Sunday, October 31, 2004

Bob N

The headline read, "A love to last forever."  I stood staring at the newspaper...slightly stunned, my eyes almost disbelieving the words.  I had no idea.  Above the headline was the newspaper photo, him holding that photograph of mother.  The look in his eyes was...distant.  Like someone carried back to a time long ago.

As I slowly absorbed each and every word, I felt a certain  mix of relief and sorrow.  Three weeks ago he had called me on the telephone, introduced himself and told me the local newspaper wanted to do an article on his search for my Mom.  But he wouldn't do it without my permission.  Of course it was okay, I told him.  This was a story to be told, it was special and I wanted it put in print, for all to see.

For nearly 50 years Bob _____  wondered if life had been kind to Millie _____.  Now he knows.  Those first two sentences of the article hooked me.  They summarized it, quite simply.  Everything from my distant past came rushing back to me.  The pain.  The suffering.  The anger.  The loss.  And now he knew.  This stranger, who quietly entered my life with an advertisement seeking information on his childhood friend, had learned about the shattered dreams, the disappointments, and the unhappiness that led my mother to an early grave.  The girl from his childhood, the first to befriend him in a new school and town, was gone. 

In the article he spoke of all the things he had previously told me on the telephone.  He was the new kid in town, and in class he sat near Mom.  They quickly became friends.  When some kid teased him, Mom stood up for him.  And when another teased my mother about her red hair, he punched the kid in the mouth.  I remember hearing the smile in his voice as he told me how Mom's giggling had gotten them both kicked out of the Roxy Theatre.  She had a laugh and a giggle that went on forever, he remembered.  And so did I.  I had almost forgotten.

The article recounted all of the memories he had shared with me on the telephone.  But there was more.  He told the reporter of that rite of passage we all experience in our youth.  A rite he had shared with my mother...the first kiss.  He and Mom were at the movies, and saw another couple kissing.  So they both agreed to try it.  They kissed.  Mom told him he tasted like popcorn, and he told Mom she tasted like Milk Duds.  Then they started laughing, and the usher hauled them out to the lobby.  But they couldn't stop giggling, and eventually got kicked out.

Over the years their friendship grew, and Mom became like a big sister to him.  In eighth grade his family decided to move away, and Mom spent hours at the family home helping them pack.  That day was their second kiss, and he remembers that kiss was completely different from their first.

After the move they kept in touch, exchanging letters and pictures on a regular basis.  Then the letters from Mom stopped in 1955, and Bob decided to find out why.  A year later, against his mother's advice, he drove back to his former home and asked around.  He learned Mom was married and had a baby (my older sister).  A friend gave him the address.  So he drove by her house, hoping to catch her outside.  But the yard was empty.  He left town without seeing her.  A couple of years later he married and tucked Mom's picture away.  But he never forgot about her.

When he retired, he and his wife looked for a place to spend the rest of their lives.  They visited his former town and his wife fell in love with an old home, not too far from the house where Bob and his family lived when he was child.  After moving and getting settled, he decided to look for my mother.  "She was alwayson my mind.  I was going to look her up--I didn't care the cost.  I just wanted to know she was all right," he told the reporter.

After an exhaustive search through old newspapers and the Internet, his wife suggested he advertise.  He placed a small ad, with Mom's picture in the Sunday paper, and the phone started ringing at 7 a.m.  He received about 50 phone calls that day, all from women who claimed to be Mom's best friend.  But they all had the same sad story.  Mom died of a stroke in 1978 at the age of 41.

Finally someone gave him the telephone number of my aunt.  She told him about Mom's life and that her first marriage didn't last long.  Hearing this reminded him of his decision not to see her in 1956.  He regrets it terribly now...but he knows he married the right woman, as they have been together 45 years.  But there was still the disappointment that he would never get to talk to Mom.  He said, "The perfect thing would have been to find her healthy, happy and spoiling her grandchildren."

Instead, he made the trip to the local cemetery where Mom is buried.  He found her grave and brought some flowers, knowing that even though he wouldn't get to talk to her and reminisce about their childhoods, learning about Mom's life and finding her had brought him peace.   "When I found (the grave), it was a relief because she was okay.  That's what it was all about."

Since reading this article, and speaking to him on the telephone, I have struggled with the idea of meeting this man, in person.  I can no longer deny the fact that his love for my mother has changed the way I look at many things.  Mom died of an anuerysm (stroke), in medical terms, that is true.  But it goes deeper than that...I believe she died of a broken heart.  That has been the truth in my life all these years, until now.  Knowing how this man felt about her, for so many years, and that he never forgot her, solidified many beliefs I knew in my heart to be true, yet was all too willing to cast aside.  His wife must be a truly amazing person, as well.  To be so understanding, and support his need to find a woman from his past, requires a true measure of grace.  His story gave me the gift of fragile and precious...yet undeniably alive. 

The article mentioned above was published on Monday, July 26, 2004, in the Lewiston Morning Tribune.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Kim B.

Ever think about people you knew many years before, who at one time were a frequent character in your life, then just vanished without a word?  Sure.  Our lives are filled with them.  Sometimes, they come back, but all too often they do not, and their memory evaporates from our mind. 

I first met Kim around 1979 when I worked at a local women's clothing store.  She was a customer and a model for the store.  I had seen her many times at the local disco and, I admit, I was a tad bit jealous of her.  She was a dark haired beauty.  But there was an inner beauty I didn't see.  My last contact with Kim was in early 1981, and shortly after that our lives took different paths.

In 1993 I decided to pursuit a college degree and enrolled at the local college.  While trading English Comp experiences with another student, Kim's name came up; turns out, Kim was now an English prof at the college.  I was surprised to hear that name again, and wondered if it was the same Kim I had known years before.  It wouldn't take long for the answer to come.

A few years later, I learned that Kim had written an autobiography titled "In The Wilderness: coming of age in unknown country."  Naturally I had to read it.  On the back sleeve was a photo and sure enough it was indeed the very same Kim that I once knew.  Her book took me on a personal journey, not only into her life, but into her very soul.  I could feel her emotions being poured out onto the pages.  The former model, who I once had thought of as just a pretty girl, possessed a true talent for painting lifescapes with words.

Kim as since written two other books, "Hungry For The World" (part 2 of her autobiography) and a novel titled "Finding Caruso" a fictional account set in her hometown, based on real people.  Not only did I personally enjoy reading her stories, but I found inspiration on many levels.  Through her work, Kim shined a light on the possibilities and the magic of believing in yourself, and your dreams.  Thank you Kim for taking that daring step forward into the literary world and showing me a better way to put things into perspective.  Kudos to you, Lady! 

"Sing your song...and sing it LOUD!"  Your words, by your hand, signed in your book, to me.  Well, get ready to hear me, because I have found my voice.  This is my song.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Dad aka Don G.

If one word could summarize my father it would be love.  He loved so  But most of all, he loved me.  Every time I hear the song "Because You Loved Me" sung by Celine Dion, I always think of him...and sometimes I cry.  Even now, seven years after his passing, my thoughts often turn to him.  Then I smile.  That was what he did so well, he made people smile, and laugh.  Ask someone who knew my father, and a smile will come to their face when they speak his name.  I can't think of a better legacy to leave behind. 

My parents never married,  and they split up sometime during my first year.  In 1986 Dad found his special love, Rita, a warm and wonderful lady, recently divorced.  Dad was smitten, big time.  So much so that he devised a very special way to tell her, and practically everyone in Lewiston.  She worked at the local utility company, and one day she arrived at work to find a huge, hand painted sign attached to the building.  On a roll of plain newsprint, the bold black letters declared, "R-R-R-R-ita, Sheeeeta!  I loooove yooou!"  She knew those words, and knew exactly who had put them there.  Embarrassed, Rita walked into her bosses' office, full of apologies and offered to take the sign down.  Laughing, her boss told her no, he loved the sign, thought it was great and wanted it to stay up.  Rita argued that everyone would see it, and her boss agreed, precisely, then stated that people needed to see it. And so it stayed, at least for a few more days.  On August 15, 1987, Dad married Rita at a small outside ceremony held at my cousin's home in the country.  Everyone loved Rita, and we were all so very thrilled to know she was now a member of our family.

If there was one memory that stands out above all the times I shared with Dad, it was the night we decided to have a little fun with my cousin and his wife, who were entertaining friends on their boat.  Dad always had a huge supply of fireworks, not the safe and sane kind purchased at the local fire works stand.  Dad owned a used car lot...yes, he was a used car salesman.  Some of Dad's regular customer's at the car lot were members of the Nez Perce Native American Tribe, and Dad was always more than happy to take fireworks as part of a deal.  No, these were not the little cutesy kind of fire works.  These were the grand daddy of fire works; M80s (I think that's what they were called...) that could fill the night sky and leave you, mouth gaping open, staring up with awe and wonder. 


Everyone loves a good fire works show, and Dad and I loved creating them at his annual December parties.  One night, on the way home from dinner, we spotted my cousin's boat docked at one of the local marinas.  Lewiston is located at the confluence of the Clearwaterand Snake Rivers, and boating is a huge part of life here.


Well, Dad turned tome with a gleam in his eye, and a smile, and said, "Hey Dona, what say you and me grab some fireworks and go have a little fun?"


I grinned, and agreed.  Rita wanted no part of it, so we dropped her off at home, Dad grabbed his trusty box of fireworks, and we headed back down the road.  It was winter, and it was freezing outside, about 30 degrees but we snuck into the parking lot, then hid behind the rest room building, and started the show.  My cousin's boat was not a little runabout; it was a cabin cruiser, and a real beauty.  He, his wife and another couple were inside, eating dinner.  Dad and I were outside, giggling like children with too much time on our hands.  We started off with a few bottle rockets, strategically aimed just over the boat, to get their attention.  Every now and then a face would pop into a window, or out of the cabin door, only to disappear moments later.  Then we launched the M80s, the big BOOMer's.  A few minutes into the show, my cousin steps outside and looks around. 


We hear voices coming from inside the boat, then my cousin says, "Some idiot out here thinks it's the freaking 4th of July!" 

Dad and I were having fits, trying to be quiet while laughter erupted inside us, freezing our butts off, and fully enjoying the moment.


"Should we let them know it's us?" I asked. 


"No, not yet," Dad retorted as he lit another bottle rocket, which just happened to shoot right over my cousin's head.  "Sha-zaam!" Dad exclaimed quietly as my cousin ducked and went back inside the boat.  "Top drawer!  Come on, honey, let's get a bunch of 'em goin' all at once."  We each grabbed handfulls, set them up, and soon a huge battery of bottle rockets was screaming through the air in every direction.  In the midst of it, Dad added another M80 for good measure. 


Soon, both men came outside and my cousin yelled out, "Whoever you are, stop, or well call the police."  Dad let off a couple more.  "Jesus," I heard my cousin say, "that's it!"

And it was.  Still giggling, Dad and I stood up, stepped out from the building's shadow and into the light.  I could see my cousin's eyes roll up into his head as Dad and I stood there laughing.  "Is that you, Donnie?  I should have known," my cousin exclaimed with a roll of laughter.  "Who else would be out here shooting off fireworks in the middle of winter!" 


With a huge smile, he invited us in to the warmth of the boat to thaw out with some hot beverages.  Dad and I really had them going, and the memory of that night I will always cherish.