Good Grief, Rafael

He was the best brother I could ever have. Fair and open minded, sensible, compassionate, and downright funny. Saw a therapist for a few sessions. She told me there’s good grief and bad. You mean, crying out to him and asking him to take me with him isn’t considered good?? Continue reading

This Time of Year

This time of year, I think of glass beads reflecting sprightly patterns on the wall. I think of Frank Sinatra on the record player, belting out “Fly Me to the Moon” one more time, while I relish the sweet aroma of bread pudding baking in the oven. Continue reading

My Mother’s Basket

Upstairs, in my daughter’s room, on the second shelf of her bookcase, there is a small, hexagon-shaped woven basket, with a red ribbon decoratively tied to the lid’s handle. I’m not sure how old it is, but it has been … Continue reading

Mother’s Day, A Double-Edged Sword

For me, Mother’s Day is a double-edged sword, as the joy of celebrating mothers is a bit lost on me.   I see others making plans with their moms, writing, Skyping or ringing them up the old-fashioned way–by phone. I see them taking their mothers out for brunch or dinner, and allowing them the much-needed time to put up their feet for a day and relax.  Ahh! Even my own, grown-up kids have sent me flowers and told me how much I mean to them.  My son, Josh, has finally proclaimed in a card that I am “The best mom around!”  Exclamation point and all. Which means, I am no longer just probably the best. Good news, indeed!

But here’s where the double-edged sword comes in: None of these things can I do for my own mother. I cannot make plans with her nor can I pick up the phone and call her. Not since she passed away 17 years ago.

For Mother's Day, my son has been honoring his abuela's memory by giving me a bouquet of tulips. Which means, he knows the way to his mother's heart.

And yet, I can think of tulips. For when I think of my mother, Mary, I think of tulips. These were her favorites, and every year she’d make me plant them with her in our garden. Using a trowel to carve out holes in the soil, I’d push the tulip bulbs deep into the earth. And all the time I’d be sneezing and wheezing, not realizing that the pollen and grass were giving me massive allergy attacks, and that the garden was no place for someone as allergic as I am to the outdoors. But I did it for my mother, who loved to see the flowers in full bloom.

Giving her joy was something I lived for.  One of my favorite things to do was to wait until she’d gone to bed, then sneak downstairs, into the kitchen and give it a good scrubbing. I’d mop the floor and wipe the counters. I’d organize the papers, mail, and magazines that she and the rest of us had accrued throughout the day, and had left scattered on counters, the kitchen table, you name it.  I’d stay awake until two in the morning to make sure the kitchen was perfectly gleaming for when she shuffled in early in the morning to prepare my father’s coffee.

There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her. For Mother’s Day, I’d save my babysitting money to buy her cologne from Kresge’s, a blouse from Gertz Department Store, or a ceramic butter dish from Fortunoff’s, with a cow smiling from atop the lid. I’d bake Spritz cookies, the only cookies that I learned to bake in Home Economics class, and sprinkle them with sugar. Yes, I’d do anything for one of my mother’s smiles.

She was always so busy throughout the day, taking care of the needs of four kids and our father.  She wouldn’t sit down, except to watch The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on weeknights and Saturday Night Live on the weekends. Johnny Carson and Gilda Radner made her laugh. My memory of my mother is of her watching these shows with a large stack of newspapers at her side, the only time she got to read.  She’d look for stories of possible interest to her children, and she’d clip and mail them to us. During one year in college, I accumulated well over 100 clippings and I read each one. Human interest stories, articles about current events, celebrities, and hometown news. Long before the Internet, my mother’s clippings were my lifeline to the world beyond my university campus.

On vacation with my mother in Atlantic City, circa 1962.

I would do anything for my mother and yet I feel as though I took her for granted.  I assumed that she’d always be there for me when I needed her—to talk, to offer advice, to share her family stories on summer vacations, and to cook our favorite Venezuelan dishes.  But she’s gone now and I can never get back our time together. Gone with the wind, in a fleeting, blink of an eye.

Some of you will understand how I feel on this particular day. For everyone else, I hope you will take a moment, and please hug your mothers. Tell them how much you love them, not just today, but everyday.  You should know, you should really know,  just how lucky you are!

So, Happy Mother’s Day to all moms everywhere!  As for me, today I’m celebrating with my family, including my dear cousin, Roxanna, who has also lost her mother.

Dead Birds Tell No Tales

When it comes to the case of the birds falling from the sky on New Year’s Eve, I don’t care what they say. The mystery is not solved. I’ve been around the block at least 1.2 million times, so I should know.  Those birds that flew over Arkansas on December 31st, and plunged to their deaths, were not done in by fireworks. If you ask me, there was something bigger at work here.

Here’s why:  It strikes me as suspicious that these birds would fall to their deaths on account of fireworks.  Our nation is religious about its fireworks. We hold firework displays every Fourth of July, every New Year’s Eve and amusement parks like Disneyland and Sea World hold them just about every day.  So why now would these birds start succumbing to noisy fireworks?  If that was the case, then we’d see thousands of birds falling from the sky year round!  We’d become so used to it, that we wouldn’t even notice if a bird landed on our head.

If you ask me, what really did them in wasn’t anything of biblical proportions. Nor was it aliens. And certainly, it wasn’t life imitating art, as in the Arkansas birds taking a page from Alfred Hitchcock’s frightening film, The Birds, where crows nearly peck to death Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. I doubt any of these birds even saw the film or read the script.  Nope.

In all likelihood, what got to them was flying over Arkansas. Face it, there’s nothing in Arkansas but mountains, valleys, thick forests and plains. Oh and something called the Ozarks. Plus, Arkansas has more caves than you can shake a stick at.  Which means lots of nighttime darkness, and no markers to let the birds know whether or not they’re heading in the right direction. No lights guiding their way through treacherous mountains and caves. And plenty of opportunities for getting into trouble. Get my drift?

So, I wonder whose bright idea it was to take the route through Arkansas.  I suppose it was the leader of the flock, assuming all flocks fly in a “V” formation, so that the very first bird is the leader and gets to map the route. I’m figuring it must have gone down something like this:

Bird #1: Hey, man, I know a shortcut.

Bird #2: Really? Because the last time you said that, we lost half our team when they got sucked into an airplane engine.

Bird #1: Trust me. This time I know what I’m doing. I gotta feeling tonight’s gonna be a good night.  It’s New Year’s Eve, so what can go wrong? All we have to do is fly across Arkansas, and we’ll cut 30 miles out of our 2,000 mile trek.

Bird #2: Arkansas? What’s that?

Bird #1: It’s only the best place to fly across because there’s nothing there! No city lights to blind us, no major airports with planes taking off. This time, it’ll be clear sailing all the way! I guarantee it.

And so they flew and the rest is history. Of course this doesn’t explain how all the birds died in Louisiana, Kentucky, Italy and Sweden.  Nor, why 40,000 crabs bit the dust in England and two million dead fish were found in Maryland. Perhaps we finally crossed over into The Twilight Zone, but don’t ask me. I can only solve one mystery at a time.

Next Up:  This is Chavez Country continues with Part Three, Family Reunion