This happened while walking; the universe is telling me to grab my girl cojones and get back into the creative coil.
Not having posted anything to this blog in almost a year is just not right. Please forgive my impudence. I have been consumed by this boulder I have been pushing up the hill and it just won’t go up over the lip yet.
I can now state with impunity that the boulder is starting to get lighter and easier to push. All the scree it has created are mere tiny irritations to my tread and I am now able to see the wall that I have to vault up and over to… find my universe that I belong to and can realize my creative and true self. I am almost there. I have enough energy now for the final push into the garden. Thank you to all who have given me encouragement. I will not let you down or forget. Ever.
Since June 2 of this year, 2015, I have been forced into a turret of misery that I haven’t been able to find the key to escape from as of yet. All along this watchtower are visages of things that used to be, people who used to be and the reality that everything will always change and you can’t escape that Dybuk.
The second is the day that my partner of 18 years suddenly couldn’t breath one morning in the kitchen. And very calmly asked me to take him to the hospital with a ” you were right, I should have gone to the Doctor all those times you begged me” look. He struggled, this former track star and incredible musician to get his breath, but he said his wallet was in his pants, as I told him to sit down, that I was calling an ambulance. He sat and struggled and I remember his cold and sweaty top of his cafe au lait head, he had a little white powder on top of it and I couldn’t figure out where that might have come from except the top of the door where he was holding on to it, before I told him to please, sit down so he would not fall. He sat down and wrenched to get air. I put my hand on his shoulder while I talked to the 911 operator. “it is going to be alright, they will be here soon with oxygen, can you hear them?”
I was relieved.
I thought I would go to the Hospital and speak to his Doctor about what bypass or stent he would be having.
I thought as he sat in the chair gurney, …and saw him carried out of the house, seated and eyes open and breathing still, I saw a recognition that he knew he had made a mistake. Did he know his body would quit this mortal coil? I didn’t. I just tried to keep our cat, Zorro. from running out the door behind the LAFD EMT’s, relaxed that he would finally get help and we could figure out what had been wrong with him. Why he was so tired sometimes and why he had stomach aches all the time. The shoulder pain he was having–NOT from playing guitar. It was angina. The rapid heart beat at night. It was his heart trying to overcome the high blood pressure he wouldn’t do anything about. It was working so hard to pump the blood through his 6′ 5 frame and past all the plaque from all that ice cream he loved and his beloved cream of wheat with a stick of butter, and enough brown sugar to feed all the Syrian Refugees.
I know he would be so very sorry to learn what it did to me.
I know he would make it up to me if he could.
He would wash the windows and the blinds as a surprise. He would make his famous BBQ chicken wings and pour me a “smidgen” of a nice Merlot.
He would grill the chicken to perfection while listening to Laura Nyro, Mandrill and Santana.
His BBQ sauce was perfection. The best I ever had!
Then I would let him watch Boxing on TV and “The Matrix” for the 20th time.
He would then get out his guitar and practice for a while, and I would tell him to play softer or go to the bedroom so I could watch some drivel on the TV.
I wish I could go back in time. Find the key to time travel and leave this room of sadness.
Then Katrina Redux swept over my life.
It slashed my income, wiped out my savings, and left me like a quickie marriage in Las Vegas, sputtering and crying and unable to move or care about anything.
Now I am trying to pick up the Sisyphean boulder that wont stop coming down on me. And it’s not one, but another and another and another and another.
Is the key in the boulder?
Here is one of the short stories that will be in my yet untitled publication about growing up in my family of 15 kids. This is a true story about the day my Mother told me there was NO Santa Claus, NO Kris Kringle, NO elves, NO Mrs. Kringle…nothing, nada, zip, zero….zap.
“Karen Sue, if you don’t set them right here, on top of the French Onion Dip…” my mother snapped at me, as I wheeled the grocery cart down Dahl’s meat aisle, “…the oysters will open up and spill all their liquor.”
I stared at the blue Anderson Erickson dairy carton, which cradled the season’s succor, the old reliable dip that I could hardly wait to sink a potato chip into at the Christmas Eve celebration we always had at our house. We seemed to celebrate baby Jesus’ birthday with adults getting drunk on Tom & Jerrys and us kids stuffing ourselves with so many smoked oysters that both factions would need Kaopectate on their Wheaties the next morning, in lieu of milk.
Overhead, Muzak speakers provided piped-in, Yuletide swing.
Jolly Old St. Nicholas, lean your ear this way,
Don’t you tell a single soul, what I’m going to say.
I was goaded by the soul-searching edge of the Ray Conniff Singers.
“What the heck is oyster liquor?” I pressed, “I thought liquor is what Dad drinks, right before he moons us and snores on the couch.”
My mother’s voice lifted at least an octave. “Don’t be so smart! You know what I mean. It’s the stuff that the oysters are sitting in. The juice.”
Admittedly, I had a lot on my third grade mind at the time. Earlier that very day, Nick Havener had blurted out to me the ridiculous and might I add, blasphemous notion, that there was no such thing as Santa Claus! I pushed him away, fighting back tears and ran to Liz True and finked on him, that Nick ‘liked her’, knowing full well that was the ultimate turn of the screw. He later married her.
“Mom, you always say the same stuff, every Christmas,” I complained, “and you don’t have to yell — I know how to do oyster stew, GOD,” I underscored in abject protest.
She was already making a beeline towards the bakery, but stopped dead in her tracks. “What was that, young lady? If your Father were here, you’d get that foul mouth washed out with soap. My mother never let me talk that way.”
“Yeah, and when you were a girl, you’d walk five miles home from school,” I volleyed, “and then wait for grandma to walk ten miles home from the stockyards, just to punish you.”
I immediately felt guilty for saying that. My grandmother worked hard to raise two daughters alone, after her husband died. She took classes in typing, ten-key and office procedures, to secure a managerial position at the Cudahy meatpacking plant in Sioux City, one of the first women working in the male-dominated beef industry. Mom also toiled to make our lives decent for us, because my Dad was almost always at work.
I resigned myself to the role of Good Daughter, reinforced by an admonishment that came from a speaker beside the Tone spice display, in a voice twice as hard as a silver dragee.
He’s making a list and checking it twice,
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…
“Burl Ives is right, Santa might be watching you right now,” Mom declared, as she debated between Bubble Up, Fresca or Cliquot Club Sour Mix as the base for the Little Kid’s punch. I scraped impatiently at the top of the cottage cheese lid, pushing the little pile of wax snow over the words “Happy Holidays!” Yeah, I knew the fat man was watching me — he was always watching me — and scribing giant El Marko checkmarks against my name on the big worldwide chart of Good and Evil Children he kept on file. It was then quite bewildering to me, when I WASN’T gifted with a massive, bituminous clod — like Richard Braune down the street, who always got one, each and every year, or so the legend told. Once, I heard he was deeded an actual Bauxite strip-mining operation, somewhere up by Lake Okoboji, after he stole Green Nose Luskan’s Pea Picker sting ray with the deluxe, metal flake banana seat, then totaled it out playing car tag.
“Karen, what do you think? Should we have tomato aspic this year or try something new, like the Della Robia Fruit Wreath you cut out of Good Housekeeping?” My mother wearily put her hand to her lower back, to add support (largely attributed to the fact that she was in the ninth month of her tenth pregnancy. And overdue).
“Dad wants the aspic. It’s what we have to have on Christmas Eve, just like every year.” Nonplussed, I adjusted the mitten suspenders on my parka. My mother actually asked my opinion. Perhaps signaling her long overdue appreciation of the culinary genius I already knew was mine? “Besides, mom, you know we can’t change what we always have. That’s bad voodoo.”
“You’ve been watching ‘Twilight Zone’ again, when you’re supposed to be in bed,” she concluded, adjusting her maternity pants by lifting the offending elastic away from her enormous belly and revealing deep, crimson welts that looked like the Royal Gorge. Her imitation lamb boucle boot flaps were dripping a murky puddle around her feet
“Is your water breaking?” I asked, thoughtfully.
“Honestly, Karen, I don’t know where you get that stuff,” she threatened, “but it better not be from ‘Dr. Kildare’.”
I made a mental note: “I will never become pregnant.”
Our family, especially my five sisters, was quite superstitious about certain things. Upon viewing the Bela Lugosi version of “Dracula”, we were so afraid of the possibility of vampires invading our bedroom, that we strung our rosaries over the Sears reading lamps that hung over our beds, scattered garlic bulbs under our pillows and inscribed crosses on our necks with that black El Marko, to ensure safety while we slumbered. We repeated this ritual well into puberty.
There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories
Of Christmases long, long ago.
Even the steadfast crooning of Andy Williams carried an ominous
“Honey, push the cart into Mrs. Havener’s checkout stand.”
Still smarting from her son’s cruel teasing, I wheeled the steel behemoth with great resolve, beside the cashier conveyor belt and reached for the gray rubber grocery divider.
Mrs. Havener had been working at Dahl’s as long as I could remember. She always wore magnificent holiday adornments and this year she had a big faux gold Christmas tree, emblazoned with glass gemstones and swingy Santa-on-skis earrings. The gaudy tree slightly brushed against her Dahl’s nametag, which made it sit a bit cockeyed. She sported silver metal cat’s eye glasses that had fins with embedded rhinestones, on a chain that held the glasses around her steadfast neck. She was distant and cold, the kind of woman who had probably survived some great loss in her day. But most of all, she possessed the telltale, squinty eyes of the grocery dominatrix.
“Maureen, don’t worry. Give me the rest when you come in again,” Mrs. Havener declared, as she placed the Brach’s ribbon candy and the curly wad of cash register tape into the last bag. “Merry Christmas”. She gave me her hurried, squinty smile. She was like that. If my mother did not quite have enough money, Mrs. Havener would let her float until the next time she came in. I found that to be quite out of character for a grocery dominatrix and then wondered if we were poor, because it had happened before.
We exited through the static swoosh! of the amazing electric eye door and once again, I was Anne Francis, stalked by the Id monster from “Forbidden Planet”. I watched the carts roll on the automated track, out to the pick up zone and the acne-faced bag boys. We could see our breath, as we crossed the parking lot, negotiating the tire tracks and falling wet snow, en route to our workhorse: robin’s egg blue Pontiac station wagon, affectionately called the “Blue Bomb”. My mother lit a Salem with her silver Zippo, as she pulled onto Grand Avenue for the trip home. Zigzagging along the 14th Street shortcut, her Revlon “Really Red” nails glinted under the streetlights, as she clicked them against the steering wheel. The grocery sacks shifted and rattled in back, like a Yahtzee dice roll, while she maneuvered the big wagon on the icy street and took a pull on the cigarette.
“Karen Sue” she said, as she blew an enormous cloud onto her side of the car, “I have something important to tell you.”
I instantly wished she would release the master lock on the electric window panel on her side of the door, for relief from the nicotine exposure I was being subjected to, but I suppressed the cloying suffocation for more pressing concerns. This something sounded dubious. Was the Grim Reaper coming for a little Wassail? I feared I was about to be whacked for some nameless crime against the proletariat, or perhaps I had finally earned a much-deserved promotion to the Big Kid table for all holidays, in perpetuity. This graduation meant china rather than paper and plastic and much more scintillating conversation than: “Heidi and Marlo sittin’ in a tree! K-I-S-S-I-N-G!” further punctuated by a lethal volley of mashed potatoes with a high probability of a facial trajectory.
Peripheral, secondhand menthol brought me back to the present. “Now, Karen, you are getting to be such a big girl.” A placation I sensed straight away could only mask a hefty payload. “It is time you should know some Big Girl things.” She continued on with the spontaneity of a Loan Officer, giving you the hard decline. “I want you to know that there is NO SANTA CLAUS. It’s really just your Father and I.”
“What?” I was incredulous. I could smell the wet wool in my mittens. “You mean, when we left Grandma Gert’s molasses cookies and milk, and there was a real bite taken out of it, that it really wasn’t Santa who took the bite? It was you?” Suddenly, I was Perry Mason, making a grandiose summation for that week’s murder one client. “Which one, Mom? You or Dad? Tell me, I need to know…” My voice cracked with the desperation of one betrayed by their closest confidant. Della Street had never sold out Perry Mason.
“It was mostly your father, Karen,” she exhaled into the uncomfortable silence. The Salem ash continued glowing against the windshield of winter night. It was sleeting harder.
“Noooooooooooooooo Waaaaaaaaaaay!!!” I keened.
The alternate rhythm of the wipers, mixed with the staccato of sleet pattering the windshield, broke the silence with a jazz rhythm. I realized in a nanosecond that Merlin, Peter Pan, Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny — all the mystical and magical things of my childhood, were all a part of the whole parental charade. Was there no Santa Claus just for me — or were the souls of all children around the world being ripped from their physical bodies, at this very moment? What was I supposed to do now? Just cross him out with the El Marko? My parka became Widow’s Weeds, I was, “Two Years Before the Mast”, never to return.
It was growing colder, as we passed Saluri’s house on the right, arrayed with twinkly, blue lights and Gilloti’s house on the left, with merry, red bulbs. I could see the tips of the elm trees swaying amid the frosty gusts, while the moon attempted a futile comeback, like an aging actress, through the shimmering curtain of evening sleet.
“The good news is that you and Jeff get to help your father and I set up the Santa Claus gifts for the Little Kids and arrange them under the tree.”
A startling notion raked across my internal distress. Had my older brother, Jeff, been part of this universal farce? I was stunned. He KNEW?
“Hey, that explains why Jeff always makes those stupid faces …” I carped, “whenever I look in the Sears catalog to make my Santa lists, out loud.”
“Well, it’s a great honor, you know, Karen”, my mother acknowledged, as she lowered the window and flicked her cigarette onto 16th Street. Our street. The wind blew the glowing butt across my side of the Pontiac’s hood and it melted the frost just enough to expose a smear of the blue façade beneath, before it tumbled to a slushy death.
Another mental note: “I will never smoke cigarettes”.
“Of course, I expect you and Jeff to keep it a secret from the Little Kids, until it’s their turn to know.”
“Mom,” I said in a vain attempt to blot out the new reality one last time, “ I heard Santa’s reindeer on our roof last Christmas. I just know it was him.”
“Karen Sue, that was just what you thought you heard. It was probably a squirrel in the snow.”
The comforting blink of our blue and green lights came into view. At least one institution still existed. We turned in our driveway and the grocery sacks shifted. As my mother yanked back the emergency brake, as if she was throwing the main breaker on the electric chair at Alcatraz, I knew the world had changed. Forever.
I wanted to run inside and go lay under the Christmas tree and look up into the branches and decorations and lights, and wax nostalgic – at the tender age of seven. I had been anointed me with a terrible secret – powerful, yet as filled with disappointment as a bowl full of jelly. I was touched by remorse for my siblings not in the know. They still had their first big loss ahead of them.
As always, mom let me run the garage door opener and it swang up to reveal my sister Melissa, standing in the doorway. I instantly knew both privilege and regret. She still had the music alighting her face.
Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way;
Don’t you tell a single soul what I’m going to say.
I had a mission to perform. Could I conduct my behavior as if there was no Top Secret information on my immediate person? Could Melissa read the difference in the way I act?
Up on the housetop, reindeer paws,
Out comes dear old Santa Claus.
I held my head up. Like the shining light from a rising star, the revelation came. This was a role I was meant to play. I could make sure that my younger brothers and sisters were never, ever lacking in the Christmas magic.
I decided then and there: “I will never tell the secret of Santa Claus to anyone.”
Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say,
Rudolf with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh, tonight?
I pulled my hood over my head and climbed out, helping mom unload the groceries. I handed a sack to Melissa. There were baby Goudas and Bonbels on top of the smoked oysters, garnet cabochons for the Christ child’s feast.
“How come you guys were gone so long?” she asked, as she grappled with the bulky, brown Dahl’s bag.
I hadn’t yet prepared for this contingency, but Mom stepped in before I could manage any semblance of an explanation.
“We had important issues to discuss,” she answered with confidence, sounding just like Donna Reed. She tossed me a wink, handed me a sack filled with mixed nuts and candy and proclaimed “Karen, you can start setting up the Christmas Eve party any way you like. Now, get me an iced tea, while I put all these groceries away.”
I felt like Jackie Kennedy showing the White House on Television for the first time, as I strode into the kitchen, with a sense of purpose. I had become a Big Kid.
- Copyright 2014 by Karen Soliday
This was the first year in my entire life, that I DID not cook a Turkey, did not eat any Turkey and had no event planned whatsoever. Yes, indeed I waxed “woe is me” all Thanksgiving day. Wondering what happened to bring me to this point? My 8 brothers and 6 sisters were all glowing in their respective cornucopias scattered from Arizona to Ohio to Arkansas. Texting back and forth with a flurry of “Huzzahs” and back slapping as they Instagrammed their pies baked and Turkeys all afoil and glistening with tryptophan goodness.
How all that Family commiserating made me feel lonely and left out! I was the oldest girl and always the one my Mother counted on to make sure all the place cards were made–the little Turkey’s made with prunes and pipe cleaner legs. I made the best Bechamel for the pearl onions and no one made cranberries like me! It was a warm turkified smell that rolled around our house during the years of JFK and Captain Kangaroo Thanksgivings. I felt I had a place and that I was wanted.
That is gone.
I am left out of the cajoling and insider laughs now. I can send a response text and it reaches the rest of them hours later. Warm Fuzzies are lost by that point.
Now Christmas is on it’s way and I just don’t have it in me this year.
“Jolly Old Saint Nickolas, lean your ear this way; dont’ you tell a single soul what I’m going to say…”
It is Autumn in Lotusland and the smidgeon of “nip” in the sweltering celebritified air brings on a wagon load of melancholy about love and the fact that it can’t be evicted from it’s domicile in the heart. Encamped deep in the vena cava, It scratches and puts weight in tender areas as it moves around to get comfortable, lighting it’s campfire periodically, while you figure out a way to put out the pain the heat has caused.
Love flare-ups have continued in my vena cava for over 30 years, so I know that all the 3 day notices I have given it and all the tankers loaded with various flame retardants like food, alcohol, shopping, drugs, working out, and sex will not work…
It has finally cooled off in Los Angeles, albeit if only for a week. Predictions for this weekend are back to the 90’s and 100’s in the Valley and Dessert, which always means steamy here on the West side. I live about 5 miles from the beach and knew this is where I had to be when I moved here from Minnesota in 1990. That summer was just like it was now: Incredibly HOT and conditions of drought were the same.
LA was a daunting city to get comfortable in; Barry Morrow, (“Rainman”) and his wife, told me that I would get used to it and I would also be able to see the differences in the seasons. I did not believe them. I thought LA looked like Dinosaurs could just start stomping down any street and pick up some poor soul in their Mr. Wiggly top arms and eat them as a carbon-based Amuse Bouche.
Where were the deciduous trees? Where were the autumn leaves? Jack Frost was being held hostage in some poor schlubs’s garage in Venice for some kind of cool ransom– and not talkin’ the “Ransom of Red Chief”
That summer of 1990 was a period of my descending into the “Belly of the Beast” as it were. More about that, later.
“Do Not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light…” –Dylan Thomas
… when describing what the beach looked like juxtaposed against the Pacific Ocean when he was in California and in the book “Dharma Bums”, Jack Kerouac puts it this way: “end of land sadness…”
How did he go into my brain when he wrote that?