Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Grief of December

Grief never feels good. If you ever lost a loved one, you know this. It could be a year ago or 40 years ago; it changes sometimes, the pain less sharp and sometimes more. It’s an injury without blood, a gaping wound that never really heals.  
Most of us learn to live with it-- the missing piece to our psychic puzzle. There is always a feeling of something missing. Someone missing. Some of us try to fill the hole with medication or new shoes, or booze. It doesn’t work.
Years after my mom died, I picked up the phone to call her. I realized I couldn’t remember her number and then realized why and embarrassed at myself for such a ridiculous fopaux, (Seriously, how can you forget your mom has died?) hung up the phone. I can’t remember if I cried—or cleaned house. One of the two, I have no doubt.  
My 27-year-old brother died December 19th 1982 from complications due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident that occurred a little over 100 days prior. My 53-year-old mother died two years later on December 9th. The holiday season has proven to be my most difficult season to get through and the list of people I grieve for has grown substantially since my brother and mother died. But, there is always a holiday, or a hallmark of some kind, birthdays, death days, the last time you talked. Any month can be the bad one but for me it’s always December.
I know there are the seven stages of grief, but the truth is there are no rules for how to do it, or how long, or how sad you should be, or how much you should cry, or if you should cry at all. Everyone grieves how he or she grieves and if you become expert—through experience, how sad for you.
It comes in waves. It doesn’t matter how long ago someone left this world, it can feel like yesterday or it can feel like a long time ago and you wonder how you could be so sad for so damn long. For me, sometimes just smelling something like bubblegum will remind me of my brother and the endless baseball card bubblegum he shared with me when he was little. Earlier this year his best friend sent some pictures of my brother when he was young, and a few shortly before he died. I cried because I missed him… and I cried for what he is missing. A beautiful daughter he never met and three amazing granddaughters that would have owned him. He missed the best part of my life and his.
The “no rules” grief also applies for whom we are grieving. My sister just lost her horse after 21 years, and was devastated. When my son’s 14-year-old dog was put down, I watched his grief pour out in heavy sobs, he was beyond consoling. It was then I realized he was also grieving for the friends he lost in the war, the ones he never had time to cry for—and maybe his own innocence, left in the sands of Iraq. Postponed grief is the stuff that will kill you.
We walk around with a cloud of sadness. Not everyone sees it. Some people are oblivious to our teary eyes and our ability to skirt a subject that is sure to make the wave of sadness rush in. Some of us want to talk about it, some of us cannot.
Sometimes, grief can surprise us. When my son’s dad died unexpectedly two years ago, I was floored with grief and I woke up crying every day for weeks—still sometimes, I can’t think about this loss without tearing up. I never expected to feel that way, but I never expected him to die at 53 either.
My grief is always just below the surface. I don’t wear it like a badge—I don’t share it with strangers, or even all my friends. It’s just there and that is how grief works.
For me, grief is a reminder to live well, to be kind because we really don’t know what other people are going through and we really don’t know if someone won’t be here tomorrow.  I do put one foot in front of the other but I understand that isn’t always possible for everyone. When my son’s dad died, his grandmother understandably got a little crazy. When I asked my son (in an uncharitable moment) how he could put up with that he reminded me that losing your child trumps losing your father. His grief—made him smarter. His grandparents carry on; their strength is admirable their Japanese Buddhist durability intact, and I try my best to mimic them.
I know more than a few people hurting from grief right now. It always seems worse around the holidays. The empty seat syndrome, the missing piece of your heart, the special ornament with their name on it, more reminders than our hearts can bare—but bare we must.
This holiday season don’t be afraid to share stories about your departed loved ones with people that knew them or know you. Often you will find yourself laughing through a story instead of crying through the silence.
For all of you feeling the loss of a loved one please know this… you are not alone.  Many people are grieving over someone. We may not all wear it the same way—but we wear it.
If you are suffering from severe depression due to grief, please seek counseling -- while I don't think there are rules-- I do think some people benefit from help with the grieving process.
see this link:
 Just a few of my missing pieces...Mom, Johnny, Dad, Jon, Johnny, Jon, Noodle & Smokie

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Iraq 2006

Every year, since 2007, when my own son became a veteran, I have written something for Veterans Day. My theme changes slightly, usually depending on the reflection I am seeing through my son’s eyes.

This year, the reflection from his eyes is a good one. At least for today, at least for this moment—he is in a good place and time. If he is dogged by nightmares, he’s not saying. I notice he keeps himself busy, like my dad used to do. Always tinkering with something—the opposite of depression sleeping. Busy hands, calm mind. Calmer mind.  (**note 2017 this is no longer the case- severe PTSD anxiety attacks, withdrawal from family and friends)

If he is in a better place- than, so too am I. But, now my focus has shifted from him to the bigger picture. A picture whose existence I have been peripherally aware of, but until now, until my own son was in the clear, walking towards peace of mind instead of down Crazyville Street, I could not focus on anything but him.
The picture I am seeing is a horrific one. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. It’s full of suicide, depression, PTSD, diagnosed and undiagnosed brain injuries, the inability to reach the people that need us most—that deserve help the most. And, worst of all—apathy. Apathy on the part of the American people, the very people who have benefited from the missing limbs, the burned skin, the inability to think straight, the lack of attention span, the shakes, the nightmares, the alcoholism, the suicides—they could not care less.

Lately there is advertising showing buffed soldiers or Marine veterans missing body parts, modeling underwear or whatever. This is good. Maybe, Americans will be able to look these people in the eye someday and say…what?  Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for losing that leg, arm, eye, life as you knew it. Thank you just isn’t enough.

The latest DOD data on suicide amongst veterans is an estimated 22 Veterans will commit suicide DAILY.

According to the report: “Among cases where history of U.S. military service was reported, Veterans comprised approximately 22.2% of all suicides reported during the project period. If this prevalence estimate is assumed to be constant across all U.S. states, an estimated 22 Veterans will have died from suicide each day in the calendar year 2010.”
I suspect the actual number is really higher. They won’t classify death from alcohol or drug overdose as suicide—but for many veterans (and civilians too) that is exactly what it is. I call it slow suicide.
This report notes the following: During the Iraq War, 4,475 U.S. service members were killed and 32,220 were wounded; in Afghanistan, 2,165 have been killed and 18,230 wounded through Feb. 5, 2013. Among service members deployed in these conflicts, 103,792 were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over the period 2002 to December 2012. Over that same period, 253,330 service members were diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) of some kind. As a result of battle injuries in the Iraq War, 991 service members received wounds that required amputations; 797 lost major limbs, such as a leg. In Afghanistan, 724 have had to undergo amputations, with 696 losing a major limb. -

According to information obtained through the VA, there were 62,619 homeless veterans in the United States in January 2012. I’m willing to bet there were more then and there are many more now. This is disgraceful and unacceptable. And, please don’t tell me some of them want to live this way. If that is what you want to tell yourself to make yourself feel better then great—but please don’t expect me or anyone else with a brain to believe it.

Here are some facts from the not for profit Greendoors, based in Texas.
  • The number of homeless female veterans is on the rise: in 2006, there were 150 homeless female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; in 2011, there were 1,700. That same year, 18% of homeless veterans assisted by the VA were women. Comparison studies conducted by HUD show that female veterans are two to three times more likely to be homeless than any other group in the US adult population.
  • Veterans between the ages of 18 and 30 are twice as likely as adults in the general population to be homeless, and the risk of homelessness increases significantly among young veterans who are poor.
  • Roughly 56% of all homeless veterans are African-American or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 12.8% and 15.4% of the U.S. population respectively.
  • About 53% of individual homeless veterans have disabilities, compared with 41%of homeless non-veteran individuals.
  • Half suffer from mental illness; two-thirds suffer from substance abuse problems; and many from dual diagnosis (which is defined as a person struggling with both mental illness and a substance abuse problem).

  • Homeless veterans tend to experience homelessness longer than their non-veteran peers: Veterans spend an average of nearly six years homeless, compared to four years reported among non-veterans

There are programs all over the country trying to help homeless veterans. But, they need our help. The VA is overwhelmed with veterans right now. If you think your 2-3 hour wait at Kaiser or your local clinic is too long… try going to the VA.  Now try it with PTSD and a little bit of TBI. Try filling out reams of forms and then turning them in and waiting 6 -9 months for a reply to tell you if you qualify for disability, when you are positive that you were blown off a rooftop in Iraq and hurt your head-- bad.
Volunteering at the VA is one way you and I can help. But there are other ways. You can help on a local level by finding out what resources there are for veterans in your area and asking them what you can do.

Learn how to talk to veterans. If you never served, you need to understand that you don’t really understand. Acknowledge that, and you will at least gain some respect from the veteran. Don’t ask stupid questions. (Like, did you ever kill anyone?)  A veteran will tell you what he wants to tell you.
If you know a veteran in need of assistance make a call 877-4AID-VET

If you know a veteran who may be contemplating suicide: Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online at*, or send a text message to 838255 to receive free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, even if they are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. VA also provides support for Service members through the Military Crisis Line. Service members and their families and friends can call and text the Veterans Crisis Line numbers and can chat online at
There are so many things we civilians can do to help today’s veterans and the veterans from previous wars, who have served our country, and made it possible for us to live in the free world that we live in.
Most of us can’t write a big old fat check to our favorite charity. But there are still ways to help raise funds for these not for profit organizations that truly help our veterans. Be sure you investigate the organization thoroughly before donating time or money.  
If you can’t volunteer, then just do this. Next time you see someone wearing a USMC hat, or a Navy hat, or an Army jacket. Ask them if they are a veteran. If they say yes—shake their hand. Look them in the eye and shake their hand-- and then say thank you, and mean it.
Resources for veterans and their loved ones:

Hearts Toward Home International – Dr. Bridgett Cantrell


Greendoors -Texas

***You can find more and local resources by googling key words and adding your city.

Monday, September 2, 2013

If Only People Cared

If only people cared. I hear that a lot. I say it a lot. The truth is people do care. They do what they can. There is plenty of bad news in this world for each and every one of us to care about. And that is the problem. We are all on cause overload. I am on cause overload.
My Marine Mom friend has a 2.5 -year-old granddaughter, Sophie who has cancer and has been undergoing treatments for about 15 months now.  Many of us have followed Sophie’s progress, her good days and bad days, her absolute courage, on Facebook and on her CaringBridge page. Her family has been courageous too. And on a mission, to help bring to the forefront the fact that childhood cancer is not funded like it should be and to raise awareness. The American Cancer Society only gives one cent of every dollar to Pediatric Cancer research and no one can figure out why this is so.
Approximately 7-9  kids die a day of cancer.  (Statistics are all over the map- I guestimated based on several different reports.)
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
I have another Marine Mom friend whose sister died of breast cancer and she has been on a tireless mission to raise money for breast cancer research.  The projected statistics for breast cancer-for 2013- though greatly improved over years past, are daunting still.
·     About 232,340 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women.
  • About 64,640 new cases of carcinoma in situ (CIS) will be diagnosed (CIS is non-invasive and is the earliest form of breast cancer).
  • About 39,620 women will die from breast cancer
  • Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women, exceeded only by lung cancer. (in 2013)
My own personal cause has some big numbers too. Veterans with PTSD and Active Duty/ Veteran Suicides are at an all-time high. I have screamed this from the mountain-top with only those in my shoes taking notice. And maybe some of them found me to be too loud, too crazy, too driven.
According to this 2012 VA report 22 Veterans commit suicide daily. That is one every 80 minutes. Paul Riekhoff, the founder of IAVA (Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America, stated "The country should be outraged that we are allowing this tragedy to continue. The trends are headed in the wrong direction,” As veterans, we at IAVA understand the spectrum of challenges facing veterans transitioning home, including the struggle with invisible wounds. One thing is clear; we need more research and more collaboration.” 
PTSD awareness is sorely lacking – according to the Center for Ethical Solutions, nearly one soldier in five, or about 300,000 of the 1.6 million soldiers who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, has post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) or major depression. My son has suffered from it, which brought it to the forefront for me. It is an invisible wound.
During my son’s time in the Marine Corps, I spent time as a volunteer for a Marine parent’s web- based group. We were an all-volunteer group of moms and dads that worked – we thought, tirelessly for our cause, which was supporting one another and our Marines. Our founder, worked even harder—sometimes around the clock. The message received from her, was that what we did was never enough. Never mind that most of us had jobs, never mind that most of us had families to take care of or that we put anywhere from 5 to 35 hours a week in on top of all that.
I understand now, she was frustrated. She wanted more for our guys and gals in harm’s way.  Like Sophie’s GrandMo is frustrated, Like Jill W. is frustrated, like I am frustrated over the lack of concern for what we think are monumental causes. What she (the founder of the group) didn’t realize then—but may have come to realize at some point was that everyone was just doing the best they could with what they had. It wasn’t ignorance, or apathy that kept them (us) from giving more. We just had no more to give. And who can judge what is too little?
Children are a precious gift—even the older ones. Everyone is somebodies baby. And that gives everything equal importance, in my mind at least.
We need to knock on the doors of corporations and government officials and stop berating our fellow sufferers.  Finesse donations, don’t scream for them.  Be grateful to those who can give time or money and try to understand those who can’t.
All of us just want to help people we love. That is what it all boils down to. There is nothing stronger in this world than love and maybe sometimes it makes us crazy. But I am willing to do what I can for my causes, and my friends causes—because that is what it’s all about.
If any of the above causes ring your bell, please feel free to donate your time or money or hold a fundraiser on behalf.  Or if you have a cause you would like to share about please do. Let’s start looking at these things like we are helping friends, because that is what friends do.
To Donate to Pediatric Cancer:
To Donate to Breast Cancer Research
To Donate for PTSD/ TBI and the Prevention of Suicide for Veterans
Or any local VA VFW center.

Friday, August 30, 2013


I’ve been wondering for quite some time- along with the rest of the country- (I hope) if we are going to be dragged into this Syrian rebellion. I didn’t want us to. I didn’t want to see one more American life lost, over yet again another Middle Eastern conflict, rebellion, uprising, whatever.
This last week shifted my thinking though. I thought about Hitler’s reign of terror and the Holocaust and how long it took the United States to act during that time. The holocaust began in 1938 and ended in 1945 when the American Army stumbled upon Ohrdruf Concentration Camp where there were hundreds of starved, frail prisoners who had managed to survive though many would die in the following weeks, as well as over 3000 corpses.
General Patton- when he arrived at the camp was physically sickened and refused to look at further carnage. Reportedly, General Eisenhower, turned white, but he said, “I made myself look at every nook and cranny” [of the camp.] “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he was fighting for, now; at least he will know what he is fighting against."
According to the Jewish Virtual Library, the United States press, at the time, had grossly underreported what was happening to the Jews in Germany. Eisenhower called on the US press and the press corps to visit the concentration camps.  Joseph Pulitzer, whom it was said had a suspicious frame of mind concerning what he thought, were exaggerated rumors; when he saw Ohrdruf,  Pulitzer said. “The reports were understatements.”
The current Syrian Civil War is part of the Arab Spring. A general dissatisfaction of the people with their government and lack of human rights. Once again, like in Iraq; it is Sunni versus Shi’ite and once again a leader is using sarin Gas on his own people.
The President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, has removed all political parties other than (his) Ba'ath Syrian Regional Branch--leaving Syria a one-party state without free elections. He has chipped away or failed to improve any human rights issues in his country. And, now we hear--and I do believe--that he is using sarin Gas. In 1983 the United States was aware (top secret reports released) of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons on his own people (The Kurds) and under President Reagan’s leadership chose at that time to do nothing. We all know how that worked out.
The US is now backing the armed rebels fighting the al-Assad regime. (The same rebels arrested by US Marines on the border of Syria and Iraq for gun smuggling in 2006-7.)
Because we have so little understanding of the Arab world and the Muslim conflicts, at least until recently, we have flip flopped on support over the years, seemingly picking sides randomly- taking what looks to me like -- if Russia is for it we must be against it approach. We have to stop looking at the politics and start looking at the human condition.
I hate war. I hate what Operation Iraqi Freedom did to so many of our own troops. I hate what it did to my son. I don’t want to see one more US troop’s life lost over Middle East religious wars. (You may call them oil wars- but I don’t).  BUT- this is a human concern. We have a moral obligation to prevent another holocaust. We have already waited too long, because of politics and politicians. According to the United Nations, over 100,000 men women and children have died in Syria since 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Iraq.
I know the US is war weary- though so few actually have skin in the game- so few have cared about the troops and what happens to them after they get home-- after they are out of uniform. But, the truth is, this is not politics. This is being human. And I can’t personally use the Christian card because I don’t think of myself as a Christian, but wouldn’t anyone’s God want to prevent another Holocaust? Wouldn’t anyone’s God want to not see civilians killed for being some religion that some other people don’t like?
Syrian children after the sarin gas attack
I checked in with my son last night before I wrote this – I’ve been wanting to write about this subject for a week but I thought I better just check in with someone that has a better perspective on the Middle East than me-  and make sure I’m not crazy. But, he- who has fought in a war-(who helped arrest those gun smugglers) and who is not pro war for much- who is genuinely war weary- believes that we have to help the people of Syria too.
No- I do not want to see another US troop killed for nothing.  I know though, there is no way I can turn my head and not see this holocaust in the making.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Moving The Glacier

Hubbard Glacier
Sometime in April or May I hit bottom- or maybe I should say top- with my weight. I was painfully aware long before I actually decided to do something about it though. My feet hurt when standing, my hips hurt when lying down, my back hurt all the time, sitting, standing or lying. I was lumbering. Those of you who know me- have known me for many years know that I used to be a fast walker, and some of you might even remember when I could run. Now I was lumbering.

I hadn’t weighed myself in many months because I didn’t want to see the truth. Obesity. I knew it; I just didn’t want to see it. Then one day, I felt sick. I was scared that maybe I was becoming diabetic and with no insurance, I realized the only thing I could do was try to change the way I eat and start getting some exercise. My main goal- amazingly unselfish of me – was to stay alive for my son. Oh sure, me too, but mostly him, because he already lost one parent and I saw the toll that took on him. I wouldn’t do that to him if I could do anything to prevent it. And I was hoping I could.
I have been to Jenny Craig before with good results, so I picked up the phone and made an appointment. I had not forgotten how much I hate the appointments though. I hate being asked how my week was. I hate being asked if I got any exercise. I hate being asked about things that make me overeat. I hate the pop psychology of it all. I made the appointment anyway.
I weighed in. 197. Well, I told myself, at least it wasn’t 200. I bought my food and started my diet.

I knew that I had to start walking more and faster. I already walked a mile a day- most days. Now, I had to step it up. I started coming home for lunch and walking a mile at lunch and a mile after work if I had an ounce of energy left to do anything.
On weekends, I try to take a longer walk or a nice hike in open space. A couple of times I walked so far the dog had to rest. Once I walked too far and got the shakes and I thought of how mad I would be if I were one of those people that dropped dead getting some fresh air and exercise. (Remember to hydrate my Marine son would say.)

Losing weight in your 60s is not like losing weight in your 40s or 50s, which was hard enough. Losing weight in your 60s is like trying to move a massive glacier with a snowplow. It’s not easy, it’s not fun, and sometimes it’s downright depressing.
Eventually though, people start to notice, your baggy pants, your thinner face, your increased energy and that gives you the little push you need to get through the next plateau. And plateaus are aplenty.

I stopped going to Jenny Craig after two months. Mostly because I couldn’t afford it. Partly because I really am annoyed by the same questions every week. I have a stressful job; sometimes it makes me want to eat the universe. I do the best I can. I push myself to make smarter food choices- but once in a while, I am going to have a box of Good & Plenty. Trust me Jenny Craig- I won’t blame you for my failure.
On June 27th, I downloaded an app called Runtastic. Runtastic let me keep track of my miles and calories burned. It shows a map of my walk, and gives me my miles per hour. You can upload your session to Facebook and your friends can see you are moving. You are trying. You are on a mission.

Since June 27th, I have walked 46 times, a distance of 68.29 miles (todays walk yet to be) and I burned 7713 calories. Now the thing about calories is that you keep burning them all day long, so 7713 is only what I have burned during my walks. I like being able to see my progress and eventually upgraded my Runtastic app to the paid version. That is all the psychology I need- evidence that I have pushed myself yet one more day.

Today I weighed in at 180. 17 pounds. Picture 17 pounds of butter. That is how much fat I have lost. Still I have a way to go. At least another 20 pounds. I don’t expect to ever be skinny. I’ll be happy with healthy and clothes that fit.  Finally- I can buy some pants without an elastic waist!




Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sexual Predators are Everywhere

A couple of months back, on a Sunday afternoon; I was in Safeway buying a greeting card when I noticed a man hiding behind an end-cap, (shelving) watching some kids. I couldn’t see the kids but I could hear them and at first I assumed he was playing a game of peek-a-boo with his own kids. Something was off though. I stayed right there next to him pretending to look at cards and watching him pretend to look at the box of crackers, and when I finally made him uncomfortable, he moved away. The minute he moved I looked around the corner to see the kids and found that there were a group of young teens, maybe 13 or 14 years old, three girls and one boy. The group left one teen sitting on the floor, (I have no idea what she was doing there.) so I started to walk over to her and I saw the man in the next aisle, now perpendicular to this one girl. He was pretending to look at soda, but he kept looking right at her. He was so intent on his mission that he almost didn’t see me.  There was something about the young lady he was watching that was vulnerable. I saw it right away and believe me, he saw it too.

I walked up to the girl and asked her if she knew the man, who now, was directly behind me maybe 15 feet away. She looked around me and said no. I told her to go get her friends and get out of there because he had been watching her for at least 10 minutes. She scooted.  

I called Safeway the next day and reported the incident—but was not asked my name or anything else so I didn’t expect it to go anywhere.

A week later—on a Saturday afternoon, same time of day as the previous week, I see the man walking through the parking lot as I am driving out. I drove out to the street, turned around, came back into the lot, and saw him still walking with his bag, so I followed him. I took out my phone and while driving started snapping pictures of him. I followed him to his truck, parked outside of the Radio Shack. I moved one aisle over and parked right behind him.

During the next 15 minutes, the man’s behavior was strange to say the least—alarming to anyone that knows about predators.  He opened his truck door but didn’t get in, he put the bag in the back of his truck and pretended to tie the bags handles together for a ridiculous amount of time. He kept his eye on the Dollar store. He walked back and forth to the nearby garbage bin, one small piece of rubbish at a time, eyes always elsewhere. Truck door open all the time.

He gave no indication that he felt or knew he was being watched and/or photographed. I took pictures of him, his truck and finally a close-up of his license plate.

When I got home, I looked at The Megan’s Law website to see if he was listed.  He was not. I sent the information I had along with the photos to the Novato Police Dept. A few days later, I received an email from the NPD thanking me, and letting me know they will look into the matter. (I reported to Safeway again- again no response.)

My purpose for sharing this now is that I hope you will educate your kids and yourselves to this kind of thing. Kids need to pay attention to their surroundings, to who is around them and most of all they need to tune into their intuition. If they are lacking intuition, then you as parents, or educators need to help them cultivate extreme awareness.

Sexual predators are everywhere. Often they are someone you know, some normal looking person with a normal job. They could be in your church, your school, the neighborhood or your grocery store, sometimes, they can be in your own family. None of this is new behavior—it’s not a product of the times. It existed when I was a kid and long before that too.  It’s not just Marin County, or California… it’s a nation wide problem.

We have had far too many missing kids, murdered kids, molested kids to ignore this issue and pretend that we live in a safe world. We don’t. But, it would be a lot safer if people started paying attention to what is around them, and if people weren’t afraid to speak up when they saw something not quite right. When it comes to kid safety and well-being, it’s everyone’s business.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Aging with Grace ~ Fighting The Old Fart Syndrome

For me, looking young is not the goal.  Not becoming a cranky old fart is. I admit, I have old fart tendencies.

I caught myself laughing at some kid the other day, who wiped out on his skateboard because his baggy pants fell down. He went down hard and hit his noggin. I laughed as I walked by and thought to myself, serves him right for dressing like a moron. Then I remembered walking downtown San Francisco one day with my Dad. I was about 14 years old, wearing neon yellow hip-huggers and an orange and yellow ribbed, poor-boy style shirt. A lady—apparently from out of town looked at me, shook her head and mumbled something about “The way these people dress here.”

My dad looked at me and shrugged his shoulders. I can’t remember what I felt, but since I remember the incident some 45+ years later, it clearly had an impact. I realize now, I was being judged without her knowing anything about me. She didn’t know that my mom had been sick for years,  that I took care of my sister and brother, that I cooked and cleaned and played nursemaid almost every day of my life and  that I shouldered more responsibility than most 30 year olds. – No, she didn’t know that at all.

 I shouldn’t have laughed at that kid. I should have just asked him if he was okay. I acted like an old fart—and I am mad at myself for it.

There is a lot to be said for life experience. We (old people) share our unsolicited advice at every turn. Romance advice (which I failed miserably), education advice, (an incomplete here), health (well- I’m alive at least), wealth (double fail). Honestly- what makes me think I’m so smart? Why would I think I know any more about life than some 15 year old?

With my son, I constantly remind myself, we all have our own path. He has his lessons and his burdens, his own joy and his own grief. You can’t tutor someone through life 101A. Not even if you have completed Life 101B. So why do we always insist on trying?

The old saying, It’s not how old you are, it’s how old you feel, is true enough, but it’s also how old you act. When you start poo-pooing everything the new generation comes up with and start thinking your generation was the only one that had it right- you are without any doubt at all- an old fart.

When you look at someone with tattoos and shake your head, and say something like kids these days. You are an old fart.

When you start to say things like- in my day we didn’t need car seats for babies- you are a stupid old fart.

When you forget your own youth (misspent in many cases) and start hating teenagers just because they are teenagers, or because they have long hair, or baggy pants, or rings in places you don’t want to know about… you are an old fart.

You can dye your roots and lift your sagging skin so high that you can tie it in a knot on top of your head, but you’ll still be an old fart when you open your mouth.  

I have to confess; I have thanked my son on numerous occasions for not dressing like a moron and for walking like a man and not some missing link with something stuck in his behind. I’m appreciative that he was a relatively easy teen – easy, mostly because I have a good memory and there was nothing he did that I hadn’t done ten-fold. I need to remember to keep that same perspective with everyone.

I’ll continue to dye my roots, and try to keep my body in working condition—but it’s my attitude I’m going to concentrate on. I can’t fight the aging process, things will sag and stretch and eventually fall apart, but I plan on remembering things the way they really were and try to look at things from younger eyes.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Good Old Days

A lot of people send out emails talking about the good old days…mostly about the 50s and 60s. After several years of reading these selective memory, partially fictionalized notes-- here is my response.

I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and I can tell you without a doubt – they were not great. Many women were slaves to their kids and husbands, many of them were physically and mentally abused with zero recourse because divorce was frowned upon and the law didn’t care. Parents could beat their kids bloody without consequence. (Save for the doctor bills and psychiatric care later.)  War veterans suffered in silence because it wasn’t manly to wake up screaming from nightmares or the have the shakes every time they were in a crowd. Black people still couldn’t vote or go to the same schools as whites, and were hung for sport, and just forget about being gay—you would have to go live in Europe if you were out of the closet gay. Our president was assassinated, we lived in constant fear of war, the McCarthy Era was born and stomped all over the rights of many Americans who dared to have an opinion about anything.  The Cold War, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam War ; inequality on myriad levels, all served to make the 50s and 60s a blight on America’s history.  Leave it to Beaver” was a ridiculous delusion.
Mom, me, Bama, baby Johnny & Linda 1955 Alemany Blvd. San Francisco

I have some warm memories. I remembering visiting my Great Grandmother, my BaMa, in Santa Rosa on Sundays, feeding the chickens and looking for their eggs, and her teaching me to sew on her Singer sewing machine, and bake the best German butter cookies in the world. Watching the birds in the aviary while sitting in the sun-drenched kitchen, the German canaries singing their glorious songs, and the homemade jams spread on the homemade breads. Papa Carl playing solitaire for hours on end and not saying much of anything but letting me sit on his lap and help. We’d sit outside in the shade under the grape vines that grew over a trellis, and sometimes pick berries to make jam.

In the fall, we would gather walnuts from the giant walnut tree and spend what felt like hours, cracking the shells, then baking chocolate chip cookies and warming her house and filling it up with the smell of fresh cookies coming from the old Wedgwood oven.

Easter 1960ish  in San Bruno @ Uncle Pete Scanlon's house
I was lucky to have those memories. My innocence was lost long before my innocence was lost. My parents, until their divorce when I was four, had knockout, drag down fights that left my older sister and I trying to be invisible, curled up in our beds, often huddled together – a temporary peace treaty between water and oil. Still, she remembers the 50s with more kindness than me. I have a steel-trap memory—with amazing clarity, sometimes it's a curse, but for the most part I'm glad I remember what's real.

Kids were kidnapped, molested and murdered—just like today. The difference between then and now is there are more people now, and we now receive news from every city in the nation.  In 1960 you read your local paper, which had local news, unless it was about the President or a war. In the early 1950s 25,000 cases of polio were reported a year, killing many people and crippling even more. If you had cancer, leukemia or heart disease—you probably died. In the 1950’s-60s, if one was born premature, they probably died or were severely brain damaged and the doctors would tell the devastated parents to put the child in state or private care. If you had any kind of mental illness, you would have been institutionalized and/ or forcibly treated with electro-shock therapy or worse, a lobotomy, which would render you semi-comatose for life. Menopause was treated as mental illness.  Teenagers (some I went to school with) were forced to give up their babies or marry if they got pregnant out of wedlock. (Often ruining lives.)
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We have our problems now; there is no doubt. We have been at war for well over 10 years. We have a multitude of veterans suffering from PTSD and TBI. We have gang violence, too many guns on the streets, homelessness, untreated mental illness and the economy, while improving is not quite there and many people are jobless and living far below the poverty level. We have many diseases yet to be cured; global poverty, the War on Terror. Yes, we have our problems.

But, I will take now over then anytime. We have vaccinations if not cures, for polio, chicken pox, measles, mumps, pertussis and more. We have prosthetic devices that look and feel like part of your own body. We have heart, lung, kidney and liver transplants. We have face transplants. We have medication for schizophrenia. Breast cancer is not a death warrant. People are living longer and healthier than they ever have before. Life expectancy is 10+ years more than in was in 1950.

The 50s and 60s may have had some bright spots but none that out weigh the repulsive bigotry, the disgusting lack of respect for the Constitution of the United States and the people’s right to privacy and the overall head in the sand denial of the nation.

As I age, I hope to remember the unabridged past and not the one made up for email forwards, Facebook posts and chain letters. If there was innocence in the 50s and 60s it was self induced. I don’t think we should make that mistake again. I would rather face a hard truth than live an easy lie. The truth is… drinking water from a garden hose is not a good idea.