White People and Wonder Bread 

White People and Wonder Bread 

It all began when I performed my first episiotomy. On my mom. When I was born. With the silver spoon I had in my mouth. 

It was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. The birth of the flower child.  Phones were attached to walls, not people. Kids played hopscotch and jumped rope on the sidewalks. Boys wooed girls with slicked back hair and transistor radios. Girls wooed back with blue eye shadow, pointed bras and bright red lips. Wonder Bread was a staple in every home and a mustard seed in mine for my burgeoning romance with food. 

To the world, we appeared to be the perfect family. Three white and shiny children, a celebrity father with movie star good looks, a gorgeous mother who wore pearls and a smile made up of 88 teeth.  

My mother Phyllis was raised like the corn in Southern Illinois. After moving to the Big Apple to follow her career in journalism, she lived at the Barbizon hotel for women, alongside others like Lauren Bacall. Then she found her proper assignment – as wife and homemaker to the family patriarch.  She was working for ABC Sports when the man of her dreams and future nightmares walked into her elevator. The rest is part of my history. 

My father, stage named Jimmy Blaine, was a beautiful man to listen to. His voice was our golden ticket. We were living large in Larchmont, New York, home to the likes of Joan Rivers. It’s a small waterfront community, still today reminiscent of the age of the Great Gatsby.   

 The Larchmont Yacht Club was our home away from home. Measuring up to the grandness of the Kennedy compound, it sat on a point of the long-island sound. It was there that sun, salt air and being near the sea became staples of my wellbeing.  

My mother basked in the sun with her reflector while my siblings learned to sail, and I learned to hate to swim and to love a good greasy burger off the grill. That paired nicely with a drink made up of everything from the soda fountain together. They called it a suicide, a beverage I would come to know well.  

 We presented well to the world, but I rarely felt safe in my home.  The only nurture I recall came from the dogs, my father or Emma, a woman of color, paid to keep the house clean and the children loved. 

One night while working in Manhattan in his late twenties, my father was mugged and left for dead in a stairwell. A fractured skull left him with two steel plates in his head, orders not to drink and a life where grand mal seizures could come without warning.  Add to that the violence that comes with a wounded brain, coupled with an upbringing at the iron hand of a German father, and you get a war zone in my family living room. 

I loved my father. He was my best friend. We had a standing date on Saturday morning to watch Sylvester and Tweety Bird in his big red leather chair. The one with the cracks in it that sat next to the smelly pipes on the table.  

 One day, my father was a no-show for our date. In his place, came my mother and the family minister. “Your father has gone away in an airplane and he’s not coming back.” Was their message to me. The truth was that the night before, he went to bed, had a seizure, his heart stopped, and he died.  

He was 42 years old.  And there I was with a 7-year-old brain. Trying to make sense of words that weren’t true that were spoken by a guy in a God squad suit, and the woman I was supposed to trust with my life and future. The events of those 24 hours colored all of the five decades to follow. Who can I trust? God was a hard one. People in general. Men even more so.  

Once my siblings were off to college, my mother made a wrong turn on the way to Ft. Lauderdale, landing us in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

I quickly acclimated, finding my vines on the family tree which were disordered eating, black out drinking and an ass kicking depressive illness. I swung one to another for a while and was able to let go of the alcoholism. Anorexia took a bit longer. At times, and against my will, the depression tangles up around my neck, typically in the winter. 

Every bit of it was a blessing. Giving me a compassion for me for the lifetime of hard work I have put in to turn the generational tide of ill being. And a knowing that when someone’s best sucks, it is due to unhealed parts in them.    

Once my 24 year marriage was put to rest and my 22 year old kid was out of the nest, I brought myself back to my bliss. Left the confines of landlocked status and returned to the seaside on the emerald coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  

The sun and the sea and all of the creatures in and around it are part of my tribe. I hang out with Walter the Pigeon on the beach. I say hi to the seagulls in the morning as they have their bad choir practice to see who can be the loudest.  

I have come home to that 7 year old little girl who was always meant to live by the sea. 

And our new life together is just getting started. 

We Need a Day

We Need a Day

My brother, Jim Bunn, is a decorated journalist. At last count, he holds 6 Emmys and a Peabody Award to his credit. 

And on December 1st  1988, he co-founded World AIDS day, bringing annual global focus to the still present disease and honoring those who have been lost to it. 

December 1st was his idea because he knew that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it would be a slow news cycle, making the story less likely to be buried on the back page.

In 1988, Jim was working at KPIX in San Francisco where he covered the AIDS pandemic. 

His passionate work there drew the attention of the World Health Organization, compelling them to borrow him from his TV station for a two-year assignment to the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. 

This is the story and I could not be prouder. Love you Jimmy.


The Sound Of 

The Sound Of 

It’s 4:53 in the morning. The only sound I hear is a train whistle. Must be close. I can practically feel the tracks under the weight of the freight.  I like it.  It’s a comfort sound, reminding me of the part of my childhood spent living  in Southern Illinois.  

I can feel it coming. The sound and vibration drawing me in like a guided meditation. 

Another childhood is asleep on the couch in the next room. My daughter Abby. Now a young adult at 25, living her life without training wheels. Do you know how hard it is to want to run alongside and keep her safe when that part of my job is over? 

I just spent the week of Thanksgiving in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Abby and I both grew up. She now lives two hours from there, so before I return to my beautiful life in Florida, I got to spend two days with just her. All to myself. Merry Christmas to me early. 

The plan included good food, movies and rest for two people feeling under the weather. Just as well, because the weather was 40 degrees and rainy. We were right where we were supposed to be. Roasted chicken with sauteed spinach and garlic were on the menu next to spaghetti and Italian sausage and made from scratch marinara sauce ala Abby. “I like the dressing you made.” A big compliment from my offspring who once had a chef coat for watching Iron Chef, bakes Bon Appetit cakes from scratch and can make a mean standing prime rib. Previously accurate comments included, “mom, they make a thing called salt. Have you heard of it?” 

The first movie up in the two day get well and be together sleepover was a ride in a time machine back 20 years. It opens with a breathtaking aerial view of the Austrian Alps. “That’s incredible footage. And that was before there were drones,” I said.  “Probably filmed by some guy hanging out of a helicopter,” Abby said. Those hills were definitely alive. 

The Sound of Music. In this beautiful film made over sixty years ago, there is a timeless message of anything is possible if you only believe in yourself, live your dreams and, against all odds, love always wins.  

I was five years old when the movie was released. About the same age as Abby when she first saw it and when I started singing the song Edelweiss from the movie to her at bedtime. My house when I was little was built off the sound of the music my father and Abby’s grandfather made with his golden voice.  

When Abby was a teenager, she said, “When I turn 18, I want us to get tattoos together. I want to write ‘forever’ in my writing for yours and I want you to write ‘bloom and grow’ for mine.” I never thought music from my voice could ever matter enough to another person that they would want a permanent message to remind them of their experience around that. I was deeply moved by her request. 

The only tattoos I had at that point were four blue dots marking me as a target for radiation treatment. On a springtime visit to Oklahoma from Florida in 2021, we did it. Abby has “bloom and grow” in my cursive hand, across her collarbone. And, as you can see, I have “forever”, printed by her, on my wrist. I chose her printing over cursive because I wanted the youngest, most innocent version of her with me – forever.  

I just had a vision of one of those time lapse film images of a rose bloom opening, on a loop.  

Bloom and Grow Forever. I think it can be true for everyone. That’s what I see happening in me and hope for Abby to see in herself, too.  

My Mom Died Today.-10 Years Ago, But It Was Today For Me.

My Mom Died Today.-10 Years Ago, But It Was Today For Me.

(Mother and Me. Aboard the Coastal Queen yacht in front of Lady Liberty, NYC. 1983. My favorite of us.)

Dear mother,

I am writing this because you died today and dad died yesterday. Actually, as you know, he died 54 years ago and for you it has been 10. But the days are still right next to each other for me to go through without both of you.

I have been numb for both days.  Until tonight.  

I just got out of the shower and was thinking about you mother and how much I wish to feel something for you today. But I could not. And I don’t like feeling numb, as much as grief is no fun either because I know it comes out, eventually.

So I began to recall the day that you died. You were 88 years old.  A shrunken version of your vital self. In that smelly nursing home, where your best friend told me last summer that when she visited you there and walked up to the desk to say, “I am here to see Phyllis Bunn,” she recounted that they pointed to a woman in a chair in the hall there, saying that was you and she said, “That is not Phyllis.” Because it was not the you that she knew and loved. Who was forbidden from touching her kitchen cabinets because your hands were always sticky from chocolate or candy. The you that when you were my current age of 61, you were a vital, stunning, vibrant, dynamic woman in the fashion world and community of Tulsa, OK. 

You got a late start “getting it right” as a parent. Something I always held compassion for. I am referring to the fact that you started a 12 step recovery program for the family members of alcoholics and became a born again Christian seemingly all at once at that latter part of life. You often said how bad you felt for our family that you did not seek the support of this recovery group as it was recommended to you some 30 or 40 years earlier. I get that today. As I have just begun a new support group too. This one dealing with the issues of growing up with an alcoholic or dysfunctional family system. And as a mother myself of a daughter of two very dysfunctional parents, I even have empathy for what you said you felt about regretting not starting to find that solution when your children were still children.

I went on there, standing in the bathroom, thinking how earlier today I spoke of you to a friend I was painting with, sharing that when you were taking your last breath, we were singing you out. With “Jesus Loves Me” I think. They say the hearing is the last to go.

I went on to think about how you would have been there for me when my marriage of 24 years ended, abruptly to me, just six years ago. That is when the feelings came. I began to cry, missing you, knowing that as I comfort my daughter in tough times like no one else could because I know what trials she has had her entire life, the same comfort came to me from you in those last 20 some years. You weren’t perfect. But you tried to make things right. 

You were supportive during my many struggles with depression and anxiety. You did what you could when I could not care for Abby due to postpartum depression so severe that I was forced to leave her at 3 weeks to be hospitalized. You attended the support groups of NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill to learn how you could best be there for me.You were there as much as you could be when I had breast cancer. And this was what made the feelings come stronger. I began to talk to you, as I stood there in my robe, wet hair, body aching and heart a little too. 

“I miss you mom. You would have comforted me when my marriage ended. You would have been sad and angry that more challenges were coming my way. You would have held me.” And the tears came, so I decided to write, fearing that I would otherwise distract myself. With something outside of myself. A movie, a cookie, a man. And while writing does delay the feelings of sitting to read until I am done writing, at least it has a healthy motivation. So here I am, typing away.

(Brief second husband Don Brewer, Mother, Susy, Jimmy, Kris, Alyssa, Me, Sam and Charlie Brown-Early 1970’s)

And now, as I continue to go through growing pains in life, particularly dealing with the year long imposed isolation as an extrovert living alone during a global pandemic, if you were here and still independent, I feel sure I would have come to your house, and laid on your couch where you would have rubbed my neck or tickled my scalp.

Your ashes are part of my stand up routine, something you would also approve of. Because you were there that first night I got up on stage over thirty years ago. Sitting in the back. Sounding like you were up front. Rooting for me. I referred to you as “my mother, the one in the back with the 88 teeth.” Because that was how big your beautiful smile was.

Here is how you were a part of the act. What I would do is go up on stage, and say nothing. Then, I would take out the cute little french provincial chair that your ashes sit on today, with a picture of you as a young ingenue, alongside a long strand of knotted pearls, your signature accessory. I would have added your infamous black high top Converse, but that would have been cumbersome.

After setting this up, I would take the microphone and begin my routine. “This is my mom. She died 8 years ago. Her ashes have been in my closet for 8 years. She was homophobic, so I decided it was time to get her out of the closet.” Some of the laughs were out loud, some were on the inside. But you were laughing the loudest. I would continue, referring to the ugly burgundy drawstring bag that houses the box with your ashes in it. “She would never be caught dead in this color. “ That killed. Pun intended.

This morning, when I walked into the bathroom, I had a surprise from my cat. He had taken the little diva character that I keep with your pictures in the living room, and dragged you into the bathroom.

(Proper Placement of Mother’s Diva)

Below are the pictures, followed by the text I sent out to friends who would appreciate my dark humor today, when I walked into the bathroom to discover the scene of his crime, along with the pictures: FYI-My cat’s name is Atlas. He has one eye, a scrunched up ear, a bit of an attitude and all of my heart. And while you weren’t much of a cat person, you would have loved him. Because he’s orange, the same as your old jumpsuit and orange flip lipstick and because he is mine. And by the way, a text is something people do on their phones because they forgot how to actually make a phone call.

(Text message) “So now Atlas has decided to play The Clue game. 

(Please note dark humor to follow.) As you know, today marks 11 years since my mom died. 

The little character you see resembles her as a stylish fashionista and is normally sitting in front of a photograph of her. 

I’m guessing it was Atlas in the Bathroom with the Claw. I win.”

I just put on Diana Krall and set a thirty minute timer so I could give this proper time and be sure to get up and stretch. I bet you really hated the aging process. I am not a huge fan myself.

I’d like to add some pictures now and post it on my blog. I think you’d be proud of me today. Since you were a journalism major and our whole family has some expertise in writing, I never thought I had any talent mother. It was a lot to be the youngest by a stretch of years, surrounded by the stage performance, news celebrity, Emmy and Peabody award winning talents of my older siblings in my formative years. But I know that I do have it. And I intend to use it. To share my stories with others. In the hope that they are moved, inspired, encouraged or perhaps all three. I hope to be a published author one day.

I am glad I have taken this time to reach out. I was numb to dad’s death for most of the fifty years I did not have him. That letter got written last year. And boy, did those musty tears flow. All over the Village Inn on South Yale in Tulsa. They have closed since then. I’m guessing it was water damage.

I love you mother. And I miss you.

Here are just a few of the faces of Phyllis.

(Abby, Me and Mother)
(The Beginning of Phyllis Bunn)
(Christmas 2000)
(Chicago Bulls Game-1996)
(Every Christmas 1950 something)
(Mother and Abby-1997)