Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

O-n-e H-u-n-d-r-e-d

In Birthday, Family on July 20, 2014 at 12:38 am

Twenty one years ago Grandpa and I woke up in the morning. He was visiting us in Wisconsin from California, so I was lucky enough to sleepover with him in the guest room and, as the sun rose through the curtains, plan what we would do that day.

As Grandpa was getting up, I stayed curled under the covers with something nagging at the tip of my tongue. I’d been thinking about it since waking up. I was scared – I thought it was a mean question – but I had to ask.

“Grandpa, you’re gonna die soon.”

“No, I’m going to live to be 100.”

As simple as truth. And together we laughed, thankful for how many years, long years, we had to look forward to together.

We laughed about that conversation for years, as I grew into a woman and Grandpa moved back to the Midwest, when we spent Friday night dinners together or had him to the house – as Grandpa stayed healthy into his 90’s and it looked like his promise would come true, after all.

Shortly before Grandpa passed away one morning in May at the start of this new century, Mom went to visit him in hospice, and he smiled and pressed her hand and said he’d give us “9 years of dreams.”

Today is Grandpa’s 100th birthday. Towards the end of Grandpa’s life, he would ask me something. He asked that as the years went by and I grew up even more that I would “Remember Grandpa.”

Until I’m 100.


Dear Love

In Family, Friends, Love, Music on October 27, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Dear Love,

You have been so good to me. You sent me to two parents who have given their entire lives to sharing you with me. You sent me to a best friend who when she cut my hair when we were six years old and we chased the ice cream truck with broken toes and made bad parties into giant jokes has never stopped showing me what you are. You sent me to a gang of girls to lick you into the bowls of leftover cupcake frosting and sweat you off of college dance parties sprinting into early hours, who let me cry you into their pillows after I lost you and was left with your memory. You sent me to a man who saw only you in me. You sent me to a gaggle of music-makers across continents, a troupe of acrobats happy for nothing more than catching your fleeting coattails for a sail.

Love, I love you. You were the forehead I kissed goodbye and the hand that held mine wordlessly stating you will be found again. You were the woman who hoped for me and the one who left her smile on my face.

When you leave, you have not left, because I love you love. And I love, you love.


A Day in California

In California, Family, Life, Travel on May 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm

If I found a way to complain about today, I’d be a pretty sub-class creature with origins in the Phosphokinkanous region of the planet Gremulon, which as everyone knows, is a Gremulous icky sort of place where people grumble.

No way Jose.  Today was rockin!  I woke up in a hotel in San Francisco, my 60-something aunt close-curtain tiptoing 3 oz liquids into plastic bags.  I rubbed crumbs from my eyes and hugged her goodbye and watched the nothing on the channels and inched into my swimsuit to hold my book above poolhouse water as Peter Mayle lived in Provence.  I lounged on lounge chairs.  And since my aunt’s flight was delayed, I returned to the room where she read and I packed and wheeled my bag to the restaurant for lunch.

The salad was dressing-drenched, so she got soup and I ate more salad!  I got my period after all, so that explains the pain.  Auntie S. still doesn’t go for Couchsurfing, but we hugged again and I could see her down the road when I caught the Bart and window watched my sleepy eyes down tunnels.  I got off the Bart and misread Amtrak’s chart and called my friend who’s laptop smart and he helped me buy that ticket so I could take the slowest elevator in the world to the platform to wait and cellularly talk to Clare! Eating an apple and granola bars and yes, golly gee, agree it sure sounds warm in Michigan, where you be, my lovely Clare, holy moly hitting the library and reading books.

The bearded guy walked by and when I got off the phone he talked and we talked and looked at birds and talked about birds and feed and flying.  And his German accent hung and the train came and we got on the train and talked on the train and I had to pee a lot and we made friends.

Davis, CA, calls the voice on the PA and off-track I stray to Delta of Venus cafe which always has the best bathroom graffitti – “When someone gives a hungry man food, we call him a saint; when someone asks why he is hungry, we call him a communist” – and I chewed chewing gum washing my hands by the mirror because I was nervous because AlexwascomingAlexwascomingAlexwascoming! and I stood on the bench by the tree because she was coming and when I realized she mightn’t be a car and  turned, she was running up the road and our hearts hammered hugs.  And the other side for good measure.  And I could barely talk I was so overcome so again we peed and then I sipped tea, and we walked to her car and drove to the store and looked at dresser knobs we didn’t buy.  And boy oh boy I love this girl so hard that when the fields of California gold rolled I didn’t even look because Alex and I had words in our mouths.

And her home is perfect.  The contents of one drawer are: ice cream scoop, chopstick stand, mosaic  wine stopper, ceramic spoon and such.  One shelf holds a Navajo wedding jug and a sculpted bird that opens bottles and glasses and glasses (for wine).  Which we drank with enchiladas post-bake, with fresh roses vased for the tapestry-topped table outside where the hummingbird went around each backyard bush and her husband Rockey gave me new bird names for when my mom and I again get bored.  And we weren’t bored playing cards and brushing our teeth three in a bathroom; we talked on the topdown toilet and tub lip like always and hugged our way to bed.

And now my sheets are smooth and the art is on the wall and the fan is cool and my suit is drying on the doorknob.

If I found a way to complain about today, I wouldn’t have lived it.


In Family, Love on July 3, 2011 at 7:27 pm

And when he died they lit fireworks in the sky.

And when he lived he had a pocketful of quarters.  The old ones, with eagles.  They were made just for the arcade games at the front of the delicatessen.  Just for the handful of bubble gum on the counter.  And we never had to haggle too long before he dropped those quarters in our palms.

He had a closetful of instruments.  The old ones, with broken mouthpieces, the 1920s jazz still dripping from the keys.

His closets were full of coloring books the size of our whole bodies, which were little ones, then.  They rested next to the box with the hundred crayons, because Nana wanted her children to have all the colors.

Oh he knew just how to get us on the lips.  Before we could stop him, bending to his cheek for a kiss.  What a way to swing his head around and plant one!  He never missed.  Better than any baseball player, any gymnast.  Better than any child craning to see an airplane in the sky – and it is hard to swing your head for a better purpose than this – our papa did.

His tastes were mushroom barley soup and cheesecake.  Nacho cheese and fish.  Water was never sweeter than from the clear plastic glasses we were finally old enough to reach in his cupboard.  When we were old enough, he would ask us to bring him one, too.

His backyard was for play.  The good kind.  In hazy heat, through swarms of flies.  The air was magic then, but we didn’t know.  Our legs ran through it, all of us, babies.

Then the morning came and it was time to go.  So Mom drove and we walked into the room and he was there.  And he wasn’t.  His breath a series of tubes, pumping up and down.  We kissed him.  We left.

At night the little ones ran through fields like their legs were wont.  They climbed gates and the air was cool.  And the cars came back.  And we collapsed in each others’ arms.

The children watched.  What they did not understand, part of them understood, as part of all of us understands, every day.  Every time we are kind to each other.  Every time we are not. Every time we hold the new babies and tell them stories, silently, with our eyes.   Every time we lay our hands together, over soft earth.

Every time we love, we bear the history of Harold Altman.

The day I became a woman, he promised me something, and it is for all of us, for Vicki, Bob, Jessica, Hunter, Aurelia, Daniel, Sarah, Marc, Arlene, Elizabeth, Dana, Ava, Jessie, Michael, Scott, Barbara, Abigail, Cole, Hannah, Martin, Suzanne, Ashton, Heath, and Hayden and all the rest.  From Papa, gone today ten years, from Papa and for him, too.

 You will always be loved. 

September Fifth, Two Thousand and Ten

In Family, Life on July 3, 2011 at 6:48 pm

It is this dark and rainy night that I realize my mother is my hero.  She is standing with me on the side of the road, asking if I want to do this.

“It’s still there,” I say.

So she bends and wraps it in the towel and holds it near her chest as I open the plastic bag and it falls in.


I have taken to crying in the car.  Sobbing, really.  I guess it started with my return from Ireland, where it was the only place to scream, “Fuck,” at the decibels I needed, you know, the ones that generally inspire institutionalization.  As the seasons have passed, and the summer of my twenty-fifth year has arrived, the car seems to hold me.  I drive and listen to sad songs and look as red and wrinkled as a newborn babe, screaming with their same guts, the ones we all return to sometimes, a howl of thunder in our lungs.

Perhaps this rawness is embarrassing.  Perhaps it is private.  Perhaps I should find a non-mobile place to explore it.  Perhaps.  All I know is that I woke up not hungry again today, that grief still shrouded our house, that my mother and I fought on the way to the store before returning home to sit with my father and listen to him speak the death of a dying thing, and that around five pm, I got in the car.

I drove, I don’t know where.  Everywhere.  To my aunt’s house, to the bookstore, to the nursing home where my grandfather used to live.  I drove everywhere and nowhere, stopping only for stop signs, playing every sad song in my deck.  And then, it started to rain.

I turned off at the beach.  I’d passed it before: a wedding party.  They were gone now, but a flower remained.  I held it.  I watched the water.

Returning the key to the ignition minutes later, the clouds literally lifted and I knew it was time for the songs of joy.  Scrolling through the same albums, I played the upbeats; they reminded me of a recent bike ride, the twilit air a peaceful cape at my back.

Fist pumping and singing hoarse, that feeling returns unchanged.  I am still so happy to be alive.  To know joy amidst sorrow.  For I am sure that all of my recently unsolvable equations will add up: it’ll be alright in New York, my family will be alright, I will be alright.  “Life is,” as an 80-year-old Morman said to me on a plane in June (over and over in awe of this statement as if remembering for the first time), “good.”

And then, on Wilson Ave. a car rides over a rabbit.

I see it.  I drive on.  It takes one, two, three, four, five and a half seconds for me to honk my horn onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnine times.

Maybe because I loved a rabbit once or because I try to be the person I expect I am or because I have visited the London Imperial War Museum and stood before the words, “evil exists because good men do nothing.’”:

I turn around.

I scan the road, fully conscious of how stupid this is.  Come on Elizabeth, injuries happen every day; they don’t matter.

“But,” some part of me says, “you were the only one that saw this injury.”

Actually, I was the only one that saw this death.

There it lies, like a form they teach you to animate – back legs splayed, head lolled; only cartoons look like that.  It’s missing a strip of fur on its stomach.  I don’t know why or to whom, because it’s certainly not to Jesus, but I roll down my window and yell, “Jesus Fucking Christ.”

I pull around.  Its eyes are open.


A few blocks from home, just between the Kentucky coal mines and California sun, with two bags of food on the passengers’ seat, I know what to do.

Drop them on the kitchen table.  Head to the computer.  How deep?  Four feet so the foxes don’t come.

“Mom! Where’s a flashlight?”

But when she points to the drawer and the tool touches my hand, it displaces my resolve.  I can’t imagine digging up my parent’s lawn without questions, questions I know I cannot withstand.  I’ve never had a pet, not even a gerbil.  Reality’s heavy stone ripples across my gut as I picture my parents’ weary response, their slightly shaken heads, closed eyes.  They will completely dissuade me from this I know is right.


I’m wrong.  It’s two pairs of gloves, one shovel, a towel, and three plastic bags that my mother loads into the car.  They jostle on the seat as we creep back, almost missing the turn-off.

I point to it, though it hardly resembles anything, now.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“It’s still there.”

And just like when I was little, my mom bends to clean the mess.  She takes the trouble, the form with matted fur, with guts freed by the careless tread of nighttime wheels, and this is my mother.  Wrapping death in a towel and helping me carry it home.

Right now, life is rough.  Lately, I forget to look up to my mother as I begin wanting to mother her.  But, life is good.  Tonight, my mother is my hero.  When she puts the rabbit under a bucket and weighs it with a rock by our garage.  When she suggests that I wait til morning to dig.  When she points to where will work.  When I wash my hands and look to the food and see what she bought me where we fought this afternoon, what she has placed as a present underneath my plate.  When I hug her and come upstairs and write this.