The Luckiest People in the World

On the outside, it looks like I’ve done a lot of nothing the last three weeks. I power watched five seasons of “Nurse Jackie” and the new BBC series “Broadchurch,” and I’m well into season two of “Parenthood.” I read six issues of “Arthritis Today,” four issues of “Birds and Blooms,” two books, and every blog entry since October in my Feedly feed. I’ve played countless rounds of Hearts, Canasta, Backgammon, Cribbage, and Words With Friends, and I’ve listened to nine weeks of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” podcasts.

But when I look really close, I see I’ve also done something that makes me very, very uncomfortable, and I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Barbra Streisand sings what I’m talking about better than I can write it.

“People who need people
Are the luckiest people in the world”

To need is lucky? I’ve never considered my “needs” as a lucky thing. When I need something or someone, it feels inconvenient at best and weak at worst, unless, of course, I can equally compensate the person helping me. But when you go through something like a hip replacement, and you can’t drive or tie your shoes or climb stairs or sit on a normal toilet seat, you need “a village,” and unless you’ve got a lot of money, that village is your family and friends. As I considered the surgery and the recovery, that didn’t feel very lucky to me.

So, I mentioned I’ve been power watching “Parenthood.” The show’s theme song is Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” After 25 episodes, the song’s message finally sunk in:

“May you always do for others
And let others do for you”

The doing for others part is a cinch. I want to help. I want to be needed. Doing is my thing. But the “…let others do for you” part isn’t so easy, because it’s not about paying forward or banking goodness. It means allowing others to love and to care for you without expectation of payback. Period.

When my friend Debbie drove an hour to visit me a week after my surgery, and she brought Panera and we ate in Jim’s bedroom because I was too uncomfortable sitting in the dining room…that’s letting others do for you. My massage therapist texted me just before she left to visit her family in Germany for Christmas: “I’ll be back on the 31st and can help you and will be glad to do it…It can’t be one bit easy to have such a major surgery, and I’m sure it wears on your emotions! I’d cry all the time!” She not only brought her table and equipment to my house for a massage this week, she insisted it was on the house. Letting others do for you.

And then there’s Jim. As if taking me home from the hospital and knowing that for the next three weeks I would need him to tie my shoes wasn’t enough, he called 911 when I had a vasovagal response the night I got home from the hospital, despite me telling him “I’ll be fine!” The paramedics couldn’t find my blood pressure at first, and when they did, it was 77/44. He stood at the foot of the gurney rubbing my feet, and he told me this is what people do when they love someone.

He hauled my four-legged potty chair to every holiday function. He built a non-skid stepstool so I could get into his pickup. He’s in the process of rebuilding his garage that burned in February, but he came over immediately when I caused a second-floor power outage when I attempted to run two space heaters (in separate rooms, in my defense) and I couldn’t get down the rickety 100-year-old stairs to trip the breaker. He takes me to the grocery store and physical therapy, and gets me out of the house when it’s the last thing I want to do but need to do.

“And let others do for you.”

We really are damn lucky to need people. It took a new hip for me to really get that.

Need, people! Don’t be afraid. It’s OK. Uncomfortable at first? Absolutely. But try it on. Be grateful. They want to help you as much as you want to help them. “Thanks. Couldn’t have done it without you” is the best thing you can ever say or hear in this life.

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The Pause

March 10, 31 years ago, was my daughter Carlene’s due date, but she wasn’t interested in coming out. According to his measuring tape and his best guess, my doctor said Carlene was in excess of 8 pounds and she wouldn’t be born for another few weeks if she had her way.

“Your blood pressure’s high, the baby is big enough,” he said, taking off his gloves. “We need to get the baby out.”

“Ok,” was all I said, like I knew what he meant. Only I didn’t.

He left, I got dressed, and a nurse came in with some papers. Told me to check into the hospital.

“Ok,” I said again, and again, I asked no questions because I was 19 years old and I was stuck between the fear of the unknown and the mandate by which I was raised: never question authority. I walked numbly to the waiting area. My husband, Bruce, met me near the coat rack.

“So, what did he say?” he asked cheerfully, helping me into my coat. Bruce was terribly excited to meet the baby. Every night, he rubbed my belly like it was Aladdin’s lamp. “Come out and play!” he’d say.

“I have to go to the hospital,” I said quietly, trying not to cry. “He said the baby has to be born soon.”

He took my hand and I clutched the papers with the other. We walked outside. Bruce helped me into the car. Nothing was easy anymore.

Bruce slid into the driver’s seat. I looked over the papers the nurse had given me and could feel my heart beating in my temples.

“I don’t know what any of this means!” I slapped the papers. “I don’t know what they’re going to do. Am I having a C-section? Is the baby OK?”

Bruce took a deep breath. “Let’s just sit here for a minute,” he said.

“But they’re expecting us at the hospital! We have to go!” I protested. God knows we had to do exactly what we were told.

“They’ll be there when we get there,” he said. He reached over and stroked my hair. “We need some time to think.”

So we paused. I took a deep breath and loosened my death-grip on the papers. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I remember not feeling alone. I was afraid and so was he, but we were afraid together. When we felt ready to go, as was always Bruce’s positive approach to life, he said, “We’re having a baby!” Which we did, the next day, at 7:27 in the evening after more than 13 hours of labor. No C-section.

Carlene Rae came out looking just like her father, and as she grew, she took on his nature, even though they only knew each other for 11 days. Like her father, Carlene prefers to take her time, and she chafes against the hectic world and deadlines. She’s the person you want holding your hand when you shake, and she will remind you – with a joyful heart – about the good stuff yet to come.

 
Carlene was the joy of his life, if only for 11 days
   
Our wedding day; Carlene today

Fire

As long as I live, I will never forget the glow of light dancing on the snow outside the front door of Jim’s house. I threw open the door, looked to my right, and saw his barn on fire, with flames shooting 40 feet in the air.

What was burning was more than a wooden structure, tools, and his pickup. On fire was the labor and the love that built it. On fire was the bow tie given to Jim by his mother when he was a young boy. On fire was his favorite dog’s ashes. On fire was the Harley that took Jim and I on many adventures and instilled in me a confidence I’ve never had. On fire was his grandmother’s dining table and chairs, and a dresser his cousin inherited from her mother, who passed away last year. (Jim was refinishing it for her.) On fire was his grandfather’s .22 pistol and the BB gun Jim and his nephews use to shoot targets when they come to visit. On fire were my brother’s snow shoes he bought in 1970, the ones he said gave him a sense of peace when he treked across the fields around his college campus. On fire were the photos of good times with friends and family, a vintage poster for the Sinnamahoning Rattlesnake Bagging competition, and the original watercolors – painted by Jim’s neighbor – of the cabin that used to sit on the site where his barn was built.

When you walked into Jim’s barn, you walked into his mind, his past, his dreams, and his craft.

Anyone who has lost something special through fire or theft or some other loss knows that when things are more than “stuff,” it is necessary to grieve them for the life-giving, memory-filled things they were. And so it is for Jim. And for me, as I mourn the loss of my antique glider and whiskey barrel and, the most difficult, my bike.

While no one was hurt, I hope and pray our barn kittens weren’t in the barn when the fire started. We haven’t seen them yet, but we’re clinging to the hope that they are hunkered down close by.
So much to process. So much to do.

I Believe

I start a lot of pieces of writing on scraps of paper that I sometimes transfer to a Word document. I save the file as whatever the first typed words are, so the title rarely make sense when I see it days or months later. Every once in awhile, I go through that no-man’s land of strange file names to see if any of them still have relevance. Most of the time I have no idea what inspired me to write a particular sentence or short paragraph, so, like Charlie-in-a-Box and the water pistol that shoots jelly, those files get exiled to the electronic version of the Island of Misfit Toys.

During a recent file purge, I opened a file I’d saved shortly after passing my motorcycle permit test last April. I called it, “I believe.” I remember writing that I believed I could learn how to operate a motorcycle, but the last sentence I wrote completely slipped my mind: “I believe I can love someone.”

Before sending the file to the Island of Misfit Files, I thought about April and where my thoughts were at that time. As many of you know, one of my personal goals in 2013 was to get to the heart of my commitment issues and my fear of letting go and moving on. I wrote about this at the end of December (“The Letting Go Has Taken Place”). For the most part, 2013 was a good year of letting go of what needed to go and letting in that which was best to be let in. This laid the groundwork for the leap of faith I took last week when I moved to a small town 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. I moved because I believe I can love someone, but not in the way it might appear on the surface.

I don’t know if this is true for everyone, but being single and in love at age 50 is way different than being single and in love at age 20. My life no longer centers around raising children. I have the luxury of being selfish with my time. I like sleeping in the middle of the bed. I enjoy the silence of living alone, and I can take out my own garbage. Loving someone at 50 is something I want to do, not something I need or have to do, which was what love felt like at 20 and 30 and even 40.

When I say I believe I can love someone, I mean, specifically, that I believe I can love Jim and allow him to love me, idiosyncrasies and all. Idiosyncrasies that, in part, are filed under the heading of everything weight- and food-related.

Viewing ourselves through someone else’s eyes is a portal through which many of us would rather not look. I mean, we’re accustomed to who we are day by day, moment by moment. Who we are is who we are. Even if it is our desire to change a particular behavior, we still grasp to that understanding of who we are. Filtered through someone else’s lens, our thoughts, actions, and physical appearance is interpreted  in a way we cannot control or, for the most part, influence. Makes us feel a little naked, right?

At age 20, our life experiences stack up like helium balloons. At age 50, they look more like phyllo dough. At 50, we’ve spent more time in our bodies, taken in vast amounts of opinions and advice, and have pretty much decided – at least in general – what’s what. Some of us tweak our points of view and are open to new ideas, but – in the words of Edie Brickell – “What I am is what I am…”

And what I am in this new house in this new town is a woman whose demons and joys and life lessons moved here along with dishes and furniture and photos of grandbabies. I’m here because I want to love and be loved, to work in my field, to ride new bike trails, drink coffee in a new coffee shop, and add more layers to that phyllo dough of experiences. (Anyone else in the mood for baklava?)

I’m more willing than ever to see myself through someone else’s eyes and to filter that through my own understanding of who I believe myself to be, physically and psychologically. Makes it even more befitting that I moved to the hometown of Jimmy Stewart. His boyhood home is just up the street from me.

It’s A Wonderful Life” anyone? I believe it is.

“The Letting Go Has Taken Place…”

Since Christmas, I’ve been looking at 2013 through a mental wide-angle lens, reading my blogs and perusing  photos, searching for a theme that sums up my year. Nothing really popped out at first. I mean, I met Jim in January.

Audrey in February,

And Alice T. Dog in March.

Carlene is Carlene, Cassie is Cassie, and Kevin became a mechanic and moved to Asheville.

Andrew is still in film school, I finished school, and my ex retired from school. Teaching, that is.

Then I zoomed in on the year a bit and saw that…by golly…I s-l-o-w-l-y got my brave on. Perhaps “brave” is a bit brave, but when I compare last year at this time with how things are now, I kind of feel like freakin’ Hercules, man. Despite what felt like a physical apocalypse, 2013 offered me a whole lot of focus and awareness.

A quote that sums up this year is from Anne Lamott’s book, “Help Thanks Wow”:

“When you get your hooks out of something, it can roll away, down its own hill, away from you. It can breathe again. It got away from you, and your tight, sweaty grip, and your stagnant dog breath, the torture of watching you do somersaults and listening to you whine, ‘What if?’ and ‘Wait, wait, I have ONE more idea…’”

Hoping something or someone will change is like getting mad at turbulence (something I actually did on a flight out to Minnesota in November). It’s futile and a waste of time. And yet, for so long I, with my stagnant dog breath, had my hooks in things I wanted so badly to be what I wanted them to be, refusing to see what they really were. People, knees, that slice of cheesecake…I wanted them to be different.

I wanted ME to be different.

In taking my hooks out of some (not all, by any means) of those things and people that weren’t what I needed them to be and saw that they were just being what they were designed or needed to be, I in turn set myself free. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes letting go is like shaking tape off our fingers or picking a fleck of egg shell out of a frying pan. But those little leaps of faith didn’t cause my world to fall apart. They made my world less cluttered.

I’m heading into 2014 with a bit more courage and clarity than last year, but sans a Hercules costume. Perhaps granddaughter Claire will let me borrow her ninja mask.

Wishing all of you a happy, healthy, and a mostly nutritionally sound 2014. You can still pencil in chocolate, bread, wine, and brie once in a while.

(The title for this blog came from the song “The Letting Go” by Melissa Etheridge.

‘Tis The Season

Making the best of this particularly wintery (and technically it’s not winter yet) holiday season has included a walk through Market Square in downtown Pittsburgh and watching Jim (aka the Irishman) try out his new skates on the rink, dinner with friends, and a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert.
On the heels of a few 60-degree and sunny days last week was Friday night’s ice and snow and Saturday morning’s 28 degrees at the start of the Jingle Bell Run/Walk for arthritis research. Fortunately, a couple thousand people still showed up – including yours truly, my daughters, and my two oldest grandchildren.
Notice the semi-creepy photo bomb?

Claire and Luca ran the 100-yard Tinsel Trot. It was Luca’s first race and he ran his heart out. Claire placed third.

Cassie, in her Chuck Norris shirt, ran the 5K in 22 minutes and change, and Carlene, Jim, Claire and I walked almost the entire 5K in 47. Claire’s legs were getting tired and we took a wee shortcut, but still managed to keep our time at a 15- to 18-minute mile pace. Considering I couldn’t feel most of my toes (and Jim wasn’t going to carry me on his back), I thought that was pretty darn good.

Claire choking her ride

Let’s see…what else…

The Happy Bookers are reading “Christmas Jars” this month, selected by my kind-hearted and always positive friend, Cookie (even her name is fun!). What a well written and engaging story. If there’s a little ice around your ho ho ho this season, I highly recommend you give it a read, preferably lying on the couch, wrapped in an electric blanket, and drinking wine. Or maybe that’s just me…

I’ve watched “Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and next week, I’m mailing out a few Christmas cards, despite what some bah humbuggers think of the tradition.

“There’s little point to writing a Christmas update now,” Nina Burleigh wrote in Time. “The urge to share has already been well sated.” Sure…if everyone you know uses email or is on Facebook or Twitter. Twenty people on my mailing list don’t have email, or if they do, it’s only because their kids set up an account for them and they’ve long forgotten their password. These folks don’t care about social media, either.

It may not be chic to exchange Christmas cards anymore, but I rather enjoy catching up with and staying connected to the people with whom I don’t text/email/gchat/ichat/ or otherwise communicate electronically. I like seeing photos of their grandchildren, their gardens, their RV trip across the southwest. In a social climate increasingly diminishing its attention span to 144 characters or less, it’s relaxing to read a letter summarizing a friend’s or relative’s year of joys, sorrows, and gratitude.

My dad sent me lutefisk, something I haven’t eaten since going vegetarian six years ago. Because I’ve added some fish to my diet, I am excited to renew the tradition of eating lutefisk during the holidays. I just wish my dad didn’t live so far away. It’s way more fun eating it with him, but Jim wants to try it, despite my warnings, so this could be an interesting meal, too.

Of course, you can’t have lutefisk without lefse. As you recall, I made 40 rounds by myself last month, but that lefse’s long gone, eaten by my daughters and sons-in-law on Thanksgiving. Because I send lefse to three of my siblings and my dad for Christmas, I need to make even more this time, so tonight, Jim and I (Team Lefse, as he’s dubbed us) will roll and flip and fold somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 rounds. I’m sure Christmas music will be involved. Tall, strong, carpenter boyfriend knows every word to “We Need A Little Christmas” from “Mame,” (he likes the Angela Lansbury version), and has two Christmas channels preset on his XM radio.

Come January, I will be tempted to take “a long winter’s nap,” but I’m moving in the middle of the month, so not only will there be no post-holiday rest, but I doubt I’ll find my “kerchief” for a while. In the meantime, let it snow, I guess. Complaining about it would be as useless as stopping the cat from playing with the Christmas tree.

Lessons Learned From A 3-Legged Cat

Three weeks ago, Irish adopted a cat.

Not just any cat.

A three-legged cat.

Cat was the pet of a man who recently passed away. His daughter already owned three cats, two dogs, several mice, a couple of birds, and a ferret. She loved the cat, but simply didn’t have room for another pet. A vet tech, who knew of her situation and was familiar with Irish’s soft spot for all cats, feral and domesticated, called him to ask if he’d consider adopting the 4-year-old.

When I met Irish in January, his cat Boo Boo was still alive and very old. Boo Boo was Himalayan, and because I have a mild allergy to cats, being around him caused me a few issues. But I’ve been around cats for most of my adult life, and because God invented Kleenex and eye drops, I dealt with it. After Boo Boo passed away in May, Irish started feeding two feral cats who found a way inside his barn to bed down every night. When he got the call from the vet tech about Cat, he asked how I felt about him owning another house cat, given my allergy. There was no way I could (and no reason for me to) say no.

Cat was NOT a happy camper in the carrier. When the daughter brought him into Irish’s house and released him from his prison, he ran under the bed. Nothing Irish or I did could convince him to come out. He stayed there for three days, venturing out only in the middle of the night to eat and use the litter box.

The details of Cat’s life prior to living with the man who’d passed away are sketchy. Cat lost his leg, the daughter told us, due to a fight with a wild animal. Cat’s ears are also chewed up a bit. She also said that prior to living with her father, he was teased and possibly tortured by a group of young men who lived in a dorm.

On the afternoon of Day Three, Cat came out of the bedroom. I was in the office and Irish was watching football in the living room. Cat sat down and stared at me from the doorway. I said hello. A few more minutes passed. When I slowly got up from my chair, he bolted back under the bed.

The next night, I walked out of the bathroom after brushing my teeth and Cat was sitting in the hallway. He didn’t run away. I slowly sat down on the floor and talked softly to him. He cautiously walked over to me, purring, clearly craving attention. I reached out my hand. He cowered, but held his ground. I touched the top of his head and he moved to rub his neck against my hand. When I stood up to go to bed, he walked – not bolted – to his rug under the bed.

That Cat allowed me to touch him at all was courageous.

Fast forward three weeks. Tres, as he’s been named, is still a little skittish, but is all about being around Irish and me, walking between our legs when we’re getting dressed, playing with his mouse toy in the living room while we’re watching TV, and eating his food when we’re in the kitchen. It’s clear that Tres loves love. He thrives on attention. No wild animal, no cruel humans could squelch his hope or his desire to be cared for.

We all need to feel safe; to be acknowledged for the unique individuals we are. But it’s often what’s unique about us that keeps us hiding under the bed.

I’ve felt a nagging fear in the back of my mind ever since I wrote my last AIM post about my imaginary encounter with Santa. I’d written that I was worried that I wouldn’t complete tomorrow’s Jingle Bell 5K walk in the time that I could have completed a 5K a few years ago. Santa, of course, told me that time didn’t matter, that commitment to the cause of raising money for arthritis research was what was really important. But it’s hard to take advice from Santa when you’re the one playing Santa, you know?

Driving home from Irish’s today, I turned off the radio and concentrated on the nagging, the dread, the fear. What was I afraid of? It took several miles, but I identified the fear as fear of pain and fear of not being able to keep up with people who walked without a limp, especially the people who would be walking with me: my daughter Carlene, Irish, and my granddaughter Claire. Daughter Cassie will run the 5k, and I also realized that I’ve been comparing myself to her, too. I was feeling like Tres when he first moved into Irish’s: skittish, hiding under the bed, out of my element.

Then I thought about the trust Tres has built for Irish and me these last few weeks. Tres doesn’t intellectually understand the concept of trust and love, but clearly it’s innate. He doesn’t feel he has anything to prove to us. He doesn’t care that he has three legs.

I, too, have nothing to prove to the people who love me. I have to do nothing more than be myself. Walk what I can in the time that I can. Pain will ensue, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. Limp? Yup. It’s how I walk. Jingle Bell is a walk for arthritis research, for cryin’ out loud! There will be people there with far more disability than me. People who will no doubt humble and inspire me.

My fear is in my head, created on the premise of “What if?”

I can do this tomorrow, whatever “this” turns out to be. And on Sunday when I see Tres again, I will give him a few extra neck rubs and thank him for showing me a side of trust and love I haven’t recognized in awhile.

Irish and me

Pulling Back The Sheets: Intimacy and Body Image


It’s not easy to talk about, this most intimate of subjects, but I know sex and body image is something many of us deal with on some level, despite our body size. We can wear clothes that flatter, cover, disguise, hide, tuck in, suck in, boost and separate. But stripped down, bare and naked, the truth is beheld by a beholder, someone who isn’t us, and the myriad emotions associated with that most intimate moment is the topic of today’s blog. It’s rated PG, I assure you, but I thought I owed you all a note of warning.

—————
Two-year-old grandbaby Mae loves to be naked. She’ll strip down whenever the mood strikes and run around the house yelling, “Nakee! Nakee!”
“Nakee” and alone, I’m better than I used to be. For the most part, I accept (or at least live with or just ignore) the sags, bags, wrinkles, and rolls (as I wrote about in last year’s post, “How Blake Shelton Helped Me Take My Clothes Off.”)
“Nakee” and not alone? Well…let’s just say I’m not as comfortable as Mae.
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how does that translate for us – as people of varying weights and body issues – when we are the beheld and the beholder is our beloved or beloved-wannabe? Because at the heart of that “beauty…” sentiment is trust. Trust that when we are told that our bodies are beautiful just as they are, the person saying it believes it.
I remember when I reached goal six years ago, I was at a picnic with my then-husband, Larry. A male neighbor asked him what it was like to be with a “completely different woman” in bed. Without missing a beat, Larry said, “She’s the same beautiful woman I’ve always known.”
I was disgusted by the man’s question, but I was more surprised by my reaction to my husband’s response. Larry had always told me I was beautiful, no matter what I weighed. He loved me, literally, through thick and thin. But it was at that moment that I realized I never trusted Larry’s, or any man’s, words of beauty and admiration in the realm of intimacy. Why? Because to me, I was not beautiful, not in bed anyway. And if my truth was that my body was not beautiful, then – in my mind – that was every man’s truth, despite what they said to the contrary.
My sexual repertoire – at all my weights – has included remaining semi-clothed or having sheets or blankets strategically wrapped around me, and employing carefully choreographed maneuvers to keep body parts from being exposed or displayed in unflattering ways. The reasoning behind this routine comes from years of negative self-dialogue and a subconscious buy-in to the impossible societal definitions of beauty. That I believe that my body, in its natural state, is better enjoyed covered up and not in the naked open is so deeply ingrained in my head that it’s become as much my truth as the fact that I have blue eyes.
Since starting my meditation practice several years ago, my mind has been on a journey of truth. Emotions I thought I had under wraps sometimes swim to the surface and demand to be felt at seemingly inopportune moments, and trying to stop them is like telling a swimmer to keep holding her breathe when she comes up for air. They need to breathe. NOW.
The most powerful NOW moment to-date happened a few months ago when I was dating The Irishman. All he did was whisper, “You’re beautiful,” and in that moment, what I thought and felt down to my very core was, ‘Wow, he has really bad taste in women. I’m so gross, can’t he SEE that?’
It was such an overwhelmingly sad and empty feeling, it made me cry. It was like someone unearthed my 500-thread-count-sheet-wrapped body and put it on display in a museum next to a placard that read, “A 21st-century example of a woman who never liked her naked body.”
Words tumbled out my mouth as I bawled and told him about my life-long struggle to accept my body. He kept stroking my hair and, when I calmed down, said, simply, “I know. I see you struggle with it every time we’re together. But I think you’re beautiful.”
And here I thought no one ever noticed my strategic maneuvers. Hmmm….
So how do you hear, believe, trust and accept another’s truth about your body when your own view of your body is less than stellar or even polar opposite of our beholder’s? How do you pull back the sheet, even a little, and welcome their truth and meet intimacy with no body image barriers?
Weight loss and weight maintenance envelop our entire lives, including our sex lives. I just don’t see it discussed much in the blog-o-sphere. I know it’s because this isn’t an easy subject to discuss in public, and anyone who reveals they have sex at all is subject to criticism from any number of ideological bents. But if you struggle with this, too, or if you’ve figured it out (or if it’s never been an issue….and bravo to you for that!!) and you’d like to share, leave a comment. No judgment from me, but I do ask that you keep it PG. Thanks!

A Day Like No Other


Today is the 30th anniversary of the day my life changed forever. As many of you know, my husband died on March 22, 1983, when I was 19 years old and our daughter, Carlene, was 11 days old.
I suspect we all have a day or a moment in time that changed us, either by choice or by circumstance. Please, if you feel you can, share your day or moment in the comments below.
Here’s a glance into a few hours of that day, a day so long ago and yet still stings me to my soul:
It was a Tuesday. My Aunt Mavis called the house just before noon. My mom, who was staying with us for a few weeks, answered the phone while I folded laundry and watched “All My Children.” She put her hand over the receiver and asked, “Did Bruce go to town?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. “I thought he was working in the machine shed. Let me check.”
I opened the front door and called out his name. The sun was bright and the air was a promising 40 degrees. I saw a train stopped on the tracks a half mile from our farm and remembered hearing a whistle blowing longer than usual about an hour earlier. I called to Bruce again. Duke, our German Shepherd, was curled up on the rug at the bottom of the step, a sure sign Bruce wasn’t on the property.
I went back inside. Mom hung up the phone. Mavis heard there’d been a train accident, she said.
My mouth went dry.
“Call David,” I said and turned off the television. David was our pastor and a member of the volunteer ambulance crew.
David’s wife answered and Mom asked her if there’d been an accident.
Please, please, please say no. Please say no. I covered my heart with my hands.
Mom’s face went sheet white.
“Thank you,” she said and hung up the phone. Our eyes met. I knew.
“Lynnie,” her voice trembled. “Bruce is dead. David’s on his way here.”
You know how when you rip off an adhesive bandage and the pain doesn’t hit for a few seconds? The same thing happens when you find out your husband is dead. It takes your brain awhile to understand what you just heard. Even then it doesn’t sink in because the reality is just too big to grasp in the space of a few seconds.
I walked into the kitchen for a glass of water and to turn off the pork chops simmering on the stove. I stared out the window at the south end of our lawn. I thought about the garden I wanted to plant there and made a mental note to remind Bruce to till that up for me. Then David’s car and my brother-in-law’s pickup came speeding around the corner.
Wait. Bruce isn’t here anymore.
I met them at the door. They’d both been crying.
David wrapped me in his arms and I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t cry. I wanted to throw up.
We sat down on the couch and I asked Mom to get my wedding ring out of my jewelry box. I’d taken it off a few months earlier because my fingers swelled. My hand shook as she handed me the small band, and I forced it past my knuckle.
“Do you want something to drink?” someone asked.
“No.”
“Eat?”
“No.”
“You’ll need to keep up your strength to nurse.”
“I know,” I said. But I didn’t eat for another day.
I looked down at my body clothed in gray sweat pants and Bruce’s long-sleeved South Dakota State University t-shirt. My breasts leaked like sieves, and I was littered with stitches and hemorrhoids. It was one thing to feel vulnerable because I was overweight. Fat I understood. On my wedding day, my first thought as I walked down the aisle wasn’t, “I’m getting married!” It was, “Oh god, people are going to look at my ass!” But no amount of feeling fat prepared me for what crept through my bloated, post-partum body; a feeling so raw that it settled in my bones like damp winter cold.
From what little experience I had with the formalities of death, I knew people would soon come to our farm armed with casseroles and desserts to pay their respects. Still shaking, I changed out of my sweats and hoped no one noticed I hadn’t dusted or cleaned the bathroom in a week.

Food Is Like Brylcreem: A Little Dab Will Do Ya


Sally Albright is my hero

All the while I lost weight and during my first few years of maintenance, I was married. Larry supported me (still does…he’s a great friend), and even lost 20 pounds himself. I didn’t have to explain why I was ordering a salad with light dressing on the side or ordering an entrée with a to-go box on the side so I could put half of the meal in as soon as it arrived. He didn’t mind that I asked questions of our server about how the food was prepared or requested the chef to please go easy on (or omit) the oil.
I touched on it in “Throwing Out The 300-Pound Pitch,” but until last week, I never gave any deep thought as to how two people co-exist in Foodland. Dating again, I was more concerned with how to explain the past seven years. And thankfully when I met Steve a few weeks ago and I recited the whole weight loss thing, he didn’t run screaming in the other direction. What he said – with a great big grin on his face – was, “I love to cook.”
Turns out, Steve’s a foodie. And I mean hard-core. He reads Wine Spectator, and studies the cookbooks of Paul Prudhomme (“Chef Paul” from K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen), Anthony Bourdain (oft smart-ass chef and author of “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly”), Thomas Keller (award-winning owner of the Napa Valley restaurant, The French Laundry), Eric Ripert (world renowned French cook and owner of Le Bernardin in New York), and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, whose restaurant in Pittsburgh – Lidia’s – is on Steve’s date list.
What I first knew about Steve was that he’s a union carpenter and owns a beautiful red Harley. He can match me song for song, artist for artist in music trivia. He wears cowboy boots; drives a pickup; looks smashing in a pair of Levi’s; holds every door open for me; loves his cat, Boo; and can drink a Starbucks latte as readily as diner coffee, and Budweiser as easily as 20-year-old Glenlivet. All of this I can deal with. It’s the butter, the cream, the Italian food that has my maintenance brain spinning. And not just any Italian food. “Good ‘country Italian,’” he said. “You know, that sort of rustic Italian.” Um…no, I don’t know. But I have a feeling I’m going to find out.
I talked to him about how I choose to eat and he assured me that wasn’t a problem….just before he said, with a devilish grin, “But you know I’m your food anti-Christ.”
I’ve loosened the chains a bit over the past two years, but other than using a bit more oil in my cooking and eating whole grain pancakes and consuming a few more sweets lately than I care to admit, I don’t stray too far from the plan that got me and keeps me where I am. When I go out, I order the safest thing on the menu: salad, or occasionally a garden burger, sans the bun. I haven’t ventured into many restaurants that employ several bona fide chefs, and I’ve certainly not dated a capital F Foodie who cooks with butter and cream and makes his own lemon sauce to pour over lemon cake:
Last weekend, Steve and I wanted to go out for brunch. We went online and looked at menus and chose The Cornerstone because it offered eggs Benedict with duck confit. OK, back up. HE chose Cornerstone because it offered duck confit. But I found something that looked interesting, too. A risotto made with wild mushrooms, butternut squash, and kale. After we were seated, I asked our server if the risotto could be made vegetarian. She said, “I’ll as our chef.” A few minutes later, she came back and said, “Why yes, we can make it vegetarian, but not vegan because the chef uses butter.” Not a problem, I said, and yes, I would like a fried egg on top. Toast? No, thank you.
The risotto was the first non-vegetable/non-egg-white focused breakfast I’ve eaten in more than 7 years. It was fabulous, but I felt a bit guilty, and I panicked about my plan for the rest of the day. Subsist on water, an apple, and some edamame for dinner? Walk five miles?
“Shut up!” I told my brain. “You can do this!”
And I did. I enjoyed the risotto, eating slowly and stopping before I was full. Steve didn’t care if I cleaned my plate. He only noticed because I pointed it out.
Remember how I said I was looking for someone who didn’t eat Doritos in front of me? Well let me tell you, Doritos have nothing on mussels sautéed in garlic and wine, bruschetta on French baguette, and bleu cheese dipped in honey. Steve eats these things, yet never pushes them on me. It is I who must be disciplined to eat one or two mussels, a bit of bruschetta, and a piece of bleu cheese. It is my challenge to taste all the flavor these foods have to offer without going crazy and consuming them all.
A few weekends ago, we went to Oakmont Bakery for coffee because What’s Cookin’ at Casey’s wasn’t open yet. I told Steve the story about how, when I was a little girl, my dad took care of my brother and I on Saturday mornings so Mom could sleep. He’d let us dress in anything we wanted (I was a stripes-on-plaid kind of girl) and he took us to the bakery for a donut before we went to the car wash. I always got a glazed donut with chocolate frosting. As Steve was paying for our coffee, he asked the cashier for a glazed donut with chocolate frosting.
My first thought? ‘OMG, I can’t eat that!’
My second thought? ‘Wow…that was really sweet of him.’
We took our coffee and donut to a table and I savored two small yet amazingly awesome memory-filled bites of glazed chocolate donut. I got teary thinking about those days and how much I love my dad. Not once did Steve say, “Come on. Have another bite.” He was just happy that he’d made me happy.
Food can be that conduit to memories, as long as we understand it is like Brylcreem: “A little dab will do ya.” Take the meaning and savor a bite. Leave the rest of the calories behind.
How do you navigate the really good, memory-invoking food waters?