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.



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.


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.

Skin Deep

Is beauty really only skin deep or does it go all the way to the soul? What is beauty and is it really in the eye of the beholder? If someone beautiful is in the forest and no one is around to see them, are they still beautiful? Is a forest beautiful if you can’t see it for all the trees? Why are we so consumed with beauty? Can I ask any more questions?????

From the ages of 16 through 17, I was being treated for a blood disorder. I was given massive doses of prednisone. I don’t know the exact dose, but at one point I was taking 35 little pills a day over the two year span.

This drug has many side effects which can vary from person to person and none of them good. In my case I did get some facial puffiness but no hair loss. Instead long black hair grew on my arms, chest and face. I looked like an ape for a few months.

The drug also caused serious acne which ended up leaving some scaring and red surface veins on and around my cheeks. Lovely visual, right?

I was 16 babysitting for my 5 little cousins and reading them a bed time story. They were all cuddled quietly around me in my Aunt and Uncle’s bed when the 5 year old girl casually noted:

“Gee, you’re ugly.” I looked at them and realized they were all staring at my face and not listening to the story. My feelings were so hurt and I was humiliated. The youngest boy, who was two, was petting the long black hair on my arm. The 4 year old quickly piped in:

“But you didn’t used to be!” she smiled, proud of herself for noticing that.

“That’s not very nice.” The 7 year old warned. “That’s mean.”

“What? I said she didn’t use to be!” replied the 4 year old.

But the eldest was speaking to the 5 year old who replied:

“It’s true. She doesn’t look good anymore.” Just a casual observation.

I wanted to cry as the drugs also made me moody as if being a teen wasn’t hard enough on a body.

In this case, the judgment of beauty came down to a bunch of kids 7 and under. I explained to them what was going on with me and that the drugs were causing this reaction and once I was off this medication the hair and face would clear up.

“See! I told you!” said the 4 year old.

Now let’s jump forward many years when I was discussing “life” with my 7 year old grandson. We’re sitting by our pool and he’s watching my face intently but before I could finish my sentence he asked:

“Nana, why is your face sometimes brown?”

I burst into laughter as this reminded me of my cousins. He seldom sees me with makeup except this day when I was wearing face power that was a bit darker than my normal skin. So I told him I like to protect my face from the sun. That worked because he stopped looking at my face, shrugged it off and dove into the pool to retrieve a floating leaf. At least I didn’t have any long black arm hair for him to pet.

Kids are honest and pure. The can see through ugly most of the time, but they are also literal and depending on their age there is no concept of hurting someone’s feelings. They just blurt out what’s on their mind and we, as adults, have to deal with it.

Beauty bothers me more than it used to and probably due to me being 60ish and more concerned about my own beauty. Was I ever beautiful and if so, am I still? And if not when did I lose my beauty? But if I was never beautiful then it’s a moot point isn’t it? My parents never told me I was beautiful and only one 14 year old boy told me, but we all know what he wanted.

Right now I’m going through my old, fat, ugly stage. But what cracks me up is that my husband is constantly telling me how beautiful I am. Jokingly, I usually turn around to see who he’s speaking to. Then I question his eye site. But I take a deep breath and think…wow…after 44 years I’m still beautiful to him, and I’m thankful for that.

So I guess that’s all that counts. I must be that tree in the forest. You can’t see my beauty for all the other trees around.