Tag Archives: family

My Mother, My Hero

18581815_10210594503636521_5233969730884670004_n[1]I’ve been working on this piece for a while. I meant to post this yesterday, because it was  the 43rd anniversary of my mom’s 36th birthday*, but Life had other plans

A while ago  I talked about how I always wanted to be a superhero.

My aunt responded with this:

You are a superhero … Doing the right thing is not easy sometimes. You’re so like your mother. I wish Mom or Dad was here to tell me the specifics of this story because I was a kid and can’t remember the details.  Anyway It involved your Mom and race relations in the 50’s.  The local newspaper was interviewing students to get their opinions and they interviewed Karen.  I remember Mom and Dad being so proud of her, but concerned for her safety.  So you see…you’re a chip off the old block.  I’m enjoying your writing. Keep it up!

Love, Aunt Sally

I remember that story very well, but I’m not sure where I heard it. My mom was not one to brag. I probably heard it from my grandfather, who loved sharing family stories (I wish I’d been willing to listen). Or maybe mom told me the story when we had one of our many discussions about racism (I would say that I was raised to be colorblind, but evidently colorblindness is the new racism). I couldn’t understand why we were still struggling with racial inequality in the 70’s. It pissed me off, and I frequently came home, ranting and raving about something I’d seen/heard/read. My mother, who grew up in the Deep South in the 50’s and 60’s, would laugh.

This is the way she told the story –

I went to school at the height of the fight for integration. My father  (who was superintendent for the Oklahoma City school district) met with President Kennedy regarding the issue (I wish I had that picture/newspaper clipping, because it was REALLY cool), but I can’t say for certain that that’s why they chose to interview me. They asked me “What do you think of busing/integration?”. I told them “People should be allowed to attend whatever school they’d like to. They should be allowed to come here or stay at their old school, if that’s what they prefer.”

Needless to say, the newspaper quote did not go over well with some (most) of her neighbors in Tecumseh. My mom never knew about the backlash. My grandmother and grandfather handled the calls calmly, responding to suggestions that they “beat some sense into (her)” with “Thank you. We’re taking care of it.” I love this example of “creative truth telling”. They didn’t LIE, exactly. They just never said how they were “taking care of it”.

This, then, was the woman who raised me. My mother. My hero. Don’t get me wrong – my mother wasn’t perfect. She battled inner demons, she smoked and drank too much, she talked too loudly and snorted when she laughed. She didn’t fit in with the Perfect PTA Parents and Suburban Soccer Moms**.  She may not have been perfect, but she taught me many things. My mother taught me:

  • to be kind to everyone you meet.  (well, she tried to, at least. There are some days when the best I can manage is “not hateful”).
  • that there is no such thing as a stranger. She believed that strangers are just friends you haven’t yet met.
  • the importance of family, and showed me that “family” includes both family by blood and family of heart.
  • the value of shared grief (I used to mock her for crying when a friend suffered a loss because I was a lousy know-it-all teen, but I get it now).
  • and the value of shared joy.
  • the importance of keeping a secret
  • and the destructive power of gossip
  • when to speak up when necessary
  • and when to keep quiet
  • to respect others – that I didn’t have to agree with them, but that everyone is entitled to their own opinion (and that yes, opinions are like assholes)

Most importantly, she taught me that (almost) everything about anyone else is “Noneya”. Race, religious belief, sexual orientation – it really is “noneya business” – as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else (An it harm none. I never realized that my mom was a Wiccan).

In a world that’s becoming increasingly divisive, with hate crimes on the rise and people attacking each other for differing opinions, we need more people like her. She may have been “just” a housewife, but she was as much a superhero as any caped crusader.

*While most women remain 27, my mother was eternally 36. “I can’t be 37 yet, because I swore I would get my ears pierced when I turned 37.”

**Holy crap. I AM my mother’s daughter. <shrug> There are worse things I could be.

My other hero was my grandfather, who always reminded me of Atticus Finch

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I’m curious – who is YOUR hero?

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On Love, Loss, and Laughter

images71V16YFPI know what you’re thinking – “Where the hell has Tracey been and what kind of writer doesn’t write?” (or, as my EIC would say, “If a writer isn’t writing, doesn’t that mean they’re not a writer?”)

In Hell. Literally (Ok, maybe not literally). A stuck writer. That’s what kind.

Grief has eaten my brain, and stolen my creativity.

I lost someone a month ago who was incredibly important to me. Well, I didn’t’ “lose” him. It’s not like he was a set of car keys, or a sock that disappeared from the dryer, or my mind.

Sorry for that. I have a habit of trying to compensate for emotional issues with sarcasm and lame attempts at humor. Let me try again.

My friend died a month ago.

Wow. There it is, in black and white. The phrase I’ve avoided. I know it’s hard to read, but trust me, it’s harder to write and practically impossible to believe. Timothy Leary was right when he said “Death is the last taboo.”  Nobody dies. They “pass on” or “leave us”, “slip away” or “go to a better place”.

I call bullshit.

My friend died.

Three words. So simple and so misleading. Here’s how dictionary.com breaks down the sentence:

My – belonging to or associated with the speaker.

Friend – a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual of family relations

Died – to cease to live; undergo the complete and permanent cessation of all vital functions

The thing is, Mario wasn’t just “my” friend. He was EVERYONE’S friend. Yeah, he was THAT guy. He was charming and funny, smart and kind. No matter where he went, he always ended up surrounded by a group of people who were jostling for position and vying for his attention. Mario, like my mother, seemed to believe that there is no such thing as a stranger. Strangers are simply friends you haven’t yet met.

He was my friend, but he was more than that. There are friends, and then there are people who are so much more than simply friends – we call these people our “family of heart”. We might not be related by blood, but we are joined by a love that is even stronger than family ties. Mario was my friend, my mentor, my brother of heart.

I met Mario when we were young and foolish, hopeful and fearless. He was dating the woman who ran the booth I worked for – the woman who would become one of my very best friends. In a blink of an eye, they were married, and raising 3 kids.

Mario and Virginia were playing house and being Responsible Adults while I was still trying to decide how to style my hair. It took me longer to grow up, but eventually I got married and had a kid of my own. I am incredibly lucky to have had their help in raising my daughter. Mario was a perfect example of a father for my spouse to emulate, and Virginia was the same for me. Their three kids are amazing people, despite the fact that their parents have a twisted sense of humor (It gave me hope that our daughter wouldn’t be Permanently Damaged). The fact that they were still wildly in love with each other even after 35 years together was inspiring – a testimony to the power of True Love.

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Mario’s kids asked us to write down things that we learned from him, to list our favorite sayings or quotes. I couldn’t think of anything at the time. I’m sure people remember a lot of “Mario-isms”, but I can’t remember anything other than him saying “OUTSTANDING!” when things would go less than perfectly, or when someone would do something that was extraordinarily stupid. But here are things that I learned from him:

Be kind. Mario was nice to everyone – no matter what they believed, what they looked like, how they dressed, how much money they made (or didn’t make). He was one of the popular kids, but he wasn’t one of the mean girls (which is not to say that he didn’t enjoy a little CCC* when warranted). He went out of his way to be kind to people who were often overlooked or ignored. He was even nice to the weird kid in the corner (What? No, that wasn’t me, why would you think that?).

Be polite We disagreed about many things (politics, religion, and whether the Three Stooges were funny). As strong minded (or, in my case, hard headed) individuals, we agreed to disagree. Having friends with opinions which differ from one’s own makes life more interesting.

but don’t be a pushover. (does this one really need explaining?)

Keep learning. Mario was always reading, always trying to better himself. As Albert Einstein said “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Make people smile Mario would do almost anything to get a laugh (that’s not exactly true. There was no “almost” about it).

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by embracing your inner weirdo – In a world where everyone worries about what others think/we struggle to fit in, to be normal (please note, “normal” is just a setting on the washing machine), Mario stood out as someone who just didn’t give a flying f…

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Don’t whine. (Aka “Suck it up, Buttercup”) The past few years were incredibly hard physically and psychologically, and yet, Mario was always smiling (or maybe it was a grimace). His outlook could best be described this way:

Be strong… Mario was in a lot of pain, but he never let it stop him from doing the things that he needed or wanted to do. Long days at work which required hours of driving? Every day. Trips to Yosemite, to hockey games, to shows and soccer games and even a longa** Christmas parade? NP. The thing that stands out most is the fact that, whenever I came to visit, no matter how much pain he was in, Mario always stood up to say hello.

but don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it (TBH I never heard Mario ask for help for himself. He was always asking for help for someone else).

and always offer help to those who need it. In a world where people rise above the masses by putting others down, Mario lifted people up.

Those are the things I’ve learned from Mario’s life. What did I learn from his death?

That “Only the good die young” is not a meaningless phrase. Neither is “Life’s a Bitch, and then you die.” That we need to find make time for those we love. When I was a kid, I thought nothing of knocking on my friend’s door, and asking if they could come out and play. We lose that ability when we grow up – we get busy with life – with school, with work. We worry that our houses are too messy for guests, or that our friends are too busy for us. We SCHEDULE our lives and our visits, instead of just “popping in to say hello”. We text and skype and send messages via snapchat or twitter. We brag about the fact that Facebook has allowed us to “reconnect” with old friends and family members, but we don’t take make the time to see each other “IRL”. WE NEED TO STOP THAT, RIGHT NOW.

What did I learn from my friend’s death? Life is short, and none of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Mario’s younger daughter got married in November. At the reception, he asked me told me to stop by after work for a “beer and bitch” session, but I assumed it was the whisky talking, and that we would have a chance to catch up “soon”. Please believe me when I say that “SOON” DOESN’T COME SOON ENOUGH.

I know this was a long post, so, in the immortal words of Inygo Montoya “let me sum up”. What did I learn from Mario?

Live fearlessly, love fiercely and laugh at all that life throws your way.

And, oh yeah, always pet the puppies.

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*Catty Corner Commentary