Monday, September 28, 2009


Well, I have finally come, with great reluctance, to the conclusion that Dennis is what he is…boney. I guess I’ll just have to own the fact that he is skinny, and it will ever be thus. He’s 127-128 lbs. with admirable regularity, but he just can’t seem to up his bulk sufficiently to break into the 130’s. I don’t understand it. I can do it with relative ease.

I, however, have made my peace with that reality, and will no longer accuse the scales of flagrant malfeasance in weights and measures by not registering greater body mass than actually exists. How liberating. Free at last! I am no longer held hostage by the promise of a phantom second “hunka,” some time in the future. He is a one-hunka man, and I roger that. So, tomorrow I plan to return all the clothes I purchased in a frenzy of optimism from the Fat Man’s Wearhouse just in case he became morbidly obese overnight from nocturnal binge eating.

Recently we were saddened by the passing of Mary Travers…of Peter, Paul and Mary. What a gifted trio. They sang the soul of the generation I grew up in, and were often the voice of a decade looking for answers to ill-conceived wars and political corruption. Actually, their songs are viable today.

Listening to their music, I am transported back to the days before my body morphed into a consortium of elbow flaps, varicose veins, arm swags, liver spots, and pendulous breasts…well, strike the last one.

We were the AQUA NET generation. Aqua Net was a feminine rite of passage from puberty through high school. It was not just THE hair spray of choice. Aqua Net was a staple in the morning regimen of every teen-age girl whose bouffant construction determined the success or failure of the whole day…possibly her entire social existence!

It was as if the whole female population were devout members of the fundamentalist coiffure religious sect…whose catechism was: the higher the bouffant, the closer to heaven. I went to school with girls whose “do” was actually knocking at the pearly gates! We figured the class that sprays together…stays together.

Not Mary Travers. Her hair was severely straight, sleek, blond, and blew in the wind. I know. I saw them in concert many times. Her voice was rich and full-bodied, and no nonsense. Her hair moved in sync with the words, as if to punctuate her musical manifesto. I am sure her lyrics influenced the policy-makers of the time.

I always admired Mary, her hair, her voice, her presence. I wanted to wear my hair straight and loose, and watch it moving gracefully at the slightest breeze. But Aqua Net ensured that even Hurricane Katrina could not have budged a single strand from its designated place in the beehive. Some coifs resembled surgical mesh, unyielding, and designed to withstand cataclysmic shifts in tectonic plates.

My Mom once told me about a woman whose bouffant was sprayed to such a point of sticky stiffness, that a black widow spider got trapped inside and could not escape. She read it in the paper, so we knew it was true. I pooh-poohed the idea…but nevertheless, each night before I wrapped each strand around a plethora of oversized rollers, I did a thorough scalp check. Actually, as I reflect back, the bristles on the rollers we used were like Samarai swords, with a special lethality that would impale any arachnid foolish enough to hazard entry into the web. Luckily, I survived generational turbulence, Twiggy, rollers, spiders, and Woodstock, to enter the safe and quiet confines of adult paranoid schizophrenia.

September really is a time of reflection, and I have been hoarding memories and measuring the passage of time by my root re-growth. But I would like to raise a can of Aqua Net to bouffants past, vintage beehives, and Mary Travers.

And speaking of hoarding memories, September is a month dense with birthdays. I always make reference to those of my kin born within a very close time span, but perhaps it is time to give a brief biographical sketch of the tribe. They may sue for defamation of character, but then they would have to discredit the facts. No lawyer is that good!

Asher is our youngest grandson. He just turned three. We were all surprised at his longevity.

Asher is road rash in diapers, malfeasance of toddlerhood, a walking felony. He continually tests the laws of gravity by daily thuds to see if these laws are indeed immutable…they are. He emits a stentorian bellow, regains his equilibrium, and promptly tests those laws again. We are constantly checking to see if his eyes are dilated. We have come to the conclusion that he operates under the Wiley Coyote delusion that if you fall off a cliff, you just scrape yourself off the pavement and keep chasing the Road Runner. He wins, by not losing.

Politeness is not necessarily a virtue Asher possesses, nor esteems in others. All six grandchildren have scars where Grandpa Ashton has surgically repaired the consequences of the latest kid to tempt the laws of gravity. But Asher has included concussions and unconsciousness in his repertoire of war wounds.

There is a “verbness” to Asher. He is a mobile calamity, a compact sphincter check. But his charm and that smile restore the decorum obliterated by the little gangster. With Asher, there is always the implication of guilt. We adore the pasty hoodlum. We try to think back to what it was like before he joined the posse. We can’t seem to recollect. I guess we must have had nanoseconds of boredom. I don’t recall. But we wouldn’t trade the kid for a single moment of silence…hmmmm.

Asher comes by his traits as a natural consequence of being born to Erin, our daughter and first venture into parenthood. Compared to her, Asher looks like he’s in a catatonic stupor. We are still awaiting the time when she sleeps through the night.

Erin was born on 9-11. Does that give a clue to her personality? Her sense of humor is what has kept us from eating our young. Here is just a sample of her personality and her schedule. It is more telling than I can express. She mapped out her daily routine when we, in a moment of sublime insanity, agreed to take care of her boys while she was out of town.

6:30-7:00 a.m. – Darling boys awaken and all hell breaks loose; Josh’s diaper needs to be changed, and Bram needs to go pee pee on the potty.
7:00-8:00 a.m. – Give kids a sippy of chocolate milk, or anything they want, and try to take a really quick shower.
7:00-9:00 a.m. – Try to get kids dressed and feed them anything you can.
9:00-Noon – GOOD LUCK…
12:00-1:00 – Try to feed them anything you can.
1:00-2:00 – GOOD LUCK
2:00-5:00 – Let the kids run wild.
5:00-6:00 – Try to feed them anything you can.
6:00-Bedtime – GOOD LUCK…
12:00 a.m. – Your time is your own. Rest and relax! You successfully conquered that day.

Police/Emergency – 9-1-1

P.S. By the way, I must tell you that some of this itinerary might work, or none of it might work. Remember, we love you, and we hope you will be speaking to us when this is all over!

Obviously, criminal insanity is a chronic condition, because even as we speak, we are helping take care of the children while Dave and Erin are in Spain for 10 days…and this time we have FOUR. Life has blessed us with the gift of dementia, so in our forgetfulness, we consented to do it all over again.

Brodi came to us on 9-18, her birth being the direct result of said dementia. I do recall saying, “Never again!” And later thinking…how did this happen? Nevertheless, she arrived three years and one week to the day after Erin.

She ate at regular intervals, and slept long stretches of time…eventually going through the night before puberty. She never cried, unless she was hungry or wet. We couldn’t figure out what was wrong with this baby. Our pediatrician suggested that perhaps she was “normal.” This was something we had never considered.

Her endurance was (and still is) phenomenal…she actually survived a big sister who liked to put her in a play shopping cart, run at top speed, and smash her into walls. This greatly concerned me because while we only had two children, we did want to see them BOTH survive to adulthood.

Brodi also has a sense of humor (a mechanism of survival), and she can give as good as she gets. In their regular contests at comparing who got the worst features from their parents, Brodi always takes the prize because she got, “Mom’s teeth in Dad’s mouth!!!” At this point, Erin concedes the competition and accepts the runner-up trophy.

Take a look at Brodi’s blog to get a feel for her ability to regulate the mundane with hilarity. And notice that while she does, in actuality, have my teeth and her Dad’s mouth, she is quite beautiful in spite of it all.

This chronically nutty life of ours is a constant source of joy. We never stop counting our blessings, even when the accounting occurs while someone is being stitched.

Our love to all,

The Clot

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


It’s Labor Day…the official close of summer. Actually, I’m still waiting for summer to officially begin. June was rained out. July melted away. And August took place in a haze of anesthesia and family trips at hypersonic speed. I can account for the passage of time. I just don’t know where the time went.

On August 11th, we noted the first anniversary of Dennis’ last chemo infusion. Since the conclusion of that episode, there have been two hernia repairs and an emergency appendectomy. And the lazy, crazy hazy days of summer have opened and closed…much like our midsections. But we both have acquired some surgical trophies that we proudly exhibit with very minimal prompting. (We are available for church functions, family parties, etc.)

At my last appointment, Dr. Voorhees assured me that the incision site is lookin’ goooooood. It has repaired itself into a kind of Mona Lisa smile – enigmatic, mysterious, beguiling. Not like Dennis’ scars. His whole abdominal wall looks like some competing graffiti-crazed rival gangs of surgeons (the “Bloods” and the “Crits”) have marked their territory with deranged perversions of Alfred E. Newman’s gape-toothed grin. When he shudders his pale, quivering torso, Dennis impersonates the jovial animation of each contestant at a Homer Simpson look-alike contest. It may not exactly qualify him as a contender on “America’s Got Talent,” but he manages to keep me entertained…it doesn’t take much these days.

Ah, but I digress. Dr. Voorhees had a young medical student he was tutoring, and he euphemistically noted the concave curvature of my solar plexus. Translation: “This body is a pathetically wasted, amorphous mass of crepey flesh draped over a collection of ancient porous bones…but we harvested the offending organ, so the poor old soul doesn’t have to be put down just yet.”

Actually, that worked for me. Post-surgical mending has created a narcissistic state of self-absorption that inspires me to repel any recollection of pain not obliterated by the welcome relief of amnesia. I just don’t want to hurt any more. Convulsive, jagged gasps for breath from paroxysms of supreme distress is not exactly what I’m fondest of. Utter absence of pain has left me with a healthy preoccupation with health and the utter absence with pain. Appendicitis gives pain a bad name!

So, this past summer Dennis and I have spent happily festered and sequestered, while alternating surgical episodes. We are hoping this does not become tradition, because between us we have very few expendable organs left.

The prospect of unending summer reminds us that Tourette’s Syndrome is a direct condition of mothers with bored children.

But last week, even as half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches sat on the counter, summer concluded abruptly…and school began. It always seems that autumn arrives on the first day of school, no matter the date on the calendar. The world smells like fall. And everything changes, not just the leaves.

Grandkids that have spent an entire season in disheveled squalor, have had every particle of soil sand-blasted from between their toes and chiseled from fingernails. And summer-bleached hair is combed and miraculously oriented in reasonably ordered directions.

I wouldn’t miss the first day of school.
Whatever it is that binds us as a family seemed fortified as we engaged in the annual ritual of picture-taking and merriment…and anxiety. My emotions were paper-thin, and I was inclined to run ahead of my little posse and impose a canopy of arm flab to protect them from any pain, disappointment or heartache. Perhaps grandmas are hard-wired for softening life’s blows…like a second-generation sumo wrestler. But these are my people…I just want the world to be kind.

However, I am fully aware that each child has his kryptonite, and common sense compels me to step back and allow them the privilege of counterbalancing the good and bad of human growth and development.

There is a certain brutality to the traditional relinquishing custody of a cherished grandchild to a capable and gregarious teacher, whose room smells of pencils and chalk…and efficiency. And the privacy one has longed for over the duration of three months seems more like solitary isolation.

Before retreating from each classroom, I hugged the kid, with complete disregard for peer humiliation. It’s a precarious line to embrace and not embarrass. I try not to invite ridicule, but I usually fail utterly. However, before I made my exit, I tattooed my cell phone number on every child’s backpack, lunch sack, forehead and underwear, vowing to be there before they heard the dial tone…should the need arise.

I almost lost my timing as I departed. Sometimes eyes leak before I quite make it out the door. But stealth has never been my forte.

I confess to a certain innate suffocative gene, and with every year that passes, this demented attention to adored offspring has fermented a little. But circumstances of late have intensified and extended my range of feelings, and the world will have to “roger” that. I am not an emotional flatliner.

My task, at the moment, is to adjust to the current dumbfounded void and the new quiet. A certain companionship has made its absence known. Silence, while often longed for, is not always welcome. It will demand daily attention to reorganize my mind. I had an appointment for a desperation pedicure to repair the ravages of summer picnics and family vacations. My nail polish color of choice: “Milk of Magnesia Pink.” (It’s the hottest shade for the geriatric set.) And beginning with ten perky toes and feet smoothed by 220-grip sandpaper is a fine way to readjust to the Great Interruption that is the first day of school, and the woeful fatigue of prolonged “me time.”

Absence makes the heart grow nostalgic, so…I think tomorrow I’ll have a manicure.

A few days ago we returned from Atlanta. Without going into great detail, I include some of the things we observed while in the deep South.
1. Mornings come REALLY early in Georgia.
2. There seem to be a plethora of men with the given name of Richard. In between belching ethnically offensive epithets at one another, they referred to each other by the nickname. I’m not sure it is a term of endearment. They also made suggestions one to another about doing things that violate the laws of both physics and anatomy. Dennis recommended that I not point that out that fact to the congregation.
3. I don’t love humidity.
4. There are lots of streets named “Robert E. Lee” or “Peachtree.” I never ran across a “Sherman Avenue,” or a “Tecumsah Boulevard.”
5. Rainy nights in Georgia are all the song implies. The rain fell with the relentless typewriter patter that would make one question if it really WAS raining all over the world.
6. I love the sound of the tangy, sweet, soft, raspy Georgia drawl.
7. Not many women in Atlanta were wearing velvet drapes at this time of year. Must be the heat and humidity and all. After visiting the Margaret Mitchell home and seeing the haute couture of the time, I realize there is no corset on this earth that could make ANY waist 18 inches. Talk about defying the realities of anatomy! Dennis suggested I might have more success with the rib cage. Luckily for him, I’ll think about that tomorrow.
8. Groups of three or more men frequently engage in an elaborately choreographed hand ballet of bumps, clicks, snaps, jerks, knuckle knocks, delicate pinkie locks and thumb circles that would flummox Fosse and baffle Barishnykov. It is complex, complicated, maze-like…a secret combination that makes the Macarena look comically juvenile. Greeting one another consumes most of the morning.
9. I learned that Georgia is the swine flu epidemic epicenter of the U.S. Alaska is right behind. We immersed our bodies with a pre-emptive oil slick of hand sanitizing gel and vowed never to go to Alaska.
10. MARTA is an efficient means of public transportation that makes one feel like one is in the bowels of a multi-segmented serpent about to be the victim of peristalsis and eventually excreted.
11. Oh, Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.

It’s September, the month of birthdays, state fairs and the U.S. tennis Open. It doesn’t get better than that.

Love to all,

The Clot