Underwater

Underwater

A cumulus cloud wandered overhead as Angela floated on her back in the ocean. She was numb to the water temperature as she watched the cloud slowly moving by, studying its heavenly form—its snowy-white wings and flowing robe. Angela often thought about her sister while she was at the beach. Anna had been gone almost twenty years already—Angela’s very own beach angel that drifted over the many shades of blue.

She tried to ignore the shadows in the water, long tendrils of hair flowing among seaweed, her pregnant mother letting go of the child’s hand . . . one endless wail by the shore, watch­ing Anna’s red pail moving back and forth with the waves.

Angela had been the nine-month heavy weight . . . it was her fault her mother was unable to dig her heels into the sand that day and dive into the murky sea. From within the womb, she heard her mother’s cry for help and came into the world that very day curious about life and death.

She wanted to know the sea because it was what heard Anna’s last prayers and whispers, the last to caress her innocent body, her last breath, before taking her, grabbing her by the knees and pulling her away forever. Angela floated farther out into the water and breathed heavy with anticipation, reminding herself she shouldn’t be swimming alone—mother’s strictest rule, you know, because of the accident. That’s how her mom referred to her sister Anna’s drowning whenever it was talked about, which was rarely. But it was obvious she blamed herself every minute of every wak­ing hour.

This wasn’t the first time Angela had disobeyed. It was as if the beach beckoned her; it was her church, where she knew there was God. She squeezed her lids tight as oyster shells and the hazel in her eyes became sightless pearls within. If dark images came before her as she dipped below the water’s sur­face, she’d think of how the ocean was filled with life, from ameba to whale.

Moving with each cresting wave, Angela looked at Sea Horse tied to the same petrified piece of driftwood she always used when she went horseback riding. Her sandals, cutoffs, and T-shirt were left in a heap at the stallion’s hooves. She’d have to dry off before she returned to the barns where she worked. She’d put her wet two-piece daisy print bathing suit in the horse’s pouch and let the wind dry her hair on the jaunt back.

She concentrated very hard, not to lose track of her count­ing. She had to break her record. The beach was almost empty now, an unseasonably warm afternoon in the month of May. There was no one nearby to witness her while she tested her gutsy skill, her unflagging game of courage, swimming out past the breakers. When she tired, she allowed her body to move up and down with the upward heave of each swell, becoming part of the rhythm.

Since she was little, she had obsessed about being under the water, always trying to hold herself down as long as pos­sible and then allowing the water to bring her up at its will. To her, the sea was alive with deceiving beauty and pleasure; it was to be respected and understood. The chilly water forced her to tread, to swim, to dive its surge, with its froth spilling over her, teasing her—there for her to master, to conquer.

Ninety fi-i-ive . . . she counted the seconds in slow sequence, holding her breath, as she had practiced, unconsciously, so many times. Ninety Si-i-i-x. A smile crossed over her closed lips. She was coming close to surpassing her last goal, close to reaching 100. But in an instant her undertaking turned to utter terror.

A creature gripped her head, clutching her hair, dragging her, pulling her with great force in one direction. There was no way to stop whatever it was. Some of her hair was being stripped from its roots. Maybe I’m stuck? A fisherman’s trap?

It occurred to her that she had lost count of holding her breath, that she would die now at the age of nineteen, without ever having reached her objective, her glory. The notion of los­ing her battle to the water was heartbreaking more than any­thing else. It was personal between the two of them.

She swallowed, choked, the salt stinging her throat, her eyes popping open, the burning pain, seeing nothing. So, this is it. Oh, what irony. This is my nightmare. This feeling—pulling down—the confusion, slipping, twisting pain, loss of sense, heavi­ness, and then the feeling of freedom seconds after your trachea closes. Eyes blinking one last time, unable to see, to scream, you merely succumb.

When in her mind, she saw Anna’s limp body floating face down, something in Angela snapped, and she fought back. She wouldn’t let the ocean swallow her, too. She wouldn’t let her mother go through that kind of pain again. At birth, her mother counted her limbs and each of her fingers and toes. She kicked her legs in scissor movement and then bit her attacker’s claw and sang out from the water—the cry of a sea lion.

There was her monster, face to face—a human’s, not a monster’s, with the bluest eyes—sky color, bringing her back into self. They stumbled back to shore as one . . . mangled limbs splaying in whatever direction the rough current took them.

WARNINGS

JUST A WARNING!

My husband Bruce’s phobia with tools started when we were newlyweds and we made our first trip to that scary giant home depot box store. Walking down the aisles is as intimidating as walking through the jungles of the Amazon.

We were as enthusiastic with our purchase, as any other married couple on Long Island would be. “How fun,” I exclaimed, as we loaded the station wagon with cardboard boxes containing our first project. “We’re going to make this with our own hands.”

Once we got home, we searched through the boxes for the missing instructions. That should have been our first warning sign. “Don’t worry,” I remember saying. “Even a monkey could do it. (Well, two monkeys, as one monkey needs to stand back to assess the job. In our case, we needed a tribe).  

We were putting up flat slabs of brick, like a façade wall, behind our kitchen counter, while singing Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall. “I can’t believe we’re almost done,” I announced to Bruce, a couple of hours later. Then our neighbor walked in, unexpectedly (another reason to always keep your doors Locked!) and hesitantly said, “Um, I don’t know if I should tell you this, but you didn’t…um, stagger the bricks.”

By all rights, the wall should have come tumbling down on the spot and killed us. Instead, we had to stare at The Wall of Shame for the next 12 years, until we moved to another house.

Now, we live in Charleston, Mount Perfect, mind you, but still, not everything can be perfect all the time. Not if you’re Bumbling Bruce and Calamity Janet.

The other day, I forgot that I left the sink water on, full force, in the upstairs guest room, until I went downstairs and saw Niagra coming out of my high hat. My eyes popped out of my head (well, they didn’t actually POP out of my head, only felt that way when I silently screamed, to hide the horror from Bruce, like Lucy from Ricky).

I asked my daughter to stall Bruce from coming downstairs, while I grabbed a bucket and towels, before his eyes really did POP out of his head! I counted down to the last slow motion drip – water torture for me.

That night in bed, still traumatized by the day, I dozed off earlier than usual, but woke up at 2 a.m., dreaming I was submerged underwater. I went downstairs to the kitchen to get a 2 a.m. snack and flicked on the light switch. There it was – a flying mouse (that’s what I call Palmetto bugs), the size of Japan (I’m allowed to exaggerate, I’m a writer.) This time, my scream reverberated throughout the house. Joey, our puppy, came downstairs to see if I was okay. Not Bruce. I have no idea how he slept through the racket I was making below with pots and pans, banging away at the creature from the black lagoon. I sprayed the bug with Lysol, but without WARNING, it went down a floor vent. I tried looking in the vent to see him, and he bounced out like a rubber ball at me. I finally clobbered him with a broom, ‘til he was squished dead. Then I remembered that if you squash them, hundreds of their eggs can be disbursed. Really?

When I went upstairs I knew I’d never fall asleep. I listened to my husband’s breathing in the dark, wondering if he was sleeping with his mouth open. Uh-oh. Do I sleep with my mouth open, too? I hear those bugs like warm dark places. So, I considered getting masking tape, but that would be crazy. Actually, not that crazy, since our primary care doctor at MUSC told us he digs those creatures out of people’s ears all the time. Really?

The next morning, relieved the night before was over, I took my seven-month-old puppy in the car for a long ride on the highway, and without warning, I heard some unpleasant regurgitation sounds, and sure enough, I see Joey had thrown up all his breakfast on the back seat. I kept my left hand on the steering wheel and the other behind me, preventing him from lying in it. I may have swerved a bit over the white lines. I then notice in my rear view mirror that a white car was following me for quite some time. Suddenly, I hear the dreaded sirens and see the blue flashing lights.

I nervously giggled like a schoolgirl when the 12-year-old officer approached my passenger window, asking for my papers. While fumbling through my messy glove compartment, I told him, “Well, officer, I usually am a very cautious driver, but look, THAT happened!”  His eyes did a subtle pop at the size of the mound on the leather seat, and said he would be right back. He sat in his police car forever, checking me out, I suppose, and writing my citation. And I had to wonder if dog vomit would now be on my record. Finally, I hear his car door slam shut. He returned, still not looking amused, and handed me a paper. Phew! Just a Warning! That was encouraging! I Wish I could get a WARNING every time something was about to go awry. Then I could  hide in the closet ‘til it is safe to come out again.

THE WHITE COUCH

It was like love at first sight when we entered the pearly gates of the furniture store. In retrospect, we were blind-sided by the white couch. It sat there, almost mocking us, in its snowy purity. “Oh my God,” I gasped upon seeing it. “It’s so chic …so, so WHITE. This is the dreamiest sofa I have ever seen in my life!”

My husband Bruce didn’t seem too concerned at first, knowing how frugal I am, but then he plopped himself down on the billowy cushions and suddenly he had an ethereal glow about him. I plopped myself down next to him on the cloud and let it consume every fiber of my being. I, too, felt seraphic and knew we’d succumb.

“Whada ya think?” I asked. “This will be great in our great room, dontcha think?”
“Let’s go home and sleep on it,” he responded, as we glanced back at the couch, and exited. That night I tossed and turned. I had a nightmare that the couch was alive, like a ghost haunting me.

Next morning we discussed the over-sized sectional and I got out the tape measure. It would be a perfect fit in the great room. I bit my bottom lip. “Should we order it?” Bruce raised his shoulders. “Umm, and what about the puppy we just ordered?”

“Oh, yeah. Bad timing, isn’t it? Let’s ask if the store can put the couch on hold while we quickly house-train our dog. After all, our doodle is part poodle, so he’s smart and will learn fast.” I didn’t let Bruce know I was even more worried about house-training the humans. You know, the grandkids running around with sharp objects and sticky fingers and extra-large magic markers. And worse than the children, what about the larger-size humans – the red-wine-drinking adults? There goes our social life. Maybe I can compose a questionnaire and send it out to all our acquaintances, to find out who drinks red and who drinks white. A process of elimination, if you will.

My head was spinning. If there is a spill, is there a service that sends a marked vehicle with a siren and flashing lights for emergencies, kinda like 911 for white couches? Of course, they’ll have to show up fast, as the stain cannot set in. I will have to research their Spot & Blot techniques. Do they use chemicals or baking soda-based cleansers? If those products fail, I will resort to dabbing with vodka, which has a dual purpose.

After I hand out Tide sticks at the front door, what food shall I serve with the Sauvignon Blanc? Sushi seems pretty harmless. Ahh, to think the whole idea of the white couch was turning into the white elephant in the room. The premise of getting the most comfortable lounge in the entire world to recline on was fading fast.

Then came the big test when our daughter and son-in-law wanted to give themselves an impromptu birthday party on our rooftop on July 4th weekend with 70 houseguests. I schlepped furniture up to the top of our four-level home, half-heartedly agreeing, because I figured the roof is far away enough from the big couch. Besides, it was also a celebration of my husband’s opening of a record store in August on John Street, downtown – an UN-retirement party, if you will.

After a long dry spell, I had prepared myself for inclement weather and the party being moved to the great room. At the last minute, I covered the beauty of the stupid couch with three king size white quilts. We schlepped the furniture back down the staircases. Our first guests arrived about the same time as the heavy rain did. I visualized 140 muddy feet propped up on the nearly extinct giant mammoth. I was convinced something bad would happen to the sofa. A candle? A cigar? A bear? Oh, My! For peace of mind, we finally moved the sofa to one side of the room, so people wouldn’t bump into it and barricaded it behind a heavy stone table that takes four strong men to budge. No one would get near that thing if I could help it!

The party was a success. The elephant survived. And of course, our fluffy, soft dog is happy once again to have it all to himself, perched eloquently, on our new décor like a shag throw rug. I stare at his innocent little face, and I wonder when all his baby teeth will fall out.

THE ROAD TO DISNEY IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

At least it used to be. Back in 1971 when they opened the doors to the Magic Kingdom, adults paid $3.50 and children $1.00 to enter. The rides and attractions ranged from 10 cents to 90 cents. Today, it costs $125 per ticket. And $22 to park your car on top of that, and if you want priority parking, that would be $45.

Do young parents have to take out a second mortgage to bring their kids there because of all the media hype? Are they guilted into it? Apparently, the price hikes didn’t scare families away over the years, including us.

Our greatest wish was to take our own children and two grandchildren to this fantasy land bigger than life itself. Originally, our first attempt in January 2018 failed, though. Mother Nature and the 30-year record breaking snowstorm had other plans for us. Every road, bridge, supermarket, doctor’s office – you name it, closed down in Charleston. The city was literally frozen. Of course, we all got the flu and our grandkids, Jagger 6, and Siena 3, were delirious with frightening fevers reaching 106 degrees.

We thought we’d made the smarter, more economical move by renting an entire house in Orlando, rather than going to a high-price Disney resort. Ahh, the best laid plans of mice and men (no pun intended, and NO refund intended on the January house, either)

Disney, take two! Good thing the kids were never told about the trip because we waited for Easter Sunday to present the big gift. Our daughter meticulously planned the itinerary and made up a scavenger hunt for the kids, one thought-out clue after another that would lead them to the trip of a lifetime, the first week in May.

Finally, the kids solved all the clues and were ready for the unveiling. We led them outside … Drum roll, please! The propaganda and balloons flanked the 3-car garage doors and a giant handmade poster with bold lettering: SURPRISE – YOU ARE GOING TO DISNEY WORLD! . Their faces — Expressionless. We were the ones surprised. Why didn’t we see this coming? It’s not like they didn’t warn us. These two children would never go within 150 yards of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. What made us think these intelligent beings suffering their entire little lives with CCS – Creepy Clown Syndrome, would want to be surrounded by an overabundance of characters.

Once we got to Disney, how could we possibly rectify the situation? Hmm. Bribery! It was the only answer. “Listen, kids,” we said, “if you let us take a picture of you with the two big mice, we’ll buy you a Lego set at the giant Lego store at Disney. There was a long pause. Then,success. They agreed to the deal. But when we got on line for Mickey and Minnie’s autograph, we could see they were getting more anxious by the minute. They swallowed a lot and looked pale. Another pep talk was in order. “Just don’t make eye contact,” we warned them. “Don’t look at their oversized hands, and don’t step on their tails. (I was starting to get creeped out, myself) And, don’t worry, they don’t even talk. Trust us.”

We found ourselves lying to the children every few minutes. Next, it was the rides. We stood behind a family of eight on line, in dire need of dental care, all wearing $25 t-shirts that read “This is the Most Expensive Day of my Life!” We made poor Jagger go on Space Mountain. He’s not been the same since.

Grandpa got motion sickness. Soon, the entire family was traumatized one way or another. Does Disney have no mercy? Yes, yes it does! We discovered that the very day we arrived was the first day they started serving alcoholic beverages in the kingdom of deceit. CHEERS!

So, you may wonder … was it all worth it? The answer is YES – every minute!

TALKIN’ TURKEY

Holiday Dinner with the FamilyI

I wonder if it would be socially acceptable to dump my family and invite myself to eat the holiday feast with the Johnsons, total strangers who live around the bend  … ‘cause I don’t think I can take another year with my over-zealous politically-inclined relatives. And I predict this year will be a doozy!

Besides, I hear the Johnsons are politically-apathetic. So what if the cooking is bland? I can picture my surrogate relations now – they’ll have mellow yellow candles glowing in each window. Zen music will be coming from every orifice of their walls. Maybe all they’ll argue about over dinner is the wishbone.

In our family, we have an Chef a ‘la Attitude, who hands out meticulously printed menus to each of the twenty dinner guests seated at the long table. His recipes are so confidential, even the Secret Service can’t break the code. Except for the caucus … I mean, carcass. That’s a given! “Kill bird – cook bird – eat bird,” says our gun-toting Uncle Samuel ready to stab the poor unpardoned thing with his fork.

Don’t get me wrong, we were very grateful for the food we were about to receive: corn bisque with red bell pepper and rosemary soup, brussel sprouts with pecans, baked spiced butternut squash drizzled with pure maple syrup, en salada miste verde, and of course, the main course, crispy roasted applejack tarragon turkey with mushroom bacon leek stuffing.

But at the last gathering, I knew trouble was a brewing when I saw renderings of elephants and donkeys on the backs of the carte du jour. And the alcohol and appetizers was the precursor for the mix of high strung personalities and a melding of different generations

Ahh, a family with diverse political appetites, I write about in my run-on-sentence, including:  the “I’m-gonna-save-the-world” United Nations human rights attorney nephew; his brother, the liberal elitist New York Times journalist; the pompous English professor; the protesting, but creative nieces and nephews in the music business; the high school sophomore  who thought he could apply for his higher education at the Electoral College; the “what-am-I-gonna-do-now?” recent Ivy League college grad student;  and the peace-making surfer dude, who says, “You know, it doesn’t matter who’s in office, the cycle of political eras just go up and down … you gotta ride ‘em out like a wave, man … you just gotta ride ‘em out.”

There’s the identical twin sisters, Aunt Franny from Philly, who always wears those crazy hats, and her sister Flo, from LA, who only eats organic foods like African plant roots. I think last year she brought her own tree to the table. And, of course, I can’t forget the spinster, Cousin Zoey, the vegan, who lives on beans and garlic. There’s usually an empty chair next to hers. She goes into great detail about how she “cleanses the toxins from her body” the day after big holiday meals.

So, who planned Thanksgiving and Christmas time so close together, anyway? We JUST saw these people! We start out very polite; everyone attempts to skirt around the political issues at hand. I recall in the year 2000 (which seemed like such a futuristic date at the time), we turned into the Hatfields and the McCoys. A good old-fashioned food fight would have been more civilized between the staunch Republicans versus the resilient Democrats. I had wished there were no utensils within anyone’s reach. Looking back, the chit chat seems so harmless now, arguing over the dimpled and absentee ballots at the time rather than the Russians and nuclear weapons we now face. Someone had suggested if the ballots were printed like Bingo cards, they never would have counted wrong!

But everyone was eating in between the discussion, except for the vegan who started to cry.  “I can’t eat this poor turkey! Isn’t it bad enough they had to walk around their entire lives with those stupid red things hanging from their necks?” There was silence between gulping. “And what about animal rights?”

“Animal rights? What’s that?” Great Aunt Millie from Brooklyn asked, innocently. She reminisced. “I remember the old days on Mulberry Street. We were sooo poor back then. There were stables across the street from where we lived, and whenever a horse died, they would just put it out by the curb until someone would come and take it away. I once sat on a dead horse when I was little, eating my sandwich.”

“I think I’m gonna be sick!” The vegan bolted from the table. Brussel sprouts rolled everywhere. Again … silence.

“Did I ever tell you about the time Uncle Tooty bit the ear off a dog?”

‘Shut up!” someone blurted.

“At least we got off the subject of politics,” the host said pleasantly.

Then, the leftover hippie from the 60s spoke up. “The last time I voted was in 1976 for Jimmy Carter.” Uh-oh. I knew that wouldn’t sit right with the rich bastard Cuban-cigar smokin’ Uncle from the gold coast. The food was passed around abruptly. To say there was a lot of clattering is an understatement.

The wide-eyed “Why-is-the-sky-blue?” little ones watched the adults as if it was a tennis match. One of the youngest asked, “What is a gravy boat, anyway?”

“I don’t know, but it sure is starting to thicken!” someone said.

“Why are you all fighting?”  Little Bobby asked.

“We’re not fighting, Bobby. We’re having a discussion. A debate, if you will.”

This year, I can only imagine when the main platter, the “head honcho” will take center stage on the dining room table – The Big Orange Bird.

Good Luck, America. Gotta love it!

WHY I WRITE

People often ask me why I write … hmm. That’s a story in itself. Early on I think I longed for adventure, and if I wasn’t satisfied with what was around me, I’d create my own adventurous stories and, of course, I’d be the main character. Let me back up the clock a bit – quite a bit.  When I was a toddler I scaled a chain link fence to get to the German shepherd on the other side. I was a tomboy growing up and I looked for the tallest trees to climb. As a teen, I’d climb out of my second floor bedroom window in the middle of the night and sneak back into my house before dawn.

I kept a 500 page journal about my escapades hidden in the attic behind a trapdoor, which I could only reach on tiptoes while balancing on a tall stool. One day I discovered it was gone … my mother must have read it, disapproved, and conveniently lost it, without confronting me. Perhaps she didn’t know enough about my mischievous ways until she read about the person I really was – not a bad kid, just a bit curious and daring.

Because I was painfully shy in high school, I didn’t participate in afterschool activities; I went straight home to my fantasy world where I needed to express my innermost feelings on paper.  I dreamed of seeing the world. And eventually I did. As a stewardess back in the glamorous days of flying, I travelled to many exotic destinations. There was a whole world out there I knew nothing about. Unwittingly, when I met strangers on the road, many who couldn’t speak a word of English, they became bits and pieces of future characters in my writing.

I’ll never forget visiting the Anne Frank house in Holland, and how it influenced me. Of course, like every young impressionable girl coming of age, I had read her diary. I got through the narrow hallways and secret places the family hid in, without tears, but it was at the end of the tour where I choked up when I read a letter her father Otto Frank had written. He explained how we do not truly know each other in our families – mothers and fathers and daughters and sons. I thought that was terribly sad. Is it because we’re so close, we can’t bear to see their pain?

After raising my own two children, I became restless within my empty nest. Boring domestic distractions at home forced me to leave my comfortable computer screen and drive aimlessly to a writer-friendly location. Oddly, I’d find myself sitting in my car on a winter’s day with the heat on, parked next to a horse farm, writing feverishly, while my two golden retrievers breathed down my neck, keeping me company. Ah, the loyalty and patience of dogs.  There’s something so comforting and spiritual about the beauty of animals that I am drawn to, and that makes me feel “right” inside. Hours would pass. Once in a while, a horse would whinny and come to the fence, and I fantasized about riding him bareback. I’d say that a majority of my debut novel came to fruition in that very spot.

I felt great relief to fill so many blank pages and fill the empty pages of my heart.  It took me thirteen years to write my first book, Rembrandt’s Shadow and the sequel, Restitution. When I look back at those days, I realize I was hardly aware that I was writing two works of romantic historical fiction, or why, but it was too late to stop. It was as if the characters were controlling my thoughts, guiding my pen, and driving me to finish the story about those dark days they knew, before I was even born. The irony is that the ghosts were real characters in my husband’s family, who went to their graves with secrets they kept, which I wasn’t even aware of until years after I started writing.

If I had known beforehand that I would turn into this isolated writer for that long, I wonder if I would have made such a commitment. In the end, I am truly grateful I endured the grueling process, because every day, I meet people who are unaware of what took place during those horrific times of the Holocaust. Every time I meet a reader who tells me he or she was moved or enlightened by what I wrote I feel rewarded.

Sadly, history does repeat itself. Recently, I was touched by nine elderly women, all Holocaust survivors, who felt an obligation to remind ALL of us to remember the six million Jews who were scapegoats … because of fear, because of power. These women who looked into the faces of pure evil in Auschwitz had promised almost 75 years ago this would “never happen again,” yet it did happen again and again: the Killing Fields, Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur … Syria.

The least we can do is read about it and write about it until we run out of paper.  Finally, for me, I believe I have the answer to the question I am often asked – why I write.

WHEN DUTY CALLS

Nine months ago, while packing to move 40 years worth of “stuff” from New York to South Carolina, I hesitated while holding the dog’s pooper scooper. Should I pack it or shouldn’t I? After all, the truck was filled to capacity, and the doggie excavator was of the super-size variety for my rather large golden retriever. Maybe it wouldn’t be necessary where we were going; maybe the Poop Fairy would show up in the dark every night to remove the golden eggs.

Weeks before, I attempted training my rebellious husband how to pick up the dog’s waste when out in public – a chore we’d be obligated to do, once we resettled down south in Pleasant-Ville. Our new home is in a very pleasant area! If you bump into anyone, they say, “That’s fi-i-ine!” instead of giving you the northern scowl or the finger. In our new neighborhood, they pump jasmine scent into the air; the children (even teenagers) are well-mannered, and their parents drive down the tree-lined streets in shiny golf carts, mothers wearing Laura Ashley dresses and fathers in pink shorts. We’ve recently invested in the Happy Pills they take, and are learning how to mark off the calendar where every day is Saturday.

“I will Not be picking up the dog’s poop!” my husband had protested.

“Oh, it won’t be so bad,” I told him. “We’ll take turns.”

“Take turns? How many times does a dog poop in a day?”

“I’m not sure,” I answered, honestly, since she had always done her business, privately, in the woods on Long Island.

“I wonder if there’s such a thing as dog poop services.” He went online. “Well, look at that!” he said. “They come to your house on a regular basis in marked vehicles. It says dogs poop approximately 23 pounds per month. The more poop, the higher the price. It looks like it will cost us $20 per service. Kind of pricey.”

Not bad, I thought. Bruce is retired now – Hmm… maybe? But it is an art to find it and remove the __it. These people are experts…

He continued reading: “The service people move in a grid-like pattern, their eyes meticulously scanning the path before them.”

“What about behind bushes? I asked.

He ignored me because we were moving to property without a lawn, without bushes, without any maintenance at all; well, except for the removal of dog doodie in a large brick courtyard.. And once collected, whatever do you do with it, I wondered.

He interrupted my thought. “It also states their service is insured.”

“Insured? For what? If someone steps in it? If there’s unwanted poop contact?” I thought of a Seinfeld skit I once saw describing those little poop bags dog owners use, following behind their mutts and purebreds on the streets. It is the lowest activity in human life,” Seinfeld said. “If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they’re going to think the dogs are the leaders of the planet.

Flash-forward: I am proud to say my husband has now mastered the pick-up. He is a Pro at inserting his hand in the bag, scooping it up in one swift motion and disposing. Flashback: I will never forget the first time I had handed him the little black plastic bag to do his duty. His finicky back went out a little as he squatted, and then it turned ugly! Well, you don’t need to know the details. Not entirely his fault – my husband’s not handy!

But I must say, good things have come out of this. The relationship between man and his dog is different now. The way my dog looks at him all schmoopy, as she watches him do the poopy-scoopy, as if she has a whole new respect.

Speaking of Respect – R-E-S-P-C-E-C-T, aside from Aretha Franklin coming to mind, I will not forget the irony of what happened next: While my husband was trying to be discreet when walking the dog in the open field near our house where neighbors sometimes gather, the poor guy ran into a sticky situation. As it turns out, one of those neighbors was the banker he had recently met with about a loan.

“Mr. Berg?” he called. “Glad I ran into you. I just started going over your application. So, here’s the scoop…”

My husband dressed in his favorite Bob Dylan t-shirt, quickly tried to hide the little black bag behind his back. “Oh! Umm, hello!”

The gentleman, dressed in a navy blue 2-button pinstripe Brook Brother’s business suit, extended his hand in greeting and my husband nervously extended the wrong hand and flung the little black plastic bag straight at him. He tried to wipe the banker’s jacket off, but that apparently rubbed the man the wrong way.

“Err…sorry. I guess we’ll finish the application process on Monday?” my husband asked in a weak voice.

“I don’t think so!”

Hey, stuff happens.

OUT OF STATE, OUT OF MIND

I’ve been a frustrated writer for many months now, not having written a word because our computer crashed right before our move out of state. It’s finally back. But I’m not sure I am. Just touching the keyboard now feels alien to me, like everything else. Have we landed on Mars? Have we lost contact with Planet Earth? Here we are my husband Bruce and I, in Charleston, South Carolina – voted the #1 most desirable city in the United States, and #2 in the world. Our daughter Janelle and son-in-law Mike and two toddlers moved in with us, temporarily.  To say it’s been chaotic is an understatement. (Our son, Jeffrey, always the logical one of the family, remained in New York, but we’re working on him to join our Nonsectarian cult).

Carolinians speak a different language than us; they’re low-talkers here in low-country, unlike us loud Yankees. The second we open our mouths, everyone knows where we’re from. Dead giveaways: cawfee, dawg, dawta, wawta . . . we were immediately given the test how to pronounce y’all correctly. It took a few tries ‘til we got it right.

They say moving is one of the most stressful things in life. For me it was also an out of body experience. We found the transition challenging, from our home with a big yard to a New Orleans style home on a lake, replicating the historic homes downtown with balconies, shuttered windows, brick courtyards, flower gardens, and Spanish moss. We sit on one of the three levels of piazzas, chasing our dog running back and forth barking at all the passersby with their own dogs.  There are 750 homes in our neighborhood and most families own two to three dogs. Do the math and you’ll know why we’re frazzled.

Before our move there was a ton of preparation. We had four yard sales back home on Long Island to purge all the stuff we accumulated over the past 40 years. The last sale was the toughest, parting with certain sentimental things. They’re just things, I know, but still. I remember handing over my mother’s sewing basket filled with her buttons, embroidery, ric rac, needles and thimbles to a woman, and bursting into tears. She handed me back the basket and said, “It’s okay, you keep it.”

My biggest regret was not being able to part with the thousands of photos – frozen, fragile memories encased in glass frames, separated in bubble wrap from the hundreds of other boxes. How could I possibly part with the time our golden retriever fell asleep with three tennis balls in her mouth? Or when we donned our infant son in a long blonde wig in his baby carriage? Or when our teenage daughter was balancing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in her sparkly platform heels?  I couldn’t!  It was a strange feeling when we pulled away from our house in the driveway, looking back, teary-eyed,  wishing we could take it with us, dismantle it brick by brick, and put it back together again when we reached our new destination. It wasn’t just a house, it was part of our family, and we were abandoning it forever. Goodbye house. Hope your next family fills you with happiness.    

We pulled up to our New Orleans style house with its three levels and helped the movers carry everything up the many flights of stairs. OY! What were we thinking at this age? We were emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. The heat index reached 115 degrees. Bruce and I were on edge, and either were going to head for divorce court before we unlocked the front door, or else drive off the Ravenel Bridge together.

The next morning a water hose under the kitchen sink got loose like a wild snake, and Janelle and I, who morphed into Lucy and Ethel, tried to hold the beast down, but it had a mind of its own. I grabbed the nearest thing to catch the water shooting out – a potted plant – which quickly turned into a muddy river on our white kitchen floor. We both panicked until her level-headed husband Mike came to the rescue. After the leak, we had to withstand two weeks of lightning storms, and then the infamous 1000-year-Flood. Our bottom floor had water gushing in, and we couldn’t save the rugs, but were grateful no one was hurt. Well, that’s not exactly true. Bruce slipped in the new lake inside our house and fell hard. In fact, it started a whole series of him falling, and we had to keep buying larger and larger bandages. We stayed up overnight with a giant, noisy Wet-Vac machine, and kept fans running. There was an awful loud commotion coming out of our house for three full days.  Everything was going wrong!  From no internet or phone service, emergency visits to the doctor with our grandchildren contracting impetigo, to freaking out when we discovered palmetto bugs (southern roaches the size of flying mice) trying to move in with us.

As I stood on the sidewalk, wringing out wet towels, with my drenched hair lacquered across my forehead in my muddy and torn Capris, a well-groomed southern belle drove by in a shiny red golf cart wearing her pearls and Burberry raincoat, and gave me the Queen’s wave. I stood there with my Carol Burnett mop and pail, and my daughter noticed my bulging eyes, ready to lunge. “Hold me back!” I said.

When the storms passed, and the sun came out once again, neighbors knocked on our door bearing welcoming bread. We were invited to morning coffees, afternoon teas, tennis tournaments, movie groups, book clubs, and on and on. We went on a horse and carriage ride along surrounding quaint streets with porches beautifully decorated for the Christmas season, and it didn’t take long to fall madly in love with the neighborhood.  Again, we can say it’s good to be back in our home sweet home.

Grandma’s Emetophobia

Our daughter Janelle and her husband Mike (former Greenwich Village party-people) were very excited to be going to their good friend’s wedding in Miami. They dropped their three-year-old son, Jagger, and seven-month-old daughter, Siena, at our house for four nights. I had gone to Costco to stock up on what I thought we’d need once we became shut-in grandparents.

Still trying to figure out why I had purchased a carload of crap from a mega store, my daughter called and said “We’re coming by now to drop off the kid’s. For a fleeting moment, I wondered why we needed all my stuff and now all her stuff. My eyes widened when the two fully-loaded SUVs pulled up at our front door. Janelle handed me my granddaughter. Mike unbuckled Jagger out of his Houdini car seat, and my grandson ran around me in circles, pulling at my sleeve for attention. “Cracka,” (he calls me Gram Cracker) “I’m going to sleep over your house in the bed with you and Papa King.” He looked so excited. And he seemed fine. Just fine.

At dinner Siena sat in the high chair, squeezing avocado between her fingers and smearing it over her pudgy cheeks. I was disappointed that Jagger didn’t want to eat his dinner, but I was pleased enough with him drinking almost an entire gallon of the nutritious Mysterious Green Drink. At least I got ONE thing at Costco that paid off, I thought. Sure, it was worth the $400! On the label of the bottle, it actually states: “It looks weird, but tastes amazing.” It not only contains five different fruits, but also Spirulina (whatever the hell that is.) Oh, wait! Let me Google it.  Definition: “Filamentous Cyano-bacteria that form tangled masses in warm alkaline lakes in Africa and Central and South America.” NO LIE. In addition to alfalfa, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, barley grass, wheat grass, ginger, and parsley. And, by the way, these things are “sustainably grown and harvested”.  After dinner, I left the dirty dishes on the countertop and in the sink, thinking I’d get back to them later.

I read Jagger his favorite storybooks while we cuddled in our king-size poster bed and noticed his eyes looking kinda glazed-over. I felt his forehead and it was warm, but I didn’t think it was unusual; he looked almost as exhausted as I was and fell asleep quickly. I started to tiptoe out of the room so I could clean the mess in the kitchen. But Jagger had different plans for the evening. With only one foot out of the master bedroom, I did an about-face when I heard déjà vu audio from the movie The Exorcist. Poor Jagger bolted himself into a sitting position and projectiled all that green goodness onto our white down comforter. I thought of the label again on that big green bottle. It says to be sure to SHAKE WELL … Jagger took care of that!

Carrying the three year old to the bathroom was like moving slow motion in my worst dream. And I don’t know what I was thinking he would do once I got him to the vomitorium, being this was a first for him…he had no idea he had to aim the green machine into the bowl, instead of EVERYWHERE else! I couldn’t blame the poor child.

He sat on the floor, trembling, and looking at me in shock. “It’s okay,” I lied; I didn’t want to let on that I’ve always been phobic about throwing up (Seriously!). “Um, don’t move, I’ll go get Papa King,” I told him and ran down our (50-foot-7 inch long) hallway (I just measured it) as if I had wheels on my feet. “Come with me! NOW!” I yelled at my husband, knowing he’s a slow-walker. “MOVE IT! MOVE IT!” Papa King, who had been mellowing out at the other end of our house, listening to Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters, had no clue what troubled waters he was about to embark upon.

 

He rose to the occasion though, stripping the sheets and comforter off the bed, and wiping up the floors. I was quite impressed. Jagger and I both sat on the floor with our green hair, watching him clean up. As soon as the shock wore off, he screamed, “I WANT MY MOMMY!” My heart crumbled.

Siena was starting to stir in her crib from all the noise, and the craziness got crazier. It was like a scene from a nutty movie. Even our golden retriever, Jude (who I named after the Saint of the Impossible) joined us for what looked like fun to her, and grabbed the baby’s pacifier when it dropped from Siena’s open, crying mouth, and the six-year-old dog pranced like a puppy, taunting us to play chase. “You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me!”

My once clutter-free home, which is up For Sale, by the way, turned into a circus. I couldn’t imagine how I’d prepare to show the house the next morning for the realtor who was bringing prospective buyers. The HGTV show came to mind … how they talk about “staging” … I tried to recall if there was ever an episode called Exit, Stage Left.

That entire night, I slept zero hours, minutes, seconds, waiting to hear sounds from my two little grandchildren, my precious little cookies, and I was doubly tortured by Papa King’s snoring (the man can fall asleep on a picket fence); I wondered who would be next in line to get the bug?

In the morning, when I asked Jagger what he wanted for breakfast, he answered, “I just want my BIG Gre-e-en drink.” My gag reflex went into immediate action.

That day, in between my lack of sleep and cool baths to bring down his 104 temperature and delirium, photos of the wedding party were being posted on Facebook…and there stood Janelle and Mike in their cool sunglasses with big smiles on their faces, holding cocktail glasses with little umbrellas in them. How could I tell them what was happening? I couldn’t. I would just have to wait ‘til the next day when they’d be in the middle of their post party hangovers.

MOM AND THE SINGER

Dear Mom,

Only your Singer knows how many times you pricked your fingers with the needle. How many times the bobbin bopped up and down, singing your praises. Since you were only fourteen, when you were forced to quit school and work in a sweat shop to help put food on the table, I wonder how often you talked to the old machine about doing something more important in your life.

Everyone knew you as “Jean, the Best Seamstress in the Land.”  Yet, I never knew the title didn’t make you feel fulfilled. Not until your 70th surprise birthday party when you looked teary-eyed at the Singer embossed in icing on your cake and quietly commented to me, “Is that all I’m known for?”

You had always been a bit fearful and timid, and I finally understand why you didn’t object to my crazy and adventurous lifestyle – you lived your life through mine in some ways, as I rode my Honda along the curvy roads and surfed the ocean waves along the shore. When I got to travel the world, part of you was packed in my Samsonite.

I can’t recall. Did I ever ask you, Mom, what your dreams were? You were always just Mom, plain ol’ Mom, always there when I got home from school, sitting in the corner behind the small machine, hunched over a pile of fabric. You saved every ric rac, every piece of trim, every ribbon you’d collected from the Depression days – the days when you and your three sisters shared one lipstick. Oh, how Dad adored you. Said he was never a rich man, but found his gold in you.

I can still see the matching dresses you made for my sister and me; the intricate detail of the smocking you had sketched on a pad while standing in front of the glass window of Best & Co. – a store where you couldn’t afford to shop. But I was a tomboy, and you’d always find me up in a tree with ripped seams and torn hems. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the pretty dresses, but I liked the pretty branches more. You allowed me to climb as high as I wanted, and encouraged me later on to fly as an airline stewardess. You rarely knew which part of the world I was in at any given time, and I believe in a way that it freed you.

I remember when you were nearly 90, right before you passed from this earth, and you shared your regrets. “I would have liked going into politics,” you said. “Really?” I blinked, taken aback. Being I was never much into politics, I thought if you could have become a politician, you’d be the first one I’d ever trust.

I have my own regrets, Mom. One of them being that I should have told you over and over again how grateful I was for the beautiful home you kept, for the home-cooked meals you had ready for us every single night of the week and the beautiful clothes you dressed us in. But more than that, I wish I could tell you how grateful I am for your mending each and every one of us in our family whenever we were broken on the inside. You always knew how to fix everything!  Except Dad, when he got sick. You couldn’t fix him.

We moved you into our house for a short while after Dad was gone, and watched you slowly wither away next. It warms my heart that I can still go upstairs in my own house to the room where I watched you get your angel wings.

I left everything intact that you kept in your dresser near your poster bed. And to this day, I am certain to find the right size safety pin or color thread or any other trivial thing I may need. I still feel your hand passing those objects over to my hand. I wish I could write to you in heaven and thank you for these things, and also for passing your goodness on to my own children, and all your grandchildren. You’re the most successful woman I know, still giving your mother’s love.