The big fish
Armed with a shiny new tackle box and a brand new Batman rod and reel, 4-year-old Jack awoke at the crack of dawn, in true angler spirit, for his first ever fishing trip. Jack, alias Batman, who seldom leaves the house dressed in anything except his full crime-fighting regalia, opted for the new “lucky fishing shirt” his granddad bought for the occasion.
The Jack and Granddad team had spent several days practicing the fine art of casting in preparation for the Midlothian Kids Fishing Derby. A skill he tirelessly demonstrated for me when I arrived Friday night, and to my surprise he was quite good, but I wasn’t looking forward to standing near him when there was actually a hook attached to the end of the line.
Early Saturday morning, we loaded his gear and buckled him in for the drive from Dallas to Midlothian. He was excited about catching the “big one” and I was getting worn out from the never ending “are we there yet” comments floating from the back seat only to be replaced by “where’s the lake” as we hiked from the car to the site.
I made a decision early on, that since we were in such close proximity to the other children, I would do the casting. I could already envision Jack reeling back to throw the line only to yank out some poor kid’s eyeball with the flying hook. Jack’s job was to dig in the cardboard container and pull out the worms, which I would thread on the hook.
It’s been a while since I baited a hook, and the yellow goo that oozed from the worm was less exciting for me than for Jack who seemed to relish in the whole worm guts thing. So, when the hook came back clean virtually every time he reeled it in, he didn’t mind at all that the process had to start anew over and over again.
He stood on the bank patiently holding his rod and intently watching the red and white bobber for a sign that a fish had taken his bait. Occasionally he got distracted searching for snails and rolly-pollies that he placed in with the worms to keep them company. But as noon, and the end of the competition approached, and he had yet to catch a fish, he became a bit down-cast and envious of the others that ran to the weigh-station with their prized catch.
“Ba, I didn’t get a fish,” he said in disappointment.
We agreed to bait one last hook and then call it a day. He dug his tiny fingers in the dirt-filled box and pulled out another worm. I cast the line and he stood there with shoulders slumped and listless – his enthusiasm waning as he watched the bobber float on the water’s surface. He had admitted defeat.
But as luck would have it, when he reeled in, instead of an empty brass hook, there was a tiny perch. If it had been a 10-pound bass on the end of the line, Jack couldn’t have been more excited.
He ran to the pavilion, fish still dangling from the line, and a smile brighter than the sunshine. He stood there with his chest puffed out – holding his rod in the air. The staff and volunteers made a huge fuss over his accomplishment and snapped his picture. They made every single child feel like the big winner and on the way home, Jack, as tired as he was, constantly chattered about his big fish and his even bigger day. I expect that next time I hear the story, that 3 ½-inch perch will be nothing short of a whale, like any genuine fish story.
A friend asked me the other day about the iPad and smart phones. I guess he assumed that in my line of work that I possess all the latest technological gadgets as tools of the trade. Alas, as much as these tech toys would likely be an asset in my career, current financial challenges prohibit the purchase of such luxuries. Unlike my peers and some of my colleagues, I am comparatively living in the Stone Age.
Oh, I do have a laptop, the purchase of which was a huge splurge, and it will probably have to last me until the next ice age, which from the view in the middle of July looks like a very long way off. And of course I do have a cell phone. Oh yes, and I even own an iPod shuffle, which was a gift from my daughter who has kindly filled it with my favorite music. Actually, I don't know much more about tiny silver charm other than how to make it play and make it stop. But being somewhat technologically challenged, the thought of upgrading my tech knowledge just to learn to operate a new gadget, allows me to justify living with the bare essentials based on price point.
My cell phone and my car are really more than I can handle – and I admit I have no clue how to operate either fully. I am good as long as I can find a sympathetic second grader to walk me through the basics if I really get stumped. An old-fashioned users manual would be an enormous help, but for some reason those seem to no longer exist. If I can't operate the electronic devise, how am I expected to locate the online manual, sort through the 700 languages to find it in English, download it on my computer and then actually find where it is.
On top of that, if I can't find the answer to my questions in the FAQ section, it's a safe bet that it will take me hours to find anything similar to the information I need. By the time I get that far, I'm tempted to throw whatever plastic thing I am trying to figure out, that looks like every other piece of plastic in the house, in a drawer and give up.
I tell myself that I have a college education, I manage to get from point A to point B everyday without assistance. I am even willing to stop and ask directions if I get lost. I am not a total idiot until it comes to figuring out how to do more with my cell phone than make a call and set the alarm. I finally did have to go back to the phone store and set up my voice mail so I could access it by pressing a single key. Now I understand that this may be easy for 99 percent of the population, but these little details try my patience and I have been told that the patience thing is something I might need to work on.
Supposedly my car, cell phone and iPod are totally compatible. On numerous occasions, I have sat in the car, manual in hand (luckily vehicles still come with some instructions), and walked through every step to link these devices. I got the car and cell phone to communicate for like 15 minutes once and have never been able to duplicate that brief success. Actually, the phone worked until I got ambitious and plugged in the iPod. Every time I am tempted to take another shot it, the memory of the last 50 or so attempts that ended in defeat, is usually enough to deter me.
I can envision myself as a full-fledged resident of the 21st century – sophisticated and boldly living in the present, texting, surfing, e-mailing, driving with my favorite music – although not all at the same time. But that vision also includes a fabulous wardrobe, about 10 less pounds and considerably fewer wrinkles.
Dad and I don’t get to sit down together as often as I would like. We talk on the phone every week, but our visit over Thanksgiving was our first sit-down in about six months.
For his 83 years, he appears fit although his pace has slowed. The things about his physique that I remember most from my youth are a lush crown of wavy reddish brown hair, birdlike legs and lack of much of a caboose. Those things haven’t changed much, just become more amplified over the years. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the white hair that framed his face. Each year the color fades, but like the flower bed that puts up a good fight only to lose the battle to encroaching weeds, those strands of red and brown finally surrendered.
A few months ago, Dad participated in the Honor Flight for World War II veterans in his home county, a trip I only heard about after the fact. When I questioned him about it he had little to say. But as we visited last week, I brought it up again and to my surprise he overflowed with stories about his time in the Navy. Due to my stepmother’s recent knee replacement, she has literally been a captive audience to these squelched memories with a newfound voice. Unable to walk away to take a break from his steady stream of memories and events, she was thrilled that he could direct his commentary toward someone else, albeit briefly.
“I made submarine nets. That’s what we did. And the subs never got through any of our nets. That was sort of what we were known for,” Dad said.
He has never shared anything about his experience in the service other than the time he broke a finger resetting bowling pins. When I mention this, he proudly shows the flattened finger, with a laugh.
“We spent most of our time in the Yellow Sea,” he said, saying that at times the swells were so high all they could see was a constant wall of water surrounding them.
I remember a brass cigarette box and ashtray, souvenirs from China, that graced the coffee tables of the various homes we lived in as I was growing up. I still have them, packed away in a box with the other tangible memories I snagged along the way. The ashtray had a camel sitting on top that was broken off and someone had attempted to mend.
He talked in his characteristic soft voice and paused briefly as if to organize his thoughts.
“I did some things I’m not proud of,” he said apologetically.
I reassure him that it was a different time, one long past. We all have regrets. We all wish we had done things differently – time passes and life jets forward.
When I was little, 5 or 6 years old, I used to go into my parents’ room and take a plastic box from the dresser top. I think it once held a double-edged razor, likely a Christmas gift to Dad with a tag reading to Daddy from Jimmie and Becky. It was probably an item he needed that Mom picked up and put our names on. The box was hinged, opaque blue on the bottom and clear on the rounded top with the word DAD written haphazardly in glitter. I had recycled the container for a Father’s Day gift to hold tie tacks and other miscellaneous items. Inside there were indeed tie tacks (which he hardly ever used) along with cufflinks and tie bars, possibly a couple of foreign coins and other miscellany. I loved touching all the things in that box, but I was really only looking for one special item. I sat down on the bed and gently removed the contents.
Cradled at the bottom of the box, beneath everything else, was a carefully folded square of tissue paper. Unfolding the paper filled me with excitement and anticipation, as if I expected there to be something different every time I looked. The fact that the item never changed in no way diminished my thrill as I peeled back the final fold of brittle yellowed paper to reveal the treasure. And there, exposed on the surface of the green satin quilt, sunlight from the open window reflected from its facets, was a small red gem. The loose stone was a ruby that Dad picked up somewhere on his travels and I imagined myself wearing it as an adornment as I attended some fancy ball.
Those few items were my only connection to his past and of course since he shared nothing, I created my own stories of heroism and exotic travels to fill in the gaps.
He continued with his story, telling me about being shot at by a sniper as he piloted a small craft down the river to retrieve a couple of errant sailors who hadn’t returned from liberty.
“I don’t think they were really trying to hit us – just to put a scare into us,” he said. “That was the only time I was ever shot at.”
There was a story of transporting about 1,000 Japanese prisoners back to Japan after the war ended and being tasked with convincing the “passengers” to paint the ship – an effort which he said led to little success.
“Of course the war was over and they weren’t really prisoners,” he said.
Joining the Honor Flight trip to Washington allowed Dad to release a significant period of his life – one that makes him the man I know and love. As this great generation of veterans disappears, time is short to bring their stories to light for future generations.
When he says he didn’t do much that was very special and wasn’t in combat, I explain that no story is less significant than another – no single act of service, no feeling or experience lacks value.
He is ready to share his memories and we have our work cut out for us as we start the project of chronicling his stories. We will finally put on paper the experiences he never spoke of for all those years but remain as vivid as yesterday in his mind – completing the portrait of my personal hero as we rediscover his past together.
Today is my mother’s birthday, although the actual date is of little consequence since she is no longer with us.
Lou wouldn’t care what day we remember her as long as she is remembered. And believe me, she is not an easy woman to forget, from her wacky fashion sense to the never-ending kindness she extended to anyone in the community in need. Whether they needed a hug and kind word, a holiday meal or a roof over their head, she was there. She never judged and to her there was no social status people were people. It was a valuable lesson my sisters and I learned growing up. A lesson we learned from her example.
I recently did my cemetery thing. Not the fun exploration and pondering thing, but the long overdue visit thing to my mother’s grave. My first mistake was thinking it would be a short pass-through to ease the ever-present guilt for whatever is bothering me. The second mistake was not taking flowers, which was quickly rectified with some subliminal prompting or maybe it was just my imagination. Either way, after my first visit, suffice to say I returned with peachy-colored silk flowers in hand. She would insist on artificial flowers, because real ones die too quickly. In fact, she had an affinity for the fakes. They graced every open surface in the house and occasionally even the front flowerbed when she couldn’t keep the real ones alive.
This time I lingered longer to endure a little nagging albeit a one-way conversation. I am not really a total nut, but sometime when thoughts of my mother enter my mind, there is no way to reconcile these messages other than they must have come directly from her because no one else’s mind works quite like hers.
Like when out of nowhere the song “These Boots are Made for Walkin’ ” starts playing in your head with a pictorial essay of white GoGo boots that’s Mom. No really. That was my mom white GoGo boots, mini-skirts, big hair and all.
As I was leaving, a thought came to me that caused me to pause and a cold sadness washed over me: “It’s not being forgotten, people are forgotten even when they are alive it’s being left behind.” It wasn’t an audible statement, just a fleeting phrase that flashed thorough my mind.
Maybe those flashes are just errant memories surfacing. But they make me feel like she is still just a phone call or short drive away, waiting for me to stop in for morning coffee or a little garage sale shopping. If it sounds like I’m just a bit “touched,” that’s all right with me. If I can keep her with me, I really don’t mind.
By Rebecca Hertz
Published Killeen Daily Herald
I have been associated with recovery programs for many years through a young family member whose life spiraled out of control due to addiction. We attended daily and evening meetings together and journeyed through the ins and outs of inpatient rehab to help her navigate the road to recovery. I learned a lot in those meetings, not just about addiction, but about myself.
This week I traveled to the Gatesville women's facilities to meet an inspiring group of women who give their time to take meetings to incarcerated women. The message is simple. You can have a better life if you commit to accepting the help of others who have been there and are working to turn their lives around. The message is simple, but the work is hard.
I had never been inside a prison before and wasn't sure what to expect. The grounds are landscaped with bright flowers and neatly trimmed hedges. The classrooms and library were clean and reminiscent of my elementary school days with wooden student desks and colorful bulletin boards. The chalk messages on the blackboards were faintly visible through the swipe of eraser marks. It was silent. Even as offenders moved single-file through the hallways, the only sound was the jingle of the guard's keys.
The first meeting I attended included about 14 women. I watched and listened to the volunteers share their own stories with nothing held back. It was clear that the biggest difference between the offenders and the volunteers was geography, since some of the volunteers were at one time incarcerated at the prison. One woman told me that going to prison wasn't the worst thing that could have happened to her. In fact, had she not been incarcerated she would likely not be alive today.
"You were chosen or you wouldn't be here. You have a chance and a choice," she said.
The stories took a personal toll, sending me back to the meetings we attended years ago, when I constantly feared the call from jail or the knock on the door where a policeman would stand across my threshold and deliver the news I always expected but never wanted to hear.
Each of the women was special but none extraordinary in their experiences. The details of their stories were varied but overall the experiences were the same. They used and/or sold and committed crimes to support that lifestyle or simply to survive. Some took responsibility for their choices while others still held on the need to blame someone else. Leaving that meeting, I was overwhelmed and tearful. The second stop was the maximum security unit, which housed death row inmates. One of the volunteers said that in the other units you do a number, here you do a word – life. As we left the gate house and moved onto the unit, hearing the clang of the heavy metal barred door spun me around. The sound had an ominous finality.
What I took from the experience was something that I already knew but had forgotten. We all have methods of coping that may or may not be healthy. Whatever your lot in life is, as I saw for myself, it could be worse.
There are choices, and if we can't make good choices for ourselves, they may be made for us. There are people who want to help, but if you aren't willing to work for it, nothing will change.
Copyright (c) 2009 Killeen Daily Herald
Making peace with the past
By Rebecca Hertz
Published Waxahachie Daily Light
My affinity for cemeteries started a few years ago when I was taking a summer seminar in a tiny West Texas town for non-fiction writing students. Archer City was a life-changing experience for me as I found my voice and the beginning of my love for the peace and solitude of the small land claims over the vast unending ocean of markers. Each engraved stone making a final statement about a single life designed to last for eternity.
The first day I strayed from the class and traveled the 30 some miles to Graham, Texas, to locate the grave of my biological father, who was born there and I thought was buried there as well. Markers screamed the opulence of those whose station in life surpassed the simplicity and struggles of those somehow less worthy of remembrance. Tiny angels delicately carved graced the graves of the untainted lives that ended before leaving their mark on the world. But as I ventured through the summer heat in this unknown territory, it was the painted rocks and bricks primitively carved with only initials or dates that captured my attention. Small statements of tribute, resting in the brutal heat for those unable to afford the cool shade of the giant towering oaks.
Unlike kind words contrived by mourners to ease some lingering guilt, these markings that slowly faded and washed away over the years held the stories I most wanted to hear. But their words had long been silent and their moments of laughter and sorrow reclaimed by the land.
I returned to my tribe of writers late in the afternoon, armed with a story that recounted my day, but longing to return to the nonjudgmental peacefulness. Death is a great leveler and voices of past affluence fall silent.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, I made my way to the cemetery in Archer City that rested on a bluff overlooking the parched prairie. The descending darkness revealed a blanket of stars overhead and a welcome coolness filled the air. The silence was broken by movement and conversations of creatures that ventured out from their daytime hiding places.
Enormous bullfrogs sang from the farm tank across the road and horses edged the barbed wire fence to listen. Jackrabbits cast eerie elongated shadows across the graves in the moonlight and froze in place as my steps approached. At the far edge of the tank, coyotes paced the bank eyeing a crane stretching an enormous wingspan.
During my weeklong stay, this became the place I could think and process what I experienced each day. As sad as I was to leave my literary boot camp and the friendships I had forged, it was this silent population punctuated with the creatures that exist peacefully where humans venture only to pay homage or speak to the past in their loneliness that gave dread to my departure. I feared I would lose that place and the comfort I found there. But I can still clearly visualize the white gravel drive and the old man who came at dusk each day to illuminate his wife’s grave with candles so she wouldn’t be in the dark.
I have found other cemeteries to visit where I can ponder in peaceful surroundings imagining details of lives, some long forgotten, which left their mark on those they touched. The search for my father’s grave hoping to reconcile my past proved fruitless and that journey continued, but that’s another story.
By Rebecca Hertz
Writers process the information that passes before them and through their brains. So, when we are staring off into space, zoning out seemingly focused at some non-existent object in the distance or wandering around mumbling – we are in fact working on some level. Such was the case one morning last week as I was walking in figure 8’s around the outdoor patio at my office. Sometimes I just have to escape the blaring police scanner and the jumble of characters on the computer screen to hear myself think.
As I carefully executed the curves of my path, I encountered a piece of my past through a cheerful young man who was gingerly straddling the fallen tree limbs that littered his path – left over from the unexpected depths of snow that blanketed the city the week before. He was washing the outdoor windows at the Daily Light. Where this young man went virtually unnoticed by the rest of the staff other than a quick glance to see what the noise against the window was, I was transported back to the time in my childhood when my own father, after his 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. job at the post office, loaded his pickup truck with barrels of water, metal buckets, squeegees, stiff brittle chamois, large wooden brushes with sharp black bristles and powdered soap to head out on his afternoon route of commercial window cleaning. If I were lucky enough that day I would be allowed to accompany him.
The name of his company was Irving Window Cleaning Company. I can still see the lettering in yellow against the painted black 2” X 4”s that rested along the top edges of the truck bed on the black Ford truck. I can even remember the phone number BL- 39069. BL standing for the exchange “Blackburn” – it was the first phone number I ever had and for some reason I remember it even today – far too many years later than I wish to admit.
Back then I was a lanky kid – skinny with disproportionately long legs – and a pixie haircut. I would sit Indian style on the sidewalk to watch my dad dip the brush in the soapy bucket and swipe lathery swirls across the glass of restaurants, dime stores, ladies intimate apparel shops and grocers around town. Sometimes I would wander up and down the sidewalk looking through the shop windows at the merchandise displays or rifle through the glove box in the truck looking for interesting tidbits of treasure that might be lurking there.
He would soap the windows, rinse, and systematically swipe a long squeegee across the surface – side to side, then mop the edges with the chamois. His movements were carefully orchestrated from top to bottom for efficiency and to avoid streaking the glass. Afterward, he would stand back and inspect his work for missed spots or streaks that needed additional attention.
As the young man at the Daily Light stood back to inspect his work, he faded into the persona and appearance of my own father at pretty much the same age. I was compelled to engage him in conversation.
We talked briefly about his work and what he enjoyed about it. I told him about my experience watching my dad cleaning windows. He commented that he really did like the work, “there are windows everywhere you look – but I’m just getting the hang of it,” he said.
The smile on his face gave away much more. He was happy - maybe with the fruits of his labor, his autonomous, stress free work environment – perhaps just to have someone notice he was there and share a conversation with him. Maybe he is just a happy person.
As he said his goodbye and wished me a fine day, I glanced at the sparkling windows and found myself smiling. It may have been that my mood was high from the appearance of sunlight after weeks of grayness. Or possibly it was just from my brief travel through time back to a day when I viewed everything with wonder and a nod and smile from my dad brought me running to his side with a wide grin across my face.
Snapping back to reality, the young man loaded his truck and went on about his day and I headed back to work, refreshed, motivated and maybe even grinning just a little.
Holy yellow galoshes, Batman
By Rebecca Hertz
Published Waxahachie Daily Light
Having raised two daughters, this whole “boy” thing is a mystery to me. Four-year-old Jack is smart, imaginative, conniving, energetic and a master negotiator. He has the ability to defy gravity, scaling a door jam with lightning speed and minimal effort all while wearing Batman pajamas with a cape, Batmask and the yellow rubber galoshes that he insists are necessary to complete the persona. He doesn't limit his crime-fighting efforts to the house. From day-care to the grocery store, most of East Dallas has encountered the 3-foot conquerer of evil at some point in their neighborhood travels. He takes his stance, feet apart, hands on hips and head slightly cocked as he acknowledges his many fans, while scanning the grocery aisles and parking lots for evil adversaries. He is looking to recruit a “Robin” to assist in his caped crusades – costume required.
I had a note from Stephanie (Jack's mom) recently. “Because I am washing the 'Batsuit,' Batman is in his Batcave crying.”
This brought back memories of my own experiences with Wonder Woman and SheRa. Little girls also aspire to save the world, which evidently requires the complete character outfit and matching accessories, including magic bracelets, swords and shields.
Before the girls discovered their super-hero alter egos, they were mesmerized with Mom's household entertainment, spending hours “doot-dootle-ooting” (as they called it) making their own music through cardboard cores from rolls of paper towels or toilet paper. A real favorite was the generation of blue lightning in a dark room by quickly pulling apart the outer paper wrapper of adhesive bandages. I have to admit that was pretty cool, but you have to buy the right brand to make it work. However, even Mom's magic couldn't quite compare with television characters.
While Jack is just discovering his super crime-fighting powers, my daughters, now 26 and 32, have moved on to battling real life conflicts without the benefit of alternate personas or gadget-filled utility belts. But the magic they captured years ago is still there.
Through their years of imaginary conquests, they figured out that nothing was so impossible that they couldn't find a way to make a situation manageable if they were willing to do the work and create innovative solutions.
Did they falter along the way? Absolutely. But they will both tell you that bumps in the road don't have to be fatal, even when the bumps are enormous. bumps. There are hard lessons to be learned in life, but in true hero fashion, they stand their ground, review their options and move forward. And when things get tough they still call on “Super Mom” for advice.
Is it smooth sailing? Never. But whatever happens, life goes on – there is too much to see and do and learn to give up.
My own mother instilled in me the spirit to continue on, to at least try to learn from my mistakes and use that information to reinvent myself. “You never know what will happen tomorrow and you can't take a chance on missing something wonderful.” Words I live by daily.
While my own childhood heros were an amazing window washer, the smiling guys at the gas station in their crisp white uniforms and Walter Cronkite, the real inspirational figures in my life are my daughters, Stephanie and Emily. And then there is Jack – this strange alien life form that has captured my heart. He's Batman today, but I can hardly wait to see who he becomes tomorrow.
By Rebecca Hertz
Published Waxahachie Daily Light
As Mother's Day approaches, memories of my mom weigh more heavily on my mind than usual, although a day doesn't pass that I don't think of her. In life she seemed to have an omnipresence that was almost eerie, as each of her three daughters would attest to. As kids, no matter where we went or what we did, she knew about it - often confronting us with our transgressions as we walked through the front door. The look on her face and the tone of her voice spoke volumes - 'So, do you want to tell me about it?' Or worse, she would say nothing and wait until the pressure and guilt became too much and we simply spilled our guts. Or for me, it would more likely be a burst of tears and a well-written note of confession and apology.
As we got older, leaving childhood behind and moving through our teens and into adulthood, it is as if everything that occurred in our lives took us back to something she said or did – some lesson we had learned over the years from this incredible woman. She passed away a little over three years ago. And one of the few regrets I have in my life stems from her last days in a Denton hospital.
Louise – Lou to most who knew her, was a vibrant and energetic woman. She definitely marched to a different drummer, a delightful trait in retrospect, but occasionally a source of embarrassment to teenage daughters.
Her affection for embracing the current fashions, especially as a divorced woman in a small conservative community in the 1960s armed the “upstanding citizens” with an unending source of ammunition for gossip and condemnation as she delighted in attending school functions in white go-go boots and mini-skirts. It was all very “Harper Valley PTA.” Her penchant for rocking the boat was well known – a characteristic that she passed on somehow through osmosis to create children who observed what was happening in the community around them, and developed a voice that transcended what was proper and accepted.
She gleefully watched Saturday Night Wrestling and Roller Derby in a manner that could only be described as interactive; she loved to dance; she adored Elvis and John Wayne; she attended high school football games before her kids were even in the school system; she never missed a school play or event her children were involved in, and long before it became fashionable to dye your hair crazy colors she would occasionally sport a teased bouffant in pink or purple. She was truly colorblind and taught us through example that regardless of race all people were equal. And no one ever graced her doorway in need of help or shelter that wasn't taken in regardless of their standing in the community.
She and I clashed on many occasions in an ongoing battle of wills throughout most of my life. And while there were actions and reactions that I felt were inappropriate, I cannot deny that the values and strength of resolve that I possess as an adult are completely due to her influence - the very characteristics that I have endeavored to pass on to my own daughters. My sisters and I each reflect her influences in different ways – in fact there couldn't be three females raised in the same environment more different that we are. But we are accepting of each other’s faults. Like Mom, we would fight to the death for one another if the need arose.
The last thing she said to me before her life ended was that she would “be around.” A statement that seems prophetic because I know that through every decision, crisis or celebration she is there with me. Even when my sisters and my own daughters haven't been in contact for a while a call will come. Instead of opening with “hello,” the first words are “you won't believe what I dreamed about Mom (or Mema) last night,” or “Mom's really been on my mind – have you heard from her?” Now I realize that sounds really crazy, but I swear she is 'around.'
Maybe it is just that we refuse to let her not be a part of our lives. We have conversations with her (one-sided of course, we aren't that crazy) when life becomes overwhelming or our own kids are faced with the insurmountable issues that come along with youth. The values Mom gave us and the vision of how she would guide us in the right direction leading us through the dark clouds of crisis and into the sunlight on the other side, have lingered and served us well.
Lou gave birth to one daughter but raised three - two were adopted and one of her own that came along later in life. But we were all a source of pride to her and she endured more than her share of grief from all of us.
Her last night in the hospital, I had been called back to work very late to finish a project. I knew if I didn't go, it would cost me my job. She asked me to stay with her and not to leave. But I left the hospital at midnight and worked until about 5 a.m. before returning. She drifted into unconsciousness before I got back and I never spoke to her again. I did lose my job and it wouldn't have mattered whether I went to work that night or not. It is a mistake I won't make again, but one I have to live with everyday. Jobs come and go, but I would give anything if I could have those last few hours back with my mom. But in her nature of kindness and forgiveness, she hasn't abandoned me and having her in my thoughts everyday is the next best thing to having her with me.
Looking back at life with Dad
By Rebecca Hertz
Published Waxahachie Daily Light
Every Sunday I call my dad. He is in his 80’s and sometimes I wonder if I don’t feel older than he does. He has been forced, by the years to slow down, but he takes that in stride and still travels with his wife and enjoys his life. He left this week to travel to Utah, a trip started earlier this year that was cut short because of health issues.
I don’t know if I see him as he really is. In my eyes he looks the same as he did when I was four or five. I remember the things we did together as if they happened yesterday and when the world is throwing rotten apples my way, I go back to those places in my youth where my world was larger than life and protected by the looming shadow of my dad.
He is a sensitive, intelligent and creative man, who never made me feel there were limitations on what I could accomplish in a time when women’s futures were determined by how well they married.
As I ran around the backyard, with skinned knees and dirt-stained bare feet, catching bugs in a mayonnaise jar or climbing trees, he was never far away. And that backyard is where I return when I need a dose of joy to put things in perspective.
It was a virtual theme park of imaginative possibilities, for many of which Dad planted the seeds. One day, out of nowhere, an old rotted out green wooden rowboat appeared. It was carefully placed next to an enormous plum tree that had never been trimmed and had become this round wild bush-like growth. I spent hours crawling in and out of the maze-like interior of the plant on my jungle adventures.
But that rowboat that dad found on the side of the road one day, became the center of my fantasies. Hours were spent there in imaginary bliss as I captained my pirate ship, led the navy to victory or simply whiled away the afternoon with a stick and a string hanging over the side catching nothing more than the light that filtered through the shadows of the trees.
He filled the boat with sand and I built fortresses and castles with moats or simply wiggled my toes in the fine warm grains making up my stories or planning my next seafaring excursion.
My life today is not that simple, but I still spent much of my time focused inwardly. I live far away from family and friends but turn to them often for a friendly voice and boost of support. I have an amazing job where I have the good fortune to encounter incredible people and stories everyday. But it is still those Sunday talks with Dad that keep life in perspective and motivate me to keep moving forward.
Visitors from far and near
Published Waxahachie Daily Light
I had been counting the days since I received the travel itinerary on June 13 from Emma, the youngest of my two daughters. It has been a year, actually one year, three months and a few days since I laid eyes on her or gave her a hug. She recently earned her master’s degree at Central European University in Budapest.
I am sure you can hear me swelling up with pride.
She arrived at DFW on Monday afternoon, but I didn’t have the opportunity to see her until Tuesday morning. I drove to Dallas before the sun crested the horizon, to wait a little more – camped outside her bedroom door listening for the slightest sound that she was stirring before just going in and pouncing on the bed.
So much has changed in just a year. To me, it looks like she has grown six inches, although she stands at the same 6-foot height as before she left. She may have added a pound or two to her slight frame, which is most becoming. Her chin-length hair now reaches past her shoulders in flowing waves down her back. Since she has no car, the necessity of walking wherever she goes has added to her toned body and glowing complexion. She is even more beautiful, if that is possible.
After a year in Hungary, she of course brought something back for everyone – shiny trinkets, lovely tablecloths, T-shirts. Additionally, there was a young Hungarian-American aspiring chef in tow. Zoli has been her friend and, more recently, her companion in Budapest. The fact that he is an incredible cook and very attractive, may have contributed to the extra pounds and discernible spring in her step.
The three of us spent the day together on Tuesday, discovering and rediscovering Fort Worth. Since Zoli has never visited Texas, we dragged him through our old stomping grounds. Zoli had done his homework and already planned the day’s lunch at the Lonesome Dove Bistro in the Stockyards.
I opened my palate to things I would have turned my nose up at and with a scowl and scrunched face adamantly have refused to taste. I ordered the most benign thing I could find on the menu – beef quesidillas. Certain I would hate what was ordered, I cautiously sampled what was placed before me – seared ostrich nachos with avocado salsa and huckleberry sauce, and a buffalo burger with jack cheese – prepared to inconspicuously deposit them into my napkin. But it wasn’t necessary. In fact, it was all quite delicious. The ostrich had a surprising texture that took a little getting used to – but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Emma and I have never been known for culinary adventurousness, although by necessity, her horizons have widened greatly in adjusting her diet to the offerings in Eastern Europe. Zoli, on the other hand, is open to any new taste experience. I think in Emma’s need to get her Tex-Mex fix before leaving, he was burned out on our local cuisine pretty quickly.
I saw her again on Friday, which was a whirlwind of activity, helping her take care of all of her U.S. business and purchase needed items not available in Budapest. I would have liked more “mom and daughter” talk time, but the hours just seemed to melt away in the Texas heat and Saturday arrived all too quickly.
After two canceled flights that delayed their departure until Sunday afternoon, but didn’t net us any additional visiting time, they finally arrived safely in Budapest.
I returned home from Dallas on Sunday afternoon, teary-eyed and exhausted. After what had been an emotional end to the week, I was just looking forward to getting home, unpacking and slipping back into my routine of preparing for the workweek. But it wasn’t meant to be as even more drama greeted me in Waxahachie.
Apparently, I had a visitor while I was gone. Someone made themselves at home in my apartment for a short time but nothing seemed to be missing. Honestly, I was too tired and emotionally drained to get too worked up about the invasion.
I contacted my landlord and, after some prompting, called the Waxahachie Police Department. A courteous officer appeared at the door within minutes of calling the non-emergency number to report the incident, but there really wasn’t much to investigate.
I haven’t lived in Waxahachie very long and have never felt unsafe in my surroundings. I am grateful that if someone felt the need to stay in my home uninvited, they didn’t feel the need to destroy the place. Perhaps, like all of us, they simply needed some place to be.
Visitors, welcome or unwelcome, arrive and leave, and we simply go on with our lives.
Well it is almost Halloween and there is nothing I would like more than to don some alternate persona – just for a few hours become somebody or something else. Ah, to run from house to house collecting treats without a care in the world. Back in the day, we were turned out to scamper free with our friends, limited only by our energy level. Not until the bag was too heavy to carry or our legs became rubbery with exhaustion, did we even consider returning home. Moving at a much slower pace, dragging the grocery bag along the ground, hoping it wouldn't break, we arrived to dump our loot on the living rooms carpet and begin the trading process.
This was a strategic process of protection and negotiation. At our house, kids received suckers or bubble gum, not the coveted items like chocolate bars or popcorn balls. The first hurdle was getting past Mom who exerted her right to snatch whatever morsels appealed to her, passing a stern look our way if we should voice objection or whine.
My older sister and I staked out our territory and carefully separated the sugary treasures into piles. There were items we would absolutely not give up, the “maybes,” which were items we weren't particularly fond of, but were better than nothing, and the stack that consisted of things we really didn't want. My “didn't want” pile consisted of suckers, caramels, licorice, anything peanut butter or containing coconut, and the dreaded fruit. I wanted the Sweet Tarts, Snickers, malted milk balls, Necco wafers, candy corn – for me the higher the sugar content the better.
This process actually worked well. Obviously there was a fight for the premium chocolate items, but my sister liked peanut butter, caramels and coconut so she happily traded. Mom had unnatural love of licorice and hard candy, so those pieces were easily disposed of but nothing was received in return.
I didn't grow up in an affluent family. Dad worked for the post office and Mom was a hairdresser. We didn't buy the boxed plastic costumes at M.E. Moses like many of our friends. Instead we figured out what we wanted to be and scoured the house for items to construct the costumes. Since I was more interested in gathering goodies than impressing anyone with my costume, I often resorted to the bed-sheet ghost, cowboy or hobo. These required little effort and just a few props. Not that I was lazy – I was just focused on the important element of Halloween. It was all about candy, candy and more candy. Sadly the dental bills my parents paid throughout my youth reflected my ravenous sweet tooth.
I took a bit of flak from Mom for stealing the sheet off her bed and cutting eye holds in it. I dug in my heels when she insisted I wear my flannel pajamas under my outfit to keep me warm in the evening fall chill. But following her lead I did all the same things for my own daughters – who protested in kind.
I carried the torch with my own daughters helping transform them into bumble bees, playing cards, soda cans and punk rockers. On occasion they consulted their grandmother for more creative costume options since her house was a virtual treasure trove of costume jewelry, wigs and makeup. The girls even inspired me to take a more active roll in the holiday and dress up with them.
My favorite was the somewhat weight-challenged, scruffy-bearded lumberjack. I dropped by my younger sister's house and scared the bejeebies out of her. I walked up behind her in the kitchen and upon seeing the round-bellied, flannel plaid clad stranger, she screamed, while my 5-year-old nephew looked up and said 'Hi, Aunt Becky.'
The girls didn't have as much freedom to run on their own as we did growing up, but they did cover some ground, with several of us neighborhood moms traveling along to supervise. There was always one over-the-top stop, one so scary that it would become the benchmark for the next year.
There was one house on our route that sat up on a hill almost concealed with wild overgrowth. The kids had to get up the hill and through the bushes to get to the door that was dimly lit. About six kids headed up the incline together expecting to ring the bell, have some nice lady tell them how cute they looked and nab a handful of candy before running to the next house. They ran all right. Because as soon as they rounded the bushes, the sound of a chainsaw boomed as a character in a hockey mask jumped out waving his arms. The screaming kids literally rolled, hands and feet flailing, down the hill, candy flying everywhere, landing at their parent's feet. We knew what was coming and tried really hard not to laugh. Suddenly the kids couldn't get close enough to those parents they were so embarrassed to have tagging along with them. With the amount of candy dropped by the spooked kids, I doubt the man even had to purchase candy that year.
Now my daughter gets to be the Halloween mom for 4-year-old Jack. He will trick-or-treat at the homes of friends and family, warmly dressed with his mom at his side. Jack and I have had numerous discussions about what he will be on Sunday. The past couple of years he's been thrilled with our homemade firefighter and pirate, but this is the year of super heroes. Even when it isn't Halloween, Jack seldom leaves the house without dressing in his full Batman regalia – always prepared for an unexpected crime fighting opportunity.
So, it was surprising when he called to tell me he will dress as Spiderman this year – well sort of. He hasn't quite abandoned his caped crusader persona. He'll be the only Spiderman on the block with a Batman mask and his signature yellow galoshes.