Family: July 2008 Archives

With a little help from her friends

I am a praying person.

And right now I am praying for my friend Lisa, who has just learned she has cancer.

I am familiar with cancer; it has ravaged my family. Thankfully I know people who have beaten this wretched disease. I know Lisa will be one of them because, despite her protests, she is one of the strongest people that I know. She doesn't flaunt it because she is too graceful for that.

I am praying for her and her husband and son to be given strength to get through this and also for her family and friends to circle the wagons around her during this time. She's currently in the hospital and I know she would find it so uplifting to  ead words of encouragement in her comments or inbox. Please, go forth and give her all the support you can. She's been such a wonderful friend to me and if there is anything I could do to make this go away I would.
Thank you so much.

(*I am so grateful for all of you who've typed her some love. I wish I could reach through the monitor, grasp you, and hug you to the screen.)

Our idea of foreplay

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I became both fascinated with and terrified of the macabre back at my family's creaky old lodge in the Ozark wilderness. My villainous older cousins showed me the game Bloody Mary there once during our family's Christmas party. The lodge was an imposing character by itself. It sat a couple of miles off the highway down a narrow, nondescript gravel lane which opened up to a quaint clearing in the middle of the woods. It was Bavarian in appearance and unsettling anachronistic: a three-story tall gingerbread constructed of wood and stone with a giant stone fireplace running up both floors. There was a pond with a waterfall on the property; a half-mile up the lane was a small dam where a foot-wide, fifteen-foot tall slab of concrete held back the dark, still waters of a small lake. My cousins and I used to walk across that slab all the time, unbeknownst to our parents. Falling one way meant certain death on the rocks below. Falling another way seemed worse as we had no idea what lied in that mini Sargasso. Even further up the ridge and deep into the woods was a large, hidden lake. It was pristine and beautiful but we were too afraid to hike down to it because coyotes and pumas were common in the area.

Inside the lodge's interior décor was dated and neglected. The lamps were amber glass; the furniture was gold, olive, and 70s. The atmosphere had that same sepia hue visible in all photos from this era. My aunt and uncle were the property's caretakers; the lodge's owners were a group of rich doctor friends who would stay there a few times throughout the year. Otherwise, we had the run of it.

The lodge was a horror film setting waiting to happen. You have to understand this to understand my horror film neurosis. 

We had our holiday parties at this lodge and while our parents drank, played pool, ate, and visited downstairs, my cousins and I would climb the dark, narrow back stairs and play in the maze of bedrooms on the second floor. During one Christmas party the girls dared the boys to go into the bathroom and say "bloody Mary" three times with one of our folks' stolen cigarette lighters. We were all too chicken except for one cousin who did it, only if we all went into the bathroom together. After the third "bloody Mary" we were spooked and convinced that all hell was after us. It didn't help that the lodge was built like the Winchester house with secret storage areas and multiple staircases. It was the perfect environment for fear to fester. My entire youth is a series of odd vignettes like this, another reason I assume why I'm drawn to kookiness.

Also why I am simultaneously a fan of, and a total pansy about, horror stories and films. (One time in elementary school, after a kid told me a story about murderous teddy bears, I went home and blindfolded and tied the wrists of all the stuffed animals in my room. Then I was afraid to untie them because WHAT IF? They didn't have a motive before but THEY SURE DID NOW. I really wish I was joking.)

Fast-forward to last night. We had just finished watching a ridiculously stupid, yet still pretty freaky horror movie called "Dead Mary" and headed to bed. Chris kept teasing me: like when I was brushing my teeth he'd flick off the lights, poke his head in and whisper "BLOODY MARY." He thought it hysterical. When we climbed into bed, I rolled over, turned off the glass lamp, rolled back towards Chris, and felt a lump in the bed between us. Every synapse in my body simultaneously screamed "FREAK OUT FREAK OUT EVERYBODY FREAK OUT!!" I flipped over, turned on the light, and when I rolled over towards the lump I saw this looking at me:

And because Chris was exploiting my neurosis as a joke and holding it up, I ended up accidentally socking him in the face. Luckily my aim was off because I was half-blind; otherwise I might've broken his nose. He made a big dramatic deal out of it, saying Ohmygawd, it was only Elmo and I was all ohmygawd EXACTLY why, WHY do you do this to me?? Even after the drama died down and the lights were off he giggled into his sheets about it for a half-an-hour. He thought I was asleep ... but really I was just plotting my payback.

Tuesday evening my mother excitedly called me before leaving work. She's kind enough to come to our house on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to watch the boys while I work. She mock complains that Nana has a life too, you know and sometimes proclaims how much they tire her while holding her hand to her forehead in a dramatic manner. I know she enjoys herself most rolling around in the floor with the boys, shooting plastic guns at bad guys, and shouting along with them from the top of her lungs. She doesn't know this, but I've crept up the dark staircase to the third floor playroom and watched as she quite literally forgot her age and skipped about the room with them.

She's always been that sort of parent. I remember she used to sit with me on our big porch swing, at our little shotgun shanty in a forgotten rural town, and sing "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" in her husky alto. She told me stories and was a walking encyclopedia of nursery rhymes and old southern spirituals. She babied me when I was sick and defended me when I was persecuted - like the time in the mall shoe store when, as a pre-teen, two teenage girls laughed at my skinny frame and knocked-knees and I cried and begged Mom to leave. To put it simply, she went ghetto on those girls and confronted them with a level of intimidation that they'd never before seen. (Despite growing up poor in the Ozarks, Mom was the varsity cheerleading captain of her high school, voted most athletic, and most popular. She has always enjoyed the higher level in the social pecking order.)

I'm an adult now and her nurturing attitude hasn't changed. She called me that Tuesday and girl-shrieked into the phone how, when she was out shopping for evening attire to wear to my 30 Under 30 awards next Thursday, she found a cocktail dress for me. My mother lives to dress me and I know that the greatest gift I could ever give her would be to allow her into my closet to do with as she pleased. She gushed about the dress and said she was bringing it over and lo, she brought it and made me try it on right there in my kitchen.

"IT IS SO FIGURE FLATTERING," she chirped. "Would you LOOK at that CUT?!" After I got over my "'Pretty in Pink' prom dress shopping scene feeling" I teased that the designer probably paid her to say flattering things. When Chris came home from work she made me try it on again, this time allowing me to change in the kitchen bathroom. Then my husband and my mother went over all the black heels in my closet attempting to match a pair to the dress. Chris, who despite wearing only black, is a straight Tim Gunn, was in his element alongside my mother. They commented on every pair of shoes that I own.

"I don't like this pair, I don't like the stitching in the back," Chris would remark.

"Are you kidding me?" I protested.

"HEY. I am a MAN. I know better than any chick WHAT LOOKS HOT on a girl's body." My mother nodded her head in enthusiastic agreement.

I kid them but really, it was sort of cool, this demonstration of their pride and excitement for me. I never sought academic superstardom, aside from winning writing scholarships, and when I went to awards banquets or won medals in track my mother wasn't able to join me in celebration because she was slaving away at her job. My mother worked hard to support me; it was a trade-off and Chris knows it. This is a rare occasion that she is able to share this with me and I'm happy for it.

One of my favorite memories is of a humid, downright sultry summer evening in the Ozarks at my grandparents' small whiteboard house situated on the outskirts of town. My grandmother was either lonely or having a crazy spell because she allowed me and my cousins to spend the night at her house.

We spent the evening lazing on the porch swing; wading in the creek across the road; walking up the holler and catching fire flies on our way back. She picked honeysuckle blossoms from her yard and showed us how to eat the nectar from the blossom. She gave each of us girls ten Bugle chips and showed us how to put them on the tips of our fingers to make witches' fingernails.

We ran barefoot in the yard until it was too dark to see in front of us and the cacophony of frog grunts and chirping crickets matched the decibel of our own voices. She threw us each into the bathtub, let the girls use her body powder, and gave each of the boys a dab of Grandpa's cologne from the bottle which sat on his dresser next to his Bible and John Deere hat.

We climbed under old, but sweet-smelling sheets right in the middle of her living room floor. Grandpa was out hunting so she stayed up to watch the local news until the last of us was asleep.

There was an aesthetic to that night that I've since tried to replicate within my own household. People in my family remember Grandma a lot of different ways, but that's how I remember her.

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Dana asks: "Thanksgiving Traditions: Yours or Your Mother's?"