My Dear Friend: Love You Lots

My dear friend Margaret died exactly four months after I left her home in Prescott on Christmas Eve. 23 April 2015. I spoke with her on the phone several times during those weeks (she always ended with “Love you lots!”). And with John. And Marina. I’d spoken with John while I was in Arizona and let him know I would not be able to get back again, given what was already on my plate in terms of commitments and finances.

This was heartbreaking for me.

My parents died a long time ago. Twemty-eight years, in my mother’s case. I was so much younger then. And in this country I think we spend a lot of time trying to not think about death. Though when you get to be my age you think about it a little more. 🙂

I don’t want to be maudlin, but as I’ve declared this blog to be about having a “good” life (which is different for everyone, I think, though perhaps not as different as I imagine), I feel I should make one observation about an occasion such as this.

When someone you love is at the end of his or her life, there is very little you can do. The process cannot be stopped. And it is not a pretty process. It’s hard. There’s a lot of discomfort. But there are two things you can do: you can speak soft words of kindness and love, and you can touch your loved one with gentleness. Hold her hand. Blot her tears. Put a cool, damp cloth on her forehead, if that’s what’s called for.

That’s it: kind words and a gentle touch. Remember that.

I met Margie Raymer on my first day of high school; we shared a class, and ultimately a friendship that spanned decades and included our husbands and children. (You’ll recall Margaret traveled with me for a month in Ireland in September 2012.) I loved and admired many things about my friend, but chief among them were her kindness, her refusal to judge others, her generosity, her forward thinking, and her complete authenticity. Margaret left us after a two-year journey with a rare and aggressive cancer. During this time she was unfailingly upbeat and hopeful; she never complained. She and I talked some about death, which her strong faith taught her was simply a door through which she would pass to the next world. I grieve her passing. Good-bye, dear one—I’ll see you on the other side. Love you lots.

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Final Thoughts on a Winter Trip to Phoenix

I like Phoenix, frankly. I’ve been there many times—in the heat of summer as well as the very, very pleasant winter. I totally get the “snowbird phenomenon”—who wouldn’t love average temps of 66.4°F/40.2°F in December? Tennessee winters are mild, for the most part, but I can see why folks from Wisconsin or Ohio or New York would decamp to Phoenix for five or six months a year.

Though I will say even the winter sun is intense. And even in winter the climate is very, very dry. I kept noticing how dry my skin was, how dry my lips were.

I look at this photo and all I can see is how dry my skin is! (Although Penny is lovely.)

I look at this photo and all I can see is how dry my skin is! (Although Penny is lovely.)

I had some other Phoenix observations in my journal.

Science Lessons
Where you fall, geographically speaking, in the time zone is interesting. It’s still dark in Phoenix at 6:45am (while it’s quite bright at 6am in Murfreesboro) but still light at 5:30pm (whereas it’s dark by 4:30 at home).

Shake It Up
It’s good to get out of your rut every once in a while. The scenery just seemed magnificent to me—the tail-end of the Rockies, the wide-open spaces (inside Phoenix, I guess, you’d call that urban sprawl), the cacti. To me it was all beautiful because it’s something I don’t often get to see. I know from personal experience, though—I lived in South Texas when I was younger—that I like a little more green in my life.

Airplanes
My father was a pilot in the United States Air Force, and it seems I inherited his belief that an airplane in the air is a thing of beauty. (At least from the outside. The experience of sitting in those tiny seats in tight aisles is not one I particularly enjoy.) I love that Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is smack-dab in the middle of the city, because you get to watch planes setting down or lifting off from just about everywhere.

Traffic
In the mid-80s (the first time I visited Phoenix) there were no interstates to get you across town; it was all surface roads and state highways, which used surface roads. (Here’s a charming history, not least for the writer’s use of the word freeways, which is a very Western way of referring to the national highways; I grew up in California, and freeway was the word we used too.) So perhaps the newness of the interstates accounts for the lousy driving on them. There is very little concept of “slow traffic move right.” People drive all over the lanes; passing on the right is common.

Public Statements
I love the way many of the overpasses are decorates with mosaics or murals. Loved also the message I saw over and over on electronics signs: Drive hammered, get nailed. Indeed.

Sightseeing
I have barely been outside the Phoenix/Tempe/Scottsdale triangle, so the extent of my tourism runs to Taliesin West (Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home); the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art; the Desert Botanical Garden; the Phoenix Zoo (about 25 years ago); Arizona State University; and several malls. There’s a lot more to see. 🙂

Like Palm Lane. Gorgeous!

Like Palm Lane. Gorgeous!

Airport Fashion
I encountered quite a bit of flack when I posted a similar comment on Facebook, but I’m going to say it anyway. The latest in ladies’ airport fashion seems to be leggings. I know they’re comfortable. Still, not all ladies should wear them. Just saying’.

Christmas in Music City

This photograph came to my attention from the Nashville Scene online—a respected alternative newspaper I’ve read for more than twenty years—but it was first posted on the International Space Station’s Facebook page. Snapped by Mt. Juliet-raised astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore, it shows the city of Nashville on Christmas night.

Beautiful! Merry Christmas and happy New Year from here in Tennessee.

Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore 131A442

Photo credit: NASA/Barry Wilmore 131A442

 

The Movie Extravaganza

Friday, 26 December 2014 / Day 9
It’s become a tradition, of sorts, for me to brave Target or Barnes & Noble to pick up next year’s Christmas cards at half price. Or more—I think they were 75 percent off at B&N, which was where I stopped on my way to Jesse’s place.

It was a leisurely day. I hung out, read, played with the cats …

Max, in the tuba gig bag.

Max, in the tuba gig bag.

Penny had to get in on the action.

Penny had to get in on the action.

… Jesse ran errands, straightened up, worked on an arrangement he needed to get done … and later we went to another fabulous movie: The Imitation Game. Afterward, Jesse—a public school teacher—said, “So we’ve just seen two movies about guys who didn’t fit in, didn’t conform—and they were brilliant guys who changed the world. But they would never succeed in the school system today, which wants kids to sit down and follow the rules and be quiet.” It’s something to think about.

Driving back from the theater at sunset, the city was ringed in rocky peaks that were black against a golden yellow sky. Wish I could have taken a photograph but there’s just no place to stop on the freeway—and that’s where the views are. Up high.

Here’s one down low—a gorgeous Phoenix sunset, even if the palms are blurry (because Jesse was driving while I was photographing).

Here’s one down low—a gorgeous Phoenix sunset, even if the palms are blurry (because Jesse was driving while I was photographing).

Later I stopped at Fry’s (one of the local grocery store chains) to buy a couple things—we’re going to make chicken salad tomorrow—and I asked the clerk if he could just put in my phone number so I could get the store discount. My keychain, with a scannable barcode card on it, along with the key to the car, was back home in Tennessee. Of course he could use my phone number. “Six one five,” I said.

He stopped me. “Your area code is six one five?” I smiled and gave him the whole number, and sure enough, it worked. Kroger (my local chain) owns Fry’s. Just a little tip for the next time y’all are in Phoenix. 🙂

Saturday, 27 December 2014 / Day 10
It was so nice to not have a lot to do! When I’m at home there’s always something. So Jesse and I talked a lot about a career change he is planning to make. The pros, the cons.

Then I drove down to Chandler to hang out with Margaret’s daughter, Marina, with whom I’ve become close. Closer since Margaret’s health issues have arisen. We see eye to eye on most things, our mutual concern for her mother being just one of them. We met at a Chick-fil-A that had a great playground, so her boys were mostly occupied while we chatted.

Later Jesse and I went out to eat at a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant (the name of which I’ve forgotten) and then to the movie, Birdman. My first experience in a theater with the reclining seats! (Yeah, yeah, I don’t get out much.) It was a normal size (for a multiplex) room but only about sixty seats (maybe!). It was like being in a La-Z-Boy recliner—roomy! When Jesse came back from the snack bar he said it looked like we were all at a slumber party. The cost was the same as for a non-La-Z-Boy theater …

And BIRDMAN. Holy smoke, kids. You should see it. Michael Keaton was spectacular. Also, it was funny.

Sunday, 28 December 2014 / Day 11
I was very excited today to meet one of my authors—Cindy Kelley. We have phoned and Skyped, but this was a first and I was thrilled that she was willing to make the drive up from Tucson. We met at St. Francis for an upscale Sunday brunch.

Me and Cindy in front of the outdoor Christmas tree.

Me and Cindy in front of the outdoor Christmas tree.

Afterward Jesse and I drove to Scottsdale to see our final Christmas-season movie, Whiplash. It was very good, though it made me cringe a lot. Being a professional musician himself, Jesse had plenty to say about about it. We now know J. K. Simmons won the Oscar for his performance as Best Supporting Actor; but I’ll tell you, I’ll never see him with the same eyes.

Monday, 29 December 2015 / Day 12
And that was it for my Christmas vacation. Pris dropped by for an hour so that we could discuss her wonderful book I’ve been working on. Then Jesse picked me and my luggage up. We had lunch—Windsor—and hung out at the house a little.

It’s always hard for me to say good-bye to my son. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes.

It’s always hard for me to say good-bye to my son. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes.

I will say—regarding flying out of Sky Harbor—I was annoyed that I had gone to the trouble of getting pre-approved (don’t have to take off shoes or coats or remove laptop from bag, and so on; it’s a faster line) which went really fast and smoothly in Nashville … only to find out they’d closed the pre-approved lines in Concourse D in Phoenix, although I didn’t know that at the time. Because I thought I was in a pre-approved line, I did everything wrong, which meant I set off the red flags and thus had to go through the naked-scanner (twice) PLUS had to get the pat-down PLUS they took everything out of all my bags.

And they weren’t nice about it. “You have to be pre-approved,” the guy said.

So I said, “But I AM pre approved!” I held out my boarding pass.

“Well, so you are, so you are. But it’s closed on this concourse.”

“What’s the point of having it but not opening it?” I asked.

“If you want to go thru a pre-approved line, you can go to concourse A or B or C and make your way back here,” he said.

I gave him the Mom look. “It’s a very large airport,” I said. “It would be a very long walk for me, all by myself.” He just looked at me. Not trying to win hearts and minds, the TSA.

Got home late, my housesitter picked me up, and it was all good, in spite of the TSA. Sometimes we middle-aged gals get a little cranky, that’s all.

Happy Christmas 2014

Thursday, 25 December 2014, Christmas Day / Day 8
Jesse and Kaci and I had celebrated our Christmas a few days earlier, so this was a low-impact Christmas Day for Jesse and me. To avoid cooking, we went out for Chinese food for lunch (so-so), then to the theater downtown …

I was drawn by the pattern in these palm trees, seen from the parking garage.

I was drawn by the pattern and color in these palm trees, seen from the parking garage.

… to see The Theory of Everything, which was moving and sweet. And spectacularly acted. (And I even wrote that before Eddie Redmayne won the Oscar for it.)

After the movie, we drove around—and then walked around—the historic neighborhood where Jesse and Kaci live.

IMG_6245I love looking at houses, don’t you? I particularly love colorful front doors and the tableau a homeowner can create with door, porch, and landscaping. Here are a couple.

There is nothing I don't love about this—the shady front porch, that aqua front door, the way the palo verde tree both frames the entrance and mimics the curving lines of the side wall, the way the apple green pots echo the bark on the green tree, the way the marigolds pop. Gosh, this is just gorgeous.

There is nothing I don’t love about this—the shady front porch, that aqua front door, the way the palo verde tree both frames the entrance and mimics the curving lines of the side wall, the way the apple green pots echo the bark on the green tree, the way the marigolds pop. Gosh, this is just gorgeous.

There were several homes that had given their yards over to desertscape. This one was particularly spectacular … although I also think it sort of screams “STAY OUT!” or “KEEP AWAY!”

There were several homes that had given their yards over to desertscape. This one was particularly spectacular … although I also think it sort of screams “STAY OUT!” or “KEEP AWAY!”

Same house. Perhaps this yard is really saying “Leave your toddlers at home, friends!” or “Don’t approach if you’re tipsy!” Use caution.

Same house. Perhaps this yard is really saying “Leave your toddlers at home, friends!” or “Don’t approach if you’re tipsy!” Use caution walkin’ down that sidewalk, y’all.

Jesse was dogsitting for a friend, and we gave Jack a walk. What a lovely street!

Jesse was dogsitting for a friend, and we gave Jack a walk. What a lovely street!

Stay tuned—there’s more to come!

She’ll Be Comin’ ’Round the Mountain …

Monday, 22 December 2014 / Day 5
I have a dear friend, Margaret, who lives in Prescott—about 90 miles from Phoenix. We met in high school, and just never let go of each other. Our fathers were both pilots in the United States Air Force, and when hers retired, he moved his family back to historic Prescott, Arizona, where Margaret finished high school, married John, raised her children (Jesse and Marina), and became an antiques dealer. She is now a grandmother and retired.

You’ll recall that Margaret traveled to Ireland with me in 2012. She and John have visited Gerry and I in Tennessee. We are close. And a big reason I’m in Arizona this Christmas is to visit Margaret, who has been suffering from cancer since last year.

So I consolidated to one suitcase, and drove up (elevation is 5300 feet above sea level) to Prescott. It’s a spectacular drive, scenery-wise. And Margaret and I spent the afternoon in her spacious living room, drinking tea and chatting … the way two old friends do. 🙂

Look at that guestroom! Very Western, and so cozy!

Look at that guestroom! Very Western, and so cozy!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014 / Day 6
We had a leisurely morning, and just took it easy. We puttered around Prescott—

—but mostly conserved our energy for later: Margaret had planned a big holiday meal in my honor. In addition to the three of us, John and Margaret’s son Jesse, and his wife and son (Melissa and Tristan) were there, as well as John’s sister Tammy. Jesse roasted the lamb, and it was fabulous. A good time was had by all.

Margaret sets a beautiful table.

Margaret sets a beautiful table.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014, Christmas Eve / Day 7
Before I left Prescott, John, Margaret, and I had breakfast at a Prescott institution: the Lone Spur Café. Huge breakfasts served up fast and hot—and it was like everyone in town was there.

John and Margaret. They’re still sweet on each other. :)

John and Margaret. They’re still sweet on each other. 🙂

But I had a Christmas service to get to—my Jesse’s Phoenix Chamber Brass would be playing—and just the right amount of time to get there. Once again I was treated to gorgeous vistas as I traveled into the valley.

Traveling down the mountain: the scenery was spectacular.

Traveling down the mountain: the scenery was spectacular.

Drove straight to American Lutheran Church, caught the end of the first service, had a little snack at the between-services “reception” for the musicians and staff, and then sat through the second service. Love singing Christmas hymns!

Phoenix Chamber Brass: Greg Lloyd, Rose French, Donald Smith, Jesse Chavez, Matt Lennex.

Phoenix Chamber Brass: Greg Lloyd, Rose French, Donald Smith, Jesse Chavez, Matt Lennex.

Jesse and I were ravenous by this time, so we went to Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails in downtown Phoenix for a late supper. And then I was done in. Long day!

Leave a Candle Burning …

A writer friend of mine was researching Christmas traditions—in particular, the Irish convention of leaving a candle burning in a window on Christmas Eve. What was the story? We posed the question on Facebook.

All sorts of things were mentioned. For example, one Dubliner mentioned “the three dark days,” which require a candle for protection.

Another dates from the 1650s when the Cromwell-controlled British parliament issued a series of Penal Laws:

The Irish Catholic was forbidden the exercise of his religion.
He was forbidden to receive education.
He was forbidden to enter a profession.
He was forbidden to hold public office.
He was forbidden to engage in trade or commerce.
He was forbidden to live in a corporate town or within five miles thereof.
He was forbidden to own a horse of greater value than five pounds.
He was forbidden to purchase land.
He was forbidden to lease land.
He was forbidden to vote.
He was forbidden to keep any arms for his protection.
He was forbidden to hold a life annuity.
He could not be guardian to a child.
He could not himself educate his child.

Thus the candle in the window, during a time when Catholicism was banned, indicated that mass could be said in the home, or that mass was at that moment being said, or even that it was a home that would welcome a priest on the run, give him shelter and a warm meal.

After the Great Famine of the 1840s, many Irish burned a candle in the window at Christmas in remembrance of loved ones who’d died or gone abroad. It was meant to guide the loved ones home for Christmas. This is similar to a custom I grew up with of leaving the porchlight on on the night of Christmas Eve.

Many mentioned the custom was symbolic of welcoming Mary and Joseph into the home (because there was no room in the inn)—very similar to the private welcome of a priest who needed to remain anonymous. Dubliners of my generation and younger note things like this:

We always light a candle and put it in the window about 10 minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve and let it burn until about 10 minutes after midnight. It was always done in my parents’ house and we have carried it on. It is a symbol to the Holy Family that there is a welcome in the house. We repeat it again on New Year’s Eve while at the same time opening both the front and back door. This is to cast out the old year and welcome the new.

The youngest child in the home lit the candle—another tradition. Who’s to say where little conventions like this originate?

This article from some Bostonians of Irish heritage confirms the very things that came up in our conversation. Nothing new, but shows that the custom crossed the Atlantic and is still practiced here.

Merry Christmas, y’all. 🙂

Welcome, friends. Please come in.

Welcome, friends. Please come in.