I know we’re all basically feeling like we should get an “I survived 2020” tee for making it through this year < wow that sounded more clever in my head, seeing it in print I’m confronted with the thought of just how many did not.
We lost (and still are losing) astronomical numbers of people to Covid 19, and of course many of us lost loved ones to a suicide, cancer, and tragic accidents, and how can we not pause and think of those who died by the hand of police brutality.
This year we took notice of racial injustice like never before when the dying gasps of a man calling out for his mother and repeating the phrase “I can’t breathe” was heard around the world.
George Floyd, Elijah McClain, and Breonna Taylor are only a few of the names chanted in streets, the list of lives wrongfully extinguished far too long and too many names not even known.
2020 is certainly a year not to be referenced lightly. Perhaps it’s challenges impacted us collectively more than any other year, or maybe that’s just the way it feels to me.
Still though, reining it into a more local level evaluation, even for all its surreal extremes I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out of gratitude for all the good in my life. And as always, if I look for it, there is so much good…
Though It hasn’t all been sunsets and snuggles, there sure was plenty of that.
The most difficult personal loss for me this year was saying goodbye to someone I loved my entire life, but this year also brought new babies to the family and engagements and these are the things that hold the promise of hope as life carries on.
Milestone celebrations were scaled down. Travel plans may have been canceled or altered, but that is a small price to pay when you consider it’s about staying healthy and keeping others healthy. And especially not the worst thing when you’re fortunate enough to call the NoFo home. < A fact that is never lost on me!
My beloved live music…sadly summer concerts were all postponed, but I did leave the shore with a fine singing sailor every chance I could…making it a magically musical summer in it’s own right.
I am by nature a social creature and while I truly missed all the friends and family I couldn’t see, I have however appreciated the opportunity to form bonds all the tighter with my quarantine crew.
And I know how privileged I am that so many of the terrible things happening leave me and mine largely untouched, and I know that just because I get to exist in this blissful little spot where blessings can be so easily recognized, that those awful things are still happening. I know I have a responsibility to not get swept away in ignorance and forget to fight the good fight.
In my positive proclamations I certainly in no way mean to be insensitive to the loss, the isolation, and the devastation many have faced through 2020, the pain for so many is so real..I know this.
I pray for all those who experienced the worst of 2020 that they may find peace and love abound in 21.
May we all continue on a healing path, with strength to endure the difficulties, gratitude for the grace, and respect and compassion for our fellow humans.
If there is indeed an afterlife and if my life of sin should assign me eternal damnation as my ever after, I have a pretty good idea what my personal hot spot will look like.
The glow of Hell’s fires will actually be the soft twinkling of holiday lights. The background noise won’t be the tortured moans of my fellow damned souls, but rather nonstop (perfectly pitched) caroling favorites, and of course there will be the smell of freshly baked goods wafting through the air.
Almost sounds like heaven, but wait….all the while I shall exist in this perpetual external December paradise, whilst carrying the constant nagging internal twisted anxious knot that tells me I’m not happy enough.
Happy Holiday expectations….Where exactly did this stem from? Did I have such ideal childhood holidays and that somehow set this incredibly high bar? I can’t imagine it’s that.
Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t the stuff nightmares were made of or anything. They just weren’t a Norman Rockwell standard either.
There was love, gifts, and good china set around the dining room table (a table only sat at for a holiday meal) but you know, they were just kind of falling short in the special department, with their baby shrimp cocktails in a jar and fruit salad out of a can, how lackluster…
So if it isn’t the long ago ghost of perfect Christmas past haunting me, It must be my very own wild imagination fueled by books read and movies watched that scream of the all encompassing “holiday magic”, that really piles the pressure on.
Add a few kids into the mix and boy oh boy does that make you really feel like you have to make things emulate that sought after perfection.
We all know perfection is unattainable under the best of circumstances, but hey let’s sprinkle in some active addiction for good measure.
What you have now eventually leaves you with a highlight memory reel of holiday mishaps and let downs of some colossal proportions.
Let’s review…there was the time I was newly separated, estranged from family (by my own doing), in a sweltering state I hated, with three wide eyed youngin’s scratching up a storm with the chicken pox…What could make it worse you ask? If I had the chicken pox too and my current budget allowed only for Dollar Tree shopping.
Wait a second, if I remember correctly that Christmas actually turned out OK.
Oh I know, there was the one where I stayed up all night wrapping into the wee hours (amongst other things one should not be doing on Christmas Eve or any eve really) and upon running out of …eh…wrapping paper…yeah, yeah…that’s what I ran out for at 3am…wrapping paper! And when I stopped at 7/11 after picking up said wrapping paper, I managed to get my pocket book stolen out of my car. Boy did I wish I hadn’t left that “wrapping paper” in my bag…
Oh wait, maybe it was actually a Christmas blessing that I did, because now that I think about it, I went home and eventually to sleep and in the long run that wasn’t the worst Christmas either.
Ok, ok I have it …my pièce de résistance of shitty Christmas memories…oddly enough this one comes into play long after the financially struggling single mom days, and several years after the whispers of an actively addicted life had been silenced.
It was the year I did it all. I checked every box off the “How to have a perfect Christmas” list.
Step one-Cut down your own tree ✔️
Step two- Decorate early✔️
Step three- Take family into the city for a full day of holiday shopping, 5th Ave window peepin’, family pic in front of “the tree”! And add in any other hot coco sipping, ice skating watching, NYC winter wonderland goodness you can think to pack into a single day ✔️
Step four- The baking of holiday cookies, not only decorated as sweet as they taste, but packaged up in Christmas cuteness and hand delivered to friends and neighbors alike (be sure to have you and your elf (youngest daughter) wear appropriate holiday attire, consisting of Santa hats and ugly sweaters for full effect ✔️
Step 5- Dress everyone in their Christmas best and not just attend Christmas Eve candlelight services but be the family who stands up in front and lights the advent candles, recites the scripture, and exudes peace, love, & joy ✔️
Step 6- After the (non alcoholic) egg nog has been drunk, and holiday shows watched, and the traditional Xmas Eve present opened by each…tuck those kiddies into bed and let the sugar plums dance in their head….almost got to ✔️ that off …so damn close…until Mama’s melt down woke up their sleepy little heads.
This was also the year I lost my grandmother. The woman who raised me. Or more accurately saved me. The woman who grounded me, and who without I felt lost.
I recall now how I had grandly announced as the season began “I will not be sad this first Christmas without my Grandmother, I’ll celebrate the way she would have wanted me to”.
I checked those boxes off at warp speed like they were steps on a scavenger hunt and I was racing to the finish-line. I don’t think I stayed still long enough in a single moment to have been present in it. They are blurred memories at best speeding toward an epic crash.
The crash…that’s a memory that is sharply in focus. I can’t tell you what my children’s faces looked like that day in the city, try as I might, but I can see the disappointment and confusion when they awoke from sweet slumber to the sounds of shrieking and crashes, as I hurled whatever was nearby at the wall.
Embarrassing….yes, I know. It’s this thing that happens to me though. When I don’t honor whatever the feeling is I’m feeling, be it sadness or fear, or if I dig my heels into expectations of how things “should” look or be….things tend to come out sideways…usually as anger. Earth shaking, unreasonable, uncontrollable anger.
Side note > In my life this can apply to anytime of year, though as a tribute to this fa la la la time of year, I’m focusing on Holiday sadness and expectations.
I’d like to suggest that this amazing sense of self awareness I clearly have suggests that I have now nipped that little personality problem in the bud. Ehh well, “progress not perfection” is the phrase that comes to mind.
And so progress it is, but some days you forget. Some days you walk through the hap happiest season of all with a smile on your face while inside all you want to do is sit at a table reserved for holiday meals and eat tiny shrimps drowning in a glass jar of cocktail sauce and you don’t want to let yourself feel how much you’re missing the people with whom you shared those sweet ( what did you call them? -lackluster) holidays long gone by.
So maybe one December weekend you’re trying to make it all look perfect and then the crockpot overcooks the beef stew meat and undercooks the vegetables. And maybe the cookies you were baking fall flat. And maybe you start to feel mad at someone for things you already forgave them for, and everything feels wrong and you want to explode…but then you remember ….this isn’t some Holiday Hell you’ve been banished to and you’re the only one telling yourself how you’re “supposed” to feel.
On that note, it’s ok to call a friend and have a good cry, a heartfelt “I’m sorry” can work wonders, piles of mushy flat cookies are delicious, pizza is always an acceptable solution for dinner, and no dog ever complained about tough meat when being served beef stew.
And maybe the difference between heaven and hell is nothing more than your very own perspective ….And I’m just gonna be over here doing my best to remember that 😉
Wishing y’all peace, love, & the ability to be kind to yourself this holiday season ❤️
It has been in my nature for a while now to reference the dark vs light quite a bit. I suppose I use it literally, biblically, figuratively, metaphorically, metaphysically…you know, all of the above. I just really like that whole light/dark vibe…I see where it is applicable in so many situations, but if this past year has taught me anything, it’s taught me things ain’t quite so black and white, so maybe everything isn’t dark and light.
It was right around this time last year that somebody told me I was being overly simplistic in my declaration of what (or was it a who?) was dark (oh yes it was a who) and who was light. Looking back I can see she wasn’t wrong.
In January of 2005 I had what I truly believe was a “white” light experience. It was an instant where the universe shifted and I became aware everything was different from how it had been only a second earlier. It was when a muffled voice in the distance became audible, when a blurred vision came into focus. It was a definitive moment in time, one that I came to believe separated the dark period of my life from what now would be my time in the light.
How overly simplistic indeed. How willing I had been to write off my previous years as all having been lived in the dark, but that was not the case at all.
Cue Leonard Cohen …I can hear his baritone voice singing “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
In the darkest parts of my childhood, abandonment and abuse, was there not the saving Grace safety of my Grandmother’s home? The unconditional love from those I shared it with? Light.
Throughout my school years when I was lost, shuffled around, unable to find my feet in an academic world, were there not those moments highlighting my potential and intelligence? Light.
For all the places I didn’t fit in, did I not find friendships that would span the decades? Light.
Where I see the failings and short comings of a young wife and mother, can I not also see the strength and resilience of a young woman who faced challenges and made tough choices in the name of fierce love and protection? Light.
In my darkest of times, days that blended into nights, and as the hours passed gave way to day once again, a twisted period of pain and confusion driven by the most primal of survival instincts, yet still every bedtime I would pause and safely tuck my children in while singing “you are my sunshine” <<<right there, that was a crack in which the light got in.
The light was always infiltrating the darkness, just as the dark still seeps into the brightly lit, warm life I live now. There is balance in everything I suppose.
The darkness of betrayal winds it’s way through the brightest of times. The fears that live in the dark cast shadows against the light. And at times the darkness comes from deep within, but all that it touches is not ruined forever.
No, not ruined. Changed yes, but different is not the same as destroyed.
In my naivety I believed if I was willing to draw that line, leave those years, those sacrificial memories, there in the darkness, that somehow my todays would all remain untouched. They have not. Should I erase the line? Redraw it to include more years in the scrap pile?
What of my children’s lives growing up? Small arms around my neck, kisses on my cheek, “I love you Mommy” whispered in my ear. Times I saw their eyes wide with wonder. Would I banish those memories that bring so much joy due to the smudges of darkness left by the pain caused from our time with a devil?
What of the lover I placed on a pedestal? Would I say goodbye to the laughter, the love, the hundred ways my life is more fulfilled because their darkness ruined my image of perfection? Perfection? Theirs, mine, ours together…an illusion.
Through it all there is a coexistence. A blending of the dark and light.
And now here we are, the “holiday season”…I walk through these days with an eerie remembrance of its counterpart day from previous years. Some more prominent than others in my mind’s eye. Some darker, some blissfully light, and I allow them all their opportunity to exist in my memories, as I continue to grow comfortable walking in this space somewhere in between the dark and the light where real life happens.
I say “stories that are mine to tell”, but is this one really mine?
Many memories overlap and intersect with someone else’s, but this story does not live in the black and white world of my memory vs theirs, having been created during shared experiences, thus creating a story we both call our own. This story, these memories, exist within the shades of gray.
In my minds eye I see the teenage girl with the long strawberry blond hair staring at a pink newborn through the nursery glass.
If I look closer I see the days before where she was in labor, scared and crying out for her mother. I see them take the baby from her, the baby she is not allowed to hold.
Looking still closer I can see the months earlier, before being sent to the Bronx home for teenage unwed mothers, when she defiantly pushed an empty stroller down the block she lived on for all the neighbors to see.
In my memory I see the form fitting mini dress showing the beginning of a baby bump. I see the strides she takes, the proud arch of her back as she blatantly extends her growing belly. I remember the weather that day, the sky is clear, still slightly cool as winter gives way to spring.
Oh wait, I don’t remember these things. I couldn’t possibly. I am the baby. The baby she looks at through the nursery glass. I am three day’s old and I don’t yet have a name.
Again though I imagine I can see her standing there. The nun in her black habit approaches her and gently places a hand on my young mother’s shoulder, softly she says “if you wish to be the one to name her you must do it now or we will when we baptize her”.
It is the only thing she is allowed to do. Someday, this first name she gave to her baby may be the only thing she knows about her. She has been desperately trying to dream up a name that is unique.
In these self created memories I can hear the piped in music playing in the hospital corridor… “Indiana wants me, lord I can’t go back there”…I see the teenage girl turn to the nun and say “Deanna”.
The memories continue…On a crisp fall day I see the same teenager on the side of a road with her thumb out. After she receives a ride I see her hand balled into a fist knock upon the door of a home in Bellmore. The home that was meant to be mine. The woman with the kind face who longed to be my mother is too sympathetic to turn this desperate teenage mother away.
The memory of my first Christmas I am not even in. I see my grandmother hand her daughter a gift wrapped box. It contains baby clothes with sweet delicate details. This gift says “ok we will bring her home”.
These are the earliest memories that set the course of my life. Where I would grow up and who I would be.
So perhaps this was my mother’s story, but she has passed it down on more than one occasion through the years. I have accepted it, assigned the imagery of the details I couldn’t possibly know, and placed it in the memory box of my life along side of my own.
⚜️One last dna tale blogpost..which is actually the first dna tale that I wrote about and shared on my social media. Now having painted the full ancestry result debacle, I’ll wrap it up here with this sweet discovery.
As I mentioned in the post before last, I have a deep soul connection with New Orleans and while my other discoveries have had tremendous impact on not just myself but others, this one is lighthearted, fun, and affirming.
Out of the few nationalities I knew myself to lay claim to, the one I never particularly mention often is my German. Funny I would disconnect from it considering that hands down, my biggest “hands on”, childhood influence was my maternal Great Grandmother, Minnie. Mimi (to those who knew her), came from good German stock. It was her ancestors I was raised on stories of, and today it is in the ones I had no previous knowledge of, that I validate my sense of belonging to New Orleans.
During the wave of German immigration, sometime in the late 1840s, Friederika Henrietta Weigel -Held, after the death of her husband Ludwig, made her way to America, and landed in New Orleans. She made her home in the 12th ward and died there on October 11, 1851, at the age of 62.
While her older children, including Phillippini Jakobina Held, who would go on to become my gggg (<that’s 4 greats if you’re counting) grandmother, made their way to NYC, two of her children, Susanna and Jacob Held, remained in New Orleans. They married, had children of their own, and their legacies, it would seem, carry on.
While these relations stem from Aunts and Uncles with several “greats” in their title, and are now cousins many, many times removed, they are nonetheless, to some degree, my people. It is with tremendous satisfaction that I know my kin still walk those streets, and since we all know how “spirited” NOLA is, that my ancestors still roam. 🔮✨✨✨
On my first visit, March 2013, during the trip from the airport to the Quarter, I told my driver, Big E, “I feel like my soul is from here”. I’ve repeated that phrase to anybody who’ll listen ever since. Well, clearly, now we know…the feeling was no doubt, my sweet ggggg grandma Friederika, welcoming me home✨….oh, and PS: The Germans introduced the accordion into Cajun music. 🎶You’re welcome. 💜
So to the question “where’s my Italian?”…Turns out I have an answer… I tracked down 2% of it!
As ancestry improves the science behind determining dna, results become tweaked to be more and more accurate. With this fine tuning my ancestral connection to Wales has become very prominent and just for a fun little (haha here’s your Italian) twist, they threw in 2% from Northern Italy.
Even if that had been there from the beginning, the minuscule amount presented along with the sudden appearance of Irish dna would have been enough to raise questions in regard to my paternity. Never mind the dna matches of “close relatives” bearing names I’d never heard.
What that 2% might have changed though was triggering my suspicion enough to look beyond my own paternity and into my mother’s.
Perhaps I would have assumed that 2% was all that got passed down from my ALL Italian maternal grandfather. And perhaps I would have assumed all those unfamiliar names with matching dna stemmed from my newly discovered biological father.
It wasn’t there though, and it made me curious…
As I believe I may have already mentioned I seem to have somewhat natural investigative skills coupled with an occasionally almost spooky intuition.
It is not unusual for my mind to immediately make a leap to what may initially appear as a far fetched conclusion, only to then double back and begin to fill in the blanks along the way with more and more clues that support my initial “guess” < for lack of a better word.
To be fair, there have been times I’ve “guessed” wrong but, there’s been more times I’ve been right. Ya know…if we’re keeping score 😉
So I did look a little closer and upon realizing that not only is all of this Irish dna coming from both parents but that a good number of these unfamiliar matches stemmed not just from my new found father’s side but, from my mother’s as well, I drew the obvious conclusion. I wasn’t the only one who was about to add an Irish dad in the mix with the currently known Italian one.
It would seem closets are made for keeping skeletons and apples don’t fall far from trees.
I recall my mother telling me about being mistaken for Irish, much the same way I had always been. One gentleman in particular who upon her correction of “no really I’m Italian”, confidently proclaimed “don’t be silly, I know a fine Irish girl when I see one”. Turned out he was right!
I brought this follow up information to my aunt, whom I have mentioned is the matriarch of the family, and informed her I suspected Grammie of having had an affair resulting in my mother, therefore creating a dna connection to this new group of maternal side matches with names we didn’t know. For the record, their dna primarily Irish.
This notion was met with resistance and shrugged off. Other possible explanations discussed. I knew though. I felt it in my Irish bones.
I began looking at the names closer and I began reaching out with a general introduction and inquiry. Upon not getting any responses I began google searching their names and compiling any facts I could put together of their ages, relationships and where they lived.
What I came up with was a grandfather/father to the ancestry matches provided, who was the same age as my grandmother and had lived on the island during the years she was raising a family. I could find nothing actually linking them though. They were married at the same time and he had two children to her four. Her oldest two, a son and daughter (<my mother) the exact same ages as his two, a son and daughter.
Becoming increasingly interested in connecting with one of these maternal side matches I went beyond the ancestry site and sent one young man in particular a Facebook message. He responded.
He wasn’t that much younger than myself and as luck would have it, he was indeed the grandson of the gentleman who piqued my interest. He was genuinely interested in figuring out the possible connection and we shared facts about our families with each other.
As we went down the highlight reel of our grandparents, who we both seemed equally enamored with, we finally met in a common place…Levittown.
In my own searches I had not found any thing connecting them to Levittown, but as it would turn out, in the early years of this young man’s grandfather’s marriage he did indeed live in Levittown. It was his first home with his wife and it is where his two children were born.
My newly discovered cousin through previously unknown dna, informed me he always remembered the name of the block his father had lived on the first few years of his life because it reminded him of the Beatles song, Abbey Road…though the street was actually Abbey Lane.
Abbey lane. Abbey lane as in the Abbey Lane I grew up on. The Abbey Lane my mother, aunt, and two uncles grew up on. The Abbey Lane where my grandmother and her GI husband bought their first home. The Abbey Lane where she spoke of bridge parties with neighbors. The Abbey Lane where my grandfather worked long hours as a policeman while my grandmother raised four children. The Abbey Lane where my grandparents had separate twin beds in their bedroom, like on I Love Lucy. The Abbey Lane where eventually my grandfather left my grandmother to raise four young teens alone and never looked back.
Which house on Abbey Lane was home to these future matches that now appeared as aunts, uncles, and cousins? The house across the street from my childhood home.
With this new information my aunt could no longer dismiss my suspicions. She became the Oprah Winfrey of ancestry dna tests…”you get a dna test”, “you get a dna test”…”everyone gets a dna test”….
As we awaited the results, results I had initially assumed would prove my mother also a match for the across the street neighbors and a half sibling to my aunt, something else began to take shape.
My P.I. partner (who I was now assumed to share an Irish grandfather with) and I continued to share old family photos. In these photos something could not be denied. His father and aunt, bore a striking resemblance not just to my mother, but to her siblings…my uncles and aunt.
Plot twist…dna results are in…Italian grandfather > you are NOT the father to ANY! Irish grandfather > they’re ALL yours!!
Granted this could never be officially proven in regard to my deceased Uncle Jimmy but, there are the pictures. The similarities between him and the boy of the exact same age from across the street are uncanny.
That family moved shortly after the birth of their daughter. Irish grandpa didn’t have anymore children within that marriage, but he certainly did with my grandmother. I guess whatever pulled them toward each other from across a street was strong enough to cross some towns for.
This is where the facts end. Anything beyond is pure speculation, though for myself it’s impossible not to imagine the scenarios in which this may have happened.
In my minds eye I see my young grandmother, a 1950’s housewife. She’s beautiful, she’s passionate with a bit of a wild streak. She loves music and dancing. She’s social. She wants to see the world. She yearns to get outside of herself.
Maybe her husband isn’t that nice. Maybe he works too much. Maybe she’s lonely.
The man across the street is handsome. He has a magnetic personality, this I know from what his grandson has told me and from what I can see in his pictures. They would have made a beautiful couple. They did make beautiful babies.
Maybe it all starts at a key party. Just a little swinging fun. The free love hippies of the sixties didn’t begin the sexual revolution. Happy little suburban neighborhoods just like Levittown were rumored to be swinging hubs.
Gentlemen drop your key in the bowl at the door. Ladies grab one on the way out and see who you’re going home with. All those bridge parties…hmmm. Urban legend or scandalous reality?! Who knows for certain…
Within the process of revealing all these wild truths, and entertaining possibilities that don’t seem quite as wild anymore, many of us close to this began digging deep into our memories. Looking for hints to help string the pieces of this love affair together. Moments that may have seemed insignificant in the past but now in this new light revealed themselves to have deeper meaning.
My aunt and I share a memory, hers a bit clearer than mine due to my young age, but it is there none the less. I’m in the living room. A man carries in a wooden rocking horse. It is a gift for me.
My aunt was there when this happened. She didn’t know the man or why he brought this beautiful rocking horse for me. I keep it my whole life. My children play on it. I still have it.
Could that have been…
I obviously don’t really know why or how their love began, nor do I know why or how it ended. I choose to believe it was love, again it’s just something I feel in my Irish bones.
After spanning all those years they later both ended up divorced. Why not finally be together…Make a real go of it. Perhaps he wanted to. The point where they would have been able to do just that, they would have been in their late forties. Still so much life ahead. Still youthful, vibrant beings. What had changed? What was she doing then…oh wait, she had been left with me.
Shortly after the time I received that rocking horse would have been when he moved to Florida. He settled down and remarried (side note > to his ex wife’s cousin, who I’m told kept a tight leash on him< you just can’t make this stuff up). Perhaps that gift was his goodbye.
One last bittersweet note worth mentioning, that helps support my romantic notions of ill fated star crossed lovers, is something my Abbey Lane offspring cross the street cousin remembered.
He told it to me like this…that on one of his last visits to Florida before Irish Grandpa passed away, he and his dad were taking him to lunch and on the drive something about Levittown came up and at that time he recalls he mentioned “Hope”. My new cousin was now aware “Hope” was my grandmother’s name.
He wrapped this up by sharing that while at this point (our) grandfather suffered from some dementia, Levittown and Hope, had not been forgotten….
Look at me digging up old bones. I’m sure some family members cringe at my confessional style blogging and perhaps my poor grandmother rolls in her grave upon realizing we’re all spitting in tubes and matching with old neighbors, revealing the secrets she thought she had safely carried with her.
I don’t do this to shame anyone though. I point no fingers. I know her a little bit more and in knowing her more, I love her all the more.
I don’t see the old woman, whom I believed to be so full of wisdom, who I thought had all the answers. I see a reckless wild child living with her choices. I see a vulnerable, and yes selfish, perfectly imperfect human just trying to stay the course on a twisted path. Mostly …I see myself.
I see myself, and I make a little wish…may the generations that come after me look upon my life of mistakes with a bit of kindness, compassion, and a whole lot of forgiveness. Remember, we’re all just doing our messed up best…
Air hugs to y’all, from this Irish girl with 2% Italian ☘️ 🇮🇹
This post was inspired by a question posed by my favorite podcaster… “If your last day alive was in New Orleans, what would you do with your day?”.
Now obviously this is set many years into the future, ‘cause you know, I’m going to be old…but fun old, vibrant old, little bit wise old, and of course don’t give a crap what anybody thinks old. Basically all the very best things about being old.
The golden light which is filtered through the long sheer curtains fills the room in my French Quarter apartment and I begin to wake up. I rise and greet the day on my balcony as below me the street cleaners wash away the night before, early rising tourists begin to appear, and the shop owners open their doors.
After I’ve finished my perfectly pressed strong cup of Community Dark Roast, I get dressed and make my way down to the street. I stroll on over to the nearby Croissant D’Or.
I carefully select a fresh pastry (or two) and then I head toward the river. On my way I smile, nod, and occasionally stop to chat with friends and strangers alike.
Once there I sit a while enjoying the soft breeze as I eat my breakfast. Music and church bells mingle in the air as I nostalgically watch the barges and tugs come into port.
Did I mention it’s Sunday? Well it is! That’s why it’s time to make my way uptown to Tipitina’s where this week’s second line is beginning. When I arrive, I see the the men from the social club are looking dapper. I fall in line behind the brass band and even at this advanced age, I can still move my feet. As I do I feel the music through my whole body. Life can be hard and we’ve all got challenges, but we have this music and we dance and we celebrate and in this moment we’ve never been more alive and it’s perfect.
I stay with my fellow paraders for quite a while dancing through these city streets until finally I give into my body’s need for a break. I find myself at Mother’s and I get a sweet tea and a Debris Po’Boy. It’s messy and it’s delicious.
After I finish it I head home to spend some down time relaxing with a book in my courtyard. I had recently decided to reread ‘The Sound of Building Coffins’ since it was always a favorite. Guess it’s a good thing I finish it up in that sitting 😉
When I’m done I begin my regular Sunday phonecalls…I check in with each of my children and get updates on the grandchildren and great grandchildren, everyone is doing well. I tell them how much I love them and how proud of them I am and as always I send my love along down the line to them all.
The hours have passed and I realize it’s time to start thinking about evening plans. I decide on catching an all star performance at the Preservation Hall.
We squeeze into the tight space and I’m fortunate to get a seat up front. Tonight’s musicians are a trio of stellar old timers. I catch the piano player’s eye and we exchange smiles. My thoughts fondly drift back to when I first met him in 2016. Even all those years ago he was already such a phenomenal player as he walked in the footsteps of the greats and now here he is, one of the legends himself.
After the show I walk to the Gumbo Shop. I order the barbecue shrimp dish that is never on the menu but always available and when I finish the last of the warm, soft on the inside, crusty on the outside French bread, I ask for another without shame.
I am blissfully content as I arrive home and prepare for bed. I slide in between the cool sheets, I stretch, and as I do so I reach out and take the framed picture on my nightstand in my hand.
I lovingly gaze at the youthful images the photo holds and I feel the pang of loss as sharply as I did the year before when I said goodbye to my partner in this life. I trace his face with my fingertip and in a whisper say “fair winds and following seas”.
I don’t recall returning the picture to it’s spot on the bedside table. I can’t remember falling asleep. It feels as though only a second in time has passed yet there is that familiar golden light spilling into the room. It quickly becomes brilliantly bright and it’s warmth surrounds me. Then I hear him before I see him…”It’s time to set sail Deanna Rose, you’ve kept me waiting long enough”. I take his hand and we go….
Memories of someone else’s memories passed down through the years, delicately intertwined with memories of my own. Memories of words, and images, scents, and sounds, live in my mind with crisp detail, while some are shades of gray, obscured by the shadows in which they were created.
Memory is a tricky thing. Many times I’ve watched my family argue over who is remembering the correct version of a certain event, each so sure they are the one whose recollection can be trusted. Perhaps my accounts aren’t accurate at all, I mean I think they are, but wait, soon I shall be the sole keeper of the memories of my childhood home….who shall I ask? There will be no one left…
I am little more than a toddler in diapers playing at the bottom of the stairs in a Levittown home when I reach out and yank our old dog’s ear, prompting him to bite me in the face. I hear my great grandmother’s scream and feel my Uncle Jimmy’s arms hold me as we race down the turnpike on a fire truck. I hear his voice telling me it’s going to be ok.
I am a little older sitting on those same steps peeking through the rail as the neighbors join my Grandmother & Great Grandmother for cocktails around the kitchen table. I hear the blender that makes Brown Cows and Pink Squirels. I listen to the laughter and the clink of glasses joining in a toast.
It’s these stairs I creep down in the middle of the night, in search of a glass of water. Making my way in the darkness with a sense of familiarity. I do not see the dog, I trip, I feel my forehead connect with the bricks that surround the fireplace. I feel the warm blood and my cries summon Grammie and Mimi, who turn on the lights, scoop me up, and tend to the gash.
My fingers absentmindedly touch the quarter moon scar as I recall this memory.
It was the top of those stairs where I stood quietly as I grasped what was happening in the living room below. Mimi and Grammie placing gifts around the tree. My desire to remain out of sight stemming from not wanting to disappoint them by revealing that I now knew the truth. I slipped back into my room unnoticed.
It was in my Great Grandmother’s first floor sitting room where I learned to play Dominoes and Mille Bornes. It’s where I watched my Saturday morning cartoons. In Mimi’s company we watched weekday soap opera’s, as well as the evening news.
The adjoining bedroom I knew as if it was my own. I snooped in the closets and the drawers of the heavy antique furniture. A need to seek out secrets that would reveal a past I had no knowledge of. Always certain there were mysteries to be discovered. My small hands trying on the collection of jewelry kept atop the dresser. Dreaming of the stories behind each piece as I admired the delicate details and was awed by the ones that sparkled as they caught the light.
So many nights I slipped into her bed, scared to be alone. The one time I kept her up into the wee hours as I sobbed for every hurt or lost person and animal in the world. My heart ready to explode from the grief it carried for injustices happening beyond my control.
It was that bed where she would lay me down with a heating pad to my ear in an attempt to dull the pain from the ache I was so prone to as a child. Her hand stroking my brow as soothing as the warmth from the pad. A framed copy of “An Irish Blessing” hanging on the wall in my line of vision. I read it over and over again through the years. Later after she passed it would be the only thing I asked for.
The glass kitchen table with the flowered wrought iron frame…We all sat at it from time to time, but it was my Grandmother’s domain. It was where she smoked winston cigarettes while drinking her morning coffee, or sipping her nightly chablis. It’s where the Sunday crossword was done, where she wrote out her bills, and where she took her calls as she stretched the cord of the lemon yellow wall phone across the room. It was also where she sat passing the time and worrying all the evenings I stayed out too late.
Before the pull for excitement that called me out into the dark beyond the safety of my home, I was content to spend late nights in the living room. My grandmother and I watching PBS English comedies on the rabbit eared black and white tv.
The living room has a door leading outside. The yard where fragrant flowers bloom around stone fairy houses. At night with the light of a candle’s flame flickering inside them they capture my imagination. During a backyard bbq I bite into an ear of sweet corn and lose my first tooth.
My bedroom has a flat roof outside the backyard facing windows. Sometimes I sit out on it. I’m not supposed to do this but, I’m drawn to the outside world. I see into my neighbor’s yards, I wonder about their lives. I watch spectacular sunsets over the the traffic on Gardiner’s Ave. I never take that little flat space for granted.
It is that roof the boy I snuck in must jump off of after my Uncle Jimmy catches him in my room. My Uncle Jimmy who tries his best to be a father figure and guide me away from trouble. He is a soft and gentle man inside though he maintains a somewhat tough exterior. Our birthdays are a day apart. As a child I am sure this makes us connected in a special way. Maybe it did. Maybe it still does.
Across from my room is my Uncle Peter’s room. 12 years old when I am born and in my young eyes a super cool big brother. There is a steady stream of long haired young men in denim jackets in and out of his room. The door typically remains shut. I hear happy voices and eruptions of laughter over the rock and roll that is always playing. I smell the familiar pungent scent.
Sometimes when no friends are over and he comes home with a new album he leaves the door open and lets me come in and sit. I am fascinated by the ticket stubs taped to his wall of every concert he’s attended. I read their names and picture the music coming from the spinning black vinyl, being played in front of me on a stage. He introduces me to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Doors, and so many more. This is a gift.
Those are some of the rooms at 26 Abbey Lane and these are all the people who shared that space with me. They are the earliest pieces of my memories and I am mixed up in theirs but, they have taken their memories with them.
Mimi has been gone since 1990. Uncle Jimmy was only 49 when he succumbed to the leukemia he had been fighting for the previous two years. It was just days before our birthdays when I had to say goodbye. Grammie slipped from this world to the next a decade ago already.
Now the veil between life and death grows thin once again, as I see them in my minds eye gathered around my Uncle Peter’s bedside. He is too young to lay there looking so ravished. His wife should grow old with him. His daughters need him. His perfect new grandchild should be cooing in his arms, reaching up with tiny curious fingers to pull on his beard. The cancer doesn’t care about these things though and it is taking him whether we like it or not.
He is the last person left who was in that house with me. I want to shake him awake and say “remember when I brought home the black lab puppy from the neighbor and you made me bring it back, and then I went back the next day and said that my family changed their minds and I came home with it again?”. We had that dog 17 years.
“Remember how when Mimi wanted us to turn the music down she banged on the ceiling with the broom?”. “Remember what bad cooks Grammie and Mimi could be and all the mushy canned vegetables we ate?”. “Remember when you and Uncle Jimmy got into a fist fight in the dining room?”. Remember when you saw me wearing makeup for the first time and tried to tell me I was pretty without it and I looked ridiculous with all the orange blush and blue eye shadow?”.
We’ve done this through the years when we get together. This retelling of tales creating our own personal sense of time travel. The shared memories of a life experienced within the walls of 26 Abbey Lane.
When I find myself in my old hometown I drive past 26 Abbey Lane. Her structure still stands though her face and shape has changed. The familiar bushes in front of the kitchen bay window gone. The path to the front door no longer gently winds around the light post with wrap around vines. Cars I do not recognize are in the driveway and I wonder if as this new family creates their memories, if somehow the house holds the lingering impressions of the life lived there during the years soon only I will be left to remember.
“Middle of the road” < I’ve taken pride in using that phrase to describe my political position through the years. I’ve put down extremists both right and left. I wanted to be more open minded than that. I wanted to be fair and balanced and see all sides of things. That’s a fucking cop out.
While I stand by the belief that things are rarely black and white, they are sometimes right or wrong.
Denying people basic human rights based on their sex, sexual preference, socioeconomic class, or the color of their skin = wrong.
The police repeatedly killing unarmed black people=wrong.
Presenting black on black crime as an argument in the fight against police brutality=gas lighting =wrong.
Saying “all lives matter” = so very fucking wrong! “All” lives DON’T matter UNTIL BLACK LIVES MATTER TOO!!!
What’s so hard to understand about that? Ask yourself why you need to find a loophole in a statement as simple as “black lives matter”. Why can’t we say “black lives matter” PERIOD. END OF STATEMENT.
Ok, let me back track…This touches on some of the things mentioned in my last post. I’ve always had strong beliefs. I always felt an internal pull toward what I believed at my core to be right.
Through some of my years, for reasons I won’t get into now, I became disconnected from spiritual beliefs and practices, and whatever loving force it was that had guided me, was silenced. Or at least somewhat muted.
A little over 15 years ago I had an experience (the specifics of that I also won’t get into right now) that created a clearly defined “before and after” in the story of my life. While it may not be the only before/after moment I have experienced, it is probably one of, if not the most significant.
The “after” part of said experience, led to that connection to a higher power being awakened. That in turn also led to turning the volume up on the inner voice that spoke to me of right and wrong.
>Enter social media< Now here I am coming back to life. My voice found. All my senses stimulated and opinions forming on everything. Oh good, and now I have a platform! Haha, I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts on all that I deemed important happening in the world. Especially politics. 😬
I was aghast to find out there were actually people in the world, in my community, no wait a second…in my own family…that didn’t see things the same as me.
Luckily they had me to educate them through articles, you tube videos, and the ever so clever memes. I was also sanctimonious enough to feel free to engage them in battle in the comment section of the things they themselves posted and was completely flabbergasted that no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t make them see the light.
*Lessons in humility…As I began to realize that among these people who didn’t view the world the same as me, were people I downright loved AND respected, I had to ask myself if perhaps I was missing something. That maybe my way of seeing things, wasn’t the only way. Interesting. I have to think about this.
Hmmm. So perhaps it is not my appointment in life to be an armchair warrior and make it my mission to strong arm these people into changing their opinions. Maybe, I should just live my life doing the next right thing, and accept people for who they are and where they are at.
Utilizing this tactic was not a bad idea in regard to many a topic. It worked well for a while, but like every other aspect of life, it requires balance. At some point I drifted over to apathy. For my own personal comfort it became easier and easier to be non confrontational, regardless of how strongly I believed something.
When does respecting others opinions and remaining quiet become signing off on the very thing you feel called to fight against. Where is the balance in that?
What do you do when you realize you’ve been standing in the middle of the road by yourself. That the very people you were trying to remain neutral for, have never been neutral at all. They have clearly chosen a side and it is not the side, that in your heart, you are on.
How do you reevaluate some of the most important relationships in your life?
This post comes with no tidy wrap up. No simple solution. I leave it here, completely unfinished…
This post is days in the making. Words have been rattling around my head, unable to stay still long enough to fall into place. Just when I think I’ve pinned them down, the winds of change blow and they scatter like a pile of loose leaves.
While I find my place in this moment of time, this mind blowing, devastatingly horrific, but in many other ways long overdo moment in time, I pray to express myself as accurately as I possibly can.
I have lived a life. It’s been filled with many experiences. I have seen things both beautiful and ugly. I have felt joy and pain. Comfort and discomfort.
These are broad statements that I believe most anyone can identify with, but my ugly goes deep, my pain has gone deep, and the uncomfortable place I existed in for so long, felt like a prison I’d never escape.
Now if you read my last post it sounds as if I had a childhood of privilege, white or otherwise. In many ways I did, but like I said before, I’ve lived a life. Or maybe what I really meant to say was, I’ve lived many lives. That’s probably more accurate.
This isn’t really a post to talk about my pain though, I’m just attempting to create a window into some of what played a part in creating the perspective I view the world with.
Again such a broad stroke of the brush…I’ve thrown myself into a vast sea of memories, creating ripples in all directions. Let me narrow it down. Let me talk about what’s on all our minds these days. Racism.
When I was 5 years old, in kindergarten, I only had one friend. His name was Louis and we played together during recess every day. One day my great grandmother had to pick me up early from school and walked out to the playground to fetch me. She found me playing on the monkey bars with Louis. I excitedly introduced her to my friend and though I can’t recall anything that may have been said, I somehow sensed her disapproval. I felt like I’d done something wrong. Louis was black. The only black child in our school.
Louis wasn’t there anymore come first grade and I didn’t see another black person in my town until high school. And even then it was only one brother and sister from the only black family in town. I didn’t make another friend who wasn’t white until I was a teenager dating a boy from a neighboring town whose best friend was Puerto Rican. Jose and I became close friends. He was a kind, caring, protective friend. One day he came to my town and my grandmother met him. Again I sensed that unspoken disapproval.
The women who raised me weren’t hateful women, yet they supported systemic racism. I heard the conversations where it was mentioned that the town I lived in was built after World War II for the returning G.I.’s. For the white ones that is, they flat out wouldn’t sell to “blacks”. That was just the facts. I’d also heard it said that the early bridges on the parkways had purposely been built low to prevent the busses coming in from the city. The busses coming from the city would be carrying “blacks”.
These were accepted truths of the seventies, the civil rights movement only the decade before. People of color were still very much being kept separate and so very far from equal.
Even in memories of my young years, something inside me knew to push against that line of thinking. Somewhere other subconscious influences were at work. I’m sure some peace, love, and flower power seeds had been planted in my psyche as well. The sad truth was, I just simply didn’t have much exposure to diversity for many years.
Fortunately for me, I’ve always been a seeker. A seeker of experiences, and that need to experience the world, opened up a world where I met all different kinds of people. Not all the experiences I sought out were good, and not all brought me pleasure. The places I went and people I met have not always been safe or smart choices. I’ve learned from them all though. I never remained in the protective bubble of a hometown where everyone looked like me, and that shaped me in ways and gave me insights in ways nothing else could have.
Fast forward to twenty years ago when I arrived in my current hometown. A special little spot on the end of an island, different from the rest of it. A place I had childhood ties to and somewhere in my heart I always knew I’d return.
I say hometown, but in reality it is a handful of idyllic small towns that together create a unique community. It is largely white, with the exception of one of the small seaside towns being extremely diverse. While it has seen it’s share of strained race relations through the years, struggles with an all white police force, and some stand alone incidents that scream bias, there is also the connections that grow between people who share lifelong experiences together through the years. This town is special, and it’s always been ahead of itself in the learning to live side by side with our fellow humans department. I truly believe this.
Ahh, but as I said this is only one little town amongst the several that make up the area. The rest being as white and privileged as can be. Where all their neighbors look just like them and while they’d never dream of using the “N” word, they sometimes when speaking of racial issues let a “those people” slip out.
Twenty years ago when I moved here I moved smack into one of their lily white neighborhoods. Myself and my three small children were welcomed and embraced. I lived there peacefully for months, I don’t think my neighbors had even noticed I started dating a black man from the town next door. They noticed when I invited his family over for a 4th of July bbq though. They noticed the black children splashing in the waters edge at the dead end private beach we had access to living in that neighborhood. They noticed and they didn’t like it.
These same people that had welcomed me, now held angry secret conversations and pressed the women who had rented to me to get me out. What ensued would become a battle involving the town’s “Anti Bias Task Force” and eventually resulted in the homeowners selling the property they had inherited from their parents, to avoid any further issues.
The long and short of it, I was removed from a neighborhood for unnecessary blackness. My first time being personally, negatively impacted by racism.
Through these last twenty years I have continued to call this place home. I take pride in both the natural beauty of where I live and the strong community ties I have created. This is a good place. People do care about each other and I have witnessed many examples that highlight that good.
Clearly though, it’s not perfect. I also have had further experiences of not just racism, but sexism, and classism as well. Injustice sucks. Feeling oppressed sucks. However the truth of the matter is I don’t have to wear it for the whole world to see. The color of my skin allows me the ability to shake it off and blend in. I also don’t have 400 years of oppression weighing me down as I try to move through this world. So I am aware this is a small comparison.
The weight of what i did carry though was heavy enough to grow tired. Tired enough to take advantage of the privilege my fair skin offered me, especially after a nasty divorce from my black husband. I quietly blended in amongst my neighbors and let go of any fight I had left in me.
I’ve enjoyed the peace that has allowed me. I live a beautiful life today, free to touch and taste all that is good. I do not take this for granted. I moved quietly amongst my neighbors, doing nothing to disrupt the tranquility of this beautiful place.
The women of this community are my peers. They are the mother’s of my children’s friends and schoolmates. They came to know me from meetings, and field trips, and fundraisers, and gatherings out and about town. They have treated me nicely, and it feels good to be accepted and fit in. The majority of these women, like myself, are white.
One summer I was included in a group text of about 15 of these women, meant to be used to let us all know who was at what local beach. The group took on a life of its own. Beyond meeting up for beach days, we began to celebrate birthdays together, and do an annual Christmas party. We shared about things happening in our lives and celebrated the good and showed one another support through the bad.
I became closer to some and some I associated with strictly through the group. Some personalities I found a little jarring, and several had opposing political views, but overall these were good women. They saw the world from their own perspectives, because that’s what we all tend to do.
I don’t regret creating friendships with people who see things differently from me, what I regret is not feeling confident enough to speak my own truths when I vehemently disagreed with turns the conversation would occasionally take.
I began to tell myself that “quietly” stating my own beliefs and living my life “appropriately” was enough. I bought into “live and let live”, which I suppose could be fine if we were all living on an even playing field. We are not. Plain and simple, we are not.
In 8 minutes and 46 seconds I awakened to the realization that silence IS violence. That injustice for one is injustice for all. That I have a need and a desire to be a part of this moment. That this moment can slip away if we don’t fight for change with all we’ve got, and that means not remaining silent as I read the words “thugs” and “animals” being spoken amongst this group of women. Some who can’t help but counter “black lives matter” with “all or blue lives matter”.
These are not my people. And that is not the conversation I want to be a part of. So on Tuesday night, when one shared the information in regard to the local protest scheduled for the following day and some began to express frustration with “those people”, and a couple spoke disparagingly of the young man who organized this call to action, I could not remain a silent observer any longer.
“I will be there” is the last thing I typed before removing myself from the group text I had been a part of for years. “Deanna has left the conversation. Tuesday 10:02“ .
My silence, while remaining in that conversation spoke of who I didn’t want to be. My leaving it screamed loudly of who I hope to become.
I have since protested side by side with my biracial daughter, who struggles to find her place in this world, as people tell her “you’re lucky you look white”. I am watching my adult daughters living in different areas approach this with a fierceness that serves to fuel the fire in my own heart. While one is on top of providing information to change legislation, how to educate yourself on who to vote for if it’s change you want, and grassroot initiatives to begin disassembling systemic racism in America, the other is ready to burn shit down. She has deemed herself a medic, packing supplies and heading to the front lines of large scale protests, ready to help whoever is in need. She also has donated generously to causes that support the movement. Both angry. Both passionate. Both necessary.
No justice. No peace. Change is painful, and this country needs change. I will not speak on condemning protester’s violence or on how pointless looting and rioting is, when the police are responding to protests AGAINST police brutality, by engaging in police brutality. I will not speak on anything but the cause that has set these current events in motion. You don’t like this violence? Let’s stop the violence that is police brutality. Let’s stop seeing the color of someone’s skin as a weapon. When a large black man is seen as a threat before anything has even happened, what chance is there for peace?
When a man can be lynched on a street in broad daylight, by four uniformed officers, as onlookers film it and those who attempt to intervene are threatened with mace, I will not quietly stand by and listen to “well that’s awful but people rioting and looting has to stop”. How about “people rioting and looting is awful, but police killing unarmed black people has to stop”.
George Floyd is only one in a long list of names we should be saying, but it his name that is the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is his face, painted in murals around the world, that is sparking a revolution. This can not continue. We must rise together and fight against these killings. This is not black people’s fight. This is humanity’s fight. There is a knee on the neck of humanity and WE CAN’T BREATHE!!!
Yesterday I went to the local market, checking out at the same time as me, was a woman I knew from around town. We are not friends, but our paths have crossed through the years. I knew her daughter was one of the strong, incredibly inspiring speakers at the protest I attended the day before. As we both headed out the door I stopped her to say how proud she should be of the leader her daughter has emerged to be.
She thanked me, and we continued to walk in the same direction. She is a black woman the same age as me. In the span of those few blocks we spoke of our children, some of our hopes and fears for them, and how sick we are of what’s happening in the world. We parted ways with a “stay safe out there” to each other.
It was both a simple, yet profound short walk. I reflected on the “conversation” I had recently left and thought how I didn’t leave that conversation to stay silent. I left it to be a loud unapologetic voice against racism.
I implore you not to let this moment pass. Don’t just repost short clips or quotes, without knowing the whole context. Follow black influencers on social media. Follow accounts that are fighting for change. Read black literature. Learn the history. Black history in America is American history. We need to educate ourselves and we need to vote. Know what your legislators support. Get involved with local politics. Speak up when you witness racism. Walk and talk with people who don’t look like you, and stand beside them and fight for a better world.
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.