Leave it to memory me

21 02 2018

My Aunt Charlotte died today.

She was up and about in her assisted-living apartment, had a chat with her youngest daughter, was a bit winded so took a seat just before or while getting a nebulizer treatment, and when the nurse returned, she was gone.

Just like that, she was gone.

Not “just like that”, really. She’d been in and out of the hospital for the past 6 months, year, and she was in her eighties. Still, I thought I’d see her again.

I saw her at my niece’s wedding this past June, but didn’t get a pic of her; here’s one from 10 years ago, probably at that same niece’s graduation:

She was a funny lady, always crabbing about something but always with good humor. She could dish it out, take it, then dish out some more. Her kids, my three cousins, were terrible with her, which is to say, wonderful. They loved her and she loved them.

I worked for her when I was in high school. She ran a janitorial service, so a few nights a week during the summer I’d head down to her place and we’d (sometimes one of her kids, sometimes my brother) head to some business in Sheboygan—a bank, say, or a law office—and empty trash cans and wash windows and vacuum and clean the bathroom. It didn’t pay much, and she expected good work, but she didn’t didn’t exactly crack the whip with us. Once I went off to college, that was the end of my employment with her, but my brother spent a few years during and after high school cleaning.

Char always had something going on. She worked long after she probably needed to, but she like to get out, liked her independence. She lived in the house where she grew up, one of the oldest ones in Falls, and she was a common sight at the local coffee shops and diners. And she’d always show up to her grandkids’ games and plays and whatnot, griping about the cold or the hard benches—but never about the grandkids. They loved her and she loved them.

I always liked to see her when I was back in Falls. We’d sit down and she’d have a story and pretty soon we were laughing and teasing each other. When I was little I’d sometimes stay over at her house, and I have the vaguest memory of her dog, Schnappsie. Schnappsie was a dachshund, and I liked to sit on her couch with my back slightly out, so that Schnappsie could snuggle in behind me, his head off one hip with his tail off the other.

One more story: her house, as I mentioned, was old, with the requisite gloomy basement. But one year, at a party of some sort or another, the tornado siren went off, so we all crowded down into it with our plates of cake and sodas, folding chairs spread out next to the caved-in cistern. I don’t know if or where that tornado touched down, but we kept on going.

I feel bad for my cousins, losing their mom, but I feel even worse for my mom. Her oldest (half-) sister, Mickey (née Thelma), died years ago, but the age distance was so great that they didn’t have much of a relationship. Charlotte was next, and then Janet (who is ailing), and then my mom. My mom and Charlotte talked regularly; they were close, they loved each other.

Here’s a shot of all of them with their parents and some cousins:

That’s my Aunt Mickey, on the far left, with her son, Ted, my grandpa behind her. Charlotte’s next to Mickey, with my mom right in front of her and Janet next to my mom; that’s my grandma (who died before I was born) behind Janet, and the cousins, Kay and Violet, on the right.

That was almost 72 years ago.

My mom’s the youngest, as I’m the youngest not just of our immediate family, but of that generation of McCues. There are children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these McCues, scattered across the country. I won’t be able to make it back to Wisconsin for the funeral, but many of us will.

Because she was Charlotte, and she was loved.

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Polka, tango everyone

5 07 2017

Niece #2 got married in June, to a rather nice gent.

They live in the Twin Cities area, so, of course, got married in Green Bay (where none of us lives). It was lovely.

My sister, who is very organized, was a bit frazzled on Friday morning: the Saturday forecast called for rain, and—did I mention this was an outdoor ceremony?—she (and N2) needed to decide whether or not to put up the tent.

Ugh, she said, that tent is so ugly. But we have to do it.

Saturday was hot and bright, and no one noticed the condition of the tent under which we so gladly sheltered from the sun.

The bride was emotional. The groom was emotional. The ceremony was short, and they both said I do.

At the reception, the maid of honor, Niece1, offered a funny, heartfelt speech, as did the best man (Niece1’s husband—why yes, the bride and groom met through the sister and the best friend), and my brother-in-law, witty and charming, welcomed the groom into the family with an unabashed I love you.

I danced with cousins I hadn’t seen in decades, and relaxed with my sisters’ friends, who I see every few years when we all gather for celebration.

No one talked politics.

Oh, and I met my grand-nephew, who is the chillest baby in the Midwest. He was handed from stranger to stranger to stranger and reacted with, at most, raised eyebrows. My habibi.

It was strange to be back in Wisconsin, as it’s always strange to be back. I remember when I moved to NY and how the buildings pushed up next to the sidewalks took some getting used to; now, it’s normal to me, and it is the wide lawns and low buildings which startle.

Still, some things reassured: the (oh-my-god-how-incredibly-cheap) beer and the cheese curds. Some like the breaded kind, while I prefer the batter-fried: salty and super hot. The accompanying conversation with friends was also a bit salty, although a bit more relaxed.

I’m not certain of my future in NY—it is a costly and hard place to live—but it felt good to see the lights as the plane turned over Manhattan and we glided into Queens.

LaGuardia may be a shit airport, but for as many times as I’ve flown into and out of it, it is mine. And after a weekend in a place which is no longer mine, it felt good to be home.





O bla de, o bla da

29 09 2012

And so my eldest niece (mid-twenties) said yes when J., her smart and funny boyfriend of 3 1/2 years, asked her to marry him. I am so very happy for her.

A funeral this week, a wedding next year.

Life goes on.





Thanksgiving for every wrong move

24 11 2011

A repeat post from last Thanksgiving:

It’d take about 20 minutes before our dresses would be off.

My cousin A. and I, having been forced to wear something nice (and constricting) for Thanksgiving, would head into the den and whip off our dresses so that we could play—hard. While our mothers might have sighed over the sight of us scampering about in our slips and tights, at least they didn’t have to worry about stains and tears to the good clothes.

All of us kids would head upstairs, carefully closing the door behind us—the better to keep the adults at bay—before tiptoeing through our grandma’s bedroom to reach the closet door.

This was a great closet, mainly because it was less a closet than a long, dark, narrow passageway into the other bedroom. Who had a closet like this? It wasn’t a secret, but it felt like one.

The real treasure, however, was the attic, which we were of course and repeatedly warned against entering. Come on: you tell kids ‘don’t you go messing around in the attic’ enough times and of course that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It was dark and drafty and a little bit dangerous (all those nails poking through the rough wood) and had just the right ratio of stuff to space: a great play space.

There was an old Victrola in the attic, and while I don’t remember if this was Thanksgiving or not, one year my brother and A.’s brother somehow got that thing cranked up and going; we all fled as sound came out of it, giddy and afraid we broke it.

No, we did not dare tell the adults.

Another favorite was to grab a blanket and ride it down the (carpeted) stairs. The door ended right at the last step—no space or landing—so every time you bumped down the steps you’d slam into the door. This would the lead the adults to ask What are you kids doing up there?

Nothing!

You’re not sliding down the stairs, are you?

No!

At some point my dad and uncles would grab a couple of glass jugs and head over to the nearest bar for beer, although it seemed to take them quite awhile to go just the few blocks and back. But they’d always return, in good cheer and carrying the soon-to-be-emptied jugs.

Finally, it would be time to eat: Adults at the fancy cherrywood table lengthened just for this day, the kids either at a card table set up near there or in the den. The den was best: We had our own bowls of food, and could take as much or as little as we wanted, but, really, we could laugh and mess around and not have to worry about ‘behaving’ or ‘keeping it down’.

We’d all crash out for a bit in my grandma’s small front room, my aunts and uncles smoking and us kids waiting until the cherrywood table was made small again and the adults gave permission for us to take over the (much larger) dining room. The blanket came back into play, usually in some manner of us rolling ourselves in it and trying to chase one another around. If one of the adults was sufficiently, ah, loosened up, he or she would join us, and perhaps we could get them to slide down the stairs, too—only this time, with the door open.

T.v. would be watched—there was usually some holiday movie on—and pie eaten. Other cousins who had eaten elsewhere might stop by, either for pie or beer, and we’d hang out until the traditional holiday walk.

Honestly, I don’t remember if this is something we did for Thanksgiving or Christmas or both (I think at least Thanksgiving), but we’d all bundle up and head out into the south Sheboygan neighborhood, a knotted string along shovelled walks. When we’d hit the highway the adults would call us close, then we’d climb the stairs to the bridge over the lanes. We got a nice shot of the lights of the neighborhood, and we’d wave at the oncoming cars.

And then we’d spit.

No, we weren’t (well, we weren’t supposed to be) aiming at cars. It was just our thing: We’d spit off the bridge.

So happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And may you get the chance where you are to spit off a bridge.





Home again, home again

21 08 2011

Did I mention that my mother got a tattoo for her birthday?

On her ankle, about an inch-and-a-half, two inches.

A butterfly.

Apparently, she’s long wanted one, but only now did the time seem right.

Besides, she said, I’m at that age where everything that was going to sag has sagged.

~~~~~

When I was in college it was easy to go home; it was still “home”, after all.

I left for good when I left for my second year of college—not that I knew that at the time. It was just that I decided to stay in Madison in a sublet that summer and work, then the following summer I was in my apartment and working, and then, y’know graduate school.

I kept stuff at my parents’ house, gradually moving it to whatever apartment I was in in Minneapolis (I moved a lot those first few years), then moved some of it back to their attic when I hied on out to Montreal.

And there was a big drawer reserved for some clothes, which was then downsized to a smaller drawer. I still have some old running shoes there, which came in handy this last visit.

Oh, and I went through a bunch of boxes that were still in the attic. I thought they were just grad-school books, but there were toys, stuffed animals, files, and some books from when I was a kid.

The Great Brain, Encyclopedia Brown, a few books by Ruth Chew, and the first book I ever read (memorized, really), The Monster At The End Of This Book.

I don’t particularly like sentimentality, but I thought, what the hell, I can keep some of those old books.

So I still have a box. And a drawer.

~~~~~

When did it become strange to go back to SmallTown?

Like I said, it was normal when I was in college, and probably into graduate school, as well. Maybe it was when I stopped returning for Thanksgiving: Minnesota was on a trimester system then, and the fall quarter ended the first week of December—too close to the end to leave town.

Maybe when I ran away to Albuquerque, and had Christmas dinner with T. and her then-husband at their apartment in the NE quadrant of ABQ.

Who knows. At some point when I said I was going “home” it sounded strange to me, to use the term “home” for a place which was once, but never would be again. Home, now, would be where I lived.

Still, even today, I’m not at all sure I’m home.

~~~~~

This last visit discombobulated me. It was normal to go back, then it got hard, and then it was a rush, and now, now it’s just odd.

When it was hard, it was as if I flipped a switch to return: Blue when I’m out of state, notched over to red when I’m in state.

Either/or.

Now, now things are blurry, and they slide along rather than click over one side to the other.

Not bad, really, but in some ways it was easier when it was hard.





Where never is heard a discouraging word

16 08 2011

So I went away for awhile.

Surprised my mom for her 70th birthday. Made her happy.

And I saw old friends, of course, which meant I drank and ate (cheese curds!) and laughed and drank and ate and laughed. That was good. Made me happy.

I walked all over town, down past the dime store and up and around the old elementary school and junior high (now just a middle school) and over to the athletic field.

It seemed so big, back then. Now, it was just quiet.

And T. and I walked amongst the sand dunes  at a park we call Terry-Andrae but the state calls Kohler-Andrae:

When I was a kid my family regularly camped at Terry-Andrae, along with a group of my parents’ friends. (I smoked my first cigarette at 9 with B., who was 11. Coughed. A lot.) We’d tear around on bikes or go tromping along the dunes or thread our way through the trees—anything where we could pretend we were completely on our own.

Anyway, I remember the dunes as more sand than green, and there were no wooden pathways through the ups-and-downs, but, y’know, folks nowadays are much more concerned about preservation than anyone was back in the ’70s.

We used to launch ourselves off the tops of the dunes, counting on the sand below to give and slide down with us. That lower part of the dune, looking out over Lake Michigan, is still sandy (didn’t take a shot of that), so it could still be done.

You might get yelled at by park rangers, though.

No ranger in sight at the park below the falls in town:

The river is brown and muddy; it’s been brown and muddy for as long as I can remember.

My mom, who grew up in town, remembers when the dyes of the woolen factory (pictured below; now converted into apartments) would turn the river green or red or blue.

That rusted-brown bridge in the back? That was an active railroad bridge back in the day (since decommissioned, although there is talk of bringing it back), one which we would cross as kids.

Weren’t supposed to, of course, and you had to screw up your courage to do it the first time, but after awhile it was second nature to skip across the ties rather than take the sidewalk on the “regular” bridge.

Yeah, that’s all closed off now, too, though I bet kids are still finding their ways across that bridge.





Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

8 07 2011

Y’all have heard about the FAMiLY LEADER Pledge, right? The one for which a signature is required before the FAMiLY (honestly, that’s how they write it) LEADER will endorse a candidate for president?

Imma gonna roll right past the truly offensive preamble (Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President, et cetera) to get to the, well, rather wan defense of man-on-woman marriage:

  • Recognition of the overwhelming statistical evidence that married people enjoy better health, better sex, longer lives, greater financial stability, and that the children raised by a mother and a father together experience better learning, less addiction, less legal trouble, and less extramarital pregnancy.

Really? That’s it?

Aren’t married people also taller, better looking, in better shape, and better able to savor the distinctions between Speyside and Island single malt whiskys? Aren’t married men more likely to have a full head of hair throughout their lives and the boobs of married women more likely to remain perky? Aren’t their homes cleaner, their cars shinier (and with bigger engines!), and aren’t they more likely to have a pool?

And what about those kids? Don’t they also experience more popularity and have a better chance at being the captain of the football team, head cheerleader? Don’t they get ponies?

I think these FAMiLY LEADER types are far too tepid in their DEFeNSE of MARRiAGE.

I, for one, would not sign.