(Abby age less than one year and me in Destin, Florida)
Twenty three years ago today, September 6th, 1997, my dear Abby, aka Abigail Drennan Roush, was born. Most people are born at age zero. Not Abby. On the wisdom scale, she was born at a sage age of 40 years. We have joked about this as she became a real adult and in her teen years, but there is much truth to it.. Abby has always had a “knowingness” about her that baffles the mind if you are grading her on the chronological scale for “knowingness.” or wisdom. I call her my canary in the coal mine.
The day Abby was born, we sang “Happy Birthday” right after she popped out. Immediately after that, I had to have skin contact with her. They handed her to me, and I held her flesh to mine.
Then, I took my epidural tree trunks that used to be my legs, slid off the table, and dug around in the placenta for an hour looking for the “How To” manual on what to do next. I came up slimy and empty handed.
Abby is a special human. In fact, on that wisdom scale, she is three years older than me. 23 plus 40 being 63 to my 60. Her brain may not be fully cooked for another two years, but her soul carries much in the ways of wisdom, wit, kindness, compassion and caring.
When Abby was four years old, I had breast cancer. We were standing in the bathroom at Lowe’s and she understood that my treatment would make me lose my hair, so she said, “Mom, I want to shave my head.” Followed after two seconds with “Will it grow back in two weeks?” We compromised, hence the mohawk shown here, full of blue glitter.
In her twenty three years, Abby has accomplished much in the ways of hobbies and interests. First, and currently foremost, she is a passionate fly fisher. Ties her own flies and you can see from the pictures, she is in her element when standing in the crystal clear rivers where she finds, catches and releases many a trout, all of whom have a better life for her being in it, if only to get the hook out of their mouth and set them free. Her very first fish is pictured here, which she caught with the tiny little Tigger rod in the image. She got on Tulsa’s Channel Six Fishing Photos segment with Dick Farrough with this amazing catch. And she has the fish and rod still, as yours truly made sure they were properly preserved.
In school, Abby was a member of her academic team at Bixby High School as well as a part of the journalism class there. Apples not falling far from her maternal family tree there, with an aunt who once was a gifted anchor and colorful feature reporter on a KOTV in Tulsa, an uncle who holds six Emmys and a Peobody for his journal;istic expertise as well as a maternal grandfather who was once nominated for a Peobody for his work in broadcast.
From her dad’s side, Abby has an impeccable work ethic, dry wit and a keen mind for all things mechanical. I bought her the same good phone as mine so that I could be fully confident when I called her for technical support. She loves Jeopardy, and is damn good at it too. She once took the online test as a teen was put in the pool to be a potential player on Teen Jeopardy and I suspect, one day, WILL be a contestant, as she has the fortitude to get there.
Hobbies include a devotion to Dungeons and Dragons online, a language I definitely don’t speak, she’s an avid reader, and when it comes to the outdoors, she is fully in her element there. Abby loves to camp, has been to Alaska twice to deep sea and fly fish, is an avid longboard and soon will likely expand her activities to include what my Gulf of Mexico backyard here in Destin, Florida has to offer. Surfing, kite surfing, more fishing, I can’t wait to see what lights her fire here.
She is also an avid kayaker. Started that in her teens and has done some white water there, too. If I had to guess her favorite experience, I would wager that would be the fact that with bear spray on her hip and friends at her side, she has summited Mt. Elbert, a 14,439 foot not for sissies mountain two hours from Denver, Colorado not once, but twice. In her life, she has been training for climbing out of valleys, not by choice, but out of sheer survival necessity, navigating the challenges of living with tough stuff in her family of chance.
(Here comes the photo dump. And this is paired down! But please read on as there is more to share!)
In just the last year, Abby has achieved much. She got her GED, joined the IBEW, (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) and started school as an electrician’s apprentice, gotten her first apartment on her own, bought her first car on her own and did it all, with a brain that won’t be done for another two years, stone cold sober, in the midst of a pandemic. I don’t know about you, but had I faced these times at her age, I am not sure I would have fared so well.
And while I am proud of Abby’s achievements, my greatest pride is simply in her. Who she is, not what she does.
All I wish for her in this life is that it be one filled with love, laughter, fabulous adventures across the globe, friends who understand what a gift she is to them and a peace that passes all understanding. I will celebrate her accomplishments, sure, but for this parent, I hold no expectations that my daughter needs to do anything other than simply show up, be true to herself and be.
I love you, Abby Roush. To the moon and back. And I will close with the lyrics to the song that I sang to her many times at bedtime, one which we have yet to fulfill our pact to have tattoos of a couple of the lines. Those lines will be “bloom and grow” in my handwriting for her and “forever” in her handwriting for me.
Well Tulsa, It’s about that time. I’m leaving you. This time, I think, for good.
I came to you with my mom from Connecticut after my dad died when I was 7. We were supposed to be moving to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, but my mom made a permanent detour via Southern Illinois and then here when I was in the 8th grade.
I started school in one of your junior highs, where the boys in my 8th grade band class were not too kind in their words to me as I was “welcomed” to Tulsa and into the band. When the band instructor introduced this new barely pubescent 12 year old flutist from Illinois, the boys in percussion chimed in. “Is she pointed or flat?” Said the first. “She’s flat.” Replied his buddy. To which the band instructor said “ .“ That was my first wrongful attachment of pain to you Tulsa. To be fair, I already had a chip on my shoulder for my mom not taking me to the beach in Florida.
I went on to two of your private high schools and graduated. I went away to a short lived college career before I returned to you at 17. I worked in your restaurants. Drank in your bars.
I escaped you at 19 for a year of fun in the mountains. Skiing and drinking in Crested Butte, Colorado.
Then a summer in Lake Tahoe working at Caesar’s. Then a couple of years in Texas. Houston first where I got married and drunk alot. Then on to Austin, where I got unmarried and sober. Once.
After that Tulsa, my car brought me back to you. All in my early days of sobriety. When the advice is to not make a major change in the first year. I must have thought that being blonde and left handed made me exempt as I left my husband and Texas with all that I owned in my car bearing a sign in the window which read, “Tulsa or Bust,” to return to you at less than six months sober. I went to a lot of your meetings. Loved and was loved by a lot of your people.
I spent three and a half months in one of your halfway (insane) houses, then several apartments over five or six years until that second marriage of 24 years happened.
We lived on your outskirts in the sod country of Bixby, Oklahoma for 14 years, where we built a lovely home, complete with three hand prints, one for mom, one for dad and one for 4 year old Abby, dated 2002 on the floor in the corner of the garage.
We fled from you for our first year of marriage to the Dutch Country of Pennsylvania. I could not be with you. I did not like you. I thought you made me unhappy. And I was sure that leaving you was the answer.
After one year of experiencing that the natives of Lancaster, PA only like people who visit and loathe those who bring moving vans, we aimed for Austin, Texas, but you had the job that fit the mechanical engineer in my house, so back to you, Tulsa, we came.
While you welcomed us back,that marriage of 24 years eventually ended here. And so did the dream I had spent have of my life believing in here in Tulsa.
My creative work of painting began here as my marriage was coming to a close. I started to paint whimsical furniture for kids going into foster care. I also started my real spiritual work with you Tulsa. I pushed up out of the ashes of my former life, and you generously provided me great teachers of what God does and doesn’t look like to teach me the lessons of the day.
I completed my treatment of and survival from breast cancer here with you Tulsa 18 years ago. Some of your docs could use some work, in my experience, but there were enough good ones here to meet my needs. I mean, I’m still here. Right?
I have known much unhappiness while living with you. You get dark in the winter and you are cold to me too. I have spent much of my time living with you complaining about you. About the way you look. You don’t have an ocean. Or mountains. Your lakes feel like big mud puddles with sticks and snakes and God knows what else in them. I sound like a bitchy wife or ungrateful child here. Don’t I?
One thing I have learned and forgotten and relearned over and over again in my spiritual walk of 35 years is that nothing is perfect and focusing on what I see as negative just makes it more so. Conversely, focusing on what I do like makes it even more so. In other words, it’s all about perspective. And appreciation or as I like to call it, gratitude.
Tulsa, I want to ask your forgiveness. You did nothing to me. My unhappiness was not your fault. Your version of traffic is nothing compared to what I knew in Texas. Your people are, for the most part, friendly and those who I was in relationship with for support, were quite loving indeed.
I could live with you and find the good in you of which there is much. And I learned to do that quite well as I learned and experienced over the years that my happiness is an inside job. To be done wherever my body resides.
But Tulsa, the God of my understanding has directed my body and soul to the beach. I suffer pains in my body and spirit in the darker days and cold of your winters. Each season is harder on me than the one before as my body and mind advance in age. We just aren’t a good match, you and me. Not today. And because of that Tulsa, I am leaving you.
I am an artist and while you have a quite impressive art community here, one that I only began to truly discover in the last year or so, my bliss is in the colors of the Emerald Coast of Destin, Florida, where I pick up keys to live on August 1. Sapphire blues, emerald greens, periwinkles, tangerines, pinks, turquoises-all my favorite palette to surround myself, dress myself and work with, all on the ever changing canvas that God puts out for my eyes to feast on there at the beach in the water and the sky. It pulls me like a magnet. That’s how God is in my experience.
And so does the weather, particularly their version of winter. I spent all of February there basking in their version of cold, while my daughter sent me pictures of the snowman she had made in our back yard. While I love the smile you put on her face as she stood next to said snowman with the hot pink spray painted boobs, I was so relieved that I could hang up the phone and be with the door open where my body was in a relatively warmer place.
I have a calling to help young women who are marked with the F word of Felony. Women who have done their time for their crime, which in most cases was non violent and drug related, done at a time of sickness not badness, but can’t get a break or a decent job in our society. I want to teach them to paint and sell furniture. Something I began here with you Tulsa. And I have found a community of these women in Florida who I can help.
I do love you Tulsa. You do have your own unique beauty and style. Your Riverside Drive along the Arkansas River. Your Philbrook Museum, Woodward Park and Mapleridge neighborhood, just to name a few.
You have provided me with good friends, great loves, jobs, shelter, amazing doctors, wonderful homes, terrific neighbors, treasured memories, and you are the birthplace of my favorite co-creation, my daughter Abby.
Thanks for my Happy House. The one on Rockford Place. The one with the hot pink door. This has brought me great joy. My back yard full of bunnies doing what bunnies do best as they just keep making bunnies. For my sun porch where my art grew as my heart grew. And my living room filled with light all around and my ever changing pictures of my picture window. What a delightful revolving evolving art show that has been to see. With each passing moment, as I look out through the panes.
And my front porch that I took for granted until the pandemic hit. That porch became my window to my spiritual friends. Where I sat perched at 8 am, every day since March, armed with phone, coffee and gratitude and a need for connection, abundantly filled by people all over the country. In that tiny screen on my phone. Channeling God through channel Zoom.
About Abby, Tulsa. I have never lived more than 20 minutes from her 22 year old self. And she is staying here with you. So, please. Take good care of my little girl. The one who lives inside of that bright, funny, gifted beautiful young woman of whom I am so proud. Surround her with your best God squad to protect her and love her as I will only be able to do so at an 800 mile distance. Keep her safe in her home and on your streets and in your workplaces and with those she keeps company with.
Thank you Tulsa. For being my home all these years. And for letting me go.
I can’t find my friend Sheila. The one with the Texas sized heart and smile to match. Have you seen her? She is about 5’5” dark brown shoulder length hair. I have tried to reach her, but it’s hard to get through. The phone sometimes goes unanswered for days. And when they bring her to the phone to talk to me, I don’t hear the same vibrant, cocky, sarcastic, self effacing friend of over thirty years.
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We met over thirty years ago. I liked her instantly. She was playful and childlike with two grown sons. Her Texas born smile and heart made truth of the slogan that “Everything Is Bigger In Texas.” We had a common bond in a fellowship of mutual friends all over the world who seek a spiritual life. But it was MY world that Sheila walked into and I am so glad that she did.
I was in my late twenties which would put her in her late thirties or early forties. We laughed at the same things and had a bond like sisters or schoolmates who routinely get sent to the principal’s office for disrupting the class. That was my attraction to her. She could be serious when it was required, but she didn’t take herself or anything TOO seriously. Rule 62. That would have been the sign on our fort’s door if we had played together as children.
Sheila was the divorced mother of two strapping good looking young men in their early twenties. Toe headed surfer boys, living in Hawaii with their father. I got to meet them. They both had their mother’s bright smile.
At the time, Sheila and I were both single. She was dating someone she loved for many years while attending school to get her Master’s degree so that she could teach English, paying her way through school as a massage therapist.
Sheila was friends with a guy I had dated and broken up with and when he was about to have a date with someone else, Sheila let me know it and when she did, I called him. We resumed our relationship, which lasted 26 years before we divorced and had Sheila not tipped me off, there would be no 22 year old brilliant, witty, compassionate, beautiful daughter in my life, perhaps, had it not been for my friendship with Sheila.
When I was first married, Sheila came to live with us for a time before we had our daughter. Then life happened and we drifted apart. Sheila stayed in Tulsa, while we moved off to the suburbs of Bixby, had the kid, built the house, bought the van, got the yellow dog. And Sheila got her degree and taught English for about 15 years.
Sheila and I reconnected about five years ago. Literally ran into each other at the doctor’s office after about 15 years or so. She was not the same Sheila. She had put on 75 pounds which in my view was the exact weight of the grief and the loss she had suffered since we last saw each other. There was a sadness enveloping her. The sparkle was dimmed. And when she explained why, it broke my heart.
Sheila had been diagnosed with dementia. She explained, “I found myself losing my words in the classroom as I spoke to my students.” In addition, her sons had both grown up and developed severe mental illness. One, middle aged and living in a group home where she would see him regularly. The oldest had not been heard from in ten years. The last she knew, he was living on the streets of California. My heart broke at the news. First, that my friend had dementia and add to that that the two healthy, strong happy boys I had met had succumbed to the ravages of mental illness made me very sad for Sheila who upon this meeting was still teaching English part time and living alone in a one bedroom apartment with her cat. We traded sad stories as I was in the throws of depression going through my divorce after 26 years. And I was so glad that God had put her back in my path.
We began to see each other, when I could coax her out of the apartment. Sheila had become an introvert and at times more of a hermit. She could only take people for so long before she had had enough and was quite content to return to her cat and late night television.
And while Sheila was teaching students how to write, she was right for the job because writing was Sheila’s bliss. Quirky poems and prose that were over MY head, but it was indeed her gift. She had submitted her work to be published, but had been rejected and was timid to re submit the contents of the manilla envelope that sat on her kitchen table surround by small piles and lots of chotchkies.
Sheila was tenacious, precocious, gifted and blount. Don’t ask if you don’t want to know. And I loved her for that. She always told me the truth. Even when I didn’t ask. That’s a REAL friend and a rare find. On one of our dates, I had her over for dinner. She brought cookies, we ate and then watched a movie with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda about two widowed people who took solace at night sneaking into each other’s houses and sleeping together in a small, nosy town. We looked like Golden Girls folded into our places like two human tacos, as the most comfortable seat for the viewing was on my king sized bed with adjustable mattress. I will always treasure that night.
That was about three years ago. Then the phone calls started. “Are you awake?” She would say as I answered from my sleep at 5 in the morning. “Yes.” She didn’t really have much to say, just wanted to call. She was beginning to be less mindful of such things as time and timing.
Then the disease in her beautiful brain began it’s progression. Sheila was having trouble with math. She had been an accountability partner to me as we both had spending issues in our histories and she was tremendously helpful to me in that way for several months. And I had become a part of an audience to a show that I never bought tickets to. Alzheimer’s progression in a person I loved.
Over the months, her driving became difficult. She would insist she could drive. Then one night, on her way to my house, I got a frantic call. So I went out in my car, as she struggled to find the words to give me crosstreets or landmarks to lead me to her location in my neighborhood. When I found her, she followed me to my place and then limped her way home. Eventually, she had to give up her car as it was no longer safe and she was told not to drive, but would forget and drive anyway. That, or she was just being belligerent and wanting a Jamoca shake from her neighborhood Arby’s. The answer to which, I will never know. Because I may never see her again.
A year ago, I moved from my home in South Tulsa to a house four blocks from Sheila so that I could be a support person for her. Living alone in Tulsa with her family in Texas, I wanted to be there for her when I could. I was fortunate to make the cut, as Sheila had cut off at least one friend for being negative and heavy. That was NEVER an issue for me and Sheila. We continued to have lots of laughs, even at her condition. But the disease was marching on. And now she was almost agoraphobic. I did stand up comedy at a local coffee house before she stopped driving and she had come to support me. Before the show was over,( there were about a dozen acts in a room with about forty people), Sheila was somewhat panicked to be there. I think the stimulation was too much for her.
Whenever we went places, she was hypersensitive to sound and speed. Grabbing the dash when I went the speed limit, saying I was driving really fast. And her hearing was quite sharp too. If I ran water on the phone she’d say things like, “What’s all that racket?”
Then Covid19 came to town and Sheila was in for the perfect storm of stressors that healthy brains were struggling to cope with. No longer able to see her son because of Tulsa’s orders to “Shelter In Place,” he was not happy with her for what he could not understand and Sheila’s isolation had now become mandatory. Prior to Covid, Sheila had been getting out a few days a week to go meet our fellowship of friends. I was one of a few who would drive her to meetings and we would laugh our asses off in my car being silly and inappropriate together. But early this spring, that all came to a screeching halt.
And when I would call to check on her, she struggled to communicate and make sense. “They are saying that I can’t go outside.” She would say. So I checked with her family, and I went to get her out of the house. Fuck Covid. My friend was withering in her apartment. The only people she was seeing were her home health aids for a few hours a day. I took her to the Riverparks and we were both tense. Looking at a playground that was roped off with caution tape because there was an invisible serial killer in town. So we simply sat on the wall and watched the passersby. Sheila was visibly anxious, which made me so sad for her.
The phone calls became earlier and more frequent. Some coherent, some not. 5 am. “Are you awake?” The reprise that had become a routine. We would talk until she was done. Then it got worse. 3:30 am. “Lucinda?” She said in a whisper. “There are men in my apartment. They are going through my living room. I have to go.” Then she called back and spoke in her normal voice, saying that they were gone now. I was getting worried.
Sheila had begun to wander out of her apartment and go talk to her neighbors. I learned this after the only other time I took her out during the “Shelter In Place” order. I was going to pick up my curbside groceries so I made a date with Sheila to go get fried chicken and get my groceries. We drove thru KFC, laughed our way through two boxes of fried chicken and biscuits with honey and in our conversation, Sheila was in and out. I likened my conversations with someone who was losing their mind to Alzheimer’s as if she were a kite. With a normal conversation with someone not ill, I always knew just how far out from me the kite was. It maintained a steady path. With Sheila, one minute the kite was within reach, the next stuck in a tree. It was painful to be present for. And I’m not proud to say this, but some days, I was selfish and was not there for her because I didn’t want to bear witness to what was happening. I regret not creating a day that was just us while she was home. It was an idea that came to me that I did not put into action.
On the drive to the grocery store, he could see people who weren’t there. “Do you see that little person in the yellow pants?” She said calmly when there was no one there where we sat waiting for my curbside grocery order. And I was respectful in all of my replies. Always honest and matter of fact. “No Sheila. I don’t.” In my car, she saw people on my dash in the drive thru at the pharmacy, knowing that they weren’t there. Narrating her experience in front of me. “I see them but I know they aren’t there.” And we would laugh as we do, together, but when I took her home it was no longer funny.
My friend was getting sicker right before my eyes. After I got her into her apartment, which was quite a feat because she could no longer figure out how to put her key around her neck into the lock, I watched her take her evening medicine and I left feeling powerless and concerned. On my way out, I was stopped by the handyman who told me that she had gone to several neighbors asking them to help her get the people away from her who were following her. In one case, she had packed a bag and sat on her step, telling the upstairs neighbor that her sister was coming from Texas to pick her up, which was not true.
It never got better and she got mad at me because I was frightened for my friend and I sought wise counsel after learning that at some point she had wandered into a busy street found by the police thinking that her remote was her phone. They brought her home, which I later learned would never have happened if it weren’t for a pandemic. In a normal scenario, they would have taken her somewhere to be safe. I later called an ambulance after the phone calls got worse because while she had some home health care daily, there were still a number of hours that Sheila was alone, just steps from a busy street and I feared for her safety. Her family was in the process of getting her into a nursing home, an uphill challenge to make happen with a pandemic picking up steam. The advice that I got was to get it on the record that she was a vulnerable person by having the emergency crew evaluate her mental status to be sure she was safe to be alone. Naturally that frightened her. I arrived when they did, before I could tell her I had called them. And while she was confused about some things, being pissed at me was something she was very clear about. I left her that day. And have not seen her since. I believe that was at the end of April of the beginning of May.
Her road has been hard since that day. Shortly thereafter, she had to be hospitalized for psychosis and then was placed in a nursing home and when I was finally able to get someone to answer and bring her to the phone, my friend Sheila, as I knew her, was not present. Flat affect with some nonsensical babble, there was a clarity peppered in when she responded to me saying that I loved her, and she let me know she was not happy with me. And I think that was a clear thought. Which made me really sad. To think that her last memory of me would be one of feeling hurt or betrayed. She could not see the part where her safety was at issue. Several people who were concerned about her from her neighbors and then some had encouraged me to call for help. And I will be honest. I don’t know if I did her more harm than good. Because now, she is locked into a memory care facility where the phones don’t always get answered and the Covid quarantines are routine so that not only can she not receive visitors, she can’t even come to the phone..
I have made peace with the fact that I may never see her again as I am moving 800 miles away in just a few short weeks, but it is my prayer that she will forget about her anger for me and remember the friendship that we had before she forgets everything. The laughs. How I always saw her in the room. When others talked about her, I was talking to her. Because I respect Sheila. She is a person. With rights. And passions. And dreams. And a devastating illness. I love her. And I will miss her deeply.
Update: I posted this on July 5, 2020. On July 20, 2020 at 6:03 a.m., Sheila passed away. The week prior, she contracted Covid 19 in the nursing home where she had been placed. She was hospitalized with renal problems and signs of pneumonia in addition to testing positive for the virus. Within days, hear health plummeted. I received a text that she was on hospice, with pneumonia and kidney failure and the doctors had given her 1 to 2 days to live. While i was saddened by the news, I was not surprised. The weeks leading up to this, I tried to call her at the nursing home several times, only to be told that there were Covid positive cases there and that the residents were in quarantine. The caregiver that I spoke to on the phone said that she was confused and not terribly interested in thing s that might take her mind off the situation, like the coloring books her family and I had sent to her.
I have to say that while I had hoped to see her or at least speak to her to say goodbye, the Sheila I knew was already gone. And I am grateful that I got to have her for the time that I did. She touched a lot of lives with her child like spirit.
If you love someone who has Alzheimer’s, don’t wait. Make time for them a priority before you lose them entirely. Be willing to be uncomfortable around the disease that your friend or loved one has no choice in having. Because I know first hand, for the times that I was uncomfortable and said, “today, I just can’t,” I wish I had.
“This shit is hard.” Words spoken by a friend who went to Harvard to describe living life on life’s terms. Wiser words could not be more true than at this 100 plus day mark of living through a pandemic.
But that is not what this story is about. If anything, it is more about the cure. At least metaphorically. And for me, part of the cure for my prudent isolation is found in daily walks. In my modest neighborhood. I love seeing the different houses. It is not a cookie cutter neck of the woods. Rather, many modest mid century homes, about 1200 square feet, mine with original hardwood floors and based on the 12 or so remaining prongs, a dishwasher of the same era.
In THIS neighborhood, no one has an electric garage door to foster the ability to slip into your home, without knowing or engaging with your neighbors on the street.
So one day, about a month or a year or 5000 weeks ago, in the spring, I was winding my way home from a mile or so walk when I heard the sound of a bird. It appeared to be coming from a house on my street. Imagine a house that squawks like a crow, and that is what I heard. I slowed to see a figure in the window, obscured by a screen to reveal a child. I guessed to be about 6 or 11. It was hard to tell. The child had longish brown hair, but I could not discern girl or boy.
A few days later, I saw that the child was a little girl as I rounded the bend from a walk to find her in the front yard with her father. I got excited. As her dad and I chatted, discovering that we were both writers and painters, she marched into the conversation, hell bent on being heard. This one is tenacious and very bright. I had her pegged at nine or so. Wrong. She was just five years old. And this precociously charming child had done just that. Charmed me. And for the record, the definition of precocious, (adjective. unusually advanced or mature in development, especially mental development: a precocious child. prematurely developed, as the mind, faculties, etc.,) is a compliment and perfect description of my experience of the five year old adult human being in the works who goes by the name of Sloan Gallagher.
On our next meeting, I had a delivery. I was thrilled to present her with some of my prized loon feathers that I had found and collected on the beach in Florida as I spent my February there. “Did you know that there is a bird who has polka dotted feathers?” I began my cocky spiel about this fascinating fact. I had placed a few in a ziplock bag and at a safe social distance, laid them at her feet in her yard. Sloan picked up the bag, and with a flat affect that did not miss a beat, looked me straight in the eye and said emphatically, “I like seagulls.” The fact that she was not a bit reluctant to speak her truth was so refreshing to me. This person had not had a drop of the “What can I say to make you feel good about what I don’t like when I say it” koolaid. “So noted.” My reply with a smile of pure endearment that stretched across my face.
The next delivery was more sea bird feathers. The ones with no spots. They were Sloan’s favorite. I am still smiling to think of this child’s bold honesty. My ego was busted that my polka dot story did not impress. But my spirit, which has been a little low with this isolation was elevated to new highs.
A few more weeks passed. I deliver little bags of this and that. Feathers, paints, shells, canvas and paint. She painted this beautiful picture with what I had given her. Giving me more than she could know to see her joy and exuberance as she too lives in isolation.
One day, I stopped to say hi, and as I am talking to her dad I learn that this little human is about to have a birthday. Number six. Which is really just a technicality as I see it. This one has a very old soul. I see her channeling Scout from “To Kill A Mockingbird.” And innocent wisdom and love for ALL things and people. I love the irony that the day she was talking to that bird it could well have been a mockingbird. She was indeed one.
In the middle of June, I stopped to say hi. Chatted with Sloan’s dad as I learn Sloan is about to have a birthday. On June 25th, Sloan was gonna be six! As she clamors her way into our conversation, I ask her what she wants for her birthday. “My dad is getting me a remote control car.” At this point, her dad goes into the house. In his absence she says, “So if you want to leave anything here for me on my birthday you can.” I am beaming. Inside and out. Again at her boldness. “Ask and you shall receive” is a verse she has down pat. Good for her. “Well I won’t make any promises, but what else do you want for your birthday?” My rhetorical question as my inner Santa has been channelled, already planning and plotting on how I could make her day better knowing there would be no birthday party. Since that innocent ritual celebration has been postponed until further notice, I knew I HAD to do SOMETHING. “I’d like a remote control plane.” “Okay. We shall see.” My parting words as I walk two doors down to my house with the bright pink door which I could not open fast enough to tell my daughter of my plan. My daughter worked for a time at a hobby store with the specialty of remote control everything. She had had remote control Jeeps and drones of her own, so I knew she was the one to ask. “We can get her a drone. Something where replacement parts would be cheap. It would be a good way for her to learn.” She was infected with my enthusiasm as she spoke her words. So the order was placed for the perfect drone for a perfectly delightful young woman who I wanted to see happy on her birthday.
So at 6:00 am, just after my normal wake up time on June 25th, 2020, the sixth birthday of the future and the hope of America, I snuck down the street. With her parent’s permission, I set up a surprise in her yard. Her favorite colors were pink and purple, so I took purple and white crepe paper and wrapped the porch rails to make an “x.” From there, I ran streamers to a big box in the yard. Full of pink and purple paints, Strong Girl themed Happy Meal toys, a brown plastic dollhouse hutch with windows and doors that open, a blue and white dollhouse armoir that opened up also, a red dollhouse fireplace, seashells and glue sticks and shells and all of the rest of my seagull feathers-all with the suggestion to “make believe’ and “make art.” And in front of the box was my once prized color print of The Butterfly Alphabet.” A photo array of actual images taken in over 25 countries over 25 years by Kjell B. Sandved. A photographer with a beautiful eye that saw 26 letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0 thru 9 in these breathtaking images, all represented on this framed poster.
When I came home from all day making art at “Stuff Dreams Are Made Of,” I was met with a visit from Sloan and her dad. She was ELATED at what she found when she woke up a year older. “I loved what I got. Thank you!” Her words as she and her dad handed me a tupperware container with homemade chocolate ice cream. I had signed the note I left her “Love Lucinda and Abby” so Sloan could not wait to hand me two gift bags. “This one is for you. This one is for Abby.” I told her Abby was gone as I invited her and her dad to stay for a moment. “Make sure you give that to Abby.” She insisted as I placed it on the porch. All in our masks as if that were normal, we hung out for a beautiful moment. Sloan had the cutest mask. Kid sized with camouflage dinosaurs on it. “I like your mask!” “I like yours too!” Her six year old telling my six year old as she sees my puppy dog face on the mask that I wear because I could not stand for people to not see me smile. “I like your eyes.” As we comiserated over how cool it was that the dog’s face was placed just so to make the wearer’s eyes be in just the right spot to look like a dog person hybrid. I opened my bag to find one of the shells I had given her on a red string that was in the box I had given her, three popsicle sticks, two bobby pins, three different buttons, a purple fuzzy ball with one googly eye, a small styrofoam ball and the direction to make some art with these things. (Mission accepted. I will post my work here later.)
AS I talked to her dad, who was kind enough to stand there with the sun in his face so that we could visit, Sloan began to pluck long leftover lilly leaves from my garden. “I like your grass.” She said, as she stood there with a fistfull of 18 inch blades. “I want some more.” She interjects in a hushed voice into the conversation. “Help yourself.” I say back as she plucks to her heart’s content. And boy was MY heart content. “I like to put grass in a vase.” She said as her dad and I giggled.
What they did not know was that I was having an emotional day. While I was in my happy place making art, I was beginning to feel the grief over the fact that my daughter and I would soon be parted. By 800 miles. A distance that has never been more than a twenty minute drive. At age 22, she is moving out of my house where I have enjoyed her for most of a year and into her adulthood. Living on her own for the first time. And I am moving too. To Florida, The place where they have the most amazing seagull feathers. And those boring polka dot ones. I had a good cry about that. Not the feathers, but about leaving my daughter. Necessary tears to honor the loss of what has been, tempered with the hopes of what is to come in our relationship in the future. “Visit a lot.” Sloan said, as they started their 2 minute walk home. Knowing that is not likely, I told her we could meet in a Zoom room, a tool we have both used during our #covidvacations. Hers for education. Mine for human connection and fellowship.
I will look forward to this possibility. To bear witness to the bringing up of this special human, who gives me much hope for the future of us all.
I leave Tulsa soon after nearly 50 years of calling it home. That’s a lot to think about. And in that, I have reflected on the fact that there have been people who have been a great part of my healing here. Mentally, physically, spiritually, financially, creatively.
So it is fitting that I express my gratitude for some of these people. Also, I am struggling not to worry about things getting done with my move and gratitude seems like a good way to be present. And pump myself up for the packing that I am putting off until later today. I figure, if I spend some quality time being grateful out loud, the quantity of the time I do spend packing will be more productive. That, or I am just honing my skills of procrastination and avoidance. I’ll go with the first.
These people listed are part of my God Squad mostly in the last two years. If you are not on this list, it does not mean I am not grateful for your part in my healing. It means I have this brain and that this is what said brain came up with. I am going to list them in alphabetical order and leave off their last names out of respect because for all I know, they may be in witness protection. No one is first. Or last. But they will always have a last-ing place in my heart. They all worked in concert. So here is the song.
Abby is my 22 year old daughter. I have lived with her this time for several months. She has given me the opportunity to practice living in harmony with someone I love. It has been good for my soul. I have grown as I practice my intent to let her be. Not to advise. Or mom, unless it is requested. It was suggested to me that when she was 18, I had done all the momming. And that anything from then on would be “life consulting.” I add to that, “only if asked.” That has been the key to us growing closer in authentic relationship. And I am grateful for every minute. The meals shared, binge watching “Dead To Me” on Netflix, (CHECK THIS OUT-dark comedy but funny as hell IMHO) The attack of the maggots. That’s enough about that. The laughter. The conflicts. The resolutions. And sitting. Together. In the same room. Just talking. About family history. Hers and mine.
I pray that the bond I feel to her now will stay as we both move on into our respective adulthoods. It will be her first time on her own in the world. And while I have been here a minute, I feel like I am just starting out too. I know I have grown up some more for having been with her. She has an old soul. Wise beyond her years. We clock it at 40 years old upon her birth 22 years ago, so by that calculation, she would be 62 wisdom wise, so that makes her two years older than my time since birth. And at times, wiser.
Favorite part of this experience? All of it, but especially the communication that we were both diligent to practice. That, and the cake that she made. Bon Appetit Simple Chocolate Cake, bringing the pleasure of good things made from scratch back into my life. She was made from scratch too. And what a pleasure to watch her from that moment on. I could not be prouder. I mean I could go on and on here, but I am mindful not to embarrass her. Too much, anyway. I love you Abby. The world is a better place for you being in it.
Next up Carolyn. Carolyn was plunked in my path at the precise moment I needed her. She is one of the wisest and kindest humans I know. We met in a dimly lit room that had big recliners covered in sheets lining both walls. About eight or nine as I recall. The room was long and narrow. At the end of the room was a tv screen showing relaxing videos like aerial views of the water crashing onto some exotic beach somewhere. With palm trees and charming simple beach homes. The sound in the room matched this serenity with soft, meditative music of soothing sounds of instrumentals. We were there for different reasons, yet the same. Healing. In the form of community style acupuncture.
Thankfully Dewayne is next on my alphabetical list, so I will introduce him now. Dewayne is the facilitator at Maplebrook Acupuncture, master of the healing art of acupuncture. And the way he practices offers much to be grateful for. To explain, as he goes from chair to chair, in a low voice that is still audible, you can hear him practicing his art. And talking to the person he is with about their pain that brought them there. Some go for infertility. Others to avoid invasive surgeries. And for me, I was there for physical and mental pain relief. As it turned out, I got spiritual relief too. The perfect storm of hearing the music, seated in comfort, reclining on a remote beach all converged. To cause healing.
Also a part was that when he would talk to people who came in with severe physical pain like MS or migraines or really bad knees or insomnia or anxiety, I got to get grateful. I had my own issues, but some had it worse. This sense of community proved therapeutic in that way. Intentionally designed to hear and learn and be thankful. For what was being given and what was being taken away.
On my first visit, I bop in the door my chatty self. The first person I hear is Carolyn. She is seated in her usual back seat, not a place she spends time in her front seat life. And what a gift she was to me. I can’t remember what she was saying, but I liked her immediately. She asked lots of questions, but she was smart and kind. So, as I quickly picked up I could chat with hushed tones, chat we did. Fast friends. Thanks to the universe. And we became friends.
I don’t see her as I did then, not at all really at this point, but she is with me quite often. When I look at the oval ceramic dish that looks like someone made it at a paint your own pottery class, with these words in lime green “Eat, drink and remarry.” I think she passed it on to me knowing I wish to do so. That, or the fact that she had done so 6 times and decided getting it out of the house could break the cycle. To be fair, her first six were before she was 35. Her number 7 is a keeper of at least that many years now.
In one of our meetings, I shared with her about my life and my spiritual journey. “This book is important.” Her reply as she recommend the book “Your Holiness” by Debbie Ford. And boy, was she right. As someone who doesn’t typically enjoy reading because I struggle to pay attention, this book captured mine form the start.
The author was a sober woman. Something I related to. She passed away from cancer on February 17, 2013. February 17 is the anniversary of the day I got sober at age 25. This gives me chills still today. I don’t believe in coincidence. I do believe in a Higher Power consisting of the Universe, God, sometimes Jesus, groups of fellow seekers-always a spirit inside of myself that all conspired on my behalf to put Carolyn in my path so that I would read this book. It is a text. I refer to it regularly.
The book is full of prayers. The idea being that we all have a holiness. The prayers a way to connect that from our holiness inside to the holiness outside. For someone who doesn’t like to read, I could not put it down. You can tell by the cover that I all but devoured it. It has been a key part of my spiritual growth.
I went through some heartbreak shortly after I got the book. I used it five times a day to pray. Religiously. And I don’t practice religion at this point in my life. The healing was indescribable. So I am grateful for the pain that brought me to Dewayne that introduced me to Carolyn who got me closer to my God.
I have shared one of those prayers here. And I shared them out loud on a regular basis with friends on Thursdays when we took our happy meal lunch break from making art.
If you are a seeker of spiritual growth, I highly recommend this book. And to you Carolyn, thank you. For being love. And Dewayne, thank YOU. For your healing through poking with the deftness of a Faberge Egg painter.
Next up Kristin. A licensed therapist by trade, for me she was a spiritual guide. We would talk at set times, sharing our mutual experiences. With life and our joint interest in living it with integrity and honesty as contributing members to the planet by our works. She listened a lot as I talk a lot, but she also shared her experience and wisdom. And most important, she loved me. Out loud. With her words and her direction. And always her honesty. Thank you Kristin. For taking me this far. I love you.
“YAY! IT’S LINDA!” Except we would usually share this exclaim. “YAY! IT’s THURSDAY!” Because every Thursday, from 9am to 4pm, we would be together with the common goal of creating something beautiful. Art. She created a space for me and others too, although I relish the times when it is just me and her. It is called “Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.” see other blog for my tribute. Here, I will tell you that I have known Linda for over thirty years. And have had the good fortune of being in the room with her on several occasions. Always amazed at her kindness coupled with authentic integrity. As a woman and a friend. I think there have been a couple of times she has taken issue with me. In fact, she would reach out to me on those occasions to resolve her concerns. But the way she did it, was so kind, there were no stings of the truth that was said where I might have caused pain or harm shared in the way that she did it. She could teach a class on kind person 101 and would make this world a better place for anyone who took the class. You know how I feel Linda, but I’m gonna say it anyway. “I LOVE YOU!!!!” And I thank God for making you and putting you in my path. Also, “TOMORROW IS THURSDAY!!!!!!”
Which brings me to Lorrie. Who brought me to a place of courage. I watched her as she led by example as she had lost much, grieving out loud in front of God and everybody. With integrity. And grace. Without self pity. An attractive trait in a world where I have known grief and felt it alone. Largely because we, as a society in my experience, aren’t well practiced in the art of being with someone who is in pain over the necessary losses of our lives. Death, divorce, sickness. It takes courage and time and patience and the willingness to be uncomfortable to sit with someone who is hurting and just Let. Them. Be. I have known losses in all three categories and when Lorrie rode into Tulsa from Texas last fall, she was put in my path by my God. He does that. Puts people on my path.
When we met, I had suffered a loss of a love. One where one day I was told someone loved me and a week later learning that he had a one out of five chance for living. While he did not die, our relationship did. Which is about the time I met Lorrie. And she paid me the greatest compliment. She allowed me my pain. Building my confidence that it would not kill me. Encouraging me to invite God in. To sit with my pain and release it by feeling it. And when I would say, “yeah but what if” to the fact that I was afraid that if I started to feel it, I would tap into a reservoir of so much unhealed pain that I would drown, she would simply calmly point out that God had gotten me through my pain in the past, encouraging me to trust the process.
Never once did Lorrie try to fix it or make it go away. Even when I wanted her to. Paying respect to me and to my necessary healing process from necessary losses. With great humility and surrender she would just encourage me to ask God in. Something she had done right in front of me, which gave her credibility in my book. She has been a spiritual advisor. And for that, I am indeed eternally grateful. Thank you Lorrie. You are a great example of a woman who walks in grace and courage. And I’m happy to pass my daughter on to you as I make my exit. I love you very much.
My Margie is next. Also from Texas, they grow good people there. Margie found me online. Wanted to paint fun furniture. And once her small town skepticism decided I wan’t a murderer, (when we met at a Starbuck’s, she told me later that she wanted to be sure I wasn’t a murderer. I hid the bodies really well.) she and I began working together. On painting happy furniture. Rich with pattern and color. We did that together for a time a few years ago. Then, life happened and we were apart.
But Margie showed back up about a year ago and together, we made some fun, pretty furniture, had lots of laughs, a few tears and one squabble, but on top of all that, she was and is a beautiful example of someone who truly loves God. She does so in a different way than I do, and taught me a thing or to. A solid foundation, I describe her faith like the roots of a big tree. Running deep into the earth, while mine was just beneath the surface. On top of painting, we prayed together. Daily for a time. And that was so rewarding. She is back in Texas now, but she will always be in my heart. I like to call her “My Margie.” And I love you, My Margie. Infinity.
My friend Marilyn was in my life many years ago as a friend around finance. But on a spiritual level. And about two or so years ago, I “happened” to see her going to the same elevator as I was. That planted a seed. So when I was facing money concerns because I was hurting, and my history is one where pain + money = grand disaster, I reached out to her.
I have spent much at my pain and my loss and what was my empty God-shaped hole in the past. So as I entered the true grief after my marriage of 24 years ended, leaving me with money and pain in relatively equal measure, I knew I could be in trouble if I even thought for a second I could walk through THAT healing without pissing away a lot of money if left to my own devices. So while almost in a catatonic state for most of a year, I would meet with Marilyn. She would sit by, having courage to allow me the pain I was walking through. Which was made worse by my brain chemistry in the area of crippling anxiety and depression. But my spirit showed up. In spite of it all. Once a week, as long as she was willing, I would meet with Marilyn. And in the midst of grieving a horrendous end to a not great marriage, not only did I maintain sanity in the bank account, I paid off several thousands of dollars worth of debt. And I truly doubt that without her coaching and company and friendship over lunches where I would just sit there quite ill, I would not have accomplished that feat. So to you, Marilyn, thank you. For showing up for me. When I could barely do so for myself. I love you.
Now for Miss Sharon. I never called her that. But she has earned the title. And many people do call her that. Having endured more than ten people should have to, Sharon shared with me. Her heart, her soul, her wisdom and her truth. A survival of so much that impresses me still for the small part she has entrusted me to know. This woman has pushed a boulder bigger than any rocks I have EVER had in my bag. And yet, she forges ahead. She would say to me, “Just keep it moving.” In response to my hurt feelings or resentments for others after walking me through the way out of them.
We would meet and Sharon would speak wisdom. One time we were at the Village Inn on Harvard in Tulsa. She always said a prayer before we had our times together. And on this occasion, she said her prayer. And the next thing I knew she spoke. But not really. I mean, her mouth opened, but the words coming out, I knew were God talking. Saying to me that I could have whatever I wanted in this life. That is me paraphrasing because my memory can suck. But the message I will never forget. What I heard was God saying “I am here and you are capable of anything in this life. With me in it.”
She made spiritual work fun. In fact, every assignment was tagged by the phrase “have fun with it.” This woman, who others hand picked as a good fit for me when I was in really rough shape, knows how to have fun. And we did. She is also a life coach, which I got for free. She is generous and has much to offer. And she took me a long way into my healing, encouraging me to always be seeking. Spiritually. Words I will never forget. Much like these, when I was complaining about something I can’t even remember. But I know it was important at the time when I called her. “Did you eat today?” Sharon said and I thought, “How nice! She is worried that I am so upset I may have forgotten to eat. “Why yes. I had an avocado and…” Her point was not did I eat, but more to the point that perhaps if I focused on the fact that I had food to eat, I might shift my complaints to become an attitude of gratitude.
Sharon was a huge part of my current great life as it was re-formed at the hands of wiser folks like her. And she is gifted with her skills to reach people who others cannot. I am not an easy case. So for helping me get to the point that you did, Sharon, I say thank you. I will always owe you a debt of gratitude. I love you very much. And I wish you the best as you “keep it moving.”
Then comes Shelly. She is a seer. But I met her for massage therapy. When I saw Dewayne for acupuncture, he suggested massage to enhance my healing. I had a three level fusion in my neck and carried much pain in that area when I arrived. Shelly Valued me from the start. I bartered with her with some furniture I had painted. I said, “will you take the two pieces in exchange for five massages?” “No.” “I will give you twelve. I had undervalued my work at that time. But she did not. thus helping to rebuild my esteem in the process. Let me just say that I have had massages in my life by some really talented people, but Shelly is gifted. She had worked with college athletes, so she knows her anatomy. But the greater gift she has is her “knowing.” I did not have to say to her what was bothering me in what body parts. She could read me. And she did. SO Shelly, I want you to know YOUR value to me. It is not measurable. It is that great. Thank you, my fellow Yankee transplant. For being such a generous friend and amazing masseuse. I love you!
Now that I have said all that, I have managed to run out of packing time for the day. And I have no regrets. And MUCH gratitude.
My dad had two names. His given name was James William Bunn. But for his career in show business, he used the name Jimmy Blaine.
I am prompted to write this with two days in mind. Today, which is Father’s Day, and the day that he died.
I was just seven years old. March 18, 1967. It was a Saturday morning. I sat perched in my father’s big leather chair. In the TV room. Next to the table which had all of his smelly pipes on a circular stand. One was a corncob. The others traditional with black curved mouthpieces attached to dark, rich satiny wood bowls. The room was above the garage at the top of the stairs with a birds eye view of the kitchen. We met there every Saturday morning. For a date with Bugs Bunny and Sylvester and Tweety.
My dad was nowhere to be found. As I looked down the stairwell into the kitchen below, I saw one of our neighbors there. And I knew. Something was terribly wrong. This neighbor was not a fan of my father. At just seven years old, I had the awareness that at some point, she had been angry with him for driving her daughter home from babysitting after having a lot to drink.
The next thing I remember is seeing my mother and our minister coming up those stairs. I loved my mom, but that was not the planned meeting I had in mind. “Your father has gone away in an airplane. And he won’t be coming back.” The message the minister delivered to me. Not “Your father has died.” Or passed away. Instead, I was lied to.
Two years later, my grief reared its head. Watching the movie “Love Story” in Oklahoma City where my brother and sister were in college and I had gone to visit. In the movie, when Ali McGraw’s character died, all of my pain came to the surface in a rush of tears. A hysterical episode. But not like from Seinfeld. It was the first time in my nine year life that I had ever cried so hard that I can still remember it today. 51 years later.
Since my father died, I have known over fifty fatherless Father’s days. It has been my norm. And over that time, until recently, I have all but forgotten him. My best friend of my life. I had written him off because of things he had said and done to members of my family. And I regret that.
So today, this Father’s Day, June 21, 2020, in this year of perfect vision I honor both of you. James William Bunn and Jimmy Blaine.
Jimmy Blaine supported a family of five. With a brilliant talent. His voice. And his words. He made a fine living from both. We lived in privilege in Larchmont, New York. Complete with a membership to the Larchmont Yacht Club. The kind where really big yachts come to play. Then on to bigger and better as his career was burgeoning. Building a dream home on two acres in Wilton, Connecticut. We had four collies and a pony at one time there.
A singer, radio and television announcer, my dad was the voice of Nescafe coffee. And what Ed McMahon was to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, my father was to Jackie Gleason on the show of the same name. The one with The Honeymooners. He once filled in for Buffalo Bob on Howdy Doody. Went by the name of Jersey Jim. He performed Vaudeville style with Bert Parks. The man who I watched sing “Here she is, Miss America” all throughout my childhood. It is surreal to see that my dad has an IMDB page. And to search his name on Youtube, only to find sharings of recording he made on 78 records of children’s songs in the 50’s.
His last career venture wise was to record all of the Curious George books. Complete with him reading and singing, backed by a chorus and full MGM orchestra. The first of the series was an album that I still have. One one side the first book. “Curious George.” On the other, “Curious George Takes A Job.”
James William Bunn fought in World War II. He had dropped out of college to enlist. He became a pilot and was a Lieutenant in the Eighth Army Air Corp, known as the Mighty Eighth. There was no Air Force at the time. He was stationed in England as a B-17 bomber pilot. He saw combat, flying missions over Nazi Germany when he was just 20 years old and lost several crewmen when his plane was hit by enemy fire.
James William Bunn was attacked again. This time, on his home soil of New York City. Manhattan to be precise. Someone had mugged him. Left him for dead in a stairwell in 1952 with a fractured skull. Today’s terms call it a traumatic brain injury. A trauma that spilled over.
The doctors put two steel plates in his skull. He was prone to grand mal seizures. That means big ones. The stories my mother told about him having a seizure where she kept a tongue depressor at the ready so she would not lose a finger if she put her hand in his mouth still resonate with me. He was just 27 years old. Lying at one end of a hospital trying not to die while at the other end, my mother was giving birth to my sister. I was not born for another eight years.
Jimmy Blaine was “The Man With The Big Yellow Hat.” It was his last gig. In this picture, he was wearing a felt hat that he had spray painted yellow. This was a big party, complete with a live monkey on a leash, upon the release of the album. I believe we were at Tavern On The Green in Central Park. That’s me in the bottom left with my mom and I both eating BBBats toffee on a stick. Chocolate. And it is likely the drink I had was a Shirley Temple. With lots of cherries.
Today, as I look at this picture of my father just months before his untimely death, I am filled with warmth that he is looking. At me. With what appears to be an expression of love. From a father to his child.
On March 18, 1967, my father walked past my door at the top of the stairs, turned the corner to complete the walk past the white spindle railing topped with a dark stained wooden banister. Into my parents room. Where he would have the last of the grand mal seizures. This time stopping his heart. And breaking mine at the same time. He was only 42 years old.
So Happy Father’s Day. To my two dads. While I miss you both, I am grateful that I can honor your memory today. And every day. I am so grateful for the gifts you gave me. My voice. My words. My sense of humor. My passion for an audience.
One last thing. James William Bunn also got his Master’s degree from Columbia University, where he did his master’s thesis on the works of Mark Twain. He was a big fan. This was the quote from Mark Twain on his headstone:
Stuff Dreams Are Made Of is both a shop and a place to create. Just off the charming street of Main in Jenks, Oklahoma, home to antique malls and small town folks businesses is where you will find it. From the outside, it’s just a modest craftsman bungalow. Plain and simple. Bookend boxwoods under matching porch rails topped with identical pillars.
But don’t judge this book by its cover. Once you cross the threshold, you forget everything behind you. At least I did.
There is so much for the eye to see. Kind of a curiosity shoppe. Two big tables welcome 8 or 9 people with a space to create. Bins and bowls and tables filled with finds from generations past-old marbles, postcards, teacups, valentines, matchbooks, dolls, letters, buttons, dollhouse furniture, old tins, sequins, wooden boxes of every shape and size, vintage toys, shadow boxes, old keys, vintage jewelry, fabric, ribbon, yarn, paper, canvas, glue, paint- all in a miraculous sense of order throughout the three rooms and butler pantry downstairs, as well as the munchkin height room at the end of the stairs that run straight up the middle of the house.
The walls are covered too. Mostly mixed media masterpieces created during open hours, but also some previously created art work just begging for a repurposing.
And that, for me, is the draw. Mixed media art. To take an existing canvas. There are many to choose from. Some for $2, some donated for free. Then, breathe new life into it, using any material that floats your boat.
My favorite is this collage I made using Vogue Magazine images and other found objects. The original painting underneath I am sure has a story. It was a general with three stars on his uniform. I left that exposed because I am a giver of stars. That is a story for another time.
I started going to Stuff Dreams Are Made Of over a year ago. To create. I am religious about it. Because making art is healing. For my soul and brain. Every Thursday and sometimes on Saturday.
And I had company. Always Linda. She is the shopkeeper. And giver. And helper. And sharer. And listener. And knower. And seeker. And teacher. And (only by request) opinion giver. And creator extraordinaire. And my good friend. Anywhere from three to six people might come and go during open hours. Regulars. Emilie would show up with her quick wit and beautiful heart. Pamala with her unique talents and contributions. Heather with her smile from ear to ear. Lisa with her quiet wit. Mary with an entire craft room in tow. Janie with her brilliant mind. Ann with her ladybugs and great giggle. Lauree with the laugh of the century. Elaine with her sense of humor. Shawna with her impeccable spirit. Dwight with his quiet gifts. Paul with his attention to detail and great taste in flowers and women.
I was there every Thursday. All day. Nothing could keep me away. Not heartbreak, insomnia or even chronic pain. I was and am fully committed to the creative process. Every Thursday.
Lunchtime is a ritual of Happy Meals and “Your Holiness” prayers.
I have over a dozen toys proudly displayed around my home. And it’s true. They make me happy.
I continued into my second year until the doors closed temporarily due to pandemic. Even then, Linda could not be stopped. To encourage continued creating, there is a Giving Tree outside the shop. Offering goody bags with things to make art with every Thursday for curious passers by encouraged by the sign on top to “TAKE ONE.”
Linda would offer a suggestion for what people might do while there. Things like:
Dollmaking, Mixed Media Mandalas, 365 Days Of Thankfulness Jars,
Start with a: Rock, Dragonfly,Triangle, Heart, Scribble,Rock, Game Board
Making An Altar To Love.
I rarely did the theme of the day. I always had more than one idea of what I wanted to create. And Linda allowed it. No rules, except for the ones we learned in Kindergarten to clean up our messes. She tolerated me. I sprawled out over three people’s spaces the minute I walked in most days. Linda lovingly had me corral all my stuff.
I healed from a lot through creating in this house. With these women. And a couple of men. While the mood for the most part is light to honor the time for creating, (politics and religion are checked at the door) when someone around the table has a hardship, it is lessened around the tables of Stuff Dreams Are Made Of. It was just a by-product that beautiful art was created in the process as grief was shared and lessened and lessons were shared and learned.
I think I can understand how those women who gathered for quilting bees felt. What an incredible exchange can be made among people who are smack dab in the middle of creating. The brain goes to a relaxed place and healing happens. And art is the by product.
Also much laughter. There were times when a tiny plastic banana became a phone which was passed around for each willing party to have a chat with whoever was on the other end. When the phone was passed to me, the voice on the other end was hostile and uppity. With an Italian accent. I think it was a zucchini that called on the banana phone, but I will never know. There is no way to trace the call.
On Halloween, I got married to Frankenstein by a grieving woman.
I will say farewell to Stuff Dreams Are Made Of in the coming weeks. And I will miss the laughter. And the tears. And the celebrations. And the Happy Meals. And the incredible supply of objects to make into art. And the 10 cent trinkets in the old hard case suitcase in the front room. I had to elbow my way between Emilie and Pamala on several occasions to get in on the new additions before they got nabbed.
The one thing I won’t miss is Thursdays. Because wherever I am, Thursday will be there too. And I will continue my commitment. To make the world a brighter place, if only on my living room wall. By being fully committed. To the Stuff Dreams Are Made Of.
Thank you Linda. For your vision. Your heart. Your generous spirit. You have taught me much more than just how to become a better artist. You have led by example and shown me how to become a better person. And a better friend. Thank you for that. I love you very much.
This is Beulah. I named her for my Aunt Beulah. She had a farm house full of antiques in southern Illinois back in the 1970’s when I was a little girl.
Beulah did not come from Illinois however. I mean, my aunt did, but this dry sink is from somewhere else.
This Beulah was born sometime in the 1800’s. And she only came to be a part of my family in 1953. When we lived in Larchmont, New York. Seven years before I joined the family.
My parents found Beulah and adopted her on one of their many trips to New England where they would go antiquing. Among the other finds were a spinning wheel, a black adult sized potty chair with a white pot to piss in, a Windsor style church pew for two, and a cobbler bench, which, yes, was used by a cobbler. To make shoes.
But this is about Beulah. She has quite a history in my history. I moved in in 1960. Beulah had established herself quite nicely by the time I formulated my first memories of her. This was between the years of 1965 and 1969. When I was age 5 to 9.
Beulah had built a home on two acres in Connecticut and taken the other furniture, my parents, my brother and my sister and me with her from Larchmont to enjoy country living. Beulah is a rustic gal. No frilly turns of wood or doilies for her. She is just simple folk. Knotty and cracked. Sturdy and simple.
Her spot in the Connecticut house was in the living room. A room with large paneless picture windows at either end. And a traditional fireplace in the middle opposite the sofa. Each window with bookending views of the Connecticut countryside. Heavy woods filled with white Birch trees. Next to her was a lime green nubby satin sofa as I recall.
I spent a lot of time in that room. I would perform Beatles songs for the Monkees who were my invisible guests on the couch. And I did the same for the Beatles as they sat while I sang “Last Train To Clarksville” to them. They all enjoyed it. And Beulah most of all.
Beulah loved music. She was never home to the dry sink pitcher and basin of her friends and relatives to my recall. No, Beulah had a big job. She was the stand for a beautiful Tannhauser music box. The kind with metal records that had holes in them so that when they revolved, tines in the bottom would play music by hitting those holes. Kind of like those jewelry boxes with ballerinas. Only way bigger. And quite beautiful. The dark wood top, when closed, with the name Tannhauser carved in fancy cursive. Then opened, it held a beautiful painting of pussy willows and butterflies. (Something like that. I have slept since then.)
The records were 18”. And each one had hand painted art. In color. We even had “The Wedding March” among the collection of metal discs. The holes were like those on the rolls of a player piano. Another member of our family at a time. The music box was my personal favorite.
I remember I made up ballet dances to the music. Apparently, the living room was my performance hall. And at that age, I thought Beulah and the Tannhauser music box were all one piece. So Beulah was magic to me.
She was quite tall too. I guess she shrunk with age as people do. But at one time, she towered over my head.
To turn on the music box was no simple feat. Sometimes it had to be wound up. And to place a record on it required lifting an arm much like that of a record player. Only in this case, the arm would come down to lock the disc in place. Then the gears, which were right at the edge of the record would turn and the gear holes perforating the record’s edge would oblige to move and music was made.
We had words once too, Beulah and I. As I reached up blindly to turn on the “go” lever for the music box, I had a dance to do, but my little fingers got caught in the gear and the music that came out was much louder and not the pleasant kind. I remember it like it was yesterday. But it wasn’t yesterday. It was over 50 years ago.
Much like Beulah over the years, our family shrank while living in Connecticut. My father passed away, leaving me and my mother and older brother and sister. And shortly after that, it was just me and my mom and Beulah as my siblings entered college and left the nest.
Beulah took us to Southern Illinois. Taylorville to be specific. My mom’s old home town. And we were just a few miles from my Aunt Beulah while there. Beulah the dry sink then moved us to Springfield, IL and ultimately settled in Tulsa, OK, where she has continued to be family since 1972.
She and I lived with my mom for a few years. Then, with my mother as I had become an adult and went off into the world for a time.
I eventually returned to Tulsa and nine years ago, when my mother passed away, Beulah decided to move in with me.
I have always loved her. She has held many things inside and on top. At one point, her innards were a liquor cabinet and cat house. You heard me. I once opened the door to see three rows of alcohol-Gin, Vodka, Kahlua and there in the back, Peanut. No, I did not leave the “s” off. It was Peanut. My orange male tabby. Apparently, he had a night life.
I pretended not to see him, although I looked right into his eyes as I snapped a photo that has since been lost. But we never spoke of that night again.
Once Beulah and I moved in together, she held the family Wedgwood China inside. You know, the fancy stuff that never gets used. But Beulah never once complained. About anything.
Her last two locations were with my art studio space. At one point she held over 100 miniature mermaids on her open shelf on top. I think I saw her smiling once at this, too.
And now, she is going to live with a new family. She has chosen people named Lisa and her husband Gary, their grandson Tristan and furniture friends the likes of an old secretary which has the previous owner’s name on the backside, a grandfather clock that joined the family when Gary gifted Lisa for their 10th wedding anniversary, and a huge curio cabinet that is full of nothing but Scottie dogs and Bull Terrier collections. The room is adorned with a shiplap wall that hosts an antique fireplace that Gary put in. Leslie calls it “Farmhouse Shabby Chic.” There are pigs in the kitchen too, a collection of course. The real things would make the shabby not so chic.
Beulah looks forward to the animal menagerie too. She has known over a dozen dogs, a couple of cats and a bearded dragon in her lifetime, so the four dogs, manx cat and cockatiel will be a welcome gathering of friends.
Most noteworthy in her new Kansas digs will be the antique framed obituaries that belong to their daughter Loree from the 1800’s to the early 1900’s that line the stairwell to the basement. Good thing there’s a basement, too, so Beulah can take shelter in tornado season. It is Kansas, after all.
I have to say goodbye to Beulah. As I downsize myself, making a move to Florida from Oklahoma. It is time. And I feel wistful now as I write it here. I will miss her.
Goodbye Beulah. Thank you for the love you brought into my life. Enjoy all of your new friends and families as you go forward. You are one sturdy girl.
And I love you.
P.S. When I shared this with Lisa, she said it brought tears to her eyes, telling me that she had a Great Aunt Beulah. Indeed.