...because everything is funny when it's happening to someone else!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Give Up The Funk*

Oh, Lordy.  Where to start?

Since my last post, I've spent some time navel-gazing and coming to terms with the definitive end of my relationship with my father.  As long as we were both kicking around this old world, the possibility existed that one day we might come to some sort of cessation of hostilities.  With that option gone, there were some things I needed to work through.  So, I took a break from things for a while and dealt with all that stuff and now I'm feeling more like myself.  I'll leave you to decide whether that's a good thing or not.

Today was the annual training/meeting/get-together for the staff of the adoption agency where I work part-time.  The meeting was about 2.5 hours from Gilligan's Island and about 45 minutes from the Taj MaHell, so Tank and I drove up yesterday and spent the night.

But it wasn't quite as simple as that.  Oh, but no.

As soon as I got out of the car at the Taj, I smelled it.  That unmistakable smell of "somethin' dead."  Urgh.  The cloying scent of rotting animal flesh was everywhere.  Tank and I investigated and determined the general area of the crawlspace under the Taj where something had met its end.  I couldn't actually see anything and there was NO WAY I was going to crawl under there.  My unbelievably wonderful in-laws came over and helped try to locate the carcass, but we still couldn't see anything.  I went to bed last night in a stinky house and slept fitfully, waking up every hour or so to remember I once heard that your sense of smell is directly linked to your sense of taste...so that anything you smell has crossed your tastebuds for processing.  All night long, then, I was tasting something dead.  Yum.

This morning, I was up before the sun, getting ready to teach a couple of short sessions at our meeting ( and feeling really unprepared and anxious).  Just when I was about to wake Tank up to take him to Farm Maven's for the day, I realized I'd locked my keys in the Jeep.  OHMYFREAKINSTARS.

Frantic phone calls ensued:
To Shawn:  couldn't get him to answer

To the Farm Maven:  she sent Diamond Dave to come get Tank but didn't have a spare automobile for me to take to the training
To the City of Mayberry Police: whose non-emergency line was unmanned for another hour
To My Inlaws:  who brought me a car and who also discussed the issue with a local City of Mayberry police officer...and that officer later came to the house, unlocked the Jeep and stowed the keys away for me
To the Farm Maven: again and again, because I got lost on the way to the meeting and had to get her to Map Quest my sorry butt

By the end of the day, I'd managed to teach the sessions, had received several texts and photos from the Farm Maven documenting Tank's Excellent Farm Adventures, had an unlocked Jeep (at no charge!), and had returned Papa's car, with a full tank of gas and my undying devotion. 

In the meantime, Shawn had been working hard from Gilligan's Island.  He called a  Mayberry pest company who told him they did not do dead animal removals, but after hearing that I was here alone with a little one, the Very Nice Pest Dude came out, crawled under the extremely stinky house and emerged with one very large, very dead possum.  Well worth the $90 I had to pay him.

And now I'm just sitting in the den, with approximately 900 scented candles burning (now it smells like a flower pooped out a dead animal, but you take what you can get).  Tank is snoozing peacefully in his bed, worn out from a day of hard play with his cousins.  My Jeep key is safely in my pocket and I don't have to worry about power point presentations or flop sweat again for a while.

All in all, this day served as another reminder that life in Mayberry definitely has its advantages.

Yes, I have had some really bad times with some of the members of my original family.  But I am so lucky to have the family that I do have, and so grateful that my husband's family has been so welcoming, so kind and supportive...and so delightfully insane!

Wow.  What a rotten, smelly, wonderful day!

(*we don't call the Taj run-down and funky for nothing!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Confession is Good for the Soul

A long time ago...a REALLY long time ago...I was a kid.  I grew up in a big old farmhouse out in the country, near a small town.  In the summer, it was Georgia-hot; my sister and I would turn our pillows to catch that blessed cool spot on the side we hadn't been lying on.  A hassock fan sat on the floor between our twin beds, doing little more than stirring the muggy air around and confusing the mosquitoes.  In the winter, the little electric and gas space heaters tried valiantly, but couldn't keep up with the drafty windows and high ceilings.  I remember running like the devil from one marginally heated room to another, my breath frosting in the air. 

It was wonderful.

My mother had the rare gift of being a phenomenal mother to little kids.  She was gentle and sweet and had this great, throaty chuckle when something struck her as funny.  She'd laugh and then say, "You won't do!"  Mama let my sister the Farm Maven and me trash the attic upstairs.  Our house was supposed to be a two-story, but the downstairs was so big that three generations of our family had not felt the need to finish the upper story, so it was one huge storage space.  In the attic, the Farm Maven and I acted out any fantasy that came to mind.  Sometimes, we ran an orphanage and lined our dolls' beds up in a quasi-institutional fashion.  Other days the same dolls were students in our school.  We were a huge family, she the mother, I the father and about 15 dolls our offspring.  We played church, Christmas, diner and headed west in a covered wagon.  Mama never made us clean up the attic, so we could play all day and then pick up where we left off the next morning.

I had room to roam on our large farm and animals to take the place of the neighborhood kids other children my age were playing with.  The Farm Maven read every book in the rather extensive family library, sitting in the cool living room in the summer, or enjoying a lazy swing on the front porch, one foot keeping the motion going while the bees hummed and the characters in her novel came alive.

I grew up (at least chronologically) and changes began creeping in.  My mother's hair, gray since she was a young woman, turned nearly white.  My sister went to college.  Our older brother married poorly, divorced and married poorly again.  Through all the ebbs and flows of our lives, my mother was the constant; I describe her as the sun that kept all our planets in their proper orbits.

Out of the three of us kids, I was the one who just couldn't stay put.  My sister joked that she had to stop writing my address in ink, since I had used up two pages in her last address book.  I once counted 22 moves in 15 years...a personal record.  I stayed within Georgia, but other than that, I liked to keep moving.  I kept my clothes, my CDs, favorite chairs and a bed with me, but my little treasures, things to save but not things you need every day, stayed at the old home place.  They were safe there, the old love letters and high school awards.  My first wedding dress, a plaster bust of Elvis that annoyed the crap out of Mama, a coin collection, letters from my decades-long pen pal in Australia...all of them were kept safe under the watchful eye of Mama.

And then she died.

She complained of pain, unusual for my normally stoic mother.  She went for tests that were negative, scans that didn't show anything.  More tests, more scans.  And then they told us that she had leukemia, an aggressive form.  The leukemia had no intention of letting her survive, but it had an ally in her:  Mama just quit.  Ten days after her diagnosis, she died.

To pick up again with the sun and planets analogy, we all spun out of our orbits.  Nothing made sense anymore.  Who were we, without her?  She was the rock, the safe place; she always knew the right hostess gift and the appropriate outfit for any occasion.

How do you navigate the world without a compass?

We tried, each in our own ways.  The Farm Maven and I took on much of Mama's work in the house and with Daddy.  We fed him, cleaned the now-unused rooms, washed his clothes and tried to cajole a smile from him.  I paid his bills, cut his grass and took his cars for oil changes and service.  My brother and sister in law for the most part laid low in their trailer behind the home place and lived their own lives.

Four and a half years later, my father had two heart surgeries.  We took turns sitting at the hospital in Atlanta, an hour and a half from the Farm Maven and my brother's homes and five hours from mine.  By this time, Tank was 3 months old; the Farm Maven was home-schooling a 15 year old, a 12 year old and a 4 year old.

He was in the hospital and two rehab facilities for five months.  Over that time, the veneer that we had known as our father stripped away.  He became a mean, selfish, nasty man who lashed out at everyone, except his new girlfriend (there had been one before, right after Mama's death, but she didn't last). 

He would glare at us, his children, and demand to know when his girlfriend would return.  "That's who I want to see!" he would growl.  For my part, I didn't want to be there any more than he wanted me there.  I had a baby that needed me and whose face lit up when I returned.  I had carefully planned my life so that I could stay home with my little one, only to find myself sitting in a hospital waiting room or listening to the insane rants of a sick and bitter old man.

It didn't help that his girlfriend was also his attorney.  It also didn't help that they had engaged in an affair when we were little kids.

I would sit, looking at my father's face, contorted in hatred for me and I would think, "Mother fucker...I ought to slap you out of that bed."  But I'd just sit, texting desperately to Shawn or anxiously awaiting the next photo of Tank that the Farm Maven would send while she babysat him.

When the scond rehab facility decided he could no longer stay there (purely coincidence that his insurance quit covering his stay), a decision had to be made.  Because he wouldn't eat, he had a feeding tube.  Because he refused physical therapy, he could still barely walk and couldn't manage basic self-care skills.  The Maven and I thought it was best for him to go to another rehab facility.  I believed that if he could improve at all, it would only happen if going home was the goal.  My brother advocated that he go directly home.  Knowing that we, with our children, Maven's home-schooling and my life 200 miles away, couldn't take care of him, we said he needed another rehab stint.  My brother said no and he and his wife stated that they would move in with him for one week and get him back on his feet. 

My father hated us all by that point, but he had always hated my brother and his wife most of all.  Both my brother, the redneck devil (Beelzebubba for short) and his wife, the Mighty Hermaphrodite were hoarders and had managed to completely trash their home, barn and numerous outbuildings.  My father did not want them in his family home and missed no opportunity to declare this, loudly.

So, I sighed and volunteered to move in with Daddy for two weeks.  To my surprise, he refused.  My brother's anti-rehab facility stance had made him a hero in Daddy's eyes and further vilified my sister and me.  So, in April 2009, Beelzebubba, the Mighty Hermaphrodite and Daddy limped into a big old house with no central heat and air, closed the door behind them and quickly pushed the Farm Maven and me out of their circle.

I sent photos and videos of Tank to my father.  I sent Christmas cards.  I received one envelope...it was a letter informing me I was no longer my father's power of attorney.

Last Wednesday, my father died.

He died at home, peacefully according to his hospice care coordinator, who called my sister a day later.  She said she had asked him if he wanted her to call us, so he could speak to us before he died.  He said no.

He died as he lived, angry and selfish. 

He missed the beautiful life he could have had, as a grandfather to four amazing children.  Four pure hearts stood ready to love him, but he wanted a 70-year-old, chain-smoking home wrecker instead.  He missed all the good things he could have enjoyed in his final years.

My Mama dated him for five years and they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the week before she died.

She was not mentioned in his obituary.  The girlfriend was.

People don't know what to say to me.  "I'm sorry to hear about your father," they say.  Then there is an awkward pause.

I'm sorry, too.  I'm sorry he wasn't a good husband, a good father, a good man.  I'm sorry my mother was treated so poorly by a man who never--not even on his best day--deserved her.

I'm sorry that the things I inherited from him include his penchant for snide and cutting remarks.  Beelzebubba and Hermaphrodite will inherit everything else.  Including my wedding dress, my love letters and Elvis.

They say living well is the best revenge.  I plan to prove that.  Tonight, I tucked Tank into his bed and sang "Itsy Bitsy Spider" the requisite four hundred million times.  I told him for about the bazillionth time today that I love him.  I marveled at his innocent love for me, the chubby arms around my neck, the slobbery kisses and the "Wuv oo". 

How rich I truly am.

How staggeringly, embarrassingly wealthy.