Your Smiles Make Me Smile

If you really want to get the most out of my blog, it's best to start with the first post written in July to the present since some blogs refer back to earlier posts; but any order is just fine... Thanks for visiting! Now scroll on down to the good news! ~Renae~

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fear Of Losing My Dad

“Your father has Peripheral Neuropathy.”

That’s what my mother said. “P-e-r-i-p-h-e-r-a-l N-e-u-r-o-p-a-t-h-y.”  She said it slowly so that I could comprehend her words.  I didn’t.  “Oh” I said.  “I’m sure good doctors can help him with that.”  The words she spoke were something I could barely pronounce, much less understand. In hindsight, I was naively indifferent.

Several years before, my parents had picked me up at the Anchorage International Airport.  I had flown in from California and was with a friend when I saw them both, excitedly waving me down as they spotted me through the crowds of people.  I was equally happy to be home.  My mother was walking quickly towards me, the way she does when she wants to come up and throw her arms around me and give me a big tight hug while saying “Oooohhhhhh Renae, let me look at you” and then gives me this great big tearful smile as if she is in disbelief that her daughter is in front of her, and then she hugs me tightly again.  I am lucky because I still have my mother.  Many of my friends have had to suffer the unimaginable loss of their mother’s and father's arms around them, and through their grief and loss I have realized how fortunate I still am.

But as my mother came up to hug me, I noticed my father was walking with a peculiar imbalance to his gait, like he had one celebratory drink too many before my arrival.  Undoubtedly my dad likes his V.O., especially in the evening after a good day while sitting in his Archie Bunker chair.  But, with the exception of one night many moons ago when my tequila drinking uncle “Nacho” persuaded my innocent father to share a bottle so they could get to the worm on the bottom, my father has never been one to get falling down drunk, much less be drunk in public.  I thought maybe he was so happy to see me that he started celebrating my return early.  Of course, I was eager to see him, but a little embarrassed too.  Couldn’t he have waited until after I got home to celebrate?

I am ashamed to say that I was wrong.  Not only was I wrong, but there is nothing I wouldn’t give now to have been right. If I could go back in time I would pray to the Gods that my dad’s lack of balance was nothing more than a good buzz, and then I would go home and offer to make him another one, and I would put one down with him, and everything would be right with the world and we could laugh about it later.  But I was wrong, oh so very wrong.

May dad, my stubborn, strong, “bring your car into the garage and I’ll look under the hood,” dad has a neurological disorder that affects primarily his arms and his legs (the peripheral body parts) and has gradually taken over his physical abilities, his muscle movement, and his sense of balance, aside from a laundry list of other symptoms.

I am crying now as I write this, because other than the loss of a child, there is nothing as heartbreaking as watching the physical demise of our parents, who once carried us and tossed us in the air, tucked us into bed at night, and fought off the monsters that threatened our imaginations.  I have not been prepared for the emotional turmoil I have experienced while watching my dad fight this battle, but because of his courage in facing his own very real monster, he has never made me prouder.

My father was “that” guy, you know the one; the guy that could build, create, restore, invent, and do anything.   Many of our dads were cut from that same cloth, especially in Alaska before the 60’s when men had to be hardy and resourceful just to survive the winters.  We called my dad the “tent pole” of our family; the glue that held us together; the self-made idea man.  He started out as a sheet metal mechanic, became a foreman in his teens, and built his first house by himself, at the age of 18.  By 21 he ran the first and only Montgomery Wards in Anchorage, only to realize that he wanted more than to punch a clock.  My dad wasn’t cut out to be a company guy, and so he eventually started (with my mother) a very successful pest control business, against the odds of all the advice from others that there were “no pests in Alaska.”  He proved them wrong.  His success afforded us the luxury of travel for three solid years, the first of which we traveled to Mexico in a luxury motor home that he built with his own hands from an old Navy bus.  As he got older he cross-country skied, took square dance lessons with my mother, did a million other things, and was a regular at the infamous Lucky Wishbone.  If you know George, you know my dad.

One memory I have was of my dad hanging the old fashioned Christmas lights (before they were old fashioned) from tree to tree in the front yard, and every year when the frost covered the branches and the lights twinkled he would exclaim “They look just like the Northern Lights!”  I will, however, not forgive my dad for the year he went a little crazy and decided to build this magnanimous Chevy Chase Christmas tree out of pipes and wire and lights and stand it upright on top of our house for the world to see!  Oh, that was fine, but making my brother and I stand in the snow in sub-zero temperatures for over an hour while he hoisted it on top of the roof, not okay.  Granted, he can be a little overzealous at times, but somehow my mother, brother, and I often became the unwitting victims of his schemes.

But now this ugly disease, this deterioration of his nerves is slowly trying to take over his body, and because his type of neuropathy has no source, there is no cure. 

It has been a painful journey for all of us, but I have earned respect for the dignity and courage that he has worn like a soldier in spite of the slow demise of his balance, his constant pain, his inability to pick things up with his hands, and even his struggle to type when he loves nothing more than spending hours in front of his computer.  What is easy for you and I is extremely difficult for him. 

Unfortunately, for the doctor, my dad was told several years ago that it was time for a wheelchair.  I’m surprised my dad didn’t pick that doctor up right then and there and toss him out a five story window.  Not that a wheelchair is a bad thing, but you don’t know my dad, no one, and I mean no one, tells him what he needs.  Instead of losing his temper, he went into his very manly garage (which he has all set up with walkers and chairs and handles and things so he can still use his tools) and built a walker.  Not just any walker, but one that wouldn’t tip over with his loss of balance; that stood high enough that he wouldn’t hunch, that has wheels so he can push it rain or shine, ice or snow, with a seat so he can relax when he’s tired, and included breaks for going downhill and hand warmers made out of battery operated curling irons, for cold days.  He even brags about having a bottle holder for his whiskey, which probably tastes more like water.  Now granted, he has store bought walkers for inside the house, but this very special walker is for the two mile walks he has taken outside regularly for the past several years since he was threatened with the wheelchair.   He can’t tip over with this one.   I won’t even go into detail of how he has equipped the house to accommodate his need for mobility, but let’s just say the inventor within him has surfaced now more than ever before.

But before I go on, I’m not about to give my dad full credit here.  In fact, it has been my mother all along that has been his caretaker.  She has been his pill counter, his cook, his nurse, his ambulance driver for emergency visits, made more runs to Home Depot for nuts and bolts for his inventions than most people make in a lifetime, and still mixes him a VO when the occasional desire arises.  I can’t pass up the opportunity to say how absolutely amazing my mother is and how lucky he has been to grow old with a woman that has stood by his side for 55+ years, through thick and thin, illness, and peripheral neuropathy.  At this point in his life, she is his everything (and admittedly, he is hers).  Did you read that dad? Read it again. If my mother wasn’t a non-practicing Catholic, I would say she deserved the status of a patron saint.  

As far as my dad, he’s still that guy.  He is still the tent pole in between his visits to the emergency room and his mind is sharper than ever. Thanks to his love of research and the Internet, his interest in anything and everything he can read about, the dirty jokes that he finds and shares, even though he is the only one laughing, his passion for political debate even when no one is listening, and his lifetime interest in science, he is never bored.  Peripheral Neuropathy invaded my dad’s nervous system, but true to form my dad has looked it fearlessly in the face, stood his ground firmly and said “bring it on.”

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

I’ve been reading a string of posts lately in regard to a recent homicide in our area….very disturbing.  What I find almost equally disturbing is the number of people that use unusual events as evidence to prove that we live in an ugly world, where the masses are horrible, selfish, and cruel.  It is so easy to jump on that bandwagon.

If anything came out of my day Saturday in my continued search for Vera H. Edwards (see “She’s Speaking To Me From Beyond The Grave”) it is that this simply isn’t true.  Most people, if given the opportunity, have a kind nature; and we readily bypass this and grab onto the negative like hungry wolves, almost gleefully to reinforce our fears that the state of our society is evil, pure evil.  But I beg to differ.  My very column started with my becoming perpetually anxiety ridden by what I perceived to be an ugly world filled with hate and violence.  My days were becoming overcast, with gloom and doom, bitterness and paranoia slowly seeping in.  I was not only disliking the person I was becoming, but I wasn’t someone I would have chosen to hang out with.  And so, I challenged myself to find the good, and to write about it; not an easy task for someone on the cusp of menopause.  Yet, I am thrilled to report the greatness that I have discovered, in not just the obvious, but the smallest of gestures, is overwhelming in comparison.

Saturday is a perfect example.  While pushing my library cart in my usual unsexy library attire, my wonderful man Richard took time off from work to go to the block party on Vera’s Street to help me in my obsessive quest to solve the mystery of Vera H. Edwards and her WWII memorabilia. Who says there aren’t any good men left in the world? Good men are like diamonds, there are lots of them, but they aren't always easy to find.  And so my single friends, don’t give up hope, they’re out there, even if you have to dig.  Some of the best men I've known, are the diamonds in the rough.

So, I got off from work, called Richard  and there he was sitting in the home that Vera lived in back in 1942. Not only did my dear introvert find the courage to knock on the door (although he admitted that he stuttered when they opened it), but these trusting souls invited him in and served him tea.  So, wait, let me repeat that….this family, Tony and Lilliana and their beautiful niece, not only invited a stranger into their home with a borderline crazy story if I must say so myself, but served him tea, while he waited for my arrival.  Of course, I got lost on the way there, ended up driving through one of the barred windowed areas of Oakland, while dodging bullets that flew overhead….but that's a story for another day. Ultimately, I made it safely to what used to be Vera’s house and by the end of the evening was exchanging hugs and email addresses with strangers who seemed more like long lost friends.  There are still people in America who exemplify what we so readily dismiss and so deeply crave. The kindness of strangers.  And for you curious souls, they did not know Vera, but had enough new clues to keep me on the wild goose chase indefinitely.

As we walked to the car, an elderly woman, Joan, came from the block party and began talking to us, which led to story upon story of 83 years of her life, filled with more drama and suspense than any author could ever have the imagination to solely create.  As it was getting dark, Joan asked us if we would be so kind as to walk her the block up the hill to her home.  In so doing, for over an hour, she enriched our lives with profound memories of how her family scarcely escaped Pearl Harbor, how she raised five children, and most admirably...she barely touched on their exemplary academic and financial achievements, though I read between the lines...but instead focused on the pride she had to have five children who had all grown to be kind hearted. In the end, that's what mattered most to Joan.  Lastly she shared her connection with the famous, and my favorite, psychoanalyst Erik Erikson and how she once worked for his good friend.  This left me realizing the value of preserving history for future generations, and more importantly, the priceless stories of the elderly, when we take the time to listen.  Joan thanked us and hugged us, but it was we who were appreciative and enriched by the time spent learning of her life.

Prior to initially finding my way into Vera’s house that evening, I spoke with a few people at the block party.  No one remembered Vera.  One neighbor did say, “You know, Eleanor in the brown shingled home has lived here quite some time, she might have some information to share with you; but she is sick today, so you probably don’t want to knock on her door, but perhaps leave a note for her.”  I thought it was kind that one neighbor was looking out for another, and I took her advice, and left a note.  The first thing Sunday morning, guess who called?  Eleanor.  She had met Vera only once, as Vera was quite elderly at the time, but she knew she lived alone.  Just after the 1989 San Francisco earthquake PG&E had to turn off the gas.  It took three days to turn it back on.  Eleanor didn’t have any clues to share to help me get closer to solving my mystery, but what she did say spoke volumes.  “I knew Vera would be cold in her house, so I made a big pot of soup and took it over to her to keep her warm.  That’s the only time I met Vera.”

Just how much evidence do we need to prove to ourselves that kindness exists, within our friends, our families, and even strangers on a random afternoon.  Saturday was proof enough for me.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Part 2 - "She's Speaking To Me From Beyond The Grave"

What are the odds that I was just getting ready to knock on a few doors in Vera H. Edwards’ neighborhood, (well at least where she lived in 1942-Chetwood Street), looking for a morsel of information from anyone on her block, only to find out, that there is going to be a block party on Chetwood Street on Saturday!?  Another coincidence? I think not. Vera has all of this all under control, I am simply trying to keep up with her leads.

How did I find out? Well, Richard went to visit a friend who by pure happenstance lives a block away from Chetwood Street.  Now, Chetwood Street isn’t just any street, it is in Oakland, the eighth largest City in California.  Richard doesn’t live anywhere near Chetwood Street and he has only one friend in Oakland. How weird is that???? Now, being the absolute wonderful boyfriend that he is (I had to say that, but really he is just as sucked in to this mystery as I am), he decided to drive by Vera’s old house.  Richard is not one to knock on doors (he is an introvert) – that’s my job, but while sitting in his truck contemplating his next move, the only two people who happened to be walking on the street that day came right up to him, said hello, and let him know there was going to be a Chetwood Street block party on Saturday. SCORE!  Someone on that street must have known Vera before she moved away, and this is the perfect opportunity to find out.

I do give Richard kudos for doing the “drive-by,” because don’t ‘cha know "...people get shot in Oakland!" This is what I’ve had to listen to since I made the mistake of telling others in the sheltered suburbs of San Ramon that I was going to knock on doors in Oakland.  Even my very own daughter who is the spitting image of me surprisingly said “Mom! People get SHOT in Oakland! Do you KNOW what year this is???” Like “Duh, no, daughter who thinks your my mother, what year is it??" Okay I know she is just worried about me, and for the record, I am not naive, I read the paper, I watch the news, I get it….

If I go into Oakland and knock on a door or two, I will most certainly be confused as a gangsta girl who just happens to be wearing the wrong gang colors to the wrong door on the wrong day; someone will inevitably open their front door, mistake my tatted up arms and my smile for muggin, my wave for "throwing up a gang sign" and when I say "heeeeyyyy wuz up homie" ….POP me like a balloon.  Chill peeps, it ain’t going down that way.  Rest assured there is not one house on Vera's street with bars on the windows.  Since when did we all become so fearful of one another?? Now, possibly there is a chance that I could get bitten by a dog, but that could happen in my own neighborhood….but get shot on an afternoon for knocking on a few doors?  I seriously doubt it.  Will I carry my purse? No. Will I wear shiny flashy clothes and strut like I’m a wealthy lady from the San Ramon Suburbs? No.  Hee hee, because I’m not even if I wanted to be.  I’ll just be me.

Truly I would be safer in Oakland because the only people that want a shot at me as of recent are the powers that be within the City of San Ramon.  Matter of fact, if I DO get shot in Oakland, it was a set-up, made to look like it was a lowly Oakland gang member, because as everyone knows, all 365,000 people who live in Oakland are gang members.  So for all practical purposes start your suspect questioning in San Ramon and then work your way towards Oakland.  They have way more reasons to silence me in my own Stepford town than the chill people in Oaktown do; unless of course, I wear the wrong colors.  But back to Vera, for your references, the coincidences to date, are as follows:

1) The person I think is Vera H. was born on October 8.  I was born on October 8;

2) The person I think is Vera H’s husband is Wilbur, my last name is Wilber;

3) The last four digits of the telephone number to the funeral home that I believe processed the bodies are 0100.  The last four digits of my home phone number is 0100; How many people do you know with 0100 as part of their phone number?

4) Richard happened to be in the neighborhood of Vera’s 1942 address, and learned that there would be a block-party on Saturday, when on Friday, I was going to knock on doors, and then of course get shot.  Maybe Vera is actually out to kill me; and

5) My dear friend Peggy J. called me just to chat a few nights ago, only to tell me that her father is buried at the same cemetery -- because like, all my friends father's happen to be buried at that cemetery.

I know this all sounds silly, and maybe in the end, the joke will be on me and I will have been following the wrong lead the whole time – but if that’s the case, although I don’t think it is, I will step up and have to eat mud, but either way, I WILL get to the bottom of this.  Who is Vera H. Edwards? How did her medical bag and WWII memorabilia end up in my house? And, most importantly, what were her contributions in WWII?

There have been many twists and turns too numerous to tell, but I’m so afraid to lose you with detail that I’ll simply say this...The BAD news is that, I have to work on Saturday.  The block party is on Saturday!  The GOOD news is, Richard is going to leave work early and in the guise of an extrovert, crash the block party!  I think I’m going to ask him to marry me.

To Be Continued…..

Sweet Dreams and Always, GOOD dreams,

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Curse Of The Extrovert

I’m sneaking in this writing under the “guise” of eating my breakfast, while Richard is patiently waiting for me to help him grout my tile.  You see, I am an extrovert; I need people, lots of people. I truly believe that we are pack animals whether we are extroverts or introverts; we need one another. Very few people are like the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, who chose to live as a recluse in a remote cabin in the Montana wilderness, without electricity or running water. He was not an extrovert, nor a pack animal, he was a cat; and not the soft purry cuddly kind.

So here is my theory -- the introverts were born lucky....oh so very very lucky.  They only need a small tight knit group of people in their lives, seldom crave daily socializing, and are perfectly content to spend time alone.  But I, on the other hand, have been cursed.  I am only 2% introvert according to the well renowned and approved in most psychiatric circles, Keirsey and Bates temperament chart.  Don't ask me how I know that.  This means that 98% of the time I am needy of the attention of others.  Lots of others.  It is only 2% of the time, and sometimes less, that I don’t take your calls or tell you how busy I was when in fact, I was just snuggling up in my bed with a book wanting the world to go away.  But most of the time.....sigh, I am needy of you.

Now my brother, of who I will not mention names because he doesn't like to be in the spotlight (we'll just call him "the introvert") is the exact opposite - 98% introvert, and 2% extrovert.  (If you know which brother I'm talking about, think about often does he take your calls? Ummm-hmmm....he's "always" busy.)  After 49 years of observation, I don't need a book to tell me that we are two very different people, but I did just figure while writing this why he was always the favorite.  Extroverts can be annoying and high maintenance.  We are the ones that swear we will die without our Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and email fix, and so happy that we didn't miss anything while we stepped away from the computer.  This is the curse of extrovertism (I just made that word up and I like it!)

Any my opinion, extrovertism is a form of narcissism. I need your approval, your friendship, your companionship,  the connection, and a sense of being needed.  Without you I am nothing more than the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz that gets dosed with water and melts into a puddle of water.  "Help meeeeeeee, I'm meeeellllllttttiiiiinnnnnnggggg."  This could also be a form of insecurity but because my list of “issues” is already too long, for the sake of semantics, we'll  just refer to it as "a dilemma."  I do know this, when my phone isn’t ringing, I’m making calls….mom, dad, Becky, Eileen, Katie, Annie, Kevin, Richard, Monica, Nicole, Peggy….and when no one is there to answer (because they are probably snuggled in bed with a good book), I start going through my phone list of names.  Aaron – “nope, bad ex-tenant..delete”; Alan “nope, already tried, won't take my call”, through the B’s, C’s, D’s….and if I had a friend whose name started with Z, I would try them too, maybe even a few times out of desperation if I've gotten to the end of the alphabet.  Sometimes I admittedly go through my phone list twice just in case I missed anyone.  It's hard being me.

I realize, I need to breathe. I need to find that place of calm where I know that I still exist just because no one can fulfill that immediate connection I so desire. I’m still somebody. I think.  But why is this hitting me now in my life? This sense of....fear. Maybe it's because my daughters are grown, or maybe it's realizing that the woman that I think is Vera H. Edwards (see "She's Speaking to Me From Beyond the Grave") had no next of kin listed at the cemetery where she was interred. Will my daughters be there with me when I die or will I die alone like Vera may have? What is to become of me?

It isn’t that when my daughters were little and I was needed every second of the day that I didn't spend time on the phone seeking that connection to others, I admit, I did. But that was wanting adult conversation more than being needy.  There was a time when my phone bills to Alaska exceeded $800.00 prior to cell phone contracts and unlimited calling.  When I hear people complain about their $50.00 a month phone bill I think “You have no idea.”  Fortunately, I didn't live in my mother's era (the 1960's) when people had to go through the operator to place a long distance phone call, it was considered a major purchase; something to be discussed between my mom and dad before my mom ever called her family in California (from Alaska).  She had to set a timer and was allotted five to ten minutes, of which the whole time she would spend crying anyway because she was so homesick.  Thankfully, my mother is an introvert and didn't have to make those calls daily.  I am definitely my father's daughter. 

But then, in the early 1970’s, direct dialing was invented.  Teen Beat Magazine promised that I could call David Cassidy and it wouldn’t “ring up my parents’ pocketbook.”  (If you don't know who this is because you are too young, think Partridge Family Reruns).  I took this ad to mean it was free, and so, being the extrovert and staying true to character, I called….and called….and called….and called.  What did I hear? Nothing more than a recorded muffled interview with some woman and David Cassidy.  One day my introverted brother said “You know they can trace those calls and mom and dad can get billed for it!”  “Nuh-Uh!” I exclaimed with worry and my usual furrowed brow.  “Uh-huh!” he said, with his usual half-cocked grin.  And then he proceeded to run to the kitchen to tell mom while she was washing dishes.  "Mooooooommmmmm! Renae......."  “You did whaaaaaaattttt?”  She asked. All I remember saying was "Well he made some calls too!"  I think there were like, 67 calls to David Cassidy on the phone bill that month, mostly from me.  Fortunately, my parents were good friends with the wife of the owner of the Anchorage Judo School where my brother regularly took lessons from the infamous Mr. Hildebrandt, and conveniently for me, his wife worked for the phone company.  She managed to get the phone bill reduced to half, and I avoided eye contact with my parents for the next five years.  That’s the trouble that extroverts get themselves into at times.

But it hasn’t been until of recent, that I have felt fearful of what my future holds.  When my daughters don’t have time to call, or come around for a week or two, I fear losing the only two humans in the world who have ever depended on me.  They don’t really need me anymore.  On the occasional day that their world is falling apart and I get the sobbing phone call when they are in need of their mommy, I am secretly, relieved.  But that is the exception, not the rule.  The rest of the time I am left to wonder.  Am I needed? If I died in bed, how many days would it take before somebody really started to worry? I am guessing about 48 hours before Richard would drive out….because as an extrovert, I have so many people to talk to, so many things to do, that I don’t always quickly return calls.  My lifestyle leaves me somewhat unpredictable.  And so, in the 2% moments, I worry that I am just avoiding the obvious, no one really needs me anymore. 

So what am I left with?  Admittedly, I am scared.  As an extrovert, I am not good at the thought of being alone.  Yet, just a few days ago, at the peak of my fragility, something really wonderful happened.  Something that gave me a dose of reality that it's all going to be okay.  It could have been so easily missed on any other day, but on this particular day the universe must have picked up on my obsessive worry and gifted me with the answer that I sought. It was this simple.  I picked up the six and ten year old brothers from school that I often care for.  The six year old was sitting in the back of my car pensively thinking about something that was of obvious concern to him.  “Renae?”  He asked.  “Yes…..”  I responded.  “Do you watch any other children other than me and my brother?”  “No, just you two.”  I replied.  He let out a sigh of relief.  Then, as we walked into their house, both boys anxiously guided me to their father's office to show me their chalkboard.  In the handwriting of a six year old carefully written in chalk were the words, “The Letter Of The Day Is ‘R’."  Just below that were the words "The Favorite Person of the Week is 'Renae'.”  I let out an even greater sigh of relief.

As long as there are people on the planet, I will be okay.

Sweet Dreams and Always, GOOD Dreams....

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I want the simple things in life. I want the unity we had ten years ago on September 11, without the attacks.  I want neighbors to be kind, politicians to be fair, coworkers to have one another’s backs.  I want to live in a society without greed, where heroes run in and parents don’t leave; where strangers give freely because they care - whether they know you or not. I don’t want to witness contempt and division over which religion has a monopoly on God, and I want to live with people who have a moral compass whether they believe or don’t believe in something greater in the universe.  It doesn’t take a Bible or Kabbalah or the Koran to live your life with integrity.  I’m not asking for Christmas every day of the year, just common decency, goodwill; and an acceptance of responsibility when we make mistakes, as we often do, because it’s the right thing to do.

On September 11, we hung our flags proudly, we cried and mourned and grieved “together.”  We were unified because we believed in our freedom and our Country and at that moment, we realized what we had, and the reality of what we stood to lose.  I want so little but for all of us to accept one another’s differences, and hold hands anyway, because we have the freedom to do that. Let’s not wait for another September 11, can’t we just start with today?  Today is a perfect day to remember just how great we are and just how great we can be.

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Thursday, September 8, 2011

She's Speaking To Me From Beyond The Grave!!!

I’m not being dramatic. I actually believe that a lady by the name of Vera H. Edwards is speaking to me from beyond the grave. I am not kidding, not even a little bit. I know that I have a big imagination and I may be pushing my luck in the credibility department that I hope to have established with you; but I feel like I owe it to you, my friends and my readers, to tell you what has consumed my thoughts as of this past week, because, this is just too big not to. This is the story, and if you scare easily, you may not want to read it.

About three years ago I was browsing the local thrift shops and came upon an antique doctor’s bag behind a glass case. The thought of where this bag had been, combined with that it had been marked down from its original price, beckoned me. This old leather medical bag that had obviously a history of some sort at one time, had been bypassed enough times to have the price lowered. My first thought, I’m not going to lie, was that it could be worth something. I am forever looking for buried treasures....whether I'm scouring thrift shops or pick axing the roots of the weeds in my back yard, thinking I could stumble upon an an arrowhead from American Indian times, or perhaps a skeleton of a hand or something, that would change the course of history forever.  Like, it would be my back yard discovery, and me alone, that would bring to light that our species did not actually migrate from Africa, but from Kittery Avenue in San Ramon, California.  Which takes me back to the second thought was how sorry I felt for it, knowing that this medical bag that had probably been used for bringing people to health and possibly saving lives at one time, had been devalued to the point of almost no value. I, being “the rescuer” wanted to rescue it. I spend my life rescuing dogs and people, defending the powerless, and as a little girl stuck a used crayon up my nose as a way of bonding and letting it know that I didn't care that it wasn’t as pretty as the new crayons. My parents, in having to pull it out with tweezers, didn't see the obvious and questioned my reason for doing someting so ridiculous.  I, not having the words to explain it couldn't and was perplexed that they didn't realize in all their wisdom that the crayon needed  to be rescued. Character really doesn’t change much as we grow older, but now instead of bonding with old crayons, I take in old medical bags. Someone has to nurture the weary; might as well be me. And so, I bought the bag.

After doing some research, my daughter’s friend exclaimed that the bag “creeped” her out, so I stuck it in the garage to save it from the verbal harassment of teenagers, and forgot about it. Fast forward three years, and suddenly, something called to me to find its history.  The first hurdle was in finding the bag, which I did after tearing apart and thrashing my garage in the process (sorry, Richard).  What I have found so far if my research is correct, is that Vera H. Edwards, (who is by the way deceased), owned the bag which I believe to be from World War II. That in and of itself, makes it a very special bag.

If I do in fact have the correct "Vera," she and I were born on the same day, October 8th, her husband’s first name was Wilbur, my last name is legally Wilber, and the last four digits of the number to the funeral home that I believe she was taken to before being buried are “0100." The last four digits of my home telephone number are “0100."  So, as the coincidences unfold, I am becoming increasingly intrigued, almost in a sick, creepy sort of way. 

These are the facts I have to work with:  This bag had a few rips on the inside of the very soft leather, but the rips were sewn in a stitch I have never seen before, very carefully and with perfection. There is a box of gauze, an arm band, and a Red Cross book. The book, which is a training manual of sorts, has Vera’s notes meticulously written throughout, is signed on the first page and on the back “Vera H. Edwards,” and contains an Oakland address. I have already Googled the address and have virtually seen Vera’s house and walked around her block. Did I mention that I’m obsessed? The arm band has the insignia of the Civil Defense Corps. Medical Personnel from WWII. Here is what I’m most interested in….the date in the book. The book was dated by Vera on January 26, 1942. I researched this date only to find that on this day in history, America stepped foot for the first time in Europe (precisely Northern Ireland) during World War II. Does this mean that Vera was one of the first to be deployed to Europe during WWII? This, in addition to her story, is what I desperately want to know.

To date, this is the gist of what I’ve found. There is in fact a Vera H. Edwards buried at the Tahoma National Cemetery in King County Washington, a Veteran’s cemetery. She is buried with her husband, a sergeant, Wilbur G. Edwards. After researching Vera and Wilbur in the Oakland area, I found that a Vera H. Edwards from Oakland, donated $465 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee on March 3, 1992. Perhaps she still lived in the same house in Oakland in 1992?  Additionally, a Wilbur G. Edwards was a member of the San Francisco Bowling Association in 1949. Perhaps he joined a bowling league after the war ended? My greatest link to believing that these are the same Vera and Wilbur that are buried in Seattle, is that after hours (and hours and hours and hours) of research, I found that the Wilbur G. Edwards who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943, Serial Number 39132114, has the same year of birth as the Wilbur G. Edwards buried in Seattle…which would make Vera H. who is buried next to him the woman I am seeking.  Coincidence? Possibly, but I'm following this lead.

And so, as the saga continues and I continue to pursue many different avenues, this I know to be true....Wilbur died first. Vera, when buried, did not have a “next of kin” listed, only someone to represent her to sign the necessary documents for the cemetery. They would not release this person's name, but told me to contact the funeral home. I have called the funeral home twice, and will call three, four, five, or six times if necessary to find out what information they may have.  They have no idea how relentless I can be. I will drive them nuts until they are convinced that the only way they are going to rid themselves of me is in fact, to turn over the information.  That's just how I roll.  I start out with the smoothness of Columbo and finish off with the persistence of Lucille Ball.  Oh, I'll get the information alright.

But back to Vera....I really truly believe in my heart, that Vera wants her story uncovered.  Maybe she died lonely, maybe nobody cared, maybe she is somewhere in limbo right now because she doesn't feel the closure she needs to move on.  Whatever it be, she is speaking to me, and who better to tell Vera's story, as my cousin Becky always says in an 80% truthful, 20% mocking sort of way -  "I am the chosen one.”

The GOOD NEWS IS, I may be a little nutty, but Vera, I hear you, I am listening.  I will get to the bottom of this, whatever it may be, and I will tell your story. 

“To Be Continued…..”

Sweet Dreams and Always GOOD Dreams,

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I LOVE Your Gauges, Here's My Number.

My boyfriend and I often differ in opinion as to how we see the younger generation.  While Richard sees the road to ruin, I see a parallel to every generation, trying to find themselves and their uniqueness from the generation before.  This is not to say that I like seeing the butt cracks of adolescent boys whose jeans sag to their hips.  I think that, that level of rebellion borders on the offensive. But in all honesty, the first time I saw a teenage boy walking like a duck, his pants below his hips, taking short strides while holding his crotch with his left hand and using his right hand to strut, I started laughing uncontrollably. Fortunately, he didn’t see me laughing, because I really did think that this "gangsta" had crapped his pants and was still trying to look cool in the process.  Sorry, there's just no other way to say it.  True to form, I have been known to go into laughing fits at the most inappropriate of moments and this was one of them. 

“Mom!” my daughter exclaimed in the tone of “get a clue," after I told her I thought he had gone in his pants, “He’s holding his crotch because he’s not wearing a belt!”  “Why isn’t he wearing a belt?” I asked. “Because that’s the style!” (eye roll, duh). 

Okay, so it doesn’t make any sense to me.  You don’t wear a belt because that’s not cool, but your pants fall below your hips exposing a half moon, and so you hold your crotch to keep your pants from falling to your ankles and can only take very short steps, hence waddling like a duck and looking like you've gone in your pants; and that’s the style.  I simply, don't get it.

My argument, however, in favor of the younger generation and seeing what we cannot relate to is only that some people didn’t understand Elvis Presley either; they found his hip gyrations to be offensive.  Richard’s argument is that they should be studying for their SAT’s, dressed appropriately, memorizing Shakespeare on weekends and holidays, and learning various languages.  Funny, I don’t recall Richard ever doing any of that in high school.  If you actually knew him (Alexis, Mike S., and various West High Alumni....), you would know this to be true; understandably, Richard wants more for his son Connor than he expected of himself.  He wants Connor to excel academically, play varsity sports, win chess championships, be offered scholarships to Stanford or Harvard.  Not that this isn’t achievable, but most high school boys usually fall into a “normal” range, to the disappointment of their parents.  Connor, in my eyes, is pretty typical.  Yet, he plays varsity football, basketball, has an abundance of girlfriends, can converse well with any and all people from children to the elderly; is compassionate and charming when he’s not trying to pull the wool over his dad’s eyes, and has a wonderful sense of humor.  Connor is probably not going to be invited to Harvard in the near future, but in wanting so much for our children to excel, in our version that society has put upon us as to what excelling is…Richard sometimes misses the obvious.  He has a good son.

His desire for Connor to achieve success, sometimes leads to our debates over the definition of success.  I have always said there are many paths to the top of the mountain, and the top of the mountain looks different for everyone.  In the end, maybe I'm simplistic, but success by my definition is nothing more than finding contentment within yourself.  There isn't a one-size fits all formula. 

Recently, to Richard’s disapproval, Connor replaced the over sized fake diamonds that he often sported, stemming from the rapper/hyphy movement.....with gauges.  Because many of you may not know what a gauge is, they are another form of ear piercing, put in the earlobe to stretch the skin into a large hole.  While you may feel a sense of nausea as I did the first time I saw an adolescent's lobes stretched to the size of nickels, skin stretching has been practiced all over the world since ancient times.  Just pick up any copy of National Geographic. 

Connor, however, wears fake gauges, just to simulate “the look.” But as I said, Richard and I often debate the merits of the youth “today” and what direction they are going. And rightfully so, as all good parents are, he is fearful for the future of his son.  I, on the other hand, am pro-youth, pro-expression, albeit with a sense of respect while allowing them to display their individuality. 

As Richard and I were sitting on my deck, taking in the morning sun and the aroma of the newly bloomed gardenia, Richard said “I just don’t know about Connor, he’s always surrounded by girls.”  Not a bad thing for a 17 year old boy, but a distraction from his studies in Richard’s eyes.  I sat quietly, taking in his words, wondering if he had ever been a 17 year-old himself, with relief knowing that I knew he had only because I actually went to school with him, but realizing that he has forgotten what it is to be that boy.  He then looked at me very seriously and exclaimed with such genuine concern, “Connor has three girls hanging out with him today!”  I gave him the usual “Soooo.”  Then he said, obviously perplexed, “Do you know how he met one of the girls?" "Um, no" I responded.  "This girl walked straight up to Connor and said ‘.........I love your gauges, here's my number'.”

I went into my usual fit of uncontrollable laughter with tears running down my cheeks; then Richard, desperately needing to take a chill pill and realizing the humor in his statement, began laughing with me. 

Elvis made a name for himself. Maybe Connor will too.

Sweet dreams and always, GOOD dreams,

Friday, September 2, 2011

You Will Be Missed, Jerry.

It was the early 70’s, the beginning of 6th grade in Arizona, and Labor Day weekend. I turned on the television and there was Jerry Lewis hosting something I had never seen before; a telethon.  Now, before you think that I was locked in the closet as a child, or as my friend Kevin would say “raised by wolves,” we did in fact have only three channels in Anchorage in the 1960's.  Okay, so we were a little behind the times, but we made up for it by enjoying the only true blue skies I have ever known and having the advantage of living in igloos.

At the beginning of summer, my dad would hide the cord to the television.  He always said “fresh air and sunshine are good for kids”, but what he really meant was “Kids are not to be seen and not to be heard.” As long as we couldn’t watch t.v., there was nothing else to do but play outside…which explains why I had never seen the Jerry Lewis Telethon before that particular year, which is in all actuality is The Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, but I know it as I know it.

Since sixth graders are kind of dumb, at least I was, there was a lack of understanding as to what the telethon was really about, which was Jerry’s mission to raise money for Muscular Dystrophy (MD) research, and to bring awareness to a disease that I had no knowledge of.  I think I was in high school by the time the light bulb came on.

The fact is, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there are more than 30 types of various genetic diseases which cause the progressive weakness referred to as Muscular Dystrophy.  There is no known cure, only advanced therapies, relief for the symptoms, and continued scientific research in hopes of not only finding prevention, but finding a cure.  Typically, this disease begins in infancy.  The numbers as to how many are affected are not clear to me, because there are so many different types. 

Before I lose you in quotes and statistics, let me just say that out of the thirty different types of MD, two types alone affect 400-600 boys a year in the United States.* Now, you may think, “Well that’s not that many people considering the U.S. population”…but like I said, that’s only two types of Muscular Dystrophy and if your child or my child was born with this disease, I would think that we would all agree that that is in fact, one child too many.

So in 1952, a staff member who worked on the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis’ edition of the Colgate Comedy Hour pleaded with Jerry to help.  And Jerry did.  His first of many short telethons was in 1952, and that grew into a yearly Labor Day Weekend 19 hour telethon beginning in 1966 which grew into a 21 ½ hour telethon through 2010.  Jerry tirelessly gave of himself for a cause he believed in.  As of 2009, he helped to raise 2.45 billion since the inception of the telethon.**

Progress many times starts with one person, wanting something better, wanting to help.  I believe that education, research, and awareness are key; whether it be for cancer, autism, peripheral neuropathy, depression….  As I’ve said before, you fill in the blank. 

It has been 38 years since I learned of Muscular Dystrophy and Jerry’s work.  While many things have remained the same, Jerry Lewis has made a difference in ways large and small in many of our lives.  He was a man that didn’t just talk the talk but he walked the walk, even if wearily at times.

I keep this quote on my refrigerator as a reminder that it only takes one person with a passion to make a difference.

I shall pass through this world but once.  Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now.  Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”  Jerry Lewis.

 Sweet dreams and ALWAYS, good dream,

* Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, July 27, 2005
**"Jerry Lewis is still going the distance",,0,794457.story, Los Angeles Times, September 3, 2010, accessed September 3, 2010

Thursday, September 1, 2011


People often question how I left a 27 year career as a self-employed freelance litigation assistant, making over $70,000 a year, for a $9.00 an hour library position supplemented by part-time babysitting, Ebay/Craigslist selling, flea market booths, and picking up oil-stained pennies from parking lots. 

Most everyone was positive that I was in the midst of my second mid-life crisis, a meltdown of sorts; the first being just before my 40th birthday.  I often struggle to find the words or the logic to convey my reasoning, but I refer to this change, not as a mid-life crisis, but as a mid-life epiphany.  Do I miss the Christmas parties on the yachts, the bonuses, the victory toasts and the high of prevailing on cases that I had sometimes assisted on for years? You bet I do.  But somewhere, somehow, in the process of the rush, I lost my soul.  Often, I found myself daydreaming (in the guise of thinking about work), longing for something more fulfilling, and yet there I was seemingly stuck in the all-American rut; I couldn't give up the money and I was afraid to step outside of my comfort zone.  In hindsight, no matter how many bottles of champagne or toasts, I only really felt victorious if I truly believed we were on the right side of the law, legally and ethically.  Even then, the motions, the frustrations suffered by the clients, the money spent on lawyers which often times was greater than the sum of monetary damages, the wins, and the appeals....I began to wonder if anybody ever really won.  I think not.  The celebratory victories were no longer enough to keep me satisfied.  And so, I quit. At the peak of my career, I threw the towel in.  I said "no more, I'm done."  

Although I left in what seemed to be a spur of the moment irresponsible decision, I believe my subconscious had been planning it for years.  My daughters were almost out of high school, and I had given them the best of everything I could as a single mother, from trips to Hawaii, Alaska, Minnesota, dance competitions in Florida, private tutors, and community theatre.  I even forked out $6,000 (thanks to my parents and brother for kicking in the remaining thousand needed), so Nicole could represent the United States as a Student Ambassador in Australia; 21 days of enrichment and snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. 

I loved being able to give my daughters all that I did during difficult times, but I felt like it was my turn now.  Ironically when I came home and told them that I had quit, Nicole exclaimed "Mom! What are you going to do????" and Monica asked adamantly as a mother to a child "Do you have a plan????"  The answers were simply, "I don't know." and "No." 

Ultimately, I went back to college, which I had never completed, and received a paraprofessional certificate in Library and Information Technology.  It sounds impressive, but in this economy where library staffing is the first to be be cut, it doesn't pay the bills, and three years later I am still pushing a cart (which I absolutely love by the way).  A few days ago as I was shelving books in the juvenile section, a little girl asked me to show her where she could locate the "early readers." As usual, I lit up at her request.  From Dr. Seuss to Junie B. Jones, I gave her options, or as I believe, doors to her future; information that will one day open a world of choices and allow her empowerment over her own destiny. 

Then, yesterday as I was driving the two young boys that I take care of to their swimming lesson, the six year old very seriously asked "How did the dead grasshopper get in your car?"  Just last week he had asked me why my car was so dirty.  The older brother, remembering what I had answered the week before, replied, "Probably because of the plants that she puts in her car from Home Depot."  I was puzzled.  I said, "But I just vacuumed my car out. There shouldn't be any dead grasshoppers in my car!" And the little one said "I know, ......sigggghhhhhhh......I just wanted to say 'thank you'."

Call it a mid-life crisis, call it what you will, but in this madness called life, I do believe I have found my soul, and sometimes we find it in the most unexpected places.

Sweet dreams and always, GOOD dreams,