Tag Archives: memoirs

Sharing Your Story

Dear Mom,

For Christmas, Jamie got me, Jordyn and herself each a copy of a book called “Healing After Loss.” It is a daily meditation tool of sorts – a different thought on grief and moving forward for each day of the year, written by a woman named Martha Whitmore Hickman, who suffered the loss of a child.

Today’s page was about “sharing your story.” It talked about how in sharing the story of  your grief process, you may unknowingly help someone else who is or will be going through their own loss. It also talked about how sharing the story of your loved one – their life and your special moments with them – helps keep them alive and soothes both you and others who loved them through fond memories.

I think I have done a pretty good job in this blog of the former. I’ve written several pieces on losing you and the roller-coaster that has been the aftermath.

But I haven’t done nearly as much on the latter. I haven’t shared your story, or painted much of a picture of who you were in life other than our last year here together.

Perhaps that makes sense. I had to get those grief-thoughts out there before I could dig deeper.  That grief has been like wearing a heavy winter coat on a 90-degree day. It smothered the stuff underneath. Only by shedding it can I let those other things out to breathe in the cool fresh air.

I am slowly coming to the point where I can once again feel that air on my face. So I plan to spend the next several entries on your story.

To so many, you were James’s wife, Pam and Jamie’s mother, and Jordyn’s grandmother. Mom. Momma. Mommy. Nee. Granny Bean.

But before you were any of that, you were Sabina. We so often see our mothers only through our “post-me” lenses.  I was the first to come along and turn you into “Mom,” but you were so many things before me or even Daddy were on your radar.

So this is a little of what I know of you before me – before any of us.

– You were born in Pittsburgh, and although your family relocated to Baltimore when you were still a very little girl, you carried the town and The Steelers in your heart your whole life.

– You had three sisters – Natalie, Dorothy and Cindy. You loved them all, but while Natalie was much older and Cindy much younger, you and Dorothy were so close in age that I think of you as “almost twins.” Knowing that my aunts carry you in their hearts and that their landscape of memories includes all these pre-me moments I could never carry on for you in any way that does them justice has been a huge comfort to me.

– You lost your dad before you came to Baltimore – you were so young that perhaps you didn’t know him nearly as well as you would have liked. He was mostly pictures and stories and other people’s memories, but I always sensed that in your heart he was still somehow your hero.

– Your childhood was not an easy one.  That is not for this blog. But the person it made you is. You were fiercely determined that your daughters and granddaughters would experience a different kind of childhood, and we did.

– You saw yourself as an awkward kid. I never saw you that way, but you told me you felt like all your features were too big for your frame. “Big eyes, big ears, big nose in a skinny little face on a skinny little body,” you’d laugh. And then you grew into them and you were stunning. Not just stereotypically pretty, but soulfully beautiful. Especially those “big eyes,” with those never-ending eyelashes. When I was a kid, the way you said you felt about your looks as a girl gave me hope. I’d look at my beautiful mother and realize that one day all my parts that I didn’t think fit quite right would click into place and work together instead of against each other too.

– As a teenager, you went after what you wanted. You were smart and serious and you wanted to go to a Catholic girl’s school instead of a public school, so you worked and rode public transportation to make it happen. How many teenage girls would put so much extra responsibility on themselves to go to a school where there were NO BOYS? Surely not me!

– Many of the happier childhood memories you shared with me included trips to visit your Aunt Annie and Aunt Genny. I also remember stories of your mom working at a book factory, and of Aunt Nat, your oldest sister, getting married and having her first daughter Kim when Aunt Cin, your youngest sister, was pretty much a toddler herself. Aunt Cin wasn’t crazy about the idea of a new baby and tried to throw Kim in the trash (sorry Aunt Cin!).

– Your first boyfriend was named Milton Dodo. I have no clue if I’m spelling that right. I always pictured him as looking like Crispin Glover as young George McFly in Back to the Future, and once you told me I was kind of right.

– You wanted to be either a nun or a brain surgeon. I came along and you became “Mom” instead. When I’d whine to you about how much farther along I’d be with my writing if I didn’t have to work full-time, you’d remind me that if it weren’t for me you’d be wearing a habit or carrying a scalpel and say “that’s just life.”

I told you I wasn’t sorry I’d kept you from becoming a nun, because again – NO BOYS, but that I was sorry about the brain surgeon thing. Then one night when we’d had a few you gave me a laundry list of all the changes you’d make to our brains (mine, Dad’s, Jay’s) if you had become one, and I told you I was no longer sorry about that either. I so love that we could always talk and laugh about some of these things so many mothers and daughters I know would consider off-limits and maybe even hurtful. We shared a warped sense of humor and had a foundation of love and understanding that allowed us to be real.

– You met Dad because a close girlfriend of yours who went to school with him fixed you up. He was “that guy,” the one running around having fun and getting in trouble and doing what he wanted, while you were preparing for the nunnery or medical school. You fell in love with him and his parents too – one of my most powerful memories from our talks about your pre-me world is how Mommom and Grandad treated you like a daughter almost from day one.  I’m really glad you chose Dad over the nunnery. Even if we do have souls and mine would have ended up popping out somewhere else in that situation, I can’t imagine any other family that would have put up with me.

I could go on, but that’s enough for now. The story of a beautiful life is best told in chapters.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

 

Ordinary Worlding

Dear Mom,

I can’t believe how much time I have let get away from me since my last posting.  Take work, add a healthy dose of holidays and a great run of AFC football craziness, and time flies.

You have been with me every day, of course, so you already know the reasons behind the empty echo chamber that has been my writing lately. And you also know they aren’t all bad, or even mostly bad.

One of the themes in our conversations over the years was how to live a good life. Because you were my mother, you were proud of my ambitions. But they frustrated you, too. I have always been one of those “all or nothing” people. If I was chasing after a goal, it became an obsession. Every waking moment not being spent on that goal felt like a waste of time.

When my goal became to write and publish a book, and to do a butt-ton of other writing besides, that mindset became a little overwhelming. Those are long and arduous endeavors even when they are labors of love. And when you have a full-time-plus job in the kind of field where your work doesn’t always – or even usually – end at the moment the clock says the office is closed, tackling such a big project can completely fill the rest of your remaining hours.

While I was going full-speed ahead on the book, I felt happy. More than happy. I felt drive and purpose and determination. For some, those are the definition of happiness.

But in that way that only a mother can do, you saw something missing in me even when I was on top of the world. You saw that I resented anything and everything that took me away from my writing world. Working. Cleaning. Eating. Sleeping. Taking care of other obligations. Hell, sometimes even doing fun things that weren’t related to writing felt “off.”

I wasn’t capable of being fully in a moment that wasn’t spent wordsmithing. Even if my body and some of my heart was there, my mind was far away.

You saw that, and you called me on it. And we’d talk about how I didn’t mean to be that way, it was just that I felt like my life wouldn’t be complete until I was where I wanted to be. It wasn’t good enough – I wasn’t good enough – unless writing enabled me to quit my job and become a full-time author. I was trying so hard to free myself from my existing obligations so I’d have more time for the things I loved that I forgot how to enjoy the limited free time I DID have.

You liked that I wanted something more. You hated that I couldn’t appreciate all I had until I got it.

“You have to learn to be ordinary in an extraordinary world.” You told me that over and over again.

At first, I didn’t like that advice at all. I didn’t want to be ordinary. I thought it was your way of trying to nicely say that maybe I didn’t have what it took be a writer, and I’d be a happier person if I pulled my head out of my butt and got on with other things.

Then you got sick.

It was over that time – those awful and wonderful and beautiful and ugly moments that we had left – that I started to understand what you really meant. During that time period, I didn’t think about my book or any other type of writing much at all. How could something as inconsequential as finishing my book or writing a blog matter when we were all fighting for your life?

It couldn’t.

And so in those months, freed of all thoughts of what I wanted for my OWN future and focused completely on yours, I truly learned to live in the moment.

The obligations that annoyed me, like going to work or the grocery store or cleaning? Those became precious moments of normal living. My office was no longer a prison that kept me from writing. It was a place where a band of kind coworkers looked out for me and supported me. It was a place where I could solve problems and get little bits of something done – how good that felt when everything else was spinning out of control!

And the times we had together? When you felt good, they were beautiful and I wanted them to go on forever. I didn’t care if I never typed another sentence as long as we could talk and watch some football and eat some wings in your living room, and you were laughing and truly enjoying the game and the food was tasty to you instead of making you feel sick. Even the bad times – the doctor visits and procedures and days you felt like shit, mattered in a way that nothing ever had before.

I spent the first few months after you went away in a zombie state. I worked and ate and slept and cleaned and did things with friends and family, but most of the time I was hazy. I was functioning, and that was enough. If I crawled out of the protective mental bubble that was allowing me to do that much, I was afraid I crumble into a lost little ball of freakitude. I didn’t think about writing, and I didn’t care that I wasn’t thinking about it.

Gradually, with your spiritual guidance, that has changed. I am present in my life again. My laughter is real more often than not, and so are my tears.  I feel true frustration at work when I have a problem to solve, because I care about getting things done again. I feel true satisfaction when I get them done. I feel love and appreciation for family and friends and animals in a deeper sense than ever before, although I always did value them above all else.

I am feeling the urge to write again, in bits and snippets. I took a leap of faith and shared the first part of my book with a group of readers. I began playing with the unfinished bits in short spurts and stretches, when the mood struck. I began thinking of other things I’d like to write and jotting down notes.

But this time, those goals have a different priority in my life. They are not all-consuming. I spent most of my holiday break cleaning and reorganizing my home, because it needed to be done and I wanted to. The old me would have resented the hell out of that – it was supposed to be WRITING TIME, damn it! The person I am today enjoyed the act of doing it as well as the end result.

Everything matters now. Life isn’t something that takes me away from my writing. Writing is just one important component of my life.

It is struggling to find its place again, but I feel like that is so much better than when it was shoving everything else that mattered aside.

I am learning how to be more like you – “ordinary in an extraordinary world.” Your life was cut short, but you embraced every moment you had with grace and acceptance and love and enjoyment – and sometimes frustration and annoyance and pissed-offitude too.

You lived seeing the importance in everything around you, and seeing every moment and task as where you were supposed to be and what you were supposed to be doing. You tried to love them all.

That sounds ordinary, but it made you …. and your life … extraordinary.

That’s what you were trying to tell me. That’s how you were pushing me to be. Not because you didn’t believe I could do anything else, but because you knew that only those who live that way can truly have a life.

Writing is finding its place in my new outlook. That feels good too, but no better than the way every other puzzle piece is fitting.

And I’m OK with that.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

I’ll Never Cut My Hair

004Dear Mom,

Once again, it has been way too long. Time flies when you’re having fun, and even when you’re not. I’ve been doing some of both, and you have been with me all the way.  Which probably hasn’t been much fun for you, considering I’ve been a mental furball.

As you know, a few years ago, Lee was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. When we got the news, we got our asses in gear and made a lot of lifestyle changes.  We weren’t perfect, but we were good much more often than we were bad. We looked good, we felt good, we lived well. Like so many others who go through this, we got a little cocky with our success and slipped up from time to time, but for the most part we stayed on our game.

That all changed when you got sick. Part of that was life becoming so crazy. Who wants to think about counting carbs and reading labels when the world is turned upside down? Who wants to exercise after a long day at work and in doctors’ offices? But it wasn’t just that. When you are living in fear of the inevitable, your vision narrows. You are no longer looking down the path with the long haul in mind. Your eyes are on the ground as you try not to trip over something treacherous in the moment. So instead of eating healthy meals throughout the day, we’d often go without eating at all and then realize at bedtime that we were starving and run out for cheeseburgers and fries. Often, there was no spare time. But even when there was, we’d spend it curled on the couch numbing life’s hurts with alcohol and HBO binge-watching instead of exercising.

Although you have been gone for four months now, we still hadn’t gotten back to form. The pain is still there – it always will be. And when you develop bad habits to cope with life, they stick around.

So Lee started feeling sick, and ended up in the doctor’s office to assess what damage we’d done. Over the last two weeks, we’ve gotten right back on the horse with the diet and exercise. And we waited for all the test results to come back to see where things were.

While we waited, I realized something. It wasn’t just him we had hurt. We’ve hurt me too.

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve remained in the same survival mode I was in when we were dealing with your pain. I have not cared about my body. I have not cared about my stress levels. I have not cared about writing, which is akin to air for me.

On the surface, I have been functional. I have gone to work and done my job as successfully as someone who has to manage Peoplesoft generally does. I’ve done many lunches with co-worker friends, venting and laughing. I have gotten together with family and non-work friends. I have gone to the bar and I’ve cheered for the Steelers, hoping you could hear me too. There have been glimmers of life in a lot of those moments. But a big part of me has been robotic, putting in the time, doing what needed to be done, and trying not to hurt.

Trying NOT to hurt, instead of trying TO feel okay. Trying to exist instead of live. Trying to fly under the radar and be a quiet little mouse, because somewhere in my twisted brain a voice was saying that maybe as long as I didn’t try to soar too high I wouldn’t get shot down again.

When Lee got sick, I started caring what we put in our mouths again – for fear of losing him. I started wanting us to exercise again – for fear of losing him. I was not ready to go through the heartbreak that is illness in a loved one again, and definitely not ready for anything worse than that.

And as we have made changes, I’ve been able to see that I was also in danger of losing me. Being the girl who works until she’s numb then binge watches shows that take her to another time and place … anywhere other than her own life … has been oddly comforting and maybe even temporarily needed. But it isn’t who I want to be. It isn’t who you would want me to be.

Once, many years ago, you told me you’d had a bad dream. In it, I was meeting you at the bar, and you were there waiting for me.  But when I arrived, you were stunned, because I had cut off all my hair.

“You weren’t you anymore,” you said. “You looked like shit, and you didn’t act like you at all. Don’t ever cut your hair off.” I promised that I wouldn’t.

And I didn’t. But I think the way I have been living since you left has been sort of the same thing. I still had long hair, but I had cut off the part of me that experiences and feels both the good and ugly things in life so intensely that I don’t just want but need to write about them. It took fear of a loved one being unwell to get me to start making changes. And making changes helped me see that I still don’t want to cut my hair.

We got Lee’s prognosis from his doctor yesterday. Given his blood sugar levels when he first saw him, his doctor was surprised to report that he is one healthy mo-fo. He now doesn’t want to see him again until November, and says that if he continues eating in a diabetic-friendly manner and exercising, he believes that he will ultimately be taking him off his metphormin because he won’t need it anymore.

His good news came the week before I attend the same work conference I was at least year when you went into the hospital, where we would eventually get the news that turned the world upside down.  I didn’t realize until his doctor’s visit was over that I had been holding my breath, fearful of history repeating itself in some twisted Stephen King novel version of “Groundhog Day.”

The opposite happening felt like a message from you – telling me it is time to stop being afraid to fucking fly – that life will happen as it will happen even if I hide from it and binge on Boardwalk Empire, so I might as well do something with it instead.

So we will stay on this path, looking ahead instead of keeping our eyes on the ground. I’m done dishonoring your memory by being a mouse.  I will connect. I will write. I will strive for great things. And when the hurt of missing you comes, I will no longer deal with it by being a robot. I will scream and cry and cuss if I need to – and screw the world if it thinks I’m crazy. Because I will laugh too, and reclaim the gift I was given of being the girl who could write even bad shit in a funny way.

And I promise you, I will never cut my hair.

Love you Mom. Like a Dog.

I

 

 

 

A Different Kind of First Birthday

Dear Mom,

froggieThe fact that I’m turning 44 in a few days is really bugging me.

At first, I wasn’t sure why. After all, 44 is such a nondescript age. It isn’t one of the “zero-year” milestones everyone freaks out about, but that honestly didn’t bother me much at all.

Thirty was no biggie for me. You had a lot to do with that. You threw me a huge surprise 30th birthday party. I showed up at your house for what I thought would be a routine visit to find all my friends and lots of family there – just to celebrate ME! We spent the day eating crabs and hanging out at the pool and drinking beer and having so much fun. It didn’t feel like I was leaving my twenties behind me at all.

Well, truth be told, I wasn’t. You had the years mixed up and threw my “big three-oh” surprise party on my 29th birthday. Thanks to you, I was convinced that thirty was going to be nothing more than an ass-kickin’ good time a whole year before I actually had to go there! What was really funny about the mix-up is that because you were 20 when I was born, our “milestone” birthdays always fell on the same year. How we laughed about the fact that you tipped me over the three-oh mark before you hit the five-oh!

Turning 40 only bugged me because I reflected on how much further I had wanted to be in certain areas of my life than I was. But this turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It gave me the kick in the butt I needed to stop saying “I’m going to write more someday” and actually start writing. Within two years, I was published in three different small venues and well on my way to finishing the first draft of my book. I’d call that the best mid-life crisis ever.

So why is 44 such a big deal? My 43rd year has not been a bed of roses, and part of me hopes the door DOES hit it in the ass on its way out of here. It was a year of horrible news, of doctors and hospitals and seeing you suffer. Ultimately, it was the year we lost you.

Yeah. Hey, 43? Sayanara, mother-f***er is what the angry, forward-motion part of me is thinking.

But the nostalgic sentimental part of me is holding on to 43 with a white-knuckle grip, clinging and wailing like a psycho girlfriend when her man wants a night out with the guys.

You see, Mom, 43 is the last age I will ever be that you were here on Earth with me. Forty-four is the first age I will ever have to do completely and utterly without you.

Screw the possibility of a few more gray hairs or crinkles at the corners of my eyes.  I honestly don’t give a shit about that. I just don’t want to let go of the last year you were here with me, even if it was a sucky year.

And yes, I am still sane enough to know that’s some dumb and maybe even crazy crap. Age is nothing more than a bunch of arbitrary numbers humans assigned values equaling weeks, months, years and decades. Nobody gives a shit what age-number you call yourself where you are now.

But although I know it is dumb, it is what it is. It is how I feel. I don’t want to have the first birthday that I don’t get a text from you that somehow is EXACTLY what I need to hear on that day of that year. I don’t want to turn the first age I will be in forever where you and I don’t celebrate at some point – even if not on the exact day – with some Steelers preseason football and some beers.

I don’t want to, but I will. We humans do a lot of things we don’t want to do. There’s this whole thing called “Monday” that is proof of that.

I will, and I’ll be fine. In this strange new way that has to be enough now, you’ll be with me through 44, just as you have been every day since you left. I guess I just wanted you to know that the first birthday I’ll have without you really hurts. After all, you were the one who did all the work and went through all the pain on that day 44 years ago – all I had to do was scrunch up my face and cry and breathe and pee. It is your day as much as it is mine.

The intent of this blog is to honor you by being upbeat and happy and focusing on the good both in each new day and in my memories of you. But for my birthday, I am giving myself permission to whine just a little bit.

I am about to turn 44 years old, but I still want my Mommy. Life is really, really, REALLY hard without you. I feel lost and so lonely without you here to tell me to get over myself in one breath and admit that I got a good bit of my crazy from you in the next.  I am blessed that there are so many people still here that I love who love me back. I have a loving partner and father, sister and niece and grandmother and aunts and uncles and cousins and oh so many amazing friends.

But no one … no one … ever knows you like your mother and stills loves you anyway.

There. I whined my whine and cried my cry. For you, I promise that on my actual birthday I will DRINK my wine and laugh instead.

Miss you so much, Mom. And love you. Like a Dog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Road Trip

Dear Mom:

Do you remember the little Italian restaurant where we stopped on one of our first road trips to Aunt Dorothy’s house, shortly after she and Uncle Larry bought their “retirement home” at the beach? It is just a little ways past the Bay Bridge, in a strip mall kind of place. You and Shannon and I had wanted to wait until we got to Delaware to eat “beach food,” but we were starving, so we pulled in. The owner was an older man with salt-and-paper hair and kind eyes. He hovered over us like we were a royal entourage, because he thought you were beautiful.

Well, of course he did. How could he not?

We drove past that restaurant on our way to Aunt Dorothy’s last Saturday, and my eyes filled with unexpected tears. I knew the weekend would be an emotional one for me. It was our first trip to “the retirement home” since your passing, and my first-ever visit without you. It would be my first time seeing my aunts and cousins (your sisters and nieces) since the funeral – and I can’t look at them and not see you any more than they can be with me and not feel your presence. Plus, spending weekends at Aunt Dorothy’s was always “our thing,” a mother-daughter tradition we started building that was cut short.

We should have had twenty more summers of laying on the beach by day and drinking wine on her porch at night. There should have been twenty more autumns and springs of making a trip to shop til’ we dropped at the outlets, twenty more nights of gearing ourselves up to get into the hot tub in spite of the evening chill that would nip at us when we got out of the water.

But we don’t, and I was a little afraid that when I went for the first time without you, the reality of that would break me and I would spend the weekend in tears.

As it turned out, there were some tears, and not just from me. We can’t talk about you without our eyes filling.

But there were a lot of smiles and laughs. You know why? Because you were with us.

You were with us when Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cindy got to see Deb for the first time since your funeral, where she gave the “Love you like a Dog” eulogy that was balm to all of our spirits.

Your were with us when Uncle Larry wiped the mock sweat off his brow as he emptied trash or carried a load of laundry. You loved picking on him.

You were with us when Chrissy’s precious new dog – who is shy and skittish around strangers – slowly warmed up to Katie and I over the weekend. I felt like I’d won the lottery when she came up of her own accord, plopped down beside me, and gave me a lick.  You were there when Katie told me that you are the reason she became a girl who would always want a big dog by her side, and how she’d text you seeking your advice when her four-legged family members had medical issues. Every time a dog finds the best-ever forever home because he chooses Katie as his person, it will be because of your influence.

You were with us when we had Thrasher’s on the Boardwalk, hunching over our buckets of vinegary fries so the seagulls wouldn’t swoop down and get them.

Your were there when the frogs sang in the quiet of the evening as we sat on the porch, and when the hummingbirds flitted around the feeders in the muggy morning air.

You were there when Deb and Shannon and Laura and I slept in the living room, sprawled on air mattresses and the couch. Laura was on the couch – the one where you told me you’d gotten one of the most relaxing sleeps of your life a few years ago.

You were there in Aunt Cindy’s stories of being a little girl who would sneak into your closets to play with your shoes.

Miss you!

Miss you!

You were there in Baxter and Julie’s eyes. They both loved you and couldn’t wait to get cuddles and pats from you when we visited.

You were there in the sound of the surf and the smell of the saltwater.

You were there when I drank wine on Aunt Dorothy’s porch.  How many “just one more glass and then time for bed” glasses did we drink, sitting right there?

You were there in the shops we visited in Rehoboth Like me, you weren’t much of one for “regular” stores, preferring to shop online to braving the crowds. But we loved the quirky little shops there. You loved finding the perfect gifts – clothes for Jordyn or jewelry for Jamie.

You were there when we went to the outlets. They were the only place I remember being able to talk you into spending your money on yourself rather than someone else. I’ll never forget the smile on your face when me, Chrissy and Aunt Dorothy talked you into splurging on that purse you REALLY wanted.

You were there, and so there was a lot more laughter and smiles and hugs than there were tears – although of course there were some of those, too. And I realized that bits of pieces of your mannerisms and turns of phrase and appearance and just … you-ness … live on in Aunt Dorothy and Aunt Cindy, in Laura and Katie and Chrissy as they do in your daughters and granddaughter.

If family is there, then you are there. Each of us is a glimpse of you, and I think you smile when you see the bits and pieces come together in one place.

Thank you for being with us this weekend, Mom. Love you. Like a Dog.

 

 

Whoopie Cushions in Heaven

Dear Mom,

So, I have a burning question. How long after you got there did you sit on your first whoopie cushion in heaven?

I can see you now, rolling your eyes and thinking “She’ll never be right in the head. Nothing I can do about it – I couldn’t fix it even when I was there. Watching too much South Park broke her.”  Once, you found me and the ex-hubs sitting in your living room cackling over Cartman and the boys meeting Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo. You joined us for a minute, then got up and escaped with your book because you said watching us laugh over a turd in a Santa hat was making your IQ drop.

But you can’t blame my whoopie cushion question on South Park. It was inspired by Ned Hickson. Ned is a blogger I discovered recently. I wish I’d found his blog while you were still here – I think you might have enjoyed it too.  At any rate, he wrote recently about his ongoing fake poo prank battle with his son. I got a good laugh reading the post, and it made me think of Aunt Fuzzy.

Aunt Fuzzy was actually my great-aunt. Her real name was Alma, but I don’t think I knew that until I was 10 or so.  She and Grandmom also had four brothers, and they also all went by their childhood nicknames. The oldest brother, Uncle Darrell, died before I was born. But I knew the others as Uncle Weach (Wade), Bunny (Hugh) and Hop (Frank).

They all lived in West Virginia. As a kid, I visited for weeks at a time each summer, bouncing from house to house, escaping Baltimore and tasting country girl life. Staying with Weach meant rowboat rides on the Cheat River, fishing in his backyard pond, and roller-skating at the old building he’d turned into a community rink. Staying with Bunny meant milking cows and weeding vegetable gardens as big as our entire neighborhood back home and horseback riding with his daughters Cindy and Mindy.

Staying with Aunt Fuzzy meant fart jokes. Her personality was a perfect match for her red hair and sparkling eyes. She was short, but larger than life. She lived to laugh, and nothing made her laugh more than farts.

005

Me and Aunt Fuzzy

Mommom told us stories about growing up with such a prankster for a sister. Their father, Great Grandad Ruggles, was gone before I came along. But Mommom portrayed him as a good man who liked his booze and got  cranky after a few drinks. When Aunt Fuzzy started dating Uncle Don, she didn’t ease him into getting to know her cantankerous father. Instead, she invited Don in and hid a whoopie cushion on the couch so he would sit on it. Great Grandad looked up from his drink with a scowl and asked his future son-in-law what the hell was wrong with his insides.

Uncle Don knew that marrying Aunt Fuzzy would mean a lifetime as the brunt of fart pranks, but he did it anyway. Like most women, Aunt Fuzzy’s purse held her wallet, keys and lipstick. But hers also contained an arsenal of items capable of producing fart sounds.

When I was 8 or so, I went with Aunt Fuzz, Uncle Don, Mommom and Grandad to Ponderosa or some similar buffet-style restaurant. While we were at the salad bar surrounded by strangers making their own dinner plates, Fuzz reached into her purse and squeezed something that produced a noise like a rectal emission. She made a wide-eyed shock face and cried “Don!” in a mortified voice.

Me and Uncle Don

Me and Uncle Don

He should have been used to it by then, but Uncle Don turned red as the beets on that salad bar anyway.

She didn’t limit her fart torture to Uncle Don. Everyone was fair game. She got me too. Once, we visited her and Uncle Don after they had relocated to Williamsburg. We all went to the Pottery Factory. I was a self-conscious preteen who wanted to fade into the background. But there was no blending into the scenery when Aunt Fuzzy tooted one of her horns and called you out as a fart machine right in the middle of a bunch of old ladies while they oohed and aahed over hand-crafted bowls and jars.

My most vivid Aunt Fuzz memory is one that I think actually pissed Mommom off a little. Aunt Fuzz and Uncle Don had come to Baltimore, and we were all sitting around in the living room. The local weatherman, Marty Bass, was on the news. Mommom excitedly mentioned some event (at her work, I think) where she was going to meet him and get his autograph.

Fuzzy wasn’t impressed. She looked at the weatherman and started crooning “Marty Bass has gas in his ass.” That sure put a damper on Mommom’s brush with local fame.

Marty is still around, and I hear Aunt Fuzz sing-songing that line in my head every time he pops up on TV.

She passed away when I was in my early 20s, but her love of laughter lived on in all of us. And in some of us – like me – so did her potty humor.

I knew you wouldn’t mind me asking you to share a space on “your blog” with Aunt Fuzzy, Mom. We talked about her so much over the years, laughing at her antics over drinks at the pub or a cabin campfire. It makes me smile to think of you two chatting again now.

But that brings me back to my opening question – have you sat on a whoopie cushion in heaven yet? Because if you can reconnect with loved ones in the afterlife, I know damn well that Aunt Fuzz has one waiting for all of us, and that it didn’t take her long to give you yours.

Love you Mom. Like a dog.