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Magic in the ICU

This isn’t a Christmas tale, per se. It’s the story of a Mom and how the sense of fun she left her kids’ lives on in them and in her dentures.

My Mom, Marie, died far too young in 1998. I still tear up when I think about what my kids missed in having such a fun Grandma. She passed after heart surgery followed by six weeks in a Cardiac ICU in Colorado.  Kept in an induced coma to give her heart a chance to heal, I wasn’t optimistic when I went to visit.

Moving along, a couple of things to know about Marie –

  1. Mom was a big believer in guardian angels. I’ll never forget sitting down to watch “Touched by an Angel” with her, having her look over at me and say in all seriousness, “I love this show. It’s not at all schmaltzy.”
  2. She cared about a lot of people, including and particularly 11 guys who suited up in Orange at MileHi Stadium, especially John Elway. This explains the guardian angel in a #7 Broncos’ jersey pinned to the pillow in Mom’s room in the ICU.  He watched over her the entire 6 weeks.
  3. One more note about Mom, she’d worn a full set of dentures since she was 45 and hated every minute she had to have them in. Really, truly, hated them.

You already know the middle of this tale, my mother never walked out of the hospital.  And here’s where it becomes a Bekuhrs story.

My sister lived about an hour away and had visited Mom in the hospital often, getting to know the ICU nurses pretty well.  She called them the day after Mom died to thank them for everything they’d done for her and ask about the return of Mom’s guardian angel. The nurse said she hadn’t seen it, but Annie was stopped dead in her tracks when the nurse then said, “I’m so glad you called! The funeral director forgot to take your mother’s teeth. Someone needs to come pick them up.”

“Excuse me? Her teeth?”

“Yes, the funeral home didn’t take them; they’re going to need them.”

“No, they’re not. She’s being cremated, the teeth will just melt.  Now, about that angel…”

“But, we can’t dispose of anything a patient brought in. Someone needs to pick them up.”

“I’ll tell you what, you find the angel and I’ll pick up the teeth when I come by for it.”

Annie and I don’t have a lot in common, but we’re both pretty solid negotiators.  It all worked out, they found the angel and my sister said she’d be down the next day to pick them up.  “And the teeth!” the nurse chirped. I can still hear her grumble…

Next morning, a sunny May Friday, my sister drove the hour to Greeley and made her way to the ICU.  She had a good cry with the nurses who’d been so great to our parents and then saw the teeth sitting discreetly wrapped in tissue on the counter.  The angel was nowhere in sight. Red flags started to fly. Had she been duped?

The nurse was apologetic, insisting they HAD found the angel the day before but it wasn’t there when her current shift started.  Annie was pretty angry, but calmly said, “That’s too bad. Looks like you guys scored yourselves a set of dentures.”

“But, what are we supposed to do with them?”

“I don’t care. Put a little wind-up motor in them and let them clack on your desk through eternity. I’m not taking them without the angel.”  (ß my hand to god, that quote is 100% true)

After a frantic call to housekeeping, the Orange Savior was found, bagged up with my mother’s 25-year old choppers and Annie was on her way.

The next morning was Saturday, and I was preparing for the drive to Colorado for Mom’s memorial service the following Wednesday. One of the most miserable packing experiences of my life – my kids didn’t have anything black. Not yet, anyway.  I was thinking about a Target run and it hit me that Mom really didn’t care about that mourning stuff, and honestly, neither did I, when the doorbell rang.  I looked out and saw a Post Office truck at the curb.

My letter carrier was delivering an overnight-before-10 a.m. package from an address I didn’t recognize in Colorado. Weird, I signed for it and, for once, could not put it aside. I had to open it immediately.  (You see where this is going, don’t you?)

I pawed through a pile of wadded up tissue paper to find a Post-it note that said, ‘A little something Mom would have wanted you to have. Smile’ attached to – you guessed it, the dentures.

Bathos. Utter bathos. I could not stop laughing. At Annie. For Mom. For all of us. Silliest thing that’d ever happened to me, and it could not have come at a better time.  I still grin ear to ear just thinking about it.

But wait, there’s more. We’ve always believed that revenge really IS a dish best served cold, so I waited seven months until putting together my sister’s holiday package.

Yup, I did it.  I got out my hot glue gun, cemented the teeth into a perfect bite, and spray painted them 24KT Gold. I then attached them to a 2” wide red velvet ribbon with a hook at the top added some fake cranberries and cedar spray and called it an ornament.  It actually looks kinda like a bell from a distance. I know this because it’s in the background of every photo that includes my sister’s Christmas tree. Every. Single. Year.

And every year Mom is somewhere giggling about it.


Stuff & Stardust

Moving is a blow to my self-image. I like to think I am reasonably clean and tidy. But comes that moment after all the furniture and possessions have been removed from my rooms, and I come back to see if I’ve left anything, and I look at the floor and there’s this STUFF all around. Behind where the desk was, and behind where the bookcase was, and behind where the bed was, and in the corner once occupied by the chest-of-drawers.

Stuff. Gray. Fuzzy. Hairy. Grotty. Stuff

Look at all that dirt, I think. I am not so very nice and clean after all, I think. What would the neighbors think? I think. What would my mother say? I think. What if THEY come to inspect? I think. I got to clean this up quick, I think. This Stuff. It’s ALWAYS there when I move. WHAT IS IT?

I read in a medical journal that a laboratory analyzed this Stuff. They were working on the problems of people with allergies, but their results apply here.

The findings: particles of wool, cotton, and paper, bug chunks, food, plants, tree leaves, ash, microscopic spores of fungi and single-celled animals, and a lot of unidentifiable odds and ends, mostly natural and organic.

But that’s just the miscellaneous list. The majority of Stuff comes from just two sources:  PEOPLE – exfoliated skin and hair; and METEORITES – disintegrated as they hit the earth’s atmosphere. (NO KIDDING – IT’S TRUE – TONS OF IT FALL EVERY DAY.) In other words, what’s behind my bed and bookcase and dresser and chest is mostly me and stardust.

A botanist told me that if you gather up a bunch of Stuff in a jar and put some water in it and let it sit in the sunlight and then plant a seed in it, the seed will grow like crazy; or if you do the same thing but put it in a damp, dark place, mushrooms will grow in it. And then, if you eat the mushrooms, you may see stars.

Also, if you really want to see a lot of it, take the sheet off your bed, shake it hard in a dark room, and then turn on a beamed flashlight. There you are. Like the little snowmen in the round glass ball on the mantel at Grandma’s house. London Bridge is falling down and I am falling down and the stars are falling down. And everything else is falling down, to go around again, some say.

Scientists have pretty well established that we come from a stellar birthing room.

We are the stuff of stars.

Sisters Doing it for Themselves. And for Everyone Else.

It’s too easy to get sucked into the selfless behavior that comes with being a mom, regardless how much or how little you cared and shared before the magic event.

My generation was raised with teevee sitcoms featuring June Cleaver, Ruth Martin, Carol Brady, and others who sacrificed big chunks of themselves through the 60s and 70s on behalf of their families. Spinster Aunt Bee was the prototype mother/grandmother set up as the ideal.  Even through the 90s moms who, despite working outside their homes, still bore the brunt of sitcom mom-hood with husbands that were too tired or too boorish, or were written by men who just decided they didn’t need to pitch in as partners.

Even at a pretty tender age, I remember watching these women and thinking, “well, this is bullshit.”

Some women of my generation bought into that. No one I hung out with, but some. Feminism was on the rise. Sitcom moms were doin’ it for themselves but still doin’ it for the family, too. They worked outside their homes, convinced that they could have it all. Of course, most didn’t think that to have it all they’d have to DO it all.   Twenty-four hours in a day?  No problem.

And that became the norm. Once the kids come along, Mom’s needs not only took a back seat, they were relegated to that third-row tailgunner seat in the family’s Country Squire wagon of life.

(One of the most annoying teevee spots I can remember from that era was for a godawful women’s fragrance called Enjoli. If you had a teevee in 1978, you know the one I’m talking about. If not, check youtube.)

Truthfully, I never bought it. Never aspired to be June Cleaver, nor Elyse Keaton, Angela Bower, Claire Huxtable or any of them who showed us an unbelievably fictional look at what we should aspire to.

I just wanted to be Peg Bundy, but with a 401(k).


Almost Canceled Christmas

There’s a lot to be said, really, for being utterly broke during Christmas.  Not broke as in, “Gee, I guess we have to pass on Colorado this year and go see the grandparents in San Francisco instead,” but broke as in, “Gee, I guess a tree just isn’t in the budget this year.”   Truth told, it’s kind of liberating in a way, coming that close to completely canceling Christmas.

For example:

  • Aside from dropping off and picking up my daughter at work, I haven’t been within five blocks of a mall since September.
  • Target, same thing.  I go at 8 a.m. on weekdays for cat litter and toilet paper, missing the whoop-dee-doo and hickory dock entirely.
  • As of Christmas Eve, there were still about a dozen boxes of decorations sitting unopened in a neat stack in the mud room. Normally they’d have been emptied and their contents decking every room in the house by December 1.  I didn’t deck the halls, so my January 6th will be a lot easier than usual.
  • I know for a fact that there is no more “stuff” in my house than there was the day after Thanksgiving, stuff designed to remind that it’s the thought that counts. Not that I dislike getting gifts, but the truth is I’ve gotten, and given, a lot of thoughtless gifts over time.
  • Along those lines, my wrapping paper budget is zero this year.
  • Finally, I’m reminded again of what amazing young women I’ve raised.  We talked weeks ago about our situation and economic reality, leading to the fact that there’d be nothing under the tree this year; no tree for that matter. Both reacted with, “Meh, at least we have a roof over our heads and food in the fridge.”

I’d love to say that, through all this, I learned the True Meaning of Christmas, but that’s not the case.  We did not live through a Hallmark Channel Movie, did not sit around by candle light telling each other what our family means to us, God forbid, we did not return to church!  There was no midnight mass where a chorus of archangels came to my little family, illuminating our souls and opening our hearts to the infinite possibilities promised by the birth of a fictional baby 2015 years ago. It was just Friday, December 25th.  Dinner at some friends’ house and lots and lots of beers.

We did experience a couple of flashes – don’t get me wrong, I didn’t go full Grinch this year.

As mentioned, shelling out $50 or 60 for a moderate tree was not reasonable, but I did have a small artificial one. It’s throwback to a smaller house and a time when we never stayed home for the holidays but wanted to have SOMETHING up.  I finally caved about a week before Christmas and set the tree up, ghosts of past years’ tinsel clinging to the plasticized pine needles, but couldn’t bear to decorate it so it’d sat unlit and unadorned in the front window.  On the 24th, my older daughter was bored and looking for something to do, so I halfheartedly suggested that she invite her posse over to trim the tree. She got an odd look on her face as though she couldn’t decided if the idea was ridiculously dull, ridiculously sublime, or just rodiculous. She made a couple of calls, asked, “Can we drink while we do it?” and before I knew it, we were overrun with 21-year olds giggling like cartoon mice at my family’s collected ornaments. Virtually all of the ones the girls had made in elementary school went up.  The store-bought, shiny, perfect ones stayed in the box for another year and a different kind of tree.  Maybe.

On top of that, friends who know our circumstances have been perfect friends about it. A Target gift card here, Trader Joe’s there, have meant so much more than a necklace I’d only wear on New Years’ Eve or an overpriced bottle of wine, regardless how tasty. I appreciate their effort that that takes- people thinking good thoughts, thereby giving good gifts.

So, here I sit. Christmas is two days past and 364 days away (leap year, people). I have no idea where we’ll be a year from now – hopefully in this same house with a little more to celebrate than 2015 brought – but regardless, I know we can handle it.

And get a load of those faces! tree.jpg

Dream Car or Nightmare

If I’d known that a 1971 Plymouth Duster would sell today for 50X what I got for 30 years ago, I just might have hung onto it a little longer. Probably not.

The Car Makes the Chick

I believe that everyone should walk into a new car dealership and sign away their soul for 0% down and low monthly payments at least once, but certainly no more than once in their life. I did, and still have a SWEET ’94 Saturn SL-1 sitting in the driveway to show for it.

I’d traded in a VW Rabbit Convertible with a quarter of a million miles on it that I’d bought used seven years before. Would’ve kept the ragtop, too, if I hadn’t gotten pregnant in my mid-30s. The idea of an infant car seat altered the statement that I wanted the car to make, and the notion of picking bugs out of my child’s hair was vaguely repugnant.

Of course I named the convertible. Her name was Betty, because my old roommate and subsequent fairy godmother to my daughter had named his car Barney. It worked. Barney & Betty. If we’d gotten new cars at the time they would have been Pebbles & BammBamm, but we parted company long before that happened. Betty was in four major accidents in the time I owned her, but by gosh, never managed to total herself. Whatever the mean streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles threw at her, she continued to run. (I convinced myself that number of mishaps was all because the car was silver-grey, and with the top down she was hard to see against the pavement. It had nothing to do with my driving.) (Seriously. I’m convinced.)

My mechanic once had to rewire the whole car due to an error made in installing an alternator – and VW electrical systems are fussy on a good day – but she continued to run. When I was pulling off the freeway for the very last time on my way to trade her in, I had to stop at a Shell station and borrow a Phillips head screwdriver to adjust the throttle so she wouldn’t stall out on the dealer’s lot and scotch the deal, but she continued to run and run and run.

The very best run was always down Highway 1 from San Francisco through Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz to Monterey. Highway 1 runs the distance of the state, from Eureka to San Diego in one form or another, but for some ungodly reason, Angelenos refer to it at “The PCH,” short for The Pacific Coast Highway. Joan Baez would never dream of thumbing a ride on The PCH. Green Day couldn’t get up to 100 mph on The PCH. It may have the same highway signs, but at no point is The PCH the same road as Highway 1.

Highway 1. Betty loved it almost as much as I – you could just tell. Top down, radio blaring with my posse along for the ride. This was a good four or five years before Arsenio Hall told us that we were a posse. Many of us were East Coast natives, so they were my girlfriends. We were, all of us, pushing 30, but still very much girls. All wearing babushkas and big sunglasses, playing at being Annette, Sandra, and Shelley heading off to the beach and not so much singing as bellowing along with The Go-Gos or Exene or Chrissie. Girl Power with a great tan and magenta lipstick.

I’ve tried repeatedly to recreate that magic and it’s come close, but never quite the same. Probably because I’ve flown it solo a number of times, and that part of California is best-loved with someone you love.

Maybe if I reserve a ragtop next time..

20th Century Gal ISO 21st Century Gig

Oh, dear Lord – it’s 6:00 a.m. and I have to put on makeup AND a bra for a job interview. Life was so much easier when a telephone interview didn’t involve a webcam and good lighting. Curse you, Skype!