…celebrity…at what cost…

Watching the Pope disembark from his flight today at Joint Base Andrews, it was as though God Himself was walking down the steps. At least to Catholics who believe that he is God’s emissary on earth. Dressed in white, Pope Francis seemed translucent, although he appeared like a man who enjoys good food. He seemed untouchable, although he’s a man who enjoys being touched.

What a dilemma for Pope Francis. While waiting for the chauffeur to drive away, the Pope looked as though he were about to bolt from his seat. The cries of the people behind the fence tempting him to do what he loves doing…walking among them…touching them and having them touch him.

Celebrity? At what cost?

The tabloids are filled with stories of entertainers trying to escape the clutches of their adoring fans. Those who jostle their idol for some tangible proof that they were up close and personal.

Michael Jackson tried to give his fans what they wanted…access to him. Sadly, there were opportunists who took advantage of Jackson’s desire to be loved. He paid dearly. One could say…with his life.

Elvis Presley enjoyed his celebrity. It provided unimaginable wealth which he could never have dreamed of…growing up like White trash on the wrong side of the tracks. He, like Jackson, allowed fans access. Whether it was a wise decision, is something you can judge for yourself. Numerous books have been penned about Elvis by those who had access to the icon.

If I were to meet Pope Francis, I would automatically reach out to hug him. That’s just my natural inclination, unless I feel the recipient would prefer I not. I think the Pope would reciprocate my hug, but I’m not sure his security detail would even let me. Those charged with protecting the Pontiff are on high alert to protect him from all harm. And no one can blame them.

The Pope realizes that allowing his followers access might cost him his life. He is willing to take that risk. He has said…”I feel the Lord has placed me here for a short time.”

Yes, Pope Francis is a celebrity…the state of being famous or celebrated (according to Webster’s Dictionary). However it’s unlikely that the pope considers himself a celebrity. He is what he has always been…

…a man among his people…

…a pastor shepherding his flock.

………hugmamma.

what friends are for…

…especially best friends to whom you’re fortunate enough to be married.IMG_5146

A friend from the past, someone with whom I spent fun times when I lived in New York many, many moons ago, recently mailed me copies of photos she’d found while perusing her albums.

At the time hubby and I were probably in our late 20s, early 30s.

The memories of our early married years came flooding back as I gazed at those pictures.

I remembered the ups and downs which most young couples endure. That we made it to 43 years, and counting, is a testimonial to the love we’ve shared since we first laid eyes upon one another. Well, maybe it was lust which turned to loving and just as importantly…liking.

Appearances have a lot to do with individuals being attracted to one another. However, personalities that mesh, and having things in common, also figure prominently into the mix. As time passes, the latter two may even acquire equal status with good looks, if not surpass it altogether.

In his younger years I thought myself lucky to have my own Elvis Presley look-alike. Suffice it to say some girlfriends agreed with me, as did total strangers. Some even making a play for my husband. While on a business trip to Chicago, my husband said one woman told him if he ever returned he should look her up. Duh?!? Excuse me!?! 

June 2011 00010Even older women gasped at my husband’s good looks, one realtor asking me how it was that I came to marry him. Obviously she considered me a plain Jane by comparison. I didn’t hold it against her though, because we bought our house with her help. And I really did like her.

An executive with a company my husband had been employed by in NYC, hired him into a management position when she joined another organization. That was the beginning of the awesome career my husband has enjoyed these last 35+  years. And the woman, now in her 70s or 80s has remained a friend, in touch from time to time.

While my husband remains as attractive to me as when we first met, his caring ways are what I find most appealing now. I was reminded of them once again as he helped me through these last few days, as I strove to recover after fibromyalgia knocked me off of my feet.

We help each other, hubby and me…

…isn’t that what best friends do for one another?…

………hugmamma.Imported Photos 00151

 

…a kid like no other…

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s talent. I was reminded of it a couple of days ago when one of the TV channels ran the song/dance videos from Jackson’s hit album “BAD.” The station was celebrating 25 years since the album’s release.

Michael Jackson

At the time “BAD” hit the airwaves, I wasn’t impressed. Like many, I preferred the sweet, innocent, black Michael. “Who was this whiter, sexier, long-haired version?” I thought. Unwilling to accept that he had changed, just as we all do, I dismissed him…and his music. Not until his death did I resume my admiration for a talent the likes of which we haven’t seen before, and probably won’t see again. 

I recently picked up another Jackson biography at Half Price Books, for 20% off no less. “My Friend Michael” by Frank Cascio is an honest depiction of the mega watt star from the stance of a young man who grew up knowing Jackson since age 5. At the time Michael was in his 20s. Along with his brother, Eddie, Frank got to know the boy behind the man…the Michael Jackson whose childhood was swallowed up by a career run amok.

Who can judge what should and shouldn’t have happened in another person’s life. We all do what we need to do to survive. Joe Jackson, Michael’s father, did for his family what any father in the same dire straits might have done. The fact that he drove his sons with a heavy hand, denying them the ability to experience other facets of life is something Jackson, Sr. will have to square with his Maker when the time comes.

We all have personal baggage left over from childhood, be it good, bad, or indifferent. Having my fair share of issues, I can see that life is never a straight path to old age. That Michael even made it to 50 is a wonder. The pressures he faced, perceived or real, would’ve taken a lesser man down.

The Cascio family of New Jersey offered Jackson a safe haven from all the ugliness that others hungry for fame and financial gain dished out.

Michael Jackson wasn’t without faults. Who is? What’s that line? People who live in glass houses…shouldn’t throw stones. We all tend to forget that, especially when the media whips itself up into a feeding frenzy. Great white sharks have nothing over the papparazzi when it comes to ripping people to shreds if given half the chance.

I’ve read all manner of books about the “man behind the mirror.” In doing so I’ve been able to formulate a pretty well-rounded impression of Jackson.

I subscribe to the notion that Michael was indeed misunderstood. He wasn’t blameless to be sure, but he certainly couldn’t take the time to explain every aspect of every decision he made. Remember the hyperbaric chamber in which he was photographed lying in repose? According to Cascio…

When he was photographed in a hyperbaric chamber, rumors began flying that he slept in it–in reality he’d donated it to a local hospital to be used in the treatment of burn victims. Of course, sometimes Michael was just being a character, joking around, but the impetus for his behavior was never as freaky as people were always so quick to assume.

And about the surgical masks Jackson had taken to wearing?

When he wore a surgical mask, people thought he was hiding some new plastic surgery–in reality he was at first protecting himself from getting sick before performances; then he found that wearing the mask made him feel like he was in disguise (when in fact it called more attention to him); and ultimately he turned it into a one-of-a-kind fashion statement, having his silken surgical masks custom-made.

Under normal circumstances, folks might have been asking if it were any one other than Michael Jackson…”Where were the parents?” Haven’t you wondered that with the likes of Brittney Spears and Lindsey Lohan? Perhaps because the Jacksons were black meant the standards were somehow different.

That, I think, was the underlying issue with the public’s perception of Michael Jackson and his family. It’s the same dilemma with President Obama.

Without precedence for blacks who succeed beyond their wildest dreams, Jackson and Obama are scrutinized to the nth degree. Journalists try to get inside their brains to determine how in the heck such unlikely candidates for success…succeeded. And we, the public, are caught up in the media tidal wave. It’s up to us to grab for whatever life raft we can to bail ourselves out of the flood of hysteria that ensues.

Elvis Presley

Most of my generation will remember the similar persecution of another amazing talent who took the world by storm…Elvis Presley. He with the voice, and moves, of a black entertainer. Nothing like him had happened along before.

Whether we are resistant to change in our music, or find it difficult to accept that all races are created equal, we should keep reminding ourselves that…for better or worse…we all inhabit the same earth. None of us are going anywhere…except to meet our Maker. Until that day we should all try to be less quick to judge.

Shakespeare’s Shylock from “Merchant of Venice” says it more eloquently…

Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means,
warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?
Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his
sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.
The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
(Act III, scene I)

 

………hugmamma.

Michael Jackson performing The Way You Make Me...

elvis…before hollywood

Cover of

Cover of Elvis in the Twilight of Memory

I seemed to speed read right through Elvis-in the twilight of memory by teenage girlfriend June Juanico. I wholeheartedly agree with Publishers Weekly’s assertion that

“(A)fter sordid memoirs almost too numerous to count, comes this refreshingly sweet story of a young, innocent, talented, and devastatingly handsome Elvis and his first girlfriend, Juanico.”

No amount of wishing and hoping on the part of Elvis fans can turn back the hand of time, but it was nice to saunter down memory lane with someone who knew the young Elvis. Through June Juanico’s eyes I caught a glimpse of a normal teenage boy, and all that he had in common with others his age. His natural talent for singing made him special, but otherwise he could pass for one of the guys, albeit a hunk of a specimen. His southern manners made him immensely likeable to young and old, rich and poor, parents and their daughters. But like boys his age, Elvis had a healthy appetite for pretty, young girls, June being one of them.

A full summer of dating, between singing gigs which had him touring the south quite a bit, Elvis and June behaved like any other star-crossed lovers.

A cropped photograph depicts singer Elvis Pres...

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During the summer of 1957, like millions of other girls, June Juanico of Biloxi, Mississippi, fell in love with Elvis Presley. The difference was that Elvis Presley also fell in love with her. Now, forty years after her romance with Elvis, June–once called the “luckiest girl in the world”–takes us back to that magical summer, a last oasis of innocence and fun for the man who would become an American icon. Elvis and June spent the summer fishing, skinny-dipping, going to amusement parks, horseback riding, waterskiing, riding motorcycles–in short, being young and in love. Things got serious enough that Elvis proposed marriage. June accepted, though she knew that his life was moving beyond anyone’s control and that where he was going, no one could follow. In the end, June let Elvis go and went home to Biloxi.

Clear-eyed, courageous, intimate, wise, and most of all loving, June Juanico’s memoir is a treasure not just for fans of Elvis Presley but for anyone who remembers first love, and first heartbreak.

First love and first heartbreak, something with which all of us can identify. And I think it’s true what they say about first love…you never forget it. That relationship, whether realized or not, is stored in our memories seemingly devoid of faults. First love is the one by which all others are measured. As the years pass, we are wont to remember only the good times. The pain and the ache fade into the background, as we wonder “what if?”

elvis prsly

Juanico, though obviously still very much in love with the Elvis she had once known, never expressed her disappointment in marrying someone else. She speaks well of her husband, a handsome, steady man, and lovingly of her children. The product of a broken home, June grew into a self-confident, independent-thinking, respectful young woman, wise beyond her years. With Elvis she spoke her mind, never clung to him, understood the demands of his blossoming career, did not allow jealousy to rule her heart, traded witticisms with Elvis without hesitation. June Juanico was Elvis Presley’s match in every way.

Portrait of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans

Image by mharrsch via Flickr

     Singing our songs, we were like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in the Wild West. I was on top of the world when Elvis told me he didn’t have to leave again for two whole weeks.
     “I reckon you’ll be putting up with me for the next few weeks, Dale. We gotta lotta hard work ahead, gettin’ these here cattle to market and fightin’ off them there cattle rustlers,” Elvis said, sounding more like Gabby than Roy.
     “Don’t fret none, Roy. Me and Trigger’ll be right here by your side ever’ step of the way,” I said, sounding absolutely nothing like Dale Evans.
     Singing and walking through the woods, we stretched the forty-five-minute ride to ninety minutes. Thinking we were lost, one of the guides came to look for us… “That’s enough action for today, gang. Let’s go home and relax,” Elvis said, thanking the horse with a pat on the neck. When he had time to call his own, Elvis was content to sit around and do nothing for days at a stretch.
     In the beginning he had been excited about his upcoming Florida tour. …”I’m gonna miss you, baby. I hate to think about being away from you for so long,” he said, holding me close. …His tour of Florida was due to last ten days, and after that he had to report to Hollywood to begin work on his first movie. Florida didn’t seem all that far, but California was on the other side of the world as far as I was concerned.
     “I’ll miss you too, Elvis. I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” I was close to tears.”
     “If I could only figure out a way to hide you from Colonel Parker, you could go with me. Let me see what I can work out. Do you think your mother would let you go?” he asked, apparently thinking out loud.
     “Me? Go to Florida with you? I’d love to, but I doubt if my mother would let me.”
     “I’m not worried about your mother, baby. I’m sure I could convince her. It’s the Colonel–he’s already told me about seeing too much of you. He’ll shit a brick if he sees you in Florida. I’ll think of something. I’ll figure out a way,” he said, assuring me with a kiss.

Low-resolution reproduction of poster for the ...

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Fortunately, or unfortunately, Colonel Tom Parker and Hollywood came calling….and Elvis’s fame skyrocketed him from the back woods of Memphis, like a reluctant bat out of h–l. It seems he left the real person behind, becoming a shadow of his former self. But did he really have a choice?

The pink and green typography of Elvis Presley...

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Sometimes turning the page in one’s life story means you can never go back…to the way things were. It seems June Juanico understood that…and accepted elvis presley’s new life…as fact. But it didn’t stop her from hanging onto her memories. And perhaps Elvis continued to hang onto his. A relative, Junior Smith, said of June ” ‘she was the kind that wouldn’t take no shit! He’s still looking for another one like her, but it ain’t gonna happen.’ “ And best girlfriend Pat, who’d known Elvis well because she’d been a part of his courtship escapades with June, tried to convince her to go to Memphis to help Elvis. ” ‘I know he’s surrounded by people, June, but do they understand Elvis the way you do? Do they really care enough? You know how Elvis can be when someone tells him something he doesn’t want to hear. But he’ll listen to you, June. He always did.’ “

“If in the twilight of memory
we should meet once more,
we shall speak again together
and you shall sing to me a deeper song.”
                                            The Prophet
                                             Kahlil Gibran

The '68 Comeback Special produced

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…a book given to elvis by june…which he called his “unwinder”…never traveling without it…calling it his favorite read…hugmamma.

something in common…an uncommon love affair

Official White House photograph of Nancy Reaga...

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I’m in the process of reading I Love You, Ronnie – The Letters of Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan, and I must admit to loving it. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be interested in their relationship. Mostly because I have never, ever been a fan of hers. Silly reason being I always thought her head was too large for her body. Seeing the couple side-by-side only confirmed my opinion. I was always gaga about Reagan’s Greek god, good looks. As an actress, Nancy Davis had a pretty face in a plain sort of way, but it was larger than his, larger than anyone’s. But my opinion softened the more I glimpsed of her as First Lady. I’m certain her hairstyle did much to downplay the size of her head. In fact I thought she was very attractive while living in the White House. And now I know why. Nancy was radiant because of her all-consuming love for her husband.

Looking back now, I still can’t define what it was about Ronnie that made him seem so very perfect to me. I think we were just right for each other. And as the evening went on, I was more and more convinced. Ronnie had a great sense of humor, and he wasn’t like any other actor I knew–or anybody else in the movie business. He didn’t talk about himself. He didn’t talk about his movies. He talked about lots of things, but not about “my next picture, my last picture…” He was a Civil War buff, loved horses, and knew a lot about wine. In fact, he had a broad knowledge of a lot of different things. I loved to listen to him talk. I loved his sense of humor. I saw it clearly that very first night: He was everything that I wanted.

 Oddly enough I can relate to how Nancy Reagan felt. I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 18. I think it was “love at first sight” for both of us. Or maybe it was passion. Whatever the case, it seemed we were both hit by lightning when our eyes met.

I was a second semester freshman at the University of Hawaii, while my future husband was attending a small Catholic college nearby. Having returned from San Francisco a week earlier where he had been in a seminary, studying to be a priest, he was now one of many available “fish” in the sea. We met at the birthday party of a mutual friend. She and I shared a class at the University; he’d known her in elementary school. The party was in full swing when he rang the doorbell. When the hostess opened the door, all eyes were riveted upon the tall, dark, handsome guy standing there. If I’d have been a fly on the wall, I’m sure I would’ve witnessed all the girls eyes pop out of their sockets, and their mouths drop down to their chests, including mine! A huge Elvis fan, to me the guy in the doorway could’ve passed as a double.

I was introduced, as were all the other girls. But unlike most of them I was certain I didn’t stand a chance. Why? I’ve always had this perception that part-White, part-Asian girls are some of the most beautiful in the world. Still do. My husband is Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese. So of course he represented my viewpoint as it pertains to men. Naturally I assumed he and the girls with similar pedigree would go off and make beautiful music together. You can imagine my shock, and delight, when it was me he pursued! My best friend at the time watched with me, as he made his way from bar stool to bar stool to bar stool, until he was sitting right alongside me. The sizzles went right through me! I’m certain I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight, and I know I must’ve been grinning from ear to ear. I had only thought to make him comfortable when we first met, with my unflinching gift for blah, blah, blah. Well it seems I charmed the pants off my future husband from the get-go. And the rest is history, as they say.

Who would’ve thought that Nancy Reagan and I were sisters beneath the skin? Or in matters of the heart? Even as it applied to outsiders who seemed intent upon coming between her and her man. While we dated, and throughout our marriage, women seemed attracted to my husband. I could only wonder when a realtor asked me how it was he married me, or when a friend let me know that she was next in line for him, or when a sister-in-law teased that if she’d met him first, my husband would’ve married her. Then there were the sales women who lined up to kiss him on his birthday when he was in his early 20s, and a woman who offered her phone number should he ever visit her hometown, Chicago.

While in the White House, Nancy Reagan was unattractively depicted as being overly protective of the President. At the time I was probably swayed by the media to agree. But in light of what I’ve read, I give her credit for having the confidence and obvious self-esteem to stand up to the criticism, or ignore it altogether. I had neither, and so I felt like a doormat as women left their off-putting remarks and actions imprinted upon my fragile psyche. But like the Reagans, my husband and I have weathered the years like 2 buoys bobbing up and down in rough seas, or like 2 seagulls sitting atop the glassy surface of calm waters.

Of course none of us are saints, even though I called my husband one during one of our first arguments as a married couple.  With tears still glistening in his eyes he told me how hurt he felt when I had yelled “Do you know how hard it is living with a saint?” I promised never to say such a thing again. But I’m sure I failed to honor my word, at least once or twice thereafter. Any woman who’s lived with an ex-seminarian knows what I mean. When we’d argue, I’d be on both sides of the fence. I’d be just as vociferous about his inability to comprehend my woman’s needs, as I was about fighting for my rights as an equal partner. The nuns did a great job instilling guilt into my moral fiber. I’m still picking off the leftover lint to this day.

It came as no surprise that the Reagans were like other married folk. They didn’t always sail the ocean blue without so much as a white cap.

Like any other couple, we didn’t agree on everything, of course. But we never really argued. We worked on things. And I think that’s why, beyond our love for each other, our marriage has always been so happy. What we felt was right out there, just as it is the letters.

In response to a letter from a bride asking for tips towards succeeding in her marriage, Nancy wrote:

I’ve been very lucky. However, I don’t ever remember once sitting down and mapping out a blueprint. It just became “we” instead of “I” very naturally and easily. And you live as you never have before, despite problems, separations and conflicts. I suppose mainly you have to be willing to want to give.

It’s not always 50-50. Sometimes one partner gives 90 percent but then sometimes the other one does, so it all evens out. It’s not always easy, it’s something you have to work at, and I don’t think many young people realize that today. But the rewards are great. I can’t remember what my life was like before, and I can’t imagine not being married to Ronnie. When two people really love each other they help each other stay alive and grow. There’s nothing more fulfilling than to become a complete person for the first time. I suppose it boils down to being willing to try to understand, to give of yourself, to be supportive and not to let the sun go down on an argument.

I hope that yours will be a happy road ahead. I’m afraid I’ve rambled a bit, and of course, I can only speak for myself. However, when I married, my life took on an added meaning and depth and truly began. I’m sure yours will too.

I couldn’t have said it more eloquently myself. And like Nancy to this day I dread my husband’s business trips. In my 20s I would cry the entire week before he left. I no longer succumb to youthful self-pity, but I miss my husband’s presence. He likewise confesses to being unable to sleep when he’s not nestled comfortably in his own bed, with me by his side.

When Ronnie traveled now, I missed the little things most of all–the ways he loved and cared for me, how he would cover my shoulder with the blanket every night before we went to sleep, how we always slept on the same sides of the bed–him on the left, and me on the right–how we had breakfast on trays in bed together on weekends, which we started doing in our new house in the Palisades. I hated it even more then, when he went away. No matter how necessary it was for his work and the family, I never got used to it.

And then there’s Alzheimer’s. Those of you who’ve been reading hugmamma’s mind, body, and soul since the beginning of time, know that I’m proactive in my efforts to battle the disease which had my mom in its iron grips for nearly a decade before she died. Knowing of the Reagan’s devotion to one another over the course of 50 some years, I have great empathy for the loss she suffered when Alzheimer’s made off with her husband. All who have become one in body and spirit with their partner, would feel similarly. But thanks to Ronald Reagan’s propensity for writing, his presence lingered on in his love letters to Nancy.

President Ronald Reagan cutting in on Nancy Re...

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When Ronnie and I were married, on March 4, 1952, I had of course no idea what the future would hold for us. I only knew that I loved Ronald Reagan, and being his wife was then, as it is today, the most important thing in the world for me. “My life really began when I met Ronald Reagan,” I said some years ago, and I also said, “I can’t imagine life without Ronnie.” Those statements, for which I was criticized back then are just as true for me today as they were five decades ago–despite Alzheimer’s, aging, and all the things that have happened to us. As the years have gone by and Alzheimer’s has taken away Ronnie’s ability to share our happy memories with me, his letters have come to mean even more. In fact, they are a kind of lifeline–preserving the past, Ronnie’s wonderful voice and humor, his character, and his special way of seeing things and expressing himself. As they bring back Ronnie in his own words they help me go on into the future. Many people have said to me after reading I Love You, Ronnie , “I had no idea Ronald Reagan was like that.” But I of course always knew, and I treasure these letters especially because they bring back the Ronnie I have always loved.

The inevitable, final parting awaits all of us. Perhaps it need not be without its own happy ending, “a la” Ronald and Nancy Reagan.

…as I reflect some more on the life Ronnie and I have shared, I would add that saying how much you love each other–to each other and also in letters that can be saved, read, and reread over the years–is a wonderful way to stay close. It is especially important in our busy lives to keep alive what really matters most: love, caring for each other, finding concrete ways to say it and show it, every day and in every way you can. It’s what endures, after all, and what we retain and hold on to, especially in our hearts.

…Ronnie’s letters move me to this day. They are his gift to me across the years, and throughout the decades of love.

Former President Ronald Reagan and First Lady ...

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…an uncommon love affair that continues to endure…

…like mine…hugmamma.

 

 

 

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.         

peanut butter and co., “small town” and out-of-this-world!

On a lighter note, much lighter to be sure, “Are you happy with your brand of peanut butter?” Yes, you heard me right. Many, many things catch, and hold, my attention. The Wall Street Journal and its treasure trove of meaty reading is but one. Food, as you’ve already surmised is another. Of course not being the young chickadee of yesteryear, I’m not so gluttonous anymore, by choice, but not by choice. So of late, I’ve satisfied my sweet tooth with a slice or two of fibrous bread, and “to-die-for” peanut butter. Strange how the older we get, we seem to revert back to childhood habits, childhood passions. Again, I’m not sure if it’s our decision, or Mother Nature’s. In my case, it’s a little bit of both. I like peanuts, a lot, so I like peanut butter, by default. But if it weren’t for my “plumbing” concern, I would probably be gorging on chocolate covered nuts, salty potato chips, and peppermint ice cream leftover from the holidays! Oh, and I’d throw in some white rice and teriyaki chicken for good measure! But already down 6 pounds, give or take depending upon the time of day, I’m more than fine with the new “object of my desire.”

“All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO. No-Stir Natural” peanut butter is the “cat’s meow.” My felines would say so, if they ate peanut butter. There are no trans fats, no cholesterol, and no high fructose corn syrup. Two tablespoons equals 180 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar. With a concern for high cholesterol, I have to watch my intake of saturated fat, so I try to ingest the least possible amount I can, and at 2.5 grams, I opt to “pig out” on one serving, sometimes less, of this heavenly peanut butter. These stats are for CRUNCH TIME; they vary with the other flavors, but not by much. 

I’ve sampled 4 distinct flavors, there are others:

  • CRUNCH TIME – natural peanut butter with great big pieces of chopped peanuts (was my all-time favorite, but has temporarily taken a back seat)
  • WHITE CHOCOLATE WONDERFUL – peanut butter blended with sweet white chocolate (now one of my favorites)
  • DARK CHOCOLATE DREAMS – peanut butter blended with rich dark chocolate (tied for current favorite)
  • CINNAMON RAISIN SWIRL – peanut butter blended with cinnamon and raisins (least favorite, too healthy, still better than other brands)

Besides its best selling feature, the fact that it tastes fantastic, “All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO.” is a small town product, just like me. Of course, I’m really small town, having been raised in Maui in the 50s and 60s. By contrast, this peanut butter hails from The Big Apple, where it was “born” in 1998. My daughter, sister-in-law, niece and I visited its charming digs in NYC’s small, but famous, Greenwich Village, quite a few years ago. We might’ve even been witness to its humble beginnings, now that I think about it.

Having wend our way through Little Italy and Chinatown, where we lunched on so-so food, my niece expressed a fervent wish to find a shop she’d read about. Until then, I’d not known Jennifer was such a huge fan of peanut butter. A taxi ride later, we found ourselves in front of a quaint-looking shop which only sold peanut butter related items. There was a menu board listing sandwiches of every imagineable combination. I seem to remember that there was one in honor of the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. It probably included bananas and bacon. My niece might have bought a sandwich “for later.” I know I was too overwhelmed by the whole peanut butter thing, to take it too seriously. Until now, that is.

Who would’ve thought I’d find jars of a Greenwich Village, specialty peanut butter sitting on the shelf at my local grocer’s? Needless to say I tried it, and it’s been our family’s choice ever since. I hesitate to say that I found about 10 jars of it in my cabinet just now. Several were hidden in a corner, so I thought we had none and decided to stock up. With threat of snow days, peanut butter is a nutritious, tasty food to have at hand. It’s a comfort food, I can still turn to…for comfort.

Other brands cost a few dollars, add another couple for “All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO. No-Stir Natural.” It’s well worth the price, in terms of taste, and your family’s health. In the current economy small companies are struggling to survive. I’m hoping my favorite peanut butter weathers the storm, making it through to sunny days that lie ahead. I’m doing my bit, after all 10 jars for 2 people is a bit much. But they’ll keep. And if it disappears from my grocer’s shelf, I can try ordering my favorite peanut butter online at www.ilovepeanutbutter.com or call 1-866-ILOVEPB. 

If you can’t find “All Natural PEANUT BUTTER & CO No-Stir Natural” where you are, and decide to order online or by phone, tell LEE ZALBEN, THE PEANUT BUTTER GUY, hugmamma sent you. Their website includes youtube videos which you can view, one produced by a travel channel. Your mouth will water just watching shop visitors sink their teeth into thick, flavorful, pb&j sandwiches!!!

gotta have my pb on fibreous toast, now and then…hugmamma.

fathers cast “long shadows”

Never knowing my father, has surely influenced the course of my life, for better or worse. Not that I grew up dwelling on my loss, because I knew no better. Life with my mom was, what it was. However years of observing father-child relationships, including my husband’s and daughter’s, and being privy to others telling or writing, of their own experiences,  made me realize that being fatherless probably impacted my life in a major way. I’m certain I sought a replacement in every relationship thereafter, looking for the security and safe haven every father is thought to inherently possess. I’m positive I looked for him in every male I encountered. But I would have been just as happy, perhaps, if a woman filled the bill since my mom was preoccupied on so many fronts. My older siblings knew my father as children. So I can’t identify with their loss when he died, although I’m sure it was devastating. What we had in common, was being emotionally bereft of both parents.

As society’s traditional head of the household, a father seems to define a child’s psyche. If he’s present and a positive influence, the child flourishes. If he’s present and a negative influence, the child diminishes. If he’s “missing in action,” the child flounders, and “crashes,” or picks himself up by the proverbial “bootstraps,” and becomes a better man for having suffered. If a child is fatherless, he searches far and wide for his identity. These scenarios don’t preclude a child’s own life experiences with its accompanying peaks and valleys. However, how he celebrates or copes is affected by the presence or absence, positivism or negativism, of his father.

Does a father know the power he has over his children? Too concerned with providing material sustenance, I don’t think he ponders the question. If he did, he might run for the nearest “exit.” What man in his right mind would want the responsibility of playing God? Having to walk the fine line between “His Benevolence” and sergeant-major, while allowing his children the luxury of exercising their own free will in all matters. In my estimation, a man walks into fatherhood “blindfolded.” What he does when the blinders come off, determines whether he’s a good father, or one who sucks, on a scale from 1 to 10. I don’t think I know any 10’s. Even my fabulous husband, probably comes in at a 9 1/2, but my daughter might override me with a resounding “10!”She’d win; after all, he’s her father.       

So much has been said about Michael Jackson’s father who abused his sons, mentally and physically,  in attempting to garner a better life for his family. One oft told anecdote involved Tito playing his father’s guitar, something forbidden by Joseph.

…one day Tito broke a string on the guitar. ‘I knew I was in trouble,’ Tito recalled. ‘We were all in trouble. Our father was strict and we were scared of him. So I put the guitar back in the closet and hoped he wouldn’t figure out what had happened. But he did, and he whooped me. Even though my mother lied and said she had given me permission to play the guitar, he tore me up.’ When Tito tells the story, his words tumble out and he gets tongue-tied. So many years later, one can still sense his anxiety about it. ‘She just didn’t want to see me get whipped,’ he said, sadly. ‘Not again.

J. Randy Taraborelli also writes the following in his biography Michael Jackson – The Magic, the Madness, The Whole Story.

Joseph believed in the value and impact of brute force as a disciplinary tool. ‘Either you’re a winner in this life, or a loser,’ he liked to say. ‘And none of my kids are gonna be losers.’ To be sure of that, he would smack his kids without giving it a second thought in order to keep them on the right track to being ‘winners’. Shoving them into walls was not unusual behaviour for him, especially the boys. Michael, however, was the one boy in the family who would attempt to fight back when provoked by his father. Once, when he was just three, Joseph spanked him for something he had done. Crying, Michael then took off one of his shoes and hurled it at his father. Joseph ducked; the shoe missed him.

‘Are you crazy?’ Joseph screamed at him. ‘Boy you just signed your own death warrant. Get over here.’

Infuriated, Joseph grabbed Michael and, according to Marlon, held him upside down by one leg, and pummelled him over and over again with his hand, hitting him on his back and buttocks. Soon, Michael was crying and screaming so loudly it seemed as if he was trying to summon the entire neighborhood to his aid.

‘Put him down, Joseph,’ Katherine hollered. ‘You’re gonna kill him! You’re gonna kill him!

When Joseph released the boy, he ran to his room, sobbing, ‘I hate you.’ Those were fighting words for Joseph. He followed Michael into the bedroom, slammed the door and then let him have it.

‘Joseph once locked Michael in a closet for hours,’ said a friend of the Jackson family’s. ‘That was traumatizing, horrible for him.’

 Suzanne Finstad’s Child Bride – The Untold Story of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, reveals that she  inadvertently discovered her mother’s closely guarded secret of Priscilla’s real father’s identity.   

Priscilla nearly collapsed under the strain of her sacred pact of silence with her mother. Ann Beaulieu had placed an enormous burden on a thirteen-year-old child by asking her daughter to keep her paternity a secret, even from her siblings and from the man she now knew was not her real father. 

…She  told no one about the discovery of her true identity, not even Pam. As time passed, she became conflicted about wearing the locket containing the picture of her real father. ‘I felt guilty, because I felt now that I was betraying my stepfather, who was so good to me. Because now it’s like I was hiding something from him.’

The trauma of her mother’s betrayal and her own suppression of the truth affected Priscilla’s behavior. Her grades dropped, eliminating her from eigth-grade cheerleading tryouts, ‘and it was a big blow to her,’ …’She went through a real change of personality,’…

Knowing nothing about him, Priscilla fantasized that her long-lost father died a great war hero. ‘In times of emotional pain and loneliness,’ she said, ‘he would become my guardian angel.’

Finstad’s book also sheds light upon the father-daughter relationship between Elvis and his daughter with Priscilla, Lisa Marie Presley.

Lisa’s self-image as the princess of rock, spoiled utterly by a superstar father, with a staff at Graceland at her command at the age of six, continued even after Elvis died. She was imperious even with Dana, the one close friend she had. ‘It was always very clear that whatever Lisa wanted to do,…she had to have her way.’ In later years, Dana attributed this trait to Lisa’s unexpressed anger over losing her father.

Lisa’s marriage to Michael Jackson, continues the author, may have been deeply rooted in the unconditional love she and Elvis shared.  His sudden death left her feeling helpless, since at age 6, Lisa was incapable of saving him from a self-destructive lifestyle.

Lisa had wed, by an obvious Freudian motive, the nineties equivalent of her staggeringly successful superstar father. Elvis was the King of Rock; Michael was the King of Pop. Both singers, oddly, had pet chimpanzees at one time; both shared an interest in UFOs. Elvis lived in semiseclusion at an estate called Graceland. Michael lived a reclusive life at Neverland. Elvis often rented amusement parks, one of his favorite forms of entertainment; Michael had re-created Disneyland on the grounds of his estate and took Lisa, incognito, to the California theme park on their honeymoon. Both men had married to avoid scandal in their careers: Elvis to erase the stigma of his live-in relationship with a seventeen-year-old girl, or to avoid the Beaulieus’ revelation of their illicit arrangement for Priscilla; Michael to rehabilitate his shattered image following the molestation charges. Michael and Elvis entertained small groups of fourteen-year-olds in their bedrooms for slumber parties. The two music legends were notorious eccentrics trapped in an arrested adolescence, existing on unorthodox diets.

Lisa, some of her friends surmised, had married Michael–on a subconscious level at least–to ‘save’ the father she had loved and lost. By restoring Michael to his former position of glory, by elevating him from the ruin of his molestation scandal, she might, in her mind, redeem and perhaps resurrect her father.

I’m currently reading In My Father’s Shadow – A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles by Chris Welles Feder. A third of the way into it, I’ve felt a pervasive sadness throughout. Despite her unquenchable longing to always be with her father, Christopher, the name chosen by her dad, joyously celebrated what precious little time she shared with him. And in her own words, she explained that while her new stepfather successfully brainwashed her mother in behavior becoming the proper wife of a British Major, Orson Welles’ daughter would never succumb.

During our first year in South Africa, my mother changed from the open-minded American woman who had treated African-Americans as her equals, the woman who had loudly cheered and danced around the living room with Charlie Lederer (her second husband) when we heard on the radio that Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected to a fourth term. She became a female clone of Jack Pringle, and the two of them teamed up against me, because I refused to change my essential self and blend in seamlessly with my surroundings. I was not a chameleon like my mother. And, strangely, the absence of my father made me realize how much he had already shaped me and that his power did not depend on his presence. I was Orson’s kid–not Virginia’s and certainly not Jackie’s–now and forever.

Thinking that Orson had forgotten her twelfth birthday, Chrissie, aka Christopher, complained to her mother, who responded ‘Instead of sitting there feeling so sorry for yourself, why don’t you think about all the birthdays he did remember?’ After a brief pout, Chrissie contemplated what her mother had said “Then, as though she had flung open the doors of an old toy cupboard, I suddenly saw the doll my father had given me on my fifth birthday–the most beautiful doll…pretty blue eyes that opened and closed when I rocked her in my arms. …the stack of Land of Oz books; the recordings of Peter and the Wolf and The Nutcracker Suite,…the fluffy, pink bedroom slippers… One by one, they came back in a joyful parade, all the birthday gifts from my father. Gifts that were always exactly what I wanted.” But the gift that left its greatest impression upon Orson’s daughter was the one he bestowed on her seventh birthday. During his half-hour radio evening program, This Is My Best series, he announced ” ‘Good evening, this is Orson Welles. …My eldest daughter, Christopher, is seven years old today, and like most ladies and gentlemen of her age, Christopher likes her father to tell her a story. Well, I don’t know of a better one than ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.’ …” Orson’s 7-year-old was overjoyed that Orson remembered her favorite story. Reflecting back, Chrissie speaks of that special occasion.

For a long time after the program ended, I had sat by the radio, lost in a magic world of poisoned apples and happy endings. Five years had elapsed since then, but no one–not even Jack Pringle–could take that memory away from me.

So now I knew what I had to do. Whenever being without my father began to hurt too much,  I would come and sit quietly in my room, close my eyes and remember.

My daughter remembers that in the very early years of her childhood, she wished she could have seen more of my husband. He commuted to work in NYC from Connecticut, a 4 hour round trip which he gladly made, so that we could raise our only child in the idyllic town of Redding. The only concession he asked was that her curfew be 9:30 p.m. He wanted time to play with our daughter each evening, and read her a bedtime story. This was a small request for the sacrifice of time and energy my husband made, so she could be nurtured in the small town environment which we favored.

The better part of our daughter’s memory is filled with wonderful remembrances of a father who was actively present in her life. Unlike childhood friends whose fathers only exacted discipline, or were absent from mealtimes, or dancer friends whose fathers are never seen at performances. My husband has allowed his toddler daughter to dress him in hat, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings and fur boa when they played her favorite game, “Pretty, Pretty Princess.” Against his natural instincts that she attend college, he allowed his 16-year-old aspiring ballerina to move to another state in pursuit of a dance career. And after a summer caring for her cat while our daughter was away dancing, her father escorted Misha back to his “mom” en route to a business trip in a nearby state. It was a supreme act of love, since my husband has been on meds for years, as an asthmatic with allergies. Going through airport security, he wore gloves when removing the cat from his crate which went through the scanner, while Misha and “grampy” walked through the screening gate.

All fathers are human, bringing personal “baggage” to the job. Most intend to do well by their offspring, whether they have a plan or “fly by the seat of their pants.” Gazing upon the innocent faces in the pediatric ward, new dads quickly pledge the “moon” to these tiny infants. They never question their ability to “deliver.” That comes later, as reality and responsibility seep into their overtaxed brains. Some walk away; some commit long-term; others remain undecided, going through the motions, until something triggers a decision one way or the other.

A parent is expected to multi-task. Raising children is added to the “to do” list of chores, walk the dog, empty the trash, gas and wash the car, mow the lawn, clean the gutters, power-wash the driveway and roof, refill the bird feeders. Of course children should be top priority, but sometimes life can overwhelm, especially when an unexpected glitch occurs disrupting the fine balance. A parent loses a job, is diagnosed with cancer, is divorced, must care for a parent with Alzheimer’s, suffers the irreparable loss of a child. Where does a parent seek relief? It’s not inconceivable that duty to one’s child slips, eventually occupying the lowermost rung on life’s ladder. In that eventuality, I don’t know a parent who wouldn’t feel like shit. Sorry, but I know that’s exactly how I’d feel. 

Parents don’t get a reprieve. We don’t get to pick and choose which jobs we want to relinquish to someonelse, while we tend to our children. We’re expected to do it all simultaneously. We should show ourselves compassion for trying to do it all, remembering, however, that children are not a commodity, but rather smaller versions of ourselves. They deserve the same respect we desire for ourselves.

Fathers cast “long shadows” over the lives of their children. Their influence is long-lasting, if not permanent. Dads are imbued with the power of “life and death,” physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. They are the kings of their castles. Succession to their “thrones” is dependent upon how thoughtfully they rule over the lives of their children.

for all fathers, huge hugs…hugmamma.

new album

Not sure if there are any Michael Jackson fans reading my blog. If there are…good news! A new album of 10 unreleased, new songs should be in stores in November. Evidently someone found a hard-drive with hundreds of songs sung by MJ. Among them, was “Hot Time In The Summer Sun” by Sly and The Family Stone. In my mind, I could see and hear Michael singing the lyrics to the rhythmic tune. Head bobbing up and down, back and forth, while he sat moving to the beat. Happily doing what he loved to do, what he was obviously born to do. That’s how he should be remembered, how I’ll remember him.

My favorite memories of MJ are captured on a DVD of his live concert in Yokohama, Japan. He was in his late 20’s at the time. He cut a lean, mean, “dancing machine” figure. Belting out song after song, gliding and spinning across the stage, he owned it. The ultimate performer, MJ gave himself totally to the act, to the fans. Therein lay his Achille’s heel.

Jackson grew up in front of his fans; realized his full artistic potential because of them; he earned hundreds of millions of dollars because they bought his music, attended his concerts; and he felt completely engulfed by their love. On the flip side, Michael didn’t enjoy a normal childhood; he didn’t grow in other areas which might have given balance to his life; he spent money as fast as he made it, knowing he could always make more; and he kept many individuals who knew him and loved him, at arm’s length. He dedicated his life to his fans, the only ones he seemed to trust as being loyal and truthful to him. He lived in a fantasy, peopled only by himself, his fans and a select few, very few.

In his naiveté, MJ’s total trust in his fans was his final undoing. Inviting those who seemingly adored him to take shelter under his roof cost him dearly. While he went about the daily routine of his life, the free-loaders dug in their heels aiming to stay on the payroll for as long as they could. When MJ’s attention and devotion strayed from them, mother and children resorted to “bringing him down.” And they did.

Michael fled Neverland, a land of fantasies and wild imaginings, where all his dreams, and nightmares, came true. Living abroad with his 3 children, MJ tried to heal his life, himself. Their love, an innocent one, nourished his soul, bringing him back to a shadow of his former self. But at least he was alive, focusing upon them, and not his audience, his fans. But at 50, he contemplated a comeback, a personal performance for his children now old enough to understand and appreciate his talent. But in the bigger picture, Jackson owed millions in unpaid debts. Creditors were clamoring for their money. So “This Is It” was an answer to so many prayers.

Performing 50 live concerts was probably not in the realm of possibilities for Michael Jackson. In older age, he was not what he had been as a dancer, or even as a singer in his earlier years. But he was still amazing. My daughter and a couple of dancer friends were dumbfounded when they saw the film showing what might have been “the greatest show on earth,” for this generation. In their 20’s they could not believe MJ could belt out tunes and “shake his body” alongside younger dancers. They sat in the darkened theatre until the credits were done and the last strains of his voice were heard. I think they felt humbled by Michael’s huge talent.

Sad that MJ is gone, but like Elvis and others before him, such a predictable end to a glorious, but unreal life. Too much too soon, too fast to slow down, and fans always wanting more, expecting more. And their icons always aimed to please.

who controlled whom?…hugmamma