Life at 52: Finally Playing With A Full Deck


So, I turned 52 a little while ago, Visitors, and I couldn’t be happier.

When I was younger, I thought that the fifties would be some sort of gateway into senior citizenship. As if five decades carried some sort of identity card that gave me street cred, and I could lord it over those younger than me.  (Oh, wait, what about that red AARP card?  How did they know my birthday, anyway? Creepy.)

Hilarious.

Hilarious.

Instead, I find it cause for meditation and action.  One of my favorite Star Trek characters once said “Recently, I have become aware there are fewer days ahead than there are behind.” (TNG, Picard, for you purists.) Well said. In our fifties, this is likely the case.

Since Chris died, I have been acutely conscious of the fact that time is more valuable than gold. It’s funny, if you’ve walked with someone to their death, perspective changes on all sorts of things. When Chris was fighting his battle, the cancer establishment that surrounded me often concentrated on achieving ‘more birthdays’, ‘more events’, ‘more time together’. I grew to appreciate that idea then, and treasure it even more now.

I was discussing this type of thing with a new friend the other day. He’s about the same age, and we were sharing stories of how we had gotten to where we are.

I  listened to my friend’s meditative  inventory.  He listed to me all the things that were going right in his life, all the reasons he had to be thankful. I realized that at this age, I do that all the time myself. Kids doing well? Check. Dad all right? Check. Roof overhead, food on the table? Check. No looming disasters of impending doom barreling down the tracks at me? Not today, thank God.

See, Visitors, Jesus said that there are some things we will always have with us. The poor. Troubles. Trials. Oddly, we are to ‘consider them pure joy’ because these things produce endurance and maturity in us. In James 1, we are told that this will make us ‘mature and complete’ lacking in nothing. Yah, I guess I can see that.

I grow so tired sometimes though, of Christians who preach that we are somehow entitled to abundance of any kind. In the midst of the past few years of suffering, I have grown weary of the idea that we are somehow entitled to ANYTHING at all. The Apostle Paul says we are to owe nothing, except a debt of love to each other. (Romans 13) Matthew 25 says that when we are kind to people with less, it is as if we are being kind to the King of Heaven.

So, perhaps we are entitled to kindness from our brothers and sisters.  Imagine with me, if you will, Visitors. What if we actually did share with those who have less, as if we were sharing with Jesus? What if we lived debt-free, except for the ‘debt of love’ owed each other, that Paul talks about in the book of Romans? Hmm. What a wonderful world that would be.

In the mean time, I reflect on my own worldliness. I’ve gotten beat up since Chris, my mom, and everyone had the nerve to die on me. This is true. My list of ‘wrongs suffered’ is pretty long. Really, though, in these smooth sailing times, it’s a lot easier to see that God actually does heap blessing up on blessing to us undeserving Christians. I’d like to see that more clearly in the midst of the storm.

That’s a prayer for myself. Clarity.  Also, to be more willing to share. Share more, share better, give for no reason other then we are asked to do so. Our heavenly Father loves us, and we love Him, and he asks us to do this. Share our money, share our  time, be the kind of Christ in the flesh that Jesus would want us to be.

Share too, of our maturity. Visitors, those of us who have endured great loss, do you ever feel like this? Princess Louisa, a child of the king. Her battle for clarity, purity, servant to her people, all have left marks on her body and scars on her face.

What's next, for my people?

What’s next, for my people?

Or the weariness of Donal O’Sullivan, the last prince of Ireland, preparing his people for a losing siege against the merciless British?

Weariness can overtake.

Weariness can overtake.

Our suffering has given us gifts. (I never, ever thought I would say that.) We are marked, to be sure. Some of our marks are permanent, and hard to view. Hard as it is to believe, people look to us after suffering. People look to us for reassurance, for succor, for guidance. We’ve been where they are. We understand. Let’s lead our people with our endurance, maturity and grace.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

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Serial Killers and Mother-Daughter Bonding Time


They're everywhere.

They’re everywhere.

So, my daughter and I just spent an hour bonding over an investigative show devoted to teenage female killers. I’m a graduate student now, pursuing a criminology degree in investigative psychology.

It’s fascinating stuff, Visitors, and I often get asked, why, at age 50, this is a course of study I want to pursue. I haven’t come up with a decent answer yet. Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that a lot of ‘watershed moments’ happened to me all at once, starting with being widowed in 2010. Friends died horribly, wrenching betrayal happened, my  mom died dramatically and suddenly. I wrote a column exploring a personal application of PTSD (Jeff Mackleby And the Art of Advanced Forgiveness) which detailed my own furtive journey into some pretty dark territory.

It in, I described what I now can recognize as a situation of predation. That is to say, “Jeff” and “Christina” were authentic predators, people who look for the vulnerable, the trusting, and who exploit them for personal gain. In short, authentic psychopaths, and I was easy prey.

I just finished a segment in my studies about psychopathy. There is a lot to write about there. The general public usually considers a ‘psychopath’ to be a knife wielding, blood soaked movie figure bent on pointless violence. The truth is a lot more chilling, and I’d like to bring some of those things to your attention later.

I am still a director of a local Christian preschool, and this course of study has sharpened my perception of my role immensely. Scholars have spent years studying how innocent babies grow up to be wreakers of havoc, and many of them have their roots in simply awful childhoods. When I go into the infant nursery in particular, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude that our Lord has placed loving, caring people in my employ to show consistent care to these, the most vulnerable of our population.

Safety, is another enormous consideration. Dawn Hochsprung, the slain principal of Sandy Hook, has become a hero to me. She and I followed a comparable career path, and she was about my age when she confronted Adam Lanza and took a bullet for her trouble.

So many interesting aspects of this apply to all of us, Visitors, many of which I would like to bring to your attention in future days. Dawn, for example, were she allowed to have been armed, and had arms training as part of her leadership studies, might have effected a very different outcome at Sandy Hook. But for Dawn, and any other person besides the on duty School Resource Officer to bear a weapon within 1000 feet of a school would have been a violation of law. Hmmm.

Rachael, esteemed #4 child, shares an interest in extreme human behavior. She is enrolled in a dual studies course of forensic science at a local college, in addition to being a junior in high school. The video tonight provoked a lively discussion about ‘normal’ teenage girls setting aside what they know to be good and true, and taking another human life with ease.

Rereading that, I can see how many might consider this course of study to be somewhat awry. But for me? I find this immensely hopeful. Many people have terrible childhoods. Many are exposed to drugs in the womb. Many are disengaged, addicted, disenfranchised in their adulthoods. Many, my own husband included, lived with the fear of unpredictable days precipitated by an abusive parent.

Most, my dear Chris chief among them, do not turn out like this. Most go on to be decent human beings, by some measure. Most find a job, pay their bills, stagger along, even have successful relationships, and put one foot in front of the other regardless of some pretty incredible baggage.

What happened? How did ‘most’ turn out for the better? How did ‘most’ manage to discard these predictors of later trouble and turn out to be reasonably decent human beings? That’s what I want to find out.

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

Missing Mom


Hello, fellow Visitors, it is a pleasure to meet with you.  images-8

Funny, in the midst of great blessings, how easy it is to slip into melancholy. Springtime is finally here in Colorado, the meadows are green, and nothing is burning.

Coloradans, do you remember the date of the first fire last year? March 26! One of my staff members had the fire advance to within half a mile of her home, and several clients had their life’s possessions reduced to dust. Thank God we seem to be retreating from that today.

This time last year for me was simply crushing. Business issues abounded, children were choosing colleges, and Carolyn Jordan Newkirk had been gone for nearly four months. images-10

Since then, life has been on a wonderful upward track. Learning to be single has been a remarkable struggle, but I have made some lasting friends in spite of the pitfalls and setbacks.

My counselor has been a great help, especially during the issues with fledgling children. It’s funny, people generalize and judge with the ease of a fingersnap. I’ve been an active parent since my children were laid in my arms, it’s a wonderful occupation.

When issues come up, like Abi leaving for Georgia in the fall, I get “Oh! You must be so saaaad! She’s moving so far away!”

Actually, I am sad. But not for that reason at all. I’m thrilled that Abi has matured enough to consider making such a gigantic move. She belonged at SCAD last year, truly. What makes me sad, is that I can’t walk next door, barge in, holler “MOM!” and word-dump all of this wonderful news into a person who would be genuinely glad to see me. images-11

She’d squint across the table,stand up in her walker, offer me food, tell me to make her some tea in her uniquely crabby way, and command me to tell her all about it. An hour would go by, and she say something like “I’m so proud of that kid. You and Chris really raised her well. ”

I’d give her a hug, and bounce out of the house, back to work. I miss my mom.

Visitors, many of you have taken the time to be gracious to me and tell me of your own experiences with your mothers. Unfortunately, not all have been good. And for that, my heart goes out to you.

Most of you though, have mothers who have done the best they could, and you’re grateful. T.L., thanks for sharing with me about losing your mom to ovarian cancer. A big, strapping man like you crying like a baby in the john makes me feel less isolated. You’re the best.

B. H., thank YOU for telling me about losing your mom when you were twenty. You’ve missed her for more than thirty years, yet your beautiful smile and lovely family reassure me that things will be OK.

K.L.? Thanks for sharing YOUR mom. She reminds me so much of mine, it’s a comfort every time I visit. Do you know last time when I left Eastman, she waved, smiled and said ‘Arrivederci’? ‘Until we meet again,” indeed!

A.R., thank YOU for tearing up with me every time we talk about moms. Seven years yours has been gone, but you’ve thrived, and grown as a woman of God.

Thank you, Visitors.  To walk into the lonely night alone is a terrible thing.   I greatly appreciate your company in these, the dark nights of the soul.

May I give you a piece of gentle advice? If you can, make peace with your mother. If you are at peace? Thank God, and think about the wonderful things you have. Skype, a card, a phone call, a chance to sit on the couch and chat. I’m thankful I had all those things for as long as I did.

Arrivederci, my friends, and bon soir.

Oh, sorry, serious post, but I just had to end with this. Mom would have loved it. Good night!

Oh, sorry, serious post, but I just had to end with this. Mom would have loved it. Good night!

Much love,

Victoria

Adversity Is the Touchstone of Friendship


Ever notice how surprising it can be when people DON’T cut and run during conflict and drama?  Those of you have been with me for a while know that the past couple of years have been pretty drama filled.

The past several months, Thank God, have been smooth sailing. Even this Valentines’ day was pretty nice. I was as sick as a dog, stricken with a vile case of the ‘flu that’s been rampaging across the nation. I got to take the day off (I have the best staff in the world) and sit at home and buy e-cards worth a cup of coffee at Starbucks and send them to my Valentines.

We have finally finished untangling Ma’s estate this February, for real this time, and it is a beautiful thing.

About a month ago, my sister, the best one in the world, and my brother, a truly standup guy, and I, spent the day in the estate attorney’s office.  Mom was affluent, and things are complicated. My sister, who is awesome, and I were niggling about some things, and John was going through some documents.

Really, this is about the part in the story where I can tell I start to lose you. Estate battles among heirs are legion, but Chrissy, John and I have had each other’s back for years. Sure, we drive each other nuts sometimes, but I can count on them for my best interest, and vice versa. Nevertheless, sometimes knots have to be untangled, and that can get tense. We had been working hard for about a couple of hours, when my little sister suddenly burst into tears.

“Chrissy! What’s wrong?” (We were talking about office buildings.)

“Mom had so much fun building these things, and now she’s gone, and never coming back.” (Grieving people have penchant for the obvious.)

Brother John just looked at her. Then, with tears welling up in his eyes, he pulled out a little white bank envelope. You know the kind? The sort that you can get your cash in when you leave the teller, so no one snatches your money out of your hand when you walk to your car?

“I keep this with me, Chrissy. Look at what it says. ” Mom had written a note on the back of it.

“Take this and use it to take Melissa and the girls out to a nice dinner. I love you. Mom.”  John was openly sobbing now.

By this time all of use were streaming with tears. The estate attorney, a rock star who teaches at the Sturm college of law at DU, asked us if we needed a minute, and should he step out. (At four hundred dollars an hour.)

“Yea, probably,” we chorused. So next, I pulled out Mom’s Costco card. In retrospect, that’s pretty goofy. In fact, it makes me smile to write about it. Mom loved to go to Costco, and it was one of the last things we did together.

She sat in one of those funny little carts with the flag sticking up, and I walked behind her.

“Vickey! Vickey!”She’d fuss. “Get that ten pound double pack of Skippy! Peanut butter never goes bad! You always need peanut butter!” I shook my head, chuckled and grabbed it. She’d have to live to be a hundred and seven to eat all that, and she died six months later.

Gotta have that Skippy!

Gotta have that Skippy!

So I carry Mom’s Costco card. I look at it now and again, the dorky picture on the back makes me smile.

When we were done exchanging stories, Keith, the attorney tentatively stepped back in. I think he was surprised not to see bloodshed.

“Did we make some progress here?” We laughed through our tears and got back to work. It was emotional and exhausting.

That night, I thought it would be a good idea to go to the Meetup at Mission Hills. It’s been getting better, I’ve made new friends who aren’t so toxic, and are more of a like mind.

I sat in the front, and as we sang, the lights grew belligerent. The sound started to blare,  and jagged daggers shot through my head.  Soon, it felt like it was going to explode.

I carefully stood up, carefully walked to the back of the room, and carefully pressed my head against the cool of the back door glass. What the hell was I thinking. That was one of the most stressful afternoons of my life, and I’m at a fluffy social event? Tears started to stream down my face as the pain ratcheted up, blurring my vision. I sunk to the floor, out of sight.

“Victoria. Victoria! Are you all right?” A big hand descended on my shoulder. Wyatt, a large, redheaded man stood over me. Wyatt and I had become friends a few meetings ago.

“Pain. Wyatt. Migraine. Terrible.” Each whispered word was like a knife through my temple.

“You’re having a migraine?” (Yep, either that or a stroke, and then things would get really interesting.)

“OK, got it. What can I get you?”

“Aspirin. Caffeine. Soon. ”

Pretty much

Pretty much

“Got it, Aspirin and Caffeine. Let’s get Maverick to run to the store.” Maverick was another friend. Quite the ladies man, but at the heart of it, Maverick had a heart of gold, and would do whatever he could to relieve someone else’s suffering.

Wyatt led me to a dark room, and helped me stretch out. He got four aspirin that I swallowed dry. I thought about banging my head against the floor, to give me something else to think about besides the A bomb going off in my head. Migraines can get strange that way.

A few minutes later Maverick galloped into the room with a barrel full of Coke. You know the kind? The “Big Trough? Gulp? Barrel full of sugar and caffeine?”  I had never, ever bought one of those things, and I laughed  spite of myself.  I nearly fell out of the chair.

Wyatt chuckled. “Your truck big enough for that, Maverick?”

“Hey, the lady wants caffeine, the lady gets caffeine!” I started to sip. The boys stood over me, chatting aimlessly, and slowly, the pain ratcheted down to bearable levels. I got up and staggered, and each man grabbed an arm.

“Whoa! Sit down there young lady! (Ha!)” We’ll stay here as long as you need. ” Tears jumped into my eyes.

It’s a funny thing, the stuff you miss when you’re not a wife. See, I believe loving well is a learned skill, and actually is learned best during adversity. Chris and I had a hell of a lot of adversity during our years together, and we learned to be pretty good friends during most of it.

Wyatt and Maverick demonstrated the simple, protective love men can offer women. Or, women can offer men, come to think of it. A simple, friendly gesture, staying with someone while they are sick, meant the world to me. The pain slid down to mere firework levels, and I told the boys I thought I could make it home.

“No, no, no, I don’t think so.” Maverick can be very commanding. “You just sit here until you feel better. Wyatt and I can drive you home. ” I sat. Evergreen is to far to ask new friends to drive.

We chatted some more, and soon I really did feel steady on my feet. Wyatt walked me to my car, tucked me into it, and Maverick insisted I text him when I pulled in.

Sometimes, the best thing to have is a friend.

Sometimes, the best thing to have is a friend.

Wyatt and Maverick have since become some of my most heartfelt friends. I trust them with my safety, and they tell me their adventures, and friendships slowly inch along. It’s a treasure.

Socrates – “Be slow to fall into friendship, but when you are in, continue firm and constant.”

It’s a beautiful thing.

Much love,

Victoria

Carolyn Jordan Newkirk 1/18/20 – 1/8/2012, One Year Later


As Fiona in “Brigadoon”  1953

So, it’s been a year since my Mom died. A massive stroke felled her one year ago today.

Funny, how quickly things seem to accelerate. I had lunch today with a dear friend of mine who had lost her mother a mere ten weeks ago. She’s also a ‘tail end’ baby boomer, born in 1964. It seems like this generation is the one riding this train of mortality, and whoa baby, would someone please show me how to get off?

No, seriously, I wouldn’t wish her back. See, my mom and dad  both loved the Lord from their youth. Being a Christian doesn’t necessarily make you nice, I’ve learned that one the hard way. But real Christians, and by that I mean the ones who have been brought to their knees by the power of love or cicumstance, those Christians often have a set of personality characteristics one can count on.

Mom was one of those.

Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that the power of story is a remarkable one. When Catherine Mallicoat of birdmartin.wordpress.com, came out to visit, I told her one of Mom’s defining stories, and Bird was moved. I thought perhaps you might be too.

Carolyn Jordan Newkirk lost her firstborn son, Jeffrey, to murder.

Jeff was a brilliant kid. My memories of him are a little vague, he was six years older than me. We have tapes of him playing by ear, with two hands, music on the piano when he was three. He was articulate, and an expert skier and Nordic jumper.

Strangely, he had many skirmishes with addictions during his twenty year life. This strikes me as odd because most of the addicts I know can trace their struggles to something. My own late husband, as you know, was molested in his family of origin, and self-medicated for several decades.

I dated a man who struggled with addictions, there is a definite addictive personality type. It often runs in families, and this is fascinating to me. But the Newkirks were a pretty boring lot, as far as those types of things are concerned. Mom had no use for alcohol, and my 92 year old dad is like me. Much more than a single drink, and the next day is wasted to a terrible headache. Lightweights, all of us.

Except for Jeff. Jeff would do just about anything to lay his hands on a mind-altering substance. During his late teen years, his addictions took over his life. One day, he didn’t come home to his apartment.

A frantic year of searching in 1979 led my parents to the discovery of his remains at the bottom of a highway ravine.  He had been thrown there like so much garbage.

If you like, you can see a picture of him at http://www.echelondata.com/clients/FOVAMP/victims/victimDetail.php?id=1177. This is a site developed specifically for families of unsolved homicide victims. I googled Jeff once out of curiosity and “Poof!”, up popped the brother I remember.

It’s funny, what tragedy will do to a woman. The death of a son, a husband, or someone so close in the family orbit can be defining. The addictive gentleman I dated once asked me if I wanted my husband’s death to be ‘defining’ to me. I thought about it, and realized that actually, tragedy can be an architect of something good in someone’s soul.

My mother was generous to a fault after Jeff died. She seemed to take in every homeless stray human that crossed her path. Beaten and abused women, mentally handicapped men, and, much to our dismay, she would often pick up hitchhiking teens. (Don’t tell, but I often do that myself. These kids get a free ride to their door, after listening to me scold them the entire time about the dangers of hitchhiking)

My mother was dramatic. This could get old after a while, and she did learn to reign it in. But she felt the pain of someone else’s problems intensely, and would do what she could to make the story turn out right.

I’m afraid I caught that one in spades. It’s hard for me to mind my own business, especially when children are in the picture, and being treated unjustly. Lucky for me I have a lot of people leaning on me to show diplomacy and tact.

When Chris was dying, and Mom so soon after, I refused to see any benefit at all their stories would have on me.

It’s still a little sensitive to talk about Chris, but with Mom, not so much. She died at 82, which by anyone’s reckoning is a good long run. She died quickly, which was a gift. Best of all, she left a remarkable legacy. The beautiful woman at the top of the page left us with a sense of resilience and generosity.

The worst happened to her, and she lived. Not only that, but she loved, reached out, and eventually thrived. She didn’t stay stuck in her grief, and I, for one, am grateful for that example. Jeffrey’s death defined her as much as Chris’s death defined me, but in many positive ways, after all.

If you like, you can enter this title in the search box at the top of the page, and see the entire essay I wrote the day after she died. The Lewis Carroll ripoff is there too, many of you seemed to like it. I am going to leave you with this link. For those of you in my generation and before, Mom could have been the next Jeannette McDonald or Shirley Jones, had she opted to take that path. Before you go to bed, read the words, and listen to this unusual, lovely voice.

One Kiss-CJN

In this year of Seventeen Ninety Two

Our conventions have been thrown all askew

And I know I’m out of date when I seek one mate

One faithful lover true

To be really in fashion today

You must have a dozen beaux in your sway

But somehow I don’t believe in the modern plan

I want to wait for just one man

(It’s more fun to love ’em all
Kiss’em all, short or tall)

I have only scheme

It’s my only dream

One Kiss, One man to save it for

One love for him alone

One word, one vow, and nothing more

To tell him I’m his own

One magic night within his arms

With passion’s flower unfurled

And all of my life I’ll love only one man

And no other man in the world

(You’ve been reading stories of romantic glories)

(Are you growing sad for your Galahad?)

Soon my Knight may find me

Softly steal behind me

Put me on a horse

And carry me away

Laugh all you like at me

I’ll find my man, you’ll see

One kiss, one man to save it for

One love for him alone

One word, one vow and nothing more

To tell him I’m his own

One magic night within his arms

With passion’s flower unfurled

And all of my life, I’ll love only one man

And no other man in the world.

Written by Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein II, popularized my Nelson Eddy and Janet Macdonald in 1942.

Much love to you all,

Victoria

PS, Say hello to Chris for me, Mom. Love to you both. 

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Seventeen. Grenada, Alhambra, and the ghost of Garcia Lorca. Angels, part Four


The Moorish palaces of Alhambra is over a thousand years old. It stands on the top of a hill here in Granada, and is a series of Islamic palaces built for the last Muslim Emirs of Spain. Several hundred years later the Catholic monarchs overran the place, and then it was allowed to fall into disrepair for centuries.

Alhambra

Alhambra

Islamic poets, artists and architects don’t spend a great deal of time on outward appearances, so the inner courtyards, gardens, and facades are really remarkable. Christians could take a lesson from the analogy of inner beauty, come to think of it.

The outside of the Alhambra is kind of boring. But inside?

Gardens constructed for contemplation.

Water everywhere.

Water everywhere.Picture Moorish princesses  dreaming here.Poetry inscribed on the walls to think about.

Rooms with veined windows for the sunlight to gently illuminate.

IMG_0430

It was as if we had traveled backwards in time several months in the calendar. Gardens grew everywhere. We even found roses in bloom.

IMG_0447

The palaces are set high on a hill, with views of the city from all directions. It was spectacular to watch the sun set. 

Yet, there is something eerie about the city of Grenada, and the deserted walkways of the Alhambra.

Perhaps echos of a magnificent civilization that is no more? Perhaps the impermanence of things? Garcia Lorca was shot here in the bloody Spanish Civil war here in the 1930s.

Arguably one of Spain’s most important poets and playwrights, Lorca’s murder in 1936 is matter of controversy here as recently as 2009.

At this road, I am anxious to leave Granada, as it is sad and haunted. Looking for the life of Spain, we walked many narrow alleyways to get away from the larger shops and cafeterias. Here we found Mr. Cortez.

Sr. Cortez, holding my new wooden tea tray, with it's precise Moorish geometric wooden tilework.

Sr. Cortez, holding my new wooden tea tray, with it’s precise Moorish geometric wooden tilework.

He and his son run this tiny little woodshop that makes these wonderful patterned applique wooden boxes, trays and tables. They have a single part time employee, and it was difficult to walk around the stacks of well-crafted inventory.

I watched Faith and the Senor have an animated conversation in Spanish, and the life of the city began to glow again. Grenada is to be found here, in the tiny alleyways and lined faces of Sr. Cortez. Garcia Lorca haunts the libraries and universities, and the history is bloody and sad. But the life if the city is where it usually is to be found, in the faces of it’s people.

 

Chapter Seven: The Coffehouse Angel.

Mom had died earlier that morning. By that time, she needed round the clock care, and thank God she had the foresight to store the funds for such an event.About two oclock that morning, her “awake” care provider heard her make a noise. Not a cough, not a murmur, sort of a noise in her throat. She threw off the lap cover and got off the couch to investigate.

“Carolyn? Are you all right?” April was a gentle soul. She was a widow herself, with several children in their twenties. Truly a unique personality to provide such a service.

“Carolyn? Can you hear me?” She gently tugged on Mom’s nightgown. Mom’s face was still. April ran to the phone and dialed 911. Four and a half minutes later the blazing lights and fire breathing emergency vehicles descended in the driveway. They loaded Mom onto a gurney, oxygen strapped to her face.

The men blazed their way to Saint Marks, a local hospital, where Mom was rushed to through the ER without triage.

Brother John made the terrible phone call.

“Louisa, come to Saint Mark’s. Mom has had a massive stroke” It was three oclock in the morning.

The hollow feeling in my gut reappeared. . This was just to familiar. My sister had made the same same telephone call just eighteen months ago.

“Louisa, Are you awake?Are you understanding what I am saying?”

It was about three thirty by then.

John’s voice broke. “Get in the car now. Mom is on a ventilator, and the doctor’s don’t seem to think there’s much point in doing that, but she can stay on it forever if we want. “ John was openly sobbing now. It’s a terrible thing to hear your brother’s heart break.

I informed the children of what was going on. Thanks be to God they were old enough to stay by themselves.

I gathered them all in my room.

“Children, Nana said for years that she  never wanted anyone to see her when she’s died. She has very likely died now. I am going to the hospital to see her, and I don’t want you to come. “

The girls burst into tears. David Junior sat on the bed, stoic. So sad to have seen so much loss in just eighteen years.

The lonely night was snowy. The road hard, unforgiving. I drove on autopilot.

Nana? Dead? Who would parent me? Who’s the grownup now? Who did I get to go to for support?

Nana was one of a handful of people I knew without a doubt was on my side all the time. Even when I was wrong, I was right. Nana was crochety, opinionated, crabby and full of love for her family from her thinning hair to her arthritic ankles.

I passed a nearby Starbucks.

A ghost of a migraine was forming around my temples. Shit. A migraine. The last thing I needed.

Caffeine! That would help. I pulled in to the store. Thank God it was one of those twenty four hour ones.

I pulled open the door, squinting against the harsh lighting. A bright, cheery barista greeted me. Hundreds of times I had been here, never seen her.

“Hi! What can I I get started for you? “ My gosh, what a greeting so late at night. Or early in the morning. Whatever.

“Grande chai tea, skim milk, steamed extra hot, no water or foam. “

“Great!”She gave me a dazzling smile. “And how’s your day going?”

My day? How’s my day? What to say.  It was four thirty in the morning. Which day?

The truth always works.

“My mother died today.” I could feel my face start to crumple.

The barista stopped what she was doing. Her face took on an unusual glow.

She walked around the counter and put her hands on my shoulders and gave me another beatific smile.“I’m here to tell you something. May I give you a hug? “

“Yes.”

“I ‘m here to tell you that you are loved very much”.

For a moment, I wept, comforted on the shoulder of a stranger.

I got my drink, got in the car and continued the lonely drive. Peace started to creep into my soul.

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Nine, it must be Paris. On Trans Women, Drinking Chocolate and Talking Sexuality.


So here I sit on the left bank of the river Seine. I can actually see blue sky, and leave my jacket open, so I know I’m not in London. We are slowly unclenching, my girls and I, we slept in until ten thirty this morning, and then saw this.

The south rose window of Notre Dame

The south rose window of Notre Dame

It was worth most of the day to go to Notre Dame. Really, Catholics have some incredible history in their cathedrals. Just thinking about all the scaffolding needed to build these enormous vaulted ceilings makes my head spin. It’s nearly 850 years old, and still standing! Sure, a number of restorations, but remarkable nonetheless.

We then found an entire street next to ours, that was simply several huge blocks of art galleries. I would have been drawn and quartered had I taken pictures, so leave it to say my desire for new artwork in my home far exceeds my budget. Fun to look, though.

Dinner, and then this.

The Eiffel tower, during the evening light show.

The Eiffel tower, during the evening light show.

Who can resist? There is something special about La Tour Eiffel. We went around nine o’clock, when the crowds were minimal and the view still superb.

What was really fun though, was the perpetual search for drinking chocolate on the way back. Now, after Cambridge, we have been completely spoiled for hot chocolate. or ‘chocolate chaud’ here. We found a little shop there, where for one pound seventy, you got a little pot of this marvelous, thick concoction topped with real whipped cream. Gracious, non of this nasty, powdery just-add-water stuff will ever do again. So we keep looking, my girls and I.

We passed a gelato shop, and had high hopes. When we were about to enter, I was startled by the appearance of a genuine trans woman coming toward me. He was wearing a bright purple tutu, red leggings, boots, a wig like Mom used to wear, and a profound five oclock shadow. It was one of those rare times I was rendered speechless.

“Girls!” I hissed, after he was out of earshot. “Did you see that?” The girls erupted into laughter.

“Duh! Geez, Mom! Was that the first trannie you’ve seen this trip? We’ve seen at least six!”

“Well,” I stumbled around. “Yes, I guess it was. I so want to give him a makeover. Nana had a wig like that!” I giggled. “And a purple tutu? Doesn’t he have a sister?”

“Wow! Judge much?” my liberal college age girls taunted. Actually, not at all. Jesus is the only one who can change people’s hearts, I wouldn’t even try. But a purple tutu?

In Paris, I’ve noticed that same sex couples are much freer than in the US. Over the years, I’ve taken a lot of slack for what some people might call a liberal attitude toward that sort of sexuality.

I find though, that the proof of something can often be found in one’s children. I don’t find sexual sin to be any different than anything else. Let’s be clear, the Bible is quite specific about homosexuality. As it is about gluttony, strife, envy, murder, and my all time favorite, gossip.

So Chris and I trained our children accordingly. Jesus didn’t die twice for the gay man, any more than he did the addict or the angry man. We’ve had a lot of time to talk about all sorts of things on this trip, and it’s really fun to get to know my girls in their near-adult incarnations.

As college freshman, they are subject to the antics of a lot of near-adults in their dorms. Sexual exploration, alcohol abuse, and all kinds of random behavior are seen by them on a regular basis. They’ve both developed a remarkably sensitive ‘gaydar’, for example. A compassionate one, too.

As I listen to them talk about their gay friends, I find I can drop some of the jaundice I’ve developed over the years toward some of the more rabid members of that community. I was raised conservative Baptist, remember, and many of my leaders had a special contempt reserved for gay folks.

It’s funny though, my own mother was a great counter example. Raised extremely conservative Grace Bretheren, she didn’t see a movie or play cards until she was 21.

Yet here are some great “Nana Quotes.”

“Vickey, Diana is coming over for dinner. Now, don’t tell your dad, but she’s a homosexual and she’s bringing her friend.”

“Vickey, Vickey! Listen to me. Don’t tell your dad, but your piano teacher is getting a divorce because he’s gay. His boyfriend is very nice, and Milton and Betty are still great friends. But don’t tell your dad, he just doesn’t understand.”

And on and on. Little bitty Nana, friends with everyone, no matter what their issues. Sound familiar? I bet Jesus would have done the same thing.

So I stand on the sidelines and watch. I admire the gay men walking arm in arm, securely wrapped in knotted scarves and impeccably dressed. I go to a vintage clothing shop with Abi, and admire a pair of leggy French women, obviously partners, trying on hats.

I listen to my daughters talk about “Gay Tam” and “Lesbian Sal” without an ounce of judgement in their voices. I hear them talk about asking everyone to their church’s caroling, or service project, and wonder at the architecture of friendship.

There’s an unexpected sort of purity there, and I find it delightful. They know exactly what’s going on, and accept these kids anyway. It’s sort of magnificent, almost as much as Notre Dame.

Much love,

Victoria