Frankly My Dear, It’s All About the English- Saint Maarten


The first time I ever took a cruise, and I believe the total now is up to three, I noticed there was a definite pecking order according to skin tone.

Seriously, the darker the employee, the farther down on the ‘great job’ ladder they would fall. Nigerians and Jamaicans were room stewards, hall sweepers, Norwegians and Finns crewed the the boat.

On the Allure, though, I noticed this got a little scrambled. For example, there’s a perky species of human known as the ‘cruise director’. Ours was a balding, energetic multi-talented dude of about forty. Stocky and oozing charm, he’d extol everything from salsa dance lessons to jewelry classes. Then, he’s get on stage to warm up the crowd before shows, and give a good rendition on a guitar of some lame eighties song in a dorky getup, eliciting some pretty good laughs.

Last night I sat with Christopher in the last (clean) comedy show of the night, and the cruise director bounced on to the stage and started with his intro. Maybe because I was worn out, but it took me a beat to realize he was as black as the Caribbean night.

“Huh?” I turned to my son. “Did he change nationalities?” This guy was a doppleganger for the white dude, with some serious sun exposure!

As the kids (#portableparty) and would gad about these various excursions and places, I got to tell them stories about things their father and I would do, and the very cool people we would meet. 

See, when Chris and I first started teaching, it was English to Speakers of Other Languages. (ESL) What a great job. We are lucky to live in the most adventurous country in the world, and people still clamor to get here.

English is still the ticket to movin’ on up, it seems.

Now, our adventures are bulkier, costlier, and much, much more satisfying. See, to me, a sabbatical or a break is not so much about relaxing as it is about difference. Differences in relationships is especially fascinating to me. 

In Saint Maarten, for example, it was a riot to educate these kids about advertising. When I advertise any of my business, I do all the usual stuff. Print, paper, realtors, all kinds of things. In Saint Maarten, if someone wants to braid your hair, sell you a t shirt or a beach umbrella, they plant themselves firmly in your path, intrude in your personal American space bubble, and ask. I find that hilarious. But it’s effective! You want a T shirt, Selene has three for ten bucks. Beach Umbrella? Verizon has nothing on the local network of ebony folk signaling each other a block away.

The beaches of Saint Maarten are unmatched. White powdery sand and the distinctive Caribbean blue, it’s what they have to sell. Who can blame them for getting in your face to make a living?

Running with the "Silent Girl" pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

Running with the “Silent Girl” pirate crew to see the turtles at Tortoise Cove

So I rent their boat and tip them to take me to a cool snorkeling spot. I pay for Christopher to discover how wild it is to hover next to a barracuda. I chat up the lovely French diver and her boyfriend, and discover that there actually is a niggling, sneaking appeal to chucking it all and living in the islands. Maybe for a little while.

Dialects and code switching are especially great to watch.

See, the white folks who chuck it all and come down here to live rarely get the island patois.

But to listed to one black-as-night islander talk to another is just like music. I can make out a few words, but mainly, get carried away on the tones and the flow of the sound.

I mean, for all I know, they could be saying “Let’s take the white lady for all we can, and laugh about it when the giant boats leave. ”

 

Ha! But I don’t think so. The islanders on Saint Maartan strike me as pretty universal. Ordinary folk with families and lives, doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got.

Great day in Saint Maarten.

Much love,

Victoria

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The “Allure” of American Excess


“Give them bread and circuses and they will never revolt.”

This famous phrase is attributed to the  first century Roman poet Juvenal. In context, Juvenal is displaying his contempt for the slide of contemporary Romans into a culture of decadence, rather than historical political involvement. This could be interpreted as ‘the richer and more distracted the citizens feel, the less trouble they’ll cause.’

This is utterly fascinating to me, as a single parent trying to guide these four kids into responsible adulthood.

Gaze upon this mountainous thing with me, for a moment-

This is the biggest cruise ship on the planet, currently. It's size is eclipsed only by a single aircraft carrier and another oil tanker.

This is the biggest cruise ship on the planet, currently. It’s size is eclipsed only by a single aircraft carrier and another oil tanker.

The craft next to it is a cruise ship from the “Princess” line, and we are docked side by side at Saint Thomas, USVI.

Really, it’s just sort of staggering, don’t you think?I find myself whistling “Down in the Valley” when I walk between ships when they are docked. I mean, I can barely see the sky.

This thing is so gigantic I’m mindful of things like BASE jumps and rappelling down mountainsides when I walk beside it.

So, a bit of history. When Chris and I started our parenting journey, we decided that we didn’t want our children to be happy, we wanted them to be good. Really “Happy” is such an first world notion. I don’t give a plugged nickel if my children are ‘happy’. Just the word is insipid and annoys me. Any parent with more than two brain cells to rub together can get that ‘happy’ is fleeting, and ‘good’ is forever. Why? “Happy” can change if I trip over a shoelace and break my wrist. (True story)

But “Good” lasts. “Good” takes risks. “Good” says to the hurting woman at the well, ‘Yes, you can have any extra that I don’t need. My children are fed and clothed, I have a surplus, it’s yours.’

“Good” looks at the destitute cancer victim and says “Of course, you can stay with me. Yes, you may use my things, and get whatever measure of peace you can find to rebuild some strength for this battle you are waging.”

“Good” says to the college student “Think! You have a magnificent brain! Weigh what your professors tell you, form your OWN thoughts and convictions, develop your OWN identity! You can do this. ”

“Good” looks at it’s children and says “Cause trouble. Don’t be distracted by bread and circuses. Stick up for the rights of those who have less power than you. Question your peers, don’t go with the affluent flow.”

So, what are we doing here? Really, it’s kind of hilarious. Here’s one reason: “Traveling Feet”

I want these kids to have a sense of wonder, and wanderlust. The world is a magnificent place, and they can make it better.

I want these kids to have a sense of wonder, and wanderlust. The world is a magnificent place, and they can make it better.

We took a day trip in Nassau to snorkel a spot called “Rainbow Reef.” There’s wild country under the surface of the waves, and these mountain children rarely see it.

Here’s another reason. You folks remember my brother selling his manuscript “The Old Man and the Harley ” to Thomas Nelson a couple of years back? (Go to Amazon and get it, it’s great. )

Tradition and identity. Riding Harleys is a wonderful part of John and Dad’s history. How cool to honor that like this?

John and Dad got a grin out of this one!

John and Dad got a grin out of this one!

This is emblematic. As parents, we forget that we ask a lot out of our kids. She's weary, and so are the others.

This is emblematic. As parents, we forget that we ask a lot out of our kids. She’s weary, and so are the others.

So here we are on this towering shrine to excess. The Allure is a techological marvel, It holds several thousand passengers, and over two thousand service personnel.

It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. The service is impeccable, the food superb, the shows of the highest quality, and the staff seems to be either authentically friendly or extremely well trained.

Our first day was in Nassau, Bahamas. We chose to spend it largely on another boat, speeding out to a good local dive spot.

All of my kids are experienced divers, and have been snorkeling since about age 5, so this was nothing new. It’s funny, I could see them chomping to be let loose to explore the boundary waters, but they could see that would likely tick off the people who’s responsibility it was to keep them safe.

“Safe” is as much of an irritant to my kids as it is to me. I think it was Lucy who once asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion was ‘safe’ (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis) “Of course not. ” replied Mr. Beaver. “But Aslan is good.”

Exactly. If I can teach my kids, in the middle of all this opulence, that ‘safe’ is not the equivalent of ‘good’, I will have continued to succeed in my parenting.

On this trip so far,  I  continue to have undistracted talks with the self-directed young adults these kids are becoming. It’s a beautiful thing.

Yep, that's rum punch you see in their hands. In the VI the drinking age is 18, and what a great way to get them to display any mysteries this drug might have for the.

Yep, that’s rum punch you see in their hands. In the VI the drinking age is 18, and what a great way to get them to display any mysteries this drug might have for them. Coke for Ray, of course.

I think the best reason to be here has to do with identity formation. Now is a critical time for all these kids to figure out who they are. The death of Chris was a terrible blow to this process, and it’s a very real lack.

So I cast around mainly for time. When I am at home, the demands on my time are pretty big. My job, my sick dad, and Rachael being at home are my main time expenditures, and it’s OK. But, with four kids, it’s pretty much an odds game that someone is going to need some parental input, right this instant.

Running a family is definitely a two person job.

But it is what it is, and I run around finding as much undistracted time to pour into these kids as I can. It helps.

Here are some of the knotty problems to untangle:

Faith is a junior this quarter. Yes, she just graduated last May, but DU finally processed all her honors, AP and additional collegiate coursework. She also obtained a research fellowship with a doctoral student. Med school is screaming down the tracks.

Christopher is really into his construction management studies. Many of the major companies offer internships around the country. Take one in some other part of the US, or part of the globe, for six months or so?

Abi might transfer to Savannah or Manhattan next year. This kid is remarkable, but that’s a big step, and she’s nervous about being away from everything she knows.

Rachael is just taking these first steps, and is dealing with a culture at EHS that frowns upon accomplishment. How to help her without transmitting my own cynicism toward American public school?

If you’re a person of faith, pray for me. This is a ton of work. If you’re my friend, buy me a Starbucks. 🙂

If you’re a single parent, shoot me back some advice, as soon as you can. I could use it!

Saint Maarten tomorrow!

Much love,

Victoria

 

Dear Diary- My Heart is a Traitor Bastard


I lifted that line directly from a Bird Martin essay at everyonehasastory.me. Go check it out, Bird is awesome.

With all the good things that surround me, why do I have such a hard time letting go of the ugly?

With all the good things that surround me, why do I have such a hard time letting go of the ugly?

So, I try really hard not to burden you people with angst-ridden, obsessive stories that cloud my judgement from time to time. But here it is , midnight on the day before I am to board a beautiful cruise boat with my four adorable, hilarious kids, and I am stewing over a petty rejection.

I have things to do, like printing out cruise boarding documents, and fleshing out a series of really cool essays I’d like to bring to you folks as we go along this trip.

I guess I would call this a “Piano Man” moment, you know the song where Billy Joel goes on about how stuck he is in a bar, where people put bread in his jar, and say “Man, what are you doing here?” This is utterly ridiculous, so here goes.

You folks know that I am still going to this older singles group at Mission Hills Church in Denver. I very nearly blew it off, as some of the relationships there were simply disguised napalm. But the silver lining was that I learned, as a single woman, how to handle destructive people in my life, and I did it without that benefit of a spouse. When I look back on it, that’s actually pretty cool. Mel Curtis, esteemed life coach, reminds me of how far I’ve come in my judgement since then. Josh, the pastor at the church, reminds me not to lie to myself. Here’s the lie “My judgement about new friends is simply terrible, I will never be able to make new friends as a single woman.”

Here’s the truth “I made mistakes in judgement. I have the Spirit of God to help me make better choices next time.” And then to write down the number of times since I’ve come to Mission Hills that my judgement has been pretty good, and I’ve made some pretty heartfelt friends.

Even then, that’s not entirely spot on. Another silver lining there is that I have learned that people who are older singles are generally that way for a reason. We have a hell of a lot of baggage to deal with. Every single one of us. The two mistakes I made were with people who were really, really good actors, and who denied any sort of baggage at all. MONSTER red flag for next time, and actually, when framed like that, I’m authentically grateful for the experience.

As I continue making new friends, I can look more clearly at their behavior, and ask myself “Are they acting like they have the world by the tail? Everything is fabulous? Think twice, Victoria. If that’s the case, why are they estranged from their parents? Why do they have no contact with their kids? Why do they have rocky relationships with other people? Hmmm…..”

Chris and I used to talk this stuff over into the wee hours of the night, and I can hardly tell you how much I miss that. He was a very relational person, and figuring out relationships with him was like breathing.

So anyway, back to the Meetup. I post a very friendly, generic greeting to a woman that I noticed had an interest in long-distance bike riding. I make a comment about her posted training schedule for a local ride and inquire if I might join the group.

(We made our first epic ride during the Newkirk Circle of Eights. Thirteen years ago we did Ride the Rockies, a remarkable seven day trek held annually over the wild territory of Colorado. My brother John was 38, my dad had turned 80, and Christopher had turned 8. I was thirty four,so no biggie there. It remains an awesome piece of family riding lore)

So, this woman, we’ll call Peg, took down the post, removed my comment, and didn’t care to reply. I discover, of course, that she’s friends with my mistakes at the meetup. Naturally.

AND what’s worse, that I give the situation any of my attention at all. Enough.

So, with that said, I’d like to tell all of you how much I prize your friendship. This teeny weeny little blog has blossomed into something really cool over the past year or so.

I would like to think that when we visit, I’m chatting with an audience of widows, widowers, people in the middle of loss, or simply isolated folks who wonder where the light is at the end of the tunnel.

I know that bunches of you are simply decent people. People who wonder what it’s like to walk in the other gal’s moccasins, and who stop by here to see what an accomplished, lonely, blessed, bereft, joyful widow looks like.

It’s a privilege to me to share with you the truths I stumble over. Things like there actually is a God who loves us and knows us pretty darn well. Truths that it’s pretty rough out there. Truths that even in the rough spots, life can be pretty damn good.

That said, join me tomorrow as my kids and I board Royal Caribbean’s “Allure”, the biggest cruise ship on the planet.

American excess always holds a great deal of humor for me, some light, and some dark. The “Allure” is a first world joke, from my point of view. It’s size is only exceeded by one single oil tanker, and an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific.

Manufactured adventure like this is generally not my first choice.  Brainless twit that I am, when my three college kids trained the “Mommy Guilt Rays” on me, I’m embarrassed to say I caved.

“Mom! We all have the same Spring Break! How often is that going to happen! We should do something really fun, like a cruise!”

Sigh, the little stinkers. So yes, I caved, and off we go the islands.

I love you all,  and appreciate you listening. Cruise documents are almost done, dreamland, here I come.

Sleep well, friends.

Much love,

Victoria

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Twenty. The Light on the Rock of Gibralter


Driving to Gibralter is a lot like an epiphany.  A ‘Voila!’ moment, even. We started in the early morning fog from Seville, looking for the darkness and the fog to lift. Slowly, the olive groves became more visible, and the  Spanish ‘pastors’ leading their sheep appeared.  What a joy it was to be spinning down the Spanish countryside, watching the light grow like wisdom.

The girls were good sports, not minding another half a day in the car, so that we could see one of the most moving spots on the planet.

The Rock of Gilbralter.

The Rock of Gibralter.

That's the Strait of Gilbralter. It's controlled by the British, and shipping is so important the Brits still maintain a military presence there.

That’s the Strait of Gibralter. It’s controlled by the British, and shipping is so important the Brits still maintain a military presence there.

Morocco is clearly visible in the distance. Tangiers is a a short boat ride away. Hello, Africa!

Morocco is clearly visible in the distance. Tangiers is a a short boat ride away. Hello, Africa

What would we find? Gibralter looms like Hercules over the bay. Morocco and the coast of Africa are visible.   It is a mere 16 miles of calm sea away.  We crossed the border and parked at the tramway, enthusiasm beginning to grow.

On this trip, I have discovered that trade is as necessary to the human condition as, well, perhaps even love. I found it hilarious that I have not been mistaken for an American once, yet as much as I try, first world affluence is difficult to shed.

Tour guides cluster around us, more North Africans come to where we have tea, all trying to trade their services for the contents of our pocketbooks.  The African illegal immigrant problem here is enormous. With Spain in full recession, North Africans don’t get absorbed into the economy as easily as they once were.

No matter, Jesus asks us to share freely, so we do. A jolly Gibraltean, (Yes, they call themselves that) led us behind the wheel of his van, and we spent a genial three hours with his booming British voice regaling us with tales of the wartime history and the tunnels into the Rock.

Stopping to see the Macaques before the caves.

Stopping to see the Macaques before the caves.

A colony of Macaques lives on the rock, and Ronald, our tour guide, was fast friends with the dominant male.

My new buddy, explaining the ways of the world to me.

My new buddy, explaining the ways of the world to me.

He took us to several lookouts, and led us the maze of caves and tunnels built over the years.

photo (27)

The guards to the entrances of the tunnels get to be buddies with the Macaques.

The acoustics in the cave must be amazing.

The acoustics in the cave must be amazing.

There are many really cool things in the caves. One of them is this natural amphitheater where concerts and performances are often held.

The maze of tunnels goes on forever. Gibralter is still used for military purposes, so we couldn’t go to the very top. It was fascinating to run around the caves and see the openings where cannons were inserted. Several hundred cannons could actually fire with some degree of accuracy, and defense embrasures ring the Rock.

The analogies here are endless. Tourism is the main industry here on the Rock, but it isn’t solid. Defense is the main use of the Rock, but it sometimes fails. So what is solid, what can we depend on? The hymnist says “On Christ, the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.”

The Psalmist says the God is my Rock, in 62:5 and 6

5Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;

my hope comes from him.

6He alone is my rock and my salvation;

he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

The Rock has held a fascination for people since we started to write things down. Hercules killed the Hydra here, Jason sailed through here, and the phrase “Solid as a Rock” is so entrenched in our language, I doubt people know that it refers to Gibralter.

I stood at the lookout, thinking about all the things I’ve learned during the Sabbatical. We go home tomorrow, and I do feel more solid, standing here with the Rock under my feet.

People really aren’t that much different, even though culture may very tremendously. Humans still need things, difference and each other. A life without standing on the Rock of my salvation would be precarious indeed.

It’s been a joy having you along for the ride, my friends. The next entry I intend to introduce some of you to the rest of the world. Clare Flourish, Micheal Lai, Aii, Thane Furrows, Bird Martin, Cjplay, Clarence, Toemailer, The Ancient Librarian, and many many others have kept me company during this trip, and it’s been a blast.

Kids, you’re awesome. Congratulations on a successful semester.  It’s been a joy being your  mom. See you all in Colorado.

Much love,

Victoria

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.

Merry Christmas From Granada! Angels, Part 3.


Snow Angel

Snow Angel (Photo credit: Atelier Teee)

We visit the Alhambra today and the ancient Plaza Nuevo. I’ll show you what I mean later, but Christmas ‘getting’ is everywhere. How about some Chrismas ‘giving’ to start your day? Thanks so much for the positive notes. It makes me happy to think fellow Visitors get a little joy out of these things, Much love,

V

Chapter 6: Joseph and the New Shoes 

Angel 013

Angel 013 (Photo credit: Juliett-Foxtrott)

 Night had come, and another shift at the college was about to start. The kids were in bed. Mark and Mary were three and five, and Taylor was probably still up, working on something from the office.

 I backed the ATV out of it’s shed and steered it around the grounds. This part of the college was often called the “Mushroom”  because of it’s funny looking dome that overarched the entryways. Still, I found the grounds to be beautiful.

I gathered my things, and strapped on my belt. Gloves, pliers, hammer, screwdriver, plastic bags, other assorted tools to keep this place looking good.

It never occurred to me to be embarrassed about my job, it gave me a chance to think. But things weren’t going well between Taylor and me. She was a research physician, and what she saw in the likes of me, was still a mystery, even after seven years of marriage.

I ran a small music shop for my ‘real job’, my partner and I gave guitar  and keyboard lessons to all comers. In this economy though, music lessons were a discretionary item, to be sure. The flow of students had dropped by nearly eighty percent since the recession began. Who could blame them, really? I mean, if you can’t put food on the table, how can you pay for your kid to learn to play Dad’s old Stratocaster?

It was only because Taylor’s job was steady that we stayed afloat at all. I fought off guilt about that, men are supposed to be the provider and all that. I had taken this custodial job at the  college to contribute more to my self esteem than the family budget.

But Mark and Mary? I wouldn’t trade the time I have with them for the world. Taylor’s first pregnancy had caught us both off guard. We should have known better. Both of us were in our twenties, and had just been careless. Surprise!

So the Catholic in me did the right thing, and proposed. I had never had a regular girlfriend, just a string of meaningless partners. I guess that makes me bad or something. I don’t know, I just hoped God was nice enough to let me off the hook. I didn’t mean to be a user, but it’s exhausting to please everyone, and proposing to Taylor seemed to be a relief.

Too bad it didn’t work out that way. At five foot eight and barely a hundred forty, I never felt like much, and being married didn’t change that.

“Joseph? He’s the little one. Don’t pick him, he’s weak.”

“Girly-boy Joseph? Look at his curly hair! He’s so little! He’s a girl!”

Taunts from schoolmates got so repetitive as to be trite.

“Joey? He just hasn’t gotten his growth spurt. I’m sure he’ll be big and strong some day.” My mother still said that, and at thirty five, I had gotten tired of correcting her.

Years of jokes about my size had gotten under my skin. Secretly, I started to work out, to ride my bike to the shop, and lift the weights I stored in my closet. I was stronger than most people thought.

Had to be, for this job. I filled a five gallon drum with water and hefted it through a wrought iron gate to the children’s garden.

The college had a child care center for it’s students and staff, and a lovely garden that I got to maintain.

“Joseph? Mr. Joseph? Is that you? A hissing through the children’s garden caught my ear.

I couldn’t quite make it out. After ten steady years in this business, I was a little afraid I was losing my hearing.

A small dark figure darted out from behind the flower wagon.

“Mr. Joseph!”

“Tommy! What are you doing here? It must be near midnight! “

Tommy ‘hung out’ quite often at the college.The food was subsidized and no one bother him.

“Please don’t send me home, Mr. Joseph. Dad got drunk and threw me out again. He says I bin dealin’, and that’s just not true! He found some glass in my brother’s room, and Jeremy said it was mine! It just ain’t so! “

The teenager’s teeth gleamed in the starless night. I could barely make him out. His coffee colored face radiated anxiety.

“Well , shit ,Tommy. Sorry. Shoot. Now how would meth get into you brother’s room unless you put it there? You’re the one in high school. What’s Jeremy? Fourteen?”

“How the hell should I know where he got it? “ Tommy’s voice rose to a whine.

“But I know that stuff. We have meth monkeys all over school, with their rotten teeth and twitchy attitudes. Skinny as poles, too. I ain’ t no meth monkey.”

I believed him. Something about his demeanor seemed to ordinary, too sixteen and squirrelly to be drug induced. I walked with him over to the sodium lights in the parking lot.

“You can’t stay here, Tommy. Where are you gonna go in the morning?” Tommy shifted on the pavement, as if it were burning his feet.

I looked down, aghast.

“Tommy! Your feet! What the hell happened to your feet? “

Tommy was small for his age, too. He had the feet of a twelve year old boy, and they were cut and bleeding.

“Have your shoes gone missing?”

“Naw. Dad got the baseball bat. I know when he gets the baseball bat I  better get the hell outta there right quick. “

I sat down, frustrated. What a thing to do to a kid. All the rotten decisions, all the missed opportunities in my life, one thing I was proud of. Two actually, and they were both at home tucked in their beds.

“Get in the car, Tommy.”

Taylor and I would have words, I’m sure. Money was always tight. But there are some things you just can’t let go.

“Anyone you can stay with tonight, Tommy? “ We pulled into the nearby Target.

“Yaw, my cousin lives down the street. She told me any time my dad gets going to come and stay with her an’ her kids. I can go there.”

“Ok, let’s go shopping.”

The Target was still open. Tommy and I trotted to the boys aisle, and slid down the polished tile floors. I used to love to do that when I was a kid, and had on slippery shoes.

One hour and seventy dollars later, Tommy and I walked out of the store, with two brand new pairs of shoes, size seven. Athletic shoes, because what sixteen year old can be on the b-ball courts without good shoes, and ‘fancy shoes’ for school. Just a pair of Dockers, but he promised he would wear them, especially on band days. Tommy loved the trumpet as much as I loved the guitar.

We got back into the car, chattering like children.

“Gotta girlfriend, Tommy?”

“Phht. Not me, Mr. Joseph. Look at me, I’m ugly. It’s easier for me to look mean. That way no one messes with me. What’re your babies doing? “

The boy directed me to a scarier part of town. The houses were run down, and closer together.

“Mark and Mary? Oh, They’re awesome. Growing so fast.”

“Just a little further, Mr. Joseph. Can I use your phone? “ He called a number, said “yeah” a bunch of times, and gave it back to me.

“She says it’s fine. She says you’re the best, and a real angel.”

“Look! There she is now!” A middle aged black woman with wirey grey hair came down the steps, pulling a terrycloth wrapper behind her. She tied the wrap around her, and opened her arms to Tommy before he even got out of the car.

Tommy opened the door and leapt out of the car, before I could bring it to a full stop.

He looked over his shoulder as he ran to the welcoming figure.

“Thank you Mr. Joseph! You’re the best! A real Angel from Heaven!”

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Fifteen. On Eze, Nice and Unrequited Love. Angels, Part 2


Living in fifteenth century Eze village must have been hard. It’s a medieval village outside of Nice, about a twenty minute drive toward Monaco. the ruins stand overlooking the sea, next to the Fragonard perfumery. It’s all hewn rock, and the top is like a aerie overlooking the sea.

We walked up to the top of the village, and were treated to this.

The exotic garden at the top of Eze. Filled with ruins, wonderful plants and statuary.

The exotic garden at the top of Eze. Filled with ruins, wonderful plants and statuary.

WHAT a gorgeous place to live. Standing on these rough hewn rocks, the wind in our hair, you wonder about things. It’s all so much smaller than what we have now. The doors in the ancient village are barely five feet, the rooms, which are now shops, of course, tiny little spaces hacked out of rock. Or, enclosed spaces with uneven bricks mortared together against the elements.

But where would you get your water? And imagine hustling up and down all those steps to the baker, the winemaker, or the tanner. Narrow stone corridors everywhere. Now, it’s a stop for Spanish cruise ships. An interesting evolution.

We climbed and climbed, and  got the fun of this. A good place to keep an eye on the bad guys, all the way up here.

The mediterranean from the top of Eze village.

The mediterranean from the top of Eze village.

Keeping the bad guys away from the fortified top of Eze.

Keeping the bad guys away from the fortified top of Eze.

Fragonard is at the foot of Eze, and was fascinating. It’s a lot smaller of a perfumerie than I would have thought, and they employ one single perfumer who works all of two hours a day. The job specs for this position are kind of incredible. This man spent three years training his nose, and can distinguish between several thousand fragrances. After a seven year apprenticeship, he can be a perfumer. He can never, ever smoke, drink alcohol or eat spicy food. Forever. AND his nose is insured for a million dollars. Can you imagine?

We spent hours just doing this.

We spent hours just doing thiUS dollars. Can you imagine? Such commitment!

Part of this sabbatical is also for these children. My goal here is to help them built an experience base, and a comfort with the world.

Such a vast amount of space!

Such a vast amount of space!

It’s hilarious to watch mountain children interact with the ocean. Quote of the day: “Mom, I know this makes me sound stupid, but the ocean is so BIG!”

Nice was a very mixed bag. People ask me if the French are as obnoxious as their reputation, and after barely a week, I like to reserve judgement. However, last night all three of our tour bikes were stolen. They were bolted securely to the railing outside the hotel. We went to dinner , and then made to bring them into the building. All three of the bolts were cut, and sitting on the ground where the bikes were, mockingly. The owner of the bike shop? “I told you to bring them in after dark!” And how would we have gotten home? Hmm, methinks obnoxious stereotypes might have some basis in reality. Thank heaven for insurance.

Thieves in Nice notwithstanding, it was a pleasant stay. The ocean always seems to evoke thought, at least in this mountain dweller.

It also still cracks me up to see the neurons blazing new pathways like this:

The perfect stone is here somewhere.

The perfect stone is here somewhere.

just sitting and gazing.

After a day like today, a movie was in order. Rachael had just finished Anna Karenina, the Tolstoy doorstop. Really, those of you who like Tolstoy, realize that what King Solomon said was true. There is nothing new under the sun. Anna is a  tale of  brainless, obsessive love that ultimately ends in self destruction. Stephanie Meyer was wise not to kill off Bella in the Twilight series, she would not have sold as many copies. But Twilight is a Tolstoy ripoff, and Tolstoy no doubt was friends with Romeo and Juliet. 

Obsessive and unrequited love doesn’t do it for me any more. This part of the trip has been strangely challenging. It’s funny, after two years, I would have thought that the grief of losing a husband would be a chapter now, but it is not so. As I walked through the flower market, and took the kids down a Christmas street, a little achy part of my heart reminded me that yes, it would have been better if Chris were here.

I wrote about it to a friend of mine. Catherine is familiar with loss, this is what she said.

” …wouldn’t we want our loved ones to keep a little token of us in their hearts should the roles have been reversed? Be patient with yourself. You’ll find your feet again, and Chris will have left behind a little legacy in that you will be little more empathetic for others who are going through the same thing. Don’t fight it those sad moments when you think of him. Embrace the fact that he deserved to have someone grieve for him  here on earth.”  

It’s a lovely thought, and true. Were I the one gone, I would want my loved ones to think of me. Not be stuck, or paralysed, just to think of me, and wish I were there. Perhaps he is, somehow.

Lest we end on a completely morose note, here is another chapter of Angels Among Us, fellow Visitors. It is Christmas, after all, the season to give. I hope you enjoy it.

Much love,

V

Chapter Ten: Layaway Angels Christmas-layaway-1

It was a late night, and I was tired. It had been a long day at work, and dance was just killing my feet. My private coaching time had gone well, but I had never done Quickstep. I was looking forward to it, but it was difficult at eight oclock at night after a long day. Thirty minutes into the lesson I just gave up.

I motioned to my coach. “I’m sorry,Scott, I’ve got to give it up. Long day.”

Scott, ever the understanding coach, sent me home with a warm hug.

“It’s OK! We’ll see you Tuesday! “He went back to teaching the class.

I changed out of my dance shoes and was about to leave when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Victoria! Victoria! Are you leaving? “ One of my favorite dance partners wanted my attention.

 

“Yes, Randy, I’ve had enough. How long are you staying?”

“Oh, probably for everything. Listen, I was wondering, do you want to go with me to the Mercury Café next week? Thursday is tango night!”

I thought about it for a fraction of a second. Rick was built like a whippet, and enough older than me that he didn’t mind being called a hippy.

But he was an excellent dancer, and made me laugh.

“Randy, that sounds like a lovely invitation! Let me give you my card with my number on the back, and you send me the details.”

“Great! Sounds great! “ Randy went back to quickstep.

Two days later I got an email from Randy. We met later that week and had peanut skewers at Tokyo Joes. Randy was funny, and kept me on my toes, verbally.

We went to the Merc and took over a table.

‘Say, Randy. What do you say. I’m a Christian, right? And we believe in tithing. So I’ve got some extra money in my tithe budget. It’s getting near Christmas, and one thing my husband and I used to love to do was to be ‘Layaway Angels.”

“Layaway Angels?” Randy’s Jersey accent always made me smile. I’ve never heard of such a thing!”

“Check it out. This is how it works. I brought three hundred dollars in small bills. Let’s dance for a while, and then before we go home, let’s find the nastiest, dirtiest K-mart in the area. I don’t know this area much, so can you find one? “

“I think so. Then what? “

“Well, you have to find a clerk that will let you do this, because some people get squirrelly about privacy. But, the idea is, you find a clerk in the layaway department who will tell you who has stuff on layaway for small children. It’s getting close to Christmas, so you know if someone has 75$ worth of toys and kid clothes on layaway, and pays like ten dollars a week on it, it’s probably for Christmas. So we go in, and pay the balance, and ‘poof!’ someone thinks they’ve been visited by an angel! Heh, it’s really fun.”

Randy looked at me like I’d lost my mind.

“You do that? Give perfectly good money to someone you’ll never even see?”

“Well sure, Randy! Don’t you ever give anything away? You told me yourself about going to volunteer at the Denver Rescue Mission and the Denver Hospice. How is that any different?”

“Well, it’s money, for one thing. But that’s kind of cute! No, I’m not a Christian, but that sounds like fun. Your money though, right? I didn’t bring any more than I needed tonight, and besides, I’m not sure that’s my cup of tea.”

“Hehheh, It’s OK, Rick. I used to do it with my husband before he died, and since then I’ve just lost the heart for it. But Christians are supposed to help each other, and it really gives me a lot of joy. So, are we on?”

“You bet.”

Randy  and I spent the next two hours dancing to the music at the Mercury Café. It had been ages since I had been there, and I didn’t recognize a soul. Rick introduced me around, the consummate gentleman, ponytail and all.

When the crowd started to thin, Rick and I gave each other a knowing nod. Soon, we were on the road into some of the less affluent parts of Denver.

We found a K mart in the Five Points area. It was past midnight.

“Gah, this is it, Randy. Call me a Nervous Nellie, but I’m glad you’re with me! “

We walked through the flickering light of the sodium lamps and entered the store.

“Ok, “ Randy’s gravelly Jersey voice rasped. “Maybe customer service?”

“Heheh, I think so. “

We went to the back of the store and explained what we wanted to do to one of the clerks behind the counter. She was a tired looking teenager, and blew her bubblegum in our general direction.

“Huh. A coupla do gooders, huh? I guess so.” She went to a different computer.

“Let’s see. Here’s one with a ‘Tickle me Elmo’, a size thirty six month overalls, a pack of socks the same size, and a little dress. Total, 87. 58 , total paid so far, 25 dollars, balance 62.58$. “

I turned to Rick. “Perfect! Let’s do it. “ I counted out the bills.

“Next? “ The clerk seemed surprised. What a pity.

“Ok,” she seemed to be warming to the task. “Here’s one. Matchbox car set, with six matchbox cars and four sets of tracks. Size four overalls, size four tennis shoes, baseball cap. Total, 72.33, total paid, thirty dollars over four weeks. Balance remaining, forty two dollars and thirty three cents. “

Randy chimed in. “Matchbox! I loved matchbox! I used to play with that very same set with my son when he was a kid. This is fun!”

I was delighted that Randy shared the same sense of joy in giving that I had. We continued for a few more minutes until the balance of the money was spent.

Chattering like bluejays, we left the store and Randy walked me to my care.

“Thanks! That was more than what I bargained for, but a lot of fun! “

We exchanged a warm hug, and promised to see each other next Thursday at Scott’s next practice party. I grinned all the way home, happy to recruit another member into the party of angels.