Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Merrrrrrry 'rishtmash.

As I walked through the grocery store, shopping for the Christmas Eve dinner at my home, surrounded by my husband's family, I thought about Tradition. Yes, I know it's not a proper noun, but that's how it sounds, how it feels in my head, all capitalized and stoic.

I thought about how families I know have Christmas Traditions, like watching movies together on Christmas Eve, or volunteering as a family at the soup kitchen, or gathering all the aunts and cousins to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. Beautiful things that draw them closer as families and create warm memories.

Our family? Every Christmas Eve, when we gather for dinner and to open presents, I am to, without fail, serve Bloody Marys. So while the shoppers that bustle around me with sprinkles and cranberries, tinsel and bows, I am on my way to buy The Christmas Vodka.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Good Thing I Didn't Have a Dyson When My Mom Died

Sprite's Keeper has asked for her readers to tell the story behind their blogs, something I never thought I'd be asked to do.

I come from a place where people and events did not move at a hectic pace. The cowboys I knew, my father included, thought before they spoke, working the words around in their mouths like a cool marble or a copper penny, tasting them, testing them, before taking a breath and speaking a small piece of their mind or heart. This slow cadence, with long comfortable pauses between utterances or laughter or a soft swear, was simply how people communicated - I never knew there was any other way.

I met and married a man from 'back east,' who was, at times, annoyed when I told a story or we argued we had because I did not immediately reply if he barked something at me and I breathed between sentences. When I met his family, I felt like I they were speaking Portuguese - I could catch snippets of familiar words but it was such a blur that I felt mildly retarded. When we moved back east, my then-husband actually told me not to tell stories. The way I talked was too irritating to everyone else.

Needless to say, this was hard to take. I felt stupid, angry, and defensive, but I complied.

When I went back to college, I slowly found my voice again, first through writing and then through class discussions, amazed at every turn that y'all even gave me the time of day. The real change came when I had been teaching for a couple of years when it really hit me: I am a story teller at heart. I was missing a part of who I was by not talking. Let me give you an example:

On Halloween two years ago, one of my students asked a question about my mom and I said it was such a coincidence that she asked me that, since my mom died on Halloween. I then said "Funny story about when my mom died..." Right at this moment my teacher's assistant, Megan, walked into the room. She pulled up at the back of the room as I said this, turned to me, and said "YOU are a HORRIBLE person. HORRIBLE. There is NOTHING FUNNY about your mom DYING."

But you were wrong, Megan. WAY wrong. My mom was cremated, and each of us kids got a tiny brass urn with some of her ashes to keep. (As we went to check our luggage for the flight home, security was pretty convinced my urn was a grenade. Fun times.) We had been home for a few days and the urn still sat on the kitchen counter, waiting for me to find it a home in our rented house. The kitchen was carpeted with that flat, non-napped horrible carpet that gave you rug burns if you walked on it without socks, and it was this wretched burnt-orange color. The counter tops matched, making me think, "oh, I have always wondered what the inside of a grilled-cheese sandwich looks like!" I wondered out loud to my husband as to where I should put my urn - it had to be the exact right place. He said "Whatever. Just don't open it - it's really full." And he walked away.

I eyed my urn. How did he know it was full? Really full? Was it full to the top? Overflowing full or just to the brim full? How could he know it was full? Did it have some kind of seal? A cotton ball? Or was it just sloppin' around? So I slid the urn closer to me and gently pried the lid off. It turns out that it was overflowing full, and some of my mom foofed out onto the countertop, my sweatpants, and landed on the carpet. Shit.

I had to vacuum up my mom.

The next year we moved to our own home, where we are now, and as my husband was carrying in a box, he was sure that I had, for whatever reason, obviously filled one side of the box with bricks. He dropped it and immediately opened it to find out what the hell was so ridiculously heavy. I won't repeat the swear words he used (he was a Marine, so they were good!) but it boiled down to him wanting to exactly why I had packed a full vacuum cleaner bag.

"Um," I said. I couldn't throw it away, I explained.

Why the fuck not?

Because some of my mom is in there.

You opened the urn.

Well, you told me NOT to.

This is where he walked away.

One of the best parts of being a teacher is getting to know my students - having them tell me their stories, no matter what medium they use. We become part of each other's lives, and so much of that hinges on the stories we tell each other. When I first started reading blogs, I felt like I was at a hockey game - I could see all the action through the glass, but I wanted to be part of it, part of the relationships and fun and discussion and connection. This is why I write. To listen and tell and be part of something this amazing.