My Father Was a Dreamer.

My dad was the kind of guy who would do anything for me. My memories of him are very twisted and difficult to discern. Part of this is because I don’t have very many of them. He was my dad for all of four or five years before he died, when I was seven. Another part is because the whole experience of him dying was beyond traumatic. I did my utmost best to hide the bits and pieces of my father in the dark recesses of my mind. It was my childhood mind trying to protect me from something so tragic and heart-breaking that there wasn’t any telling if I’d be able to bounce back. Obviously, I’m alive and well, so I’ve done some bouncing from the trauma. But it still lives in my heart and in my mind. He’s everywhere and nowhere for me. He’s in my dreams and in my fantasies and he’s right down the road, being all dead and whatnot. He lives in the blood of the veins of the people in his family and the memories they hold to share with me. He lives in the beating heart of my two step brothers and my half-brother. He lives in the mind of my mother. In me? Well. I know he lives on in me. But sometimes, I find it hard to figure out where exactly he is at the moment.

When I was two or three, my mother was a single parent. She was set up on a date with someone she worked with. He was in the printing department of where she worked. Printing was the family’s life blood for my father’s family. They were all printers and to this day, some of them still are. My uncle, the youngest brother of my father, still runs what’s left of the family business. Anyway. He showed up at the door while I was being my young self and doing whatever it is that I did at that time. When I looked up at this man who walked through the door for the first time, I said, “Daddy.” There was nothing more to it than that. As far as my little head was concerned, the man entering our house was my father. And while I don’t doubt he was in love with my mother and all her charms, I only just added to the package. A daughter. A daughter. He had two sons and chances are that was all he was going to have was boys. And here he had a woman he cared for with a daughter. He could be the man on the porch with the shotgun, scaring away the boys. He would be the guy who taught me how to dance. He would take me to a father-daughter dance and he would swing me around in his arms while I was laughing at whatever we were talking about.

Dreams. Dreams. We all have dreams and my father’s biggest, baddest, and boldest was being my father.

I remember that, as a child, the relationship between my mother and father was rocky. He wanted to be a parent and he wanted to be a husband, but he didn’t know how to fix the demons that were eating him alive. And really, there is no other explanation for his behavior. From the little bits that I’ve gleaned from conversations as a child and from the pieces my mother has told me, my father lived with some very big demons. He had a box of things that he carried around with him, wherever he went, and when he was dying, he asked my mother to throw it away. He said not to go into that box, ever, and just to throw it away. Curiosity is a dangerous beast, but he trusted my mother enough to know that she would do with it as he had asked of her. And she did. We don’t know what lived in that box or what sort of monsters were hiding there. All we know is that the box was a kind of cross to bear, his to be exact, and when he died, it went with him.

I remember that, one night, they were fighting and my mom took us over to my grandparents’ house for the night. I don’t know what transpired, but I ended up going with him instead of staying the night with my mom and little brother. We watched Rainbow Brite and My Little Pony on the TV in his room. We were up until late. Another time, he was taking me home from the baby sitter’s house when I started freaking out because there was a bee in the backseat with me. He pulled over, got out, opened the door, and ushered the bee out of the car so that I would calm down. He always made me feel like I was super-duper special and that he would move Heaven and Earth to make sure everything was okay for me. I know that my daddy wasn’t perfect and that he screwed up with a lot of things – one of those harsh lessons all children must learn: their parents are human. But, he did his very, very best to always make it seem like he could fix anything. And as far as I could see, as a young child, that was the case.

But, like I said. Every child has a harsh lesson to learn about their parents and that lesson is that they are human. They are not Superman or Superwoman. They are the sum total of their experiences and they put those into practice as best they can. My father succeeded in some areas and failed in others. We all fail sometimes, but my father’s failure was the biggest. He got sick. He lingered. He grew tiny. He died.

When I was very young, he got sick. I don’t remember when he got sick, but I think it was around the time that I started hiding in the pantry on Fort Pleasant. I remember I would hide in there, trying to fit underneath the cabinets because it was a hiding place. I was a princess in need of rescuing, or something. I remember watching him get smaller and smaller. He was never a big guy to begin with, so watching him lose weight was hard. He started sleeping with his eyes open and that was a weird sight. He had to go to the hospital a lot, but I don’t remember visiting him more than a handful of times. The one clear memory of seeing him in the hospital was, I’m pretty sure, at the Veteran’s Hospital in Holyoke. There were green floors and a big, huge doorway and in that doorway was my dad. He was lying all hooked up and I was playing in the hallway.

My dad contracted AIDS before there were new and innovative drugs to keep it at bay. When he got sick, it was the late 80s. It was still the “gay disease.” It was still unknown and misunderstood. All we knew was that he was going to die. I remember not telling anyone in school that my dad was sick. I don’t know what it was that kept my tongue in check. I wasn’t the most friendly of children and a bit of a loner, anyway, but I had some friends. I could have said something, but I didn’t. I ended up lying later – I told everyone he died of cancer. That was back in the days when most people thought that catching AIDS was as easy as catching a cold. They didn’t realize that kisses and hugs were okay. It wasn’t contagious like a head cold. It just was. And I got to watch bit by bit as my dad slowly went from the Superman that he was in my head to a skeletal figure.

There is something completely heart-rending about watching your parents die. There is something so painful and heart-breaking about watching someone you love and care about so much slowly but surely make the long journey toward death. As a child, you always think that they’ll bounce back. And I know for a while that I thought he would be okay after the right medicine. Isn’t that what doctors do? They give you the right medicine? But, this is around the time that I became disenchanted with doctors and strangely enough, wanted to start thinking about a career in the health field to help other people. You see, the doctors couldn’t fix him. His demons were eating him alive in the form of AIDS.

The night he died, I was awake. I heard my mom crying. I heard my dad yelling. I heard the two of them saying their final goodbyes and then I fell asleep. I dreamed about him. He was talking to me but I don’t remember what he said. And the next morning, I got up and my mom’s best friend was lying in the living room on the pull-out couch. And my entire world changed. The Superman who had loved and cherished me was gone. The father I had was gone. The man who was supposed to love me, hold me, dance with me, scare away prospective suitors, and make me feel beautiful all the time was gone forever.

I was angry. I was hurt. I knew it was coming, but that doesn’t stop the feelings that eat you up. I’m still angry. Why did you do this? I want to ask him. Why were you so stupid? On the other hand, I just want him to hug me again and make me feel safe. I need my Daddy. My mom needs my Daddy. My little brother needs my Daddy. Instead of being a cohesive family unit, or even a close approximation of one, we’re scattered to the winds. Instead of turning to one another with our pain and our hurts, we’ve pushed one another away and looked for a new start. Instead of bonding over the loss, we hurt each other more. And I blame him for that, too.

But I also love him.

And I miss him.

And I know that he’s watching over me. And I know that he hears me when I talk to him at his grave. And I know that he has a thousand words to give me, but I can’t hear them.

There’s a hole in my heart the shape of my father. And nothing will ever fill it.

Reminiscing: The Grandmother Who Was Not Mine.

For a very long while now, I have been trying to write an entry about my paternal grandmother. Hell, for even longer, I’ve been trying to write an entry about my dad, but I settled on my Gramma L first because she’s a bitchin’ lady. She’s one of those people who deserve to be remembered. The thing about Wilma (yes, her name was Wilma) is that in talking about her and writing about her, I think I’ll be opening up a big ole can of worms. It’s because of this that I’ve been putting her entry off and off. I’ve gotten anecdotes from my mother as I had asked for when I was writing about my maternal, dead grandmother. I have a general idea of what I want to say, but it’s been pretty difficult to get out there. It’s all of that armchair psychology horse manure that I like to do only once in a blue moon, really. It causes a lot of problems and I get the feeling that with this entry, I’ll end up doing that and dealing with those problems.

I don’t have a lot of memories of my paternal grandmother. She died when I was nine years old, about two years after the death of my daddy. So, to clearly say that I remember her is difficult. As time goes by, even the memories that I cherished of my father are replaced by things that I’d rather not have replace him. The same goes for the memories of my Gramma L. I guess it’s just the way that life ends up: you forget the things from your childhood as your memory spots are replaced by things like children’s birthdays, ring-tailed lemurs from Madagascar, the kids’ favorite foods, grades in school, the time period in China that the Black Death showed up for the first time, and other ephemera related to growing up and being an adult or merely, miscellanea that thinks it’s a good idea to take over said spots.

My grandmother lived in a giant gray Victorian. It’s because of her that I have had a life-long obsession with the idea of owning a big gray Victorian with black shudders. Her house wasn’t very large: three rooms on the first floor and three rooms on the top floor, but it was wonderful. I loved going over there for the family parties and spending time there. There was a window seat in the dining room with pillows in the big bay window. I remember dreaming of sitting there with a book during the high days of summer. I remember being excited when I got to walk up and down the tiny steps that led to the front walk. I remember enjoying the swinging in the porch swing that was on the left-hand side of the wraparound porch. I remember running around the grass in the summer time and burying dog bones under the bushes with the other cousins. (My grandmother never stocked cookie treats or anything like that, but she had dog biscuits in abundance for her two dogs.) I also remember one summer where a cousin of mine set fire to the front lawn, but that’s not my story to tell. All I can say is that my clearest memories of my grandmother have to do with the big gray house she lived in until she died and that I never saw again after that.

Gramma was pretty big on building things. She liked to create things with her hands. This is probably why when she re-married to Papa, she chose a man who could build with his hands. He would create things, just like her first husband (who was a woodworker). Papa was big on making clocks, if I’m not mistaken, and re-building old cars (I’ll get into a post about him one day… and as a quick note, I found his Stanley Steamer while doing a whimsical search.) But, my Gram didn’t work on the cars or the clocks, as far as I know. She worked on sewing things and creating things. It was because of her, I think, more than anything or anyone else that my mom started getting into things like that. But, her biggest creation things were the building of dollhouses and the giant train set that was set up in one of the upstairs bedrooms.

All of us kids loved to watch this train set. She would turn it on for us to watch the trains go by, but I was more fascinated with the intricate details that went into creating the landscape. There were tunnels and houses and signs and people and bushes and animals. They were all so tiny. I can remember wondering just how much time she put into the creation of the thing. I know that it was a love of trains that my father had later in life because when we were packing up the basement before we moved to Texas, my stepbrother stumbled onto his train collection. I wonder if this was a bonding point between the two people who I loved the most and died on me, or if it was because of one that the other because interested. I’ll never know because, unfortunately, I can’t ask them. But, I’ve always kind of wondered what the correlation there was.

My grandmother had a pretty bad memory as far as birthdays went. I mean, probably, it wasn’t her fault. She had twelve grandchildren by that point (if I’m counting up correctly), on top of her five kids and their spouses. So, in an effort to keep anyone from feeling left out, she cooked up the best scheme in the history of ever, which was entitled Everybody’s Birthday. Oh, sure. We all had parties that family was invited to during the proper time, but my grandmother celebrated this one day a year for everybody. My mom tells me that she held it around her birthday, probably as a way for all of us to remember her birthday in turn: my gramma was smart as hell. So, every year, we’d get together and do something. I remember the renting out of a baseball diamond. The kids all had one diamond and were practicing how to hit the baseballs from the t-stand things while the parents were doing a real baseball game. Well… real is relative: there was alcohol involved. Then, another year, I remember we went to the circus, but this memory is vague. I was probably only three or four at the time, honestly.

But the thing that I remember most about my grandmother is how much she loved me. She always made me feel very loved and very happy. The thing is that on that side of the family, I never really felt as though I belonged. Sure, I did to an extent, but I did not really feel comfortable with them. I was a dork, a homebody, a reader. My cousins were all about toys and playing and Barbies. Later on, I was still a dork, a homebody, a reader, and self-composed while the rest of my cousins were interested in popular music, boys, and makeup. I never felt very comfortable there, but my grandmother made me feel as though I belonged. I remember a feeling of purity and light and love from that woman. I think, honestly, the learning that my daddy was not my daddy would have been a smoother transition if she had still been there to make me feel welcome and at home, but she wasn’t. And I got to sit around after the fact wondering if the out-of-place feeling I felt with that family was my fault because, technically, I didn’t belong, blood of their blood, or if it was just the loss of a woman who always made me feel at home.

The thing about my grandmother, really, is that she was larger than life. She loved everyone and everything. Okay, yeah. I’m sure there were things that she didn’t like or thought better of, but you would never know it. She was so full of vim and vigor that you were caught up in the spell she wove. How often do you hear of a woman who divorced her first husband, remained friendly with him, remained friendly with her ex-husband’s new wife and her kids, while also bringing the family together at least two to three times a year? I mean, yes. I’m sure the weaving of the miscellaneous parts of the family were also because of Grampa B and his nature, but I think it says a lot. She would gladly welcome anyone into her home. It wasn’t that we were all a ragtag bunch of blocks on the same quilt: we all belonged together.

And that, more than anything, is who my grandmother was, who my grandmother is, and who my grandmother will always be as far as I am concerned.

To Wilma, the woman who always made me feel like I belonged.

Reminiscing: My Grandmother Was the Chuck Norris of Our Family.

As a child, whenever I thought about my grandmother or I was at her house, I always thought of her as the be-all, end-all. My grandmother’s persona is something that I whimsically refer to as “dour Catholic.” This is that cool, standoffish persona that doesn’t convey cookies and playing with dolls. This is that remote personality that looks down from on high. In reality, whenever I thought of my grandmother, I thought of her as a god type figure. I think it was the remoteness of gaining access to her inner sanctum: everything was private and, as a child with curiosity coming out of my ears, inaccessible. There weren’t hugs and kisses and picnics and sleepovers and all of that jazz. The grandmothers that my friends may have had is not the grandmother I had.

I had Chuck Norris with old lady glasses, a cane, and a “this is how it is or you will eat my shoe” attitude.

My grandmother ruled the entire world from the kitchen table and you would never, ever forget it. She was the reigning dowager of our family, even though my grandfather was there to back her up. (And from what I’ve gathered, it was my grandfather who did the “this is the way it is” when my mom was a kid, it was my grandmother by the time I came around.) My family was matriarchal by design—there being three girl children and only one boy in my mother’s generation and a myriad of girls in the next—so when I say that she ruled the family, our lives, and the world, I can safely assure you that I’m not joking. She was the center of our universe. And it always began and ended with that damn kitchen table. (Aside: when I have the ancestral altar of my daydreams, there will be a kitchen table scattered with lists upon lists and fake flowers in the center in honor of my grandmother and her awesome ownership of three generations and counting.)

I’m going to pause here and talk about the kitchen table for a minute. In all of my memories of my grandmother, the kitchen table is the very center. She was always sitting at the seat in front of the kitchen sink and to the right of the old-school stove. She was always just right there, waiting for everyone to descend upon her in the visitations that we had numerous times a year. The kitchen table is some old table, completely round. It took up most of the kitchen area. It was covered in detritus of her daily life and newspaper clippings she found of interest. I can remember one about baby pimples that she passed out to the new moms of our family. But, the center of the table held a pot of flowers, although I can’t remember what kind. The rest of the surface was covered in her lists. She had thousands of lists, OCD being her big bad genetic inheritance. They were almost always of the hundreds of medications she was on her for her depression and her heart disease and her COPD and her other ailments. They were everywhere. There was mail and bills and reminders. That kitchen table was the central focus of her world and it was our central focus of her, too.

The reason the kitchen table was the center of the universe was because my grandmother was crippled. I don’t know when it happened. My recollections of her as a child always had to do with her cane. It was fascinating to my little brother and I. I remember stealing it (along with the SKELETON KEYS) and running around with it when my little brother and I would go over there. The story goes that the crippling was my grandfather’s fault: they were at a store and he ran into her Achilles tendon. This story has been passed along as a warning for all children of every generation of our family, thus far. I can still hear my mother yelling at my brother and I about grocery carts not being toys and the damage you can do to each other with them. “YOU WANT TO BE LIKE GRAMMA?!?!?” I’m not sure how these admonitions have affected my little brother, but I’ve heard my mom’s words come out of my mouth at both TH and TS whenever we go grocery shopping.

My grandmother was pretty big on gaining information in various forms. Before the Internet, our very own Mark Zuckerberg decided that the best course of action was to utilize the four children she had at her disposal. So, she would pass out “assignments” to someone about whatever it was she wanted to know. At one point, she asked my aunt to learn the last name of the guy who owns Manny’s TV and Appliances. On another occasion, she was reading a book with ninjas in them and demanded that my uncle ask his Japanese co-worker about them. (He did, for fear of his very life and limb or because he didn’t want to hear it. The guy gave a brief description and then did a karate type move and yelled something like: “Now you must die!” There’s no telling if my uncle illustrated said movement for my grandmother at the time.) Nowadays, you’d just hop on Google and look this shit up. Back then, networking was the only way to go.

I asked my mother to give me a few thoughts about my grandmother. She mentioned that my grandmother couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. I wasn’t aware of this; I think she had given up Happy Birthday singing by the time I can clearly remember. There’s also an amusing joke that runs in our family to this day, years after my grandmother has left us. There were three girls living in that house, with my mother being the youngest. Aside from knowing her son’s name off the top of her head since he was the trouble-maker, she tended to confuse my mom with my eldest aunt. We joke know and call my aunts La-Debbie and Landrea. Oh, another anecdote: My grandmother randomly changed her name and not in the legal way. Apparently, Joan wasn’t a good enough name for her so she changed it to Joanne at some point. This was an amusing source when my aunts were cleaning out the house since some things were addressed to her as Joan and others as Joanne.

In reality, my grandmother was tough-as-nails. She lost two babies to the RH-factor after my mother was born. This was before life-saving measures and abortive attempts. She had to carry both of them to term and deliver them naturally. This little sad story is probably something that helped to prematurely age her and maybe, just maybe, it helped to give her the “dour Catholic” persona I mentioned earlier.

There are other stories about my grandmother that I’m sure my mom would flip if I shared. But, those stories aren’t mine and they’re not about my grandmother.

My grandmother was that woman who could survive the Zombie Apocalypse. My grandmother was that woman who could get through whatever was thrown her way. My grandmother was the terminal hoarder. My grandmother used to laugh and end up in a coughing fit. My grandmother is that woman with the nasal canula to attach her to her oxygen tank. (The very same lines that my cousin, my mom and I used to crimp to see if she’d notice, since she swore she would. She never did.) My grandmother is Betty White with Chuck Norris mixed in…

…and she ruled the world from the kitchen table.