’ve been hearing this Iris Dement song – My Life.  

My life, it’s half the way traveled

And still I have not found my way out of this night

My life, it’s tangled in wishes

And so many things that just never turned out right 

But I gave joy to my mother and I made my lover smile

And I can give comfort to my friends when they’re hurting

And I can make it seem better for a while 

It is an achingly beautiful song and if you ask me, it’s a pretty damn good resume, too.

 

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I’m embracing 60 with joy.

 

(All photos property of Addison Ore)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s in the cards

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My sister has moved 22 times as an adult. And no, she’s not in the armed services, the French Foreign Legion or the witness protection program.

I guess you could say that she’s a rolling stone.

She’s lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia (twice), California, Maryland (twice),  Ohio (twice) and is now back in California.

And she’s been through many acquisitions and purges in her 35 years of moving  but there has been one item that has always made the cut – a box filled with every note, letter and card I’ve ever sent her starting when she went to camp when she was 12.

The box is not organized in any way, shape or form and if you knew my sister at all, you would laugh at the very idea of her organizing such a thing.

I pulled out the box while I was visiting her this week and it was a little like that weeper movie, Somewhere in Time, where Christopher Reeve is swept back in time by looking at an old painting. Years and years documented by Hallmark.

My sister is seven years younger than me and she was only 38 when we lost both of our parents. That’s terribly young to lose your rudders and the loss has certainly informed much of her life since then.

As the older sister I was always somewhat of an authority figure (okay, you can say bossy), even if she rarely took my advice.  When our parents died in 2002, I became sister and mother, a dual role I desperately want to get right.

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This is the essence of my sister.

Rummaging through the box, I have made several observations:

  1. My handwriting over the years has declined from marginally legible to Straight Outta Serial Killer. I wonder if it’s too late for med school.
  2. I pick out the best cards. I knew which ones were from me before even opening them. And many of them made me smile – again.
  3. Almost every note to my sister is a form of a pep talk – only the subject matter is different depending on the decade – boyfriends, jobs and diets, always diets.
  4. Postage has really gone up a lot in 40 years.

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    Those “Forever” stamps are looking like a good investment.

I pulled out a letter from 1981 that I had written my sister – on yellow legal pad paper, my stationary of choice for many years. She was living in Lynchburg, VA with my aunt and uncle and taking general studies courses at the local community college. Her grades in high school were not stellar and she was feeling like a loser while many of her friends were enrolled at various colleges and universities.

I was trying to make her feel good about herself and her future and my letter made me laugh out loud when I got to this part: Don’t look back – the past is nothing but a bunch of Kodak snapshots dumped in a box in the closet.

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Sisters, circa 1974.

How prophetic I was!

I don’t know if my letter helped her but it all worked out well as she went on to study at The University of Virginia and is now managing several breast cancer centers in Southern California.

But it’s the cards that really get to me. Almost all of them have a picture of two young girls on the front and that is the image that has sustained me over the years – the two of us, together – usually laughing and usually up to some shenanigans.

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The inscription on this cards says, “I’m so glad I always have you to lean on.”

It is a rare and precious thing to be deeply known by another human being – especially one that you are related to and my sister knows me in all manner of ways. That’s why she had a case of seltzer water (orange) chilling for me upon my arrival and vases of fresh-cut hydrangeas (my fave) throughout the condo.

And she knows my heart and my pain and she has suffered greatly these past few months since I lost my job – a job that was more like a calling to me. She was 3,000 miles and three time zones away as we weathered this great storm together. And yet, she walked every step of this ordeal with me.

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Some of it was good. Some of it wasn’t. But through thick and thin, they stayed close, and they were sure they always would. And this made the world good again.

That’s why I was so grateful to have the opportunity to share a special dinner with her on my first night here. I sat across from her at the table and looked into her sweet face and told her that in my entire life, I’ve never felt another person be so present to my pain.

She cried. I cried. I think the waiter might have even cried.

We’ve had so much fun together this week and “no fights” as she remarked the other night, which initiated a hilarious “greatest hits” recap of some of our most famous disagreements.

My favorite story is from years ago. I was living in Greensboro at the time and she was in Kensington, MD. We got into a heated argument about, well, who knows, and I got so mad that I threw the phone, the portable phone mind you, against the wall and it shattered into pieces. She called back a minute or two later and my partner answered the phone. My sister said very earnestly, “I think Addison and I got disconnected.”

I’m giggling now thinking about how clueless she was to my rage.

Fortunately, most of our disconnections have been few and far between over the years. Nothing a call or, yes, a card couldn’t repair, but I’ll tell you one thing, we’re going to need a bigger box.

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My sister, my lifeline.