The Cemetery

The cancer, I was told, was as rare as teeth on a chicken. When discovered, Patricia was told she would not have more than six months of life left to her. I hadn’t heard from her in 25 years, and we were best friends. It was Mothers Day evening when Doug emailed me.
“I wanted to let you know that Patricia is not expected to make it through the night.”
“What?” I screamed at the email bringing me down from a beautiful day with my family. What was he saying to me, and why did he wait 25 years to contact me? He knew I loved her, was a sister to her, and missed her deeply. Or, maybe he didn’t. She had “moods”, real highs and very low lows. Maybe she never told him she’d shut me out.
“I know she can hear you.” I replied to his emai. “Hold her close and whisper into her ear that I love her very much. I always have and I always will.” Then I started to cry.
My husband looked over at me from the TV program we were watching.
“What’s wrong?”
“Patricia is dying.”
His reaction was the same as mine was.

Patricia and I grew up together, went to school together and lived with each other off and on for many years prior to our adulthood. She was in my wedding: I was not invited to hers. But for the first twenty years of marriage we got together quite often with our families. I ignored her moods, knowing she always contacted me once they passed. Sometimes that meant a month, sometimes it meant a year. But she always called me. After all, we were best friends.

We kept in constant email contact with Doug in that first year after her death, renewing our friendship, sharing family photos and telling so many stories of our lives not shared together. Email was easy, no face to face, no seeing each other’s pain, and not hearing the grief in our voices, but feeling that in black words on white background.
So after a year we took the two day drive from our house to the island up north where Doug and Patricia lived, and the house they had built there.

Patricia worked with the contractor, getting everything exactly the way she wanted it. That was seven years earlier, when they’d retired and life couldn’t have been happier for them.
And now we were going to meet again, for the first time. I told my husband I was afraid I was going to cry when I saw Doug.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure he’s going to do the same when he sees us.” And that’s how it went. Doug and I held each other and cried, and cried.

Their son Brandon was with him, he was just ten years old last time I saw them at our house. He looked like his mother, reddish-blond hair and gentle features. I held him and cried some more.
“Do you remember me, Honey?”
“Of course I do, Auntie Mona. I could never forget you.” We stared at each other’s faces for a long time. “You look a lot like your mom.”
“Yes, that’s what I’m told.” We smiled and hugged again.
Once settled in, Doug showed us around their beautiful home and spectacular yard overlooking the serene lake below. I knew the house would be beautiful, she had great taste in minimalism. Everything was exactly right, in the right place and made for the spot it was in. But I never knew she had such talent in the yard. She had researched and designed the gardens herself. And together they did everything from pulling out hundreds of wild berry plants, to moving rocks, building paths, and planting many trees, shrubs and flowers. I was amazed, and proud of her, but mostly saddened by the fact that she wasn’t the one sharing this with me. I began to cry, again.
“I never knew this about her.” I sobbed. “She was amazing.” Doug just nodded.

“She wanted a totally green burial, too.”

“She wanted to become one with the earth. She’s buried in her favorite garden clothes: denim overalls and shirt, Crock garden shoes, and a big floppy hat. That was her uniform when working in the yard. They were worn, ragged and she loved them more than any outfit she owned.” There was a slight smile on his face remembering her this way.
Patricia was brave, courageous, strong, fearless and full of fight, even though she knew the outcome and end were near. She kept a big binder of everything Doug needed to know about running the house, caring for the cat, doing laundry, when to feed and prune each part of the garden. The binder had absolutely everything he’d need to know about everything little thing she did. She was well organized, and he was about to be.
Patricia wrote her obituary which was printed in the local paper: a wonderful farewell to her family and grateful thanks to the hospice group and the doctors in charge of her care. She’d chosen a clear pine box to be buried in and the site was next to trees and close to the side of the road.
I asked to see her grave site during one of the many island tours Doug had taken us on. The cemetery was lush and green, rugged and remote and one of the most beautiful spots on the island we’d seen. All the grave sites were naturally grassy with random flowers and shrubs everywhere. Flowering pots plants dotted hidden graves, worn paths led to the various grave sites, and the sun tried to peek through the morning fog. It was beautiful.

Doug had placed a simple brass marker at her site. Dark green ferns were mixed with in the bushes. And all around her were incredible tall trees with long, arm-like branches that seemed to be reaching all the way to Heaven. I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful resting place for the best friend I’d never known.

the-cemetary

From Where I Lay

Swollen, tired feet; hot, humid air; long day; rest sorely needed.

Sweat glistens my body.

In my hand, a cold beverage of choice: Maker’s Mark on the rocks.

The sun will drop below the horizon soon.

I can only hear the waves slap against the starboard side.

All I can see is the ocean. All I want to see is the ocean.

I drift peacefully.

IMG_1450

Strangers on the Shore

             Sunrise on Asilomar Beach

Moving as slowly and quietly as I could, I rolled out of bed 5:30 Saturday morning trying carefully not to wake my shift-worker husband. His easy breathing said I hadn’t interrupted him and hopefully he’ll sleep a little longer. We drove to our beach house late the night before, right after I got off work. He needed to catch up on his sleep and I needed to get to the beach as early as possible to catch the sunrise. I drove quickly and parked, but descended the beach stairs slowly.

My arthritic knees ached more and more these days. Walking is painful and difficult as I tried to balance my ageing, overweight body in the soft sand. I can walk only half the beach and back now. So once done I found a dry log to sit on and wait for the sun to rise to entertain me.

It’s hard for me to be here without my dog, Georgia. She loved it here as much as I do. The other dogs she used to play with are all here chasing balls their owners had thrown into the ocean. Some of the dogs ran up to me and gave me an early morning sniff.

“Hello, how are you?” They seem to say as they smile and run off again.

I watched pelicans in formation skim over the water while gulls screamed behind and tried to keep up. One of the diving birds dipped down beneath the dark green wave and emerged with its prize. Two gulls followed in chase hoping he’d drop his catch.

Splashing off in the distance caught my attention. I saw a couple of sea otters diving for their morning meal and putting on quite a show for us spectators. One already had his breakfast and was floating on his back cracking the shell on the rock he’s tucked under his loose tummy skin. The sound of the cracking shell echoed in this cove. They’re so cute and entertaining but the local the fishermen would disagree as they believe the otters are a nuisance.

At the far end of the beach there were a few walkers coming toward me. They’re like me I thought to myself, the early morning beach lovers who share the pleasure of watching the birds and otters but are mostly here for the sun rise. To me a perfect day is being able to watch both the morning sunrise and the evening sunset.

I began to get cold so I stood to move about and warm myself just as woman approached me. She stopped and stood less than two feet next to me, and faced the ocean, just as I was doing. After taking a slow deep breath and an exhale that I could almost feel, she spoke.

“This is so beautiful,” she sighed, and I agreed with a nod.

She was trim and appeared to be about my age, but I’ve never been good at guessing a person’s age. She was not what I think of as pretty, but she spoke with confidence and her smile was quite beautiful in spite of her being so cold. Her graying hair was cut in a short boyish style, but looked rather attractive on her.

A weathered face added years to her appearance, but her eyes were so full of life as she tried to take everything in at once. She was dressed as if she just stepped out of a Land’s End catalog wearing baggy jeans, navy blue deck shoes, a cream colored turtle neck sweater and a Forrest green hooded jacket with brown corduroy trim and deep pockets. She kept her gloved hands in her pockets and spoke again.

“Are you from the area, can you tell me something about this place?”

I gave her my limited knowledge of the beach, the sea otters, the gulls, the weather patterns and such. I told her a little about our ocean front house down the street and gave a short family history. My Italian family were fishermen and they had one of the very first canneries on Cannery Row, which is still standing today. She listened intently asking more questions as I went along with my story. Then I took my turn.

“Where are you from? And what do you do?” Neither of us taking our eyes off the ocean as dawn got a little brighter.

“I’m from Oregon, I work in the local Government.” She spoke almost with a whisper, as if her mind was somewhere else. “I attend a conference here every year, at The Asilomar.”

We watched the sea otters dive and retrieve shell food from below. She asked more about how the otters feed and we agreed we’d love to pet one. Then we laughed at what scavengers the gulls are, such a nuisance to the other birds.

Then silence again as we watched the rise of the sun from behind us making our shadows longer. The waves closest to shore first lit up first but just at the white capped tips. Then slowly the entire wave came alive with blues and greens. Once the sun reached the beach the sand came alive with millions of sparkles from the crushed shells. Then the whole ocean took on new colors: light greens, medium blues, dark blues, and the glistening white foam. It was all so stunning, so breathtaking, that we stood in awe. I’ll never get used to this site, this could never be dull or boring to me and I exhaled the deep breath I’d been holding. This is Heaven to me.

We stood almost shoulder to shoulder now.  She turned to me with a slightly crooked smile on her face.

“Today is my birthday.” Looking directly into my eyes she softly added, “I’m fifty eight years old,” confirming my suspicion that she was near my age.

I turned toward her and gave her my best morning smile, “Well. Happy Birthday to you! You couldn’t have started your day in a better place.”

“I know.” Her smile wide now as she took a step in front of me, put her arms around my shoulders, pulled me close, held me tight, and kissed me. Right on the lips! Not a short kiss, not a peck between friends, but a long lingering, warm kiss. And although her arms were tight around me, she held me with such tenderness.

I tried to take a step backward but I just froze instead. I couldn’t release myself from her grip.  I didn’t feel fear, or danger, or anger even, just shock. Trying not to show any emotion, I pulled my face from hers and quickly replied, “Well, again, Happy Birthday. I hope you have a wonderful day and find time to enjoy the beach again real soon.” God, I’m such a Dork. She just looked at me, her eyes danced and sparkled as she gazed into mine.

“Thank you, I will. Perhaps we’ll meet again soon.” And with that she released me, turned and slowly made her way up to beach toward the conference center.

I turned back to face the ocean, a little shaken. Well, more than a little, I was shaking a lot.

What the hell was that all about? I asked myself as all sorts of thoughts went through my head. Did I forget that I taught my kids to never talk to strangers?

It was 7:30 now, but I waited a good half hour before I returned to my car, still stunned by more than just the beauty of the early morning sun rise.

Returning to the house I saw my husband in the front window enjoying both the ocean view and his morning coffee. He had his “I love to be here” sleepy-smile on his face and waved when he saw me. I climbed the steps to the front door and walked in.

“Hi Honey, how was your walk?”

I just smiled.

You gotta love early morning walks on the beach.

The Slide

 When I was 16 years old and in high school I was only allowed to go out Friday or Saturday night, but not both. However, if I was with my big brother, who was 2 years older, I could pretty much do as he did because my parents felt secure that he’d watch over me. Knowing I would be safe with him all my dad would say was not to stay out late. Not knowing what late meant since my brother had no curfew, I assumed I could do as he did. But I never pushed it, it was 1965 and democracy did not live inside our house.

At the time, I had rare blood disease, which had not yet been diagnosed. I bruised and bled very easily, so my family was used to seeing me in some sort of messy state. Plus being an only girl in a house with all boys, my parents (mostly my father) were very protective of me.

One Friday night in my junior year, I wanted to tag along with my big brother and one of his friends. It was not uncommon for my friends and his to do things together. But this time he said I couldn’t. However, after much pleading, whining, and puppy dog looks, he gave in. What a softie.

We drove around awhile, ending up in Berkeley, the hippie capital of the world for me. At the time we hadn’t really decided if we were hippies yet. (Dad would never allow any part of that) so we were “flower children” (same thing, dad).

We ended up at the Claremont Hotel, a very old, huge, fancy place, much like the Del Coronado in San Diego. It was built sometime in the 1920’s, I think. The hotel was set back in the Berkeley hills surrounded by a very upscale neighborhood.

It was dark when we arrived, and my brother parked on a side street behind the hotel. As we crept through a backside parking lot, he urged both of us to be very, very quiet. At the end of the lot we came to the rear of the building and looked up at the tall Grand Dame. I remember the Claremont being a beautiful sight all lit up. We paused when we saw windows open from a basement area which turned out to be the hotel’s kitchen. One of the kitchen workers was standing outside leaning on an open door, smoking. We waited in the shadows until he went back inside.

“What are we going to do here?” I asked

My brother ignored my question and instead told me to stay right where I was, that he and his friend would be back in a minute. I stood there and watched them for a while until they were almost out of sight. I wore a black turtleneck sweater, a navy and green plaid a-line skirt that came to just above the knee, white socks and black tennis shoes. My hippy hair, still damp from my shower, hung long and straight down my back to my waist. I was a little nervous and began to feel cold. He was kidding himself if he thought I’d stay put alone in the dark behind this huge property.

So when they turned a corner at one edge of the building and were out of sight, I followed. As I turned the corner, I realized I’d have to crawl on my stomach in order to get past the ground-level kitchen windows to avoid being seen by the dishwashers who were facing these windows. This must have been the way they went so I got down and scooted on my stomach just like a soldier in combat, past the windows, hearing all the kitchen noises, praying I wouldn’t get caught out there alone.

Once I passed the windows, I had to turn another corner. When I did, I saw my brother’s friend go into a cylinder-shaped metal tube that ran up the side of the building to the top seventh floor. There was a shorter tube next to it which ran up the other side five stories high.  My brother and his friend were inside the tallest one and I could hear them whispering something to each other.

When I reached the opening, I heard their muffled voices guiding each other as they climbed. I stepped inside, my face smacking into what appeared to be a metal wall. I couldn’t tell because it was so dark. Using my hands on the sides of the tunnel and my tennis shoes for a good grip on the far side, I started to climb backward, scooting upward while listening to their instructions to each other. I realized I was climbing up in a circle. I paused at each floor level where there was an old barricaded door and a ledge just big enough to sit on.

“Did you hear that noise?” my brother asked his friend. I stopped and stayed quiet although my heart was pounding and I was breathing very hard. This was a difficult task I’ve attempted.

When they agreed there was no noise, they continued their climb. Then I heard my brother whisper that he’d reached the seventh floor and his friend said he was right behind. I realized that this was the hotel’s old fire escape, and they were going to slide down, and probably right on top of me!

I bumped my head again and said, “Ouch!” a little too loud.

My brother whispered “Mo, is that you?”

“Yes.”

“Get down, now! You’re going to get hurt,” he said in a quiet but panicked voice.

“I want to slide, too.” I whispered.

“Then stop where you are and slide from there,” he whispered back. “How far up are you?”

“I’m almost to the fifth floor, but I want to slide down with you.”

His friend agreed, “You’d better listen. This is too dangerous.”

I obeyed and climbed to the entrance to the fifth floor. My brother guided me with a whisper.

“Turn around slowly, sit on the ledge at the entrance to the floor you’re on. Lift your feet and take your hands off the sides. But DO NOT let your tennis shoes touch the slide.”

He was still whispering but I could tell he was very upset with me. But I didn’t hear his last remark, someone on the fifth floor heard our whispers and were questioning where the voices were coming from. So I let go of the sides. I didn’t lift my feet as instructed, and my tennis shoes stuck to the metal. I tumbled head over foot down five stories in a dark, dirty and extremely rusty cylinder.

 BAH BOOM! BAH BOOM! BAH BOOM!

I rolled helplessly, floor after floor. The whole slide shook from the building, and the rumbling was as horrific inside the hotel as inside the slide. It was the loudest thunder I’d ever heard. And it felt as though the cylinder would pull away from the building and come crashing down, bringing all three of us with it.

I came flying out of the opening of the tube like being shot from a cannon, and slid face down for about 3 feet into the in the gravel lot.

“What was that?” my brother yelled.

“I think your sister fell down the slide!” his friend screamed.

“Mo,” are you okay? Talk to me.” He groaned.

“I’m fine” I replied, scared and shaken.

“Don’t move, we’re coming down,” he said. And his tone told me he was really mad.

 Since they were already at the seventh floor entrance to the old slide they rode down, and I could hear the rush of air coming from inside the tube: Whoosh.. Whoosh.. Whoosh.., and their speed was picking up faster and faster. At the bottom, they flew out like rockets and landed in the gravel just past where I lay, except they landed on their butts, not their faces.

Holy Mole! I’d just fallen down five stories of the Claremont Hotel’s antique fire escape, and lived!! Now my parents were going to kill me.

I slowly began to pull myself together but my foot hurt and I couldn’t stand. When I looked at my feet, both shoes were gone. So were my favorite plaid a-line skirt, my black turtle neck, and one sock. I wore only my slip, and the other sock, and I was covered with rust and blood from head to toe. I was a red mess. My brother’s friend gave me his jacket as they looked at me with horror on their faces.

Then they both grabbed me and ran to the car, carrying me the whole way as we heard the security guards exiting the building, running toward the slide area.

“I want to go home,” I whimpered.

“Idiot!” he screamed, freaked out that our parents were going to kill us both.

“What were you thinking and how are you going to get into the house without Dad and Mom seeing you this way?”

I didn’t care, I hurt everywhere, and all I wanted was my bed. Forget cleaning up, forget the blood, I just wanted to hide in my bed.

I fell asleep on the way home, but soon was awakened by laughter.

“Man! I would have loved to have seen your sister come flying out like that.”

“Didn’t you hear her coming behind you?” my brother said mildly scolding his buddy.

“No. I was so scared to be there in the first place, all I heard was your steps and mine.”

“We should have stopped and looked for her clothes,” my brother said

“Are you kidding? Not with those security guards coming around the corner after us. We just made it to the car in time.”

Once at home, my brother went in the house first entering through the back door to distract our parents as I followed and crept straight to my room down the hall.

When they asked where I was, he said, “I think she might have gone to the bathroom. She’ll be out in a minute.”

But I didn’t come out. I went into the bathroom, stressed, scared, hurt, bleeding, and rusty and looked in horror at myself in the mirror. My nose was bleeding, my cheek was bruised, my hands and knees were scraped and my hair was caked with everything red. I showered quickly, slipped into bed and fell sound asleep in seconds.

I got up early the next morning and tried to make myself look presentable. The bruise on my cheek I covered up with makeup. Scratches and bruises were everywhere else on my body, so I wore long sleeves and jeans. I gingerly walked to the table for breakfast, every part of me screaming in pain. At least nothing was broken, just bruised, and amazingly I was alive. Smiling, as was her normal way, Mom asked me if I had fun with my brother since we’d come in much earlier than she’d expected.

“Yeah, hanging out with him is fun, but it wears me out.”

I missed that navy blue and green plaid skirt for years to come, and always with a secret smile on my face.

I mean…..

What is happening to our language? Who is now changing the rules on our dialogue and why must people start a sentence with “I mean”? What exactly does “I mean” mean? What purpose does it serve? The sentence following I Mean almost never has anything to do with what anyone is meaning to say. It’s just a way to start a sentence. Why?

And everyone says it now, why? Athletes when being interviewed, bystanders speaking in public to a horrific event, my dentist, the grocery clerk, shut-ins on Big Brother, stupid kids (this is expected), just about everyone.

Me: “Hi how was your weekend?”

She: “I mean…..If I’d known everyone was coming over I wouldn’t have opened my door.”

Me: “You mean what?”

She: “What?”

Me: “You said ‘I mean’, so I’m waiting to hear what you mean.”

She: “I mean? What are YOU talking about?”

Me: “So…what do you mean?”

She: “About what?”

Me: “About not opening your door?”

She: “Why?”

Me: “Go to hell.”

Speaking poorly has always been around, so has slang but this new fad is one of the dumbest ever. It’s becoming more and more prominent among people of all walks of life and, to me, it’s really aggravating. If someone’s about to explain to me what they mean, I don’t need a heads up. I can figure that out, on my own, once they’ve opened their mouth and started talking.

Me: “Hi, how was your weekend?”

She: “If I’d known everyone was coming over I wouldn’t have opened my door.”

Me: “Why, what happened?”

She: “So many more people showed up unexpected. I didn’t have enough food or drink so I was scrambling to make more. And they stayed late and left a huge mess for me to clean up.”

Me: “Wow, I wouldn’t have opened the door either.”

I know, poor example, but you get my drift….start your conversation with what you actually mean.

Things that make me cringe:

O.M.G.

Seriously

I know, right?

I say them all the time, but usually in mocking, or with sarcasm. I’d never talk to a peer or even a stranger using poor grammar. I would talk like this to my grandchildren if I wanted them to think Nana is cool, which I don’t because I’m not.

A “conversation” I overheard at the mall by two young girls walking behind me:

1st Girl: “O.M.G.!” (Spelling it out)

2nd Girl: “Seriously?”

1st Girl: “I knoooow, right?”

2nd Girl: “I mean..”

1st Girl: “I’m tellen ya!”

They were probably talking about me, but I couldn’t tell.

Want to make me really crazy? End a sentence with a preposition, go ahead.

“Mom, where are my shoes at?”

“They’re at grocery store, didn’t they tell you? They walked there all on their own, but said they’d be back soon.”

Not only do I not know where shoes, or other items that aren’t mine, are “at”, but I don’t care. I usually put my things back in their place so I know where to find them “at” when I need them. At!

And please, the word is ASK or ASKED, not AXED. Never “axe” me anything! I just might use one.

These people are going to be our work force one day, and those already in the work force just look plain stupid when speaking this way.

The Asiana plane crash in San Francisco was horrible was event. But it certainly could have been much worse. What did make it worse for me, was that our local news team couldn’t pronounce Asiana (long A) properly. And this one particular woman is Asian! She kept calling the airline Ahh-she-ahh-nah. I wonder, does this knowledgeable news caster know that the continent is pronounced Asia (long A) and not Ahh-sha, has she been there recently? The airlines call themselves Asiana, they’re Asian, and they get it. But this entire news team, for whatever reason, decided to miss-pronounce the company name, which has been named for the continent they fly to.

How do I know this? I went to school. Plus I’m a retired travel agent. Not only have I been to Asia (with a long A) but I used to sell it as a destination. I’ve also sold tickets on Asiana Airlines (again, long A). Plus our office had regular visits from the airline rep, who also pronounced her company as Asiana, with a long A.

O.M.G.! I just realized something: I’m old, that’s it! I’m old and I can’t stand the new way of being cool. I used to be cool when I was a hippie. What happened? I was “rad”, I “cruised creek”, I “sucked face” and more…Seriously? I mean….I used to sneak out at night; roll my skirt way above my knees; hang out with boys.. I KNOW….right?

But, I will only pronounce Asiana with a long A.