An old man sat on a park bench. His face had crevices like an old melon. His eyes, as blue as a child’s marble, turned toward the ground in contemplation. Every so often, the man would sigh with the weight of his thoughts. As he sat quietly, an old woman dressed in a cloth coat, sensible shoes, and a black purse, casually sat on the bench next to him. In her hand, she held a bag from a deli with what appeared to be a sandwich in it.
“Good afternoon. I hope I’m not interrupting you by sitting here,” the lady said quite amiably.
“Not at all,” said the man. “I was just thinking about everything I gave up for my children, and now, they don’t call very often, or visit me as regularly as I’d like.”
The lady smiled because she knew the man was not looking at her, and she would not have wanted to hurt his feelings by laughing.
“Are you unhappy that you had children?” she asked.
“No,” said the man, surprised by the odd and forward question. “I just thought that they would have appreciated what I had done for them. I had no idea they would allow me to be so lonely, knowing my dreams had been cast aside to make sure they had everything they needed to succeed.”
“Have they succeeded?” queried the lady, genuinely interested in the man’s answer.
“They have.” The man brightened a bit. He went on to tell the lady of his children’s successes, and how they overcame their challenges with wisdom and strength.
“And, what did you sacrifice to make sure they could have a good life?” asked the lady.
“I wanted to be a professional baseball player. I wanted to win a pennant and know that I had helped my team win the big one.” The man was both excited and wistful in his memory.
“Do you suppose that although you didn’t play baseball, you still got your dream? You children are your team, you are their coach, and they keeping winning in their endeavors, even after you stepped back as an active, daily coach.” The lady started to open her chicken and tomato half-sandwich wrapped in white butcher paper. The silence between them that followed, underscored by the crinkly paper, was strangely comforting to both of the elderly visitors to the bench as they mulled over their conversation.
As she silently offered half her sandwich to the old man, the lady nearly whispered, “The only dreams you forfeited were the ones you invented. The ones that you were meant to live seem to have come true, even though you didn’t realize it at the time.”
The man looked at her as he declined the sandwich, angry that this stranger would be arrogant enough to talk about his life when she didn’t even know him.
“And,” the old lady dared to continue, “you multiplied the dreams lived by your children by doing so.”
Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the man’s craggy face softened. His brows unfurrowed, and his frown was neutralized by his realization that he had, indeed, lived his dreams.
The lady stood up, threw away the wrapper for the sandwich. When she was done organizing her coat and purse, she purposefully turned toward the old man. She drew in a deep breath and spoke confidently, “Dear sir, you have lived the dream that many don’t get to experience. You’ve seen your children grow into adulthood and be happy. Even though your children don’t call or visit as often as you prefer, it is because they are living the lives they were meant to live. Perhaps now is the time to coach little league, or write about the sports you’ve followed for so many years.”
The man smiled, embarrassed that he had spent part of his precious life feeling sorry for himself.
“Thank you, ma’am.” The man hesitated as if he were about to say something else. “Just… thank you.”
As the lady walked away, the cell phone that the old man’s son had given him rang. “Hello, Dad,” he heard his son say.
As we approach the new year of 2011, I can’t help but remember my father’s observation as a pharmacist in the 1980s. He said, “We’ve had more changes in the last 50 years in medicine than in all the years prior.” Of course, the changes that transpired in those immediately previous 50 years emerged from the foundation of work by generations of scientists. After all, the first concocted antibiotic wasn’t developed until sulfanilamide and penicillin in the early part of the 20th century. As I contemplate the last 100 years, inspired by the recent loss of my great-uncle Gene at 103, I took a gander at what he had seen in his lifetime.
In the last 10 decades, we’ve seen the Nobel Prize for physics go to Madame Marie Curie (France) for the discovery of the elements, radium and polonium in 1911. 50 years later, in 1961, this same prize was awarded to Robert Hofstadtler (United States) for his determination of the shape and size of atomic nuclei. A mere 10 years ago, in 2001, the award went to Wolfgang Ketterle (Germany), Eric A. Cornell, and Carl E. Wieman (United States), for discovering a new state of matter, the Bose-Einstein condensate . Imagine! A new state of matter, theorized by Albert Einstein, but not proved until this group did so. This year, we will see new weights established for the periodic table. We have seen the extinction of animals and diseases and the rise of others.
As we enter 2011, diving into the year 5772 in the Hebrew calendar, 4708 in the Chinese calendar, 1432 in the Islamic calendar, or the Mayan long count of 22.214.171.124.0, our lives have been changed dramatically by many events. We have seen wars and conflicts in Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, and Afghanistan, to name a few. The Berlin Wall has been built and destroyed. Cultural revolutions have fulmugated around the world. We have witnessed the New Deal, the Civil Rights Movement, and the election of an African-American president of the United States.
We have seen unfathomable growth and challenges in the last century including the change in perception between the First World War when little was thought about homosexuals at all to the current day when homosexuals will be allowed to openly serve in the military. We have moved from a time when a Black person couldn’t marry a White person to today when gays are marrying in some states in the U.S. The economy has seen boons and busts throughout the century including the Great Depression in the 1930s. Here are some other interesting tidbits:
Year Fed. Spending  Fed. Debt  Postage  UI Rate 
(In billions) (In billions)
1911 $ .69 $ 0.o $ .02 6.7%
1961 97.72 292.6 .04 5.5%
2001 1,864.00 5,807.o .34 4.8%
2011 3,833.90 1,266.7 .46 9.6%
I suppose with all this reminiscing about our past, the next logical step would be to imagine what will be in our future. I’d rather not. Not because I think things will be worse, but because it won’t serve any purpose. The real question is, where are we now?
On a personal level, I have lost my entire adopted family of origin, but I have found my family of birth. I have encountered family members from seven generations born between 1881 and 2003. I’ve changed careers from working in a pharmacy in the 1970s to being a music educator today. I’ve had the pleasure to see my husband, children, and grandchildren all working toward growing their successes. I have returned to school to complete my education. If my family is a microcosm of America, which it may be, then one can extrapolate that although things have been tough, we have our eyes on making things better. We are stepping back to get a good view of where we are, and taking steps to improve our situation.
January 1, 2011, is, I suspect, a preparatory time toward a major shift in our lives. We, as a family and as a country, are readying ourselves for a giant leap forward. What shape that will take, I don’t know. We are talking about our spirits. We are valuing our children in a more vibrant way. We are demanding a better education for them. We are begging for art and beauty. We are striving for unity. These are all good things that I believe will make us stronger, wiser, and more solid as a national and world community.
I welcome the coming new year with everything it has to bring. Gratitude permeates every fiber of my being as I look forward to the forthcoming 365 days. So, in that gratitude, I say in anticipation of the coming celebration, Happy New Year and welcome to 2011!
 Infoplease.com (2010) List of Nobel Prize winners for Physics. Retrieved from http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0105785.html
 USGovernmentSpending.com (2010) [Data] Retrieved fromhttp://www.usgovernmentspending.com/year2011_0.html
 U.S. Postal Service (2010) News Release: New Rates Retrieved from http://www.usps.com/communications/newsroom/2010/pr10_064.htm
 Forcasts.org (2010) Unemployment figures (Data) Retrieved from http://www.forecasts.org/unemploy.htm
(2010) “Happy New Year 2011” [Photograph] Retrieved from http://win7dl.com
(2010) “Human Arrow” [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://ypg-prioryroad.com
(2010) “Marie Curie” [Photograph]. Retrieved from http://reich-chemistry.wikispaces.com
Whenever we see a sporting event or theatrical production, the last few minutes of the experience are so powerful. The teams are battling for supremecy, the last push is thrashed for the big win, or the 11:oo o’clock song is sung. It’s the finale, so everyone expects things to be big, dramatic, and utterly memorable.
Life is like that, too. When we are closing in on the final days or minutes of our lives, our life experiences become phenomenally intense.
In the month preceeding my father’s suicide, he began scurrying all over California, trying to find a place to call home where he felt safe. His mental illness and paranoia was taking over and we, as his family, had to make decisions that would protect him and those around him, including my mother. There were battles and accusations, pleas and vitriol spewed everywhere as we tried to resolve these issues.
Ultimately, Dad decided how things were going to go and killed himself in the back of his truck using carbon monoxide from the exhaust pipe.
When Mama was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer six years later, she seemed fairly resigned to her fate. She was, after all, 83 years old and ready to be with my father.
The strange thing is that the night before she died, she grew very impatient and angry. She wasn’t able to communicate because her lungs had filled up with fluid from the cancer and she was incredibly weak because she hadn’t be able to eat for four weeks. I gave her some medication to calm her down and she went to sleep. I will never know what it was she was trying to communicate because she died during the night.
When my son and grandbaby were lost to miscarriages, the intensity was overwhelming for everyone. With my son, my then-girlfriend and I were 15 years old, far too young to be parents. With my grandchild, my daughter’s grandmother had died only days before. In both instances, the turmoil surrounding the pregnancies carried dynamics that these precious children couldn’t bear.
Even my former mother-in-law asked a fascinating question as she lie dying in her hospital bed. She and I were unusually close, considering that my ex-wife and I had been divorced for 22 years. She asked, “Jim, what do you think it’s like after we die?”
This amazingly strong woman was 71 years old and was asking me this question. It was a profoundly powerful moment of intimacy between us.
“I think that there is an afterlife and it is whatever we believe it will be. I believe it will be loving and joyful if that’s where our hearts are. It will be cold and lonely if that’s how we view our lives.”
“How do we know when we’re going to die?” she queried.
“When we are free from fear and ready.” I responded.
As she pondered what I had said, I saw her looking around her hospital room into the faces of her loving daughters and granddaughters.
“I’m ready. Let’s pray.” she said. So, we all joined hands and began praying out loud. Then, the room grew silent. After nearly ten minutes, Mother-in-law-dearest, which is what I always called her, opened her eyes.
“I’m still here?” We all broke out into ribald laughter.
The next morning, quietly and peacefully, she joined those who had gone before her.
One of my former students, who lost her life at 21 years old in an automobile accident, knew at her inner most level, if not consciously, that she was not long for this lifestream. Her poetry, music, and prayers all were clear pictures of that truth. We all missed the messages because we either weren’t ready to hear them or we weren’t supposed to hear them. The preparation experience apparently was for her alone.
There are times when we do see it coming.
When my brother, my family, and I were sitting around the table eating the day my mother died, after a discussion about his alcoholism and desire to be alone, my family and I knew that David would be gone within the year. Sadly, it only took him four months to transition into his new existence. The signs were there. His awareness was there. He was clearly ready. We were simply able to see it. Even with that clarity, there was nothing we could do to prevent him dying from his alcoholism.
Life is intense and full of meaning. Death is no different.
Our fears and our joys are amplified as we approach our final time. It’s remarkable how many times one has heard, “He said he loved me in a way that was so much more intimate the night before he died.” There had been no warning or omen. There had been no disease or chronic illness. He was just aware at his spiritual core that he had to say good-bye and mean it.
As I watched my cousin deal with his own demise this week, I realized that his battle has only begun, although it is likely to last only a few more weeks. Like my mother, his aunt, he is dying of pancreatic cancer. He is only 50 years old.
His children and girlfriend are also trying to make sense of what makes no sense at all.
I hope they all find peace in this process and can say good-bye in a loving, healthy way, as a unified family. It will make a difference to all of them, my cousin included.
I’ve experienced 46 deaths of people close to me in my lifetime. Each of their lives have changed who I am. They have made a difference. My cousin has made a difference in my life. The weight of their absence is great. The silence of their voices nearly painful. Yet, the love they’ve given and the love they’ve let me share is what I hold onto now. It’s all I have left.
Now, as your shot clock winds down, as the last few pages of your score are sung, I wish you “Good journey!” Joe. Bravo, Cousin, for a life fully lived. I love you. I will miss you. Thank you for changing my life with your love.
For great websites presented directly to you, go to: http://alphainventions.com/
Oddly, I’ve been thinking recently that having someone else’s name is a strange thing to do. I write, “Oddly,” because I’ve had no fewer than six monikers in my life time. From earliest to most recent:
Teódolo Conrado Arroyo Herrera (The name my mother would have bestowed upon me had she not given me up for adoption. Both names were after my paternal and maternal grandfathers.)
Herrera (The name on my very first birth certificate. This was Mom’s surname.)
Hal (The name given to me by Children’s Home Society before I got adopted. Look at my face to the right. Do I honestly look like a Hal to you?)
James Stanley Glica (My adoptive name, after my uncle who introduced my parents and my paternal grandfather.)
James Stanley Chávez-Glica (The name I chose to honor my mother and father.)
James Stanley Chávez Glica-Hernandez (My married name.)
Sometimes, I like to string them all together with my title and degree, just for effect:
Reverend James Stanley Teódolo Conrado Arroyo Herrera Chávez Glica-Hernandez, D.Div.
Come on, say that five times fast. I dare you.
Anyhoo, after all these name changes, I’m starting to think that my name, which at its core has remained James Stanley Glica since 1959, was enough all along. I love my mother and the name Chávez for a million reasons, but Glica was the name she chose to use, as well. My children are all Glica. I didn’t take my ex-wife’s name when we got married. I have to admit that it’s because I might have become James Daw-Glica. Uh, no, thank you. Go ahead. Re-syllablize it yourself.
Did you have fun?
We could talk all about the sociological reasons why wives originally took their husband’s names. Yes, class, ownership is one reason. We could talk about the standardization of second class citizenship afforded women until relatively recently, even on a letter:
“Mrs. Herbert Smith”
Either this woman’s parents need a solid chastising, or this poor woman has lost her name. Thankfully, I, of course, would not be Mr. David Hernandez. That would be silly because my husband is Mr. David Hernandez. I’m Mr. James Glica-Hernandez. Yet, I digress.
Am I any less married if I were to use only Glica? No. Plenty of people are overwhelmed by their wedded bliss while still maintaining their names of birth or adoption. Look at my husband. It’s my guess that he thinks Glica is a strange name and not one he wants to carry around the rest of his life. Hernandez is simple. Sure it has three syllables, but everyone can spell it, knows where it’s from, and almost always knows someone else by that same name. I only know this because on some of my identifying information, I use, James C. Hernandez.
“Ooooooooohhh!,” the young, ebullient fellow behind the counter squeals, “I actually know two different James Hernandezes…ez…ezzzzzzzzzzz… [Author’s note: you must visualize here a young fellow with a face that I once heard comedian, Dov Davidov, describe as having smelled freshly-baked cookies]. Do you know either of them?”
For goodness sake. And, this coming from a boy named, Myke Johnson? (Do you see how that’s different? Kewl, huh?) Ugh!
What I’ve realized, though, is that these various incarnations of my name are like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs back into my gingerbread house of memory. As someone whose had two small strokes already and probably will have another one eventually, any tools that amplify my memory are good tools, indeed.
“Was that pre-Chavez or post-Chavez? When did we meet them, before- or after-Hernandez?” It’s worked a few times, quite honestly. The only thing is I’ve been a Chavez longer than I haven’t and I’ve wanted to be a Hernandez since nearly the time I first met my husband a dozen years ago. So, the muddiness continues.
After it’s all said and done, I guess I’m still Little Jimmy Glica from McCloud and Dunsmuir, California, no matter whose grandfather I’ve become in the last 50 years. I like it that way. I’m proud of my entire name of birth, adoption, and marriage, and the paths I’ve taken to receive these beautiful names; however, like at the core of my name, the core of my spirit remains the same: a happy, loving little boy who loves to see people smile, sing, and dance.
Some things, as it’s said, never change after all.
Today, I was diagnosed with an early cataract in my left eye. A cataract, according to the WebMD Cataract Health Center, is a, “painless, cloudy area in the lens of the eye that blocks the passage of light to the retina. The retina is the nerve layer at the back of the eye. The nerve cells in the retina detect light entering the eye and send nerve signals to the brain about what the eye sees. Because cataracts block this light, they can cause vision problems.”
Apparently, they afflict mainly older people, those with sun damage or an eye injury. I’ve had neither sun damage nor eye injury. I refuse to believe that I’m one of the “older people,” at fifty-years-old. My mother, at 75-years-old, had cataract surgery.
Louise L. Hay, in her book, You Can Heal Your Life, writes that cataracts are a physical expression of one’s “inability to see ahead with joy. Dark future.”
Can you imagine? Me not being able to see ahead with joy? Anyone who knows me would laugh out loud at this thought.
What if it’s true, though? Has my outlook changed so dramatically over the years that all I can see ahead is dread and sadness? It is possible that I’m afraid there is no light ahead for me?
My hope is that, according to Ms. Hay, cataracts can be alleviated by developing a new thought pattern, utilizing the phrase, “Life is eternal and filled with joy. I look forward to every moment.”
And, there it is. There may be some truth to what she wrote, because after I wrote that phrase, my first thought was, “How?”
There is a part of me that frets about the future and what it will bring. Both at home and with my work, these phrases evoke images of struggle, drudgery, and dissatisfaction. What I don’t understand is why that is?
I love my husband, even though marriage can sometimes ask more of me than I think I can give. I am thrilled to be doing the work I am, even though the financial situation it creates is challenging, at best.
I suppose, somehow, I’m going to have to change my perception. It will be interesting to see how I eventually do that.
Wish me luck!
Hay, Louise L., You Can Heal Yourself, Carlsbad, CA., Hay House, Inc., 1999
Photo of cataract: http://www.webmd.com/eye-health/cataracts/cataracts-topic-overview
A man, standing at his mirror, visits his past and looks toward his future as 2010 approaches. His laundry list of landmarks include so many more entries than he could have ever imagined in his youth.
He has seen success as a singer, music director, stage director, and administrator. He has written volumes of poems, short stories, and other works. He has composed music that has been performed by seventy people at a time, to several hundred people in the audience. This man has danced. He has helped care for people in public health, assist in others’ healing through his spiritual work, and guided his beloved mother as she passed from this life. He’s helped people plan trips around the world, select the colors for their quilts, and learn how to breastfeed their babies, as well as eat well themselves. He has assisted both his father in the family pharmacy, as well as the Director of Public Health in the seventh largerst economy in the world.
He has been honored to teach hundreds of children and adults how to sing. He’s been on film, television, radio, and stage.
He has reared five children in the best way he could.
He has recognized that there is a God and that his faith in our Creator is justified.
As he looks into his mirror, he sees a man who, in his lifetime, has lost one great-great grandparent, one great-grandparent, six grandparents, three parents, one step-parent and three parents-in-law, a brother, a son, a grandson, several students, and his first true love. This reflected man has been married twice, once to a woman and once to a man. He’s only been divorced once and that was from his ex-wife.
He has seen all five of his living children taken to jail for various lengths of time, including thirty-two years to life.
Next year, he will have nearly doubled his weight from 128 pounds to 240 pound in the last twenty years. His hair will have gone from an elegant blue-black to a thinner dark brown with many grey strands dancing through his mane. The black rings under his eyes share the arc of the jowels under his jaw line. Stretch marks, varicose veins, and surgical scars all mark his body’s travel through time.
His list of medical challenges rival the list of major accomplishments in his life. He spends much of his time chatting with friends about the “good ol’ days.” His husband and he don’t say much to one another now, since they’ve spent about a quarter of their lives together.
Many of his favorite old time movie stars and singers are dead. Some of his family photographs are now over one hundred-years old.
This man, whose truth is shining in the glass on the wall, is now the eldest in his direct lineage. Patriarchy has overtaken his life.
Next year, the nintieth anniversary of his father’s birth will transpire. Next year, his youngest child will be thirty-years-old. Next year, his eldest grandchild will be eighteen-years-old. Next year, he will be fifty-one-years-old.
This scene would be fairly poignant if it weren’t about me.
The surprising part is that even with the abundance that I’ve seen in my life, I know I still have work to do. Even more shocking is that I still have energy to do it. I suppose I’m no different than anyone else on the planet, but the depth of life never ceases to amaze and sometimes confound me. Life’s intimacy envelopes me some days in a way that makes me feel profoundly cradled.
The little mirror into which I peer holds my entire countenance, but the breadth of my experience and hope for my future spills onto the walls, ceiling and floor, out the windows and doors, and into every corner in which I dwell. It is also reflected in the many mirrors I see in my family and friends.
And, thank God for that.
Do not go gentle into that good night [A Villanelle]
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas, 1951 or 1952
In this dynamic and oft-quoted poem, Thomas talks about those who have created lives that defy death until the very end. In one way or another, these people have revoked the truth of natural law until that time that the universal heirophant commands otherwise.
It appears the rage starts now. After watching, on average, one significant death a year for the last fifty years of my life, I’m getting angry. Although I am a man of vivid faith and peaceful gratitude for every event of my life, I am still finding myself trying to put the brakes on death; that of others and of my own.
While there were no deaths some years and several in others, I am finding that the number of those I love who are moving onto the next leg of their journeys are increasing incrementally. Each death reminds me of my own mortality. I am feeling an immediacy and intimacy of my own mortality the likes of which I have never felt before, even considering I’ve had a heart attack and two strokes.
I am finding myself trying to leave a thumbprint on everything I possibly can because my fear, in all its immaturity and mendacity, is screaming, “If you don’t make your mark now, you will be forgotten after you are gone.”
I’ve lost someone in every level of the seven generations that have been alive in my lifetime, from my great-great grandfather Lorenzo Herrera, to my unborn grandchild, Ana’s third baby. Having watched seven generations of my family impacted by death has taken its toll, to be quite honest. I have learned that nothing on this planet is permanent. I have learned that no one is exempt from “that good night,” to which Dylan Thomas so eloquently refers.
And, yes, I am raging, raging at the dying of my own light. As my eyes become burned by the darkening of time on my lower lids, as the edge of my lips turn down from the force of gravity and the loss of elasticity in my skin and vivacity, as my chest and belly and ass descend on the ladder of old age, I am still raging. I fight this battle through my creativity. I engage this war by loving anew every single day. I revolt against the flickering lights around me by lifting others, younger, more vibrant others, into their own sense of artistry and self.
My logical mind tells me that my body will close up shop one day. My brain function will flat-line. My heart will turn dark brown from a lack of oxygen. My sacred vessel will cease to be necessary. I understand that. I accept that. At some level, I even celebrate that because it will be a testament to the fact that I have completed my work here on Earth.
I am valiantly hoping that my innermost peace and spiritual ferocity both come from the ultimate truth that I will not be forgotten, even after everyone I have ever known is gone. After my literary words have faded and the paint I have embued on my canvasses have crumbled, after my music is no longer audible and my children and grandchildren are dead, the truth on which I must focus with clarity and purpose is that I will always be remembered by God.
It’s a good thing that one’s fiftieth birthday only comes once in a lifetime. Since July 17, every facet of my life has been represented and reviewed. It’s like that flash before you die, only in really slow-motion. The strange part is that I feel like I’m taking an examination along the way, as well.
I went to my hometowns this week in Siskiyou County, California. Although I was born in San Jose, California, it wasn’t too long before my parents moved to McCloud where my father had his new pharmacy. My parents’ best friends were the Baldis. Uncle Pete and Aunt Mary were at every event in my life, until the day Uncle Pete died. Aunt Mary, who is going to be ninety-years-old this year is still living in the house where she’s lived for several decades.
When my husband, David, and I got there, Aunt Mary offered to make us toast to go with the fresh coffee. She, then, broke out the homemade chocolate chip cookies. My olfactory time travel in Aunt Mary’s kitchen never ceases to amaze me.
On my last visit in May, we were reminiscing that in 1970, my father guided me to decide that I wanted to learn to play the accordion. I went to Redding once a week to study. Aunt Mary provided me the instrument that she had purchased for her son, Michael, who lost interest almost immediately after Aunt Mary began her year long payments.
Aunt Mary was curious as to what ever happened to the accordion. I explained that I still play and that I’d actually played for a musical at the Woodland Opera House recently, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
After we ate and chatted a bit, I said that I had a surprise for her. I went to the car, got out the famous squeezebox and proceeded to play, “El Choclo,” a wonderful tango, for my beloved aunt. I, then, played the Clarinet Polka, as every good, little Polish boy should be able to do.
As we began our slow departure ritual, we decided to take a photo. Aunt Mary and I stood at the top of the steps of her porch and David took the picture. She is always so proud of her robust and vividly colored flowers that framed this photo, and rightly so.
We bid one another adieu and started to drive off. At the next stop sign, we took a look at the photograph. Upon gazing at this particularly beautiful photo, my husband and I, without saying a word, both became so incredibly sad. I suppose we realized that at 90 years old, this tiny powerhouse of a woman will eventually have to start her new job organizing heaven for God. We both got a little teary.
As hard as our melancholy struck us, I was still looking forward to rekindling my nearly fifty year friendships.
During the trip, I got to see my friends, John from McCloud Elementary School, Martha from Dunsmuir Elementary and High Schools, Jeff, with whom I have a very important history, and Sharon who is more like a sister to me than a friend. She is to me what Aunt Mary was to my mother. Although they weren’t born to the same family, no two people could have had more history together.
We even visited our friend, Ronnie, who is the brother of a very dear friend of mine here in Sacramento, and his two boys.
So many men have talked about having a mid-life crisis. I’m starting to think it’s because around the mid-century mark, their lives become splayed out on the table for memorial consumption. They realize the impact, good and bad, they’ve had on all the people with whom they’ve come into contact, the love they’ve shared, and the love they’ve missed. The reminders of celebration and the lamentations of regret become a cacophony of memories.
There are things I know I’m supposed to remember about all these parts of my existence, but have honestly long forgotten. I even remember things that no one else would ever remember. Sometimes, I even wonder if some of the events actually happened.
If a memory can’t be remembered by someone else, is it a valid memory?
Of course, it is. The secret benefit is that there is no one to tell you you’re remembering it wrong; however, even that has its detriment.
This visit was primarily manifested to commemorate the tenth anniversary of my father’s suicide. His ashes are now joined at his gravesite by my mother’s, brother’s, and my parents’ dog, Spot’s cremains, as well. Of all the people who resided at our homes on Grove Street in McCloud from 1959 to 1967 and on Buckboard Lane in Dunsmuir from 1967 to 2006, I’m the only one left. To tell the truth, at this point I’d love to have someone call me a liar as I regale my tales of adventure growing up on our hill.
So, as the parade of history continues, and it does promise to march forward, we’ll see how well I do remembering all the important things I’d sworn never to forget. Wish me luck. I don’t know if anyone is scoring my life test on the bell curve, but I do like to do well, nonetheless.
All day today, I’ve been reflecting on my birthday celebration on Saturday. Although my birthday was actually on Friday, my husband, David, put together a wonderful day for me with family and friends who have been an active part of my life. One of those people, my first cousin, Joseph Chávez, has been in involved in my life experience since his birth in 1960. My most recent friend, Emily Perkins, has joined our cadre in 2001.
In 1989, after meeting my birth family, I had a cardiac episode. It wasn’t exactly a heart attack, but I was in the hospital for about five days. I was 29 years old. My children were 12, 9 and 8 years old. I was separated and on my way to a divorce from my wife, Barbara, to whom I had been married since 1977. I had only found out the month before that my birth father’s family had a challenging history with heart disease, so it was fortuitous that when I went into the hospital with chest pain, I had something tangible to tell my physicians.
After my discharge, I decided that I was on gravy time. I had already been diagnosed with pre-diabetes, kidney stones and asthma. I was soon to have back surgery. There were still chronic bronchitis and early emphysema, bipolar depression, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, fatty liver, and two strokes in my future.
In addition to all these diagnoses, however, was this indefinable force that has kept me going no matter what specific events were happening in my orbit.
On Saturday, I remembered, once again, what that force was. It was my family and friends. And, what a force to be reckoned with!
As each of the thirty-plus people arrived to have fun at the pool party and barbeque at our home, it felt a little like the old NBC television program hosted by Ralph Edwards, “This is Your Life.” Even a few days before the event, members of my loving circle came to greet me with the warmest wishes for my birthday.
During the day, nearly everyone, at one time or another, was in the pool, playing volleyball, swimming with the little ones, or just floating, talking about our lives. My sister-in-law, Sherry Hoffhine, was at the barbeque turning the ribs and slathering sauce on the sausages. Huge bowls of fruit salad dotted the kitchen and salami with cream cheese and jalapeños were elegantly displayed and quickly disappeared.
My fifteen year old granddaughter painted a most beautiful picture for me that I proudly display in my living room.
I was even blessed to have our nephew, Vincent Higareda, write a song and play it for us on the piano in my living room. Although he’s had no training and his “writing” was beautifully flowing squiggles and lines, he played with such genuine love and intensity, it sounded like a concerto to me in only two fingers at a time. This six year old boy warmed my heart beyond belief.
My daughters, Ana-Maria and Rita-Alina, brought me a balloon that demanded, “I want a recount!” Thankfully, the only black decorations were a couple of the orbs in the balloon bouquet.
It was funny that these balloons reminded me a story about a balloon I wrote in the 1980’s when Rita had acute lymphocytic leukemia. I had taken the children, Ana, Rita, and their brothers, James David and Michael, to a small carnival at their elementary school down the street. Upon returning home with Care Bear™ balloons for each of them, Rita’s escaped her tiny hand and floated into the sky. As she was crying, I suggested that perhaps she smile at the flying messenger. I said to her that somewhere someone needed a smile and that wherever the balloon landed, the person who found it would feel happy because she had smiled it at as it departed.
Rita smiled, with her coal black eyes filled with tears, hoping someone would find her balloon.
Later that day, we received a telephone call advising us that a little girl from her clinic who had recently received a bone marrow transplant had died.
As I was relaying the information to our children, they cried, and I along with them. Rita looked up at me and wondered if her balloon was waiting for Miranda when she arrived in heaven. I was stunned into silence. I said, “Yes, sweetheart, I’m sure it was. Miranda is smiling because of your generosity.”
I remembered that moment because I knew that Rita had once again smiled as she purchased the balloon and she brought that smile along with her to my party on a string with a funny saying.
Out on my lanai, while everyone was chatting and laughing, playing and sipping their drinks to stay cool in the nearly 100 degree weather, as if in a bubble of silence, I looked around my backyard. Every single place I looked, I found people who loved me and whom I loved so very much.
It was miraculous to me.
The poignancy of my day was in that both my parents and one of my birth parents had passed away already. My birth father carried my birthday celebration to the 19th when he called me to wish me, “Happy Birthday!” My brother, David, and so many other members of my family were gone now.
The best part of the day for me was that every part of my life over the last fifty years was represented.
My cousin, Joe Chávez, represents my most ancient past.
My niece, Leticia Arroyo, represents my genetic past.
My friend, Sharon Manfredi, represent my childhood and art.
My friend, Emily Perkins, represents my adult friendships and work.
My mother-in-law, Eva Hoffhine, represents our family’s interconnectedness.
My daughters, Ana-Maria and Rita-Alina Glica, represent my parenthood and their grandparents.
My sons, James, Michael, and John, represent the distance that love can reach during their absence.
My grandchildren, Mary and Raymond Glica-Whitney, represent our family’s future.
My husband, David Hernandez, represents my personal future.
Everyone in attendance plays such a significant role in my life, changing it always for the better. This was never more recognized than when people were leaving.
“Everyone here got along so well.”
“I’m so glad I met so-an-so, because I’ve heard so much about them.”
“You have such great friends!”
It’s all true. I do have great friends and family. I’ve always made the joke that God protects small children, dumb animals, and me because none of us can take care of ourselves. God has me in a world that is padded for safety and joy with the most loving souls around.
I am so deeply grateful to everyone for making our celebration such a wonderful day. It is a beautiful way to end the first fifty of my years on this planet and begin the second half-century.
Since my heart problems, I’ve looked at life as an adventure. This first leg is done and now, I’m ready to begin the second.
And, he’s off!
It seems strange that after thiry-plus years, a friend can begin questioning the motives of someone who has seen them through every life event that can happen, including births, deaths, romances, jobs, and everything in between.
A word. A difference in opinion. A misunderstood intention. These are all things that can challenge the best of friendships; but, to end a friendship all together? That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.
We met in college. She is nine years older than me and left her home state to begin a new life. She was sitting in the student union reading a book and taking notes. I walked up, waiting for the listening room to become free so that I could listen to an album I simply didn’t have the money to purchase for myself.
I asked her for a match to light my cigarette. It was 1977 and we could still smoke indoors at that time. She looked at me as though I wanted to steal her baby. She didn’t say one word, but handed me the book of matches that was sitting next to her on top of her cigarettes.
Her remoteness somehow tickled me no end. I truly enjoyed how she attempted to keep her distance, so, as the instigator I was, I began talking to her. To every question I posed, she responded in curt, one-word answers.
It wasn’t too long before my room became available and I expressed my gratitude for the match and the conversation, thereafter taking my leave of her.
Several months later, I ran into my old roommate from college who said that he had just gotten a new apartment. I knew he couldn’t afford a dwelling on his own, so I asked if he had a roommate. He said that he had found a female friend with whom to share the two bedroom place. He invited me over to see the new digs, so I accepted the invitation.
The night I went to see my friend, I was greeted at the door by the woman from the student union. I laughed uproariously and asked, “Do you remember me?”
She said she did and we talked about the coincidence that we both knew the same person.
Since that time, with periods of quiet time, we have been friends. I was the first to know she was pregnant. I was the first to hold her child. I stood with her as we buried her brother. She stood with me as I married my husband.
We are friends. In truth, we have been more like family. I suppose now we are estranged family.
She is angry at me and although with most people, one would assume that the storm will blow over and the waters will calm. It’s different with her.
Once bitten, twice shy. She hangs on to real or perceived hurts for a lifetime. No one gets back in once they’ve become the source of her pain.
I’ve made mistakes and in this situation, I made some thoughtless ones; however, she didn’t have all the information, but she wasn’t at all interested in hearing what I had to say.
Thankfully, I love her enough to understand that she has her own process and that whatever choices she makes are hers, even though they may adversely affect me, as well. So, I send her off with my blessings and pray for God’s grace to keep her safe and healthy. We had a good run and now it’s over. I’m grateful to God and to her for thirty-two wonderful years. I have been repeatedly blessed by her presence in my life.
Good luck, my friend. Find peace. I love you and always will.
Author’s Note: In 2011, my friend contacted me to tell me she had leukemia. She asked me stand with her son no matter what happened. I promised I would. Sadly, she lost her battle with cancer and died in January 2012. I officiated at her graveside funeral. I will miss my friend, and true to my statement when I wrote this piece, I love her and I always will.