Hi, Leo here.
Some may not remember me because I have been quiet for quite some time. Ellouise let me speak for her after Jim died and then as she regained her voice and her footing she retired me - sort of. But I watch. And, when it feels right I can have something to say.
Two years ago today Jim died here at home. It was the right place for him to be and Ellouise was glad to be taking care of him although she says she's not sure she did everything right. But those who were around say she did a good job- and that's not a story she tells.
It was a sunny day that Tuesday too. She remembers it all - as she remembers so much of their long time together. 58 years is a long time to be together - more than half a hundred years - so it takes time for Ellouise to reconstruct a life without his physical presence. I say that because he is very much with her all the time.
She looks good from the out side. Back on her feet, telling stories, traveling, writing new shows and starting to clean out her house - she says our house - but the truth is its her house now and she has all the responsibility for it. Now that is a big change. Don't always judge someone's insides by their outsides - especially someone like Ellouise who is a marvelous pretender. But - she does believe in the saying, "fake it until you make it."
Two years is enough time to complete some degree programs but it is a minute in grieving time and the changes or any changes are almost imperceptible to the person who is grieving. If you don't know now you probably will find out someday. There is no explaining it.
Today she has chosen to stay quietly at home. To do a few things, like paying the bills that she knows Jim would applaud and to enjoy the quiet - a time to think and to remember.
And, to rehearse the Second Hand Rose show which she is telling tomorrow. What was she thinking - well that is the point she probably did not look carefully at the calendar and she wasn't thinking.
That said, it has also been a good thing.
Ellouise developed this story as her entry for the 2009 Rogue Performing Arts Festival in Fresno, CA.
and since she applied late and had to find an alternative venue, she told the program first in the La Tienda Thrift Shop surrounded by racks of second hand clothes. The La Tienda Thrift Shop is located in the Tower District which is Jim's childhood neighborhood. That was a win/win for both of them. Telling stories for her and being "at home" for him. Ellouise signed up for the Rogue four times - the last time in 2011.
The Rogue is always scheduled the beginning of March so it is going on right now. In the past Ellouise and Jim would be there right now. Those are sweet memories: seeing their Schoettler family, people they came to know through the Rogue and just being in the Valley at this time of the year - riding down Hwy 99 into Madera, Jim's other home town, through the almond groves - trees covered with white blossoms - acres and acres of blooming white fields on either side of the highway.
This day is filled with lovely memories of trips to the Valley from 1961 - 2011. That is good.
And we have the orchid which will continue to bloom for weeks,
Ellouise will meet her family at the 5:30 PM Mass which is set aside for Jim and then they will have dinner together.
I have seen them do this before. An intimate gathering is a good thing - a good time for remembering and stories.
The theme for the evening of stories was "childhood etc." so I knew it gave me a chance to tell my Junior High School story again. It was a chance I could not pass up because I love the story. In this story I can walk back into the halls and classrooms of Piedmont Junior High School when I was in the ninth grade. Not that all the days were perfect - as you will see in this story - but they were all flavored well.
Learning something new all the time. Trying out things. Looking ahead to your dreams.
But - there were hurts that haunted you for years. This story is about one of those - and how help came from an unexpected quarter.
I call this story, "Miss Janie Kilgore" - which you will understand shortly.
Maybe this story will bring up some of your own memories from those wonderful, sometimes difficult days in Junior High School.
Ice and snow are on their way.
"ice will take down trees and knock out power."
Hate that! How about you?
Slipping and sliding is not my favorite sport.
I remember an unexpected snow storm some years ago
when Connecticutt Avenue quickly became a sheet of ice. I was driving toward Dupont Circle and right before Florida Avenue - I was just at the Hilton - my car went into a free wheeling skid and turned around twice. Scared me to death. Fortunately there were no cars near by. The car finally settled down anad stopped. Gasping, I headed toward Dupont Circle creeping all the way and shaking like a leaf in a strong wind.
That's when I decided that there was no where important enough for me to drive on ice. I am not kidding.
However you know how it is - you forget your personal rules.
My son was here tonight to fix my utility room sink. As he left we were talking about the coming weather and I once again proclaimed my concern about ice-driving - as in cautioning him to "be careful"
Laughing he said, "remember the night before my wedding?"
Lordy, lordy - yes.
We went to the rehearsal dinner downtown at GW Faculty Club - which Jim and I were hosting - driving in a slight drizzling rain.
When we emerged four hours later, dressed for a party not for snow and ice, we could barely find traction on the side walk. Jim and Jimmy drove in Jim's car and I drove my parents and my sister and her husband. Creeping slowly up Connecticutt Avenue toward the circle at the border to Maryland was nerve wracking. Just before the Beltway we entered our neighborhood. I chose the flattest streets rather that the hill that leads to our street.
That good plan turned into a nightmare. I became stranded on a slab of ice with wheels spinning, going nowhere - no kitty litter in the car and no one able to push us. Maybe that has happened to you and you have burned rubber like I did trying to get the car moving forward. The scene inside the car was noisy and chaotic. Mama was a bit hysterical, Daddy was telling me to "Rock it. Rock it." Kathy and Johnny were laughing at the predicament. I was not happy.
We were only about 9 blocks from home. But that was before everyone in the car had a cell phone in their pocket so we could not call anyone.
Finally the car lurched ahead and I crept those blocks to our house. Jim and Jimmy, who had driven up the hill with no problem, were standing on the front walkway looking our way. Jim did not look happy.
"Where have you been?"
Why do people always ask that? And even more, why, when they are worried, do they sound angry - like you have done something wrong?
Its a question for another time. Just setting the scene right now.
Once inside with hot coffee and cocoa we told our story and all was well.
Next morning the sun came out, ice melted, and we got to the church on time.
I continue to try to follow my rule and stay inside when it is iced outside.
Just saying, if I have an appointment with you tomorrow - I probably won't be there.
Some days I forget to be grateful for the blessings in my life
so I am naming these today to start March on a high note.
A two year old orchid from Jim's Memorial Mass March 6, 2012
played out its colors and turned off. I thought it was a throw-away but I didn't and I am glad.
A couple of months ago these two stalks sprouted up, grew tall slowly and then popped out 12 tight fisted buds. Those buds have relaxed and opened two at a time for several weeks shouting out hope and color.
Last night two more blooms were ready to open but still teasing me. When I came downstairs this morning they too were wide open and shouting out.
There are three more to come. Which should carry me right to Jim's anniversary next week.
and the ever present iPhone.
My iPhone - my constant companion - ever ready for talking or searching.
I never go anywhere without it in my hand or near to hand.
How about you?
Rarely to do I think to appreciate having it .
There is a lot to thank it for:
* it wakes me in the morning
* it is my safety net -
* I use the flashlight when I am fumbling for my keys
* what about the camera?
* solitaire when I am bored or waiting
* keeping lists on hand
* reading teeny tiny books on my phone Kindle
* connecting with the world
* being connected to the ones I love.
Thank you Alexander Graham Bell and all those who came after with the ideas that finally brought the phone to my pocket.
Jim and I once visited the Alexander Graham Bell museum in Nova Scotia and it is truly amazing to see that progression from an idea to our pockets.
Golden sun streaming into the living room this morning.
More blooms bursting forth on this two year old orchid from Jim's memorial Mass March 6, 2012.
When this plant went fallow
It was ugly and barren
I thought of throwing it away
because I was sick and tired of facing death.
Oddly, today the stalks signal joy
as I begin reliving the worst week of my life
- - - - - which was the last week of Jim's life.
Interesting that the day before Jim's anniversary is Ash Wednesday.
While the orchid protests and proclaims Easter.
If I were a theologian or a spiritual writer
I would or could turn this juxtaposition into a deeply inspiring message
I am not one of those deep thinking folks
I am left grappling with the painful reality of missing Jim.
I am grateful that
I can see the beauty
manifesting in my living room.
to tell you the truth
it is not enough
I want a hug.
Where is Anne Lamott when you need her?
Drat! It is snowing again today. More than that. The dusting that was predicted has turned in a 2" accumulation.
In the face of all that white stuff I switched my
Austin-like "fixed engagements" so that I do not have to leave the house today.
I am congratulating myself for going to Arlington Monday - a bright and sunny day - rather than staying on my usual routine of Wednesday afternoon.
Not that I "knew" what was coming - I just always appreciate Arlington a bit more in the sunshine.
When I turned in to Roosevelt Drive I was stopped by a US Army bugler waiting to be part of a burial ceremony for a grave only a few feet from Jim. The family had not arrived he waved me through to park at the near-by parking area for the Tomb of the Unknowns.
From this vantage point I could watch everything from my heated car and not intrude on the family. This was not the time to run up with a cake. I would probably meet someone from the family sooner or later when we were both visiting.
It would not be a long wait until the ceremony was done and all would leave. That is what happened. Military funerals and burials are well timed. Our new neighbor was smoothly moved into the neighborhood.
When all the family had driven away I pulled down and parked near Jim. A cemetery official was still on site to see the burial to completion. I doubt you will be surprised when I tell you I stopped to chat with him. A new neighbor sparked my curiosity. He was a bit taken back but cordial. He did not know anything about the new neighbor's service record. He was surprised as I told him about a few of the others in this block of Section 35. When I mentioned the 1950s Tomb Guard - i.e. Sentinel who is buried in our section he perked up. And, here comes the story.
This tall strapping guy, who looked to be now approaching 40 old, tells me that he knows about the man I mentioned - "I know about him. I was a Tomb Sentinel." There was pride in his voice and it seemed to me he stood a bit straighter. I was obviously impressed. He allowed me to ask questions that just needed asking. Once on duty in the Army he is now a civilian member of the Arlington staff.
He served almost two years as a Sentinel and yes, standing guard at the Tomb is hard work, "But we train for it." And when I asked how they manage in the hard weather as they do, he smiled and said,
"Ma'am, it's part of the job. We suck it up and do it."
I asked about things he remembered most and he told me of being on the Special Guard that carried President Ronald Reagan's casket up those daunting steps at the Capitol. The Presidential Casket weighed more then 1000 pounds.
I could not resist asking, "how's your back?" He just laughed. And, nodded when I commented it must have really been demanding because "if one of you mis-stepped it would have been disastrous." He agreed but assured me, "that's why we train so hard. We cannot afford such a disaster."
He walked away to over-see the actual burial of the urn. I don't know his name - never asked it.
Building the story with another insight into the everyday of Arlington and her people is what matters to me. I told him I was a storyteller and tell a story called My Forever Home. He gave me the same look most people do - "crazy woman."
Yes, I am really glad I went to visit Jim on Monday. Sometimes changing your routine is a good thing.
When my friend Kate Dudding, a storyteller based in Albany New York, was in Washington recently she appered as "guest" on Stories in Time in Focus with me on Channel 16. Kate shared her process in developing stories from a "real person's history" which is her forte. And she told a charming tale of famous and favorite chef, Julia Childs.