valentine sentiments, a lifelong romance

After nearly 41 years of marriage, what can my husband do that still “makes my heart sing?” The quick answer is “give me a musical greeting card that plays ‘WILD THING, you make my heart sing, you make everything…groovy!’ “ Normally conservative, he’s a man of few words. As college valedictorian my husband’s speech consisted of 3 words, “Silence is golden.” As you can see, my husband has a “funny bone.” His humor can be sweet as well. Oh he can tease me endlessly, after all he’s the eldest of 12 and I’m the youngest of 9. But in unexpected moments, he surprises me with the smallest gesture that melts my heart and makes me giggle, like the young woman I was when we first met 44 years ago.

A lifetime of shared memories, of valleys and peaks, of maturing from 17-year-olds with “butterflies in our stomachs,” to seniors purchasing discount tickets and munching popcorn from a shared bag at Regal Cinema. How did we continue holding tight to one another’s hands, so certain we were a good match? I don’t think we knew for sure. Who does? 

It’s always amazed me how complete strangers, foreign to each other in every way, including the blood coursing through their veins, can cleave to one another as is expected when they are pronounced man and wife. That has got to be the one overriding “APT,” or “automatic positive thought” they must fight to keep for the rest of their lives. I can only imagine the civil wars that are waged within marriages between that one “APT” and the overwhelming army of  “ANTS” or “automatic negative thoughts” that bombard married persons every day.

I can only answer for myself that 41 years together has made my husband and me believers in the same faith, if you will. Yes, we are both Catholics, but our faith in each other is more profound than religion. I’ve heard it said, where I don’t remember, those whom we love most and who favor us with the same, affirm who we are. They are the passports for our earthly existence, and we for theirs. In an episode of  “I Love Lucy,” the Ricardos and the Mertzes satisfied the Passport Bureau requirement when they all acknowledged knowing one another, thus enabling them to travel abroad. If not for those who testify to our existence in their lives, we might only be murky shadows, in others’ collective memories. Vague memories which might include “Oh yeah, I remember her. Wasn’t she in our graduating class?” or “He was such a loner. Did he ever date? Did he marry?”

Looking into my husband’s eyes all these years, I’ve seen a “diamond in the rough” looking back at me. His love and unwavering commitment has helped me slowly evolve into the brilliant gem I am today. Light may not bounce off gray hairs, as it once did when it shimmered against dark locks, long ago. But the heart that beats within, remains the same. It still skips a beat when my husband walks through the door, after a long day’s work. Just as it did when I saw the boyfriend who resembled a young Elvis, stride through the front doors of my college residence, coming to collect me for a date.

Maybe my husband heard my beating heart when we were young. These days I might have to amplify the sound slightly. We’re both growing older, together. A funny card and a box of old-fashion candy hearts inscribed with sayings, reminds me that our romance is ageless. While the inscriptions are not as endearing as they once were, I selected a few which held special meaning…”call me, hold hands, soul mate,” representative of our good “young” days. “Shake it, boogie, oxox” are my hope for our lives going forward. One very special candy heart is inscribed “angel.” Our daughter was a gift after 16 childless years. I’m sure God sent us one of his own… to complete our marriage.

treasuring reminders… of priceless sentiments…hugmamma.         

world series, the “angels” won

Looks like the San Fransisco Giants had higher ranking “angels” than the Texas Rangers. Hope Sister Maggie Hession and Sister Frances Evans weren’t too disappointed that their beloved team didn’t win. I’ll say a prayer for them. I think I’ll say one for the teams as well.

“We Love You, but at That Price? exclaims a recent Wall Street Journal article. The subtitle reads “Yesterday’s Postseason Heroes Can Become Tomorrow’s Cost Burdens; the Giants’ Tough Choices. While athletes and ballet dancers may not have salaries in common, seems job security might be something that can plague both sets of professionals.

Whose baseball careers are being called into question? Looks like “several generally mediocre or aging…(who) have played some of the best baseball of their careers and become local legends in the process.” Giant’s managing general partner, Bill Neukom, is concerned about the consistency of his ball players. Not swayed by their performance “in the heat of the moment,” he’s looking for staying power. “‘What you see most recently is at the front of your mind, but what you always worry about is a recession to the mean…It’s important for us to be hard on ourselves, and not be emotional about any one particular player.'” Prime examples mentioned in the article are “pitcher Barry Zito and outfielder Aaron Rowand, who will collect more than $183 million from the club and barely played in the just-ended postseason.” Outfielder Jose Guillen earned $12 million this year and hit 3 home runs in 42 games. Beginning this season with a payroll of $98.6 million, “$38 million has already been committed in 2011 to Mr. Zito, Mr.Rowand and backup infielder Mark De Rosa, who hit .194 in 26 games.”

Authors of the article, Matthew Futterman and Mike Sielski, are uncertain that  postseason heroes, first baseman Aubrey Huff and hitter Cody Ross, should keep their jobs either. “There’s a reason Mr. Huff was out of a job last winter. He hit .241 with a meager .694 on-base plus slugging percentage in 2009.” Of Ross, the writers argue that while “he emerged as their most productive and feared power hitter in the postseason, slamming five home runs and toting an eye-popping 1.076 OPS…In none of the four regular seasons in which he has played at least 120 games has he had an OPS higher than .084.” Earning $4.45 million this year, Ross isn’t eligible for free agency until after next season. Without a signed contract for 2011, “the Giants must decide whether to sign him to a multi-year deal before he hits the market.” Ross’s attitude?  “‘If we take care of this here, in the offseason that will take care of itself. But I really want to stay here.'”

The Rangers are in less of a pickle it seems, for their core players are “locked up.” Although there are concerns with “ace Cliff Lee,” who’s eligible for free agency, with a price tag of more than $25 million a year.  “‘Cliff’s the only guy where we might not have a say in the matter’, ” according to general manager John Daniels. Then there’s “Vladimir Guerrero, the creaky but still slugging designated hitter whose contract has a mutual option for next season worth $9 million.”

General Manager of the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks, who won the World Series, Joe Garagiola Jr., currently serving as the MLB’s senior VP of baseball operations asks  “‘Was this what this guy does? Is it what he’s likely to keep doing? Is it some high-water mark that he’s not going to reach again?'”  Tampa Bay Rays’ senior VP Gerry Hunsicker poses a “larger reason for the shotgun weddings.” Even though there might be regrets after the fact, he claims  “‘Nobody wants to hear about five-year plans…They want to be successful now.'”  Unfortunately, that seems to be the way of the industrialized world these days.

Having evolved into a “plastic” society, where instant gratification can be bought with a credit card, perhaps our mindset is also inclined in that direction. I’ve heard employers speak of new hires wanting to hop-scotch over entry-level positions, straight into higher paying management jobs.

I personally know one young man who quit college just shy of 3 credits, announcing that he was going to “flip houses” to begin earning the millions he’d always envisioned for himself. He felt there was no more he could learn from his professors. With the implosion of  the real estate market, he is now trying to sell houses as a realtor. Unlike him, his business partner,  disciplined in old-fashioned beliefs, was able to “fall back” on his degree, and expertise as a former programmer.

It’s difficult to say who really “won” the World Series, the ballplayers, the owners, the fans, the bookies? Personally, I think the real winners are Sister Hessian and Sister Evans. They followed their hearts, maybe a good thing when hedging one’s bets. They went into the Series with wholehearted passion for their team, and, in my estimation, hit the winning “home run.” Two Catholic nuns, devoted fans, not looking for fame or money, just out rooting for a baseball team.

Isn’t that what baseball was all about in the good old days? Isn’t that what life was  also about, back then? Or am I just being overly nostalgic? Remember, I’m all about antiques and vintage collectibles. So what do I know about the World Series, about sports?

just old, i guess…hugmamma.

putting a “face” on the “unknown”

Glad I stepped away from the keyboard to visit with dear friends last night. Because of them I overcame my reluctance to get gussied up for a fundraising event in the city. My husband knew nothing about the organization sponsoring the dinner; he didn’t know what the letters “HRC” represented. The hours slipped by quickly, as we listened and learned about the “Human Rights Campaign.” 

We’ve attended other fundraisers over the years, ballet balls, zoo events, symphony dinners, among others. At the ballet ball, I remember ending the night rocking to the deejay’s music on the dance floor. At zoo events, I thought it was cool to visit the butterfly house, and witness the jaguar feeding, afterhours. And at a symphony fundraising dinner, my husband bought me my favorite watch, which I wear every day. Unlike these, last night’s event had no gimmicks, unless one considers the guest speakers as the “drawing card.” If so then, in my estimation, they were the most relevant “gimmicks” I’ve ever entailed.

Washington’s U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke of her genuine efforts on behalf of her constituents. She focused on 2 in particular, who wrote letters asking for  her help. One was sent by a young girl whose dream it is to proudly serve her country in the military, but isn’t allowed to do so while proudly “owning” who she is, because of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The other letter was written by a dedicated teacher of 30 years, who tried to help a young student suffering the harassment of peers after she “came out.” Failing to garner official support for the youngster’s plight, the teacher informed the girl. Three days later, she committed suicide.

In his turn at the podium Joe Solmonese, HRC President for 5 years, brought me “up to speed” on the organization’s efforts to achieve total equality for a segment of the population that has been disenfranchised for too long. I was especially impressed when he emphasized that they are NOT victims, that they will not be deterred in their efforts, no matter what obstacles they encounter as they campaign for their freedom and rights. In the evening’s program, Mr. Solmonese wrote, in part, “Our community’s voice has never been more influential and never have we had a more friendly audience in our lawmakers. With your support, HRC can make our community’s voice heard loud and clear.”

A Child Protection Social Worker, Janice Langbehn, related a moving story of “man’s inhumanity to man,” to coin a phrase from a long ago episode of “All in the Family,” where Gloria attempted to explain a simple truth to her family. While she elicited chuckles from the viewing audience, including me, Ms. Langbehn’s words resonated with both my husband and I. With her legal partner, Lisa, and 3 of their 4 adopted children, they celebrated their 15th anniversary in February 2007, by boarding a ship in Miami to cruise to the Bahamas. While waiting to sail, Lisa oversaw a basketball game the kids were playing. Within 20 minutes they ran to their stateroom to get Janice, telling her that Lisa was sick. Janice and the children made their way to “Jackson Memorial Ryder Trauma Center, where Lisa had been taken. When her family, Janice and the youngsters, arrived they were told by a trauma social worker that Miami and Florida were “an anti-gay city and state” and were not allowed to visit Lisa or receive any news of her condition. Despite securing the couples Medical POA required by the Center, Lisa’s family continued to meet with resistance, until Janice accompanied a priest who gave her partner the Last Rites. The children were also finally allowed a few minutes with their mom. But in the end, Lisa died alone on February 19, 2007. Since then Janice has publicly spoken on behalf of change to homophobic policies like those of Jackson Memorial. In April of this year, President Obama phoned Janice apologizing for “the treatment her family received and described the Presidential Memorandum he sent to HHS to direct Federal Regulations to allow same-sex couples the same hospital visitation rights as other families.”

What makes Langbehn’s story even more compelling is the dedication with which she and her partner committed their lives to helping children. “Their love and life together was defined by their care and passion for aiding special needs children. In 1992 they were the first openly gay foster parents in their county, fostering 25 children, 4 of which they adopted, and all with special needs due to drug and HIV exposure. Janice’s long history of social work and care for children began while employed with DSHS and the State of Washington as a Sex Offender treatment provider in a juvenile prison. She saw a need to intervene earlier in a child’s life and so became a Child Protection Social Worker. Janice completed her first Master’s in Public Administration in 1995 and in 1997 was accepted to the University of Washington Master in Social Work Program. In April of 1999, Janice was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. From 1996 until Lisa’s untimely death in 2007, the two were intimately involved in their children’s lives. They managed HIV appointments, taught first communion classes, volunteered in the children’s school and began a successful Girl Scout troop.” Janice continues to speak out as part of “the educational process that comes with the fight for equality.” To a standing ovation and thunderous applause, she was honored with the HRC Equality Award.

Introducing the final speaker of the evening, was a dentist who shared a childhood secret with us. He had always dreamed of becoming a figure skater. But he put aside his dreams, and fulfilled his mother’s dream instead. Forty years later, thanks to Johnny Weir, the dentist is taking ice skating lessons. Bravo!

The name meant nothing to me, until a video clip showed Johnny Weir in the spotlight, representing the U.S. at the last winter Olympics. He is a flamboyant figure skater, in his style, dress and makeup. He was not my favorite, so I wasn’t as impressed with his performance as I was with some of his competitors. But after hearing his story, I have more admiration for him, as a person. Starting late, he taught himself to ice skate at age 12 on the frozen ponds in back of the cornfields at his home in Amish country, Pennsylvania. With the love and support of amazing parents and younger brother, Weir “hopped, skipped, and jumped” his way into figure skating history, capturing the hearts of millions around the world (he is knowns as the “people’s skater”), and U.S. Figure Skating’s 2010 Reader’s Choice Award for Skater of the Year (Michelle Kwan Trophy). 

Weir makes no excuses for being gay, embracing his “fabulosity.” Having concluded that he wasn’t representative of the image of the U.S. Olympic figure skater, and would therefore not medal, he decided to do his best, for himself. So he brought to his dynamic performance 13 years of hard work, sacrifice and passion for his craft. When he finished skating, and stood up from a back bend, his eyes were met with an arena of waving flags from around the world. I understood his joy, for as a ballerina, my daughter strives to connect with an audience appreciative of her talent, sacrifice, hard work, and passion for her art.

I think in our own personal struggles to come to terms with life, we don’t see that others are also struggling. I’m guilty of such tunnel vision. It’s human nature to think there’s not enough time or energy to be stretched so thin. Some of us are more capable than others, depending upon our own circumstances of health, finances, and commitments. We needn’t all react exactly alike; we can’t, by virtue of our individual DNA. Perhaps what we all CAN and SHOULD DO, is “put a face on the unknown.”    

Senator Patty Murray, HRC President Joe Solmonese, Johnny Weir, the dentist, and most prominently, Janice Langbehn and her children, are the “faces” of the Human Rights Campaign. America’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community are no longer the “unknown.” I now know who they are. Each is someone’s child living on the periphery of society, “assigned” rights which are already theirs by virtue of their citizenship in the human race, and their birthright as U.S. citizens. I don’t feel their rights are mine to give or withhold. I believe they’re inalienable, as written in our Constitution. I am a spiritual person, a member of the Catholic church. I think religion offers us sound principles with which to live our lives, but I think we’ve succumbed to using religion as a weapon to pass judgment upon, and excommunicate, those who are non-compliant. I’m not God, and I don’t want to be God. As with Oprah, the job has serious responsibilities which I’m not equipped to handle. Better I leave it to the experts, God in his domain, and Oprah in hers.

I’ve been fortunate to know the men behind the “faces,” good friends we’ve known since moving to the Pacific Northwest. Leon and Ken made me feel comfortable and welcome, when I met them at the first gathering my husband and I attended at his boss’s home, 13 years ago. Before their arrival, I felt self-conscious and awkward, being a stay-at-home mom trying to mingle with career people. The 2 men were interested in knowing more about me, and soon we were joking and laughing like old friends. Through the years, our friendship has remained steadfast, and I’m able to relax in their company as soon as I see them. They’ve never had an “agenda,” other than to know that I’m fine. I always welcome that concern in friends, straight, or gay.

My friendship with Brent and Rick is more recent, although my husband’s known them for several years, because he and Rick are employed by the same company. Although I was acquainted with both men, I got to know Brent better when we accompanied our significant others on a business trip to Victoria, BC. As with Leon and Ken, I felt comfortable in Brent’s company because he made me feel my contribution to the conversation was valuable. Although he’s taking college courses toward becoming a social worker, I never felt like my 60’s college experience was arcane. In fact, Brent complimented my common sense approach to life. That’s music to the ears of a senior citizen! A smart man 20 years my junior is inspired by what I might have to say. Kind of novel in this day and age. Needless to say, I’m very happy to be in the company of Brent and Rick, 2 men with discerning tastes for quality of life for all, including the elderly.

Personally I know that I’m unlikely to be swayed in my opinions unless I can put a “face” on the “unknown,” whatever that might be. Rather than having someone force me to think differently, I’m inclined to change because of personal motivation. I don’t think any of us like being browbeaten into a decision. My husband and I made a contribution to the HRC, because last night we were educated about their worthwhile efforts, and because Leon, Ken, Brent and Rick are real “faces” for the cause of human rights.

Another real “face” is a nephew of mine who “came out” to his parents decades ago. He was a wonderful, young man when I knew him. He played the piano beautifully; he seemed a sensitive soul. Having lost touch, I learned years later that he’d contracted a near fatal disease. His partner at the time helped nurse my nephew back to complete health. He has shared his life with another partner for many years, adopting 2 girls who had been students in my nephew’s middle school class, several years ago. Before they became a family, the youngsters were in and out of foster homes.

Children are my concern, because of my childhood experiences, and because I wish all children would know the unconditional love and support to be who they are, and not what others want them to be. Our gay peers are intelligent, resourceful and hard-working. They will evince long-term change through their commitment not to return to the “dark ages” of society’s earlier days. We can either embrace the inevitable and co-exist, all striving to live our best lives, or we can maintain our isolation from certain segments of society, holding onto historical prejudices. It’s our choice; it’s our freedom. I choose, that others might enjoy the same freedom. I may have an island mentality about driving on freeways, and fear of black bears, but not in matters that are substantive. In these cases, I prefer to draw from the “aloha spirit” inherent in my native fibre, and welcome all as “ohana” (family).

hugs for conquering our fear of the “unknown”, by putting a “face” to it…hugmamma.

dressing to “wow”

Ynez Sines is an overnight celebrity. Others have traveled similar paths to sensational success, like Kim Kardashian, a darling of reality TV. Her body hugging fashions with plunging necklines accentuate her natural assets, which include a gorgeous face. These days, such apparel seems the style of choice for reality TV divas. Picture the women of the “Housewives of…” shows, “Jerseylicious,” “Bethenny Gettin’ Married?,” “Keeping Up With The Kardashians,” the “Batchelor,” and  “Batchelorette.” So why the uproar over Sines?

Women dressing to attract men probably began with our prehistoric ancestors. Like their contemporary counterparts, cave women needed an edge over the competition. Capturing the strongest cave man was essential to keeping  food on the table. But we’ve come a long way in dressing for survival, to dressing for the WOW factor. Where a woman might have narrowed her audience to a handful of men, she now wants to impress every man who sees her. And that can range from a roomful to a worldful, of men. Grabbing the attention of the competition is an added bonus. Maybe the media’s coverage of “red carpet” events has contributed to our narcissism.

We have increasingly turned our focus toward better health, including a better body image. Efforts to eliminate anorexia and bulimia are ongoing, as is obesity. On one hand we are attempting to regain control over our bodies so we can live our best lives; on the other hand, we continue to worship celebrities and models for their rocking, good looks and hip, hot fashions. It seems like an oxymoron to be striving for self-acceptance, while remaining shackled to our desire to look like someone on a magazine cover or a TV show. It’s as convoluted as trying to save in this economy, while trying to spend our way out of a recession. It’s a struggle, but it can be done. I guess.

Sines is neither a reality TV diva, nor a red carpet regular; she works in an all male environment which, for the most part, revels in grunge and sweat. So why the need for body hugging styles and plunging necklines as a 9-year-veteran, professional sportscaster? Her response? That’s how she’s always dressed, and she’s not making any changes to her wardrobe. So why twitter that she was “embarrassed and uncomfortable?” It’s like “wanting her cake and eating it too.” So what’s wrong with that? Don’t we buy a cake to eat it?

I’m guilty of having worn hot pants in the day, even in Guadalajara in the early 70’s when I was a summer program student at a local college. I dressed provocatively to captivate my husband when we were dating. Obviously my tactics worked, 40 years later we’re still celebrating marriage. But I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have dressed to provoke unwanted cat calls from football players, of any ethnicity. I think it would be similar to walking past construction workers in tight jeans and blouse. 

I’m not averse to athletes, having dated the captain of the football and basketball teams in high school. It just seems that their attention would naturally be drawn to the human body, since playing sports involves their bodies. Being in a locker room is probably like being in a frat house, with behavior bordering on bawdy. I wouldn’t want to witness what goes on, but that’s my choice. According to journalist Cokie Roberts on GMA this morning, Sines presence in locker rooms is part of her job as a sports reporter.

The stand-off between Sines and athletes in locker rooms is being addressed by the NFL, and in the court of public opinion. I don’t think we’re looking for a winner; I think we’re looking for both sides to be accommodating, going forward. The best scenario would be if Sines modified her professional dress, and the players were more respectful in the presence of female reporters. Whether that happens or not, is for both sides to decide. Of course the resolution will impact the female-male professional relationship, beyond the locker room. Miniscule, small, medium or large, change is already underway. Eyebrows have been raised, so there’s no going back.

accommodating change, for the better…hugmamma.

mother-in-law, life lessons

My mother-in-law, in her 80’s, has taught me much through the 40 years I’ve been married to her son. We all get wiser with age and life experience, she’s no exception. I’m still trying to abide by her favorite piece of advice,  that it’s better not to speak one’s mind in anger, because those words can never be taken back. And she’s followed her own advice, without fail. 

The first encounter with my mother-in-law was when I phoned her son to invite him to a college prom. Shutting myself into a dorm phone booth, I repeated the speech I had prepared. “Hi! You might not remember me, but…” My heart raced in anticipation of hearing his voice at the other end of the phone. When I heard “her” voice instead, my heart stopped and I gulped. Expecting her to refuse my request, I asked for her son anyway. To my extreme delight, she asked me to wait while she called him. Hallelujah! My heart was racing again…

Since that day, my mother-in-law has shown nothing but support and love for my relationship, and marriage, to her son. Her generosity isn’t reserved for just us, it extends to her 11 other children as well, and her many, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She never speaks unkindly towards any of us, or about any of us. She is a living lesson in self-restraint and compassion for others. 

Early on while dating my husband, I learned another valuable lesson from my unwitting mother-in-law. In those days, she was younger and feistier, and given to using a high-pitched, piercing voice when nagging her children about some undone chore or mischievous act. Who could blame her? With 12 kids to care for, I’d have taken a long vacation into the next millennium. I remember once witnessing her storm through the house, screaming the name of the villainous child, who quickly escaped out the back door. Those of us present glanced at one another with knowing smiles. 

That scene often came to mind while raising my daughter. When upset my voice dropped several octaves and my words were measured, as I reprimanded her for inappropriate behavior. The only time I screamed at her, my daughter stood in absolute shock near the kitchen table looking as though she had escaped her body, hovering overhead until the tirade was over. So learning what not to do from my mother-in-law, disciplining my daughter was less exhausting. But then again, the odds were in my favor having only 1 child to her 12. And God bless her, she went on to babysit many of her “moapunas” (grandchildren). I have yet to experience that pleasure. Will I even have the energy?

still learning, from her…hugmamma.

coffee with friends, so much more than

If women were the world leaders of governments, corporations, learning institutions, medical facilities, courts of justice, sports teams, the entertainment and music industries, and any other body having great societal impact, they’d probably do their venting over coffee with girlfriends.

Coffee with the women means, friends gathering together to vent about anything, and everything. Surely centuries old, this female ritual has probably saved countless marriages, and kept our prison population from overflowing. Our ancestors, cave women, must have wanted to crack a few skulls. Being dragged around by the hair would not have been an endearing prospect. Native American women didn’t drink coffee (or did they?) but using smoke signals to communicate their marital woes was, perhaps, the start of environmental pollution. A frontier wife might have envied Annie Oakley her skills with a gun, when her cowboy came through the door smelling of whiskey and women. And a Victorian lady must’ve ripped off her corset and took a swig, when she was in a snit. Would Sonny and Cher have continued as a duo, if she’d had regularly done coffee with the women? “And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on. La, de, da, de, do, la, de, da, de, day…”

Women, coffee and conversation are like a game of Ouija. One speaks, another interrupts, the first resumes speaking, and the ebb and flow of conversation continues. The chatter is spirited, peals of laughter ring out, continuing to ripple through the group. Then voices quiet into whispers, while knowing glances and nodding heads silently agree that “it’s so frustrating…” whether it’s talk of jobs, husbands, children, mothers, even mother-in-laws. All agree that these sessions are more productive than paying for psychotherapy and a lot more fun as well.

The best coffee gatherings are among women whose personalities are in accord. Allowing one another time to speak, rather than hogging the conversation is also important. Egos are stroked, each feeling uplifted knowing others care, so that they needn’t continue shouldering their burdens alone. Coffee (for me) with a good friend (tea for her) became an important “life-line” when I moved with my, then 16-year-old, daughter to Atlanta. For two-and-a-half years I chaperoned her while she journeyed toward a career in ballet. My husband, our financial support, remained behind.

When my daughter was invited to train with the professional company where we relocated, our family consented without hesitation. Rushing forward without thought, we moved into an apartment with my husband’s help. The day he departed for home, we breakfasted at a pancake house. It was then that the finality of our decision hit me like a “ton of bricks.” I burst into tears. Ever the pragmatic one, my husband assured me he’d visit in a month or so. That seemed like an eternity to be without my best friend of so many years. But as moms have always done, I “placed one foot in front of the other,” and carried on.

It’s been about 5 years since I returned home to my husband. Having apprenticed with a ballet company in another state, my daughter was promoted to full member a year ago. She begins her second season this fall. Through hard work and maturity beyond her years, she has accomplished every young ballerina’s dream. There were peaks and valleys to be sure, but my daughter weathered them with our help, and the encouragement and prayers of many who have loved and supported her through the years.

Offering me a shoulder upon which to lean, or cry, was a woman who became, and remains, a very dear friend. It wasn’t unusual for Becky and I to linger over a cup of coffee, or tea, for hours, kibbitzing about her son and my daughter. Both aspired to being professional ballet dancers. We’d compare “war” stories about people with whom we had dealings, who seemed insensitive to the difficulties our children encountered. Very little was ever resolved, but reinvigorated, we could return to parenting, knowing a friend was nearby.

I was able to offer Becky some advice, since I was already in the midst of helping my daughter wend her way through the maze of becoming a career ballerina. It is such a singular path, not like being in college with thousands of like-minded youngsters. How one dancer succeeds is not a ready prescription for another’s success. But from my observations, certain facts seemed applicable to every wannabe professional.

Success seems dependent upon 50% talent and 50% other factors like a solid work ethic, quickness at learning choreography, resiliency to criticism, continuing good health, and a lot of luck. It certainly doesn’t hurt to be “in the right place, at the right time.” When it comes to casting, being a favorite of resident and visiting choreographers is a plus. Less tangible is having “the look” that an artistic director wants for a role or for the company in general. This alone can force a dancer to audition wherever there may be openings, in the hopes of a perfect match. With much effort and good fortune, a job is found, if not, the dream will likely end.

Deciding to go the college route, Becky’s son graduated with a Fine Arts Degree in Dance. To his credit and due diligence, he is in his second year apprenticing with a ballet company. This is no small feat in the current economy when the arts are suffering the loss of patronage.

Belonging to a rare breed of women, moms of professional ballet dancers, Becky and I continue to enjoy a mutually supportive friendship. Circumstances may prevent us from meeting as we once did, but given the ease of travel these days, it’s not too far-fetched to assume we’ll be meeting for coffee, tea and friendly conversation somewhere, some time… 

it’ll be like old times, only better…hugmamma.

surrogate fathers

Reflecting back to my fatherless childhood, I was one when my father died, I probably pined for a male figure to parent me alongside my mom. But I don’t remember obsessing about it, although there were times when certain individuals were present in my life who I wished were my father.

My earliest recognition of just such a man was Uncle Lot. I adored him even though he was not really an uncle; “calabash” relatives were commonplace in extended Hawaiian families. Bronzed by the sun, silver white hair framing a handsome face, I imagined he loved me like a precious daughter. He and our Aunt Miriam, spinster brother and sister,  lived next door to the first home I ever knew, conveniently located across the road from the beach. When not frolicking on the sand or swimming in the warm waters, we’d be playing with Melabee, a German Shepherd belonging to auntie and uncle. We were always invited into their antique-filled home where we snacked on little sandwiches or small, scrumptious desserts. I always loved curling up in Uncle Lot’s lap, burrowing my sleepy head into his chest heavily scented with cologne. I’d rest there while he, auntie and my mom chatted amiably among themselves. I never wanted to leave when it was time to return to our house.  Their home was so much grander, filled with beautiful things, and food more delicious than was our usual fare. As a child I never understood aunty and uncle’s relationship. They were related, but they seemed so comfortable in each other’s shadow, like husband and wife. But they weren’t married, so I wanted Uncle Lot to marry my mom. Of course it was a child’s fantasy, and there it remained.

As a kindergartener I remember we were in a different home, one that I would live in until I moved away to college. Our Chinese landlord lived next door. At first it was “Popo” (grandmother) to whom we paid rent, but upon her death, her son Ah Sing assumed the responsibility. I became long-lasting, best friends with his daughter, an only child for many years. A brother was born into the family when my friend was in high school.

Ah Sing took pity upon my situation, a fatherless child with a mother struggling to support her young family. He would include me on outings with his daughter. One vivid memory is of a visit onboard a navy submarine docked  in the harbor. I still have a small, black and white photograph somewhere, of me perched on a metal seat on an outer deck, long, black hair caught up in the breeze, a furtive smile on my lips, a shy glance directed at the camera. My girlfriend’s mom was not as receptive toward me however, perhaps because I wasn’t a fit companion, being poor. No matter, I became a fixture at their home because I was like a sibling my friend wanted, and another daughter Ah Sing cherished.

The only physician I recall visiting as a child was Dr. James Fleming. His shoulders seemed broad, as though he could carry the weight of the world on them, well… at least that of the sick who visited his office. His hair was a sandy blonde, he wore spectacles and he always had a smile on his face. His bedside manner was comforting, especially to a child who rarely saw a doctor because it was an expense my mom couldn’t regularly afford. But like other generous people in our lives, Dr. Fleming discounted  our fees and never pressured my mom for payment. Receiving a lollipop or large, orange gumdrop was one reason I behaved during an appointment, but more importantly, Dr. Fleming felt like a father if only for the time I spent with him. When I was much older, my mom told me that he had offered to adopt me since he had no daughters, only 3 sons. You can imagine how elated I felt, and disappointed, that I never got to live the fairy-tale life of the Lahaina Flemings. But more than anything, I would have liked to have felt the love of a father like Dr. Fleming wash over me.

My father-in-law, now deceased some 20 years or so, treated me like a daughter. When I first spent time with my husband’s family, I thought my father-in-law didn’t like me. I always seemed the butt of his ribbing. Teasing was something I grew up with as the youngest, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it. I never had the wherewithal to fight back, and felt I must not be loved, or liked. Increasingly, as I was around him more, it became obvious that I was a favorite of my father-in-law’s. I guess I was a combination, pretty Hawaiian girl like his wife, Catholic raised and educated, attending college, with lofty ambitions that might rub off on his eldest son. But best of all I could out-talk the “Portugees,” as he would love to tell me, himself being Portuguese. We could banter back and forth endlessly. My father-in-law, looking much like and behaving very much like my husband, was the closest I ever came to having a father. So it saddened me to see his body, and spirit, deteriorate through the 8 years he survived after a massive heart attack which destroyed 50% of his heart.

And then there’s my husband. A Catholic seminarian a week prior to our first meeting, he had changed his mind about being called to the priesthood. Having left home after completion of 8th grade, he had spent the next 4 1/2 years studying theology. I’ve often joked that God was preparing him for an even greater task than leading the faithful, and that was keeping me on the “straight and narrow,” which he has successfully done for 40 years.

Because I was fatherless as a child, it was imminent that my daughter bond with her dad immediately. So I didn’t look to either my mom or mother-in-law for help when our baby was born. I wanted my husband, myself and our daughter to forge a strong and loving union which would survive the ups and downs of whatever lay ahead. And to this day, our strength as a family continues to thrive upon the foundation upon which it was built. We enable one another to follow our passions, knowing that our love and support is always available 24/7.

So while I may not have had a father of my own to nurture and guide me, there were those to whom I could look for the wonderful qualities that I would one day find in a husband. So I thank my “fathers”, of whom only Ah Sing survives, on my lovely, island, childhood home of Maui.

 very fortunate to have had surrogate fathers, love me…hugmamma.

caring friends

The company of dancers to which my daughter belongs, are an especially caring group of young folk. People unfamiliar with their world might conclude that its competitive environment would prohibit close friendships. As with any career, there are individuals who refuse to look beyond their wants and needs. But having witnessed my daughter’s experiences first hand, I know that most dancers reach out to one another, offering a shoulder or a pat on the back, as the situation warrants.

Dancers work under demanding physical conditions. Their minds are also constantly challenged with learning choreography for several pieces simultaneously. Add to the mix, their ongoing concern for keeping healthy and fit. Their jobs depend upon their doing so. And yes, there is some anxiety about what roles they will get to dance. While they can hone their skills to achieve their personal best, the artistic staff, and sometimes the choreographer, have their own selection criteria. The dancers must abide by their decisions.

Unlike many professions, dancers must be passionate about their choice of a career. Given the unique demands and stresses, someone doing it half-heartedly could not withstand the physical pain nor the extraordinary mental stimulation. (Although some have tried, and still try.) Dancers rarely take sick leave, that’s how “crazy” they are about what they do. (I have to admit to taking mental health days once in a while during my stint at a career outside the home. Actually, I still do.) Working as a team to bring a ballet or contemporary piece to the stage, the dancers support each other’s efforts. For the good of all, they forge close relationships based upon respect. They celebrate together, and they share disappointment together.

Making big bucks is never a consideration for dancers. Unless they are with major metropolitan companies with $15 million budgets, dancers barely make a living wage. Many work 2 jobs to support themselves. Again, that’s how “crazy” they are about what they’re doing. Occasionally they may dine out on shared appetizers and desserts. Or they may splurge at a sushi joint or a local, college hangout. Most times they relax at one another’s apartments, having already eaten their meals at home. There are group celebrations for birthdays or Christmas, where everyone brings pot luck. They are as generous as they are frugal. That is to say, they spend within their means.

I admire my daughter and her dance friends. They are passionate about their careers, while showing compassion towards each other. They have showmanship, but are not flashy. Each believes he or she is the best, but realize there’s better, when they see it in another dancer. They congratulate each other when great roles are garnered, and they cry together when they are not. Their hearts are big; they pet-sit for free when friends are away for a few days or a few weeks. They transport each other to and from the airport, even during  rush hour traffic.

My daughter has a family of caring friends, and we, her family, cannot express enough appreciation for those young men and women. They are the siblings she did not have growing up.

those who care for our children as we do, deserve our thanks…hugmamma.

preservation of a people

Prominently featured alongside “Google Agonizes on Privacy As Ad World Vaults Ahead,” is another article, “In Alaska, a Frenchman Fights to Revive the Eyak’s Dead Tongue.” It’s undeniable that the internet giant Google is more relevant to millions worldwide. But for me, the struggle to keep a native people from disappearing altogether is of greater significance to humankind. Obviously the editors of the Wall Street Journal feel both Google and the Eyak’s deserve equal attention by deciding to feature both on today’s front page. Kudos to the Journal!

Twenty-one year old, French, college student Guillaume Leduey, proficient in French, English, German, Chinese and Georgian, and able to sing one Lithuanian song, has made it his mission to save the Alaskan Eyak language from extinction. “Mr. Leduey’s Eyak odyssey began at age 12, when he happened on the language while trolling through an online dictionary of languages in his hometown of Le Havre. By searching more online, he discovered Eyak appeared to have only one native speaker, Ms. Jones. ‘I was like, “Wow, one speaker left. I must do something to learn the language,” ‘ Mr. Leduey says. His parents were less than thrilled. ‘They don’t think it’s useful,’ he says.”

An aspiring sculptor, Leduey had never left Europe until June when he made the trip to Alaska to study with 75-year-old Michael Krauss, a linguistics professor at the University of Alaska who knows conversational Eyak. “While as many as 20 native dialects remain in Alaska, Mr. Krauss says Eyak is considered extinct because there are no fluent, native speakers.” Sequestered in a room together for 5 hours each day, they pored over Eyak documents. As a diversion, Leduey sang Eyak songs to the professor’s Norwich Terrier, Scamper.

Immersing himself into the culture, Leduey journeyed to Cordova, “where the Eyaks made their last stand against being swallowed up by civilization.” Rival Tlingits helped white settlers in the takeover of the Eyak territory. Some part-natives took Leduey to visit a demolished village site and Child’s Glacier, a natural attraction. There a harbor seal leapt out of the icy waters to which he exclaimed “Keeltaak,” the Eyak word for the animal. To complement his education, Leduey learned the tradition of cooking salmon in the ground. He dug a shallow pit in the front yard of an Eyak descendant, then tended a crackling fire in which 2 red salmon roasted in giant skunk cabbage leaves. Still raw after 90 minutes, however, the salmon were thrown into the oven to finish cooking.

Several have sought lessons from Leduey, like 50-year-old Mr. Lankard and 53-year-old Ms. Curry.  Her “…mother, Marie Smith Jones, was considered by Alaska historians the last native Eyak speaker when she died in 2008. Her descendants and others didn’t become fluent in the language because of a stigma around speaking anything other than English in Alaska’s native villages.” Curry, eyes brimming with tears, viewed a film in which her mother spoke in the Eyak tongue at a tribal ceremony. To understand the words, however, Curry turned to Leduey to translate. She thanked him saying that it was beautiful. To which he replied “It’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you God. ” Curry feels that learning her native language, which had been passed down through storytelling,  is the right thing to do now in spite of the past stigma. “‘This will help keep my mom’s memory and spirit alive.”

The extinction of the Eyak language and potentially its culture, reminds me of my childhood growing up in Maui in the 50’s. My mom was a native who spoke Hawaiian fluently with her family and native friends. She did not, however, speak it with us, her children. Prominent, powerful landowners were lobbying to make Hawaii the 50th state, for obvious business reasons. To support these efforts speaking English and studying  American History were a mandatory part of school curriculums. Our native language and culture were virtually squelched.

As her friends passed away, my mom had fewer and fewer people with whom to speak Hawaiian. Long before she died, she had ceased speaking it, having lost much for lack of use. Not until long after my husband and I graduated from college and moved away from Hawaii, did a movement among the natives slowly bring about a resurgence in an appreciation for the language and the culture. Today they are taught in schools statewide, including at the University of Hawaii. Proud of their culture, islanders are more than happy to share their food, song and dance with new communities, when they relocate to other parts of the country.

While there is a strong comparison between the plight of the Eyaks and that of the Hawaiians, the latter did not face extinction. Westernization did not eradicate their culture. It was ingrained as much in the land, as it was in the people themselves. The gods of the earth, sky and sea would not relinquish their hold, nor would the natives abandon their attachment to the islands without bloodshed. That is the history of the Hawaiians. And it has been preserved through the ages by the monarchy, and following their demise, by natives and others  loyal to their memory. Kamehameha School has long been an institution dedicated to educating children of native descent, not only in the academics but in all aspects of Hawaiian heritage. It remains at the forefront of yielding young adults not only well versed in their own culture, but in the world-at-large.  And they confidently take their place in society, a credit to their native roots.

We should applaud the efforts of Guillaume Leduey for taking on the preservation of a culture almost singlehandedly. It seems when others ask “Why?” Leduey asks “Why not?”

a people depend upon it, that’s why…hugmamma.

no mystery, off the court…or on

Well, just as I suspected. I’m sure you did as well. “NO PEANUTS!” ordered my doctor, when I saw him a few hours ago. At least not until my “thick” tongue and abnormal throat symptoms disappear. Prescribing Benadryl should the symptoms return, I laughed knowing he’d give me some good old-fashioned remedy, just as he did for the rash on my right eyelid. For that, he told me to apply a dab of non-prescription 1% hydrocortisone ointment. I like my doc, he’s just a regular guy, nothing “fancy schmanzy” about him.     

After typing the final period on my previous post, I noticed my throat slowly starting to constrict once again. Time for playing doctor was over. I needed an expert’s opinion. Fortunately there was a cancellation, if I could hurry myself over to his office in 20 minutes. I said “You bet! I’ll speed.” To which the receptionist laughingly replied “No! Don’t do that.” I laughed back “No, no. Just kidding. I won’t.” And off I went, driving like a bat outta…

The male nurse ushered me into the examining room with a look of surprise. “Weren’t you just here?” I told him I had been there a couple of days ago for my eye, but now it was my throat. “Old age,” I declared chuckling, “I’m falling apart.” We both laughed in commiseration.

Once we were seated in the room, the nurse began telling me about his ailments, a problem ankle and a hip needing replacement. Now mind you, this young man, and I say young because he must’ve been some 15 years younger than me, got my total attention. Listening to his tale, I felt like I had a superficial cut in need of a band-aid. He was injured during his service in the army. When I asked what had happened, he told me I would laugh as others had done. I said I wouldn’t, and I didn’t, because an injury is no laughing matter, however it occurs. In fact, I told him my husband would totally sympathize with him because he’d been in a similar accident. But unlike my husband who waited a couple of years before the injury was really bad and in need of surgery, the nurse’s leg was immediately placed in a cast. He wasn’t ambulatory for some time.

Basketball is not child’s play when you’re up against a guy weighing 209 pounds, or when you’re “pushing” 40 and going up against a college kid. Moms and wives know these things. Why won’t men ever listen to us?

enough said…hugmamma